Copyright guidelines for devtalk

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…

Fair use

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.

The EULA

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?

Possible is:

  • 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”.

Do not:

  • 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.

What next

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.

-Ton-

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A way for moderators to delete posts in blender.community would be great…there is a lot of spam about things not even related to blender(especially in graphicall where people are only supposed to add to add their blender builds) and the only thing to do is dislike it and move on

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This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

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In the book Free as in Freedom about Richard Stallman there was a story of how Richard was fighting with the early non-free programs by doing a hack. He had access to the source code of those programs. But instead of copying it. He was learning the features of the non-free program to rewrite them into a slightly more free one. He had a lot of legal problems because of doing so. First he read the source code and was trying to implement it differently. But later only read about the features in the documentation to avoid copying parts of the code without noticing it. In the case of Blender an awareness of what people need is a good thing. But reliance on other software in order to make this one is unnecessary.

Blender quickly becomes number 1 3D tool on the market. Probably due to it’s being Free Software (Free as in Freedom) it grows way faster. We are on a race with a faster car. Others simply started earlier by cheating. By making EULAs and other nasty things they got slightly ahead at first. But not for long.

And this is another reason to take Ton’s words seriously. They didn’t feel much pressure until now. Now they are. And they will try to fight us. Imagine a scene from a car race movie where our hero started last and coming closer to being the first. And all the bad guys use cheats and hidden weapons to try to keep their position. Our hero needs to be careful and smart and amazing to survive what’s coming.

Tensions grow. We shouldn’t give them an attack surface. I would add to Ton’s words my personal view on the subject. Trying to copy over features from other software is like trying to copy scenes from one film to another. People will be turned off. Coolest games and projects always try to break the rules instead of following them. Richard Stallman hacked the copyright system with GPL. Nobody saw that coming. Gnome 3 is a weird desktop environment. Blender’s cloth brush and “Everything Nodes” are things I show to people and they are yelling from weirdness and excitement.

In my opinion Blender should develop it’s own way. Lead the way. So other programs gonna copy from Blender. And not the other way around. When you see a feature in a different peace of software, don’t just scream it here. Think about the feature. Think about it’s flaws. Redesign it in your head. Make it into a completely unrelated thing. Something inspired by that feature. But something you would be proud to present. Something fresh.

I think the Blender Community as a whole proved to be some clever people. Blender is awesome and by being breathtaking we will win this race.

Happy Hacking!

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Regarding Fair Use:
It’s important to touch on it because many people have a deep misunderstanding of what it is. Fair use is a legal defense which means you can only invoke it after you’ve been sued to try and convince a judge that your usage passes the 4 prongs of a fair use test. You cannot preempt a lawsuit by claiming “Fair Use” (or by disclaiming any endorsement or association with the original work) in advance. Fair use is not a shield and that is not how the law works. You have to be sued to legally invoke a fair use claim, and claims are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis dependent upon the fact-specific circumstances of each infringement. There is no such thing as a blanket fair use claim.

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I also find that many people have a misunderstanding that a recitation of US law is somehow instructive outside of the USA. LOL

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More then that. One of the main reasons to do GPLv3 ( while GPLv2 exists ) was that lawyers in different countries see the same words differently. Like the word “distribute”. So the GPLv2 was vulnerable to attacks like this. For GPLv3, instead of consulting only US lawyers. The FSF consulted lawyers from all around. For example “distribute” is not used in the text of GPLv3. They have the terms “convey” and “propagate” which are clearly defined in the text it self.

A lot of people want to be Free. A lot of people torrent movies, download songs from YouTube and install cracked Photoshops and Mayas. Which they downloaded illegally gratis. They have Windows with the “Activate Windows” message written in the corner. I have friends that do that. And they laugh at me saying that they got their software gratis too. And that Blender being gratis has no added value to them.

People don’t understand law. Because they think law represents common sense. It’s not. Some laws are ridiculous. But they still written in words. And the lawyers will use those words against you.

For me in Israel listening to mp3 in vlc before 2017 was legal. In the US the same activity would be illegal. Because US has the law that’s permitting software patents. And the mp* formats were under such patent.

Developing or using software that was under such patent without the permission of the patent holder is illegal. Of course the police will not enforce it. The patent holder might enforce it by suing you. Luckily the patent was issued in 1997 and by 2017 (20 years) the patent is no longer valid.

Copyright is a different beast. People confusing those 2 by lumping them together into a vague term “Intellectual Property”. But they have completely different rules. And people are not looking into the rules them selves. Because they hear “IP” and it’s assumed you will hear “property”. Property is one concept, copyright is another, patent is yet another, trade mark is also yet another.

I’m saying that even if you dodge one attack there is the other. By avoiding copyright problems. You don’t avoid patent problems. Copyright is more about the actual work. Patent is more about the idea. Just this distinction alone make them completely unrelated. But both extremely dangerous in our situation here.

We have to somehow educate users who grab everything gratis. To make them understand that for Free Software there is a lot of legal headache to go through.

Yes and no(which is to say the above quoted statment is a bit too ambiguous), patents are still very much to do with specific implementations. You can’t patent math or physics for an example. But you can patent a specific mechanism taking advantage of Physics and mathematical rules to solve a specific problem.

First you engineer a solution to a problem then you patent it to gain limited time protection from direct copying of your specific implementational solution. What the government gets out of giving you those protections is a publicly documented example of just how your solution works which in turn allows for competing solutions from others without accidentally duplicating yours.

I.e. they can use the same underlying physics and maths to solve the same problem however they have to come up with a sufficiently unique mechanism solving it.

At least that’s the intended idea.

I was trying to give people enough frustration with my post about copyright and patents. So they will be careful about them.

Well… https://audio-video.gnu.org/video/rms-speech-patents-calgary-20050518-320x240.ogg this video by RMS is the answer to you.

Copyright usage has developed into something a little unballanced over the last years. Some have gone overboard with how much they patent and the way they use it to block others. Like thinktanks who try to anticipate future ideas and patent the ides just so others won’t be able to use them when the time has come. Or Apple with their slide to unlock patent (which is ridiculous) or the law that copyrights have to be enforced in order not to lose them. I do hope that the laws will be reworked or be replaced by something better. But we deal with international politics here as well.

Until that time has come we are unfortunately stuck with what we have and so - that’s what it is.
So: Referring back to Ton’s initial post.

That would be very self defeating, patents last far shorter than copyrights.

Yeah … I probably shouldn’t have written that part. That info was somewhere in the back of my brain and may very well be not from a trusted source. :sweat_smile:
The overall statement that we are currently stuck with what we have still stands, though.

Make no mistake I’m not pro-software patents. My comment was more about what the original intention behind patents originally was, like well over a century or two ago. Does it actually work out that way in practice is a whole other discussion.

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