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08.22.19

Guarding and Rescuing the FSF Titanic: A Free (as in Freedom) Library, and Federation of Advocates

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 2:33 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

A publication from the Free Media Alliance

Overview

US Capitol Building

Summary: “This library is not just for cultural works, but also for software.”

Amazon ebooks are an existential threat to libraries, and modern copyright is an existential threat to culture. For such an ominous global attack on all human culture, very little is being done about it. The Free Software Foundation says to boycott such ebooks and DRM, and that’s a great place to start.

To promote free culture would be an obvious next step, since (legally and historically speaking) the threat that free culture mitigates comes from the same late-20th-century changes in law and industry that made the Free software movement necessary. But the FSF sidesteps this connection, and their take on free culture is fairly condescending and surprisingly dismissive.

“Copyright is the wrong tool to protect the integrity of expression, not only because it does not do so.”The sad thing is that the free culture movement has gotten off to many false starts, and while it continues to grow it does so at a glacial pace. At the same time, freedom within the absurd confines of modern European copyright is breaking down at what you might consider (in this age of climate change) to be a “glacial pace.” If only there was a movement that stood against this… Oh, there is.

Whether the Free software movement impresses you already or not, we strongly recommend making a more important issue of it. The FSF absolutely will not do so, but they have contributed their videos from LibrePlanet, so that is valuable. Stallman’s essays might work just as well if delivered as presentations at LibrePlanet, but those presentations bear Free Culture licences, and his essays do not.

Copyright is the wrong tool to protect the integrity of expression, not only because it does not do so. The public domain is not a licence to misrepresent people, there are separate rules about that regardless of copyright, and fair use allows some people a way around the copyright but fair use is also a terrible (inadequate) tool for this purpose — free culture licences are a better one.

“You could easily and most likely legally reconstruct the videos from LibrePlanet into a better Free software website than the FSF’s, although it would certainly be missing a fair amount of useful information.”Considering all this, someone who believes that modern copyright is problematic has no sane reason to think CC BY-ND is a useful licence. It basically says “You can’t do anything at all with this, but we won’t sue you just for having it.” And the FSF actually promotes this licence.

We don’t expect to change the FSF’s position about this, we will simply let them have their weird, magical thinking about how despite LibrePlanet presentations being reasonably licensed, the FSF’s webpages do not need the same benefit because of Stallman’s “Works of opinion” shtick.

Obviously he is entitled to his opinion, even if it limits the benefit people get from the FSF website, and even if “Works of opinion” is blatant special pleading, and even if it misses the point of free culture. (We recommend Nina Paley’s “Rantifesto” on this topic.) Stallman and the FSF are free to do that, it’s simply a shame.

You could easily and most likely legally reconstruct the videos from LibrePlanet into a better Free software website than the FSF’s, although it would certainly be missing a fair amount of useful information.

The nice thing about such a website would be that it had a licence that allowed people to share the information on it with the same four freedoms that they enjoy with software. The FSF does not consider that important, but LibrePlanet videos mysteriously (and thankfully) give you those freedoms anyway. Perhaps a future tagline for their events could be “We have no opinion!”

“OER is one of the greatest success stories of free culture, and we proudly support it. “Whinging about what the FSF won’t do can only accomplish so much, and while we would recommend a petition for the FSF to stop misrepresenting free culture (with the straw man arguments and special pleading they tend to use to dismiss and argue against free culture — not completely unlike, incredibly, the ones Open source uses against Free software) we also have our own solution to this:

Let’s do what the FSF won’t.

Let’s create our own Free software and free culture library, as we have started doing with the Free Media Alliance.

This is intended as a node of such a library, not the library itself. We hope it will continue to grow, which is why the “donations” we ask for are not monetary — the way you “donate” to the Free Media Alliance is to create free works (four freedom works) or give us links to free works. As was policy for Debian for some time, we do not accept works under the GNU FDL. If you think the FDL is a good licence, or a Free licence, answer these two questions:

1. Why is it “more free” to restrict paper copies of a free cultural work?

2. If it is “more free” then why did Wikipedia abandon the FDL as its license for articles, and why did the FSF help them do so?

Works licensed under the FDL exist against a backdrop of a better-licensed Wikipedia and better-licensed OER works. OER is one of the greatest success stories of free culture, and we proudly support it.

“This library is not just for cultural works, but also for software.”There is no licensing standard for OER, and we would suggest a “Libre Educational Resources” (LER) standard based on our recommended licences page.

Essentially, we would recommend (and are not the first to recommend) a standard for LER based on the four freedoms, of course.

There are at least three ways to add works to our library:

1. Create a useful or enjoyable work under a free licence. We may find it and add it ourselves.

2. Give us a link to a useful or enjoyable work under a free licence. We may add it to our library.

3. Create a free library similar to ours.

We strongly recommend the CC0 copyright waiver for your listings. This allows your library to grow without you even tending to it, as people can incorporate your listings into their own libraries. It also makes it easier for our library nodes to grow — easier than just sending links to individual works (which you are also extremely welcome to do and we appreciate it!)

“It is a non-profit we are proud to promote, and a great resource if you are looking for freely-licensed works.”This library is not just for cultural works, but also for software. And there are many ways for these libraries to link up — for example, if you choose to licence your listings under CC BY-SA, which we do not recommend (BY-SA is needlessly restrictive for a card catalog) we cannot simply fold your listing into ours, which is CC0, but we can select a few items from your list and add it to our collection. We can also (because it is at least a free culture licence) link to your library as a node.

Although it is not a requirement at all, we also recommend creating an account on (and supporting, by various means) the Internet Archive.

It is a non-profit we are proud to promote, and a great resource if you are looking for freely-licensed works. Some of what we do is merely an extension of what they have already done for years — our informal advocacy and promotion of the Internet Archive has already resulted in more contributed works and awareness.

But if you have a blog, forum, website, social media account or any other place online to talk about Free software and free culture, these can be used to help expand our library and donate links to us. They can also be used to advocate for Free software and free culture, whether you quote our words or use your own. Let us know about this and help us expand our grassroots network across the world.

The work we are doing is not just the work of a Free software organisation, but the work of librarians. Librarians are the global champions of free speech and the preservation of culture. The FSF is not — they could certainly do more in that regard. What they do for software, to be fair, is exactly what we recommend for all cultural works — and no other movement is doing as much for Free software.

If libraries alone did enough for Free software, that would be wonderful. Sadly, there continues to be a divide between the culture and freedom that libraries promote (regarding most of humanity’s works over the entirety of written history) and the freedom that the FSF promotes — we invite you to work with us to unite Free software with libraries and libraries with Free software. As with many libraries, you do not need to pay us to become a member. You only need to care and count yourself among us.

But we also invite you to help us advocate, not only by parroting our words and essays, but by contributing your own and helping us to find solutions to the many crises that culture faces in the 21st century. Doing that on behalf of the FSF is very difficult — some of us have tried for years! You can participate in what we do directly or indirectly, you can follow our advice or split off from us like forking an application.

We even have a way for you to create your own unofficial “department” under our umbrella.

The freedom lab movement was devised after the Alliance was founded, and is a way to create your own miniature organisation without the bother and commitment of creating your own organisation. If you find our freedom lab concept inadequate, you could even create a freedom lab to devise better freedom labs.

Ideas and vision are what led to the founding of the Free software movement. Free expression is what enriches the physical and virtual libraries of the 20th and 21st centuries. Without it, those libraries would all be diminished.

It is the absolute antithesis of libraries — and the largest library ever built in human history — the Internet — to try to crush free expression. For all the thoughtfulness and politeness and cooperation that serve a good purpose, humanity is a great mix of emotions and conflict and struggle. Painting a “nice picture” over all interaction, and reducing the internet to such a picture, does damage to our ability to speak honestly about science, history and the problems facing the world today.

Rather than destroy our libraries, we want to expand them and preserve them in the 21st century. As interest in physical libraries wanes, we hope you will help us find new purpose for them — as well as preserve the rights needed online to bring the same freedom that librarians have always fought for, back to the internet as it is quickly becoming a place that is anything but “Free as in Speech.”

The history of Art and the history of human existence is full of rudeness, horror, ugliness, hatred, violence, exploitation and slavery. While we do not endorse these things, we do acknowledge our humanity. Our libraries do not benefit from authoritarianism and sanitisation, they would only be diminished. The same is true of the internet, and we do not recommend the growing trend of sanitising all human interaction, conflating everyday speech with violence, and treating modern journalism as a hate crime or other criminal act.

The FSF says “Free Software, Free Society.”

We say: Liberate software, Liberate culture, Liberate society.

It is not just about software anymore. It is about the survival of human culture and the right to communicate with the rest of the world. These are more important things than the FSF is now capable of making them out to be. The future of Free software however, is not its foundation — but a federation. It is not just our federation, any more than it is just our freedom — it is yours.

And the future of free culture is just getting started. Please, protect our libraries. Keep the internet alive, not sterile. We can do all of these things, if there are enough of us working together in our own way — finding common ground and accepting that it is not possible to have every opinion in common, in a free society. That is no reason to not work to preserve human culture, and it helps in no small way if our computing is free.

Let’s keep working to make software and culture more free (as in speech, as in freedom) than ever before.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (Public Domain)

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