Free Culture Movement

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= The free culture movement is a social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works, using the Internet as well as other media. The movement objects to overly restrictive copyright laws, or completely rejects the concepts of copyright and intellectual property, which many members of the movement also argue hinder creativity. They call this system "permission culture".

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Broad Definition

Free culture movement definition by Mayo Fuster Morell. "Free culture movement (FCM) is defined as a network of individuals and organizations, linked by more or less dense networks, solidarity ties and moments of confluence, sharing a loose collective identity and a common set of values and principles (most importantly accessibility and the flow of information and knowledge, creativity, participative formats, network settings and communal ownership), whose acting together aims to challenge forms of knowledge-making and accessibility by engaging in the construction of digital commons and mobilizations directed against the media and cultural industries, their lobbies, and political institutions (at the national, regional and global levels)." (Fuster Morell, M. (2010). The Governance of online creation communities for the building of digital commons. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). European University Institute. Florence).

The network of forces fighting for a Free Culture, cfr. Danyl Strype:

"Free culture is increasingly recognised as a social movement unifying a range of approaches which involve sharing and remixing of 'infostructure' (structured information) and defending the right to such expression, both intellectually, and legally." (

Narrow Definition as a student movement is an international student movement for free culture. Their aims are expressed in the Free Culture Manifesto

The Free Culture student movement, an initiative of students of Lawrence Lessig:

“The (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and Creative Commons are doing really good work, but people our age don't seem to know about it," he said. "If we could show (students) how this is relevant to their lives, they would be really excited and involved in the movement." So, Pavlosky and other Free Culture leaders are finding clever ways to illustrate the importance of copyright in their daily lives with projects like Undead Art, which challenges students to remix the cult classic Night of the Living Dead, now in the public domain, and turn it into something new -- like a zombie techno video or comic short. Participants can then mark their work with a flexible copyright license from Creative Commons so people can share the work freely and easily. These licenses allow other people to take a work and modify it however they like, as long as they don't try to make money from the new work without permission. The students also encourage their peers to get involved with legislative issues. They created Save the iPod, a site that encourages students to write their congressional representatives to stop the Induce Act." (,1284,65616,00.html?)


Political strategy: "Several political aims are present in the FCM discourse: first, to preserve digital commons and empower OCCs through the availability of infrastructure for sharing and decentralised creativity and collaboration based on conditions which empower communities vis-à-vis infrastructure providers and guarantee their individual and collective autonomy and independence. Second, the FCM aims to make important information available to the public for discussion and ultimately to increase freedom of expression by guaranteeing the possibility to intervene and the free circulation of information in public life." (Fuster Morell, M. (2010). The Governance of online creation communities for the building of digital commons.(Unpublished doctoral dissertation).European University Institute. Florence).

History and Implications

Marco Berlinguer:

"Efforts to defend the copyright regime have included increasingly repressive measures, which have clashed with the creative invention of new ways of bypassing controls. At the same time, partly as a reaction to this escalation and partly drawing inspiration from the free software movement, a loosely-organised movement emerged – for example, Students for Free Culture, based mainly at US universities – to affirm and protect the democratic potential of this new cultural environment. The basic tenets of this movement include the argument that in the new digital environment the attempt to protect the business model of the 20th-century cultural industry inevitably clashes with a revolt against ‘artificial scarcity’; and that this holds back the potential of democratic and creative cultural expression, pushing towards a world of pervasive surveillance existing simultaneously with mass illegality.

We can identify two further emblematic moments in the take off of this movement. In 2001, the example of the GPL led to the release of the Creative Commons, a set of new licences that use existing copyright laws to support rather than restrict the practice of sharing and transforming cultural works. They permit cultural goods to be used freely for non-commercial purposes. By mid-2009, some 250 millions works had been published under one of these licences, demonstrating once again how a diffused alternative attitude to cultural production has been emerging under the radar of the political regulators.

The second emblematic experience was the development of Wikipedia. Originally planned in the turn-of-century wave of ventures as a commercial operation, Wikipedia had to change its model completely in 2001 after the dot com bubble burst. It thus turned out to be another demonstration – after the success of free and open source software – of the emergence of a new paradigm of cultural production, surprising both for its form and for its effectiveness.

In the English-language version alone, the online encyclopaedia contains more than three million entries, co-operatively and voluntarily written by 10 million registered users and countless anonymous ones. Financed mainly by donations, Wikipedia is now one of the most popular and comprehensive online reference sites, used by about 330 million people every month. But – as with Linux and free software – Wikipedia is only the most popular example. In every field of cultural production numerous free culture initiatives are underway, experimenting with tools, practices, regulations and new economic models, that aim to regulate in a new way the balance between the rights of the creators – to be socially and economically recognised and to control their works – and the right of the community to access and build upon cultural works and expand their common pool of resources.

Free culture movements have developed rapidly and effectively in multiple ways worldwide. The struggles around the institutional framework for the production and management of knowledge, information and culture and the governance of the internet itself are going to intensify. Intellectual property rights and control of media represent crucial stakes for the powers that be. There are many signs of possible authoritarian turns in these spheres, as in our societies at large. Indeed, the new powers of surveillance involved in the control of the new digital flows, through which our life is increasingly organised, raise serious concerns and open up political problems still too new to be adequately formulated.

So far, free culture movements have contributed to democratising important aspects of global society, notably software, culture and knowledge. They have also contributed to experiments in innovative forms and principles of collective organisation and action. Free and open source software projects, as well as various experiences of web communities of collaborative production, such as Wikipedia, have contributed, through trial and error and their own successful organisation, to re-thinking very complex problems. These include those related to the aggregation and coordination of communities of highly individualised members, the management of (diffused) conflicts, and the invention of new styles of leadership in collaborative projects based on autonomous and highly differentiated actors.

In particular, these projects experimented with the potential opened up by the new technologies for more accessible, more decentralised forms of organisation, building on the finer tuned and differentiated capacities, knowledge, needs and aspirations of those involved. They approached in very innovative ways problems related to the meshing and mobilisation of different motivations, a non-hierarchical division of labour, collaboration and coordination, and so on.

They have done all this through experimenting with new notions of property, working on the basis of a distributional/ sharing, rather than exclusive, approach to property, conceiving themselves as producing common resources. They do not hold out any general working model but they offer a very rich field of concrete, sometimes very effective, experiences. In this sense, they also offer lessons of use in understanding the current reshaping of contemporary politics.

Above all, they are living demonstrations of the possibility profoundly to re-frame the institutional frameworks of information, communication and knowledge production, in the economy and in society at large." (draft of Red Pepper article)

Some Issues

Marco Berlinguer:

Co-operation and mutual dependence

"Two main features are highlighted by these experiences. First, where knowledge, information and communication play a central role, the processes of production appear intrinsically social. They benefit and rely on flows and networks of production that go beyond the formal boundaries of any specific organisation or single individual.

This brings to the fore relations of cooperation and mutual interdependence and presses an institution to experiment with organisational openness to the ‘outside’. This is one reason for the success of open source software within a growing segment of the IT industry. More significantly, this ‘openness’ is the logic behind the internet itself: an open architecture is its initial conception and the secret of its incredible (and fundamentally unplanned and decentralised) development.

Blurring traditional economic relationships

The second feature that highlights the social nature of production in these areas is the way that the flows of production appear to have shifted away from the formal boundaries of what is traditionally considered productive work. The well-known blurring of the divide between consumer and producer is one dimension of this. Google’s model of value production: offering free online services and platforms of social networks, and then exploiting the user-generated data and contents in various ways, is emblematic of this shift.

The social nature of these processes outside of normal commercial relations is a challenge to any regulatory, governance and accounting system that works within the boundaries of formally isolated organisations. This is well reflected in the proliferation of mechanisms of governance to deal with the collaboration of a multiplicity of actors who are autonomous and so not governable by simple authoritative mechanisms. But, more deeply, these changes in the traditional boundaries and relationships in the production of value in the sphere of cultural production brings people to question the adequacy, legitimacy and efficiency of the property regimes as we know them, be they private or state. The increasing practical rediscovery of the notion of commons by the free culture movements (and indeed well beyond these movements) has its roots here.

Many challenges and struggles lie ahead around the organisation of information, knowledge, communication and culture. The next Free Culture Forum, in October 2010, will focus mainly on two aspects. The first concerns new economic models for the sustainability of creative production in the digital era, aiming to answer the most common attacks on free culture: ‘It’s not sustainable,’ ‘It destroys employment,’ ‘It is bad for artists.’ The second concerns what organisational and governance principles could independently sustain platforms for open online collaboration. The aim will be to provide practical tools for reform, including of the public sector. Red Pepper will keep you informed." (draft for Red Pepper)

More Information

  1. Lessig on the 'war against innovation', at
  2. The “Free Cinema" initiative, at, "is an experiment with two goals: 1) To introduce independent filmmakers to the ideas behind the burgeoning free-culture movement. 2) To see if applying those ideas to feature filmmaking will result in something new and interesting."
  3. Slow Culture