November 3, 2008  ·  Lessig

The Free Software Foundation has released the GNU Free Document License version 1.3. Section 11 of that license now (essentially) permits certain wikis to be relicensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (v3.0) license, so long as the relicensing is completed by August 1, 2009. That means, the Wikipedia community now has the choice to relicense Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license. (Here’s the FAQ for the amendment.)

It would be hard to overstate the importance of this change to the Free Culture community. A fundamental flaw in the Free Culture Movement to date is that its most important element — Wikipedia — is licensed in a way that makes it incompatible with an enormous range of other content in the Free Culture Movement. One solution to this, of course, would be for everything to move to the FDL. But that license was crafted initially for manuals, and there were a number of technical reasons why it would not work well (and in some cases, at all) for certain important kinds of culture.

This change would now permit interoperability among Free Culture projects, just as the dominance of the GNU GPL enables interoperability among Free Software projects. It thus eliminates an unnecessary and unproductive hinderance to the spread and growth of Free Culture.

Richard Stallman deserves enormous credit for enabling this change to occur. There were some who said RMS would never permit Wikipedia to be relicensed, as it is one of the crown jewels in his movement for freedom. And so it is: like the GNU/Linux operation system, which his movement made possible, Wikipedia was made possible by the architecture of freedom the FDL enabled. One could well understand a lesser man finding any number of excuses for blocking the change.

But here’s what Richard said in 2002 in a different context:

“If we don’t want to live in a jungle, we must change our attitudes. We must start sending the message that a good citizen is one who cooperates when appropriate….”

Add “good citizen” to the list of praise for this founder of contemporary freedom.

  • Carl

    Wow. I did a university research project on CC-BY-SA vs the GFDL in the first half of this year, and was a bit more concerned about their chances for compatibility than perhaps I should have been.

    I think that the restrictions in FDL v1.3 are reasonable, and reflect the FSF’s concerns, which I discovered in the course of my research. To be completely interchangeable would probably harm the GFDL. Restriction to wikis, and a fixed time period, gives people the chance to rethink their choice of licence now that CC is available, without throwing everything wide open. Cool.

  • Morgaine

    In one small area though, relicensing from GDFL to CC could be a step backwards. That area is the protection of originals.

    CC makes no distinction between alternative formats of a cultural item, which is good in its intent because it relaxes constraints on media delivery. Unfortunately, this places a mushy resampled 8KHz/16Kbps MP3 reencoding on an exact par with a pristine 192KHz original unencoded master, and this is having some unexpected consequences.

    In a move that is close to being abuse of license intent, some commercial outfits are taking in CC-licensed originals uploaded by authors in a lossless format like FLAC or WAV, but only releasing the works in lossy formats, typically MP3 and sometimes OGG. The lossless originals are hidden internally as if they were their private property and hence are lost to the Commons, yet the company appears as a good CC citizen because CC licenses pay no respect to originals versus downgraded forms.

    The FSF’s focus on software gives their licenses the good property of respecting originals, and this applies to the GDFL as well. That particular license may not be the best for licensing media, but it is vastly superior to CC in the specific area of ensuring that lossless originals are not lost for posterity. Under GDFL licensing, such a company would not be able to keep those Commons jewels to itself and only release inferior versions.

    CC needs to address this problem in future versions of the license, or our historic media libraries of the future will be populated with mushy reencodings of originals that are no longer available.

    Morgaine.

  • Morgaine

    Please delete one of my two (identical) posts. My first attempt at posting came back with a Server Error, yet the server still posted the item, oddly.

    Morgaine.

  • Morgaine

    Wherever I wrote “GDFL”, I did of course mean “GFDL”. Funnily enough, Wikipedia redirects them both to the same place. :-)

    Morgaine.

  • http://stefan.waidele.info/ Stefan Waidele
  • http://culture-libre.org Mathieu Stumpf

    Now everything we need is a CC-by-sa 3.0 and Free Art License compatibility in both way and then we will have a far less fragmented free/libre culture movement.

  • http://culture-libre.org Mathieu Stumpf

    To Morgaine:
    You should have a look at the Free Art License[1] if you don’t know it, it has a distinction between original and subsequent works while aiming the same goal as the CC-by-sa license. In fact, if the Creative Commons agree, it may become compatible with the CC-by-sa 3.0. According to Antoine Moreau[3], this is a work in progress realized by Diane Peters[2]. Lets hope it will work.

    [1] http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/
    [2] http://creativecommons.org/about/people/#95
    [3] http://antoinemoreau.org/

  • Onan the Barbarian

    Morgaine: I don’t see how the GFDL would stop that. The lossy-compressed song is a derived work. The GFDL doesn’t state (and it would be silly if it did) that whenever you distribute a derived work, you must also distribute the original. Only “invariant sections” must be included in the derived work unmodified; but you can’t make the entire song invariant, because the GFDL only lets secondary sections be marked invariant.

    Also, neither the GFDL nor any other free license contain an _obligation_ for a redistributor to redistribute the licensed work to anyone. Everybody is free to redistribute the work only to people of his liking (e.g., to people who agree to pay him $1,000,000), or to not redistribute at all. So if you’re relying on that to ensure that a work remains available to the Commons, you’re being mistaken.

  • Morgaine

    Onan, my reading of the GFDL suggested that it *did* protect original content in a way very similar to a GNU software license.

    However, I’m not really interested in discussing the GFDL, so I’ll go with your interpretation.

    Instead, my main concern is focused on the fact that the current CC license allows those original lossless works to disappear from the Commons entirely, without even a frown. That’s a disastrous loss to the world, and really Lawrence needs to think about that point hard, and find some way of addressing it. I don’t believe that it was his intention that the Commons should protect only lower quality works for posterity. He probably didn’t forsee that companies would abuse the license in this way.

    Incidentally, you’re entirely wrong when you say “The lossy-compressed song is a derived work.” It’s not. CC regards alternative formats of a work as THE SAME WORK. If this were not so then music licensed under No-Derivative licenses could not be delivered as both MP3 and OGG for example, nor in lower bitrate streamed versions.

    Think about that a little — half the CC ecosphere would fall apart if ND works couldn’t be reencoded. ;-)

    And that’s why we’re in this small difficulty currently. We’re losing many dozens of lossless originals every day as new works are published but only released as lossy, and it can only get worse as CC becomes more popular. It’s precisely because lower quality versions are THE SAME WORK that companies can get away with not releasing to us the actual work that the musician gave them as CC-licensed media.

    We need a clause specifically dedicated to lossless works, indentifying the change from lossless to lossy as constituting derivation. It wouldn’t have a huge impact, as ND works could still be reformatted from one lossless to another lossless format, and from one lossy to another lossy format. It would however protect us from loss of the originals when there is a jump from one category to the other.

    Morgaine.

  • roseedna

    The Free Software Foundation has released the GNU Free Document License version 1.3. Section 11 of that license now essentially permits certain wikis to be relicensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (v3.0) license, so long as the relicensing is completed by August 1, 2009. That means, the Wikipedia community now has the choice to relicense Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license.It would be hard to overstate the importance of this change to the Free Culture community.This change would now permit interoperability among Free Culture projects, just as the dominance of the GNU GPL enables interoperability among Free Software projects. It thus eliminates an unnecessary and unproductive hinderance to the spread and growth of Free Culture.
    ————
    Rose

    MLS