Today, I had a piece published on the left-leaning kiwi political blog site, theDailyBlog, entitled ‘Internet Party: What Seems Ridiculous To The Old Often Makes Perfect Sense to the Young‘. For the byline of this piece, I finally decided to do something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Following the example of my fellow Indymediatista Benjamin Mako Hill, I am going to start using my birth name to identify myself, with my more well-known internet handle Strypey as a sort of middle name. Introducing Daniel Strypey Bruce!

Internet Party: What Seems Ridiculous To The Old Often Makes Perfect Sense to the Young - See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/04/18/guest-blog-daniel-bruce-internet-party-what-seems-ridiculous-to-the-old-often-makes-perfect-sense-to-the-young/#sthash.Hqx12qCK.dpuf
Internet Party: What Seems Ridiculous To The Old Often Makes Perfect Sense to the Young - See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/04/18/guest-blog-daniel-bruce-internet-party-what-seems-ridiculous-to-the-old-often-makes-perfect-sense-to-the-young/#sthash.Hqx12qCK.dpuf

 Anyway, in less than four hours of the blog post appearing on theDailyBlog, the predictable comment appeared demanding that we think of the poor, impoverished artists. Being a broke freelance writer, believe me, I share the concerns about the wellbeing of artists. For one thing, artist would be less dependent on money in a society which offered free education, healthcare etc. Something that abolishing - or at least significantly reforming - the “intellectual monopolies” would make more affordable, as I discussed in my initial post.

But I think it’s important to remember that the copyright monopoly empowers *publishers*, and disempowers artists, who are often forced to hand over their copyright to their publishers as “work for hire”. The internet, digital devices, and costless copying empower artists, by giving them cheap access to global distribution, without a corporate middle-man. Once you’ve found an audience, the challenge, as the commenter identified, is making a living. This is a problem the free culture movement has been working on for at least a decade, and a number of solutions have been tried, and others proposed:

  • give away digital recordings, charge for live concert tickets, and merchandise like t-shirts and posters, limited edition vinyl records etc which can’t be file-shared
  • sell physical copies (eg framed prints), using the Creator-Endorsed Mark (http://sitasingstheblues.com/creatorendorsed.html), so your fans will know an agreed portion on the revenue goes to you, sort of like a Fair Trade mark.
  • charge DJs and others who want non-lossy (high quality) files a subscription fee for reliable access to them
  • crowdfunding: the Loomio.org cooperative just finished pulling in over $100,000 to continue developing free software, which anyone can use
  • online busking: the price of BitCoin seems to have settled at between NZ$4-500, which means 0.01 of a BitCoin is worth NZ$4, about the price of a coffee. If I have a global audience big enough that 10,000 of my fans would drop 0.01 of a BitCoin in my digital busking hat in a year, that gives me an annual salary of $40,000 before tax, with no fees to credit card companies.
  • offer a value-added package on your website, those who like what you do will support you if it’s easy, the Illumination Software Creator program is free code, anyone can compile their own copy, but by offering downloads from his own site for a modest fee, the programmer makes a living working fulltime on the software.

My favourite is the universal basic income/ citizens’ dividend. If this existed, not only would grotty jobs have to pay more than minimum wage to make them attractive, but like everyone else, artists, programmers, inventors and social entrepreneurs would have their basic needs covered. They could experiment with some of the methods above, or more traditional business practices, to supplement their citizen’s dividend, while freely sharing their work with the world. No copyright monopoly required.

Filed April 18th, 2014 under Uncategorized

I recently stumbled across the LinuxLuddites podcast while looking for info about Musix, a distro of GNU/Linux aimed at audio producers. I listened to episode #8 for the Musix review, and was fascinated by their discussion of GPL vs. BSD. Few discussions in the free code world produce more strawmen, irrelevant analogies, and argument from edge cases than this one. For a classic example, see the flame war I accidentally started on the Haiku forums.

I actually think this is because the whole GPL vs. BSD debate is a proxy for a much older libertarian socialist vs libertarian capitalist debate which people in the free software world are too afraid to have openly in case it becomes divisive (ironic, no?). Just for the record, here’s my take.

I think Paddy, one of the two Englishmen who host LinuxLuddites, somewhat misrepresents the pro-GPL position. It seems disingenuous to claim that Stallman or the FSF are against freedom of choice when the FSF accepts most of the BSD style licenses as “GPL-compatible free software licenses” (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html), and GNU/Linux distros includes software include packages under both copyleft and non-copyleft licenses.

The pro-GPL position boils down to this. Making software proprietary is:

EITHER:

a “denial of freedoms”,  in which case the programmer who demands the BSD “freedom” to make their variant proprietary is talking nonsense.

OR

a “freedom”, in which case the programmer making variants is exploiting the original programmer’s lack of freedom. They are demanding a “freedom” which *must* have been denied to the person who wrote the original, in order for their variant to exist in the first place. In which case claiming to value freedom is mere rhetoric, and self-serving nonsense.

In either case, the argument in favour of non-copyleft is nonsense.

The closest analogy I can think of is the question of whether a person should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery. From a BSD point of view, a person should be free to do anything they want, including give up their own freedom, or take away other people’s. From a GPL point of view, freedoms are inalienable rights, not optional extras, and allowing the contracting away of basic software freedoms by making people “agree” (arguably under duress) to a proprietary EULA is an unacceptable as allowing the contracting away of other basic freedoms by having someone “agree” to be a slave.

Finally, I accept Paddy’s point that there are a number of factors which contribute to the relative sizes of the GNU/Linux and BSD developer pools. However, I think it’s undeniable that the BSD pool would be much larger if there wasn’t a sub-set of it, including many of those paid to program on it, working on proprietary variants like OSX which don’t contribute code back. This isn’t nearly as big a problem for GNU/Linux because of copyleft licenses.

Thanks again to Joe and Paddy for an entertaining and thought-provoking podcast, and for making it available in Ogg, under a CC license.

Filed April 17th, 2014 under Uncategorized
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