“There’s No Free Culture Without the Internet”

That’s a quote from the Leonhard Dobusch, who introduced Geert Lovink’s keynote speech at the Free Culture Research Conference that took place in Berlin last month. You can read my long-due report here.

Briefly, Lovink described a necessary shift from building new legal tools such as those innovated by Creative Commons, to building new economic models that sustain creative professionals and cultural institutions – a move away from the amateur or bricolateur as a victim of restrictive legal regimes, and towards ideas on how to empower emerging professionals.

Lovink presented a few examples: the downloadable and decentralized open source social networking sites such as GNU Social that stand as alternatives to the parasitic Facebook, as well as social micropayment platforms like Kiva, crowd-sourced funding sites, and the FabLabs, MIT’s curious and brilliant personal fabricators.

I also attended a provocative panel called “Government works in the public domain – All your tax-paid content are belong to us” (go here for a substantial description of the discussion).  The moderator was Mathias Schindler from Wikimedia Germany, a self-described ‘content liberator.’ Examples of Wikimedia’s success can be found in Israel, which released a large part of its image database to the public. This was subtly revelatory to me – that a non-profit foundation began as a free-content, openly-editable online encyclopedia is making an impact on national-level policy.

The panel included Paul Keller from Kennisland, moderator of the Economies of the Commons II Friday night event, The Future of the Public Domain who spoke about his role in convincing the Dutch government to release its website content under the most liberal license available, the CC0. Also on the panel was Tomer Ashur from Israel Wikimedia, behind the Israeli parliament’s decision to release all images created by government officials to public domain. Finally, Mike Linksvayer from Creative Commons, USA, praised the free culture movement and FLOSS for providing definitions and a conceptual framework of culture that sets expectations for information sharing in general – which makes the job of convincing governments to release information to the public domain that much easier.

The panel ended with a provocative question – does a central government benefit more by protectively hording and licensing material than they would by releasing it for public reuse? James Boyle produced some research on this in his book The Public Domain, but more comparative analysis seems needed between different country policies: if it’s free in the US and not in Europe, who’s generating the most value? Releasing materials to the commons at least means more people over time and space have the opportunity to produce value than if it remains Disneyfied – locked away and horded by one entity.