Having Cake and Eating It

I’m not sure if my morning presentation at FM@dia really made a difference or not. The audience was too cool to do things like ask questions afterward. Maybe they were bored, or maybe they were thinking about what they were going to have for lunch.

Anyway, it’s done, and I’ve done my best at engaging the audience of media activists, community radio operators and various hackers, but I don’t know if it’ll amount to anything.

My presentation was only one of several this morning. There was an interesting presentation from a woman from Romanian Indymedia that pointed out a dilemma that hadn’t occurred to me as the owner of a Creative Commons license, one that has caused her to rethink her position on copyright. Up until now, she explained, she has been an opponent of copyright in all forms. That lasted until Romanian Indymedia content started showing up on an extremist right-wing website called Altermedia, one that actually owns the indymedia.ro domain and redirects traffic to its own site.

What she was proposing was an extension of the Creative Commons license to include some kind of values restriction; something like “this content can be used freely only if the user adheres to basic principles of human rights, etc.” Even she was unclear as to how to word it, but the goal was to prevent their content from being misused by organizations with values directly in opposition to her organization.

So being the King of Obvious Things, I asked, why not just use regular old copyright?

Her answer was basically that she wants to promote free use of the Indymedia content, but only for those who support fundamental values and rights.

But after thinking about it, it occurred to me that you can’t have your anti-copyright cake and eat it too. Free speech applies to all, especially those who disagree with you. Fair use isn’t fair if it is limited to this group or that.

There is a difference between the efforts of groups like Creative Commons or even the Free Software Foundation (authors of the General Public License) – who are working squarely within the framework of existing copyright and intellectual property laws, and groups that seek an abolition of all intellectual property. The difference is that the creator of the intellectual property still retains right and title to that work, but licenses it to others provided they adhere to certain terms. Break the terms and you are breaking the license.

Among the Campware team, we’ve talked about the possibility of extremists getting hold of the software we make. The conclusion we came to was that while we would be diametrically opposed to their opinions, we are not diametrically opposed to their rights: the rights we grant as copyright holders under the General Public License.

In case you were wondering, the content on this site is covered by a Creative Commons license. By design.

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