Saturday, July 16, 2011

Owning, Licensing, Sharing

We use things every day, be they at home, in the office, while shopping, traveling, holidaying, in government offices or visiting friends. We are used to the concept of ownership. In our minds things - be they actual physical items like chair and television, or music records/cassettes/CDs, or software like Microsoft Windows and Apple Apps, even Googles or Yahoo! we think someone owns them when they are used by another person. Which is basically true but the user is not necessarily the owner.

I think Bill Gate, the iconic founder of Microsoft Corp, is credited with the concept of licensing, which merely give users a right, usually conditional and restricted one, to use a product, commonly a creative one like software program, books and music. So we pay to use or enjoy such products which we may not transfer the right of use to another, commercially, although for personal use the rules are usually relaxed and overlooked. I think licensing is a great concept, when you get used to it. I protested many years ago, arguing why, having paid to buy, the product is not ultimately mine. Yes, long ago when I bought a music record I actually own it and the songs on them that I can sing, copy and give to others. Effectively this concept is open to abuse and exploitation, like photocopying books is hurting the writers and publishers. I suppose licensing came about to plug this loophole although there are still a lot of piracy.

Not everything can be licensed but many things can be owned, leased or rented, particularly if they are expensive, not easily moveable, an assembly of many components and depreciable, i.e. of diminishing value over time. To own is a natural instinct of man, a symbol of control and absolute right of use. Licensing is a strange idea to societies that are developing, where concepts like intellectual properties are alien to them. How do you own sound, words or design? But as the world begin to recognize and appreciate the creative skills of people, their rights to protect their livelihood have been transformed into the right of owning their creative works and not to sell but license their works for use and for pleasure. From this line of argument I believe it is becoming universally accepted that we cannot own creative works but rather pay for the privilege of using someone else's idea or creation.

More and more creative workers are moving into sharing their works, often for free. Sometimes just asking for donations. Sharing may be a step towards creating a more powerful end product. I've used many freewares that eventually ceased to be free, but became sharewares which require a token payment. Yet there are still thousands of developers who continue to bless users the world over with their programs without asking for payments as long as they are for personal use. The world is a better place because of selfless sharing. It also start a movement of putting up their works on the Internet for public consumption, for free. Although some do so with motives of profit but taking off this veneer we as users are grateful that not everything in life that we use must be paid for. One of the services I'm grateful for is Google Mail, more popularly called Gmail. It is as free as I don't abuse it, overuse it to beyond the storage limit. Other products I appreciate are several free Apps from the App Store and the Android Market for my smartphone as well as Wikipedia.

Using free products tend to instil a reaction to similarly contribute back by offering one or more of your own work back to society, for free too. Personally it is a healthy growth towards global sharing and not seeking a monetary return.

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