mark helprin

Sorry, Mark Helprin, We Don’t Write “Free Ware”

Fred Benenson, May 21st, 2009

Digital Barbarism,And we’d like to not think of ourselves as blockheads, either. If you came across Mark Helprin’s bizarre Op-Ed from a couple of weeks ago, you might have caught the legendary novelist playing the guilt-by-association-game by arguing that we’re “antagonistic to the authorial right.” In fact its the “authorial right” that makes CC work — without it, authors wouldn’t have the ability to choose which rights to reserve and which rights to give away using CC licenses.

Lawrence Lessig, CC’s founder penned a lengthy review of Helprin‘s recent book “Digital Barbarism” (buying a copy through Amazon will donate the referral fee to our organization). Of particular interest is Lessig’s analysis of how Helprin misconceives what we do:

Helprin’s errors are not limited to the stuff he should have learned from books. He even messes up his Internet research. The organization that I helped found, Creative Commons, is named by Helprin as the leading anti-copyright organization. Here is how he explains to his readers what Creative Commons is:

Creative Commons is the self-congratulatory name of a self-congratulatory movement. Somewhat like kibbutz on the internet, the idea is to write programs–”free ware”–and distribute them without charge. While presumably striking a blow at corporate giants like Microsoft, this demonstrates the generosity and selflessness of the programmer, musician, writer, or scholar who donates his work to the common weal. And it becomes in turn a premise that is promiscuously extended to those works the authors of which do not want to give them away, of whom the presumption, becomes that they are not generous. Therefore, they are selfish. Therefore, they should be brought around, one way or another, to the ideal–for the public good and to save their souls. (51)

The reader of Digital Barbarism might then be surprised to read (as is stated directly on the Creative Commons site): “Creative Commons licenses should not be used for software.” She might be puzzled as well to read an op-ed by Helprin in the Wall Street Journal, where he explains that Creative Commons is “richly financed by … Microsoft….” Those silly people at Microsoft, “richly financ[ing]” a movement aimed at “striking a blow at … Microsoft.”

Lessig calls his review “insanely long” but in this blogger’s opinion, its also “insanely great”, so be sure to pass it along to anyone who tries to raise any of Helprin’s demented arguments.

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