Remix Stallman, Anyone? (Or: Why Won't the Founder of Free Software Embrace Free Culture?)

Richard StallmanThis is a bit of inside baseball [*] in the copyright reform world, so we'll understand if you wonder what the big deal is.  But for those of us who were first inspired -- as I was -- by Richard Stallman's radical and prescient commitment to software freedom, his unwillingness to go the whole way and embrace Free Culture for non-software works is puzzling.

Recently we had some correspondence with an Internetizen known to us only as "openuniverse" or "libreuniverse", who resigned his membership in the Free Software Foundation over Stallman's insistence on exercising his state-granted monopoly to prevent derivative works from being made of his writings and speeches.

I phrase it that way for a reason.  Elsewhere, you might see it expressed as "Stallman's insistence on using his copyright to control what can be done with his works".  But Stallman himself understands these issues very well, and could easily spot the unspoken assumptions in that way of putting it.  No one was asking to change his works, or to attribute to him thoughts or expressions not his. No one's existing copies of Stallman's works would be changed.  Rather, openuniverse wanted to make a new work, using material from one of Stallman's books -- and Stallman quashed it.

Specifically, openuniverse asked:

i want to make a bash script (or python script) that is free software and contains the entirety of your book's text. (though it *might* have some parts in a different order, i'm not sure.)

(In this context, "script" means a computer program.)  Stallman's reply, which is consistent with what he's said elsewhere, was:

Sorry, you can't incude my essays in such a program.  Free programs can read my essays, but they need to be separate.

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A good sign: Blackboard.com bucks the trend and promotes a truly free license.

A very interesting announcement from Blackboard.com:

... Blackboard will now support publishing, sharing and consumption of open educational resources (OER) across its platforms. [...] Support for OER enables instructors to publish and share their courses under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) so that anyone can easily preview and download the course content in Blackboard and Common Cartridge formats...

What makes this big news is that these kinds of initiatives usually use one of the non-free Creative Commons licenses: one containing either no-derivatives ("ND") or non-commercial ("NC") clauses or both.  Instead, Blackboard.com bucked the trend and opted for full freedom: by offering CC-BY, they're encouraging users to choose a truly Free Culture license.  Let's hope others follow their fine example!

Kudos to Blackboard.com.  And congratulations to the educators and students who will now be able to share, translate, re-use, and transform educational materials for any purpose, without having to ask permission first.

Blackboard.com logo

Creative Commons Attribution license (3.0)

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Lawrence Golan Speaks about Golan v. Holder

Lawrence Golan (conducting)

Seal of the United States Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments Wednesday in Golan v. Holder, which argues against action taken by Congress to move thousands of works from the public domain back under copyright restrictions. It's not small beer in the copyright world. Google supports the challenge. The New York Times, Washington Post and others ran stories today.

Rich Bailey interviewed the plaintiff, conductor Lawrence Golan, for Question Copyright.  (Some of Golan's comments to us are similar to what's in the New York Times piece "Will Copyright Stifle Hollywood?" by Peter Decherney, an associate professor of film studies at the University of Pennsylvania.)

Here is a lightly edited transcript of Lawrence Golan's remarks:

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