July 26, 2005 · Gavin Baker
Howdy there: I’m Gavin Baker, a rising sophomore at the University of Florida and co-founder of the Free Culture group there. I hope this week will give Larry’s readers a chance to learn more about us, and prompt some valuable discussion.
I’m writing from an Internet café in Montréal, Québec, where I’m travelling and taking French at l’Université du Québec à Montréal. Besides the observations that naturally arise from contact with a foreign country and culture, I’ve also had the chance to meet some of Canada’s leaders in the free culture movement, about which I’ve written previously on the Free Culture blog (“Dispatch from the True North, Strong and Free”, “Vive la Culture Libre”).
FreeCulture.org calls itself “an international student movement,” but the claim is a bit tenuous: All our campus groups are based in the U.S., the organization is registered with a U.S. address, and most of our volunteers are in the U.S. This is not to minimize the role people outside the U.S. have played in building FC.o, nor our friends overseas, some of whom have said they’d like to plant the group in their countries — but we’re heavily American, and rather U.S.-centric.
FC.o has a long way to go in terms of the resources we can offer new start-ups, and even further when there’s a national, cultural, or language barrier to overcome. Canada, though, makes an appealing prospect for the second national Free Culture group, due to the long-standing ties between the two countries. When I return to the States, I’ll be taking some time to reach out to students in Canada interested in our work.
The question remains, however: What do we do when we get there? For instance, how should the presence of international groups affect our decision-making process? Should Canadians have a “vote,” so to speak, when determining American policy, and vice-versa? Can we divorce national and international affairs, and leave each country to pursue their own interests, while keeping a united front on international policies? Put simply, to what degree should the fates of groups in different countries be tied?
More generally, what does it mean to be “international” in the free culture arena?
What are the differences between the legal and cultural climate in the U.S. and other parts of the world? If individual issues translate differently across borders, how can we phrase an underlying philosophy that makes sense? Where do we look to find students and volunteers who are interested and knowledgeable about the issues? What can we do to lend assistance where it’s needed?
I believe that international cooperation is neccesary to address some of the problems in copyright, in particular: I’m no expert, but I get the impression that many of its uglier facets are set in stone via international treaties (e.g. WIPO) or come as pre-requisites for foreign aid. But much of free culture, per se, is distinctly national, regional, or local — so a “flexible federalism” with a coherent but open-ended philsophy is neccesary. Or am I wrong?
What do we need to know to operate across borders and in the international sphere? What structures do we need to do so? What differences should we expect? And how do we plant new local presences in unfamiliar soil?