News

Brazil Re-cap

Glenn Otis Brown, June 7th, 2004

A few more words about the iCommons Brazil launch. It is hard to do the event justice. It was completely overwhelming, a true celebration, and we’ve only now recovered from the whole thing and regrouped.

As you know, iCommons Brazil made its debut at the 5th Annual Software Livre conference in Porto Alegre. An afternoon plenary, attended by an audience of about 1000, was the stage for the announcement.

Claudio Prado, Coordinator of Digital Culture of the Ministry of Culture of Brazil and one of the visionaries behind Brazil’s many tech initiatives, moderated the dozen-or-so panelists. The first to speak was Joaquim Falcao, Dean of FGV Law School, iCommons Brazil‘s lead institution. Prof. Falcao told a story about Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer, and his famed correspondence from his travels in the “New World.” Vespucci’s letters gained life, and a broad and prominent readership (including Sir Thomas More and Machiavelli), only as his readers and re-publishers began to build upon his letters. Some added illustrations to Vespucci’s original text. Others translated the Italian into Latin. Someone gave the collection of letters a zippy new title. In an early example of adaptation, Thomas More drew from Vespucci in writing his Utopia. So central were the letters to the early identity of the land that it later became his namesake. But not before being feminized (that is, once again re-tooled): America. In the modern age of maximalist copyright, said Joaquim, such collective authorship would stand little chance.

Lawrence Lessig followed Falcao on the dais. (You may recall that Lessig has allowed free derivatives of his new book Free Culture, and that a downright Vespuccian flourishing of formats has resulted.) Lessig stirred the crowd with a theme (“free speech, free markets, free software, free culture, free will”), marveled over the conference’s teeming enthusiasm for software livre, and said the U.S. should learn to follow Brazil’s example in the field.

Next came Ronaldo Lemos, iCommons Brazil‘s leader and director of FGV Law School’s Center for Technology and Society. Ronaldo introduced the excellent Portuguese versions of Get Creative and Reticulum Rex, and I giddily watched from the cheap seats, high-fiving FGV staffer Jorge Rosa, who along with Ronaldo, Carlos Affonso de Souza, and Bruno Magrani, translated the cartoons.

Ronaldo explained the natural match between Creative Commons and Brazil, noting that CC’s collaborative ethos echoes that of Tropicalism, an artistic and political movement of the ’60s and ’70s that celebrated Brazilian culture as a hodgepodge of high and low, indigenous and import, old and new. Ronaldo then announced the retirement of the name “Sampling license” and the birth of Recombo, a change I explained in an earlier post.

Berkman Center faculty director William Fisher also spoke, sketching out the many possible futures of music online and putting the day’s events in context. Linux International president Jon Maddog Hall received the warmest audience welcome . . . until Minister Gilberto Gil, delayed by a cabinet meeting in Brasilia, entered the massive room from the back and made his way up the center aisle like a prizefigher approaching the ring, waves of body guards, flashbulbs, and admirers trailing him. Gil took the stage and shook Maddog’s hand. Maddog wrapped up his address — about the birth of the piano as open-source instrument, among other things — and received a standing ovation. (Read
Maddog’s account
of the conference.)

Minister Gil then spoke, waxing eloquent about technology and culture and even performing a dramatic reading of John Perry Barlow’s “Selling Wine Without Bottles.” A handful of speakers followed Gil, among them my friend and free software force Marcelo Branco and anthropologist/music expert Hermano Vianna, and the session concluded with Gil’s ceremonial signing of the Recombo license as his song “Oslodum” played over the PA.

Later Gil rocked the Santander Cultural Center in downtown Porto Alegre with a powerful show: classic crowd pleasers (e.g. “Aquele Abraco”), a cleverly re-arranged Marley cover or two, and plenty of audience participation. VJ Pixel poured psychedelic images across the stage, including some mind-bending manipulations of the Creative Commons animations and icons (Ryan Junell‘s original handiwork). It was an amazing media moment when Gil’s live image hovered on the wall alongside his animated likeness, from Reticulum Rex, as the crowd danced with abandon.

Finally, a Creative Commons camera crew was onhand to capture all the action. We’ll keep you posted on the short video we’ll produce from the event. In the meantime, we cannot thank the iCommons Brazil team, the Software Livre conference participants, and Mr. Gil enough.

(Here’s another account, if you read Portuguese.)

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