Thoughts on reviving the Free Culture Foundation
I wrote this on the free culture discuss mailing list, in response to Erik’s proposal to revive the FCF.
Thank you for raising this Erik, there’s clearly and rightly a great deal of interest in this.
Over the past few years, I’ve been on-and-off-again enthusiastic about various free culture projects, and I wanted to reflect on them. I hope it helps, and I certainly want to be involved in whatever emerges from this discussion.
Probably my biggest contribution to the free culture movement is the Free and Open Works! wiki, which collects and catalogues hundreds of free cultural works.
I’ve been disappointed in the lack of reception the wiki has received. I really did try my best to make it intuitive and quick to add content, but basically none has been added by anyone other than myself. It’s also entirely free software, which people also gave as a reason why they didn’t contribute to its predecessor, the FOSsil Bank.
A catalogue of free and open content seemed like such a necessary and useful thing to me that when I realised it wasn’t of interest to others, I was demoralised.
I also felt a bit let down by some the other organisations in the movements, who didn’t respond to my inquiries and approaches and didn’t do anything to strengthen my signal.
These days I’ve been involved in an open source software project, Tuxemon, which I find more immediately rewarding.
Perfect the enemy of the good
One of the things I found challenging was deciding how pure to be. I thought a good compromise would be to have everything on Facebook and Twitter mirrored on FLOSS equivalents. However, I couldn’t find any automatic way to do that, and it is a pain to do it manually. As far as I can tell, the people who found it important to have non-proprietary alternatives didn’t actually use any of the non-proprietary alternatives I provided.
I don’t think we should ever compromise on our definition of what qualifies as free and open, but I think we should be prepared to compromise on basically everything else.
From the times in the past that I’ve thought about what the free culture movement could do, I arrived at the following:
- Protect people within the current legal system. EFF does this by fighting dubious copyright and patent claims.
- Reform the legal system by pushing for IP minimalism.
- Encourage the creation and use of free cultural works, by providing platforms for sales, coordinating the creation and sharing of these works, and informing people about their benefits
- Related projects, like net neutrality, free speech, privacy, etc.
A core of enthusiastic people could also act as a ginger group, providing much needed support and enthusiasm to projects from other organisations.
When I started out in the free and open movements, I knew nothing about software, programming, code, etc. I’m a little better now, but not by much. I get worried when suggested projects for a revived FCF are all software based - we’re immediately cutting out most of our potential audience, and cannibalising our neighbouring FSF at the same time!
That’s not to fault Kyra’s suggestions, in particular I absolutely think that MediaGoblin needs some loving because there’s no open source Flickr/DeviantArt/YouTube killer out there at the moment. (I sometimes fantasise about a database of all works yet created, including details of who contributed to them and how they are connected to one another, and with excellent metadata).
But I think we should plan for multiple projects that don’t need programming as well.
One I’ve been thinking about recently is a project to create a catalogue of free and open licensed cartoon monsters. If you do some poking around the “fakemon” community (fake Pokemon), you’ll find literally tens of thousands of designs, many of them excellent, that have been placed on the net free of cost. Some, perhaps most, of these creators could get behind a “Freemon” project to create a collection of quality free and open monsters for use in games, fan fic, etc.
The same model could be used for catalogues of high quality art, sound effects, story prompts, random idea generators, etc.
Another idea I’ve toyed with for some time is “libraries”, which would be simple, targeted sites that would recommend quality free and open books, tabletop games, computer games, audiobooks, music, etc. Anyone could participate in putting these together, and they would not be complicated in design.
The final one is a “free culture fund”, that people could pay into monthly, and that would support a variety of high quality free and open projects. The people running the fund would do the coordination, the bargaining and the evaluation, and distribute what had been funded to everyone who’d paid into the fund (and, later, it would be put for free online as well).
As well as long-term projects, I’ve had ideas for short-term campaigns that I thought I might as well put here:
- I’m a Pirate! People would upload a photo of themselves holding a sign saying what they pirated and why. To humanise unauthorised copiers, to demonstrate the absurdity of the copyright system, and to embolden pirates. You could also publish examples of where famous people have admitted to copyright infringement.
- Go Free for Me. Get fans to write to creators they support and admire, asking them to put a work under a free and open licence.
Anyway, sorry that that is a bit of an information and emotion dump. I guess in short: I’m excited and I think this is important, but there are a lot of pitfalls to consider.