Plans for a documentary about Free Knowledge

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The other day I met with two filmmakers in Spain. They are planning to make a documentary about Free Knowledge in general. They would like to show to the general public the aspects and culture within the various communities, ranging from Free Software projects to the editors of Wikipedia, from people protecting public knowledge and culture to people fighting for keeping the internet open. And place these movements in perspective to the intents of corporate interests in the privatisation of knowledge and enclosure of our culture. Currently only a few documentaries are known about these topics, among which the most wellknown include Still this Film (I and II) about Peer-2-Peer filesharing and RIP: A Remix Manifesto.

To start with, we discussed the main concepts and movements and how they relate to each other. We started from the Free Software movement, with Richard Stallman defining the concept of the Four Freedoms and giving copyleft a practical meaning. We discussed the difference free licenses and the difference between copyleft and non-copyleft. We then went on to apply the Four Freedoms to other areas of society: Free Education with free educational materials and the Open Educational Resources / OpenCourseware movement; Open Research with the Open Access and Open Data movements; the Free Culture movement including freely licensed works of art, music, text, books, encyclopedias, etc; the Free Technology domain including Free Software and Open Standards, but also freely licensed designs for manuafacturing hardware (“Open Hardware” or “Open Source Hardware” or “Free Hardware”), and fabrication methods, defined as Open Fabrication. Another movement is the Open Innovation one, where the concept of unrestricted sharing is applied to innovative ideas and product designs. For now I have classified it under Open Research, but we can debate about that.

We discussed several organisations, people and projects. Just a selection: Richard Stallman as the father of the Free Software movement, Yochai Benkler, researcher studying the phenomenon of commons-based peer production through the perspective of political economy, Michel Bauwens, founder of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives, Eric von Hippel, head of MIT’s Innovation research lab and author of “Democratising Innovation. And of course many friends at the FSF India, the Gnowledge Research Lab in Mumbai, the FundaciĆ³n Via Libre, EXGAE, Internet Society, OpenDocSociety, Creative, FSFE,, the Open Knowledge Foundation.

The wish of the two filmmakers is to make a documentary that can be both distributed through established TV broadcasters and directly through the internet (under a free license). The first group is the one that they are used to and that could invest money in producing the project. But typically restrictions on the distribution are imposed. While distribution under a free license would 1) facilitate the involvement of many people interested in the topic; 2) facilitate the distribution through the internet to unknown places where a one-off broadcast through TV wouldn’t reach easily 3) enable the reuse of the documentary by others for educational purposes or other (while attributing authorship) 4) make a coherent document about Free Knowledge and distributed as Free Knowledge.

On the other hand, why should these two models exclude each other? One could think of a solution where the filmmakers agree with the broadcaster to first broadcast the resulting movie through their channel and then publish it under a free license the day after (if the TV station would be afraid of loosing viewers through the internet at all). Another option is recovering part of the budget by having interested people pay “pre-paid” and in return send them a copy of the movie (on DVD or otherwise) before the film goes live officially. This is what the Blender Foundation did in its last cartoon, Big Buck Bunny.