In the process of designing and developing a 3D tool like Blender, it’s essential to share pictures and screenshots in posts or replies. Usually such designs and mock-ups are original works, but in some discussions screenshots or designs from other (closed) applications are being copied. In this text I will explain why we prefer to avoid this at blender.org.
Basic copyright rule
As an open project we need to comply to the highest ethical standards when it comes to copyrights. Nothing is hidden here, so we better make sure that our work is original and that contributions to the sources are done by people who have the right to do so. That is the foundation on which the freedom of GNU GPL has been built.
No discussion needed here. But there’s a gray area where things are not so clear…
Our brains hold myriads of ideas or concepts that have been copied and remixed from many sources. I believe we should be free to apply such knowledge for Blender. However, in practice this can get in conflict with cases where identity, brands, and other registered rights are in the way.
Some think you can get away by claiming the ‘fair use’ clause, which allows use of copyrighted material for non-commercial or public benefit causes. Applies to Blender, right? Not really! The fair use rule also demands that the original copyright holder should not be damaged by this use.
We have to acknowledge that Blender competes with commercial products nowadays and in that sense is not very non-commercial anymore.
Probably only one in a thousand people ever read an End-User License Agreement. I can recommend this to do at least once though. It will make you appreciate Free Software even better!
A very common clause in EULAs is that it does not permit users to share anything related to the licensed product; including software, appearance, concepts and docs. It is especially not allowed to reverse engineer its inner workings for competing causes.
Within the blender.org domain, I believe we should not put our users or the Blender project in legal troubles by violating these terms.
The dark side
Did the Blender project ever get in such legal troubles in the past?
Unfortunately… yes. Only very few times. I will not talk about that here though. It is in the best interest of the Blender project and its contributors to keep that information confidential. Luckily the cases faded out and never lead to actions. We were also well protected by legal support from the Free Software Foundation and the Open Invention Network.
However, these situations did help to become better aware of how to share information. The first guideline I added was:
- Always post your ideas and designs on a blender.org website, and create context to which current project you contribute.
And the second:
- Stay away from copying screenshots from commercial apps on blender.org.
The first guideline is to ensure you transfer the responsibilities of sharing the ideas to the Blender Foundation, which is much better suited to act legally than an individual coder.
The second guideline avoids a future conflict with a third party to claim “we steal their copyrights”.
But then what is possible?
- Talk about other programs in general terms based on public available knowledge. For example: “Maya’s layer system offers overrides”.
- Share links to videos or articles endorsed by the rights holders. For example “this promo video shows well how Modo offers character rigging”.
- Include screenshots in posts from commercial / non-open products.
- Copy texts, diagrams or other content from websites without their permission.
- Indicate in any way that we should copy external ideas or methods without permission.
There has been quite a wild discussion on the copyright guideline elsewhere on this forum. I think several people brought up sensible remarks though. We should get good guidelines here that are clear, practical, and that are widely endorsed.
Hopefully this write up helps, but please let me know how to improve it. I will update the wiki page with the copyright text later too.