When creating any kind of content whether a blog article or source code, the author has to make a choice about which license to use. This is a very tough decision for many people because, in theory, it impacts your ability to make money from your content. While I haven’t written an article on the subject of intellectual property, many of my opinions are similar to those in the book “Against Intellectual Monopoly” by Michele Boldrin and Davik K. Levine. As you can tell from the title I am very much against intellectual property.
Regardless of my feelings on intellectual property, the fact remains that governments around the world recognize and enforce copyright. If you don’t publish a license then you automatically retain full rights over your work and in theory anyone who uses your work without your permission is guilty of copyright infringement. In some countries you cannot even release your rights.
When it comes to crypto currencies there are many additional factors that come to play. For starters, all serious crypto currency projects must be open source so that the code can be audited and everyone using the system can have confidence in the integrity of the network. Most projects choose some variation of MIT or BSD licenses because they allow commercial and closed source usage and maximize the rate of adoption. Licenses such as GPL are often not used because it would limit adoption among some businesses.
Lets review the BSD license:
Copyright (c) <year> <copyright holder>. All rights reserved. Redistribution and use in source and binary forms are permitted provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are duplicated in all such forms and that any documentation, advertising materials, and other materials related to such distribution and use acknowledge that the software was developed by the <organization>. The name of the <organization> may not be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission. THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED ``AS IS'' AND WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.
The interesting thing about this license is that < copyright holder > reserves all rights and only grants permission to copy or redistribute the software conditionally. In a legal sense there is a owner and that owner is potentially subject to liability.
A crypto currency is designed to be fully decentralized yet there exists a fully centralized owner who has entered a legally enforceable contract with each and every user of the software. In theory the owner of the license could be coerced into revoking it or transferring the license to the government. In theory the government becomes the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to interpreting and enforcing the contract. This simple license invites the government into the relationship between the creator of the software and the user thereof.
Because BitShares was developed as part of a larger vision to make governments irrelevant, it would be a contradiction to depend upon governments to enforce any kind of software license. BitShares must succeed without any kind of license protection at all.
As a software developer producing disruptive software that people are depending upon to store millions and hopefully billions of dollars of wealth, there exists tremendous liability on the owner of the software if a fault causes a loss of value to the user. The BSD license attempts to absolve the owner of any liability, but that clause remains subject to interpretation of government courts.
I choose to put BitShares in the public domain because it should be owned by no one and everyone. Once in the public domain governments no longer have jurisdiction over it because there are no contracts to interpret.
If crypto currencies are to be truly free and beyond government control then they need to move beyond software licenses that depend upon government enforcement to have any meaning at all. They need to wake up and realize the internal contradiction.
As some of you may know I take a subjective view of reality that sees everyone as part of one consciousness. Steve Pavlina has written a lot about this subject and ultimately decided to release all of his work into the Public Domain. Here is what he had to say:
Since I’m on the subjective side now, I see this situation in a different light than I otherwise would have. Bob and that ghostwriter and I aren’t separate from each other. They are me.
If I look within myself, I would say that the dream character Bob currently represents a part of me that feels phony and false. And why is that part there? Perhaps it’s because part of me feels phony and false claiming ownership of the material I’ve been producing and publishing for years.
The truth is that I can’t really say that I’m the one creating all this content. It flows through me so effortlessly that I don’t really know where it’s coming from. I spent thousands of hours producing all this content, but did I really create it? Sure I worked hard, but I overwhelmingly enjoyed the process. Writing is a peaceful, flowing, and pleasurable experience for me.
When I write in the best way I know how (from inspiration), it’s like my consciousness steps aside, and content flows through me and onto the computer screen. I’m basically a pen. I let the dreamer communicate through me.
How can I possibly blame Bob or his ghostwriter or anyone else who’s tried to pass off my material as their own? If I do that, I’d just be projecting my own issues onto them.
I cannot solve this problem at that level. I could try of course, but what would that “solution” look like? Send Bob some nasty letters maybe. Get an attorney involved. Succumb to negative emotions like blame and resentment. Disconnect from who I really am. No thanks!
In the end, I’d only be fighting with myself, and I’d be injecting more conflict and negative drama into this dream world. That is not an intelligent solution.
To be totally truthful, I have to confess that I’m in the same boat, trying to pass off the dreamer’s content as my own. I’ve been doing that for years. Bob is simply reflecting that back to me. The problem is mine, not his. I’m responsible for it.
To go a little deeper, I would say that I did write a lot of content (hundreds of articles) at the level of my own mind. But by and large, that’s the content that sucks. The best content, the stuff that makes people freak out the most, flows through me, but it is not of me.
From this perspective relying on copyright and intellectual property seems downright counterproductive if our goal is to create a more free and abundant world.
What is Public Domain
Based upon the reasoning above I have chosen to place everything I create into the Public Domain.
Wikipedia defines the public domain as works that fall outside of copyright law.
Definitions of the boundaries of the public domain in relation to copyright, or intellectual property more generally, regard the public domain as a negative space, that is, it consists of works that are no longer in copyright term or were never protected by copyright law.
I interpret this to mean that the work has no “owner” and ownership is the key component to control and therefore liability. Ownership is centralization and is therefore a weakness in systems designed to be robust against attack.
3rd Party Licenses
BitShares isn’t entirely my work, but built on top of many libraries licensed under many different terms. Just because BitShares is Public Domain does not mean governments will not recognize the copyright of third parties whose work is necessary for the function of BitShares. Fortunately, placing my work in Public Domain still has many theoretical benefits with respect to 3rd party licenses.
If the software was owned by me rather than in the public domain then I, as the owner of the software, could be compelled by government thugs at the behest of other copyright owners to comply with their terms. By putting BitShares into the public domain there is no one to compel except individual users which are so decentralized that no sane individual would find it profitable to enforce their own copy rights against millions.
So when you download BitShares, only the code we created is actually in the Public Domain. If you use our code along side 3rd party libraries then it will be up to you to comply (or not) with their terms. Luckily all of our dependencies have very permissive open source licenses (MIT, BSD, GPL, etc.) and as an individual user you are still legally allowed to use the software.
I am not a Lawyer
Everything I have said in this post should not be taken as legal advice and could be entirely wrong. Governments may still impose liability against the author of Public Domain software even if the author is not the owner. In my experience there is little rhyme nor reason in how government courts actually interpret things. The opinions I have expressed are mostly based upon my own reasoning and philosophy. Your mileage may vary.