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OpenContent is an natural evolution from the OpenSource movement. Open content extends the intellectual property model of open source to all types of content; that is, content becomes perpetually reusable by third parties. Typically the open content licenses mirror existing licenses from open source. CopyLeft licenses like the GNU FreeDocumentationLicense (FDL) resemble similar licenses like the GNU GeneralPublicLicense (GPL)(respectively). Many open content licenses aren't complete generic. The FDL for instance is closely molded for printed documents. In this sense, it doesn't really fall into this definition, but the spirit is essentially to extend the spirit of the movement into different domains. It's not unreasonable to expect a license to be tailor made for the medium or media it represents. Consequently, a proposal has been made by AlexSchroeder to modify the FDL in turn into the FreeWebsiteLicense.

MeatballWiki maintains a list and discussion of OpenContentLicenses.


...OpenContent is an natural evolution from the OpenSource movement...

This very first sentence is already wrong and gives a wrong direction. If OpenContent were an evolution from OpenSource, then it would be able to replace it as a better system of regulations in the same context. This is not the case, it is an offspring.

OpenContent has developed as a side-effect of OpenSource, because software without its documents is of restricted value. So if you want software to be free, then you also need corresponding regulations for all texts that go with it. So OpenContent was made to go with OpenSource and is without doubt good in that context.

But the advantages and value of OpenSource and the reasons why OpenSource is good and works well, all its mechanisms of feedback and improvements in a community, do neither depend, nor extend to OpenContent when applied to a textual work of its own. OpenContent seems to have become a religious issue, an OpenContentReligion?, that is blindly followed, without looking at the mechanics behind.

If you look at the software, anyone will see immediately that there are strong forces that work against a splitting of projects and that hold the community together. A split, or maintaining a lot of different development branches is very expensive. So in effect that what is OpenSource is most of the time a "common source" within a single true community.

Similar forces that go together with text do not exist. No bugs, no errors, no patches, no branches, no expenses that compare with software maintenance. As long as there are no forces, no mechanics that hold together a textual communuity just as well as in OpenSource, the concept of OpenContent will fail. I think it will just lead to a redundant spread of text of doubtful quality.

Of course it is possible to give away a book as gift, as OpenContent. Why not. If the author can afford it, sees it as a kind of advertisement, or thinks that it is better than not sell it at all. As a consumer I like it as free music or a free firework. But this does not start a self-improving process in a community.

As a policy in a wiki, OpenContent may or may not work. It has advantages and disadvantages. Of the decisions a founder makes at the beginning, it may be the hardest to change. OpenContent nullifies the commercial value of the content of a wiki, however small it may be. It may bring more or less users to the community. It may spread the content among many places and reduces the chance to increase the quality of content. It reduces the chance that you meet the experts who wrote it. It reduces the chance that the writer will meet the users and the readers. There are lots of complex effects. ... The net consequences are entirely unclear. Don't take this decision lightly.

-- HelmutLeitner

Textual OpenContent has errors and bugs just like programs. Typos, grammar, logical flaws, non-sequiturs, vagueness, etc. This discourages unnecessary forking, just as for programming. Another shared force is MindShare?. However, the real biggie for textual open content, which doesn't really apply to programming, is that high quality textual content is written for an audience (see TheAudience). We don't RepurposeContent on a whim, and if we do then we do need to fork.

You say the net consequences are entirely unclear, but there's no big secret. There are plenty of communities out there using open content. Practically, they work just as well (and as badly) as any other community. The irony is that you express concern at the spreading of content amongst many places, but the closed copyright of meatball has encouraged the (quite legal) spread of content - first to FermentWiki, and now to CommunityWiki. Without the CopyrightTrap, it's quite probable that this would not have happened. --MartinHarper

Martin, I agree on many things you say, but not on all. A typo in text doesn't reduce the value of text, while a typo may make a part of software completely unusable. So there is a large difference in effect and in costs. I also don't see much difference between "audience" and "users". I agree that empirically no significant difference is visible between communities using and not using OpenContent, but this may show stronger when online communities grow older. I think that FermentWiki was more about RealName and had little to do with copyright questions (but I may be wrong, I wasn't much interested in that). And the effect of CommunityWiki is yet unknown, I don't think that there will be a significant spread, for it has to find its own unique identity and goals to live. The importance of content is overestimated, the people count. In many wikis an initial "our content is free" even seems coquettish, because all too often they never grow unique content that someone will want to copy. -- HelmutLeitner

niggling little bug -> typo in text; unusable software -> incomprehensible garbage text. There are differences, sure. I don't believe they're significant. The users->audience parallel is close, but again there are subtle differences. You seem worried that a community working on OpenContent text will be vulnerable to splits, and will fall apart. Two answers: 1) DefendAgainstParanoia 2) remember that CopyLeft ensures that you can always merge again. The PowerLaw will act to re-unify TheCollective in the better of the two options. --MartinHarper

No, I think along different lines. I believe that communities will only then become stronger, when members have an advantage over visitors and guests. This could be in the way they own and may use the available content. OpenContent will bar the most obvious way to make a difference and to make a membership connected with obligations (one that produces real support for the founders) desirable. -- HelmutLeitner

Trying to apply a LegalSolution to the community issue of rewarding membership is a mistake, I believe. Still, perhaps you could show me a copyright license that offers members an advantage over non-members. The MeatballWikiCopyright doesn't, as far as I can see. --MartinHarper


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