State of Free Culture, 2011

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* Article: The State of Free Culture, 2011. Felix Stalder. Kosmos Journal, Spring/Summer Issue, 2011.

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"The Free Culture Forum released the Declaration on Sustainable Models for Creativity in the Digital Age in February 2011 following their second Forum in Barcelona in October 2010. This loose global network of artists, cultural producers, political activists and scholars is spearheading a movement to enable culture to be free for all to express and enjoy and to prevent it from being enclosed through copyright and other regulations that are preventing access to what should be a cultural commons.

In this text, I will assess the state of free culture today by first locating it within the broader movement for the digital commons. I will then look at the first two phases of free culture which centered around technological and legal issues. This sets the context to assess the current phase of economic and institutional experimentation.

The full article is here. A substantially shortened, but nicely lay-outed version is here (pdf, 8.8.MB), as published in the Spring|Summer issue of the Komsos Journal." (


Felix Stadler, Towards Institutions of the Commons:

Even if we just consider the three models mentioned above, it becomes clear that the challenge of Free Culture goes far beyond simply sticking a free license to a work and publishing it online. Free culture is not a niche, but the culture native to digital communication networks. To exorcise sharing and reuse from our contemporary environment, draconian measures (‘war on sharing’) could be adopted that would be, in effect, indistinguishable from totalitarian censorship. To prevent this from happening and to realize the potential for a renewal of democratic culture, we need new institutions that are capable of sustaining new cultural practices—based on sharing, reuse and cooperative production— on all scales, from the very small and quotidian to the very large and exceptional. This involves both the removal of existing blockages and the creation of new models, platforms and institutions that channel the creative energies inherent in all human beings into socially constructive and thus sustainable directions.

Crowd-funding shows that the ‘audience’ can be included from the beginning and that it can play an active role.Their desire to see a work actualized can be a force to make it happen. And while there is money involved, the relationships created are not shaped through the commercial market and do not conform to its social model of narrowly self-interested actors. Thus the problem of financing the first copy can be solved without the need to revert to copyright based controls. The models of distributed value creation highlight the fact that there can be balance between the financial interests of creators of large commercial social platforms and the users who make them valuable. While the YouTube model is clearly limited in its reliance on advertisement, it is a first step in the right direction and shows that access-based financing can be combined with free and unlimited access. The debates around the flat-rate indicate that legal and institutional frameworks need to be adapted. This cannot be done without deeply engaging with the political system on all levels. However—and this is my personal view—at the moment, all the Free Culture movement is capable of doing is helping prevent the worst legislation from being passed. It is not yet in a position to pro-actively shape new regulation. At the moment, bottom-up approaches are more promising, even if we acknowledge that they are structurally limited. It’s not an either-or question, rather it is an assessment of where our current strengths are today." (