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Free Culture Fest Targets Copyright Restrictions

By John P. Mello Jr.
Nov 12, 2004 7:00 AM PT

It's been said that information wants to be free. Now some folks are saying culture wants to be free, too. And they're building a grassroots organization throughout the nation's campuses to advance that idea.

Free Culture Fest Targets Copyright Restrictions, founded by Swarthmore students Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith, is advancing its mission to unfetter culture by supporting projects such as promoting the use of open-source software, encouraging student artists to adopt relaxed licensing agreements for their creations, holding remixing contests and campaigning against legislation that expands the powers of copyright holders.

This week, the organization is holding a week-long "Free Culture Fest" at Swarthmore to educate the public about a host of subjects, from open-source software software development to workshops on collage and intellectual property law.

Get People Pumped

"We want to get people pumped about these issues," Pavlosky told TechNewsWorld. "We want to make the issues relevant to people and make them see how they can affect them."

He maintained that something must be done to return a balance between copyright holders and the public in the cultural arena.

"We've been losing this balance because the corporations are able to put lobbyists in Congress and use their monopoly power in the tech arena to get what they want, which isn't in the best interests of the people," he said.

Copyrights should be about stopping commercial competitors, argued Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

"If write a book," he told TechNewsWorld, "no one else can publish it and sell it for money. But if I write a book and someone has a favorite essay and they put it up on the Web so people can read it, that should be allowable."

"It's the idea that access to the culture itself should be free and open and more available, but I should be able to go after anyone who tries to profit off my creativity," he added.

Raising Awareness

He asserted that the Free Culture movement is not just about culture consumers. "It's about creators, too," he said. "It's encouraging creators to be more free and open as well."

Moreover, it can raise the awareness of people about cultural issues.

"A lot of the changes to the copyright law are done in the back rooms of Congress and a lot of people aren't aware of the effects these decisions have on their access to culture and ideas," he contended. "So the Free Culture movement is a way to get people more involved with these issues."

According to Jessica Litman, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, copyright law traditionally has been an insiders game.

"It's one of those areas in which the statutes are effectively negotiated by the affected parties," she told TechNewsWorld.

Rather than having Congress come up with a bill, the lobbyists from the affected industries sit down fight it out, she explained.

Consumers Not Welcome

"What's happening now is that we're trying to apply this law to a couple hundred million consumers, and it doesn't make any sense to them," she said. "But when consumers try to get involved in the copyright law making process, they're not being welcome."

"One of the really impressive things that the Free Culture movement seems to be accomplishing is energizing lots and lots of consumers to say, 'Hey, we've got an interest in how this law works, and we need to make our voice heard about it.'"

However, some argue that what really has consumers upset is that copyright holders finally have a means to enforce their rights more effectively.

Effective Enforcement

"Unfortunately I think what consumers are facing in 2004 is an environment in which technology has finally arrived that allows IP owners to enforce their rights, whereas in the past it was difficult to impossible to accomplish to the extent that it can be done today," Jarad Carleton, an IT industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Palo Alto, California, told TechNewsWorld via e-mail.

"This is leaving a lot of consumers feeling as if they are having their rights curtailed," he said, "much in the same way that university students felt financially violated in the early '90s when Kinkos and other campus copy stores had to start paying authors royalty fees when professors would include copyrighted materials in class packets."

"There does need to be protections of copyrighted work," he added, "and if a lot of young people are concerned about being fed homogenized culture on the TV and radio, perhaps they need to get off the couch, start interacting with other creative people they are going to school with and come up with some original ideas of their own and stop complaining about the lack of creative vision by copyright holders."

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NICE inContact February 12 webinar