Impressions by Stefan Merten

General insights

There is one general impression from the WOS4:

Free Culture is really coming!

It is slow yet and not very visible in all parts of culture but it is definitely on the rise and with an increasing pace. After Free Software and parallel to OpenAccess and Wikipedia I consider the very broad topic of Free Culture is something Oekonux really needs to be interested in.

There are a lot of similarities to Free Software at least for every piece of culture which can be digitized somehow. For instance the means of production are cheap and with the people - just as in Free Software. For instance nowadays you only need a PC to remix video material or music or even make (electronic) music.

Just as Free Software - and may be even more so - Free Culture benefits from Free Flow of ideas and artifacts and the results of this Free Flow of ideas definitely have the potential to outperform the stuff that Hollywood and the music industry wants us to swallow. Remixing is the norm in culture anyway. The Free Flow is facilitated by the Internet on a global basis and in particular the CreativeCommons licenses offer a firm legal ground to build this on and to enable people to use material under clear legal conditions.

Another general insight the WOS4 gave me was how wide the idea of Free Software spread meanwhile. It has been expected on one of the very early Oekonux introduction slides that these principles will spread. At this time this was not very visible but today it is probably hard to overlook this general tendency.

Panel: Open Source Biotechnology

Biotechnology here means research and technology with affects the basic building blocks of life like the genome.

The panel was interesting for me insofar as I learned that something like Open Source Biotechnology is really more dangerous than anything else. I mean while in Free Software the bugs fixed are virtual, fixing bugs in biotechnology means killing real bugs - or other living creatures. Though Free Software in a moral sense can be abused and the information published in blogs can be abused this is actually anther dimension than the potential to eradicate life on earth. On the other hand there is certainly use in biotechnology. Like in no other area the question here seems to be how something like Open Source Biotechnology can be controlled in some way so the society as a whole benefits from it and the collateral damages done are minimized.

In a way this is a similar question as what medicine is researched on. In drug research you need money because the necessary equipment is expensive and even if this could be replaced by cheaper solutions things like clinical studies will probably stay expensive for some long time. I.e. the question is: Where does the funding come from. James Love proposed a global funding system which rewards and remunerates inventors and drug developers on the basis of impact on health care. To me this is simply a mechanism to (partially) counter simple market logic where only those illnesses who can pay receive research. Though on a moral level this is certainly something to be wished for I can not see well what this has to do with the principles we can see in Free Software.

The panel raised the question what role the "Open Source" in "Open Source Biotechnology" actually plays. Is it just a label - or a T-shirt as one panelist said -, does this really mean copying principles from Free Software or does it mean adopting and transferring them somehow. In fact as far as I understood in the Human Genome Project researchers need to return their research results which are based on the material from the project. This is very similar to Copyleft of course. Does things like that work in general? While I think about it this is indeed a question which is the general question for OpenAccess type of science which Open Source Biotechnology is certainly a part of.

I'd also mention the BIOS project (no web site yet).

Panel: Quality Management in Free Content

One of the most interesting things in this panel was the announcement from Larry Sanger to fork Wikipedia into a project he called something like citizendium.org. Larry Sanger were chief organizer of Wikipedia during its first years and therefore knows the project from the inside quite well. His main point was that Wikipedia follows a ideology he called amateurism - which is probably a bad thing for a encyclopedia. In particular there is no special place for experts on a subject. Also the self-selection process common to Free Projects leads to a special sort of conservatism because people who select themselves to be in a project strengthen the existing culture until a point where a fork is the only way to have something new. Thus though he sees the attempts to maintain quality in Wikipedia because of the unchangeable amateurism he still believes another approach is necessary.

Larry Sanger described some of the rules citizendium.org shall have. The most important probably is that there will be two roles: Ordinary authors - which everyone can be (but without anonymity as in Wikipedia) - and editors for a certain subject. Editors select themselves but are benchmarked on publicly available material.

Personally I'd be astonished if this project really takes off - though I share the concerns of Larry Sanger about Wikipedia. However, I think this is nonetheless a very worthwhile attempt because it gives some competition to Wikipedia and this may lead to better results in Wikipedia itself.

I'd also want to mention a quote from Larry Sanger saying "Ontologies and books are really personal things which can not be done collectively".

Workshop: Free Content Licensing Issues

I'd like to mention the FreedomDefined.org project Mako Hill (panelist) is involved in. If I understood correctly this project wants to define what Freedom means. Mako received a lot of criticism for this endeavor from Lawrence Lessig (panelist) who said that this is another type of colonialism telling others what freedom means. The CreativeCommons project tries to help people to get the best license for their particular needs. So for instance often they help as license consultants and are able to refer people asking for a special license to an existing license. On the other hand the project develops special licenses if there is a need for it - like the remix license for music giving a very special set of permissions.

On the question of interoperability of licenses Lawrence Lessig held the position that there needs to be more than one license but certainly less than ten.

I asked Lawrence Lessig for a license similar to the US public domain legislation. He agreed with me that the concept of public domain does not work really for instance for European countries. As the closest license from the CreativeCommons license set he recommended the Attribution license (CC-BY).

I also asked for a good license for a Wiki or similar massive cooperative works. Mako pointed out that copyright is simply not made for massive cooperative works and this type of brokenness probably can not be remedied by a license. If I understood correctly Lawrence Lessig recommended CC-BY for these instances as well with additional regulation for the authors.

Admittedly I was a bit relieved by these answers because after some discussions CC-BY is what we chose for the Oekonux Wiki and currently this seems to be the best solution we could find.

Panel: Business and the Commons

As far as I attended it this panel actually was about businesses with Free Music. One of the general believes which seemed to be held by all the panelists was that paid distribution of music like in iTunes is dead already (not growing any more). The music industry also keeps complaining that the revenue from selling music online does not compensate for the "losses" through "pirate copies". The panelists seemed to share that since the decoupling of music from a physical medium there is little chance to sell music media.

I'd like to mention the copycan.org project which is another project implementing the street performer protocol. There are a couple of similar attempts already which so far all failed. May be this one takes off - though I don't believe it.

Laurent Kratz from Jamendo gave a very interesting talk about his project. This is a business project offering Free Music on the Web. This is done by giving a central platform to musicians where they can hand in their album and they are published on the platform under a Free License. The platform pays itself by ads. This works even for CC-NC-* licenses because Jamendo uses a special contract where the copyright holder gives Jamendo exactly this right.

The role of Jamendo is also that of a quality filter. Jamendo accepts only complete albums including a cover.

Laurent Kratz said that for Free Music there is not a supply problem - because there is a lot of Free Music. It is more a demand problem - people just don't use the available Free Music. I'm sure that projects like this help to change this.

During dinner StefanMz and I talked to Laurent Kratz. I asked him about the quality of this Free Music. His answer was "Just listen" ;-) . Indeed this matches statements I heard before that the quality of Free Music often is as good as proprietary music and often better. So also here there seems to be room that quality of Free Project results outperforms proprietary products.

He also compared the situation of Free Music to that of Free Software during the 1980's. There were also little demand for Free Software but over time the importance of Free Software increased enormously.

Talk: The Read-Write Society

This was one of the great presentations of Lawrence Lessig :-). But not only the presentation was great but also the content.

The main point of that presentation was that we currently see the rebirth of a read-write society. This is a society where the masses are not only consumers but also creators of culture. Lawrence Lessig pointed out that until copyright it was quite normal for people to create ("write") as well as to consume ("read") culture. The copyright regime and the accompanying culture during the 20th century changed that to a read-only mode where people more or less exclusively listened to that what the broadcasters send them. The Internet and the wide distribution of computers as machines enabling creative works now reverses this again and everyone can publish.

DRM for instance is one of the attempts to preserve this read-only culture. Lawrence Lessig pointed out that read-write culture has a huge potential and using a very nice picture he showed that the read-write culture is much bigger than the read-only culture.

He gave a few examples of this read-write culture showing several films where people remixed stuff. They gave the audience a couple of very good laughs and this way showed the practical value of this type of read-write culture :-).

On the topic of how this read-write culture can be helped to grow he made two points. The first one was to enable Free Culture by creating Free Tools which are necessary to create Free Culture. Here he emphasized the importance of Free Software for this enabling. On the legal side licenses are needed to enable this Free Culture. The other point he made was simply to create Free Culture.

Lawrence Lessig made an interesting remark about countries like Brazil which are to a large degree still in the 19th century. In these countries the read-only culture is not yet fully installed - if at all - and so they can leap from one read-write culture to the next.

He also pointed out that the real potential of this modern read-write culture is probably not yet visible. He gave a nice example of the early days of filming where film people situated a film camera before a stage and simply filmed a play on this stage. Only years later film makers step by step discovered what can be done with this new medium / technology.

Personally I am a bit sceptical about the close linking of pre-modern read-write culture and cyber-mode read-write culture. Though I think Lawrence Lessig has a point in pointing out that before copyright there was a read-write culture I'm not sure whether this can be compared with the current and future read-write culture. After thinking a bit about it I think the difference lies in the globalization of the current read-write culture. As far as I can see the pre-modern read-write cultures were regionally limited - cultural artifacts simply could not move at the speed of light. But they can with the Internet. I think this is a big difference and I think this difference is underestimated by linking these two to together to closely. However, the nice point about this argument is that this read-write culture is the "natural" way of culture - much more at least than read-only.

Show: Show des Freien Wissens

This was really a nice event making a (German) TV like show about the topics of Free Content. It has been televised and it probably is available on the Web.

Panel: The Future of Free Software

Actually this was a panel on typical leftist questions about the Free Software community. Two questions were about the participation / contribution of women and of people in poor countries. The third question was about Free Software oriented in the needs of the users.

About the question of women participation the main line of argumentation was that by how women are raised software ranks very low on average women's list of hobbies. Therefore they are rarely keen to engage in Free Software.

The main explanation given for the huge underrepresentation of Indians (in India) in the Free Software community was that in India working with software and computers is largely seen as a job and nothing which one would do in the spare time. This also was said about women.

As far as the orientation to user needs was concerned the panelists said that Free Software always oriented in user needs - only the users changed. However, the (potential) users can help here very much by giving their domain knowledge to Free Software developers helping them to write software suited to their needs.

Impressions by Stefan Meretz

I participated two days at the conference Wizards of OS 4, and I was really positively surprised. The german online news magazine Heise has reports about the conference mirroring quite well what was debated. From my view now some additional remarks.

What at the first Oekonux conference in Dortmund (2001) was only a fantasy, has now become reality: The ideas of free software had been adopted in many areas of the society - globally. Like the GNU GPL for the domain of software has been an important trigger and safeguard of a free space, so are the CreativeCommons licenses for content of any kind. Meanwhile the CC project counted 140 million backlinks to their website. What GPL is for software, CC is for the area of culture. Therefore "free culture" was the most used key term on WOS 4. If one imagines this as a model of an "onion" consisting of "shells", then with free culture we reached the second "shell" after the first "shell" (or core) being free software. The third "shell" of the onion - witch had become clear at different points - will be the core of societal production, following my rampant thesis :-).

Which evidences did I find for this thesis? Example 1: Lawrence Lessig has given an impressive presentation at WOS 4 (I wish I could do it as good as he did). Title: "The Read-Write Society". Using the filesystem metaphor of "read-only" (RO) and "read-write" (RW) Lessig went through the history of bourgoise society along the four dimensions of labor, cuture, something (I forgot), and politics. Concerning culture - and only this dimension he looked at in the following - the society of the 19th century was a RW society, where generally all citizens had "write access" to society creating the culture. Ok, I have some objections in mind, but be it. The 20th century, however, has been transformed into a RO society where lazy couch potatos of degenerated consumers absorb given offers. Powerful leverages are rules around the so called "intellectual property", especially copyright. In the Internet the struggle blusters between RO and RW, where big content companies want to make the people be only passive consumers. But, this is his thesis, the 21th century brings back a turn to RW culture where people will be themselves the producers of their (cultural) lives. Core of the RW cultur will be remixing, which means using cultural products for the creation of new cultural products. - Lots of examples especially from brasil were impressing. Or, watch this example Read my lips, really funny. Or this Jesus must survive

I found it a bit strange speaking about a "turn back" to a RW culture. Lessing also talked about chances for some cultures (in my words) to directly jump from the 19th to the 21st century without using the nonsense of copyright etc. at all. Hm, ok, is this true? On a descriptive level, yes. On another panel people from Brasil (which had a somewhat special "guest status" on the WOS) told us about the kids of the favelas who never spend a second on stuff like copyrights when they make their music and sell their music on the streets (and only on the streets). If then european musicians take, remix and commercialize their music, then this is ok, too. Question from the audience: Isn't this cutural imperialsm? Answer: No, because making culture always implies using other cultural products. Therefore in Brasil there is no notion of "piracy" (maybe except in the music industry which is there, too).

Back to Lessig. Following his RO/RW analogy I asked him whether he sees similar developments concerning the other dimensions he mentioned before - especially concerning "labor". And if this is about making a "free societal operating system" where the RW culture can run on? Unfortunately he didn't get my question, well, that may happen with such sorts of analogies. His answer was very general, and fast he jumped from "labor" to "politics", because he had some more examples on this topic. Ok, the third "shell" will come into his thinking some time - remember me to claim the copyright ;-).

Example 2: Final panel "Brazil, the Free Culture Nation". Besides others on the podium was Claudio Prado, director of the department of digital culture of the Brasilian ministry of culture (led by Gilberto Gil) calling himself a "Hippie". There is a nice abstract (and film) about this. I thought I misheard when he said, that it isn't the goal to create "work" and "social security" for the people, because this is not possible any more: "Jobs and employment are things of the 20th century. The future has nothing to do with employment." Therefore the new goal is: "Jumping from the 19th century to the 21th century bypassing the bullshit of the 20th century." This is about empowering the people to act autonomously and to appropriate the digital technology in order to become independent from government. He said, that it is a bit schizophrenic when he said this as a representantive of a government, but the goal must be to make the government superfluous. - Whow, not bad!

After that, Volker Grassmuck, maintainer of WOS, takes this idea and said, that now the topic of WOS 5 is found. Ok, we will see, how he understands the statement of Claudio Prado. If it goes well, then he means the "third shell" of the onion, that is, the question of the societal production not only of cultural goods, but all goods for the life of the people - beyond governments, jobs, and social security from above as we knew it sometime.

OK, I stop here. There were much more exciting panels at WOS. The conference would deserve more visitors, but for this purpose the admission price was simply much too high (60 EUR for 3 days, reduced half of it).

Oekonux/Research/ImpressionsWOS4 (last edited 2006-11-16 20:04:45 by StefanMerten)

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