free software

Does your sharing scale?

Mike Linksvayer, September 2nd, 2009

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick is perhaps the most prolific blogger on the ill impact of overly restrictive legal regimes, including of course copyright and patents, but also trademark and even employment law (see Noncompete Agreements Are The DRM Of Human Capital) and often on people delivering real value to customers (sad that these are considered “alternative” business models) instead of replying on protectionist legal measures — as blogged here, Masnick’s case study on NIN is an absolute must read/watch — and he hosts awesome guest authors.

So it’s a little disappointing to read Masnick write:

I don’t use any of their licenses, because I don’t necessarily see the point. We’ve declared in the past that the content here is free for anyone to do what they want with it, and thus I feel no need for a Creative Commons license.

The need arises from the reality that sharing without standardized legal tools doesn’t scale. It doesn’t scale socially — if I wasn’t a regular Techdirt reader I wouldn’t know that Masnick had declared Techdirt content is free for anyone and for any purpose (and even now I could only find one such declaration because I remembered that Masnick had written about it in a post that mentioned CC!), nor depending on wording would I know what that meant. It doesn’t scale technically — there’s no way for software such as search engines to recognize ad hoc declarations. It doesn’t scale legally — any community or institution that requires legal certainty (eg due to risk that the community’s work will be suppressed or that the institution will be financially liable) will avoid ad hoc declarations.

It’s no surprise that in the more developed field of free and open source software (which has a 10+ year head start on free culture/open content) anyone who claims that making an ad hoc declaration is good enough and did not release their code under an established license would be laughed at and their code not allowed in other projects, distributions, and repositories, not to mention getting no attention from IBM, Google, Red Hat and thousands of other corporate contributors to and adopters of open source software.

Communities and institutions outside software also require works under established licenses (ie those provided by CC) to scale, e.g., Wikipedia, OpenCourseWare, the Public Library of Science and many, many others. What about individuals and small group efforts? Of course they don’t have to use real legal tools for their content any more than an individual programmer has to share code under an established open source license — that is if they don’t actually want others to “do what they want” with their content or code — because no license means no-understand, no-find, and no-go.

One of Masnick’s best turns is his stylized formula Connect With Fans (CwF) + Reason To Buy (RtB) = The Business Model ($$$$). As he explains, each part of the formula has many facets — reasonable copyright terms are just one — and as he points out, in a sense copyright is irrelevant, as CwF+RtB would work in the complete absence of copyright. However, as Techdirt points out every day, copyright is in more than full effect, producing all kinds of anti-creative and anti-innovation effects, from labels suing fans, bloggers, startups and anyone else available to heirs suppressing the use of work by long-dead authors. In this environment it seems rather necessary to offer fans the legal certainty of an established public license that grants at least the right to non-commercially share. Anything less seems to betray a lack of respect for fans or, if done unknowingly, is an instance of failed sharing.

Of course one might want to go beyond offering a relatively restrictive license and not rely on copyright at all, giving fans complete freedom with respect to one’s works. As Masnick has noted, CC has developed a legally rigorous tool to do just that, worldwide — CC0 — we hope that he is still considering it.☺

The Techdirt post quoted above is primarily a solid response to another blogger’s post on whether CC is good or bad for copyright policy — a very worthy question. Masnick’s conclusion is good:

Many of the people behind it went through (and are still going through) numerous battles to push back on the excesses of copyright. Creative Commons wasn’t the solution — it was a helpful (and hopefully temporary) oasis in a bleak desert, following numerous well-reasoned, but ultimately futile attempts to push back corporate expansion of copyright. And while I agree that there are problems with shifting the issue to a contractual agreement (and the post highlights some of the many legal problems CC licenses may cause), I think that CC, as a whole, did turn a lot more people onto the some of the problems with copyright law as it stands today. In many ways, CC is an easy way for people to first start to understand the problems of copyright law, in understanding why CC is needed.

From there, many who do understand this have started questioning the larger issues around copyright — and many of those involved with CC have continued to fight that good fight, rather than just assuming that CC is “the answer.” So, in the end, I agree that we should be clear to recognize that Creative Commons and efforts to really rethink copyright are two separate things, but that doesn’t mean that Creative Commons is necessarily bad for copyright policy issues. It has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a real stepping stone to getting more people to recognize these bigger issues. In fact, I’d argue that many of the folks now leading the debate for more reasoned copyright policy in Canada first came to understand these issues via their exposure to Creative Commons’ licenses.

While CC and other voluntary efforts (such as free software and open access) aren’t the solution (if there is such a thing), their contribution goes well beyond serving as stepping stones for thinking about how messed up the copyright environment is. They are simultaneously tools for enabling billions of dollars of collaboration across organization boundaries and unlocking untold social value now and in proving out models that don’t rely on excessive enforcement, changing the facts on the ground in a systemic way that arguably should increase the probability of good outcomes relative to those likely to result from a single-track strategy of merely complaining about the current regime as it worsens.

Copycense, the blogger that Techdirt responds to above, has unrealistic assessments of CC’s ability to “muzzle” the conversation about copyright reform and of the ability of such a conversation to obtain the “best case scenario, with a balanced and effective law that serves citizens and corporate owners equally well”. Copycense is enamored with the current Canadian copyright consultation — it’s worth noting that CC Canada has been around since 2004, that Michael Geist, the most prominent voice for positive reform, is a long time CC user and advocate — one can hardly say CC has muzzled the conversation — and furthermore it isn’t clear the consultation will lead to any good progress. Hopefully good reform will result, and many involved in CC in Canada and elsewhere are also involved in reform efforts (if you read French see the consultation of Olivier Charbonneau, one of the project leads of CC Canada) — but to denigrate voluntary efforts, at least while some rather intractable problems with the ability of concentrated interests to hijack politics remain, is a gigantic missed opportunity at best, and possibly flirting with very bad outcomes.

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CC Hold Music? Yes, Really.

Fred Benenson, August 20th, 2009

digiumDigium, the parent company that hosts and maintains the open source telephony & PBX project called Asterisk, recently replaced the on-hold music featured in their distributions to CC BY-SA licensed works from OpSound. Using freely licensed CC music in open source projects has always made sense to us, but Digium’s John Todd discusses why they finally made the switch on the company’s blog:

In some nations (Australia and France, to pick two that have been brought to our attention) there are some who are claiming that we do not have the rights outlined above, and that our users therefore are in a similar situation where they may be in violation of license terms.

John goes on to explain that since CC licenses are easy to use, well defined, and accepted internationally, the choice was clear to them:

This is very far outside of Digium’s ability or interest to manage, nor do we wish to become involved in the protracted series of legal proceedings required to sort out this licensing issue. So we have chosen another path that is more clear to us: we will eliminate the files of questionable license from Asterisk, and replace them with music that has clearly defined and more acceptable licensing terms which are compatible with both the Asterisk license, and with any reasonable redistribution methods that might be used by others who re-package Asterisk.

(emphasis added)

Just think, the next time you get placed on hold, there’s a good chance you’ll be listening to some copyleft music!

8 Comments »

FSCONS 2009: Call for Participation

Michelle Thorne, May 20th, 2009

fscons09

Free Culture, Free Software, and Free Content will again join forces under the banner of “Free Society” at FSCONS 2009 in Gothenburg, Sweden, 13-15th November.  The organizers, Creative Commons Sweden, Free Software Foundation Europe, and Wikimedia Sverige, have just announced the conference’s Call for Participation.

Last year’s conference featured a host of workshops and speakers, including CC’s Mike Linksvayer on “How far is free culture behind free software?” and Victor Stone on ccMixter‘s solution to online attribution via Sample Pool API.

We’re looking forward to what this year’s FSCONS has in store. Submissions close on June 21, so send in your proposal soon!

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Commoner Letter #1: Eben Moglen

Melissa Reeder, October 20th, 2008

Last year we started a new campaign tradition — the Commoner Letter series. As I’ve said before, and will definitely say again, the campaign is about building support — rallying our community members around the importance of supporting Creative Commons and the openness our tools help enable. Over the next three months, five prominent members of the CC community will share with the world why they support CC. If you’re interested in CC and issues of openness and access, this list is for you.

This year’s line-up consists of Eben Moglen, of the Software Freedom Law Center; Renata Avila, Creative Commons Guatemala Project Lead; Jonathan Coulton, singer and songwriter who licenses all his work under CC; Richard Bookman, Associate Professor of Molecular & Cellular Pharmacology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami; and Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and member of CC’s Board of Directors.

We’re thrilled that the first letter in the series comes from Eben Moglen — Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University, and the Founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center.

=====================
Free Software and Creative Commons

Having spent so much of my life working as a lawyer for the Free Software movement, I feel a special bond with the work of Creative Commons, and it is therefore a great privilege to write on behalf of CC.

In the twenty-first century, computer software is as necessary a tool of creation as pen, ink and paper; as chalk and clay and tubes of paint. Software is also as necessary to the distribution of creative works as copper wire, lighting and publicity. The goal of the Free Software movement was to make software for every purpose that everyone would be free to copy, modify and share. In pursuing that goal, the hackers who make free software were also enabling free culture. We have been together from the very beginning, technology and art.

The legal arrangements of the free software movement—Richard Stallman’s profound invention of the copyleft—are at the root of the “Share Alike” conception so important to the future of Creative Commons. Millions of writers, photographers, researchers, musicians, Wikipedians, hackers, teachers, and other humans work happily and freely in commons nourished by the principle of sharing. The beginning of the process was Larry Lessig’s wonderful insight into how to bring the principles of reasoning about sharing developed in the philosophy of Richard Stallman to the much wider scope of cultural production beyond software. Larry’s ideas ignited the Creative Commons beacon, to which creative people the world over have rallied, coming together to reshape copyright through voluntary action into a system for promoting sharing.

Principles are still the heart of both movements, and every compromise brings, as it should, controversy. I understand why, for those to whom the principles of freedom are always the first and only priority, Creative Commons has seemed a large and possibly too various collection of licensing models and approaches to the subject of free culture. For me, that diversity of outlook and intention has always been the particular glory of Creative Commons: that by definition it must be as large and indistinct in its outlines as the impossibly vast extent of human culture-making itself. And yet, despite all the differences of opinion, there is still an unshaken central commitment: awareness of the overarching importance to all cultural expression of the freedom to share.

All of us will have much to cooperate on in the near future. Everyone who inhabits the Web realizes, for example, that audio and video need to be more deeply embedded in the ordinary experience of building and using it. The immense outpouring of creativity that lies just ahead depends on freeing multimedia technology from shackles imposed on it by the patent system. Dozens of companies claim to “own” different parts of the technology for digital representation of audiovisual material on the Web. The thicket of licensing restrictions they place on their various “patented inventions” is largely responsible for all the incompatibilities; the plug-ins you have to download that only work sometimes on some material; and the inhibition of all sorts of wonderful, useful, beautiful and thought-provoking possibilities.

The Web has grown so magnificently because it was made of free software and free cultural activity—it enabled us to share, and our sharing made it the amazing starting-point that it is. But if we are going to achieve even just the next step in our new exploration of humanity that is Webspace, we’re going to have to make sure that freedom isn’t crushed by media companies with patents trying to prevent the future.

Working for the freedom of codecs and other multimedia software is just one example of the efforts we will all need to make together to ensure the freedom to share. Supporting Creative Commons isn’t just something I feel I ought to do; it’s something we all have to do. I hope you will join with me in supporting Creative Commons with your money, with your energy, and with your creative power. There’s nothing we can’t do if we share.

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FSCONS: Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit

Michelle Thorne, September 26th, 2008

fscons banner

Free Culture, Free Software, and Free Content will join forces under the banner of “Free Society” at FSCONS on October 24-26 at the IT University of Götheborg, Sweden. The orgnaizing trinity, Creative Commons Sweden, Free Software Foundation Europe, and Wikimedia Sverige, see FSCONS as a chance to reach out with their respective communities and build joint projects with like-minded activists and organizations.

A strong speakers lineup provides the rhetorical food-for-thought in the Free Culture track. Mike Linksvayer (Creative Commons) asks, “How far is free culture behind free software?” as he charts key indicators and historical factors in the progress of each. Eva Hemmungs Wirten argues that the digital commons extends back to nineteenth-century London, while Oscar Swartz keynotes the events with the warning that Sweden’s controversial “Lex Orwell” may usher in “The End of Free Communication”.

Nikolaj Hald Nielsen spotlights Amarok 2, the intuitive music player for Linux and Unix, demonstrating a viable intersection of Free Culture and Free Software. Meanwhile, other landscapes are being analyzed by Inga Walling (Open Street Map), who recounts the project’s efforts to create and provide free geographic data.

John Buckman (Magnatune) riffs on “Squeezing the Evil out of the Music Industry” by using CC licensing to rethink record labels. And since online attribution persists as a thorny issues for many music content sites, Victor Stone (ccMixter) reports on how some platforms are solving the problem with the Sample Pool API.

The blend of timely topics and kindred communities makes FSCONS an exciting event to follow this autumn. Thanks a lot to the organizing teams for their efforts — we’re looking forward to this!

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Software Freedom Day 2008

Mike Linksvayer, September 20th, 2008

Today is Software Freedom Day, a worldwide celebration of free and open source software. See our post on SFD2007.

For context on Creative Commons and software freedom, see these slides on free culture and free software (pdf) (I’ll be giving an updated version of this talk at FSCONS next month), our recent post wishing happy birthday to the GNU project, or better yet, check out our software, all of which is free (as in freedom).

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Happy birthday to GNU!

Mike Linksvayer, September 2nd, 2008

25 years ago Richard Stallman started the GNU (“Gnu’s Not Unix”) project to create a computer operating system like Unix (then ascendant in computer labs like the one Stallman worked in), but with source code free for programmers to run, study, share, and improve.

Free software from the GNU project now powers in the range of billions of computers, from microcontrollers and mobile phones to the Googleplex. Even software at the core of notoriously proprietary Apple’s OS X comes directly from the GNU project. Often, software from the GNU project is paired with the Linux kernel to form the base of a free operating system. The software that runs the Internet, including the domain name system and most web, email, and other network servers, all run on or at least are compiled by GNU project software. While not similarly dominant on the desktop, there is little question that free software such as Firefox, again running on or at least compiled by GNU project software, has tremendously benefitted the web by spurring competition and innovation.

The GNU project has done much more than build software. It fueled the free software movement, also started by Stallman, and in turn inspired and enabled countless projects and movements. Over the long term (it will take much longer than 25 years for this to play out), it will make us rethink the contours of what is possible in the space of social cooperation and invidual autonomy, social justice and freedom.

Heady and heavy stuff, but ultimately unsurprising — consider that computers are now the driving force of change in the world today — movements concerning the production and control of software must become increasingly central.

One of the movements and projects directly inspired by GNU is Creative Commons. We’re still learning from the free software movement. On a practical level, all servers run by Creative Commons are powered by GNU/Linux and all of the software we develop is free software.

So please join us in wishing the GNU project a happy 25th birthday by spreading a happy birthday video from comedian Stephen Fry. The video, Freedom Fry, is released under a CC Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

If you’re a fan of free culture and Creative Commons, Freedom Fry is a great introduction to free software. If you’re already a free software know it all, please share Freedom Fry with your friends.

Thank GNU!

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