Leftcopy?

The Leftcopy Social License, (‘LSL’) is a simple, permissive, public copyright license with an economic restriction banning large business entities.

Everyone else can do pretty much what they like with work fixed to the LSL.

The only requirement is to include either the LSL text, or a clickable link to https://socialdomain.net.

To keep it simple, the LSL only insists on a generic link to https://socialdomain.net as a form of attribution.

If you anticipate academic citations, or want to encourage a more specific attribution you could place your own name, or an organization name in a ‘one-liner’ in document headers or footers, something like this code snippet:

Copyright (!c) {CURRENT YEAR}. Except where otherwise noted, {TITLE OF WORK} is <a target="_blank" href="https://socialdomain.net">social domain</a> thanks to {AUTHOR NAME}. Licensed under Leftcopy.org LSL-2.6.1.

More specific details about authors or contributors could also be included in:

  • An AUTHORS, CONTRIBUTORS or CREDITS section
  • A NOTICES or README file
  • A humans.txt file
  • For larger software projects, a Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO) or Contributors License Agreement (CLA) may be useful to help keep a record of all the technical contributions made.

The conventional designation for work in the social domain is (!c) or the (!c) symbol. The SVG file is available for download here

The LSL has an unambiguous usage restriction that bans large business entities from using work.

This makes the LSL easier to interpret than other kinds of licenses that have added restrictions.

For example, restrictions that ban use for all commercial purposes can be tricky for a court to interpret because there is often some ambiguity about what is, or what isn’t ‘commercial use’.

The LSL does not restrict commerce in general. Sweeping restrictions against all commercial use prevents anyone from undertaking economic transactions. This would be a very blunt instrument, and way too harsh on individuals, smaller businesses, government agencies and civic institutions that want to enter into financial transactions with each other.

The specific usage restriction against large business sector entities in the LSL is:

  1. Very crisply defined
  2. Easy to monitor
  3. Easy to interpret

The only purpose that is off limits and thus locked out of the scheme is use by large, business sector entities.

The clarity and simplicity of the LSL ought to be easier to enforce because:

  1. The types of legal entities excluded are defined explicitly in the license text
  2. Monitoring and compliance can be done using readily available, established and standardized industry data collection conventions operating in almost all countries.

This method ought to make it easier for courts to interpret the intention of the license, which is clearly to ban the large business entities as defined.

Work fixed to the LSL is intended for use by private citizens, educational and health trusts, municipal agencies, smaller businesses, government departments and many types of civil institutions1.

Combining work fixed to the LSL within larger, derivative works under a different license, even for commercial purposes should not be a problem for these entities.

They can take a work under the LSL and make something new from it and re-publish for use by each other, but they cannot republish it under another license or combine it for use by large, business sector entities.

The best license candidates to choose for sublicensing would be one from the other social domain licenses that are available.

Remember that downstream licensees cannot swap out the LSL. It is always fixed to the original work. All they can do is sublicense the work, which means they can add additional restrictions if they want, not change the license completely.

In the other direction, a derivative made from a work under another license may, or may not be published under the LSL, depending on the license.

Permissive licenses2 and public domain equivalent licenses3 are the best candidates for this while other licenses, like ‘Copyleft’, (‘Share-Alike’)4 won’t be compatible with the LSL in this direction as they insist work is distributed under the same, or similar terms.

Criticisms from ‘Free’ and ‘Open’ culture fans aimed at licenses with additional use restrictions suggest any restrictions on use are always bad.

A common, but low effort rebuttal is simply that use restrictions break some definition of Free or Open culture. The wider implication is Free and Open licenses are better because they are politically ‘neutral’ when it comes to use.

Free and Open licenses are not politically ‘neutral’.

Free and Open culture is politically indiscriminate and their licensing regimes do much worse than sit on the fence as social, economic and political problems accumulate.

They actually amplify these problems, even as a matter of ‘principle’!

Allowing indiscriminate harm against anyone and anything in the name of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Openness’ is why I avoid fixing my own work to Free and Open licenses.

Free and Open licenses are licenses allow any purpose. Such indiscretion gives some of the least deserving and dangerous business interests a free pass to play fast and loose with all the work we produce, at a massive scale.

It’s a very good idea to prevent large companies from gaining access to the work scientists, engineers, artists, academics and authors produce. Large business entities have features that make them particularly dangerous to human health and the environment.

Everyone has an opportunity to determine what their work can be used for under copyright, but this opportunity is wasted under the imperatives of such high concentrations of private wealth.

Licensing regimes that do not restrict large scale corporate use are not politically neutral, they are politically indiscriminate (think ‘shotgun’ rather than ‘sniper’) and so, one way we can help fix that problem is by fixing our work to the LSL.

The correct way to license work is to establish and protect the economic, material conditions of the people doing the actual work.

Mindlessly leaving the door open to any large corporation with the power to control and influence all the work we produce is not the right way to license our work, if we really care about our future.

  1. SPDX is a concerted effort by large tech corporations to tilt free and open work towards frictionless implementation. They use loaded jargon like ‘standardization’ and ‘non-proliferation’. 

No, it would be a mistake to class the LSL as an ‘ethical’ license1.

The LSL is a permissive license with an economic exclusion term.

The employee limits in the LSL are not based on a scientific claim about precisely when the number of employees in a firm becomes a matter of wider, social concern.

The limits are normative, in that they are based on established convention in defining ‘Small and Medium-sized Businesses’ in international data collection.

This method is broadly informed however by Karl Marx’s observations on the origins of capitalist production:

A greater number of labourers 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.

Karl Marx, 1887. Capital (Volume I). Progress Publishers, Chapter 13 ‘Co-operation’ p218.

The limit on the number of employees is included in the labor and employment statistics of most companies public accounting and reporting requirements in most countries. This method is a reliable and accessible way to measure business scale and makes monitoring and enforcement of licensed work easier2.

  1. My own view of copyright is ethical justifications for it are unconvincing. Thus, there can be no ethical justification for reforming it, or abolishing it either. Copyright is the result of a historical process. Early, ecclesiastical and monarchical anxieties about maintaining social control were superseded by the need for economic controls over mechanical reproduction by industrialists and media proprietors while more contemporary legal battles are over digital reproduction rights, dominated by the interests of Big Tech. 

  2. The term ‘contractors’ is not used in the license text because most countries have regulations on the tax status of workers and are best placed to regulate who is classed as an employee, and who is an independent contractor. 

Let’s take a hypothetical example of a large media distribution company, let’s call it ‘BigFlix’ which has over one hundred subsidiary companies running offices all over the world, but is managed offshore through a tiny, secretive shell company1 that only has five directors, with no other employees.

BigFlix wants to modify music recordings and artwork fixed to the LSL, and then distribute them in a bundle to use in a TV ‘mini-series’ pilot across it’s network and through syndication.

The BigFlix idea is to contract a studio, which has fifty employees to edit the recordings and artwork and use another company, which has two hundred employees to apply the finishing touches to the new production, while another agency, which has only one hundred employees, will do all the marketing and PR.

BigFlix’s nervy, corporate lawyers identify which material is fixed to the LSL, and advise the new production could be brought under the copyright of the tiny offshore company, but they also point out that distribution of so much material may not be permitted under the ‘head’ LSL.

The LSL does not provide permission to BigFlix to include derivatives of the original material as it is a ‘group of companies with many thousands of employees.

Even if BigFlix sets up another, small subsidiary to try to circumvent the LSL, they will find the LSL also explicitly excludes use because the subsidiary would also be part of the same, ‘BigFlix group of companies’.

Another way to circumvent the LSL might be for BigFlix to set up a smaller, but independently owned company and then enter into an agreement at ‘arms length’, to sell the bundle to realize profits from the movie franchise.

The problem is that neither BigFlix, nor any of its subsidiaries can legally transfer rights over material they do not have, and certain rights will remain lawfully fixed to the LSL.

For BigFlix to distribute the bundle, it might use a smaller, independent company that agrees to distribute the LSL material as part of the bundle.

But, an independent contractor, operating as a corporate agent of BigFlix to collect revenues or distribute royalties, is a type of ‘business trust’, and is a type of legal entity that is also explicitly excluded under the terms of the LSL.

  1. The ‘applicable law / competent court’ have been deliberately left open, this is to prevent multinational organizations or companies from evading legal notice. 

Can Use commercially, modify, adapt, distribute, sublicense1, use privately2, use a patent3, add a warranty4
Must Include license or clickable link to https://socialdomain.net
Cannot Hold Workers liable

IMPORTANT: Please make sure you have read and understood the implications of the LSL before you fix your work to it. Hire your own legal adviser if you are unsure of the suitability of Leftcopy for your own needs. The LSL cannot be revoked!

If you think the LSL is not right for you, other social domain licenses are available.

  1. Modified works may be licensed with additional restrictions, (e.g. commercial, ‘non-commercial’ or ‘ethical’ clauses). 

  2. Private use includes special ‘free uses’, such as quotations in news reports, fair use for teaching and study purposes, first sale, work for hire and some other proprietary uses such as evaluation, testing, trials and trade secrets

  3. Having a patent grant may be useful with some software because it protects Workers against legal claims. 

  4. A warranty may be added, for example if additional products or services are bundled with the work. 

Me, Mat K. Witts, unaffiliated programmer and researcher, (I Am Not A Lawyer!).

Versions 2.0 and later were derived from the Blue Oak Model 1.0.0 license.

The website source code also requires an attribution NOTICE.