[Openfontlibrary] Fwd: What is Art?

Dave Crossland dave at lab6.com
Sun Nov 19 18:59:25 PST 2006



As part of my attempt to understand more clearly the licensing of
artistic work in the digital age, I've written a large screed. I
welcome your comments and feedback, and apologise if you feel its off

-- 8< --

Artwork seems like a different kind of work to software.

Indeed, RMS proposes [0] 3 kinds of works that require separate treatments:

1. "Functional" or educational works: software, manuals,  encyclopedias, recipes
2. Works that "say what certain people think": essays of opinion,
memoirs, scientific papers
3. "Aesthetic or entertaining" works: paintings, music, novels, desktop themes

For 1 the GPL is generally good to define and defend the 4 freedoms you need

For 2 the phrase "Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire
article are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided
this notice is preserved." is all you need. [12]

For 3 though, "the issue of modification is a very difficult one
because on the one hand, there is the idea that these works reflect
the vision of an artist and to change them is to mess up that vision.
On the other hand, you have the fact that there is the folk process,
where a sequence of people modifying a work can sometimes produce a
result that is extremely rich. Even when you have artists' producing
the works, borrowing from previous works is often very useful. Some of
Shakespeare's plays used a story that was taken from some other play.
If today's copyright laws had been in effect back then, those plays
would have been illegal." [0]

Similarly, when manuals are in printed book form, they often mix 1 and
2, and this gets difficult. The GNU Free Documentation License deals
with this by allowing the 'functional' parts to have an appropriate
license and the 'essays of opinions' parts to have an appropriate

Now I have read a lot of Marshall McLuhan [10], especially
"Understanding Media", and so my thoughts are conceptually dependent
on his theories; if what I say is interesting, I highly recommend
reading McLuhan :-) I'm also influenced a lot by Stallman, Lessig and
Doctorow, and I bet all four have been reading the same history books.

McLuhan wrote about how the essence or nature of a television is
different when it has 4 channels and when it has 4,000. That despite
being the same physical object, when you plug in a
cable/satellite/digital receiver, it TRANSFORMS into a completely
different thing - because the effect on society is radically

Similarly, an audio CD is completely different when you have an
electronic CD player and when you have a computer with a CD-RW drive
and an Internet connection. Same physical thing, completely different
effect on society.

McLuhan split history into 4 ages - Tribal, Classical, Mechanical and
Electrical - determined by the technologies that radically altered the
societies that invented them - spoken language, the alphabet, the
printing press, and the electric circuit.

He recognised in the 50s that electric technology was
"retribalisating" western society, returning it from a literate
culture where the written word was the dominant form of culture and
communication to a classical culture where the spoken word and image
is the dominant form of culture and communication.

In the ancient cultures, the "folk process" that RMS writes about was
the accepted norm, [11] what Lessig calls a "Read-Write" culture.

But when the printing press became widely used, it changed society,
changed the tempo of the folk process, and we became what Lessig calls
a "Read-Only" culture. The concept of 'the author', of a god-like
creator or 'creative', emerged and overshadowed the idea of the folk

However, at least as recently as the USA's constitution, it was widely
believed that this concept was an illusion and that the folk process
was really how artistic and entertaining things get made.

So a balance was struck, the balance of copyright, where an artificial
break was applied to the folk process, with the idea of encouraging
more stuff by pretending for a limited time only that 'creative work'
could have owners.

Since then, mechanical technology like the printing press became
steadily displaced by electric technology like the television.

McLuhan wrote that the artist's job is to explore the "psychic"
effects of new technology, and most of the original experimentation
with electric technology's effects on society happened before WW2.

For example, the "cut up technique" [1] is a literary technique from
the 1920s that William Burroughs made famous in the 1950s [2] and
inspired "cut up" music that Negativland made famous in 1980 [3] and
is the basis of the 'hip hop' genre [4].

Each time a new electric technology for music emerged, like piano
rolls in the 1800s, the existing industry hawed about its inherent
evil, and each time, the governments recognised the folk process tempo
stepping up a beat, and told them to adapt or go bust. The new
technology thrived, and a new industry came about.  But the idea of
industry is rooted in the mechanical age or 'industrial revolution',
and while that idea is playing a part, the folk process has a slow

For example, on the streets where it happens "for real", hip hop is a
very fast folk process. But the electric technology of the LP still
required a publishing infrastructure from the age of the printing
press, and the balance of copyright held. "The Industry" was able to
co-opt "the underground", and it was business as usual.

But we've been steadily displacing electric technology with digital
technology, and the legacy of mechanical culture is vanishing in the
digital age, with only remnants of an electrical culture, as surely as
the legacy of the tribal culture vanished in the age of the printing
press with remnants of a classical culture.

McLuhan pointed to Artists as the explorers of the effects of a new
medium on society, when dealing with the mechanical and electrical
ages. The ban-worthy offense that Burroughs caused [2] shows how the
idea of who an artist can be was breaking down as the electric age

With the digital age, it broke down completely. While Burroughs is
considered merely low brow, yet still an Artiste, the artists of
digital technology are not called artists in any sense. Society
instead calls them NERDS, and they call themselves HACKERS.

Digital technology makes the folk process go as fast as it can, and
the "artists" described in Levy's "Hackers", like RMS, were the first
people to deal with this.

RMS was the first person to really acknowledge that putting artificial
brakes on the folk process of writing software, that goes as literally
as fast as it can, for the sake of Gates-style riches is a dumb idea
for society. And that there was a better way, and he was going to make
it happen "if it was the last thing I did."[5]

With a computer on every desk and in every home, all connected, the
folk process for all aspects of culture has started to go as fast as
it can: encyclopedias explode out of nowhere, [6] lifestyle magazines
are dwarfed by the lifestyle blogosphere, and even the oxbridge elite
ends of the press are under siege by thousands of bloggers just as
smart, well informed, and lucidly writing as they are.

The "Permission Culture" of the mechanical age is being steadily
replaced by the "Free Culture" of the digital age, whether the
existing industry like it or not, and all attempts to stop this - gag
alt.religion.scientology, stop napster/sharman/piratebay/whoever, DRM
up your digital devices - are doomed.

It is not business as usual, the balance of copyright has broken, and
the old forms of industry  from the industrial revolution are
vanishing. The biggest advertising agency in the world is Google, and
they don't employ any copywriters or other "creatives" - they employ

When RMS says there are broadly 3 kinds of works -

1. "Functional" or educational works: software, manuals,  encyclopedias, recipes
2. Works that "say what certain people think": essays of opinion,
memoirs, scientific papers
3. "Aesthetic or entertaining" works: paintings, music, novels, desktop themes

 - he goes on to discuss how people who write novels can get paid.

The idea of a novelist being paid in tips is from the past, and in the
digital age, new forms are emerging that are purely digital and only
make sense in the Internet. Enter Google Adsense.

Nerds explore the effects of digital technology on society, and Google
has systematically hired the best nerds, [7] so they have this all
worked out. Or at least just better than anyone else.

But for RMS to make a commercial/noncommercial distinction is curious,
because Free Software doesn't make such a distinction. It is as happy
with sharing among friends and private modification at home for the
fun of tinkering, as with commercial distribution and private
modification for profit.

Creative Commons is fatally flawed in that it makes this distinction.
By trying to bridge the permission and free cultures, it falls down
between both. Non-Commercial use is really hard to define. There are
millions of blogs with Google Adsense, and for me, I'm a single
freelance consultant; anything I do that increases my public profile,
including this essay, can be construed as commercial activity.

"I cannot endorse Creative Commons as a whole, because some of its
licenses are unacceptable. It would be self-delusion to try to endorse
just some of the Creative Commons licenses, because people lump them
together; they will misconstrue any endorsement of some as a blanket
endorsement of all. I therefore find myself constrained to reject
Creative Commons entirely."  - RMS, http://www.p2pnet.net/story/7840

Where the different licenses do have things in common, they aren't
cross-compatible, so it isn't even creating a real commons: the LGPL
allows you to upgrade to the full copyleft power of the GPL if it
becomes strategic to do so; you can't convert CC-BY to CC-BY-SA in the
same way, so its more like 'Creative Ghettos'.

However, the single silo of CC-BY-SA is very much in the spirit of
copyleft free culture, and competes with the GNU FDL. Fortunately,
compatiblity is planned. In short:

1. Works licensed under FDLv1 can usually be upgraded to FDLv2 because
of the "at your option any later version" phrase in the start/preamble

2. Works licensed under any CCvN can always be upgraded to CCvN+1
because of the "at your option any later version" phrase in the middle
of the license (that is not highlighted in the 'human readable' deed)

3. FDLv2 documentation with no invariant/etc sections can be upgraded to SFDLv1

4. SFDLv2 will be compatible with CC-BY-SAv3 or if not with v4...


6. PROFIT!!!

This is based on my reading of the (S)FDL drafts up on gplv3.fsf.org
and background reading [13]

Since there are a lot of valuable projects out there under CC-BY(-SA)
and as the licenses cannot be switched, and their spirit is free, I
have no problem contributing to them. For example, I recommend
gNewSense use Tango artwork which is CC-BY-SA. I wish it was GPL, but
its not, and I can live with that.

But they are far far from ideal.

For RMS makes a non/commercial distinction because he's rooted in the
culture of the mechanical age and notions of freedom and privacy; he
focuses on an anonymous micropayment system. But this is really a
distraction from a lucid description of what really counterbalances
the folk process: "artistic integrity."

So I think the right way of treating "3" is as functional works, but
in a way that respects artistic integrity.
Fonts are one of the last frontier for Free Software, because they are
a perfectly even balance between function and art. Since very
different kinds of people become expert in software to join the free
software movement, and become expert in typeface design and font
development, there have been almost zero people in the world who are
expert in both. The first person to do both, Victor Gaultney, wrote a
new license, the SIL Open Font License, for his font "Gentium" [8]

Another example is the Revised Artistic License [9] though I've not
seen anything under this license to date, and like Creative Commons it
is considered non-free by Debian. While I'm not that fussed about what
Debian thinks, since they promote non-free software, the project's
failiures should not discount the excellent analysese it produces.

Debian's promotion of non-free software has recently been newsworthy
because of firmware included in the very imminent release of Debian 4

The poll at http://forums.debian.net/viewtopic.php?p=31126 (results at
http://master.debian.org/~jeroen/polls/firmware/results.txt ) suggests
that in Debian 5 ('Larry') the firmware will be in non-free

However, the Debian/FSF schism in the 90s appears to be over the
existance of the non-free repositories in the first place. gNewSense
doesn't carry them; if Debian aspires to be as Free as gNewSense,
which I'd hope, then it needs to rm -rf the non-free repositories for
Larry too.

I doubt this is ever going to happen, though, so to speculate, perhaps
Fedora would change its firmware policy after Debian's lead, and since
it doesn't do non-free, it'll be 100% Free like gNewSense. Staying
close to evolutionary trunks is important for me, and if Fedora does
this I'll switch that way, I imagine.

Recent corresponance with RMS [14] suggest that Fedora will go this way anyway.

I originally wrote "While I'm not that fussed about what Debian
thinks, since they include non-free software in main, it is a
consideration.", I'm falling into Debian's supposition that there
should be a distinction between main and a total Debian repository.
This is like the suppositions around the phrase "intellectual
property", in that it confuses the issue.


I think as a society we don't consider artistic integrity as necessary
for functional works, because the kind of people who make functional
works are different to the kind of people who make artistic works.
Artists are all about ego in a way that engineers aren't. As design
sits between the two, some designers aspire to create seamless work
for their clients, and other designers aspire to become design

If we keep on treating artistic works like something different to
software, we will lose the 'source code' to them. We don't normally
think of artistic works as having source code, because we are used to
considering "the most important thing [being] just the sensation of
looking at the work."

But when the folk process is measured in Ghz, the most important thing
is how the work can be altered and culture improved. Artwork has
'sourcecode', and that needs a GPL-style requirement for sourcecode
that the OFL and CC licenses aren't yet making.

For example, consider loading a RAW image from your digital camera
into an image manipulation program, turning it into lovely beautiful
artwork, and looking at the list or recipe of operations you that you
can see in the "undo" dialog just before you export or compile it into
a 1600x1200 pixel image at 72dpi with lossy JPEG compression for use
as your desktop wallpaper image.

Publish this under a 'free license', and the wallpaper can be changed,
sure, but this is like the way binary compiled software can be changed
- if you really want to do anything, you have to reverse engineer and
recreate a transparent copy. Downsampling it for a 1024x768 screen is
okay, but what about changing it for a 1920x1200 widescreen? (Guess
who just bought a 24" widescreen monitor... ;-)

While I am aware RMS also notes that trying to treat copyright issues
in a uniform way is a common tactic of proprietary interests, and that
in reality copyright already makes very fine distinctions between
different kinds of works to treat them in different ways, [0] I'm not
sure that's so useful while the Free Software Movement has little
influence over copyright law.

Instead, the most practical way to treat the 3 kinds of work is to
only treat them as 1 (educational) or 2 (opinion)

If they are treated as 2, "if they are just decoration, and easily
replaced, then they do not have to be free." [14]

But if they are as 1, plus artistic integrit, what is the best license
for that, bearing in mind GPL compatibility is important?

I figure, if the GPLv3 can accommodate an artistic integrity clause
that can't be removed downstream, it might be better for creative
works than anything else.

The fiunny thing is, McLuhan had this all worked out 50 years ago:

"It's misleading to suppose there's any basic difference between
education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of
the responsibility of looking onto the matter."
 - McLuhan, 1957. [10]

[0]: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/copyright-and-globalization.html
[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique#History
[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_Lunch
[3]: Looking at the first 5 links of
http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=negativland shows how relevant they
still are to all this
[4]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique#Musical_influence_and_similarities
[5]: http://www.builderau.com.au/strategy/futuretech/soa/Developer_Spotlight_Richard_Stallman/0,339028285,339130008,00.htm
[6]: http://folk.uio.no/sigurdkn/wiki_log.png and
[7]: http://www.cabochon.com/~stevey/blog-rants/google-secret-weapon.html
[8]: http://scripts.sil.org/ofl
[9]: http://www.statistica.unimib.it/utenti/dellavedova/software/artistic2.html
[10]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mcluhan
[11]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer#Identity_and_authorship
[12]: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/licenses.html
[13]: http://wikimania2006.wikimedia.org/wiki/Archives#Eben_Moglen_and_Lawrence_Lessig_-_Document_Licenses_and_the_Future_of_Free_Culture
[14]: http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/FreeSoftwareAnalysis/FSF


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