September 26, 2006 · Lessig
The Free Software Foundation has launched a public discussion on proposed changes to the Free Document License, a license designed “can be used for any textual work” but which, in the world enriched by Wikipedia, now attempts to license all creative work. I’ll be studying the changes carefully, and will post my own comments, both here and there, but I really would encourage people to do the same. Please spread the word broadly.
This step continues the process the FSF launched with the GPLv3. And while that license has become increasingly controversial (see the Kernel Developers‘ post, the FSF’s response, Linus Torvald’s latest), there should be no controversy about the good work of FSF in running this licensing process so transparently. They’ve got very cool (GPLd) code enabling the public comments. We at CC are keen to get our hands on it (it’s not yet distributed) to use in later revisions of our licenses. (We’ve done comments before, but the old fashioned way).
The real challenge here will be Richard Stallman’s. His work helped launch important movements of freedom — free software, most directly; free culture, through inspiration, and examples such as Wikipedia. It also helped launch a movement he’s not happy about, the Open Source Software Movement. Much of the latter builds on the former. And these movements have been joined by many who share his values, some more, some less. (Again, see Torvalds). These movements have built much more than he, or any one person, could ever have done. So his challenge is whether he evolves these licenses in ways that fit his own views alone, recognizing those views deviate from many important parts of the movement he started. Or whether he evolves these licenses to support the communities they have enabled. This is not a choice of principle vs compromise. It is a choice about what principle should govern the guardians of these licenses.
I was struck as I’ve been thinking about this by an obvious analogy: At a recent launch of Creative Commons licenses in a Latin American country, an artist described what it was like to watch her work remixed on ccMixter. As she described, at first “it is mine”; then it becomes “less mine.” When “less mine,” it would be wrong, she suggested, for the artist to exercise the complete and personal control over the object as when it was just “mine.”
E.g., we all (should) see why it’s wrong for the Margaret Mitchell estate to threaten remixers of “Gone with the Wind” with lawsuits, that story having become so central to the culture of America, and especially the American south. Though I would certainly have supported her effort to sue a publisher who changed a final chapter when the book was first published. This difference in attitudes about ownership is, imho, all the difference in the world — hardest for the artists, or “owners” as some people like to say, to recognize.