Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Kick at the 'Free Content' Cat

From discussions on the WikiEducator mailing list:

Someone commented,
"MIT's OCW materials use the NC restriction and therefore do not qualify as free content under the free cultural works definition. The access may be open -- but they are certainly not free materials :-)"
I replied:

This is written as though it is a simple fait accompli. But there is a significant body of opinion (at least, to me) that says that materials may be 'free' and licensed as 'n on-commercial' -- and indeed, that when materials are used commercially (eg., sold) they are by definition *not* free.

I was asked, as a follow-up, by Leo Wong:
MIT OCW is something interesting for me coz they are doing some translation project here in Mainland China called OOPS , but don't know why they are translating the MIT "free content"

what do you think of the translation ? do you think it is a big of waste of time or just something they could invest the time doing something else ?

Still not sure I understand the meaning of NC , and why NC is not good for free content ?
My response:

I am aware of OOPS, I have met Luc Chu, who is based in Taipei, and I have been to visit them in Taiwan.

I think that the translation effort is well worth the time, as the OCW materials are high-quality materials, and the materials, which are made available free of charge, would be of benefit to the millions of people who speak Chinese who are studying those topics.

The OOPS project is a community-based project, where the materials are placed into a wiki and are translated by a community of volunteers.

To me, this is the essence of free content, and the model to be encouraged, since it is sustainable, and does not require a continual infusion of large amounts of money - public, private, or otherwise - to keep it progressing.

Just as an addendum, since you ask,
Still not sure I understand the meaning of NC , and why NC is not good for free content ?
This is a good example of why, in my view, the NC license is more 'free' for content.

Suppose OCW is licensed to allow commercial use. Some company comes along and spends a lot of money to translate the materials into Chinese. Then, in order to recover their investment, they sell the materials in China.

The result?

- this remains the only translation into Chinese, since people say there is 'no point' translating the materials a second time
- hence, for Chinese speakers, the *only* access to these materials is through purchase

I would add that if there is any danger of people producing free Chinese versions of the materials, such a company would have a significant incentive to block that effort. Such efforts are blocked in numerous ways:

- the company will 'lock down' the content it distributed (in., eg., proprietary formats, such as is used by the Kindle) so people can't simply copy it
- the company would raise doubts about the quality of the free translation
- the company would obtain exclusive distributorship of the material in Chinese markets, such as universities
- questions would be raised about the legality of the free translation
- if officials can be bribed, the people doing the free translation can be harassed or imprisoned
- technical requirements (such as standards compliance, or content registration, or digital rights enforcement) can be imposed on all content, which only the commercial company can afford

I could go on at length.

The end result is, if content is licensed under 'CC-BY-SA', the result is inevitably that the majority of people in the world must pay for access to that content. And that is not what I call 'free'.

Chris Harvey wrote:
I think he supports open access and perhaps open source and freebie software. Free software is a matter of freedom not price.

I am well aware of the distinction between 'free as in freedom' and 'free as in beer'. I support 'free as in freedom'.

My objection to commercial use is that it is a business model supported by denying access to resources. If a resource must be purchased before it may be used, then it is not free in either sense. A person does not have the freedom to use, modify, etc., something he or she must buy.

I appreciate that many of the other conditions of the free culture license - such as the use of non-proprietary media - serve to mitigate the excesses of commercial sales of open content. My belief is that the full set of such stipulations, crafted so as to close all loopholes, would be tantamount to the 'non-commercial' clause.