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The Universal Data License Explained

As someone who makes a living from content creation, you might have noticed that publishing platforms always force you to agree to their terms. If that wasn’t bad enough, they often change these terms; in the worst case, your content gets banned from the platform, and you lose all your followers. With the Universal Data License (UDL), there is a new way of doing business. It’s a content license that lets you define rules for consumers by tagging your content before uploading it to a blockchain network. This article will explain licenses in general, the unique selling point of the UDL, and how you apply the UDL to your content.

This article isn’t legal advice, just information, so stay safe and always do your own research!

What is the UDL?

The UDL is a legal document that defines the terms of usage for content stored as transaction data on a public permissionless blockchain network. If you mark data as being released under UDL, consumers must agree to the terms of that license before using it.

The restriction to transaction data on a public permissionless blockchain is vital here. Since no single person or company can own a permissionless blockchain, no single entity can impose new terms for storage on you. Also, data on the blockchain is immutable, ensuring that the data and its usage terms are always accessible and can’t change.

Like a regular license, the UDL comes with default permissions, like display and copy, but it also allows creators to opt-in to custom permissions and requirements via transaction metadata. For example, allowing commercial use or a monthly fee requirement.

What’s a License?

To better understand the UDL, let’s take a step back and learn what licenses are.

A license is just permission a content creator gives to a content consumer.

For example, if you tell a friend, “You can play my song in your club next Friday for $1,” and they say “Yes,” that would mean you gave your friend a license for your song, and your friend agreed to the terms of the license. Both of you would have a binding contract with the mentioned terms. Meaning your friend owed you $1 for playing your music on Friday.

Verbal agreements are nice until something unplanned happens. If your friend doesn’t play your song on Friday, do they owe you $1? It’s not your problem that they didn’t play it, but you didn’t write it down, so you can’t prove it. To get around this issue, you would write down the terms and the agreement so that each of you can refer to them.

Since this is a recurring problem, people created many licenses that define general usage terms for different kinds of content. These licenses include clauses that limit what's allowed, what’s required, and what happens in special cases.

A music usage license, for example, could include a term that requires your friend to pay $1 even if they didn’t play your song.

What Differentiates the UDL From Existing Licenses?

The UDL allows content creators to define usage terms via standardized transaction metadata. They can allow commercial use, require a fee, and even determine the currency and address for the payment. This ensures that each piece of content has all the information consumers need to pay the creator. Just attach the right tags at upload time, and wait for payments.

The content consumer benefits from this, too, because now they know which data they are allowed to use and don’t have to fear getting sued. They also know how to pay fees if they have to.

Since all license information is standardized and programmatically available, DApp creators can even go so far as to automate the payments via smart contracts. They can also filter for freely usable data in a commercial context or data that only requires a one-time fee.

How Does the UDL Work?

Now that you understand what licenses are and what makes the UDL special, let's look at it more practically.

The UDL is a license and a protocol specification. The license defines the legal terms consumers must agree on. Since it was created by copyright lawyers, it also covers common edge cases, so you don’t have to think about them. It links these terms to the possible values of the content’s metadata. Hence, creators know how to mark their content to opt-in to specific license clauses.

The metadata in question is called “tags” on the Arweave blockchain. Tags are a list of keys and values you can add to your transactions to give the reader of that transaction additional information about it. They aren’t pre-defined by the protocol; you can add custom tags. But there are several specifications that try to standardize common tags.

The UDL is one of these specifications, bringing much power to creators of all kinds. It defines tags and links them to a legal permission (i.e., commercial use), requirement (i.e., one-time payment of 1 $U), or additional information (i.e., payment address).

If you want to use the UDL for content you upload on Arweave, you have to add a "License" tag with the value "yRj4a5KMctX_uOmKWCFJIjmY8DeJcusVk6-HzLiM_t8" to your the transaction you used to upload that data to Arweave. The value is the transaction ID of version 0.1 of the UDL document on Arweave. This is enough to grant consumers the default permissions of the UDL.

If you want to monetize your content, you also add the "License-Fee" tag to your transaction. The default currency is the $U token on the Arweave network, and the default payment address is the one you used to sign the transaction, so no additional tags are required. If you set the value of this tag to "One-Time-10", consumers have to pay you 10 $U tokens to use your content indefinitely.

The following image illustrates how the UDL relates to transaction data.


If you want to learn how to use a different token or address, check out the Arweave Wiki.


The UDL isn’t a smart contract, it’s just a license document with a specification of tags you can use in a smart contract, but you don’t have to.

While the UDL standardizes tags for payment automation, it doesn’t require the content consumer to do so. If you define that commercial use of your song costs a monthly payment of 10 $MATIC and add a wallet address for the Polygon network, a content consumer could simply send you the tokens manually every month.

Using the UDL when uploading your content to Arweave allows for exciting new use cases for content creators and consumers alike.

The strong provenance of Arweave allows content creators to prove ownership so the consumers of the content can be sure they aren’t dealing with a scammer. The UDL adds on top of this by letting creators define their own usage terms and even add payment details alongside.

With the UDL, creators get peace of mind, and DApp creators can ensure compliance automatically.

The UDL is currently in beta to gather comments and feedback from the community.

Arweave Community Hackathon

If you're excited about the UDL and want to build build on it right away, sign up for the Arweave Community Hackathon! You can win $25,000 in prize money and $10,000 dedicated to projects built with the UDL!

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