Free Media vs Free Beer
The free beer Richard Stallman loathes is everywhere. Media companies are currently falling over themselves to produce the new hive for user generated content. The names have rapidly become common place - YouTube, MySpace, Flickr - and their affect has been enormous, dramatically changing the production and distribution of media globally. Free beer pours from the taps of these new hubs of participatory media as they clamor to get you in the door. But free beer, as Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman has always emphasised, is not the same as freedom.
The Free Software Foundation has a stock standard one liner about what free software is and is not: "free as in free speech, not as in free beer". That is free software is not about price, but liberty. Free software is software that may be freely shared and modified on the basis that those modifications be made available to others. The defining document for free software is the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).
Free software is the philosophical Genesis of a much broader set of practices that seek to empower the user and challenge the limitations of the proprietary model in the realm of software, culture, media, politics, science and more. The model and ethics of free software production can be ported to a range of other realms. I will explore two activist media and software projects I am involved with that attempt to embody free software principals and challenge the proprietary model.
- EngageMedia.org - an Australian based free software project and video sharing site for social and environmental justice film from Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific.
- Transmission.cc - a new global network of social change online video projects co-founded by EngageMedia.
What's not free about free beer?
The spread of affordable media production equipment combined now with a global online distribution network provides grassroots media makers with an amazing opportunity. This ground breaking shift cannot be understated, however many of these new distribution networks are a double edge sword, on one side liberating, on the other representing a new nexus of control.
Many of the new commercial media sharing sites offer highly restrictive terms and conditions on their user contributions. The most dubious is that of YouTube who state