Tag Archives: participatory culture

Creative Commons and the Capital of Culture

Umeå municipality was last year elected to become “Capital of Culture” in Europe during 2014. Every year two cities are elected this position, which are in turn granted funds and encouraged to promote cultural activites. “Open source”, “participation” and “accessibility” are three of the guiding phrases Umeå have used to describe its cultural stamina. However, the actual meaning behind these words seem to be slightly disregarded.

Downloading this image from here is illegal. Umeå 2014 probably wants you to do it, though. Photo: Darren Packman

Today I was linked a spectacular HDR photography (all HDR pics look spectacular…) of the logotype Umeå uses for its Capital of Culture campaign. I know I somewhat praised Flickr in my last post on Creative Commons, but truth be told most material there is still monopolistic. Such as this photo of Umeå’s former town hall, elegantly positioned behind the 2014 logo.

However, the photograph is not licensed specifically and thus falls into the claws of copyright. No one is allowed to share it without permission, except to ones closest friends and family. Please also note that Sweden does not have “fair use” laws.

This is not a complaint, apart from my general nagging, but rather an expressed wish that the group behind Umeå 2014 really sit down together and think about what they want. What does one really mean when using the phrase “accessible” culture? Or “open source” for that matter. Participatory culture (“The art of co-creation”) is even the subheader for part 1 of Umeå’s proposed application, which is efficiently eradicated through the use of “All rights reserved”.

Co-creation is at the heart of the Open Source software movement, where users have full access to the source code and are empowered to make their own changes and improvements to it.

Now, that sounds all fine and dandy. Sure, it’s mostly a rip-off from Gävle’s their portrayed view of the freedom to roam cultural life (“kulturell allemansrätt” in Swedish), but that’s what is encouraged. “Rip-off” is just a negative word – it’s actually a “spin-off”, or “development” of the phrase. I’d like it if they weren’t just throwing words around.

Umeå attitude to Open Source isn’t just empty talk. Umeå has a proven track record of co-creation, and this has lead to pioneering modes of expression.

…is how the application formulates it. Though none of the projects listed (operas/librettos, closed source library applications, architectural design, Cultumea.com) below really specify what one is actually allowed to do with the immaterial creations. As mentioned above this means the works are defaulted to a restrictive copyright which bans sharing, participation and even consuming. The only reflection on legal rights to works I can find is the mundane statement on Cultumea.com’s ToS: “Check that you have the legal right to post for example texts, images or audio. A lot of material is copyrighted and may not be uploaded to this site without permission from the copyright holder”.

My interpretation of actions taken by – despite the phrasing – are that culture is something one consumes. However. the slight glimpse of hope I can extract from the documents by the Umeå 2014 group is what I really support. The fact that culture is something one participates in. My definite recommendation is the use of Creative Commons licensing both as a means to an end, but also to be true to the written word. The fact that it might also encourage others to use the same sort of licenses is a purely good consequence.

The day I can proudly say that material produced by, for and during the Umeå 2014 campaign is encouraged to be shared (through its licensing) – not even the most bitter of cultural accessibility proponents would complain. Please, Umeå 2014, take into account that the nature of today’s copyright impedes cultural development. If sought for, I’d be happy to hold lectures on the possibilities of Free cultural licenses. Give me coffee for the evening and I’m yours. You can even copy my presentation and share it with anyone – legally.

First thoughts on “subcultural innovation”

After the weekend’s free culture festival, which me and my friends threw together, I’ve pondered the ideas and concepts behind “amateur” creativity. Not necessarily lower quality compared to “professional” creations. It’s rather that the creativity stems from something else than aiming for economical profit.

Please note that I do not necessarily mean the socialist let’s-be-hippies kind of “value beyond profit”. However, I often argue that creativity spawns a higher quality of life. It may also act as some sort of cognitive therapy – or just simply mean that one is interested in something. Having an enjoyable experience besides work to spend time on increases happiness – which is a rather accepted theory.

In either case, one of the happenings during this event was Simon Lindgren, professor in sociology at the University of Umeå, who talked about internet and participatory culture. Apparently something good came out for him too, as he writes in a blog post about his talk at CCOU:

I have been toying for some time with the idea of writing something about what I would call “subcultural innovation”, and this experience fuelled these ideas even more.

When I read this I was very excited. Just the phrase “subcultural innovation” got me really inspired and I repeated it for myself a couple of times. It meant so much at the same time! The post I’m writing now is generally just to make my mind settle and perhaps inspire someone else to ponder the subject as well.

What is subcultural innovation, and what does it encompass? Several questions flew through my mind which I’m still digesting:

  • Is a subculture merely the derivative (or “extreme”) culture of something more ordinary (“mainstream”)? Given time, will they converge?
  • Could a subculture perhaps also be the combination (“crossover”?) of several mainstream themes, to create a combined derivative? Or will this merely be a culture ex “sub”?
  • Are countercultures actually subcultures, despite their oppository devotion? More specifically, is the antithesis actually a part of the thesis?
  • Most importantly: Can subcultures be stand-alone?

I believe these are important questions, added some further odd thoughts, which I need answers for in order to have a chance to deduce anything given the fascinating term subcultural innovation. I can definitely say I’m very excited about this.