Free/Open Content, Standards, and Software are a catalyst to one another, and one can only get stronger with another. There exists a large dependency between Free Content, Open Standards, and Free Software that rarely gets touched.
Let's have a look at Content, because the issue about Free Content doesn't have the same high profile as Open Standards and Free Software. Free Content may also be referred to as Open Content, in the same sense that Open Source Software downplays "freedom".
Free Content is very similar to Free Software, in fact they have very similar definitions.
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
The Free Content Defintion (as of v0.66):
- The freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- The freedom to redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
- The freedom to make improvements or other changes, and to release modified copies
What exactly is "Free Content"? With the advent of the Internet, and the "copy-paste" generation, the definition of "free content" continually gets blurred. Does it refer to the availability and accessibility? Yes it does, but that does not define it to be "Free Content". Though the content may be available freely (as in no monetary cost), and being easily accessible, it may be deemed that they intended for you to use it how you ever please. Generally it does not work that way. Though these two properties have been satisfied, they do not specify what permissions you have over it. Can you copy it, burn it to a cd, remix it, sell it? Again generally it is accepted that you can, because of its accessibility and availability, but sadly, the truth is you can't. You have no permission what so ever to do as you please with your newly found content. If you don't get permission, and you did something/anything with it, chances are you would be breaking the law, and would be liable for charges.
In reality, a lot of people want you to build off their work, and want to give you permission to do whatever you want with it. As to them, they have justified that it is more beneficial to the public, than keeping it to themselves.
This is where Free Content comes in. The last property, the ability to build from previous works. They want you, and give you the permission to build off their work. This is Free Content.
With the success of Free Software, the rigid perception of Intellectual Property began softening. Modeled after Free Software, efforts towards promoting Free Content include the Creative Commons, which help to provide licenses for you to share your work. These licenses indicate what properties you want your content to have. Most importantly, these licenses transcend borders. The borders of Intellectual Property, and international borders, as they have been acknowledged in many countries, including Malaysia. The licenses are prepared, in an easily understood "human" form, and one in legalese "lawyers".
Though these efforts are valiant, they would be wasted if not for Open Standards and Free Software. There is a "somewhat" strict dependency between them.
Lets have a short review of what Standards are, at least in the context of Content.
Standards help ensure that a message be communicated between the speaker and receiver.
Standards can specify:
- How the message should be interpreted.
- How the communication process works. What happens if the message didn't get communicated? Who should start the communication?
- and many others...
Free Content depends on Open Standards because of the criteria of what defines an Open Standard.
Criteria for Standards to be considered Open Standards (at least in my opinion):
- Publicly Available
- No royalty
- No discrimination
- Collaborative Process
- No control or tie-in by any specific group or vendor
If content was released under a Closed Standard, which fail any of these criterias, most importantly publicly available, would it still be considered an Open Standard? Yes you can create Free Content released under a Creative Commons License, and say in a possible scenario it was produced on Microsoft Word, using the OpenXML Standard. But is it truly free?
If the Standard is not publicly available, people would not know how to interpret the content without paying certain premiums (be it monetary costs or limitations). If people could not interpret the content freely, then isn't this affecting the definitions of what constitutes as Free Content? The properties of the Content does simply does not equate to the definition Free Content, simply because of the Standard.
Sure, I'm being a bit restrictive here, but I would like to ensure the Free Content is actually free (as in freedom) so that people can benefit from it.
Free Software and Free Content are like lovers, bounded by marriage through the vows of Open Standards. The issues with Free Content and Open Standards discussed earlier play the same role between Free Software and Open Standards. If a standard was restrictive, how could a Free Software implement that standard. Previously Free Software could not implement the GIF image format/standard as it was patented, and the owners demanded compensation for its usage. Due to this severe constraint, and the need for an image format/standard (preferably open to ensure that such an act does not happen twice), the PNG image format was developed. As an Open Standard, many Free Software quickly adopted it for usage. Luckily for us the GIF patent has expired, and Free Software can finally implement the GIF image format/standard without any legal implications. Examples like these help illustrate well why Free Software should depend on Open Standards, as Closed Standards impedes innovation.
A relation can be made between Free Content and Free software through using Open Standards as a proxy. But a direct relationship exists between these two. While proprietary software may adopt Open Standards as well, if all software that adopted Open Standards were proprietary, then the user would be giving up his Software Freedoms. To prevent this, Free Content has to depend on the development Free Software to protect the user's Software Freedoms while managing the Free Content.
With the relations made, it may appear to put Open Standards on top, dependent on nothing. This is where it should be, as Open Standards helps to provide a neutral platform from which both Proprietary Software/Content and Free Software/Content can be built on. As a neutral platform Proprietary Software and Content they don't have to, or forced to adopt it. Whilst Free Software and Content have to rely on Open Standards to ensure their users freedoms are continually preserved.
Therefore by ensuring that the dependency of an Open Standard is settled, innovation can be fostered in the areas of Free Software and Content. A chain reaction has been lit, and Free/Open Content, Standards, and Software building off one another.
As a platform by itself, the importance of Open Standards is generally unrecognized. But when viewing the entities depending on it, and the benefits that they bring, then only does it truly shine.