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Freeness of data in games

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memenode's picture
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To be completely honest I still feel quite a bit confusion about what exactly should be considered acceptably free in Free Culture. This confusion partly comes from the issue of art and data in games. In a video interview with Richard Stallman that I've seen recently he said that the minimal freedom for all digital works is non-commercial distribution and he was talking about games! What I can conclude from this is that Stallman would not necessarily oppose a license which forbids commercial use, for example, whether it is one of the Creative Commons licenses or some others, as long as it is not applied to software.

So I've decided to ask him. Smiling

In the meantime we can discuss this here. I know we talked about it before but it doesn't seem we ever really reached a final conclusion. I know I still don't have a real definite view. I could easily adopt the Free Works Definition but it seems to be just a conversion of four freedoms for software into the realm of non-practical free works and I am still wondering whether this is really the best approach.

This issue is also quite relevant because of the planned (though delayed) gaming tournament on Nuxified.org, where there are certain people who'd like to allow games with at least non-commercial use granted, if not commercial. So far the vote is in favor of both engine and data being free, but I for one would be willing to change my vote if I find that data can fairly be under a non-commercial license and that mixing it with a Free Software engine is not an ethical issue.

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An issue here might be that

An issue here might be that with games it is not always clear what is data and what is software. For example is a game story data or is it a program in a special scripting language?

Also, how feasible is it to use the software with data other than the original?

Anyway, for a gaming tournament hosted by libervis network it would make sense to support both free software and free culture, and therefore to choose games that are both. Since I don't have time to participate, I'm not voting on that, just my 2c.

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tbuitenh wrote: An issue
tbuitenh wrote:

An issue here might be that with games it is not always clear what is data and what is software. For example is a game story data or is it a program in a special scripting language?

Maybe judging it by whether it can be practically applied is the best way to determine that. Game story script may from a purely technical perspective be comparable to software scripting, but in reality it is just an interactive story whose course depends on player's actions. It is still a non-practical, merely entertaining work of art.

tbuitenh wrote:

Also, how feasible is it to use the software with data other than the original?

I think that's a good question.

tbuitenh wrote:

Anyway, for a gaming tournament hosted by libervis network it would make sense to support both free software and free culture, and therefore to choose games that are both. Since I don't have time to participate, I'm not voting on that, just my 2c.

Of course. That is in no way contestable. What is the issue here is how exactly to define what is Free Culture, and what is the minimal freedom for game data for it to be considered free as in freedom and hence ethically acceptable.

Cheers

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I consider the creation of

I consider the creation of e.g. levels in games as an art in the same way writing prose is an art or painting a painting is an art. As such I would argue that having it under a CC-BY-SA (or similar) license would be more apt than a free software license such as the GPL. I also believe that this art, like the others I've already mentioned should be modifiable and the modification be shared (although I have yet to form an opinion on whether a non-commercial clause would be acceptable). I think you should be able to modify the game art or levels would be to make colours more interesting, or add more or reduce the number of enemies in a level etc. without having to reinvent the wheel.

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libervis wrote: What is the
libervis wrote:

What is the issue here is how exactly to define what is Free Culture, and what is the minimal freedom for game data for it to be considered free as in freedom and hence ethically acceptable.

As odd as this sounds, I think this is more akin to the issue of "does an enforced patent on Free Software make it non-free". In the US, copyright law SUPPOSEDLY protects a persons right to make archival copies of copywritten material. "Fair use" allows copywritten material to be edited in remixes and such as long as the work is CLEARLY a new work, and not a repackage of the original. For my specific example, Andy Worhol's Campbell Soup Cans -> http://www.globalgallery.com/prod_images/bm-w828.jpg.

Songs such as "Gangsta's Paradise" can be "remixed" into songs like Weird Al's "Amish Paradise".

In theory, at least, ALL copywritten content allows non-commercial redistribution, the right to study and learn from a work and the right to modify the work and (if signifigantly modified) redistribute it. Not all nations may give these rights, just as not all nations recognize software patents.

My own logic tears me in half here. Half of me says that if I'm using a free game engine, like the Quake engine or Planeshift, with proprietary game content that that is okay - I still retain certain rights from copyright law.

The other half of me says I must use content covered by a libre license... I PERSONALLY consider patent restricted software to be non-free, so if there is the CHANCE that some other use may NOT have these same freedoms, then the content is potentially restricted, and not free.

How's THAT for clearity? Sticking out tongue

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Kevin Dean wrote: In
Kevin Dean wrote:

In theory, at least, ALL copywritten content allows non-commercial redistribution, the right to study and learn from a work and the right to modify the work and (if signifigantly modified) redistribute it. Not all nations may give these rights, just as not all nations recognize software patents.

It's a bit of a stretch to rely on fair use to universally grant you the freedom to non-commercially distribute a work, especially considering that not all nations admit such rights in the same way. In any case it is safest to rely on a license.

But I see your point, and it is indeed a bit confusing. Smiling What you're basically saying is that a work can be licensed completely proprietary and yet may still be legally shareable and even modifiable non-commercially, so if we admit non-commercial limitation as acceptable, we might render all proprietary licensed works acceptable. That's rather puzzling, but at the end of the day without a license specifically granting these rights, you just can't be sure you have those rights, not as much.

Kevin Dean wrote:

My own logic tears me in half here. Half of me says that if I'm using a free game engine, like the Quake engine or Planeshift, with proprietary game content that that is okay - I still retain certain rights from copyright law.

Well game data under licenses even more restrictive than allowing only non-commercial use are a step further than those licensed in a way that allows it. I generally avoid those. There are however certain games which are, so to speak, in between. They are free to use, share, build on, but non-commercially. They are mostly at issue here.

Kevin Dean wrote:

I PERSONALLY consider patent restricted software to be non-free

I personally don't care about that, but then I'm not living in a country that allows software patents. So if copyright terms fit the definition of "Free" I don't at all feel pressured by patents to think of it as anything less. It's Free Software and I'll use it. The thing is, however, you can never be sure that a software you're using doesn't infringe a patent which is another reason why I simply don't care nor judge software "freeness" based on whether it uses certain patents or not. It quickly becomes pointless.

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libervisco wrote: What
libervisco wrote:

What you're basically saying is that a work can be licensed completely proprietary and yet may still be legally shareable and even modifiable non-commercially, so if we admit non-commercial limitation as acceptable, we might render all proprietary licensed works acceptable.

That's sort of my point. Most of it anyway... But rather than think of it in terms of "proprietary content" I'm thinking closer to "since these rights are protected simply by being art, one could argue that it's not POSSIBLE to restrict them in the same sense as software can be restricted." If you think on it, these things are fundimentally different - as far as law and culture are concerned, licensing on art is relatively new, and kind of laughed at; copyright is well established. On the other hand, as far as law and culture go, software has "always" had licenses attached to them; rights are a bit more murky there.

libervisco wrote:

It's a bit of a stretch to rely on fair use to universally grant you the freedom to non-commercially distribute a work,

libervisco wrote:

I personally don't care about that, but then I'm not living in a country that allows software patents.

But in those two statements lies my dillema. Smiling You don't trust fair use because it is a governmentally applied freedom, and (based on interpretation of law) can change how you can use your content.

But when the same is leveled at patents, which can can have been used to restrict Free Software in some places, you're happy to accept the protections establised by your country. This isn't a beratement, far from it. Smiling But living in the US, where software patents are used I feel the need to protect my content even a bit further. I TOTALLY agree that we shouldn't count on fair use to ensure freedom, that should be preserved by a license. I also feel that we should have the same patent-related protection. That's where I drew the parallel.

libervisco wrote:

They are free to use, share, build on, but non-commercially. They are mostly at issue here.

Then let's explore this a bit more. We demand the right to distribute software both commercially and non-commercially, what benefit does that right give us? Why is it crucial to protect?

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Kevin Dean wrote:But
Kevin Dean wrote:

But living in the US, where software patents are used I feel the need to protect my content even a bit further. I TOTALLY agree that we shouldn't count on fair use to ensure freedom, that should be preserved by a license. I also feel that we should have the same patent-related protection. That's where I drew the parallel.

I see, you seek more explicit protection in any case and I can agree with that. That's why I support GPLv3 because it does have this patent license in it making users of GPLv3 content much safer from this hypothetical loss than GPLv2 and most other licenses.

However, when I say that I don't care about patents I don't mean that I don't care about putting in more safeguards against a patent threat, but rather that I wont limit myself from using certain Free Software because it might use certain patents. The reason why I am saying this would even be quite pointless is because you cannot know for sure which program infringes and which doesn't so choosing not to use one program based on a patent threat alone you might as well stop using all software on Earth because any of it might be patent encumbered too. Eye

That's all I meant.

But I see a subtle point being revealed there. If I can have this kind of attitude for patent encumbrance I might as well say I can use any proprietary licensed art as well because of fair use, right? Wrong. Smiling It's simply a different kind of issue. Relying on fair use rights to protect my freedom to non-commercially use and share a work is far more fetched than relying on a specific copyright license to protect the same rights for software. The latter is less susceptible to interpretation, even despite the patent threat, and especially considering how limited patent enforcement actually is (not valid in many countries, challengeable even in countries it is valid in, not to mention the "cold war" stand off between corporations further complicating the initiation of any patent lawsuits).

So while I see your parallel (correct me if I'm wrong on that), I don't think it is that relevant here and we could then untie that particular knot. Smiling

Kevin Dean wrote:

Then let's explore this a bit more. We demand the right to distribute software both commercially and non-commercially, what benefit does that right give us? Why is it crucial to protect?

Well, I'll bite on that, but with a little warning that we are talking about art and non-practical works here, not software, so the answer to that question for art may differ.

That said, the first thing that comes to my mind is that it is not always clear which uses are commercial and which are not. I think this is even more complicated for software than for art because software has such a broad amount of possible uses. It is functional and not just entertaining and its functions can often serve a wide variety of purposes of which some may or may not be construed as commercial. Granting freedom to use it commercially simply removes the burden of determining this.

And then there is the simple reasoning that we use about being in control over your own property. You own a copy of software hence you should have the right to use and share that copy for whatever purpose. Otherwise it is not really you who owns it, but you are rather dependent on someone else. Interestingly the same could be said for copies of all digital works, including art, so I suppose the difference here is mostly in how hurtful is it to depend on the original author for commercial uses with art compared to the same with software.
The answer would likely be that with software it is much more hurtful exactly because of a functional nature of software and a lock-in potential which is practically irrelevant or non-existent with art.

And maybe that's where the most of the difference lies; lock in. It can't happen with art and if in some weird case it even does, it doesn't have such harmful implications as it does with software. You don't depend on it to do something practical. Basically, software manipulates data and when someone has the ability to manipulate what you can do with software he has much more power, sometimes possibly even over data itself, or what you can do with it. Data on the other hand manipulates nothing. Smiling

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memenode's picture
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I agree.So about

I agree.

So about non-commercial limitation the questions right now comes down to how burdensome is it to make someone dependent on the original author for authorization of commercial uses and whether this burden can be ethically justified. The simple reasoning I've been holding on to for a while is that everything that is digital should have all four freedoms for software applied to it, including commercial use freedom, because making a copy doesn't deprive one of a copy.

However, now I'm ready to question this because I realize that there may be enough of a difference between art and software for mere conversion of four freedoms not to be enough, that maybe we should consider accepting non-commercial limitation as sometimes justifiable or at least not as a strict violation of common ethics as the same limitation would be for software.

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I've received a response

I've received a response from RMS. I didn't yet specifically get a permission to fully republish (although I'm sure he wont mind I'll stick to the principle), but I can paraphrase for now.

He thinks that the definition in FreedomDefined.org is the right one for "free works". However he doesn't see it as an ethical imperative for non-functional works to be free, the way it is for software. It would be nice if they were, but that's all.

To the following question his answer was so short as not to need paraphrasing. Smiling

Danijel Orsolic wrote:

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?

His answer? "Yes." Smiling

I also asked whether he considers the freedom to build upon (derive) fundamental for everything as well and he replied that he would shorten the copyright to 10 years only and that then it would be ok if you would have to wait for 10 years to publish the modified version of a work, but again it would be nice if the permission to derive was given right away because collaborative development is effective.

So this is all quite interesting. I replied asking for further explanation of the reasons why he considers it ethically justifiable for non-functional works not to be free, and offered some of our guesses from this thread (no lock-in and non-functional works don't manipulate anything like software does) so we'll see how he argues on that. Smiling

Cheers

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memenode's picture
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RMS responded with the

RMS responded with the explanation of reasons why non-free art can be ethically justifiable. Basically with software you do a job and hence you need to be able to do something immediately when you want to do it, using any of the four freedoms, like modifying and releasing modifications.

With art, it is just something to appreciate, but you aren't dependent on being able to do something with it today.

So I suppose that the difference between Free Software and Free Culture in this sense may be that Free Software is strictly about establishing certain ethical standards whereas with Free Culture is about promoting a better way for culture, not necessarily because it is ethical compared to the alternative, but because it can do good for the society. It is also about fighting the extremism of the entertainment industry by providing a more balanced alternative to how digital rights on culture are managed.

It appears then that the main reason why RMS doesn't endorse Creative Commons is not because they have some restrictive licenses, but merely because they are jumbled together under one label amounting to less than ideal clarity about which rights are or aren't granted by what many blankly call a "Creative Commons" license even though it could be anything from a CC-BY to CC-NC-ND.

So if we take this as our basis for thinking, the question is what should we do about our gaming tournament. If using some more restricted game data is not an ethical issue than this one argument against the desires of some of the potential players is basically lost. The only remaining argument is that by using only free data (by free works definition) we promote something better than restrictive licensing, not ethically much better, but better for the gaming development community overall. Since we promote Free Culture on the web it may be fitting to go down that route.

So.. what now?

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