Mr. Harmon Returns from One Place to Another

Open license proliferation is serious business

August 17, 2015

This happened on Twitter today:

This is a copyleft license for rich media. This has FAR TOO MANY FUCKING WORDS AND CLAUSES IN IT: #criticalmass

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

I'd like to encourage #libre artists to use the GAL instead of CCBY. No CC trademark, much more simple / palatable

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq Attribution not required, but don't misrepresent? That's an intriguing idea, but could create headaches for downstream users.

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq What's the particular beef with CC BY being addressed here? (I no longer work at CC; I'm just a curious innocent bystander.)

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon Headaches come from length of legal code too. Plagiarism is 100% all I (& many others) wish to prevent.

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon Interesting. Amiable departure? Trademark, primarily. I also don't like hazy restrictions on tech. measures (anti-drm clause).

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon And it is maybe..1/2 beef, 1/2 just encouraging competition and in the free culture license supply.

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq aaand, link to the [source/mirror] of the GAL encourages folks to visit, whose initiative I try to champion.

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon but I'll say, I should have used a different argument than "instead", since I am trying to encourage the choice/competition..

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq But if B adapts A's work and doesn't provide attribution, and C wants to adapt B's work, C may be in danger of misrepresenting.

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq This feels like it's intended to fall somewhere between CC BY and CC0 on the freedom spectrum. I'm having trouble seeing a use case

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq (Or rather, a use case that couldn't be resolved with CC BY plus a waiver.)

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon Agreed. I guess it comes down to eloquence and succinctness.

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@elliotharmon True. That license.txt must be re-distributed by B. C should see it and attribute credit somehow.

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

@lrockhq Aha. I missed that on the first read. But still, without knowing who A is, how can C not misrepresent A's contribution?

— Elliot Harmon (@elliotharmon) August 17, 2015

Gotta run for now @elliotharmon thanks for the dialogue :)

— Longrock HQ (@lrockhq) August 17, 2015

This argument encapsulates something that never stops fascinating me about open licenses. The reasons why people choose to use them — or choose to ignore them, or choose to fork them or reinvent them — often really come down to aesthetics and perceived community allegiances more than the functionality of those licenses.

And for the record, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. A big part of CC’s growth had to do not just with the way the licenses functioned, but the aesthetic sensibility and community allegiance that they represented. To say “your new license divides the commons” may be, in some cases, to miss the point. Some people want to start their own pasture.*

Kat Walsh told me that a big part of why she came to CC was because she’d always wanted to write an open license. But she knew that she wanted to write it at Creative Commons, because the world didn’t need anymore open licenses.

Philosophically, I’m all for letting a million flowers bloom. Practically, I’m all for not reinventing the wheel. And in cases where there’s still a real community with real needs behind a smaller license, find ways to tear down the fence while still honoring the community. For example, when CC BY-SA and the Free Art License developed two-way compatability. Functionally, the licenses did roughly the same thing. But FAL represented a different community, a different set of values. That will all stay preserved for as long as people keep using the FAL, which is pretty cool.

* One big caveat. In cases where society is paying for open access works, either in the form of government funding or foundation-funded grants or what-have-you, don’t start your own pasture. Just use CC BY, homie.

ActGreener needs you

July 26, 2015

Hey! ActGreener is looking for a web developer. If that’s why you’re reading this post, then scroll down to the duck.

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing some work with a startup called ActGreener. ActGreener is a service designed to make it easier for nonprofits to amplify each other. The basic idea: you help bring more traffic to ally organizations, and you get more traffic to your site in return. ActGreener was designed for environmental organizations, but it’s pretty easy to see how it could expand to other types of nonprofits and progressive campaigns in general.

I’m excited about ActGreener because it’s a chance — not just for me, but also for the sector — to try out some new communications strategies.

Big things can happen when organizations move away from thinking of other organizations that work in the same space as competitors. It’s a good sign when you see nonprofit communications people thinking less about how to amplify their organizations’ brand and more about building a larger and louder platform for the movements those organizations work in. Services like ActGreener are a way to demonstrate — without a lot of overhead or risk for the organizations themselves — how all boats can rise with the tide, while also finding ways to optimize that tide by mixing our audiences and communications tactics.

There’s another reason I’m excited about ActGreener. Nonprofits need to own our messaging.

Right now, if you open your Facebook news feed, you might not see a lot of nonprofits’ own posts rising to the top. Facebook favors publishers that know the tricks of Facebook. That means that even if you like your favorite nonprofit on Facebook, you might be just as likely to see its message mediated through a separate company, one that may or may not share its end goals. It’s time to start bringing that knowledge in-house.


Duck / Pavlina Jane / CC BY-SA 2.0

Is this interesting to you? Let’s talk. Send me a note at my very-easy-to-find email address. In particular, we’re looking to talk to:

Nonprofits (and the awesome comms professionals therein)

Am I speaking your language? Do you wake up thinking about how to strengthen not just your organization’s outreach, but that of the entire cluster of organizations and activists you work in? You’re the person we want to talk to.

In the immediate future, we need some orgs who’d be interested in some very low-impact tests. In the long run, we’re looking for a dedicated core of a few organizations to brainstorm, argue, and build with us over the next several months.


A cool thing about coming into this project in its very early stages is that technologically, not a lot has been set in stone yet. We’re looking to talk to people who have built awesome stuff on the web. Knowledge of environmental issues and/or nonprofits in general is a good thing.

Right now, we’re working on getting funding for a web developer. Ideally, we’re looking to work with someone in the Bay Area. Let’s talk.

Tesla didn’t fix patents

July 08, 2015

Tesla didn’t fix patents


Ronda Rousey is sports entertainment

April 23, 2015

Ronda Rousey is sports entertainment


Free Bassel

March 15, 2015

As of today Bassel Khartabil has been in a Syrian prison for three years.

Here’s what I wrote for the #freebassel cookbook project last year:

I chose this recipe because it takes a long time to make, so it’s kind of boring when you’re alone. But it’s extremely easy to make, meaning it’s perfect if you’re cooking for someone else and they can sit and talk with you while you’re cooking. Some of my favorite conversations have been around a kitchen while someone is making dinner; it’s where you have time to think things through.

I’ve never met Bassel, but as communications person for Creative Commons, I’ve learned a lot about him in the past two years and met a lot of people who are close to him. To me, his story is a reminder that our work in the open movement isn’t an intellectual exercise: there are places in the world where a free and open internet is a matter of life and death.

A few nights before he was put in prison, Bassel wrote a funny string of tweets sarcastically suggesting that people should eat more junk food because cooking takes too long and audiobooks are all boring. It was a silly joke, but when he wrote it, he knew that he and many of his friends were in serious danger. He understood — more than most of us do — that how you choose to spend your time matters.