The issue of licensing is a contentious one in the Morrowind modding community, but it should be possible to reach a consensus on the background, and the pros and cons of the various sides, if not the best solution. Consensus views should go into this article, while contention should take place on the discussion page or in online forums.
Modders are authors, and as authors, they own the copyright to whatever they produce. Copyright is a complicated legal concept and varies somewhat from nation to nation, but generally speaking, as copyright holder, you are the only one who has the right to make copies of your work.
Unfortunately, the legal notion of copying is not well suited to the digital world where simply using a work involves making multiple copies of it. (Copying it from download site to your hard disk, from hard disk to computer memory, etc.) Morever, distribution and modification rights of Morrowind mods seem to be strongly affected by the Bethesda EULA. Bethesda apparently has claimed that, by the terms of the EULA, any author who has produced a mod for Morrowind has effectively surrendered control over distribution and modification of that mod. However, a reading of the EULA seems to support that only in so far as materials produced by TESCS -- i.e. not include nifs, textures, sound files, readmes, etc.
Desires and Norms
Okay, that's the legal side. It's a mess. Now, how about what you want? And how about what is desirable from a community standpoint? Note that these are not just, or even primarily, questions about what the legalities are, but rather questions about what the community norms are. I.e., if the community norms support removing a mod from distribution, then that norm is likely to be largely respected even if the legalities don't require it.
The community norm is that authorship should be respected. I.e., don't take someone elses mod, strip off their name, apply your own and redistribute it. If you modify someone elses mod and redistribute it (assuming that's okay), then their primary authorship must be respected.
In practice this means that if your contribution is smaller or roughly equal, then the original author should be listed first. OTOH, if in the end, their contribution is relatively small (say < 5% of the total work), then it's reasonable to give them lesser credit -- but their contribution and original work should still be very clear to users.
There are two main issues in distribution:
- If the upload site for a mod has gone down, and if the mod's author has left the scene, and has left no clear instruction on the re-distribution of mod, then is it okay to redistribute it?
- The community seems to be very clearly split on the issue.
- There are those who argue that the author in releasing the mod to a site, and not specifying any distribution restrictions, has clearly effectively left the mod in free distribution. Moreover, it is argued that the original author almost certainly wanted the mod to be freely distributed, as is evidenced by their actions. In support of this, it is noted when authors can be reached they (almost?) always allow the mod to be redistributed. Moreover, most mod authors who affirm this are surprised (and sometimes angry) that the question has even arisen.
- On the other hand, there are those who argue that without clear instructions, that we should not attempt to read the original author's mind, and instead should make the conservative assumption that they do not wish the mod re-distributed. Diligent efforts should be made to contact the author and receive permission, but until it is received the assumption should be that permission is not granted. In support of this position, it is pointed out that authors sometimes do request that their mods be pulled from general distribution. Moreover, many prominent authors have chosen to restrict distribution of their mods to their own site (and not any of the major download sites).
- It should be noted that a fair number of the people who argue against public re-distribution of such mods think (for a variety of reasons) that private re-distribution (e.g., through email) of such mods is acceptable.
- If an author expresses a wish to pull their mod from distribution, should that wish be respected?
- The general community response to this is that this wish should be respected. (Although again, there are those who believe that this wish should be respected for public distribution, but not for private distribution.)
- However, a fair number of members of the community feel that allowing this is strongly detrimental to, and counter to the original open nature of the community. An expression of this view can be found here: Open Modding.
(To be added later.)
There are a number of open source, and "some rights reserved" licenses, but all of these seem unfit for use for mods with varying reasons.
Creative Commons Licenses
- The Creative Commons licenses were designed to bring the open contents ideals of the open source software world to general creative works.
- Plain language version of the license.
- Licenses designed for more broader categories of creative content: text, audio, video, etc.
- Licenses don't provide good support for works with large numbers of contributions by different authors.
- Technical requirements are a bit onerous. (Reproduce copyright notices, etc.) For works like translations of books this is fine, but for a mod edited by several consecutive groups, and using resources from a number of different artists, this becomes a pain.
- Noncommercial versions of license seems overly restrictive, while commercial-use-allowed versions seem underly restrictive.
- Distinction between collection and derivative work doesn't sufficiently support the distinction between a mod and resources (meshes, textures) included with that mod.
- Creative Commons organization does not seem very responsive. FAQ fails to address some important objections and mailing lists have only limited activity. Wiki is present, but is not utililized for policy/faq discussions.
- Creative Commons website (which serves the license notices) has gone down repeatedly and there is a question about their long term economic viability because of the commitment to send out license notices by mail if requested.
GNU GPL (GNU Public License)
- The GNU GPL license is a license designed to promulgate free software. It is used very widely in the open source/free software world, most notably for Linux and of course, for GNU software. It is notable for introduction of the "copyleft" principle, in which software which extends free software, also becomes free software. This feature has served as the inspiration for similar features in other licenses, including the "ShareAlike" feature of Creative Commons licenses.
- No non-legalese version of the license.
- Designed for the software world. Much of its terminology (source code, object code) is specific to that arena.
GNU FDL (Free Documentation License)
- The GNU FDL was created to cover the documentation for GPL licensed software. It's generally viewed as being useful for documentation of factual matters. E.g., it's used by WikiPedia and other WikiMedia sites.
- No non-legalese version of the license.
- Only good for documentation, not for general creative works.
- A state of non-existence of copyright rather than an actual license, placing your work in the public domain gives the ultimate freedom to the users of a mod.
- With Public Domain status a work has no copyright, meaning anyone can do whatever they want with your mod and re-distribute it. This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your position.
Given the problems with current formal licenses, perhaps informal licenses will do the job...
Wrye Modding Licenses
Wrye has put together a set of informal licenses (archive). While these were designed with Morrowind in mind, they should be generic enough for modding in general.
- Covers mods and mod resources.
- Several licenses to choose from depending on modders desire to open modification or not.
- Supports "Living Will" versions of licenses in which license freedoms don't kick in until mod has become unavailable or modder has publicly abandoned the mod.
- Do not support withdrawing of mod from distribution.
Note: Pros and cons are not listed because Wrye is the author of this section.