DAY 1: Bangalore – Session 3: Critique Free and Open

Whereas for many Wikipedia is part of the Web 2.0 wave, it is different in that it is a non-profit organization that is funded through grants and donations. In that sense we not say that contributors are exploited for the sake of the (short term) interests venture capitalists and shareholders. In this case the ideology of ‘free’ and ‘open’ plays out in a different way.

Linda Gross

The Bielefeld-based German researcher Linda Gross gave a formal PhD presentation–and apologized for this. Her topic is open and openness in the case of Wikipedia. First of all she made a distinction between open at a technological level and the rhetoric. Openness is a problem which is solved by the production of structures. Using methods such as interpretive ethnography and objective hermeneutics (as developed by Uwe Overmann), Gross will look into the ideology of openness that is followed by a practice of closure. She signaled a tendency towards single authorship.

Heather Ford

Next speaker was Heather Ford from South Africa, now based at UC Berkeley. Heather has 8 years of experience in FLOSS, CC and iCommons and speaks from experience. She recently decided to leave the field and reassess her involvement in the movement by doing a masters and a PhD. Heather experienced first hand how the deal between Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales) and Creative Commons (Lawrence Lessig) was made. Apart from the deal-making behind the scene, leaving out the community, Heather started to question the use of rights-related licenses such as CC in the first place. What CC does is leave the system of copyright in tact (while claiming to be otherwise). Heather asked whether CC is the right strategy for governing the ownership and distribution of Wikipedia. The uneven distribution of CC started to bother her. Heather: “We have a choice here. The issue of licenses is really important. CC is a political artifact.” The sharing among some, while restricting others is the core of the problem. Law and lawyers are introduced through the backdoor whereas Wikipedia could easily do without them. CC uses law to maintain the system of copyright.

What the Wikimedia Foundation should do is to redistribute resources worldwide, but Heather is sceptic about this. Nearly all financial resources remain within the USA. By adopting CC the WF is reinforcing copyright law, and reinforcing the powers of powerful, expensive US lawyers, a service which in many countries is not available. By introducing CC the Wikimedia Foundation is bounded to remain a US centric initiative (while traffic and growth of communities are happening elsewhere).

Nate Tkacz

Co-editor of CPOV Nate Tkacz from Melbourne presented his research on the implementation of open politics in this session. For his PhD Nate is studying open projects, and Wikipedia is certainly the biggest and most successful of them. Crucial is the recent history of the ‘open’ was the move from free software to open source in 1998. After that it was Open Everything. Nate made references from Rushkoff, Lessig and Hardt/Negri to Obama’s Open Government initiative. Instead he proposes a negation of openness. In order to formulate a critique of ‘free’ and ‘open’ Nate went back Karl Popper’s Magnus Opus The Open Society and it Enemies (published in 1945), a work that seeks to find the sources of 20th century totalitarian regimes and their ideologies in the work of Western philosophers such as Plato, Hegel and Marx. Their historicism in which people get subjected to the larger forces of History is seen as a closed system. The force that works against this totalizing tendency is openness. The open is seen here as a negative, relational concept. By and large Popper’s work is a critique and lack any positive, more detailed definition of what openness is all about. The fact of the re-mergence of the term ‘open’ since the late 1980s confirms the poverty of the concept to start with.

Elad Wieder

Unfortunately there were no notes of Elad Wieder’s speech, an Israeli lawyer and Creative Commons activis who spoke about communities vs. markets.