07 August 2006

Resolving the Free Content Licence Madness

Although the most famous example of free content is Wikipedia, it is unusual in that it uses the GNU Free Documentation Licence, rather than one of the better-known Creative Commons licences. And that's a problem, because it makes it hard to mix and match content from different projects.

One man well aware of this - not least because he is the cause of the problem, albeit unwittingly - is Larry Lessig. Heise Online have a good report covering what he said on the topic at the Wikimania conference:

"We need a layer like the TCP/IP layer which facilitates interoperability of content, allows content to move between ´equivalent´ licenses," Mr. Lessig declared, "where what we mean by equivalent is licenses where people mean the same thing. So the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license is saying the same thing: Use my content however you want, to copy, to modify, as long as you give me attribution, as long as the modification is distributed under an equivalent license." The legal differences between the licenses should be bridged, he observed. The various types of licenses could compete with one another, thereby protecting against the weaknesses of any particular license, he stated.

As the two worlds of Wikipedia and CC content continue to grow, addressing this is becoming a matter of some urgency.

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