This is another try of my previous question. Still trying to find a license that will be open source, but protect the end documents (which are personal) from the templates (which are blank).

I have a LaTeX package that consists of a .sty file (basically, a huge form drawing) and a template file (which is all the blanks to be filled in and all the checkboxes to potentially check) - that, obviously, requires the sty file to build, but is separate from it.

I would like the style file to be under CC-BY-SA or equivalent - you can change it, but if you release it, you make it clear what's yours and what's mine, and you allow anyone else to go from there); but filled-in templates need to be owned and controlled by their creators (Blank #1 is "your names"; they must be protected from others misrepresenting what's on the form).

So I plan on releasing the template file as CC-BY (no -SA), to achieve this.

I'm actually planning on releasing my filled-in forms as CC-BY-NC-ND - I don't care if you see them (in fact, the whole point behind filling in the forms is for others to know what my partner and I do), but you don't get to change them and still claim they're mine.

LaTeX is strange, as it isn't really source code in the traditional sense (it's a "document preparation language"), and the produced documents aren't really "object code", so this kind of falls through the cracks. But is this pairing going to work, and is it going to do what I want?

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    When it comes to copyright licenses, "source code" is usually defined to mean "the preferred format for making changes", and "object code" is used for any other format. Under those definitions, a .tex file is source code and a .dvi or .pdf file is object code. Apr 26 at 7:53
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    Sure, but here, "if you want to share the object code, you have to share the source" doesn't make as much sense (which was one of the issues with using the GPL that required the CC licenses. Which then say "this shouldn't be used for software", which turns things into a nasty loop (especially for my question)). Also witness all the questions about "does using LaTeX mean I have to open-source my PDFs/provide it in tex format as well on request" - which LaTeX has decided is "the intent is no, and we think the license lets us say that"...
    – Mycroft
    Apr 26 at 15:26

1 Answer 1


Technically you can look at the form (template, structure and layout) and the form data (which users enter into the form) as 2 separate things and you can assign different licenses to each part.

I am not familiar with LaTeX .sty files, so I explain this based on the PDF format, which I know much better.

The PDF Format (ISO 32000) is a container format which incorporates many different parts in one document: headers and metadata, text w/ markup and graphics (in multiple layers), fonts, form structure and form data, digital signatures, etc. All of that can be in one PDF file, but no reasonable person would assume that if you publish a PDF file with (for example) a CC-0 license this same license also necessarily covers the fonts included in the PDF file.

In PDFs the form data can be stored in the AcroForms or XFA standard (XFA is depreciated), and can be kept in separate files or within the same container. (B.t.w.: When you open a Microsoft office document (e.g. docx) with a compression utility like 7zip you will see that this is also a container format with a clear folder structure.)

So far, we have established that a form (for example in PDF format) is not a homogeneous file, but instead it is a container with many different parts inside which might have different licenses (for example you can have CC-BY-SA for the template and anything else for the data filled in to the form).

While the form data clearly references (must reference) the structure of the form itself, and therefore would be considered a derivative work, the author of the form is free to state that the form data remains property of the person filling in the form. This would be a statement defining an exception from the share-alike requirement of the CC-BY-SA license.

A new situation comes as soon as the step of printing is involved, because the content structure in the container is completely flattened by this process (flat as ink on paper). But you still can have the separation between the template and the filled in data by writing (printable) your copyright and license statement in the footer of the form itself, so it is preserved even when it is printed, scanned or otherwise processed.

A side note: when you work with forms and have people fill in personal data, which you then collect, you must comply with the applicable privacy laws and you might need to mention your privacy policy somewhere.

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