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Creative Commons license

July 1st, 2005

Shamed into action by my imminent presentation on the topic at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, I’ve finally got around to licensing the blog under the Creative Commons (it’s at the foot of the page – the layout still needs a bit of work). The license I’ve chosen is Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.1 Australia, which pretty much sums up the standard expectations for a blog. Anyone can use as much as they like for a non-commercial purpose, as long as they allow others to do the same with the derivative work, and acknowledge my original authorship, either by name or with a link back to the original post.

The Creative Commons is a crucially important initiative. The most important innovations of the past twenty years, those associated with the rise of the Internet, have been driven primarily by bottom-up creative collaboration and not by intellectual property or centrally planned research. On the whole, patents have actually obstructed the process. Government funding for research has helped a bit, but it has been a secondary factor.

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  1. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 1st, 2005 at 11:12 | #1

    The most important innovations of the past twenty years, those associated with the rise of the Internet, have been driven primarily by bottom-up creative collaboration and not by intellectual property or centrally planned research. On the whole, patents have actually obstructed the process. Government funding for research has helped a bit, but it has been a secondary factor.

    Apart from the statement about patents, that’s about the dumbest thing I have seen written about the internet in quite a while.

    ARPANET, the foundation of the internet, was (US) government funded through the NSF and ARPA (later to become DARPA). Most of the research underlying the technology behind the web was originally done in universities or research labs (HTTP came from CERN), most of them government funded.

    Nearly all original technological breakthroughs are the result of bottom-up creative collaboration, rather than “planning”. But that is just the nature of the beast: you can’t plan for creativity. It doesn’t mean that the people involved in the creative process wasn’t government funded.

    Is it just that – like most academics – you forget that it is the taxpayer who pays your salary?

  2. jquiggin
    July 1st, 2005 at 14:19 | #2

    Anon, your comments (here and elsewhere) will be a lot more valuable if you don’t assume that everyone else is stupid and prone to miss obvious points on a routine basis.

    I’ve made exactly the same points as you about the public sector origins of the Internet many times, for example here. My point in this post, pretty obviously, was about the role of direct research funding. Your response on this point would get more attention if you didn’t start with misdirected abuse.

  3. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 1st, 2005 at 14:49 | #3

    I don’t understand your point.

    The internet was as much a product of “centrally planned research” as anything else. ARPA wanted a communications network that was robust to link failures – that is about as “centrally planned” as you can get. NSF is “centrally planned” in the sense that groups of academics and industry representatives decide on what should get the most funding, and the NSF is where a lot of the research funding for the internet came from.

    Some things were happenstance, like HTTP from CERN, but if it hadn’t been HTTP it would have been something else.

    Your argument seems to be that the Creative Commons is a Good Thing (TM), because something like the Creative Commons was the MO driving the development of the internet. My observation is that something like the Creative Commons is the MO that drives nearly all early-stage technological breakthroughs; the internet is no exception. And the reason is pretty simple: before the technology is in place there is no money to be made, so it has to be publicly funded.

    But commercial interests have also played a major role and continue to play a major role in the development of the internet. How reliable and expensive do you think your ISP would be if the service was not subject to commercial forces? How well would the core internet infrastructure work (CISCO routers for the most part) if they had been developed exclusively by non-commercial institutions?

    You seem to want to argue that the internet is some kind of shining example of technological development that was driven through considerations of public good. But that is a typically romantic and woolly view from the left. If my comments are sometimes scathing, it is because I get a little weary of what is essentially self-serving analysis emanating from a lot of the tenured and semi-tenured taxpayer-funded members of the community like yourself. [self-serving because the not-so-hidden pretext is often "look here's this great thing that happened through public funding; I am publicly funded; therefore isn't it great we fund people like me"]

    The internet developed like almost all major technologies develop: public funds (or at least non-commercially-focused funds) paying for basic research by smart people purely for the intellectual satisfaction of it; then private funds taking up where there is money to be made and where for the technology to be publicly useful a lot of crappy stuff has to get done that researchers and public institutions are neither interested in nor capable of doing well (quality control, customer service, efficiency, reliability, etc, etc).

    I’ll bet against long odds that if all internet technology had been developed solely using public funds under CC/GPL type licenses, we would not have anything like the robust internet we have today. Public and private both play their role.

  4. jquiggin
    July 1st, 2005 at 15:28 | #4

    anon, your snide asides not only detract from your argument, but aren’t even consistent.

    # Is it just that – like most academics – you forget that it is the taxpayer who pays your salary?

    # [self-serving because the not-so-hidden pretext is often “look here’s this great thing that happened through public funding; I am publicly funded; therefore isn’t it great we fund people like me�]

    I’ll respond later to the substantive points, but I request again that you drop this kind of thing.

  5. July 1st, 2005 at 16:33 | #5

    Welcome to the Creative and Common world, John. I’ve made some comments on my blog about your choice of license though…. :-)

  6. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 1st, 2005 at 16:47 | #6

    jquiggin, those statements are only inconsistent if you actually acknowledge the connection between public funding and paying taxes. Many in the public employ (academics in particular) are great advocates of increased public funding while conveniently forgetting that it is the taxpayer who pays their salary. The inconsistency is theirs, not mine.

    And I put a question to you: what kind of thing are you asking me to drop? Snide attacks against the right are ok, but not against the left?

  7. Ian Gould
    July 1st, 2005 at 17:09 | #7

    John, does this include your AFR articles?

  8. jquiggin
    July 1st, 2005 at 17:22 | #8

    Ian, it doesn’t include the AFR articles, since they aren’t the blog. They’re free to read on my website, but I haven’t got around to working out what licensing arrangements I want for them, taking into account the fact that they’re also distributed through f2.

  9. July 1st, 2005 at 20:33 | #9

    The most important innovations of the past twenty years, those associated with the rise of the Internet, have been driven primarily by bottom-up creative collaboration and not by intellectual property or centrally planned research.

    I must confess that, at first blush, I find Pr Q’s statement a little hard to accept. The internet was the most important recent innovation alright.* But the “direct research funding” for this, as the commenter formerly known as anon (correctly but rudely) says, was primarily provided by the [top-down] statist polity (hardware DARPA/software CERN). Pr Q is right to emphasise the valuable editorial assistance from the [bottom-up] collaborative community (Open Source). Profitable exploitation by the [side-to-side] capitalist economy (NASDAQ) brought up the rear.

    Thus innovation emerges from the synergy of the insitutional system as a whole, not just one partial fragment of it. Thus we can see that recent tech-innovation was the joint product of coercive polity, commercive economy and co-operative community. Pr Q should be pleased with this conclusion as it underlines the integrity and utility of the mixed-economy.

    But an institutional system is only as good as its individual constituents. So the creative role of empowered high IQ populations in driving innovation should be taken into consideration.

    * If you look at the post-war period (1945-85) the info-tech revolution derived its greatest innovations and financing from private firms such as AT&T, IBM and XEROX, which had a quasi-public institutional role, relying on government contracts and grants. But the role of capitalist tech-entrepreneurs like Shockley, Noyce and Kilby (and their descendants such as Gates, Jobs and Joy) was absolutely critical.

  10. jquiggin
    July 1st, 2005 at 20:46 | #10

    Jack, the development of HTML at CERN was bottom-up not top-down: CERN is a high-energy physics lab, which got no funding for anything remotely related to the Internet.

    The WWW arose (roughly) because physicists at CERN wanted to exchange preprints over the Internet, not because it was part of CERN’s research mission. And while DARPA provided some early funding, the development that allowed the Internet to outdistance and absorb its commercial rivals was mostly of the bottom-up variety.

  11. July 2nd, 2005 at 00:27 | #11

    I accept that Berners-Lee was essentially involved in a (bottom-up) moon-lighting sideline when he cooked up HTML. But B-L’s, and many of the Open-Sourcers amongst the Universities, free-wheeling code-cutting was financed by (top-down) public institutions. All this says to me is that (top-down) publicly-funded universities academic freedom can be creative in unpredictable ways, which is exactly the traditional definition of this privilege.

    But I agree with Pr Q that the old-style (top-down) political command of research, along the lines of Manhattan Project or MITI, has not been as creative as the (bottom-up) stuff, whether it comes out of CERN’s labs, Linus Torvald’s office or Steve Jobs garage. The NASDAQ style of (side-to-side) commercialization of technology through IPOs, derivatives and patenting has not been an altogether unmixed blessing, as the dot.com and Enron coms show.

  12. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 2nd, 2005 at 11:49 | #12

    The WWW arose (roughly) because physicists at CERN wanted to exchange preprints over the Internet

    No, the WWW arose because its time had come and the infrastructure was in place to support it. A simple document model (HTML) and protocol (HTTP) happened first at CERN, but the ideas had been around for a long time, and would have happened elsewhere if not at CERN.

    http://www.w3.org/MarkUp/historical

    You can only argue that the internet arose “because of X” if it is true that without X the internet would not have arisen (or at least that it would have taken a lot longer).

    Or in logical terms, if X is not equivalent to ~~X, then you’ve left out a lot of important information in your explanation.

  13. jquiggin
    July 2nd, 2005 at 12:02 | #13

    Fair enough, anon, but in the absence of an observed counterfactual, it’s hard to say which bits of the Internet weren’t already predetermined by, say, 1970. For example, some alternative to TCP/IP would surely have happened regardless.

    For the purposes of my argument, I only need the point that development would have been slower if it were not for the bottom-up contributions of users like, for example, those at CERN.

    I suspect that most of the disagreements here are as much semantic as substantive, reflecting the difficulty of basing a lengthy debate on a one-para aside in the original post, so I plan a more comprehensive and careful statement of my view in a new post, coming RSN.

  14. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 2nd, 2005 at 15:04 | #14

    jquiggin – I guess I don’t see HTML and HTTP as the poster-children you do. They are an interesting layer on pre-existing functionality that was already changing the world.

    For example, I remember in the early days of my PhD (before html and http) sharing postscript papers via ftp with other students and researchers. That felt pretty revolutionary at the time.

    What is far more interesting about the internet is the rise of open source software. In my experience, in the absence of artificial barriers, all products tend to commoditization and end up priced at their marginal cost of production and distribution ( I am not an economist so that may not sound right but you know what I mean).

    For “free” (open-source-licensed) software, if you price the efforts of hobbyist programmers at $0, the marginal cost of production and distribution is essentially zero. Furthermore, software is extensible in the way that most products are not. So in my view the most revolutionary thing about the internet is not the forces governing its evolution (which, as I have said, do not appear that different from the forces driving most technological changes), but the fact that the internet has enabled the production and distribution of very sophisticated and useful products, at a a price of $0 to the consumer of those products. As far as I know, that has never happened before.

  15. Ian Gould
    July 3rd, 2005 at 08:09 | #15

    Anon,

    So you think the most important use of the internet is to distribute share-ware?

    Google might disagree.

  16. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 3rd, 2005 at 21:30 | #16

    Ian,

    No, not the most important use of the internet. Just perhaps the most revolutionary one from the perspective of bottom-up collaboration, which was what the OP was about.

    I couldn’t say what the most important use of the internet will turn out to be: remote control surgery? blogging? video on demand? MMORPG? ecommerce? Your guess is as good as mine. Probably something nobody has yet thought of.

    [aside: the term shareware is usually reserved for closed-source software that you voluntarily pay for. I am talking about open-source software under licenses that allow modification and redistribution (GPL, CPL Apache license, public domain, etc). It is often described as "freeware" but that's free as in "freedom" (you get the source and are free to alter it) rather than free as in "beer"]

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