Worldwide Public Domain Dedication (WPDD)

Mon, 25 Jul 2022

Back in May 2022 a conversation in the FSF's IRC channel on Libera.​Chat got me thinking that that there may be a benefit to having a version of CC0 that does address patents.

To be sure, my general position is that using a strong copyleft license like AGPL-3.0-or-later is best, but the existence of things like The Unlicense show that there's still an interest in such things nonetheless.

A challenge with this is that, when you make something, you don't get one single copyright from your home country but many different copyrights from various countries around the world. Even if your area of the world lets you specifically waive or abandon your copyright somehow, that only takes care of one of your many copyrights. If you then ask whether you can also do that with the remainder of your copyrights from all of those other countries around the world, the situation quickly becomes more complicated.

What I've found is that the answer seems to be "no"; that it's not really possible to make something be free of copyright restrictions on a worldwide basis. This leaves an open question about whether things such as The Unlicense can actually operate as intended.

Creative Commons tried to address this with CC0, which was designed to work as both a waiver of rights and also included a broad permissive license as a fallback for the cases where that wouldn't work.

When reading about The Unlicense, a comment on gnu.org is that "If you want to release your work to the public domain, we recommend you use CC0. CC0 also provides a public domain dedication with a fallback license, and is more thorough and mature than The Unlicense."

When drafting CC0 Creative Commons didn't imagine it being used for software and had primarily targeted the scientific data community, which resulted in language being added that patent rights were not granted.

Software patents are an ever-growing concern and so it is important to use licenses with explicit patent grants in them (this is another reason why the AGPL-3.0-or-later I mentioned earlier wins out.) When Creative Commons tried to get CC0 approved by both the FSF and OSI, the concerns over explicitly not granting patent rights eventually resulted in them withdrawing CC0 from consideration by the OSI.

It's still listed at https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#CC0 but for being a "Licenses for Works of Practical Use besides Software and Documentation" and a comment that it's not recommmended for works of software because of the patent concerns.

What are people to use if they want to waive their rights (at least, as far as they can)? A choice between The Unlicense, which is less mature and may not operate as intended on a worldwide basis, or CC0 which raises patent concerns by explicitly not granting patent rights?

In my view they should use a strong copyleft license like AGPL-3.0-or-later but if they're not going to then they should have access to the needed tools to put things into the public domain (or at least coming as close to that as they can) safely, effectively, and in a way that doesn't raise patent problems.

Creative Commons says that their licenses can be modified as long as it's renamed and none of their trademarks are used, so I grabbed a copy of CC0 and worked with three different patent attorneys in three different countries to incorporate language to first waive any patents, and then license them if that is not possible for some reason.

The result is what I'm calling the Worldwide Public Domain Dedication (WPDD).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Doesn't something overly permissive like MIT-0 or WTFPL accomplish the same thing?
A: Not really. These are based in copyright and a person placing a work under MIT-0 or WTFPL isn't waiving any rights - The work is still copyrighted, even if the license doesn't require preservation of notices saying so (a copyright notice isn't required to exist for copyright itself to exist.). As such things like MIT-0 and WTFPL aren't trying to accomplish the same policy goal, which is a total waiver of all rights, to whatever extent that can be accomplished.

Q: Isn't it a bad idea to write your own license?
A: Indeed, which is why I didn't. The WPDD gets to take advantage of the work done on CC0, with work from patent attorneys to form the patent pieces.

Q: Has anyone else looked at this?
A: I have submitted this to the FSF for their review. The response indicated that they'd look into this, although no timeframe was indicated. I've also sent a message to some well-known people in the area of licensing & policy issues in May but have not received a response.