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An Open Web

Content is Your Knowledge

One either shares their knowledge or hides it from others. Sometimes this sharing or hiding happens consciously or unconsciously. There are instances where both sharing and hiding are useful strategies. For the Open Web, the concepts of sharing of knowledge have been built into the fiber of websites and services since the early Web, what we often refer to as Web 1.0. Sharing is a refreshing change from the isolation on one’s computer off of the Internet, or in using certain non-social aspects of the web like consumption of media. However, it’s important to note that sharing is not necessarily the default state of most of the Web.

The original Web, built on the Internet, defaulted to public display of HTML pages between colleagues at universities. With the boom of the public web, specifically from 1994-1997 onward, the explosion of people actively online increased exponentially.1 Since then, the Web has rapidly changed from a default of public homepages to services and businesses developing applications that allow for varying public and private controls on your participation. The sharing of your knowledge and access to others’ knowledge has been regulated either through strategies of lock-down by the proprietors of webpages, or legal enforcement in jurisdictions around the world. Even the ability to view source only allows forking or basic copying of content on the internet and not the changing of that original content by default.

Today, with sites such as Youtube, Flickr, and Twitter, people can both read and write on websites with varying levels of access and control. The new battlefield for reading and writing of information has to do with what a person is allowed to share on a website. On a range of services, sharing daily is default, hence the massive amount of information shared by people to their networks on Facebook and via status update services like Twitter and Status.Net.

However, not everyone in the world uses the same strategy of sharing. For this book, we will make the distinction between sharing knowledge in general, and sharing which requires a legal fix, through Creative Commons and other copyright licenses to allow for legal sharing.

Sharing Nicely

The land grab on creative works by copyright gave shape to a world where upon the instant you create a creative work—such as audio, video, image, or text—the work is restricted by copyright. The need to register that work with a government agency is not required. This means that most creative works in countries that abide by the Berne Convention are locking-out sharing by others by default. First world sharing is broken. It is failed sharing.

One solution to this failed sharing for content is Creative Commons, a non-profit which provides free legal tools that allow a copyright holder to share some rights with others.2 For software source code, there are legal hacks from the Free Software Foundation, which provides the GNU General Public License (GPL). The GPL pioneered the copyleft method of fixing broken sharing, is the dominant free software license today,3 and inspired the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, also copyleft, and the most frequently used free license for content.

This human-made problem of copyright came from a place of protectionism. Corporations such as Disney perverted the duration of copyright’s term to essentially live forever in a form of corporate trans-humanism,4 cheating death unnaturally forever by exacting profit from enforcing artificial scarcity indefinitely.

The battle for the Open Web requires both more sharing and also fixes like Creative Commons.

Limits and Challenges to Sharing

Nevertheless, sharing has limits. There are loads of instances around the world where sharing has issues. There is not a perfect share or system. The battle for the Open Web is a shifting social, legal and technical landscape.

Consider for a moment a personal anecdote about oversharing of content on Facebook. A friend of the authors used the Web to share his travels on tripit.com, a service that by default shares your status on Facebook. Our friend, who lives in an Arab country at war with Israel, shared that he would be making a trip to Asia. Someone else, not even an acquaintance of our friend, commented on the automatic update to Facebook’s public stream saying, “Hope to see you soon in Tel Aviv!” The secret service intercepted this message, not by some grand technological means, but merely because the status updates are public. Our friend spent the next two days in a jail cell—for his one update. Sharing is not always a positive experience, if its unconscious or misused by others.

One of the best examples of why real sharing works is the top five ranked website in the world, Wikipedia. This massively community edited encyclopedia thrives with the principle that everyone is an expert, anyone may edit the encyclopedia. This is legally reinforced by using the legal fix to sharing, the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Let us take for example the article on Inkscape, the Open Source drawing tool: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkscape. If we look at this complete article, it lists what the software does, the history of the project and reference material supporting claims. At the top of the page you can click on the history of the article and see thousands of edits. The history of the sharing of knowledge between thousands of people around the world increases the article's strength. This isn't under or oversharing, rather just the right amount of sharing. 

The battle for the Open Web is about you controlling yourself. It’s about you being responsible for your own forms of sharing. While some might advocate “loving to share,” it can have the adverse effects. With the default copyright system in all developed countries (with spread of its enforcement to the rest essentially locked-in through treaty and pressure from internal and external rent-seekers), undersharing is rampant. Its also possible to overshare, both without your consent or in the case of those who choose to become spammers, they actively overshare. For the open web, sharing is necessary to combat the massive knowledge hiding that is part of the legal and social norms globally.

As scholars have shown numerous times and author Cory Doctorow has fantasized about in “Down and Out, in the Tragic Kingdom,”5 the future is built upon the past. A past of public domain, free creative works. Our collective history. Disney built its empire on taking public domain stories from the past, creating decorative animations to some songs, syncing some voice-overs to explain these stories, and then created a system of artificial scarcity in order to generate profit. However, you cannot freely participate in Disney’s empire without paying a price. This same model of locked sharing transfers to countless examples on the web, from Amazon Store to Apple's iTunes store which sells Disney videos, Pixar animations, and countless soundtracks, to the artist again known as Prince, suing his fans uploading videos to Google's Youtube,6 first-world copyright is often enforced when money is not being collected maximally. In this model, the sharing you are allowed to do is provide your credit card number.

In the Open Web, there are rays of hope for a more balanced sharing. Wikipedia and the huge success of Web 2.0 sites like Youtube show that people want to share. Over 24 hours of HD video is uploaded to Youtube every second.7

In the battle for the Open Web, the solution is to support legal sharing with Creative Commons and other Free and Open licenses. If done right, like Wikipedia, just the right amount of sharing can change the world. 


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet^
  2. See http://creativecommons.org/^
  3. “Make Your Open Source Software GPL-Compatible. Or Else.” by David A. Wheeler. http://www.dwheeler.com/essays/gpl-compatible.html^
  4. Let's call this trans-corporism.^
  5. See http://www.thepublicdomain.org and http://craphound.com/down/^
  6. See http://www.switched.com/2007/11/07/prince-sues-his-number-one-fans/ and http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/nov/07/musicnews.topstories3^
  7. See http://mashable.com/2010/03/17/youtube-24-hours/^