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(Re)productive Communities

Copying and remixing are becoming the norm. As already noted, most people who were raised with the Internet have no pressing moral intuitions against file-sharing. And they, and the rest of the public, are not just consuming things for free here. There is a true revival community-based amateur culture going on, and this time not in back-rooms or on village-squares, but on the global scale of the web. This culture is created both ex nihilo, from a blank slate, and by originally re-combining, or re-mixing existing culture and themes. In the latter case it often happens in defiance of copyrights and out of sight because fair use exceptions are so vague that, for example TV stations refuse to air films that are not cleared second by second and insured against IP lawsuits.

Community culture on the web started out with Free/Open Source Software (FOSS). This is software, built from the ground up (thus legal), that everyone has the freedom to use, copy, and change as one pleases, as long as one doesn't keep others from having the same freedoms. It is in a so called protected commons that, to prevent private appropriation, uses copyright licenses such as the GNU General Public, or Creative Commons License (also called copy-left licenses). Well-known examples are Ubuntu Linux, the Apache web-server, the Firefox browser, and Open Office. Later, such licenses were applied to create the encyclopedia we all know, and most of us use: Wikipedia. And with Youtube, Jamendo, Stack Overflow, and other Web2.0 (modern community-based) applications it was applied to video, music and other media too, and has become mainstream.

In terms of innovation some (especially web-based) companies are turning to user-based innovation, asking them what new features they would want, and how they envisage them. Even the NASA has ran a successful croud-sourcing project, where they asked people to identify craters on Mars. To speak with Toffler again: consumers have become pro-sumers, taking over part of production, by for example: tele-banking, tracking their own postal packages on-line and assembling furniture from construction-kits. But now with the web, where people have all the necessary means of production in the form of easy to use editing-software, communication, and publishing-tools, communities are sometimes already capable of doing much more.

And it is no small movement. Firefox is used by 22% of web-surfers, 67% of the million most visited websites use FOSS on their servers, and 60% of all the content on the internet is created by amateurs. Wikipedia is the 7th most visited website in the world, and contains 2.8 million articles in English, and more than 8 million articles in 235 other languages, as opposed to the 0.7 million in the Encyclopedia Britannica}. The web has not just brought frictionless copying on a global scale, it has also allowed community-culture to become globalized, and thereby be much more productive. The social sphere has been enlarged, just like free trade enlarged markets earlier on.

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