Alienating Potential Allies

I'll admit, I was at first taken aback by Mike's implicit characterization of my opinions on open source and free culture as mere duckspeak, but then I saw Cindy's comment. The last thing I wanted to do was alienate anyone, to bifurcate the issue, or to attack anyone's credibility, but obviously I have contributed to doing all three, and for that I apologize. Mike is pointing out these rhetorical problems because he cares about open source, just as Charlie and I and many others do. So I'll try this again: my opinion, offered sincerely. I realize that I agree with a certain contingent of people, but these are my thoughts too.

Yes, I think that generally, people should use open source software and should allow derivative works of their content if possible, but not because someone's a poseur if he or she doesn't do those things, or that it's an all-or-nothing matter. Of course, there are circumstances under which other choices are more practical. I support open source software and open content because they help to free information--code and content, which I see as overlapping, as I've said elsewhere--and allow everyone (who has the hardware, that is) the opportunity to participate in building upon that information. It enables people who couldn't afford the software otherwise to use it. I know it sounds florid, but I support open content and open source because it's a beautiful, altruistic collaborative vision, a gift economy, people's helping each other by improving the software and content because they can, and want to. I genuinely believe that open content/open source can have a positive effect on knowledge-making on a global scale. [Update: Open source software and open content aren't the things that will be the undoing of global capitalism and make it so that we can live on love and tater pie in a glorious utopia; I don't mean to come across as that enthusiastic. Open source/open content can't, for example, solve the environmental and public health crisis in some developing countries that has been the result of discarded computer hardware.] I'd still argue that this goal is best attained by engaging all three layers of the internet:

The primary strategies for building the core common infrastructure are:

  • An open physical layer should be built through the introduction of open wireless networks, or a spectrum commons.
  • An open logical layer should be facilitated through a systematic policy preference for open over close protocols and standards, and support for free software platforms that no person or firm can unilaterally control. More important are the reversal or refusal to adopt coercive measures that prefer proprietary to open systems. These include patents on software platforms, and the emerging cluster of paracopyright mechanisms like the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act2 , intended to preserve the industrial business models of Hollywood and the recording industries by closing the logical layer of the Internet.
  • An open content layer. Not all content must be open, but intellectual property rights have gone wildly out of control in the past decade, expanding in scope and force like never before. There is a pressing need to roll back some of the rules that are intended to support the twentieth century business models. These laws were passed in response to heavy lobbying by incumbents, and ignored the enormous potential for non market production and decentralized individual production to become central, rather than peripheral, components of our information environment.

    See also Frank Field's notes on the stakes in this debate.


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    Open source debate

    Clancy, I don't think there is anything wrong with your position on open source nor with urging people to use it. Any one of us who feel strongly about an issue obviously want others to follow our lead.

    I read your and Charlie's comments as sort of an outsider--I haven't been vocal about the issue and so therefore didn't feel I was being addressed--but I winced at the listing of names. It felt like too much of a "gotcha" to me, and I'm not surprised Mike and a few others responded negatively. It just doesn't seem to me like an effective way to rally the cause.

    I think *this* post of yours is much more effective. I admire your passion and wish I was a bit more technologically-inclined so I could join the open source project.



    I can see how this could be alienating for some, but I'm pretty durned thick skinned so I wasn't alienated. I felt that I was called to task for something that I slipped up on. Maybe one of the things to do is to offer to help people to step up to the OS plate. Charlie did just that when I complained of just not having the time to do what I should have done a while ago.

    We may also need to consider if just because someone could be considered a copyfighter must they also be able to install and administer OS CMSes. We all know how time intensive and difficult that could be. This could lead to a resurgence of the argument of what level of expertise C&W theorists should have.

    Re: Alienation


    The way I see it, I was being taken to task for something that I hadn't slipped up on. My reasons are my reasons, and Charlie and Clancy were both engaging in a self-congratulatory practice of declaring how much better citizens they were than all these other people that they pointed to by name: I've seen people who did the same thing at my family's church, only much more quietly.

    Concerning the ability to install and administer OS software: yes, I think it's essential, and it's one of the reasons I haven't yet moved to Drupal. If you know the tools you're using, you've got more control over the means of production, and are less easily exploited. If you don't know the tools you're using, and simply use them for the sake of supporting an ideological agenda, how different is that from checkbook democracy, or from the bumper stickers that urge us to "Buy American"?

    I'll say that it's nice to see Clancy's much more nuanced position in this post, and the care she's taking to engage people. Would that others might follow her lead.

    more technologically-inclined

    Well, you don't have to be as "technologically-inclined" as you think. There are many opportunities to use open source software.

    For instance, Microsoft's domination of the software industry depends on two cash cows: Windows and MS Office. Want to actively protest agains Microsoft, save yourself some money in the long run, and help to put a hole in their pocket? Then download and start using OpenOffice. It's a completely viable alternative to MS Office. Some people see the word processing features as a comparable equivalent to that available in Word 2000. And I came from WordPerfect and have found that it converts Word files much better than WordPerfect did. I've never used Word much, but I also understand that the menus in OpenOffice are very close to Word, making it fairly easy for a Word newcomer to make the transition. And even if you don't use Windows, there's a Mac OSX version (admittedly, I have only used the Linux and Windows versions).

    Also, there are a lot of us, like Clancy, who feel that the intellectual property crisis is a very serious issue, and from my perspective, one that needs to be addressed with some degre of urgency. After all, when comparing the open access/open content model with propritetary software/protectionist publishing practices, consider some of what is at stake:

    • Literacy and access. Consider how different a society is when a signficant amount of software and cultural products--text, music, art--are open vs. owned. Lessig has provided some great examples of this in Free Culture, a CC licensed text which is available for download.
    • Creativity and knowledge creation. Merely better access to software (such as the "free software" previously offered by MT) and texts (just putting text up on the web) does not stimulate the opportunity for creativity and learning that open source/allowing derivative works licensing does. The open source model is a major change to the way that knowledge and creative works are produced.
    • Development of open source. Increased use of open source is, in itself, a means of promoting a particular product. With the influx of new users into an open source application community also comes new developers and even people that contribute funding to the project. At the same time, open source users are not putting money into buying/licensing alternative proprietary applications. There's a certain snowball effect. A prime example is Linux on the server market where it is continually gaining grond on MS every year as it becomes a more mature system, thanks in part to the ever increasing contributions, both in code and financial backing, from the community of users.
    • Right now, Microsoft is building an arsenal of software patents to protect the next version of Windows due out in 2006 which has some very important changes to it. With the software patents, open source will be unable to emulate what MS is doing by black boxing their software. In other words, it's very important that open source offer significant alternatives to MS before Longhorn and gain popularity so that general public does not just merely continue to acquiesce to MS's ideas for the Internet and controlling content by adopting Longhorn. That is if we want a freeculture.

    There are more reasons, but these are a good start. So even though Samantha claims to be "thick skinned" I have a feeling its more of that than the fact that Sam, like Clancy and I, has very serious reasons why using open source is important to her.

    Understandable. I'm not sayin

    Understandable. I'm not saying that anyone else slipped up. Just admitting that I had. Like you I think that it is essential that we be able to set up and admin. our own stuff, but I wonder what happens when we don't have the time to do it full time or the know how to figure it out for ourselves. I think that is where we bond together as a community and help each other learn.

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