Freedom, continued

Okay, so the story continues: Joe Brockmeier has posted a rebuttal to Nina Paley's post that I commented on earlier today.

Basically, Joe says that Culture is not the same things as Software, and gives a lot of arguments as to why this would be true. But I can't agree with him. Let's see why.

His first argument is "One of these things is not like the other". As in,

But it's far more reasonable and sensible to discuss Perl scripts and software written in assembler embedded on a chip together, and the rights that they come with, than to try to talk about rights to modify sculpture and essays.

I don't see how one could combine a perl script with an embedded assembler program, except perhaps over a network, or by using exec()—two cases in which the FSF would consider that they are not even derivatives anymore, they are "at arm's length", and it would be legal to do something like this if one bit was released under the GPL while the other was not. At the same time, it's possible to engrave (part of) an essay into a statue, for example. Or make a technical apparatus which looks like a statue but which will play music if you come near it. Both would be valid cases of some artist combining two separate and (at first sight) distinct things into one work.

Sure, you could crowdsource sculpture, but I doubt it will have much practical application. (And certainly difficult over the Internet, but I digress...)

It's called RepRap, and it's very much possible over the Internet.

Joe moves on, with 'Unintended consequences of forkable prose'.

Take the GNU Manifesto, for example. If you could "fork" the manifesto, I could easily see variant versions modified to justify open source instead of free software.

This argument had been brought forward during the discussions which Debian had on the GFDL vote, and has been seriously debunked there. In short: the ability and right to fork someone's prose does not, in any way, give you the right to misrepresent them. While I believe it should be okay for someone to base a theoretical Open Source Manifesto on the GNU Manifesto, I do not believe it should be okay for them to still keep calling it the GNU Manifesto. It's not the same thing anymore, so that should be clear.

This is true within Free Software as well: if you fork, you give it a new name, so it becomes clear that you're not the original anymore.

Moreover, I doubt the kind of prose found in the GNU Manifesto is the same kind of prose that Nina would like to see in a free culture movement. Not because the GNU Manifesto is a bad piece of writing—it isn't—but because Free Culture likely focuses on other things than manifestos.

Next, we get "Solving a problem that doesn't exist"

The spark that fired off the GNU revolution was a legitimate problem — because of non-free code, a user was unable to make use of hardware they (or their university) legitimately owned.


While Paley and others may want the same freedoms to go with cultural works, it is not a real problem in the same sense.

Pardon ye me?

I am a musician. Not a very brilliant one, mind you, but I play the flute with much enthusiasm, and have done so in a number of places. If you've been to any debconf since 2007, surely you must've heard me play. Also, I've been singing in choirs since I was sixteen—which, I just realized, means I've now been singing for more than half my lifetime. Time flies, it must be said.

One of the orchestra that I've been playing in was an extended flute choir with a rather unusual instrumentarium: apart from 30-something flautists, the orchestra also had a piano and drummer, a number of guitar players, and a bass guitar. Such an unusual set of music means you have three options: you play original music, written specifically for your group; you play something written for a different set of instruments, without changing anything, and hope nobody notices that it doesn't actually sound very well; or you make modifications. You make a derivative work of the music, so you can actually play it. There, I've said the word.

This isn't just true for music; I've yet to see the first theatre performance that is true, word-for-word, to the original script.

Also, movies use music all the time. When they do, there are usually two options: either they have original pieces of music written specifically for their movie (as is the case for most Hollywood blockbusters), or they take a piece of existing music, and adapt it so it fits the events in the movie better. By, say, shortening it, so it doesn't run into the next scene. Or by repeating the refrain an extra time, so the words line up nicely with the action. Or by having a group of musicians record a version of that piece specifically for your movie, which is the same thing in everything except the speed—so that the feet of the actor walking on the big screen hit the ground in sync with the music. Or... well. You get the idea.

By claiming that artists have no need to modify and derive from others, the only thing Joe accomplishes is to show that he really, really, really doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. Artists have a need to modify other artists' works all the time. The only difference with free software is that they either need to invoke the fair use clause, or need to pay big bucks to the original rightsholder. Sound familiar?

Joe finishes up with stating that despite all of that, Free Culture is still possible. And:

That doesn't mean that free culture is impossible. It simply means that different standards apply.

Exactly: different standards apply. And why? There is no good reason for that.

Because people make money from cultural works? Well, money is made from software, too, that has never been a good enough reason.

Because Culture is not functional? How many in the Free Software movement would even be willing to only be doing software all the time, and not ever do anything remotely related to Culture? None, I would say. Culture is just as functional as Software, it just serves different functions.

In the comments, Joe clarifies that he isn't against people preferring not to use the ND clause in the CC licenses they select, he's just against demanding that others do the same.

That argument would make sense if not for the fact that the FSF demands, mostly, that Software Should Be Free!!1!. By not complaining about the GNU Manifesto, but complaining about Paley's "Rantifesto", which basically complains about the lack of such an environment in the free culture movement, Joe just makes a fool of himself.

Anyway, 'nuff said.