As with Arrow’s impossibility theorem, we begin by enumerating some desirable properties of the perfect copyright policy:

  1. Keeps users of DefensiveCopyright happy
  2. Keeps opponents of the RightToFork happy
  3. Keeps supporters of MobileContent happy
  4. Keeps CryptoNauts happy
  5. Keeps CopyLeft advocates happy
  6. Keeps PublicDomain advocates happy
  7. Allows all these people to work collaboratively together on the same pieces of text

Now we hire an expensive copyright lawyer, who affirms for us that there is no copyright policy that will fulfil all those criteria.

In Arrow’s impossibility theorem, the usual corrolary to this is “Sod it. We’ll use first past the post. I’m off to the pub”. That’s because voting system theorists are all closet alcoholics. hic

The DefaultCopyright allows all authors of each sect to further license their words as they wish. Each of the above copyright policies alone does disallows another group from achieving their goals. The basic theorem is simple: when it doubt about satisifying everyone’s goals, DevolvePower so that everyone is free to make their own decisions, then refocus on limiting mistakes and malice.

DefaultCopyright fails to keep advocates of CopyLeft happy when they collaboratively write text with a user of DefensiveCopyright, as the resulting combined work is also under DefensiveCopyright, which they do not like. You can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time.

True, but you can avoid doing harm to all of the people all of the time, which is probably sufficient.

Any copyright policy can satisfy that goal, provided it is clear, simple, and up front - because people who would be harmed by the copyright policy can choose not to contribute. The realisation that you can’t please everyone is important - it can help you break out of the cycle of copyright conflict.

Only if that choice is fully free.


Every copyright policy will be incompatible with at least one other copyright policy in at least one direction. This will occur even where all parties concerned desire the copyright policies to be compatible.

Corrollary: CopyrightTarPits are inevitable.

Except public domain (proper; not primarily public domain), which is forever free from copyright disputes.

Note “in at least one direction”. A site with a purely PublicDomain policy cannot accept content from any other site, except another purely PublicDomain site. It’s a universal donor, but not a universal recipient.

Martin (and Sunir, but I’m sort of afraid to ask since I know you don’t like that), would you be willing to make your text on this page PrimarilyPublicDomain so that it can be copied to LionKimbro’s WikiLegal? project? – BayleShanks

Sure. --mh and ss

mentioned: BrokenLink as of 2009-05-15


Define external redirect: WikiLegal

EditNearLinks: BrokenLink DevolvePower PrimarilyPublicDomain CryptoNaut