Today, April 23rd, is the first anniversary of FreeCulture.org’s founding. We’ve come a long way over the past twelve months, from one chapter at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, to 9 active chapters around the country, and a growing presence both within and without the United States. Our birthday is receiving a decent amount of attention from our favorite free culture blogs, including BoingBoing, Copyfight, and Lawrence Lessig’s blog. Creative Commons has a surprise present for us apparently, which we await with eager anticipation. What could it be? When will it arrive? We can hardly stand the wait!
When we started the Swarthmore Coalition for the Digital Commons (now Free Culture Swarthmore), we didn’t know that it would be the first step towards building an international student movement. (Of course, we also didn’t expect to be sucked into a precedent-setting lawsuit involving an embarrassing/incriminating e-mail archive and a multinational corporation, but that’s another story.) Once we started the SCDC, we began looking around for other student groups to emulate or to band together with, and soon came to the frightening realization that we were completely alone in the world. No other student group like us existed on the World Wide Web, and given the importance of the internet to our movement, it seemed unlikely that there was one lurking offline. We had to face the fact that if we wanted a student movement for free culture, we’d have to build it ourselves. So we purchased the FreeCulture.org domain name, and we were off!
The road behind us
The journey began with our official launch at Swarthmore College, featuring Lawrence Lessig in a rousing speech to a packed room, where we made our first non-Swarthmore recruits, and began building an organization. At the planning meeting immediately after Lessig’s talk, we picked up Rebekah Baglini and Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock, who were destined to launch our first two chapters, at Bryn Mawr and Franklin & Marshall respectively. They have been driving forces behind our organization the whole time, attending conference calls religiously and helping to define FreeCulture.org as a voice of sanity and balance, based on solid principles and ideals, avoiding both extremisim and cynical opportunism. Thanks to them both for working hard to make things happen and keep the organization alive, through good times and bad times!
Also thanks to Lawrence Lessig for inspiring us, and for linking to our organization from the website for his book Free Culture, which produced a majority of our early recruits (since every student who is interested in these issues comes across Lessig’s work sooner or later).
Over the summer, we ran exciting and innovative campaigns such as Barbie in a Blender and Save the iPod, using the internet to reach people until we could return to campus and found local clubs. This all would have been impossible without the help of Downhill Battle, who provided us with webspace, technical expertise, and advice in our activist endeavors. This was when we found the resourceful Desirina Boskovich, who provided us with both vision and discipline throughout the summer and fall semester, and whom we will miss as she graduates and moves into the “real world”.
Upon returning to our campuses in the fall, we began launching local chapters, and becoming a real, physical organization, instead of a ghostly website-building club. Creative Commons, along with Public Knowledge and the EFF enough to send us lots of professionally printed stickers, buttons, and pamphlets to give out at our schools’ activity fairs, which made tabling much more exciting and effective. Thanks for the free propaganda! The Center for Social Media at American University was also kind enough to pay for two of our representatives to fly to Washington, DC to meet with our allies and related lobbyists, where they offered us a grant to help us get rolling.
In the spring, we worked on a number of successful campaigns including Blogshine Sunday and OrphanWorks.org, Downhill Battle’s Eyes on the Screen, and various local events related to the Grokster Supreme Court case. Colin Mutchler proved himself to be awesome, by organizing the Free Culture Tour, and traveling around the country to spread our message to schools from Texas to Tennessee to Temple University. Thanks Colin!
Where we are today
Interest remains high, and students interested in forming new local groups continue to contact us. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to give new groups the help they deserve; to remedy that is one of our top priorities for the summer.
We are also in the process of becoming able to accept tax-deductible donations. This should go a long way in allowing us to ensure we have adequate hosting, allow our students more opportunities to travel, and help our local groups.
Aside from our immediate goals, FreeCulture.org has a lot to do in our second year. Some of our higher priorities include:
- a clear mission statement
- some sort of basic constitution
- improvements to our website, backend, and internal tools
- a policy paper to give to legislators
- a campaign to support open access publishing
Along with some of our more general goals, such as:
- increased communication and coordination with other organizations, esp. with business community
- increased transparency
- increased internationalism (that is, a conscious attempt to be less U.S.-centric)
- strengthening campus groups
- increased definition of FC.o’s role, beliefs, and governance
- increased defintion of the autonomy and responsibilities of campus groups
- increased definition of the relationship between FC.o and campus groups
- improved internal communications
- increased opportunities for educational and professional enrichment for our members
We want your help. There are several ways to support FreeCulture.org:
- Your input – email us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Your expertise – Do you do graphic design? Can you translate into other languages? Do you write software? email us and we’ll tell you how you can get involved.
- Your promotion – Link to us. Tell a friend.
- Your financial support – Once we can accept donations, your gift would be most appreciated.
- Join or start a group at your school
Thanks to everyone for your help and support!
Addendum: I’d like to add my thanks and appreciation to Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith, co-founders; everyone who’s worked to form a campus group at their school; and all the wonderful folks who’ve helped us every step of the way. Thanks to your wonderful assistance, we’re working day by day in some of the most important, exciting debates of our time. The future will be freer thanks to your contributions. – Gavin Baker