Archive:A seemingly simple question

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Nelson repeatedly fails to answer a simple question

The assignment was straightforward: respond to a reporter's questions by e-mail. Unfortunately, the first question took a few weeks and drafts upon drafts to answer adequately. This is the record of Nelson's frustration as he seeks to respond to this deceptively simple query:

> First, I think there’s been a lot of distortion of your movement by
> the mainstream media and it would help our readers if we could clear
> that up. What is the Free Culture movement? Why is it important?

Manifesto-based attempt

Our mission is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure for society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary one. Digital technology and the internet have the potential to empower citizens and their communities in new ways, and that's what's changing everything.

The impact of the internet and digital technology on our society is as dramatic as the development of the printing press in Europe, with similar effects. The popularization of the printing press forced a transition from a scribal culture, in which only a few people could read or write, to a world of mass literacy. Communications between people in far away places was enhanced as people became able to write letters to each other, communities came into being around the newspapers and periodicals that sprung up, independent pamphleteers like Thomas Paine could make their voices heard and start revolutions.

We are in an even more exciting transition stage today, we have high-bandwidth connections to people around the world at ridiculously low costs. A few days ago while riding in the car I picked up my cellphone and I called my friend's cellphone: I thought he was in Pennsylvania, but it turned out that he was in Michigan, even though his cellphone had a Pennsylvania area code; it didn't matter, nor did it matter that my cellphone with a New Jersey area code was actually located somewhere in Maryland at the time. 10 years ago the bill would have been atrocious, I couldn't have called him while the car was moving, and I probably wouldn't have known his Michigan phone number anyway. While we were on the phone, we discussed how easy it was to upload a video to sites such as Archive.org, where you can share your work with the rest of the world at no cost. 10 years ago uploading or downloading video over the internet was a ludicrous suggestion: you thought twice about downloading a picture over a 56k modem connection, it could take several minutes.

These new technologies are giving people the power to break out of the passive role that has been enforced by the technology of yesteryear: broadcast television helped create the couch potato. We could be so much more. We can break down the distinction between producer and consumer, broadcaster and receiver, observer and participant. The barriers to participation are fading away, but the vested interests, the giants of the past are doing their best to maintain the status quo, no matter what the costs are to our freedom and to the exciting possibilities that are opening up. Ironically, they are doing this by perverting the traditions that have guaranteed our freedoms, making dramatic changes to our laws that take us further and further from what the founding fathers envisioned.

In order to enable this grassroots change, we must prevent a different kind of change. In order to allow this promise of new freedom to come to fruition, we must stop and reverse the encroaching culture of control. We must work towards a culture of freedom, both by fighting against the corruption of the current system and by building the alternative, showing by example what a truly free culture could look like.

My comments

I actually liked this version a lot, but I thought I could do better. I'm beginning to think that I thought wrong. I thought that it was too long, and that I could write something shorter. The final version wasn't much shorter. My history teacher once told me that your first answer is always the right one, and maybe I should have listened to him. However, this answer had a decent amount of fluff, and it may have focused too much on the "gee whiz, technology!" factor.

Abortive attempt to explain how the public is ignorant

Explaining exactly what the free culture movement is, and why it is important, is somewhat more difficult than explaining what it is not, unfortunately. Imagine trying to explain the anti-war movement to someone who isn't aware that the United States has a military, let alone what the military does. Digital technology and the internet promise to give us the freedom to communicate and collaborate with our fellow humans around the world on an epic scale, to take the best of the old and the new and distill them into new and vibrant works, but these are freedoms that we cannot be permitted to have if the status quo is to survive. There are threats to the freedoms that we have today, and movements to smother tomorrow's new liberties in their cradles, of which the general population is almost completely unaware.

But it goes deeper than that. Imagine a world in which acid rain and smog-filled skies is normal, where people accept a scarred and

My comments

This one was a write-off. I was trying to explain the problems with (1) people not knowing about the threats to our freedoms and (2) getting used to reduced freedoms once they have been taken away. But talking about how the public is ignorant just tends to sound elitist.

Environmentalism-based attempt

Unfortunately, it's rather difficult to explain quickly what free culture is. Since our issues have historically received little coverage in the mainstream media, few people have the background necessary to understand the basic terms and ideas, even though many of our principles are fundamental to the history of freedom and democracy in America.

I like to draw a comparison with the early environmentalist movement. There was a point in time when you couldn't talk about environmentalism; it didn't exist as a word, it didn't exist as a concept. There were lots of people who wanted to protect the environment, hunters, birdwatchers, farmers, but they didn't see that it all added up to something larger than their narrow interests. Only once books like Silent Spring arrived on the scene and people started thinking of the environment as a whole could the environmentalist movement come into existence.

Ultimately, I believe that our movement should encompass everyone who wants to be more than a passive observer, a passive consumer. If you want to participate in your government, if you want to *be* the media, if you believe that culture should be a two-way conversation and not just something that we absorb like so many sponges, then this movement is for you. Digital technology and the internet have the potential to drastically increase the ability of the populace to both inform themselves and to act in concert with their fellow Americans and citizens of the world. Because the internet lends itself to two-way communication, to direct connections between people, it represents a departure from traditional broadcast media, and suggests a departure from a traditional passive culture. If democracy depends on an informed and active citizenry, then you could say that we're working towards a truly democratic culture.

This transformation in society, however, can only take place if we are willing to fight for it. The advances in technology could provide radical freedom, but they could also be used to impose radical new forms of control; technology is, as always, a double-edged sword. There are forces that have strong interests in maintaining the status quo, that are trying to get laws passed that cement their current supremacy, leveraging current market power to suppress innovation, basically trying every dirty trick in the book to stay in power. All that's necessary for them to succeed is, as the cliche goes, for good people to do nothing; as long as nobody pays attention, the vested interests will have their way. Here at FreeCulture.org we have no intention of sitting quietly on the sidelines.

My comments

Good, but still too much time spent on explaining how the public is ignorant. I think there were a lot of good lines in the last two paragraphs.

Short and sweet

Free Culture is about freedom: the freedom to create, to innovate, to express yourself, to criticize. It's about the freedom to participate in our society and culture, and to build upon the work of those who have come before us, to mix together the old and the new and create new syntheses. We're working to give people more tools to be creative, and that means taking away legal barriers that harm creativity, and providing technological and social resources to positively encourage creativity.

Free Culture is not about "getting stuff for free"... we believe that artists should get paid. Many of our critics have the same stated goal as ours, which is to promote creative work and expression, but we disagree about what exactly the best way to do that is. They believe that granting permanent, absolute control, beyond what we have ever had in our nation's history, is the best way to encourage creativity and innovation. We beg to differ.

My comments

I felt that I was getting close with this one, but it was both too vague and too narrow, and didn't do enough to explain why free culture is important. I borrowed heavily from an IM conversatoin with Arthur for this draft.

Drug patents, why our issues matter

For one excellent example of why our issues matter, there are millions of people dying in undeveloped countries because they can't get access to generic drugs, and they can't afford brand-name drugs. This is because the drugs are patented, and the pharmaceutical companies that have control over the drugs refuse to allow the production of cheap, generic drugs. Now, it's obvious that there needs to be some incentives for drug companies to produce drugs. But it's important to remember why the drug companies are given patents to begin with: It's a utilitarian bargain that by its very nature is supposed to produce good. And when that bargin starts meaning that millions are dying needlessly, we think it's time to reevaluate the situation, and search to recover that balance.

My comments

As Nick BS said, "One thing to keep in mind is that addressing the problems with patenting drugs is going to make people perceive us as being farther to the left." This may be true. Of course, people dying is really important, and it's not like Republicans are for people dying, Bush promised massive AIDS aid... even if he may not have fully delivered, and even though his program wastes money by not using generics. One AIDS activist told me, "for each person being treated through the president's treatment plan (on patented meds) at least three people could be treated on generics... now bush pledged this summer to provide drugs for 2mn people. i strongly suspect that this hasn't actually happened, but hypothetically 4mn lives could be saved by switching their progam over to generics." That would seem to place the number of people who could be saved by generic drugs if we only consider Bush's drug plan easily in the millions, even if Bush's plan has only treated one million people. "not to mention the improvements that could come through allowing generic manufacturers to produce the best therapies, particularly stronger second line meds that only big pharma makes now", my AIDS activist friend continued. I honestly don't know enough about the issue, but I think it is clear that literally millions of lives could be saved if more generic drugs were available.

With Nick's help

First, I want to make it very clear: We believe that artists should get paid for their work. Free Culture is no more about getting music for free than the American Revolution was about getting cheap tea.

Free Culture is about freedom: the freedom to create, to innovate, to express yourself, to criticize. It's about the freedom to participate in our society and culture, and to build upon the work of those who have come before us, to mix together the old and the new and create new works. Because that's the way most of the great cultural works have been created. The great classical composers had no qualms about borrowing heavily from folk music, one another, and themselves. Shakespeare borrowed shamelessly from the work of those around him. Disney took many of their classic stories from the public domain. Free Culture matters because it's the basis of all scientific and creative progress.

Many of our critics have the same stated goal as ours, which is to promote creative work and expression. We acknowledge, as do they, that society should reward creators and innovators for their contributions to our culture, but we disagree about the best means of doing so. We certainly reject their notion that constantly expanding the scope of intellectual property legislation, far beyond historical levels, can possibly do more good than harm, or that giving someone credit or payment for work they've done is equivalent to giving them absolute control over that work. We don't think anyone can seriously look at, say, what patent laws and loopholes have done for the pharmaceutical market and say that IP law hasn't been twisted from its original purpose, to promote the creation and spread of useful ideas.

My comments

Nick and I hacked at it for a little while in SubEthaEdit, and then Arthur rewrote the last paragraph, and this is what we ended up with. I felt that it talked too much about intellectual property, which is a word that I dislike (and which RMS despises), and I also feel that we're about more than IP law, which this draft focused far too much upon.

The final version

First, I want to make it very clear: We believe that artists should get paid for their work. Free Culture is no more about getting music for free than the American Revolution was about getting cheap tea.

Free Culture is about freedom: the freedom to create, to innovate, to express yourself, to criticize. It's about the freedom to participate in our society and culture, and to build upon the work of those who have come before us. We're working to give people more tools to be creative, and that means taking away legal barriers that harm creativity and innovation, and providing technological and social resources to positively encourage them. It means removing threats to freedom of speech, enabling healthy discussion and debate.

Many of our critics claim to share our desire to promote creative work and expression, but we clearly disagree about what the best way to do that is. The copyright expansionists seem to believe that creating a regime of absolute, eternal technological and legal control over ideas is the best way to encourage creativity and innovation. We beg to differ. Not only does overly restrictive control harm innovation, it can be used as a weapon to silence critics and opponents.

Ultimately, I believe that our movement should encompass everyone who wants to be more than a passive observer, a passive consumer. If you believe that culture should be a two-way conversation and not just something that we absorb like so many sponges, then this movement is for you. If democracy depends on an informed and active citizenry, then you could say that we're working towards a truly democratic culture.

My comments

I'm not certain that this was the best of the lot, although it incorporated pieces from the others. Honestly I was just really tired of trying to answer this stupid question, and I just turned in what I had. Hope you enjoyed the ride! I'm a little worried that this draft didn't talk enough about technology and its role. What do you think? Discuss!