CC BY-NC — Courtesy of Second Life
Second Life, the virtual world created in 2003, has recently been hosting various “free culture” related events in world. Mia Garlick caught up with Wagner James Au, who writes the blog New World Notes as an embedded journalist in Second Life, to learn more about these events and how people who are interested in Creative Commons in real life can get involved in CC and “free culture” events in Second Life.
Mia Garlick (“MG”): For those who don’t already know, can you explain a little about Second Life?
Wagner James Au (“WJA”): Second Life is a user-created 3D online world—almost everything you see in it was built with the internal building and scripting tools. Residents retain IP rights to all their creations, and can do with them as they please. As of today (February 10, 2006), there are well over 135,000 members, and it’s growing at nearly 5,000 a week.
MG: You recently had Creative Commons’ CEO & Chairman Lawrence Lessig appear, using his own special avatar, in Second Life. Can you give some background information about how this came about and also, why the Second Life community would be so interested in the issues & law of copyright and technology?
WJA: A longtime Resident, Eggy Lippman, is the proprietor of an SL history Wiki, and was helping a student of Professor Lessig’s with a research paper on the world. As Second Life’s embedded journalist, I run an ongoing book club series where I bring established authors into SL to discuss their books— Ellen Ullman, Cory Doctorow, and Thomas *Pentagon’s New Map* Barnett. Eggy suggested this as an idea for Larry to his student, the student brought it to Larry’s attention, Larry contacted me, I had a heart attack, but from there it was all logistics. Some ten Lindens and a handful of Residents jumped in to turn it into a huge event. Resident Lilith Pendragon created Larry’s avatar to eerily resemble him, while Falk Bergman imported the full text to Free Culture into a virtual edition of the book which can be read in–world—and thanks to his autograph technology, signed by Lawrence Lessig himself, at the click of a mouse. Check out these screenshots.
In a very real sense, Second Life exists as it does because of Lawrence Lessig. A few years ago, he advised Linden Lab to allow their subscribers to retain IP rights to whatever they built. The result of this has been an explosion of sustained creativity, with many Residents making all or some of their real life living by their imagination and efforts in SL. As I told the Linden Lab staff after Larry offered to appear in world, “This is like Thomas Jefferson suddenly returning to the US to see what his ideas had inspired.”
MG: Second Life recently held an in world meeting to discuss planning and ideas for “free culture” events. What lead to this meeting being held?
WJA: After Larry’s appearance in Second Life, which attracted a huge overflow crowd (easily 300 or more), there was a lot of enthusiasm for more events related to Free Culture, the Second Life group I created to reserve spots for that event. Fortunately, Larry told me he had a great time in Second Life and was willing to do more such projects, so we’ve taken it from there. That meeting a couple weekends ago was one of the first to plan future events, most of which will take donations to Creative Commons through the non–profit’s Paypal account (which has been set to Larry’s Second Life account.)
MG: What does Second Life and the Second Life community hope to grow out of these “free culture” meeting?
WJA: Speaking for myself, I’d love to see a more active relationship between the Second Life community of creators, who already “get” the philosophy of Creative Commons in an emotional and cultural sense, with Creative Commons the real world movement. I would want anyone passionate about a new kind of “rip, mix, burn” creativity to take their energies into Second Life, which is already a kind of 3D wiki built with those ideals.
MG: What can people who are interested in Free Culture issues do to participate in and assist the development of “free culture” in Second Life?
WJA: Well, first get a Second Life account and join the Free Culture group, already some 150+ strong. Within the Second Life interface, that’s as easy as clicking Find>Groups>entering “Free Culture” in the find slot, and clicking Join. Also drop by the Free Culture group forum in Second Life.com (you need your SL account info to get in): http://forums.secondlife.com/forumdisplay.php?f=265.
Most importantly, bring your passion for free culture to Second Life, for no matter what your specific interest, you’ll find others just as enthused. Already in the works are plans for bringing CC–themed film festival, music festivals, art festivals, and more, into Second Life itself. (Not to mention events that will feature Larry himself, in avatar form.) Come on in, contact one of the Free Culture officers, and join the fun.Comments Off on Second Life
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer are the members of The Lonely Island, an LA-based comedy collective, who have released much of their music and video shorts online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.
Also known as “the dudes”, Andy, Jorma and Akiva soon found that they were developing a fan base, some of whom were remixing their music, so they posted these remixes to their site as well.
Earlier this year, “the dudes” shot a pilot for FOX called Awesometown but FOX rejected the pilot. Instead of letting the show wither on a shelf somewhere, the group posted the full video both cut and uncut to their CC-licensed site. The edgy, quirky short spread like wildfire online and eventually landed all three performers jobs on Saturday Night Live (SNL).
In SNL’s Fall 2005 season, Andy Samberg will join as a new cast member, while Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer will join the show as writers.
Creative Commons asked Andy, Jorma and Akiva to explain a little about what had led them down the Creative Commons route & their experience along the way.
Creative Commons (“CC”): How did you hear about Creative Commons?
The Lonely Island (“TLI”): We first started posting our comedy shorts, songs and music videos on the web in 2001. Some of our work involves parodies and remixing, so we were thrilled when our fans began sending us remixed versions of our songs. We even sent some of them the acapella vocal tracks to work with and posted the results. Akiva’s brother suggested we check out the Creative Commons project. Around the same time, our friend DJ Danger Mouse was stirring up a bunch of controversy with the Grey Album.
Ultimately we discovered that by continuing to do what we were already doing and then adding a Creative Commons deed to the page, we could protect ourselves, and our fans. That’s what sold us on it. It lets everyone know that they are free to share and remix our stuff, all the rules are right there – they don’t even need to ask permission. It’s really a win-win.
CC: What attracted the dudes to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike or BY-NC-SA license?
TLI: The BY-NC-SA seemed like a safe and fair choice. It covers probably 99.99% of our audience’s needs, and anyone who would like to do more with something is free to contact us. Occasionally a commercial website or television network will ask for permission to use a video. We evaluate each offer and sometimes we’ll arrange for a nominal licensing fee.
CC: What were the kinds of reactions (both positive and negative) you experienced as a result of choosing to license the pilot under a Creative Commons license?
TLI: We’re really encouraged by the reaction so far. A lot of people heard about it through Defamer and BoingBoing and the response has been great. Still, many of our viewers don’t notice the Creative Commons license or understand what it is, so we’ve been thinking of some fun ways to get more of them involved. In the meantime, we’re really busy with our new jobs, so we’re grateful we got this opportunity to start spreading the word.Comments Off on Lonely Island
Dateline: 1980. New York-based typesetter Rick Prelinger was trying to “make it in the movies” and writing a reference book on two-way radio frequencies on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Two years later, he became the Research Director for “Heavy Petting,” the Norman Lear-funded Atomic Café-like documentary about sexuality in the 20th Century. Armed with photocopies of old educational film reference books and Library of Congress copyright catalogs, he began a project of surveying, cataloging, archiving, and cross-referencing educational, industrial and advertising films produced in the United States between 1903 and the early 1980s.
Over the past twenty years, Rick has collected more than 48,000 complete films and roughly 30,000 cans of raw footage. The Internet Archive currently hosts 1,125 titles online, with plans to have 1,500 uploaded by the end of 2003.
The Library of Congress recently acquired the Prelinger Archives, which will be made publicly accessible after a 3- to 4-year processing period. In the meantime, the Internet Archive will be the primary way to access the films.
We caught up with Rick fresh back from New York City, where he had been cataloging and preparing to ship the actual film stock for delivery to the L.O.C. The process had left him covered in rust and dust from digging into the corners of his storage facility in search of any lost films that may have slipped through the cracks.
CC: Rick, what exactly is the Prelinger Archives?
RP: The Prelinger Archives is a large collection of what I call “ephemeral films.” These are industrial, advertising, educational, amateur and government films — films that were generally made not to show in movie theatres or on TV, but films that were made to teach, to educate, sometimes to miseducate, to train, to sell, pitch a product, or promote an idea. Films that embody the persuasions of the past. In addition to showing us the way things were, they also show how things were supposed to be. They are a wonderful set of visions of the way we were supposed to think, what we were supposed to buy. A vision of the sort of people we were supposed to become, and as such they record aspects of our history that are suppressed. They are not necessarily public aspects of our history.
CC: What do you mean “not necessarily public aspects of our history”?
RP: I’ll give you an example. If we want to have a sense of what it was like to be a member of a family, a nuclear family in the American 50’s or 60’s, you really can’t get that authentically from a TV sit com, or from a Hollywood movie, or from a news reel. But when you see these films, they are filled with footage of idealized families in action. We get a sense of how the family actually looked and behaved, what was the body language, what were the gender roles, how kids were supposed to behave differently than adults, and you also get a sense of that sort of all-encompassing ideology. So you could argue that all of these films, in a way, are sort of an ethnographic vision of a lost America.
CC: Do you feel that producing these films is a lost art?
RP: These kinds of films really aren’t made today, but if you could imagine the World Wide Web — where organizations and institutions, companies and individuals use the Web to build a site to make their voice heard —imagine that instead everybody was making movies…every company made movies to promote products and train its workers and reach the public. In the schools of the past, really from the turn of the century until recently, films were shown to teach everything. Whether it was “How To Brush Your Teeth,” “How To Get Married,” “Social Studies,” “The Products of Guatemala”…this is the kind of material that I’ve collected for about twenty years.
CC: How long has the Prelinger Archives offered films on the Web?
RP: We first started putting movies up at the very, very beginning of 2001, and the site was kind of embryonic for a while. It’s still a work in progress, but well over 1,250,000 movies have been downloaded — some of those for people to just look at and enjoy from the privacy of their homes, their dorm rooms. Others have been made into other movies.
CC: The movies in the Prelinger Archives have been used to create a wide range of “derivative works.” Could you give us some examples?
RP: In 2001, we had a contest on the theme of “The World At War”…the winners are actually on the Internet Archive Website. The film that took the first prize was “The ABC’s of Happiness,” where an animated character tells the audience that we really shouldn’t worry about the past. We should be happy. We shouldn’t look at disturbing images and let this knock us off of our complacent center — and of course the images we’re seeing in the background are all very disturbing. It’s a very funny and a very sweet film, but with a real punch to it. An artist in England whose name is Vicki Bennett — who performs under the name of “People Like Us” is a musician whose work is made of sampling other kinds of works and knitting together a new whole which is kind of utopian and imaginative. She made a ten-minute movie called, “We Edit Life,” which is about the history of electronic music and the (perhaps) obsolescence of human beings in the future, and it’s all made with material from my collection that was downloaded through the Internet Archive. It’s a funny and very complex little movie.
People are working with our footage to make shows for Tech TV. There’s a series called “Big Thinkers” that makes very, very heavy use of our material. And you know, when you’re making a movie about “Big Thinkers,” you have people talking, and how do you add ametaphoric dimension to what people are saying? How do you visualize their ideas? One of the ways that the producers decided to do that was to download an incredible amount of footage from the site, build a little library, and use a lot of these archival images to contextualize what people were saying.
A woman in San Francisco named Heather Rogers just made a great little film on recycling that actually questions whether recycling is beneficial. We all think that recycling is a good thing…she’s not sure that it is, and she uses a lot of old imagery from the Archives depicting consumption and waste to illustrate her point. It’s a strong movie. So, there are artists. There are documentaries. There are people doing conventional commercial TV, and there are people doing work that doesn’t look like anything that has ever been made before. But all of it relies heavily on having access to a pool of old imagery.
CC: Could you explain more of the details about how making your footage available “for free” through the Internet Archive has actually increased revenues for your stock footage business?
RP: I run a small stock footage company. It grosses every year in the low-to mid-six figures. My competitors are big companies who spend at least as much and maybe more money than I gross every year just on magazine advertising. Probably, they spend that much money just to build their Websites. I couldn’t afford to do that. But if the footage that’s in my collection is “out there,” and [if] it works its way back into the culture by being ubiquitous, I gain. Because ubiquity of images makes them more valuable.
CC: How about an example of what you mean when you talk about how an image’s being used over and over again makes it more ubiquitous and therefore more valuable?
RP: The example that I always like to point to goes back to when I used to work at HBO. (I worked in the entertainment industry for six years.) One day, I was sitting with a colleague of mine who was head of the Time-Life picture collection — a wonderful, wonderful collection of images, many of which are the most emblematic images of the last 70 or 80 years. I asked [my colleague], “What’s your highest revenue-producing image?” She said, “Why I’m surprised you asked, Rick. Of course, you know what it is: It’s the image of everybody sitting in a movie theater with their 3-D glasses on.” You know this famous image. It’s kind of emblematic of the fifties. [Time-Life] makes a great deal of money selling that image…it’s also pirated. It’s been shot over and over again by people. People have set up people in theaters and then shot it on film, so they have a movie version of it. Repetition and ubiquity haven’t lessened the value of that image: they’ve increased it.
Through our partnership with the Internet Archive, my images are just going out all over the world. They are achieving a level of spread and penetration I could never do on my own. And therefore, I think that giving things away ends up benefiting me. You know, these images don’t get used up. They don’t get yellow around the edges. They don’t become less valuable from being shown and repeated. Ubiquity equals value. That’s how I think you can make money by giving things away.Comments Off on Rick Prelinger
Wiley Wiggins has starred in the films Dazed and Confused, Waking Life (on which he also worked as an animator), and Frontier. Wiggins was a contributing editor to the late, great FringeWare Review. His collection of short Stories, Solarcon-6, is available for free under a Creative Commons license from his website (also licensed!).
We caught up with him recently to talk about his projects, his use of Creative Commons licenses, and where he thinks the digital rights debate is headed.
Creative Commons: Most people probably know you for your starring roles in Dazed and Confused and Waking Life, but I have a feeling from reading your website that you do quite a bit more than just film acting. What other things do you spend time doing, and what do you consider to be your main passion?
Wiley Wiggins: Acting has been the most visible creative outlet I’ve worked in, but that’s pretty deceptive, since I don’t pursue an acting career or consider myself an actor. I actually suffer from almost paralytic performance anxiety and can only really enjoy myself acting with friends (which is one of the reasons I work in mostly local, independent films). I actually spend most of my time writing and working with imaging and video on the computer. Waking Life was an excellent project for me because it brought everything I do together, as an actor, writer, computer animator, and all around film-fan.
CC: You’ve chosen to license things on your website under a Creative Commons license. Why?
Creative Commons licenses are so much more flexible and powerful than the very limited and draconian traditional copyright license, especially for what I do. I love the idea of being able to bounce ideas back and forth collaboratively with a group, or to be able to disseminate work freely and still have protection from having someone else simply take credit for it. Copying isn’t theft when it comes to an idea; [theft] is someone else trying to take credit for or make a profit from your idea. The more people copy and disseminate my work, the more talented people I can reach out to and hopefully collaborate with one day.
CC: You’ve been in a few big Hollywood movies, but you’re also active in Austin’s EFF chapter and carry Creative Commons licenses on your site. How do you reconcile the discrepancy between Hollywood’s way of doing business (where control is supreme) and, say, the EFF’s and Creative Commons’? Do you fit in with one world more easily than the other?
I think the Hollywood model for filmmaking is inherently flawed in so many ways. (That’s one of the reasons I live in Austin, and make movies kind of in the margins here.) And I think their stale method of dealing with talent and information as “property” is one of the reasons they seem to make the same movie with the same actors over and over again. Perpetual ownership of rights to works that should be public domain; “ownership” of characters and stories and concepts — [the way] that studios will buy the rights to a script and decide to never make it, making it impossible for anyone to do so; making media technology proprietary to the extent that movies cannot be copied or backed up for personal use (this is especially bad now that it has been revealed that many DVD’s have a very limited life span, and that this may have been intentional, so that people would have to buy multiple copies) — all these things may make perfect sense in a creative community where every one is a crook, but it does not make sense to me or to the way that I make art.
My main issue with Hollywood is actually the machinery of distribution. Waking Life was difficult to find distribution for, even though it got great reviews at Sundance, because it didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s pie-chart view of moviegoers. This happens a lot with independent cinema. In a bad economy, none of these large commercial entities are willing to take risks on things they have a hard time hawking to a “focus group.” It’s very frustrating when you have work you want to share with the world, but you have to rely on these outmoded, money-obsessed dinosaurs in order to do so. Creative Commons is a very powerful tool in the journey to live without these entities, and to share art and information without the approval of cabals of advertising executives.
CC: What do you see in the future for the digital rights management (DRM) being used by Hollywood’s movie and music companies? Do you think DRM will help fill consumer and corporate needs, or is there more promise in freer works like those under Creative Commons licenses?
Well, for all the flack it might get on Slashdot, I think Apple’s Music store is a pretty open and moderate use of DRM that keeps both nervous companies and users fairly happy. I’ll support it in the hopes that the music selection grows, and because I think Apple has one of the more benevolent attitudes towards sharing information of the big media/computer conglomerates — except for their own intellectual properties anyway, watch out! I can only hope that these technologies are used more in this style, as opposed to silly, broken formats that won’t let you burn CDs or copy music off more than one computer. Unlimited [burns of] CDs and [use in] iPods is a step in the right direction.
CC: Right now you’re licensing your website under a Creative Commons license. Do you think you’ll license movies, artwork, writings, or other work in the future?
I’m planning on directing two animated shorts in the next year that I think may work well under a CC license. A film created with festivals in mind is an interesting creature. Because you don’t really intend to sell the film itself, just get it seen in order to get interest and funding for larger projects, you don’t need to secure the rights to music you use (if you intend to sell the short later you generally have to re-edit it with music you own the rights to) and you don’t want to be too strict about copyrights on the film either, since you want as many people to see it as possible. I would like to create high-res Quicktime versions of the finished films that I could share via P2P and on my website. I think it’s simply the best way to distribute an underground or independent short film.
CC: With the advent of powerful computers and digital video at consumer prices, where do you see independent film headed? Will we be inundated with boring home movies, or is the next Citizen Kane going to be encoded as Quicktime?
I think that what it takes to make a large-scale film is always going to be prohibitively expensive. High Definition is exciting, but it is still mostly out of reach for independent projects — and beyond just media, there are tons of other costs involved in a large film. The new technology does free people who are doing small scale projects, however — the ability to shoot, edit, and make DVDs or streaming movies of small projects is in the hands of consumers. Yes, this does mean that a lot of crap gets made (let’s do Star Wars parodies until our eyes fall out of our heads!). But it also means I can make my movie, I can show it to people, and maybe I can try my hand at working with a larger group of people on a larger project. So, in a way I think it’s both a training path and an end to itself. It’s perfect for some projects — Waking Life was all shot on DV before being animated for instance — and not for others (Can you imagine Lawrence of Arabia, shot on DV?). In the end, DV, film, super-8, cave paintings — they’re all just tools, and each is appropriate at different times. What we need to pay close attention to is the means of distribution, the legality of different types of sharing, and making sure the voices of a broad spectrum of artists are heard.Comments Off on Wiley Wiggins
MediaRights.org is an innovative non-profit, based in New York, but accessible around the world via their website that helps to showcase important social issue documentaries and puts media makers, educators, librarians, nonprofits, and activists in contact with each other to enable the use of documentaries to generate discussion and encourage action on contemporary social issues. MediaRights.org offers, for free, four distinct toolkits: one for producers; one for educators and librarians; one for activists and non-profits; and, one for youth media producers and activists.
MediaRights.org co-ordinates an annual Media That Matters Film Festival. The MTM festival is designed to bring high-impact shorts and ‘Take Action tools’ to audiences throughout the United States and some international venues, all year long. The premiere of this year’s MTM festival takes place in New York on May 18, 2005, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music followed by an Awards Ceremony to be held at HBO headquarters on May 19, 2005.
MediaRights.org recently started using Creative Commons licenses for the films being showcased in the Media That Matters film festival and as part of other MediaRights.org projects.
Neeru Paharia from Creative Commons caught up with David Jacobs, MediaRights.org’s Director of Distribution and Technology, to find out more about MediaRights.org, their various projects and their experience using Creative Commons licenses.
Creative Commons (“CC”): What is the history and mission behind MediaRights.org?
David Jacobs of MediaRights.org (“MR”): The idea for MediaRights.org started as a result of a meeting in 1999 of social issue documentary filmmakers and activists, brought together by the Ford Foundation, to talk about ways they could work better together. It was the height of the boom, so the solution was to build a web site. With seed funding from Ford, and some other partners, New York filmmakers Julia Pimsleur and Katy Chevigny created MediaRights.org as a 501(c)(3) organization built explicitly to foster this connection. A few months later, MediaRights launched and has been growing ever since.
Now we’re the outreach and distribution half of Arts Engine, Inc., a non-profit organization whose goal is to support, produce, and distribute independent media. In addition to our core web site MediaRights.org and the site for the Media That Matters Film Festival, we also maintain the Youth Media Distribution Initiative, whose mission is to improve the distribution of independent youth-created film, video, radio, and new media. We have also produced the web site for the Deadline Outreach campaign, which is intended to motivate ordinary Americans to reevaluate their positions on the death penalty and come to a more informed conclusion about the full ramifications of being “tough on crime”.
CC: What is the history and mission behind the Media that Matters Film Festival?
MR: One of our core philosophies is that the outreach process around a film is as important as the distribution or production process. The festival is a way for us to ‘walk the walk’ in addition to ‘talking the talk’.
The Media That Matters Film Festival is a crystallization of what MediaRights is all about. It’s easy to talk about cooperation between filmmakers and activists, but it’s harder to actually get it done. So in 2000 we started the Film Festival, which is a year long celebration of short activist films. The 16 films that make up the festival each year are streamed from our website, distributed on DVD, broadcast around the United States, and screened around the United States, and at some overseas locations, as part of our traveling film festival.
We pair the films with a series of “Take Action” links and campaigns, so the audience for the films is always presented with an option to act in response to the issues and media that make up the festival. For instance, our film “I Promise Africa” is about the spread of AIDS in Africa in the context of September 11 and the War on Terror. Since the film is only two minutes long, we communicate a lot of the information about the topic via the links and supplementary materials on the site.
CC: What made you decide to license the festival under a Creative Commons license?
MR: We wanted to find a way to get our films distributed to a broader audience, without giving up the filmmaker’s rights, which we were legally bound to protect. The Creative Commons license allowed us to clearly state what rights we wanted to protect and which rights we wanted to give up. Creative Commons, the organization, acts as a supportive and stabilizing presence for our constituents and filmmakers. The resources that Creative Commons provides for free are far greater than what we would have been able to produce and sustain on our own.
A program as large as the festival occupies a large proportion of our time. Since we’re a small organization with only 7 employees, we couldn’t afford to spend the entire year talking to lawyers and negotiating distribution agreements. We wanted to spend our time thinking about creative ways to make media matter more, not talking with our lawyers (as much as I love our lawyer). In past years, we had offered the festival under a non-commercial license to our partners and anyone who wanted to screen the festival. Although our license was good, our members and partners still had to call us to get access to the films and to clarify the finer points of the license. By using the Creative Commons license this year, we hope to make it even easier for our partners and others who want to screen the festival, to do so.
CC: Can you briefly describe the nature of your discussions with the filmmakers about adopting a Creative Commons? What were their concerns?
MR: Every filmmaker wants their film to go farther, and people are (rightfully) a little freaked out about giving up ALL of their intellectual property rights. The CC license allows us to offer a middle path. We want to people to screen the festival, use it in classrooms (there are free companion curriculums on our website), put the DVD on library shelves, and share it with their friends. We are also selling it on Amazon but we don’t want people selling bootlegged copies. This is commonsense to me. I think it is sad, though, that this is seen as so radical in our current political climate.
This is actually the first year that we began selling the DVD as opposed to giving it away, so the nonexclusive nature of the CC license was crucial. Once we explained that Creative Commons didn’t obligate us to give up ALL of our copyrights, people understood the language immediately.
Our goal is to get the films and their messages out as far as possible and the Creative Commons license helps us do that.
People who want to charge tickets for a screening or broadcast the festival still have to contact us, because it’s important to us that filmmakers are fairly compensated for their work and get a cut of any money made off of the films. Any filmmaker’s nightmare is that their work gets repackaged as a bootleg DVD or is screened without their consent, but we were facing these issues before we applied the CC license to our work. It also should be noted that we have a terrific lawyer who does some pro bono work for us, and he was able to clarify issues for us that our filmmakers raised. Mostly, he gave us the confidence to say “Yes, we’ve checked with our lawyer, and this doesn’t compromise our goals in any way.”
CC: Where can people watch this year’s Media That Matters festival?
MR: The festival is streamed on-line, and is available for purchase on DVD. The festival also tours around the United States and some international locations. The most current news about the festival is always available on our blog.Comments Off on Media Rights
Ourmedia launched three months ago as a home for grassroots media. The site provides a place where anyone can upload video, music, photos, audio clips and other personal media and store it for free on ourmedia’s servers forever. Uploaders have the option of making their works available under a Creative Commons license.
Recently, Ourmedia was nominated as the U.S. finalist for the UN World Summit Awards. The awards are an international competition created in 2003 to highlight the most innovative digital content being created around the world. The awards coincide with the 2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), an international UN summit that will take place in Tunisia this November. Despite having only launching in early 2005, Ourmedia was nominated as a finalist in the e-inclusion category-the UN’s term for initiatives that are helping bridge the digital divide, utilizing the Internet to empower the public.
Creative Commons’ Executive Director Neeru Paharia spoke with J.D. Lasica, the co-founder and executive director of Ourmedia. J.D. is also author of the new book “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation,” which includes a profile of Creative Commons and its chairman, Lawrence Lessig.
Creative Commons (“CC”): What are the origins of Ourmedia? Where did the idea come from?
J.D. Lascia (“J.D.”): For years, many of my friends and colleagues had been creating astonishing grassroots video, audio and photos that were hidden away on their computers or posted on a remote corner of cyberspace. I felt that these works deserved a far wider audience.
About a year ago, I gave the keynote at the Digital Storytelling Festival in Sedona, Arizona, and flashed on screen the offer by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive to provide free hosting and free bandwidth-forever-for works of personal media. The attendees were jazzed by the idea so I immediately began working with Marc Canter on what we were then calling the ‘Open Media’ project. We changed the name to Ourmedia when we discovered that Open Media was, ironically, a trademarked term.
CC: By what process were you able to pull the site/community together?
J.D.: We were able to start building the site almost immediately. About 50 thought leaders in the tech and media communities began working together in a wiki donated by Ross Mayfield of Socialtext. There, we hashed out the framework for the site: its mission; its technology (an interesting hybrid, with free server space from the Internet Archive and from Drupal.org); its design; its legal underpinnings (we would rely on Creative Commons for the bulk of our licenses); and its long-range roadmap. For the first nine months it was an all-volunteer effort. To get us over the starting line, we had to hire a few programmers in New Delhi to make the pieces all work together.
CC: What has the response been like?
J.D.: The response has been phenomenal. We were deluged with so much traffic our first day out on March 21 that our servers crashed. We quickly went to a bigger server. More than 24,000 members have joined so far. People like the fact that we are a not-for-profit organization whose aim is nothing less than to give anyone, anywhere, free storage for works of grassroots media-and to showcase those works for a global audience. We’ve also had conversations with companies that are looking for ways to bring greater visibility to amateur works such as Yahoo! and Google.
CC: What’s your vision for the community, say in 5 years? What kinds of things do you think are likely to happen?
J.D.: Our community efforts are just getting started. In July we will be adding some serious social networking components to Ourmedia. Then, Ourmedia members will be able to form groups or communities of interest around certain subjects or ideas, like citizen journalism or podcasting or videoblogging. We want Ourmedia to become a learning center for people interested in taking part in the personal media revolution. Once people see this as an easy and effective way for them to share best practices, these learning channels will become richer over time.
One aspect that we would like to foster is Ourmedia is educational use. Faculty members at five colleges in the United States and Australia have stepped forward to say they want to work with us to create their own versions of Ourmedia that would be geared toward students and teachers at various grade levels and in various disciplines. Ourmedia could be tailored to any age or interest, with thousands of freely shareable works for the classroom.
CC: What barriers do you think still exist for participatory culture?
J.D.: The barriers are chiefly technological and legal. On the tech side, we have to eliminate the stranglehold that the cable companies and media conglomerates exert over our living rooms. There is this notion that because we have access to 500 channels that we somehow have freedom of choice. But the choices remains confined to a relatively narrow swath of commercial-driven programming and ideas. Breaking through that barrier so that we can watch Internet programming on our living room televisions will be a huge battle over the next decade. At Ourmedia, we are working with the folks at participatoryculture.org to bring about access to free, open-source video.
On the legal side, the laws governing copyright and remix culture haven’t kept pace with what the digital generation is doing with media today. The laws were written during the analog era for big companies with no thought given to the digital age. Now that every person with an Internet connection has the ability to be a global publisher, how do we safeguard fair use? How do we let grassroots publishers access our visual culture-including borrowing snippets from copyrighted music and movies and television shows-to comment upon and annotate those works, just as we’ve done for centuries in the text world?Comments Off on Ourmedia