Stop accepting crappy licensing.

Red Hat, distributors of a popular GNU/Linux system, recently held a summit in Nashville. They recorded the talks and are releasing copies of them online. But you’re prohibited from distributing copies of the talks to your friends, even non-commercially and verbatim without hassle.

Three Fedora Core GNU/Linux fans (Bob Lord, Christopher Blizzard, and Mark McLoughlin) are chatting these talks up online, in particular one from Prof. Eben Moglen, chief counsel for the Free Software Foundation. Prof. Moglen himself directed me to his Wikipedia page noting in an impressed way that it was far more up to date on his work than his own site.

I posted the following to McLoughlin’s blog. I reproduce it here because people tend to edit out uncomfortable posts from their blogs (I don’t, not even the ones that point out mistakes in my posts). This is one of the shortcomings of blogs supplanting netnews as a viable democratic communication medium (there are other limitations in this transition as well).

McLoughlin notes that Moglen’s speech is worth hearing, so much so that you can skip to any part of it and hear something pithy. To which I replied:

The more laudatory the speech, the more of a shame it is that the movies are licensed to prohibit sharing by default:

All materials on this program are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, or otherwise published without the prior written permission of Red Hat, Inc. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice. However, provided that you maintain all copyright and other notices contained therein, you may download the video (one machine readable copy) for your personal, non-commercial use only.

So, in other words, enjoy the freedoms of free software but don’t you dare spread this movie file around to tell other people about it.

Not everyone who needs to hear these things has net access, a computer, or an interest in sitting in front of a computer. I host a radio program where I play free software-related talks and discuss free software-related issues. I’d love to play Prof. Moglen’s talk, but I can’t because either I have to go through a hell of a lot of hassle to share it or I’d play something my listeners are prohibited from sharing further.

When Red Hat takes this material off the Internet, people will just have to settle for explaining this not half as well as Eben Moglen did. Even verbatim non-commercial sharing is prohibited by default unless you ask the copyright holder each and every time you want to share. Did some video post-production house slap that silly restrictive license there without understanding who their audience was?

Red Hat should relicense these to at least allow non-commercial verbatim sharing in any medium so long as a simple license sentence is copied with the work, and re-edit the movies to edit out that text I quoted above. I have a hard time believing that any of the speakers would object to this (in particular Eben Moglen, chief counsel for the FSF). If the music copyright holders don’t like it, excise the music (it’s not the music we’re interested in hearing anyhow) or find more amenably licensed music (perhaps a CC track).

I would have posted this on Chris Blizzard’s blog as well, but he turned off comments to his blog.

Bob Lord wants to to share copies of the keynote talks with friends, but Red Hat won’t let him or you — at least not without considerable hassle.

I’m grateful that the talks are in a format one can play with free software: copies of the talks so far are in Ogg Vorbis+Theora. However, it’s ironic that Lord points out the talks concern “ideas like freedom, culture, innovation, and the well-being of children on the other side of the planet” while the licensing of the recordings of these talks exemplify the opposite consideration.

Update (2006-07-26): At least one of the videos (the talk from Prof. Eben Moglen) has been relicensed under a Creative Commons license that allows non-commercial verbatim distribution! This is a significant step in the right direction, and I’m glad to see that Red Hat has not only relicensed the recordings, announced the new license on the page, but they’ve also put note of the new license in the file (skip to the end of the movie in a player that can seek like VideoLAN Client). Now I can share with my friends without trapping them into something they can’t pass along further. This is really good news.