I have been noticing a resurrection of the “open” vs “free” debate in several lists, particularly in discussions about Creative Commons. This is rather disheartening, because I have been hoping that Creative Commons could stay away from the quasi-religious debates that have been affecting the Free/Open Source camps for years.

The proponents of Free Software and the “free” philosophy claim that their movement has more certainties and better direction than the proponents of Open Source and “open” philosophies. This may be true, but certainty is not always a good thing. Whenever I talk to free software proponents I am struck by how much they sound like religious fundamentalists, who are emboldened and guided by the certainty that they are right. I am also generally struck by the strange use of the term “freedom” in the movement, given that generally the movement advocates one specific type of freedom. People have the freedom to maintain the source code open, but they do not have the freedom to choose their own licence, this is done for them by the viral restrictions of the GPL. One cannot elevate freedom to the highest pedestal and yet begrudge those who choose to exercise their freedom, unless freedom means “you are free to do as you are told”.

1 Comment


David BB · June 24, 2005 at 3:34 am

Come on. This is a very poor argument. The idea of the Free Software/Free Culture movement is about transforming *consumers* of culture into active producers/transformers. This can only the case if as users they have access and the rights to make these transformations. The Open-source movement is concerned with the economic efficiency that can be generated through the use of the techniques of commons-based peer-production, without any of the above guarantees. Hence the benefits of sharing ideas, and the ability to then profit from them privately (enclosure of the commons/closed licensing etc).This is not a 'quasi-religious' debate it is about the ability to transform and reuse culture. By using such language you are denigrating a position and yourself assuming a privileged position vis a vis the debate. Suprising as it may seem, you are yourself a participant and user of language and you cannot stand outside of it. This means that, yes the free culture movement has an ethical and political position, but so does the open-source movement (neo-liberal, libertarian). But *you* do too. Your position, is a liberal assumption of being able to stand outside of power relations and politics in order to technocratically (i.e. neutrally) take a position. This is a political position in itself and is equally subject to rhetoric ('quasi-religious', 'religious fundamentalists') which is uncalled for and unnecessary.Understanding *why* this is such a cause of debate might help to explain why it is important.

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