Last modified on 2 September 2011, at 22:34

FOSS Open Content/Limitations of Open Content

There are two kinds of critiques that have been made about the limitations of Open Content initiatives. The first is a policy - level critique which argues that the voluntary nature of Open Content projects diverts from the larger issue of the need for urgent structural transformations in the global copyright regime. It is argued, for instance, that by relying on copyright, even in a creative variation of it, it still ends up strengthening the copyright system. The larger problem of access to knowledge and culture can only be solved through a long-term intervention in the global copyright regime from the Berne Convention to the TRIPS agreement.[67]

Open Content has also been criticized on the grounds that it privileges the traditional idea of the author at the center of knowledge / culture at the costs of focusing on users. By giving authors the right to participate in a flexible licensing policy, Open Content initiatives end up privileging the notion of the desirability of creating property rights in expressions; cultural and literary products are considered as commodities, albeit ones that the creator can decide to make accessible (or not0, much like a person can decide whether or not to invite someone into his / her house.[68]

A second-level critique asks the question of the relevance of Open Content projects, with their heavy reliance on the Internet. According to the Copysouth group:

It is unlikely that more than a tiny percentage of the works created on a global basis in any year will be available under Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Will the percentage be even less within the Southern Hemisphere? This seems likely. Hence, CC licenses will be of limited value in meeting the expansive access needs of the South in the near future. Nor do CC licenses provide access to already published works or music that are still restricted by copyright laws; these form the overwhelming majority of current material. Focusing on CC licenses may potentially sideline or detour people from analyzing how existing copyright laws block access and how policy changes on a societal level, rather than the actions of individual "good guys", are the key to improving access and the related problems of copyright laws and ideology which are discussed elsewhere in this draft dossier. Nor does it confront the fact that many creators (e.g. most musicians, most academic authors) may be required, because of unequal bargaining power, to assign copyright in their own work to a record company or publisher as a condition of getting their work produced or published.[69]

Finally, a number of Open Content initiatives have an uncomfortable take on other modes through which most people in developing nations have access to knowledge and cultural commodities, namely, piracy, and its critical relation to infrastructure. The emphasis of Open Content on the creation of new content of course raises the question of who uses the new content, and what is the relationship between such content and the question of democratization of infrastructure?

In most cases, the reason for the fall in price of electronic goods, computers, great access to material, increase in photocopiers (the infrastructure of information flows), etc. is not caused in any manner through any radical revolution such as Free Software or Open Content, but really through the easier availability of standard mainstream commodities like Microsoft software and Hollywood. Open Content is unable to provide a solution to the problem of content that is locked up within current copyright regimes. As much as one would like to promote new artists, new books, etc., the fact remains that a bulk of the people do want the latest Hollywood / Bollywood films for a cheaper cost; they do want the latest proprietary software at a cheaper cost; and they do want to read Harry Potter without paying a ransom.

We can either take the moral higher ground and speak of their real information needs or provide crude theories of how they are trapped by false consciousness. Or, we can move away from these judgmental perspectives, and look at other aspects of the debate, such as the impact that the expansion of the grey market for these goods has on their general pricing, the spread of computer/IT culture, the fall in price of consumables such as blank CDs, DVDs, the growing popularity of CD-writing equipment, etc. [70]

There is no point in having a preachy and messianic approach that lectures people on the kind of access that should be given. While in an ideal world, we would also use Free Software and Open Content, this cannot be linked in a sacrosanct manner to the question of spreading access.