Libre knowledge

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Libre knowledge (also open knowledge or free knowledge) is knowledge which may be acquired, interpreted and applied freely. It can be re-formulated according to one's needs, and shared with others for community benefit.

The term refers to the cultural movement of free/libre knowledge inspired by the principles of free software, the success of peer production in the development of free software (and Wikipedia) and a conviction that knowledge should be accessible and sharable without restrictions.

Libre (or free) knowledge[edit]

Advocates of libre knowledge (a.k.a. free knowledge) believe that the freedom of knowledge is under threat on account of attempts to restrict or control sharing of information (or explicit knowledge) on the Internet. For this reason, a definition of libre knowledge was formulated[by whom?] based on the definition of free software by the Free Software Foundation which shares this concern:

"Libre Knowledge is explicit knowledge released in such a way that users are free to read, listen to, watch, or otherwise experience it; to learn from or with it; to copy, adapt and use it for any purpose; and to share derived works similarly (as free knowledge) for the common good."

Users of libre knowledge are free to

(1) use the work for any purpose
(2) study its mechanisms, to be able to modify and adapt it to their own needs
(3) make and distribute copies, in whole or in part
(4) enhance and/or extend the work and share the result.

Freedoms 2 and 4 require digital representations of libre knowledge to be in a free file format fully editable with free software as defined by the Free Software Foundation.

Libre resources[edit]

The term "libre resources" refers to resources represented on a device or medium such as files in an open/free format containing text, an image, sound, multimedia, etc. or combinations of these, accessible with free software, and released under a license which grants users the freedom to access, read, listen to, watch, or otherwise experience the resource; to learn with, copy, perform, adapt and use it for any purpose; and to contribute and share enhancements or derived works.

Such resources are central to movements associated with free software, free culture, and libre knowledge, etc., and are used by libre communities - for example, for learning (see libre learning below).

The libre manifesto indicates some of the values behind such movements.

Use of the term "libre resources" emerged from discussions of free/libre knowledge as a generalisation.

Libre learning[edit]

Knowledge and learning go hand-in hand. Libre learning, which could allow collaboration and promote social constructionist learning, involves using resources that are not subject to overly restrictive licenses. The term is associated with visions, such as "freedom to learn" (liberating education and learning), deemed appropriate in countries where the public educational systems are not able to meet all the needs, encouraging and enabling civil societies to take the initiative and augment the public education systems.

Historical notes and references[edit]

It may be argued[by whom?] that the concepts of free/libre knowledge and non-free knowledge have been around ever since humans have been capable of communicating. Academic discourse on these concepts is not new, though in recent years the debate has become particularly heated with the advent of the Internet and the ease with which knowledge may be shared.

Below are listed some relevant references and additional historical notes:

  • 1909: Mahatma Gandhi: One of Gandhi's earliest publications, Hind Swaraj published in Gujarati in 1909 is recognized as the intellectual blueprint of India's freedom movement. The book was translated into English the next year, with a copyright legend that read “No Rights Reserved”.[1]
  • 1954: Mark Van Doren (book):[2] "Man's right to knowledge and the free use thereof".
  • 2001 Fle3 announcement - "Fle3 - libre software for (libre) knowledge building" [3]
  • 2002: The Budapest Open Access Initiative called for "open access" to research in all fields.
  • 2002: a collection of essays by Richard Stallman was published which captures much of the philosophy of Libre Knowledge albeit in the software sense.[4]
  • Early this century academic publishers started thinking about open access and many have released scientific content under Creative Commons licenses. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists several, though the degrees of freedom vary (many are disseminating open knowledge which is non-libre).
  • The free/libre knowledge definition above was inspired by the Free Software definition and by a posting on Jimmy Wales's blog "Free Knowledge requires Free Software and Free File Formats".
  • Lawrence Lessig has published several books which discuss the tension between a desired free, read/write Internet culture and control via technical means. These include Free Culture,[5] Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace,[6] Code: Version 2.0[7] and The Future of Ideas.[8]
  • 2004 Yochai Benkler published "Coase's Penguin" introducing a new mode of production for the 21st Century.[9]
  • 2006 Yochai Benkler published The Wealth of Networks[10] which expands on the concept of commons-based peer production.
  • 2007 Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom edited a book called "Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: from theory to practice" which reflects current interest in this phenomenon and some of the history of the knowledge commons.[11]
  • 2007 Kim Tucker released the Say "Libre" essay clarifying use of this term in preference to "open" where applicable.[12]

Some of the discussions leading to the emergence of the ideas of "libre resources" (above) and libre communities occurred during workshops in a project originally called "Free Knowledge Communities", and later Libre Communities.

The primary concern was the need to provide access to learning resources for the developed world - resources which would inevitably need to be re-contextualised and adapted for local use. It would also be beneficial if the recipients of such resources are free to adapt and distribute derived works without restriction.

The intent is to encourage people concerned with open content (etc.) to distinguish "open" from "free/libre", to understand Copyleft, and to license resources accordingly, to enable a "copy-modify, mix and share" (free or "read-write") culture and society.

Discussions along these lines may be found in (for example) the forums and at conferences of the Open educational resources communities, discussions about Free software and free culture.

These are likely to continue as the GNU General Public License and Creative Commons licenses evolve in response to contemporary issues associated with the freedom of users.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Would Gandhi have been a Wikipedian?". The Indian Express. 17 January 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  2. ^ van Doren, M. 1954. Man's right to knowledge and the free use thereof. Columbia University, New York.
  3. ^ Leinonen, Teemu (20 Nov 2001). "Fle3 - libre software for (libre) knowledge building". Freesw mailing list. Retrieved 27 September 2007.
  4. ^ Gay, Joshua (ed). 2002: Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston, Massachusetts: GNU Press. ISBN 1-882114-98-1. Also available over the web in PDF, Texinfo, and Postscript formats
  5. ^ Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin Books.
  6. ^ Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000) (ISBN 978-0-465-03913-5, Basic Books, New York)
  7. ^ Code: Version 2.0 (2006) (ISBN 978-0-465-03914-2, Basic Books, New York)
  8. ^ The Future of Ideas (2001) (ISBN 978-0-375-50578-2, Random House, New York)
  9. ^ Coase's Penguin or Linux and The nature of the firm a paper by Yochai Benkler defining what is, and how commons-based peer production works, along with a long study of what motivates contributors.
  10. ^ Yochai Benkler (2006):The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press.
  11. ^ Hess C. and Ostrom E. (eds.). 2007. Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: from theory to practice. MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.
  12. ^ Tucker K. C. 2007. Say "Libre", and discussion venue:

External links[edit]

Organisations promoting free/libre knowledge

(implicitly or explicitly)