[okfn-discuss] Open vs free/libre

Jonathan jonathan.gray at okfn.org
Sun Sep 23 13:54:41 UTC 2007

Thanks for your article, Kim - and everyone else for your interesting 
responses! There's certainly not a poverty of things for me to read up 

My initial reaction to your main request - to adopt the word 'libre' 
instead of 'open' wherever possible - is that it would be a bit of a 
logistical nightmare for us!

In the first instance I am inclined to wonder about what would be gained 
from a name change relative to the costs involved (time/effort, money to 
re-register domains, publicising the change, etc.) rather than 
considering in the abstract which term is most appropriate, or has the 
most desirable connotations or is most likely to ensure the best outcome 
in the long term. This is mostly because the OKF has modest resources 
and currently has many things on its plate and in the pipeline - 
certainly not because I don't think the semantic questions you raise 
aren't important.

I was gladdened to read how much everyone seems to be in agreement over 
what it is essential that others can do with free/libre/open material, 
and which licenses should be called free/libre/open [1]. Its good to 
hear of your Libre knowledge initiative - and I hope that there are 
things that we'll be able to work together on!

Regarding your comments about the roots of 'open' (in the sense of 
access, re-use and redistribution rights) in the rejection of the 
"ethical foundations of free software" - while this may account for the 
origin of open source, I don't think it is the case that every use of 
the word 'open' constitutes an active rejection of FSF values. My guess 
is that many people who are working on, e.g., new licensing policies for 
educational repositories are unaware of the historical events that you 
and others allude to. Hence we must be careful not to commit some form 
of the genetic fallacy in imagining them to be using 'open' in exactly 
the same sense and with the same intentions as those that rejected free 
software values.

Regarding the 'threats' and 'dangers' you mention of using 'open' rather 
than 'free'/'libre' - I think that many of the specific things you 
mention are addressed in our projects, in our literature and in our 
discussions. I hope sections 4. and 8. of our Open Knowledge Definition 
[2] address your concerns that we might call 'open' material that is 
restricted by DRM software or that disallows commercial usage. It would 
be great if you could advise us on other specific things which we should 
be clearer about!

Regarding the 'ethics' and 'values' that you mention - I am still left 
wondering precisely what these are and how we might demonstrate our 
endorsement. I agree with many of the points in your Libre manifesto [3] 
(valuing people and a spirit of collaboration, respecting diversity of 
opinion, etc.). However I also agree with Rufus that works should be 
licensed on a case-by-case basis rather than assuming one type of 
license should be used in all situations. As he says I would be very 
surprised (but pleased) if it turned out that promoting free/libre/open 
licenses was a panacea. I would be interested to hear more about what 
values you think the OKF should show support for and how - if the 
pan-free/libre/open licensing interpretation is a mis-understanding.

I do agree with you that 'open' does not convey freedom as much as 
'freedom' or 'libre' do. But, of course, all these words elicit 
metaphorical associations and require an extra level of explanation in 
order to be understood in the case of either software or knowledge. 
Given that the explanations furnished in Libre Knowledge, Freedom 
Defined and the Open Knowledge Definition are substantially similar - I 
hope that we can work towards the same goals without the OKF having to 
change its name! Words do change and acquire new/different meanings 
through use and I suspect that 'open' is no longer entirely parasitic on 
'free' in the context of software, or in the emerging context of knowledge.

It would be good to hear what others think about this...



[1] See, e.g. our licenses page,
[2] http://www.opendefinition.org/1.0/
[3] http://communities.libre.org/about/manifesto

Rufus Pollock wrote:
> Saul Albert wrote:
>> 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.
> I'm not sure I follow: do you mean that because it is closed no-one 
> else can build upon it. In that case I completely agree -- and what I 
> was getting at when I said "Almost always there will be (complex) 
> trade-offs between current producers, future producers ...".
>> 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.
> I very much see what you are getting at. Certainly greater access to 
> knowledge might well enable people to be more active (and informed) 
> citizens -- leading as a result to a juster and better run society. 
> However I am not sure why this would necessarily be 'ideological' and 
> certainly not why it is a moral issue as to whether *all* software or 
> all knowledge/information to be open. I emphasize all because clearly 
> in some cases one could argue it is a moral question for information 
> to be freely available. For example, I recall George Soros recently 
> talking about efforts he had supported to publish information about 
> where oil revenues in Nigeria ended up. But I don't think that's 
> really what is being debated here.
>>> "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!     
> Sure :) But that wasn't my point here. I was pointing out that if it 
> was being argued that that closed knowledge was an obstacle to 
> liberation (and that 'libre/open' knowledge would help people become 
> truly free) then one had to explain the fact that there is already a 
> fair amount of open knowledge of very significant cultural value which 
> people don't seem to 'use' as much as they might.
>> 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.     
> Perhaps but I have to admit I am a pessimist who is sceptical that the 
> chains we find ourselves in are wholly (or even mostly) due to some 
> entrenched interest or other. The fact is that the amount of available 
> leisure time in western countries has increased massively over the 
> last century yet people don't seem to use much of that leisure time to 
> 'enlighten' and/or liberate themselves.
>> 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 should clarify here that I'm really supportive of those who do like 
> the moral aspect of 'free/libre'. I may not personally agree with all 
> of the reasoning but does that matter? Even if both groups don't agree 
> exactly on motivations, and may as a result disagree occassionally on 
> outcomes/actions, there is huge amount on which there is agreement.
>> I am often reminded of the awful flexibility of 'Freedom' in discussions
> Just like the term 'open' I'm sure!
> 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' 
> it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' [Alice 
> in Wonderland]
>> 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:
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trap_%28television_documentary_series%29 
>> And the entire series is available on Google Video:
>> http://video.google.com/url?docid=8372545413887273321&esrc=sr1&ev=v&len=3569&q=Adam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap&srcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D8372545413887273321&vidurl=%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D8372545413887273321%26q%3DAdam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap%26total%3D48%26start%3D0%26num%3D10%26so%3D0%26type%3Dsearch%26plindex%3D0&usg=AL29H23bKZm9WcAwL37zmyGJubg-lZYNMw
>> http://video.google.com/url?docid=-7849982478877371384&esrc=sr3&ev=v&len=3537&q=Adam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap&srcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D-7849982478877371384&vidurl=%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D-7849982478877371384%26q%3DAdam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap%26total%3D48%26start%3D0%26num%3D10%26so%3D0%26type%3Dsearch%26plindex%3D2&usg=AL29H21vI7NGVhkjlUdzDHh6CiUixKtl1A
>> http://video.google.com/url?docid=1343199130780182696&esrc=sr4&ev=v&len=1049&q=Adam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap&srcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D1343199130780182696&vidurl=%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D1343199130780182696%26q%3DAdam%2Bcurtis%2BThe%2BTrap%26total%3D48%26start%3D0%26num%3D10%26so%3D0%26type%3Dsearch%26plindex%3D3&usg=AL29H21TNsmP9rq7l4EpZInr1xv3-gsbVQ
>> 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.
> :)
> ~rufus
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