This is a HUGE topic for which I intend to write on at great length, hence the new site Think Open, which is still very much under construction. For those of you that know how I write, you can expect lengthy and thoroughly researched papers, summaries and opinions on the topic. For now I thought I would provide some background on the topic since I am about to release all my photo’s under an “open” and creative commons license. This short post was also prompted by some changes being proposed by a 3D Art Designer (Ryan Bliss) with regards to his work. First I should plug his work and web site. Digital Blasphemy has been around for more than a decade now and Ryan produces and renders beautiful, surreal and stylish art work for use as a desktop or mobile phone background, posters, calendars and even stunning prints to hang on your wall. Membership rates to access all of his great work is ridiculously affordable at $15.00 for 3 months, $25.00 for the year or $99.00 for a lifetime membership. In my current home office environment I have 6 physical servers, 3 virtual servers, 3 desktops, 2 laptops and 1 netbook. All computers in my home/office display Ryan’s art as wallpaper/backgrounds and I have recently contacted him about using his work on one or more of my web sites. I am a great admirer of his beautiful work and have become so accustomed to seeing his work behind the screen’s of every computer, that I feel out of place sitting in front of someone else’s computer without being able to see the artwork of Digital Blasphemy.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” (Socrates)
Ryan is proposing changes to the licensing of his art work which would provide far more work for free to the general public. Ryan is concerned that his proposed changes may reduce the “value” perceived by his current and paid members, for what they have been receiving to date. To Ryan’s credit, and in keeping with the “community spirit” of the entire “open movement” he has asked his current, paid members to comment on his proposal. In a way, this is also my own response to Ryan’s proposal to place more of his art work in the public domain with limited restrictions. In short, my view mirrors that of the entire global movement towards “open” access, knowledge, science, government etc. We all benefit, individually and globally, by increased access to ALL knowledge and the removal of physical, social, financial or licensing restrictions on knowledge and even creative works. But of course we do need to consider those who have earned a living in the past as a result of the outdated and more restrictive model for knowledge sharing/distribution. We also need to consider the views, and rights, of those who may “value” their own creative works exclusively, or predominantly, in financial terms. Many who have benefited (financially) in the past through tight controls over access to, and the use of, knowledge, software, science, publications, art etc, are somewhat justified in their concerns. Their concerns, and questions, are usually along the lines of “how can I make a living and get paid for my time and work if I give everything away for free?“. Well, it is possible that some short-term opportunities for financial gain may be lost as a result of providing more open access to intellectual property, knowledge, art-work etc, which may have been tightly controlled in the past. However, the long-term benefits of more people gaining access to this knowledge, art or science not only serve the greater good of humanity and contributes to our global “knowledge pool” (or appreciation of someones’ art-work), but often/usually increases the authors’, publishers’, artists’ foothold in the public eye. In other words, with regards to Ryan Bliss and Digital Blasphemy, I believe that by opening up more of his work to the general public, more people become aware of his great work, more people share in and appreciate his creations which should also translate into a larger potential pool of paying members. In my opinion-an opinion shared by many-we all benefit by an open distribution of knowledge, art, science and government. In fact I personally believe that these types of epistemological changes, and the evolution of our definition of “value”, is not only beneficial to individuals and society/humanity as a whole, but fundamentally necessary if we are to survive as a species.
“It is our moral duty to share the scientific, intellectual, spiritual and creative wisdom of man with all of humanity so that every single person on the planet has the same opportunity to explore, expand, become enlightened by, or simply to experience, the collective gifts of humankind.” (JMD)
So what exactly is “Open Knowledge” (OK). The Open Knowledge Foundation defines ‘Open Knowledge’ as “any content, information or data that people are free to use, re-use and redistribute — without any legal, technological or social restriction” (OKF). Let me also start by trying to explain what OK is NOT, and providing an example of at least one potential detriment to keeping knowledge and information “closed”. Lets say you are looking for some information, research or articles on “Causes of Breast Cancer”, and you have to purchase a subscription to a journal, or pay for access to some sort of on-line research archive. This is NOT “Open Knowledge” since there are obstacles, hindrances which may prevent you from readily gaining access to this information. Information which may very well help you or others in the prevention of breast cancer. One might argue that if EVERYONE had access to this type of practical and helpful knowledge, society, all of humanity in fact, especially those at risk for breast cancer, would benefit by having free access to this knowledge. But what about the person, the scientist, the publisher or the artists? Don’t they deserve the right to earn a living and charge for access to their work? Doesn’t a publication house, a journal, have the right to make a profit, to pay its staff? Yes to all of these questions. For some this may appear to be an irreconcilable set of conditions. An irreconcilable set of opposing and incompatible goals. Profit and copyright for the producer of the work by restricting and charging for access/distribution of her/his work vs the greater good served to all of humanity by the free and open access to the work or knowledge. How can we fully support and afford all rights to the owner/producer of the work, while also allowing free and unencumbered access to valuable (aesthetic, social, scientific, personal) information which may serve the greater good of humanity, or possibly just the greater good (or health) of one person? These may appear to be difficult, maybe even intractable problems without a clear solution that meets the needs of everyone. I would like to argue that these are ONLY difficult or intractable questions if we retain our current outdated models, assumptions or definitions for knowledge and how we define “value”. There is also the very real difference between artistic vs intellectual work but I will try to write more about these larger topics at a later time. Suffice for now, and for the propose of this article, I will consider Ryan’s art work, and all creative works, as just another form of “knowledge”. Therefore, my intentions are to provide a small amount of background on open knowledge in general, and the recent proposal by Ryan Bliss of Digital Blasphemy, with regards to how he releases his art work.
Actually, I believe that by encouraging and supporting this model of knowledge-sharing, we not only increase our chances of simply “surviving” as a species, but we also increase out chances of truly evolving in a global, humanitarian and possibly universally beneficial direction. A direction, and evolution, which may even reduce our reasons for feeling shame, quilt or remorse should we be observed, evaluated or even judged one day in the future by another civilization. Ask yourself this question. Imagine we were suddenly contacted by some other, possibly far more advanced civilization or species. Assuming they were a far more morally and ethically advanced civilization than ours, how would you answer their questions with regards to how we treat the poor, the homeless, other cultures? What would you say if asked about our history of genocide? What about our history of socially and economically divided societies where the rich, the privileged, the powerful are the ones’ who have the greatest access to goods, food, shelter, art or knowledge/education? You don’t even have to resort to imagining this hypothetical situation involving aliens from another planet, to consider the moral, societal, aesthetic and humanitarian benefits of more people having greater access to knowledge, science, government or art. The benefits, both individually and globally, should be self-evident.
Is Ryan’s fabulous art work and 3D Digital Creations going to save the world? Probably not. But I do believe that Ryan’s proposed changes to the licensing of, and access to, his beautiful work reflects the necessary and global changes underway which are redefining how we share, access and develop knowledge and creative works. Go for it Ryan!
Digital Blasphemy 3D Wallpaper