Creative Commons is not for Software, I Disagree

I was irritated there was no attribution style license on Google Code, specifically, no Creative Commons license. So, I joined the Google Code mailing list, found 2 previous posts from people asking for CC being added as a license option, with responses that didn’t make it seem too likely to happen. I posted anyway, and got the response that it pretty much wasn’t going to happen, and that although they do not have the older bsd license that has an attribution aspect, they suggested other code hosting services.

Further irritated, and thus emboldened, I joined the Creative Commons Developer mailing list. I let them know the situation, asking if there was a way maybe we could use some positive PR to show how it was a good move for Google to support the CC license. This would work well when people use graphics and other design elements for projects, for example in the software projects hosted since a lot of that stuff is CC Attribution nowadays.

Instead, I’m provided with a link to the Creative Commons FAQ by a CC developer representative. It clearly states that Creative Commons is not designed for software, and they ask you to use other licenses. I was floored. I’ve been using Creative Commons since 2003; that’s almost 4 years, and I had no clue! I started using CC Attribution because:

So, naturally, I just assumed I would too. This was about the time many Flash Designers were stealing other’s code online to show as their own during interviews for Flash Developer positions. I am a big supporter of sharing code, but I wanted some form of control over how that code was used; specifically, keeping my name associated with what I originally had a hand in writing. This made my career, so Creative Commons set clear expectations of that. Secondly, it made those using my code for commercial projects comfortable in knowing they had legal rights to do so. Share the love, empower the masses, and as an artist you get exposure. A lot of early ActionScript is a lot easier to remix anyway, so it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Fast forward to yesterday, and me feeling like an idiot.

For now, I’m stuck with MIT; I briefly read the other licenses (Apache 2, Artistic License/GPLv2, GNU General Public License 2.0, GNU Lesser Public License, Mozilla Public License 1.1, New BSD License) and the MIT one is the only one that is immediately understandable, and appears to jive with my “I wrote this for fun, hope it’s useful to you, just don’t hold me legally liable for it’s use”. I’m sure if I find an open source guy at the next conference I attend, I can get some more layman explanations of my options.

Anyway, I think the Creative Commons FAQ is wrong. ActionScript is a dynamic language in a wonderful artistically capable runtime engine (the Flash Player) and tool set (Flash & Flex). The sharing & remix culture is what helped ActionScript become so successful and contributed to my career. This is exactly what Creative Commons is built around, and the Attribution 2.5 specifically is aimed at the Flash Developer culture in my opinion. This isn’t a cop-out or excuse to my previous ignorance; I truly believe the statements above.

7 Replies to “Creative Commons is not for Software, I Disagree”

  1. Hey Jesse, that is funy, because I rememeber when I started using it it was because they were discussing interctive mediums, and had examples as Flash as one of the things that CC license applied to. This was a couple years ago, but maybe it can be found in somewhere from an old version of their site. I remember this distinctly. I also started using it because of the very example on their own home page. I’ll see if I can find it. I guess their ideas have evolved a bit, but your right the idea of Flash files/scripts being shared has really had a great positive impact on the community and in turn the tool. I think the CC approach still applies as well. Go figure.


  2. Hey Jesse, i almost forgot, Lawrence Lessig (CC Chairman and CEO and well known figure) even spoke at FlashForward in 2005 about CreativeCommons and flash, and thats when Mike put in the ‘View Source’ contextual menu in and there was a big discussion about CreativeCommons and its applicability to Flash and the openess of community to help foster growth.

    The article is still available with links from Creative commons own site:

    somehow this just doesnt sound right given their past involvement and Lawrences own session and ideas.


  3. I’ve been using the MIT license on my code for a while now. I’ve considered BSD because MIT and BSD are considered basically equivilent, but the language in some parts is a little strange. There was some controversy recently in the open source community where someone intentionally misinterpreted a specific clause to make it ‘viral’ like the GPL and wrote a paper about it. It was dismissed almost unanimously as silly, but I remember re-reading that clause at one point way back when and thinking the same thing for just a second.

    That explanation was too long. My point is, like you, I think the MIT license is ideal because it’s short, clear in its intentions, and it allows flexibility for users while keeping your name on the code.

  4. This is interesting. Perhaps there are lawyers who can comment or even be contacted to help figure it out. Not like they’d necessarily know anything… it’d be a good start.

    However since I’m not authorized to give legal advice I will anyway… I think that if you print an agreement in the code… distribute it… and then I read the agreement and we’re all in agreement on the meaning, then–in fact–it IS a contract. Naturally, either party could discover and point out a portion of the contract that is invalid. But I guess my point is that you can have a whacky agreement with someone else and you can both stick to it. Also, exactly what you do if I broke your CC provisions?

  5. Hi Jesse,

    I don’t know much about CC but after reading the FAQ, I’m quite confident that it can be used for source files which are text files. (‘Creative Commons licenses work well for all text materials.’).

    Best regards,

  6. Also, exactly what would you do if I broke your CC provisions?

    If I don’t know about it, nothing.

    If I do know about it, politely ask you respect them, and keep my name in the code. Failing that, I’d use my blog to point out the problem.

    Ultimately, my use of CC is for others to feel confident in it’s use since I was asked on more than one occasion ‘What rights do we have in using your code?’. The feeling that ‘I need to keep Jesse’s name & email in the code’ is more of an ancillary benefit. The effect of seeing my name & email in the code is good enough. If it’s deleted later, at least the user knew it was from me, and getting exposure is my main goal. This is what helped me get jobs & recognition in the industry in the first place.

    The only time I’d consider legal action is if someone blatantly took it out, did little to no remixing, and became YouTube. Then I’d definately puruse legal recourse.

  7. Hmm, interesting arguments. Funny thing is I have read in the past that some question the legality of the CC license, as there are many implied copyrights already and other stuff.

    As far as I know (I’m not a lawyer) no one has really tested these licenses (CC, MIT specifically) to see if they would hold up legally anyways.

    Hey maybe I should use your code, you sue me for no attribution and lets see where it goes, hehe.

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