Classes of Nonproprietary Intellectual Works

In this document, we clarify the definition of a nonproprietary intellectual work, and distinguish among several classes of works, both nonproprietary and proprietary.

This document uses "can" and "may" as technical words:

The giftfile project supports nonproprietary intellectual works. In order to effectively do this, we must be able to identify such works. We consider a nonproprietary intellectual work to be one that the public can and may use, copy, modify, and distribute. To keep things concise, for the rest of this document we will just say "enjoy" to refer to these rights and abilities.

Only the authors enjoy a work when it is first created. The public as a whole enjoys it if and when it becomes nonproprietary. In theory at least, the United States Constitution promises that every modifiable work published in the United States eventually becomes nonproprietary, since intellectual property rights are granted for limited times. Intellectual property rights holders can accelerate this process with an appropriate license or by voluntarily releasing their works into the public domain.

We divide intellectual works into five classes along the following lines:

        | published
        | | copy-and-modifiable
        | | | public domain
        | | | | proprietary derivations
        | | | | |
class A - Public domain works
class B - Licensed nonproprietary works
class C - Exclusively nonproprietary works (e.g., copyleft)
class D 0.1       - Restricted works
class E 0.0       - Unpublished works

The Nonproprietary Axis

The first column in each class tells if the class is nonproprietary. Again, we consider a nonproprietary intellectual work to be one that the public can and may use, copy, modify, and distribute. The remaining columns make requirements or distinctions within this basic split.

Proprietary works are not in the domain of giftfile certificates.

The Published Axis

This is a "can do" axis. It requires little explanation. If a producer wants the public to enjoy a work, then the work must be accessible. Class E works are proprietary because they are unpublished. We do not make further distinctions among proprietary works.

In a giftfile certificate, there is a URL which must allow the published work to be located.

The Copy-and-modifiable Axis

This is another "can do" axis. Some distribution formats or media obstruct copying, or are not natural for modification. An example of the latter case is software distributed in binary form, which is not practical for modification. When a nonproprietary work is distributed this way, the producer must also distribute the work in another form, called source form, which can be copied and is natural for modification of the work.

Every giftfile certificate references a work that is copy-and-modifiable. In addition, for convenience, it may reference a copy in a format which is not. The two are labeled source and binary, respectively.

The Public Domain Axis

This is a "may do" axis. A nonproprietary work is either in the public domain, or a license is necessary to give the public the right to use, copy, modify, and distribute the work.

These rights are expressed in a giftfile certificate, including copyright statements, license references, and/or public domain declarations.

The Proprietary Derivations Axis

This is another "may do" axis. It tells if the work's license allows proprietary derived works. For example the MIT license allows proprietary derivations, and the GNU GPL license version 2 does not.

The only known license technology for exclusively nonproprietary works is copyleft. Copyleft only allows derived works under an identical license. The result of mixing nonproprietary works with different copyleft licenses is not distributable. The community would benefit if research could resolve this troublesome aspect of the current license technology.

$LastChangedDate: 2005-04-30 02:16:54 -0400 (Sat, 30 Apr 2005) $