A “Free Culture” Would Be Priceless

Listen to the Story

Lately I hear a lot of ads offering things “for free”. I’ve even stumbled across a cultural movement all about “free”. The founder, Lawrence Lessig, dubs it “Free Culture”. In this economy something for free always grabs my attention. So what the heck is free culture?

According to Mr. Lessig, Free Culture is a social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify creative works using media like the Internet. That’s fine and good but what do I get?

The internet has provided many interesting opportunities and more than a few issues. The most famous of these is the illegal download of music. So is this notion of Free Culture suggesting that I shouldn’t have to pay for downloaded music; cause that would be great! My gift list just got a lot less expensive.

Actually that isn’t at all what Free Culture is suggesting. Instead, they suggest that people should be allowed to be innovative and should come together around what has been created to expand on it. We should encourage our culture to flourish through creative endeavors and build community through collaboration.

Using a type of copyright called Creative Commons those of us who create can maintain ownership while also letting others build off of our creativity. Hip-hop music is a great example of this. The artist puts together bits of other songs; mixing them into a beautiful mosaic.

Another component of free culture is the idea of open systems. Open systems are freely shared sources of information as well as the ideas and building blocks behind those information systems.

Wikipedia is an example of an open system. Wikipedia is an opportunity for every digitally connected person to share their knowledge with the world. Through democratic process this information is refined into very useful bits of knowledge which can help individuals and communities grow.

During the terrifying attack on Mumbai we saw hundreds of thousands of people sharing their information freely. In an attempt to help those who were still trapped, as well as their friends and families who were trying to understand what was happening, this information was remixed and reposted. Interactive Google maps were mashed up with text and live digital pictures. A Wikipedia page was created to direct emergency services and support. Globally we came together to create a new community. In the darkness of tragedy we saw the greatest component of humanity come to light. People of all cultures coming together to aid each other through information, shared experience and understanding. This is the power of Free Culture.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia asks that we “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” By freeing our culture; interacting with each other for the sake of understanding and creativity instead of hording knowledge and experience I imagine a significantly more free and peaceful world. That’s the kind of free I can really be sold on.

Andrew Miller hosts the blog – elephants on bicycles. Elephants on Bicycles