Licensing is the act of giving someone permission to use something. For many years, the modding community has not elected to use existing licenses, and instead define a set of permissions which are provided where the mod is distributed. Though the modding community does not define these sets of permissions as licenses, they are equivalent to a license in the eyes of the law. This article will evaluate the pros-and-cons to different licensing schemes as they apply to the modding community. You may also want to read the UESP article on Mod Licensing for more information on this subject.
Please note that this information is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice, and is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney. Mod Picker is not a law firm and does not provide legal services. Mod Picker providing this information does not create a lawyer-client relationship.
Most mods, with the exception of most external tools, do not use an established license or a robust equivalent. This section will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of this practice.
It may seem to be easier to release a mod if you don't have to concern yourself with licensing that work in any official capacity, or with understanding how licensing works.
It's less official
In addition, not having to directly tackle the details of licensing your work can make the process seem more innocent and unofficial. This changes the experience of releasing work in a way which is preferred by some mod authors. The fact that not using a license is less official also has disadvantages though, as noted below.
It is possible for users to hold you accountable (sue you) for any damages that may occur related to their use of your work unless you have had them agree to not hold you liable as part of a license agreement. (See Stanford Permissions Tools: Licenses and Releases) While this may seem unlikely in the modding scene, it's not improbable. A proverb that applies here is "better safe than sorry".
Lack of clarity
When you don't use a license the terms of the agreement you provide to users can be rather unclear. There have been many circumstances in the modding community when the permissions associated with a mod have been unclear, leading to misunderstandings and drama. Using an established license can greatly clarify what users can and cannot do with your mod to avoid these circumstances.
Using permissions often creates incomplete agreements which say little or nothing about certain circumstances which can be very important. As an example, most mods which do not use an established license do not make any statement about commercial use. This caused a several issues when Steam and Bethesda unveiled paid mods in April 2015. (See Chesko's Fishing Mod) All well-established licenses make a clear statement about commercial use. The community using established and robust licenses would greatly reduce misunderstandings in the circumstance of Bethesda re-introducing paid mods.
It's less official
Using an established license with your mod makes your permissions more official. Though loosely defined permissions can be legally enforceable, using a robust and well-established license may impress upon your users the importance of following the license agreement. Simply by showing you are serious about your work you can greatly discourage behaviors that you may find undesirable, such as redistribution or modification of your work. In the case that you are open to redistribution or modification of your work having a license may also provide people with more faith in your word.
While not providing an official license with your work may seem easier or feel better, it is ultimately not a responsible decision. Not providing a clear, complete, and robust license agreement can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, or even potentially lawsuits.
Mod Picker provides a wizard which can help you choose a license matching your permission preferences. We can add new licenses to this wizard in the future if desired.
Mod Picker strongly supports open modding practices. We feel that open modding leads to a stronger and more collaborative community. Ultimately, choosing a license is up to you. Pick the license which best reflects how you want the community to use your work.
Q: Why aren't the Wrye Modding Licenses in the Mod Picker license database?
A: Because while this license has been created with the best intentions, it is not particularly legally robust. The license makes no statement releasing liability, no statements regarding commercial use, and provides a very limited explanation of the permissions granted. We do not recommend anyone use this license.
Q: None of the licenses on Mod Picker are as restrictive as I would like, what gives?
A: The modding community has taken a very restrictive approach to mods which is unlike what other people are doing elsewhere on the internet. We were unable to find a robust, well-established license restricting redistribution in our research. If you are aware of such a license, please let us know. Until then you will have to use a custom license.
Q: Could Mod Picker create a new license for use by the community to cover the permission preferences of mod authors more accurately than current public licenses do, such as restricting redistribution?
A: Yes, we're working on that. However, before providing any sort of license we need to do our legal homework. We don't want to create a license template which is unclear, inconsistent, or incomplete. To provide such a license in good faith we will likely need to pay a lawyer to construct and evaluate it.
Q: How do licenses interact with the CK EULA?
A: Generally speaking, legal documents are written to be broad with the allowance that parts of the agreement can be superseded by other agreements without the entire agreement being compromised. That means that the license will apply as much as is possible without directly contradicting the CK EULA. You must also understand that the license agreement you provide with your mod is an agreement made between you and your users where the CK EULA is an agreement made between you and Bethesda.
Q: Can I change the license my work is under after the fact?
A: Yes, but it will not apply to previous distributions of your work. Once your work has been distributed under a particular license the user will remain bound by that license unless they agree to a new license agreement.
Q: How was this information determined?
A: I am not a lawyer. The information in this article was gathered through internet research and a few informal legal discussions with a qualified attorney. If you have access to legal counsel it is recommended that you verify this information for yourself.