Saturday, July 30, 2005

Free Software, again

It seems like Free Software advocates are actively criticising Creative Commons after Stallman has decreed that CC does not meet with the FS seal of approval. The criticisms seem to be centered on three main points: CC is not centered on ethical principles; some of the licences are not entirely free (in the Free Software sense), and the uncertainties caused by a wide range of licences covering different freedoms. This article by Benjamin Mako Hill follows those same lines. Creative Commons is attacked because it does not offer the certainty of Free Software and is not based on the strict ethical principles that FS is based upon.

I think that the problem here is that Free Software advocates should realise that there is a very basic difference between software code and creative works. There cannot be any doubt any more that open source development and the Free Software movement have produced some amazing results, and that many of those results are awe-inspiring and should be applauded. The availability of millions of lines of code within the software community allows many developers around the world to tinker and modify software to produce a different result. But software code writing is in itself a very communal experience, where the sharing of code is a good in itself because it can be used by other developers to produce new software in a much easier way. This does not take place in creative works. If I write a poem, another poet does not need to look at my poem and copy lines from it to write his own work. If I take a picture, another photographer does not need to look at my picture in order to take his own picture. Yes, there are remix elements in culture that enhance and enrich existing works, but this is only part of the protection awarded by Creative Commons.

In my opinion, Creative Commons serves to fill a legal gap. Everybody connected to the internet can be a publisher. The staggering growth of blogs, moblogs, personal websites, wikis and open access journals have created a legal void, people need to find an easy way to publish those works. Some people are happy to just slap a © symbol and it solves their copyright issues, but it is nice to have a set of ready-made licences that can be used to share the work under certain conditions.

There is also a basic difference in the rights required. Free Software is very useful in the reuse of software code. But the reuse of creative works is less important. What is vital is to have access to the work, and the licences reflect this difference.

Another sticking point with FS defenders is the existence of licences that do not provide freedoms to the entire world, such as the much maligned Developing Nations licence. I do not understand those criticisms. What is wrong with providing a licence that will hopefully help more works being used in developing countries? Some developers may want to exploit their work in developed countries, but they may not have a market in developing nations. A licence that recognsies such a situation and provides more flexibilities should be applauded, not criticised.


Andrew Ducker said...

Free Software people notoriously don't like non-free licenses. So while they'll approve of _some_ of the Creative Commons license, they aren't going to approve of ones that don't translate to 'freedom'.

Nothing wrong with that, no more than there would be in writing a software license that gave more rights to developing nations, or one that allowed distribution as long as no money was made.

The important thing is that the creator has choice in the license they use.

David BB said...

Your strict dichotomy between 'culture' and 'software' is rather odd. Both seek to reuse and remix culture in new and innovative ways, and the freedoms that Stallman is referring to are equally applicable to art and creativity more generally. You are being a little narrow if you think he is talking *only* about copying and pasting bits of code - he is talking more generally about the freedom to use and reuse *ideas*. That is why the software patent issue is so explosive.

I remember you writing that you welcome a plethora of licenses after we launched the libre commons licenses.

I wonder then what you think about the proposed and hinted at Freedom Commons licenses that Stallman and Hill are talking about launching...

mako said...

It seems like Free Software advocates are actively criticising Creative Commons after Stallman has decreed that CC does not meet with the FS seal of approval.

In fact, I wrote this essay over a year and a half ago and have been passing it around privately since because I was worried that people would react poorly to it and miss the point that I was trying to make. It seems that has been happening quite a bit. Richard urged me to publish this a few months ago and I revised it pretty heavily. In any case, I am not trying to jump on the bandwago and you can read my blog entry where I go into some details on this.

I am very careful in my article to not argue that creative works should be held to the same standard of freedom as software. Richard Stallman does not believe this is ideal and I'm still thinking hard about the issue myself. I am not saying that there needs to be a single line in the sand for all times of creative, opinionated, or functional works or for works of all genres. A complex and varied set of essential freedoms based on any number of criteria might be uninspiring or unnecessary complicated but it's more of a standard of freedom than CC is giving us now -- none of all of course. This is my critique.

I don't collapse creative and functional works in my essay. I don't criticize the Developing Nation's license or any others. What I do do is argue that there should be a real freedom movement moving toward some defined standard of freedom. I don't (yet) make an argument about what that should be. I'm first trying to see what sort of consensus we have on this point before we move forward.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi David,

I completely agree that culture relies in remix as well, but I think that there is indeed a functional dichotomy between the way in which software is remixed and the way in which culture is remixed.

I understand that Stallman's freedoms are more than copying lines of code, but I think that the freedoms to reuse ideas already exist in copyright law (but not in patent law). I agree that this is the danger in software patents, but we still don't have the treat of patented cultural ideas (yet).

Both fields should therefore be subject to different analysis, because I contend that reusing a song is not the same as reusing a computer program.



Andres Guadamuz said...

BTW David, as I have said before, I applaud any new licence. I don't think that CC has the monopoly on this subject, and I think that the free culture movement can only gain from more licences. I like that people have options when it comes to choosing a licence.

I will have to read the licence when there is one. On the meantime, those that have problems with CC could use the GFDL, which can be used for a large variety of copyright works.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi Mako,

Thanks for the comment. I did not mean to imply that you were jumping on the bandwagon, I'm sorry if I implied such thing.

I still do not think that there is a problem with the lack of stated freedoms in CC, but I must admit that I come into this from a very pragmatic possition. I think that the philosophical and social debate involved in IP protection is very relevant at present, but I don’t see why this should be necessarily carried to a specific licensing scheme. I must admit that I am willing to forego some of that discussion if it will mean that we can build a licensing model that can be understood and adopted by the mainstream. Talking about freedom is fine, but your average internet user will not be bothered by the more philosophical discussion, they just want an easy-to-use licence that will allow them to share some of their works to the public. This is what CC is good at. I leave the ethical debate about freedoms to others, and while I definitely see a point in such a debate, I cannot see its relevance to CC at the moment.

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David said...
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