Freedom Defined at the National Free Culture Conference

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

Presentation on May 26, 2007 at the National Free Culture Conference


These are talk notes. They are not a prepared paper or even a prepared talk. Please take care before quoting them and contact me to clarify any thing that is unclear.


Folks are talking about tactical things that we can learn from the free software community. It's true, of course, that free culture (the name, the ideas, the licenses, etc) are explicitly based on the free software movement.

I'm going to talk about some of the ways that they are differnet and what we might be able to do about this.

What is Free Culture

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 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.

Now remember free software. Freedom's 0-3: use, modify, copy, collaborate.

Creative Commons says: "some rights reserved"

Free Software says: "essential rights are unreservable"

Now, free culture is explicitly defined as based on free software so this seems starnge. We can understand this though by looking at the language of groups like CC who cite inspiration in 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.

What's The Difference

The results of not adopting a vision are that:

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


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.

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

Very much like the FSD.

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 work so far:

Things in progress (and ways you can help):

Things we need:

If there's time: Who gets to define freedom?