In response to discussions among members of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement about whether to describe learning resources as "free", "libre" or "open", this essay clarifies the position of the "libre" camp and outlines the rationale for referring to knowledge and learning resources as "libre" or "free" rather than "open".
We start by building on a decade of debate and experience in the world of free/libre and open source software. Substantial sections of Why "Open Source" misses the point of Free Software and other essays of opinion Richard Stallman have been copied and adapted with permission.
IntroductionWhen we call a knowledge resource “libre”, or "free", we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to use the work for any purpose, to study its mechanisms to be able to modify and adapt it to their own needs, to make and distribute copies in whole or in part, and to enhance or extend the work and share the results freely. Free knowledge requires use of free software to access and manipulate the resources which should be stored in free file formats. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.”
These freedoms are vitally important. They are essential, not just for the individual users' sake, but because they promote social solidarity—that is, sharing and cooperation. They become even more important as more and more of our culture and life activities are digitized. In a world of digital sounds, images, words, other digital resources and electronic social interactions, free software and libre knowledge resources become increasingly equated with freedom in general.
Tens of millions of people around the world now use free software and libre knowledge resources; schools in regions of India, Spain and southern Africa now teach learners to use the free GNU/Linux operating system, and share free knowledge resources such as Wikipedia for Schools and GCompris, while implicitly free knowledge policies are becoming common in prominent OER, Open Access and other educational initiatives (e.g. PLoS, WikiEducator, WikiVersity, Connexions, Le Mill, Kewl, etc.).
In the case of software, most users seldom think about the ethical reasons for which these systems and communities have been built, because today the systems and communities are more often referred to as “open", rather than "free" or "libre", and are attributed to a different philosophy in which these freedoms are hardly mentioned.
Within the open knowledge and education communities, attention tends to be more on the authors' copyright and ownership of resources than the learners' freedom to use them and to engage with the community. This detracts from the intent of most of these initiatives, and leaves them open to threats which could severely undermine the entire movement.
The primary plea of this article is for the "open" initiatives to assess their degree of alignment with the vision for libre knowledge expressed here, and to consider adjusting their terminology to match.
Education and life-long learning are about sharing and generating knowledge. The libre knowledge vision has been expressed as follows:
| Knowledge for all, freedom to learn, towards collective wisdom |
enabling people to empower themselves with knowledge
and to share it for community benefit
When knowledge is shared electronically, the freedom to use, modify (localise), enhance, mix and share, is essential for effective knowledge transfer. Localisation is almost always required.
If you feel some resonance with this vision, and an affinity with the associated culture of cooperation and sharing, then please read on, as it is under threat. A collaborative effort is required to ensure such a free Internet culture."