Music is a big thing in my life. I have been a fan of music since I was a child, and I have also turned my interest in these songs into creating my own original songs. After many years of practice and determined effort I have learned how to play guitar, drums, bass, piano and sing. I apply the result of my practice in my compositional pieces that I record in my home studio, and I also play in a band that I formed called Seraphidian. Anyway, I can see your eyes glazing over so I will get on with it.
Recently some pals and I from Wolverhampton Linux User Group decided to set up a radio show that would basically revolve around the kind of discussion at LUG meetings. This discussion is typically loose, humorous and sarcastic and we wanted to bring this kind of banter to the net so others can have a listen. After about 10 months of lethargy, planning, house moves and sheer laziness we pulled our collective finger out and created our new baby, LUGRadio.
After we recorded our first episode in my little home studio, we released our debut recording to the Internet in OGG and MP3 formats under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0 license. We chose this license for a few reasons. First, we wanted to ensure that our recordings were available freely and could indeed be downloaded freely. Second, we wanted to ensure that people knew that it was us who recorded the show as LUGRadio is an ongoing project. Thirdly, we wanted to ensure that our broadcasts are free but can be used commercially with written permission. Finally, we wanted to ensure that our recordings were not modified in any way so as to preserve the context and measure of the show. We settled on this license and that was that.
When we released our first episode into the wilderness we got a lot of very positive responses from people across the world, and a mind boggling set of statistics for downloads. A lot of people downloaded the first episode and we were, well, surprised to say the least. Out of the list of emails that we were getting for the show one of them stuck out in particular. This particular email questioned why we had chosen a license that the writer deemed non-free by his account. The writer felt that we were not releasing a truly free broadcast due to the fact that we do not allow commercial use of the show without written permission, and that we do not allow people to edit the show. This got me thinking. Is our licensing structure free? Are we choosing the best license for the show based upon the balance of ensuring clarity and consistency, but also preserving free distribution?
In my view this individual is wrong. Freedom is a word that can be defined on so many different levels. Although this guy is questioning the freedoms of the listener, he does not seem to question the freedoms of the artist. When we created LUGRadio, we were essentially stepping into roles as artists. We created a piece that was released and meant to be heard as a piece. We do not really want people to hear snippets of the show, as the broadcast as a whole will not be in context. The whole point of a Radio, TV or other broadcast episodes are that they are intended as a whole. If we had plumped for the kind of free license that enables the rights that this individual requires, our radio show could be chopped into pieces and distributed in parts and not necessarily as the whole. To me this undermines our rights as the artists who created the work, and our artistic vision.
Let us take an example here. Many of you reading this will love Star Wars. Do we have the right to demand that George Lucas uses a free license on his films so that we can choose the ending that we deem correct? Should we be allowed to adjust the ending of The Lord Of The Rings? Is it fair to deny an artist a right to create a piece of art that is to be released and enjoyed in the way that it was intended?
Freedom has a limit at some point. That is a sentence that I hate to write because I believe in freedom so much. I believe that code should be free, that ideas should be free and that we should all live in a free society where we can pursue our individual potential as a community. This is one of the many reasons why I am a free software advocate. It does seem however that there is a conflict of interest between art and freedom if this requirement for modification is demanded for the piece to be truly free. Although admittedly we would still be able to release our full unedited version on the Internet, and this could be perceived as our right, I don’t think it is unreasonable to produce a work of creativity that we want to be heard in the way it was intended. People can still listen to it and distribute it freely so what is the issue?
The issue in my mind is that a software license is being applied in a context where a software license is not always applicable. Free and open source software is comprised of a media that is used to create a final product, and the source code is the true product of open source free software, not the compiled binary that is released. The reason why open source free software has such potential is that the materials used to build the final consumer product (the source code) are licensed in a way that allows them to be modified and expanded. This is highly reasonable and practical due to the fact that software is generally intended to be improved and modified. There are few software applications that are released as works of art. Typically software applications are tools that are intended to be used to perform a function or activity. It is therefore sensible and reasonable to release the source code under a free license that involves freedom of distribution and indeed modification to foster these improvements.
What we need to bear in mind however is that an audio piece such as ours cannot be compared in such a way. Firstly, the final recorded output of our show is the equivalent of a binary compiled from an application. We recorded our source material to a PC and then I edited it all together. If our show was to be open sourced therefore, the source audio content would need to be made available. Even then, surely that is still the binary equivalent of the recording process. The digitally recorded source material is merely the product of our true source material - our thoughts, discussion, comment and sarcasm that was recorded to the PC in the first place. Does this even truer level of freedom mean that everything we say on the show should be open to modification and improvement? Of course not. This is ludicrous. As we can see, freedom can only be taken so far practically. This definition of so far is of course open to scrutiny. One persons idea of freedom is just giving away pre-compiled software and another persons idea is removing the locks from their doors and inviting everyone into their house.
I believe LUGRadio is free. This show is free because we have developed a piece of creative art that we are giving away freely to the world. We have worked hard to pull together our collective ideas and present them in a show that not only seems interesting to listen to (from our initial feedback) but is also made available freely on the Internet. Protecting this freedom of distribution has meant many late nights and concerted efforts to set up the website, forums, mirrors and other services. LUGRadio has also been a true example of how a community has pulled together to keep something going. We have had generous contributions of mirrors, resources and suggestions from all four corners of the earth. This is indeed freedom and community on display.
So what do you think? Are we right, wrong or will people never agree? Scribe your thoughts below…