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RMS on the ethics of non-free art

Since I wasn't yet as clear as I'd like to be on what can we consider to be free (as in freedom) among works which are not software and not functional and wasn't yet sure what exactly was Richard Stallman's view on this issue I decided to ask him directly. Here is the resulting email conversation.

My original message:

Danijel Orsolic wrote:

Greetings Richard,

I must admit I tend to be in a state of confusion about what are minimal freedoms that we should expect for works of art and other non-practical non-software works. In an interview I once watched you stated something that the absolute minimum should be to allow for non-commercial use and distribution of the work, yet people on the FreedomDefined.org seem to have come up with a definition which would exclude works licensed for use only in a non-commercial way as "free". Their definition seems to mostly be a conversion of four freedoms for software for cultural works.

I'm not at this point sure whether this is really the best way to go about it, since, as you even stated, software and works of art are different in that software is practical, a set of instructions, a recipe, a reference work, whereas culture like music, images, videos, textures etc. are not practical. They also can't lock you in.

I'm really looking for a pointer towards the final conclusion of some sort, something to hold on to. Is non-commercial only use and distribution sufficient to satisfy ethics for all culture that isn't practical in nature? Or is it perhaps necessary to evaluate, say, music differently from videos or novels?

Also, do you consider using games which have a Free Software engine yet use data that is only available for non-commercial use and sharing acceptable?

Also, you consider the right to build upon (derive), even if only non-commercial, to be fundamental for everything as well?

Thank you and Best Regards.

Danijel Orsolic

His response:

Richard Stallman wrote:

yet people on the
FreedomDefined.org seem to have come up with a definition which would
exclude works licensed for use only in a non-commercial way as
"free".

I think that is the right definition of "free",
but I don't think that non-functional works must be free.
It is enough for them to be sharable.

It is nice if other works are free, but not ethically
imperative in my view.

Also, do you consider using games which have a Free Software engine
yet use data that is only available for non-commercial use and sharing
acceptable?

Yes.

Also, you consider the right to build upon (derive), even if only
non-commercial, to be fundamental for everything as well?

I think copyright should last only 10 years. For non-functional
works, I think it is ok if copyright requires you to wait 10 years
to release modified versions.

However, it is nice if you make them free right away, esp. for video
games, since collaborative development of them is quite effectivel.

My reply:

Danijel Orsolic wrote:

Thank you for a quick answer Richard. I'm just curious about one more thing then, why do you think non-functional works don't have to be free (like Free Software)? What is the key difference that justifies it not being free as ethical?

I'm asking because we are discussing this issue on our site and were comparing software with non-functional works like art and we recognize some differences, such as the fact that art can't lock one in as software can and it doesn't control anything the way software can. Software can manipulate non-functional data, but data manipulates nothing.

So is that the reason?

With your permission I'd like to publish the conversation to our forum thread here: http://www.libervis.com/topic/freeness_of_data_in_games

Richard Stallman wrote:

Thank you for a quick answer Richard. I'm just curious about one
more thing then, why do you think non-functional works don't have
to be free (like Free Software)? What is the key difference that
justifies it not being free as ethical?

If you use something to do jobs in your life, you must be free
to change it today, and then distribute your changed version today
in case others need what you need.

Art contributes something different to society. You appreciate it.
Modifying art can be a further contribution to art, but it is not
crucial to be able to do that today. If you had to wait 10 years
for the copyright to expire, that would be ok.

Then I just asked for permission to publish, which he granted, and thanked him again for his replies.

So in short, he agrees with the definition of Free Works provided at FreedomDefined.org, but unlike with software, he simply doesn't think that it is an ethical imperative for non-functional works to be Free. It is merely better for a society for them to be free, but not absolutely essential. Within that context we can characterize the Free Culture movement not so much as a movement for restoring a certain state of ethics (in the same sense as a Free Software movement), but a state of balance that can benefit culture more than restrictions. However, perhaps more than anything else it is a movement against the copyright extremes supported by the big entertainment industry.

Elsewhere Richard has mentioned that the minimal freedom everyone should have with digital works is non-commercial sharing. Current default draconian copyrights don't allow even that much.

Comments

My disagreements with RMS

 

I've found that RMS and I have a few small but core fundamental differences in our views regarding free software and free art. I've also found myself in disappointingly unfriendly discussions with leaders of projects that list themselves free and open source.

I believe that information should not be protected by law, unless in a contract between all involved parties. If you have secrets, then keep them. If you do something in public, expect it to be recorded and distributed. Of course, this doesn't supercede other laws, such as fraud. Fraudulently using another company's registered trademark, for example, is clearly larceny. Fraudulently claiming someone else's art is your own is also clearly larceny.

I believe in free art in the same way that I believe in free software. For about four years, I've operated the Free Art Foundation server. We've had little traffic, but we did have a couple active game developments and a couple active books. Unfortunately, there was a hardware failure, and some data was lost. I decided to restart the service in the form of a TikiWiki so as to automate the whole process of registration, uploading, dissemination, and peer-review and modification of most kinds of digital art.

I'd seen a couple mentions of a Free Art Foundation and a Free Culture Foundation, so I thought I'd introduce the foundation to the public...again. www.freeartfoundation.org

Now, this is not to be confused with the non-profit organization Free Art Foundation from San Diego, California, which focuses on helping local artists to obtain materials.

-Benjamin Vander Jagt

Maybe classifying works by

 

Maybe classifying works by their impact on needs v wants can help. If something affects needs there is a strong ethical argument, whereas wants are not that big a deal.

The wants v needs scale cuts accross free and non-free in a cartesian plane, free to non-free on one axis, and wants and needs on the other making four quadrants.

Free + Needs = Good
Non Free + Needs = Bad
Free + Wants = Preferable
Non Free + Wants = Fine

Where code and data sit in the plane is where the debate comes in for me.

Most games are not needs, but edutainment can be eg role-playing for children to learn not to talk to strangers etc. The news can definitely affect needs especially if votes change and legislation/policy follows, the dataset presented by the mainstream media can be propaganda through lies of omission with copyright as a weapon.

That sounds like a brilliant

That sounds like a brilliant way of classifying to me.

I'd agree that edutainment may be more leaned towards the "need" side of things and would hence be ethically better as free, but pure entertainment games are something different. If the engine of the game is free yet data is not, but can be replaced with something else (just the way OpenArena did to Quake III Arena - based it on the freely released engine, but changed all data to free ones) I think it is "fine", even if not preferred.

Re: RMS on the ethics of non-free art

 

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