Free Culture

The Emerging NC Consensus

NonCommercial is Creative Commons’s most popular licence module (Attribution doesn’t count, it is automatic). Richard Stallman and Tim Berners-Lee support a baseline of non-commercial use. And cool music acts like Radiohead and Girl Talk release work under NC.

There seems to be a growing consensus around NC.

Compared to standard copyright, NC is a gain in freedom. I do not deny that. But it is not enough. It is still a restriction on freedom of speech.

How can this be? After all, you are free to make any work and place it on a P2P network under NC. But, as Negativland point out, your freedom of speech can be expensive to exercise. It takes money to make work, the more major the work the more major the cost, and if you cannot recoup your costs there will be a chilling effect on the production of work that you can’t make in a few minutes on a laptop.

I understand that people wish to reserve the right to economically exploit their work, or to deny that right to exploitative entities such as major media corporations. But I think that this cuts off freedom’s nose to spite censorship’s face. NC is triangulation, it is censorship. A lesser censorship, indirect and with the best of intentions, but censorship nonetheless.

The emerging NC consensus must be broken before it becomes institutionalized. I hope that Wikipedia converting to BY-SA at some point will help to achieve this, but more is needed. People are starting to recognize the link between freedom of expression and alternative licencing again. It is a link that Lessig made in “Free Culture”, and it is the lost content of debate around the Creative Commons licences.

We need practical ways of re-emphasizing the link between free expression and alternative licencing, and in particular between free expression and copyleft (or ShareAlike). We need this quite urgently.

3 replies on “The Emerging NC Consensus”

Hmmm, I thought RMS supported a baseline of commercial use? Or has he recanted since the GPL?
But yup, urgent, yes.
It grieves me when people say that because NC has become so popular it is important to also use NC in order to remain compatible.

RMS regards cultural works and software as (several) different categories. His recent comments indicate that he believes that cultural works should have *at least* an NC copying right. My phrasing in the post isn’t clear, I may edit it.

Ah, yes, RMS has this strange idea that while software shouldn’t be subject to the constraints of copyright other intellectual works should be.
I think he’s confused the right to the integrity of a work with a reproduction monopoly. Integrity is a matter of truth, not a right to prevent someone modifying a work or creating a derivative.
Thus I can freely copy and modify your words, but I have no right to present a copy of your words as mine, nor to modify your words and present them as yours. Being primarily concerned with software I suspect RMS just defers that copyright’s fine and dandy for literary and aesthetic works. (be nice if it attributed authorship – I thought I recognised it)
As RMS says here:
“So the right place to draw the line for fair use is between commercial and non-commercial, not between public and private. For representative and aesthetic works, a limited system covering just commercial copying is strong enough to provide an incentive for authors. For functional works, where this would be too restrictive, fortunately we have found that people will develop them even without the artificial copyright incentive.”
I find myself in complete disagreement here. The right place to draw the line is public vs private, since this is the natural boundary of the private domain, i.e. you have a right do what you want in the privacy of your own home (even make copies or derivatives). There is no natural constraint on commerce – such constraints are granted by the state in the form of mercantile privileges, typically monopolies. People would otherwise be naturally free from such constraints and able to exchange their labour in a free market.
It almost seems as if RMS finds copyright quite reasonable as an incentive for authors…

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