Open Source and Islam
The words "Open Source" are often associated with software development and open source software is software where the source, the underlying code that makes it work and the content can be read by anybody who wishes to look at how things work internally. You can take the source and make changes to improve it and rebuild the application, or a software developer will often reuse and adapt some parts of it into another program. And the words "open source" are often synonymous with "free" but sometimes open source software is not completely free and the details are mentioned in the license - a legal document explaining how the work may be used. There are different software licenses out there that can limit what you can do with the software and the source code, but not all licenses deal with just software. Licenses and the words "open source" can apply to any number of media, including books, articles, pictures, audio, video clips and anything else. In this article I will try to explain some of options available in terms of licensing and making things open source.
In Islam, the majority of religious books and materials are public domain, meaning they are free to distribute, be re-published and sold or incorporated into other works. This is because they tend to be hundreds of years old, the authors are long dead, no publisher has bought the rights to the books and no government inherits the rights for itself. This is a good thing and has meant that books and the knowledge they hold have been continually passed on throughout the ages; nobody has held a monopoly on their distribution and sale and costs have remained low as different publishers have competed with each other.
There is a strong movement in Muslim communities to keep books available and not attach restrictive licenses and high prices to publications. This is so they can benefit the greatest number of people and continue to be republished and spread throughout the community. It is in the spirit of Islam to spread knowledge and learning and applying a premium to religious knowledge is seen as something that restricts the learning of religion and this is not acceptable. The Quran is a great example of a book that is published by different publishers, in different scripts and languages and it is well distributed and cheap to purchase. This is because Muslim scholars have taught that it is wrong to make significant profits from selling the Quran and most publishers of the Quran keep the price low so they make just enough profit to keep the printing press running. Also, derivative works, such as translations or commentaries are often distributed in the same way. And books about the teachings of Islam are sold for low prices so people are able to purchase them too.
Now, when it comes to the modern age of computers, distribution has become very quick and easy. It is possible to download the text of many books or files such as audio clips, video clips and software very quickly and share it. There are numerous websites distributing Islamic books and other files. But there are a few problems that stem mainly from ignorance...
Some of these resources have been uploaded illegally. For example, some nasheed singers like Yusuf Islam, for example, produce audio CDs (and DVDs) with licenses clearly printed on them, but somebody has taken that CD, ripped the audio from it and uploaded the MP3s to the internet and is now distributing the CD for free. This is theft. It is Haram (forbidden) to take things and distribute them against the permission of the author. You have stolen from your fellow brother. As much as we might think it should be free or cheaper, we are not seeing the reality that someone spent a lot of time, effort and money producing, recording, printing and distributing the CDs and wants to recoup some of that expense in order to continue to produce more works. Theft impedes the production of future quality content and can increase its price, so to support a producer and keep prices low you should do the right thing and buy their stuff.
Other problems with the way things are distributed is the format. For example, a lot of books are published in PDF format or as a Microsoft Word document or in proprietary formats or placed on websites under different encodings and in non-intuitive layouts. There are ways of extracting the text from these but sometimes this requires great technical knowledge or it is impossible to do it because they are locked so they cannot be read by another program. This poses a great problem to people who want to redistribute things in a different format as there is a great deal of skilled technical work and quite often they have to resort to repetitive copy-and-paste manual work in order to get things done and the thought of copying-and-pasting text thousands of times stops anyone starting a project.
And the final problem, is that a lot of Muslim works are not distributed with information about their origins or licenses (if any). If you have produced something and put it on the internet it does not make it free - you still hold all the rights to it and legally I have no right to copy, modify or redistribute it without asking permission from you first! If you're going to create something or share it then please have a READ_ME file in the archive or metadata in the file or a disclaimer somewhere about where it can be obtained and under what license it is being distributed. This is important because if I want to use this content in a derivative work, distribute or sell it, I need to know that I have the permission of the author and it is allowed and I am not harming anyone in doing so.
People. If you're going to share something online or offline, please make sure to:
- Clearly state what license the work is published under (the freer the better), and the conditions for its use.
- Clearly state who the author is and where the original book or file can be obtained and how the author may be contacted.
- Distribute files in a high quality or mention how the high quality version can be obtained.
- Distribute the files in a standard open format.
- Spend some time on formatting the content in a logical and consistent way and distributing the content in multiple formats including useful formats such as XML using text encoded in UTF-8.
There are many licenses to choose from to license your work with. Here are a few I recommend with a small explanation. The licences are listed from most permissive to least permissive:
The Creative Commons (CC) Licenses -
- Public Domain: No rights are held by the original author - the work is free to whoever to do whatever they want with it.
- Attribution: Redistribute, modify, share, sell and add a new license to derived works, but any versions must carry the details of the original author and license.
- Attribution-ShareAlike: Same as above, but the CC license must be maintained and no other license must be used.
- Attribution-NonCommercial: Same as above but the work must not be sold. A different license may be applied.
- Attribution-NoDerivatives: You are not allowed to share modified copies of this work, but untouched copies can be shared or even sold as long as the original author is attributed.
- Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: You may modify, redistribute and share this work but not add a new license nor sell it.
- Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives: The most restrictive CC licence. You can't sell, make derivatives or relicense items under this license. You can only share it with the attribution to the original author.
The Creative Commons website has a great tool, a simple form you can complete to choose the most suitable license for your works.
Software licenses -
- MIT license: A software license allowing you to copy, share, sell and use other licenses are long as the MIT license is passed along too.
- The New BSD License: A software license where source code if free to modify and redistribute and sell, as long as the license is maintained.
- The Apache 2 License: A software license where source code is free to modify and redistribute but not to sell. Derivative works can have a different license assigned to them but must retain the original Apache license. Only the new work that is not under the Apache 2 license may be sold.
- GNU GPL: A software license which requires that the software remains free and that derivative works keep the same GNU GPL license.
And if none of these licenses appeal to you, you can create your own license based on one of the above. A lot of businesses that publish open source software license it under two different licenses - a free one for free projects and a pay one for commercial projects that use their source code. Some licenses have a time limit - they run out and become public domain after a set number of years. Some licenses are created for different forms of the same media. For example, some book writers have one license on hard-copy works but distribute the PDF/HTML copy on the internet under a different license. They are still able to sell hard copies in the book shops but people can also download the book for free. Some authors even allow you to translate the book under the same license. Surprisingly, this model works and there are quite a few example of books that are open source and can be bought from the book store and are available in more than one language thanks to volunteers translating the book! Anyway, whatever you decide in the end is your choice but I recommend you choose the least restrictive license you can to benefit the most people.
If you have produced something please share it in the comments. I can also recommend resources and help with finding good content and extracting text from different formats.
A resource shared is many new resources created.