What is the status on the free culture movement over a decade after the Lawrence Lessig book «free culture»?

When reading the book «free culture» for the second time(now in Norwegian) I started to reflect on how and if the situation on copyright, IP and free culture has changed since Lawrence Lessig publishes his book in 2004. Lessig was one of the early visionaries that pushed for a reform of our copyright laws and the way we practice law as the world around us is changing.  Lawrence Lessig was also one of the co-founders of Creative Commons that sparked a community sharing text, videos, pictures, learning resources and other works.

My thoughts on this is that in terms of the debate on copyright and IP one could argue that somethings haven’t changed at all, while if you look at the digital commons and the amount of digital content that is released the picture is totally different. We still read and hear stories on a weekly basis on how new laws and trade agreements effect our daily lives in terms of how we need to handle copyright. On the other hand over the last years we have seen the commons of resources growing exponentially making it easer to reuse free content.

The landscape around copyright, fair use and IP is still not easy to navigate

To elaborate I am going to start with a story that an Indian lawyer told me this week at a conference in New Delhi. In 2012 at one of the larger universities in Delhi they did as many others, they copied books and parts of books into learningresources that where used in classes.  This was based on a thought of «fair use» but still the publishers(Oxford university and others) decided to hammer on with a lawsuit. BUT……they did not go after the university, they went after the contracted photocopy shop with an 100.000 dollar lawsuit.  This was in 2012 and they got the courts to issue and «induction» ordering the activity to stop. The case is still unsolved.

This is an example that is very similar to some of the stories from Lessigs book from 2004, and the «tactics» of the copyright lobby seems to be the same, attacking the weakest link, in this case they attacked the pohotocopyer instead of the university. This is just one of many stories that shows that the landscape around copyright, fair use and IP is still not easy to navigate.

The commons is growing exponentially

«State of the Commons report» is an effort to measure the immeasurable scope of the commons by looking at the CC licensed content, along with content marked as public domain, that comprise the slice of the commons powered by CC tools. The report for 2015 was published on December 8th, 2015, and it is showing a very promising development for public domain and CC licensed content.

The number of  of CC licensed works have nearly tripled over the last 5 years


Picture from Creative Commons.

The number of public domain works have doubled over the last year


Picture from Creative Commons.

It might seem to me that the «producing part» of free culture community has moved passed that discussion and that we are in the middle of something that looks like a paradigme shift in terms of content released under a free license.

I am writing this post while attending the The Fourth Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest in New Delhi and my conclusion is that we need to secure that the lawyers and activist that work to secure the free culture aspects of the copyright battle need our support, as the discussion on these problems are not at all solved.

Lawrence Lessigs book «free culture» has been crowdsourced into Norwegian

«Free Culture» is a book by law professor Lawrence Lessig that he released under a Creative Commons license. Both the book and and his work with Creative Commons puts Lawrence Lessig in a group of visionary thinker that early on understood how important it would be to have a free license also for content and how law and regulation on copyright has been moving in the wrong direction.

In november 2015 the «free culture» book was launched in Norwegian, and the cool thing about this projects is that it has been a crowdsourcing effort lead by my friend Petter Reinholdtsen. The book is now printed in a professional format and Petter has given one copy to every parlament member in Norway.

I have known Petter for a longe time as a free software activist and I know him as one of the most dedicated believers of free culture and the free and open internet in Norway. As many of the smart and skilled programmers in the free software movement he is also very focused one the implications that technology has on our every day lives. His work on this project shows ones again how dedicated Petter is to this cause.

So what is the book about?

The book documents how copyright power has expanded substantially sins the 70´s and even though the original book was released in March 2004 it is still relevant as the problem with our copyright laws being a relic from the «Gutenberg paradigme» still is not solved.

The inspiration for the title and for much of the argument of this book comes from the work of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation, and Lessig himself writes that one could argue that the book is «merely a derivative».

If you have not read the book you can find it in a PDF version her.

For more info on the project itself goto Petters blogg.

Crowdsourcing and OER to help solve the educational crises among refugees in Europe

Many of the refugees that are entering Europa right now are stranded in a situation without any access to  normal education. This is a large problem that is getting more urgent every day. The high number of new people will make it impossible to solve this educational crisis by thinking «teacher and students in a classroom» as would be the normal way of solving this in the old «Gutenberg paradigm». In this situation there are noe available teacher, there are no available learning resources and no way of closing the gap without using new methods.

I attended a conference in Berlin this week and one of the speakers at the conference talked about how it would be impossible for Germany to meet the needs of the large number of refugees in terms of education. He talked about how the government in Germany have made predictions that they need another 25.000 teachers to meet the increase in refugees and this is of course a demand that is impossible to meet.

Germany needs another 25.000 teachers to meet the increasing number of refugees

The Norwegian government and several international partners are launching an innovation competition to develop a mobile-based learning application for Syrian children. This is a great initiative but in general the problem for European public sector is that they are not built to move fast and during the first part of this crises right now they are all just working to meet the basic needs like housing and food.

At the same time we have thousands of highly skilled teachers that if given the opportunity would be a tremendous resource for these refugees. Highly educated refugees from countries like Syria are also an untapped resource that should be able to play a role in bridging this gap.

I have no quick fix to end this crises but I have som thoughts on where to start. I truly belive that a strong community of teacher across Europe working to crowdsource learning resources would make a big difference in this situation. Every singel teacher would not have to put up many ours with quality time to make this into a movement that really could make a contribution.

To organize this we would have to focus on:

  • local communities with bout teachers and refugees
  • develop learning resources that is made for learning without a teacher
  • global learning resources in a locally setting
  • reuse an re-contextualization
  • reuse across European countries
  • Work in booksprints and hackathons instead of setting op large projects

We have to make a community of communities, not another EU-funded project moving at glacial speed

I am thinking that this should NOT be ONE project with ONE plattform trying to gather all the good stuff in one place but rather a community of communities with one common goal and that is to create simple and light weight learning resources to be used in an «out of school setting».

This is one of those times when it is better to do something than nothing, and I am simply saying that starting a movement based on crowdsourcing and open educational resources would be something.

How to chose the right open license for commercialization

Over the last two months I have been working with the Norwegian agency for development(Norad) on their project EduApp4Syria and advising them on open source licenses and license for content being developed as a part of the project.

In general choosing the right license for your software and content is not a difficult process, but my advice is to think it trough and start with your goals for reuse and sharing, and let this be the starting point.

Historically, the GPL license family has been one of the most popular open source(Free software) licenses and I am myself a copy-left advocate. The GPL license is defined a Copyleft license.Copyleft is a copyright licensing scheme in which an author surrenders some, but not all rights under copyright law.

Under copyleft, derived works may be produced provided they are released under the compatible copyleft scheme. This means that in most cases the derived product can not be incorporated into proprietary products.

In this project Norad wanted to impose minimal restrictions in terms of commercialization of new products derived from the project. As many other large development organizations Norad have a strong focus on getting as much out of every invested dollar and going in to the project we look at The Principles for Digital Development where open standards and open source is set as one of the 9 principles.

An important aspect is to enable others to reuse both digital content and technology developed as part of the project, subsequently supporting self-enhancing diversity of production models and interactive communities. My advice in this case was to go for a permissive free software licenses.

So in this case, my advice is:

Both licenses allow others to reuse, change and distribute, even commercially.

This means that it is possible for anyone reusing the technology or content from this project to commercialize their product. BSD Licenses allows proprietary use and allows the software released under the license to be incorporated into proprietary products. However, we are receptive to feedback on these issues and the guidelines are intended only to apply to those who receive economic incentives.

The project is actually letting the marked compete in several iterations starting with a self made prototype. This lead us to the question on when the required should take effect. Our conclusion was that the open source license and Creative Commons will not be required for self financed prototyping and proof of concept development, lowering the bar for companies to use their mockups as input to the project.