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Free Society = Read-Write Society: A Culture of Openness and Free Collaboration

What made and makes the development of free software, free content and free infrastructures – alternatives to centralized systems of knowledge distribution and development possible? What made and makes the system of the many in contrast to the system of the few and powerful possible?

The Internet is an important factor, but indeed it is much more the culture of openness and free collaboration that constitutes the basis for free layers. It is a cultural change that took off in the aftermath of the peaceful revolutions in the world and the fall of the Berlin wall 1989. A short time when people took politics in their own hands and when “the end of history” was proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama. Many criticized him and regarded this statement as invalid proven by the aftermaths. Looking at what happened at a level far apart from daily superficial politics – how people started to create free layers – I find it rather valid, if it is slightly rephrased to “the end of old history”.

In the times before 1989 few people were able to take part in the production of content and culture. Afterwards more and more people simply safeguarded their rights and started collaborating on the most different topics. This is not only a change of how people behave but indeed this changes the way reality is perceived. The production of content and free publication is a lively way to write our own history.

The people’s history is completely opposite to the way history “was made”, or often we could even use the word “fabricated”, before. It includes all its facets and different opinions of people involved and enables a look closer to the actual happenings of a time than any historian could possibly allow us to see. The many different views and descriptions are presented directly and indirectly. The observations, ideas and intentions of producers can be directly observed in the actual content they produce, like in the articles of Wikipedia, or in the way software programs function, like Linux. Indirect conclusions about the world we live in can be drawn through the transparency and openness of the productions processes in free layers, e.g. the version history in Wikipedia or the documentation, the open sources and versions in the free software production.

The openness of free layers allows everyone to be a historian. “In the old days” to be a historian was a profession limited to a few. Until today historians were the historians of the powerful, the ones that provided them with the opportunities to work or simpler said with food and shelter. They wrote down what the future world would know of a time. Isn’t it therefore mostly the history of the winners that we quote today?

It changes in the aftermath of the freedom movements in 1989 and the growth of the free Internet (“as in freedom”, Stallman). This is “the begin of a new history”, where people write their own history in blogs, forums, mailing lists and wikis – the (his)stories of the many not the few.

In the Read-Write Society (Lawrence Lessig) people create their own content, own software, own infrastructures, own hardware. And thus they create their own realities, their own truths, their own society. More and more label their productions as free – free software, free wireless networks, free music, free videos, free texts and whole free encyclopedias. Free licenses allow people to copy and redistribute their work and the works of others freely to and by anyone and sometimes even to change and to sell it – the start of completely free layers.

Nevertheless looking at the real number of people actually participating in creating these free layers – publishing content or producing free software, it is still a small number of people. However many more already profit from this information and knowledge gathering. Wikipedia is one of the top sites on the Internet. Imagine what else can be achieved through this culture of freedom.

Open Business - Spreadshirt and Jamendo

Some time ago Andreas Milles of Spreadshirt had a presentation at the Berlin Webmonday about his companies Open Logo Contest. They had developed a community that worked on the development of their new logo. In the end they actually took the logo design of a free designer, who they only knew through his contributions on the website. They also granted the people most involved in the process some money and presents. Andreas saw this as a new way to do business and even went so far as to call it Open Marketing. Another example of how concepts of free software development and business models can be transferred to other sectors shows the music site jamendo.com
“jamendo is a new model for artists to promote, publish, and be paid for their music. On jamendo, the artists distribute their music under Creative Commons licenses. In a nutshell, they allow you to download, remix and share their music freely. It's a "Some rights reserved" agreement, perfectly suited for the new century.”
So, check it out! They have some great music. Half of their advertising revenue goes to the artists and you also have the chance to donate to your favorite artists. I call that Fair Biz!

Freedom of Exchange of data and information in Freifunk free wireless networks

It is often stated that the Internet is the basis of the free communication and exchange of software and content – all kinds of information and knowledge. Yes, the Internet especially in the 1990’s could be regarded as a free infrastructure that enabled free exchange. This is changing rapidly throughout the world, as we see a trend to censoring of information all over the world and privately enforced censoring with the help of copyright and patent laws.

The less free the Internet becomes the more attractive free community networks, like the Freifunk networks, will appear to the masses. It is the aim of Freifunk enthusiasts to create truly free networks, which are comparable to public spaces like a street where everyone can freely walk and communicate with others. As in a city with its free public spaces, we have a public space in the cyberspace. Public spaces guarantee our basic rights like freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of the press. However, also crimes happen in public spaces. There is no solution that will prevent crimes to a hundred percent without also reducing our freedoms, neither in the virtual world nor in the real world.

Still, neither people involved in free infrastructure projects like Freifunk regard their networks as a space free of the rule of law. The completely decentralized structures of these networks, however, (and for good reason) make it impossible to control the traffic centrally. The solution to reducing crime and fighting terrorism seems to be to require IPSs to control and protocol the traffic of all its users (entire populations e.g. in Germany). In fact the observing the traffic of all internet and network users in the world is rather questionable. Firstly concerning the duties of network operators, who should not and are in no position to take over police duties, secondly it is questionable in regards to the misuse that is possible with these huge amounts of data, that compromises of information like who communicates with whom, when, how long and possibly even what. Besides its drive of innovation and opportunities for businesses free decentralized freifunk networks also propose a solution to trends of digital mass control in politics.

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