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Open source culture (OSC) is a term that derives from open source software and the open source movement. Open source software is software with its source code made freely available; end-users have various degrees of rights to modify and redistribute the software, as well as the right to use the software for commercial purposes. "Open source" as applied to culture defines a culture in which fixations are made generally available. Participants in such a culture are able to modify those products and redistribute them back into the community.

Open source culture and intellectual property lawEdit

OSC is a culture that supports and promotes the sharing of culture. As more domains of contemporary life are affected by technologies of cultural reproduction, the possible domain of OSC expands. For some, OSC describes a balance between freedom and exclusive rights (and the surrounding ethos of proprietary culture). They maintain that the experience of culture is influenced by exclusive rights as implemented in copyright law. Artists, programmers, and other authors are understood as having limited ownership over their creations. Current laws are instrumental in maintaining a creator's economic and moral rights for a limited time, while allowing for exceptions in certain cases pertaining to "fair use". Legally, copyright obtains to an expression as a "fixation," and licensing becomes the legal way of using copyrighted works.

Open source culture versus free cultureEdit

The idea of an "open source" culture runs parallel to "Free Culture," but is substantively different. Free Culture is a term derived from the free software movement, and in contrast to that vision of culture, proponents of OSC maintain that some intellectual property law needs to exist to protect cultural producers. Yet they propose a more nuanced position than corporations have traditionally sought. Instead of seeing intellectual property law as an expression of instrumental rules intended to uphold either natural rights or desirable outcomes, an argument for OSC takes into account diverse goods (as in "the Good life") and ends.

Open source culture and technologyEdit

One way in achieving the goal of making the fixations of cultural work generally available is to maximally utilize technology and digital media. As predicted by Moore's law, the cost of digital media and storage plummeted in the late 20th Century. Consequently, the marginal cost of digitally duplicating anything capable of being transmitted via digital media dropped to near zero. Combined with an explosive growth in personal computer and technology ownership, the result is an increase in general population's access to digital media. This phenomenon facilitated growth in open source culture because it allowed for rapid and inexpensive duplication and distribution of culture. Where the access to the majority of culture produced prior to the advent of digital media was limited by other constraints of proprietary and potentially "open" mediums, digital media is the latest technology with the potential to increase access to cultural products. Artists and users who choose to distribute their work digitally face none of the physical limitations that traditional cultural producers have been typically faced with. Accordingly, the audience of an open source culture faces little physical cost in acquiring digital media.

Open source culture and networkingEdit

Essentially born out of a desire for increased general access to digital media, internet is open source culture's most valuable asset. It is questionable whether or not the goals of an open source culture could be achieved without the internet. The global network not only fosters an environment where culture can be generally accessible, but also allows for easy and inexpensive redistribution of culture back into various communities. Some reasons for this are as follows.

First, the internet allows even greater access to inexpensive digital media and storage. Instead of users being limited to their own facilities and resources, they are granted access to a vast network of facilities and resources, some for free. Sites such as offer up free web space for anyone willing to license their work under the Creative Commons license. The resulting cultural product is then available to download for free (generally accessible) to anyone with an internet connection.

Second, users are granted unprecedented access to each other. Older analog technologies such as the telephone or television have limitations on the kind of interaction users can have. In the case of television there is little, if any interaction between users participating on the network. And in the case of the telephone, users rarely interact with any more than a couple of their known peers. On the internet, however, users have the potential to access and meet millions of their peers. This aspect of the internet facilitates the modification of culture as users are able to collaborate and communicate with each other across international and cultural boundaries. The speed in which digital media travels on the internet in turn facilitates the redistribution of culture.

Through various technologies such as peer-to-peer networks and blogs, cultural producers can take advantage of vast social networks in order to distribute their products. As opposed to traditional media distribution, redistributing digital media on the internet can be virtually costless. Technologies such as BitTorrent and Gnutella take advantage of various characteristics of the internet protocol (TCP/IP) in an attempt to totally decentralize file distribution. For more on these technologies, see "Examples: Communication and Personal Expression" below.

Economic implicationsEdit

There has not been extensive economic study on open sourced models of works such as books, photographs, paintings, sculpture, music, technical drawings, computer software, movies, and maps. However, papers exist which may be suggested to cover general approaches to open source to more specific approaches. There has been some analysis done specifically on copyright and appropriation art. The basic economic approach is to first understand why a certain product might be considered suitable for open source. And then, it is helpful to explore possible economic impacts. Additionally, economic analysis serves to understand what exactly makes a possible open source work different from any other work.

According to GNU, it is important to discern between open source goods and other goods such as free software. Free software allows consumers to either receive the software via payment or for free. The consumer may then alter the software and then resell if he or she so desires. There are no stipulations of free price in the free software model the only thing free is the freedom to do with the software what you wish. On the other hand, according to GNU, open source implies a free price. However, there does appear to be some confusion with the open source label, and often, it does not imply free price.

Most economists would agree that open source candidates have a public goods aspect to them. In general, this suggests that the original work involves a great deal of time, money, and effort. However, the cost of reproducing the work is very low so that additional users may be added at zero or near zero cost - this is referred to as the marginal cost of a product. At this point, it is necessary to consider a copyright. The idea of copyright for works of authorship is to protect the incentive of making these original works. Copyright restriction then creates access costs on consumers who value the original more than making an additional copy but value the original less than its price. Thus, they will pay an access cost of this difference. Access costs also pose problems for authors who wish to create something based on another work yet are not willing to pay the copyright holder for the rights to the copyrighted work. The second type of cost incurred with a copyright system is the cost of administration and enforcement of the copyright.

The idea of open source is then to eliminate the access costs of the consumer and the creator by reducing the restrictions of copyright. This will lead to creation of additional works, which build upon previous work and add to greater social benefit. Additionally, some proponents argue that open source also relieves society of the administration and enforcement costs of copyright. Organizations such as Creative Commons have websites where individuals can file for alternative "licenses", or levels of restriction, for their works. These self-made protections free the general society of the costs of policing copyright infringement. Thus, on several fronts, there is an efficiency argument to be made on behalf of open sourced goods.

Others argue that society loses through open sourced goods. Because there is a loss in monetary incentive to the creation of new goods, some argue that new products will not be created. This argument seems to apply particularly to the business model where extensive research and development is done, e.g. pharmaceuticals. However, others argue that visual art and other works of authorship should be free. These proponents of extensive open source ideals argue that there should be no monetary incentive for artists.


Eric Raymond and other founders of the open source movement have sometimes publicly tried to put the brakes on speculation about applications outside of software, arguing that strong arguments for software openness should not be weakened by overreaching into areas where the story is less compelling. The broader impacts of the open source movement, and the extent of its role in the development of new information sharing procedures, remains to be seen.


Appropriation artEdit

Main article: appropriation art

Since the early years of the 20th century, the idea of ownership and 'openness' in the visual arts has been influenced by processes of appropriation. To appropriate something is to take possession of it. In the visual arts the term appropriation is often used in a general way to refer to the use made of borrowed elements in the creation of new work. These borrowed elements might include images, forms or styles from art history or popular culture, or materials and techniques from non-art contexts. Since the 1980s the term has also been used more specifically to describe the process of quoting the work of another artist to create a new work. The new work may or may not alter the original.

Because the very nature of appropriation art involves the borrowing, modification, and or use of existing art, and the redistribution of the new art into the community, this implicates appropriation art into a discussion of legal issues, especially that of fair use.

Sampling (music)Edit

Main article: sampling (music)

In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion of one sound recording and reusing it in a new recording. The portion can vary in length from as little as one note or beat to an entire recording. The sampled recording can be used as an instrument or element of the new song. This is typically done with a sampler, which can be a piece of hardware or a computer program on a digital computer. Sampling is also possible with loops of magnetic tape with a reel-to-reel tape machine or can be done live with two turntables.

Because the very nature of sampling involves musicians borrow, modify, and use existing recordings, redistributing them back into the community, this implicates sampling into a discussion of legal issues, especially that of fair use.

For examples of sampling and the intersection with legal issues see:

Columbia Plagiarism Project

For record labels involved in open source culture:

Loca Records, which actively allows sampling and reuse Opsound


Within the academic community, there is discussion about expanding what could be called the "intellectual commons" (analogous to the creative commons). Proponents of this view have hailed the OpenCourseWare project at MIT, Thacker's article on "Open Source DNA", the "Open Source Cultural Database", openwebschool, and Wikipedia as examples of applying open source outside the realm of computer software.

Science, industry and manufacturingEdit

The principle of sharing predates the open source movement; for example, the free sharing of information has been institutionalized in the scientific enterprise since at least the 19th century. Open source principles have always been part of the scientific community. The sociologist Robert K. Merton described the four basic elements of the community - universalism (an international perspective), communism (sharing information), disinterestedness (removing one's personal views from the scientific inquiry) and organized skepticism (requirements of proof and review) that accurately describe the scientific community today. These principles are, in part, complemented by US law's focus on protecting expression and method but not the ideas themselves. There is also a tradition of publishing research results to the scientific community instead of keeping all such knowledge proprietary. One of the recent initiatives in scientific publishing has been open access - the idea that research should be published in such a way that it is free and available to the public. There are currently many open access journals where the information is available for free online, however most journals do charge a fee (either to users or libraries for access). The Budapest Open Access Initiative is an international effort with the goal of making all research articles available for free on the internet. The National Institutes of Health has recently proposed a policy on "Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information." This policy would provide a free, searchable resource of NIH-funded results to the public and with other international repositories six months after its initial publication. The NIH's move is an important one because there is significant amount of public funding in scientific research. Many of the questions have yet to be answered - the balancing of profit vs. public access, and ensuring that desirable standards and incentives do not diminish with a shift to open access.

Open source principles can also be applied to technical areas other than computer software, such as digital communication protocols and data storage formats (for instance the Indian development simputer).

Benjamin Franklin was an early contributor donating all his inventions including the Franklin stove, bifocals and the lightning rod to the public domain.

Communication and personal expressionEdit

Weblogs, or blogs, are another significant platform for open source culture. Blogs consist of periodic, reverse chronologically ordered posts, using a technology that makes webpages easily updatable with no understanding of design, code, or file transfer required. While corporations, political campaigns and other formal institutions have begun using these tools to distribute information, many blogs are used by individuals for personal expression, political organizing, and socializing. Some, such as LiveJournal, utilize open source software that is open to the public and can be modified by users to fit their own tastes. Whether the code is open or not, this format represents a nimble tool for people to borrow and re-present culture; whereas traditional websites made the illegal reproduction of culture difficult to regulate, the mutability of blogs makes "open sourcing" even more uncontrollable since it allows a larger portion of the population to replicate material more quickly in the public sphere.

Messageboards are another platform for open source culture. Messageboards (also known as discussion boards or forums), are places online where people with similar interests can congregate and post messages for the community to read and respond to. Messageboards sometimes have moderators who enforce community standards of etiquette such as banning users who are spammers. Other common board features are private messages (where users can send messages to one another) as well as chat (a way to have a real time conversation online) and image uploading. Some messageboards use phpBB, which is a free open source package. Where blogs are more about individual expression and tend to revolve around their authors, messageboards are about creating a conversation amongst its users where information can be shared freely and quickly. Messageboards are a way to remove intermediaries from everyday life - for instance, instead of relying on commercials and other forms of advertising, one can ask other users for frank reviews of a product, movie or CD. By removing the cultural middlemen, messageboards help speed the flow of information and exchange of ideas.

Religious ideology and practiceEdit

Main article: open source religion

A number of organized attempts to develop open source religions have sprung up in recent years. An open source religion would dramatically decentralize and democratize control over both belief system and actual practice. Open source religion is conceptualized as being similar to Wikipedia, with a limited focus on developing specific systems of spiritual notions, creation cosmologies, meanings inherent (or lack thereof) in human life, etc. These attempts are still in their infancy and no phenomena corresponding to the early explosion of interest in open source software or Wikipedia have yet emerged.

Government and public policyEdit

Rampant piracy of movies, music and computer programs in less developed nations has outraged intellectual property owners in the industrialized world. As local governments come under pressure from institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Intellectual Property Alliance, some have turned to open source software as an affordable, legal alternative to both pirated material and expensive computer products from Microsoft, Apple and the like. The government of Pakistan, for example, established a Technology Resource Mobilization Unit in 2002 to enable groups of professionals to exchange views and coordinate activities in their sectors and to educate users about free software alternatives. GNU/Linux is an appealing option for poor countries with little revenue available for public investment; Pakistan is employing open source software in public schools and colleges, and hopes to run all government services on Linux eventually. There may also be broader, geopolitical implications. The spread of open source culture affords some leverage for these countries when companies from the developed world bid for government contracts (since a low-cost option exists), while furnishing an alternative path to development for countries like India and Pakistan that have many citizens skilled in computer applications but cannot afford technological investment at "First World" prices. In this sense, open source culture refers to a new situation in which the power relationships rooted in traditional intellectual property are disrupted not just illegally (e.g. file-sharing or piracy) but also officially and openly, as free software can remove the developed world's control of various technologies.

Whether this course of development is viable remains to be seen. The Ministry of Defense in Singapore began switching its computers from Microsoft to open-source software in 2004, while South Korea, China and Japan agreed to cooperate in creating new Linux-based programs. The makers of proprietary software in developed nations have followed these trends and discouraged the use of free software. Microsoft has argued that Linux is not actually a free and original system but, rather, a violator of more than 228 patents, and the SCO Group Inc. has also charged that Linux is based on its Unix operating system. Legal action could follow if nations continue to implement open source software instead of privately owned products.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


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