25 years of GNU

The turns 25 on September 27. Not much to add beyond what I wrote on the Creative Commons blog. Watch the Freedom Fry video.

I do have some meta commentary…

The video, featuring British humorist , is very British. That is, Americans might wonder if there is any humor in it at all. I’m fine with that.

It’s great that the video is posted in Ogg Theora format and works seamlessly in my browser via Cortado, and download links are provided. However, HTML to copy & paste for direct inclusion in a blog post or other web page should also be provided, as is typical for sharing video. I haven’t tried making such yet, though I should and might.

Finally, there’s a hidden jab at some in the free software movement in my CC blog post:

One of the movements and projects directly inspired by GNU is Creative Commons. We’re still learning from the free software movement. On a practical level, all servers run by Creative Commons are powered by GNU/Linux and all of the software we develop is free software.

So please join us in wishing the GNU project a happy 25th birthday by spreading a happy birthday video from comedian Stephen Fry. The video, Freedom Fry, is released under a CC Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Emphasis added. The free culture/open content world lags the free software/open source world in many respects, one of those being an understanding of what freedoms are necessary. Some from the free software world have pushed Creative Commons to recognize that in many cases culture requires freedoms equivalent to those expected for free software/open source (that’s the first bolded link above), while some in the free software world (not necessarily the exact same people, but at least people associated with the same organizations) publish documents and videos under terms that do not grant those same freedoms (that’s the second bolded link above).

The Free Software Foundation has probably published documents under terms roughly equivalent to CC BY-ND probably before CC existed. Currently the footer of fsf.org says:

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Does the FSF really want to reserve the right to use copyright to censor people who might publish derived versions of their texts? They probably are concerned that someone will alter their message so as to be misleading. Perhaps there was some rationale for this pre-web and pre-CC, but now there is not:

  • People can easily see canonical versions by going to fsf.org. (DNS also should obsolete much of trademark as well, but that’s for another post.)
  • CC licenses that permit derivatives include the following (see 3(b), 4(a), 4(b), and 4(c) for the actual language):
    • Licensor can specify a link to provide for attribution
    • Derivative works must state how they are altered
    • Licensor can demand that credit be removed from the derivative
    • Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions licensor could press “moral rights” to censor a derivative considered derogatory

So one can pre-clear the right to make adaptations and retain some legal mechanisms to club creators of adaptations (ordered from best practice to distasteful, according to me).

The Software Freedom Law Center does worse, publishing its website (also, see the SFLC post on 25 years of GNU) under CC BY-NC-ND. Do they really want to prohibit commercial use? SFLC (a super excellent organization, as is the FSF!) is dedicated to software freedom, but still it seems silly for them to publish non-software works under terms antithetical to the spirit of free software.

On a brighter note, the FSF is publishing promotional images for Freedom Fry under a free as in free software as applied to cultural works license (CC BY-SA), one of which has already been taken under those terms for use on Stephen Fry’s Wikipedia article. Ah, the power of free cultural works. :)

Do wish GNU a happy 25th birtday — watch and spread the video!

12 Responses

  1. tarkowski says:

    I think the people who push for the free cultural works definition are a different group inside the free software movement than the people who believe that while code should be free, cultural works don’t necessarily need to be so.

    On the other hand, the argument for using No Derivatives condition in order to preserve the integrity of the work hasn’t been made strongly enough, or hasn’t been heard well enough. I think that we like to think of No Derivatives as the bad boy of Creative Commons, by thinking of it as a limitation. But if we consider it a statement of principles, maybe there is some merit to it?

  2. Alek,

    No argument with your first paragraph.

    True, public licenses communicate norms and wishes at the same time they are legal tools, and there is some merit to using them as such. But given that they are legal tools, and the more restrictive ones do leave copyright restrictions largely in place, it is dangerous to use them to communicate norms and wishes. Better to use a permissive license and couple that with an extra-legal request to play nice.

  3. Rob Myers says:

    I’m British. There are no jokes in the video.

    (That was a joke. (Or was it?))

  4. Rob Myers says:

    More seriously, ND doesn’t prevent fair use/fair dealing quotation. So the argument contained in an ND original can still be quoted out of context and misrepresented.

  5. pfctdayelise says:

    Well the FSF did author the GFDL, which contains that whole invariant sections thing. Since CC licenses don’t have any similar allowance I guess they feel they have no choice but to use a license with a ND clause.

    What CC licenses specify and how they are used in practice (and what is seen as acceptable use) is also another matter. While they may have specific instructions re: derivative works, chances are 99% of the time they’re not followed too closely. As Mako pointed out to me at Wikimania, virtually no one even does attribution correctly — because you’re supposed to use the work’s title.

  6. Rob,

    Great points.


    I doubt lack of an invariant section option in CC licenses led to use of ND in these cases as an ND like statement was used prior to the existence of CC and probably the FDL, AFAIK, and still is used. I’d argue that the practice of prohibiting derivatives is bad however one gets there — CC ND, ad hoc ND, or GFDL w/invariant sections.

    You’re correct that acceptable use in practice may not follow the letter of licenses precisely (that also goes for the GFDL and probably many software licenses as well). Work title is probably one of the less problematic cases as the CC licenses say that the title should be used if it is supplied and in many cases it is either very natural to supply and use a title (e.g., a song) or to neither supply nor use a title (e.g., I’d guess a small fraction of photos have a meaningful title).

    [In case it isn’t clear from the domain name of this blog or its tagline “My opinions only. I do not represent any organization in this publication.” … well, I just wrote the tagline. And IANAL.]

  7. I suspect that some people can only conceive of a derivation of a literary work as being a case of plagiarism, i.e. the work is not that of the original author, nor can be that of the deriving author, and thus inescapably misrepresents both authors and the original and derivative works.

    Bunch of hogwash, of course.

    It is peculiar to believe that in order to preserve the integrity of an author’s works and honesty in all authors, that copying should be prohibited. That’s back to front. The principle should be that as long as the integrity of authors’ works are preserved and they are honest, authors should be able to freely copy from each other and build upon each other’s works.

  8. pfctdayelise says:

    @ Mike,
    yeah, don’t worry, I won’t quote your word here as gospel :)

    Having managed to watch the video (the Cortado player seems particularly buggy on Xubuntu – ironic that I remember it working better on Windows XP), it seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity. It starts out as if the viewer probably doesn’t know how their OS is separate to their hardware (ie their computer “IS” Windows/Microsoft), but then goes on to say “You’ve probably heard of Linus Torvalds” and unbelievably, talks about the kernel! Did they really need to advocate on the GNU/Linux naming issue in an _introductory_ video intended for the general populace! I think the FSF are terrible at picking their battles.

  9. gurdonark says:

    Happy birthday to GNU indeed!

    As time goes on, I come to favor more BY and far less BY NC ND or
    even BY ND.

    To paraphrase, I never worry nearly so much about someone profiting from my music as I do about nobody sharing in the experience of hearing it.

  10. Eric Oye says:

    Thanks Mike for the information, now i only realize GNU having his 25th birthday, i’m a Linux Red Hat fans, i started playing with Linux for 2 small years only, and GNU really my favorite kernel. Oh ya Mike, do you think Linux can be as famous as Microsoft one day? I’m truly support linux to stand out more then others and perhaps can be develop in a really user friendly interface and infra structure for everyone. Thanks again for the information, Happy Birthday GNU and happy blogging to everyone.

  11. HaeB says:

    Stallman has explicitly said that he does not consider the freedom to modify to be essential for text. That it was nevertheless incorporated into the GFDL is only due to the special purpose of that license (free software documentation): The freedom to modify text appears there as a corollary of the freedom to modify software. So the GFDL cannot be seen as evidence of the FSF supporting a general philosophy of content freedom.

    “As a general rule, I don’t believe that it is essential for people to have permission to modify all sorts of articles and books. The issues for writings are not necessarily the same as those for software. For example, I don’t think you or I are obliged to give permission to modify articles like this one, which describe our actions and our views.

    But there is a particular reason why the freedom to modify is crucial for documentation for free software. When people exercise their right to modify the software, and add or change its features, if they are conscientious they will change the manual too …”


  12. […] is an old theme: examples from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012. 2009 and 2010 are absent, but the reason for my light blogging here bears some […]

Leave a Reply