atom feed3 messages in com.redhat.fedora-docs-listCC-BY-SA and moral rights provision
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Richard FontanaAug 14, 2009 10:05 am 
Tom "spot" CallawayAug 14, 2009 10:13 am 
Richard FontanaAug 14, 2009 10:22 am 
Subject:CC-BY-SA and moral rights provision
From:Richard Fontana (
Date:Aug 14, 2009 10:05:13 am


Sorry to reopen an issue that was supposed to be resolved. When we were discussing whether to go with CC-BY-SA unported or CC-BY-SA US, there was an issue I had overlooked. The unported version of CC-BY-SA 3.0 has a provision, 4d, concerning 'moral rights' that has been the subject of some controversy in the CC community:

Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the Licensor or as may be otherwise permitted by applicable law, if You Reproduce, Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work either by itself or as part of any Adaptations or Collections, You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation.

Quick background: many copyright law regimes recognize something called 'moral rights' of authors that are distinct from the 'economic rights' we ordinarily associate with copyright. These are generally unassignable rights (you can't sell them) and in some countries you can't waive them. In the US, oversimplifying a bit, moral rights are generally assumed not to exist for most kinds of copyrightable works other than visual works, but moral rights are important in many other countries, particularly in Europe.

I believe the intent of CC-BY-SA 3.0 unported 4d was just to say that, for copyright regimes that recognize moral rights, CC-BY-SA does not affect them in any way. Larry Lessig pointed this out in a blog posting which currently eludes me. However, there is an argument that the provision, as worded, suggests that even where the copyright law regime does not recognize moral rights, the license is effectively importing them in. This provision was, FWIU, not in earlier unported versions of CC-BY-SA, and it is not in the US version of CC-BY-SA 3.0. I understand that there is some effort to clarify this provision in future revisions of CC-BY-SA.

Note that moral rights (which in many countries that recognize them apply to software as well as to other kinds of works) are at tension with the FOSS norms that are the heart of Fedora legal policies and which encourage modification even if it might be 'prejudicial' to the author. Most FOSS licenses (which admittedly tend to be drafted by Americans) tend to assume they don't exist.

Fedora documentation, though written by many authors, many of whom are unaffiliated with Red Hat, is technically being licensed out downstream by Red Hat, the licensee named in the Fedora CLA. I would assume that 4d would not apply to the extent that applicable underlying law is US law. However, I suppose there is some doubt about this. In the US any moral rights (or similar rights that might be captured by 4d) that do exist are almost certain to be waivable, though there may be some doubt about that too.

Anyway, I would not want Red Hat, as licensor of Fedora documentation, to stand behind 4d, as a matter of principle, even if it has no actual applicability. One solution would be to go with CC-BY-SA 3.O US, which omits the moral rights provision entirely. Alternatively, however, we could continue with using CC-BY-SA 3.0 unported and revise the Publican licensing notice to say the following:

Copyright © 2009 Red Hat, Inc. and others.

This document is licensed by Red Hat under a Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 3.0 Unported license ("CC-BY-SA"). An explanation of this license is available at The original authors of this document, and Red Hat, designate the Fedora Project as the "Attribution Party" for purposes of CC-BY-SA. In accordance with CC-BY-SA, if you distribute this document or an adaptation of it, you must provide the URL for the original version.

Red Hat, as the licensor of this document, waives and agrees not to assert the right to enforce Section 4d of CC-BY-SA to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law.

That extra language doesn't actually extinguish any moral rights claims that Fedora contributors might have, for better or worse; I think it just has the effect of making clear that the CC license won't be used by Red Hat as a separate mechanism to enforce such moral rights.

- Richard