A very interesting transcript of a conversation between Reuters and Warner Music Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman. The latter […] is revealed for what he is when he slips in the Big IP Lie:
Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it’s in the form of an avatar or a song or any such thing. These are the creations of someone’s mind, and it’s property as real as real estate.
No, Ed, no, no, no. What you call “intellectual property” is really an intellectual monopoly: it is a limited privilege, granted by the state, to encourage creativity. It is not property, however much you might like to claim it implicity. It is a bargain, with a quid pro quo: it has to allow reasonable “fair use”, and it has to be given up after a reasonable time. You and your industry seem to have forgotten both aspects.
(Quite a lot elided there, so do read the whole post.)
From there to an idea: Glyn pointed to Moving To Freedom, where I found Scott pointing back to Glyn’s The Great Software Schism and sideways to his own thoughts on Free vs Open Source. I had a section on this in my “open access” essay for 3QD, but I cut it out in the interest of brevity, because the open source section was just there for background and I assumed most people reading 3QD would be at least somewhat familiar with it. It went like this:
Richard Stallman started the GNU Project in 1983/4 as a reaction against the rising influence of proprietary software, and a year or so later founded the Free Software Foundation, which “is dedicated to promoting computer users’ rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs.” What Stallman and the FSF mean by “free software” is famously summed up by the dictum, “free as in speech, not free as in beer”; more precisely, they mean “free” as in:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
- The freedom to redistribute copies
- The freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public
Access to the source code is a precondition for these freedoms, and many advocates prefer that the “four fundamental freedoms” also be combined with some form of copyleft (basically a licence which explicitly disallows use of the original resource in any way that restricts the four freedoms for anyone else).
About a decade later the Open Source Initiative appeared, offering itself as a “more pragmatic” approach to free software. The two definitions are pretty similar, though the OSI version allows some licencing that the FSF considers too restrictive of end users. A common view of these two groups is that Open Source is a development methodology, whereas Free Software is a social movement. (You can, if you care to really get into it, read Stallman on why free is better than open source and the OSI on why the term “free” is too ambiguous. Oy. Wikipedia is good on all of this if you want more details: open source, open source software, free software.)
So anyway, if you’re not familiar with the “schism”, there’s some background. I’ve argued that the same sort of openness as brought to mind by Free/Open Source Software is vital for the future of science, and since a movement needs a name I’ve tentatively proposed Open Science as the banner under which open access, open data, open standards, open licensing and open source might assemble to their greatest mutual benefit. As it happens though, one of the earliest movements towards what I am calling “open” science was called the Free Science Campaign, run by Stefano Ghirlanda. (The page is offline now. I ran across it while doing my graduate studies, and it is an enduring regret that I never signed up.)
Here’s the idea, then, for all that it opens up an awful can of worms: should we be calling the campaign to free up scientific information (text, data and software) “Free Science”, for the same reasons Stallman insists on “Free Software”?
It would be rather too much to just toss that out there, so here’s my view. While I have great sympathy with Stallman’s arguments in favour of Free, and am personally committed to do as much of my science completely in the open as I can, I know my tribe. Scientists are a cynical, self-interested lot. For instance, I was scoffed at for recommending BioRoot to colleagues — the whole idea of sharing tends to be seen as naive, asking to be taken advantage of. It’s been my experience that the first response of most scientists to any “open” scheme (like BioRoot, or Open Notebook Science) is not “how cool!” but “what about bad actors? how will you keep from being robbed?”. (Which says something about what the culture of science does to a person, but I digress.) To my mind, this largely explains why BioRoot hasn’t taken off as I would have hoped/expected, and is something of which to be wary. I am concerned that “Free Science”, particularly if explicitly connected with “idealistic” Stallman (as contrasted with the “pragmatic” OSI), might meet with a chorus of sneers from the people who need it most. So for now, I think we should stick with “Open Science”.