Visions of Free Culture

At the Free Culture National Conference a few weeks ago, Kevin Driscoll initiated a project that I feel is hugely important: he’s prompted the free culture community to state and share their vision.

While I’ve talked a lot about definitions in the past, I probably should have been talking about goals or vision. Kevin has created an important opportunity for all free culture stakeholders to step back and imagine what the world will look like when we win. By doing so, we end up defining a set of implicit goals for our social movement and can then set to work on the hard part: figuring out how we get there.

With thanks to Eben Moglen for much of the inspiration, here’s mine:

People remembered that there is no scarcity in information goods except where they have created it. As evidence grew of the positive effects of free culture and the toll of information ownership, our communities decided that we were not well served by limits on the flow and development of knowledge.

Accordingly, the gatekeepers and tax collectors for culture have withered away and were dismantled. We — the consumers, creators, and re-creators — have offered new, more ethical business models, have engaged in new methods of distribution, and have produced creative goods.

Today, access to information is a simple matter of connecting someone to a network and a community: a technical problem that we know how to solve. Nobody pays for the "right" to hear music, read a book, watch a movie, or use a piece of software. Nobody is forced to choose between being a bad neighbor or friend and breaking copyright law. No artist, musician, or author sells a million copies of anything and no artist, musician, or author has a day job.

Now it’s your turn. Eben Moglen tell us to not stop until we’re free. Let’s paint a picture of what that free world looks like. Most importantly, let’s challenge ourselves to find ways to make it possible.

European Tour

I’m off on a short European tour for the next weeks — in all likelihood my only trip to Europe this summer. I’ll be visiting three conferences where I have planned talks. These include:

Between 23-26 June, I’ll be traveling through the UK from Edinburgh. I have tentative stops planned for a variety of places along the way including Manchester, Cambridge, and London. I suppose there will be pub nights or something similar in each place. Get in contact if you want to meet up along the way.

National Free Culture Conference

Harvard Free Culture is helping to organize this years’ National Free Culture Conference — the meeting for North American Free Culture student groups. The whole shindig is planned for May 26, 2007 at Harvard University here in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The schedule is solidifying and I will presenting and arguing for adoption or support of the Free Cultural Works Definition within the FC student movement and probably also be talking about community building and advocacy in some free software groups I’ve worked with.

Housing is available and the event is open to the public. If you’d like to attend, speak, or help out with the conference, please email or check out the Facebook event.

If you’re on the fence about attending, you can read this glowing endorsement of the conference by high protectionist James DeLong at IP Central.


There is cool semi-recent news on the Free Cultural Works Definition front. The board of directors of the Wikimedia Foundation passed a resolution stating that all projects (including Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikibooks):

…are expected to host only content which is under a Free Content License, or which is otherwise free as recognized by the Definition of Free Cultural Works.

There is still room for several exceptions but this must be minimal and the use of such works, "with limited exception, should be to illustrate historically significant events, to include identifying protected works such as logos, or to complement (within narrow limits) articles about copyrighted contemporary works."

For WMF and it’s member projects, this was a useful step because it documents and strengthens an important position in favor of explicit goals that I feel is important to successful freedom movements. But it’s not a major change for them. The resolution merely codifies what has already become accepted practice within Wikimedia projects.

But this is a major change — and a major victory — for and the definition. Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia, are the single most visible and important centers for the production and dissemination of free culture today. They’re also the most successful and a model many want to emulate. Explicit buy in from WMF is a major victory indeed.

Trademark Violation and Greater Evils

Biella Coleman recently mentioned counterfeit drugs in a blog post:

A pirated movie carries little consequence, except for that the movie industry may lose some cash flow. A fake Rolex purchased on the bustling streets of NYC saves you a lot of money (and robs you of a warranty). But counterfeit drugs, the consequences and stakes are at a whole other, more serious, order of things.

Biella’s intentions in drawing the analogy are harmless — people really do lose their lives because of fake drugs while rock-off movies and Rolexes are relatively harmless. However, her aside reminds me of the much less harmless, fair, and honest analogies drawn by Pat Choate in Hot Property who used examples like counterfeit drugs and dishonestly labeled aircraft parts to support a high protectionist position on IP.

Because of the arguments made by people like Choate, I believe that there is a subtle danger in the type of analogy that Biella draws that I think we should try to guard against in the future.

The danger lies in the fact that these comparisons tend to conflate at least two very different kinds of illegal activity. Trademark violations are illegal. So it selling drugs without approval from regulatory bodies. So is manslaughter and murder — both terms used in the Times article Biella links to to describe the actions of drug counterfeiters. Laws in most countries already prohibit all of these things and offer increasingly harsh punishments for each action. In fact, selling unlicensed drugs and killing people is much more illegal than violating trademark and making knockoffs. And it should be.

When someone commit IP violations in the process of committing much worse crimes, we should focus on highlighting, condemning, and punishing the much worse crime, not the IP violation which in comparison is almost inconsequential. The punishment for counterfeiting drugs may only be a slap on the wrist and that’s probably an appropriate punishment for the counterfeiting component of the crime. The other worse crimes that the counterfeiter is also committing should be punished much more harshly.

If, as the Dr. Reggi quoted in the Times article complains, "counterfeiting a medicine can be [only] a misdemeanor," we need stronger laws against selling unregulated drugs — not stronger IP laws. If we confuse and compare bootleg movies and knock-off Rolexes with fake malaria or AIDS drugs, we’re likely to come to the opposite conclusion.

Our reactions to such situations should be, "People are killing people with fake drugs! We need stronger laws against killing people in these ways." They should not be "People are killing people with fake drugs! Interesting to note that they are also violating trademark laws like other counterfeiters." The former reaction will frame the discussion in a way that lets us treat the bad components of the crime more harshly and will not help IP high protectionists argue for stronger IP through a disingenuous process of guilt by association.

Novartis, Stop It

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is currently suing the Indian government over its patent law in an effort to further limit production of generic drugs in India. Among other drugs, the company is trying to stop India’s production of generic AIDS medicines that supplies more than half of the developing world. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has a great FAQ and bunch of other information on their access to essential medicines (AEM) site that you should check out if you are unfamiliar with the case.

Mika has been working on a variety of AEM projects for a while with quite a few important successes. From a certain perspective, some of the core calls for access to knowledge share common ground with free software, free culture, and anti software patent advocacy that I’ve been involved in. Of course, it puts things in perspective to see Mika and others in the AEM community point to millions of people and say that those people will die because of an IP maximilist position.

Last week, I went with Mika to a protest of Novartis near MIT. It was just below freezing, slushy, raining, sleeting, and probably the worst weather I’ve ever experienced in Cambridge. Despite all that, it was wonderful to join a large group of activists in Cambridge/Boston and around the world to send a strong message to Novartis. You can watch a video of the protest or see a set of photographs. Both were taken by my friend Jay.

Who Owns Free Culture?

The previous year saw far too much fighting over who gets to define and control the term free culture. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that these fights conflate a very important discussion about the goals of a set of nascent social movements — or the lack thereof — with much less important issues of semantics, definitions, and control over terms. The term is being used in a way that describes a whole lot of projects I support and participate in fully — and a few I don’t. And I think that’s OK.

When Erik Möller and I launched the Free Cultural Works Definition (at the time, the Free Content and Expression Definition), we struggled to find a good term for the works that we wanted to liberate. We thought about using the terms content, expression, knowledge, information, art, data and communication but each word seemed to exclude an important body of works or producers. Few musicians we knew thought of their productions as "content" while few encyclopedia writers did not.

The term we liked most was culture: it defines a very broad set of practice and has very positive connotations. Of course, others had already been using the term free culture so we spent some reading up on the term and talking to the people most closely associated with it. Originally, the term seems to have its roots in the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. I reread the book to get an idea for exactly what Lessig meant when he used the term but, upon reaching the end, I found myself without a good answer. The book’s index included a promising entry for "Free culture, defined" which pointed to a short section in the preface:

A free culture is not a culture without property; it is not a culture in which artists don’t get paid. A culture without property, or in which creators can’t get paid is anarchy, not freedom. Anarchy is not what I advance here.

Instead, the free culture that I defend in this book is a balance between anarchy and control. (emphasis mine)

Framed by a negative definition of what free culture is not, Lessig’s definition describes the broad space between two unattainable extremes. This resulting ambiguity is fully intended: Lessig has not only spoken out against my particular suggestion but against any definition and the process of offering ex cathedra definitions or goals altogether [1].

In personal conversations about our definition, Lessig was initially very supportive. In fact, it was Lessig who introduced Erik and I to each other and suggested that we work together. What Lessig did disagree with us on however, was calling the definition the Free Culture Definition. I think that Lessig felt some sense of ownership of the term and felt that he and others had defined it and been using it in a way that was broader and incompatible with the definition we were proposing and with any definition of the type of we were suggesting.

Early on, Lessig blessed a group of students to create a Free Culture student movement. Most active now in Harvard Free Culture and Free Culture NYU and but in a handful of other places as well, these groups have been involved in everything from the promotion of transgressive approaches to IP, to speech bubbles, to anti-DRM work, to protecting the right of cereal restaurants to operate. When Erik and I suggested to this group that they might benefit from adopting the Free Cultural Works Definition as a set of explicit ideals or goals for their movement, the larger part of the coalition soundly rejected the idea. Like Lessig, they wanted free culture to refer to wide variety of projects and did not feel good about describing any work by sympathetic parties as "non-ideal."

Erik and I were faced with two choices: we could call our definition the Free Culture Definition and in effect engage in a power struggle with Lessig and with some portion of the free culture student movement or we could pick another term. While we don’t like the alternatives as much as free culture, we didn’t have a lot of trouble deciding that going with a term like free cultural work or free content and expression was the better choice.

This is why I am a little worried about the recently announced UK-based Free Culture Foundation. I have nothing but respect for the founders (Matt Lee, Tom Chance, and Rob Myers) and trust them to create the type of free culture organization that I would like to see. I am very much looking forward to working closely with them on this project in the future. They seem likely to choose a set of goals and adopt a set of strategies in line with the ones I’ve argued for. But in that my goals and strategies have run into opposition among many of the most visible people using the term free culture in the past, that’s also why I’m a little worried.

SJ Klein and I were recently saying that its time to start naming organizations and projects in this area using only words in dead languages. That way, we can side-step the (unimportant) semantic arguments over who gets to control existing terms and focus on the real goal of building stronger social movements, setting goals that sound as unthreatening to each other as they actually are, and building better tools. Without semantic arguments in our way, we’ll be able stronger to build coalitions and work together in all the ways we should be.


This is an important distinction because it is also possible to disagree with the first fully articulated definition but also feel that offering another set of goals — for example, a set that allowed for commercial use or anything under current CC licenses — was productive.

After all, I have been arguing for much longer in favor of any set of goals much longer and more strenuously than I have argued for any particular set of goals and I still feel that a set goals is much more important than any paritcular one.

Support Parallel Distribution Now!

My friend James Grimmelmann, currently a Resident Fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School and an Adjunct Professor at New York Law School, contacted me recently because he was concerned that it doesn’t seem likely that parallel distribution language is going to make it in latest draft of the Creative Commons 3.0 licenses. The issues and arguments around parallel distribution are complex but James and I both think that the status quo represents a mistake and a lost opportunity by CC. As a result, we have written a position statement that tries to explain the issues simply, make a case for parallel distribution, and answer some of the criticism that has been leveled against the idea.

Prompted by conversations with hackers from Debian (myself included), CC lawyers recommend new "parallel distribution" language at the beginning of the CC 3.0 license revision process as a way to fix unanticipated effects of the current CC anti-DRM clause. Immediate negative reactions by a number of people demoted the language to an issue for debate. While the resulting debate has been both lengthy and heated, it has not involved more than a small handful of voices or led to any firm decisions. Time is running out for the drafts of CC’s 3.0 licenses and unless something changes, the status quo — no parallel distribution — will remain. As a result, it’s extremely important that users of CC licenses try to familiarize themselves with the issue and to make their voice heard.

James and I feel the lack of a parallel distribution language in the CC licenses represents a failure by CC to live up to its own ideals and to do what is in the best interest of the users of CC licenses. Please read our position statement, pass the link and article around to others, and make yourself heard either on the cc-licenses list by emailing or by posting a response on the comments page in my wiki.

Finally, as a Debian developer, it’s important for me to say that I do not think that the lack of parallel distribution makes the CC licenses non-free under the DFSG — especially in light of the recent general resolution on the GFDL which deemed the GFDL, which contains language that is extremely similar to the current CC text, DFSG free. CC should use parallel distribution language because it is the right thing to do for the free culture movement and for the users of CC works and not because it will have any effect on the inclusion of CC BY and BY-SA works in Debian.

You can find the position statement at:

Dare to DReaM?

I went to a talk today by Sun scientist Susan Landau on Sun’s DReaM/Open Media Commons DRM system that I’ve mentioned in the past. Landau used a variant of these slides to do a rough overview of the Sun system and the problems that it is trying to solve.

Halfway through her talk, Landau showed a slide titled, "Users Matter: Creative Commons." Elaborating, Landau mentioned that she had been talking to a number of people — both at CC and outside — about the possibility of using DReaM to enforce the terms of CC licenses.

I interrupted Landau to point out that CC licenses had an anti-DRM clause that, as far I knew, would make her system unusable on CC content. The CC anti-DRM clause, plus the resistance of the CC and iCommons community to accept parallel distribution language, are why it’s impossible to play CC-licensed works on an unmodified PlayStation or XBox (these systems only play signed disks) — even if you include an unencumbered copy alongside! Landau reassured me that I must be mistaken and that she had talked about DReaM in depth with CC leadership, lawyers, and technical advisory board members and she was sure her system was at least possible. Puzzled, I shut up.

For most of the rest of her talk, Landau talked about fair use and how a DRM system might go about respecting it. In his qualified endorsement of the DRM system, Lessig mentioned that DReaM, "would be implemented to allow individuals to assert ‘fair use,’ and unlock DRM’d content, with a tag to trace misuse." At the time, I had a hard time imagining how fair use could be built into such a system — separating fair from unfair use is remarkably resistant to technical solutions. Even bright light cases like verbatim copies every page of the Encyclopedia Britannica might be fair use if I were to make them into a paper mâché bust of Johann Gutenburg or use them to wallpaper a gallery wall.

Landau’s acknowledged the trickiness around fair use and suggested a compromise:

By default, works might be encumbered in the ways and to the degrees that the copyright holder wish. However, users could petition for an unencumbered "fair use copy" by identifying themselves and then checking some boxes and explaining (briefly) why they think their use for the work qualifies as fair. Once they’ve done this, the system would present the user with an unencumbered, watermarked, and fully traceable piece of media.

Conceivably, requests would be subject to some sort of review (at the very least to prevent automated requests) and non-fair uses of watermarked goods would be strictly tracked. If a "fair use" copy is found in the wild, the watermark would be traced and the originator would be held liable. Of course, anonymous fair use becomes impossible but, as Simson Garfinkel pointed out at Landau’s talk, users may have a right to anonymous speech and to fair use but not to anonymous fair use. "Fair" enough.

It is perhaps important to point out that DReaM does not currently implement this "fair use" system and that, one can only assume, the vast majority of DReaM users (e.g., Hollywood movie studios and their ilk) would have no little interest in giving their users a blanket ability to make "fair use copies" and would in most cases choose not to enable such an option.

But let’s return to the issue of DRM enforcement of CC license terms. While I was initially quite confused by the idea of DRM enforcement of CC license terms, it made much more sense when I looked at the CC anti-DRM clause itself:

You may not distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform the Work with any technological measures that control access or use of the Work in a manner inconsistent with the terms of this License Agreement.

The emphasis (mine) points to the crux of the issue. The CC anti-DRM clause only blocks technological measures that overstep the boundaries set in the rest of the licensee. For the free licenses, that’s a wide boundary that leaves little room for DRM. But as I’ve pointed out before, CC is a lot more than just free licenses.

Landau mentioned that her group was primarily interested in using the DReaM system to enforce attribution and non-derivative work clauses in CC licenses — a wise choice as non-commercial use is hard enough for humans to discern. As a result, the DReaM system might be used to make it impossible to remove attribution from CC works or might block modification to works marked as "ND." The catch that led me to believe that CC license blocked all DRM was the fact that I didn’t think it would be possible for a DRM system to respect fair use. After all, each CC license includes an explicit affirmation that, "nothing in this license is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use."

The question that the possibility of a CC DRM scheme like DReaM hangs on is: to what degree does Landau’s suggestion live up to the fair use legal bargain?

Landau pointed out that a number of lawyers including Pam Samuelson and CC’s technical advisory board and legal staff have been generally positive about her fair use permission-asking compromise. Honestly and on CC’s own terms, it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t be. The loss of anonymous fair use was only ever a right we enjoyed by a fortunate accident. Watermarks are only there to "keep honest people honest." If you are not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

But DReaM enforcement of CC licenses is a bad thing and the bad taste that it inevitably leaves in many commoners mouths is not hard to explain:

  • Many commoners are not comfortable with the idea of DRM because it shifts power over users’ computing devices away from the users and makes computers obey the will of a copyright holder. That’s true of DReaM just as much as as it is of Apple iTunes or Microsoft DRM.
  • Many commoners are not completely comfortable with all CC licenses, so the idea of technical protection measures enforcing these terms, even those allowing for fair use lines and in line with the will of the author, is seen as dangerous.

To solve the first issue, CC needs a more strongly worded anti-DRM clause — ideally one tied to a parallel distribution clause. To solve the second, we will ultimately need a new banner under which only truly free cultural works will reside.

Susan Landau doesn’t have it easy but she does seem to have the genuine best interest of consumers and users at heart. That’s more than I can say about the vast majority of people in the DRM business. She’s trying to walk a fine line and she’s almost certainly being abused and heckled by folks in the industry who call her "communist" and by folks like me who feel that she’s sacrificing essential principles in an attempt to compromise. The one thing we all agree on is that the ground she’s treading is mine field.

Yet while I sympathize with her, I must speak out against both her and DReaM. A DRM compromise at this stage would be insanity. This is a fight we have to win.

I ♥ MIT Libraries

There are many things at MIT that I find I want to distance myself from (e.g., much of the military related research). Recently though, the MIT Libraries have been giving me a number of reasons to be proud to be an MIT graduate student.

MIT has taken the brave step of the being one of the first major research universities to throw a stone at the publishers in the whole Open Access, scholarly publishing debate. The libraries have put up a bunch of information on open access issues and have created a copyright amendment form for all scholarly publication that will allow the institute and its authors to retain copyright over their work for publication in the institute archives, on the author’s website, or even in an open access repository like PubMed Central. More importantly, MIT Libraries are offering to do all of the negotiation with the publishers on behalf of the authors. When it is MIT as a whole, and not just the one graduate student, post-doc, or professor on their own, it puts the authors in a much stronger to retain the openness of their work. It’s not victory, but it’s an important and essential step toward open access for scholarly publishing.

But that’s not it! The libraries have also recently stood up to Hoover’s Online’s attempt to hold the libraries responsible for, "activity Hoovers deemed — or even suspected — was fraudulent." When Hoover’s gave the libraries the choice of saying yes to a set of unreasonable terms or walking away from an important research tool, MIT Libraries made the difficult but correct choice and walked away. Making a choice like that will surely get the libraries a lot of flak from MIT scholars who use Hoover’s. But MIT made the right decision by standing up for their principles.

The effect of large, powerful institution like MIT is usually to maintain the status quo. There’s clearly a lot of external pressure from funders, politicians, etc. and internal pressure from academics and students who are doing well by the current system. MIT Libraries are using their power to make the whole system better and I haven’t ever been as proud to be an MIT student.

Liberate Your iPod

I had the idea for an iPod liberation event several months ago. The idea is something similar to a GNU/Linux install-fest but for Digital Audio Players with RockBox and iPodLinux. Installers gain the ability to play Vorbis and FLAC (among many other things) and lose the ability to do DRM. I would never recommend buying an iPod but we need to face the fact that there are millions of these things now. A good reinstall with a free and open platform seems like a good start.

With the help of Harvard Free Culture, Defective By Design, and Computing Counter-Culture (my recently renamed research group at the MIT Media Lab), I’ve finally got around to organizing an event.

If you’re in the Cambridge/Boston area this Friday evening (October 6) and want to liberate your iPod, you should read the details and show up. If you’ve already liberated your iPod and would like to help others with theirs, you should bring a laptop and get there a bit early.

More information is available on the Harvard Free Culture website.

Working in Concert

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the Creative Commons Concert in New York City last weekend. All proceeds for the concert went to Creative Commons.

Now I may be wrong about this and will happily stand corrected if I am, but, as far as I can tell, none of the artists performing at the benefit have ever released an album or a major piece of work under a Creative Commons license — even the restrictive and non-free licenses.

The free culture movement needs some things more than money. For example, it needs high quality creative works under permissive licenses. We’d be better off with the good press associated with one hit single under a CC BY-SA license than all of the proceeds of a benefit like Friday’s. It might also be nice to highlight the great work being done by artists who are risking more secure economic models in favor of releasing their works under free licenses.

Or perhaps this reminds us of another important conversation: Why are many popular musicians who are willing to support CC unwilling or unable to use the licenses? More importantly, how are we going to change this?

Who Gets to Define Freedom?

Recently, I had an opportunity to publicly discuss my projects around definitions of freedom for creative work with Lawrence Lessig at a workshop at Wizards of OS. In particular, we talked about my article Toward a Standard of Freedom in which I advance a call for a list of essential freedoms, a definition of free culture or content, and a goal around which a social movement for free creative works can be based.

At WOS, Lessig and I agreed that its likely that, eventually, some standard (or standards) of freedom will take hold. Like me, Lessig seems to think that this is a good thing. We both agree that there will be, and should be, competing definitions of freedom, competing social movements, and a long conversation about what essential freedom really to creative works is before we get there.

Our most fundamental differences seem to stem from a disagreement about who gets to define freedom or, perhaps more precisely, who the communities of producers should listen to in order to find out what essential freedoms in the domain of different types of creative works are.

Lessig is extremely reticent to make any claims about what essential freedoms might be: he does not want to speak for creative communities that he does not intimately understand. While he seems to be suspect of any project making normative claims in this regard, he disagrees most strongly with projects like mine that offer definitions of free content and expressions that are intended to be applied broadly and outside of the explicit domain of the definition’s initiators recognized experience (in our case, online encyclopedias and software).

Lessig explained that he trusts musicians — and in particular, Gilberto Gil, the progenitor of the CC Sampling license — when it comes to defining essential freedoms for music. Similarly, he trusts programmers — and in particular, Richard Stallman — when it comes to defining essential freedom for software. Since Richard and I are less accomplished, less well known, and less experienced musicians, Lessig feels most comfortable erring in favor of Gil where there’s a disagreement between us about the scope of essential freedom for music. While his is a convincing argument, I disagree with Lessig’s position for a series of reasons I’ll try to discuss here.

First, it is important to remember that Gilberto Gil does not represent all musicians. There are many artists and musicians who support my definition. There are many (and probably more if the CC license usage statistics are any indication) who support Gil’s lower base-line. It’s worth remembering that, even though we disagree, both Gil and I are offering controversial and extreme positions. Today, most creators think that giving away their work at no cost, even non-commercially and barring derivatives, is crazy.

To illustrate why this is not a problem, we can look again to free software. In the free software community, we see that Richard Stallman does not speak for the programming community at large when it comes to defining essential freedoms to code. In the mid-eighties, Stallman spoke for himself and a tiny handful of like-minded others. Today he speaks for many more but it’s still a tiny fraction of all programmers. It’s hard to remember when you’re down in the trenches but the idea that software should be free remains a marginal and kooky idea to this day. Due to the hard work of the free software movement, many people have adopted Stallman’s definition of essential freedom for software and many more will. But it is not mainstream and it didn’t get here by being so.

Setting an ethical standard and a goal for a social movement should not be about being popular. It should be about describing an ideal. It should be about standing up to injustice. It should be about answering the question, "what sort of world do I want to live in?" Not only is this process not a popularity contest, it will, in all likelihood, stand to make one very unpopular.

Being respected or seen as an expert within a field will help with the adoption of one’s ideal. Programmers trusted Richards Stallman because he’d written large parts of the very popular programming tools like GNU Emacs and GCC. However, it wasn’t from his experience in programming that this insight into the importance of software freedom stemmed. It was from his desire to be a good, ethical, neighbor and member of a technical community. To this day, most great programmers continue to disagree with Richard.

Second, I’m interested not only in talking about the ability of authors to choose how their works are used but in the rights of readers. You don’t need to have a platinum album under your belt to have an informed and important opinion about how music should be heard, experienced and distributed. Lessig’s current push for a "Read-Write Culture" is very fixated on creators and re-mixers. That’s only one important piece of the community that frames and deals with this problem.

Third, while I agree with Lessig that discussions around definitions of free culture must happen separately in each separate artist community, I see several compelling reasons why a single definition of freedom may be a very good idea both tactically and philosophically. For example, it provides a common rallying cry around which different creative groups can collaborate and it mirrors the common treatment of different types of works in current IP systems. More importantly, there are fundamental similarities between information goods and the way they are created, distributed, and consumed on computers and in digital networks. I’ve highlighted this before in quoting Eben Moglen on the ethics of creating artificial scarcity in goods with zero marginal cost.

As a final note, it’s worth stating that one doesn’t need to feel that all works should be free to support a definition of freedom. Richard Stallman provides a great example of this. Stallman doesn’t think that works of opinion or works that are designed primarily to entertain need to be free. However, he does believe that the term "free" should refer to a fixed set of freedoms so that he can take such a position. Without a definition of "free," a position on what should or should not be "free" is impossible.

I believe that freedom to distribute and produce information goods like art and content and software are embedded in a set of freedoms and rights for both the producers and consumers. I think that to some degree (and quite probably a less extensive degree), Lessig agrees with this. Unlike Lessig, I don’t believe that one needs extensive expertise in the creation of a particular type of creative good to make true statements about what is ethical or unethical in the production, distribution, and control of it. To use admittedly extreme analogies, you don’t need to be a slave owner (or slave for that matter) to say that slavery is wrong. You don’t need to be a farmer to make arguments against or in favor of vegetarianism or in favor of free range animals. I don’t believe you have to be a technologist to c
laim that certain freedoms to technology are essential. I don’t believe that you need to be an musician (successful or not) to make claims about essential rights to music.

I welcomed the conversations and challenges that Lessig offered and it was encouraging to see agreement on the process of discussion and debate going forward. After the workshop, Lessig suggested that we continue the conversation. I look forward to doing just this in other venues and in other ways.