Report from Free Culture 2008, a.k.a. the Research Lab of iSummit 2008

by Giorgos Cheliotis, based on personal recollection and the notes of Prodromos Tsiavos

Every year the iSummit attracts several academics from different disciplinary backgrounds with a common interest in the promotion and study of free cultural or 'commons-based' practices. This year we organized the First Interdisciplinary Research Workshop on Free Culture, or Free Culture 2008 for short, as one of the iSummit 'Labs', to provide an opportunity for academics, researchers and practitioners to present their findings and learn form each other.

By any measure Free Culture 2008 was a success. The workshop was well attended (15-40 participants per session) considering how many presentations, discussions and meetings were taking place in parallel during the summit. But it is not about the numbers. Many of the presenters expressed their gratitude for the organization of the workshop and their appreciation for the quantity and quality of the constructive feedback they received during the summit. In keeping with the spirit of the summit, sessions were attended by a wonderful mix of researchers, practitioners and 'amateur scholars' who engaged in discussion and constructive criticism on a very open and egalitarian basis.

But the workshop did not start at the summit, it started much earlier, before everyone could fly to Sapporo. The workshop's highly interdisciplinary academic committee reviewed extended abstracts submitted by researchers from around the world and the chairs selected about half of the submissions for presentation at the iSummit, based on the results of the peer review process. Over 90 reviews were written in a very short timeframe and this was already a first success for the workshop and a first big step towards guaranteeing that the presentations would meet certain criteria of quality and methodological rigor, as expected by the research community. We are greatly indebted to the academic program committee for their stewardship of the workshop. The review process was coordinated by Tyng-Ruey Chuang (Academia Sinica, Taiwan) using the EasyChair Conference System, while Jonathan Zittrain (Oxford Internet Institute, UK) provided inputs at several phases of the process.

Given the more academic nature of the research workshop as opposed to other iSummit labs, it was organized mostly around formal presentations of ongoing research, with the addition of a free-for-all speed-geeking session and a concluding open discussion session. The sessions were as follows:

Session 1: Perspectives on Free Culture

Herkko Hietanen (Helsinki Institute for Information Technology) started off the presentations of the workshop with " Honey I Took Out The Trash: Curbside Recycling Motivations and the Free Culture Movement", an exploration of the relationships between the environmental and the free culture movements. Christopher Adams, an independent scholar from Taiwan, presented a more theoretical perspective on free culture and its relation to the native American tradition of potlatch with "Sovereignty of Free Culture: Georges Bataille and the Accursed Share". Leah Belsky (Yale Law School) presented her work with Yochai Benkler and Byron Kahr on the study of well-known communities and indie music labels employing different forms of commons-based production methods, titled "Everything in its Right Place: Social Cooperation and the Production and Distribution of Creative Works". Finally, Jeong Min Choi (Seoul National University) presented her work with Jisuk Woo and Seo Woo Choi on the clampdown of the entertainment industry on Korean file-sharing users and the effects that lawsuits have had on users' subsequent behavior, "How the Korean Entertainment Industry’s Move to Directly Sue Individual Internet Users Influences the Users’ Attitudes and Activities".

Session 2: Applications and Challenges of Free Cultural Practices

Prodromos Tsiavos (London School of Economics and Public Policy) started the next session with his presentation titled "The Museum as a Cathedral and a Bazaar: Tracing Flows of Rights in the UK Cultural, Memory and Education Sector", a work in progress on the utilization of commons-based approaches by UK cultural institutions and individual artists. Eric Johnson (University of North Dakota Law School) took over to present "Copysquare and Konomark: New Ways to Be Friendly With Your Intellectual Property", two proposals on new ways for authors to indicate their pro-sharing attitude and license content for use in various media formats. Finally, Wolf Richter (Oxford Internet Institute) presented his work with Irene Cassarino on the application of an open licensing model for the production of a collaborative film, in "Lessons Learnt From Implementing an Open Licensing Model in Distributed Film Production – The case of "A Swarm of Angels"".

Session 3: Online Communities and Social Networks

Philipp Schmidt (UNU/MERIT and the University of Western Cape) kicked off the third session with a presentation of the methodology he is using for a survey of Wikipedia users, whose results should be out soon, in "Wikipedia - First Results From the Official Survey and Some Thoughts on Motivation, Distribution, and Quality". Then Alek Tarkowski (University of Warsaw) presented an analysis of data he has collected on Flickr users and the licenses they use, in "Social and Cultural Practices with Free Cultural Works. Case Study of the Flickr Web Service". Chih-Kang Cheng (Yuan Ze University) took over the podium to present a case study of the most popular online community in Taiwan, which is a BBS, in "The Study of Sharing Behavior in BBS platform in Taiwan – a Case Study of Virtual Communities in PTT". Giorgos Cheliotis (National University of Singapore) closed the session with his presentation of preliminary results on a study of collaborative remixing in the ccMixter online community, titled "Remix Culture: An Empirical Investigation of Creative Reuse and the Licensing of Digital Media in Online Communities".

Session 4: Speed-Geeking and Poster Session

This was a free-for-all session with some invited posters and the opportunity for anyone to walk in and present their ideas relating to the themes of the workshop. In a less formal setting than in other sessions, Prodromos Tsiavos (London School of Economics and Public Policy) presented some results of his work on the self-organization of the Creative Commons volunteer community and with a special focus on the patterns that emerge from online interactions on mailing lists. Koichiro Hayashi (Institute of Information Security) presented a proposal for a platform for the registration, tracking and enforcement of CC licenses on any type of digital content. And Kim Tucker (Meraka Institute) talked to us about his proposal for a new license that will solve some of the incompatibilities between the CC BY-SA and the GFDL licenses.

Session 5A: Quantifying the Digital Commons

Juan Carlos De Martin (NEXA) in "Geospatial Context Extraction for Creative Commons Licensed Digital Contents" provided an overview of the methodology utilized by researchers of the NEXA center at the Technical University of Torino, including Elias Carotti and Davide Bardone, to crawl the Web for CC-licensed content and extract geospatial information about the location of the author utilizing information retrieval methods. Then Ben Bildstein (University of New South Wales) presented his study of open content licence use in Australia and the lessons derived from this study on how to best collect data on licence use, in "New Methodologies for Quantifying Licence-Based Commons on the Web".

Session 5B: Perspectives on Freedom and the Commons in East Asia

First HyoJung Sun (Seoul National University) presented her work with Jisuk Woo and HyunSoo Na on the role of user-created content in Korean politics with "Influence of the UCC Regulation during the Political Campaign in Korea on Free Culture". Then, instead of Han-Teng Liao's (Oxford Internet Institute) scheduled presentation which was unfortunately cancelled due to the presenter's inability to travel to the workshop venue, Cynthia Jimes (ISKME) presented an overview of research activities at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education in " "Travel Well" Open Educational Resources: A Presentation of Ongoing Research", joint work with Lisa Petrides and Anastasia Karaglani.

Session 6: A Research and Action Agenda for Free Culture

This was the most important session for the future of research on free culture. The aim of the session was to (a) identify future directions that would be ripe with research challenges but also promising to yield insight that would be useful to the practice of free culture advocacy, and (b) make an assessment of the workshop and decide whether to repeat it and in what format.

The session started with a discussion of potential areas of research, where the collection of more data and the visualization of this data for intuitive exploration and communication of findings was proposed as one potential area of focus. Action research was also mentioned as a methodology that would be relevant in the context of practice-inspired and practice-informed research. Global-scope studies and comparative studies across multiple jurisdictions were also favored by some participants as areas needing much more development. But the discussion quickly turned to practical issues, such as how to organize a network for continuous communication and collaboration among interested researchers and whether we should plan a journal special issue, or a special track in an existing research conference.
Participants tried to propose solutions to the perennial problem of engaging in interdisciplinary collaborations while at the same time being respected in one's own scientific community. There was some consensus that we should not attempt to create a new discipline, but that we nevertheless need venues and opportunities to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue and do research across disciplinary boundaries, as the phenomena that interest us the most tend to cut across multiple dimensions of the Internet, including law, IT, economics, communications, media studies and policy (just to name a few).

The most concrete and positive outcome of the entire workshop was the unanimous agreement of all participants to the idea of repeating this gathering on an annual basis. Epitomizing the positive assessment of this year's proceedings was Lawrence Lessig's proposal to help find a venue for the workshop next year and also to help turn it into a larger and more substantive academic conference, a proposal that was greeted with enthusiasm by the rest of the participants in the session.

The rest of the discussion focused on what the envisioned conference should look like, in light of the lessons we learned from Free Culture 2008. It was tentatively agreed to raise the bar for participation at the conference next year by requiring that presenters submit a full paper at some stage in the process (this year it was optional and selection was based solely on extended abstracts). This, along with having more time dedicated to research presentations and research-focused discussion will help ensure that next year's event will be more focused and session participation will be more consistent, which will be essential to building rapport and promoting genuine dialogue among participants.

Some participants also voiced concerns with respect to the conference potentially attaining too much of a traditional academic character and losing the relative spontaneity and participatory nature of the iSummit. It was therefore suggested that we maintain some slots for open discussion and seek to synthesize perspectives and findings in the form of panels or by any other means, instead of focusing only on single-person presentations. Finally, several potential publishing venues were brought up but it was agreed that it is somewhat premature to be concerned with this at the moment and we should rather focus our energies in planning Free Culture 2009. The following participants registered their interest in assisting with the organization of next year's conference (in no particular order):

Wolf Richter
Lawrence Lessig
Juan Carlos De Martin
Alek Tarkowski
Leah Belsky
Ben Bildstein
Christopher Adams
Rachel Cobcroft
Prodromos Tsiavos
Giorgos Cheliotis
Philipp Schmidt

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