Free as in United
Free as in Freedom is not enough anymore. Free Culture is not enough anymore. Accessibility is not enough anymore. Open Education and Open Access, Open Data, Open Government and Transparency are not enough anymore. They are all not, by themselves, enough – even to achieve their own goals. If we are all to succeed, we have to move beyond our particular pet peeves and projects and become Free as in United.
You might have already heard or seen Cory Doctorow’s “The Coming War on General Computation” 28C3 talk. If not, please do. And when you do, you will perhaps come to the same realisation as I did – that each of our vibrant and fascinating freedom- and access-loving communities alone is weak and vulnerable to being marginalized. How? Through attacks on freedoms our particular community is not concerned with.
Free Culture enthusiasts, defending the Public Domain, convincing artists to publish on one of the great Creative Commons licenses – how will you access such “freely-available” content if it’s locked down? Not locked down by the copyright law, a lock-in which you have been fighting against, but by technical means, i.e. it’s only available in some format inaccessible to you as long as you don’t buy expensive, proprietary software. Even when such proprietary software is free of charge, what if suddenly the vendor decides otherwise and cuts your access unless you pay up?
Accessibility advocates, what will you be accessing if all content is paywalled, and available through proprietary, vendor-locked software?
Free Software and Open Source developers and users, what of your great platforms and access to code, if you are not able to use them to enjoy and participate, even if only as spectators, in the locked-down culture? What of it all, if you cannot enjoy it because it’s not accessible?
Open Data and Transparency activists, how will you be able to build truly Open Government without full control over tools such Government uses? How can you access the data if it’s encoded in yet another proprietary, closed data format, not supported by software available to you?
And how, finally, can we be open in education and academia, if we are not using free and open tools to tackle free and open content that we can share with our pupils and peers in a way that’s accessible to all interested parties?
We are all connected, our goals are intertwined, and we desperately need each other in order to achieve them. Why are we still doing all this separately?
I call upon you all – Free/Libre/Open-Source Software, Free Culture, Accessibility, Open Education and Open Access, Open Data, Open Government, Transparency along with all other freedom loving communities, unite! Let’s try to understand each other, let’s try to support each other. Let’s try to promote ideas of our respective projects, together.
When advocating accessibility, advocate open formats, free software and free culture licenses. When discussing software freedom, remember about the needs of the handicapped, and keep in mind that you need open content for software to be really useful. When opening the data or the government, please open it all the way, right down to open formats so that it is being usable with free software. When educating, educate using free and open tools, and free content. Finally, when fighting for the Public Domain and getting cultural works published on Creative Commons licenses, remember to propose file formats that enable even more people to enjoy them in an unrestricted manner.
I am not advocating centralisation, mind you! In fact, that would be counter-productive – we still need to be a diverse, de-centralised and diffused global community of independent initiatives. But we need to communicate a bit better, co-operate a bit better, and be aware of all other agents of this fantastic Gift Culture revolution. And act upon it when possible.