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I'm Tav, a 29yr old from London. I enjoy working on large-scale social, economic and technological systems.

Creative Commons Unlicense and Reflections of a Public Domain Advocate

I posted the following to the Unlicense Google Group earlier today and figured that some of you might be interested in the proposed Creative Commons Unlicense.

Hi Arto, Mike et al.

First of all, congrats for coming up with the term “Unlicense”. It's
genius! As someone who has been placing all of his work into the
public domain for most of the last decade, I am very thankful that
there is finally a concrete movement emerging around unlicensing.

Now, if it's okay with you, I'd like to share my journey into the
world of public domain and gradually build up to a proposal of a
“Creative Commons Unlicense”.

Reflections of a Public Domain Advocate

They got me before I'd even hit puberty. The UK Intellectual Property
Office that is. At school they handed out leaflets on Copyright,
Trademarks and Patents. I was mesmerised. Having already written 2
books on music and working on various inventions, it was truly
empowering to know that the law would protect my rights as a creator.

Being able to dictate how your work is used. Being able to make money
from the royalties generated by your work. Being able to prevent
others from abusing your work for their own profit. It made perfect
sense. It appealed to that primal desire for being in control.

I was so in love with intellectual property that even my school notes
had a copyright statement at the bottom of each page. This continued
all the way till I was 17 when I started my first company. Being a
tech startup in 1999, it wasn't too long before an inevitable
encounter with the open source movement.

As you can imagine, this was quite an experience. In fact, it's really
nice to see some familiar faces from those times on this list: Mike
Linksvayer (from Bitzi days) and Peter Saint-Andre (from the early
Jabber days).

It took a few months, but by the time 2000 began, I was convinced of
the merits of open source. The copyleft nature of the GPL assuaged my
fears of having my work exploited by others. And the success of
projects like Linux and companies like VA Linux Systems served as
tangible proof that sharing worked.

And so I became one of those annoying free software fanatics. I am
sorry to say that I wasted countless hours arguing on various internet
forums about the merits of the GPL versus other licenses. But, on the
flip side, I did acquire various proprietary initiatives and release
them as free software.

In any case, it was an uphill struggle convincing investors of the
merits of open source. It simply did not make sense to them. Many
refused to invest for that reason alone. And, all the while, I kept to
my belief that a billion-dollar industry was possible by enabling
creators to make money from sharing their works openly.

And then finally, in either late 2001 or early 2002, one of my
friends, Tavin Cole, decided to spend an entire day of his life
questioning my stance on the GPL. To this day I am extremely grateful
for his effort — he enlightened me on the merits of the public domain.

In essence, his argument revolved around the fact that copyleft is
merely an act of control and true freedom would be to enable people to
do whatever they pleased with your work. He correctly identified fear
as being a prime motivator behind my love affair with the GPL and that
life would be a lot more pleasant without being gripped by it.

With my belief in the GPL shaken, I started experimenting with the
public domain. Python hackers seemed to public domain their work with
a single line, so I adopted a similar practice and added a minimal
header of the format:
# Released into the Public Domain by tav <>

This worked out quite well until 2004 when I moved to Berlin for a
year. Here I came across various German hackers who argued that it was
impossible to place works into the public domain due to the
consideration of moral rights under German law.

I experimented with various structures to try and resolve this issue,
e.g. contracts between the individuals and a company based in the UK
which would then release the intellectual property into the public
domain, etc. But nothing was really satisfactory until Creative
Commons released the CC0 license.

It cleverly combined the public domain dedication with a fallback
public license for jurisdictions where one can't fully public domain
one's work. Not understanding why CC0 can't be used for code, I
adopted the license with enthusiasm and remixed it with a grant of
patent rights to create a Public Domain License which I've been using
for all my work — writing, code, designs, etc.

Creative Commons Unlicense

As you can imagine, it sounded silly to be public domain-ing work
under the Public Domain License — but it seemed good enough.
However, once I heard about “Unlicense”, I was smitten by its
awesomeness and have already migrated a few projects, e.g.

Now, whilst I've adopted the term wholesale, the text on
doesn't address a number of concerns:

* It is limited to just code. Software projects also tend to have
documentation, schemas, graphics, etc. It would be nice if the
unlicense covered all of these.

* It doesn't address moral rights in any way.

* It doesn't address patent rights in any way. This becomes even more
relevant when you're receiving patches from organisations who might
hold relevant patents.

* It doesn't provide advice on how to refer to the unlicense within
individual files. I've taken to having the following minimal header
instead of copying the entire text into every file:
# Public Domain (-) 2010-2011 The Ampify Authors.
# See the Ampify UNLICENSE file for details.

* It doesn't address third party code. Putting an UNLICENSE file in
the root of the repository without such consideration suggests that
all the code files are in the public domain — which may not be true.

In an ideal world, we'd all come together and build on CC0 and the
Unlicense to create a Creative Commons Unlicense which addresses all
of these concerns. I am not sure if this would be of interest to
anyone else, but it is of interest to me.

I've had a go at remixing the various texts into a new Unlicense:

Here is the raw text, including the accompanying authors file:

Now I am not a lawyer and the text needs work, but I hope it's a good
starting point — or, at the very least, provides some idea of what I'm
getting at.

Is this of interest to any of you? Could we come together to manifest
a Creative Commons Unlicense?

Please do let me know what you think.

Cheers, tav