Why open licences?

I was recently asked by Wendy Van Wynsberghe from constant to explain how and why I use open licences for a lecture she’s doing on the subject. Like a lot of seemingly straightforward questions – it took me quite a while to work out the answers. With her permission, I thought it might be worth posting here.

So how do you use free & open licenses in your work?

I consider myself a software artist – so I am concerned with the process of creating software (via the combination of code and other digital assets). All the software I write is covered by the GPL licence, which means that all derivatives of it (created by me or anyone else) have to also be published as open source. I use similar licences for videos, images and written documents I produce as well.


Firstly, most of my work is publicly funded (either via arts grants or science research funding) so this is a moral issue for me – why should tax money be spent on work which is then removed from public access?

Secondly, and perhaps more interesting, is that the use of open licencing changes the way you go about your work in some fundamental ways.

For example, making your working method open immediately makes your work accessible to your peers, encouraging comment and collaboration at all stages. This for me is one of the most important lessons art can learn from the scientific method.

The initial fear that someone may steal “all your good ideas” is actually less likely if they are published and disseminated widely, as the danger for anyone wanting to borrow without attribution is that they will be found out all the easier.

This is not an absolute position. The embryonic stages of an idea for me need to be carried out and understood to a certain level away from such a public view. However it seems that the earlier you can open the working process for the idea, the faster it will develop and in more interesting directions.

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