Free Culture

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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


"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." (

Free Culture Movement

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


Free Culture Manifesto


"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." (

Example of Free Culture initiatives

List of Open Content projects from

  1. OPUS(Parallel text corpus collection)
  2. VoxForge (Transcribed speech data) (dutch)
  3. (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)


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." (

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.” (

More Information

Rob Myers has compiled a listing of

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