Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothin’ Left To Choose

Sunday, March 11, 2012

John manages the cafe down the road where I pay $1.48 for a small medium roast. Eight cents goes to the state as tax and the remaining 140 cents pays for material, operational cost, wages, and profit. Once I have paid my $1.48, the coffee is mine to do whatever I want to with it. I can drink it, or take it with me, or leave half of it un-drunk. John, his employees, and the owner of the cafe exert no proprietorship over that drink. John doesn’t expect me to acknowledge him either once or with every sip, he doesn’t stop me from adding sugar or cream or ice to it, and, if I could probably resell it to my neighbor for $1.20, John probably wouldn’t care as long as I didn’t make a daily business out for it, or otherwise made a pest of myself.

Why does it have to be any different for intellectual output? I work at a university where all I am expected to produce is knowledge. I don’t make things—I make bits and bytes… intangibles. I get paid a comfortable salary, I get all the tools I would require for my work, a great office, fast Internet connection, access to the world’s research at my fingertips, and anything else I might require. There is nothing I spend in material, operational or wage cost. If I have to travel for fieldwork or conference or workshop, all my expenses are taken care of. In short, I get paid to produce information and hopefully knowledge. Yet, for some strange reason, it is considered ok for me to expect something more, something yet unpaid and unrealized, with both the law and my employer allowing me to retain and assert ownership on the incremental benefits of what I produce.

It is strange—John takes all the risks. If he makes coffee and not enough customers come through his shop, the coffee goes waste, yet his rent and wages still have to be paid. Yet, he wants nothing beyond the price of coffee. I take no risks—for the most part, as long as I do my work, even if I don’t produce anything new, or anything monumental, I still get paid. Yet, it is alright for me to expect something more for what I have produced.

Some of what I may want seems innocuous—don’t take credit for my work, and if you use it and benefit from it, acknowledge me. But, I don’t have to hold you legally and contractually for it. I certainly have little basis for holding you back from riffing on it, creating new works of knowledge from it, or heck, even making money off of it. If I had taken the risk while creating that work, that would be a different situation altogether. If I didn’t have any other source of income, and my income came from monetizing my information creations, then yes, it certainly would be a different story. But, as is, none of the risks apply, and I already got paid.

All these choices for the ways I can restrict you in what you can do with my work—obligating you to acknowledge me, preventing you from making money off of it, restricting you from creating new works based on it, forcing you to impose conditions on derivations of my work that are the same conditions as those I imposed on mine, these are not choices that increase freedom. These choices restrict freedom. Real freedom is when you have nothing left to choose.

This is why, as long as I work at a university where I get paid to produce knowledge, I will use only CC0 (CC Zero) waiver of license for all my creations. See below for my CC0 public domain dedication.

Acknowledgment 1

  1. Thanks to Robert Muetzelfeldt for spotting a typo many typos.