July 25, 2005 · Sid Srivastava
Hey, I’m Sid Srivastava, a rising senior at Columbia University, currently in the process of setting up a FreeCulture.org chapter at my school. I look forward to good discussion about the free culture movement in campus settings and other educational environments.
One of the challenges of spreading free culture, at least among college students, is convincing them they can still participate in the movement even if they aren’t artists, hackers, or copyright nerds. I’ve talked to a number of students who seem interested in the ideals of free culture but, for whatever reason, aren’t compelled enough to get involved directly.
So how do you encourage participation without appearing too forceful? One way of addressing this issue is to incorporate free culture into some of the existing extracurricular activities and volunteer efforts on campus — essentially raising awareness by appealing to individual interests. At my school (and across most college campuses) there is an active interest in volunteerism and a general willingness to help others, both of which could be harnessed for free culture-related activities.
For example, a group that gives health presentations could distribute its packets and presentation materials under Creative Commons licenses, providing health educators elsewhere with new content and ideas. Or, perhaps, students interested in helping the blind and disabled could make recordings of Project Gutenberg texts and release those recordings, gratis, into the community. With a little bit of creativity and ingenuity, a college activity can easily include at least some element of free culture.
Of course, it’s also important for the people involved in these types of projects to realize why the free culture tie-in is relevant. In the case of the first example, open access to curricula will likely encourage the formation of other health education programs, a necessity in places like New York City, where there are only 196 health educators for 1.1 million students. And with the public domain texts provided by Project Gutenberg, there are no sticky legal ramifications or copyright issues that could get in the way of mass-producing spoken-text CDs for the people who could use them the most. The free culture movement may have been born out of copyright considerations, but its implications extend well into the domain of the socially conscious.
Given that this meshing of worlds offers so much potential, what are some other projects and ideas that connect free culture with student interests? Besides social activism, what areas involving students could benefit from free culture ideals?