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It's been said that information wants to be free. Now some folks are saying culture wants to be free, too. And they're building a grassroots organization throughout the nation's campuses to advance that idea. FreeCulture.org, founded by Swarthmore students Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith, is advancing its mission to unfetter culture by supporting projects such as promoting the use of open-source software and encouraging
student artists to adopt relaxed licensing agreements for their creations.
As co-founder of Free Culture.org, I'd like to express my appreciation for John P. Mello's Nov. 12 article ("Free Culture Fest Targets Copyright
Restrictions"). The article accurately captures the exciting momentum of the Free Culture movement, which now encompasses chapters at more than a dozen colleges and universities.
However, there is an important point to be clarified. IT analyst Jarad Carleton is quoted as saying that "[I]f a lot of young people are concerned about being fed homogenized culture on the TV and radio, perhaps they need to get off the couch, start interacting with other creative people they are going to school with and come up with some original ideas of their own...."
He's exactly right. But he's also wrong, if he assumes we're not already doing that. In fact, it's spelled out in Free Culture.org's manifesto: "We believe that culture is a two-way affair, about participation, not merely consumption."
In other words, we don't just want to break up oligopolies, we want to create the technology and culture necessary for everyone to become an active participant. We want everyone to have their own digital printing press, and to be free to interact with and comment upon and remix the media around us. (That's why we've launched creative contests like Undeadart.org.)
Whining about the stupidity of mainstream media is not what Free Culture is about. Frankly, we're disturbed when people are referred to as "consumers" rather than citizens. We don't like the implication that what we are fighting for is merely the right to consume as we like, rather than the ability to be active participants in a democratic society.
Most of all, we're concerned by dangerous assumptions that creativity can occur in isolation. For example, Carleton says students should "come up with some original ideas of their own, and stop complaining about the lack of creative vision by copyright holders." He's right that we shouldn't rely on corporate media for creative vision. But if he thinks that creativity would be possible in a world where you are not free to write about or comment upon the world around you, then he is committing a fatal error. Indeed, if we cannot comment upon the culture around us, then we are effectively muzzled.
That's why Free Culture.org is fighting for freedom, not a free lunch.
Thanks for your part in facilitating this discussion.