The entire Let's Move Forward! multimedia project (including the comic, the Infopedia, and this website itself) was conceptualized as a work of open source media and so-called "free culture." We have a page dedicated to every major license we use, as well as links to the sources for that license, but we will try to summarize our goals for using these licenses here.
For more detailed information, see the specific license pages:
- Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0
- GNU General Public License 3.0
- Third-Party License Acknowledgments
Table of Contents
- 1. What is Free Culture?
- 2. What is Open Source?
- 3. Why Use an Open License?
- 4. Why Use These Licenses?
- 5. Why Not Use Other Licenses?
- 6. What Does This Mean For Me?
- 7. In Conclusion
What is Free Culture?^ Back to table of contents ^
The Creative Commons Foundation defines a "Free Culture Work" as a work which is licensed to permit public freedoms to use the work, to use the work for any purpose, to reproduce and share copies for any purpose, and to make and share derivative or remixed works for any purpose. To us, free culture is any idea, piece of media, work of art, or other product of human creativity which is freely available to the public. Furthermore, by "freely available" to the public we do not just mean free for the public to consume, but also as a shared cultural touchstone that anybody is free to make reproductions of and/or use as inspiration for future work.
For thousands of years, this is how culture worked. Humankind grew and developed as a species in an environment that encouraged the free and fluid transmission of stories, codes of ethics, philosophies, and the knowledge gained by various cultures over our history. The idea of "intellectual property" is ultimately a farce, and in my opinion a dangrerous one, because it is the very antithesis of how creativity even works. All art, creative work, and concepts of any kind are derived from something that came before it. A piece of culture you cannot use because somebody else owns it is not your culture.
This is not to say that proprietary media has no value, if anything the opposite is true and that is the problem free culture advocates are trying to solve. Proprietary media, or intellectual property owned by someone and protected by intellectual property law against unlicensed use or reproduction (usually in exchange for money), often is extremely valuable and meaningful to society at large... However, their legal status and primary use as a profit generator for their owner often prevents the very public that loves and benefits from the work's existence from being able to make meaningful contributions to the work, making derivatives of the work (without having to use cumbersome layers of parody), or preserving the work for future generations. When ideas are considered property only one person or entity can own, all of that work is left in the hands of whoever exclusively owns it to very mixed results.
If you have ever heard of "lost media," then you know that the amount of creative works lost to time for various reasons is absolutely massive. Sometimes it's because of an accident (like a warehouse fire), sometimes it's loss of original hardware or source code, sometimes it's because a studio purposely destroyed all evidence of a work, or one of many other explanations... Sometimes it may be unavoidable, but often it could have been prevented if preservation and maintenence weren't left in the hands of a single owner.
By recognizing that creativity is a derivative process and declaring that all of humanity should be entitled to our collective cultural heritage, free culture is a means to solve these problems and many others. Many of the most important stories and tropes in media today started as myths and fairy tales and literature which has long been in the public domain or even predates the concept of intellectual property in general. Software which is open source and beloved by its audience is ported to everything and thereby preserved for future use. Remixing, sampling, parody, and satire are cornerstones of modern day culture. Free culture allows for all of this and more by design, whereas proprietary licensing threatens to stifle this and leave the progress of human culture in the hands of the backroom shareholders who own majority stake in the publishing houses of the world.
Ideas are not property, and software is not scarce.
What is Open Source?^ Back to table of contents ^
Open source, by the strictest definition, is software for which the source code is available for public viewing. However, when most people refer to open source software they are most commonly referring open source software which is also a free cultural work. This is sometimes referred to as FOSS or FLOSS which stand for Free (Libre) Open Source Software. The purpose for adding "libre" in FLOSS is to emphasize that it is not just free as in "free beer" (meaning that it costs no money to consume) but that it is also free as in "free speech" or free culture as we defined it above. Not just free to consume or use, but also to modify, distribute, remix, or make derivatives from.
Open source software is in general the inspiration to make this project the way it is, with open licenses. While open source software is not without its own flaws that proprietary software does not have, open source software has no upper limit for how much it can be improved or how accessible it can be or how many languages it can be translated into. Proprietary software is basically stagnant at whatever level of quality, accessibility, or localization it was originally published at or whatever the owner of the software believes would be most profitable to add (with the exception of what audiences of proprietary works may hack or patch or mod onto the software, almost entirely unpaid and usually under legal duress). Open source software simply succeeds in the long term due to the fact that it is collectively owned and maintained in ways that proprietary software just simply can't. There is a reason why Unix derived operating systems run the overwhelming majority of online, public facing servers. There's a reason why the handheld device market is widely dominated by Android, which ultimately is also Unix-like under the hood.
The cynical among us may say that this is simply because these pieces of software are free and therefore are cheap to use, but I can't bring myself to discredit the tireless work of the thousands of developers who are often volunteering their time to make the software they personally use better. In this world we are constantly told that if people didn't have to work to survive, they would simply laze around all day and never do anything productive. Open source software is one of the best ongoing refutations of this toxic idea. Human beings are passion-driven creatures, and the open source world proves that people derive more meaning from their work than simply providing them a means to survive.
Again for emphasis: ideas are not property and software is not scarce.
Why Use an Open License?^ Back to table of contents ^
One may ask after reading up to this point, "Why on Earth would anybody willingly choose to use one of these licenses?!" One may even argue that by being against proprietary intellectual property that I am against the idea of creators being paid for their work. In theory, intellectual property law is intended to protect the author of a creative work and provide them income from the work for their entire life (and often a little beyond to provide some income for next of kin potentially left behind). In practice though, intellectual property has become a tool used by corporate publishers to eternally clutch onto whatever ideas or media they may have been fortunate to have someone create for them or, more frequently, whatever media they had the capital to license or purchase. The public, which has grown up imbibing the output of these corporations, has no claim to the cultural touchstones which shaped who they are as a person and often the original creator doesn't even see the lion's share of the value their work created. One only has to take a look at the music industry to see how publishers take advantage of their creators and leave behind burnt out shells of human beings who end up not even having a real stake in their own creation. There's a reason that up till now I have referred to the owners of intellectual property and not the creators of intellectual property, because it is clear that intellectual property law is not for the benefit of creators and we should be under no delusion that it is.
Open licenses like Creative Commons or GNU Public License do, however, ensure that both the original creator and public which uses the work have free and open access forever. To reproduce, redistribute, add to, change, remix, derive, and otherwise have truly unbridled access to their creative work. To me, being part of the human tradition of freely sharing ideas and stories is all I've ever wanted as a creative person. Open licenses ensure that this transmission cannot be interrupted for any reason by anybody for as long as someone cares about these works. Even if in a moment of total financial desperation AniMerrill Productions were to sell out to a publisher, our works would be preserved by our audience and we would not be able to restrict those who already owned the work from redistributing it in our place. In that way, open licenses also reduce the ability for projects to be corrupted. One only has to read about the creation of Tenacity, the fork of Audacity after the latter was acquired by MuseGroup, to be assured of the strength of this model if the goal was the preservation and distribution of quality software over profit.
I will be the first to admit that the prospect of releasing a big multimedia project like this with hundreds of hours of labor poured into it without guarantee of pay is slightly unnerving, to say the least. There is a reason why we have support links to our crowdfunding platforms on the top of every page and a link to a dedicated support article linked at the bottom of every page. Being a free culture project does mean that we do not retain exclusive rights to publish Let's Move Forward and we do not exclusively own any of the ideas within it for making sequels or spin-offs. However, I also believe that when you have something true to say that people are more likely to listen if you're telling them for free. I believe that future generations deserve stories and ideas that weren't conceived merely as products to be consumed. And I believe that when people view a piece of media like this, the people who don't pay weren't going to pay anyway and the people who were genuinely touched in some way by our work will find a way to support us whether financially or otherwise.
We want to be the change we want to see in the world. We want to have faith in the goodness of others. Ultimately, we believe that open licensing will allow us to achieve our goals, make a great piece of free culture, and keep us honest to our original intentions for the project.
Why Use These Licenses?^ Back to table of contents ^
For those already familiar with Creative Commons, open source, copyleft licensing, and free culture are probably already somewhat convinced by what has been said so far on this page or at least understand why someone would use these licenses. Instead, what they might be wondering is why we specifically picked the licenses we have listed rather than one of many other, often more popular, options. To reiterate, this project primarily uses Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (or CC BY-SA) and the GNU General Public License 3.0 (or GPL) for media assets and source code respectively. These are by far the only options, but we do have solid reasons for the choice we made.
Firstly, to get an easy point out of the way, we have this dual licensing structure because "media" (in this case meaning images, music, writing, etc) and software source code simply have very different means of being maintained, distributed, created, or altered. The CC BY-SA license is very good for media which is why you will see it attached to things like the WikiMedia Project, the SCP Wiki, or any number of Fandom wiki pages. Creative Commons licenses in general are good for pieces of media because it is in many ways a drop in replacement for a normal copyright except with additional rights explicitly stated for its collective use by others than the owner/creator. GPL on the other hand was a license created explicitly for the purpose of keeping software free and open. It has many clauses that go beyond just simply acknowledging attribution because the evolution of computers necessitates continuous maintenence of source code, and as such published alterations to a GPL licensed program compels its creator to publish changes for the good of the entire community that uses the code.
Without getting too far into the legal weeds here, one can probably understand why we have this dual licensing arrangement because for simple media GPL goes too far but for source code CC BY-SA doesn't go far enough.
Beyond this, the reason we specifically selected the CC BY-SA for our media assets is because we believe that it provides us enough protection over our work while still allowing amateur fans, hobbyist creators, and good faith derivatives all the elbow room they need to let their creativity soar. The "attribution" (BY) right, I think, is more than sufficient to ensure that viewers will ultimately be led back here to this page to view the original version of our work without detracting from what this derivative or new copy offers. However, even more critical is the "share-alike" (SA) right. This ensures that all future derivatives and copies of our work play by the same rules and therefore remain in the free culture space. I think for most people who use Let's Move Forward in good faith to express genuine creativity or to get its message farther out into the world this isn't a problem at all- it's fair. However, for corporations and profiteers this clause is poisonous because it does effectively destroy the ability for this project to ever become intellectual "property" owned by any one person or group. It's the reason we likely won't see an SCP inspired Hollywood movie anytime soon, because if they used any direct assets or material then a million dollar production would effectively be free game for the public to copy, change, and add onto which is apparently the bane of corporate movie publishers.
The reason we selected the GPL for software licensing is largely due to pre-existing momentum in the open source community and the fact that I wish for our code to be compliant with the operating system I use, which is Debian GNU/Linux. However, for the Debian Project and for Linux developers in general this isn't an idle choice. The GPL is specifically written with the goal to protect four freedoms unique to itself: the guarantee of the end user to run, study, share, and modify the software. These freedoms are largely similar to the freedoms which free culture promotes, however the GPL's power as a license really comes from the software oriented wording of the license. For example, the freedom to use software is not as simple as dumping the source code repo to some dark corner of the internet but must also come with as much instruction as possible for how to build and install the software. The GPL also requires that changes made to publically available versions of software are published as source code updates, which I believe is one of the main reasons Linux is licensed under GPL. Effectively, the GPL ensures that as long as someone is working on GPL licensed software then the users of that software (which often include other volunteer developers) will benefit from the improvements. And like the CC BY-SA license, the GPL is inherently unaligned with corporate interests and therefore should protect software from being exploited by corporations. That said, open source software is still used widely by the corporate world with even some major contributors among their ranks. I feel like this speaks to the power of the open source model and the GPL's ability to produce extremely high quality and efficient software... over time at least. But the widespread use of Linux and other Unix based operating systems should show you the power of open source software on the biggest scales, and I don't think we can just ignore that.
In short, both the CC BY-SA and GPL enforce and codify our idea of "free culture" while disincentivizing behavior we believe would put those free culture ideals at risk. While certain bad faith actors may not observe our requirements to show attribution or otherwise violate our licenses, I think that the majority of people will mostly be concerned about playing nice in the creative field that will be opened up from this project. Bad faith actors will still exist, but for good faith viewers and creators these licenses make explicit promises about how these pieces of culture relate to them.
Why Not Use Other Licenses?^ Back to table of contents ^
Furthermore, there may be at least some parties that are already familiar with all this but are curious as to why we didn't select another license. There's also a lot of people who just simply have very strong opinions about licensing. I would like to start off this section by stating that we don't believe certain licenses are really better than any other. Certain licenses are just good for certain needs or to incentivize certain behavior, while others are just good for other things. Ultimately at the end of the day, if you use free culture or open source licenses then you're pretty cool in my book anyway.
One complaint about our licenses that someone might have is that they are less permissive than other licenses. For example, public domain works (or works licensed under CC0 which is effectively the same) do not have any requirement that you give attribution to the original creator or that you must share any derivative work under the same license. The MIT license is pretty similar when compared to the GPL, where it merely requires including attribution and the license text with any derived work or copy of the work you personally distribute. In particular, a lot of people prefer licenses like these for commercial products they are creating because it effectly lets them relicense their derivative work as a proprietary, privately owned piece of media. One of the biggest reasons there are so many remakes and reimaginings of things like Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and all manner of traditional fairy and folk tales is not necessarily out of reverence for those original pieces of media. These stories are valuable because they come with essentially the same benefits as any brand-named franchise would EXCEPT there is no external royalties to pay anymore.
This is not to bemoan the institution of public doman media or the people who make derivatives of such work. It is also not to say that there is anything wrong with using one of these so-called "more permissive" licenses or that there isn't great free culture and open source media available under these licenses. It largely just comes down to specific values and freedoms which public domain or MIT-like licenses do not explicitly enforce on all actors making derivatives or copies. While the CC BY-SA or GPL do in fact restrict the total freedom of any given individual, especially in terms of being allowed to make an exclusively owned proprietary derivative, we believe that they retain the most freedom for society at large when it comes to the public work we make.
Another group may be wondering why, especially as it relates to the Creative Commons licenses, why we didn't use the "non-commercial" or "no derivative" clauses for our work. These restrict the ability for others to use a work to make profit for themselves and the ability of others to create derivatives (essentially restricting users to making exact copies of the media for preservation's sake), respectively. You can even amend both of these onto a Creative Commons license, and doing so would have protected our right to have financial and creative control over our work. "Won't people just print copies and steal money that you could have made? Wouldn't it be undesirable for bad faith individuals to make modifications or derivatives of your work that give opposing messages? Doesn't that leave you with a weakened platform?" These are examples of what I imagine that some who maybe believe in having "free" media (meaning media that is free to consume) but who still don't really buy the free culture "thing" would likely say... I imagine out of genuine concern for our well-being because, unfortunately, profit does require property.
Ultimately these concerns are of little importance to me. Whether or not I expressly forbid it, people will make fan art and fan stories of our work. People will sell bootlegs of our work. People will sell fan art derivatives of our work. People will post our work on pirating websites for anyone to obtain freely. Why? Because that's how culture actually works. Limiting the various freedoms listed above does absolutely nothing to limit the amount of productive work a genuinely great piece of media will inspire... even when that work is counterproductive to the bottom line of the original creator. By choosing the licenses we have, we are also choosing to explicitly sanction this behavior regardless of our direct benefit. Our aim is not to stake a flag in the continuum of the human imagination in order to exploit it for our own profit, but to genuinely attempt to enrich the world through our media.
Ideas are not property and software is not scarce.
At the end of the day, I do believe that these licenses will ultimately create an ecosystem where enriching creativity can take place and that those that show creative effort will be rewarded. We are dependent on the kindness of strangers, but in turn those strangers do depend on us for something unique only we can give. We need to stop thinking in zero sum terms and instead start imagining a world where there might actually be enough to go around for everyone to at least be comfortable. For everyone to at least have the freedom to express themselves.
What Does This Mean For Me?^ Back to table of contents ^
If you've read this far, you are probably wondering, "Okay this all sounds pretty philosophically sound or whatever, but what has any of this got to do with me?" In truth, it actually has a lot to do with you and you probably have not come across a project before that literally doesn't care if you sell direct copies of it. Below, I'm going to try to explain in simple terms what your rights are when it comes to these licenses.
This page is not a substitution for the original license text, and you should read those if you want the full explanations of your rights when it comes to this website and the content it contains.
In rough terms, the CC BY-SA license entitles you to the right to view a work, to make copies of it, to use or make copies of it for any reason, and to make derivatives for any reason. This license largely applies to the "media" of this website, which means the pictures, the words, the general ideas, or other artistic/aesthetic assets on the website. The only restrictions on your behavior are:
- You must give attribution (credit) to the original creator of the work on any copies or derivative works
- You must share any copies or derivative works under the same license
Some examples of acceptable use of our media are listed below, but aren't necessarily limited to this list:
- Printing a physical copy of the comic and/or Infopedia articles for your own enjoyment
- Localizing the comic and/or Infopedia articles into your own language and accepting donations for your work
- Creating fan art of our work and either displaying it for free or selling it (as long as it is the same license)
- Creating a spin-off series that takes place closer to where you personally live and which more closely reflects your culture
- Maintaining a wiki that has information about our work and supporting it through crowdfunding
Please note that while you are at liberty to just make a straight copy of the comic and either print it or distribute it digitally for money, since you will have to comply with the "share-alike" clause you will likely not be able to compete with other parties doing the same for donations or even non-commercially. I would encourage you to either transform the work somehow or to invest the time into making a derivative instead, since those will be something unique that users will be more inclined to reward you for instead of or in addition to the original creators.
Moving on, the GPL license is much more in depth and I would highly recommend anybody wishing to redistribute or derive from GPL software to fully read the original text. However, at a broad strokes level it essentially entitles you to the same rights as the CC BY-SA. The GPL is special because of the requirements it places on anybody making a copy or a derivative piece of software. These include but are not limited to:
- Providing instructions for how to install on the target platform
- Providing source code for the software
- Providing update logs and source code updates for improvements
- Proper attribution (credit) to contributors
- Including a copy of the license text with the source code
While this seems like a lot of extra work, it ultimately protects software from being released for free and then used by proprietary developers to improve their software but not sharing those improvements or benefits with the public at large. The GPL and similar licenses are used for open source operating systems and software because these restrictions ultimately lead to the entire community (and thereby the entire software ecosystem) benefitting from the collective labor of the contributors to the project.
Right now the only GPL licensed thing we have is the website itself, minus graphical assets and such which are released under the above license, and uh... the website code is not very good to be completely honest. However, since it is GPL licensed you are entitled to the following and more:
- To see a copy of the website source code
- To use the website source code in your own website
- To study the construction of this website and then never use it because you understand it sucks
- To host copies of the website using the source code
As long as you comply with the terms of the license, you have great freedom to use GPL licensed software in basically any way you want as long as that use doesn't restrict anybody else's freedoms with the software.
In Conclusion^ Back to table of contents ^
At the time of writing, the landscape of intellectual property looks kind of grim. All content copyright is split between major publisher conglomerates that often no longer have direct ties to the creators of the work from which they profit, and they primarily see this content not as art but as chips in the profiteering gambles they make. Each intellectual property like a pawn on the board waiting to be used, abused, exploited, and thrown away for whatever value can be extracted from it. Software is more and more frequently abandoning direct purchase models in favor of subscription models. More and more major video game publishers choose a "live service" model which requires a player to continuously pay for new content, rather than presenting a complete piece of art in the first place. The neverending drive for profit has turned art into a product.
I think most disturbing is the recent attempts in the cryptocurrency domain (particularly with NFTs) to attempt to create virtual reality property. Property which the owner does not even own, but which is hosted on a server which they do not have login access to, do not have source code access to, and do not have legal access to. All they have is a single URI which points to an asset they own in theory. Due to the rapid fall of crypto in general, a lot of the games that would have made these objects manifest any direct value never even came into existence because there is no future to it. People wondered how NFT art could be so bad and yet worth so much, and that's simply because profiteering is not the wellspring from which creativity comes. NFTs were a hype and a grift, and all work that went into that space was either stolen or sloppily put together by con artists.
Most disgusting though was the implications of certain crypto projects that they were "creating the first publically owned intellectual property." In theory this meant that if you bought enough JPEG receipts from the project creator, you would have some kind of voting stake in the future of the project and would reap financial dividends from your cryptocurrency investment. None of these projects ever got very far because of the crypto market crash, or were otherwise abandoned when their own bubble of value finally burst, so we can't say how this would have worked in practice but one needs only to look at any corporate intellectual property owner with shareholders to know that this does not in any way approach a publically owned intellectal property.
In many ways, this project and its licensing structure is a direct protest against this idea. Against intellectual property in general. I reject this notion of ownership. The idea that if you own the cryptographically verified receipt then you somehow exclusively own any piece of media or culture whatsoever. Culture is the collective product of humankind, and the media it produced to illuminate us with its values and hopes and dreams is the collective inheritance of all who live on this planet. Stories and art are how we navigate reality, how we define the world around us. They teach us how to see and how to listen to the transcendent beauty of life, and they can remind us that hope is not only still possible but worth fighting to preserve.
I genuinely hope that you enjoy our comic and all the supplemental material for it. I hope that it can inspire you to write a story or make a game or break your way into some industry. I hope this way of thinking can spread and that we can together preserve free culture for future generations.
Thank you for your time, and I hope you find what you're looking for.
~ AniMerrill, a.k.a. Ethan Merrill