Meeting of illustrious "hackers" at the World Social Forum
By Marcelo Medeiros, RITS
PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL, 30 January 2005
The roundtable on the "Digital Revolution " at the World Social Forum which took place on the morning of Saturday the 29th, brought together various personalities, who chiefly discussed attempts to impose limits on internet use, and the use of free open source programmes. Speakers were Manuel Castells from Spain; the Brazilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil; university professors John Perry Barlow and Lawrence Lessig, as well as Chris Ahlert, from the Oxford Internet Institute.
For them, the changes that the internet has triggered in society can not be stopped, and any attempt to stop them will be unsuccessful. “The main obstacle to internet development is the use of intellectual property as a form of profit”, stated Castells, sociologist author of the Network Society trilogy. “Ownership is not the ideal model for dealing with untouchable things,” was the opinion of the North American John Perry Barlow, of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. Barlow is opposed to the model of profit through the use of information in the world computer network. A defendant of free circulation of information, he warned of the dangers of commercialising news, music and videos on the internet, mainly for developing countries. “Intellectual property cannot be a new form of colonialism,” he said. We need a new ideology, the opposite of ownership,” emphasised Lessig, author of “The future of Ideas” and “Free culture.”
One of the ways in which to do this is the Creative Commons licence, whereby authors of an intellectual work can waive their rights to whatever extent they want. Singer and Minister Gilberto Gil is one of those who are approves of innovation. “I am a minister and I am a musician, but above all I am a hacker at heart”, he stated, after which he declared himself to be a fan of new technologies. According to Lessig, it is only this type of licence that will make it possible to keep the “remix” that is a sign of cultures of all times. The re-use of productions on the internet is, for him, a “radical change in the way of making culture”, and an incentive to community development. One of the originators of Creative Commons, the North American confirmed that, in order to work, freedom needs to be understandable, unchangeable, and useful. He thus considers as unacceptable the position of communications companies who seek to protect their intellectual property to the greatest extent, and computer companies whose programme codes are not open source.
BBC, the British television and radio network, was praised for its decision to digitalise part of its assets, and to make its archives available under Creative Commons licensing, thus making it possible for internet users to use images. “The telespectator will therefore be able to choose and join productions,” declared Christian Ahlert, the officer for digitalisation. Ahlert said to Rets that this was no an easy decision to make. “A lot of consultation was needed to convince the directors that this would be beneficial, not only for the company but for the public.” He believes that all large content production companies will soon follow suit.
According to Castells, the logic of the world computer network is based on collaboration between developers, and the introduction of another form of organisation would lead to the end of this means of communication. “All the internet codes were made known by users. It is absurd to want to prohibit freedom of association,” he said. For Spain, the society should henceforth be organised in accordance with the two aspects of chaos and progress.” Gil agreed and said that the movement for internet freedom “is not anti-, but pro- global citizenship, information, and the exercise of sensitivity and humanity.” An enthusiast, the minister, said he wanted to see the “hacker” culture predominating in the future. “Hackers spread knowledge and believe in sharing information,” he clarified.
Photo: Brazilian Minister of Culture and musician, Gilberto Gil, at the round-table. By Eduardo Quadros.
This report was produced by RETS, the online magazine of APC’s Brazilian member RITS, at the Fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil where the message is “another world is possible”. APC collected coverage on ICTs and internet at the World Social Forum and provided translation for this article from the original in Portuguese.