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OpenCity 2005: A Festival of Participatory Culture, August 17-20, 2005: post-event summary

Creative Commons License
This work by Russell McOrmond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Canada License.


OpenCity 2005 was a multidisciplinary event, including people from a wide variety of understandings of the debates around creativity. While most of the participants were already well aware of and part of the Free/libre Culture1 movement, there were a few that were still at the stage of the debate as it was in the 1980's. The quickest way to summarize the different stages of the discussion between these groups can be seen in a simple exchange that was a quite common introduction to new conversations.

Question: Don't you believe that creators should be able to get paid for their work?
Free/libre Culture Answer: Yes, and that is precisely why we strongly oppose Bill C-60 and the overall public policy direction it represents.

Political context of the conference

The conference had many components. During the daytime there was a more academic-style conference, with speakers and round-table discussions about topics ranging from Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs), academic freedom, to the future of patent, copyright and trademark (PCT2) laws. Most participants were aware of and strongly opposed to the recently tabled Bill C-60 which proposes to make radical changes to copyright.

While I had some concern that this conference would be "preaching to the converted", there were some participants that were from the older school of thought on the protection of creativity. The old-school thinking is that if some copyright is good, more is better, and that the best way to protect the interests of creators is to extend the scope and term of copyright.

The Free Culture movement has a very different perspective that can be extracted from a quote from Lawrence Lessig

Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
Ours is less and less a free society.3

I have also suggested another way of understanding the need for balance between the past and the future that the old-school thinking misses with the following statement: Copyright is to creativity like water is to humans; too little and you dehydrate and die, too much and you drown and die.

I believe it is critically important for members of the Free Culture movement to be aware of individual creators and audience members that are working under old-school thinking. Too many people who attend these types of conferences point fingers outward to third parties, whether they be too-powerful corporations or too-powerful governments to lay blame for their problems. In this case, as with many others, it is different parts of the communities they are part of that must be educated to modernize their thinking from the "more control is better" philosophy to recognize the need to limit the power of the past in order to protect creativity from the abuses of the past.

Academics need to look towards their own academic publishing environment. Access Copyright4 is seen as a political opponent to the academic community, and yet Access Copyright is predominantly controlled by educational publishers. If the academic community moved away from taking works where the educational authors receive no remuneration anyway and publishing through these intermediaries, such as joining the Open Access5 movement, they could solve the political, economic and social problems that the cold war could be ended between members of Access Copyright and the members of the academic community.

The same is true of other communities whether they be creator communities of writers, musicians and software developers, or political communities such as those at the conference who self-identified with "the left" of politics. In each of these communities there are small minorities of people who adhere to old-school thinking that then claim to represent all people in this community to governments and the public.

As I returned to Ottawa I read a quote in Decima Reports ICT UPDATE6 which was an example of one of these groups.

"I think they’re going to feel emboldened that society is onboard with this, and that the opponents of C-60 belong to a shrill, increasingly marginalized group of academics, activists and teenagers who want their books, music, television, and films for free." - Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), confident that Parliament will come down on the side of copyright holders as it weighs Bill C-60, which will overhaul the Copyright Act.

Most musicians recognize that Graham Henderson does not represent Canadian musicians. The Canadian Independent Recording Artists' Association (CIRAA) reports that less than 5% of Canadian musicians are signed to labels. While most of those musicians who do have recording contracts are not with the major labels represented by CRIA, CRIA reports that they represent over 95% of the Canadian recorded music market. CRIA represents a tiny minority of musicians in a market that is in need of correction, and yet falsely claims to represent the interests of music "copyright holders".

I sent a letter to the editor7 to Decima suggesting a competing quote from the discussions we had at OpenCity 2005:

"I think they're going to feel emboldened that the informed part of society is strongly opposed to this policy, and that the proponents of C-60 belong to a shrill, increasingly marginalized group of old-economy economic monopolists and special interest lawyers who, unable to compete with modern methods of production, distribution and funding, are trying to use radical changes to the law to eradicate competition as well as the rights of creators and their audiences." - Russell McOrmond, self-employed software developer, consultant and ISP focused on open collaborative methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity and innovation. Russell McOrmond was a keynote speaker at OpenCity 2005, a festival of participatory culture, http://freeculture.ca

Conference participants should feel empowered by the fact that they are not needing to fight to change powerful international corporations, but to change the minds of members of their own communities. Those who are part of the informed public of creators and audiences only need to help educate community members, as once people are adequately informed about what C-60 is really about they join us in our strong opposition to C-60.

Wednesday evening

- keynotes by me and Liza Sabateur, then Music by Nightfall jazz ensemble

- Liza CultureKitchen.com http://www.culturekitchen.com/archives/003283.html

- my talk started with talking of policy laundering, and then spoke of our Petition for Users Rights. A copy of the petition was on each table, and we received many signatures during each of the evening events.

- met Judy Wasylycia-Leis, MP for Winnipeg North http://www.digital-copyright.ca/taxonomy/view/or/245 - gave her a copy of Free Culture (book), Fading Ways Share CDs, and my TheOpenCD.org CD

- met Manitoba Arts Council Chair, Dr. Judith Flynn http://www.artscouncil.mb.ca/english/about_council.html (Also mother of one of the conference organizers, Catherine Flynn)

Thursday Daytime conference

Thursday evening spoken word

Friday daytime conferences

Friday evening music

Saturday daytime conferences

Saturday evening music

1The OpenCity festival can be seen as part of the larger Free Culture movement. The website for the conference is FreeCulture.ca . The movement can be understood as those who agree with the thesis of Lawrence Lessig in his book "Free Culture" http://www.free-culture.cc/ . The movement includes FreeCulture.org , an international student movement for free culture. To understand the use of the word "free" in "free culture" you need to think free as in freedom, free speech, free market and free societies, not "free" meaning no money paid.

2As with delegates to United Nations conferences, participants were discouraged from using the term "intellectual property" which is a very politically loaded term. The working from on Patents, Copyright, Trademark and related rights at the World Summit on the Information Society recommend using the acronym PCT when discussing those few things that are in common between these laws. See the IPR name disclaimer at http://www.wsis-pct.org/ipr-disclaimer.html

3Speech by Lawrence Lessig at the 2002 Open Source Convention http://www.oreillynet.com/oscon2002/ . Full transcript, audio archive, and flash presentation are at: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/policy/2002/08/15/lessig.html

4Access Copyright was previously called CANCOPY http://www.accesscopyright.ca/

5Open Access involves changing the method of distribution to make use of the Internet. The costs of publishing and peer review would be paid up-front, with the results of the publications being licenses such that they can be freely downloaded, printed and shared without further remuneration or control. See also: Public Library of Science definition http://www.plos.org/about/openaccess.html and Wikipedia definition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access

6Decima Reports ICT UPDATE is a free mailing list which can be subscribed to at http://www.decima.com/publishing/members/ict-tools%2Easp?tool=subscribe

7I published this letter online at http://www.digital-copyright.ca/discuss/5612