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Revisiting licensing

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Revisiting licensing

Now that we are ready to roll out the new version of the site software
which will make it possible manage content in new ways, it might be a
good time to reconsider some of our policies, in particular licensing
policy. We had some preliminary discussion on this topic at today's
board meeting and, in the interest of inviting more people to weigh in
and have more time to ponder this topic, would like to carry on the
discussion here in the forum and on the listserver.

The current policy is to license encyclopaedia entries under a copyleft
license (originally GNU FDL, now CC-BY-SA) and to allow books, expositions,
and papers to be licensed under any license which allows us to distribute
them (as listed in the "rights section"). As I see it, it is convenent
to split this question of licensing into two directions.

One direction deals with licenses whose terms are more liberal than the
CC-BY-SA license. At the level of principles there is not much to discuss
here --- since our goal is free math, clearly we accept content that is
made available on more liberal terms. Likewise, there is no problem reusing
such content or combining it with existing content. Rather, the question
is one of of practice. Whithout some systematic way of indicating that an
item is available under more liberal terms, users are unlikely to know and
might, for instance, think that a work in the public domain was still
copyrighted. However, setting up a system which allows for multiple licenses
in a collaborative environment will likely require some work and thought
to do correctly in a way that meshes with the workflow and doesn't confuse
users or make a headache for administrators.

A suggestion I have in this regard is to limit to the CC family of licenses.
Such a limitation will avoid the headache of having to keep track of
numerous, likely contradictory licenses while still allowing a meaningful
pallete of alternatives. Given that we already are using one of their
licenses and this family of licenses is quite popular and comes with computer
support which we could plug into our platform, this seems like an option
worth considering.

The other direction has to do with licenses stricter than the CC-BY-SA license,
specifically the question of whether we should host copies of or display works
released under such terms --- I don't think there's any controversy that we should
be making bibliographic references or links to any mathematical work whatsoever,
including "all rights reserved". As I see it, the question further bifurcates
depending on the two main classes of conditions which stricter licenses impose.

One condition is prohibiting commercial use. The importance of this condition
is somewhat different for scientific than artistic works since they typically
don't generate significant royalties for their authors. Nevertheless, some
authors wish to release mathematical works under such terms out of principle.
Of course, since PM is a non-profit organization and doesn't charge for access,
such a condition would not interfere with our using works released under such
terms, althogh it would prevent us from including them in compilations like
the FEM unless we would negotiate some arrangement with their authors.

A more serious condition is that of not allowing derivative works since such a
condition severly limits the utility of such works on PM --- we would be limited
to displaying and distributing them verbatim and prevented from reusing them
in creative ways. It seems to me that the question of whether to allow works
under "no derivative" terms would be most relevant when it comes to papers because
it would determine whether we host reasearch articles by authors who believe in
open access but might be reluctant to grant blanket permission to produce derived
works because they are concerned that an ill-concieved derived work might affect
their reputations adversely.

What do you all think about these issues? As I mentioned earlier, we had some
discussion at and leading up to the board meeting (maybe Joe and Aaron could
post some of their thoughts on the matter) and would like to hear more thoughts
and suggestions on this topic from the community.

Raymond Puzio


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