Free Culture

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The concept of Free Culture is described in the Free Culture Manifesto cited below. It is an expression of the Free Culture Movement.

It is also the title of a book by Lawrence Lessig. Listen to this Command Line Reviews Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture.

You can find out more about the Definition of Free Cultural Works at http://mako.cc/writing/freedomdefined.org

According to Felix Stadler, free culture is part of the trilogy of the Digital Commons, which also includes Free Software and Access to Knowledge


Definition

"A free culture is one where all members are free to participate in its transmission and evolution, without artificial limits on who can participate or in what way." (http://freeculture.org/)


Description

Felix Stadler:

"By the early 1990s, the Internet turned into a mass-medium for programmers, thereby setting the stage for the rapid development of the Free Software model. At the millennium, affordable computers had become powerful enough to support a broad range of (semi)professional cultural production, significantly lowering the barriers to many aspects of cultural production. Moreover, the Internet had spread widely throughout society (although unevenly in respect to region and class). Core sectors of the economy at large were changing from the logic of mass production to an ‘informational paradigm’ which demands communicative and creative skills from its workforce and vastly expands the field of cultural production (in the creative industries). Thus more people than ever before had the skills and the means to produce and distribute their own cultural works.

Cultural production has been deeply affected by the effects of cheap mass (self-)communication, easy conversion between media and decentralized distribution. First, remixing – using existing works to create new ones – has become central to cultural production. Second, subcultures of small or non-commercial cultural producers, long excluded by the efficient distribution mechanisms of the cultural industries, found themselves on the same technological footing with established players and able to connect to audiences of any size. This helped them to increase and improve their cultural output. Third, many of the actions that copyright law granted exclusively to rights-holders – making and distributing exact copies or transformed works – were now being done by masses of people without authorization, not in the privacy of their homes but online (that is, in public). Copyright fell into a deep crisis. Much of what constituted the new digital mass culture was a violation of copyright law and rights owners – fearing loss of control over cultural works which they regard as their exclusive property – organized to reassert that control. In a series of international agreements (most importantly, the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty, 1996) and national legislations (for example, the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998 and the EU Copyright Directive, 2001) the rights of owners were strengthened. At the same time, litigation against copyright infringement escalated.

By the end of the 1990s, the tension between the enforcement of increasingly restrictive laws and the growing popularity of permissive cultural practices rose to the surface and spilled into the mainstream. In part as a response to the aggressiveness of the cultural industries, in part drawing inspiration from the Free Software movement, large numbers of users and producers recognized the need to defend their culture. Their goal has been to protect and advance the freedoms that had come to define the digital commons. In a series of influential books, Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and leading figure of the Free Culture movement, argued that recent changes in law and technology could easily restrict freedoms and create what he called a permission culture. This would allow owners of past cultural works to grant or withhold permission, at their discretion, to those seeking to create the culture of the present. The effect would be a vast increase in the control exercised by a few over the many, implemented through Digital Right Management (DRM) technologies and ubiquitous surveillance of social communication. This would cripple the potential for the emergence of a read/write culture in which the ability to consume cultural works (read) would be matched by that to produce them (write). For such a culture to flourish, he argued, people need to be able – technically, legally, and socially – to build on and transform the culture in which they live.

The Free Culture movement began to take shape. One focus was to develop tools allowing copyright law, as it exists, to support rather than restrict the sharing and transformation of cultural works. Following the lead of Free Software, a series of licenses was developed to enable creators to make their works available freely. Among the first were the Open Content License (1998) and the Free Art License (2000), both based closely on the GNU GPL license. In 2001, Creative Commons (CC) established itself as one of the central hubs of Free Culture, by offering easy-to-use, customizable licenses granting some rights to the public. Works published under a Creative Commons license are always freely usable for non-commercial purposes. Some versions of the license also allow free transformation of the works and others allow commercial use. A combination of good timing, solid and user-friendly implementation and significant support from leading American universities made CC licenses the de facto standard legal foundation of free culture. By mid 2009, it was estimated that some 250 million works had been published under one or other of the CC licenses. This mass adoption of CC licenses shows the breadth of the Free Culture movement.

In its wake, new models for production and distribution are emerging. The most widely successful Free Culture project is Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia that is cooperatively written (by 10 million registered users and countless anonymous ones in English language version alone) and financed by donations from the community. Since the project was started in 2001 it has become the most popular and comprehensive reference source online, used by about 330 million people every month (in mid 2009). While Wikipedia is the best known example, in all fields of cultural production there are successful experiments to develop an ecology to support free culture. The tools, practices and business models vary widely across domains. After all, writing an encyclopaedia is very different from shooting a film, and some cultural works can be produced cooperatively, while others are most interesting if they reflect the unique experience of an individual. Yet, across the whole range of these initiatives, there is a renewed understanding that the primary relation between author and audience, or more accurately, between producers and users, is not best expressed within a market, where commodities are exchanged, but within a community which produces collectively the cultural landscape within which individual works become meaningful. From this recognition, new patterns are emerging: of competition (for scarce resources such as recognition) and cooperation (in preserving, modifying and expanding a particular set of cultural practices). These comprise volunteer networks, non-profit and for-profit organizations, as well as a new mix of market- and community-oriented activities.

Despite the importance of CC for the Free Culture movement, the project has not been immune to criticism from within. The most pertinent issue raised has focused on the CC project’s failure to define freedom. It offers a series of licenses that are not only incompatible with each other (for example, works that allow commercial use cannot be remixed with those prohibiting it), but that also restrict users far more than do the Free Software licenses, after which CC was modelled. The most commonly used CC license does not allow commercial use and about a quarter of all CC-licensed works do not allow modifications. While some criticism has since been addressed by the CC project, this issue has revealed fundamental cleavages in the Free Culture movement. One side, grounded in the liberal philosophy of individual rights, takes as its starting point the affirmation of the right of creators to control how their works are being used. What is needed, in this view, are licenses to make it convenient to grant certain uses to the public, thus making copyright more workable in the digital domain. The other side, which is more influenced by the Free Software movement’s communitarian ethos, takes the separation of producers and users to be artificial and thus starts from the need of the community to access and build upon works with the aim of expanding the common pool of resources over time. Thus, the fact that a work (or part thereof) has been created by an individual person should give them the right of attribution (to gain recognition) but not the right to exclude others from using or building on it. For one side, such a communitarian orientation is one of several options (the most liberal CC license is, in practice, about the same as a Free Software license), for the other, it is the baseline of what Free Culture is about. While these philosophical differences are unlikely to be overcome any time soon, work is being done to reduce the friction in practice, for example, by reducing the incompatibility of the various free culture licenses, thereby increasing the flow of works across different domains." (http://remix.openflows.com/node/137)



Free Culture Movement

"FreeCulture.org is an international chapter-based student organization that promotes the public interest in intellectual property and information & communications technology policy."

URL = http://freeculture.org/

Free Culture Manifesto

From http://freeculture.org/manifesto.php


"The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person -- and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.

We believe that culture should be a two-way affair, about participation, not merely consumption. We will not be content to sit passively at the end of a one-way media tube. With the Internet and other advances, the technology exists for a new paradigm of creation, one where anyone can be an artist, and anyone can succeed, based not on their industry connections, but on their merit.

We refuse to accept a future of digital feudalism where we do not actually own the products we buy, but we are merely granted limited uses of them as long as we pay the rent. We must halt and reverse the recent radical expansion of intellectual property rights, which threaten to reach the point where they trump any and all other rights of the individual and society.

The freedom to build upon the past is necessary for creativity and innovation to thrive. We will use and promote our cultural heritage in the public domain. We will make, share, adapt, and promote open content. We will listen to free music, look at free art, watch free film, and read free books. All the while, we will contribute, discuss, annotate, critique, improve, improvise, remix, mutate, and add yet more ingredients into the free culture soup.

We will help everyone understand the value of our cultural wealth, promoting free software and the open-source model. We will resist repressive legislation which threatens our civil liberties and stifles innovation. We will oppose hardware-level monitoring devices that will prevent users from having control of their own machines and their own data.

We won't allow the content industry to cling to obsolete modes of distribution through bad legislation. We will be active participants in a free culture of connectivity and production, made possible as it never was before by the Internet and digital technology, and we will fight to prevent this new potential from being locked down by corporate and legislative control. If we allow the bottom-up, participatory structure of the Internet to be twisted into a glorified cable TV service -- if we allow the established paradigm of creation and distribution to reassert itself -- then the window of opportunity opened by the Internet will have been closed, and we will have lost something beautiful, revolutionary, and irretrievable.

The future is in our hands; we must build a technological and cultural movement to defend the digital commons." (http://freeculture.org/manifesto.php)


FAQ

What Is Free Culture?

"Free culture is a growing understanding among artists and audiences that people shouldn’t have to ask permission to copy, share, and use each other’s work; it is also a set of practices that make this philosophy work in the real world.

The opposite of “free culture” is “permission culture”, which you probably don’t need to have explained in detail because you’re familiar with it already. In the permission culture, if I write a book and you want to translate it, you have to get my permission first (or, more likely, the permission of my publisher). Similarly, if I wrote a song and you want to use it in your movie, you have to go through a series of steps to get clear permission to do so. Our laws are written such that permission culture is currently the default.

In free culture, you just translate the book, use the song, etc. If I don’t like the translation or the film, I’m free to say so, of course, but I wouldn’t have any power to suppress or alter your works. Of course, free culture goes both ways: I’m also free to put out a modified copy of your movie using a different song, recommend someone else’s translation that I think is better, etc. These are idealized examples, for the sake of illustration, but they give the general idea: freedom takes precedence over commercial monopolies.

There is plenty of free culture out there already. In the past all culture was free culture; in today’s legal environment, the way people create free culture is to put their work out under a free license — a special copyright license that explicitly allows most of the activities that standard copyrights prohibit. Free culture means you can perform it, record it, distribute it, use it in your own works, and anything else. It does not mean you can claim credit for things you didn’t do; that would just be fraud or plagiarism (fortunately, it turns out that allowing works to spread freely is the best way to prevent plagiarism anyway).

Free culture artists make money too. Mostly they do so in the same ways artists always have: direct audience support, commissions, patronage, government and academic support, etc. (Copyright-controlled distribution has never been a major source of funding for art, and wasn’t designed to be.) Free culture artists make a point of working with their audiences instead of against them. They inhabit the Internet as natives, instead of stumbling around in awkward space-suits made of contracts and copyrights and permission forms whose real purpose is to cause enough friction that a corporation has to be paid off to reduce it.


Distilled into a few basic principles, free culture means:

  • Artists can use each others’ work without asking permission. If you’re not already convinced that freedom is valuable in itself, read this. Or this. Or this.


  • People can receive and transmit art by whatever physical means are available to them. We’ve got an Internet — let’s not be afraid to use it.


  • The distinction between audience and artist is fluid, and should remain so because culture is participatory. Free culture means anyone can engage with art and other works of the mind, however they want, without hiring a lawyer first.


  • Artists are paid for what they do, not for what other people do. Artists should be paid up front for the work they do. But charging again for music every time a copy is exchanged, for example, is silly. The musicians didn’t do extra work to make more copies, and the copies are transactions between third parties. In the long run, making it harder to share art hurts artists as much as audiences.


  • Monopolies hurt everyone except the monopolist. Permission cultures tend to concentrate control in the hands of people who specialize in accumulating control, without doing much to help artists. There’s nothing wrong with running a business that deals with art and artists, of course; the problem isn’t middlemen, it’s monopolies.

One common argument you’ll hear against free culture is that “it should be the artist’s choice” — that if an artist chooses to put their work out under a free license, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be required to do so. However, this argument is not as clear cut as it first seems. When an artist (or, let’s be realistic, a corporation) is given the power to restrict what other people can do with their own copies of things, that takes away everyone else’s choice. When two “choices” oppose each other, we cannot resolve the issue by appealing to choice itself as a value — we have to actually look at which choice is better. Free culture’s answer is that freedom should take precedence; that since no one forces an artist to release their work, once they do release it, it should really be free to spread. Remember, this isn’t about credit: of course artists should be properly credited for their work. But that’s very different from controlling who can see and use the work.

These issues simmered until the Internet came along, and then they really started to boil. Copying became physically so cheap as to be almost costless, and yet the laws against copying only got tighter and tighter, as a frightened industry lobbied for longer copyright terms and more restrictions. This is the dynamic that has given rise to the free culture movement.

(By the way, it was that industry who invented copyright in the first place — in the late 1600s and early 1700s, printers devised it as a replacement for an expiring censorship-based monopoly system. I can’t emphasize that enough: a system designed by business for business is not going to put artists’ interests first, and that’s why it never has. Free culture is not anti-business: there are lots of ways to make money, and if some of those ways involve helping artists and audiences connect, that’s great. In a sense, free culture stands for truly free markets. It is merely against monopolies that force artists and audiences to get permission, usually for a fee and under restrictive terms, to use or access certain works.)

If you’re interested in learning more about free culture, there’s lots of material on this site and elsewhere on the Internet (the Students for Free Culture site is a good resource, though I think it could be clearer on exactly which freedoms are important). There’s an in-depth article here that covers the issues more thoroughly and with more historical context; and here is a good analysis of the harms done by permission culture. If you like what you read about free culture and want to support it, there are lots of things you can do. Whenever possible, support artists directly and by choice, not through intermediaries and under duress. Help sponsor an art project on Kickstarter, and encourage your favorite artists to use direct audience support and release their works under free licenses. Translate, edit, or otherwise contribute to a free cultural work. Release your own works under free licenses. Share this article :-) . Spread skepticism whenever you see special pleading, especially in word choice: copying is not “theft”, “filesharing” is really “music sharing”, a copied DVD is not equivalent to a “lost sale”, etc.

Free culture is culture. That’s all it has ever been. The question is simply how much we value freedom." (http://questioncopyright.org/what_is_free_culture)


Example of Free Culture initiatives

List of Open Content projects from http://wikicompany.org/fs/library/:

  1. OPUS(Parallel text corpus collection)
  2. VoxForge (Transcribed speech data) (dutch)
  3. Archive.org (general archive)
  4. Wikipedia and its family of projects: (Wiktionary, WikiCommons, WikiSource, WikiBooks, WikiQuote)
  5. Project Gutenberg: (EU) (LibriVox Audiobooks) (MOA American literature) (Project Runeberg Scandinavian literature)
  6. WordNet (Lexical data)
  7. OpenStreetMap (Geospatial data)
  8. OSGeo: geospatial software
  9. FreeSound (Audio samples)
  10. Mutopia (Sheet music)
  11. Music Brainz (Music metadata)
  12. OpenSubtitles (Film subtitles)
  13. PlanetMath (Mathmatics)
  14. WikiTravel (Travel guides)
  15. WikiCompany (Company profiles)
  16. DBPedia (RDF data aggregation) (See also: LinkingOpenData, Umbel - a subject reference structure, and Bibliographic Ontology)
  17. Science Commons (Open Access science portals)
  18. Free-Reading (English literacy lessons)


Discussion

The relation between Free Software and Free Culture

Benjamin Mako Hill [1]:

"Not only is the free software movement a source of software and licenses, it is also a source of inspiration. In particular, free software has been cited by many in the nascent free culture movement as an explicit source of inspiration and point of departure. While the Free Software Foundation has no position on whether works of culture should be free, many in the free software movement have supported and helped build the new movement for free cultural works.

However, free software and free culture, at least as articulated by the leaders of the movements, have diverged in several important ways. Free software, as enshrined in the FSF's Free Software Definition (FSD) (and the derivative and largely overlapping Debian Free Software Guidelines and Open Source Definition), clearly enumerates the essential freedoms at the heart of the free software movement: the freedoms to use, modify, share and collaborate. The FSD provides a list of essential freedoms that serve as a Utopian vision, a clear goal, and a demarcation line between what is free and what is not. Many involved in free software debate when programs should or shouldn't be free software but there's little debate about what is and isn't free software.

Free culture, on the other hand, is defined very differently. Lawrence Lessig, member of the FSF's board of directors and author of the book Free Culture, defines the term as, ``a balance between anarchy and control. Elsewhere, free culture is described as the freedom for authors to choose how their works are licensed. While essential to the possibility of licensing in general, this type of freedom departs strongly from the type of freedom at the core of the free software movement. Creative Commons (CC), perhaps the most important organization in the free culture world, argues for ``some rights reserved--a striking contrast from the free software movement's ``essential rights are unreservable.

The result of the FSF's strong Utopian calls for freedom has been the vibrant social movement that has ultimately brought about free software's success to date. Almost-free software and shareware, popular twenty years ago before the GNU project was well-known, have been subsumed and replaced by free software as authors were challenged to release their work more freely so that it could be included in Debian or Red Hat, hosted on SourceForge, or, quite simply, referred to as free software or open source.

Seeing inspiration in the GNU GPL, but not the FSD, some in the free culture movement have adopted the legal instruments (i.e., copyleft and licenses) of the free software movement without the goal-setting at the heart of the free software movement. The result has been the proliferation of licenses that solve real problems and provide a benefit over the status quo but are controversial within the free culture community (e.g., CC's Developing Nations or Sampling licenses) and a situation where most creators are not challenged to release their works more freely. The result is that today, more than three-quarters of CC works are under the two most restrictive licenses.

Recently, in an attempt to provide such a goal, a group of free culture advocates and Wikipedians have publicly drafted the Definition of Free Cultural Works. Like the FSD, it argues for essential freedoms to use, study, redistribute and change cultural works. However, it recognizes that there are important differences between different types of creative goods and it attempts to explore and speak to these differences. In particular, it discusses the role of attribution, the idea of ``source data for a work, the use of free data-formats, and technical restrictions such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).

While the definition has reached a ``1.0 stage and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, it continues to be a work in progress and a space for meaningful discussion about what ``freedom in the realm of cultural work should mean. In an important step forward this year, the board of directors of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Wikipedia project, endorsed the idea that content in Wikimedia wikis should be free except in several well-defined cases. They stated that the Definition of Free Culture Works would be their guide as to what was and was not free enough. Other projects are underway to provide buttons that users of qualifying CC licenses can use to explicitly reference their ethical motivations when they reference the license of their work--much like what the GNU GPL's preamble does for free software.

This effort does not argue that culture should be free in certain ways because it is in the way that free software is defined. Instead, it takes tactical inspiration from free software for a definition of freedom, as well as for a strong example of an analogous social movement with a compelling message and compelling success. It provides a way that the free culture movement can use the licenses that groups like CC have already created in a way that attempts to replicate free software's tactics and success." (http://mako.cc/writing/free_culture-fsf_bulletin_200707.html)


What is Free Culture?

Karl Fogel:

"What is free culture?

Free culture is a growing understanding among artists and audiences that people shouldn't have to ask permission to copy, share, and use each other's work; it is also a set of practices that make this philosophy work in the real world.

The opposite of "free culture" is "permission culture", which you probably don't need to have explained in detail because you're familiar with it already. In the permission culture, if I write a book and you want to translate it, you have to get my permission first (or, more likely, the permission of my publisher). Similarly, if I wrote a song and you want to use it in your movie, you have to go through a series of steps to get clear permission to do so. Our laws are written such that permission culture is currently the default.

In free culture, you just translate the book, use the song, etc. If I don't like the translation or the film, I'm free to say so, of course, but I wouldn't have any power to suppress or alter your works. Of course, free culture goes both ways: I'm also free to put out a modified copy of your movie using a different song, recommend someone else's translation that I think is better, etc. These are idealized examples, for the sake of illustration, but they give the general idea: freedom takes precedence over commercial monopolies.

There is plenty of free culture out there already. In the past all culture was free culture; in today's legal environment, the way people create free culture is to put their work out under a free license -- a special copyright license that explicitly allows most of the activities that standard copyrights prohibit. Free culture means you can perform it, record it, distribute it, use it in your own works, and anything else. It does not mean you can claim credit for things you didn't do; that would just be fraud or plagiarism (fortunately, it turns out that allowing works to spread freely is the best way to prevent plagiarism anyway).

Free culture artists make money too. Mostly they do so in the same ways artists always have: direct audience support, commissions, patronage, government and academic support, etc. (Copyright-controlled distribution has never been a major source of funding for art, and wasn't designed to be.) Free culture artists make a point of working with their audiences instead of against them. They inhabit the Internet as natives, instead of stumbling around in awkward space-suits made of contracts and copyrights and permission forms whose real purpose is to cause enough friction that a corporation has to be paid off to reduce it.


Distilled into a few basic principles, free culture means:

  • Artists can use each others' work without asking permission. If you're not already convinced that freedom is valuable in itself, read this. Or this. Or this.


  • People can receive and transmit art by whatever physical means are available to them. We've got an Internet -- let's not be afraid to use it.


  • The distinction between audience and artist is fluid, and should remain so because culture is participatory. Free culture means anyone can engage with art and other works of the mind, however they want, without hiring a lawyer first.


  • Artists are paid for what they do, not for what other people do. Artists should be paid up front for the work they do. But charging again for music every time a copy is exchanged, for example, is silly. The musicians didn't do extra work to make more copies, and the copies are transactions between third parties. In the long run, making it harder to share art hurts artists as much as audiences.


  • Monopolies hurt everyone except the monopolist. Permission cultures tend to concentrate control in the hands of people who specialize in accumulating control, without doing much to help artists. There's nothing wrong with running a business that deals with art and artists, of course; the problem isn't middlemen, it's monopolies.


One common argument you'll hear against free culture is that "it should be the artist's choice" -- that if an artist chooses to put their work out under a free license, that's fine, but they shouldn't be required to do so. However, this argument is not as clear cut as it first seems. When an artist (or, let's be realistic, a corporation) is given the power to restrict what other people can do with their own copies of things, that takes away everyone else's choice. When two "choices" oppose each other, we cannot resolve the issue by appealing to choice itself as a value -- we have to actually look at which choice is better. Free culture's answer is that freedom should take precedence; that since no one forces an artist to release their work, once they do release it, it should really be free to spread. Remember, this isn't about credit: of course artists should be properly credited for their work. But that's very different from controlling who can see and use the work.

These issues simmered until the Internet came along, and then they really started to boil. Copying became physically so cheap as to be almost costless, and yet the laws against copying only got tighter and tighter, as a frightened industry lobbied for longer copyright terms and more restrictions. This is the dynamic that has given rise to the free culture movement.

(By the way, it was that industry who invented copyright in the first place -- in the late 1600s and early 1700s, printers devised it as a replacement for an expiring censorship-based monopoly system. I can't emphasize that enough: a system designed by business for business is not going to put artists' interests first, and that's why it never has. Free culture is not anti-business: there are lots of ways to make money, and if some of those ways involve helping artists and audiences connect, that's great. In a sense, free culture stands for truly free markets. It is merely against monopolies that force artists and audiences to get permission, usually for a fee and under restrictive terms, to use or access certain works.)" (http://questioncopyright.org/what_is_free_culture)



What Free Culture is About

A defense and explanation of free culture, by Roger Lancefield :

“Free culture isn’t about ripping off someone else’s “intellectual property”, neither is it about a generation of youngsters who are growing up with the expectation that expensively produced content should be available at zero cost. These are just temporary issues and concerns, thrown up by the inexorable shift from a world in which most content is permission-based, to one in which most content will be governed by copyleft-style licenses or else is released into the public domain. Free culture is epitomized by innovation and collaboration, it builds networks of people and content, it encourages and facilitates mutual help and support, it leads to the creation of many thousands of open and free collections of knowledge and media, it helps us reclaim data which by rights belongs to us rather than to government or corporations. Far from being all about obtaining the hard work of others for nothing, free culture is instead characterised by giving for nothing, it’s about contributing and collaborating without the expectation of financial reward.

“Giving for nothing” is rhetorical, for in fact people collaborate precisely because they do indeed receive reward. That reward is the resulting network-based ecosystems that build around people, knowledge, media, and software. These ecosystems are thriving, vibrant, and crucially, open. Obvious examples of such ecosystems include the Linux operating system, copyleft governed media, and volunteer created databases such as OpenStreetMap. Free culture would quickly run out of gas if people only ever made withdrawals instead of paying in.

And that last metaphor reminds me of another common misunderstanding, that free culture is principally the result of ideology and contrivance, that it is an artificial creation, foisted upon us by techno-idealists and those who oppose capitalism. Clearly, many “practitioners” are aware of what they are engaging in and do so in accordance with their personal beliefs while actively encouraging others to do the same. Some do indeed collaborate out of a sense of duty. However, the real driver for “free culture” is not personal convictions, but its inevitability as a result of the technology we possess and the oversupply of content of all types that results from the use of that technology. Free culture is not primarily a political movement, it’s the natural result of mass ownership of myriad devices that can share data. Such devices have enabled man’s natural propensity to collaborate and share to go exponential!

The great and obvious irony here is that some of the captains of industry and commerce now complaining bitterly about the development of free culture, are among those who sold us the facilitating technology in the first place. Who was it who packed warehouses and e-commerce websites with TCP/IP enabled devices, modems, routers, CD burners, gadgets with infra-red and Bluetooth ports, massive capacity storage devices, wireless cameras, etc, etc? Free culture wasn’t an artificial creation by the likes of techno-utopians, anarchists, anti-globalization protesters and their ilk, it was made inevitable by technology products and many of its key facilitators have been, and remain, those who sell those products to the public.

To those who claim that free culture is the enemy of professional information and media, I would point out three things. First, these things are self correcting; if a free mapping service is inaccurate, it will be corrected or else it will be ignored and die, if the advice dispensed on a particular forum is generally poor, the forum will wither, if a free software application doesn’t perform adequately, it will not be used, and so on. Second, where the quality of free information and media is consistently unpolished or sub-standard, opportunities emerge to offer something better, and you can charge those who need the “gold-plated” version for the privilege (if they really need it, they’ll probably pay). Third, simply, people are going to have to learn to deal with it, because it’s not going away.

Obviously, the best way to understand what free culture is all about is not to argue about or reiterate the theory (of course), but to look at its manifestations. Free culture is as free culture does. A good starting point is here, the Creative Commoners. This is an inspiring collection of links to people, projects and organizations who are participating in and contributing to free culture. Those who like to use the term “freetard” in anger should look closely at these websites and ask themselves how the individuals behind them can possibly be regarded as destroyers, thieves, or even, as some ludicrous commentators have suggested, as “communists”.

So finally, free culture is nothing more than, and nothing less than, mankind’s natural propensity to communicate, collaborate and share. It is not a fad, it goes much deeper. Characterising it in narrow terms as a politically motivated cult, or as a commercially damaging movement is missing the big picture, for these things are not of its essence. It is first and foremost a technology-facilitated extension of our normal modes of behaviour, of our normal desires, and this is why it is inevitable, profound and unstoppable.” (http://ralpress.org/2009/03/16/free-culture-versus-freetard/)

More Information

Rob Myers has compiled a listing of

  1. Free Culture Repositories
  2. Free Culture Bibliography
  3. Free Culture Shows
  4. Copyleft Culture