Update 22/08/2012: I just noticed I mistakenly stated that the OERF is the organisation behind WikiVersity, which of course is actually a project of the WikiMedia Foundation. I have corrected the text below.

Over the last 30 years, globalisation has pushed universities in Aotearoa towards being either degree factories, or publicly-subsidised research tools for private corporations, or both. To quote Richard Stallman:

“Allowing the university to be turned into the tool of business is allowing it to be corrupted”

One of my favourite experiments from the 99% occupations around the country was the ‘free university’ days, where people gathered to give and hear free lectures, and take part in free skills workshops. Today, I was excited to discover the University Without Conditions, a free university operating in Tamaki Makaurau. Their homepage features a fascinating article called ‘The University as an Idea‘, which echoes many of my own thoughts about the creeping enclosement by business of the universities, and education in general.

The article also discusses potential solutions that lie in open access to scholarly work and learning materials, and opening up participation in research, teaching, and learning. Over the last few years, I have noticed the emergence of a number of projects around the world that are based on similar ideas, including MIT OpenCourseware, WikiEducator, Peer-to-Peer University, and Gaia University. More recently, the OERu (Open Educational Resources University) is taking some of the ideas in experiments like the free university and online education projects into the mainstream. Iniated by the OERF (Open Educational Resources Foundation) - the organisation behind WikiEdcuator - OERu is a collaboration with a founding group of mainstream universities, intended to help people gain formal credit from self-directed learning.

We need someone to do to the universities what GNU has done to the operating system; what email has done to the postal system; what Wikipedia has done to the encyclopedia; what CreativeCommons has done to copyright; and what OpenStreetMaps has done to cartography - help them evolve so they can fulfuill their potential in a networked world. Could the OERu be that someone?

Last night I went along to a well-attend public meeting in Ōtepoti on the importance of public service broadcasting, one of a series organized by the ‘Save TVNZ7‘ campaign around the country. During question time, I asked the panel why the producers of publicly-funded TV programs were allowed to impose All-Rights-Reserved (ARR) copyright, effectively making the public pay for them twice. Most of the responses fell into the usual fallacy that CreativeCommons and artists making a living are mutually exclusive (can someone *please* send Clare Curran a copy of ‘The Power of Open‘?). However, I got a round of applause from the crowd for mentioning CC, and there’s definitely some cautious support for CC-licensing of TV content in some contexts, like the publicly-owned content sitting in archives unwatched after one broadcast, sometime before dawn.

I didn’t get a right of reply, but if I had, my argument would have gone like this. If a channel like TVNZ7 - entirely funded by publicly-owned TVNZ - is paying salaries and expenses for the production of TV programs, the public have a right to watch it, and to share it with each other, in any format they see fit. That means at minimum a CC BY-NC-ND license.

However, if cultural production is being subsidized by the taxpayer, it must be very important that people see it. If that’s the case, why stop commercial use? The CC license opens up a multiple of ways for people to access a free-of-charge version (from digital TV and OnDemand to BitTorrent and hitchhikers with hard drives). Any member of the public watching a publicly-funded program through a commercial channel helped pay for it’s production, why can’t they choose how to watch it? So, really a CC-BY-ND might as well be the minimum.

I’d go further. If the public are paying the full cost of that media being produced, don’t they also have a right to use it in remixes and mash-ups? One complication here is that the program-makers sometimes license stock footage, clips, graphics, photos, music, or other audio-visual elements that are ARR copyright. However, working under the CC-BY-SA allows program-makers to draw from a growing pool of CC-licensed content from around the world, and it doesn’t stop them using material from the Public Domain (although of course the license terms don’t apply to this material). Surely not having public production dollars siphoned off by ARR copyright holders can only help keep it affordable and effective? 

So really, why not go all the way with CC-BY-SA, and make it a condition of receiving public funding for cultural production, whether its TV programs, films, music etc? If this license was applied retrospectively to all media that had the full cost of production covered by public funds, a lot of ARR copyright media produced in this country would no longer be ARR, and a lot of the licensing issues for program elements would evaporate like the morning dew. 

I can imagine there will be some artists who will be unhappy if they can’t have the public pay for their production costs, then attempt to use ARR copyright to monetize their work (I say attempt because public funding is usually sought precisely because the commercial potential is… limited). Well, that’s tough. If the public pays, the public has a right of access. If the artists want to lock their work up behind ARR copyright paywalls, they can seek funding from the banks and media corporations who provide venture capital. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. Besides, as already mentioned, CC is not incompatible with commercial enterprise, and other models like crowdsourcing are emerging for supporting artists without commodifying the art.

The only other objection I can think of is the usual one, which amounts to a more polite version of:

“Well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered philistine ignorance I’ve come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker’s cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic secret handshakes.”

It’s a fair cop, to blatantly steal another Monty Python line, but society’s to blame :)

Filed June 8th, 2012 under free culture, independent media

Now is a crucial time to defend our freedom to install Ubuntu, or any other free code operating system (OS) once new hardware starts shipping with the new Window 8 later this year. Unable to compete with the growth of Android/ Linux in the mobile market, Microsoft are determined to make sure Ubuntu and other popular distros don’t eat into their legacy monopoly on the desktop/ laptop. According to the Free Software Foundation, they are pressuring hardware manufacturers to use BIOS-level “security” that could stop you from choosing to install a different OS once you’ve bought the hardware:

“The threat is not the UEFI [Unified Extensible Firmware Interface] specification itself, but in how computer manufacturers choose to implement the boot restrictions. Depending on a manufacturer’s implementation, they could lock users out of their own computers, preventing them from ever booting into or installing a free software operating system.”

Now if you were leasing the hardware, that’s quite reasonable, but we’re talking about hardware we have bought and paid for. This time Redmond are going too far. What this Microsoft strong-arm tactic proves is that Richard Stallman was write all along; whether software is developed by a massively multi-player online collaboration, or a lone nutter in a log cabin; whether it’s commercial or gratis; what matters is that the developers and the programs they create respect user freedoms.

The good news is that W8 is widely held to be a dog, confusing even for longtime Windows fans, and could be the best opportunity since the Vista debacle for migrating your loved ones to a free code OS. The release date for W8 is rumoured to be October this year and with Ubuntu 12.10 due out the same month it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that Microsoft insist any hardware with ARM processors (most netbook-style laptops) use boot restrictions if they ship with W8.

I believe the day is coming when a Windows-branded OS will be built on top of a free code stack (like Apple’s OSX, built on BSD), and it’s not as far away as people think. It will be one set of OS choices among many, and people will wonder what all the fuss was about. In the meantime, the FSF encourages you to sign their statement in support of OS freedom. Disintermedia encourages you to walk about your town or city wearing an orange jumpsuit and chains, with a sign around your neck that says “Windows 8 user” or “Microsoft Customer”, and hand out printed copies of the FSF statement.

Filed June 7th, 2012 under free software
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