The Creative Commons is to Free Culture what Shareware is to Free Software

IMPORTANT: Stammtisch today is at C-Base. We will not be at Cafe Buchhandlung this evening.

In the meantime, please enjoy today’s text:



The Creative Commons is to Free Culture what Shareware is to Free Software

Back in the early days of computers proprietary software developers had a problem. Often working from home or small-offices, far removed from their potential customers, there was no easy way to sell software to their customers. One common way was to use classified adds in computer magazines, but unless a software title was very well known, it was difficult to convince customers to pay for it before they had the opportunity to try it and verify that it does what they need it to. 

Yet, the very emerging of computers had the solution embedded into the very technology, users where already distributing software on their own, by way of exchanging floppy disks, uploading software to Bulletin Board Systems or Online Services, or even printing out source code so that others could rekey it on their own computer. 

However, this practice was directly contradictory to the way commercial software was sold: paid for in advance and sold in a box in a store or by mail order. To prevent such unauthorized distribution, commercial software was often distributed on copy-protected media that used various cryptographic and obscurity techniques to prevent its users from distributing it on their own. This was “All Rights Reserved” software, the published insisted on you buying it from them or their contracted resellers, and not, under any circumstances, share it with others. 

In the same way that commercial art, movies, music and books, for instance is “All Rights Reserved,” publishers want you to buy it directly from them or their agents, and never share it with others, and likewise, the rights being reserved are the publisher’s rights.

Yet, the very technology that made a recording industry possible, mechanical reproduction, also made it possible for its users to share it. Starting from home-taping to today’s online social platforms, fans of certain artists actively share with each others. And just like the commercial software authors, the music industry has availed itself of a wide variety of tactics to prevent this, from legal and political intimidation, to all sorts of cockamamie “Digital Rights Management” techniques.

Yet, this “All Rights Reserved” business practice was well and good for well-funded publishers who where able to afford effective advertising and build out large-scale distribution networks, yet for both smaller artist and smaller commercial software vendors, such a system worked against them, and they turned to ways of using users’ sharing with each other as means to find their audience and customers.

In the software world this manifested as “Shareware” and in cultural production this manifested as the “Creative Commons.”

Both these movements developed as systems of “Some Rights Reserved,” granting users the ability to share with each other, but restricting them according to the will of the publisher, common restrictions in both cases included non-derivative clauses, and non-commercial clauses, effectively preventing consumers from becoming producers, meaning that the publishers where eager to use consumer sharing as a means to build the value of their property, but wanted to make sure that their status as producer was maintained, that all creative and commercial use of their work was restricted only to them, that their consumers would remain consumers, instrumental only as casual distributors.

Reading both the Shareware and the Creative Commons licenses, there was no confusion over whose rights where being reserved, the publishers claimed all rights and denied all responsibilities. The consumers’ rights where not mentioned, except in efforts to limits any they might have.

Meanwhile, at the radical fringes of cultural production, and in the quickly expanding belly of information technology, a more revolutionary way of thinking existed. Artists and Software users felt constrained by the restrictions on their ability to be creative and productive with the culture and software they had, from the poet Comte de Lautreamont’s call for a poetry written by all, to Richard Stallman’s call for a computer operating system written by all, free culture and free software where concerned with the rights of the consumer, not the producer. Or even more to point, concerned with abolishing the distinction between producer and consumer, understanding culture and technology to be a mutually constructed wealth, the value of which becomes more rich the more people contribute to it.

The use of the word “Share” in Shareware and the use of the word “Commons” in Creative Commons share a misleading disingenuousness, they seem to imply common cause with the consumers, but no less than “All Rights Reserved,” “Some Rights Reserved” is designed to enclose the consumer, to make sure they can not become the producer. “Some Rights Reserved” allows consumers to contribute to the value of the producers’ product as promoter and distributor, but not to share in the value, which, far from being “common,” remains the sole property of the producer.

Free Culture and Free Software attempt to prefigure communities that truly share in common.


One comment

  1. mixmac

    neat analysis. thanks dmytri!will be happy to add it to the small collection of meaningful texts about free culture i republish on boson2x.orgit seems you should agree with that :-)

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