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Re: <nettime> Benjamin Mako Hill on Creative Commons
lotu5 on Thu, 1 Sep 2005 12:32:37 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Benjamin Mako Hill on Creative Commons

> Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software 
> Movement
> Author: 	Benjamin Mako Hill
> Contact: 	mako {AT} atdot.cc
> Date: 	Fri, 29 Jul 2005 13:39:49 -0400
> Copyright: 	Creative Commons ShareAlike License

Hi Mako,

This is a great article. It reminds me of why I stopped developing Debian and decided
to focus my time working on Anarchist and Anti-Capitalist organizing. The sense of
disillusionment and the ultimate theme that CC is not enough resonates with me, while
it is different. Funny, as you were one of the main people to help me into Debian.

> Comparisons between CC and Free Software are hardly coincidental. The CC 
> website proudly describes the inspiration for the project as, in part, 
> "the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License (GNU GPL)." 
> Many of the minds behind CC (Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle, and others) 
> made important contributions to legal and philosophical discussions of 
> the Free Software movement before starting CC.

It would seem to me that the Free Software Foundation should have some input on this
issue in general. It seems that CC is using them as a reference point and using them to
gain credibility, so maybe they should provide a response to that use.

> Free software advocates have been able to use the free software 
> definition as the rallying point for a powerful social movement. Free 
> software, like the concept of freedom in any freedom movement, is 
> something that one can demand, something that one can protest for, and 
> something that one can work toward. Working toward these goals, Free and 
> Open Source Software movements have created the GNU/Linux operating 
> system and billions of lines of freely available computer code.

One comparison that strikes me in this article is the radical/liberal divide that this
seems to represent. Radicals compromise their values less and there are fewer of them.
Liberals are more willing to compromise for a buck and there are more of them. This
seems to be similar to the computer world when looking at the spectrum of who's using
what license.

> For the CC founders and many of CC's advocates, FOSS's success is a 
> source of inspiration. However, despite CC's stated desire to learn from 
> and build upon the example of the free software movement, CC sets no 
> defined limits and promises no freedoms, no rights, and no fixed 
> qualities. Free software's success is built upon an ethical position. CC 
> sets no such standard.

Again the liberal comparison comes to mind. CC is much like people who say "war is
okay, just not this particular war". They seem to be saying "not sharing is okay, so is

> A new license, the CC "Sampling License" or "Recombo" license -- created 
> in association with the band Negativland the Brazilian music living 
> legend (and Minister of Culture) Gilberto Gil -- prohibits even verbatim 
> distribution while allowing for commercial and non-commercial sampling. 
> Another new license allows a for a broad range of freedoms -- but only 
> for those living in the developing world.

Clearly this represents the liberal divide again. The sampling license seems intended
entirely to make some tiny change in the music industry, instead of saying "music
should be free", they're saying "here's a way for you to make a tiny bit of music free
to look good, please do it". Just the same as its far easier to say "lets give aid to
starving children in africa" than it is to say "lets give aid to starving children in

> Had CC followed a model similar to that of Free Software, they would 
> have drawn a line in the sand. "This is a Commons film. That film is 
> not." It would have sent a clear message that making a CC document is 
> more difficult than convincing the CC board to add another license to 
> the CC website. By drawing this line, CC would be taking the risk that 
> not as many individuals would be able or willing to use CC licenses and 
> that some injustices and imbalances might not be addressed by their 
> project. Non-participation, even en-mass, was a risk Richard Stallman 
> was willing to take in the pursuit of more freedom for software. 
> Ultimately, users of the GNU/Linux operating system created by the 
> social movement he initiated have his stubbornness to thank for the 
> consistent level of software freedom they enjoy.

I think you have a great point here, and clearly, just as we need a diversity of
tactics to succeed in other movements, we need a diversity of tactics to succeed in
achieving freedom of information beyond the realm of code.

> To be sure, many programmers and software companies are uncomfortable 
> with the freedoms required by the FSD. Programmers are welcome to 
> release applications under a license that prohibits terrorists, 
> fascists, or pacifists from using their software but their software 
> won't be free. There are very good and thoughtfully considered reasons 

This is precisely why I stopped working on Debian. I'm not happy writing code that may,
and probably will, be used to develop weapons to be used on innocent people. I'd rather
have a license that disallows any use for state terrorism.

> Not every programmer has to write free software. Not every programmer 
> does. But if coders want to call their project "Free Software" or "Open 
> Source," they must pass the bar set in the FSD and OSD. If a programmer 
> wants their software included in Debian, listed in the Free Software 
> Directory, or supported by SourceForge, Free Software's core freedoms 
> must exist for their users. As a result, few coders write "almost free" 
> software today while, proportionately, many more did two decades ago. 
> With Creative Commons there is no bar and no essential freedom. As a 
> social movement, CC has failed to take positions and set goals in the 
> ways that made free software successful.

One thing you seem to be addressing here is the mutual aid that occurs in Free Software
communities. There is a benefit to being called "free software". Does a similar benefit
exist for CC content? These benefits come from long term creation of networks and
infrastructure around shared ideals. How can we create this kind of culture around a
new Free Information ideal?

> By no means is CC a bad thing--this article is distributed under a CC 
> license. Every CC license clearly describes a right that cannot be taken 
> for granted in contemporary copyright. With licenses that declare an 
> author's intentions, the need for lawyers and permission-asking is 
> significantly minimized. CC licenses are easy to understand and easy to 
> apply. But by failing to take any firm ethical position and draw any 
> line in the sand, CC is a missed opportunity.

A similar criticism can be made of the GPL. What if the original GPL had a
non-commercial clause in it, making a firm stand against capitalism? Would it have
flourished the same way it did? Or, was Free Software butressed by the fact that it is
compatible with most contemporary forms of exploitation, that it is compatible with all
of the other injustices that capitalism creates? In my interview with Richard Stallman
(http://radio.indymedia.org/news/2005/01/3249.php), he points out that he is not
anti-capitalist, only anti-fascist.

> When asked at the World Summit on the Information Society about 
> non-commercial use clauses, Lessig said that he thought they were 
> overused and frequently a bad idea. For whatever reasons, 3/4 of 
> CC-licensed works prohibit commercial use [4]. Lessig provided licenses 
> and he hoped most creators' conservatism and fears would not get the 
> better of them. Apparently, they did; artistic works under these 
> licenses are less accessible to a large number of creators.

Is that because people are worried of other people ripping them off, as they are ripped
off their whole lives under capitalism? I think the relationship here between the Free
Software ideal and the capitalist system it lives in is a complicated one. I know a lot
of indymedia volunteers who use the non-commercial clause because they are
anti-capitalist. I don't think that is the majority of cases, though. Who are the
people making CC content today? Why are they doing so?

> did not. To this day, no widely discussed -- much less widely accepted 
> -- definition of free, open, or common content exists.

This seems to be the critical task, then, to create such a definition. Since it is
beyond the realm of software, it seems like a first step towards such a definition is
to understand who should make such a definition. Content creators, human rights
activists, free software programmers, the intersection of all of these? Is there a
movement for Freedom of Information? Who inhabits that movement? Does it go beyond Free
Software and the original motivations, to simply maintain freedom, but to also provide
a kind of protection for access?

> It is a criticism of the fact that there is no base level of freedom 
> that every Creative Commons license must provide.

I think you've created a very convincing argument for the need for us to develop our
own standard. Thank you.

>      Too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes. 
> At one pole is a vision of total control -- a world in which every last 
> use of a work is regulated and in which "all rights reserved" (and then 
> some) is the norm. At the other end is a vision of anarchy -- a world in 
> which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to 
> exploitation. Balance, compromise, and moderation -- once the driving 
> forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection 
> equally -- have become endangered species.

Again, this so clearly reminds me of liberals.

> It is not too late to discuss which rights should be unreservable in an 
> era of free information. When we have defined free information in terms 
> of essential freedoms, Creative Commons will have provided us with the 
> licenses through which to build this movement.

This gets to the kind of power that we have as the mass of humanity, and not as the few
tiny rulers. We have the power to create our own licenses and then build billions of
lines of code under our own licenses. Similarly, freedom is something you do, not
something given to you, as someone far wiser than I said. The question to me becomes,
when do we start exercising our freedoms, taking them, not asking for them. That seems
to be happening today en masse, with P2P use growing by the millions and file sharing
traffic taking up a majority of internet usage:


So what happens when governments try to take these freedoms away? Will people fight

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