[-empyre-] Week Three - Open Access

Pauline van Mourik Broekman pauline at metamute.org
Fri Jun 18 00:13:54 EST 2010

Hello, all,

Gary asked specifically about Mute Publishing's copyright model...

Simon's shorthand for it is correct, and was arrived at for reasons that 
are pretty much continuous with many of the critiques of more legally 
'tight' 'free' models that he makes (in our case, what we were 
specifically discussing at the time we set this (anti-)copyright policy 
was the way in which the Creative Commons model (and other 'open' models 
- as it sits in his descriptor, 'open and closed'), while notionally 
opposing proprietary content paradigms, does still support a legalistic 
one, wherein - importantly, as we saw it, for anyone interested in class 
politics - only those privileged enough to access adequate resources 
could actually fight for the stipulations they'd attached to their 
content... hence making adherence to it a sort of fictitious, or 
dreamlike?, act which can arguably not be followed through in the 
majority of instances................. I'm sure I may be diminishing the 
importance in this argument of certain parent bodies (though I've just 
reminded myself that Creative Commons 'is not a law firm' and also 
doesn't do 'referrals', and so it's down to particular law firms one 
might engage - or get pro bono support from? - to actually defend your 
rights), but I suppose the general point is clear...

(What I should also say is that, technically, this might still 
constitute a sort of double bluff in that, in a situation where one 
doesn't explicitly assign a copyleft type licence/policy, one then 
apparently still falls under a 'closed' copyright regime, as it is 
ultimately impossible not to escape it, and by not 'doing anything', you 
default-to-guides, i.e. you submit to the convention, which is 
copy*right*... Finding this territory difficult in the extreme - both 
then and now - I'm conscious this may still be a mischaracterisation, so 
please correct me if I'm wrong...)

Anyway, in terms of this then ultimately perhaps symbolic act, it all 
happened in the context of a gradual scepticism that I think developed 
all over as the sacred cow of the public domain - which Mute, too, had 
discussed with some fervour circa 2000 - gradually began to be 
interpreted as the incredibly complicated entity that it is, shot 
through with access points for those already in possession of power and 
resources; and immaterial and free labour (as well as free software, 
actually) were likewise being deconstructed as only being able to exist 
on the back of other, more manual or materially based activity, or more 
traditional institutions, corporations or capitalisation/investment 
programmes. (Though we returned to these questions much later, when Web 
2.0 was being lionised in similar terms, for us many of the lynchpin 
articles that helped shape our thinking on this - within Mute, that is - 
are included in a chapter in the Proud to be Flesh book I probably 
mentioned, 'Of Commoners and Criminals', namely Gregor Claude's 
'Goatherds in Pin Stripes'; the University of Openess's 'Commercial 
Commons'; and Soenke Zehle's 'FLOSS Redux: Notes on African Software 
Politics'. Florian Cramer's writing on copyright was similarly 
influential... )

Having said all this, the problems with 'free' being what they are, we 
don't want to *force* any author to submit to this, and so see it more 
as a default that can be adapted if the writer feels strongly it should 
be another way (though again, enforcement would be hard...). We also do 
encourage that the Mute source is attributed, so we at least get some 
reference back to the original commissioning context, and the 
editorial/authorial work that went in... I also have to say - as most 
magazines would, I think - that releasing all our content in this manner 
has posed quite significant, err, revenue problems for us, and that, 
while we were far from 'sorted' when we were still holding content back 
in a print magazine and trying to exist on subs/sales/ads/funding, we 
are still totally flummoxed by the challenge of finding a sustainable 
publishing model wherein authors and staff get paid, but the lion's 
share of material is free. That's why Mute's always done other projects 

Hope this helps clarifies things, and thanks for the great posts.


> Earlier in the month I noticed Simon Worthington mentioning that ‘Mute 
> magazine publishes... free 2 share, with no copyright, open or 
> closed.’ It’d be really interesting and helpful if Simon or Pauline 
> could say a little more about the thinking behind that.

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