ZDNet article - why attribution matters

Michael Tiemann tiemann at redhat.com
Tue Nov 28 03:08:00 UTC 2006

On Mon, 2006-11-27 at 18:50 -0800, Lawrence Rosen wrote:
> Hi John,
> The issue isn't just "Why attribution matters," because it obviously does.
> Attribution is already mentioned in lots of FOSS licenses. Attribution is
> important to every author, not just commercial ones who work for a living
> (although most do!). Notice of authorship is so important that the US
> Copyright Act even makes the fraudulent removal of a copyright notice a
> criminal offense. 17 USC 506(d). 
> We should instead be asking: How much attribution is enough? How much
> attribution can be demanded in an open source license? 

This conflates two very important questions.

> I don't believe anyone has argued yet that Sugar's license crosses the line.
> Most of us simply aren't sure where the line should be drawn. You can
> legally require in a software license that licensees put neon signs on the
> highway to announce your copyrighted work, but is that open source?

First: is it attribution?  The Creative Commons folks seem to agree that
attribution "in the manner specified by the author" is not a blank
check, and they say so in the code (but not the deed) of the license.  A
requirement for neon in attribution is not, strictly speaking, needed to
satisfy the legal requirements of legal attribution.

Second: is it open source?  Just as a lawyer cannot say for sure what
the law says until a judge renders a verdict (and even then a successor
judge can render a different judgment), the only way to know for sure
that something satisfies the Open Source Definition is to put the
license before the OSI approval process and see if it is approved by the


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