How to license your docs

If you post documents on the Web, this is for you. I’m going to tell you how to give your document a Creative Commons license.

The Creative Commons web site is creativecommons.org.


I (and others) have written and posted documents about petanque on the Web. We love petanque and want to share information about it with everybody. We love it if somebody puts a link to our web site on his web site, or copies one of our documents onto his web site, or even copies one of our documents and customizes it to fit his own needs.  But of course, while we’re happy to share, we don’t especially want our work to be stolen. We want our original work to be acknowledged.

For a lot of us, electronic publishing is an adventure into new and unknown territory. But although we may not know it, this territory was explored and settled long ago. Procedures and standards for electronic publishing have been evolving for more than 20 years. Today they are mature and widely recognized.

Nowadays, a standard tool for sharing an electronic document is a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons (CC) is an organization whose purpose is to help people share electronic documents on the Web. It does this by providing a selection of standard licenses that an author can use to tell downloaders what they are (and are not) permitted (and required) to do with a document that they’ve downloaded. Each type of license specifies a set of permissions and requirements. An author chooses the license that contains exactly the specifications that he wants.

The Creative Commons web site is creativecommons.org. It explains what CC is all about, and it provides an easy-to-use license-choosing tool to help you choose the right license for your document. The license-chooser asks you a few simple questions and then generates text for the kind of license you want. You copy that text into your document (or put it on your Web page), and you’re done. It’s as easy as that.

Recently, as a demo for a friend, I went thru the license-chooser, responding to each question. When I had finished, the license chooser chose this license.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

And it generated this text that could be copied into my document.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

One thing that this particular license —the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License — allows, is for someone to make a copy of the document, modify it (including translating it into a foreign language), and re-publish it…. provided that

  • he credits the original source — that is to say, me.
  • he licenses what he creates with the same CC license that I used. This means that he can’t charge other people money for something that he got from me for free.

For this demo the license-chooser generated a license that met MY needs. But of course when you do it for a document of your own, you may make different choices and end up with a different CC license.

If you’d like to see a document with a CC license, see my Notes on the Rules of Petanque.

The bottom line

If you have a document that you want to share via the Web, add a CC license to it.   It will make everybody’s life just a little bit easier.


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