Adapted from a talk and slide show I presented at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin on July 1, 2011. --NP
Crossposted from ninapaley.com

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

-- The Free Software Definition

These are the Four Freedoms of Free Software. They are foundational principles, and they are exactly right. They have served and continue to serve the Free Software Movement very well. They place the user's freedom ahead of all other concerns. Free Software is a principled movement, but Free Culture is not – at least not so far. Why?


Credit is Due (The Attribution Song)

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"Credit Is Due (The Attribution Song)" is one of the many memes in our Minute Memes series and was supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Animation, lyrics, and tune by Nina Paley. Music performed by Evanescent (Vocals & Ukelele: Bliss Blood, Guitar: Al Street). Sound Effects Design by Greg Sextro. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

High-res versions, song, and stills available for download at archive.org. (The direct YouTube page is here.)

Always give credit where credit is due
if you didn't write it, don't say it's by you
just copy the credit along with the work
or else you'll come off as an arrogant jerk

Always give credit where credit belongs
we know that you didn't write Beethoven's songs
pretending you did makes you look like a fool
unless you're Beethoven - in that case, it's cool

A transparent system makes cheating unwise
the simplest web search exposes your lies
no one wants their reputation besmirched
which happens to liars when they are web-searched

Proper citation will make you a star
it shows that you know that we know who you are
Plagiarization will only harm you
so always give credit where credit is due!

Mimi makes a copy of a Beethoven Symphony with a giant copy machine. Trouble starts when Eunice erases Beethoven's name and writes in her own. This makes Eunice look like an ass. Searching the Internet (itself a giant copy machine) confirms that Eunice is a liar. Eunice realizes her mistake and corrects it, but by then everyone's moved on - her plagiarism is barely a blip in the spread of correctly-attributed cultural works through copying.Mimi makes a copy 


For Love or Money: Vocationalism


Ivan Tsarevitch from Morevna Project

"Ivan Tsarevitch" from Morevna Project: I suppose you could call this "programmer art" since the artist is also one of the main developers of Synfig Studio (Konstantin Dmitriev | www.morevnaproject.org / CC-By-SA 3.0)

We need to change the words we use for serious free culture artists. I suggest "vocational": "a vocational work", "a vocational artist", "artists who show vocationalism in their work".

I thought about this as I was considering Nina Paley's story about trying to submit some of her own (very much "vocational" and also "professional") work to the Wikimedia Commons -- only to be disbelieved on the basis that her work was of too high a quality! This concept of "professional" versus "amateur" work has bothered me for a long time. Partly this may be because I often seem to be stuck in between: am I a professional writer or an amateur one? I get paid to write for Free Software Magazine, but I don't get paid very much, and I don't get paid at all to write for Question Copyright. But both tasks are very much a part of my vocation as a writer and as a free culture advocate. I expect to be judged on the same scale as any professional.

Another objection is that the stigma of "amateurishness" is sometimes assigned to free culture art. People speak snidely of "programmer art" (though of course, a few programmers are quite good artists, and vice-versa). I honestly believe that some artists hold back from freeing their work not because they are really worried about remuneration, but because they fear that releasing it for free will somehow cheapen the work (or them) by making it "unprofessional" or "amateur".

Of course, I'm bothered by that idea in itself. There's something a little dirty about the fact that we have so elevated commerce that we now implicitly place professional work (made for money) above amateur work (made for love). Surely there ought to be something a little more holy about work gifted to the world out of an artist's spiritual need than out of their need to pay the rent? (Not that paying the rent isn't important, but there ought to be some respect for the long perspective).



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