Monday, January 31, 2005

Radical Geeks in Brazil

Creative Commons guru Lawrence Lessig witnesses a face-off between open source radio advocates and Brazilian-popstar-cum-minister-of-culture Gilberto Gil and realizes what he's seeing is what democracy ought to look like:
This was a scene that was astonishing on a million levels. I've seen rallies for free software in many placed around the world. I've never seen anything like this. There were geeks, to be sure. But not many. The mix was broad-based and young. They cheered free software as if it were a candidate for President.
The encounter, occurring on the eve of at Brazil's World Social Forum, had Gil explaining Brazil's aggressive new stance on open source systems to an unruly crowd of Porto Alegre activists whose free radio station was raided and shuttered recently by the same government.

It's just one story from the front lines of the global open source movement. The mobilization of popular support for open systems is being spearheaded by a new and emergent breed of radical geeks who were among the first to understand the potential of making software applications, broadband access most content and the means of media making and sharing free to all. (This post is just a primer on this. I'll follow the open source movement's every step and provide updates here moving forward.)

Free Software for President
Lessig is one of the leading voices of this new generation; his Creative Commons initiative has revolutionized applications for sharing creative content via the Web, much to the contempt of Bill Gates and most entertainment lawyers tasked with widening the moat around their clients' content fiefdoms.

Lessig was joined in Brazil's by John Barlow -- another of the pioneers -- who parlayed royalties earned as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead into the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocate organization for global netizen rights.

Please Lord, Stop the Bleeding
"Already, Brazil spends more in licensing fees on proprietary software than it spends on hunger," Barlow told an audience in Porto Allegre. Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says the open-source policy makes better sense for a developing country where a mere 10 percent of the 182 million people have computers at home, and where the debt-laden government is the nation's biggest computer buyer. In an attempt to staunch the bleeding, Bill Gates recently requested a meeting with Lula to argue that open-source software can be more expensive than Windows programs when service costs are factored in.

Gates clearly had Brazil on the mind -- even though he opted to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos instead. British journalists got their hands on a sheet of squiggles and words the Microsoft Chairman left behind at a Davos session and whisked them off to writing analysts for psycho-analysis. The graphologists' diagnosis: the author of the stream of random words -- among them "Debt cancellation", "Rich world" and "Porto Allegro" -- was "not a natural leader," but rather a day-dreaming "unstable man who is feeling under enormous pressure."

And its little wonder. China, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea also are pursuing open-source alternatives. This, potentially, imperils billions of dollars in future revenues for Microsoft, IBM and other proprietary software and service providers.

Before returning to the US, Lessig and Barlow visit the Forum's Youth Camp, where radical geeks are rolling out Brazil's "Thousand Points of Culture" project -- to build a thousand places around Brazil where free software tools exist for people to make, and remix, culture. "It is an extraordinary, grass roots movement devoted first to an ideal (free software) and second to a practice (making it real)," writes Lessig. "They have the culture to do it . . .They were instructing each other -- some about code, some about culture, some about organizing, some about dealing with the government -- as they built this infrastructure out."

Want to become involved? Here are three things you can do today:
  1. Join Public Knowledge's Action Center to receive their action alerts and news notices and to volunteer your time to spread the word.

  2. Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Action Center where you'll find alerts on technology and civil liberties issues and pending legislation where your action can make a difference.

  3. Stay tuned to for more analysis.


Anonymous said...

Just a little comment on your title, Radical Geeks in Brazil. It just seems to be overly broad, overexaggerated, and completely contridicted in the next paragraph. "There were geeks, to be sure. But not many. The mix was broad-based and young." I'm not trying to be overly critical, but if you guys are supposed to be a more professional and aware media organization why do you consistantly use biased and inflammatory titles?
Just Wondering

Timothy Karr said...

Biased and inflamatory? The headline "Radical Geeks in Brazil" is neither. The term Radical Geek is one many in the open source movement have chosen for themselves. I see it used self-referentially on many occasions via their various websites, blogs, list-serves, etc. It's even been used by Lessig and Barlow, two of the radical geeks that I am referring to with the headline. There were many others from this proud group in Brazil, thus the title "Radical Geeks in Brazil."

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