Singpolyma

Archive of "Free Culture"

Archive for the "Free Culture" Category

Thoughts After #ccsummit

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This year I again attended the Creative Commons Global Summit. There were many great sessions and participants both last year and this year, but I’ve had this growing feeling I can’t shake.

My emotions were best summed up by a conversation I had with a friend just after the conference had ended. “How was your conference?” he asked. “Oh, it was good.” I replied. “Lots of Free Culture?” he asked. There was an awkward pause, “Uh… not really.” “Yeah,” he said, “Free Culture is dead. We lost.”

That’s not to say the the causes of Libraries, Museums, Open Access, Open Science, and Open Data are not good. It’s not to say the conference wasn’t full of many noble things that I support. But Free Culture is just not on anyone’s agenda.

I’ve been saying for awhile that it seems like the Free Culture community has lost leadership and momentum, that there is no rally point, no meeting place. But the truth may be that this is just the symptom of having moved on.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the Free Culture movement was always born out of a desire to access *existing* cultural resources, and not to replace them. This means that Free Culture advocates are more likely to spend effort advocating for Fair Dealing / Fair Use, exceptions to copyright, and “balance” rather than promoting Free Culture artists and works. There has also just been more success with education. No work of Free Culture (unless you stretch to include Wikipedia) has had any mainstream cultural impact. The Open Access and OER movements by contrast are changing the face of education around the world. It’s also just a function of students and others who were heavily involved maturing and losing the free time they had to spend on movement activities.

But what could it mean for Free Culture to be “dead”? According to last year’s State of the Commons report, there are on the order of 780 million Free Culture works on the Internet, and the number is growing daily. The licenses are alive and well, and while this report may over-count some things (due to user error, etc, when marking the license of a work) it seems like there is a lot of Free Culture out there. I think, however, that the movement has stalled. Free Culture is just an option in a dropdown on a hosting platform now.

Some might see this as a sign of success. At one point, no one had heard of Free Culture or Creative Commons, now many major hosting platforms offer the licenses as an option. I think it depends on what you see as the goal, and what you think of as success.

For me, right now, short-term success is getting to the point where at least one body of Free Cultural work (needs to be more than a standalone work, probably, to have staying power) achieves mainstream cultural impact. Where I could mention this body of work to someone totally unrelated to the movement and they would have at least a halfway chance of having heard of it.

Awhile ago now the main Vlogbrothers channel went CC-BY. This is certainly a body of work with a reasonable amount of success, and so is very good progress in this area.

However, my favourite to support for this remains Pepper & Carrot a born-free, community-supported webcomic by David Revoy. Revoy is a Free Culture and Free Software supported, and he really seems to understand why this sort of thing is necessary, and how to go about it. He not only embraces, but encourages and promotes all kinds of derivative works both non-commercial and commercial in nature. I think this may be a real shot to have a somewhat-well-known, ongoing franchise with only loose central management. I will continue to do what I can, and continue to remain hopeful.

If you want to connect with like-minded Free Culture enthusiasts, I recommend joining the WIFO Forum.

Holiday Greeting Freedom

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This year I’ve been working on a new project for cultural freedom. I have adapted several freely-licensed characters and visual art for use on greeting cards. Starting with greeting cards targeting Christmas and the winter holidays generally my plan is to take orders throughout October so that cards can be printed and shipped to people in November (in plenty of time to mail them out to the intended recipients before December 25th!)

I have cards representing art from several different artists in the commons, including David Revoy’s Pepper & Carrot comic, Nina Paley’s Mimi and Eunice, Piti Yindee’s Wuffle, and the Blender Institute’s Caminandes (specifically the most recent wintery episode). This is a unique opportunity to support these artists and help Free Culture get more awareness.

Because this art is all found in the commons, I can produce these cards without needing any special contract with the original creators. No extra legal work or permission needed, I can produce these on the strength of the Creative Commons Attribution and Zero licenses of the sources. However, because I believe in supporting the work that enabled me, all revenue above expenses will be donated directly to the original creators (I’m not even keeping a cut for myself).

So hurry to get in your order, either with a greeting you like, or you can order a blank version if you prefer to write everything yourself.

Creative Freedom for Children Who Become Adults

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Our children are the most creative component of our society. They are the great remixers. They absorb the culture that they are surrounded by, and create their own pictures and stories and songs. We hang these on our fridge, or listen, or sing along. We’re all proud of our little creators.

Children love to remix because they love to imitate. Give a child a Mickey Mouse colouring book and soon they’ll be drawing Mickey too. Watch Frozen and hear new stories about Elsa and Anna for weeks to come. We don’t give this a second thought. Surely copyright concerns are for other people, maybe teenagers making electronic music and anime music videos. Copyright need not apply here, in our children’s crayons.

Sure, I’ve not yet heard of a lawsuit being brought over a small child’s drawings, but children grow up. I’d like to talk about what happens when they do.

My sister, for instance, has grown up, gotten married, and is looking hard at what she wants to do with her life. What she enjoys most is creating visual art. So when she started taking commissions for paintings, what do you think she wanted to paint? What do you think people wanted her to paint? Disney characters, of course, the characters that she and her clients were so close to as children.

You can see examples of this everywhere. YouTube, DeviantArt, and Etsy are full of Star Wars, Star Trek, Muppets, old Disney, and various other art based on old franchises. Teens make gifs and videos, adults make paintings and scarves, everyone makes art and everyone is inspired by the culture that they absorbed as children. Those crayon drawings that no one was ever going to sue over have become hobbies and passions and, sometimes, careers. Careers that can get you in a lot of trouble.

Could these people have been kept away from strongly-protected copyrighted media as children? No. Moreover, I’m not sure one would want to even try that. When they realize, however, the problems inherent in taking inspiration from locked-up culture, it is tempting suggest they simply draw inspiration from elsewhere. There are books, movies, songs, comics, and more either in the Public Domain, or available under Creative Commons licenses. Why not look there? Well, you cannot say to an artist “Oh, just make things with this instead.” That’s not how art works. Art comes from inspiration, and inspiration is not something you can “just swap out”. The issue for these creators is not that they have seen locked-up culture, it is that they have not been exposed to creatively free culture.

So, what can we do?

Give a Child a Story They Can Create With

There are stories and images in the world that are very child-friendly and also provide the creative freedom that will be so important as their desire to create matures. Some great examples include picture books available from Brothers Whim, a cute webcomic called Pepper & Carrot which recently got a printed book funded, and several animated shorts from the Blender Institute, many featuring characters and plots suitable for children.


I am also working in this area, creating a board book for young children using some of the Blender animated characters which you can currently back in crowdfunding.

These works, and others, can be part of the culture a child absorbs while growing up, becoming part of what inspires them later in life. When they find themselves confronted by the dilemma of being inspired by art that our society forbids them to be inspired by, there is a chance they will seize upon other images from their past. Ones they may reuse and remix to their heart’s content.

Free Culture for the Next Generation

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My life has been going through some transitions recently. My siblings are all married, and one recently had a baby. I got engaged. The sort of changes that get you thinking about the future. The sort of changes that get you thinking about what you want for your kids.

For quite some time now, I’ve been an advocate for digital freedoms, for free culture. I promote libre-licensed music, movies, video games, and books to my friends (and sometimes on the street). Jamendo is filled with pop and rock and metal and electronic music of all varieties. There are movies like Star Wreck and documentaries like RiP. So much work to use, share, and remix.

But when I watch my fiancé’s little cousins or my niece, I see Disney colouring books and wallpapers and toys and t-shirts filling their lives. When I go to shop for my niece, what do I get her? I can get her a stuffed baby GNU, but I quickly run out of options. There is no obvious source for libre characters appearing in colouring pages, activity books, or baby books. The Blender Institute has a few cartoons from which characters could be drawn, but little additional content (since their focus is to promote the Blender software).

It’s not that I think we can somehow fill the next generation’s lives with only libre content based on libre characters, and drive the Disney out. I’m not sure we even really want to do that. But I would like kids to be able to grow up loving at least one set of content that they can build on and be creative with as they grow older. Kids who have as a natural part of the cultural and artistic expression language at least one element they are actually allowed to make use of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The free culture movement is filled with parents and aunts and uncles who have probably been thinking about these issues even longer than I have. I cannot change this by myself, nor can a body of work spring up overnight, but I want to get something moving. After a long discussion with a friend, I decided the first thing to try would be a baby board book. In the spirit of free culture (and in the spirit of having a body of related work) I am not creating this book from scratch, but rather basing it on the excellent Big Buck Bunny. I have found a printing company in the USA that does an excellent job of smaller-run board book printing, taught myself all the tricks in Inkscape that I needed in order to produce a draft, and been in contact with Crowd Supply about what I need to get ready for a crowd funding effort.

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What I need now, is you. The crowd funding has not started yet, but if you are interested in helping this project move forward please register your email address on the prelaunch page. This gives me a much better idea of what sort of volume the final crowd funding (later this year) will be able to get, and gives the project some momentum right from the start (which is very important for any successful crowd funding).

What will the crowd funding include? Well, the full source files (in SVG) and an eBook version of the baby book will be made available to anyone who backs, and afterwards to the whole world if we’re successful, under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. The physical printed books themselves (printed in the USA) will be available to backers who pledge enough (final costs still being worked out). Other things (kid-size thirts? stickers?) may also be a part of this, so let me know if you have any really good ideas!

Also, if you are a Facebook user, you can also promote this campaign by sharing/liking the Facebook page.

I have put up a promo video for the book on YouTube and on Archive.org: