If you tinker with software, you can improve it. You can also break it or make it worse, but the Freedom to Tinker is one of the foundational 4 Freedoms of Free Software. Your software may also be used for purposes you don't like, used by “bad people,” or even used against you; the Four Freedoms wisely counsel us to GET OVER IT. Unfortunately, The Free Software Foundation does not extend “Freedom to Tinker” to Culture. Cultural works released by the Free Software Foundation come with “No Derivatives” restrictions. They rationalize it here:
Works that express someone's opinion—memoirs, editorials, and so on—serve a fundamentally different purpose than works for practical use like software and documentation. Because of this, we expect them to provide recipients with a different set of permissions (notice how users are now called "recipients," and their Freedoms are now called "permissions" --NP): just the permission to copy and distribute the work verbatim.
The problem with this is that it is dead wrong. You do not know what purposes your works might serve others. You do not know how works might be found “practical” by others. To claim to understand the limits of “utility” of cultural works betrays an irrational bias toward software and against all other creative work. It is anti-Art, valuing software above the rest of culture. It says coders alone are entitled to Freedom, but everyone else can suck it. Use of -ND restrictions is an unjustifiable infringement on the freedom of others.
For example, here I have violated the Free Software Foundation's No-Derivatives license:
- The Four Freedoms of Free Culture:
- The freedom to run, view, hear, read, play, perform, or otherwise attend to the Work;
- The freedom to study, analyze, and dissect copies of the Work, and adapt it to your needs;
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes.
Without permission, I've created a derivative work: the Four Freedoms of Free Culture. Although I violated FSF's No-Derivatives license [Editor's note: not necessarily--copyrightability of the excerpt and fair use must be weighed.], they violated Freedoms # 2 and 4, so we're even.
Nina Paley's Rantifesto is released to the public and can be considered to be in the public domain: you may copy, share, excerpt, modify, and distribute modified versions. This article was adapted from a talk given at the Open Knowledge Conference 2011 and originally published on NinaPaley.com and QuestionCopyright.org.