On Contributions and the Morality of Sharing


Due to recent events, much discussion has gone underway regarding the contributions of individuals in the project, licensing and continued use of those contributions, and whether or not explicit permission above and beyond the license should be obtained before using the shared material. While not everyone in the project is in complete concensus on these topics, what follows appears to be a summary of a majority view.

Everyone who wishes to participate in WorldForge's various efforts and contribute labor, ideas, or other resources to the group does so under an implicit understanding and agreement that these contributions are permanent gifts to the group. It is not healthy or morally acceptable for us to accept any materials that have strings attached; this is why we insist on all such contributions be provided under open source licenses. We do not go so far as to insist on turning over ownership (the copyright) to the group; in fact, since WorldForge is not a legal entity, we actually discourage folks from doing so - it's safer from a legal standpoint for individuals to retain the copyright, or make it held both by them and by WorldForge, on the off chance that some day WorldForge becomes a legal organization. But in any case, we expect everyone who works with us to agree to provide use of the contributions in perpetuity. Morally, this has been the rule since day one, and legally it has been a requirement for several years. We went to great trouble to make this clear to everyone in the project when we chose to use the GPL and GFDL for all works (code, writing, rules and art), and we assume this expectation is clear to all new developers who join us. These are fundamental principles of open source development, and so are essential requirements for our project to function.

Furthermore, technologies and content which are critical parts of our "core" should be viewed as group responsibilities. So for instance, if the developer of a piece of software, rulebook, or story which is part of one of our core game development goals stops development of it for whatever reason, the group should strive to keep that product alive, first by trying to retain or recover the original developer, second by continuing development with other developers. We don't want to take products away from their owners and maintainers, but if the product will be lost otherwise, then our choice should be to keep the product alive.

Regarding obtaining permission to use material above and beyond the license itself, there is some difference of opinion. While legally no such permission is required, in instances where permission is deliberately not given, or even given to the negative, some feel we should not use the material. Others feel that this subverts the whole intent of sharing things under open source licenses and has the effect of imposing additional, unnecessary restrictions upon open gaming in general; indeed, it may merely indicate a lack of understanding and appreciation of open source principles and philosophies. In such situations, perhaps the only solution is for each of us to ask what we feel personally to be the right choice, and also give consideration to what is the right thing for the project as a whole, and advocate and act accordingly.

Bryce