Can (and should?) Openness be Defined as a Litmus Test?

David Wiley is against definitions of openness that excludes those that are not sufficiently ‘opening up’:

“The idea advocated by groups like the Open Knowledge Definition or the Free Cultural Works crowd that there should be a litmus test for openness really bothers me. Deeply bothers me. What is the point of crying from the rooftops that some content is “Open in Name Only?” Why must we, the “open” folks, be in the business of ideological purging like the politicians? If someone has gone out of their way to waive some of the rights guaranteed them under the law so that they can share their creative works – even if that action is to apply a relatively restrictive CC BY-NC-ND to their content – why aren’t we praising that? Why aren’t we encouraging and cultivating and nurturing that? Why are we instead decreeing from a pretended throne on high, “Your licensing decision has been weighed in the balance, and has been found wanting. You are not deemed worthy.” Why the condescension? Why the closed-mindedness? Why the race to create machinery like definitions that give us the self-assumed authority to tell someone their sharing isn’t good enough?

Why isn’t the open crowd more open-minded?

And I have to ask… Has their really not been any useful intellectual advancement in this field since Richard Stallman enumerated the four freedoms (1986) and Bruce Perens laid out the Debian Free Software Guidelines (1997)? I think the last decade has shown that content is different from software in meaningful ways. (For example, there are no objective tests to tell whether or not modifications of a still image, video, piece of music, or essay have improved that creative work.) Clinging to statements of principle laid down for software (apples) to help us think about all other creative works (oranges, bananas, kiwis, etc.) ten or twenty years later just doesn’t make sense to me. By slightly reworking the four freedoms or the DFSG, statements like “Freedom Defined” and the “Open Knowledge Definition” seem both (1) unwilling to acknowledge the important differences between software and other creative works and (2) all too anxious to find ways to exclude people from the club and tell them they’re not good enough.”

See also David Wiley’s critique of the Share Alike requirement of the OKF’s Open Content definition.

2 Comments Can (and should?) Openness be Defined as a Litmus Test?

  1. AvatarRob Myers

    Wiley once again demonstrates how “open” allows people to confuse themselves and others. We don’t praise non-free works for being free because they are not free. That is simple to explain and understand (and disagree with if one wishes to).

    “why aren’t we praising that?

    For much the same reason we don’t praise employers who almost pay their workers a living wage, musicians who almost perform at concerts, lawyers who almost win cases and bloggers who almost make a coherent argument for doing the things that they have not done. They haven’t done what they want the kudos for achieving. It would be dishonest and counter-productive to pretend that they have in the name of-what? Popularity? Coolness?

    “Excluding people from the club” is an emotive plea but it doesn’t hide the fact that it is a call to abandon the very principles it claims to be trying to further. People who wish to destroy, undermine or free-ride on what you are working towards are not your friends. It is the free culture equivalent of greenwashing.

    Wiley’s more interesting question is why standards applied to software should be applied to cultural works. I’ve posted about this but the quick version is that software and cultural works should all subject to free speech, they are all copyrightable texts, copyright is a restriction on free speech, and copyleft is the most effective way of neutralizing that restriction for everyone.

  2. AvatarJohnnyB

    a good point !

    trying to prevent ideology – try openness and try again – don’t follow priests of openness

    David Wiley’s point “content different from software” is worth to be discusssed:
    music for instance is full of quotations – there are musician being able to make 10 quotations in 10 seconds of improvisation
    music is performance – cannot be copied

    elements of a short story or novel can be “quoted” (or “stolen”),
    the point is: is the original better, or the remake?
    is the idea or the plot more important than the elaboration?

    if the remake is accompanied by an expensive marketing campaign to let forget, that it’s based on something …

    the key of the term opennness is
    is it transparent, that someone tried a remake or not?

    softworkers can copy pieces of code, they may have access to
    or they gather key ideas from a given, available working software
    or reinvent independently

    no one can judge, whether an implementation is based on a stolen idea (inside knowledge of a design or implementation) or if somebody invented independently

    but softworkers must not open their sources
    there are more ways of openness

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