[okfn-discuss] Open vs free/libre

Saul Albert saul at theps.net
Fri Sep 21 13:51:18 UTC 2007

On Thu, Sep 20, 2007 at 08:19:56PM +0100, Rufus Pollock wrote:
> To put it most bluntly: suppose there is a particular piece of knowledge 
> (be it a book, a software programme, or the formula for a 
> pharmaceutical) that would *only* be developed if it were to be 
> 'nonfree/closed' (e.g. covered by secrecy or by a patent or a copyright) 
> --  perhaps because without those monopoly rights the developer would 
> not gain sufficient rents. In that case I would certainly prefer to have 
> that piece of knowledge albeit in a closed form than no knowledge at all.

While I agree with your pragmatic cost/benefit stance in many cases,
Rufus, I'd add that in some cases, making a choice to produce
proprietary knowledge can actually reduce the likelihood of future open
knowledge production - which is Stallman's reasoning for his dogmatism.

Debates about Open Knowledge always become ideological at some point
because Knowledge is political, and political thought and action,
rigorously applied is very likely to become ideological.

> "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves"

I take your point, but who is to say what fantastic cultural gems might
come from Open Mills & Boon and Free Big Brother? Now *that* would be an
instant populist rival to Open Shakespeare! 

Working in the entertainment industry, I often notice that the kinds of
cultural infrastructures that exist to provide people with meaningful
entertainment are impoverished - by obsolete, abusable copyright
mechanisms, but also by broadcast paradigms and entrenched captive
markets and dinosaur technology. New structures are emerging that will
give rise to different economic, political and aesthetic norms. 

Although I am also turned off by doctrinaire 'Free/Libre' eulogies, I'd
be careful about dismissing them on utilitarian grounds, which may not
stand up to scrutiny when the economic reality of 'protected' knowledge
markets are taken into account.

I am often reminded of the awful flexibility of 'Freedom' in discussions
around the Talkaoke.com table - and I've recently found Adam Curtis'
documentary 'The Trap - what happened to our dreams of freedom' to be a
very useful foil to check my opinions against:

There's a wikipedia entry:

And the entire series is available on Google Video:

You can draw your own conclusions from the freeness or non-freeness of
these two sources, and the resultant relative value of the Knowledge
they constitute.



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