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16 September 2008

Why Free?

Why not? Cheap smartass answers aside, there are many good reasons why art should be free. But first, let's ask ourselves what "free" really means.

What Is Free?

In this context, free is not referring to price, but to liberty. With an open licensing scheme, such as those made available by GNU and Creative Commons, the liberties of those "downstream" are preserved. Liberty to copy, share, modify, and share the modifications with the world.

But why would you use such a licensing scheme? The short, and potentially confusing, answer is that there is no such thing as "intellectual property". How can someone "own" an idea? If I come up with an idea, and you share it with your friends, how have I been injured? I haven't! You have taken the idea from me, but I still have it. Ideas belong to the world, not to individuals.

Of course, most record labels and recording artists would have you believe otherwise. "If you share songs, you're taking food out of my mouth!" Yeah, right. Because that song, that you came up with and recorded once, has cost you nothing for us to duplicate. Seriously! Charging for a CD or other physical medium, sure. But charging for the right to listen to it? That's just ridiculous. But that's essentially the situation we are in now.

It all comes back to the thought that someone can "own" an idea. As if that person is the only one who could have ever come up with that idea, and no one else in a million years would ever have the same thought. It's not just a matter of the right to share ideas, it's a matter of freedom of speech. It's a matter of record labels and software developers and TV executives dividing and conquering their audiences. "Sharing with your friends is wrong. If your friends try to share with you, you should report them. Sharing is a crime."

But what to do about this situation? Am I advocating "piracy" of copyrighted materials? No, but "piracy" is just as inapplicable a word as "intelectual property" is. Okay, how about public domain? Ideally, it should all be public domain. However, with copyright laws the way they are, someone can use something that is public domain and put it into a work that is not.

The real answer, from my point of view, is to make use of open licensing schemes such as some of the Creative Commons licenses and the GNU GPL. "Copyleft" is much to be desired, as it makes sure that liberty is preserved downstream. You want to use my open licensed material? Great, you just have to release it under the same license.

So why isn't this blog released under a such a license? Because it's a work of opinion, and is representative of me. Under a derivative works license, anyone could rewrite this blog and repost some garbage that I don't agree with under my name. Some individuals seem to have difficulty understanding the difference between copyright and trademark. Trademark exists to preserve reputation. In the end, all we have is our good (or bad) name.

But enough ranting. Do the world a favor, and SHARE!

copyright ©2008 by Jonathan Brewer Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works

Note: For more articulate essays in defense of intellectual liberty by someone who's been thinking about it a lot longer than I have, be sure to check out the writings of Richard Stallman on the GNU Project's website.

copyright ©2008 by Jonathan Brewer