As the EA community grows, we have been excited by the number of people who want to reuse EA Forum content, for example:

  • Translating posts into different languages
  • Making audio/podcast adaptations of posts
  • Excerpting content into fellowship syllabi

In order to ensure that these works follow applicable laws, we are planning to make Forum content published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.

This is a widely used license which states that you can share and adapt Forum content, under the following terms:[1]

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

Please see the license for full details.

Feedback on this change is appreciated. In particular: I am not sure about the noncommercial requirement. As one of our goals is to promote discussion of EA concepts, it would arguably advance our mission if (say) someone made a commercial film based on concepts from the Forum. At the same time, I can imagine authors being upset about a third party making money from something derived from their work. 

Thoughts from Forum contributors on this would be appreciated!



  1. ^

     Terms copied verbatim from the CC website. Please see the license for full details.




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Definitely appreciate the clarity provided here; I'm a huge fan of the Creative Commons licenses.

I'd put in my vote for dropping the Commercial clause; very biased, of course, but at Manifold we've really enjoyed pulling EA Forum content (such as the Criticism and Red Teaming Contest: and setting up tournaments for them. We didn't charge anyone to participate (and we're actually paying out a bit for tournament prizes), but all the same Manifold is a commercial venture and we're benefiting from the content -- a noncommercial license might make us more reluctant to try cool things like this.

Also, for what it's worth, NonCommercial content cannot be copied to Wikipedia or any other Wikimedia project.

I don't understand. I thought Wikipedia was non-commercial!

Yes, but Wikipedia content is published under a license that allows commercial use.

I agree that a CC-BY licence is better (without the "noncommercial" restriction). I am chipping in because I'm not biased the same way as you are, except that I read content on the Forum much more often than I write it :)

The purpose of copyright was to encourage people to make creative works. We don't rely on financial interest to encourage people to post here—it's a prestige-based system instead, which seems to be working very well. Moreover, if we want the Forum to be a vehicle for disseminating ideas, copyright rules militate against that. I see many more reasons for switching to a CC licence than not doing so.

As for why I prefer not having the "noncommercial-only" restriction, it's because I don't want people not to reuse work from the Forum (with attribution) because they're unsure whether want to do with it counts as commercial. We should err on the side of sharing info freely.

Update: I do, however, agree with those who think that the CC licence should apply only to new threads. It would not respect the consent of previous contributors to put a CC licence on content already on the Forum, and I'm not sure it's even legal to do so.

Thanks! Good point that we are pretty mission-aligned with some commercial ventures and want to be cooperative with them.

Epistemic status: out of my depth

  1. The license should be opt-out (in fact I don't think you can legally force a license on the content created by authors without their explicit consent?)
  2. CC-BY would be a much better default choice. Commercial use is an important aspect of truly open source content.
  3. Even better to offer multiple license options on posts, so people can tailor it to their needs. I'm a big fan of how this is handled for example in arXiv or GitHub, with multiple options.

I notice I had a hair-raising chill when reading this part:

we are planning to make Forum content published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license

This made me feel as if you were implying to be owners of the content in the Forum, which you are not - the respective authors are.

I believe that what you were trying to convey is:

We plan to add an opt-out option for authors to release future content under a XX license

There is also the question of how to handle past content.

The simplest option would be to leave everything with their default option (which for posts without an explicit license would be all-rights-reserved under current copyright law), but add the possibility for authors to change the license manually.

A more cumbersome option, but that might help with increasing the availability of content, is some sort of pop-up asking for explicit permission to change all past content of current users to CC-BY, though I imagine that can be more work to implement and not clearly worth it.

This made me feel as if you were implying to be owners of the content in the Forum, which you are not - the respective authors are.

I'm not sure why you interpret the post in this way. It is pretty standard for various academic institutions and research foundations to require that the content they publish or fund be released under an appropriate Open Access license. For example, the Wellcome Trust's Open Access policy mandates that all peer-reviewed articles, monographs, and book chapters that received any amount of funding from them, however small, must be published under a CC-BY license. There is no implication here that Wellcome Trust owns this content in any way. Instead, as funders of this research, they are free to set the conditions under which this research will be funded, and they have chosen—correctly, in my view—to fund research under the condition that it is made openly accessible to all of humanity.

The license should be opt-out (in fact I don't think you can legally force a license on the content created by authors without their explicit consent?)

The way your parenthetical clause is phrased suggests that the claim that the license should be opt-out somehow follows from it, but that is not the case. To take a simple example, if you ever contributed to Wikipedia, your contributions were licensed under CC-BY (and GFDL). There isn't any opt-out clause: Wikipedia is free content. I don't see why the EA Forum shouldn't take a similar approach. In any case, there's nothing in the nature of copyright law that requires the adoption of an opt-out clause.

To be clear, the thing that made me feel weird is the implication that this would be applied retroactively and without explicit consent from you each user (which I assume is not what was meant, but it is how it read to me).

I'm perfectly fine with contributions going forward requiring a specific license as in arXiv (preferably requiring a minimal license that basically allows reproduction in the EA Forum and then having default options for more permissive licenses), as long as this is clearly explained (eg a disclaimer below the publish button, a pop-up, or a menu requiring you to choose a license).

I am also fine applying this change retroactively, as long as authors give their explicit permissions and have a chance before of removing content they do not want to be released this way.

Ah, thanks for the clarification. Yes, I agree that retroactive application raises separate issues. Maybe there are precedents of this that we could copy, or learn from.

The Stack Overflow case [1] that Thomas linked to in another comment seems a good place to learn from.

I think multiple license support on a post-by-post basis is a must. Old posts must be licensed as all-rights-reserved, except for the right of publication on the Forum (which is understood that the authors have granted de facto when they published).

New posts can be required to use a particular license or (even better) users can choose what license to use, with the default being preferably CC-BY per the discussion on other comments.

The license on all posts should be ideally updatable at will, and I would see it as positive to nudge users to update the license in old posts to CC-BY (perhaps sending them an email or a popup next time they log in that gathers their explicit permission to do so).


I agree that there's a case for an opt out option here. Imposing a CC license on writers would effectively preclude certain sorts of material being posted to the forum.

For example, if CC-BY were mandated, it might be hard for academics to post paper drafts here, as they may need to retain the copyright of these papers in order to publish in certain venues. Likewise, it might make it hard to post drafts of things (fiction, nonfiction) that one later plans to submit to magazines (of course, a certain amount of this might already be precluded, but I think requiring a CC license would intensify the issues here). Or it might be hard to post material that's already published, where the agreement allows reprints (because the agreement might not allow one to give others commercial rights over the material).

I suppose people could possibly get around this by posting links to Google Docs that have their own copyright conditions, but this doesn't seem ideal.

if CC-BY were mandated, it might be hard for academics to post paper drafts here, as they may need to retain the copyright of these papers in order to publish in certain venues

Posting something under a permissive license doesn't mean giving up copyright. Is the problem that some venues require exclusive licenses? (In which case, though, I would think publishing here would be a problem regardless?)

Some examples.

  1. I've come across academic journals that allow you to post drafts pre-submission but a condition of acceptance is that you remove these before publication. But if these drafts were now CC-BY licensed, you can't be sure you'll have the power to do this. (In practice, you might get away with simply ignoring this, but that depends on your willingness to lie, and your willingness to do so in the context of a legally binding contract).
  2. More generally, public sharing of drafts is pretty common in academia, but publishers often want exclusive commercial rights to use the material (at least for some period/without permission being sought). So a CC-BY license that allowed commercial use would preclude publication in some academic journals, in a way that posting to the forum previously would not have done. (Likewise with posting some already published papers, where exclusive commercial use has been granted to the publisher but non-commercial  sharing is allowed).
  3. Posting the first chapter of a fiction book might not preclude publisher interest in buying the book. But it might preclude publisher interest if doing so now means that the characters can be used for commercial gain by anyone. For example, the publisher might want the exclusive right to create action figures of the character. It's at least unclear to me that this wouldn't be undermined by the first chapter having been posted under a CC-BY license.

I guess as an academic and a writer, if I were forced to accept a CC-BY license I'd be much less likely to post things directly to the forum, because I wouldn't want it to come back to bite me later, taking away some opportunity. (That said, I'm an infrequent poster in any case)

So it's the fact that the license removes the ability to assign commercial exclusivity, involves assigning multiple rights at once (for example, in posting a story one would automatically give permission to create films based on that story, which might preclude some options), and takes away control of the material (which might be important if a publisher would later want the writer to remove it).

This is a great list! Thanks for elaborating!

I would favour a commercial attribution license - people can make money off it as long as they provide appropriate attribution.

And I would go further. I would say that while we reserve the right to demand attribution, mainly we don't want people to literally claim work as their own that isn't.

I would also prefer commercial attribution. Seems fine to me for people to make money off of things, and sometimes a non-commercial license has weird knock-on effects where you have to make sure no one is making money off of the content, which is sometimes quite hard.

For text works, especially ones we want others to read, I think copyright is waaaay too long. The idea that we are going to be stopping poeple from making money printing stuff on tshirts, making podcasts or printing books for like 100 years seems perverse. At most, claim it for 5 years, but even that is the wrong call imo.

The only thing I think deserves copyright that EAs might write here is creative writing. But again, I think remixing is cool and 5 years is more than enough for 95% of works to take 95% of the profit they'll ever make.

Copyright is generally awful and I mourn all the culture and creativity we lose because we can't remix works for like 100 years.

it would arguably advance our mission if (say) someone made a commercial film based on concepts from the Forum.

Coming soon, to a theater near you ...


(Thanks for the suggested image)

Is this retroactive or for new posts only? From what date would it take effect?

I don't see how it could be retroactive? You would need permission from all affected past posters.

I don't think this is a crazy policy but it may limit what I post on the Forum. I need time to think about which posts I would leave up, and what I'd want to post here in the future.

Strong agreement with all others who want the NonCommercial clause dropped. It'd be a major practical obstacle on building off EA writing and research. Perhaps a compromise would be to allow members to specify whether they'd like to prevent their post from being put toward profitable use, but in this case I think the default should be to drop the NonCommercial clause, allowing it only as an opt-in type feature.

Chiming in to add my vote to drop the non-commercial requirement.

It would be good to have some kind of infobox on the "new post" page making sure users are aware of what license they'd be posting under.

Another relevant consideration: Copyright ownership can help authors limit the dissemination of parts of their writings (including in cases where they change their mind after already publishing their post/comment).

Currently, the EA Forum allows authors to delete their posts and comments, and edit them without showing the "edit history". After making the proposed change, it will become legally possible to use the API of the forum to create "competing" websites that show all the content that was ever published on the EA Forum (including content that was deleted, and the edit history of content that was edited).

This consideration seems important, because the EA Forum serves as a platform for discussing anthropogenic x-risks. (I'm not attempting here to estimate whether the proposed changes is overall net-positive or net-negative).

[EDIT: Another point: the Streisand effect seemingly makes this consideration less important than it would otherwise be.]

Interesting point, thanks!

I agree that a Creative Commons license would be a good default option. However, as Jaime said, you cannot release someone else's content under a content unless they agree to it, so this can't be applied retroactively to all content already on the forum, although it can be applied automatically to new content.

Many of my posts are crossposts from my personal blog; I thought about licensing my posts there under a CC license but was reluctant to. The main reason is that I want people to come to my website to read the content rather than some other site to which it was copied without my involvement. I could be convinced that this is not a good reason not to use a CC license, though - after all, most people read Wikipedia articles on Wikipedia itself, and CC licenses still forbid plagiarism without attribution. I feel like releasing all of my blog content on the forum under a CC license without asking me first would undermine the control I currently have over the distribution of the content.

For these reasons, I think it's important to ask for opt-in consent. I suggest adding a global license option to the settings page where users can opt in to license all of their content under a CC license, combined with specific license settings for individual posts and comments. This would also have to be communicated to users via email.

Also, by the same token, posts that mostly consist of content copied and pasted from other sites (such as linkposts) cannot be licensed under a CC license unless the original content is so licensed. You would need to exclude such posts from being covered by the blanket license.

However, as Jaime said, you cannot release someone else's content under a content unless they agree to it, so this can't be applied retroactively to all content already on the forum, although it can be applied automatically to new content.

This is an important point. Stack Exchange ran into problems when they tried to impose a retroactive license, so I hope we don't.

A person who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

 I suggest further considering the CC BY license that does allow commercial use with attribution. That is the approach I took with the original content in a paper of mine on arXiv because I wanted to encourage use of our language by industry. 

What is the current licence? Or is there no license. What is the default in that case?

Will the license apply to linkposts?

Would it maybe make most sense to allow authors of posts to choose which license they want to use? (Maybe just between the license you suggest, the version that allows commercial use and keeping copyright?).  I'd assume forcing people to share what they post under an open license might reduce the willingness of people to post things here, in particular to crosspost and also for things like entries to the Creative Writing Contest.

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