Review: Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity

Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity
Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity by Lawrence Lessig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Free Culture, as in Free Speech (not as in “free beer”).

I have received an answer from GoodReads, on my objections to its removals of “not original” content.

Hi Alfaniel,

Thanks for the response. We didn’t mean to suggest that you were plagiarizing another review – our apologies! We should have clarified that we try to avoid users posting duplicate reviews to the point that it’s difficult for other members to find different perspectives about the book. When a book page is barraged with copy-pasted duplicates of a particular review, it can become disrespectful to other members.

If you have any further questions, please let us know.

The Goodreads Team

First, I thank GoodReads for answering at all. Frankly, I absolutely didn’t expect an answer any longer. My email was sent over two-three weeks ago.

GoodReads would have a point there, if it wouldn’t have removed mark’s reviews. My reviews were the first Hydra copy of mark’s monday’s REMOVED reviews.

“Barrage” with a deleted, non-existent, review?

I think GoodReads only has to revoke the new policy and its enforcement, and civil disobedience may calm (though I’m not so sure about trust).

Then, our netizens won’t have to salvage them and spread them in response.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe GoodReads (or Amazon) is ready to do that.

Past overview

My objections to GoodReads are here:
And then there came the time for non-original reviews.
In short, the phrasing of the review rules implies that they need “original” content from us, because otherwise “it means” plagiarized or using copyrighted material without permission.

The phrasing is bad, the implication false, and the consequences relevant. It’s the copyright misconceptions, yielded by corporations to insinuate against free sharing, that are wrong, chilling, and concerning.

Thank you for the apology, but it’s misdirected. I just don’t think that it’s me you should apologize to. It’s this lively, well read and opinionated community of readers, from whom you asked for all rights over their work, until you used that power, to strike down free speech, and chill it in this place probably for ever.

Free Culture is about Free Speech.

Reviewing is a creative activity. Reviews are creative work. And creativity lives and breaths only in a free speech environment.

Strike down the essential freedom of the act of writing, and people will revolt, will go in the background, will go elsewhere, but essentially, they will resist you. They’re the authors of their expressions of ideas, GoodReads. It’s only up to them and their peers to read, to write, to review and to judge. To figure out a way to communicate their thoughts in a socially acceptable norm of a sub-community, yes; but up to them.

Not to corporate power.

Creative Commons

This book is the book of a revolution, in the history and philosophy of intellectual property. Apart from writing well, Lawrence Lessig is a lawyer, but I will forgive him for that.

This book is about many things, internet, copyright, sharing, creativity, money, peer-to-peer, piracy, publishing, community. It’s Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed in intellectual property, but adapted to keep copyright and respect authorship. I don’t remember all the things that this book is really about. I’ve read it and I’ve internalized it years ago, and I live in its world.

That’s just me, though. Lets look at GoodReads.

GoodReads is today a 20+ million members site focused on readers, writers, books. Its mission was to be a “site for readers”, a site where people were free to write reviews for books or to use the book as a starting point for their own thoughts, freely flowing.

When the iron fist stroke down, many people objected. But things went as you’d expect: first they came after YA reviewers, as BirdBrian remarked at the time. Then, in only a few weeks, they came after “off topic” reviews, after reviews on GoodReads/Amazon, reviews on pull to published books. And “not original” reviews.

The Hydra movement kept the content online.

What does that have to do with Creative Commons?

Manny’s Hydra initial review and comments essentially amounts to a license to reshare the content freely. It’s not drafted as one; but it is one. This wide permission to reshare the content freely, is what made possible for us, otherwise careful not to infringe or simply to upset, to keep the content online.

It gave the necessary rights to reshare the content to the community. And they kept it, when the original copy was struck down. In the commons of the creative work.

I heard someone recently say that GR is wrong to delete because “it destroys the creative work”. Mmm, yes, indeed, but only if the creative work is under copyright restrictions. Only then, if the unique copy is destroyed, it may mean the work is lost, destroyed, something essential taken from it. Otherwise, it’s just a copy; the original, yes, but just a digital copy, which is so easy today to make. A click and save and upload under another site or account.

Copyright restriction on sharing is the default (in copyright law), and is the heaven of corporations. They like it that way. We have not.

It enables their control through controlling access to that unique copy (or almost unique) we offered them for free. But if the work belongs to the community commons instead, if the community has the rights to share it at their will, then when the corporation censors, someone else can keep it alive.

If only they care about that content, they’ll do it. And GR community cares.

Creative Commons, part 2

Creative Commons licenses were drafted by Lawrence Lessig and other founders of the organization with the same name. The licenses work on the copyright law: you keep your copyright over your work, your legal and moral right to be always recognized as author of your work, and you allow a limited right to share the content, to everyone, under certain conditions.

Creative Commons licenses are the Hydra in legalese. Only, Hydra is also a call for help. To which people answered.

People here are intelligent, GoodReads. They don’t need rules to tell them what they are “allowed to” post, from the corporate power. You could stop striking down reviews not of your liking, and ask nicely instead. I bet no one wants duplicates on the book page, but who cares; we all know that justification is just smoke, to fog the protests.

Talk about the author behavior
(I’m trying to help, GR)

Lessig is a radical, on copyright law and its philosophy. I don’t think I am; I don’t really want to change copyright law itself, but its interpretation in public perception. Lessig argues for a much lesser default copyright term, and even redraft copyright law to allow much more “space” for fair use.

Here’s a better one: the past years he left copyright work and Creative Commons, and entered politics. How boring is that. But he seemed to believe that for the law to change, he has to fight the corruption in politics first. He may be right.

Speaking of fair use. I read something fun: Record Label picks a fight over copyright with the wrong guy.
A record label sent take down notices and threats for a short fragment used in a video, “without permission”. Of course it should be fair use, and it didn’t need written permission. But they spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, by over-reaching claims on their apparent rights. They just didn’t realize they did it to an intellectual property expert!
As the reporter says, when the record label comes against you or I, we’d sure as hell just desist and hope we won’t be dragged in courts.

Now, lets take a look at this Amazon job ad.

We like to think of our forums as a Free-Speech Zone. And freedom works best at the point of a bayonet – or a “Delete Post” button

You may know we’re working to put together the book documenting the GoodReads community protests, The Goodreads Censorship Debacle, take 2. We’re working on and collecting existing reviews for it.

I thought about a critique of this ad, and reproduction of the whole text for it, in an article (maybe for the book, maybe only on my blog, same thing). However, people wonder, can it be reproduced as fair use, or will it infringe Amazon’s copyright? There are only two paragraphs of text; the first is only three lines. The text is not exactly “original” like a poetry or actual artistic expression. We don’t aim for actual profit from the book.

I’m no lawyer. I read US copyright law and the Berne convention, but I don’t know what lawyers can make of it. I *think* reproduction of both paragraphs, in a critical context, should qualify as fair use.
But, I’m John Doe, a dog on the internet. Can I have Amazon lawyers all over, pissed off by the very freedom to share that critique; with infringement claims, even if it’s not infringing?

I’m sorry. I will not make any submission that criticizes both paragraphs of the Amazon ad. Not this one, and not this time.

As for you, Lessig. Kick those guys butt. And welcome back!
It’s getting chilling down here, at the point of a bayonet.

Power through copyright

Copyright accumulation is power. Monopoly kind. GR/Amazon has the rights to do with your content what none of the members of the community possibly can. That’s a position of power.

GoodReads/Amazon owns your work, by holding almost all sub-rights of copyright over all members creative content and library work, and, more importantly, under no conditions for them to respect. Not even recognize your authorship.

The GR ToU is a unilaterally drafted agreement, where they say “all your rights are belong to us; we only leave you copyright itself [actually I don’t think they can hold copyright in lack of a *signed* agreement, but they’re not telling you that!]. We can sell, copy partially or fully, edit, remove, make derivatives of your work in any medium, we can publish it, sublicense it to anyone we please, and we don’t even have to attribute you in exchange. We can also change our terms at any time, and it’s your responsibility to dream *cough* find out about it, otherwise zap”.

There are thousands and thousands of edits to the book database contributed by the community, which we have no right to use elsewhere, because GoodReads forbids our own access to it. They call it “GoodReads data”, and keep it under very restricted walls, their API terms of use. The book database has been built almost like wikipedia, except that the work has been added to GoodReads’ “property”, and not open licensed.
The library of all books of the planet should be like wikipedia. Built by the community, but also freely shared with the community. It’s not here.

Copyright accumulation is power, and it’s an unnecessary power. Companies could live and make profit with much more limited rights on intellectual property, and thereby less power to chill creativity and fairness. They could make money by providing a good service, by being best at what they offer, in a level playing field competition environment. Instead, they entertain the illusion that they need to build themselves a monopoly (of which copyright is central), from your work for free.

Open Source and Creative Commons

Nothing is [only] yours. It is to use. It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.
(Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed)

A software or content commons is not exactly Le Guin’s anarchy, but it is realistic today and necessary. It’s the community-based answer to monopolies. On intellectual property, free/open sharing is a middle ground between “all rights reserved” and “give up all rights”: “Some rights reserved”. You keep your copyright, and you allow others to share your work perpetually, subject to certain conditions, such as, to attribute you fairly, to share alike at their turn, to use or not use your work in the commercial field.

Free Culture has been the answer of the GoodReads community to corporate enforcement. Because free culture is about Freedom, about Free Speech, first and foremost, and only additionally it’s also free as in beer.

I believe that there is no way any longer, to break or stop the GoodReads/Amazon monopoly. We have to answer it by creating a new place on the internet for this community, a place where software and content belong to it from the start. A place no one can take away from us. No BookLikes or the like, is the answer on long term. They can be bought out.

We have to base it on the principles of freedom, and recognition, and sharing. There are great software libraries out there to help, there are open protocols drafted and implemented. There are already thousands and thousands of people and projects, in community based environments, who work to take internet back from corporations. Book lovers do not have one. Not one both social based and book based, as GoodReads seemed to have been. But we can do it, and, I believe, we must.

The internet is for sharing, and we have to bring back to people. It may take an year, it may take three. But we have to be on our watch for control through copyright. Any commercial venue may be part of it or benefit from the project, except those who try to use copyright to turn our commons itself, software, content, books data, into an “owned property”.

I believe it’s possible, and I believe people can do it. I know I do. It has to use only free and open licensing for code, open protocols and standards for communication and APIs, decentralized architecture, creative commons for content around the project, perhaps non-commercial so that authors can commercialize it through other venues. For content, it seems ok to me. For software, I would not involve with any but free/open licensed work. With any of them, but only them.

My preferred license, as a software developer, is one I’ve seen drafted in a software hub by a lawyer (!), copyleft-next. It’s in the works, drafted with copyright control in mind. It strikes it down, it kills its incentives for the commons. It plays nice with any open license and yet, it uses the history of open licensing to detect the real loophole and close it, in the best way possible under the current copyright law. The real loophole… is more a mentality matter than a legal matter, and it stems from the apparent need for copyright control. From the fear, uncertainty and doubt, spread by big media corporations, that enables ownership over the commons to insinuate. But I digress again. That’s for another review, off-topic as usual on GoodReads, and it’s just my preference; any open license works.

Free as in Freedom

Lawyers. You’d say, who needs them. Well, actually we do. We need those dedicated lawyers who have given their time to draft good licenses, documentation and legal frameworks, who counsel and draft and put themselves in line, for our projects fighting to rebuild the freedom on the internet.

Lawyers dedicated to freedom, as in free speech, and free culture, and free software. Not always as in free beer, but I’ll drink one now for them.

Now, it’s up to us. I’m in.

View all my reviews

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