Home' Technology Review : June 2005 Contents 52
in part because they lower the media market s barriers to entry,
which in turn invites a much wider range of participation.
We re just now beginning to see the consequences of this de-
mocratization of artistic means. A couple years ago, for example,
a young lmmaker named Jonathan Caouette began playing
with his boyfriend s iMac. The iMac came bundled with Apple s
iMovie program. Caouette was smitten with it. And while he had
never studied lm, he had shot an extraordinary amount of video
growing up. He began obsessively to digitize this video. Then,
using iMovie, he remixed it. The result was a lm that was the hit
of Sundance and Cannes in 2004: Tarnation. It cost Caouette just
$218 to make this lm.
The point is not that anyone can make a Cannes hit. But it is
enough to recognize that many more people (indeed, millions
more) could make good lms. New digital technologies could
enable an explosion of creative work.
Now there s no problem, of course, with this sort of creativity
if the underlying remixed culture is "free": Jonathan Caouette
didn t have much trouble making his lm since he remixed his
own footage. But what if you wanted to use these technologies to
remix copyrighted content with your own content?
The short answer is, you couldn t. Under today s rules, remix-
ing copyrighted digital content is infringing the rights of the
That in turn makes concrete the second, less familiar, com-
plaint against DRM: if the technology permits the most extreme
interpretation of existing copyright law, remixing will not be-
come merely di cult. It will be e ectively impossible---without
clearing the rights rst. If content is locked in code that requires
permission before it can be reused, or remixed, then that permis-
sion will poison the practice of remixing. A kind of creativity---
familiar since the beginning of culture---will thus be lost to digital
culture and, as digital culture occupies more and
more of our activities, to culture as a whole.
This, nally, is the link between the free-
software and free-culture movements. In both,
there was a practice that was essentially free. In
both, a change in the environment of the practice
removed that freedom. With free software, the
change was the rise of proprietary code. With free
culture, the change was the radical expansion of
the reach of copyright regulation. Technology
made both of these changes possible. Both the free-
software and free-culture movements in turn use technology and
law (through copyright licenses) to restore the freedoms that
proprietary code and culture removed. Each proceeds through
the voluntary e orts of creators to preser ve a wider range of free-
doms for their successors. Each seeks a world without the con-
trols that the extremes of proprietary assertion produce.
Truly Free Markets
When most people trip upon these free movements, their initial
reaction is that both are implausibly utopian. They read "free" to
be a rejection of basic economic principles.
But the economy of free software is still an economy. It pro-
duces wealth; it inspires growth; it spreads ser vices broadly
within a society. It functions di erently than the economy of pro-
prietary software---di erent scarcities are traded---but it is still an
economy. And literally billions of dollars have been invested to
make it ourish.
The same is true of free culture. Many read "free culture" to
mean that artists don t get paid. But here, too, the di erence is
not that one approach (proprietary culture) builds an economy
while the other (free culture) does not. In the way that I ve use
the term, free culture describes the economy that governed crea-
tive industries for at least the rst 186 years of the American
republic. More importantly, proprietary culture has never yet
gover ned any creative economy, anywhere. No society has ever
imposed the level of control that the proprietary culture of digital
technologies and DRM would enable.
The kids in Porto Alegre were resisting economic shifts away
from the old balance that has de ned the Western tradition. The
economy that they would build doesn t deny the importance of
copyright (indeed, the licenses necessary to build free software
and free culture depend upon copyright). But it revises copyright
to t a digital age more e ectively. It structures the law in light of
technology, to produce the greatest opportunity for creativity and
growth that the technology might o er.
These are improvements in e ciency. They aim at increased
wealth. But there is a growing politics supporting both move-
ments that has little to do with e ciency or wealth. This is pay-
back politics, tied less to ideas than to an increasing global
fr ustration with the United States.
The cause is not hard to see: according to the United States,
Brazil, for example, is a pirate nation. The International Intellec-
tual Property Alliance (which, its name notwithstanding, repre-
sents U.S. copyright interests) estimates that this piracy cost
United States copyright industries close to $1 billion last year.
Consequently, the U.S. has begun to
put pressure on Brazil. That pres-
sure has produced an unsurprising
reaction against the stu that makes
it possible for Brazil to be a pirate na-
tion---proprietary code and proprie-
For there s another way to reckon
the cost of the proprietary. Accord-
ing to the Brazilian government, for
example, Brazil sends close to $1 bil-
lion to the north each year just to pay for software licenses. So as
the Brazilians see it, tongue rmly in cheek, this proprietary stu
is a bad thing all around---costing the U.S. $1 billion, and Brazil
$1 billion as well.
The obvious solution is to dump the proprietary stu . So the
Brazilian gover nment is pushing itself and the nation to substi-
tute free software for proprietary software. As one member of
the government said during a speech at the World Social For um,
"We re against software piracy. We believe Microsoft s rights
should be respected. And the simplest way to respect their rights
is for Brazilians everywhere to switch to free software."
The Brazilian government is beginning to internalize the
tenets of the free-culture movement as well. Brazil s minister of
culture, Gilberto Gil, is leading a push for practical reform of the
Gilberto Gil and John Perry Barlow
AP PHOTO/NABOR GOULART
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