Steve Herrick

An indiano blog

Grupo de Cooperativas de las Indias

Why we don’t have a digital commons

The problem with building the digital commons isn’t that people don’t use a variety of open licenses. It’s that they do.

The problem with building the digital commons isn’t that people don’t use a variety of open licenses. It’s that they do.

It turns out I already learned this lesson over a year ago. But then I became concerned about the ability of stockholder-driven corporations to exploit the commons. Not so concerned that I started using the PPL, but enough so that I started using CC-BY-SA, to put it in the commons and keep it in the commons, as I thought. I deliberately avoided the non-commercial clause because I wanted others to be able to build on my work however they wanted, up to and including selling their derivations. NonCommercial is non-free.

OER Galaxies photo oer-galaxies.jpg

But I forgot the main lesson from last time I looked into this. ShareAlike is every bit as problematic as NonCommercial. Specifically, SA means you have to reuse the exact same license on your derived work. So, you couldn’t combine part of a work licensed as CC-BY-SA with part of a work licensed as CC-BY-NC-SA. Those two works are incompatible. They are not part of a single digital commons. As the picture shows, they are in orbits that will never cross.

Could I write one of the authors and request an exemption? Sure. Am I likely to do so? No. Or maybe I’d do it a time or two, but I’d grow tired of doing so pretty quickly. Then I’d go back to doing what the large majority of people already do, which is to either pretend that all CC licenses amount to standing permission to do whatever I like, or abandon the idea of reusing the content at all.

And this is just one example. In point of fact, most CC licenses are incompatible with each other (and we haven’t factored in all the other content licenses out there). Content is “shared,” but only in dozens of standalone silos. I don’t see how this is an improvement on the traditional copyright system. Essentially, we’ve added a layer of complexity that brings no benefit to content creators or would-be re-creators. Digital content will never constitute a digital commons under these circumstances.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. For years, I’ve been translating posts by the Indianos. I’ve wanted to also translate articles from a variety of magazines and newspapers from various places in Spain and Latin America, but I can’t, because most of them use either traditional copyright or a CC-NC license, so I could never build my work into anything economically sustainable. Only the Indianos are truly in the digital commons.

That’s because they don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with it. They don’t even insist on getting credit for what they write, though I’m careful to give it to them anyway. CC licenses are meant to make information (incrementally) freer, but information doesn’t want to be free. People want to be free.

«Why we don’t have a digital commons» recibió 4 desde que se publicó el January 5, 2017 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por Steve Herrick.

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Pingbacks recibidos desde otros blogs

  1. […] ¿Por qué no existe un verdadero comunal digital de contenidos («digital commons»)? El problema no es que la gente no use Creative Commons, sino precisamente que lo usa y que este fractura lo «abierto» haciendo incompatibles las partes e insostenible el resultado. […]

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