FLOSS licenses bridging past and future

Free Software licenses as connectors between the new and the old

Author: Stefan Merten

Discuss the slides on their Wiki page.

Contents

Abstract

For more than seven years Project Oekonux analyzes and discusses the phenomenons seen in Free Software and similar Free Projects. The project develops a theory which manages to explain what exactly happens during the development of Free Software, why it works at all, and why it is successful.

One key finding is that a central principle of the development of Free Software is Selbstentfaltung of the contributors where Selbstentfaltung means the freedom to do things you want but related to the society as a whole. Another key finding is that Free Software can be seen as a germ form for a new society which leaves many concepts of the current societies behind. An important aspect of this germ form is, that it is unlimited when giving as well as when taking.

An important practical aspect of Free Software and similar Free Projects are the licenses governing the use of the results of such projects. Taking the Oekonux findings into account licenses can be seen as a bridge between the old system and the germ form. As a bridge they connect the old system with the germ form but they have no inherent value for the germ form itself. Instead the germ form itself could do without licenses. However, because licenses use an abstract external point of view they can be dangerous for a Free Project.

A typical situation where licenses can be a problem for a Free Project is when a change of the license would make sense for the project. This is discussed for two examples (Oekonux Wiki, Wikipedia).

Slides

Selbstentfaltung and germ form

Selbstentfaltung in Free Projects

  • Free Projects are driven by Selbstentfaltung
  • Selbstentfaltung means:
    • The freedom to do things you want to do related to the society as a whole
    • Motivation inherent to the activity itself
    • No incentives alienated from the concrete activity
      • Like earning money
      • Doubly Free Software
    • Implied: Use value of the shared resulted is an important goal
  • Selbstentfaltung is hardly compatible with a society based on exchange

Free Software as a germ form

  • A germ form is something new existing in the old
  • A germ form has its own, new logic which is not really compatible with the old, still dominant logic
  • Because a germ form exists in the old there need to be bridges between the old logic and the new logic
  • For Free Software licenses form a major part of this bridge

Free Projects are inherently unlimited

  • Free Projects give unlimited
    • Everyone can use the results
    • For third parties granted by licenses
  • Free Projects take unlimited
    • Everyone can contribute
    • Copyleft enforces return of some contributions for third parties
  • Making exchange superfluous by effectively leading to abundance
    • Basis (so far): Digital copy
    • They are effectively public projects producing public goods

Licenses and their effects

Free Software licenses as legal hacks

  • Licenses are legal constructs
    • As such they belong to the old world
  • Free Software licenses are a genius legal hack
    • They use the power structure behind copyright
    • But they reverse the sense of copyright
  • Copyright restricts use and distribution of information products
  • Copyleft obliges complete distribution of information products
  • This genius hack enables licenses to be bridges between two contradicting logics

Effects of licenses outside the project

  • Licenses govern the use of the results of the Free Project by third parties
    • In particular: Give freedom to third parties
  • Copyleft restricts freedom of third parties in favor of the project goals
    • Copyleft as protection from re-privatization

Effects of licenses inside the project

  • A fork turns the forking part of the project into an external entity
    • Then licenses are useful so the (so far common) results can be used (just as by any other third party)
  • Licenses are no inherent need of a Free Project
    • The germ form could do without licenses
  • Make no sense inside the project
    • Cooperation in a Free Project is not based on contracts backed by abstract law
    • Instead cooperation is based on the will to create something useful together
    • The way Free Projects share their results is the only way making sense
      • Licenses can not improve this
  • Licenses merely build a bridge to the old system
  • May prevent useful changes in the project

Effects of licenses in the community

  • All (Doubly) Free Projects are interested in creating a useful product
    • May be even Single Free Projects are more interested in creating useful products than proprietary endeavors
  • All (Doubly) Free Projects are interested in creating a useful infrastructure
    • For their own use (compilers, editors, ...)
    • For general use (applications of all sorts)
  • In other words: In general the project goals and the community goals are equal
    • Therefore: Cooperation instead of competition
    • Just as licenses make no sense inside a project they make no sense inside the community
    • Under alienated conditions this common goal fades

Licenses use an abstract external point of view

  • However, Free Projects are about concrete solutions
    • Rough consensus and running code
    • Rough consensus relates to concrete members of the project
    • Running code is the concrete solution
  • Mobilize national law
    • National law is for enforcing special interests
    • However, Free Projects are in the public interest
      • SPI (Software in the public interest)
      • Free Projects produce public goods
        • Result of their unlimitedness when giving

Practical examples

Changing licenses

  • Because licenses have no inherent value to the project a particular one may be recognized as being the wrong choice
    • Sometimes even after there is a large body of material under a certain license
  • So changing licenses can make sense
    • An active project can change its mind about things
    • Thus the first license choice may be considered wrong
    • This is a particular problem when the first license is "sticky" (for example: Copyleft)

Oekonux Wiki

  • After thoroughly thinking about the issue: CC-BY furthers project goals more than (never thought about) GFDL
  • Abstract external point of view of the old license has been used as a weapon against the project

Wikipedia

Conclusion

  • Licenses build a bridge between the old system and the germ form
  • Licenses give freedom to third parties
  • Licenses are necessary against special interests alienated from the project (Copyleft)
  • Licenses can be used as a weapon against the project using their abstract point of view (changing licenses)
  • Conclusion: Use Free licenses - but be careful