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Misconceptions and myths about free culture.


  • Isn't this just communism repackaged?
Not at all. One nice things about Free Culture is that it creates a Free Market for the works involved. In communism, business is outlawed. In Free Culture, business flourishes. Beyond that, the idea of "ShareAlike" licensing (or copyleft) being "communist" is without merit. Do you recall the first lessons that you were taught in school? That sharing with others is good and will not only make you feel good about yourself, but help you in the long run. This is not communist. If this were the case, every kindergarten teacher in the world would be labeled a communist. In the words of prominent Free Software programmer Bruce Perens, "Karl Marx didn't invent helping your neighbor."
Communism seeks common ownership of everything. Free Culture does not want common ownership of everything. Free Culture seeks an intelligent balance between common and private ownership, particularly in cultural areas like music, film, literature and ideas.
Capitalism works better when it balances common and private ownership. It is not communist simply to value free public resources, like public highways, public parks, public libraries, and public schools. These shared resources benefit our society immensely and actually help fuel capitalism by lowering costs for buyers and sellers in the marketplace.
Free Culture prefers that there exist at least some public music, public films, public literature, and public ideas, because our society would likewise benefit from these shared resources and it would actually help fuel capitalism. Capitalistic Disney has benefitted immensely from freely available stories. Everyone should be able to benefit from from free culture like this too.
This is not Communist. The goal of Free Culture to pool and share resources for the benefit of the Common Good has been present throughout American history back to the founding of the country.

Abolish copyright

  • You want to eliminate copyright altogether. supports and advocates for reasonable and balanced copyright law. We believe that artists and authors should be fairly recognized and compensated for their work.
We believe copyright is good to the extent that it encourages the creation and diffusion of new works. But to the extent that copyright law constricts the creation and diffusion of new works, we believe it can be improved upon.
PK says: Public Knowledge is not against copyright. We are for a shorter copyright term, for a length of time that better balances the public interest with the exclusive rights of the creator.

No money for artists

  • You want artists to work for free?
    • No. Free culture does not mean unpaid culture, or "artists must starve." As Richard Stallman puts it, we mean "free as in freedom, not as in beer." Think free speech, or free markets, not "free decoder ring with every purchase." Thousands of people (and more every day) are getting paid to work on free software, whether through personal donations (as Bram Cohen, the author of BitTorrent does), non-profits like the Mozilla Foundation, or companies like IBM. In fact, for much of computing history, the hardware was considered the primary product, with software merely a gratis add-on. You can make information and art freely available and still sell accompanying goods and services -- for instance, support subscriptions for software, concert tickets for musicians, or merchandise such as T-shirts. Musicians like Jim's Big Ego (who released their last album "They're Everywhere" under a Creative Commons license) and authors like Cory Doctorow have recognized this, and do quite well for themselves.
  • Why can't I copyright my work? I still want to get paid.
    • See above answer.
  • Today's copyright term is necessary to encourage artists to create.
    • Holding copyright on a work that you've created may encourage you to create, but you can't create after you're dead. Copyright in the United States is now life of the author plus 70 years. This means that a lot of work ends up in the hands of corporations or estates that enforce the author's copyrights in ways that the author would not have approved of. See the "This Land is Your Land" parody case, JibJab v. Ludlow, in which the copyright holder acted quite contrary to the spirit of its original author, the late Woody Guthrie. Guthrie once wrote: "This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."


  • My copyright is my property; I should have it forever.
Professor, give us a hand, if you will.

Free software

  • Some of the best and industry-standard software is proprietary. What's so special about free software? (TO BE CONTINUED)
Some proprietary software may very useful from a technical standpoint, but it has the fatal drawback of restricting the freedom of its users.
  • How can I trust something that's free?
The better question is, how can you trust something that's proprietary? With Free Software, you have the source code right in front of you. You can be sure, by checking it yourself, that it functions exactly as it claims to. Free Software gives you complete and full disclosure. Proprietary software, on the other hand, keeps it's code hidden from sight. How can you be sure it's not doing something you're not aware of?
  • Why would someone give away their work?
The term "give away" is a little misleading. The author keeps many rights to their program, so they are not "giving up" their rights. A better question might be 'Why would someone make their software Free Software?' Regardless,There are many reasons someone might make their program Free Software. The first reason that comes to mind is ethics: the creator(s) of the program want to give the users of the program the maximum amount of freedom in how they use the program so that it can be of maximum benefit to society. (The GNU Operating System is a good example of this.) Others make their program available as Free Software because it is a hobby and they want others to be able to learn and help them learn from the program. (MINIX and the Linux kernel are good examples.) Still others make their work available as Free Software as a business decision. ... (TO BE CONTINUED)
  • If it's free, how do programmers get paid?
Most software is not commercially available. The majority of software is made "in-house" because an organization needs a program to do this or that, but doesn't plan on distributing it. The programmers still get paid, even though the program is not sold commercially. The programmers are paid for the time they spend programming (or for the features they add). How many copies of the software are sold is really irrelevant to how much the programmer is paid in this case.
  • Proprietary program X (e.g. Internet Explorer) is free. Why shouldn't I use that?
"Free" in the case means that the proprietary software is granted to you at "no cost". What it does not grant you is freedom. (With exceptions) It does not grant you the freedom to run the program for any purpose. In fact, recent versions of Microsoft Frontpage prohibit you from using the program to say anything bad about Microsoft. Proprietary software also denys you the freedom to study the work and to adapt it to your needs. Most proprietary software EULAs (End User License Agreements) strictly prohibit any type of reverse-engineering of the program to learn how it works. Proprietary software also denys you the freedom to distribute it to help others. You are prohibited by law from giving anyone who does not legally own a copy of Microsoft Windows a copy of Internet Explorer. Lastly, proprietary software denys you the right to modify the program and distribute your modifications, whether for a fee or not. However, Free Software programs give you all these rights. So, for example, you can use (for any purpose), study, modify, give away and sell Mozilla Firefox if you wanted, because it is Free Software.

Open content

  • Can't someone just put their name on it and sell it as theirs?
No. If the work is still copyrighted someone else may not claim to be the author/owner of content without violating copyright law.
  • Why would someone give away their work? (How do creators get paid?)


  • Why do you defend pirates who steal from artists?
  • There's no legitimate purpose for peer-to-peer filesharing.
  • "Aren't peer-to-peer (P2P) networks only good for illegally downloading popular music and movies?"

Like any Internet protocol -- for instance, the web or e-mail -- P2P networks can be used for both legal and illegal uses. Legal uses of P2P networks include the distribution of works that are in the public domain (e.g., congressional hearings) or are Creative Commons licensed (e.g., zombie remixes). MORE

"Yeah, but if we outlaw P2P networks, people will still be able to share public domain stuff over the web."

But P2P networks are unique in that they virtually eliminate the cost of distribution. And while it doesn't cost much to serve your personal thoughts on your blog, it can be quite expensive to share your personal videos and audio recordings over the web. Technologies like BitTorrent allow supply to scale with demand, so that the burden of distribution is spread out among all those downloading the file. This means it is now possible for anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection to distribute Podcasts and home videos and amateur documentaries at zero cost. In this way P2P provides an outlet for speech that might otherwise not be heard.

  • Filesharing causes decreased record sales.
  • Filesharing is used for child pornography / other obscenity.
    • So are printing presses and cameras. Are you suggesting that we should ban all technology that can be used for bad purposes? I can kill people with a hammer, but I can also build houses with it. Don't ban hammers.


  • Is it really creativity if you're just remixing what already exists? Can't you do this with fair use already?
We believe creativity can be embodied in many forms. Certainly some of the best and most beloved writers, singers, and directors of our time are known for their originality and innovation, however, even they had influences and inspiration from those who came before them. The ability to draw upon the work of those who have preceded you is not only necessary for innovation, but is the basis for a surprisingly wide range of popular works today. Walt Disney made an entire career out of adapting traditional fairy tales to. Creativity is as much a function of creating something new out of nothing as it is creating new and original ideas out of the old.
Fair use is certainly an important aspect of copyright that allows for many academic and creative uses of works. However, there have been increasing threats to copyright, especially in the digital arena, that are significant enough to have a chilling effect on innovation and creativity in a variety of situations. When the 6th circuit court of appeals declared "get a license or do not sample," on September 7, 2004, it struck down years of precedent that has allowed artists to draw from our common culture and adapt and reuse even the smallest sound in a new way.
  • The public domain is already pretty big. Why does it need to grow?
  • You guys seem all over the place: free software, filesharing, open content, copyright law, patents, trademarks, free speech online... What's the connection?
We believe that culture -- speech, writing, art, music, film, dance, and so on -- is integral to an individual's relationship with society. Through culture, you define yourself -- what you think, what you feel, what you identify with, what you disagree with. Being able to participate in culture is an important part of being able to participate in society.
  1. The laws. The laws of what is known as "intellectual property" -- in particular, copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret -- are society's way of regulating culture. In the United States, the Constitution authorizes Congress to establish a monopoly for creators for a limited period of time in order to promote progress. We agree: exclusive rights for creators, when properly balanced with other societal demands, yields maximal cultural progress -- more creation, discussion, critique, and participation. However, in recent history, business interests have dominated the public dialogue on how best to balance these rights. As a result, IP law, in some cases, has become less effective at promoting progress -- sometimes even inhibiting it, sometimes running roughshod over other human and civil rights. We aim to provide voices to represent a broader range of interests, with the goal of creating more balanced laws, to ensure the laws work to benefit the public good rather than special interests, and to ensure that people can participate in their culture. We further aim to increase public understanding and discussion of how the law operates; after all, if a law falls in the forest and no one knows how it works, what good is it?
  2. The technology. Technology plays a key role in culture, from the printing press to the radio to the Internet. Recent advances in technology have greatly widened the possibilities for people to participate in culture. However, the possibilities of technology to empower participation are wasted if that technology remains inaccessible, whether because it is difficult to understand, because availability is limited by price, or because use is restricted by law. Therefore, we aim to keep these new frontiers as free as possible, open to competition and innovation. Furthermore, we aim to increase public understanding and discussion of the possibilities and ramifications of new technologies, and encourage widespread participation in using and directing them.
These parallel interests manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Often, they intertwine: for instance, free software uses the law to ensure its code cannot be locked down by any party, expanding the commons in order to encourage the best uses of technology; the lawsuit which resulted in involved a company attempting to use copyright law to silence speech online. We aim to be open, best harnessing the traits of grassroots organizing; therefore, our interests may be diverse, but should always be guided by these principles.

See also