Shouldn't Free Mean The Same Thing Whether Followed By 'Culture' Or 'Software'?

from the principles dept

Adapted from a talk and slide show I presented at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin on July 1, 2011. –NP
Crossposted from

Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The Free Software Definition

These are the Four Freedoms of Free Software. They are foundational principles, and they are exactly right. They have served and continue to serve the Free Software Movement very well. They place the user’s freedom ahead of all other concerns. Free Software is a principled movement, but Free Culture is not – at least not so far. Why?

1. The No Derivatives (-ND) Restriction

If you tinker with software, you can improve it. You can also break it or make it worse, but the Freedom to Tinker is one of the foundational 4 Freedoms of Free Software. Your software may also be used for purposes you don’t like, used by “bad people,” or even used against you; the Four Freedoms wisely counsel us to GET OVER IT.
Unfortunately, The Free Software Foundation does not extend “Freedom to Tinker” to Culture:

Cultural works released by the Free Software Foundation come with “No Derivatives” restrictions. They rationalize it here:

Works that express someone’s opinion—memoirs, editorials, and so on—serve a fundamentally different purpose than works for practical use like software and documentation. Because of this, we expect them to provide recipients with a different set of permissions (notice how users are now called "recipients," and their Freedoms are now called "permissions" –NP): just the permission to copy and distribute the work verbatim. (link)

The problem with this is that it is dead wrong. You do not know what purposes your works might serve others. You do not know how works might be found “practical” by others. To claim to understand the limits of “utility” of cultural works betrays an irrational bias toward software and against all other creative work. It is anti-Art, valuing software above the rest of culture. It says coders alone are entitled to Freedom, but everyone else can suck it. Use of -ND restrictions is an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of others.

For example, here I have violated the Free Software Foundation’s No-Derivatives license:

The Four Freedoms of Free Culture:

1. The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;
2. The freedom to study, analyze, and dissect copies of the Work, and adapt it to your needs;
3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.

Without permission, I’ve created a derivative work: the Four Freedoms of Free Culture. Although I violated FSF’s No-Derivatives license, they violated Freedoms # 2 and 4, so we’re even.

1. The Non-Commercial (-NC) Restriction

The Freedom to Distribute Free Software is essential to its success. It has given rise to many for-profit businesses that benefit the larger community.

Red Hat, Canonical – would the world be better if such companies were forbidden? Would Free Software benefit from a ban on those businesses?

Yet the Cultural ecosystem is stunted by the prevalence of Non-Commercial restrictions. These maintain commercial monopolies around works, and – especially for vocational artists like me – are functionally as restrictive as unmodified copyright. Yet they are widely mislabeled “Free Culture,” or even “Copyleft.”

Which of these things does not belong?

This is a still from the mostly excellent and popular documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto. This film is many peoples’ introduction to the term “Free Culture” and “Copyleft.” But as you can see, the Non-Commercial restriction is lumped in with actual Free license terms.

See that dollar sign with the slash in it? That means Non-Commercial restrictions, which are most definitely NOT Copyleft. (I’ve posted about Creative Commons’ branding confusion before, but it’s only gotten worse since then.)

NC stands for Not Copyleft

This film is itself licensed under unFree Non-Commercial restrictions. As an artist and filmmaker, I have found confusion is rampant among my creative colleagues. Some filmmakers are beginning to think the term “Free Culture” is cool, but they still want to restrict others’ freedom and impose commercial monopolies on their works.

This doesn’t help either

The book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig its itself not Free culure, but it is widely looked up to. It sets an unfortunate and confusing example with its Non-Commercial license. It illustrates the absence of guiding principles in the Free Culture movement.

I have spoken to many artists who insist there’s “no real difference” between Non-Commercial licenses and Free alternatives. Yet these differences are well known and unacceptable in Free Software, for good reason.
Calling  Non-Commercial restrictions “Free Culture” neuters what could be an effective movement, if it only had principles.

So what do I want?

I want a PRINCIPLED Free Culture Movement.

I want Free Software people to take Culture seriously. I want a Free Culture movement guided by principles of Freedom, just as the Free Software movement is guided by principles of Freedom. I want a name I can use that means something – the phrase “Free Culture” is increasingly meaningless, as it is often applied to unFree practices, and is also the name of a famous book that is itself encumbered with Non-Commercial restrictions.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that allows artists to make money. I want anyone to be able to accept money for their work of remixing and building on Culture – just as a trucker can accept money for driving on a road. I want money to be among the many incentives to participate in building culture. Without the freedoms to Tinker and Redistribute without restriction, there is little incentive to build on  and improve cultural works. There is little reward to help your neighbor, when you are guaranteed to lose money doing so. “Free Culture” with non-Commercial restrictions will remain a hobby for those with a surplus of time and labor, and those who only accept money from monopolists.

I want commerce without monopolies. I want people to understand the difference.

I want a Free Culture ecosystem that includes equivalents of  businesses like Red Hat and Canonical. I want cultural businesses that give back to their communities, that work with their customers instead of against them. Only if we refuse to place Non-Commercial and No-Derivatives restrictions on our works will a robust Free Culture ecosystem be able to emerge.

I want the Free Software community – those who currently best understand the Four Freedoms – to champion the rest of Culture, not just Software. I want Freedom for All.

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Comments on “Shouldn't Free Mean The Same Thing Whether Followed By 'Culture' Or 'Software'?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nope, not communist… but rather socialist. She wants everyone to play from the same set of tools, to have the same access, to work under the same set of socialist rules that she approves of. She wants it to be all the same, so we can all share like hippies in a commune. Socialism.

Communism would suggest a command economy sort of set up. Nina just wants everyone to live in the world farm and share the chicken eggs nicely, based on her view of the universe.

More than anything, it reads like a freetard manifesto. It takes real skill to bitch that free isn’t free enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Hi Prick, how are you this morning? Another day grinding at your copyright loving masters feet?

Nina probably has a place for you on her commune. You can remix culture and claim it to be new, and the other members will be amazed at your technical prowess and 133t sk1||z. Then someone will ask you for something original, and you will be stuck, unable to have an original though of your own. But it’s okay, because there is all that free stuff out there you can just take from and claim as your own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Before I even say what I have to say, I completely understand that I’m going to get branded as one of those “you’re just insulting someone without providing any evidence or a point.”
I know. I’m not doing this for anyone else, I just can’t help but say:
You’re an idiot. And a brainwashed one at that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

actually it sounds more like her issue is that free doesn’t mean free in the cases she listed above. Yet the term is still used to imply the same meaning, which is a lie. Doesn’t sound like socialism to me, it sounds like she likes Linux, but can’t use Linux in a professional manner without paying for the free software that would actually cost her nothing if she used it at home for non-professional uses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Doesn’t sound like socialism to me, it sounds like she likes Linux, but can’t use Linux in a professional manner without paying for the free software that would actually cost her nothing if she used it at home for non-professional uses.

That sounds like anti-Linux FUD. It is perfectly legal to use Linux in a professional manner.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@AC: The point of the article is that in software a great many people already firmly stand behind allowing others to have commercial uses of software they write and “give away”. She surely isn’t asking for commercial flexibility to come to “free software” because it is already there.

She wonders why this successful approach to writing software isn’t practiced in other disciplines.


Though I largely agree with your perspective, one reason this has not caught on is that many artists see their work as a final product. They don’t really think or want to share “source code” (or haven’t given it much thought). In software, you quickly realize that you go much further if you share “source”.

I have at various times stated here and elsewhere how I think CC should have a license for source code protection (as is the GPL), but that has not caught on. If it did catch on, we’d see small CC-GPL flicks more easily turn into franchises with lots of stories and variations (eg, because the character models and effects would be revealed and much easier to reuse).

And if source code were valued more, then it would be more natural to allow commercial uses since at that point a lot more work could be created, so people would seek to make their potentially much larger contributions only into a system that was not going to cut them off at the knees.

Just my guess, of course.

Brian Schroth (profile) says:

Thanks for a terrific post, Nina. Sums up the issue nicely. If you know of any “rebuttals” that exist, I would be interested in hearing a different perspective too, beyond that very lame excuse you quoted from the FSF.

Also, since you asked for it, a reminder that I think it would be awesome if you made that “Plagiarism Sucks” video I mentioned last week.

Jim_G says:

Back in the late 90?s I happened to work at O?Reilly Software, a division of O?Reilly & Associates. Tim O?Reilly is a big proponent of the open-source movement, and a lot of our users were just SHOCKED that we were selling software instead of giving it away. I learned that a lot of the tech community members are very ambivalent about money, profit, and business in general.

I think this attitude is dripping all over the ?non-commercial? restrictions. Artists seem to imagine they will suddenly find their song about breaking up with their college girlfriend getting sold all over the internet. Or worse yet USED BY A POLITICAL CANDIDATE, which of course is a complete and total violation of every known human right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately, the open source movement embraces non-commercial restrictions as well. Notice Nina was careful to focus on “Free Software” (licenses like the GPL from the FSF) rather than “Open Source” (the zillions of other licenses). The OSI does not forbid licenses with commercial restrictions, according to its “open source definition”

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources

See how careful their wording is? They insist that a license allow this particular kind of commercial use, but it’s free to restrict all others, such as selling the software alone….

Although the problem is lesser in the open source world, it’s still a problem; and I expect it would be worse if more people actually understood what the licenses they were using really meant. Lots of people throw code up on Github under MIT and BSD, but I don’t think they fully understand what “permissive” means and the wide ranges of proprietary re-use it allows

(Don’t misunderstand me. I believe strongly in using these licenses and personally have no problem with these reuses. I just think other people are more selfish and conservative, and would hoard their code more closely if they understood the implications better)

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Quick, what fraction of all the open source software has commercial restrictions? .. A very small amount.

The most popular is GPL, and the few most popular (comprising much more than 50% of open source) allow commercialization.

If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have so many Linux distros loaded up with a large fraction of available open source software being sold by numerous ma/pa vendors and used in all sorts of commercial environments.

So just because open source might allow non-commercial doesn’t mean these licenses have gained much traction (to the extent they exist). And looking at the free software website, you’ll see that the popular licenses are all free software licenses with very few exceptions, if any.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If software weren’t a creative work, it wouldn’t be protected by copyright.

And sorry, but ‘art’ is largely a tool. Yes, I know, this is unpopular. Flame away. Some forms of art are lower than others. Most works of design and photography serve functional purposes – like, say, in advertising. They’re created for a purpose, to achieve something, not to stand on their own as highly emotional expression. When you’re a graphic designer and someone hires you, they generally want you to do something that is useful to them and their business; they’re not giving you free money so that you can “express” yourself and your artistic soul

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Good point. Perhaps (to avoid the flaming) it’s about making a distinction between art and creativity. There is definitely such a thing as “pure” art, but that represents only a small slice of creative endeavours. As you say, artistic creativity permeates all sorts of more “practical” things – graphic design, editorial photography, industrial design, software design – even if those things aren’t purely artistic pursuits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No, they’re not (completely different things).

How, for example, would you classify the output of a
program that displays Mandelbrot sets? Is it art,
because it is beautiful? Or is it software, because
it’s the result of a mathematical exercise?

How about the program that I wrote to control my MIDI
sampler and produce music? It’s certainly software, but
it generates (according to listeners) art. And it contains
all of that art within itself.

How about art that’s intended to spur political protest?
Is it not a tool (among many others) to persuade, to rouse, to enlighten?

Some software is beautiful; some art is a tool. What they have in common, along with many other things, is that they are both expressions of human creativity and intelligence. Drawing a line between them is artificial and limiting.

charliebrown (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think what she is trying to get at is that software can be given away free, as can art. Art can be re-worked. Software can be re-worked. For example, I frequently use a re-worked version of ReplayGain called MP3Gain.

Now, the main gist of this post is freedom. Free software is free not just as in it costs nothing to obtain but also that you are free to do with it what you want. Nina is asking why do some people say something is free and then restrict how you use it? That restricts a freedom. It may still be free as in it costs nothing to obtain and use but you are not free to do with it what you want.

That is my interpretation of Nina’s post.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

An author spends a year writing a book and then, magnanimously, decides to give it away for free.

Why? Because they want those ideas spread. Perhaps they want to build an audience. Maybe they want publicity, or to get consulting contracts or speaking engagements. For that they need to be associated with those ideas.

Now, Nina, who did a fast shuffle talking about “art” and then switching to Lessig’s book, apparently wants the “freedom” to take his book, put her own name on it, and sell it as her own.

Or the freedom to rewrite it, and then redistribute it under the original author’s name, substituting her ideas for his own or perhaps leading people to believe the author supports a certain position when in fact they do not.

Or not have some ripoff artist (like the Amazon ebook spamming) profit from it.

Now, if I, as an author, am willing to let you do ANYTHING with or to my book, then I’ll say so. Maybe we even need a specific CC contract that says so.

Otherwise, even if I’m giving it away for free, I’d probably prefer my words to continue to be my words. Why is that so hard to understand?

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, I didn’t know that. Perhaps, if I don’t know that, then others may not know that, and instead of ranting about free not being free enough, you could spend your time helping to allay those kinds of concerns.

Regardless, given the article you just wrote, you’d seem to prefer that we not use ANY of the above licenses. Thus allowing anyone to “build” on anything.

Which has more than a touch of BS to it. You’re completely free to write a book “building” on Lessig’s work. (To use your specific example.) You’re free to write about it and quote it and take excerpts from it and comment on it. (Fair use, after all.) Authors have be doing it for centuries now.

Now., what the current license doesn’t seem to allow is for you to “build” on Lessig’s book by copying 99% of it wholesale, just adding a few comments of your own, then putting your own name on it and selling it on Amazon.

And quite frankly, I’m good with that. Especially as it seems to be in line with the author’s own wishes.

RobShaver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

But the courts have decreed that you can not write anything that deals with the characters in “Catcher in the Rye”. The very fact that “fair use” is only a defense after you’re in court has a chilling effect on the creative process. (Can’t get a publisher if “fair use” is involved.)

I don’t think she’s saying that you shouldn’t restrict your stuff if that’s what you want (Nina, correct me if I got this wrong) … just don’t claim it’s free when it isn’t.

If an author/artist wants to give their work away, they can’t, well almost can’t. I think Nina has demonstrated that if you want to give something away completely free, i.e. “Sita Sings the Blues”, it is quite difficult to do so because A) copyright is pervasive, B) copyright is automatic/unavoidable by US law, C) aquiring rights is a nightmare, and D) people a so conditions that they can’t really believe it is free so they avoid it anyway.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I believe you’re correct regarding the “free” argument, though it’s a bit odd that she’s complaining about their use of the word “free” when the FOSS movement co-opted the word in the first place.

I can give my work are for free (as in beer). I still, however, want it to be MY work. I may also, if I choose, give the rights to use my work away, in which case you’re also “free” to use it or modify it as your please.

But I can still have one without the other.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I think the problem here is that Nina wants to force “free” as the default, what things are naturally. In other words, by default, your work is free to use, free to copy, and free to re-use without restriction, and really without attribution.

Your comments are very good and clearing up the difference between “free to enjoy” and “free to re-use” and “free to claim as your own”.

The free argument is also misleading because there is nothing in law stopping free. If you want to give it away for free, give it away for free. The confusing -NC -X copyleft and all that other stuff is just proof that even in free, people cannot truly agree. It’s why we have laws, not just little tags that are easy to erase and forget about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

copyright has very simple opt-out: issue a general, public license that allows anyone to do anything with your copyright work at any time without permission or recompense.

Post it on your website, attach it to your “work”, and you are done.

How hard was that?

You’re not a lawyer, are you?

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

>> Now., what the current license doesn’t seem to allow is for you to “build” on Lessig’s book by copying 99% of it wholesale, just adding a few comments of your own, then putting your own name on it and selling it on Amazon.

No, I thought you were understanding, but this is the same problem. In the software world there oftentimes is a lot of care taken to include everyone’s contributions (revision control systems) when those contributions are of any significant size and the community cares about this.

So, if you slap your name on a book (and want to avoid plagiarism), it should be clear that the book is almost entirely a quote of some other book. That does not pervert the ideas of the other author and actually sends eyeballs and potential sales their way.

>> Perhaps, if I don’t know that, then others may not know that, and instead of ranting about free not being free enough, you could spend your time helping to allay those kinds of concerns.

Oh, but besides expressing her grief publicly and privately many times, she has gone further than many others, not just by practicing with what she creates and by highlighting these issues on her website(s), but by composing an easy to digest and catchy youtube video and a great article to go with it:

John Doe says:

Here is an idea...

This may not be entirely relevant to your post but play along for a moment. This idea came to me after reading your 4 freedoms of software as applied to culture.

What would happen if I start buying paintings from other artists, adding my own touches to them, mark them up and resell them? I am sure I would have every right to do that as I am not reproducing the work, but what would the original artists reactions be? Not good I bet.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Here is an idea...

What if the “touches” you add are nothing more than replacing the artist’s name with your own?

That’s the problem with releasing art and books without restriction. Someone spends a year writing a book and then, to everyone’s benefit, gives it away for free. They get recognition and gain stature and we get free books. Win-Win.

But apparently we need the “freedom” to simply replace the author’s name with your own, and the ability to then charge others for a book that was given away freely.

Nina Paley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Here is an idea...

-ND prohibits building on works regardless of attribution. Notice my example in the article.

If you are concerned about proper attribution, CC-BY and CC-BY-SA are both Free licenses that you can use to threaten others with legal force, if you really believe that’s necessary for correct attribution, which it isn’t anyway.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Re: Here is an idea...

I think that this is becoming less and less of a problem(plagiarism).

Because of the connected nature of the interwebs people who do plagiarize are increasingly being outed. I believe this will continue until it gets to where once you publish something it will be logged in databases immediately and any attempt at plagiarism will be easily recognized and bring with it unwelcome attention.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Here is an idea...

and the ability to then charge others for a book that was given away freely.

But isn’t that the business model problem Mike is always talking about? If you can’t out monetize someone else with your own content then you have a business model problem.

In the specific case you mention, if you give it away but someone else comes along and sells it, why should you care? After all, if you wanted money for it you could have charged for it yourself.

Picador says:

Missing the point

There is room in the free culture movement for the NoDerivs license, in limited contexts. The FSF page is a good example: it is a very short statement from FSF, intended to encapsulate their position on a specific issue. They do not want it circulated with minor modifications made, as this would mislead people. Readers still have fair use rights to reproduce short excerpts from it, in which case the risk of confusion goes away. Can anyone describe a situation in which user’s rights are adversely affected by this license applied to this short position statement?

The NonCommercial license is a separate issue. Note that the FSF has NOT applied this clause. It is arguably not a licensing term that is compatible with the principles of free software or free culture. That being said, it may be a licensing term that provides a “semi-free” option for people who otherwise would have reserved all rightsin their work, which is the legal default in the absence of public licensing.

There’s a lot of trolling going on in this thread, but the actual issues are straightforward. I don’t see any reason for anyone to get worked up about this.

RobShaver (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point

You said, “They do not want it circulated with minor modifications made, as this would mislead people.”

Yes, I think you’re missing the point.

You’re saying that I should not legally be able to take their documentation, improve it and redistribute it. How’s that any different from taking the software source, improving it and then redistributing it?

Are you saying that their docs is soooo good that it can not be improved?

“mislead people” … well, I think you are selling people short.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Missing the point

No, I think you’re missing the point. Intentionally.

His comment was in regard to a POSITION PAPER put out by the FSF. It is not “documentation”. A position paper is someone’s clear and distinct position on a specific matter. For you to take it and “improve it” is to potentially change its meaning and their position.

And actually, you just neatly illustrated the problem. You took his comment and substituted “documentation” for “position paper” because it made your specific argument seem more reasonable, when that’s not what he said or implied at all.

Same for Lessig’s book. Those are his words, thoughts, and views on the subject at hand. Now, you to take it and “improve it”. Are those still his thoughts? Would be agree with your changes? Are you putting words into his mouth?

If you want to write your own book or position paper, feel free. But don’t copy my book wholesale and “improve” my words without my consent. You’re not my editor, and I said what I meant to say.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re: Missing the point

Michael Long:

His comment was in regard to a POSITION PAPER put out by the FSF. It is not “documentation”. A position paper is someone’s clear and distinct position on a specific matter.

Are you trying to say it?s factual, rather than creative?

But you can?t copyright facts.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Missing the point

Michael long is talking about misrepresentation (libel, etc). As you point out, these are not copyright issues.

I don’t see as a problem people breaking Linux and then having that reflect badly on Linus or anyone else. There might be short-term small-scale abuses that crop up, but this backfires if taken to any reasonable scale and it can be dealt with without copyright. If copyright (ND) provides another hammer, you have to consider at what cost.

freak (profile) says:

I agree completely, Nina!

As a sidenote, I make a small amount of money on the side as a poet; If you ever find any of my works online, they are in the public domain, as is all of my work. Well, more correctly, they’re under the Do Whatever The Fuck You Want license, or DWTFYW. Not that I’ll link together my semi-anonymous name here and my pseudonyms there.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

One reason I don’t like the copyheart, is that it still carries that implication that I might be upset if, say, someone else wholesale copied my work and sold it as their own.

I genuinely won’t be. That only makes the work more valuable, although maybe not for me.

I don’t think the DWTFYW or WTFPL carries that implication.

Artistically, I also would feel more comfortably calling my works, works of passion, maybe works of anger sometimes, or always works of great emotion, but not all of them would be works of love.

Legally, however, they are all clearly the same :p

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hehe. As it happens, earlier today I told Nina that I was worried the Copyheart and the phrase “copying is an act of love” was too wubby-dubby. She suggested “copying is an act of studliness and machismo.”

But I think “copying is an act of passion and sometimes anger” would be pretty damn awesome too. It’s a shame so few computers have the unicode character for a broken heart: 💔

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

One reason I don’t like the copyheart, is that it still carries that implication that I might be upset if, say, someone else wholesale copied my work and sold it as their own.

I genuinely won’t be. That only makes the work more valuable, although maybe not for me.

You might not be upset by that, but I, as a buyer, would consider a sale made under such false pretenses as being fraud. Copyright infringement should not be conflated with fraud.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Good Post

The NC tag always struck me as rather hypocritical. Either you believe in freedom or you don’t. Either you believe that ideas can be owned or you don’t.

That’s also the reason that I, as a software engineer, dislike the GPL. Telling people they have to release the source code is not supporting their freedoms. The idea that the supposed “free software” movement can and will run to the government if you violate the terms of their “license” makes them no better than the people they criticize. Why are lawsuits by the FSF against people who don’t release GPL-derived source code more morally correct than lawsuits by the RIAA against non-commercial filesharers? Both groups assert their right to control the voluntary sharing of bits into and out of my computer. Their philosophy is based on the same premise.

Personally, I prefer something like the WTFPL “license”, although even that has a couple minor restrictions. Maybe the CC0 license is best.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Good Post

I can offer insight.

I was on that boat at a time when I was largely unaware of the abuses of copyright law in the culture space.

I eventually abandoned much support for copyright law because I realized (mostly after one specific long back and forth argument with what might pass as an annoying regular commenter on but also supported by numerous articles read in places like techdirt) that the cost of losing that lever in software would be worthwhile to society on the whole when we factor in all sorts of copyright abuses that would cease to exist in other areas. [And I am still against losing that lever in software without gaining culture freedom.] Also, trade secrets becomes much less of an issue when the whole world can focus on an abuser to reverse engineer and to critique without worrying about legal backlash and censoring. We can even pass laws to limit trade secrets in COTS software used by government, and this would create very positive network effects and solve many of the potential threats and abuses of proprietary software.

A major reason free software developers might support strong copyright or at least tolerate it is because open software can potentially be exploited rather easily to strenthen monopolies that themselves make competition (even by that very open source software) very difficult. This phenomenon doesn’t exist much today in art because, unlike software, a major value of the art IS NOT that it needs to intricately and correctly interface with other art. And licenses like the GPL allow the best of both worlds: have openness and fight fairly well against that type of exploitation. While small firms might cheat, those that are the “monopolists” or very large have a more difficult time getting away with large-scale cheating.

A variation of this theme is that copyright in art corresponds to the copyright in source code (generally). A lot of software does a lot invisibly and is only “visible” indirectly through the source code. This is largely true as concerns the creator. A lot of those who create works and enforce copyright on proprietary software, then, are mostly not enforcing it on what is not visible anyway. The copyright on binaries largely is meant to regulate “piracy”, but this isn’t a big deal to other creators since binaries are not nearly as useful as would be an alternative with source code. Most software creators will create a new program replacement or treat your binary as a black box. If they want to modify or fix, they will be attracted to open source already and not bother too much with the proprietary binaries. So copyright is not that big of a deal to creators of free software. Patents however are a big deal. Unfortunately, copyright is applied to culture sometimes almost on par with what the abuses possible with software patents: to block ideas and lots of independent creation.

Another issue is that copyright infringement in software is hard to prove because it is hard to see. [This is even more so with hardware.] This contrasts with what is intended to be consumed directly by humans (art). You can see art infringement much more easily than invisible source code infringement. Hence copyright lawsuits on other creators play a greater role in the culture world of today as contrasted with the software world.

Those focused on software tend to interact with art much less frequently. This plays a role in the balancing equation.

Also note that since software is invisible, it’s not easy to just say that your reputation for plagiarizing would hurt as others do a web search. You can get away more easily with copying and the closing up of such software in order to block competitors. The software itself is very obfuscated as a binary, and more so if it only runs on a proprietary server. Consumers and our free government will have to take the step to reject closed systems partly as a matter of principle and long-term strategy.

All of these things help explain why copyright might not be seen so negatively by many free software developers. In fewer words, it sure appears that we can get the “best” of both worlds with software copyright licenses like the GPL — limit easy exploitation of open software to lock out that open software when leveraged with proprietary monopolies AND not have to deal with any real limitations on access by those playing openly — all without any apparent costs.

Hanno (profile) says:

Agree, but addition

Hi, I completely agree with what you wrote and I sometimes think it was the biggest mistake of the free culture movement to accept the cc licensing concept of restrictions.

However, I would go one step further: I’d like to free culture even more and reject any restrictions like (legally required) attribution and share-alike. The reason? I could name a couple, but my main one would be: The freedom to mix. If you have two licenses that anyone would consider free in terms of the four freedoms (e. g. FDL and cc-by-sa, or GPL2 + GPL3), it can still be forbidden to create something new out of two “free” things. I find that very non-free. Thus I mainly release under CC-zero (which is, for those who don’t know, a legal text for public domain-alike licensing).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Agree, but addition

Hi Prick. Having a nice day working for your copyright overlords? Cashing your copyright derived paycheck?

Trying to put words in my mouth just makes you look like a petty little prick. I am amazed Mike would run any more of crap here, considering you likely just copy and paste it from other places and claim it as yours.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Agree, but addition

I’m a Prick. I’m having a nice day being an asshole. I wish I could get a paycheque for this, but I’m not smart enough to be a true shill.

Thanks for putting words in my mouth, because it makes me look like like much less of a petty little prick than I actually am. I am amazed Mike hasn’t IP-blocked me from the site yet, considering I so actively interfere with any attempt at intelligent discourse.

Good of you to finally admit it.

Ed C. says:

Re: Agree, but addition

Exactly. I’m stuck with that very issue right now. I have several images I’m using to create new ones as part of a larger project, but the originals are either under CC share-alike or a “non-compete” license, which says I can’t distribute my derived images for reuse. I’ve been trying to find alternatives that could completely satisfy one license or the other, but none that I’ve found are nearly as good. Should I have to sacrifice the quality of my work just to satisfy one of the licenses?

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Agree, but addition

“I have several images I’m using to create new ones as part of a larger project… Should I have to sacrifice the quality of my work [sic] just to satisfy one of the licenses?”

So let me get this straight: You’re complaining that they didn’t make the free images free enough, and that their lack in doing so is impacting YOUR work? Talk about being ungrateful. They gave many people something free, and all you can do is complain about it???

Reminds me of a jerk I overheard at a restaurant the other day. The waiter treated him to a free cup of coffee, and he had the gall to call the manager over to complain that his free coffee wasn’t hot enough.

ClarkeyBalboa (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Agree, but addition

Ed C’s situation is more like your restaurant situation if the waiter offered you a free cup of coffee, but on the condition that he tie your hands behind your back before you can drink it. Sure, you can still find a way to drink it, but they’ve made it really really hard for you to enjoy it.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Agree, but addition

If we insist on using the physical world, the real analogy is more like this:

A bunch of restaurants have magical infinite coffee carafes with distinct flavours, and they are giving out coffee for free. Ed realizes that if he gets cups of free infinite coffee from ten restaurants, he can mix them together into his own magical infinite coffee carafe with a brand new flavour – one with hints of all the other flavours, and yet different from them all as well. So he does, and prepares to give out his blend of infinite coffee as well. Five of the restaurants don’t care, and the other five say “NO DERIVATIVES!”

I guess you could argue that it’s their right, but they still kind of sound like jerks.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Agree, but addition

No, actually it’s more like I had to dig through 1000’s of photos, even ones that cost money, to find one that is even remotely usable. Even then, it took hours of editing to get it to a final usable form. After I was done, I went back to check the credits on the photo (because I’m not a dumb jerk that claims others work as my own), only to realize that it had a share-alike license that was incompatible with the other images I used; some of which I PAID for btw.

Wesley says:

Free is not free of charge, or free of restrictions

I fail to see why NC CC like licenses are not free. You are free to use the material on a non-commercial basis. If you want to use it in a commerce, get a proper license deal from the original author. The fact that the piece can be legally shared between (non-commercial) users makes it free for the better part of the population.

The idea behind freedom in at least FSF is free as in free speech, not as in free beer. You see to have forgotten that.

You are also free to contact the creator and ask for a different license for your particular situation. We have done so with the use of RIP a remix manifesto and gotten permission to use it for our purpose, free of charge 🙂 Nothing wrong with asking for an exception if a license is not 100% compatible with how you plan to use it.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Free is not free of charge, or free of restrictions

If the aim is to prevent misrepresentation, there are other existing tools for that. With these ND clauses, you create a bottle-neck to those that want to help. I would risk creating an interesting derivative work and then be told “no”.

The bottle-neck should not be taken for granted. When people find a new interesting expression or experience, millions go and produce their own variations. If each had to ask for permission, it would create serious slowdowns and losses.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m with you Nina. Actually, on most of the stuff I put out there, I wish there were a legally robust way to even get rid of the “BY”, as per CC-lingo. I want to see my stuff out there, not my name dammit! Fuck my name! I didn’t even make my name. And lawyers read “attribution” as “liable person” anyway, so fuck that, too.

txpatriot (profile) says:

A suggestion

@Nina: here’s a suggestion: if YOU want to give your “culture” away for free, go right ahead. But just because you do is no reason to claim that EVERY content creator should give their “culture” away for free.

As a consumer of culture, you don’t get to make that decision, despite the contant howling by pirates that it is their “right” to do so.

freak (profile) says:

Re: A suggestion

Reading comprehension fail, eh?

1) She does give it away for free

2) She doesn’t claim that everyone should in this article

3) She IS complaining that “Free software” is MUCH more free than “Free culture”

So while she champions RedHat and Canonical . . . Microsoft and Apple also still exist.
It is enough that there exists free software companies.

darryl says:

Clearly...... you just dont 'get it'

Red Hat, Canonical ? would the world be better if such companies were forbidden? Would Free Software benefit from a ban on those businesses?

Nina, we most certainly would NOT be any worse off.

Stallmans 4 laws, are a total scam, it is amazing that FOSS has progressed so far as it has (and that is not that far), being lumbered with the massive political restrictions that Stallman has applied to justify his socialist agenda.

Stallman, what an idiot, he has done more damage to the FOSS movement that any other single person on the planet.

He is happy to jump up and down and cry like a baby when he think he sees someone making gains from ‘his’ baby… but then happily accepts very large sums of money from the ‘propriatory’ sectors to keep him in the lifestyle that he has become accustomed too.

Stallman is that classic communist political operative.

Nina, ‘curture’ in not something you can buy, sell or trade, nor can you lay claim to it just because you ‘want too’.

When was the last time, you purchased some ‘culture’, of could you do not, that would be stupid right Nina.

Nina, you and Stallman seem to be under the impression that you ‘create’ a culture by putting out a set of rules, and stating that you are the ‘new overlord’ of this ‘new’ culture.

It failed for stallman, and I am equally sure it will fail for you.

You cannot create culture by defining a ‘set of rules’ and making some claim over that culture.

Do you honestly think that before FOSS and Stallman there was no such thing as freely available and OPEN software, that there was not a culture of computer programming LONG before stallman, and that there will be freely software, and “open” software LONG AFTER Stallman is dust ?

Do you think it is because of Stallman that the FOSS world has progressed as far as it has (that is not that far), because of Stallman or INSPITE of Stallman ?

Nina, do you honestly believe that somehow you can ‘acquire’ the curture of someone else or from another group ?

And why would you have to adapt to someone elses culture, are you not capable of establishing some culture in your own behalf ?

Everyone else can !

Do you honestly believe that ‘freedom’ can be defined as a set of simplistic rules and commandments ?

What ‘culture’ has FOSS provided for anyone ? The answer is none, nothing new has come from FOSS or Stallman, people were doing what FOSS claim they only do, for a very long time before FOSS and will for a very long time after FOSS, it has created no culture. (actually apart from the culture of distain and distrust).

1. The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;

?The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

That would be fun !!! can you apply Rule 1 after you apply Rule 3 ??

So assume I write a song, I have the RIGHT to PLAY or PERFORM it,,,,,

So I can give my song to my neighbour and later I can turn up at his house and ‘perform’ it for him, or play it for him (or otherwise attend to my work)…

I am sure Nina, that this will result in some difficult situations, there is no way I am going to allow you into my house because you claim the right to ‘attend’ to your works..

unreal, at least not on this planet…

Nina, sorry but it appears you have not thought this out very well… it also appears you have little clue if any of what “culture” is and what it means… For you it seem like it is ‘just a word’ that you can throw around with free abandon.


— Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities etc.

— An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends of the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning.

— The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

So which version of ‘culture’ are you referring to Nina ? (an any) and how can you take the definition of CULTURE and try to make it like a ‘club’ that you can join, or buy or sell too/from !

You think you well be cultured, because you can say “I am a part of a group, and that group has a set culture, therefore I too have that culture”.

No Nina, it does not work that way,

Culture, is like ‘honesty’, ‘truth’, ‘integrity’, ‘knowledge’, ‘understanding’ and believing and those are things you cannot ‘buy into’ or become part of by defining your own little ‘set of rules’ or by any other means, that you Nina or RMS think of as culture..

Clearly…… you just dont ‘get it’

darryl says:


Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

But wait !!!! I can do all that without ‘free software’ or the FSF, and I have always been able to do that, WITHOUT ANY 4 STUPID RULES or restrictions, I was able to do that years before the FSF and will be able to do that years after the FSF is gone. As well I can do that now, WITHOUT the FSF, with far more freedoms that what Stallman has ‘allowed for me’…

Nina, it appears you are locked in to the US culture of ‘IF you want something then you need to make up some rules and enforce them’ or “more rules are always better than less rules”.

That is a culture, it is a culture born from the desire to control and manipulate, “RMS: Sure you can be free, as long as you are FREE on MY TERMS”.

“RMS: Sure you can have ‘freedom’ as long as it is the freedom that comes under my very narrow definition of what ‘freedom’ IS !”

LAW 1:
1. The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;

That is going to work great, so going by ‘the letter of the law’, I have to ‘freedom/right’ to ‘run, view, hear, read, play, perform or otherwise attend to the work’


For you to exercise your first RIGHT, would mean you have to maintain FULL CONTROL of your work, forever… otherwise you would never be able to achieve your goals of rule 1.

What you are asking for is ‘complete, 100% control of MY WORK that I have GIVEN YOU,,, forever..

I have to right to come over to your house and ‘perform’ my work at any time !!!!… (that should be fun)….

Nina, do you notice the massive omission from your 4 LAWS ???

1. You can play and do what you like with ‘your work’.
2. You can study and adapt ‘your work’ how you like.
3. You can give ‘your work’ to your neighbours.
4. You can give modified copies of ‘your work’ to your neighbours.

OK, fair enough, but what DO I GET, no where in there does it say that I can take ‘your work’ and modify it and redistribute it, you say nothing about providing for the community or allowing the community or anyone else taking your work and modifying it or improving it, or performing it or whatever.

It’s ALL ABOUT YOU !!!!!, you’re ‘set of laws’ is simply for self preservation, it says nothing about contributing to a ‘culture’ and it makes no claim that you work has been created to allow other to gain from your work, to work with your ‘work’ to modify and improve it or to distribute it, or to profit or gain from it in any way..

Someone said this is very socialist, and he/she is very correct…

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Good Post

I’ll have to think about the name or go dive through the thread. It was someone who kept saying something to the effect, such and such is attacking my person… no matter what I said (usually they also replied something else or that conversation would have been pretty dull). The person found the absolute worst way to interpret virtually anything I said. I really had to dig in some cases to figure out if in fact it made some sense or if the person was purely an AI program. That was the first time I encountered that and I was trying to be really serious at that time so it was frustrating (since then I address that individual differently and it works out better).

darryl says:

FOSS is ALL (and ONLY) copyright.......

Stallmans 4 laws are a COPYRIGHT license..

Thanks right, it is based on and enforced by what ???

COPYRIGHT, without said copyright ‘rights’ RMS would have no power or ability to make ANY claims to anything to do with FOSS, and most certainly would not be able to define his LAWS, and certainly be totally unable to enforce them…

do your homework Nina….

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