Free Software and Free Culture

Something I’ve been thinking about lately – what role should Free Software play in Free Culture?

Who am I? I’m Matt Lee – a comedian, comic book artist and author. I’m also a free software hacker.

Is Free Culture the combination of Free Art and Free Software and some other things? FreeCulture.org and the students of the United States have a golden opportunity to set an example here, by switching to using only Free Software.

A potentially controversial statement, and it should be clear that my views might not represent those of FreeCulture.org.

Some notes came out of the National Conference about Free Software and it was great to see the Free Software Foundation and Defective By Design represented.

Anyway, I thank Nelson and the FreeCulture.org gang for giving me the opportunity to post this. Give me your feedback by email – mattl at gnu dot org or find me on IRC – mattl.

Leave Yours +

7 Comments

  1. I think “Free Culture” is more broadly defined than just art and software, and applies to just about anything where information could be shared to become more useful to the world (scientific research, for instance). I also think that the Free Culture organization should build its infrastructure purely on open source software, if this is possible. It should be our nature to do so, and we can demonstrate that open source is sufficiently robust and usable, countering the FUD put out by lock-in vendors.

  2. Nelson Pavolsky

    I think free culture is about many things beyond free art and free software. The bottom line as we’ve said a number of times in the past is cultural participation: how can we help people play a more active role in the world around them? Clearly free software / open source is one important way to do that, by giving people power over their own computers and the ability to participate in any software project that interests them (among other things), and I think the consensus has been that we support free software. Indeed, our national website runs entirely on free software, as confirmed by the “virtual Richard Stallman” program. Our tagline in the early days of the organization was “free speech, free software, free culture”, although that was more intended to clarify the meaning of “free culture” rather than to claim that free software accounted for 1/3 of our activities.

    That said, there has been no consensus on to what extent we should promote free software to the exclusion of all else… must all students involved with FreeCulture.org run free software all the time? Our goal as an organization has been to be a “big tent” that all students interested in free culture can get involved with. Some of our students may be less interested in the free software side of things, and being dogmatic about free software would no doubt drive some people away. As the notes from the national conference workshop on free software imply, there is some debate over how important popularity is to the free software movement… is it more important to have lots of people using (some) free software (some of the time), or a smaller number of passionate free software activists? (Josh Sullivan of the FSF says, “It doesn’t matter, I would rather have 100k people that support the ideals vs. 500k people who use GNU/Linux because it is technically better — the 100k will support you in legislation, advocate to others, etc.”)

    I don’t think FreeCulture.org should take a side in that debate, but there is one thing that is clear: free culture is about many things aside from free software, and we have taken the position that it is better for our organization to have lots of students involved in lots of free culture issues than for us to have only a few students who are especially interested in any single issue, such as free software. Our purpose is not to push specific agendas, but to serve as a meeting place and organizing structure for students who are involved with our issues, without mandating that they be involved with all of our issues at once.

  3. I don’t think it’s something any of us can afford to ignore either – we’ve had instances in the past where even organisations like Creative Commons have posted content only in Flash format. These things are usually unintentional, but serve as a good example of why more people using purely free software can help strengthen the message of free culture.

    BinaryFreedom are making some inroads here, and the GNU Project have a list of Free Software Distributions, so you can make a start today.

  4. I don’t think it’s something any of us can afford to ignore either – we’ve had instances in the past where even organisations like Creative Commons have posted content only in Flash format. These things are usually unintentional, but serve as a good example of why more people using purely free software can help strengthen the message of free culture.

    BinaryFreedom are making some inroads here, and the GNU Project have a list of Free Software Distributions, so you can make a start today.

  5. Pingback: Exploring Freedom - Free Culture and Free Software

  6. Now you have made me wonder why I use free software.
    I thought I did it for the ideal but that might be some post justification.

    The first encounter I had was with Mambo CRM. When I was younger and more nieve, I intended to make a grand CRM/database/slicer/dicer to solve the problems of everyone in the world. But quickly found out… no wait, SLOWLY found out that making something usefull beyond limitation, is complex beyond limitation. Far too much for one person to achieve. So when I saw this CRM I was intriegued. About the same time I read an article on “A List Apart” about the concept of “one true layout” which discussed what the optimum website layout would be (or is).

    The open source CRM seemed to be related to this “one true layout”, but the CRM had been developed with production, implementation and workflow in mind, and the “one true layout” had been derived from a design perspective. Both converged into roughly what most people would recognise as a blog, including the frontend and backend.

    Shortly after being impressed with Mambo, I was told of OpenOffice. Opens MS Word documents? Isn’t MS Word? SOLD!

    At the time I was working in a government IT department. The first organisation I had been involved with which respected software licencing (and then suffered as a consequence). The advantages of a large non-profit organisation adopting a free software policy were obvious. Could it be done?

    I’d heard of a few goverment organisations around the world that had adopted or were going to adopt an open source software policy. There was a more interesting and obvious path of research to take though.
    Can I use ALL free software? I am a designer by trade- can I produce a website using only free software?

    To take it a bit further I decided to conduct the experiment on a 2nd had computer given to me for free.
    It was a steep learning curve, but very rewarding. I made the mistake of braging about the achievement to my housemates a bit too much before loosing access to my GUI, resulting in my having to ask if I could borrow their Windows machines to get help off the net.

    The whole process set be back about a year in productivity, but now I will never go back. I like being able to search for crazy software in a package manager and then finding out that it has been there for 5 years, then having it on my system with one click. I like that my software doesn’t crash. I like being able to have a chat over IRC with the programmers of GIMP who solve every shortcoming I can concieve of between it and Photoshop.

    When I was doing my design degree, my clasmates and I spent a lot of time sourcing copys of graphics applications. Now an open source equivalent exists for each of them, all on par with the originals that I was searching for 4 years ago. (I have not had experience with the flash alternative. I am looking towards SVG though.)
    What we previously needed to search for or pay thousands of dolars for… is now the base standard.

    The linux distribution Ubuntu 7.10 has solved many of the issues that held me up during my migration, by mounting windows drives as writeable automatically, and having great wireless support.
    Ubuntu studio, (like Dynebolic) is an entire preconfigured video, audio or graphics studio. If a student can test open source software in parallel, by booting off a USB disk into a system capable of recreating Toy Story… you don’t need to *make* them use open source software… they’re gonna lick that s#!% right off the table.

    Free culture sells itself and travels futher, faster. We don’t need to impose it on anyone. If we believe in what we’re doing then we should let our actions be transparent so that others may choose to adopt what we have learnt.

  7. Free software is an integral part of the future of culture in general. More and more indie numbers are turning to great products like OpenOffice, the gimp and Inkscape, and even os’ like ubuntu, opensuse, and fedora.

    I work in publishing, as well as software, and it’s amazing to see how easy KDE is to use for someone used to struggling with Windows. My open, free media project was made using 100% open source software, and would not have been possible without things like cpan.org, and the batik project.

  • Comments are Closed