A week or so back I announced the m108 project aimed at getting some freedom into Church resources. The Church needs to stop the trend of restricting what we permit God’s family to do with the stuff he has inspired us to make so we can worship, learn about and fellowship with Him.
Those who know me will know I care about freedom, be it free software or free culture. Today (31 March 2010) is Document Freedom day. Across the globe people who care about freedom will be marching, speaking and even eating cake with the aim of promoting free(dom) documents. In a nutshell, document freedom is about formats and standards. It’s no good giving freedom in use of a work if the file format prohibits that very freedom by forcing people to buy a particular piece of software.
This fits directly in with m108 if you ask me. Given that we are seeking to bring back sharing within the body of Christ (and I don’t mean “sharing” as a euphemism for evangelism here) it makes sense to me that the file format is important. Suppose I share with you a song I have written. I give you access to the lyrics, the recording and the music. Now suppose the lyrics are in (say) Microsoft Word format. Aren’t I forcing you to get a copy of Word to use it? Even if you use one of the great alternative programs that can read Word documents (like OpenOffice.org) ; what happens iif/when Microsoft change the format? Unless I convert it as we go, my lyrics may be left behind, orphaned in a world of upgrades. Similarly with the recording. MP3 is the ubiquitous format for such files – to the point where it’s fast becoming a label for any digital audio file regardless of the format (bit like biro or hoover). But MP3 is covered by patents and is owned by a corporation. Right now they are quite relaxed on how they let people use “their” format, insisting only on payment if you make a program that creates or plays MP3s. But what happens if they decide to increase their fee? What happens if they start to get a bit more greedy, then a bit more. We’ll be stuck, we’ll be held to ransom. There are open formats for media files, such as OGG, FLAC etc. and providing media in those will ensure longevity of the freedom we want to share.
I’m not going to insist that those contributing to m108 (or whatever it finally gets called) use only open document formats and standards – that’s why I’m posting this here and not on m108. For a start I’m not aware of an open format for music scores but then I know little of such things anyway. I do think it’s vital that open formats be encouraged within the project. If only to ensure the freedom and sharing we are trying to engender doesn’t get held to ransom by the corporate greed we are trying to avoid within the Church.
When the Church invented printing it didn’t hold onto its invention but shared it and the technology used within it. It changed the world forever. The Church may not be inventing this technology or the open standards within it but we should be equally ready to use it to change the world.