WOS 3 / Programm / Panels / Opening Speeches / Volker Grassmuck / skript
Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

two days ago, I shared a cab from the marble palace of intellectual property -- i.e. the WIPO headquarters in Geneva -- to the airport with a Brussels lobbyist for the film industry. When he looked at the program of WOS 3 he remarked „Everything free!?" And I could sense both an exclamation mark and a question mark at the end of his statement.

He might be skeptical, understandably from the perspective of the industry that he represents, but yes, he is right: Everything in the in realm of knowledge is there in free: software, music, networks, scientific literature, standards, encyclopedias, hardware designs, yes, movies too -- anything one can imagine. I consciously said „in free" and not „for free," but the difference between „free beer" and „free speech" is something I don't have to elaborate before this audience.

All these products of the mind also exist in proprietary forms. But that is of little concern to us in the upcoming four, or actually five days, if you count the workshop on Monday. It is not novel. It is not useful. It is not engaging. It‘s no fun.

And we have come together, first and most of all, to have some fun. When I say „we," I mean a wide variety of freedom-loving people. They might be working on the human genome or on computer operating systems, on archiving computer games or on wireless protocols that mesh up the town, on teaching children or on making movies.

One would think that this multitude of specialists wouldn‘t have much to talk about together. But we do have one thing in common: we cherish freedom. In our work, in collaborating with others, and in our lives.

One might ask: "Not many people would say 'no' to freedom, but what freedom do you mean?" Without wanting to open up a huge philosophical topic, ages old, I would like to suggest an ad hoc definition: the freedom that we mean is the freedom to learn from each others works, to adapt them to our own needs, to modify and to improve them, and to teach them to others. Free software fits that definition perfectly. The complete corpus of knowledge in this field can be freely accessed, modified and shared. It‘s all available on the Internet. In other fields, we are getting there.

I‘m aware that there will be people in the audience who would refuse to be subsumed under an anti-proprietarian "we". And likely others who sympathize, but still feel uncomfortable to embrace freedom fully, who may have doubts as to whether it's a sustainable model.

To those of you and to all the world who cares to listen, the upcoming days will offer a conucopia of real-life experiences. Yes, there will be our share of crystall-ball gazing, as well, but this is not a gathering of utopians and idealists. The projects you will be hearing about are grounded in everyday pratice. And up in the sky, WIPO is setting new rules.

The WIPO meeting that ended yesterday was interesting for two reasons. First, the so called Casting Treaty, that is supposed to give broadcasters, cabelcasters and webcasters special rights to their broadcasts on top of the copyrights on the material contained in them, divides industries. The broadcasters want the additional rights, it's there initiative, but the don't want the webcasters to get the same rights. The movie industry is undecided but basically not interested. My taxi companion was suggesting to support the webcasters whose position the broadcasters are not likely to accept which would lead the whole Treaty to fail. But more important, the meeting was interesting because for the first time the Civil Society Coalition was present in numbers and speaking in the plenary on equal terms with the accredited industry associations. This is largely the work of James Love from the Consumer‘s Project on Technology, and he was very successful in drawing in other NGO people into understanding that even WIPO is a platform where we as NGO representatives, as academics, as business people can act and have some influence.

Larry Lessig in his afterword to "Free Culture" suggests two paths to freedom: 1) what we can do on our own. This includes licensing of our own works, if it's software, under the GPL or other free software licenses, if it‘s content, under the Creative Commons licenses. The second path concerns things that need changes to the law. And for this path becoming operational on the WIPO level is crucial. If we start to try to influence legislation only when it comes down to the European and then the national level, it is way too late. Pretty much everything has been decided on the previous levels already.

If there are still some skeptics among you concerning freedom, the WOS is not a church event. It is not about believing in freedom but about rational argumentation, about thinking up the best ways of doing things, the best possible society we all would like to live in.

I would like to close by making three remarks.

* Freedom works. For very practical reasons of flexibility and long-term sustainability. And for large-scale collaboration it‘s an essential feature, anyway.That couldn't be done otherwise.

* Freedom pays. It creates value. It also earns and saves money. Not that money is the only thing that makes the world go round, but in the society we live in now it is sort of important. Therefore, at the Wizards of OS 3 we will explicitly address the question of how to make a living with free software and free culture. A constructive suggestion for a more equitable and more well-balanced system of copyright management and media economy will be presented at one of our sessions. It will also be worked out into a joint statement to be submitted to the European Commission.

* And thirdly, freedom is a value in itself. I simply refuse to believe that all of us are driven by greed, egotism, secrecy, or the wish to control other people's minds. I do believe that people inherently want to share, and want to have their own creations appreciated by as many people as possible.

Freedom has something to show for itself. And that's what the Wizards of OS is all about. Thank you.

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