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Scope of Creative Commons ShareAlike licensing for game assets



Hello debian-legal,


in the past, I have asked visual novel authors if they would release
their games under a free software license, to make them suitable for
inclusion in Debian. Visual novels can be classified as mixed-media
interactive fiction, featuring mostly static graphics, text, music.

To me, one of the most common problems with visual novel licensing seems
to be that many authors choose a Creative Commons license which features
Attribution, ShareAlike (copyleft), and NonCommercial (no commercial use
allowed), in short CC BY-NC-SA. Developers often point to the music they
used for the reason behind that and claim that the scope of the Creative
Commons ShareAlike licensing requires that code must also be licensed CC
BY-NC-SA, thus definitely non-free according to DFSG and FSF criteria.

One example for this is the game “Sunrider” – a visual novel with
tactical space battle interludes similar to “Battle for Wesnoth”:
Developers changed license from GPL to CC BY-NC-SA to have music.

<http://lemmasoft.renai.us/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=29130#p345907>
> It would likely cost a few thousands of dollars to purchase a better
> license for the music, so that's the reason for the license.

I sincerely doubt that a game must necessarily be considered an adaption
of its background music – since usually, game and music are very loosely
coupled and one can turn off or replace the music without any breackage.
(There are exceptions: In one game I shall not name, during the boss
fight, the player is asked which music does play in the main menu.)

AFAIK, it has long been the stance of both the Free Software Foundation
and Creative Commons, that functional data (code) and non-functional
data (assets) do not necessarily interact with each other license-wise:
<https://wiki.creativecommons.org/4.0/Games_3d_printing_and_functional_content>
<http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-system-distribution-guidelines.html#non-functional-data>

I hereby want to ask the debian-legal experts regarding the scope of
Creative Commons ShareAlike licensing. Must a visual novel using CC
BY-NC-SA licensed background music be considered an adaption of the
background music and therefore have code licensed under CC BY-NC-SA?
Or can such visual novels be considered mere aggregations of music and
other content, with the game code being licensed under a free license?

Depending on the answer, it might be possible to package some visual
novels in Debian without background music, if the developers license
other, gameplay-wise necessary, assets under a free software license.


Thank you,
-- 
Nils Dagsson Moskopp // erlehmann
<http://dieweltistgarnichtso.net>

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