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Dealing with contentious and sometimes partisan topics

I wasn’t sure if I should make this a Session idea when I first decided to post, but I think it will fit well.

Let me lead in by example:

In his new book, Dealing With Disrespect, Jono wrote about his choice to use the NC term in his CC-licensing:

The license does not allow you to commercially redistribute the book. I
know, I know, some of you Creative Commons purists won’t like this…but I
feel my primary ethical responsibility is to give the content away
freely. If someone wants to make money from it, I want a piece of that
pie for my family too; my son needs toys.

How should one address this? The part that says “purists won’t like this” sort of fends off any anticipated criticism. It comes across as, “if you object, you must be a purist, and also, I probably know exactly what you think and have already rejected it.”

Of course, there are real issues on many topics. Licensing is one of the contentious issues in Free/Open communities. Many people have opinions. As a community, we do have a goal of avoiding never-ending flame-wars. But that doesn’t mean we can just avoid the issues. I don’t have any perfect solutions, although I have my opinions both about some of these topics and about how to handle them as a community leader.

So, I think this is an important topic to deal with in a meta sense.

For the example in question, it’s clear that Jono, you did not actually make a valid case for the NC license, but one should also pick their battles. I have a desire to respond to the specific issue mostly because it is spreading misunderstanding in the community overall, but also because the NC license causes problems for me in this exact case.

To be concrete: it isn’t clear in practice that the NC license will assist you in making money. If someone was going to distribute the book in a commercial form, but the NC license makes them decide not to, that doesn’t bring the author any money. In fact, more distribution of the book could lead to more interest and eventually more direct sales or indirect donations or other support. More significantly, the NC license mostly hurts the people who never would do anything commercial anyway. I myself write things that are licensed CC-BY-SA (allowing commercial use if they keep the license). I do not do commercial things with these writings (and perhaps nobody else ever will either, even though it is allowed). I like the license anyway, but must use it because I sometimes incorporate writings from Wikipedia (which uses CC-BY-SA). It is entirely possible that the only effect of the NC license on Dealing With Disrespect is to block my non-commercial use of it (because the licenses are incompatible: I can’t share with the people here any writings that say “you can use this commercially and you can’t use it commercially”). Because of NC, I will not include any useful pieces of the book in my own work. Not because I’m dogmatic, but because I legally can’t, again even though I’m not doing anything commercial. So maybe the NC license just hurts the community and reduces the spread of the book and makes the work more obscure, thus hurting the author.

So my objections to NC aren’t motivated just because I’m some “purist.” I have practical concerns. And yet, maybe this is just distraction and taking my time and energy away from more important things. How can we actually address real concerns about contentious issues like this? We need a way to actually deal with these things. They aren’t just going to go away.

Overall, I think the wiki format is nice actually. The way that Wikipedians are forced to come to consensus in a manner where everyone can live with a consolidated summarized result is useful.

I look forward to hearing thoughts from others.

Hi @wolftune, thanks for the feedback! :smile:

Firstly, in terms of a session about how to deal with complex topics, I think that would be a wonderful discussion to have. My feeling here is that the key focus is all about setting expectations, having an effective discussion, and reaching conclusions. A key point here is an understanding that you can’t make everyone happy…that is the nature of contentious discussions.

As you used Dealing With Disrespect as an example, I wanted to reply to this specifically:

I agree. I did not make a valid case for a NC license because…to be honest…I didn’t feel that that I had to. Let me explain.

When communities work together on a shared work it is important to have a discussion between those doing the work to decide on licensing and distribution. The key thing here is the discussion. Not everyone will get their way as some may be unhappy with the final decision, but every contributor has earned the right to be involved in the discussion as it is a collaborative community project.

Dealing With Disrespect was different. This wasn’t a community project. I prepped, planned, wrote, produced, and released the book entirely by myself. I had seen a problem in our communities and I wrote the book as something I hope is useful to others. I never planned for it to be a collaborative work…mainly because I just don’t have time.

As such, with the book being a personal work, I felt quite comfortable just making a unilateral decision about licensing. I know from experience that some people won’t like that decision, and that is fine. I felt my primary goal here was to ensure the content is freely available. And it is…you can download a PDF, read it online, and share it with friends.

The reason I chose to not allow commercial distribution without permission is simple. I went to a lot of effort to write that book, and I paid to create it…tools, infrastructure, domain, themes, hosting etc. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it does cost money, so I felt that any commercial revenue raised should go back to the guy who created it. :smile:

Again, I appreciate this is not in the purist sense Free Culture, but I didn’t write this book to be a Free Culture work; I wrote the book to provide guidance for how to deal with disrespect, and Free Culture was a great way to license it.

Now, to be clear, in terms of quoting content and sharing it in other works, I don’t think there is an issue there. All of that comes under Fair Use. As such, I feel the content is super-flexible in how it can be used - you can download, read, and share it freely, and cite it in other works freely. The only real limitation is if you want to sell it and keep the money for yourself. :smile:

Sorry for the long reply. I hope it helped bring some clarity to the decision.

Thanks for the thoughts, Jono.

So, let’s continue this, mainly as an example case so we can explore this type of problem.

I thought that I pointed out in my comments not only that there are “Free Culture” issues but that the NC license might actually not lead to you getting any more income. You didn’t address that. If we could conclude without much doubt that the NC license would bring you more income, then it would be merely a debate about values (i.e. whether it is justified for you to choose income over better Free Culture ideals). I recognize that the license choice is entirely yours to make in this situation, and there’s no way to resolve any attempt I could make to insist that you do things my way (so I’m not trying to do that… although, for the sake of discussion we should recognize that many critics do make such assertions).

So, to clarify: I’m saying that the implication that NC helps the author get more income is not founded in evidence. There is a perception that this is the case, but not enough data and too much complexity. So, maybe it will help if I clarify that I would sympathize more with the NC choice if it were indeed shown to increase your income.

So, to be clear, I am less concerned about the specific use case as I am about the message being spread. I don’t want people to go on assuming that NC helps them get more income. I think we have not enough data to be conclusive, and there’s even reason to think that NC might reduce your income. For example: maybe nobody ever cares to do anything commercial with this ever, and 100% of the income comes from donations. But maybe some people are nervous that some use case might be debatably commercial or they have the compatibility problem with CC-BY-SA, so they don’t use it. This results in less attention and a direct reduction in donations. So maybe you are hurting your potential reach and potential donations by choosing a license that stops something that was never going to happen anyway.

Of course, I’m just saying we don’t know. But mostly, I want people to think, “we do not know that NC licensing helps with funding.” And I’m more concerned with that clarification than with the licensing of this particular book.

So… what I’m wondering is: what wording about the license might have avoided this discussion entirely (given that it’s somewhat clear that you wanted to avoid it)? Just speculating, maybe something like “I know there’s lots of opinions about licensing, and I really am not certain that the NC license will achieve the balance I want, but I thought through the issues and feel this is the best choice.”

Perhaps I wouldn’t have replied to that because it contains no assertions about the pros and cons of the license. The fact that you did defend it by making claims that it would help you get income is probably what led me to take the time to address what I saw as unfounded claims.

I’m not sure though. I’m trying to be self-reflective and figure out if we can end up with good guidelines for how to address the fact that decisions were made without seeming dismissive or baiting of those who might question the decision.


Thanks, @wolftune. :smile:

My decision to go with NC was not because of an assumption that NC brings in more income. I don’t believe there is enough data to say whether it does or not result in more money coming in.

My choice of NC was simple because this is a book I wrote myself (as opposed to as part of a community team) that I want to share with others, and, although I didn’t write this to earn money, my view is that if any income does come in, I believe I not only have the right to it, but I want it for my family (and to cover the costs of the book). Thus, I chose NC more because I don’t feel it is fair that someone else should profit from my personal work when I would prefer that profit to support my family. I also make it clear that I do invite discussions of commercial use, but I want to be involved in the discussion and provide permission first.

As I said before, if this was a collaborative community project, my views here would be different.

I think the crux of the debate here is the expectations around how we (a) license specific pieces of work and (b) how we discuss licensing in general.

I believe the general discussion of the merits of different licensing is a valid and welcome discussion. These discussions help to further our understanding of the topics and help us to make better decisions.

In terms of the specific licensing of a specific work (such as Dealing With Disrespect), that is up to the individual or team who created the work. In this case, to be frank, I was uninterested in a collaborative discussion about how I licensed the book…I just made the decision.

Now, this is not to suggest I don’t welcome feedback, and that I won’t change the license based on that feedback, but the decision is ultimately one I will make myself and I didn’t want to set expectations that this was something we are democratically deciding upon.

Now, I think there is definitely scope for me to improve why I made the decision and clarify that in the book in a slightly less persnickety way ;-), but to be honest, I think most of my readers don’t care about the licensing…what was important to me is to tell them what they can do with the content, as opposed to the decision-making that went into the licensing.

Sure, well… what this all comes down to is a bunch of extremely complex social and cultural baggage about how we all see our relation to one another. As in: author’s relation to control over their work (and what others do or do not do with it), relation between authors and readers, relation to the concept of others making money… there’s a heck of a lot of stuff wrapped up in all of this. What might seem as simple as someone choosing what to do with their work ends up with crazy implications and assertions about our whole relationship to society…

So, it’s easy for these things to spin out of control, and yet this bigger discussions about political issues remain valid. I think there’s a lot of value in communities actually engaging with hard topics and being willing to be called out on their biases and assumptions.

What might seem to be about a little detail turns out to be fundamental differences in world-view or something. I tend to feel that everyone grows and the community is richer when these fundamental discussions are encouraged rather than discouraged, but they can take time and energy away from other things. So it’s really complex. So yes, I hope to continue this discussion with others and get perspectives on this sort of thing.


Well, I think everything has the potential for that. As an example, if I go to the store and buy a bottle of milk, to me it is just a bottle of milk, but there is a chain of choices associated with that…the farm, the production practices, how the bottle was made, how it is distributed etc.

My personal view here is to balance things out in the scheme of things. Using my previous example, I just don’t really care all that much about where I get my milk from. I do however accept that some people will really care about that, and have many views and in some cases objections to how I buy milk.

In my mind…and to your point, @wolftune, what is most important is that we can have civil discussions to explore these topics.

Something I have learned over the years is that every single time someone challenges me on my views I learn something. I get to see the topic from a different angle and to explore a different view. It gives me an opportunity to really think about what I think. Likewise, in this discussion, I learned some things from you too.

So, viva-la-discussion! :slight_smile:

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