Missing perspectives in “Free Culture”


I have attended the Wizard of OS conference in Berlin. Main discussions were around free open software culture technology privacy copyrights licenses and so on. In yesterday’s keynote, Lawrence Lessig simplified the “everybody is producer” paradigm into RO (Read Only) vs. RW (Read Write) culture. Mixing media is good, fight DRM, use open source software, build open source software… He also mentioned that contemporary media technologies are freeing the media production as printing technology did for written words. However there were missing perspectives:

  1. Software and hardware are seen as tools for creating media such as image, text, music, movie etc. Today artists use software and hardware as the medium of the artwork itself. We write custom programs running on custom hardware. People not only stare at the artwork, they also interact with them. Furthermore, we produce artwork that run on network of machines. We develop platforms and environments as artwork in which people not only interact with it but also live in it. Issues such as DRM or copyright can not even be discussed in this type of work, because we create cultural systems, not cultural objects.
  2. Cultural production is seen only as the work done in the studio or the work done with tools for media production. However, we also do work out of the designated working time and space. This is known as immaterial labor, that is the work done by just living. During the day, in our blend of work and leisure, we not only browse things on the web but also actively contribute to various information aggregation systems from website statistics to search engines, increasing the value of advertising sales or the quality of search algorithms. Moreover, we consciously tag images on image sharing services, we bookmark links in social bookmarking services, we write our opinions about books and so on. These metadata are informational and cultural content of the commodity that contribute to our zeitgeist, aesthetic views, political ideas, and economic wealth. This production can be criticized as art or not, but what is more important is these service providers (Google, Yahoo, Amazon etc.) accumulate data from us, and under US laws, corporations own our cultural products.

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