OpinionWare | GPFK License
General Public Freedom of Knowledge License - version 1.0
Frequently Asked Questions (and their Answers)
Written by Gita Hashemi


What's the Context of GPFK License?
What are the aims of GPFK?
Can I participate in developing future versions of GPFK license?


What's the Context of GPFK License?

Responding to corporate demands to secure the right to profit, national and international Intellectual Property laws are based on the capitalist logic of private property. In the current version of this logic - and thus in the IP laws that at least partially codify it - knowledge and culture are seen as "information" and "commodity:" they can be quantified, inventoried, safely stored, encrypted and watched, and, most importantly, be subject to "private ownership" by "persons" (i.e. individuals or corporate entities). In reality, however, intellectual and creative work - the domains regulated by these laws - are essentially "public" (i.e. shared by all the people) in that, regardless of their area of specialization and degree of "innovation," these works are always by necessity beneficiaries of plurally constructed knowledge-bases and cultures (such as the discipline of chemistry or the hip hop culture) and "public" (i.e. provided by the state or community) structures (such as the educational systems); and in that these works enter into "public" (i.e. concerning the public as a whole) circulation whether or not they directly produce consumables.

Even corporate-funded R&D in science and technology - the most heavily guarded bastion of intellectual property - rely heavily on public resources and in fact would not be possible without them. For example, universities educate and often directly provide the labour for, and routinely, house research and experimentation whose aim and agenda are set by corporate interests and whose products become private properties. In the cultural arena, Intellectual Property laws are often disguised as protection for cultural producers such as artists, artisans, writers, etc., but in reality fortify the right of corporations to profit from the work of these cultural labourers. The mainstream music recording and publishing industries - rapidly coming under the ownership of a few multinational conglomerates - are prime examples here.

An obvious and dangerous result of the increasing privatization of public domains of knowledge and culture is a decrease in spaces of questioning, debate and dissent and a corresponding increase in surveillance and censorship practices. David Healey, a psychiatrist who has published highly critical exposes of the pharmaceutical industry's lies and schemes to cover up the adverse effects of widely used psychiatric drugs, was refused a professorship at University of Toronto, a public institution, precisely for his critical work. Eminem's "Mosh" music video, released near the time of 2004 American presidential election, was banned by most broadcasters, (i.e. privately owned and controlled public media outlets,) because of its anti-war and anti-Bush content. More broadly speaking, recent "embedded media" practices under the guidance and control of corporate-state partnerships, have blatantly dispensed with all former claims of objectivity and "freedom of the press" and serve to impede public knowledge of and thus divert their attention away from the imperialist economic and political interests that are at the root of current military expansionist campaigns. A similar pattern holds in the area of life sciences and bio-technology where corporate hold over knowledge production keeps the general population in the dark about much of the already implemented, highly-profitable patents and processes with potentially negative or actually proven devastating effects on public health and environment.

The 2004 arrest and, as of this writing, still in-progress trial of Steve Kurtz of the Critical Art Ensemble and his scientist collaborator, Robert Farrell, and the confiscation of CAE's manuscripts, data and computer equipment under the US Patriot Act - initially on the charge of "bio-terrorism" for owning material and equipment that enabled "amateur" bio-technology and life science studies used in CAE's widely exhibited work - clearly illustrated that in intersecting with fascist state politics and the corporatization of knowledge, neither the art nor the academic spheres - fantasized by many as safe havens for radical expression and avant garde politics - can offer any protection, even to white men belonging to the intellectual/creative elite. Rapid development of highly advanced surveillance technologies with global networks and reach (e.g. ECHELON) hand in hand with corporate and political secrecy and encryption of important material, techniques and tools along with their attendant laws, including IP laws, and enforcement mechanisms through national laws and international economic and political agreements ensure the monitoring and control of dissenters, hackers and other agitators who challenge the supremacy of private ownership of and profiteering from knowledge and culture.

We are thus at a juncture where tactical and paradigmatic defiance of the capitalist logic that dominates the production and circulation of knowledge and culture are politically necessary and highly urgent.

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What are the aims of GPFK?

The General Public Freedom of Knowledge License aims to challenge the ruling paradigms that render intellectual and creative work - the production and sharing of culture and knowledge - as private enterprise situated outside even the liberal freedom of information and speech principles. Fundamentally siding with the broad and diverse "copyleft" movements, this license is conceived as a space for thinking through and performing ethical and pragmatic notions of freedom of knowledge and material (as opposed to information and product) while situating these notions within the socio-political relations of power and structures of domination. As increasingly larger numbers of people around the world become "connected" to the matrix of information and communication networks, such defiant interventions function to 1) illuminate the critical faults, tensions and contradictions, within the machinery of control and thus rupture its (seemingly) smooth surface, 2) create (temporary) spaces where critical action can be theorized and debated, 3) engage (even if tentatively) participation by the (more diverse) "public at large" in the crucial tasks of questioning the dominant system and envisioning alternative paradigms.

In this process of challenging and rethinking the existing paradigms and practices, it is important to break away from the conformist definitions of intellectual or creative "work" - as an easily quantifiable and/or tangible "product" (data or object) contained within identifiable boundaries and hence copyrightable and privatized - in order to acknowledge the fundamental role of the consumer/reader/viewer/audience/ as participants in the process of making meaning of the work (even consumables lack meaning without the consumers' participation through consumption). The aim here, therefore, is to position the general population fundamentally as "stakeholders" (to appropriate capitalist discourse) possessing perpetual and inalienable "rights" in the production and circulation of all knowledge and culture. In other words, the discourse of the "rights and obligations" of private persons is confronted here with a discourse of the rights of the "public." At its core, this approach proposes an understanding of intellectual/creative work as always necessarily a collaborative project of intrinsically plural authorship with porous discursive, temporal and physical borders.

In thinking through these issues, it is necessary to acknowledge the important work carried out by open source and free software movements as well as that of Creative Commons. These projects have established some working models for pluralist knowledge and culture production and sharing. However, as part of the ongoing critical process of envisioning and developing ethical models, it is important to also consider and interrogate the limitations of these projects. Open source and free software only consider "code" and fail to address other areas of intellectual and creative production; and Creative Commons licenses (even the non-commercial and share-alike models) do not fundamentally challenge the capitalist logic of intellectual property laws but read as their more benevolent addendums. Also, in these models notions of authorship and particularly "freedom" are mostly depoliticized and either left unclear and/or exhibit deep influences by the ideology of individualism (socially and historically coterminous with capitalism). The resulting ambiguities and ambivalence contravene the constitution of clear ethical paradigms even though they may be useful tactically and on certain occasions. Meanwhile, rampant global corporatization and privatization of public domains and resources (including but not limited to those of knowledge and culture) urgently necessitate radical re-articulation of resistance and counter-force. The GPFK License is a gesture in that direction.

The very concept of licensing, and its attendant practices, are yet to be fully problematized. Obviously, there are inherent contradictions in any form of licensing that purports to define and codify "freedom." This is true of all existing copyright and copyleft models (e.g. the text of the GNU license is itself copyrighted). The contradictions arise in part because of a certain persistent modernist idealism attached to "freedom" as an undefined absolute without much grounding in socio-political reality. It is still an intellectual priority to consciously engage in critiquing such misguided idealism at this point in history when neo-fascist and neo-liberal politico-economic (read state-corporation) formations routinely use "freedom" to sugarcoat exploitative and oppressive regimes and practices. What hangs in the balance at this moment is our right to dissent from the logic of capitalism. What is called for is the ability to devise effective tactics and strategies in doing so. What determines the outcome of this project is the clarity of our ethical claims and aims.

The GPFK License is part of the ongoing work of OpinionWare in thinking through these concerns. Far from a fait accompli, it is a(nother) call for broad participation and collaborative action.

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Can I participate in developing future versions of GPFK license?

Yes. Write to us at _opinionware [at] gmail [dot] com_ for more information on how you may participate in the work.

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OpinionWare | GPFK License
Last modified: 15/JUNE/2006