Johanna Blakely on Free Culture, Fashion, and CentOS

[I'll start this by reiterating that these are my own thoughts, and have nothing whatever to do with Red Hat.]

This presentation is great overview of the counterintuitive influence of intellectual rights laws on the fashion industry. It’s also cogent argument against the fiction that innovation only happens in the context of property. It’s 15 minutes very well-spent.

I work for Red Hat, so I saw some parallels right away. CentOS produces a Linux distribution based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code. Just like Blakely’s Gucci knockoffs, CentOS addresses a market that Red Hat doesn’t, and we actually benefit from CentOS in a number of ways: additional exposure to new customers, improvements to Linux from the CentOS community, and so on. CentOS also forces Red Hat to be innovative, much the same way that Charlie Parker had to stay ahead of other musicians. Red Hat can’t rely on code alone for that innovation — they have to provide excellent support and all the ancillary services around the code to remain valuable to customers. The additional services on top of the code is what makes Red Hat, like Stuart Weitzman’s steel heels, “difficult to copy” in Blakely’s words.

So just like fashion, food, furniture, magic tricks, hairdos, databases, jokes, fireworks displays, and perfume, a successful open source business can be innovative and have a permissive license on its copyright. In fact, the permissive licenses are exactly why it’s innovative. Red Hat would be extraordinarily vulnerable if — like Blakely’s “high IP” industries of books, films, and music — it relied on restrictive intellectual rights.

  • Scott Dodson


    Small correction, she actually refers to books, film, and music as High IP industries. Good find and good write up!

  • Gunnar Hellekson

    D’oh. Nice catch, Scott. Thanks for the kind words!