Open Source and Copyleft in a Copyright, Closed Source World.

What does online community mean to you?

Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu community organizer, is working on a new project The Art of Community. This new project revolves around the creation of, and discussion of a book, which Jono is releasing under that same title, and licensing with a Creative Commons Liscence. The main marketing strategy seems to be a "get the word out" campaign, utilizing the already thriving Ubuntu community, and other online networks. Creating a community around projects in order to attract a fan-base, especially a project about community, is a particularly novel concept, and just seems to make sense. Mr. Bacon has a history of standing up to make a buzz about free software, and copy-left, his recently released Severed Fifth album is a great example of this. His implementation of "Street Teams", composed of music enthusiasts, and supporters of the work in general, is a great example of how community can replace traditional marketing. Here we have a relatively high profile individual, capable of attracting a certain level of attention, releasing work created with open source software under a Creative Commons license, and hopefully inspiring other people to do the same.

It's not just that getting the word out about F/OSS is difficult in a closed source economy, but combating the negative attention from stories like this one is an ongoing uphill battle. In light of this, to show people that it is possible, easy, and rewarding to embark on the path of open source publishing is a great thing in my world. People would benefit to grasp the energizing fact that the open source world is a very ENABLING reality, it creates opportunity to function simply by the virtue of its own existence.

While this argument, this collection of words, is representative of a fact in reality, people simply don't embrace that fact, and, for some reason reject that reality.

Weather it's simply the addiction of the familiar, or the fear of the strange, the rejection of the concept of "free", or the fear of non-interoperability I find it a serious struggle to share with people embedded in a closed source experience of things the true benefits and excitement of Open Source and copyleft. Students and artists in particular, the people who stand the most to gain, are those that seem the most weary of what they stand to lose, which is not surprising, since there is so much advertisement attention spent in targeting them.

The way to combat this, and spread the love, is by example. We need more examples of success to sway the tide in favor of open source. To sway the perception of favor from copyright to copyleft, and to generate excitement and curiosity towards the open-source and Copy-left world. In this, I tip my hat to Mr. Bacon for standing up for the ideals that for many prop up the open source world, and certainly prop up the Creative Commons movement.

There is no escaping the reality that community is what really ensures the success of a good project (I'm looking at you, Ubuntu), no matter how technically sound or enjoyable that project is or is not in and of itself. The merit of a thing is not measured by dollars, or by how much advertisement is spent on it, but by the amount of people that gather about it, and their continued excitement. This is community, and community drives the market. One could say that without community there is no market, no marketability, no culture, no longevity of knowledge or social wisdom, nothing. So why do we seem to be entangled in an economy and culture that punishes and restricts the community which props it up, and ensures it success? The current copyright climate is more and more nothing but a stifling instrument to creativity and community, and in order to keep our cultural identities our own, in order to stay free in our expression of that culture, and celebration of those expressions we need the sanity that Creative Commons offers us, the engaging and enabling effect of the open source world, and the great communities that gather around these projects to stand up and make a positive noise. A living, tangible, and visible monument to freedom and creativity in a closed source, copyright world.


Doesn't copyleft need copyright?

yungchin's picture

Hi, interesting read!

In the end, I'm not sure I if I share the feeling that copyright is such a stifling instrument (also, I think the story you linked to boils down to a trademark affair, not a copyright affair); if we write some piece of software and release it under a copyleft license, isn't it *because of copyright law* that we have anything to say at all about the use of the software? Once copyright on our work expires, someone can take it and build their closed-source work on top of it.

Sure, the closed-source world enforces copyright on whatever they produce, and then they sit on it and defend it. I say: their loss. They're missing out on all the great things of a community such as you're writing about. But copyright doesn't stifle progress so much: we are just not allowed to *copy* their work, but we can replicate it from scratch should we feel we need it. The real danger, I think, is in patents: they don't allow our replicating the effort either.

I should add I'm not a lawyer or anything close to that. But as far as I can see, copyright protects both closed and open source business models equally, and so I think I like it...

Clarification: What is copyleft to begin with?

joshu's picture

Hello yungchin, thanks for stopping by.

Here's a brief description of copyleft, taken from wikipedia,

" author may, through a copyleft licensing scheme, give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute the work as long as any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same copyleft licensing scheme."

I do understand that copyleft is a form of copyright protection, it is a play on words. I also realize that patents are to inventions what copyright is to art/content.

In my article, I was attempting to comment on the two ends of the spectrum of trends in copyright protection. One end being outlined with the example of a stifling, overbearing industry and rights holders to music they never wrote (case in point Gale Zappa), and the other end of that spectrum being, say the GPL - General Public License (which covers the linux kernel, for example), or the set of Creative Commons licenses (both of which actively encourage further creativity and ingenuity with the works they cover).

The distinction being that while copyLEFT also protects the rights of the fans of media, and end-users in computing, the current popular climate of copyRIGHT (used as a play on words) typically protects only the industry that distributes the media. Not the content creators or the fan/user base. I agree totally with the concept that copyright law can be used in a very positive light, and is necessary to protect people (creators of content, and end users/consumers), if used in a sane, rational way. That's the point. How the law is used and applied. CopyLEFT is sanity in copyright law.

Now, the context in which I linked to the article about that girl that bought the Dell was not meant to be about copyright in any direct fashion. Trademark? Perhaps trademark recognition insofar as the effect of a closed source, restrictive licensing market dominance on open source projects like Ubuntu. It's about combating negative attention, so I can see what you mean by trademark. What I see is that trademark and licensing is all meshed up. This is why open/closed source, copyLEFT/RIGHT licensing, and trademark infringing/perception-of-quality arguments are all in the same mix for me. To me, they all are part of the same animal. effecting the same body. That was the intended point.

Oops, sorry, actually I

yungchin's picture

Oops, sorry, actually I didn't mean the Dell story, I meant the Zappa story: his widow was claiming trademark rights to the Zappa name.

As for the rest I said, what I meant is that the power of copyleft licensing strongly depends on the existence of copyright law - but as you say, we agree on that.

However, I wouldn't go as far as to say that there is anything wrong with the "copyright climate": in the end, the artists and software programmers are the ones who are signing their copyrights off to their labels and employers. They don't have to! Those labels and software houses then have every right to use copyright law to their advantage. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the law; it's the same law that protects independent artists and free software developers.

I strongly believe that free market principles will go on to demonstrate the power of copyleft, without any changes to legislation: with distribution costing nothing on the internet, artists who give their work away will eventually reach larger audiences than those who sit on their copyrights. It's the same for software. Larger audiences / user bases lead to more concert / support revenue. It has to be true! :)

(reading your comment over and over, I somehow feel we're both saying the same thing - I'm not a native speaker though, maybe that's why I'm causing confusion between us...)


joshu's picture

Right. The name thing. So what she's doing is claiming rights all over Frank, his name, his music, everything. She's been at it for years. What she is trying to do is abuse the concept of copyright and trademark in order to further profit off her dead husband's music. Her actions with the festival would have totally stifled a wonderful celebration that was inspired by Frank and his music, and her only concern is the rights to the music and the "mustache" in order for her to preserve an ongoing accumulation of wealth. This, in no way, engenders the further creation of music, or gives incentive to the artist to create.

This trademark/patent/copyright/license issue can be summed up in a new dichotomy that encompass all of them: open vs. closed. Closed helps nobody, it's like a frantic scramble for resource, and when you have it you better HOLD ON TIGHT. This stifles, or at best dramatically slows down innovation and progress. This is an irony, since copyright is supposed to be there to help protect and encourage the creation and dissemination of cultural resource, not enable the hording of it. People who "sit" on their copyright are stifling the public evolution of cultural expression by not allowing anybody else to further the work. For instance, how is the reality of copyright law being rewritten because of petitions by Disney, so that they could, as a corporate interest, protect their grip on Mickey Mouse for as long as possible, further culture at all, or represent good in any way? It is this slanted side of copyright law that is a part of the negative climate I refer to. It protects nobody, it maintains the integrity of nothing at all. It says that corporate profit is of a higher value than cultural expression, or innovation.

While it is true that copyright holders have every legal right to "use the law to their advantage", and I agree that this does necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with the law, it also does not mean that there is anything right with the law, nor does it mean that the whole affair is a socially healthy exercise. Copyright holders' legal ability to utilize the law is a right in the society that upholds those very laws. But we cannot judge, by the mere ability of a citizen or interested party to exercise their rights under law, weather or not that law is right or wrong. I agree. But we can judge those laws based on what kind of effects they have on society, and in particular, those portions of society in which they are at play. The great thing about laws, though, is that they can be rewritten. Just ask Disney about that.

Personally, I view the abuse of copyright as an abuse of influence and position on behalf of those with resource. Those abuses and the limitless greed of those who carry them out have, in my view, created a wholly unhealthy copyright climate. I cannot say that I share the same faith that free market principles will ultimately show the truth of things. Free markets (and the legal systems governing them) can be manipulated and distorted by corporate interests, and they have been for some time. That is why I consider it so wonderful and vital that people are beginning to really make a noise celebrating open source, copyleft, and free culture.

In the end, it looks like you and I end up on the same side, doing the same things: supporting open source and copyleft, and celebrating the culture and community; but we do so from slightly differing points of view.

I must say, tho, that if I had the same faith in the great invisible hand of the free market, I don't think I would be so passionate about copyleft and open source!

There is some confusion in our dialog, possibly based off of language, but it's all good. I appreciate the conversation!

Re: Zappa!

yungchin's picture

Thanks for your thoughtful replies, I'm enjoying the conversation too! Yes, the Zappa story is definitely an example of how not to use "intellectual property" (I know, dubious terminology). And no, Disney's way of going about this indeed does not represent good in any way. But I guess I feel you can't have good without bad; if you take away their copyright from them, we (as in we, the user community) also lose our rights over, say, all the GNU code. That would mean people could take it, improve it, and keep the improvements to themselves, just releasing binaries.

A second thing is, that there are arts that are very hard to sustain when you're not "sitting" on the copyrights (I noticed your quotes - did I make up that expression? lol, maybe it is a Dutchism). Making a multi-million dollar movie would be difficult for example, and what about computer games? Having to sustain those with advertising would be horrible.

So because copyright also protects good, I'm happy to get over the fact that Mickey Mouse products go at crazy prices. I'll just go to the next shop and buy another colour of mouse (it won't take long before there will be teddies with Creative Commons labels in store, I'm sure... :)).

I have faith in a, well, partially regulated, free market (I see copyright as a form of market regulation) *and* in copyleft, because I feel that copyleft is part of a better business model - many of my friends still see it as some sort of communist diversion, but it's really not. As you say, copyleft protects the interests of fans and users: isn't that the most powerful selling point ever?

Re: Re: Zappa?..sounds like a noise I make when waking...anyway.

joshu's picture

Now we're getting to the nuts and bolts of it!

I brought up the Disney story to illustrate two things. One in contrast to the concept that changing the laws will have no good effect. I wanted to show that if large corporate interests can change the laws to ill effect, and have, then we should be able to repeal those laws, forcing the climate to change in a better direction to a good effect. The second thing is the fact that the current particulars about copyright law were not written into existence by some benevolent force of human good and cultural preservation. The were written by Disney as their greed expanded out beyond every foreseeable horizon. Now, perpetual licensing on a Creative Commons license would be just fine in mt book, so maybe you're right and no change is required. A part of me still wants to take the weapon out of the hands of corporate interest and force them to play nice. That's just my gut feeling I suppose. What I would like to see taken away is the kung-fu like grip of copyright. Loosen it up and allow more freedom. Again, we agree that you need some kind of structure, some rules to which everybody needs to play by.

I can also see the sense in limited absolute copyrights (talking a year or two, or right to distribute FIRST), franchising rights, rights to protect the canonical reality of a fictional world, that sort of thing. This would protect the interest of the people making the high budget movies and television series, but I can't see any other benefit. You can make money giving away a product. Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are two examples of high profile groups that have proven this. Also, with no, or very limited copyrights, you can still produce income. The whole so-called Hybrid-economy that Lessing is talking about is a perfect example of this. I think the reason that the copyright climate (as I put it) is so negative lately is that the business model HAS to change, and the "old boys" club that runs the ip world isn't creative enough to come up with a new machine to replace the old one. They are in fear of obsolescence, and so are lashing out. This happens every time the media and distribution model changes in society. Books themselves were "evil" at a certain point.

I do believe that great product will always be produced, because there is someone out there that loves to make it! Innovation and creativity flowing from passions and interest rather than greed might get rid of things like boy bands and Britney! HA!

And no, you didn't make up the term "sitting" on copyright, I did, and I want my royalties.

Lol, well in that case, I'm

yungchin's picture

Lol, well in that case, I'm using "sitting" under your site's Creative Commons license - you see, the system protects me already! :P

This conversation has kept me busy even in my sleep, thinking on and off about how you might fix the legislation, but I find myself going in circles... it's too much for my un-lawyerly brain! I better leave it to Lessig and his people for now or my head might explode... Thanks though :)

Add new comment