The current and future of Free Culture... or whatever you may want to call it.

hingo's picture

While everyone else is doing predictions for 2009, I want to do something different and look about 10 years forwards and backwards: ie. finish my trilogy into the past and future of Open Source and Open Other Things - let's call it Free Culture for this post. The first part and the spark to this trilogy was Nokia acquiring Symbian followed by Open Source has arrived... where's the money?. So let's complete the circle and look at how Openness is doing outside the world of software...

"The Arts"

Some years ago I posited that Music, Movies, Photos, Books and other works of art are following the same curve of development as Open Source did and that after an initial 10 years of resistance and ridicule from the established industry, something like a Creative Commons based model would win, just like Open Source is doing now for software. This is still possible, but I've come to realise the entertainment industry is also different from the software industry. (shocking! really?)

To some degree Creative Commons has been successful, for instance many people choose to upload their images on Flickr with a Creative Commons license, and myself and many others create derivative works out of those images, or just use the images for illustrations in our blogs. The Blender Foundation created the worlds first Open Source high definition short animation Elephants Dream, on the other hand I've understood this was done in a pretty traditional fashion by employing six animators that would sit and work in the Amsterdam Studios. To that extent, I'm much more excited about the Finnish Star Wreck movie and especially its successor Iron Sky. Iron Sky is being created in a very collaborative fasion on the Internet, and also other movies are free to use to collaborate on movie creation. Yet, it is not a 1-to-1 clone of the Open Source recipe. In particular, while there is a lot of collaboration, the script of Iron Sky is not public at all. I have to admit, there is some value in not knowing the plot when watching a movie - this is unlike software for sure.

To be clear, Iron Sky -while an extremely interesting project - isn't actually Open Source, because it uses the Non-Commercial version of Creative Commons. It is an interesting Internet phenomenon nevertheless.

Music and movies Ahoy!

Please note that Pirate Encyclopedia is linked from an external site and not copyrighted or Creative Commons licensed by Henrik Ingo.

But there is another trend that I see growing in strength. Recently the Finnish Pirate Party was founded, modeling the already quite successful Swedish Pirate Party. (For a convincing intro into this party's program, see founder Rick Falkvinge at the MySQL User Conference 2008.) Essentially the Pirate party (this is a real political party, just in case you were wondering) is taking a stance that private persons should be allowed to copy and share anything they want, because the interest of disseminating and preserving culture is more important than the financial interest of the few. More importantly, in the fight against "piracy", the record labels and movie producers have become guilty of working and lobbying against civil liberties (they want to wiretap you, they want to cut you off the internet without trial, free speech issues with DRM...) so there is nothing to be ashamed of when actively working against them.

Personally I always believed that copyright in principle was a fair deal (even Open Source licensing relies on copyright, after all) and thus believed that an EFF-like approach to lobbying for sane legislation when it comes to copyright and the Internet was the right one. But having seen the development in Sweden, it seems to me that the Pirate Party approach is an alternative to watch. It seems that the rights holders have been going too far in their viciousness and in the process made harm to the validity to the whole concept of copyright and there is a credible popular front rising that essentially is against copyright altogether, not just the twisted and harmful twists to it during the last decades.

Material goods

Already in the Open Life book I wrote about Free Hardware projects like Open Cores. However what I've followed with interest since then is the Open Design movement, which is basically about creating all kinds of physical goods - or at least designs for them.

Both with Open Hardware and Open Design, my initial assumption was that the design - being an "immaterial good" - could be shared in an Open Source fashion, whereas the manufacturing would tend to be done in big factories like before. (Although, for an alternative view, see the Open Life chapter on open clothing.) However, in the examples of Open Design I've witnessed, the interesting thing is that you can also design things that are not optimized for centralized production, but rather for a decentralized production. In other words, rather than using components that fit well onto an assembly line, use components that are cheap and easy to get hold of, and better suited for manual assembly. In the same spirit, equipment like 3D printers are much more interesting than they otherwise would be.

The Open Design movement (apart perhaps, from the Open Hardware part) is still very much in its infancy. In fact, most people I've met in these circles are either academics or at least "academic by mindset" kind of people. This is imho unfortunate, I hold one measure of credibility whether there is any activity in a project outside the Academia. The Academia is a good place to give birth to new ideas, but if a project is purely academic, well, that is then exactly what it is - purely academic in the negative sense of not having a real world connection.

If we compare with early Open Source development, I'm missing strong and well known leaders, I miss something like a "distribution" where I could easily find and use "products" of Open Design, etc... Perhaps one reason is that you can obviously design anything openly and therefore those who share open designs for clothing would be different than those that design solar cells and agricultural tools for 3rd world countries, so it is actually not one community and one leader we are looking for here.

I expect that the Open Design movement will continue to make progress, yet slowly. Perhaps even slowlier than we would wish. It will be interesting to see whether it has any significance 10 years from now, or whether it is still pre-dominantly an academic exercise.

What else

So it seems apart from the Pirate Party there is not much revolutionary - or then I'm unaware of it at least. Beyond the creation of immaterial and physical goods, is there anything else out there that would be of interest?

One topic that interests me is Direct Democracy. I believe that thanks to the communication possibilities provided by the Internet, the whole process of governing will change. And I don't mean simply the way Howard Dean and Barack Obama ran their campaigns over the Internet - that is merely a very small first step. I sometimes see ideas and initiatives pop up - for some reason often at Drupal, the CMS of choice for Dean (and Obama?) - but nothing has so far stuck and often the proponents don't really have a clue what they should do about Direct Democracy, other than "let's use the Internet".

Interestingly, during the past year I actually discovered a party in one country whose ideas looked similar to my own, until I discovered that they didn't have a faintest idea of the technological requirements needed - only an optimistic thought that somebody would come up with something once they were given the power. (In the meantime they just would use a simple PhpBB bulletin board to govern a nation!)

I believe a change in the democratic system - in very gradual steps - is an example of something that is inevitable. But probably not in the next 10 years yet.

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