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The free culture movement's moral imperative

© Aurelio A. Heckert,
Free Art License

So a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a prompt from Benjamin Mako Hill, I handed over my hard-earned and joined the Free Software Foundation. Two days ago I received my membership stuff in the mail: the book Free Software, Free Society (a collection of essays by Richard Stallman (RMS)), two member bulletins and some stickers. (Stickers! :D)

Reading the bulletins and the first two chapters of the book, it struck me how remarkable it is that the moral certainty and authority of the free software movement has remained unwaveringly strong for over 20 years. And it is really compelling. I guess the arguments show the benefit of having had many years to stew, and form the most precise and devastating reply in response.

In contrast, whither the free culture movement? To be fair it is a much younger movement, only having had serious steam for the last five or so years I would guess. But there is no central leader like RMS. That’s not all bad; strong leaders can be polarising. I suppose everyone would’ve hoped it would be Lawrence Lessig, but his non-profit Creative Commons is very much a poor cousin to RMS’ Free Software Foundation. They do absolutely nothing that resembles adovacy for end users. Their schtick is all about choice for the author, and it’s a much weaker moral argument.

Not that the moral argument for creative works under free content licenses is a very strong one. Or, if there’s a strong argument there, I’m yet to read it. Educational works? Yeah. But general creative works? Not so much.

Jimmy Wales would be another contender, except for the fact he has enough trouble explaining to the world how a wiki works, let alone free content.

Peter Brown, the Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation, writes in the July 2007 bulletin,

The response we heard [to the GPLv3 draft that contained anti-DRM provisions] most clearly was, “DRM is inevitable and we cannot afford to be against DRM if we ever hope to be successful and popular”.

When the only goals are popularity and success, drawing a line in the sand to pick a fight seems senseless. But when your goals are freedom for yourself and your fellow computer user, it’s a priority. Maybe this year more than any, GPLv3 has helped highlight the importance of the philosophical stance of the free software movement. Our freedom requires that we take up these battles, and as citizens, we do this for ourselves and our neighbours.

Free software has a 15 year headstart over free content, but I’m not sure we got the fundamentals down pat before charging in.

05 January, 2008 • ,


Podcast fame: PGIP; GFDL/CC-BY-SA harmonisation

Being mentioned in the New York Times (or more accurately, their blog) is one thing, but I only really felt famous when Andrew Lih invited me on Wikipedia Weekly. WW is a podcast: not quite weekly, and not just Wikipedia, but close enough. IMO it is usually twice as long and half as frequent as it should be, but the discussion is typically quite interesting, as a Wikimedian.

It can be downloaded from this page: Episode 38 (42 min)

I certainly don’t enunciate my words as clearly as Liam and Andrew. :) And maybe I have a bit too much of that high rising intonation, but at least it’s more interesting to listen to than a monotone. (Possibly more annoying, though.)

So, I discussed two topics: the first is the Philip Greenspun illustration project. I talked a bit about my broader hopes and plans for the project, and asked people to please submit illustration requests. If you are interested in seeing some of the existing illustrator efforts within Wikimedia, please check out the Community links.

The second topic is the GFDL/CC-BY-SA harmonisation effort. A good report on the initial Wikimedia community reaction is the Signpost article, and Creative Commons’ blog post Wikipedia and Creative Commons next steps summarises where the situation is now. So in this part I talk about the benefits to the commons and some of the issues that have been raised that will need to be addressed in this process. I mentioned the metaphor of “silos” of content caused by different-but-similar sharealike licenses (“and never the twain shall meet”), which I am repeating after hearing from Evan Prodromou.

NB: I mistakenly said that the GPL has a “any later version” clause. However this is not true: some project choose to make this a requirement of contributors, to license under GPL vX “and later version”.

In closing: Sealand.

14 December, 2007 • , , , , ,


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