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I am taking a public domain text1, and applying some changes to it. It is possible I'll end up taking several texts from several sources, but all public domain. The nature of the changes are:

  1. changing some of the archaic words to modern synonyms
  2. structuring sentences much more idiomatically
  3. cosmetic changes to punctuation, etc.
  4. tagging words and such likes, so that the text can more easily be processed by computer programs

I will end up with a text clearly derived from the first one(s), and attributed where possible. But it will not be the same text.

Can, or should, the resulting works be licensed under CC0? I'm looking for a way to waive any rights I have to it.


1: The text is the Young's Literal Translation, which is attributed to Robert Young. So far as I understand, since this text is public domain, its use does not require attribution, making it technically compatible with the CC0.
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    'Public Domain' is very similar to CC0. So does this answer your question? May someone else apply a license to CC0 material? Oct 2, 2023 at 7:13
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    RE: "should" - nobody will be able to tell you what you want to achieve, but there are risks for downstream users when putting something in the public domain (as opposed to providing a copyleft license). Oct 2, 2023 at 13:22
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    @Lorraine If you consider the linked behaviour problematic, personally I'd recommend CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-NC. But to get a proper cost-benefit balance, you will need to ask a new question with your requirements more clearly stated (as "force others to disclose my work" is incompatible with "waive any rights I have to it"). Oct 2, 2023 at 14:48
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    CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-NC require attribution though, don't they? Does this mean I need to provide a (real) name? Oct 2, 2023 at 15:16
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    @Lorraine you don't need to provide a real name, you can even waive the attribution (I'm afraid I don't have a handy link on how to do this succinctly, but any plain language instruction should do)
    – lofidevops
    Oct 2, 2023 at 17:50

2 Answers 2

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The CC0 is a public domain dedication with a very permissive fallback license for those jurisdictions that don't accept public domain dedications.

From the description of your changes, they seem to be creative in nature. That gives you a copyright claim on those changes.

By having a copyright claim on (some aspect of) the document, you have the right to issue a copyright license (at least for the parts covered by your copyright claim). As you effectively want to disclaim your copyrights, the CC0 license is a good tool to do that.

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  • Note that the USA is (likely, it hasn't been fully tested) one of those jurisdictions. So we're not exactly talking about rare niche cases.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 3, 2023 at 18:38
  • @T.E.D.: If a country doesn't allow public domain declarations, is there any way by which the creator of a work can specify that nobody who inherits it would have any authority to enforce copyright against anyone for conduct the author of the work intended to allow?
    – supercat
    Oct 3, 2023 at 18:54
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    @supercat - The copyright holder is free to change their mind about what license they want to distribute their code under at any time (even if they literally change their mind by the copyright going to a different human being). They can even choose not to distribute at all anymore, if that's their wish. However, the people who already received it under CC0 still have all the rights to it that CC0 gave them. Creative Commons licenses are irrevokable.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 3, 2023 at 19:19
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You can always take a derivative of a public domain work and relicense it as whatever you want. People do this all the time with the Bible, fairy tales, old books, etc... Publishers will often republish old works under a new copyright; in practice this means that you cannot copy the republication without permission from the publisher, but you can still copy the original words and images without any restrictions. Disney has made an absolute fortune retelling public domain works under an "All Rights Reserved" copyright and has spent millions, if not billions, on lobbying the US government to ensure their copyrights do not expire so that they can continue to sell Snow White over and over, despite the fact that a significant chunk of their catalog is derivative works of the public domain.

There is no legal obligation whatsoever to dedicate derivative works of public domain works to the public domain. It may be considered fraudulent to claim authorship, but that does not necessarily prohibit you from claiming copyright, which in turn, would allow you to relicense it in whatever way tickles your fancy, including dedicating it to the public domain (or simulating such by licensing it as CC-0). You always own your own additions and modifications, no matter how small. While that doesn't stop others from going to the original source, it also doesn't stop you from relicensing derivative works of the public domain in whatever way you see fit. There are no compatibility issues because public domain doesn't come with a share-alike clause. There are no conditions. There are no limitations. It's public domain.

Especially cautious lawyers might not take this at face value (which is why e.g. SQLite offers licenses for cautious corporations despite being public domain, or why Nina Paley has had to sign waivers of permission to various universities despite her works being CC-0/public domain and therefore theoretically not needing such permission ever), but the idea of dedicating things to the public domain implies that you have waived the right to sue for copyright infringement, and the natural lapsing of copyright implies that there is nobody left to sue for it.

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  • Your statement "You have the right to reserve all rights even without a single modification" is simply wrong. You have no rights whatsoever unless you have a valid copyright. I am not a lawyer, but I'm pretty confident that making no modifications does not entitle you to a copyright. Oct 4, 2023 at 1:46
  • That might be true in theory, but the reality is that publishers pull stunts like this all the time. Your modifications are always yours though, and there is no obligation at all to retain those public domain rights just because you built off it. If that were the case, Disney would be left with a much smaller catalog and they would have thrown a hissy fit to congress a long time ago. The reality of copyrights and licensing is that it depends almost entirely on who has better lawyers, and the only reason that e.g. the GPL holds any weight is because lawyers are being paid to defend open source.
    – Beefster
    Oct 4, 2023 at 16:36

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