Aymeric Mansoux on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 06:06:16 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> a free letter to cultural institutions


"özgür k." said :

> i find free art license of the copyleft attiude very important since
> it is (AFAIK) the first and consistent implementation of the free
> software ideas to the field of culture. 

Small nitpicking footnote here: the LAL/FAL is certainly an important
turning point in the proto free culture history, but it is not the first
articulated transposition of free software practices to the making and
distribution of non-software art. The very notion of art libre and free
art license was actually coined in 1998 by Mirko Vidovic, which
eventually led, with ongoing discussions with Stallman, to the GNUArt
project. Before that, in 1997, Michael Stutz wrote about the validity of
the GPL for non-software cultural expressions, including art, and to my
knowledge was the first to publish in 1994 non software artworks with
this particular license.

What I find fascinating with this 90s free culture Pangaea, is that we
can already witness some cracks that will lead to the ideological drifts
that can be so confusing today. In this particular case, Stutz
considered the free software movement fitting, in his own words, the
free, apolotical and democratic nature of the internetworked digital
world, while Vidovic really had a Popperian understanding of free
software as a liberal tool against authoritarianism and totalitarianism,
whereas Copyleft Attitude, the group behind the LAL/FAL, pushed forward
the idea of copyleft as a shared and collective freedom against
liberalism, that will spread the French idea of "gauche d'auteur".

(additional shameless footnote to the nitpicking footnote: for those
interested in this topic, I'm currently revising for Hz journal an old
paper that was posted here some years ago, and that develops further the
points above) 

> [...]
> in fact before the role of the cultural institutions, fc is the
> responsibility of the artists. 
> [...]

I think this is the most important point and as you mention, would be
very welcome in a cultural scene that is increasingly embracing some
free culturish aspects, yet bypasses entirely the dogfooding stage.

However, I am worried that forcing or strongly encouraging cultural
institutions who have no genuine link with free culture, may only worsen
this situation. Florian already mentioned the problem of stepping inside
the artistic territory of one's practice, and also the problem that
simply put, not all works can be produced as free culture, but there is
also another issue. By force feeding free culture to cultural
institutions who have no real motivation to do so, there is a risk that
this will be adopted only superficially. And this is what can be
witnessed today in the fashionable espousing of open source this, open
source that nonsense, or the release of trivial material under random
licenses, or the opening of a non-business threatening component, like a
website or context specific software, etc, and the overblown polished
marketing that usually come with these liberation of ... well nothing
really. This situation feeds back in turn a plethora of equally
superficial and fashionable free culture criticism that is blinded by
this opportunistic appropriation, and is enable to see that beyond it,
there are still a lot of amazing and genuine free cultural efforts to
empower communities and critically reflect upon the locking down of
diverse cultural practices.

Even worse, this is only serving institutions and groups which are
solely focussing on the lobbying of openness and produces or support
nothing concrete, with the rare exception of things that might fit a
particular agenda. In the recent years such groups have been blooming,
while the cultural institutions, collectives and groups who have
actually been more humbly producing free culture (defined or not) have
been dropping like flies and can barely find today sustainable resources
on the territory they helped founding. It is not my intention here to
paint a dramatic landscape so we can all feel sorry and how unfair the
system is (damn you system whatever you are!), instead I believe that
this should be a clear sign that it's time to move on. Free culture has
been fun while it lasted, now it's dead. Or more precisely it has been
zombified, and therefore will probably stick around some more for a
while, a bit confused as what to do, where to go and what to eat. This
is reaching this point because free culture has not been able to
redefine the intellectual property concepts it relied upon. Instead, it
manipulated an existing legal apparatus in an unexpected, disruptive
some might dare say, as best exemplified with the copyleft mechanism. So
in the end it used the exact same bricks and mortar as the system it
tried to circumvent, not realising that it would eventually quarantine
itself with all sorts of ... brick walls, leading today to a situation
where most discussions on free culture have been reduced to licensing,
which in this case is really about discussing which paint colour to
apply on all these walls, and convincing those outside of the walled
garden to join and check out how cool this painting job is.

In the end, free culture has been an essential step and great
opportunity to sync all sorts of individuals, groups and communities who
would probably not have connected with each others, and maybe the
recruiting loop needs now to transit towards something else more
effective, maybe for instance in the area of copyright reform while at
the same time keep on making tools that punches holes into walls and not
just prettify them.


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