[cc-community] Intellectual Highway Department

Terry Hancock hancock at anansispaceworks.com
Tue May 30 14:20:16 EDT 2006

rob at robmyers.org wrote:
>  Quoting Greg London <email at greglondon.com>:
> > I think there is a complete hijacking of terminology going on
> > somewhere. ANd mostly, I blame RMS for that.
>  You can blame him for "Freedom" but I don't think he has anything to
>  do with the commons metaphor. The hijacking of the term "commons" is
>  more on the side of free-market economists.

The 'commons' metaphor is attributable to Eric Raymond, actually. He
uses it extensively in the "Cathedral and the Bazaar" series.  Of course
the original 'tragedy of the commons' reference was in a scientific
paper (I forget if it was "Science" or "Nature").  ESR suggested the
idea of a commons where 'grazing makes the grass grow' to explain
the benefits of copyleft free-licensing communities. (Though I wouldn't
be surprised if Raymond actually picked this reference up from a
usenet discussion or some place -- else why does he say the
'Tragedy of the Commons' "famously compares"?)

He also (more regrettably) introduced the idea that free license
communities are based on a 'gift economy' (in "Homesteading the
Noosphere"), but then he rejected that idea (in "The Magic Cauldron"),
substituting the 'copyleft exchange economy' idea.

I don't regard Raymond's papers as flawless, but they are a pretty
good starting point if you want to answer questions about the
sustainability and economic viability of commons-based production.

> > So, some people think that charging tolls is fundamentally evil.

Let's keep ideology out of this.  It doesn't matter whether I think
it's 'right' or 'wrong' to charge a license fee.  The reason for rejecting
that basis of argument is not that it has no interest, nor that these
issues have no moral dimension, but rather that it is nearly impossible
if not impossible to convince anyone on ideological grounds -- you
can't really do that unless you have common values and ideology
to begin with.

But practical matters like efficiency and "what works" is objective,
so it is possible.  That's the motivation behind the "open source not
free software" movement -- and I really think it's been blown way
out of proportion.

I for one *do* place value on things being 'free', because I think it's
better if it can work.  But I don't think it's sensible to support something
which may be unsustainable. Hence, I have a lot of interest in models
that are both sustainable and result in growth of a free commons.

In particular, I do not attack the right of an artist to choose 'all rights
reserved' or to choose the current 'perpetual NC' -- not if he knows
what he's doing (but I think a lot of people don't -- or, at least they
don't consider the full universe of possibilities, but only the multiple
choices that CC offers them).

I have mostly been arguing this idea on the basis that I am talking to
people who are already sold on the copyleft commons idea, and
object to improving NC at all (because they want it to die). I can see
that I should be taking a different perspective in Greg's case.

> > That anyone who does the work to create a new piece of highway
> > should allow anyone to travel on that road freely. Some of these
> > folks claim that gift economy approaches can build any road, that
> > all you got to do is get everyone to adopt copyleft and highways
> > will spool out beneath your feet.
>  The GPL (and BY-SA) allow you to charge. And people pay. There is no
>  split between copyleft and payment. There is a split between
>  maximising profit and copyleft, but there is no moral right to
>  maximum profit.

Even if there is, the existing NC may not be it.  Consider for a moment:
which do you want "maximum profit per copy" or "maximum total profit"?

If being more commons-friendly sells more copies, isn't that a good thing
for the would-be profiteer?

> > So, there is a meme that is pretty common in the gift economies
> > that to charge tolls is wrong.
>  NC denies people the ability to charge tolls, even if they have
>  combined their labor with the commons. This is surely wrong.
>  If the toll is too high it will fragment communications as vehicles
>  simply avoid the road. NC is too high a toll (I agree to give up
>  *all* my profit to pay for using anything from the NC commons).

Wrong or not, it means fewer venues.  Since the distribution networks
are not free-of-cost to providers, the providers need ways to recoup
their investments.  The most common method is advertising (although
there are other options).

Even when money is not the objective, the community network is
there to enable free-licensed works which will have more direct
benefit to those operating the network.  Hence the market favors
works that are more commons-friendly.

IMHO, NC doesn't make the cut. It's too unfriendly to the commons.
It starves the distribution system -- hence it receives little benefit
from the freedoms it does allow.

 From a political standpoint, this is bad, because it reinforces FUD
about free-licensing models (when people conflate NC licenses with
free ones -- which is what upsets Richard Stallman, IMHO).

CC is taking actions to reduce this friction, so I consider a done deal
that people recognize the negative consequences.  But what to do
about it?

There are several possibilities:

1) Increase the distinction between "free" and "non-free" CC licenses
   (new logo buttons, etc. I proposed color-coding, and the response
    suggested I was anticipated in that idea).

2) Improve the education about the consequence of choosing the NC
    license. The use-case table that was recently published is a good
    move in this direction, but it's not adequately visible, IMHO.  Perhaps
    it will be made so. It definitely should be referenced by the licensing

3) Improve the legal compatibility of license and/or provide more legally
    compatible licenses that do what artists are looking for from the NC,
    but with fewer negative concepts. Since I can't imagine that any
    expansion of use and copying restrictions can solve this (except a
    complete conversion to By-SA, which wouldn't preserve the advantage
    the artists are looking for -- i.e. the ability to protect license 
    I suggest the idea of working on time-limits, instead. This was 
    with the failed "Founder's Copyright" program -- but I think it failed
    because of implementation, more than concept.


Terry Hancock (hancock at AnansiSpaceworks.com)
Anansi Spaceworks http://www.AnansiSpaceworks.com

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