18 November 2009

Free Culture Forum: Getting it Together

As regular readers will know, I write a lot about the related areas of openness, freedom, transparency and the commons, but it's rare to find them literally coming together like this, in the Free Culture Forum:

Across the planet, people are recognizing the need for an international space to build and coordinate a common agenda for issues surrounding free culture and access to knowledge. The Free Culture Forum of Barcelona created one such space.

Bringing together key organizations and active voices in the free culture and knowledge space under a single roof, the Forum was a meeting point to sit and find answers to the pressing questions behind the present paradigm shift.

The Forum was an open space for drawing up proposals to present the position of civil society on the privatization of culture and access to knowledge. Participants debated the role of government in access to knowledge, on the creation and distribution of art and culture, and other areas.

The list of participants is impressive, and includes well-known names like the EFF, the P2P Foundation, the Knoweldge Ecology International, La Quadrature du Net, and many others. Even better is the extremely thorough charter; here's it's opening section:

We are in the midst of a revolution in the way that knowledge and culture are created, accessed and transformed. Citizens, artists and consumers are no longer powerless and isolated in the face of the content-providing industries: now individuals across many different spheres collaborate, participate and decide. Digital technology has bridged the gap, allowing ideas and knowledge to flow. It has done away with many of the geographic and technological barriers to sharing. It has provided new educational tools and stimulated new possibilities for forms of social, economic and political organisation. This revolution is comparable to the far reaching changes brought about as a result of the printing press.

In spite of these transformations, the entertainment industry, most communications service providers governments and international bodies still base the sources of their advantages and profits on control of content and tools and on managing scarcity. This leads to restrictions on citizens’ rights to education, access to information, culture, science and technology; freedom of expression; inviolability of communications and privacy. They put the protection of private interests above the public interest, holding back the development of society in general.

Today’s institutions, industries, structures or conventions will not survive into the future unless they adapt to these changes. Some, however, will alter and refine their methods in response to the new realities. And we need to take account of this.

That will all be pretty familiar to readers of this blog. There then follow an amazingly complete list of Things That We Need - which will also ring a few bells. Here are the areas covered:

Reverse Three-Step Test
Knowledge Commons and Public Domain
Defending access to Technological Infrastructures and Net Neutrality
Rights in digital context
Stimulating Creativity and Innovation
Access to works for persons with reading disabilities

There's also an important section headed "Guidelines for Education and Access to Knowledge", which naturally considers open educational resources, and has this to say on free software, open standards and open formats:

Free/libre and Open Source Software allows people to study and learn concepts instead of black boxes, enables transparency of information processing, assures competition and innovation, provides independence from corporate interests and increases the autonomy of citizens.

The use of open standards and open formats is essential to ensure technical interoperability, provide a level playing field for competing vendors, enable seamless access to digital information and the availability of knowledge and social memory now and in the future. Thus we assert that:

* Educational entities should use Free/libre and Open Source Software as a learning tool, as a subject in itself and as the base for their IT infrastructure.
* All software developed in an educational environment and publicly funded must be released under a free license.
* Promote the use of Free/libre and Open Source Software in textbooks as an alternative to proprietary software to perform learning-related tasks such as numerical calculus, image editing, document composition, etc. where applicable.
* Develop, provide and promote free editing tools to elaborate and improve didactic materials.
* Technologies like Digital Rights Management must be refused to assure the permanent access to educational resources and enable lifelong learning.

All-in-all, this is an extraordinary document with which I find myself in pretty much total agreement. It's an great achievement, and will be a real reference point for everyone working in the fields of digital freedom, openness and transparency for years to come.

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