Singpolyma

Archive of "Freedom"

Archive for the "Freedom" Category

Holiday Greeting Freedom

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This year I’ve been working on a new project for cultural freedom. I have adapted several freely-licensed characters and visual art for use on greeting cards. Starting with greeting cards targeting Christmas and the winter holidays generally my plan is to take orders throughout October so that cards can be printed and shipped to people in November (in plenty of time to mail them out to the intended recipients before December 25th!)

I have cards representing art from several different artists in the commons, including David Revoy’s Pepper & Carrot comic, Nina Paley’s Mimi and Eunice, Piti Yindee’s Wuffle, and the Blender Institute’s Caminandes (specifically the most recent wintery episode). This is a unique opportunity to support these artists and help Free Culture get more awareness.

Because this art is all found in the commons, I can produce these cards without needing any special contract with the original creators. No extra legal work or permission needed, I can produce these on the strength of the Creative Commons Attribution and Zero licenses of the sources. However, because I believe in supporting the work that enabled me, all revenue above expenses will be donated directly to the original creators (I’m not even keeping a cut for myself).

So hurry to get in your order, either with a greeting you like, or you can order a blank version if you prefer to write everything yourself.

The Back Door to Copyright Reform

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Let’s say there is a proposal (like parts of TPP) to extend copyright and strangle the Public Domain for a time. This sounds bad, but let’s say it gets defeated. What are we left with? A copyright term of life + 50 years (or longer) is already strangling the progress of useful arts and culture in most of the world.

So, we lobby for a term reduction, right? Good luck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a term reduction. I’m all for many of the reforms that get proposed. I just don’t really see it happening in my lifetime. There are treaties and lobbies and too many things preventing meaningful progress in this area.

Same goes for what should be unrelated policy areas like copy protection enforcement. We can (and should!) decry expansions that criminalize legitimate security research and legitimate unlocking uses. Again, however, each victory leaves us in our existing place of defeat.

We need a back door. A way to promote art, culture, science, and innovation without climbing up the waterfall. It begins with the understanding that the length of time a work is protected for under a copyright regime is a maximum. Creators can at most any time, and for most any reason, provide the public with a license to their work under much more friendly terms than the default.

If you’re familiar with the Free Culture or Free Software or other communities, this is not news. Some creators already choose to provide the public with a license to their work. This, however, is based entirely on creators knowing about the choices available to them, understanding the advantages, and making a decision that sometimes will benefit others more than it benefits themselves.

This is where public policy can come in. Many governments already provide funding to various artistic or innovative ventures based on policy goals. If a government can be convinced of the benefits of an expanded Public Domain (say) we do not have to convince them to shorten copyright terms to achieve that goal. Much easier to implement is to use (some of) their arts funding to fund projects that will be required to (perhaps after a reasonable period of time passes, much shorter than the normal term of copyright) provide the public with a license to their work under reasonably liberal terms, and distribute without copy protection of any kind.

Instead of trying to reform the entire landscape, and instead of only hiding in our corner creating the few things we can, we carve out just a piece of policy and focus it on bettering the overall situation. Things still get much better, and with a lot less change.

Creative Freedom for Children Who Become Adults

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Our children are the most creative component of our society. They are the great remixers. They absorb the culture that they are surrounded by, and create their own pictures and stories and songs. We hang these on our fridge, or listen, or sing along. We’re all proud of our little creators.

Children love to remix because they love to imitate. Give a child a Mickey Mouse colouring book and soon they’ll be drawing Mickey too. Watch Frozen and hear new stories about Elsa and Anna for weeks to come. We don’t give this a second thought. Surely copyright concerns are for other people, maybe teenagers making electronic music and anime music videos. Copyright need not apply here, in our children’s crayons.

Sure, I’ve not yet heard of a lawsuit being brought over a small child’s drawings, but children grow up. I’d like to talk about what happens when they do.

My sister, for instance, has grown up, gotten married, and is looking hard at what she wants to do with her life. What she enjoys most is creating visual art. So when she started taking commissions for paintings, what do you think she wanted to paint? What do you think people wanted her to paint? Disney characters, of course, the characters that she and her clients were so close to as children.

You can see examples of this everywhere. YouTube, DeviantArt, and Etsy are full of Star Wars, Star Trek, Muppets, old Disney, and various other art based on old franchises. Teens make gifs and videos, adults make paintings and scarves, everyone makes art and everyone is inspired by the culture that they absorbed as children. Those crayon drawings that no one was ever going to sue over have become hobbies and passions and, sometimes, careers. Careers that can get you in a lot of trouble.

Could these people have been kept away from strongly-protected copyrighted media as children? No. Moreover, I’m not sure one would want to even try that. When they realize, however, the problems inherent in taking inspiration from locked-up culture, it is tempting suggest they simply draw inspiration from elsewhere. There are books, movies, songs, comics, and more either in the Public Domain, or available under Creative Commons licenses. Why not look there? Well, you cannot say to an artist “Oh, just make things with this instead.” That’s not how art works. Art comes from inspiration, and inspiration is not something you can “just swap out”. The issue for these creators is not that they have seen locked-up culture, it is that they have not been exposed to creatively free culture.

So, what can we do?

Give a Child a Story They Can Create With

There are stories and images in the world that are very child-friendly and also provide the creative freedom that will be so important as their desire to create matures. Some great examples include picture books available from Brothers Whim, a cute webcomic called Pepper & Carrot which recently got a printed book funded, and several animated shorts from the Blender Institute, many featuring characters and plots suitable for children.


I am also working in this area, creating a board book for young children using some of the Blender animated characters which you can currently back in crowdfunding.

These works, and others, can be part of the culture a child absorbs while growing up, becoming part of what inspires them later in life. When they find themselves confronted by the dilemma of being inspired by art that our society forbids them to be inspired by, there is a chance they will seize upon other images from their past. Ones they may reuse and remix to their heart’s content.

Christian Faith and Copyfreedom

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I have for quite some time been involved in the Free Culture and Free Software communities. I have long felt that this affiliation was a natural outgrowth of my faith in Jesus, but I have not written much on this topic.

I believe that a desire to see the world reached for Christ requires that we not restrict the distribution and re-use of Gospel materials, that a desire to control one’s own work must not come before the spiritual needs of worshipers, that a belief in mutual aid is aligned with freedom, and that good stewardship requires a proper evaluations of all options before we spend our God-given resources.

A Desire to Reach the World

My first real encounter with this first issue came when I was in Bible College. For individual use, quotations of the New International Version of the Bible (the most popular English translation) must be no more than 50 verses, and must not be more than 5% of the total of the work in which they appear. This means that handouts or flyers comprised of primarily Bible verses are prohibited. For a church the limits are raised to 500 verses and 25%, but still the issue largely remains. There are various other limitations, including the statement: “This limited license may be revoked and/or modified at any time by Biblica in its sole and absolute discretion.” So at any time, and without warning, my quoted material might no longer be an allowed use!

This bothers me greatly. Do we not want people to read the Bible? Is not the proliferation of the scriptures a primary goal of many Christian organizations? Why would it be right to ban the reproduction or distribution of the scriptures, which are at any rate not the original creative work of the copyright holder, but the inspired word of God! If we truly wish to reach the world, to encourage each other to get out and share the Word with others, then we must be, at very least, allowed to share the Word at all! We should not be asking for “$10,000 + $10/copy distributed” just to distribute the scriptures (citation).

For quite awhile, this issue led me to use only the original text of the King James Version of the Bible. I have since found some other translations that believe that the scriptures should be shared with others, including the excellent World English Bible, but this issue is not only restricted to Bible translations. Many materials of great use in the work of spreading the Gospel are similarly restricted, including: songs, pamphlets, bible story books, curricula, sermons, videos, and much more.

The Spiritual Needs of Worshipers

It has become common practice in Evangelical churches to have special guests who will lead (often musical) worship for a single service. Often these guests will end the worship time with an invitation to “visit their table at the back” to purchase merchandise related to their unique abilities. This is highly reminiscent of a concert where the act sells merchandise to fans as they depart. It is also reminiscent of those events which caused Jesus to say: “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16)

Is it wrong for Christian workers to ask to be compensated for their work? Certainly not. The scripture is full of statements to the contrary. Workers deserve to be compensated for their work. However, no one should capitalize on worship activities. The spiritual needs of God’s people are not a market opportunity to be seized, but a ministry opportunity to be cared for. Many churches pay high licensing fees for the right to publicly display just the lyrics to worship songs during services!

When I was in University, I was a member of a small (under 20 people) InterVarsity chapter. There was a desire amongst the group to join together in musical worship, and so the proper licensing was sought. The cost to display just the lyrics was $60! If we gained just a few more members, the cost would rise to $125! So we sought direct permission from the authors of popular worship songs, thinking that certainly our brothers and sisters in Christ would see this small student group as an opportunity for ministry. Very few did. Notably, the David Crowder Band gave us complete permission to use their songs. Other artists (or, more often, the labels to whom they’ve sold their right) wanted much more money, or were uninterested in dealing with us at all.

There does exist the Open Hymnal Project to group together such hymns as have fallen into the Public Domain, or other worship songs which may be freely used. Sadly, there is very little in the way of so-called “modern” worship music available to be used for worship purposes. Think of that! It is prohibited to use worship music for worship purposes unless you can get explicit permission. Do we not wish for God’s people to worship?

Mutual Aid

Suppose your church has a piece of software to aid in display of lyrics for worship purposes. Simply paste in the song lyrics, select a background, and there you go. You find that at a sister church, someone has to spend hours each week copying and pasting the lyrics to the song set into slide presentation software in order to display it during worship time. Well, you wish to help your sister church, and you have this software, so what is the problem? Give them a copy of the software and all will be well. But if this software is proprietary then giving them a copy is a potential cause of action! So, you are not allowed to help.

Luckily, when I experienced this exact issue I was able to direct our sister church to the excellent freedom-respecting software OpenLP, which they now use happily, but this sort of issue can arise so often. Many churches find their computers are running office software, or even operating systems, that a member simply “loaned” to the church — running the risk of legal action they are not aware of, because the members wanted to help.

This is not just the case with churches helping each other, but also within the body of Christ generally. We are called to the mutual aid one of another. This is much more easily done when the tools we have and produce may be freely shared with each other!

Stewardship

The last point I will touch on in this article is that of stewardship. Often, the reason any given Christian organization goes along with the status quo is simply that it is the status quo. Licenses are paid for music, lyrics, and software; CDs (and books and don’t even get me started on “holy hardware”) are sold; new material produced has its copyright dutifully enforced (or at least no license is given for it); bible quotations are limited (or the limitations ignored, at the risk of legal action); all because it seems to be the way things are done. But does not good stewardship of our resources require that we make the effort to find and evaluate all of our options? If someone is offering us material or tools that are useful to us at a lower cost, should that not be evaluated? Freedom is not always cheaper, but when it is that is certainly a factor.

Should we not so much more seek to help others? Why any church insists on keeping the copyright of its sermon podcast or blog posts is beyond me. These materials are almost wholly produced by volunteers or already-paid staff as a part of their normal function in the church. Should not other believers and other churches benefit from this work that has already been done to further the kingdom? This is why, at least for me, I cannot in good conscience release useful material that it is forbidden to share on reuse. I feel that my faith demands I gWhen I was in University, I was a member of a small (under 20 people) InterVarsity chapter. There was a desire amongst the group to join together in musical worship, and so the proper licensing was sought. The cost to display just the lyrics was $60! If we gained just a few more members, the cost would rise to $125! So we sought direct permission from the authors of popular worship songs, thinking that certainly our brothers and sisters in Christ would see this small student group as an opportunity for ministry. Very few did. Notably, the David Crowder Band gave us complete permission to use their songs. Other artists (or, more often, the labels to whom they’ve sold their right) wanted much more money, or were uninterested in dealing with us at all.rant freedom to others.

Free Culture for the Next Generation

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My life has been going through some transitions recently. My siblings are all married, and one recently had a baby. I got engaged. The sort of changes that get you thinking about the future. The sort of changes that get you thinking about what you want for your kids.

For quite some time now, I’ve been an advocate for digital freedoms, for free culture. I promote libre-licensed music, movies, video games, and books to my friends (and sometimes on the street). Jamendo is filled with pop and rock and metal and electronic music of all varieties. There are movies like Star Wreck and documentaries like RiP. So much work to use, share, and remix.

But when I watch my fiancé’s little cousins or my niece, I see Disney colouring books and wallpapers and toys and t-shirts filling their lives. When I go to shop for my niece, what do I get her? I can get her a stuffed baby GNU, but I quickly run out of options. There is no obvious source for libre characters appearing in colouring pages, activity books, or baby books. The Blender Institute has a few cartoons from which characters could be drawn, but little additional content (since their focus is to promote the Blender software).

It’s not that I think we can somehow fill the next generation’s lives with only libre content based on libre characters, and drive the Disney out. I’m not sure we even really want to do that. But I would like kids to be able to grow up loving at least one set of content that they can build on and be creative with as they grow older. Kids who have as a natural part of the cultural and artistic expression language at least one element they are actually allowed to make use of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The free culture movement is filled with parents and aunts and uncles who have probably been thinking about these issues even longer than I have. I cannot change this by myself, nor can a body of work spring up overnight, but I want to get something moving. After a long discussion with a friend, I decided the first thing to try would be a baby board book. In the spirit of free culture (and in the spirit of having a body of related work) I am not creating this book from scratch, but rather basing it on the excellent Big Buck Bunny. I have found a printing company in the USA that does an excellent job of smaller-run board book printing, taught myself all the tricks in Inkscape that I needed in order to produce a draft, and been in contact with Crowd Supply about what I need to get ready for a crowd funding effort.

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What I need now, is you. The crowd funding has not started yet, but if you are interested in helping this project move forward please register your email address on the prelaunch page. This gives me a much better idea of what sort of volume the final crowd funding (later this year) will be able to get, and gives the project some momentum right from the start (which is very important for any successful crowd funding).

What will the crowd funding include? Well, the full source files (in SVG) and an eBook version of the baby book will be made available to anyone who backs, and afterwards to the whole world if we’re successful, under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. The physical printed books themselves (printed in the USA) will be available to backers who pledge enough (final costs still being worked out). Other things (kid-size thirts? stickers?) may also be a part of this, so let me know if you have any really good ideas!

Also, if you are a Facebook user, you can also promote this campaign by sharing/liking the Facebook page.

I have put up a promo video for the book on YouTube and on Archive.org: