Advancing Free Culture

(C) Copyright 2007 -- Benjamin Mako Hill
Distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License

Presentation on 2007-03-24 at Free Software Foundation Members Meeting


It seems clear that we need free cultural works, free knowledge, and free data to use on our free devices.

But how do we get there? What does that mean?

What is Free Culture?


2 minutes

So, we know what free software is because Richard, and the Debian project, and thousands of volunteers have told us. It's quite simple:

Freedoms 0-3: run, share, modify, collaborate

But what is free culture?

The free culture book says:

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)

Now I don't mean to pick on Lessig here. He's been an unfailing advocate of free software and has been instrumental in advancing the context in anyone will take a group like us having this conversation seriously. He's the reason I'm here.

So what is free culture?

Larry says: "the freedom to choose how a work is licensed."

Stop and think about that.

Free Software


6 minutes

Creative Commons says: "some rights reserved"

Now remember free software. Freedom's 0-3.

In other words: "essential rights are unreservable"

Where does this disconnect come from? After all:

And therein, perhaps, lies part of the disconnect.

The GPL is a great license, absolutely. But the GPL, like the software we write, is an instrument to create create and protect freedom. Not an ends within itself.

In some of the GPLv3 debate there's been a phrase spread around, by people here and by others and probably even by myself that says, "the GPL is the constitution of the free software movement."

Now, a constitution is not just a law. It is a law to which other laws at held. It sets the limits of what is and is not legal. A constitution lays out the principles.

The GPL does not do that. The FSD does.

Free software is not a law firm, if it is a social movement. Like freedom movements, we want freedom. We're Utopians.

In our utopia, everyone:

  1. Has the freedom to run their software for any purpose;
  2. We all know the drill ...

Eben tells us not to stop fighting until we're free. But that only makes sense because we know when we'll be free.

What's The Difference


11 minutes

As I mentioned earlier, free culture:

So, free culture is different than free software. What's the problem?

The results of not adopting a vision are that:

In short: legal and ethical incompatibilities and inconsistencies, no strong united push for maximizing freedom.

Remember Shareware?


15 minutes

Do people here remember shareware?

Where did it go?

We have been united by a clear, shared vision and goal around which a movement could be built. Even where don't agree on the reasons, we agree on the definitions (DFSG, Open Source Definition)

The result, ultimately, is more free software and more freedom. The fact that you're doing free software today and the fact that the movement succeeded is part of the reason that others looked to it for inspiration and started everything you see today.

Our Goal


18 minutes

So we want to build a social movement like the one that has brought us free software...

But, to do that, we need to know what freedom is. Where we are going. We need a definition.

Now, perhaps definition is a bad term. We really mean a goal. We need an idea of what that utopia is going to look like.

Through providing definitions, we seek to:

Of course, we also want a strong and symbiotic relationship with existing players including Creative Commons and

Who Gets To Define Free Culture


22 minutes

Who gets to decide what free culture is? Or who doesn't?

My answer (after thinking) is controversial: Anyone!

I've been interested in waiting for someone else. I edit Wikipedia a lot and I do art projects 3-4 times a year, but I don't speak for all artists.

But wait, do we (FSF members) speak for all software programmers?

It's not clear looking at this room but free software is still a pretty crazy idea. But 5 years ago, it was way crazier. There are more of us today than there were 5 years ago, and 10 years ago.

The point:

We're not right because we're popular or because most programmers agree.

We are are right because we have made a very an ethically correct argument that software must be free. Not even everyone believes it. And not everyone who uses free software believes it, but it's why.

Our Definition


27 minutes

So a small group of Wikipedian and hackers and artists and musicians (and a lawyer) decided put out something and have a discussion and argument about it. Our definition might not win but it's a good place to start.

Unsurprising, the Wikipedian suggested a wiki. :)

The conclusion, the Definition of Free Cultural Works, that we've come to argues that these are essential:

Sound familiar? It should.

Free cultural works must also:

Therefore the FCED encompasses existing definitions like Open Source/Free Software Definition.

The keys issues that we're not talking about in the definition involve:

Our History and The Future


32 minutes

Our work so far:

Things in progress (and ways you can help):

Things we need:


35 minutes