Open Culture

Open culture movement is a global social movement which promotes the freedom to distribute and alter works mainly with the use of Internet. The supporters of the movement oppose the restrictions imposed by copyright law which they consider to be hampering creativity.

The open culture movement promotes four values:

  1. creativity and innovation;
  2. free communication and creative expression;
  3. universal access to knowledge;
  4. civil liberties;

The notion of opening culture, education, science or resources is associated with several actions and social movements which have been functioning for many years, such as:

  • Free Software Movement — from 1985,
  • Open Source Movement — 1998,
  • Open Access Movement — 1991,

and more recently:

  • Open Educational Resources Movement — 2002,
  • Free Culture Movement — 2004.

The notion of free culture, however, appears to have the broadest meaning (if it is not limited to legal discussions). Although it started to be used quite late, it can cover the entire range of phenomena called open initiatives, from scientific to educational. Today, however, it tends to focus on artistic creation.

What is the main difference between the free culture movement and the existing culture? The free-culture movement is a social movement that promotes the freedom to create, distribute and modify creative works by using the Internet and other electronic media. The members of the movement refer to the excessively expanded copyright law, sometimes rejecting its philosophy and ideas altogether, arguing that it hinders creativity. The activists refer to the existing system as “permission culture”.

Permission culture is a notion often used by Lawrence Lessig (Free Culture) and other activists to describe a society in which copyright restrictions are very broad and excessively enforced and any use of copyrighted works is regulated in detail. This has both economic and social implications: in such society copyright holders may demand payment for every use of the work and what is more important they always need to be asked permission for making a derivative work. Permission culture also refers to human mentality and habits (it is assumed that it is greatly influenced by copyright) that make people feel that they have a moral obligation to ask for the permission to reuse or share the work. This notion is often opposed by the notion of: remix culture.

Contemporary culture and its creators are struggling with a number of problems. Some of them are economic and some ideological, but one thing is certain, a new quality in culture is born out of the creativity of a generation made up of individuals who have been brought up online, are highly skilled in the processing of the objects of existing culture, enjoy their processing and do not accept any restrictions in this regard.

Not all creators have the awareness that, on one hand, they are the authors of art works, and on the other, consumers. It is impossible for any creator to be able to create a work without relying on the existing culture and without the tradition that they have internalised and without being inspired by the artistic heritage passed on them by other creators. One follows from the other and a compromise should be found between what is commercial and what is common so as not to exclude the entire populations from culture. Alternative economic models should be sought that reconcile the interests of the creator with the interests of the general public.

A free culture movement has emerged in response to these contradictions and restrictions with a legal organisation Creative Commons, as its strong arm, one of the many organisations gathering people of good will intending to reform the set of laws which regulate currently the sphere of creative work. This project, though very innovative, has made a soft entrance into the area of application of the existing law, because it does not compete with the copyright laws, as writes Lessig (the creator of CC) but complements them. Its objective is not to fight the rights of creators but make it easier for the authors and creators to enforce their rights in a cheaper and more flexible manner. It is a difference that, according to many, will lead to an easier dissemination of creative works. The second important objective of Creative Commons is to build a public domain, a space open to anyone without restriction, which is crucial for the development of creativity and innovation.

The notion of a public domain is not new in the history of culture or economic or social sciences, but it has been attributed a broader meaning to refer to some new phenomena.

Public domain is defined as an abstract set of works which are not controlled, secured or owned by anyone under the intellectual property system. This definition is intended to show that the works are “public property”, available to everyone, to be used for any purpose. The laws of different countries define the scope of public domain differently which makes it important to indicate under which jurisdiction the used materials fall. There is no definition of public domain in the Polish legal system.

Public domain is mentioned as opposed to works with restrictions on use. According to the contemporary copyright law the original literary, artistic or musical works etc. are protected by copyright from the moment of their creation until the time specifically defined in the law (which can differ depending on the country). When copyright expires the work passes into the public domain. In Poland, in the majority of cases, it is 70 years after the death of the author. The public domain also includes materials which are not protected by copyright under the copyright law. In Poland these are, for example, official documents.

In October 2009, the first global summit of organisations working for the creation of open culture took place in Barcelona which formulated the most important demands with regard to reinforcing actions and coordinating efforts on a global scale, see Free Culture Forum in Barcelona Around 100 organisations from 20 countries took part in the assembly and the result of their work is already available on the Internet.


Ed. by Bożena Bednarek-Michalska