Professor Brian Fitzgerald presents at the [iCommons Summit 2006](http://www.commons.org/isummit).
23-25 June 2006, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It’s a fair bet that any conference that takes place at Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, is going to attract a healthy number of attendees. And with over 250 participants from countries as diverse as Slovenia, Guatemala and Malawi, the iCommons Summit 2006 certainly met this expectation. But what was more impressive about the iSummit was not its ability to attract registrants, but its ability to keep them. Despite the world famous surf, sand and caipirinhas right outside its doors, almost every session of the Summit was full of enthusiastic participants eager to discuss the latest developments in the Creative Commons and open access movements worldwide.
For those who are unfamiliar with iCommons it’s an independent organisation incubated by Creative Commons, with a broad vision to develop a united global commons front by collaborating with open content, access to knowledge, open access publishing and free culture communities around the world. iCommons focuses particularly on projects that encourage collaboration across borders and communities, and promote the tools, models and practices that facilitate universal participation in the cultural and knowledge domains.
The Summit provided a forum for those with an interest in the commons movement to come together with other open access enthusiasts to discuss issues, goals and joint projects. And enthusiasm there was a-plenty, with conversing participants clogging the windowless halls of the conference venue (Copacabana Marriott’s basement) before, after and during each of the sessions. This is despite the fact the conference was (bravely) being run over the crucial mid-point of the FIFA World Cup in a country that, deservedly, has a reputation for being the most football-obsessed in the world.
Part of the success of the Summit was almost certainly due to the impressive number of high profile presenters the iCommons organisers managed to attract. Alongside the Creative Commons founder, Professor Lawrence Lessig (who kept a low profile by appearing on only one panel), conference speakers included Gilberto Gil, music legend and Minister of Culture, Brazil; Cory Doctorow, science fiction author and co-editor of Boing Boing; and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, member of the Creative Commons Board, and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People 2006.
The program included a wide range of options for attendees, with a choice of panels, workshops or discussions scheduled at any one time, hosted by speakers who ranged from those with a theoretical interest in the underpinnings of the open access movement to those in the front lines providing tools online.
One particularly interesting presentation was Gilberto Gil’s contribution to the Opening Keynote, “Towards a Global Commons Community”, in which he discussed the importance of a global presence in nurturing local indigenous cultures, based on his own experiences as an activist musician and composer. A sceptical critique of the current Creative Commons strategy and licences (based on an article published earlier this year) by Professor Niva Elkin-Koren, co-director of the Haifa Center of Law & Technology, as part of the “Towards a bridge between the commons in science, art and innovation” panel discussion also, unsurprisingly, elicited a great deal of comment. Other notable sessions included the Enterprise Commons workshop, which discussed business models employing open or accessible content, and the Science Commons workshop, which resulted in a framework for implementing an open access strategy at a university, now available online on the iCommons wiki.
The Summit also included a number of more practical workshops, which aimed to introduce and instruct attendees in the use of some of the many commons-focused tools and resources now available online. One of the most memorable of these presentations was provided by Steven Starr on his video distribution service, Revver. Revver aims to use unobtrusive embedded advertising to create a workable business model for video makers who want to make their material easy to distribute online while still obtaining some remuneration. It has already produced such popular successes as the Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments, which has reported made its creators over $US30,000. Other success stories that cropped up repeatedly during the program were Cory Ondrejka’s Second Life, a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents, with its own freestanding economy and internal commons system; and the South African-based Freedom Toaster, which aims to spawn a world-wide network of self-contained, easy-to-use sites distributing free digital products, including software, photography, music and literature.
The conference served a particularly practical purpose for the Creative Commoners in attendance, with a large number of sessions designed to provide updates on legal developments for the movement, such as recent European court cases upholding the Creative Commons licences, or feedback on successful Creative Commons projects worldwide, such as the music remix site, ccMixter. Other sessions focused on governance issues for the growing international movement, with occasionally heated debate on internal policy topics, including the Creative Commons WIPO strategy and the planned amendments for the version 3.0 licences. Creative Commons Australia team leader, Professor Brian Fitzgerald, contributed to this discussion with a report on the CC-AU’s experience with the Australian collecting societies.
The iCommons organisers also took the opportunity to canvas the views of the broader community on a number of issues, with draft declarations on Open Access, Digital Rights Management and the WIPO Broadcast Treaty presented for comment and discussion. Since the conference, these declarations have also been available on the iCommons wiki for comment by those unable to make it to Rio.
But without doubt the most important and successful aspect of the Summit was the opportunity it provided for relationship building between like-minded researchers, government officials and industry representatives from around the world. The Summit organisers were clearly aware of this and took active steps to encourage interaction. Scholarships were made available to ensure that commoners from a diverse range of backgrounds, nationalities and expertise were able to attend, and a series of “Birds of a Feather” sessions were held in the early evening of each day, which aimed to provide a focused meeting place for attendees with aligned interests. These sessions were small and informal, with more than half a dozen running at any one time in the various rooms, corners and corridors of the Marriott, and were arguably the most productive of the conference, giving rise to many of the more tangible outcomes of the weekend, including much of the multimedia Summit coverage now available on the iSummit website. One session was even held entirely in the virtual corridors of Second Life, and continued informally throughout the conference. In other sessions new interest groups were established or fledgling organisations, such as the Asian Commons, expanded their membership and planned for further festivals and events.
But, as anyone who has ever attended an international conference knows, the most important judgement is the quality of the evening events. And here the iSummit did not disappoint, with the organisers taking full advantage of the Rio nightlife to organise not one, not two, but three fantastic “networking opportunities”. These included a concert by Brazilian free-music icon BNegão, who used remixed video and music footage to present his counter-culture theme, drawing from material including popular songs, political interviews and (most popular with the iCommons crowd) the “You Wouldn’t Steal a Car” copyright ad that is currently playing at the beginning of every DVD and movie. But without doubt the most popular event was the Saturday night samba party, which saw commoners dancing the night away to a live band in Rio’s French-colonial Lapa district. If rumors are to be believed, some of the next day’s speakers were still making their way back to their rooms well after 6am.
On the final verdict, the iSummit was a fabulous event, bringing together a wide range of people to work towards the common goal of building an open access culture where creation, innovation and the exchange of ideas can flourish.