July 24, 2005  ·  Nelson Pavlosky

Hey folks, this is Nelson Pavlosky, co-founder and official figurehead/scapegoat of FreeCulture.org. I’d like to thank Larry for inviting myself and my colleagues to post on his blog; it’s an honor to share a stage with amazing people like Cass Sunstein and Jimbo Wales!

Everyone at FreeCulture.org (FC.o) wanted to be a guest blogger for Larry, of course. While we managed to select five of our best bloggers to represent the organization, this is still the largest number of people who have blogged for Lessig at once. Therefore, we’ve decided to stick to several common themes, in order to provide some continuity.

As I explained in a recent interview, FreeCulture.org was created to fill several gaps in the free culture movement, and we are unique in three ways:
(1) We are a student/youth organization, in a field where the youth have been conspicuous by their absence.
(2) We have a strong local, physical presence, while remaining distributed over a large geographical area. We have local chapters popping up at campuses across the United States, and soon around the world.
(3) We are a big tent organization, uniting many demographics and interest groups into a coherent movement.

These are all aspects in which the free culture movement has been deficient in the past, and I would like to take this week to explore how we can address these shortcomings in the future. How can we get the youth involved? How can we take free culture off the internet and into the streets? How can we take free culture mainstream, and make the movement relevant to people who may not be computer geeks or copyright nerds? Together, I trust that we can find some answers to these questions.

  • http://el-oso.net/blog oso

    I recently wrote a summary of the Free Culture movement in Latin America. I was wondering if there is any interaction between the people at FreeCulture.org and some of the people/organizations I mentioned in the post as well as those who commented on it.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “How can we take free culture mainstream, and make the movement relevant to people who may not be computer geeks or copyright nerds? Together, I trust that we can find some answers to these questions.”

    One possible answer – go find an old activist organizer, one who has actually deal with people who aren’t computer geeks or copyright nerds, and listen to him/her. DON’T take any advice from people commenting on this blog, with the exception of advice to go find someone who isn’t commenting on this blog. Because almost by definition, those commenting here are so deep within the geek/nerd culture (self not excluded!) that their advice won’t be helpful. It’s selecting for what the culture *thinks* is good advice, not what actually *is* good advice.

  • http://www.freeculture.org Elizabeth

    Oso– we do in fact have several students involved from Latin American countries and they are currently working on starting chapters. While we have not had direct involvement with organizations in the region, we do of course support and work with Creative Commons. I am actually planning on traveling to Brazil soon to work with CC and find out more about the FC movement there.

  • http://randmflex.blogspot.com Daywalker

    I am an Indian and am really interested in your Free Culture Movement. I would like to get more information regarding the above said. Could you get back to me.

  • http://www.tekstadventure.nl/branko/blog/ Branko Collin

    When you say that the youth are absent, I take it you mean absent in the political arena, right? I haven’t seen any shortage of young people in the areas of sharing and creating.

  • http://nelson.freeculture.org Nelson

    Yes, Branko, that is exactly what I mean. There are a lot of young programmers, artists, musicians etc., but they are not aware of many of the political dimensions of their work. One of the early formulations of our mission was to “make activists more geeky and geeks more active”, when we were more focused on the technology side of things.

  • Melody


    I think you’ve got the right idea – you need to take it off the internet and into the streets.

    1) Write guest op-eds in student papers across the country
    2) Come up with a viable definition for non-techies (student journalists, student politicos, student activists, student music-junkies, student-researchers) and explain how the movement pertains directly to them
    3) Use humor and real-life examples.

  • http://kornerpundit@blogspot.com Bill Korner

    I’d like to help advise Free Culture cause I’m sympathetic. But I have to express a few (perhaps ignorant) doubts about the mission (based on a reading of the manifesto):

    Decentralization is a good goal, but does not itself justify opposing intellectual property rights per se. Seems to me the problem with IP currently is largely that, because of centralization and attendant bargaining power (etc.), huge media companies (recording, etc.) are able to get the rights to artists IP on the cheap… exploiting those artists. That’s why I personally am attracted to free culture as I understand it.

    But I AM willing to pay for art IF the artists are getting enough of the proceeds. I want as many people as possible to be able to break into the middle class (including artists), but preferably without reinfocing (1) the increasing concentration of wealth and (2) a managerially dominated economy.

    So, as far as the price of culture goes, I want it to be free if the only alternative is the aforementioned reinforcing. But going in whole hog for free culture might be to some extent defeatist. Individualistic artistic expression as a means of making a bourgeois living should be encouraged as much as possible.

    I doubt that most free culture people will find much to disagree with here, but the manifesto leaves me wondering.

  • http://nelson.freeculture.org Nelson

    Bill, I’m not quite sure you understood our manifesto, and that may be our fault for not making things clearer. Where did you get the idea that we are against paying for art? I suppose the line “We will listen to free music, look at free art, watch free film, and read free books.” could be misinterpreted to mean “we will listen to music that we didn’t pay for.” However, clearly we mean Free, in the sense of free speech, free software, and free culture. Free culture does not mean unpaid culture, or even necessarily cheap culture (although I do sympathize with the cheap art manifesto). Free as in freedom, not as in free beer, folks. How many times do we have to say that? What is important in this context is the *freedom* to build upon the past.

  • Edna Sednitzer

    Students for the most part, already have a social network they belong to. They do not need to give it a name or organize it in an institutional way, that’s what the University or College they attend is for.

    My humble opinion is that, in order to get the Free Culture movement off the ground, it needs to open up to other areas of society. Why limit it to students? What about the contributions of those who do not have formal education but do have the willingness to participate and get organized? I suspect those who do not belong to institutions would find it more appealing, as it would be a chance to network and meet like minded individuals.

  • Bill Korner

    Nelson: I see and definately want free culture in your sense.

    I guess I was also struck by the manifesto’s dismissal of “intellectual property”. That was the real motivator for my comment… more than taking issue with “free as in not paid for”.

  • http://libertycorner.blogspot.com Tom

    Bill Korner refers to “the increasing concentration of wealth” as if wealth were a fixed quantity that an oligarchy has somehow stolen from the rest of us. Wealth is constantly created. Most of us get wealthier as we age, at least up until we retire, when we begin to live off our wealth. Some of us do better than others at becoming wealthy, but that’s the result of things like ambition, talent, and entrepreneurship, which are deployed in the making of goods and services valued by others and for which others willingly pay.

    Some may say, nevertheless, that those with huge incomes don’t “deserve” what they earn. If you’re of that belief, I suggest reading this and this.

    And if you’re concerned about the apparently skewed distribution of income in the U.S., read this and this, for example.

  • http://www.tekstadventure.nl/branko/blog/ Branko Collin

    Bill, you seem to think that artists are helpless creatures. They are not. The reason publishers exploit them, is because artists let them. Nobody forces a band to seek out a record deal. But the problem is this: most art sucks. The market for art where artists and publishers deal is a buyer’s market because of this. Every band thinks they are the next U2, and this is where the record companies derive their enormous power from.

    The alternative market where artists sell directly to their audience isn’t going to become bigger, because artists aren’t interested! Why sell ten CD’s at performances when you’re the next U2?

    You talk as if the market isn’t fair. But it is.

    The only alternative is some form in which artists get paid per use, through levies on bandwidth and disk space. Again, artists aren’t interested, or we would have this today, no matter how many bribes our representatives receive from the publishing industry.

  • http://lemi4.blogdrive.com Lemi4

    You talk as if the market isn’t fair. But it is.

    Forgive me, oh Person of Superior Intelect™; excuse my ignorance while I ask, is the free culture movement arguing the fairness of the market? Or about how the ‘fair’ market has taken away the right to reproduce culture so thoroughly that I can’t distribute anything freely without losing all rights to it?

    (I’m not even gonna begin debating how fair a market which made Britney Spears a multi-millionaire. Assuming we’re talking about the market for commercial pop music here, of course)

    I wish I could respond more intellectualy than this, but you must forgive me for having such a stunted brain. Feel free to flame me.

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    Whilst relative income may have increased across the board, it has increased relatively more if you’re on the board. Of a corporation.

    Where are the graphs comparing increases in blue collar and executive compensation since the 1950s? They’re much more fun.

    As for the idea of a fair market: markets aren’t meant to be fair, they are meant to be efficient. Or, if you look behind the curtain, they are meant to excuse rank unfairness by appealing to impersonal forces.

    If markets are fair, how come we get so much price fixing on media, and how come artists are so poorly compensated?

  • poptones

    Fairness in the market? Take it to the streets?

    I pulled this from the first link on this page – the summary of the fre culture movement in latin america…

    …He recently reported that the Mexican version of the RIAA – SOMEXFON – was planning an aggressive campaign of enforcing copyright royalties which included “the use of songs in establishments like restaurants, gymnasiums (including trainers who put on music), bars, hotels, commercial centers, hospitals, school dances, buses, urban transport, party halls, among others.” Arcos lists an example of prices which includes US $370 to listen to music at a party of more than 200 guests and US $1,650 a year to play music in a cafe. Then, pro-actively, he finds a Mexican senator in disagreement with SOMEXFON’s fees and encourages his readers to write the senator encouraging reform.

    This is what I was talking about in another post here about the naivete of the “free culturists.”

    As I said I am totally down with free culture. I am even considering moving to Brazil because I like so much of what I see from there.

    So don’t think for a minute I am some mole for the RIAA sent here on a mission of subversion when I say I totally support what this “RIAA like” organization is doing.

    Culture is a choice made by us all. It’s not something that is forced upon us, it’s something that we embrace in bits and pieces as it suits us. For example, the difference between what is being taught kids in schools now about government and commerce is very different than what we were taught when I was kid way back in the 1960′s. Does that mean these new corporate-centric teachings reflect my “culture?” Hell no!

    There is an alternative out there. In this case, Gilberto Gil should be all over this move – he should be organizing marches demanding these publishers more strongly enforce their copyrights.

    And, when the restaraunt operators and bar owners are faced with increasingly stiff fees they will seek other sources for this sort of material. And one of the venues they will surely find is in the “Free” markets where young bands desperately want to be heard and where young film makers want to be seen; a market where artists are hungry and courageous and competing for their chance to contribute to culture.

    If you want to take “free culture” to the streets you must give it a chance to compete. The old school doesn’t want to give away their goodies – so encourage them in their greed. Explain to Jorje Sixpack how strong copyright also protects his work from being unfairly exploited by those greedy publishers, and offer a compelling alternative. Let the greed of the old school become their undoing.

    Fostering a culture of entitlement is not going to help liberate anyone. Fostering “IP entitlement” in these still developing countries is just going to help culturally enslave them to Hollywood and Redmond.