Questions and Answers
Leftcopy is a simple, permissive licensing program for scientific, artistic, literary and technical work.
- Personal use, small scale commercial use, voluntary/non-profit use and governmental/civic use are all encouraged.
- Large scale economic exploitation of wage labour is discouraged.
Leftcopy is a permissive license. This means you can do what you like with leftcopied works, as long as the license text, or the link to the license text is included.
A patent grant can be added (useful for some software) and additional warranties, services or rights on the work can be added for commercial purposes (without holding anyone liable for them). The applicable law / competent court are not specified.
Publisher DHEEP LLP SPDX identifier TBA1 FSF approved No2 OSI approved No3 GPL compatible Yes4 Copyleft No5 Allows linking from code with a different licence Yes
The Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) is led by a big business consortium, set up to deprecate licenses they don’t like. ↩
If you want to stop a corporation from using leftcopied work, contact their legal team and explain to them why you believe they are in breach of the license terms. If they promptly cease and desist then any further legal action would seem to be pointless.
If they object, then this is the time to seek legal advice. Leftcopy may be ‘legally significant’ if pleading for judgement against a corporation, for example to demand they cease using work in a court. A court finding in your favour could lead to an award to cover your legal costs and expenses.
Well you don’t need us to tell you how shady those guys are, so let’s spin up a hypothetical example.
Some greedy tech entrepreneur was crafty enough to set up a shell company offshore just so they could use a popular, leftcopied artistic work, let’s say it’s a music recording in the closing credits of a profitable movie.
The shell company’s profit-making movie production subsidiaries are small, one has forty five employees, another twenty, another only six… you get the idea. Now you could say, ‘hey, that’s against the spirit of leftcopy’ but no, the exploitation of wage labour in the shell company and the small production subsidiary is small scale.
So, although using leftcopy might feel like it’s like releasing work into the public domain, it’s not quite the same. The difference with leftcopy is WE, THE PEOPLE keep the copyright on the work we develop. Although individual artists cannot insist on royalties, we can insist on being credited as the copyright holder of the work, and so we can benefit economically in many other ways, if we want. For example by cross-selling merch or simply preventing the music or the movie which features it from being syndicated to Disney or whoever.
Leftcopy is about disallowing large scale economic exploitation of wage labour and even in exotic cases like these, it seems to work as expected.
Leftcopy is a very simple, permissive licensing program based on the Blue Oak Model License 1.0.0.
It has just one added restriction that only applies to legal entities having shareholders entitled to receive dividends from profits and employing more people than the license defines.
Version 2.0 of both licenses appear to meet the Open Source Definition, however Version 1.0 had been interpreted as ‘non-compliant’. Leftcopy as far as the Open Source Initiative is concerned then
may require a little more discussionhas been involved in a drive-by shooting:
Section 5, No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups contained in the Open Source Definition states:
The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
The Rationale is:
[…]we forbid any open-source license from locking anybody out of the process[…]
Leftcopy does not lock any human beings out, it only locks out companies that do not comply with the format and size criteria in the license. Leftcopy does not restrict individual employees, groups of employees, individual shareholders, or groups of shareholders, individual company officers, or groups of company officers or any customers from using the work, even commercially.
Section 6, No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor states:
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
The Rationale is:
The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.
Leftcopy does not directly or indirectly disadvantage any person or group of persons, or discriminate against any field of endeavor.
So, by this definition, leftcopy is Open Source. You will find lots of Open Source evangelists though that believe corporations must be given the same rights as human beings. The problem is the OSD does not say a corporation is a person, or a group of people capable of being discriminated against and generally speaking, this is not how discrimination law plays out. The OSD text is a mess. One way forward would be to use a more neutral term like ‘restricting access’ instead of ‘discrimination’ but then, that’s a problem the OSI have invented and they are the ones who are going to have to solve it.
No. Leftcopy licenses are almost identical to the Blue Oak Model License 1.0.0. These models are better known as ‘permissive’ licenses because they only offer minimal restrictions on how work can be used.
Leftcopy does not try to guarantee work remains free and publicly available. That requires a certain kind of licensing regime called copyleft.
The problem with copyleft licensing though is it gives large scale economic exploitation of wage labour a free pass.
The added restriction on Big or Giant Corporations is preserved downstream and so the large scale economic exploitation of wage labour that accompanies these organizations will tend to be discontinued.
Copyleft insists source code is always freely available to all, and of course this means big business too.
Leftcopy insists we, the people are free from large scale economic exploitation of wage labour. It works by explicitly excluding the sorts of corporations copyleft allows.
Leftcopy is not free in the copyleft sense, which is often compared to ‘Free Speech’:
Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. Think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”. Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.1
Copyleft stops only one dirty trick wealthy media proprietors, internet entrepreneurs, shady financiers and secretive industrialists play, which is using copyright for monopoly power and to actively censor human creativity.
But copyleft is powerless in the face of large scale economic exploitation of wage labour given freely under copyleft because work is also made available to Big Companies and Giant Corporations, (ironically, as a matter of principle!).
‘Free’ as in ‘Free Trade’ is a better analogy for Copyleft licensing. Unlike permissive or Open Source licensing, copyleft insists on unrestricted access to work scientists, artists, engineers and other freelancer’s produce when they apply it.
Comparing free software with free speech is an astonishing admission, given how fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories show how the concept of free speech is hopelessly flawed.
With so many useful constraints around commercial speech, hate speech and many other communicative restrictions placed on people, it’s no bad thing ‘Free speech’ is not so much a moral principle but a moral hazard.
It is no coincidence to see Big Tech is moving into copyleft spaces, seeking to penetrate even further into health, media, government, education and environmental sectors at a time when serious consideration is needed about how to stop them from interfering.
No matter which side you are cheering on, the copyright owners or the copyleft crowd, Big Tech is pulling all the strings behind the scenes in the copyleft pantomime.
Free Software Foundation ↩
By all means, post a link to your leftcopied work, or a small snippet, thumbnail or a short abstract but be aware that posting substantial amounts of your leftcopied work on popular platforms run by big business is very likely to undermine it.
Using the largest internet companies for work requires a high level of discretion because they make their operations legit through large scale economic exploitation of wage labour.
When you upload a photo on social media, the licence terms aren’t able to be revoked, and once you agree to them you can’t stop the ongoing circulation and reuse of the content by others, even after you have deleted your own account.
[…]there is a commercial logic behind social media platforms’ terms of service.
When people upload their images online, their use is regulated by the social media’s contract terms. This includes giving Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the others the right to use, reuse and sublicense use of the images. These platforms also collect images and data for their own marketing purposes, like promoting sponsored advertising.1
Watch out, using popular platforms like GitHub (run by tech giant, Microsoft) requires agreement to a service contract that may undermine your leftcopied work in the same way.
Using alternative platforms can prevent substantial amounts of your work ending up supplying big capital with undeserved benefits.
Software, books, research journals, communities and other resources are offered by enthusiasts, small developers, non-profits, civic institutions and independent publishers here and here and here, here and here. Most do not tie up substantial amounts of work with Big or Giant Corporations.
If you find they suit you, use them and tell your friends about them!
Emi Berry, 2019. Who owns the content on social media? UNSW Newsroom. ↩
Leftcopy is no different to Free (Libre) licensing in one important way:
EVERYONE needs to understand the rights they relinquish by using a particular license, and look at the possible legal repercussions of licensing their work ina particular way.
Neither leftcopy nor GNU (X)GPL offer a clear legal route to base a case against another user in terms of petitioning in court for financial rewards in the same way copyright does.
Programmers, designers and engineers can use leftcopy or GNU (X)GPL-like licenses to waive their rights to financial compensation in the codebase in return for labour market and reputational gains to be had and by securing service contracts for customization for clients, offering support and educational services and following up other business opportunities which can be pursued in courts separately just like any other service agreement.
GNU (X)GPL-like licenses are well-established and popular, however court cases suggest there is a lot of misunderstanding about them. They allow everyone agreeing to the terms to copy freely and distribute the work.
The GNU (X)GPL-like licenses place more restrictions on the proprietary licensing of modified works by insisting all ‘derivative works’ adopt the same terms.
Selecting a GNU (X)GPL-like license for work means offering it to non-expert end users, other developers, proprietary software developers, (and Big Tech too!) provided they agree to making their contributions free as well.
Leftcopy is less restrictive in this regard, being based on the Blue Oak Model License 1.0.0.
Leftcopy allows modifications to be released under a different license, even a proprietary one. Provided the user is not a Big or Giant Corporation there are minimal restrictions placed on how work is used.
Leftcopy is based on what are known as a permissive licenses, but with an added restriction that explicitly disallows Big and Giant Corporations from using the work.
The motivation for leftcopy is not to smash the entire world, after all capitalism does a pretty good job of doing just that, but to reduce downstream worker economic exploitation. Allowing small-scale commercial use may look like a bug to folk who prefer licenses that insist all businesses must be worker-led, but allowing small-scale commercial use is not a bug, it’s a design feature.
A qualitative analysis yields the insight that two main factors that correlate to predicted levels of worker economic exploitation: size and format.
Organizational size can be measured in a number of ways, (e.g. turnover, assets, profits) but the most meaningful metric for the purposes of reducing the high levels of worker economic exploitation by the largest companies is the number of employees:
Capitalist production only begins when each individual capitalist employs simultaneously a comparatively large number of workers; when consequently the labour-process is carried on on an extensive scale and yields, relatively, large quantities of products.
A greater number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.1
Small, profit-seeking businesses and sole traders behave badly too, but sole traders only exploit themselves and downstream worker economic exploitation in small to medium sized businesses is less significant than in the largest corporations.
The guilds of the middle ages […] tried to prevent by force the transformation of the master of a trade into a capitalist, by limiting the number of labourers that could be employed by one master within a very small maximum… Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his “Logic”), that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.2
Here is a snapshot of a typical business population:
The UK private sector comprises largely of non-employing businesses and small employers. There were 5.82 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.3% of the total business population.3
This analysis supports the need is for a generally permissive license with added restrictions on the size of capitalist entities able to benefit will be an effective deterrent against large scale exploitation of wage labour while encouraging large economies to orient towards small scale business, voluntary/non-profits and civic institutions without excessive disruption to working people’s lives.
Note: The scale of exploitation of wage labour within a given business, industrial sector or country is based on the difference between sales, value of shipments, or revenue of employer firms and annual payroll costs.
All large organizations are highly influential. When a large government department, non-profit or public institution gets something wrong, it can go as spectacularly wrong as any private company. A publicly funded health trust, educational supervision board or environmental agency is also just as likely to make big mistakes as a privately owned corporation.
But voluntary/non-profits and civic institutions have very different incentives and are structured differently. Firstly, they are not oriented towards making profits for shareholders and so there is no division of accountability. This means there are usually more democratic routes to ‘opening them up’ and editing (or deleting!) them when things go wrong than there are in privately owned companies with profits to maintain.
Big and Giant Corporations offer public benefits less directly because they are first and foremost accountable to their shareholders, so public accountability is more a matter for the marketing department, not a central design feature like it is in many public institutions.
This is why organizations that do not have private shareholders entitled to receive dividends from profits are not subject to the upper size limit thresholds. To use leftcopy Big and Giant Corporations must either:
Convert to an organization that does not have shareholders entitled to receive dividends from profits, for example a charitable foundation
Reduce the number of employees below the upper limit detailed in the license through corporate restructuring
Cease using work applied to leftcopy
Are you sure?
It feels like it’s one of those ethical licenses, is it?
One more time: No. It’s not an ethical source license. It does not restrict any ‘field of endeavor’.
People are rightly concerned about leaving technology open to development by the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google.Their bad behaviour makes headline news almost every day. They are very antisocial organizations, and we’ll just leave it at that.
Ethical Source was set up to target software developers, to make them more accountable for what they are tasked with automating.
Peeling back all the concept branding stickers, Ethical Source is just voluntary self-regulation. It’s based on a popular intervention that tries to delineate moral consensus in many diverse professions all clamouring for the same kind of social prestige. The exemplary case is perhaps medicine, which was established through much stricter government controls and formal educational standards, but in some countries even yoga tutors can volunteer to be regulated by one corporate scheme or another.
Demonstrating professional standing in software is as important as in any other sector. Freelance tech developers are no different to self-employed electricians or yoga teachers in that all self-employed people need to portray a trustworthy image. There is competitive advantage to be had in offering reassurance that they aren’t the sort of people that (metaphorically speaking) want to ‘f*ck with cats’.
Evidence suggests voluntary self-regulation is slightly effective at keeping certain kinds of people out of a particular field, people who are either unwilling or unable to meet the criteria. It does this by creating barriers to market entry and this also helps keep pay rates slightly higher. There is little evidence that voluntary self-regulation protects the public as much as the lobbyists in favor of it claim though.
Perversely, the incentives for people signing up for voluntary self-regulation mask the fact that small businesses and freelancers pose a relatively trivial threat to society when compared to Big Tech.
Schemes like Ethical Source target all the ‘little people’, and let big corporations off the hook. This is the misfortune of voluntary self-regulation in the form of ethical standards. Leaving the distribution of ethical standards to the ‘little folk’ already struggling with compressed occupational narratives piles on the pressure for them, while big corporations continue to behave as badly as they dare.
Schemes like Ethical Source create additional burdens for (mostly) well-intentioned, ‘mom and pop’ sized developers while the greatest risks to society posed by large corporates continue to advance monopolies and censorship.
The largest monopolies continue to dictate the workforce, education, public health and environmental agendas and that is why leftcopy proscribes them. This is an intervention to effectively disallow large scale economic exploitation of wage labour.
Both leftcopy licenses are under three hundred words long. The PPL comes in at over three thousand words in length.
The PPL restricts all businesses that seek to generate a profit for shareholders by subtracting value from the payroll. This includes all small businesses where there might be only a few people employed in the business.
Leftcopy allows small scale commercial use and unlimited voluntary/non-profit and civic use because evidence data suggests Big and Giant Corporations exploit workers more simply because of their size and the combined need to profit their shareholders.
We agree with Marx, in that the moment of capitalist production can be ascertained most reliably by rating the size of a commercial enterprise based on the number of workers it employs.
With the PPL, to be eligible businesses must be worker-owned. With leftcopy, any business below certain size and format constraints can participate based on the evidence that worker economic exploitation is generally higher among larger, profit-seeking companies.
If you are not a lawyer and you don’t like the idea of Big or Giant Corporations getting a free pass to use your work then we think you will love leftcopy.