Travels in Lisbon: At the Creative Commons Summit, Part 3

Photo: Omar Willey. CC-BY 4.0 license.

This is Part 3 of a four-part series. Part 0: Prelude is here. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here. Read them all, if you’re inclined.

The second day of the conference started early. Nevertheless I managed to miss the Legal Meet and Greet session because it had been moved to another room and I foolishly did not check the updated schedule. Instead I sat out on the terrace and pondered the day before.

The day was clearing and the sun was about to come out and play. Lisbon is a truly beautiful city under even the worst of circumstances with even the worst weather. Today it was going to be spectacular. And I would be inside. Strangely I preferred it that way. I was mulling over the nagging sensation I had from the last evening.

Despite the reassurances that “we all belong here” that Kelsey Merkley gave us in her presentation, I never felt that way. I felt very much out of place.

For one thing, I’m old. Beyond one Brazilian gent I met, I saw very few people at the conference who were in their forties or fifties, much less older. Technology tends to be a game of the young. The makeup of people at the summit merely reinforced the point. Yet plenty of us codgers understand technology. Plenty of us believe in preservation of the global commons. Plenty of us fight for human rights and privacy.

Another thing is that while I am from The Big Bad Global North, I am an ethnic minority there. My contributions and my ability to contribute are not the same as those of the White bourgeoisie in my country. There was a tacit assumption among those at the conference that access and power are evenly distributed in my country and those in Europe. Just because 87% of online Americans have heard of Wikipedia does not mean that extends to my city’s ethnic Somalians, Latinos, Hmong, Filipinos or African Americans. I know from my teaching experience that is does not. I suspect this same problem exists elsewhere. Of all those editors of Wikipedia in France and Germany, how many of them are Algerian or Turkish? Yet their contributions are getting dismissed as “Euro-American” and they are being told that since they are White they cannot write effectively or importantly about “the Third World” or “the Global South.” This is nonsense.

It also goes the other way. The assumption also implies that Hutus and Tutsis would write the same unbiased history of Africa, or Yorubas and Fulanis. They would not. Even in a more “ethnically homogeneous” country, I am pretty certain Brahminas and Sudras will have different opinions about their history. There are firmly entrenched, privileged groups in the Global South, too. Why is their contribution any more valuable simply because of geography?

It became clear to me that no one had much interest in embracing that complexity. No one much cared about my particular version of Whose Knowledge? Had I been a self-identified Indigenous person, or of course a White female, I might have received a little of their liberal largesse, but my ethnic group is not currently hip in contemporary discussions unless we’re being shot. Plus ça change, plus c’est a même chose.

Photo: Omar Willey. CC-BY 4.0.

Some of my complaint might have been addressed in the session on “A ‘radical practise of sharing’?: Working towards knowledge equity in African-heritage communities in London”, but I was instead at the session on “Launching CC-Create: a network platform for artists, designers, musicians and makers.”

Myself a creative person, I was excited by Veethika Mishra and Sam Muirhead’s proposal to create a platform for users and creators who are interested in gathering together not only to share and discuss and remix each other’s work but also to serve as advocates in all those copyright discussions in which absolutely none of us little people are ever consulted about our needs or rights.

Reading over the proposal for CC-Create, it sounded almost like something that had come out of my mouth multiple times. Selections:

CC as a network seems very strong in fields of GLAM, copyright reform, Open education, and open data, and there is a lot of fantastic work on releasing existing work into the commons… but not so much on a) creatively repurposing that work once released, or b) creating new work in the commons (in a collaborative way). If CC’s goal is creating ‘a vibrant commons’ then it needs to support those goals too.


There are some small but vital communities working on arts in relation to Free Software, such as Open Source DesignLibre Graphics Meeting, or Blender Cloud / Open Projects. While there’s some crossover, only a subset of CC artists are using Free Software tools and/or engaged with the Free Software community.


Ideally the platform would also be a place to organise a CC Culture presence at key Culture-related events or on other online platforms – this is similar to how Open Source Design takes charge of organising a Design track at prominent Free Software events, or encourages community members to give presentations / represent the community at mainstream design events.

That last one especially is something I’ve harped on repeatedly, to the point where I have begun hosting my own Culture-related events over the past two years, including concerts with CC-licensed musicians who are paired with poets, gallery shows where artists exhibit their paintings and drawings while musicians play in the same space, film screenings where artists watch the films then create illustrations based on them, and poetry readings centered around collaborative forms like Exquisite Corpse, Orphan Works and Japanese court renga. Compared to what needs to be done, these events have been a small drop in the bucket. I’ve proposed to some fundraisers that we should assemble a two- or three-day symposium featuring gallery shows, concerts, workshops, readings, panel discussions, and classes. Such a symposium would merge free/libre/open source software concerns with Creative Commons practitioners and advocates, and would be led by creators.

I’ve pitched the idea to a couple people at Creative Commons headquarters. They love the idea, naturally, but they insist they have absolutely no power to help make it happen. I think they are wrong. They could just as easily stand behind such events as they stand behind global summits and CC Salons. But there is currently no convenient way for them to do so.

CC-Create might help. So I’m all in favor of it. At the very least it would independently create a space in nwhich creative people can, among all the grandiose talk about human rights and legal review, feel at home instead of ignored. Unfortunately, it’s in a purely speculative state right now. There is an all-too-real probability it might never happen. But it should, and soon.

The same joy I shared at the CC-Create session carried over into the next one I attended, “Welcome to the Open Music Network.” I’ve been a huge fan of Rute Correia and her Programa Marca Branca/White Market Podcast show since I stumbled across it in 2011. Listening to her tag team with Monster Jinx’ Darksunn about unifying artists, netlabels, radio shows, podcasts, and concert spaces was inspiring. It’s a brilliant idea, one that only musicians would devise. Other creatives types seem to lack interest in all that unified approach. Generally just stick things up on teh interwebz and hope for the best.

Again, it’s an approach to making the commons more usable. And again, it’s very much incomplete. But at least there are usable pieces of the puzzle. BlocSonic and Monster Jinx labels are already on board, as are platforms ccMixter, Dogmazic and Au Bout du Fil, radio shows White Market Podcast, frei² and HyperR@dio, and concert venue dock18. There are others I’d love to see become part of the network, most especially the folks at Netwaves radio, podcaster Pete Cogle, and the back-from-the-dead Free Music Archive. We will see.

After lunch I stopped in to the Communication Strategies for the Commons session. It was very GLAM-centric, as expected, but I still like to keep my finger on the pulse of such things, and besides it had Jennie Rose Halperin on the panel, whom I adore, and Scann, who is a legend.

I enjoyed hearing the panelists take on the idea of how a culture can be open if no one knows it is. Douglas McCarthy made the point that incentives for openness are lacking. And we were back to the same old problem: money. GLAM institutions, being institutions, are always going to wonder where the money comes from, and need to be shown the benefits of open access. And not just institutions. Private individuals need a sense that they benefit from the public domain and open access. The monetary argument is necessary.

I wonder, though, if it’s the best approach. Citizens are not businesses. They care about things other than money: family, friends, public spaces, leisure, etc. The public domain and the commons contribute sizably to these things, yet they remain a mystery to most everyone.

Why is this? I have no real answers. I do know, however, that it’s one of the most serious problems facing the commons. To chop up the words of Elinor Ostrom a little, the public domain needs to be more than just a field from which people only take: it needs to be a “common property resource” that is sensibly managed by commoners, and this requires people to know and understand their own self-interests are tied together with the collective interests.

I dropped in on the Creators of the Commons lightning talks to see Eva L. Elasigue’s presentation on how she came to license her own work with CC licenses independent of the typical sources. Then I stayed for Tribe of Noise’s presentation on CC Music Makers, which was elegant enough but left me cold as it was really about the hard administrative work of the commons — which nevertheless needs to be done.

That wrapped up Day 2. I did some more coloring pages and went home, thinking. What would the final day bring?

Continued next chapter.

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Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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