Cultural Implications of Open Source Thinking

From Wikipedia:

The cultural use of open source techniques brings these ideas much closer to 20th century and contemporary techniques of appropriation, the remix, collage. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

Open-source culture is the creative practice of appropriation and free sharing of found and created content. Examples include collage, found footage film, music, and appropriation art. Open-source culture is one in which fixations, works entitled to copyright protection, are made generally available. Participants in the culture can modify those products and redistribute them back into the community or other organizations.

There is constant friction between the notion of appropriation and issues of copyright and intellectual property, just as there is in software development. To quote again from Wikipedia:

The rise of open-source culture in the 20th century resulted from a growing tension between creative practices that involve appropriation, and therefore require access to content that is often copyrighted, and increasingly restrictive intellectual property laws and policies governing access to copyrighted content… Although artistic appropriation is often permitted under fair-use doctrines, the complexity and ambiguity of these doctrines creates an atmosphere of uncertainty among cultural practitioners. Also, the protective actions of copyright owners create what some call a “chilling effect” among cultural practitioners.

The Creative Commons was established exactly for this purpose. According to Wikipedia:

These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators.

Digital media has afforded the ability to expand the possibilities of open source practice, by making the storage and retrieval of cultural artifacts infinitely more accessible and affordable:

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.

The Internet has catalyzed the possibilities of an open source medium in the digital arts. As a repository for storing, indexing, retrieving “source” material, the Internet provides an open environment for appropriation and forms of the remix. The network is essentially the ultimate space for both production and distribution of open “source” material and its endlessly recombinatory artifacts. As an added layer, the network brings a many-to-many interaction to the interplay of users and the source for its manipulation. Also, the speed at which this interplay and distribution takes place allows for real-time systems and forms of multi-user activity. The means of production, publication, and distribution are unprecedented on the Internet: users can create blogs, Websites, social media pages, etc., for the purpose of delivering open source materials endlessly and everywhere.

The publishing platforms themselves are often open source, such as WordPress, which means that the techniques for freely distributing materials and development can be applied to the delivery platform itself. Thus the content, software environment, and hardware protocols of the Internet comprise a complete system that has the potential of being open source from the top down.

In education, open source systems are emerging, not just at the platform level, but pedagogically, such that courses such as OSS, are public, as opposed to the traditionally restricted online environments such as Blackboard. Educators and students can take full advantage of the free exchange of information to enhance their research and pedagogical practice.

From Open Source as Culture / Culture as Open Source by Siva Vaidhyanathan, from The Social Media Reader

The proprietary model if cultural and technological production directly challenges the collaboration and free exchange of knowledge and information.

However, through most of human history all information technologies and almost all technologies were “open source.”

Copyright and proprietary economic models have undermined the freedom of information and software development. Bill Gates began this trend in the 1970s with the creation of Microsoft. Government models since the Clinton administration have attempted to lock down intellectual and cultural knowledge for economic purposes. But these powerful proprietary tendencies suppress:

the foundation of innovation and creativity above all other forms has generated an unhealthy cultural and social condition…to legitimize elite control over technologies or other innovative or creative processes.

We have to wonder how this tendency also suppresses freedom of speech. Examples of oppositional movement include the Free Software Foundation and the Linux operating system and its community of stalwart hackers. This opposition is in line with the roots of technology, which led to the Internet and the World Wide Web as an open and free system of information distribution. Yet,

programmers participate in free software projects without following the normal signals generated by market-based, firm-based, or hybrid models.

The notion of “peer production” is essential to the collaborative spirit of open source, which again, exists outside of the market-based system, as an often radical alternative to prevailing economic models and conditions. What is most essential about peer production is the way it exploits human capital as opposed to monetary capital, which is typically only available to the elite. An example of peer production is Wikipedia itself, which relies on a massive number of individuals who contribute knowledge for the greater good. The blogger community provides critical reporting, often surpassing the ability of mainstream journalism, another example of individuals fueling human knowledge for the greater good: what is called “citizen journalism.”

Copyright can be the enemy of open source but such systems as the Creative Commons has attempted to regulate a compromise for the need for individuals to filter how much they want to contribute to the common good, and how they also need to be compensated for their work. Vladimir Hafstein describes the tention between copyright systems dictated by the industrialized world:

Creativity as a social process is the common denominator of these concepts and approaches. From each of these perspectives, the act of creation is a social act. From the point of view of intertextuality, for example, works of literature are just as much a product of society or of discourse as they are of an individual author or, for that matter, reader.

The efforts toward open source, or rather, to protect the notion of open source, takes on political ramifications. It is often a subversive, radical effort to restore a sense of communal common good within communities that honor these values. These communities attempt to protect these freedoms by adhering to strict forms of open source practice.