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Why I Support Free Culture

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The free culture movement is a social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works, using the Internet as well as other media. Wikipedia

There are a number of things that get associated with the term “Free Culture” and a number of reasons people support them.  Let me start with what I do not support:

  • I do not support the rampant piracy of music, or the triumph over the RIAA through possible loopholes.
  • While current copyright laws and enforcement practices are counterproductive and unfair, I see this an a separate issue to Free Culture.
  • I do not support Free Culture just because I believe in Freedom (although I do).
  • I do not support “mix culture” that thrives on living just as close as they can to the Fair Dealings (/ Fair Use) lines just because they want to use the content without paying.

If these things, to me, are not Free Culture, then what is?

First, it’s been beaten to death but I must say it: libre is not gratis.  When I talk about Free Culture, I’m not talking about not paying for things.  A lot of Free Culture is available gratis, but also some is not: and I have been willing to pay / donate to even those that are available at no cost.

I support free culture because a harmonic culture is a strong culture. Let me expand on that.  Harmonics are those things which reinforce each other.  Musical melodies can be harmonic, and that is the most common context for the term.  A culture in which  The Backstreet Boys sing I Want it That Way is alright. Artists can create original works and distribute them. But a culture in which “Weird Al” Yankovic can then sing eBay reinforces itself.  Culture builds on culture.

Nothing new here, and many would point to the infringing mix culturists and say that’s what they’re trying to do.  But by mixing locked culture, often illigally they hurt the cause and their art form.  I support Free Culture not because I want to see more mixes, but because I want to see more things that can be mixed.  To me, that is free, no-strings-attached permission to build on your work.  If you make a song, I make a video.  You make a cartoon, I include it in a documentary.  It’s not the building on that is important, though, but having things to build on at all.

Some Free Culturists want to acheive this goal by making more lax copyright laws.  This is a fine goal, but is ultimately the wrong solution.  While having more Fair Dealings allowances and content entering the Public Domain faster gives us greater access to our culture – even more can be done by licensing works freely now.

The great benefit to this model is it helps artists who are creating work right now, not only to have a rich community to draw from, but also to market themselves at all.  In a traditional copyright model, everything hinges on expensive licenses, equiptment, and lawyers protecting it all.  If you open yourself up to unrelenting remixing, and business models that cut out the middle men (and this applies well outside of music) you can interact with the fans/consumers more directly and make as much or more money doing it.  All without selling your rights or giving someone else a chance to meddle in what you do best: being the artist.

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