November 21, 2009

How Far Can it Go?

Category: Academic,Berkman,F/OSS,Free Culture,IP Law,Open Access,Politics — Biella @ 10:20 am

During the month of October I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the past, present, and future of F/OSS. This was due in part to participation in a Berkman Center event on Free Culture, where we discussed the historical arc of Free Software to Free Culture, the relationships between them (and their differences), and also the content and meaning each. Over the years, what I have found so interesting about Free Software is how it left its enclave to inspire countless groups into rethinking the politics and ethics of production and access and yet, as I raised in this pod-cast interview (due to the prompting of my interviewer, Elizabeth Stark), Free Software and/or Free Culture is still pretty bounded and contained phenomenon especially when compared to something like the existing consciousness over the environmental movement, which many folks “know” about and understand even when and if they are not involved in doing anything for the movement. I always ask my first year students whether they know what Free Software or Free Culture is and 9 out 10 stare at me with those blank eyes that basically speak in silence: “no.”

Now, there are a group of activists, many located in Europe, a number of them with deep roots in the social justice movement who are taking Free Culture down a different path, trying to expand its meaning and conjoin it to social justice issues, build a broad set of coalitions across the political spectrum so as to override the fragmentation that is so characteristic to contemporary political moment, and use FC as an opportunity to critique the market fundamentalism of the last few decades.

If you are interested in these issues, take a look at their charter: they are looking for comments (critical and constructive) as well as endorsements (here is the long version).

I myself have a few comments, for example, I think it is worth noting something like the limits of what FC can do, that even if in many ways it can be activated to do good in the world, it is also best to highlight in the same swoop that FC is not some political panacea and has limits.

For example some groups in the world, notably some indigenous communities abide by a different logic of access and culture, whereby full access is not culturally or ethically desirable, as the work of Kim Christen has illuminated. I also wonder in what ways issues of labor might be addressed more forcefully, and though they briefly raise the question of environmental sustainability, it is worth expanding these more directly and deeplyas this article by Toby Miller and Richard Maxwell make clear.

There is more to say but I will leave it here for now and just say it is really great to see Free Culture taken down another political path that is rooted in coalition building.


  1. [...] Interprete » How Far Can it Go? – view page – cached Category: Academic, Berkman, F/OSS, Free Culture, IP Law, Open Access, Politics — Biella @ 10:20 am [...]

    Pingback by Twitter Trackbacks for Interprete » How Far Can it Go? [] on — November 21, 2009 @ 11:15 am

  2. Free Culture needs intellectual tools. Network thinking could be one. For a theorization, see :

    Comment by Y — November 24, 2009 @ 7:43 am

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