• On emoji, licenses, and copyright

    Read this first!

    To avoid ANY confusion about this article, read the #1 condition from the emojidex Terms of Service:

    You retain your rights to content you submit to the emojidex Service. emojidex does not claim copyright on user submitted content. By submitting content you grant the emojidex Service and other users of emojidex a non-exclusive and royalty-free license to distribute, transmit, copy, reproduce, modify, adapt, display and use such content in any and all media allowed by emojidex and any distribution methods allowed by emojidex.

    Specifically, the 9 words that should stick out to you are “emojidex does not claim copyright on user submitted content“. This is absolutely *NOT* the case with many, many other services. Sure, a lot of services will say it in a roundabout way, but a lot of times when you post your content to some popular social networking or media sharing service you’re basically giving them permission to do just about whatever they want with it. The emojidex team absolutely despises that so we made it blatantly clear that we’re not going to con you out of your rights to something you made. Do note, however, that by uploading to emojidex you’re basically granting a license to any user of emojidex to use your uploaded emoji *as an emoji* in a variety of media while your emoji assets are on the emojidex service. Your rights are still yours, and you can pull the emoji assets whenever you want and they’ll be cleared from client caches within a few days. Your works are yours, and we’re not going to take your rights away.

    Death by License

    You may be aware that emojidex is derived from the Phantom Open Emoji project [POE]. What you may not be aware of is why POE was “killed off”. It all has to do with a small misunderstanding and the foolish use of what is frighteningly one of the most used licenses on publicly released art: the Creative Commons license. Basically, here’s what happened:

    1. We started a crowd funding campaign to create the worlds first Open Source emoji set, and offered to include non-standard emoji as “extended” emoji at the request of our backers over a certain level. All emoji would be released under a Creative Commons license.
    2. Some backers wanted their logo as emoji.
    3. The campaign succeeds, and we create the emoji, including logos.
    4. We receive a message from a lawyer telling us to remove a trademarked logo that one of our backers had asked us to produce from the emoji set, as by releasing it under the Creative Commons license we were blatantly violating trademark/copyright law and undermining the rights of the trademark holder.
    5. Immediate redaction of any logos (other than one, which the owner specifically said they wanted to remain in the set). Immediate redaction of  all licenses on POE. Freeze and closure of the POE project.
    6. Called our lawyer to start working on licenses for emojidex that would allow all the freedom we wanted on emoji while also providing ample legal protection to both us and our users while still being Open Source and compatible with a broad range of Open Source licenses.

    And that’s where we are today. At #4 the fact of the matter is we were a hair away from serious trouble that would have ended our small company right then and there, and all because we didn’t think out different situations that applying the Creative Commons license would cause. Really, a lot of this has to do with how the CC licenses are written and how they deal with Copyright, which is in a way how the Apache/MIT licenses deal with it: they effectively nullify it and break the rights of the Copyright holder when applied. The issue with the CC license on top of that, though, is that if you apply it on a project containing multiple works instead of an individual work or each work individually, it basically destroys any chance you have of changing licenses on the project without first destroying the project.

    Open Source licenses that do not break the rights of the Copyright holder would be licenses like the GNU GPL, which you’ll find is a license our company makes ample use of. The GPL is intensely liberal, but still gives the Copyright holder firm and solid control. It’s a shame nobody has put the effort into making a similar license for graphical assets, because there really should be a proper alternative to the CC.

    The emojiOL & The Birth of emojidex

    In the end we worked for months with a lawyer to craft the “emojidex Open License” or “emojiOL”, which paired with the terms and conditions of the service makes emojidex the only emoji vendor that’s Open Source, and protects authors rights, and has ample licensing options for other types of use. The emojiOL basically lets you use all the emoji and all the software from our project under what is essentially the same terms as the LGPL – and if that doesn’t work for you just contact us and we can issue something else. The images are still copyrighted, and that copyright is protected, but you’re allowed to use them as emoji with almost no restrictions – basically as long as you don’t try and hide where the emoji came from, circumvent copyright by making it appear the emoji are your own, and don’t modify the software to use on an alternative service or with emoji that aren’t part of the service without also making your modified sources publicly available (see! GPL like!); you’re free to use the emoji and software as you like(*1).

    With this new emojiOL we started the emojidex project – both to do POE over again the right way, and to establish a standard of practical Open Source licensing for a mixed asset and software project. We had to learn a hard lesson on copyright, but because we did we were able to make something that protected our contributors, users, and ourselves. By incorporating principals of the GPL and making the software portions of the project essentially LGPL equivalent we were able to stick to our open source principals and keep our clients and libraries non-restrictive enough to be usable in just about any project. All together, we created what we think is the perfect balance of protection and usability for the project, and we hope you will think the same and choose emojidex as the platform to release your own emoji, and the platform you’ll put on your web sites and in your apps.

    (*1) Keep in mind the emojiOL is in fact a software/digital asset license and not a license for physical products or commercial use – but there are a few waivers (you can use it in printouts, on non-commercial fliers/posters/panflets, for educational material, etc.). And if you need a separate license we’re still the cheapest licensable set in the industry.


Project lead for emojidex. I like OSS, Ruby, C++, and cars.