Libre knowledge/discussion topics

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Optical illusion image used in psychological tests.png You are encouraged to explore other perspectives to those presented here.

As with all the learning resources shared here under Libre Knowledge, in addition to engaging educators and learners directly in improving these resources, the hope is that educators and learners consider incorporating variations of these discussions in their own courses elsewhere.

In addition to the topics below, browse the discussion tabs of the Libre knowledge pages and engage.


Libre and Free

Libre knowledge definition

  • Does the definition of libre knowledge specify that libre (knowledge) resources are free of DRM or other restricting devices? Should the definition be modified?
    • Which clauses in the Creative Commons licences/deeds permit/disallow this?

Libre and open

  • Some software is released with the source code available but has dependencies which are non-free (e.g. libraries or modules for which the source code is not available, or the code only runs on specific non-free operating systems). Can this software be regarded as libre?
  • Some knowledge repositories include resources which are freely available, modifiable and shareable but contain components that are in proprietary file formats which cannot be edited easily with libre software (e.g. open educational resources with flash components). Are these resources libre? If not, why not. If so, why so?
  • Are OER typically libre? What proportion of OER are libre?
    • Find some stats or do some research and add links below.
      • ...
  • Are MOOCs typically libre? Find examples and discuss.
    • Find some stats or do some research and add links below.
      • ...
  • Document Freedom Day (DFD) 2011 - referred to open document formats and open standards. Is the term "open" sufficient in this context, or should one say "libre"? (or refer to "free document formats"/"free file formats"). If the latter, tell someone.
    • Has this issue resolved in the years since then (especially this year)?

Mis-uses of libre

Words take on generally understood meanings when used in certain contexts. For example, in the context of free software, "free" is understood to mean "libre", the term "proprietary software" is understood to refer to "nonfree" software which lacks at least one of the four core freedoms. In other contexts, the discussants might not have that understanding and assume that "free software" means software gratis - i.e. any software that is available free of charge irrespective of whether its source code is available or whether they have the freedom to modify and share it. When we refer to "free knowledge" in the context of (e.g.) the Free Knowledge Institute or Wikipedia or Hipatia, the libre sense of "free" is understood.

The question becomes, in what contexts may we assume this libre meaning of free and then, to avoid ambiguity, simply say libre?

A real problem arises when the meaning of "libre" is corrupted and its usefulness in disambiguating free is undermined. Typically, this occurs when people conflate the two separate issues of freedom and price.

The discussion topic(s) below focus on this issue and encourages learners to find examples (please add) and think about and discuss them.

  • Uses (and misuses) of the word "libre"
    • Find and discuss uses of the word libre which are at variance with the way libre is commonly defined for libre software, libre knowledge and libre cultural works.
    • Start with this one: "Libre Open Access" in Peter Suber's book "Open Access" (section 3.3).
      • How is the meaning of libre different (i.e. "libre OA" vs libre software, libre knowledge and libre cultural works)?
      • Do the distinctions described in the book make sense, and are they useful?
      • Are there alternative labels that could have been used for the different types of OA which would not involve a departure from the usual meaning of libre?
      • What are the implications?
        • Undermines or detracts from achieving the libre vision?
        • Creates a sub-context "OA" with its own (contradictory) meaning for the word libre
          • Introducing ambiguity? (Open access community, with a different definition of libre, will find communication difficult with related communities: open knowledge, open education, libre knowledge, libre software, etc.)
      • See also:
      • Notes:
        • conflates issues of price and freedom, ....
  • Discuss other words or phrases which may lead to confusion in this context
    • Find Richard Stallman's list (on of words to avoid or use with care such as "intellectual property", ...


  • Discuss and consolidate related glossaries
    • Start here and link to others below.

General: terms to use or avoid

  • Discuss the pros and cons of using words like "restrictive", "permissive", "open", "closed", "libre", "non-libre", "non-free", "gratis", "free", etc. in comparisons of Creative Commons and other licences.

Related terms

  • Discuss the usefulness of the term "liberated knowledge" what could a term like this mean if not "libre knowledge"?
    • Hint: see List of formerly proprietary software ... spoiler: formerly closed knowledge (unavailable on account of various barriers). The Free Culture Movement have done much to raise awareness and bring about liberation of knowledge resources. Find and link to examples.
  • Discuss the term "liberating knowledge"
    • Liberating as a verb
    • Liberating as an adjective.

Definitions and more

Create sub-pages of Libre with more on:

Pragmatics: Methodology and Productivity

While advocates of the "libre" perspective emphasise the ethics of freedom, the pragmatics emphasised by advocates of "open" source (etc.) mostly also apply.

Discuss the following:

Copyright law and licensing

  • Discuss the relative merits of cc-by, cc-by-sa and cc-by-nc-sa.


It all started with free software on desktop and server computers, are the principles generalisable to data, information, knowledge and other things?

  • Free network services


  • Which license is more supportive of freedom to learn for all: cc-by vs cc-by-sa ?
    • Do fewer restrictions always imply more freedom in the long run?
      • What "freedom" does the "sa" restriction in cc-by-sa restrict?
      • To protect and encourage growth of the commons, which of these two licenses would you recommend?
        • What assumptions are you making?
      • Would public domain or cc0 be even better (or worse) in terms of freedom to learn for all in the long term? (explain your answer).
    • Also see the discussion exercise: Protecting the Commons and Inclusivity.


These are loaded questions which philosophers have debated for millennia.

  • What is knowledge? What are knowledge resources?
  • What is culture? What are cultural works?
  • Is there a difference?

What knowledge (if any) should not be libre?

  • What if all explicit knowledge was libre?
    • What types of knowledge should not be freely available?
      • Add links to your discussions ...
        • Thoughts: confidentiality, privacy, safety, some resources by authors etc. making a living through production of the resources (e.g. not already being paid for the work with public funds).

Broader implications of libre knowledge

History and philosophy

The concept of libre and non-libre knowledge

When might these concepts have first existed before being formalised in (e.g.) copyright law?
Were there other ways of controlling the sharing of knowledge previously?

  • Going way back (pre-copyright, ..., pre-writing, ..., pre-human, ...)
    • Is inherited knowledge libre? (e.g. migration routes, or the know-how to navigate them, bees' ability to communicate nectar locations, etc.)
      • It is genetically hardwired and copied from generation to generation (almost) exactly (ND), so No.
      • It changes over evolutionary time, .... Ok, maybe Yes.
        • But is restricted to the species who (apart from humans in the not too distant future) have no control over it (natural selection does)
      • It depends ...
      • ...
    • Is learned knowledge libre? e.g. tool use by animals such as chimpanzees teaching their young to use tools to catch insects or obtain honey
      • The knowledge is shared freely within the troupe (and possibly some onlookers)
    • Some animals choose not to share certain types of knowledge (making it closed or non-libre). Examples include dogs burying their bones (not for other dogs) and Chimpanzees not revealing a hidden banana to another higher in the hierarchy. For more examples see Deception in animals.
    • What about "esoteric knowledge"?
      • Much of it was unwritten.
      • Only shared within a community of initiates.
    • Links:

Other discussion ideas and venues