Booki is free software and intended only for the development of free content. This is because we believe books should live, they should always be available to be used, re-used, translated, remixed – whatever you want. Books should not die on the shelves as a repository and archive of one moment. In the discourse of free culture however, the discussion of what constitutes a free book pretty much starts and stops at the license. There is a simple equation it seems and it goes something like this : Is this a free book? Check the license – is it Creative Commons (or similar?)? Yes? Then it is a free book. Solved.
Unfortunately a free license does not mean that the book is free. In my experience these ‘not-free’ (as opposed to ‘proprietary’) books fall into to something like the following 3 basic categories:
I don’t mean those books that use ‘all rights reserved’ copyright restrictions – these are obviously not free books. These are proprietary books and actually I think we should use that term more. A not-free book in this context are those that use licenses that appear free but aren’t really. Licenses like the Free Documentation License and those Creative Commons licenses that have Non-Commerical (NC) or No-Derivative (ND) conditions are not free. I don’t want to get into this here as it is a lengthy and (in my opinion) boring conversation but the bottom line for me is – can you use this book in any way you want? If the answer is no, its a not-free book.
Many publishers use two licenses for their content. Strange but true. They use a standard copyright all rights reserved license and something like a Creative Commons license, or sometimes there is just confusing and conflicting information. If you want an example take a look at page vi of the following:
It states :
“This book is published under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 license”
Sounds good but it is soon followed by a lengthy ‘go away’ clause that reads :
“This publication is protected by copyright, and permission must be obtained from the publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrieval system, or transmission in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or likewise unless permitted under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license”.
That is, in my opinion, confusing to most readers. CC SA 3.0 is one of the most free licenses. CC BY SA 3.0 is one of the most free licenses It does not even require attribution but the clause reads like a standard ‘all rights reserved’ (proprietary) license and would send off the same signals to the average reader ie. go away and dont even bother to try and do something with this book (other than read it). This is not-free.
As it happens this is one that would not appear on may peoples radar but is my biggest issue. Many books might be Ideologically free and use very bold, unambiguous and clear license statements. So, does this make it free? Well, no. The reason is that in order for something to be re-used it needs to first be in a state that enables its re-use. For example PDF is not a good re-usable format. Printed books are also not a good re-usable format. Both of these formats allow content to be copied but this is not the same as re-used. If ‘free’ means that only copying is allowed then it is a poor freedom to have. We want to be able to change books, translate them, improve them – as free licenses suggest we can. What if I want to change the contents of a book how do I do it? If I have to first reproduce the book by manually typing out 40,000 words then the book is practically not-free.
A good analogy exists here with free software. For example, a PDF is essentially a binary and distributing a PDF and calling it ‘free’ is like distributing a software binary and calling it free. Free software is aware of this catch and hence for a software to be free you must be able to access the source code. You have not only the right to change free software but the means to change it. The same understanding should exist for books. Can you get access to the content so you can change it easily? If the answer is no then it is a not-free book.