Open Culture

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Felix Stalder: Prospects for an Open Culture

"This does not mean that FOSS cannot be taken as a model for open cultural production in other fields. However, what seems to be the really relevant part is not so much the collaborative production aspects, but the freedom of appropriation aspect and the new model of authorship, centering around community involvement rather than individual autonomy. The GPL, and other such licenses, like Creative Commons, are very good instruments to enshrine these basic freedoms. These will create the pool of material in which a new, digital, transformative culture can grow. And indeed we are seeing the emergence of such resource pools. One example is, a rapidly growing repository of images, tagged and searchable, contributed entirely by users. While this is not a commons in a legal sense (the images in remain in the ownership of the author), nor, really, in intention, the fact that the resource as a whole is searchable (through user-defined image tags) does create a de-facto commons. The collaboration here is very limited, restricted to contributing individual works to a shared framework that makes it easily accessible to others. There is no common project, and collaboration between users is minimal, but it still can be understood as ‘open culture’ because it makes the resources of production, the images, widely available. The production of new cultural artefacts remains, as always, in the hands of individuals or small groups, but the material they work with is not only their own inner vision, honed as autonomous creators, but also other people’s work, made available in resource pools.

At this point, this is entirely unspectacular. But by restricting openness to the creation of a pool of relatively basic resource material, rather than complex artistic productions, issues of quality control and the organization of collaboration, with all the necessary difficulties of coordination in the absence of clear markers of quality, are sidestepped. Nevertheless, over time, I think that such de-facto commons can contribute to a slow transformation of culture from a collection of discrete, stable and ownable objects, created by autonomous, possessive individuals, to ongoing adaptations, translations and retellings within relevant contexts. Perhaps out of this, a new sense of authorship will emerge, and new communities in which certain criteria of quality are widely accepted (akin to ‘community standards’). Only once this happens, can, I think, really collaborative modes of artistic production be developed, similar to what we have seen in FOSS." (