Ideology or Network – the iCommons Summit stirs up the debate

The iCommons summit in Rio a few weeks ago was a very successful and lively event and is still generating waves – like a stone thrown into water – creating web discussions and blogs in ever-widening concentric rings. The major trigger for the debate that has followed the conference – at least overtly – was the acceptance of sponsorship from Microsoft for the iCommons Summit and Larry Lessig’s welcoming of Microsoft’s initiative to provide a plugin for attaching Creative Commons licences to Office documents. In the ensuing discussion, particularly in Tom Chance’s Newsforge article, I was surprised to see the Open Society, which provides my Fellowship and which was the driving force behind the Budapest Open Access Initiative, one of the major Open Access declarations, lumped with Microsoft and Google as commercial organisations with the potential ultimately of corrupting or undermining the more altruistic goals of the Commons. Where does this come from?

Behind this all, however, is the much older argument between the pragmatic approaches of Creative Commons licences and the more ideologically-driven approach of the GNU licence, or the Free/Libre movement, which considers only share-alike licences as being truly free. At the iCommons, Lawrence Lessig and Jamie Boyle both said that at the heart of the Commons movement was the idea of choice – rather than ‘the one true answer’. Creative Commons is not a movement with a single ideology, Lessig said and Boyle made a plea for the recognition that there is not a ‘single deified freedom’ and that ‘it is a mistake to make my freedom your freedom.’ There is good reason, in many cases, Lessig argued for the choice of Some Rights Reserved, or Non-Derivative licences – for example the moral commitment, in one case, to children who had been the participants in a project.

In the end of the conference, the Summit had to address the distinction between Creative Commons and the iCommons. This is the second iCommons Summit and the time seemed to have come to articulate how the two organisations should relate to one another. Up until now, it seemed that iCommons had been in an undefined way some kind of umbrella body pulling together a Creative Commons that had spread horizontally into a number of countries (including South Africa) and vertically into a variety of projects. Now it has been decided that Creative Commons will be a body concerned with licences, while the iCommons is a network advancing an (as yet undefined) vision of the Commons as a community.

So, if you want a lively discussion about pragmatism and idealism, networked communities, oligarchies and democracies, socialism or liberal democracy, professionalism and amateurism, all related to the Internet community and its values, then go to the various online debates and blogs, of which the best is probably the Open Democracy debate: Remix World: Towards the Global Digital Commons. Here Tony Curzon Price puts the pragmatic view, while Becky Hogge provides a more radical challenge. Then follow the links.

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