Author: Karl Fogel

Tupi logo. has pledged $500.00 to the Tupi 2D Animation Software Kickstarter campaign, and we’re posting this to help spread the word.

Please join us and the other project backers, with whatever amount you can pledge!  Remember, your pledge is only called in if Tupi reaches their $30,000 goal by September 26th.

Tupi is already runnable code.  They’re on version 0.2 right now, and their goal in this campaign is to reach their 1.0 feature set, including installers for Macintosh and Windows.  (It’s already packaged for Debian and Ubuntu GNU/Linux; I’ve installed it.)

Our Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley (who also backed Tupi’s campaign personally) explained very well why projects like Tupi are important, in her post “It’s 2013.  Do you know where my Free vector animation software is?”.  When you’re an artist, you’re dependent on your tools — and that means when someone has a monopoly over your tools, they can play havoc with your art and your livelihood.  That’s exactly what happened with Adobe’s Macromedia Flash 8.  Read Nina’s post for the details, but basically Adobe decided to remove features from their Flash authoring software, in order to sell those features separately in other programs.  As Nina points out, the problem with this isn’t just the extra expense, it’s the increase in workload and production time.  And the looming threat that they might do it again in the next version.  They can yank the rug out from under their users at any time, and there’s nothing the users can do about it, except refuse to upgrade (which becomes less and less feasible as time goes on, of course).

Free, open source programs can’t do this to their users, because no one has a monopoly over the software.  If one group puts out a version of the software that is missing important features, users will shrug and start using a competing fork that treats them better.  It also means that if enough artists need a particular bugfix or improvement in the software, they have a path to make it happen — they don’t have to be programmers, as long as they can band together and hire programmers.  Users are not vulnerable to arbitrary decisions handed down from management, they way they are with proprietary software.  (Of course, the more likely scenario is that artists would band together and just pay Tupi’s original development team to make the necessary changes.  The fact that the users have the option to go elsewhere is precisely what makes the original authors likely to be responsive to true demand — a free-market ideal that proprietary software is structurally biased against attaining.)

Tupi has another thing going for it: Nina, an extremely experienced animator who knows the major competing proprietary tool very well, has publicly volunteered to test and provide feedback to open source animation projects, including Tupi.  (Nina says “Tupi’s strength is its simplicity; it’s great for kids and anyone new to animation. It doesn’t yet have the power I need to produce feature films, but its development is a good thing for all of us. …”)

So please help spread the word about Tupi’s Kickstarter campaign! (Here are links to retweet or redent our posts about it.)  You can read more about Tupi here, and this is their campaign video:

Happy Birthday cupcake.A documentary film company making a movie about the “Happy Birthday” song has filed a lawsuit against the music monopolist Warner/Chappell, asking it to return the hundreds of millions of dollars it has collected over the years in improper royalties for the public domain song “Happy Birthday”.

Claiming a monopoly they don’t even have, and then extorting people for it?  I just have no problem with suing over that.  This issue has been raised for years, but the amount Warner/Chappell asks from any given target is always less than it would cost to fight it in court, so people just paid up.  Until now.  (Warner/Chappell is hardly alone in this business model, by the way.)

The evidence in the filing looks pretty thorough, too (thanks to Techdirt and BoingBoing for their posts on this):

The full lawsuit, embedded below, goes through a detailed history of the song and any possible copyright claims around it. It covers the basic history of “Good Morning to You,” but also notes that the “happy birthday” lyrics appeared by 1901 at the latest, citing a January 1901 edition of Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal which describes children singing a song called “happy birthday to you.” They also point to a 1907 book that uses a similar structure for a song called “good-bye to you” which also notes that you can sing “happy birthday to you” using the same music. In 1911, the full “lyrics” to Happy Birthday to You were published, with a notation that it’s “sung to the same tune as ‘Good Morning.'” There’s much more in the history basically showing that the eventual copyright that Warner/Chappell holds is almost entirely unrelated to the song Happy Birthday to You.

The Techdirt post shows the full text of the suit.

[This is an editorial we submitted to the New York Times. They didn’t print it, alas — don’t worry, we’ll keep trying with other pieces — but we still think its message is important, so we’re publishing it here.]

In the last weeks of 2012, Dr. Oliver Sacks published a memorable essay in the New York Times Book Review, “Reading the Fine Print”, about how fewer and fewer books are being made available in large-print editions, and how this matters more and more to him as his vision deteriorates.

Let’s stop to ask: Why are they not available? Who or what, exactly, is behind this scarcity?

Sacks’s essay does not contain the word “copyright”. He looks everywhere else, attributing the decline of large-print editions to the rise of audiobooks (which he dislikes because they are a less engaging experience) and of digital reading devices like the Nook and the Kindle (which are difficult for him to use). After visiting the ravaged large-print section of the Strand bookstore in New York, he writes: “I came out frustrated, and furious: did publishers think the visually impaired were intellectually impaired too?”

This is the closest he comes to identifying the real cause of the problem, a cause entirely of our own making. If there is a ready demand for large-print books — and there is — then what can the explanation be, in a free market, for the steadily shrinking supply?

The answer, of course, is that we do not have a free market in books. We have a monopoly-controlled market: if the copyright holder decides not to offer a large-print edition, then those who need such an edition are out of luck. It does not matter that the readers would happily subsidize the print runs themselves, Kickstarter-style; it does not matter that many smaller and specialty publishers would gladly step into the gap to supply what the big players have decided isn’t worth the effort; it does not matter that on-demand print services would eagerly make large-print texts available in an instant, bound and ready to ship, if only they were allowed to. The system we use now does not permit any of these bottom-up solutions to happen at sustainable scale, because in a world where we’ve just built a gigantic, globe-spanning, low-cost copying machine — the Internet — we have also elected to keep, and indeed tighten, a monopolistic distribution system originally designed to regulate printing presses in the late seventeenth century.

That word “monopoly” shouldn’t be controversial. We’re used to hearing it about things like liquor distributorships in pliant jurisdictions, or energy utilities that successfully legislate competition out of the way. But if the word applies to anything, it surely applies to copyright: a government-enforced right to be the sole supplier of a text, song, etc, including the right to dictate which formats and which distribution channels copies and variants may circulate in. You’d think we’d be fairly cautious in handing out such a power, but instead in recent decades the monopoly lobby (to be fair, the sound recording and movie industries took the lead, more than the book publishers) have gotten it extended far beyond its original scope, both in terms of its per-work duration and of its censoring powers.

Once you start to see it as a policy choice, rather than as a law of nature — the latter being how that lobby would prefer you to think of it — all sorts of phenomena begin to look different. It’s not just about large-print editions. Do you have any idea how many translations are suppressed because rights cannot be negotiated? How many audio books are not recorded because the sole rights-holder couldn’t be interested enough to do it themselves, yet is still willing to prevent anyone else from doing it? Did you know that neither the FDA nor private-sector patient protection organizations can review crucial software code in medical devices, because the manufacturers assert copyright and refuse to circulate the code?

For that matter, should George Lucas be the only person in the world who can make Star Wars movies, no matter how badly he botches them? The issue is not that Lucas shouldn’t be free to make any movie he wants, it’s that the pernicious nature of monopoly, and of the “get permission first” culture it creates, means there is not true competition in the market: no one else is free to try and do better.

The industry’s response to this would be, as it has been for centuries, that it is the only way to pay authors. This is laughable. The system was not designed to pay authors and mostly does a lousy job of that. It was really designed to subsidize, and to a lesser degree regulate, distributors, which it accomplishes very well — otherwise they would not argue so regularly and noisily for its expansion.

There’s no shortage of concrete recommendations to improve the situation. My organization is but one of many calling for us to step back from the brink and return to treating culture as something people don’t need permission to participate in. For starters: bring back registration requirements and renewals; require a fee to maintain a monopoly license; distinguish attribution law from copying law (their current conflation is both the result and the servant of the monopolist’s cause); do away with retroactive extensions, retroactively; shorten copyright terms; etc.

But what we need first is a fundamental change in how we think about copyright. It is not a natural law, nor is it even rooted in the common-law doctrine of property ownership. It is a monopoly created by statute, with only the purposes and powers given to it by statute. If it’s not doing what most people want it to do, we can and should fix it, without sentimental and historically suspect notions that a three-century old industrial regulation is somehow the shield of the artist. Indeed, the current system hurts artists perhaps most of all.

There are signs that the dam is starting to break. Recently, a researcher with the Republican Study Committee circulated a position paper [1] that said nothing more shocking than what I’ve said above: that copyright is a monopoly-based policy, that it should ideally be shaped toward the public good with all assumptions on the table for inspection, that such reconsideration has not yet happened, and that a party that wants to be in tune with younger voters and with future trends would do well to start looking at the issue with fresh eyes. Such is the strength of the Hollywood lobby that those ideas would have been unthinkable for a major party researcher to produce even a few years ago. Apparently they are still pretty edgy, because the position paper was immediately disavowed by the RSC and the researcher, Derek Khanna, was fired shortly thereafter. But he was right, and I hope Oliver Sacks is reading a large-print version of his paper right now.

[1] We originally referred to Derek Khanna’s paper for the Republican Study Committee as a “draft”, but since then have learned that it was not merely a draft — it was a finalized position paper, later retracted. Techdirt has more about the incident, and Khanna’s paper itself is here: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix It.

Cómo liberar tu trabajo

Fuente: How To Free Your Work por Nina Paley

Traducido por Valentina: [Reemplacen # x @-Muchas Gracias a ella!!]

[Al final dejamos una aclaración para la Argentina]


  1. Teoría:

¿Por qué debería liberar mi trabajo?

Para hacer lo más fácil posible que la gente comparta tu trabajo –lo
más fácil posible para llegar a sus ojos, oídos y mentes –para
alcanzar una audiencia.

Y para hacer lo más fácil posible que la audiencia apoye, incluso

Las formas de apoyo de la audiencia incluyen:

  1. Dinero
    – el público quiere apoyar a los artistas que le gustan. Un botón de “Donar” les da un mecanismo fácil apra hacerlo. El público compra merchandising de artistas que le gustan por la misma razón.
    Dales una “Razón para comprar” y lo harán.

  2. Trabajo
    –algunos fans pueden hacer websites, vender merchandising en conciertos, ayudar en promociones, etc. Si necesitás ayuda, pedísela primoero a tu público. Nadie está más motivado para ayudarte que tus verdaderos fans.

  3. Promociones
    – las recomendaciones boca a boca son las más efectivas para la promoción, y el público lo hace sin ninguna imposición si el trabajo les gusta.

  4. Distribución

    – la llamada “piratería” es un servicio extremadamente valioso. La distribución sin ayuda del público es cara: imagínate si tuvieras que pagar cada copia de tu trabajo (como pagar por una edición de libros o cds), y después almacenarlos y distribuirlos hacia cada potencial espectador. ¿Querés que 1000 personas escuchen tu canción? Imaginate si tuvieras que pagar al menos $1000 para tener al menos la chance –sin incluir costos de almacenamiento y envío. Entonces, por supuesto, podés cobrarles por el privilegio de escuchar tu canción, vendiéndoles cds pero la
    barrera del costo hace que sea todavía más difícil que quieran escucharte. Cuando el público distribuye tu trabajo por vos, ellos asumen los costos de hacer y compartir las copias, no vos. La distribución del público no te cuesta nada.

  5. Archivar
    – el costo de archivar de forma privada tu trabajo es muy alto; los fans lo hacen gratis. Mientras más libre es el trabajo, más grande va a ser el archivo, especialmente a medida que cambian las tecnologías y los formatos. Los cds y dvds pueden volverse obsoletos, pero los fans migran los trabajos de un formato a otro, asegurándose que siempre estén accesibles y actualizados. Ejemplo:
    las películas de copia restringidase desintegran en latas.
    Digitalizarlas es caro; digitalizarlas sin permiso es un riesgo demasiado grande como para invertir en eso. Sin un público que ayude, estos costos tienen que ser financiados exclusivamente por el dueño del copyright. Los formatos de los archivos digitales son notablemente inestables; muchos discos duros de hace diez años son incompatibles con la tecnología de hoy. Los códigos de video cambian rápido, y nadie sabe cuáles permanecerán en uso y cuales serán viejos. Un dueño de derechos puede continuamente buscar qué nuevos formatos están evolucionando, y asegurarse de migrar sus archivos. De todas formas, es factible que se pierda algunos cambios de formato; es muy difícil para una sola entidad abarcar todas las innovaciones tecnológicas. Los formatos análogos son más seguros, porque no cambian tan rápido, pero archivar films de 35mm es extraordinariamente caro. El negativo tiene que transferirse a films
    de archivo, y después guardarse en instalaciones seguras. Si algo pasa en esa instalación, o no se paga el alquiler, se pierde el archivo. En cambio, la cultura libre abre la posibilidad de tener el sistema de archivo más sólido, descentralizado y actualizado que pueda existir; el público y sus aparatos.

    Restricciones de copia: colocar una barrera entre usted, el artista, y la mayoría de las formas de apoyo. Mediante la eliminación de las barreras de derechos de autor, se hace posible la recepción de dinero y otros tipos de apoyos de su público, ya sea directamente oa través de distribuidores, lo que aumenta sus posibilidades de éxito.

  1. Práctica:
    Cómo liberar tu trabajo

  1. Armá tu propio website

Cómo armar un website

Hay miles de formas de armar un website, desde contratar a profesionales de diseño y sistemas, hasta un blog gratis. Asumiendo que estás quebrado y no tenés habilidades tecnológicas, esta es la forma más fácil:

  1. Registrate en  WordPress blog.
    Es gratis y fácil.

  2. Seguí las instrucciones

Eso es todo. Tu propio website, gratis, con miles de templates para elegir y un montón de ayuda de wordpress. ¡Eso es todo lo que necesitás! Claro que podés tener algo más avanzado, pero ya requiere más habilidades, tiempo, y/o plata. Un blog gratis de wordpress es más que suficiente para empezar.

  1. Conseguí cuentas de PayPaly Flattr .
    Agregá botones “Donar” y “Flattr” en el website.

  2. Elegí una licencia libre

¿Qué es una licencia libre?

Una licencia libre es lenguaje legal por encima del copyright. En nuestro actual régimen de copyright, todo tiene copyright, quieras o no. Lo que escribo acá tiene copyright, por más de que no quiera.
Actualmente no hay ningún modo de “salirse” del copyright. Todo lo que podés hacer es adjuntar una “Licencia libre” al trabajo, que les da a los usuarios algunas libertades que el copyright automáticamente quita.

Una licencia libre garantiza Cuatro Libertades de Cultura Libre:

  1. La libertad de ver, escuchar, leer, o participar del trabajo;

  2. La libertad de estudiar, analizar y fragmentar copias de tu trabajo, adaptándolo a tus necesidades;

  3. La libertad de redistribuir copias para ayudar a los que te rodean;

  4. La libertad de mejorar el trabajo, y mostrar tus mejoras al público, para que todos se beneficien.

Creative Commons es la marca más famosa de licencias libres, sin embargo la mayoría de las licencias libres de Creative Commons ¡no son gratis! Que la licencia tenga la marca Creative Commons no significa que sea gratis.
De hecho, la mayoría de las licencias tiene restricciones incompatibles con la Cultura Libre.

Las 3 licencias gratis que ofrece Creative Commons son:



Si ves las letras NC o ND en cualquier lado de una licencia Creative Commons, no es gratis. Tené cuidado: usá sólo las de arriba, sino, tu trabajo no va a ser gratis y puede que alejes a esos fans, que tanto ayudarían.

Otras licencias gratis para trabajos culturales son la Creative Commons y la  WTFPL.

Como todas las licencias van por encima del copyright, pueden verse como validando o extendiendo el alcance de la ley de copyright. Para los que ya están hartos de las leyes actuales y la interferencia de abogados en la esfera cultural, una “no-licencia” puede ser conveniente. Las no-licencias no son licencias, son manifiestos de
intención: que el artista quiere que su trabajo sea copiado. Éstos no están por encima de ninguna ley vigente, a la vez que tratan de evitar las leyes (y la fuerza estatal que la respalda).

Nuestra no-licencia favorita es  Copyheart, que se ve así:

Copying is an act of love.
Please copy and share.

Tanto si usás una licencia libre aprobada por un abogado o una no-licencia, es crucial que dejes a tu público saber que son libres de copiar, compartir y construir sobre tu trabajo. Mientras resulta tentador directamente ignorar el copyright, tu público puede no saber que tu trabajo es libre a menos que se lo digas. Tratá entonces de incluir una nota de Licencia Libre o un mensaje Copyheart, donde sea que postees tu trabajo.

Más sobre Licencias Libres acá:

  • 4.
    Subí archivos a

Cuando subís un trabajo a aparece una ventana como esta:

Llená los campos (no como el ejemplo, deberías incluir un link a tu website in la caja “description”), después hacé click en “choose a license”. te deja adjuntar licencias gratis y pagas de Creative Commons para subir tus trabajos. Es muy importante especificar FREE license durante el proceso. no te deja especificar licencias por nombre; en cambio, te aparece una caja de diálogo en la que te pide que chequees las opciones.
Para especificar una licencia libre, tenés que elegir entre
CC-BY-SA, CC-BY, o CC-0.

Para especificar  CC-BY-SA, chequeá las opciones como sigue:

Permitir usos comerciales de tu trabajo? SI

Permitir modificaciones de tu trabajo? SI, siempre y cuando los otros también lo compartan

Para especificar CC-BY, chequeá las opciones como sigue:

Permitir usos comerciales de tu trabajo? SI

Permitir modificaciones de tu trabajo? SI

Para especificar  CC-0, clickeá en el link CC-0.

Una vez que hayas seleccionado tus opciones, clickeá “Seleccionar licencia”. Debería aparecer una ventana así:

cc-by-sa confirmation

Cuando el archivo se subió por completo, clickeá “Compartir archivos”. creará una página para que tu trabajo se vea más o menos así:


Copiá la URL de tu y linkeala desde tu website y cualquier otro lado. Por ejemplo, la URL de esta página es

  1. Poné el link de en tu website. También escribí sobre el trabajo y posteá versiones directamente en tu website, si es posible.

Formatear tu trabajo para compartirlo.

Querés que tu trabajo sea lo más fácil de copiar como sea posible. Un texto es más fácil de ser leído si está formateado para browser y e-readers. Una canción es más fácil que la usen para películas, videos, bailes o remixes si está disponible en alta calidad .wav; es más fácil que los fans la compartan si está en
 .mp3 o .ogg. Las imágenes que más fácilmente se comparten en websites están en baja resolución en jpegs and .pngs, per pueden tener más aplicaciones en .svg, .eps o en alta resolución  TIFF.
Lo ideal es que lances tu trabajo en la mayor variedad de formatos.

¿Pero cómo lo hago? Reformatear puede ser un embole, y encima cómo sabés qué formatos quiere el público?

Ahí es donde vienen los fans. Pediles ayuda. Aunque sólo tengas uno, o un puñado. Lanzá un master
y pediles que lo conviertan a otros formatos. Si sos músico, subí una versión descomprimida .wav de una canción en después pediles que lo conviertan en .mp3, .ogg, y otros formatos, y repostealos en, o cualquier lado para compartir archivos.

Yo lancé las ilustraciones de  “Avatars of Vishnu” en archivos .png de alta resolución. Un fan en seguida los pasó a .svg.

Cuando los fans saben que subís tu trabajo con licencias libres, ellos los pueden convertir en formatos más usables. Además de darte un servicio valioso, este trabajo fortalece el lazo entre artistas y fans; lo que Mike Masnick llama CwF (connect with fans).

  1. Si trabajás en video, subilo a  Youtube y Vimeo además de incluí links a y tu website en el campo “descripción”. Posteá el video en tu website.

  2. Promocioná. Decile a todos tus fans. Pediles que lo difundan. Si estás en Twitter, Facebook o cualquier otra red social, posteá que tu trabajo es libre y gratuito. Asegúrate de mencionar la licencia específica, así saben que es libre. Incluí un link a tu website.

¿Y si no quiero promocionar mi trabajo online?

Internet no es para todos. No todos quieren pasar tiempo en Facebook o Twitter; no todos enganchan la onda. No todos quieren bloguear, mandar mails, o lo que sea que se hace ahora. Una solución es forzarte a aprender usar estas herramientas, pero hay otra opción: decile a tus fans que lo hagan por vos.

Si sos un músico que da shows en vivo, pedí voluntarios de “social media” en tu próxima actuación. Si sos un artista al que no le gusta internet, pero va a eventos y fiestas en la vida real, difundí entre tus amigos, fans y compañeros. Si sos profesor, decile a tus alumnos que necesitás ayuda. Otros pueden hacer la promoción online
por vos –si los dejás. La mejor manera de dejarlos es darles una participación en tu trabajo y no tratar de controlarlos. De nuevo, liberar tu trabajo es la clave para obtener este servicio. Entonces los fans no están trabajando para vos, están trabajando con vos. Si ponés restricciones a las copias de tu trabajo, tus fans se van a
sentir explotados. Liberando tu trabajo, les hacés sentir que están en el mismo equipo.

  1. Si tenés algo que vender en relación con el trabajo (DVDs, CDs, remeras, llaveros, servicios, trabajos a pedido, etc.) dejálos disponibles cuando des a conocer el trabajo. Si tenés una tienda virtual, linkeala. Si das shows, llevá cosas a las funciones y que alguien las venda por vos. Decile a la gente que pueden comprar merchandising en el show.

¿Cómo hago plata?

Hay infinitas formas de ganar plata con trabajos libres. Liberarlos es el primer paso.

Mi modelo de negocio es “El contenido es gratis, el soporte no. Usá el recurso ilimitado para vender el recurso limitado”.  free_vs_not_free

Sólo porque el contenido sea libre, no significa que no puedas vender “soportes”: libros, discos, impresiones, pinturas y otros. Un ejemplo exitoso es el de mi tienda online Sita Sings the Blues”.
Los autores que tienen e-books gratis venden más libros de papel (piensen en Paulo Coelho). Mientras más contenido circule gratis, mayor será la demanda de objetos.

Relacionado a esto, aunque no es exactamente lo mismo, es, que actúa con el modelo básico para artistas CwF+RtB “Conectar con los fans + razones para comprar”. En la página podés encontrar muchas formas de ganar dinero a través de tu arte. Aunque acá no se considera un prerrequisito que el trabajo sea libre, esto lo hace mucho mejor.

  1. Dejáte llevar. No hay límites de tiempo. Una vez que el trabajo está liberado, en cualquier momento puede ser descubierto. No hay garantías de éxito en el arte. Ya hiciste lo tuyo: deshiciste el obstáculo de las copias restringidas. El resto depende del mundo.
    Ahora podés pensar en tu próxima obra!

¿Cómo consigo fans?

Poniendo tu obra ahí afuera. Hacé lo que querés que vean, y compartilo. Sé paciente. Puede llevar un tiempo. Lo más importante que podés hacer en este nivel es enfocarte en tu producción y liberarla lo mejor que puedas, para que tarde o temprano otros puedan encontrarla y compartirla.

 Fuente: How To Free Your Work por Nina Paley

Muchas Gracias a Valentina: por la traducción!

Entrevista a Nina Paley: Hagan Cultura No Leyes!


Guía de Licencias Creative Commons de Argentina.

Algo importante:

“Es aconsejable que antes de elegir cualquier licencia el autor / autores de las obras intelectuales las registren en la Dirección Nacional de Derecho de Autor. Si bien las licencias Creative Commnos pueden obtenerse sin realizar este paso, ya que permiten expresar el derecho de autor, el registro previo de las obras es importante para agregar una protección más frente a posibles usos indebidos de las mismas. Este registro autor/es y de su contenido. Entre otras cosas, facilita la prueba y la presunción de autoría. Da protección, certeza de la existencia de la obra, de su título…”

Dirección Nacional del Derecho de Autor
Algo más en nuestra lista de correo.

Producing Open Source Software (front cover)Why is free so hard?

I got an email from what I believe to be a reputable publishing and online training company, asking about training opportunities based (presumably) on my book.  I wasn’t really interested in doing online training, and anyway if I were I’d first talk to O’Reilly Media, my current publisher, with whom I have a good relationship and who have been very supportive of the book.

So I eventually wrote this (after an initial round of conversation):

Thanks for the inquiry. I’m not really looking to get involved in online training, personally, but am perfectly happy to have my materials used by someone else doing online training if they wish, and of course the free licensing means that’s possible.
Best of luck,

But freedom is so alien a concept nowadays that that didn’t work — here’s their response:

Thanks for your response. Yes, I would like to pursue your materials for online training as you suggest.  Please either recommend someone who you would feel comfortable partnering with (ie allowing this person use of your materials in courses) or let me know if you are open to looking at candidates that I can suggest.

Can you bullet the 3 top subject areas that you would be interested in contributing course materials if you would like to pursue this idea. I can understand you are very busy with your existing projects, so if it is too time consuming to consider further, that’s no problem.

I would prefer to serve the audience if you wish to share materials that would be particularly useful as I continue in the cause of tech publishing moving information to the people who need it most.

I’d love to know what readers think of my response below, because (as our artist-in-residence Nina Paley has also found) this comes up all the time, and it’s difficult to know how to answer it clearly enough.  Here’s my second response:

Well… I think you may be new to free licensing? 🙂

It means you don’t have to ask my permission nor necessarily have my involvement.  My books are released under open copyright.  The details (for the book most likely to be of interest to [redacted], I guess) are at

This is also how open source software works.  I just release my books under the same kinds of terms as used for open source software.

If I were involved in developing this project with [redacted], then I would charge for my time.  But I don’t charge for the use of materials I wrote, because I’ve renounced the monopoly powers that would otherwise require you to get my permission.  You can just use the materials, including making modifications and adaptations.  Freedom means freedom! And I’m totally serious when I say I’d love for you to take advantage of it, if you want to.



Aaron SwartzYesterday, we lost one of the smartest, most politically aware, and most dedicated advocates for freedom we have had so far in the Internet age; we also lost a truly engaged, honest, and fundamentally good-hearted young person, who was unfairly hounded by U.S. federal prosecutors for a non-crime (in fact, an act intended as a service) that they have misrepresented throughout their prosecution.

Aaron Swartz took his own life yesterday, at the age of 26.  He was facing multiple felony charges; if convicted he could have gone to jail for thirty-five years, and owed over a million dollars in fines.  His “crime” was that he downloaded too many articles from JSTOR, an online service providing access to academic articles.  He downloaded more articles than JSTOR’s terms of service allowed, therefore he was in violation of their terms of service, therefore (according to the prosecution’s interpretation) he violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  JSTOR themselves were not interested in pressing charges — this was federal prosecutors deciding to make an example.  Now they have unintentionally succeeded, tragically and in a way that I hope, for the sake of their own souls, they never anticipated.  Stubbornly, and characteristically, Aaron was unwilling to take a plea deal and be labeled a “felon” when he had done nothing wrong; he insisted on pleading not guilty.  At this point, with JSTOR not cooperating, the defendant clearly feeling sincerely innocent, and a great many people already publicly defending Aaron, the prosecution team should have taken a step back and asked themselves “Why do we need a kid to go to jail for most of the rest of his life for something that’s not even wrong enough for the supposed victim to want to press charges?  What good would it serve?”  Instead, they utterly failed to understand Aaron’s well-articulated position on freedom of information, failed to see that making copies of articles from an academic service is not a property rights issue nor should even be a criminal matter, failed to consider that sending a young man to jail until he’s past sixty just to make an example — a pointless example, at that — would be profoundly immoral.

There are many remembrances already on the Internet, but two in particular stand out: Rick Perlstein’s and Lawrence Lessig’s.  Both are personal remembrances, but both make the point (Rick even more directly in a separate Facebook post) that it would be a mistake to reflexively pathologize this and blame it simply on Aaron’s occasional depression.  In Rick’s words, from a Facebook conversation: “I would downplay the depression angle. The big piece he wrote about his depression came when he was 17. When I talked to him about my own depression a year ago, he really didn’t respond as a fellow-traveler. I can’t say precisely, but I don’t think it was a huge part of his life. Having his soul gnarled down to a nub by a Javert had much more to do with it, I think.”  You’d be depressed too if the might of the U.S. federal judicial system seemed dedicated to sending you to jail for most of your life over an essentially altruistic act that harmed no one.  I can’t read Aaron’s mind and don’t know what he was thinking, but the relentlessness of that system bearing down on him was there, every day, with no sign of respite.  Whether one is prone to depression or not, that’s a hard, hard road.  And your friends and allies may defend you till they’re blue in the face, but they’re not going to be there in the jail cell with you.

Lessig was a close friend of and a defender of Aaron, and his post shows his justified anger now.  With both respect and sympathy, I still think it’s important to disagree with one small portion of what he said: if what the government alleged was true … then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.

As we wrote here when he was charged, Aaron didn’t do anything wrong.  He made copies of articles that were not confidential, that are now publicly accessible anyway, and all indications are that he was doing so for altruistic purposes.  He did engage in some subterfuge, to work around barriers to access, but there’s a good argument to be made (no doubt the courts would not have permitted him to make it) that this was justified, or at least defensible.  Lessig has this one thing precisely backwards: what Aaron did was not morally wrong at all; it may have been legally wrong, though even that’s not clear.  (Peter Sunde’s touching post about Aaron, which I only saw after writing the rest of this, makes the same point.)  At least some of the federal charges rely on an overly broad interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that essentially outsources key determinations to private web site operators’ Terms of Service agreements, thus criminalizing matters that should be purely in the domain of civil law.  Again, note that JSTOR refused to press civil charges.  If you want to understand in more technical detail what Aaron did and the context in which he did it, read Alex Stamos’ excellent post: The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”.  And for a broader understanding of Aaron’s work, you really should read Tim Carmody’s amazing piece “Memory to myth: tracing Aaron Swartz through the 21st century”.

No one’s life should be reduced to a symbol for a cause.  Aaron was a truly engaging person, loved by many, and as serious as one could be about living life with a purpose.  We first met during a trip to Europe in the winter of 2006-2007, where we ran into each other in the same cities (Berlin, Stockholm) — not as much of a coincidence as it sounds, as we were there for some of the same reasons: to meet with some free culture activists in Europe, as well as just have a good time on the road, and he was traveling with a group of friends some of whom I knew as well.  One night we were all staying in the same room (in the apartment of a generous fellow traveler, in the other sense of the word “traveler”) talking, and I happened to catch a glimpse of what Aaron had packed for his trip to Europe.  He was 19 or at most 20 at the time.  His bag must have been three-quarters full of books — serious, hardcover books on history, politics, science, economics, and many other topics.  I remarked on this, and to hear him explain it you would think it was the most natural thing in the world to pack only a few changes of clothes but enough reading material to run several simultaneous in-depth academic seminars.  Subsequent conversations, then and later back in the U.S., made it clear that this was no affectation: he had brought the books because this was a chance to read, and he loved learning.  He was really reading them, too, and was happy to talk about them.  I didn’t give him enough credit in the first couple of conversations; his well-deserved intellectual reputation preceded him, but I didn’t understand how much he could already know and think at 19.  I soon corrected that mistake.  His observations could be sharp and probing, but what stood out for me was his conversational maturity.  The stereotype of the young hotshot is that he has to win every argument — Aaron didn’t, and in fact he was an excellent, attentive listener as well as having interesting things to say and, yes, brilliantly holding the floor when it was appropriate to do so.  As much as any of his many accomplishments, or his substantial intellectual gifts, it was this self-imposed maturity that I found most impressive.  He already knew what he believed in, and that he had the ability to get things done for the causes he made his own.  What probably took real work was making himself able to appreciate and learn from and collaborate with those less talented or less knowledgeable than himself — which is just about all of us — and he succeeded.  He did it.  He became (or perhaps always was, and just had to grow into it) a mensch, someone any of his friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers were glad to see and talk with at any time.  And now he’s gone.  He will not be forgotten.

Update: many moving tributes are now being collected at, and the Internet Archive has started the Aaron Swartz Collection to form a permanent online digital archive of Aaron’s life and work; if you have emails, photos, video, or audio of Aaron, please contribute it there. logo.Y’all aware of the good work that is doing? has a very simple mission: to free digital books.  Their method is simple too: get people to chip in money (crowdfunding style), then pay the rightsholder to release the book in digital form under a liberal license.  The crowdfunding method is the same threshold pledge system that Kickstarter uses: pledgers only pay if the campaign succeeds. will allow the rights holder to choose a non-free license that limits commercial use or derivative works, but at a minimum unglued works always get at least verbatim copyability.  And as it happens, their most recent success, Oral Literature in Africa,was released under a truly free license, the Creative Commons Attribution license.  The amount of freedom in the world has strictly gone up, thanks to their campaign, and a good work has been liberated.  Here it is, if you want to grab a copy!

For a while, everything fell apart because Amazon decided it couldn’t allow the crowdfunding model anymore.  But the folks at are pretty persistent, and they started looking at other payment processors.  (By the way, Eric Hellman’s post on choosing a crowdfunding payment processor for is a great summary of the options out there.)  They eventually solved the problem, and they’re back in business.

So: what do you want liberated next?

This proposal is a rewrite of one we first ran five years ago here at QCO. Since then, meaningful copyright (and patent) reform proposals have gradually been gaining ground. You know you’re making progress when someone gets fired from the U.S. Republican Study Committee for writing a policy brief that speaks sanely about copyright. Because the policy climate is changing, we’re re-introducing our proposal (cross-posted at Falkvinge on Infopolicy and the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom) with an updated and clarified explanation. For many readers, it still won’t go far enough — it’s not abolition, for example. But proposals like this succeed first by reframing debate. In this case, the point is that if a government is going to offer private monopolies at all, it should at least reserve the public a way out of them.

The Liberation Point: Managing Monopolies for the Public Good

What would a truly free-market approach to copyrights and patents look like?

The problem we have right now is this:

Liberation point: monopoly value vs liberation value, over time

The flat green line represents the value to the public of de-monopolizing the work — think of it as “what the public would be willing to pay for unrestricted access”. The point where the curved blue slope crosses the green line is the point where there is no longer any public or private purpose to having a monopoly. From that moment on, the value of the monopoly to the rights-owner is equal to or less than the value of de-monopolization. Yet today, the monopoly continues beyond that point. The green line is simply ignored in the current system: we pretend it does not exist.

(The graph is a simplification, but not in ways that matter to this proposal.)

You might think there’s already a market solution. After all, in the current system, anyone could in theory be offered a fixed sum to liberate their work into the public domain [1]. But markets don’t quite work the way we’d hope. This is is why we have eminent domain in real property, for example. As soon as someone starts talking about building an airport in some farm fields, all of a sudden every farmer decides their field is worth ten times as much as it was the day before, such that no airports could ever be built if we did not use the pre-rumor valuations. It is the same with copyrights and patents: the mere expression of interest in re-use drives up the price instantly, and the perpetual optimism of rights-holders ends up stretching their monopoly past its natural market end — hurting everyone else and preventing further re-use, yet frequently without realizing the benefit the rights-holder hoped for. We all lose.

But unlike with land, there’s a way out, because there’s a third thing we can do besides sell or not sell: we can liberate. That makes all the difference.

The Liberation Point system

Suppose things worked this way instead — I’ll use copyrights for the sake of discussion, but this applies to patents too:

A new work gets an initial automatic copyright term, as it does today but much shorter: maybe a few weeks or months from publication, enough to ensure there’s time for the owner to register the work if they wish to extend the monopoly.

If the copyright owner does not register, the work simply enters the public domain [2].

But there’s an alternative: instead of letting the monopoly lapse, the copyright owner can choose to register the work for continuation of copyright (renewable annually), with a registration fee proportional to the self-declared value of the work. That is, the copyright owner picks a number of dollars (yuan, euros, whatever) that she claims the work is worth. It can be any number at all, but the yearly registration fee will be a percentage of it — for discussion’s sake, say 1%. The exact proportions don’t matter here: it could be 0.5% or 2% instead of 1%, registration could be semi-yearly instead of yearly, etc. The idea is the same, regardless of how you set the knobs.

Now comes the key:

Since that declared value is now a matter of public record, anyone can pay it to the copyright owner to liberate the work into the public domain. This is not a purchase, it is a liberation. Prior to liberation — whether it comes through payment or through term expiration — people would still be free to sell or lease their copyrights, for whatever price they can get (which, interestingly, may be higher or lower than the registered value — the market dynamics behind that decision are just as rich as those involved in determining exclusivity value under today’s copyright system). But whoever the owner is, whether the author or someone else, they’re responsible for keeping up the registration. And while the work is still under registration, anyone can come along and pay the registered owner the declared value to liberate it.

Liberation, unlike purchase or lease, is a mandatory transaction. The justification is that since the registrant chose the price in the first place, it is by definition fair: it was self-declared. Furthermore, these are after all public monopolies, and the public’s ultimate interest is in having works be available without restriction. For governments to hand out monopolies with no escape clause has always been an abdication of responsibility. If there is a way to fix that, we should take it.

The copyright holder has an incentive not to declare too high a value, because she’ll have to pay a percentage of it to register; she has an incentive not to declare too low, because then someone will come along and liberate the work very quickly at a low price (though some artists will find that liberation is economically a better deal for them anyway, and simply not register, or register at a declared value of zero in order to get a timestamp for attribution purposes).

Because the value of a work may change over time, the registrant may adjust the declared value up or down each year when renewing the registration [3]. This is also one of the reasons behind that brief initial registration-free monopoly term: it gives the copyright holder a chance to judge the work’s monopoly value, information she can use to decide how much to register the work for.

Whether indefinite renewal should be available is an open question. Personally I think not, for two reasons: first, because there has simply never been a compelling argument for perpetual copyright and most jurisdictions do not have it. Second, because awareness of an approaching horizon will pressure registrants to set lower liberation prices as that horizon comes closer — which is the right direction for things to move, from the public’s point of view, since even the most confident authors cannot reliably predict years ahead of time which monopolies will remain valuable, and therefore far-future valuations do not have a significant incentivizing effect anyway.

But even if indefinite renewal were permitted, the system still has desirable effects. The tendency of monopolies to accumulate in media conglomerates (who then press for Internet censorship to preserve those monopolies) would be greatly lessened by the cost of maintaining all those registrations. Forced to choose which assets are really valuable, the companies would have to lower the liberation values for many works, thus providing the fertile ground for re-use and innovation that artists, other publishers, and the rest of us are denied under the current system.

On “Balance”

While this proposal is a compromise, it’s at least a compromise tilted toward the public interest. By analogy, think of a homeowner who cuts a driveway opening onto a public street in order to gain access to a private garage. If I take a streetside parking space away from the public, I expect to pay the city (that is, the public) a fee, and usually annually, too, not just a one-time fee. Similarly, a copyright owner who wants to keep a work out of the public domain should pay for that privilege. But unlike a garage, this privilege need not be permanent, because losing monopoly control over a work is not as serious as losing one’s indoor parking space.

This system would go a long way toward alleviating the orphan works problem, by ensuring that the copyright owner of a work could always be found (someone must be paying the fees over at the registry), and toward alleviating the ghost works problem (in which derivative works are suppressed), by setting a maximum amount of money that, in the age of Kickstarter, would usually still be attainable by a motivated party who wanted to see that work in the public domain.

The copyright lobby frequently talks of finding an appropriate “balance” between the needs of creators and the needs of the public. Like many appeals to balance, it is a smokescreen for something else: in this case, for efforts to increase copyright terms and restrictions beyond their already absurd lengths. The “balance” they’re talking about neatly presupposes that creators and the public are somehow on opposite sides, while multinational content monopoly conglomerates are, curiously, absent from the picture altogether. (Their portrayal is also historically suspect, as copyright was primarily designed to subsidize distributors not creators anyway.)

Thanks to this focus on exclusivity-based balance, proposals to improve the system are usually minor tweaks: broader “fair use” rights, a more thorough prior-art discovery process, various changes in scope, etc. But these approaches leave the basic problem untouched: when a copyright or patent is granted today, it creates a monopoly with no countervailing pressure towards a true free market.

There needs to be a market-based representation of the value of de-monopolization, expressible by those whom de-monopolization benefits. In Macaulay’s famous words, “the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad.” [4] Anyone familiar with, for example, the mess George Lucas made of his monopoly on the “Star Wars” movies will instantly see Macaulay’s point. The problem is not that Lucas botched the sequels, but that the Lucasfilm monopoly prevents anyone else from doing better. This is the problem with monopolies generally — it’s not what they let the monopoly owner do, it’s what they don’t let others do. Monopolies are the opposite of free markets.

The Liberation Point system introduces de-monopolization as a market force, without involving the government in pricing decisions, term-length calibrations, or other arbitrary regulatory judgements [5]. The system takes “balance” seriously: it gives the rights-holder a decisive role in setting a valuation and benefitting from it, but at the same time represents the public’s interest in not having works monopolized forever. Crucially, it avoids the need for complicated regulatory formulas, which would inevitably create a target surface for monopoly interests to aim lobbying power at. Instead, it gives the public a mechanism for representing its own interests directly, with the government limited to a bookkeeping role.

The proposal is not merely rhetorical. I would be delighted, if surprised, for it to receive legislative interest. But it is also meant to expand the range of the possible. Fiddling with copyright term lengths and improving the Patent Office’s processes feel good, but they are fundamentally repainting a burning barn. To get lasting improvement, we need to permanently reduce the “lobbyability” of the system as a whole. The Liberation Point method is one way to do that [6], and to show that market-tempered monopoly is possible in principle. It’s high time these kinds of solutions were on the table.


[1] The term “public domain” is used informally here. It is a term of art in copyright law more than in patent law, but it is easy to intuitively understand what it would mean for patents: that no one has a monopoly, that is, there is no one with the power to restrict usage.

[2] There should be nothing shocking about this: the public domain is the natural destination for works, and even most proponents of lengthening copyright and patent terms pay lip service to that goal. Furthermore, registration requirements used to be the norm if one wanted to hold any public monopoly. Indeed, the requirement for copyrights was only eliminated under the theory that insisting on registration gave advantage to corporations who had economies of scale to streamline the paperwork involved in filing — which was probably true, in the days before the Internet, but today registration would be as easy as uploading a file and receiving a digitally-signed timestamp.

[3] Alternatively, the owner could be allowed to adjust the declared value at any time (perhaps even as a reaction to liberation offers), with the provision that any upward adjustment would require immediate payment of the difference between the old and new registration fees. However, the public domain would probably be better served by simply allowing adjustment only at fixed intervals: if the owner of a work can’t figure out its market value and set the fee accordingly, that is no reason to favor the owner over the public when the work is being liberated at a price the owner clearly once thought sufficient.


[5] One of the problems with not having a systematized and predictable path to de-monopolization is that we instead get unpredictable decisions like India’s decision to set a compulsory license rate on a drug still under patent. The point is not that the Indian government made a mistake — the decision was quite defensible — but that handling each such instance as a special case inevitably leads to lack of predictability and, eventually, to corruption. Yet it’s governments that issue patent monopolies in the first place: if they can set compulsory license rates in specific cases, then they can offer a mechanism for de-monopolization in the general case.

[6] My colleague Nina Paley has suggested a simpler system: bring back registration, and set the fee for the first year at $1, the second year at $2, the third year at $4, then $8, $16, $32, $64, and so on. This has the advantage of immediate comprehensibility, and it’s clearly effective at tempering the monopoly: very few works would remain restricted past the 20 year mark, and her system doesn’t need to be adjusted for inflation for a long time.

[7] For works released under a free license, the fee should be waived, and indeed the requirement to register or renew at all should be waived, because such licenses are non-monopolistic by definition. For simplicity’s sake I did not mention this in the original proposal. Richard Stallman immediately noticed the problem; I thank him for pointing it out, as that reminded me to add this footnote.

Help The Law See.You landed on this page because you didn’t do anything wrong.

So, breathe.  Sit up straight :-).  You’re fine.

You didn’t do anything wrong.

You copied something.  Maybe it was a song, or a video, or some text.  All you did was make a copy of it.  You didn’t steal anything, you didn’t take false credit, you didn’t intercept or dilute money that belongs to someone else.  All you did was copy.  You took part in a ritual as old as the human race: the act of sharing a piece of culture or information.

Some people may try to make you feel bad about what you did.  They’ll tell you that by copying something, you took money out of the pocket of an artist (but you know you didn’t — in fact, you probably helped the artist by spreading their work).  They’ll call it “piracy”, as though making copies of things is somehow like board a ship on the high seas, stealing its cargo, and doing who-knows-what with the crew.  They’ll tell you that what you did is analogous to counterfeiting money (it’s not).  They might claim to you that the whole purpose of copyright is to supposed to be to provide artists with a stable income, even though that’s not why copyright was invented, copyright is not how most artists earn their livings anyway, and overall it probably does more harm to artists than it does good.

When these people tell you you’ve done something wrong, they’re asking you to help support a myth, but you’re under no obligation to go along.  In fact, we’d appreciate it if you’d point them to this page.

So don’t buy it.

We don’t mean “don’t buy the song”, of course.  You should absolutely buy the song (or movie, or CD or DVD) if you want to — though if you really want to support the artist, it’s often more efficient to just send them money, because that way there’s no monopoly-based organization in the middle skimming most of your support away (naturally, if you feel the intermediary is doing good work, then support them too; many publishers are providing a valuable service).  It might be that the copying you did, or contemplated doing, is illegal in the country where you did it — a lot of countries have laws against copying.  We encourage you to obey the laws in your jurisdiction.  We just mean don’t buy the argument.  Don’t give those laws authority over your emotions.  If you’ve copied something, don’t feel guilty.  You didn’t do anything wrong.

There are many practical and philosophical reasons for obeying a law you don’t agree with, but there is never a reason to feel guilty about breaking a law you don’t agree with.  If you broke a law against copying publicly-available data, and someone’s trying to make you feel bad about that, then send them here, or at least ask them to make a rigorous case for what they’re claiming.

Can they justify the position that humans shouldn’t be allowed to share culture freely?  If they’re saying that the economic concerns for artists are so great as to trump the serious civil liberties concerns with this position, do they have actual numbers to back that up?  Have they talked to the artists who have been hurt by copyright restrictions?  The translators who couldn’t translate because the law wouldn’t allow them to?  The teachers who couldn’t teach the material they needed?  The publishers and distributors who couldn’t bring great books and films to audiences?

Copying is not wrong, and you didn’t do anything wrong.  So don’t feel bad — just spread the word.

If you’d like to support Nina Paley’s work on her upcoming freely-licensed film Seder-Masochism, you can donate via the Question Copyright Artist-in-Residence Working Fund. Let me repeat that word for emphasis: “donate”. There.

(Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent permitted by law; see here for details.)

Seder-Masochism, Nina Paley's next project.

Nina’s trailer for Seder-Masochism has already received over 400,000 views on various video hosting sites (Internet Archive, Vimeo, YouKu, YouTube), and was written up in Ha’aretz yesterday. People who saw our tweet (yes, that’s a hint to retweet or redent) have have already started donating to the Working Fund. We encourage everyone who likes high-quality, free-licensed films to join the club!