Re: "Copyleft" article in New Scientist

From: Steve Hitchcock <sh94r_at_ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 15:06:07 +0000

> It is not clear what the counterpart of "software development" would be
in the
case of text.

A posting on Peter Suber's list today indirectly points to this

What do others think of the GNU Free Documentation License? Although the
origins and title suggest this might be aimed at software manuals, the
preamble suggests it might also apply to a 'textbook, or other written
document'. Peter's correspondent, who appears to have applied the license
successfully to a textbook, recommends: 'It makes the most sense for
scholarship, documentation, and other things that may outlive the original
author's interest'.

FDL is not new, although a new version (FDL 1.2) is currently being
reviewed, but I must admit I wasn't aware of it before, and the preceding
contributions to this thread didn't mention it.

Steve Hitchcock
Open Citation (OpCit) Project <>
IAM Research Group, Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 3256 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 2865

At 15:47 31/01/02 +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
>It looks to me as if "copyleft" is just a cute label for toll-free access
>in the special case of text (software, music, etc. are all different
>from text). The only thing I'm not sure about is whether "copyleft"
>ensures all the usage rights researchers might want with refereed
>research papers.
>To put this in context: The "copyleft" notion is derived from
>open-source, which is a software concept: Programmers felt (rightly)
>that concealing and copyrighting software would stifle its
>development and use. That's why they conceived of open-source.
>But, as Eric Raymond indicates in the New Scientist article, it is not
>clear what the counterpart of "software development" would be in the
>case of text.
>I think the answer is: nothing. In the special case of the texts we are
>concerned with -- refereed research -- the only objective of publishing
>them at all is to get them read, used, and cited. It is the knowledge
>they encode that is being passed on, for adoption, modification,
>Conventional software code is written to be used (not to be read, or
>modified). And conventional software wants the usage paid for, and the
>developmental path concealed. With text, there is no developmental
>path, hence no concealment.
>Now, with non-give-away text, there is the issue of charging for the
>usage (and copying). But with give-away text there is no such issue. And
>that is what toll-free-access is about.
>I'm all for making common cause with open-source (which I admire and
>support) wherever it is relevant. But there is one risk with conflating
>the open-source and toll-free-access movements: There is no crisp
>give-away/non-give-away divide in software. It's a question of taste or
>ethics, not genre. Whereas with text, and the very special case of
>refereed research, the distinction is intrinsic to the genre: Refereed
>research is ESSENTIALLY give-away, and THAT is its salient feature, not
>the much weaker and somewhat vague analogy to open-source software.
>To put it more directly, using software development language to make the
>point: The "developers" of the code that constitutes a refereed research
>paper do not, never did, and never could or would, write the "code" in
>order to sell it, and get fees or royalties from its use. Their rewards
>come EXCLUSIVELY from the user community's use itself, which any form
>of fee or toll would simply diminish or block.
>THAT is the heart of the rationale and motivation for toll-free access
>to refereed research, rather than the rather weaker homologies with
>some aspects of open-source (with which toll-free-access nevertheless
>resonates sympathetically).
>I stand ready to be corrected by others who know more.
>Stevan Harnad
> > "Good ideas are worth money, so why are people giving them away for
> > free? Join our experiment to find out.
> >
> > This week, New Scientist is doing something no other mainstream
> > magazine has - publishing an article under what's known as a
> > "copyleft".
> >
> > We're helping test one of the boldest ideas of our time. The outcome
> > is up to you. To read the article, go to
> > on
> > There, you can provide feedback, copy the article, redistribute it,
> > modify or reissue it, without worrying that you've violated our
> > copyright.
> >
> > The article itself is about an idealistic movement called "open
> > sourcing", which is all about free circulation of knowledge - an
> > emerging alternative to growing corporate power and restrictive
> > property rights. Open source is covered by a special licence called
> > the copyleft, which grants as much freedom as possible, as long as
> > you too release your version under the same copyleft terms and
> > conditions.
> >
> > In software, open source is an undoubted success. Now some of its
> > supporters are trying out its methods elsewhere. Already there's
> > open source music, open source encyclopaedias, open source law, even
> > open source soft drinks.
> >
> > We welcome your feedback on the concept, and input into the article
> > itself. No-one's really sure what the benefits of this experiment
> > will be, but if it works it could mean profound changes in
> > publishing, technology, music, even consumer products.
> >
> > Kind regards
> >
> > Alun Anderson
> > Editor-in-Chief
> > New Scientist"
Received on Fri Feb 08 2002 - 16:10:05 GMT

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