What Open Creative Communities Tend To Forget About Free-Libre Licenses

A common is not owned by anyone, not even the community that is creating it.

Free licenses are here to protect the end users, not the authors. Copyright already over-protects the authors.

A good license for open creative communities is a license that aims to protect the users *from* the contributors, not to protect the contributors from the users.

Because, in the end, the one with all the power is the author.

By licensing work under a free-libre license, an author willingly chose to give a broad, permanent protection to the user against the author’s own rights.

That’s what the GPL is all about. That’s what the CC-BY-SA is all about. (And, yes, the Share-Alike part actually does protect the users, from re-proprietarization that would limit their rights to derivative works).

And this great gift from authors create a virtuous circle of wide use, new contributions, and thriving ecosystems. It benefits users, community members, and the society as a whole, including, yes, profiteers.

Think about how an user of the Linux kernel, or the jQuery library, or Wikipedia, is protected from the arbitrary decisions of their (single and then numerous) authors.

The fear of abusive (mostly commercial) uses

When trying to set up rules for their open creative communities, many community founders are worried about the community contributors’ work being abused.

One thing community founders fear is outsiders using the work without ever contributing back. Or using the work to make money, and not contributing back adequately. It leads them to shy away from free-libre licences, and to seek licences that would protect the community authors from these abuses.

Selfish use of community-produced content is an important issue to address, of course. Is it morally right to use this community-produced content without giving back? Is it fair that someone uses it to make money?

Often, by focusing on fairness *for the authors*, we forget that open communities which create (digital) common goods must above all protect the users of these commons.

So, how to strike a balance between liberating the users from the tyranny of copyright where authors are the almighty dictators on their work, and the possible immorality of outsiders profiteering on the common work without giving anything back to the community?

Not owned by anyone, not even the community

Each community has to answer according to its goal. For Wikipedia, its goal is to create a global, universal encyclopedia, and it’s perfectly fine if someone uses Wikipedia without ever contributing back. Also, it’s fine to make money using Wikipedia content as long as you credit the use.

When you use Wikipedia content, you know as a user that you are protected from Wikipedia authors. No small print. Wikipedia is a common because it is not owned by anyone, not even the community that is creating it.

The commons are by definition prone to abuse. This abuse is a drama in the scarcity-based material world. It becomes at worst a very impolite thing to do in the abundance-based digital world.

If an open creative community impose rules that protect the community contributors first, and the users second, we risk turning our communities into closed tribes.

In putting the users second we would lose sight of our greater goal: to create freely usable common goods in a world dominated by DRM, monetization, and arbitrary contracts.