IFI7137 Week 10a task: Elephants and china

This prognostic post describes possible scenarios of future license landscape and roles of communities and vendors online. The purpose of this post is also explained at the bottom.

Few years ago I had to reinstall Windows to my new computer. Friend of mine told me that this was a matter of an hour or so – really easy. At the end of the day, after of countless minutes of talking French, I had a pirate version of a Windows I bought, a nagging reminder on a start-up panel and and no possibility of downloading any of the ‘crucial updates’.

This story is not about a lack of knowledge on how to reuse an one-time-only registration code, it is about how even a simple matter of rights can restricted to the point beyond understanding.

An elephant in a china store

Looking back at this situation, I see this aggressive attempt of vendor lock-in as a metaphor of elephant stumbling around in a china store.

China (porcelain) is a technical and artistic heritage from decades of cultural development. General idea of china is free: anyone can make a copy of it. Monitoring production and selling products is a commercial act which, when lucrative, brings bread on table and pays off the effort. Rough and irony embrace on the general idea (“It’s all mine now!”) not only resonance as a negative opinion in community but might even conclude in considerable customer loss.

One of the favorite quotes of mine is from a movie Enemy of the State: “They are big and you are small but you are mobile and they are slow.” A thought that might be seen as a reaction on the mindquakes in the business?

While one-side legal agreements (those with ‘read this’ title in CAPS), close-source and other different protective measures (such as one drastic example described in the beginning) are taken, copyleft content and new open source softwares slither into the scene. And we know how elephants feel about mice.

It is clear that rise and fall of interest for open source and copyleft have scared the business and made CEO’s to headhunt for anyone who is even slightly commercial and tech-savvy. What about the near future of licenses? Will the pro copyleft become a hippie movement or will companies adopt new concepts of ‘owning’?

Here is three of my humble prognostics…

Elephans in Cute & Closed Playgrounds

In scenario 1, year 2015 collaboration happens in enormous, semi-closed (free registration) environments which are strongly monitored, controlled and exploited. Not in a way of a Brazil’s bureaucratic hell or a fat camp but rather in a way of a big, colorful and fun kindergartner. Remaking, reusing and recreating content is acceptable and encouraged within certain boundaries. Free is even more frequent than freemium but the price of this free lunch occurs in limited rights on the ‘outside’ world.

Content and code are visible but they are either useless or worthless without the vendor’s platform or device. One will not be able to create apps for competitor’s environment. In the rare situation of AM/FM (someone invents something that would ruin vendor’s business), harsh legal methods will be applied. Otherwise even criticism is allowed: this will keep up the idea of democracy and an image of caring and wise authority.

Situation reminds working for a communication company now: you can do what ever you like, drink the best cola on the market, have a day for your own projects and disappear for little get-aways, but what is made – stays inside the property. Lex Nokia sort of legislation will be quietly accepted by the physical government, even if it conflicts with constitutional rights.

Because of all the benefits, tools and privileged community and especially it’s active members will be granted, we will live in an era of vendor’s rights of acknowledged utilitarianism.

Weak Copyleft & Pack of Elephants

In scenario 2, 2015 is a time of oligopoly markets and vendor’s open source communities. The market is mostly softly-dominated by a handful of players (i.e. Facebook, Apple, Android, Google) with a strong fan communities behind them (i.e. “iPaders”). This scenario contrast to the previous one in it’s more ubiquitous approach: market dominance attempts are less aggressive and co-operation is a virtue. Amazon’s and Google’s “we own all” model is outdated.

Instead of technology and commercial software development (code), the most profitable resource is considered to be data. Data mining and data noise filtering are the most profitable spheres of internet business.

In this scenario, it is more suitable for a vendor to produce a platform for free and almost unrestricted and unlimited code creation and exploit these creations rather than to maintain a close system with rapidly declining motivation and interest of user. There is no point of making Snipshop, when there is GIMP. Latter being so developed, Photoshop is used only by hardcore professionals.

Projects and creations are weakly copyleft, which are emphasized mostly on restrictions of commercial reuse and obligations to give credits to the original inventor.

The year 2015 is a time for vendor dominated communities and open source 4.0. The bubble of open source nocturne-composed business models is burst. Vendors are not monetizing the result (“we will make money, when it’s done”) but gain profits slowly from the ongoing community activity inside the environment (different layers of free and non-free content). It’s like a macrosphere mirroring real life, where there are people who will line hours for the free sup ingredients and people who pay hundreds euros for the same supper served on a silver plate.

In this scenario, five years from now, open source and almost-copyleft are normal and ethical. It is also widely accepted to pay a small amount of money for artistic creations. A digital copy is worth so little that people are repulsed by idea of piracy. This is a result of über-easy-one-click online stores in comparison to the effort of downloading and patching new digital formats.

But because of the oligopoly and value of data, question about artistic copyrights and -lefts will be still highly debated. Community does not yet have the answer why it is for instants acceptable for Disney to rip cultural heritage and existing characters and make billions on movies but it is not acceptable for an indie production to create a similar story with Disney lookalikes. Copyleft content is rare, but there will a even greater bunch of soft-copyleft licenses for artistic creation.

Balance of Elephans & China

Though getting more satisfaction from sharing rather than earning, I have trouble to believe in total liberation of content and code. Thus in scenario 3, year 2015 is a year of balance.

The topic of closed vs open is so complicated that there is still no absolute frameworks. Legislation is not clear, but clear boundaries and copyright legislation are not pushed forward as enthusiastically as few years before.

Common agreement is now equal to common sense. Virtual life is a normal extension of a real life: what was previously hyped and new is now purely reinventions and normal developments – to most of the people a new app is as exciting as a wind proof umbrella.

Copyright suits are a declining trend. Vendors put more money in marketing their platforms, apps and content than to suit random people. Some guerrilla marketers are even pride upon being on ‘top pirated content’ list, even though services as Spotify are more popular than torrenting. Youth is being tough to minimalistic interfaces and only enthusiasts have pationce to study what goes on behind the curtains.

Most of the code and content is free for distribution but since no actual laws, fair use is a still a matter of interpretation.

The balance versus commercial and community is implemented especially by ideology of “quid pro quo” (something for something). Vendors actually give something back when utilizing code or content created by volunteers. This something might be premium functions, discounts, use of professional tools etc. Giving back is not only of good intentions but it is considerate to be a good pr as well. Vendors also feel that when creating a semi-closed community, they are building a dead end for their development and fell out of the caravans’ pace.

Another interesting example of quiet acceptances is (originally Japanese) doujinshi -phenomenon. When creation is copied in a unique way or used in a creative context – not only parody –, community sees this as a fair use which does not need permission. Giving credits is not seeing compulsory but without credits the usage is not ‘inspirational’ but plagiarism. Business utilities these copycats in their marketing: interest in their content and even criticism is redistributed and re-linked in sake of even greater visibility.

Last words

Which one of the scenarios will come true? They are all of course quite narrow and cropped, hardly applicable as such. In case of choosing, I hope that it would be the third one with a more precise common and legal understanding. This quote is a good one to end with:

“While it is perfectly possible for a vendor to take without giving, doing so negates the benefit they would gain from being part of an ongoing collaborative development process.”

To do week 10: What could the software licensing landscape look like in 2015? Write a short (blogged) predictive analysis.

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