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I don't even know where to begin - Licenses

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I've been developing a game engine for the past few years and I'm finally at a point where I want to allow people to make contributions and play with it and stuff. I want to put it up on GitHub, I'm just afraid of the rather unlikely event where my work gets stolen or copyrighted or patented or basically any kind of horrid legal thing that could happen.

 

I basically want some kind of license agreement that states:
- The engine source belongs to me, any contributions made to the engine by users are *non-exclusively* a part of that.

- Code added to the engine by a contributor is just a part of the engine and the contributor can still use that code outside of the engine freely still.

(EX: someone writes an awesome shadow calculation and puts it in the engine, they can still use that same shadow calculation elsewhere and it's fine)

- The engine is free to use non-profit

- The engine requires a lincse to use commerically which can be negotiated with me.

 

How should I go about that? I'm broke and I can't really hire a lawyer to write some crazy legal stuff for me.

 

I've read up on GPL and BSD but neither of those are quite what I want to do.

Edited by newObjekt

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I basically want some kind of license agreement
How should I go about that? I'm broke and I can't really hire a lawyer to write some crazy legal stuff for me.

 

Then you can't proceed at the moment.  Just save money until you can afford the lawyer.  I assume you're creating this engine as a moneymaker (a business venture). If you're broke and can't afford an attorney right now, you can't start your business venture right now. Wait until you can.  Have you tried at least contacting some game attorneys? Maybe it doesn't cost as much as you think.

Edited by Tom Sloper

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IANAL (I am not a laywer)

 

First, all code/art/music/whatever you create is automaticly copyrighted. If someone steals it, all you have to do is prove that you posted it online before they did (simplification. All you have to do is prove to a court that you created it). The GitHub page makes it public, and records the date.

 

Second, licensing is you basically saying, "I have these rights, but I'm willing to share some of the rights with you, if you follow certain conditions..."

Licensing doesn't have to be open to everyone, it can be just specific people. Additionally, you can license the code with one set of conditions to one group of people, and a completely different set of conditions to a different group of people.

 

This means, to satisfy your goals, you can (and should) have a different license for commercial vs non-commercial use.

BSD wouldn't be good (to meet your personal goals), because it basically says that anyone can use it even for commercial work.

LGPL also wouldn't be good for the same reasons.

 

GPL is a better option for non-commercial work, but even GPL allows commercial usage. The thing with GPL, however, is it forces anyone using it to release their source code of their project under the GPL as well, and most commercial software doesn't want to use it for that reason.

 

You could just have a plain-english agreement for the non-commercial version, and then negotiate for the commercial licensing. It'd have less legal strength then a lawyer-written agreement, but it'll still have a decent amount of strength.

 

==================================================

 

That said... What is the likelihood that you'll actually make any money licensing your engine? Does it offer features that Unity or the open-source Torque don't have? How does it distinguish itself against the hundreds of competitors? If the answer is, "It doesn't", then you should consider just making the entire thing LGPL.

LGPL means that if someone modifies the engine, they have to share the modifications. LGPL means, yes, they can use it for commercial games... but if you aren't going to make any money from licensing, then why not let people get real use out of it? I fully get you wanting to profit off your hard labor (as do we all!), but if the choice is that either they won't use it, or they'll use it for free, then I would suggest letting them use it for free.

 

My suggestion is, if you yourself don't think you'll make much money on it, offer it fully for free, even for commercial works.

If you do think your engine stands apart from the crowd, then yes, license the commercial version. But if it really stands out, then you'll really want to hire a real lawyer as soon as possible.

If you don't think that you'll make enough money to cover the lawyer's fees, then it probably isn't worth it to try to charge for it. But this is my opinion. You know your work, you know it's potential compared to engines like CrystalSpace and Panda3D, and you know whether it's worth the effort involved in trying to sell it.

 

Even if you commercially license it, and someone steals it, you'll have to pay for a lawyer to sue them anyway.

Edited by Servant of the Lord

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Thanks for the very in depth reply sir. smile.png

 

As for what you said... My engine does not stand up to stuff like CryEngine or UnrealEngine. It might be on par with Torque or Unity when I hit my goal but I'm still a ways off. I'm at the point where everything is implemented but not everything is finished. There are at least 150 //TODO: 's in the code and countless stubs and unoptimized stuff I need to improve.

 

The reason I want to put it up for public use is to have people look at stuff I've written and say "This would work better" or have people commit changes. And even have people put stuff in the engine and show me what's possible and what isn't so I can improve things as a whole. 

 

In short,  I just want to protect my work. GPL might be fine for now but it may not be in the future.

 

I doubt anyone at the moment is interested in licensing my engine but in the future it's a possibility. Their are a few things that set it apart. Multiplayer is integrated into the overall design so it's ready to go without having to re-code things or code around it. Mod support is built-in so that it's very simple to do and allows user made content to be added easily. And the engine is java based so it's native to Win/Lin/Mac.

 

I post dev vidoes here. http://www.youtube.com/user/dmtinfernocide

Edited by newObjekt

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Sounds cool. There might be a market for a good multiplayer-focused engine.

What'll you'll need is a public license available for anyone to use, that specifies non-commercial use.
You might even want to make it permit commercial use for projects that make less than X amount ($25,000 or something).
You'll also need the license to cover modifications being folded back into the code.

If you can't hire a lawyer, plain-english is supposedly better than pretend-lawyer-talk. Though they are discussing contracts in that case, and I'm making the unfounded assumption that the same applies to licenses.

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Sounds cool. There might be a market for a good multiplayer-focused engine.

What'll you'll need is a public license available for anyone to use, that specifies non-commercial use.
You might even want to make it permit commercial use for projects that make less than X amount ($25,000 or something).
You'll also need the license to cover modifications being folded back into the code.

If you can't hire a lawyer, plain-english is supposedly better than pretend-lawyer-talk. Though they are discussing contracts in that case, and I'm making the unfounded assumption that the same applies to licenses.

 

Alright, now I just need someone to point me in the direction of trusty resource on how to write a simple license agreement and how to apply it to my code bases and I can get on that tomorrow.

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I am not a lawyer smile.png

 

So I went to this great site called: http://creativecommons.org and answered some questions for you.

 

Here try it yourself: which license should I choose for my product?

 

 

 


The engine source belongs to me, any contributions made to the engine by users are *non-exclusively* a part of that.

 

Which means you do not which to waive your copyright. Right?

 

 

 


Code added to the engine by a contributor is just a part of the engine and the contributor can still use that code outside of the engine freely still.

Do what ever they like CC

 

 


The engine requires a lincse to use commerically which can be negotiated with me.

as long as it is non commercial NC

 

 


The engine is free to use non-profit

 

Once again a NC case, until something else is accepted.

 

 

 

You want people be able to do this:

 

You are free:

  • to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  • to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:

  • Attribution You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

     
  • Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

CC BY-NC 3.0

Hope that helps. Oh by the way that website is a great thing smile.png

 

Was this what you wanted?

Edited by Dwarf King

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The engine source belongs to me, any contributions made to the engine by users are *non-exclusively* a part of that.

 

Which means you do not which to waive your copyright. Right?

 

 

To me that sounds as if he wants full, non exclusive rights to contributions made for the "free" version so that he can include those in the commercial license without having to pay the copyrightholder for a separate license. (This makes most existing opensource licenses unsuitable)

Edited by SimonForsman

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The engine source belongs to me, any contributions made to the engine by users are *non-exclusively* a part of that.

 

Which means you do not which to waive your copyright. Right?

 

 

To me that sounds as if he wants full, non exclusive rights to contributions made for the "free" version so that he can include those in the commercial license without having to pay the copyrightholder for a separate license. (This makes most existing opensource licenses unsuitable)

 

Well then a lawyer he needs then.

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I'm afraid you do really need to talk to a Lawyer.

One big issue that will come up with your plan is that of indemnity and liability.  

The big issue there is that you put out your engine.  Someone enhances it with code they lifted from somewhere else, unbeknownst to you.

Then you license your engine to someone else.

And you get sued.

So you will not only need license agreement for people you license to, but a specific license for anyone who contributes.

 

The Unity Asset store license agreements may be sort of close-ish to what you're looking for.

But this is a big enough issue that, as Tom said at that top, you really need to talk to an attorney well versed in IP law.

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Ah alright. I'm going to call and talk to a local law firm and see how much it would cost. Being super broke is hard D:

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If you are in the USA, you might want to look into the SBA (Small Business Administration) which provides free or cheap legal consultation for small businesses.

They might have you jump through a few small hoops first (like attending a few two-hour classes) to show that you actually are trying to start a business and aren't just wasting their time.

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Ah alright. I'm going to call and talk to a local law firm and see how much it would cost

 

I really think you should contact an attorney with experience in the game industry. See the stickied list on this forum.

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It's unclear if you are planning a commercial project with people (including paying for their contributions), or are just doing this for fun with making money an optional extra later on? Similarly, it's unclear if this is talking about releasing as a private repository, or a public one? Is this just to share with people working on it, or do you expect random people to start using it in their games?

A commercial project is better done with lawyers and so on - and doesn't need to be publicly hosted. But for the latter, I'd argue that using an Open Source licence is better:

"The engine requires a lincse to use commerically which can be negotiated with me."

There is no Free/Open Source licence that will include this part (by definition), so the GPL isn't useful for you.

But I agree with Servant of the Lord here. My advice would be to consider whether you really need that clause.

GPL would in practice deter companies from using it in games (due to the requirement to also licence their game code as GPL), but in any case, is a commercial company going to use your engine? If they wanted to use a free engine, there are already plenty of high quality Open Source engines out there, including those under licences that would allow them to keep their code closed source (e.g., LGPL, BSD). And most either pay for commercial engines (or write their own), AFAIK.

You also have the option to dual licence, e.g., under GPL, and a paid-for licence that allows use with closed source (e.g., Qt is licenced under LGPL, and a closed source commercial licence).

A reason why Open Source licences allow commercial usage is that it avoids a lot of gray areas. Can someone put it on a website with adverts? Can it be distributed on a Magazine CoverCD?

Using an Open Source licence means you don't need a lawyer to write the licence. I'd also argue people are more likely to contribute if it's something being done for free, as well as more people using it, due to the clearer more well understood licence. True, CC BY-NC would do what you want - but remember the resulting engine would be incompatible with Open Source, which may not be ideal if you want wider support from people working for free.

And it also means that you can use hosting sites, including GitHub, for free (your custom licence means you could only host on GitHub with a paid account, I believe).

SimonForsman, on 26 Jun 2013 - 2:50 PM, said:
"To me that sounds as if he wants full, non exclusive rights to contributions made for the "free" version so that he can include those in the commercial license without having to pay the copyrightholder for a separate license. (This makes most existing opensource licenses unsuitable)"

Also consider, why would someone want to give him full exclusive rights to their contributions, including commercial usage, when they (or anyone else) doesn't get those same rights? I mean, I'd happily contribute to GPL, BSD or whatever else, knowing that my changes are released to everyone under that same licence. I'm not sure why I would work on someone else's non-Open commercial project.

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