Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?
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.
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. (link)
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.
2. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
On Friday, May 28, I attended a NY Philharmonic performance of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre.
All patrons were required to pass through long “security” lines and have our bags searched by guards. Those carrying cameras were forbidden from entering the auditorium and ordered to check their bags in an even longer line.
New Yorkers tolerate “security” searches because they remember the falling of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They are willing to be treated as suspected terrorists and “guilty until proven innocent” criminals because they fear for their physical safety. They rationalize Lincoln Center’s “security” policy because they don’t want anyone bringing a bomb or weapon into a large closed space containing thousands of vulnerable people.
But cameras are not a security threat. In fact, citizen cameras increase security, and their forced removal puts us in greater danger. In the unlikely event a terrorist were able to bring a weapon into the auditorium, citizens carrying cameras would document it. Presumably Lincoln Center has its own “security” cameras, but no fixed, closed surveillance system is as effective as citizens.
I don’t trust Lincoln Center’s “security” to protect me or anyone; they are incompetent at actual security, effective only at treating patrons like suspected criminals, creating long tedious lines, and converting what was once an uplifting cultural experience into something resembling a visit to an airport. I can visit the airport for free, but being treated like a criminal at Lincoln Center cost close to $100.
After being ejected from a very long security line to enter the theater, and redirected to stand in an even longer line to the coat check, I moved my camera from my large bag into my small purse and found another entrance to the auditorium. This line’s “security” guard did not see or feel a camera, so I was allowed in. That let me know how effective the “security” guards would be at detecting a weapon or any genuine threat: not at all. Lincoln Center’s “security” did not make me feel “secure” – quite the opposite – but it did make me feel harassed.
Why does Lincoln Center treat cameras its greatest threat to “security”? Does the organization believe that photographing its productions is “stealing”? Let me remind you that anyone who wants to copy images of Lincoln Center’s copyrighted material, is physically capable of doing so. Photos of Lincoln Center and its productions circulate in Lincoln Center’s advertising, in print and on the internet. Lincoln Center has Copyright law to protect them against such illegal image-copying. Copyright law also applies to any unauthorized photos taken by audience members. Lincoln Center may ban taking photographs in its auditoria without confiscating cameras themselves. Galleries and other performance spaces do this: they have signs that say NO PHOTOGRAPHS. Banning cameras in the theater does absolutely nothing to “protect” anyone. It does however abuse legitimate theater patrons, the ones who bought expensive tickets expecting a civilized experience. Furthermore, banning citizen cameras makes it impossible for citizens to document real danger, thereby lessening everyone’s real security.
People dress up to go to Lincoln Center. They pay hundreds of dollars. They believe it’s important to support the arts. In return, Lincoln Center treats its patrons like criminals, and exploits their fears of terrorism to enforce a misguided, dangerous, and invasive no-camera policy.
Lincoln Center should abandon its dangerous and harassing “security” policies and return to respecting its patrons.
The director of Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley, had to pay $50,000 to use old songs in her animation movie. She then put the movie online for free and turned herself into a free-culture activist. Composer Jaron Lanier was a digital pioneer in the ’90s, but in his new book he claims that open-source is destroying creativity and fostering vicious behavior. They join us to debate the pros and cons of free love in art-making.