Open-Source Knitting: Free Commericalism

I've been thinking/talking here recently about the connections between open source (free; as in speech) development and knitting. I've also said that this, at least in my mind is related to the ideas I was considering in terms of how writers and creative types make money in the digital age, and while in my first foray I touched upon a debate over the commercial use differences between a creative commons license [1] and the GPL/GFDL, I think that post dealt with too many issues, and I think that the issue of commercializing content/product that is also free (again speech, not beer) is one that needs ongoing attention. Without further ado...

I should preface this with "but I'm not a lawyer," to be fair. This thankfully has never stopped interested folk from honest commentary. My main point earlier was non-commercial clauses in that in situations where authorship is community mean that there is no "copyright holder" present to override that clause of the license. While I license TealArt to you all for non-commercial use, I can use my content commercially should I choose to. If TealArt were a wiki; however, and every entry was the product of a collaboration of many (more) people who, at least theoretically, liscenced their work to TA under "by-Nc-Sa" terms, if the rules where adhered to, no one would ever be able to use TA content commercially, not even me or any of the other originating contributors. In this way, for group projects, in an odd way, the GPL/GFDL approach lets the originators (and other people as well) use the content commercial.

Now the share-alike and the self-propagating property of the GPL/GFDL are probably equivalent from the perspective of an open knitting project. This quality means that while the content of such projects are open to be copied and used by anyone, any derivatives that are distributed must be liscenced under the same license as the original. The end result of this is that these licenses provide a good "countermeasure" to commercialization, and in an odd way, a powerful motivation for progress.

I think it would be helpful at this point to explore how commercial use and "open sourcing" could work together in a knitting situation.

Say there was a repository of knitting designs which contained notes on process, notes on intention, and even a pattern, and there was a project in this repository that I thought would be great for a class I was going to be teaching, I might decide to take the hat pattern and reproduce it for the class. Reading the notes and other materials, I was able to create an edited pattern that I could use in my class, which I "sold" to my students. Under GPL/GFDL-style terms, I would be obligated to share my modifications (and notes) with the OSK repository and my students.

It's important to recognize that what's being sold here, is not the pattern so much as a class, a service around the pattern, which is exactly how companies like Novell and RedHat make their money, and stay afloat. Linux, despite being free (as in beer, as well as speech) is, or can be, a viable business. To return to the hat class, we can assume that while I could have come up with my own hat pattern, the class is probably better for my using of the open hat pattern, because it's been vetted my loads of other knitters, and hopefully my contributions to the project was useful; but if I'm going to be successful using Open Knit content, my teaching/etc. has to be more helpful than simply editing and providing a pattern, because access to the theoretical Open Knit content is, well, open to everyone: and free (beer/speech), of course.

With luck this openness helps keep the products that people sell of the highest quality, and if a GPL/GFDL/Share-Alike license is used advancements that commercial uses produce become part of the larger body of free/open work, and everyone benefits. It means that people hoping to make money from knitting and knitting design have to find other ways to participate in this process other than selling "intellectual property," tied to services (teaching, editorial work for publishers, yarn design/sales, day jobs, subscription programs/clubs), but when you think about it, that's how most people in the knitting business operate already, they're just going it alone, rather than in a community. Which brings us to a great topic for next time: how the community/social aspect of open/free development projects (software and knitting) are organized on a more granular level, in terms of who's doing the organization and the work.

But until then, I remain, tycho

[1]This would be the attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license.
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