Velo, Rapido | This is about a few different things.
My new friend Jen lured me to a panel last night. Part of LMCC’s Access Restricted series. Worth checking out, though I wanted a lot more from Intellectual Property in the Age of Reproduction.
We barely touched on the very interesting questions of copyright transgression, copying and fair use. Which is really too bad. Two quick observations before I get back to work.
One: someone asked about Creative Commons licensing. Specifically, he wanted to know if he’d have any recourse if he released a photo under a CC license and Steven Spielberg used it in a blockbuster. Virginia Rutledge’s answer? Roughly: A creative commons license is irrevocable, so that’s a concern. What? She’s right, for one thing. Or I assume she is. But that was a thin answer if I’ve ever heard one.
Creative Commons has tons of value. ProPublica makes excellent use of it. At the LINC Project it made it infinitely easier for us to increase the reach of our tip sheets and case studies. Want to include it in your newsletter? You don’t have to ask. That is what we wanted. If that isn’t what you wanted … licenses are not one size fits all.
In the case of this dude’s question, Rutledge totally glossed over the various provisions of CC licenses. First of all, if use a license with the non-commerical use proviso if you want to allow some distribution but prevent Spielberg from making your snap the next set backdrop without paying for that privilege. Use a license with the share alike proviso if you’d be satisfied to retain the right to distribute or screen Spielberg’s movie yourself. If he doesn’t like that, again: he’ll have to license the work from you under other terms if he doesn’t want to be stuck sharing alike his whole photo. Speaking of which: she totally failed to distinguish between copyright and a license. You don’t give up your copyright when you license an image.
Two: A sociologist makes blanket assertions without any data. Grumbly? Yes, I am. Fan of Andrew Ross? Not so much. So here’s what you already know: Free software development is not a “gift economy,” though I’d love (seriously) to see a rigorous study of the context of free and open source software development. People work on FOSS development projects for a lot of reasons, and while I’ve yet to meet the mythical altruistic developer, I’ve seen lots of interesting contexts in which building free software is a functional day job. Debian, Apache, Subversion, Git, Drupal, Joomla: people working on these are developing and maintaining the tools they use to do their work. Their work is implementing this stuff, so they need it to work. They aren’t working all day and then coming home to code Apache because the world needs it. Ubuntu, CiviCRM, Cloud Crowd: there are countless examples of free software projects whose development is grant funded (or in the case of the first two, a genuine hybrid of grant funding, service contract supported and the developers themselves need this to do the rest of their work well). Somewhere a funder decided this tool had some value, but they’re interested in supporting development of the tool, not providing venture capital. So a free software license ensures that even if you sell your whole self to msnbc.com, GE and Microsoft can’t come after anyone else who picks up your code base and builds their own local news map. (Whether anyone can actually install the software is another question. But license-wise: you at least have the right.) And sure, there are people who are working on something that doesn’t have a payout. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to use it. I’ll file monkeysphere here. I’m pretty sure Jamie, dkg and Micah don’t have any particular interest in making a killing (or a cent) off of monkeysphere, but they want it. So they’re building it. That isn’t altruism, it is self interest.
I could swear up and down that my community garden work is an act of pure giving, but the truth is that I want fresh basil and a quiet place where I can lie in the sun and read a book. If I have to share what I build to get that, it is a nice side effect.
But to say that free or open source software developers are weighed down by day jobs and tinkering into the night in out of some kind of pathetic and misguided altruism? That’s insulting. And for a social scientist to paint with such a broad brush? He should know better. Jen said it at the panel, but she’s right: this would be a great subject for a real study. But I know you’re going to find lots and lots of people who, though the giving makes them feel good, have a genuine business need for the tools they’re developing.
There was more, but I should get back to work.
Sergio Munoz Sarmiento at VLA pointed out (and he could use pro bono lawyers. Just saying.) that for every artist who needs to defend his/her fair use appropriation rights he’s got ten who need help protecting their copyrights. I know Taliah’s been through it: directly copying someone’s work and keyword baiting your way to the top of the search results for “bicycle paintings” is not appropriation, and it is more common than you’d think.