The Creative Commons as a default rule

Reader Ben Lancini points me to this piece by John Dvorak, attacking [or rather, confessing to not seeing the point of] the Creative Commons License. This has prompted me to write a post I promised ages ago, in response to Kim Weatherall and Nicholas Gruen. I won’t recapitulate the debate, but just state my own position.

I’ve chosen the non-commercial, attribution, share-alike version of the Creative Commons License. This says that anyone can reproduce my work from the blog, with attribution and for non-commercial purposes, as long as they share it under the same conditions[1].

I’ve chosen this, not because it’s necessarily the best option in all, or even most cases, but because it’s the best default rule. Anyone who wants to use material from the blog in this way can do so without asking me. And share-alike is a good feature for a default option, because it means that re-use is similarly free under the same conditions.

But if Hollywood wants to use bits of the blog in the forthcoming hit movie Crooked Timber of Humanity, they are not confined to the CC license. They’re free to fly me to LA, and make a stupendously generous offer for the commercial rights. Similarly, if someone wanted to use the posts without attribution for some good reason, they could always approach me and ask for permission.

More generally, if someone wants to do things differently they can propose a contract with me. The optimal default rule is one that protects most rights I might want to enforce, while allowing (without special permission) most uses I’d be unlikely to object to. Public domain fails on the first count, and standard copyright on the second. I think the Creative Commons License, in the particular form I’ve chosen gets the balance just about right.

The general idea of a default value is familiar to anyone who’s done any computer programming and I imagine that if things were put to Dvorak in this way he’d see the point.

The ideas I’ve associated with default rules are commonly, but not, I think, very helpfully, discussed in terms of the supposedly ‘viral’ nature of licenses, particularly in relation to software and the Gnu General Public License. The idea of a default rule clarifies what is going on here. You can only have one default. At one time this was public domain (since it was necessary to make a specific claim for copright). Now it’s copyright, and advocates of strong IP take this as normal and natural. But if you want to use GPL or CC material with a share-alike license you have to adopt this default. From the viewpoint of people who take copyright as natural, but see CC material expanding, this is like a virus.

fn1. Nothing I do with the license affects rights of fair use (not that these are very extensive in Australia, but this may change for the better).

Some real good news

If we’re looking for good news from the Islamic world, as most of us are, can I suggest that the best place to look just now is right next door in Indonesia[1]. The Indonesian government has just signed a peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). There’s plenty more to be done, and such agreements have failed before, but the chances this time look better than ever, as GAM has finally abandoned its demand for independence and the central government seems willing, for the first time, to concede real autonomy.

Regardless of whether this agreement holds, Indonesia’s successes since Suharto resigned have been simply amazing. At that time the economy was in a mess, there had been decades of brutal dictatorship, the army was involved mainly in domestic repression and deeply entangled in both politics and business, East Timor was still resisting occupation, Muslims and Christians were engaged in communal fighting, encouraged by sinister interests within the state and terrorist groups like JI and Laskar Jihad operated more or less openly. The odds of coming through this without some sort of crisis, or worse, seemed slim.

In the subsequent seven years, there have been four peaceful changes of government, each of them (in my view) an improvement. The army is out of parliament, and increasingly confined to its appropriate role in national defense, Timor is an independent, and friendly, neighbour, Laskar Jihad has disbanded, and JI has been largely broken up, with many of those involved in terror crimes now facing death or lengthy terms of imprisonment. Communal fighting in places like Ambon has stopped almost completely, and even long-running struggles like that in Aceh seem to be on the brink of peaceful resolution. The economy is still problematic, but it seems to be on the mend.

Things aren’t perfect of course, and in a democratic society that fact can’t be concealed behind a mask of official propaganda as it was in the Suharto years. But if everything in the world was going as well things have gone in Indonesia lately, we wouldn’t have too much to worry about.

fn1. Mark Bahnisch points to more good news here

Hassan al-Turabi’s open thread

In a fairly standard example of thread-jacking/topic drift, my challenge to nominate disinterested scientists sceptical of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis veered rapidly off-track, turning quickly to the shortcomings of Hassan al-Turabi (a Sudanese politician, it appears). I’m posting this as a separate thread for the discussion beginning with this comment by Michael Burgess who observed, in response to Dave Ricardo,

While I don’t know what to think on the greenhouse issue, I do find it somewhat ironic that many of those who are usually so post-modern in their outlook (there is no objective truth etc and following Thomas Kuhn this applies as much in the physical sciences as it does in the social sciences etc) suddenly get very absolutist when it suits them.

I do think that before making such a claim, MB might reasonably have searched the site using the facility provided. He would have found many references to both left-wing and right-wing varieties of postmodernism, among which this is, I think the kindest (and it’s not very kind).

Anyway, as of now, I’m going to delete any further off-topic comments and side debates in the sceptics thread, and request that any discussion of Turabi and similar be directed here.

Disinterested sceptics ?

A research challenge for my readers. The task is to nominate scientists who

(i) have undertaken serious research on climate change
(ii) doubt that human activity is contributing to global warming
(iii) are disinterested, with no financial or political axe to grind

I’m reasonably flexible on (i) and (ii). That is, I’ll count anyone who has published relevant research in a reputable journal or who has done research on the topic and holds a job in a university science department or similar institution. Similarly on (ii) it’s sufficient that the person express doubt as to whether the evidence supports the anthropogenic view: they need not claim that it has been disproved.

On the other hand, as far as (iii) goes, I’m applying a stringent criterion. I’m excluding anyone who has taken money from lobby groups with a political position on climate change policy, is a member of any such group, or has publicly expressed a political position on the Kyoto protocol.

I claim that I can nominate hundreds of scientists who satisfy (i) and (iii), as described, and whose work supports the anthropogenic hypothesis. I suggest that the number of scientists satisfying (i) and (iii), as defined above, but who doubt the anthropogenic hypothesis, is in single digits. My current estimate is one, but perhaps readers will be able to double or triple that estimate, or perhaps reduce it to zero.

Update I obviously need to clarify the point on government funding. I’m not excluding scientists who have received research funding from public research bodies, even where those bodies are funded by anti-Kyoto governments, such as those of Australia and the US. This is making the task of finding disinterested sceptics easier, not harder, a fact which several commenters have apparently failed to observe.

What I’m reading, and more

River of Gods by Ian MacDonald. It’s set in a politically fragmented India in 2047. Very promising so far. My plan is to read all the nominees for the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the only one left now is Charles Stross Iron Sunrise, which I’m looking forward to, as I enjoyed Singularity Sky.

Also on the SF front, I started off liking the new series of Dr Who, but now I’m getting annoyed. He can travel as far as he wants through time and space, but he hardly ever seems to leave London or to move more than about 100 years away from the present. OK, he went to Cardiff once, but he could just as well have taken the train. And it seems like just about every episode involves some variant on zombies/bodysnatchers. Not that I have anything against zombies and bodysnatchers, but couldn’t we have a bit of variation: say, sharks with laser-beams attached to their foreheads?

I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much, as the Doctor clashes with the football, meaning that I’ve been tuning in at quarter-time. Last night that was a mercy, I guess, though it left me trying to work out what went wrong in a game that (for the 75 minutes I saw) was very evenly matched. But in future, I think I’ll be watching the whole game.

More seriously, I’m working on reviews of Affluenza and The End of Poverty. I hope to have drafts of these up on the blog before too long. I also read and enjoyed Deirdre Macken’s Oh, No! We Forgot to Have Children. I assume the title is an allusion to this classic image

Blogs on the front page

Both literally and metaphorically in today’s AFR (subscription required). There’s a frontpage story about a defamation action taken by a car dealer against the creator of a “” site. The inside continuation of the story shares the page with a piece about Technorati and its woes, and the likelihood that one of the big search companies will make a takeover. And further on there’s a 1.5 page feature article lamenting the boringness of corporate blogs.

As I said in my Festival of Ideas piece, it’s striking that innovation is now flowing from the household sector (bloggers typing stuff in their spare room/study/lounge) to the business and government sectors rather than vice versa.