Copyleft, attribution, and data: other considerations


Public licenses for databases don’t work well. Before going into solutions to that problem, though, I wanted to talk briefly about some things that are important to consider when thinking about solutions: real-world examples of the problems; a common, but bad, solution; and a discussion of the motivations behind public licenses.

Copyleft and data: databases as poor subject

Card Puncher from the 1920 US Census.

tl;dr: Open licensing works when you strike a healthy balance between obligations and reuse. Data, and how it is used, is different from software in ways that change that balance, making reasonable compromises in software (like attribution) suddenly become insanely difficult barriers.

Copyleft and data: database law as (poor) platform

Hollerith Census Machine Dials, by Marcin Wichary, under CC BY 2.0

tl;dr: Databases are a very poor fit for any licensing scheme, like copyleft, that (1) is intended to encourage use by the entire world but also (2) wants to place requirements on that use. This is because of broken legal systems and the way data is used. Projects considering copyleft, or even mere attribution, for…

Free as in … ? My LibrePlanet 2016 talk

image from talk

Below is the talk I gave at LibrePlanet 2016. The tl;dr version: Learning how political philosophy has evolved since the 1670s shows that the FSF’s four freedoms are good, but not sufficient. In particular, the “capability approach” pioneered by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum is applicable to software, and shows us how to think about…

The All Writs Act on Wikipedia v. legal academic reach

Pageviews Analysis-All Writs Act

Legal friends! The world needs you. Here’s the graph of readership of All Writs Act on Wikipedia: That’s 45,035 reads yesterday (by humans, not bots).((Big thanks to the tech team for figuring out how to differentiate – not something we could do until fairly recently, at least for public stats!)) That would put it 5th…

Reinventing FOSS user experiences: a bibliography

There is a small genre of posts around re-inventing the interfaces of popular open source software; I thought I’d collect some of them for future reference: Recent: Drupal WordPress:, Older: Firefox: 0.1 release notes Visual Editor: first blog post I can find (though I’m sure there are many emails), Economist The first two…

Wikimania 2015 – random thoughts and observations

"Wikimania 2015 Reception at Laboratorio Arte Alameda - 02" by Jarek Tuszynski - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Random thoughts from Wikimania, 2015 edition (2013, 2014): Dancing: After five Wikimedia events (not counting WMF all-hands) I was finally dragged onto the dance floor on the last night. I’ll never be Garfield, but I had fun anyway. The amazing setting did not hurt. Our hosts: The conference was excellently organized and run. I’ve never…

What tools are changing our world next?

HDR automatically created from old pictures of Muir Woods by Google Photos.

Quick brain dump after a bike ride home: free software took a huge leap in the late 90s and early 00s in large part because of non-ideological advantages that the rest of the world is now competing with or surpassing: Collaboration tools: Because we got to the ‘net first, our tools for collaborating with each…