Tag Archives: free culture

The Digital Commons: Escape From Capital?

So, after a year of reading, study, analysis and writing, my thesis is complete. It’s on the digital commons, of course, this particular piece is an analysis to determine whether or not the digital commons represents an escape from, or a continuation of, capitalism. The full text is behind the link below.

The Digital Commons: Escape From Capital?

In the conclusion I suggested various changes which could be made to avert the encroachment of capitalist modes, as such I will be releasing various pieces of software and other artefacts over the coming months.

For those who are impatient, here’s the abstract, the conclusion is further down:

In this thesis I examine the suggestion that the digital commons represents a form of social organisation that operates outside any capitalist relationships. I do this by carrying out an analysis of the community and methods of three projects, namely Linux, a piece of software; Wikipedia, an encyclopedia; and Open Street Map, a geographic database.

Each of these projects, similarly to the rest of the digital commons, do not require any money or other commodities in return for accessing them, thus denying exchange as the dominant method of distributing resources, instead offering a more social way of conducting relations. They further allow the participation of anyone who desires to take part, in relatively unhindered ways. This is in contrast to the capitalist model of
requiring participants demonstrate their value, and take part in ways demanded by capital.

The digital commons thus appear to resist the capitalist mode of production. My analysis uses concepts from Marx’s Capital Volume 1, and Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, with further support from Hardt and Negri’s Empire trilogy. It analyses five concepts, those of class, commodities, alienation, commodity fetishism and surplus-value.

I conclude by demonstrating that the digital commons mostly operates outside capitalist exchange relations, although there are areas where indicators of this have begun to encroach. I offer a series of suggestions to remedy this situation.

Here’s the conclusion:

This thesis has explored the relationship between the digital commons and aspects of the capitalist mode of production, taking three iconic projects: the Linux operating system kernel, the Wikipedia encyclopedia and the Open Street Map geographical database as case studies. As a result of these analyses, it appears digital commons represent a partial escape from the domination of capital.


As the artefacts assembled by our three case studies can be accessed by almost anybody who desires, there appear to be few class barriers in place. At the centre of this is the maxim “information wants to be free” 1 underpinning the digital commons, which results in assistance and education being widely disseminated rather than hoarded. However, there are important resources whose access is determined by a small group in each project, rather than by a wider set of commoners. This prevents all commoners who take part in the projects from attaining their full potential, favouring one group and thus one set of values over others. Despite the highly ideological suggestion that anyone can fork a project at any time and do with it as they wish, which would suggest a lack of class barriers, there is significant inertia which makes this difficult to achieve. It should be stressed however, that the exploitation and domination existing within the three case studies is relatively minor when compared to typical capitalist class relations. Those who contribute are a highly educated elite segment of society, with high levels of self-motivation and confidence, which serves to temper what the project leaders and administrators can do.


The artefacts assembled cannot be exchanged as commodities, due to the license under which they are released, which demands that the underlying information, be it the source code, knowledge or geographical data always be available to anyone who comes into contact with the artefact, that it remain in the commons in perpetuity.


This lack of commoditisation of the artefacts similarly resists the alienation of those who assemble them. The thing made by workers can be freely used by them, they make significant decisions around how it is assembled, and due to the collaborative nature essential to the process of assembly, constructive, positive, valuable relationships are built with collaborators, both within the company and without. This reinforces Stallman’s suggestion that free software, and thus the digital commons is a more social way of being 2.


Further, the method through which the artefacts are assembled reduces the likelihood of fetishisation. The work is necessarily communal, and involves communication and association between those commoners who make and those who use. This assists the collaboration essential for such high quality artefacts, and simultaneously invites a richer relationship between those commoners who take part. However, as has been shown, recent changes have shown there are situations where the social nature of the artefacts is being partially obscured, in favour of speed, convenience and quality, thus demonstrating a possible fetishisation.


The extraction of surplus-value is, however, present. The surplus extracted is not money, but in the form of symbolic capital. This recognition from others can be exchanged for other forms of capital, enabling the leaders of the three projects investigated here to gain high paying, intellectually fulfilling jobs, and to spread their political beliefs. While it appears there is thus exploitation of the commoners who contribute to these projects, it is firstly mild, and secondly does not result in a huge imbalance of wealth and opportunity, although this should not be seen as an apology for the behaviour which goes on. Whether in future this will change, and the wealth extracted will enable the emergence of a super-rich as seen in the likes of Bill Gates, the Koch brothers and Larry Ellison remains to be seen, but it appears unlikely.


There are however ways in which these problems could be overcome. At present, the projects are centred upon one website, and an infrastructure and values, all generally controlled by a small group who are often self-selected, or selected by some external group with their own agenda. This reflects a hierarchical set of relationships, which could possibly be addressed through further decentralisation of key resources. For examples of this, we can look at YaCy 3, a search engine released under a free software license. The software can be used in one of a number of ways, the most interesting of these is network mode, in which several computers federate their results together. Each node searches a different set of web sites, which can be customised, the results from each node are then pooled, thus when a commoner carries out a search, the terms are searched for in the databases of several computers, and the results aggregated. This model of decentralisation prevents one entity taking control over what are a large and significant set of resources, and thus decreases the possibility of exploitation, domination and the other attendant problems of minority control or ownership over the means of production.


Addressing the problem of capitalists continuing to extract surplus, requires a technically simple, but ideologically difficult, solution. There is a general belief within the projects discussed that any use of the artefacts is fine, so long as the license is complied with. Eric Raymond, author of the influential book on digital commons governance and other matters, The Cathedral and The Bazaar, and populariser of the term open source, is perhaps most vocal about this, stating that the copyleft tradition of Stallman’s GNU is overly restrictive of what people, by which he means businesses, can do, and that BSD-style, no copyleft licenses are the way forward 4. The majority of commoners taking part do not follow his explicit preference for no copyleft licenses, but nonetheless have no problem with business use of the artefacts, suggesting that wide spread use makes the tools better, and that sharing is inherently good. It appears they either do not have a problem with this, or perhaps more likely do not understand that this permissiveness allows for uses that they might not approve of. Should this change, a license switch to something preventing commercial use is one possibility.

1Roger Clarke, ‘Roger Clarke’s “Information Wants to Be Free …”’, Roger Clarke’s Web-Site, 2013, http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/IWtbF.html.

2Richard Stallman, Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, ed. Joshua Gay, 2nd ed (Boston, MA: GNU Press, Free Software Foundation, 2010), 8.

3YaCy, ‘Home’, YaCy – The Peer to Peer Search Engine, 2013, http://yacy.net/.

4Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, ed. Tim O’Reilly, 2nd ed. (Sebastopol, California: O’Reilly, 2001), 68–69.

Free software and the extraction of capital

This essay will asses the relationship between free software and the capitalist mode of accumulation, namely that of the extraction of various forms of capital to produce profit. I will perform an analysis through the lens of the Marxist concept of extracting surplus from workers, utilise Bourdieu’s theory of capital, and the ideas of Hardt and Negri as they discuss the various economic paradigms, and the progression through these.

The free software movement is one which states that computer software should not have owners (Stallman, 2010, chap. 5), and that proprietary software is fundamentally unethical (Stallman, 2010, p. 5). This idea is realised through “the four freedoms” and a range of licenses, which permit anyone to: use for any purpose; modify; examine and redistribute modified copies, of the software so licensed (Free Software Foundation, 2010). These freedoms are posited as a contrast to the traditional model of software development, which rests all ownership and control of the product in its creators. As free software is not under private control, it would appear at first to escape the capitalist mode of production, and the problems which ensue from that, such as alienation, commodity fetishism and the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few.

For a definition of the commons, Bollier states:

commons comprises a wide range of shared assets and forms of community governance. Some are tangible, while others are more abstract, political, and cultural. The tangible assets of the commons include the vast quantities of oil, minerals, timber, grasslands, and other natural resources on public lands, as well as the broadcast airwaves and such public facilities as parks, stadiums, and civic institutions. … The commons also consists of intangible assets that are not as readily identified as belonging to the public. Such commons include the creative works and public knowledge not privatized under copyright law. … A last category of threatened commons is that of so-called ‘gift economies’. These are communities of shared values in which participants freely contribute time, energy, or property and over time receive benefits from membership in the community. The global corps of GNU/Linux software programmers is a prime example: enthusiasts volunteer their talents and in return receive useful rewards and group esteem. (2002)

Thus, free software would appear to offer an escape from the system of capitalist dominance based upon private property, as the products of free software contribute to the commons, resist attempts at monopoly control and encourage contributors to act socially.

Marx described how through the employment of workers, investors in capitalist businesses were able to amass wealth and thus power. The employer invests an amount of money into a business, to employ labour, and he labourer creates some good, be it tangible or intangible. The labourer is then paid for this work, and the company owner takes the good and sells it at some higher price, to cover other costs and to provide a profit. The money the labourer is paid is for the “necessary labour” (Marx, 1976a, p. 325), i.e. the amount the person requires to reproduce labour, that is the smallest amount possible to ensure the worker can live, eat, house themself, work fruitfully and produce offspring who will do similar. The difference between this amount and the amount the good sells for, minus other costs, which are based upon the labour of other workers, is the “surplus value”, and equals the profit to the employer (Marx, 1976a, p. 325). The good is then sold to a customer, who thus enters into a social relationship with the worker that made it. However, the customer has no knowledge of the worker, does not know the conditions they work under, their wage, their name or any other information about them, their relationship is mediated entirely through the commodity which passes from producer to consumer. Thus, despite the social relationship between the two, they are alienated from each other, and the relationship is represented through a commodity object, which is thus fetishised over the actual social relationship (Marx, 1976a, chap. 1). The worker is further alienated, from the product of their labour, for which they are not fully recompensed, as they are not paid the full exchange amount which the capitalist company obtains, and do not have control over any further part in the commodity than the work they employed to put in.

If we study the reasons participants have for contributing to free software projects, coders fall into one or more of the following three categories: firstly, coders who contribute to create something of utility to themselves, secondly, those who are paid by a company which employs them to write code in a traditional employment relationship, and finally those who write software without economic compensation, to benefit the commons (Hars & Ou, 2001). The first category does not enter into a relationship with others, so the system of capitalist exchange does not need to be considered. The second category, that of a worker being paid to contribute to a project, might seem unusual, as the company appears to be giving away the result of capital investment, thus benefiting competitors. Although this is indeed the case, the value gained in other contributors viewing, commenting on and fixing the code is perceived to outweigh any disadvantages. In the case of a traditional employee of a capitalist company, the work, be it production of knowledge, carrying out of a service or making a tangible good, will be appropriated by the company the person works for, and credited as its own. The work is then sold at some increased cost, the difference between the cost to make it and the cost it is sold for being surplus labour, which reveals itself as profit.

The employed software coder working on a free software performs necessary labour (Marx, 1976a, p. 325), as any other employee does, and this is rewarded with a wage. However, the surplus value, which nominally is used to create profit for the employer by them appropriating the work of the employee, is not solely controlled by the capitalist. Due to the nature of the license, the product of the necessary and surplus labour can be taken, used and modified by any other person, including the worker. Thus, the traditional relationship of the commons to the capitalist is changed. The use of paid workers to create surplus value is an example of the capitalist taking the commons and re-appropriating it for their own gain. However, as the work is given back to the commons, there is an argument that the employer has instead contributed to the wider sphere of human knowledge, without retaining monopoly control as the traditional copyright model does. Further, the worker is not alienated by their employer from the product of their labour, it is available for them to use as they see fit.

The second category of contributors to a project, volunteers are generally also highly-skilled, well-paid, and materially comfortable in life. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943), as individuals attain the material comforts in life, so they are likely to turn their aspirations towards less tangible but more fulfilling achievements, such as creative pursuits. Some will start free software projects of their own, as some people will start capitalist businesses: the Linux operating system kernel, The GNU operating system and the Diaspora* [sic] distributed social networking software are examples of this situation. If a project then appears successful to others, it will gain new coders, who will lend their assistance and improve the software. The person(s) who started the project are acknowledged as the leader(s), and often jokingly referred to as the “benevolent dictator for life” (Rivlin, 2003), although their power is contingent, because as Raymond put it, “the culture’s ‘big men’ and tribal elders are required to talk softly and humorously deprecate themselves at every turn in order to maintain their status.” (2002). As leaders, they will make the final decision of what code goes into the ‘official’ releases, and be recognised as the leader in the wider free software community.

Although there may be hundreds of coders working on a project, as there is an easily identifiable leader, he or she will generally receive the majority of the credit for the project. Each coder will carry out enough work to produce the piece of code they wish to work on, thus producing a useful addition to the software. As suggested above by Maslow, the coder will gain symbolic capital, defined by Bourdieu as “the acquisition of a reputation for competence and and image of respectability” (1984, p. 291) and as “predisposition to function as symbolic capital, i.e., to be unrecognized as capital and recognized as legitimate competence, as authority exerting an effect of (mis)recognition … the specifically symbolic logic of distinction” (Bourdieu, 1986). This capital will be attained through working on the project, and being recognised by: other coders involved in the project and else where; the readers of their blog; their friends and colleagues, and they may occasionally be featured in articles on technology web news sites (KernelTrap, 2002; Mills, 2007). Each coder adds their piece of effort to the project, gaining enough small acknowledgements for their work along the way to feel they should continue coding, which could be looked at as necessary labour (Marx, 1976a, p. 325). Contemporaneously, the project leader gains a smaller acknowledgement for the improvements to the project as a whole, which in the case of a large project can be significant over time. In the terms expressed by Marx, although the coder carries out a certain amount of work, it is then handed over to the project, represented in the eyes of the public by the leader who accrues similar small amounts of capital from all coders on the project. This profit is surplus value (Marx, 1976a, p. 325). Similarly to the employed coder, the economic value of the project does not belong to the leaders, there is no surplus extracted there, as all can use it.

To take a concrete example, Linus Torvalds, originator and head of the Linux kernel is known for his work throughout the free software world, and feted as one of its most important contributors (Veltman, 2006, p. 92). The perhaps surprising part of this, is that Torvalds does not write code for the project any more, he merely manages others, and makes grand decisions as to which concepts, not actual code, will be allowed into the mainline, or official, release of the project (Stout, 2007). Drawing a parallel with a traditional capitalist company, Linus can be seen as the original investor who started the organisation, who manages the workers, and who takes a dividend each year, despite not carrying out any productive work. Linus’ original investment in 1991 was economic and cultural capital, in the form of time and a part-finished degree in computer science (Calore, 2009). While he was the only contributor, the project progressed slowly, and the originator gained symbolic, social and cultural capital solely through his own efforts, thus resembling a member of the petit bourgeois. As others saw the value in the project, they offered small pieces of code to solve small problems and progress the code. These were incorporated, thus rapidly improving the software, and the standing of Torvalds.

Like consumers of any other product, users of Linux will not have be aware of who had made the specific change unless they make an effort to read the list of changes for each release, thus resulting in the coder being alienated from the product of their labour and the users of the software (Marx, 1959, p. 29), who fetishise (Marx, 1976a, chap. 1) the software over the social relationship which should be prevalent. For each contribution, which results in a small gain in symbolic capital to the coder, Linus takes a smaller gain in those forms of capital, in a way analogous to a business investor extracting surplus economic capital from her employees, despite not having written the code in question. The capitalist investor possesses no particular values, other than to whom and where she was born, yet due to the capital she is able to invest, she can amass significant economic power from the work of others. Over 18 years, these small gains in capital have also added up for Linus Torvalds, and such is now the symbolic capital expropriated that he is able to continue extracting this capital fro Linux, while reinvesting capital in writing code for other projects, in this case ‘Git’ (Torvalds, 2005), which has attracted coders in part due to the fame of its principal architect. The surplus value of the coders on this project is also extracted and transferred to the nominal leader, and so the cycle continues, with the person at the top continuously and increasingly benefiting from the work of others, at their cost.

The different forms of capital can readily be exchanged for one another. As such, Linus has been offered book contracts (Torvalds, 2001), is regularly interviewed for a range of publications (Calore, 2009; Rivlin, 2003), has gained jobs at high prestige technology companies (Martin Burns, 2002), and been invited to various conferences as guest speaker. The other coders on the Linux project have also gained, through skills learned, social connections and prestige for being part of what is a key project in free software, although none in the same way as Linus.

Free software is constructed in such a way as to allow a range of choices to address most needs, for instance in the field of desktop operating systems there are hundreds to choose from, with around six distributions, or collections of software, covering the majority of users, through being recognised as well-supported, stable and aimed at the average user (Distrowatch.com, 2011). In order for the leaders of each of these projects to increase their symbolic capital, they must continuously attract new users, be regularly mentioned in the relevant media outlets and generally be seen as adding to the field of free software, contributing in some meaningful way. Doing so requires a point-of-difference between their software and the other distributions. However, this has become increasingly difficult, as the components used in each project have become increasingly stable and settled, so the current versions of each operating system will contain virtually identical lists of packages. In attempting to gain users, some projects have chosen to make increasingly radical changes, such as including versions of software with new features even though they are untested and unstable (Canonical Ltd., 2008), and changing the entire user experience, often negatively as far as users are concerned (Collins, 2011). Although this keeps the projects in the headlines on technology news sites, and thus attracts new users, it turns off experienced users, who are increasingly moving to more stable systems (Parfeni, 2011).

This proliferation of systems, declining opportunities to attract new users, and increasingly risky attempts to do so, demonstrates the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and the efforts capitalist companies go to in seeking new consumers (Marx, 1976b, chap. 3), so they can continue extracting increased surplus value as profit Each project must put in more and more effort, in increasingly risky areas, thus requiring increased maintenance and bug-fixing, to attract users and be appreciated in the eyes of others.

According to Hardt and Negri, since the Middle Ages, there have been three economic paradigms, identified by the three forms from which profit is extracted. These are: land, which can be rented out to others or mined for minerals; tangible, movable products, which are manufactured by exploited workers and sold at a profit; and services, which involve the creation and manipulation of knowledge and affect, and the care of other humans, again by exploited workers (2000, p. 280). Looking more closely at these phases, we can see a procession. The first phase relied mainly upon the extraction of profit from raw materials, such as the earth itself, coal and crops, with little if any processing by humans. The second phase still required raw materials, such as iron ore, bauxite, rubber and oil, but also required a significant amount of technical processing by humans to turn these materials into commodities which were then sold, with profit extracted from the surplus labour of workers. Thus the products of the first phase were important in a supporting role to the production of the commodities, in the form of land for the factory, food for workers, fuel for smelters and machinery, and materials to fashion, but the majority of the value of the commodity was generated by activities resting on these resources, the working of those raw materials into useful items by humans. The latter of the phases listed above, the knowledge, affect and care industry, entails workers collecting and manipulating data and information, or performing some sort of service work, which can then be rented to others. Again, this phase relies on the other phases: from the first phase, land for offices, data centres, laboratories, hospitals, financial institutes, and research centres; food for workers, fuel for power; plus from the second phase: commodities including computers, medical equipment, office supplies, and laboratory and testing equipment, to carry out the work. Similarly to the previous phase, these materials and items are not directly the source of the creation of profit, but are required, the generation of profit relies and rests on their existence.

In the context of IT, this change in the dominant paradigm was most aptly demonstrated by the handover of power from the mighty IBM to new upstart Microsoft in 1979, when the latter retained control over their operating system software MS-DOS, despite the former agreeing to install it on their new desktop computer range. The significance of this apparent triviality was illustrated in the film ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’, during a scene depicting the negotiations between the two companies, in which everyone but Bill Gates’ character froze as he broke the ‘fourth wall’, turning to the camera and explaining the consequences of the mistake IBM had made (Burke, 1999). IBM, the dominant power in computing of the time, were convinced high profit continued to lie in physical commodities, the computer hardware they manufactured, and were unconcerned by lack of ownership of the software. Microsoft recognised the value of immaterial labour, and soon eclipsed IBM in value and influence of the industry, a position which they held for around 20 years.

Microsoft’s method of generating profit was to dominate the field of software, their products enabling users to create, publish and manipulate data, while ignoring the hardware, which was seen as a commodity platform upon which to build (Paulson, 2010). Further, the company wasn’t particularly interested what its customers were doing with their computers, so long as they were using Windows, Office and other technologies, to work with that data, as demonstrated by a lack of effort to control the creation or distribution of information. As Microsoft were increasing their dominance, the free software GNU Project was developing a free alternative, to firstly the Unix operating system (Stallman, 2010, p. 9), and later to Microsoft products. Fuelled by the rise in highly capable, cost-free software which competed with and undercut Microsoft, so commoditising the market, the dominance of that company faded in the early 2000s (Ahmad, 2009), to be replaced by a range of companies which built on the products of the free software movement, by relying on the use value, but no longer having any interest in the exchange value of the software (Marx, 1976a, p. 126). The power Microsoft retains today through its desktop software products is due in significant part to ‘vendor lock-in’ (Duke, n.d.), the process of using closed standards, only allowing their software to interact with data in ways prescribed by the vendor. Google, Apple and Facebook, the dominant powers in computing today, would not have existed in their current form were it not for various pieces of free software (Rooney, 2011). Notably, the prime method of profit making of these companies is through content, rather than via a software or hardware platform. Apple and Google both provide platforms, such as the iPhone and Gmail, although neither companies makes large profit directly from these platforms, sometimes to the point of giving them away, subsidised heavily via their profit-making content divisions (Chen, 2008).

Returning to the economic paradigms discussed by Hardt and Negri, we have a series of sub-phases, each building on the sub-phase before. Within the third, knowledge, phase, the first sub-phase of IT, computer software, such as operating systems, web servers and email servers, was a potential source of high profits through the 1980s and 1990s, but due to high competition, predominantly from the free software movement, the rate of profit has dropped considerably, with for instance the free software ‘Apache’ web server being used to host over 60% of all web sites (Netcraft Ltd., 2011). Conversely, the capitalist companies from the next sub-phase were returning high profits and growth, through extensive use of these free products to sell other services. This sub-phase is noticeable for its reliance on creating and manipulating data, rather than producing the tools to do so, although both still come under the umbrella of knowledge production. This trend was mirrored in the free software world, as the field of software stabilised, thus realising fewer opportunities for increasing one’s capital through the extraction of surplus in this area.

As the falling rate of profit reduced the potential to gain symbolic capital through free software, so open data projects, which produce large sets of data under open licences, became more prevalent, providing further areas for open content contributors to invest their capital. These initially included Wikipedia, the web-based encyclopedia which anyone can edit, in 2001 (“Wikipedia:About,” n.d.). Growth of this project was high for several years, with a large number of new editors joining, but has since become so small as to find attracting new users very difficult (Chi, 2009; Moeller & Zachte, 2009). Similarly, OpenStreetMap, which aims to map the world, was begun in 2004, and grew at a very high rate once it became known in the mainstream technology press. However, now that the majority of streets and significant geographical data in western countries are mapped, the project is finding it difficult to attract new users, unless they are willing to work on adding increasingly esoteric minutiae, which has little obvious effect on the map, and thus provides a less obvious gain in symbolic capital attained by the user (Fairhurst, 2011). For the leaders of the project, this represents higher and higher effort to be put in, for comparatively smaller returns, again the rate of profit is falling. Rather than the previous, relatively passive method of attracting new users and expanding into other areas, the project founders and leading lights are now aggressively pushing the project to map less well-covered areas, such as a recent effort in a slum in Africa (Map Kibera, 2011); starting a sub-group to create maps in areas such as Haiti, to help out after natural disasters (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, 2011); and providing economic grants for those who will map in less-developed countries (Black, 2008). This closely follows the capitalist need to seek out new markets and territories, once all existing ones are saturated, to continuously push for more growth, to arrest the falling rate of profit.

According to Hardt and Negri,

You can think and form relationships not only on the job buy also in the street, at home, with your neighbors and friends. The capacities of biopolitical labor-power exceed work and spill over into life. We hesitate to use the word “excess” for this capacity because from the perspective of society as a whole it is never too much. It is excess only from the perspective of capital because it does not produce economic value that can be captured by the individual capitalist (2011)

The capitalist mode of production brings organisational structure to the production of value, but in doing so fetters the productivity of the commons, the productivity of the commons is higher when capital stays external to the production process. This hands-off approach to managing production can be seen extensively in free software, through the self-organising, decentralised model it utilises (Ingo, 2006, p. 38), eschewing traditional management forms with chains of responsibility. Economic forms of capital are prevalent in free software, as when technology companies including advertising provider Google, software support company Red Hat and software and services provider Novell employ coders to commit code to various projects such as the Linux kernel (The Linux Foundation, 2009). However, the final decision of whether the code is accepted, is left up to the project itself, which is usually free of corporate management. There are numerous, generally temporary exceptions to this rule, including OpenOffice.org, the free software office suite, which was recently acquired by software developer Oracle. Within a few months of the acquisition, the number of senior developers involved in the project dropped significantly, most of them citing interference from Oracle in the management of the software, and those who left set up their own fork of the project, based on the Oracle version (Clarke, 2010). Correspondingly, a number of software collections also stopped including the Oracle software, and instead used the version released by the new, again community-managed, offshoot (Sneddon, 2010). Due to the license which OpenOffice.org is released under, all of Oracle’s efforts to take direct control of the project were easily sidestepped. Oracle may possess the copyright to all of the original code, through purchasing the project, but this comes to naught once that code is released, it can be taken and modified by anyone who sees fit.

This increased productivity of the commons can be seen in the response to flaws with the software: as there is no hierarchical structure enforced by, for example, employment contract, problems reported by users can and are taken on by volunteer coders who will work on the flaw until it is fixed, without needing to consult line managers, and align with a corporate strategy. If the most recognised source for the software does not respond quickly, either due to financial or technical reasons, because of the nature of the licence, other coders are able to fix the problem, including those hired by customers. For those not paid, symbolic capital continues to play a part here: although the coders may appear to be unpaid volunteers, in reality there is kudos to be gained by solving a problem quickly, pushing coders to compete against each other, even while sharing their advances.

Despite this realisation that capital should not get too close to free software, the products of free software are still utilised by many corporates: free software forms the key infrastructure for a high proportion of web servers (Netcraft Ltd., 2011), and is extensively used in mobile phones (Germain, 2011) and financial trading (Jackson, 2011). The free software model thus forms a highly effective method for producing efficient software useful to capital. The decentralised, hard-to-control model disciplines capital into keeping its distance, forcing corporations to realise that if they get too close, try to control too much, they will lose out by wasting resources and appearing as bad citizens of the free software community, thus losing symbolic capital in the eyes of potential investors and customers.


The preceding analysis of free software and its relationship to capitalism demonstrates four areas in which the former is relevant to the latter.

Firstly, free software claims to form a part of the commons, and to a certain extent, this is true: the data and code in the projects are licensed in a way which allows all to take benefit from using them, they cannot be monopolised, owned and locked-down as capitalism has done with the tangible assets of the commons, and many parts of the intangible commons. Further, it appears that not only is free software not enclosable, but whenever any attempt to control it is exerted by an external entity, the project radically changes direction, sheds itself of regulation and begins where it left off, more wary of interference from capital.

Secondly, however, the paradigm of free software shows that ownership of the thing is not necessarily required to extract profit with it, there are still opportunities for the capitalist mode of accumulation despite this lack of close control of it. The high quality, efficient tools provided by free software are readily used by capitalist organisations to sell and promote other intangible products, and to manipulate various forms of data, particularly financial instruments, a growth industry in modern knowledge capitalism, at greater margins than had free software not existed. This high quality is due largely to the aforementioned ability of free software to keep capital from taking a part in its development, due to its apparent inefficiency at managing the commons.

Thirdly, although free software cannot be owned and controlled as physical objects can, thus apparently foiling the extraction of surplus value as economic profit from alienated employees, the nominal leaders of each free software project appear to take a significant part of the credit for the project they steer, thus extracting symbolic capital from other, less prominent coders of the project. This is despite not being involved in much, or in some cases any, of the actual code-writing, thus mirroring the extraction of profit through surplus labour adopted by capitalism.

Finally, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall seems to pervade free software in the same way as it affects capitalism. Certain free software projects have been shown to have difficulty extracting profit, in the form of surplus symbolic capital, and this in turn, has caused a turn to open data, which initially showed itself to be an area with potentiality for growth and profit, although it too has now suffered the same fate as free software.


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Canonical Ltd. (2008). “firefox-3.0” source package?: Hardy (8.04)?: Ubuntu. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from https://launchpad.net/ubuntu/hardy/+source/firefox-3.0/3.0~b5+nobinonly-0ubuntu3

Chen, J. (2008). AT&T’s 3G iPhone Is $199 This Summer | Gizmodo Australia. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2008/04/atts_3g_iphone_is_199_this_summer-2/

Chi, E. H. (2009, July 22). PART 1: The slowing growth of Wikipedia: some data, models, and explanations. Augmented Social Cognition Research Blog from PARC. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from http://asc-parc.blogspot.com/2009/07/part-1-slowing-growth-of-wikipedia-some.html

Clarke, G. (2010). OpenOffice files Oracle divorce papers • The Register. Retrieved October 30, 2011, from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/28/openoffice_independence_from_oracle/

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Duke, O. (n.d.). Open Sesame | Love Learning. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from http://www.reedlearning.co.uk/learn-about/1/ll-open-standards

Fairhurst, R. (2011). File:Osmdbstats8.png – OpenStreetMap Wiki. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/File:Osmdbstats8.png

Free Software Foundation. (2010). The Free Software Definition – GNU Project – Free Software Foundation. Retrieved August 29, 2011, from https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

Germain, Ja. M. (2011). Linux News: Android: How Linuxy Is Android? Retrieved October 29, 2011, from http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/How-Linuxy-Is-Android-73523.html

Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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Hars, A., & Ou, S. (2001). Working for Free? – Motivations of Participating in Open Source Projects. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (Vol. 7, p. 7014). Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society. doi:http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/HICSS.2001.927045

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Ingo, H. (2006). Open Life: The Philosophy of Open Source. (S. Torvalds, Trans.). Lulu.com. Retrieved from www.openlife.cc

Jackson, J. (2011). How Linux mastered Wall Street | ITworld. Retrieved October 29, 2011, from http://www.itworld.com/open-source/193823/how-linux-mastered-wall-street

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Moeller, E., & Zachte, E. (2009). Wikimedia blog?» Blog Archive?» Wikipedia’s Volunteer Story. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from http://blog.wikimedia.org/2009/11/26/wikipedias-volunteer-story/

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Paulson, R. (2010). Application of the theoretical tools of the culture industry to the concept of free culture. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://bumblepuppy.org/blog/?p=4

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University Without Conditions has launched

Our Free University, the University Without Conditions had its first meeting on Saturday, October the 8th.

We talked through various issues, including what our University will be, courses we will hold, and a rough idea of principles.  These principles will be made concrete over the next few weeks.  In the meantime, we have decided on our first event; it will be an Equality Forum, to be held as part of the Occupy Auckland demonstration and occupation on October the 15th at Aotea Square.

All are welcome to attend the first event on the 15th, suggest courses via the website, or join the discussion list to take part in creating our University.

If you would like to be involved in the set-up, please ask for an account to create posts.

For more information, see the website:

http://universitywithoutconditions.ac.nz or http://fu.ac.nz

Postmodernity and Girl Talk

This essay will carry out an analysis of the musician ‘Girl Talk‘, also known as Greg Gillis, to ascertain the relationship of his music to postmodernity.  It was written as part of my studies in Critical Theory at Auckland University.

Postmodernity developed through the middle of the 20th century, as a rejection of the grand or meta-narratives of that period, and the associated perceived failings of modernity (Lyotard, 1984, p. 37). There were a number of precursors to this development, including the counter-culture movement of the 1960s (Eagleton, 2003, p. 41), which espoused a rejection of the positivism and rationalism underpinning capitalism, from a perception that the grand projects of the world had not resulted in the emancipation of mankind, but instead the integration into a worldwide system of domination.

Postmodernity as a movement aims to question existing structures and fixed values, to accept that nothing can be taken for granted (Eagleton, 2003, p. 73), that there are no fundamental truths as ultimately there are no fixed foundations which anything can rest on. This promises radical emancipation from all existing structures, but instead leaves those who follow its values potentially more open than ever to manipulation by a system which does believe in grand overarching ideologies, and does act to further the reach of its ideology. Those who follow its values focus more so on the here and now, the immediate, the ‘pragmatic’, rejecting any grand, overarching value system which proscribes a general direction.

Girl Talk is a musician who produces ‘cutups’. He takes samples from popular music, and produces tracks from them, by recombining the samples into new pieces. The works are then released under a Creative Commons license, allowing others to remix the works as they see fit. Legally, permission is generally required to reuse samples of traditionally copyrighted works, although Gillis does not seek this permission, citing protection under ‘Fair Use’, which allows amongst other things small parts of works to be copied for the purposes of parody and satire – critique and commentary of the work.

Indeed, Girl Talk claims a certain level of critique occurs through his music, such as when he states a desire to “put Elton John in a headlock and pour beer over his head”, suggesting a lack of reverence which is normally reserved for Sir Elton, a willingness to knock him off the pedestal he has been put on by the public. Further, the vim with which he samples other titans of the music industry, including Michael Jackson, New Order and Nirvana, mixing them in with such disparate styles as Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine and Hall and Oates appears to show little respect for those acts, their message, prestige or even legal issues (Illegal Art, 2010). However, Girl Talk is perhaps not as revolutionary as he would at first appear. Watching a live show, he rapidly sinks into 30 year-old rock clichés such as taking off his shirt, head banging, crowd surfing and exhorting the crowd to “put their hands in the air”. Similarly, the behaviour of the crowd resembles that at any other traditional rock concert, including those of the artists he samples, to the point of singing along to the samples as he mixes them together (Gaylor, 2008a). He acknowledges his love of the music he re-uses, distancing himself from “underground, cool artsy forms”, which he sees as inaccessible, preferring to celebrate the music he samples, rather than be subversive or respond to it in any substantial way, and stating that one “doesn’t have to be progressive to make important music” (Gaylor, 2008b). Rather than the revolutionary message that postmodernism was intended to stand for, a willingness to question everything no matter how seemingly untouchable and fundamental, Gillis instead represents a return to the past, a deference to existing power. Where he does make comment on works past, it is reduced to mimicry of the sampling innovators, to mere technique, to pastiche with no content, using the art of sampling in a way which has not progressed in 20 years. In what is perhaps one of his greater ironies, he heavily samples the likes of NWA, Public Enemy and Beastie Boys (Illegal Art, 2010), all three of whom were both highly political (Lemmel, 2001) and highly skilled at the process of incorporating other artists’ work into their own through sampling, commenting on the systems of oppression inherent in capitalism, pseudo-Maoist totalitarianism and other meta-narratives. Unlike those acts, Greg Gillis professes no particular political direction, preferring only that people have a good time (Gaylor, 2008b), thus reducing his work to that of focussing on the here and now, the immediate, while ignoring any overarching ideas of potential human emancipation. He readily falls into the postmodern trap of ignoring the grand narratives and concentrating on micro-narratives, while the centres of power in the world are willing to keep pushing for their own metanarrative and ideology (Eagleton, 2003, p. 72). Further, he states that the works should be free for all to reuse, remix and thus comment on, resulting in a plethora of opinions, all no doubt minor in their voice, none demanding any real change or questioning of the system. This quickly begins to resemble the “democracy of opinion”, a situation where all get their say, but all are subsumed under the bigger, dominant ideology (Lipovetsky, Charles, & Brown, 2005, p. 40).

Further, an interview with the man behind the music includes brief demonstrations of how the tracks are put together. He uses phrases such as “I just take 0.25 seconds from this sample, then 0.125 from this sample and mix them together” (Gaylor, 2008a), revealing a mechanistic approach to making the music, reminiscent of the novel-writing machines from Orwell’s 1984. The methods appear similar for each track, and listening to an entire album reveals the lack of difference between each piece at a technical or any other level, rendering his music still further as technique, assisted greatly by technology rather than skill, and pastiche.

Perhaps the biggest pointer to the reality of this lack of real critique comes upon hearing that, despite hundreds ff thousands of records sold, hundreds of concerts and huge awareness of what he is doing, there has yet to be a lawsuit challenging the work. The significance of this is revealed during an interview, when he states: “These people aren’t idiots; they see the value in the work, and how it turns new people on to the work” (Village Voice, 2008). Far from seeing a threat in what he is doing, the record companies of the world realise his ‘commentary’ on the works results in increased sales, further increasing their profits for no promotional outlay.


Gaylor, B. (2008a). RiP!: A Remix Manifesto. Documentary, Canal D, B-Side Entertainment.

Gaylor, B. (2008b). Girl Talk Interview.

Illegal Art. (2010). Girl Talk – All Day Samples List. Retrieved August 7, 2011, from http://www.illegal-art.net/allday/samples.html

Lemmel, C. (2001). The History of Rap Music. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.

Lipovetsky, G., Charles, S., & Brown, A. (2005). Hypermodern Times. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Eagleton, T. (2003). After Theory. London: Penguin.

Village Voice. (2008). Interview: Girl Talk a/k/a Gregg Gillies – New York Music – Sound of the City. Retrieved August 11, 2011, from http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2008/11/interview_girl.php

A Free University for Auckland

The original Latin from which the word ‘university’ developed, was used at the time of the emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, to describe specialised “associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located.” [1].

An important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of this comes from early in the life of the first university. The University of Bologna adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita [2], in 1158 or 1155, which guaranteed the right of a travelling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. Today this is claimed as the origin of “academic freedom” [3].

Further to this academic freedom is a demand from society, written into the Education Act of New Zealand, that the universities be “the critic and conscience of society” [4], to not merely accept society is what it is, but to critique and effect change.

In the intervening 1000 years, these twin ideals have become corrupted. Universities, particularly since the 1980s, have primarily become a system to create workers for the capitalist system. The focus is on technical disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, biology, and on business and economics. Any remaining notion of education in its pure form or critique of society is merely coincidental or fast being eroded [5].

Over the past decade, a number of free universities have sprung up around the world, including the ‘Copenhagen Free University’ [6] and the ‘University for Strategic Optimism’ in London [7], their aim being to critique the existing system of un-free, corporatised university and to offer an alternative.

We are creating a free university in Auckland, as an alternative to the current education system. This will feature reading and discussion groups, but will also include ‘interventions’ to highlight the failings of the system, through various means of direct action. The working title is the ‘University Without Conditions’, which is taken from the title of the Derrida text referenced above.

The university will become the critic and conscience of society.

The intention is to present the aims to interested individuals and gather feedback as to how we should progress. At this point, a meeting between these parties will be organised. If you would like to get involved, please leave a comment below and we will contact you.

[1] Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400-1400, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1997)
[2] Malagola, C. (1888), Statuti delle Università e dei Collegi dello Studio Bolognese. Bologna: Zanichelli
[3] Rüegg, W. (2003), Mythologies and Historiogaphy of the Beginnings, pp 4-34 in H. De Ridder-Symoens, editor, A History of the University in Europe; Vol 1, Cambridge University Press.
[4] New Zealand Government (1989) Education Act 1989, ‘Part 14: Establishment and disestablishment of tertiary institutions’, pp. 342-347. Reprint as at 1 February 2011 including amendments.
[5] Derrida, Jacques (2000) ‘The university without conditions’ in ‘Without Alibi’, trans. Peggy Kamuf, pp. 202-237. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4411-4
[6] http://www.edu-factory.org/wp/all-power-to-the-free-universities-of-the-future/
[7] https://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/inaugural-lecture/

Including text from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Is free culture enlightened?

This essay was written for my sociology studies at University of Auckland – it will examine the concept of free culture from the point of view of the enlightenment, i.e. the idea that humanity can be improved through the power of reason, particularly the suggestion the latter demands critique of one’s surroundings and situation.


An in-depth definition of free culture is not of importance here, as it has been discussed in great detail elsewhere (Paulson, 2010; Stallman, 2002); suffice to say it involves creating works which are not under the monopoly control of one entity, as is the case for most content generated by the current capitalist system, but are instead owned by ‘the commons’. This content includes creative works such as films, music, photographs and computer software. The lack of monopoly control is achieved through a large group of individuals working on projects which are then released under a particular group of licences. These licenses allow other entities remarkable latitude to examine, use and re-distribute the work more or less as they see fit (Lessig, 2004; Stallman, 2002), albeit with some minor restrictions. This freedom to re-use these products appears to challenge and critique the existing order and the products themselves, thus somewhat fulfilling the requirements for enlightenment, as defined by Kant when he states “Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority” (1996, p. 17), and “For this enlightenment, nothing is required but freedom, …” (1996, p. 18).

The suggestion of enlightenment as questioning religiously-held values is paralleled in free software, when Eco, albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek, suggests that the choice between operating systems from Microsoft and Apple is akin to making a choice between religious denominations (1994). Free culture, which values control over the products used by the owner rather than a content company, could be said to sacralise the individual and to reject the notion of an omniscient, all-powerful entity (represented here by a large, opaque private company which dictates how a user will conduct him or herself in certain matters). In this regard, free culture demonstrates a turn away from religious-like behaviours, which concurs with the suggestion by Bronner that “the need remains for an unrelenting assault on religious fanaticism” (2004, p. 14), (cited in (Toscano, 2010, p. 98)). However, this do.s not tell the full story; free culture is itself highly ideological and involves adherence to a fixed set of values (although perversely, the tools and methods used to achieve this aim are continually in an unstable flux) – the phrase “information wants to be free” has become so embedded that it has become axiomatic, unquestioned and unchallenged. In rejecting the prevailing ideology (Microsoft/Apple), there is a move towards the questioning and critique demanded by Kant. Unfortunately, this appears to fail, as shown by examining Toscano (2010) when he admonishes Brenner for his stance: the old ideology is merely replaced with a new set of entrenched values which are not to be questioned, demonstrating tendencies towards fanaticism, and thus the somewhat un-enlightened nature of free culture.

According to Habermas, there are three ‘levels’ of cognitive interest which make up the enquiry required for enlightenment. The appropriation of knowledge can take three forms: analytic-empirical (i.e. the means to achieve some task); hermeneutic-historical (understanding the world around us) and emancipatory (freeing humanity) (1972, p. 308). Modernity mainly concerns itself with knowledge lying in the first level, with little attention to the other two – hermeneutic-historical and emancipatory. Within free software there are, broadly, two different camps – those who use the products because of their quality, and those who use them for more ideological reasons. The first group clearly fall squarely into the first category – the software is generally of high quality and superior to that produced by traditional software companies. The potential for emancipation is hypothetically high, although the tendency within free culture is to fall into the same trap as the rest of society – typical neoliberal values, such as personal responsibility (implicit in the decentralised, DIY nature of the products), efficiency and high productivity are often referenced as being benefited by free software. This implicitly suggests little desire to question the values of the current system, pointing to a lack of enlightened thought in this area.

The freedom to modify, re-use, remix and re-distribute the artefacts released under free culture licences implies a freedom to critique – the work is no longer fixed and defined from above as those created by traditional content providers are. It is free to be re-interpreted as anyone else sees fit – in this sense, this somewhat fulfils the definition of enlightenment put forward by Kant.

However, this critique is tempered; the freedom stated above is highly ideological – the majority of free culture works are only distributed online, and the class system, replicated somewhat in internet access, says that if one is Western, well off and educated, one will be more likely to have access to the works than someone who is not. This is compounded by the requirement for a set of highly technical skills necessary to modify the works – computer coding, graphics design, etc., rendering the potential for critique by the masses close to meaningless; even those who can access the works are subject to the same inability to modify, and thus critique, as those who use non-free culture products.

Slashdot is a popular technology/politics website inhabited by a large number of free culture contributors, which hosts discussions on news topics of the day and thus forms an example of ‘the read/write web’. The site is well known for generating several memes in internet culture, including “First post!” (Forbes.com, 2000). Amongst a large number of users, creating the first post is highly sought after, something which must be done within seconds of the news item hitting the front page, thus necessitating one not read the article. In this forum, there is the possibility of extensively discussing and thus critiquing news items on highly influential topics, but for a significant number of users (enough for the site’s administrators to block this practise), speed is everything and content nothing, thus exemplifying “No one is concerned with the ideology, as long as it is expedient” (Adorno, 1981, p. 30).


On comparing the concept of free culture against several theorists’ ideas around enlightenment, it appears to offer much potential, but rather than this being fulfilled, it has instead repeated and reinforced the values of neoliberalism. The ‘freedom’ that it professes to offer is confined to those who have the skills to take advantage, leaving significant numbers of the population unaffected. Further, the views of those who follow the values sometimes border on the fanatical – free culture at all costs, regardless of the outcome. From a Habermasian point-of-view, the concept appears to reach as far as advancing technical knowledge, although this is hardly an area which needs any help under liberalism, while neglecting the higher, emancipatory values of knowledge.


Adorno, T. W. (1981). Prisms (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Bronner, S. E. (2004). Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement. New York: Columbia University Press.

Eco, U. (1994, September 30). Eco – “Writings: IBM vs. Mac.” Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_mac_vs_pc.html

Forbes.com. (2000). Net vs. Norm: The Slashdot Effect – Forbes.com. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.forbes.com/asap/2000/0221/043.html

Habermas, J. (1972). Knowledge and Human Interests. London: Heinemann.

Kant, I. (1996). Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press.

Paulson, R. (2010). Application of the theoretical tools of the culture industry to the concept of free culture. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://bumblepuppy.org/blog/?p=4

Stallman, R. (2002). Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. (J. Gay, Ed.) (1st ed.). Boston, MA: GNU Press, Free Software Foundation.

Toscano, A. (2010). Raving with Reason: Fanaticism and Enlightenment. Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea. London: Verso.

Copyright Amendment Bill aka removal of basic human rights

The ‘file-sharing’ argument has rattled around the courts, parliaments and media of the world for the last 40 years – remember ‘home recording will kill the music industry’ in 197-whatever (and how it didn’t kill the industry, although perhaps it should have)?  Yesterday in New Zealand politics, things took a dark turn.  A bill, the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill, was passed.  On the face of it, this was nothing surprising – it criminalises the sharing of copyrighted material.  Hardly the most heinous of crimes, but in line with the state’s intentions to protect property rights.

What is outrageous, is the attack on basic human rights when a suspected infringer is identified.  Since the birth of liberal democracy, which New Zealand had a good claim to be until yesterday, one of the values enshrined in law, constitution or Bill of Rights has been the right to presumption of innocence.

This puts the burden of proof on those accusing a person of wrongdoing, and is an important part of our modern justice system – it protects all from frivolous and unjust prosecution.

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill passed yesterday allows a content provider to accuse a suspected infringer of illegally sharing copyrighted content.  The onus is then on the accused to show their innocence.  The copyright owner is not required to prove their allegation – accusation alone is enough alone to begin legal proceedings.  If innocence it not proved, punishment is handed out in the form of cutting off the user’s internet (as an aside, access to an internet connection is now considered a basic human right in some countries and protected under law – apparently we are not so enlightened in New Zealand).

Regardless of your view on copyright and illegal file-sharing, this approach of requiring the accused to prove their innocence, constitutes a significant attack on basic human rights – it opens the door for more legislation which puts the burden of proof on the accused.

We cannot allow this to happen, we cannot allow the law to stand,  or we slide ever closer to a dictatorship which benefits the few.

More to come.

Openstreetmap New Zealand – Auckland meetings

As discussed earlier, we will be hosting Openstreetmap New Zealand meetings from February 2011.  The venue and date are now finalised:

Where: Tangle Ball, 27 Edinburgh Street, Newton, Auckland
When: Thursday, February 24th from 7pm till around 8:30pm

The first meeting will discuss the general direction OSM New Zealand will take and future meeting topics.
We will also be pushing forward with the LINZ import – we need developers to put together a web application for importing and merging the data.

This is open to anyone who has an interest in Openstreetmap specifically, or mapping or free data in general.  We would also love to have developers along who can help with the import application.

OpenStreetMap New Zealand – website launch

Recently I talked about launching an OpenStreetMap New Zealand website, and holding monthly meetings for OSM in New Zealand, in a bid to expand our community.  The first part is done – click here for the temporary site address (until I figure out Apache virtual hosts).  Please test it, and let me know if you find anything wrong. I’m particularly struggling with getting OpenLayers to display the different sets of map tiles – the blue ‘+’ at top-right should allow the user to switch between different renders of the data, but there’s something wrong at the moment.

Any suggestions, please send them to the NZopenGIS group, or email me.

The first OpenStreetMap New Zealand meeting will be later on, more to come once it’s been organised.


Openstreetmap New Zealand

I’ve been involved with Openstreetmap for 3 1/2 years now, and there is only a very small contributor base in New Zealand (most of whom got involved through personal contacts).  I hear from members of the German OSM community about the thousands of contributors they have and the OSM groups in every major city, and wondered why we don’t have that in NZ.  There are already some resources for NZ contributors: a Google Group – which some potential contributors refuse to join, because … well, because it’s Google – and a few pages on the OSM wiki. However, these are rather dry and technical, and only appeal to those who already get/are involved in free software/open data, etc at a philosphical level – they don’t cater much to those who don’t know about Stallman/Lessig and the ideological underpinnings.  So, starting in the next few weeks, I will be launching www.openstreetmap.org.nz, and holding associated regular meets in Auckland.

The site will be basic, with the following content:
*What is OSM?
*What is OSM New Zealand?
*A New Zealand-specific map. This takes lots of resources to render and host, so it will use tiles hosted elsewhere, probably a custom Cloudmade style
**Dual English/Maori place names
**Unusual geographic features – volcanoes, other geothermal activity
**Anything else specific/unusual to NZ
*How can I get involved with OSM?
*NZ-related news such as upcoming meets, mapping parties, the status of imports, etc.

As a start point, I’ll be copying the www.openstreetmap.de website, which is available and (of course) released under some liberal license.  As more people come on board, perhaps a better web dev than me will help improve it.

The meets will aim to be once a month, and now that Tangleball is running, there is a ready-made venue.  The LINZ import web application will probably be the subject of the first meet.  From there, there are other topics that may be interesting:
*The Zenbu import
*Using Potlach (the online editor)
*Using JOSM (the more advanced editor)
*Creating mapnik, osmarender and kosmos rendering rules
*How to collect mapping data
*Using a GPS to record tracks and waypoints
*Mapping party

If you’re interested in helping out, be it web dev, graphics design or ideas, let me know either by email, in the comments below or on the Google Group.