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Re: <nettime> a free letter to cultural institutions
Rob Myers on Fri, 27 Jun 2014 09:46:00 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> a free letter to cultural institutions

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Florian Cramer:
>> I'd be very interested to hear why a punk band wouldn't want to
>> release music under a free license.
> For example, because it doesn't want - for political reasons - its
> music to end up on Spotify, Google or similar corporate services,
> against which free licenses provide no means of intervention.

Other than not allowing the sublicensing that these services require.

> Or because it wants to retain a means of preventing that work is
> being politically misappropriated. For example, if the punk band
> were the Dead Kennedys, and it would have released "California Uber
> Alles" under a truly free license, it would have no means to
> intervene if a Neonazi band performed the same song with no irony
> intended.

They have no means of intervening under the standard cover license
terms anyway. They may under moral rights. Which Creative Commons
licenses explicitly reserve for the author.

A punk band that gives either of these as reasons for not adopting a
Free Culture license is ignorant of the operation of those licenses,
of the distribution models that have evolved under pressure from the
recording industry, and of the history of punk's antagonistic (rather
than merely puritan, as you note below) relationship with the record

The great rock & roll swindle is alive and well on Spotify:


> The punk band example is relatively harmless. For software
> developers, any kind of free license (free according to the
> criteria of FSF and Debian, respectively Open Source according to
> the OSI criteria) gives no whatsoever means to prevent that the
> software/the code is used for military purposes, by secret services
> like the NSA (whose infrastructure is running on free software to a
> large degree), or for the clouds of Facebook, Google &c., for 
> racial profiling and, in the most extreme case, genocide
> logistics.

Does the military use Free Software? Of course. It is free to do so.

Do people who seek to resist the military use Free Software? Of
course. They are free to do so.

Who is one of the largest sponsors of Free Software? The military.

The effect of this is that the military are paying to write the
software that is used to oppose them. This is a feature, not a bug, of
Free Software. TOR is a direct example of a military Free Software
project, Red Hat's development of GNU/Linux paid for in no small part
by military support contracts is a more indirect one.

The activist dream of sulking the military into submission by refusing
to let them use Free Software is therefore economically illiterate.

Furthermore the activist dream of sulking the military into submission
through licenses that refuse to allow the military to use resources
that the rest of society are free to use ignores the role of the
military in disaster response. If the military are free to use (e.g.)
OpenStreetMap and must return improvements to the resource as a
condition of using it, where state and commercial maps are lacking
this leads to a virtuous circle of improvement of a Free resource.
This is something that has already happened.

And yes, Free Software can be used in genocide logistics. So can
proprietary software, and if a state or group are considering
butchering their citizens or neighbours then they're really not going
to care about an anti-genocide software license either.

In those circumstances, resources for defeating the ability to commit
genocide either through military intervention or through the
dissemination of information to at-risk individuals are vital. Free
Software is a resource for frustrating the logistics of genocide that
can only be diminished by reducing military contributions to it.

> The problem is that all these applications fall within the
> "freedom" of free software,

That's "correct".

> the right to use software "for any purpose", which ultimately means
> freedom as in free market.

If there is no other freedom it's not clear how activists are free to
challenge the free market. The capitalist will after all sell you the
rope you need to hang them.

> There are many people in the hacker community, such as Felix von
> Leitner from Chaos Computer Club (also developer of dietlibc), who
> are now thinking critically about this aspect.

I look forward to seeing the discriminatory licenses that they come up

>>> -, it would, under your model, be banned from all punk venues
>>> to perform.
>> Good.
> That would fit hardcore punk and straight edge culture with their
> close cultural and historical affinities to puritanism.
> This is a classic example of the kind of scarce, auratic
> merchandise
>> that freely licensed non-scarce digital media and live
>> performances can drive sales of (or see their costs offset by).
>> The license on it can't make it any less desirable to anyone who
>> isn't at the gig than it already is.
>> It can however give it more of the iconoclastic attitude that
>> will make it desirable to punks.
> Your reaction exactly illustrates the problem: if "free culture"
> has boiled down to licensing,

It hasn't. But licenses are still a positive strategy for promoting
it. And this is a discussion about a letter regarding them.

I've personally worked more on the production, funding and technology
of free culture than on the licensing side (despite my Internet
footprint on the subject).

Creative Commons recently recognized the need for wider reform:


and have supported various systems projects over the years.

> it's merely a legal bureaucracy with little political meaning. The
> very act of releasing something on small edition vinyl is a 
> statement that runs contrary to free culture as politics.

Not at all. If you're free to play, record, adapt etc. the album it's
Free Culture. What it certainly isn't contrary to is the fetishised
economics of small-run manufacture under contemporary neoliberalism.

> As radical free culture activists, the band would have to release
> its album as mp3s or oggs and make them downloadable on their
> website, on an open wifi hotspot at the concert venue, or on a
> terminal where people could copy the files on their USB sticks.

Not at all. People can rip and upload the track. That has social and
political currency as services like Spotify seek to turn culture into
an endless source of rent and the law turns up the heat on locker sites.

> In that sense, a site like Ubuweb is - in my opinion - closer to a
> free culture spirit and politics (because it consists of work born
> out of radical aesthetics of collage, appropriation, disruption and
> interrogation of traditional musical, visual and textual forms)
> than most works that nowadays bear a Creative Commons sticker.

I agree that the absence of the historical aesthetics of remix (etc.)
from so much current work is an indicator of a political and social
failure within Free Culture. It disappoints me personally, as
appropriation, sampling and remix were what got me interested in this
area in the early 90s.

But UbuWeb largely showcases work that was not economically viable in
mass culture when it was created regardless of the unavailability of
free licenses at the time.

And as it is for the punk bands currently touring material from albums
made almost 40 years ago, sometimes immediate financial returns aren't
the sole measure of either cultural or economic worth.



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