The Cultural Commons Manifesto
Art is communication. There is no freedom of expression without freedom of art. Communication
is learning by doing, ever evolving, reacting on others, re-using the same expressions and
re-combining them into new meaning, re-expressing the same meaning in new ways, paraphrasing
what was understood. And so is art.
Art, as an expression of human culture, eventually cannot be restricted or limited, because
each restriction and limitation calls to artists to overturn it, each taboo begs to be broken,
in a picture, in a song, in a dance, in software code, maybe in silence. The only restrictions
and limitations which can prevail are those we agree upon ourselves, through honest and open
discourse. In other words, communication.
Reflection and inspiration
Art is neither good nor bad in itself, as all evaluation is subject to its time, cultural customs,
historic context and individual ethics, to name but a few. It is perhaps not even a piece of work
itself, but an event happening inside of each individual that is confronted with it, experiences
it, thinks about it or completely rejects it. Art is what it does to us; the reflection and
inspiration it invites us to. Reflection and inspiration are neither good nor bad in themselves.
They are simply a neccessity to make it through life. And so is art.
Markets in the cultural commons
Art, in general, belongs to all humans alike, and all humans have the same right to their own
contribution to the cultural commons. When works of art become items of trade, the parties
involvd are asked to respect this. So, this doesn’t mean works of art, in general, have to be
free of charge.
The parties involved in sharing are asked to respect this, too. Trading works of art should be
a means to support creating art, preserving art, and making art available to as many people as
possible. So we all can have our own reflection and inspiration. Cultural industries should thrive
on art, but works of art should not be directed, crippled, forced into existence, or in other ways
manipulated by industries. The respective markets should depend on art, but the actual art should
not depend on these markets.
Respect the authors
That said, the beliefs and wishes of the original authors of works of art should be the most
important guideline to decide how these works are being treated. Authors should not be forced
to waive these beliefs and wishes, in other words: their rights. Especially, they should not
be tricked into a waiver of their rights by incomprehensible contracts, missing facts or false
promises. Whenever authors give away any of their rights to works of art, it should be the
result of an informed choice. For this, it must be possible for authors to have all neccessary
information and resources to make this informed decision. Appropriate time is such a resource.
Joining authors and the public
Services and businesses whose purpose it is to distribute works of art and to bring them from
authors to recipients should primarily serve these two, authors and recipients. They should
not put their own interests above the interests of either of these two, because otherwise they
are limiting the rights of authors or even the rights of us all. They would prevent art from
being made and received in freedom, when they should be enablers of creative markets, of artful
communication, of reflection and inspiration. Only if they serve authors and recipients in a
fair manner, these two will be willing to treat them fairly in return. Artists want to give,
and recipients want to give back. There is no need to take from them by force.
Services and businesses should enable them to share in all the ways they ask for. They should
serve authors as producers, and not treat them like their product. They should enable them to
experiment with all new ways of sharing, communication and transaction, and not force yesterday’s
concepts onto them, for selfish reasons. Business can be a legitimate means to sustain an author’s
motivation and ability to produce cultural works. But it should allow for constant evaluation
regarding how well it serves the two, authors and recipients.
Respect the dissenters
When things change, we often must find new ways to deal with them. We will have different opinions,
different ideas, different views on proposed solutions. There often is no single best solution,
but alternative approaches to reach similar goals. Finding these solutions is a mission, not
warfare. All concerned parties should therefore treat each other with due respect. They should
always speak to the best of their knowledge, and restrain themselves from false accusations or
deliberate misinformation. Criticism is most welcome and important, but it should not be based
on mere ideology, be it new ideas or old practices. If we fail to uphold this, we probably deny
ourselves the better part of possible solutions. This is all a process, not a state. And so is art.