I’ve reached a point in my development project at which I’d like to go ahead and release FromThePage as Open Source. There are now only two things holding me back. I’d really like to find a project willing to work together with me to fix any deployment problems, rather than posting my source code on GitHub and leaving users to fend for themselves. The other problem is a more serious issue that highlights what I think is a conflict between Open Access and Open Source Software.
Open Source/Free Software and Rights of Use
Most of the attention paid to Open Source software focuses on the user’s right to modify the software to suit their needs and to redistribute that (or derivative) code. However, there is a different, more basic right conferred by Free and Open source licenses: the user’s right to use the software for whatever purpose they wish. The Free Software Definition lists “Freedom 0” as:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
Placing restrictions on the use of Free Software, such as time (“30 days trial period”, “license expires January 1st, 2004”) purpose (“permission granted for research and non-commercial use”, “may not be used for benchmarking”) or geographic area (“must not be used in country X”) makes a program non-free.
Meanwhile, the Open Source Definition‘s sixth criterion is:
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
Traditionally this has not been a problem for non-commercial software developers like me. Once you decide not to charge for the editor, game, or compiler you’ve written, who cares how it’s used?
However, if your motivation in writing software is to encourage people to share their data, as mine certainly is, then restrictions on use start to sound pretty attractive. I’d love for someone to run FromThePage as a commercial service, hosting the software and guiding users through posting their manuscripts online. It’s a valuable service, and is worth paying for. However, I want the resulting transcriptions to be freely accessible on the web, so that we all get to read the documents that have been sitting in the basements and file folders of family archivists around the world.
Unfortunately, if you investigate the current big commercial repositories of this sort of data, you’ll find that their pricing/access model is the opposite of what I describe. Both Footnote.com and Ancestry.com allow free hosting of member data, but both lock browsing of that data behind a registration wall. Even if registration is free, that hurdle may doom the user-created content to be inaccessible, unfindable or irrelevant to the general public.
The open access movement has defined this problem with regards to scholarly literature, and I see no reason why their call should not be applied to historical primary sources like the 19th/20th century manuscripts FromThePage is designed to host. Here’s the Budapest Open Access Initiative’s definition:
By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.
Both the Budapest and Berlin definitions go on to talk about copyright quite a bit, however since the documents I’m hosting are already out-of-copyright, I don’t really think that they’re relevant. What I do have control over is my own copyright interest in the FromThePage software, and the ability to specify whatever kind of copyleft license I want.
My quandry is this: none of the existing Free or Open Source licenses allow me to require that FromThePage be used in conformance with Open Access. Obviously, that’s because adding such a restriction — requiring users of FromThePage not to charge for people reading the documents hosted on or produced through the software — violates the basic principles of Free Software and Open Source. So where do I find such a license?
Have other Open Access developers run into such a problem? Should I hire a lawyer to write me a sui generis license for FromThePage? Or should I just get over the fear that someone, somewhere will be making money off my software by charging people to read the documents I want them to share?