I would like to release a book under a simple license. The GPL license is quite intimidating for non-lawyers and way too long. TL;DNR.

In spirit, I want something like:

The author and title must not change, and the license must apply to all derivatives. Everyone is free to tinker as they wish, provided that it is clear who made changes and that this person is fully identified and reachable by email. [I do not want someone to insert false claims and pass them off as if I made them.]

(Anything else important that I forgot?)

Is there a widely available open-source license that I can refer to and then use the above paragraph as basic explanation?

  • "the title must not change" and "everyone is free to tinker as they wish" are in direct contradiction of each-other.
    – Stef
    Sep 1, 2021 at 13:41
  • "... and reachable by email" - this wording seems to imply they would be in violation of the license if they go on a long vacation and ignore emails, or end up in a coma for a few years. That doesn't sound either enforceable or sensible; what's your reason for wanting to include it in your license?
    – kaya3
    Sep 1, 2021 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


As written, your license would not be an open source license. In particular:

  • The requirement to keep the title unchanged is a restriction on translating the book into a different language, failing the "No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor" clause of the Open Source Definition (OSD).
  • The requirement to be "fully identified" and "reachable by e-mail" stops people who do not wish to identify themselves, or who cannot or do not wish to use e-mail, making changes. This fails the "No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups" clause of the OSD.

You may want to consider CC-BY-SA; it even comes with a handy summary.

  • understood. for source code, it may not be so bad (though bugs can be). I don't want troll factories to insert anti-covid vaccine messages under my name...i never meant to stop translations. maybe I want to specify this.
    – ivo Welch
    Aug 31, 2021 at 22:29
  • 6
    @ivoWelch, the "fully identified" and "reachable by e-mail" parts are problematic, not the requirement that it is made clear that changes were made and who made those changes. But it should be possible that the "who" remains anonymous (without putting their words in your mouth). Sep 1, 2021 at 5:54
  • indeed. my plan is to require a reachable email address, not identification.
    – ivo Welch
    Sep 2, 2021 at 16:28

With great respect to my colleague, although what you require wouldn't meet the open-source software definition, it is understood that things are somewhat different in fields of creative endeavour. In particular, it's understood that creative works shouldn't purport to put one creator's words in another creator's mouth. Such a restriction would make a work of code unfree, but it's not so widely accepted that it's an inappropriate constraint for creative works such as books.

Hence, you might wish to consider using the GNU Free Documentation Licence. As Wikipedia says:

All previous authors of the work must be attributed.

All changes to the work must be logged.

All derivative works must be licensed under the same license.

The full text of the license, unmodified invariant sections as defined by the author if any, and any other added warranty disclaimers ... and copyright notices from previous versions must be maintained.

By using this licence and declaring the title page to be an invariant section, I think most of what you want is achievable. Those releasing modified editions will have to create new title pages (s4a), but your old title page will have to be reproduced verbatim, indefinitely, inside the work (s4l). The principal lacuna is the requirement to be reachable by email; a licence that mandates a particular technical solution is unlikely to garner support.

I accept that the GNU licences are big and complex, but I encourage you to think of them as well-understood black boxes; people generally know their rights and obligations with respect to GNU-licensed content, so the textual complexity doesn't usually cause a problem.

  • thanks. I will probably go with the FDL then. The email one was just to be able to get in touch with someone who messed up. given how easy emails are to set up these days, it could be a forward on gmail or outlook....
    – ivo Welch
    Aug 31, 2021 at 22:24
  • 3
    @ivoWelch That's a very liberal Western democracy view of the world. Try setting up an e-mail address in China or North Korea. Aug 31, 2021 at 23:16
  • 1
    @PhilipKendall, even if you're in a liberal Western democracy, setting up an email is a pain if you don't have a cell phone. Last time I tried, the first fifteen Google hits for "free email" all required tying your account to a phone number.
    – Mark
    Sep 1, 2021 at 20:21
  • (I am leaving out id requirements. just reachability now.) even in china, there are free email services. ok, perhaps not N Korea or Cuba. yes, it can be a modest pain. I think tolerable. I will also give blanko permission to use up to 5-10 pages without it. The combination of a reachability for long excerpts and no requirements for short ones seems like a good compromise.
    – ivo Welch
    Sep 2, 2021 at 16:34
  • @Mark - specifically a cell phone?? Sep 3, 2021 at 5:50

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