Rhea Myers

Free Culture And Free Software

Free Software as described by Stallman comes from the fact that software is functional, it is basically a machine. A novel, a play, a painting or a concerto are not functional, they are not machines. So we cannot use the same arguments that Stallman advances for software, and the freedoms are not necessarily the same. For cultural artefacts represented as software, Stallman’s freedoms do apply but this is because the work is software. The claims of some artists that blahblahblah do not change this.

For cultural work in general you do actually need very similar freedoms to those that you need for software. This is partly an accident (source code is regarded as literary work for the purposes of copyright) and partly because public culture in an open society must not close off comment, critique, study or succession. This requires that you be free to analyse, copy and modify the work.

The minimal freedom that you need for cultural works is Extended Fair Use (XFU) as described by Negativland. I think that Stallman and Lessig agree on this despite Stallman’s writing about functional, opinion and expressive works (Stallman’s simple “you can copy this essay unmodified” license should make its support for Fair Use explicit). Copyleft is a superset of XFU, it gives you all the freedom of XFU and more, but it frightens the horses economically speaking.

I agree that it does not make sense to try to live on Free Culture alone. Reform is needed in the mainstream, we cannot reproduce the last 70 years of culture in the way that the GNU project has recreated a functional equivalent of UNIX. There is no functional equivalency in culture, and there is no way we can catch up on seventy years worth of work in every medium rather than fifteen years worth of work in a single medium (as UNIX was in 1984). It is very important to lobby for legal reform in the name of Free Culture.

But this does not make alternative licenses useless by any means. We can use Free Software’s tactic of producing a free alternative in order to place pressure on a proprietary project could be effective. The existence of a pool of self-identified freedom can show the need for broader freedom when lobbying. And it may be ethical to produce one’s own work with the freedom that one would wish to enjoy generally.

Via FC-Discuss. Paragraph 2 is a concise statement of a much longer essay I am working on.

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