Guerrilla Translation on adopting the Peer Production License

After discussing the proposal within our team, we at Guerrilla Translation have decided to license our translated content under a Peer Production License.

Extracted from “The Telekommunist Manifesto” as authored by John Magyar, B.A., J.D. and Dmytri Kleiner, the Peer Production License (henceforth PPL) is somewhat of a hybrid between a Copyleft and Creative Commons license. Kleiner himself describes it as a “Copyfarleft License”. The standout feature which distinguishes it from a standard Creative Commons non-commercial license is that it’s geared to create counter-economic networks for ethical economy players.

PeerProduction

Beta widgets for the PPL

How does it work?

PPL can be viewed as an answer to the some of the most common criticisms of both Creative Commons and Copyleft licenses.

In very broad terms, Creative Commons licenses, effectively (and ironically) delimit material from the Commons. They are, in fact sharing but not “commons” licenses, as they only allow the license holder to potentially profit and make a livelihood from their creative work. Copyleft, on the other hand, goes for broke in allowing not only reproduction and modification of the work, but also monetization without express consent for the holder.

The problem with Copyleft is that it effectively won’t stop any large, exploitative corporations or even regimes from appropriating and profiting from creative work originally produced within the Commons and dominating the open source economies which are built on the free labour of volunteers;

So, how do we keep this type of work within the Commons, while adding value and sustainability to those contributing to it?

The answer is by using a type of license that both creates a commons, but also favours the creation of an ethical economy of commons-oriented and commons-friendly market and other entities. The Peer Production License does this by opening up the commercial aspect of the ubiquitous Creative Commons ‘Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike’ and shutting down the possibility of profiteering by corporate agents.

To quote the license text (extracted from section 4 “Restrictions” subheadings “c” and “d”):

“c. You may exercise the rights granted in Section 3 for commercial purposes only if:

i. You are a worker-owned business or worker-owned collective; and

ii. all financial gain, surplus, profits and benefits produced by the business or collective are distributed among the worker-owners

d. Any use by a business that is privately owned and managed, and that seeks to generate profit from the labor of employees paid by salary or other wages, is not permitted under this license.

Why have we chosen it?

As expressed in our Founding Principles,  Guerrilla Translation is more about sharing than merely translating. Translation is the mechanism that enables us to network with authors and share stimulating ideas internationally. On top of sharing the results of our work in an open and freely distributed manner, we want to encourage similar collectives and players to benefit from them.

We believe in the license and want to promote it by way of example.  We’re also in a very particular and low risk position to do so, as the project is still in its infancy and principally features adaptations (ie translations) of original material which is itself licensed by the authors we translate. In this way, our translations can be seen a structure wrapped around an invisible center. The structure (translation) is free to experiment with the license, while the invisible center (the original) anchors it to whatever licensing arrangement the authors may have chosen.

But won’t someone take advantage of you?

It depends on your definition of “advantage”.  If a content curator is running valuable material while obtaining income from, say, advertising or having an Amazon store on their webpage; and if this person decides to run our translations and, thus, have them improve his or her chances of earning an income, we feel that this would be an advantageous situation for us, too.

Our understanding of PPL is that it fosters trust among peers. We want to encourage networks of gratitude and reciprocity (though not necessarily monetary) among the Commons. Our opinion is that gratitude is earned by acts of generosity and trust among friends.

Let’s analyse a hypothetical example of how to build this trust. Imagine that a newspaper which functions as a co-op and pays all its collaborators decides to republish our work without any sort of monetary compensation for us or the original authors. The license would allow them to do so. In an event like this, we’d consider their action to be discriminatory behaviour, but in terms of consequences, it would only affect the reputation of said newspaper within the meritocracy of the Commons. We think that this sort of reputation-based deterrence is very interesting, even if it lacks any sort of legal instruments, as it can foster better relations and a “watch each other’s backs” dynamic regarding unethical practises within the Commons and P2P movements.

PPL Concerns and Criticism

Our involvement with the license is not a passive one by any means. By being willful guinea pigs, we hope to encourage dialogue and meaningful criticism of it. The P2P wiki features some critiques of Kleiner’s original proposal and, since the announcement of our adaption of the PPL in social media, we’ve received some ourselves.

Here’s Josef-Davies Coates from United Diversity:

“I kind of like the sentiment that work cannot be used by horrible greedy people out only for themselves, but think the current version is far too restrictive and inflexible. There are MANY not-for-private-profit legal structures/ models that are not worker owned businesses nor collectives, e.g. charities/ ngos/ non-profits/ community benefit societies/ CICs, multi-stakeholder co-ops etc etc. [….] Also, not all value is created by workers anyway – the old fashioned Marxist idea that it is is just plain wrong imho – what about the multitude of other stakeholders that any organisation has? local/ wider community, customers, suppliers, investors, local/ national authorities etc. And what of ecosystems upon which all are utterly dependent in the first place?”

Lisha Sterling from Always Sababa

“Who is to determine what organization is “exploitative” and which is not? I know a lot of Non-profits which are quite exploitative. I had a job at one such org as a young mother that paid me minimum wage to work as a secretary. I earned less than a babysitter cost!! Remember also that when you tie something down *too* tightly, it just pushes people to break the rules. That goes for the Marxist as well as for the Capitalist”

 Where do we go from here?

Our answer is that, similar to how PPL attempts to answer a question and find a third way amongst contradictions, a new 2.0 version of the license can be developed based on these and other critiques.

This new version (tentatively dubbed the P2P License), while acknowledging Kleiner’s visionary proposal,  would aim to solve some of these concerns, while also employing a syntax more concordant with our vision of the Commons and where the style of language doesn’t become a factor of exclusion. It is important for us to include those that share our values while perhaps not our analysis. Guerrilla Translation’s semantic stance is post-capitalist, rather than merely “anti”, and it is important for us to reflect this train of thought in our choice of license.

We have begun discussions with Creative Commons itself regarding the incorporation of the PPL License (and of whatever future P2P License takes shape). Future developments will include a Common Deed and a simple website with a FAQ and links to adoptees of the license.

For the time being, it’s very gratifying to open the way for mutual support systems, both for culture and livelihoods in the Commons. It’s also worth mentioning that Sharelex, the legal collaborative construction tool, is also discussing an adaptation of the license, and we hope to hear from them soon.

These and other licenses are not the ultimate answer to the many contradictions and problems that have arisen (and are sure to arise) within the Commons and sharing movements, but, as Michel Bauwens has stated: “The aim here is not to prevent all “leaks”, but to make a statement by means of a hack, and to implement a strategy”.

2 Comments Guerrilla Translation on adopting the Peer Production License

  1. Lisha Sterling

    I’m such a trouble maker… I just thought of another question about this license.

    How do you define a “worker-owned cooperative” for the purposes of this license? In some cases this may be obvious, but in others not so much. Specifically, is it for the organization itself to decide that it’s worker-owned or is it for their local government’s definition of private versus cooperative business?

    If a husband and wife work together, maybe with their adult kids, but no non-family members, the company that they run is probably considered either a privately owned business or just a sole proprietorship. (Maybe just the wife’s name is on the legal papers.) In reality, though, all the workers (ie, family members) may be co-decision makers and co-investors in the business.

    I’m not trying to tear the license down. I LOVE the idea of it. I’m just trying to poke holes now so we can make it better.

  2. Rob Myers

    “In very broad terms, Creative Commons licenses, effectively (and ironically) delimit material from the Commons. They are, in fact sharing but not “commons” licenses, as they only allow the license holder to potentially profit and make a livelihood from their creative work.”

    This is incorrect. It is only the BY-NC, BY-NC-ND, and BY-NC-SA licenses that prevent others from *directly* profiting and making a livelihood from their creative work. BY-SA is essentially a copyleft license, although one that fetishises the idea of “sharing”. It allows any recipient of the work to directly profit from it and make a livelihood.

    “The problem with Copyleft is that it effectively won’t stop any large, exploitative corporations or even regimes from appropriating and profiting from creative work originally produced within the Commons and dominating the open source economies which are built on the free labour of volunteers”

    Copyleft means that the creative work of already dominating corporations and regimes will be returned to the commons. And that they cannot enclose it. This is a good thing, and removing this ability would be counter-productive.

    “So, how do we keep this type of work within the Commons, while adding value and sustainability to those contributing to it?”

    BY-SA and a good business model (with apologies to anyone for whom that’s a trigger word).

    “If a content curator is running valuable material while obtaining income from, say, advertising or having an Amazon store on their webpage; and if this person decides to run our translations and, thus, have them improve his or her chances of earning an income, we feel that this would be an advantageous situation for us, too.”

    Yes, exploitative economic activity can add value through the licenses. This principle is a general one.

    “Our understanding of PPL is that it fosters trust among peers.”

    By alienating workers from the products of their labour or by denying them the ability to redistribute corporate and state resources?

    It fosters mistrust through discrimination.

    “These and other licenses are not the ultimate answer to the many contradictions and problems that have arisen (and are sure to arise) within the Commons”

    Absolutely. They can however be the wrong answer.

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