Free as in beer, but not free as in speech

Posted by Stu on February 26, 2016

Brewing is a wonderful thing. As someone who spends pretty much 50% of my life in front of a computer, it’s liberating to throw away the shackles of a laptop screen and spend some time creating something with my hands.

It was no surprise then, that my ears cocked up when Brewdog announced that they were releasing all their recipes for free for homebrewers to try themselves at home.

This is an exciting move. We’ve already seen Stone release the recipe for their decomissioned pale ale, and Cloudwater put out a super-detailed blog post about the process they went through when brewing version 1.0 of their DIPA, as well as a myriad of other one-off recipe releases, either official or unoffical.

Where this differs from previous recipe releases, this is the first time (to my knowledge) that a brewery has gone all out and released all of their recipes, and Brewdog deserve a lot of credit for this. That said, there’s something missing from this release which would have been the icing on the cake.

In my day job, I work at the Open Data Institute. We’re a non-profit set up with government help by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and our aim is to help people work with data. One of our main aims is to help organisations, be they government or private, to release open data, which is defined as follows:

“Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose”

_Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Definition- _

A major part of what makes open data truly open is the addition of an open license. This clearly sets out what users can do with the data, with minimal restrictions (the only usual restriction to a truly open license is that anything created with the data is released under the same license).

While Brewdog’s release of these recipes is a real step forward for openness in the brewing industry, an open license would have shown real guts and allowed brewers who wanted to brew and sell beer using their recipes confidence that they wouldn’t get sued.

‘But why would they do that?’ I hear you cry. ‘They’re a business, not a charity’. I totally get that, but not all licenses are created equally.

If Brewdog released all their recipes under Creative Commons Zero - the least restrictive of all Creative Commons licenses, if I was a brewery, and I wanted to brew a beer that harked back to the original golden days of Punk IPA, I could pick up the recipe, brew a beer and sell it quite happily.

However, if Brewdog released their recipes under a Creative Commons Attribution license, the brewery would have to put some kind of attribution notice on their labels, acknowledging where the recipe came from.

Even better, if they gave their recipes a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license, not only would the brewery have to attribute Brewdog, they would also have to share the recipe they themselves used, along with any changes they made along the way. This would create a buzz around the recipe, allowing others to tweak, change and brew along the way - all the while releasing their recipe under the same license.

This transparency could end up improving the brewing industry for the better, with breweries tweaking, sharing and making things better. This has already been seen in the software world. Most of the Internet and World Wide Web would be impossible without open source licenses that allow people to share code and collaborate.

This has actually already been tried. The Free Beer project started a few years ago, with breweries around the world brewing an openly licensed beer, including St Austell in the UK. This was a fun experiment, but it would be great to see a major brewery throw their hat into the ring and openly license all their beers. When we make things open, we make things better.

(It’s also worth pointing out that all the words on this blog are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license - I practice what I preach!)

(Header image - Brewdog by Stuart Crawford)