closing report on WOS4

WOS4 took place a month ago. The dust has settled and the sweat has dried. High time to send out a final announcement and thank all of you who were there in person, online or in spirit for making it a success.

What makes me say WOS4 was a success? Well, first of all, many of you told us so. The atmosphere was tangibly relaxed and conducive to fruitful conversations and productive meetings. Speakers and participants alike gave us positive feedback. One person told me two days into the conference that WOS3 had really moved him but that he was disappointed that the same hadn‘t happened with WOS4. But even he came back to me after the „Future of Free Software“ session to tell me that that made his day and WOS4 worthwhile. And press and community media coverage was overwhelming. Achim Klapp, in charge of press at WOS4, and our partners from Informatikjahr did a great job but even they couldn’t have convinced unwilling reporters. So it seems that free culture issues have really arrived big time in the editorial offices and that WOS is seen as the place to be to get information about current developments and meet the wizards driving them.

Before I give you some numbers and point out some highlights, a few words are in place about things that did not go so well. It seems we have a better link into the heavens than to Deutsche Telekom. From the first, we had ordered pleasant weather and what we got was the most beautiful late summer days one can imagine. From the second, we had ordered 2 x 6 Mb SDSL and what we got was … not worth mentioning. For a conference about the digital revolution and rooted among others in the (free wireless) networking community this is unacceptable. All I can do is sincerely apologise to all of you for the inconvenience.

There were a few more mishaps behind the scenes by which I hope most of you were not affected. If you did have any unpleasant or annoying experiences during the conference please do let me know. Also any ideas how we could do things better next time are very welcome.

Now to a question that you are probably as curious about as we were: how many of us were there at the Columbia Venues? There were 220 registered participants, 90 speakers & workshop chairs, 200 press, 300 visitors of the Show des Freien Wissens and 180 guest list & staff. Which makes it roughly 1,000 participants! I know, it didn‘t feel that way at any given time and place but those are the numbers. WOS is about quality not about quantity, after all, still that kind of participation is a rewarding recognition for what we are doing. And it might help a bit in convincing sponsors next time around.

The media echo, as I mentioned, was incredible. The Google footprint of „WOS4″ is currently an overwhelming 1.36 million hits! Even discounting a number of links to „Web of Science“ and „World of Sex,“ that is very impressive. I even discovered that there is a WOS franchise in China ,-)

WOS4 was very well covered in the mainstream media. International press included The Economist, Financial Times, Le Monde diplomatique, Neue Zuericher Zeitung, Danish TV and Austrian radio ORF, as well as journalists from Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, UK, the Netherlands, Brazil and the US.

We had been trying to get TV interested in WOS issues eversince we started. This time they were there in numbers. German public TV reported in the science programme Nano and in the lifestyle magazine Polylux. We are looking forward to the Danish coverage as well, even though none of us will be able to understand a thing. The Bayrischer Rundfunk has been shooting extensively for a whole series to be aired at the beginning of next year.

Also through radio the message of freedom reached a great number of listeners. This includes the national public networks Deutschlandfunk (1,480,000 listeners/day) and Deutschlandradio Kultur (366,000) as well as the most important Berlin stations Radioeins (287,000), Inforadio (255,000) and Radio Fritz (273,000). German newspapers that reported in their print and in their online editions include Handelsblatt, die tageszeitung, Berliner Zeitung, Berliner Morgenpost, Stuttgarter Zeitung, Neues Deutschland and Maerkische Allgemeine.

Not surprising, the online media were most actively covering WOS4. With articles on Spiegel-online (344,432,456 page impressions) and Focus-online (133,033,834 pi) we were present on the largest German general press sites. Our media partner did a special section with several reports and interviews. So did our media partner Telepolis.

The most important IT site in Germany,, had 18 articles on WOS4, which is more than they did to cover the world‘s largest computer fair CEBIT! Other IT media include, Linux Magazin, Red Herring, Linux Enterprise, Pro-Linux, Linux Community and PC-Magazin. Among the community media covering WOS4 were Slashdot, De:Bug, Indymedia,, Mute, and gulli. is not only the most renowned award-winning German blog, it‘s also been most faithful in reporting about WOS4, including a number of podcast interviews with Larry Lessig, Fernanda Weiden, Georg Greve, Rishab Ghosh, Yochai Benkler and others. Talking about the blogosphere, here is our technorati footprint.

You can find the complete list of media coverage here.

For our own coverage, thanks go to the wos stream-team who put the first versions of the videos online already on the last day of WOS4. In the meantime, they have improved the audio and extracted it into separated files. Both video and audio are available in Ogg and MP4/MP3. You find them all in one list here or linked into the respective panel page. (Get the VLC media player for playing the free Ogg format. MP4s are played by any media player worth the name.) The WOS website received a total of 2.6 million hits in September.

WOS is a place for debate but also for action, and increasingly people see it as the suitable place for launching new projects. Last time this included the German versions of the Creative Commons licenses. At WOS4 there was the launch party of The project, based in Voralberg, Austria, started with the Blues, the the world debut of the Tuxedo Blues, to be precise, that became the first work to be registered and time-stamped. A second work to be registered was the German translation of Larry Lessig‘s book „Free Culture“ which Open Source Press chose to release under Creative Commons BY-NC/2.0/DE at WOS4. So go ahead and remix it.

Free culture licenses were one of the central issues of WOS4 again with the workshop by Georg Greve and Ciaran O’Riordan on the GPLv3 and the one with Larry Lessig and Benjamin Mako Hill, chaired by Paul Keller on the Creative Commons licenses. The debate is now continuing on the mailinglist that Cornelia Sollfrank set up for her workshop on art & copyright, focussing on the good and evil of the CC concept.

A peculiar contribution to this issue came from the German music collecting society GEMA. Its newsletter GEMA Brief #59 has an article on WOS4 taking our discussion on Creative Commons as an opportunity to clarify some basic points for its members. It starts with a reasonable description, summing up that by using a CC license, an author makes a work available to the public in a way that is not reversible, giving up her right to a remuneration globally and for the whole term of copyright protection – „under certain circumstances“ even for commercial uses by third parties. This is where things start to get awry because it implies that these circumstances are outside the control of the author who, in fact, of course, has to actively opt for allowing commercial use. GEMA then points out that the „Creative Commons system“ is not an alternative to the time-tested system of collective rights management, in particular because it does not allow creators of intellectual works to make a living off of their works because they do not receive a remuneration for the use of these works. Needless to say that the various emerging models for making money with free bits were another focus of WOS4 which the article doesn’t mention. It goes on that the participants in the „Creative Commons system“ so far are therefore on the one hand musical laypersons who don’t have to earn a living from their work, and on the other hand established top stars like David Byrne and Gilberto Gil who can afford to give away their works to the public for various reasons, e.g. a marketing effect. Which would make just about as much sense if they had reversed the arguments.

GEMA then contrasts the power of collective bargaining of collecting societies representing the complete catalog of rights that their members have transferred to them (and, which is not mentioned, by assumption all other works as well) with the individual rights management on which CC is based that supposedly exposes the individual music author to the power of the market without any protection. It correctly says that CC critizes the current GEMA system for being restrictive and inflexible. „Unfortunately, especially young authors are receptive to such polemics in a situation where, in opting for the Creative Commons system, they can not comprehend the legal and financial consequences of their actions for the future.“ The message of GEMA to its members is clear: In your membership contract you have transferred all your usage rights exclusively to GEMA. „Therefore, only after you terminate your contract with GEMA can you provide your rights to Creative Commons.“ As if by licensing something under CC you would transfer your rights to the organisation!

The article concludes with two more weird points. GEMA does not allow its members to take single works out of collective management system (cherry picking). ‚Cherries’ refers to especially profitable rights that an author might want to manage individually so as not to have to share the proceeds with the collective – an entirely unrelated issue. And finally it posites that GEMA is flexible after all, citing a recently introduced license that allows musicians to stream their own works for free from their own non-commercial website without having to pay GEMA. While this is indeed proof that GEMA can no longer ignore the wishes of its members to make use of the opportunities that the digital revolution offers, the newly introduced tarif has so many strings attached that it is irrelvant in practice.

GEMA press officer Hans-Herwig Geyer told me in a conversation before WOS4 that they had received so many requests from their members who want to use CC licenses that in the following newsletter he would write a clarification. Now there you have it: you can’t use them as long as you are a member of GEMA. It seems that short of a revolution by a new Internet-savvy generation of members there is no chance that information freedom will rule in this most powerful collective organisation of music rights holders on this planet.

The announcement at WOS4 that received the most attention in the main-stream press as well as in community media was, no doubt, Larry Sanger‘s plan to fork Wikipedia and start a new encyclopedia project, the Citizendium. E.g., among the wos4 tags at, the one for the Citizendium was saved most often.

An announcement that did not reverberate quite as much but might have a tremendous impact in the mid-term, was Claudio Prado‘s launch of an international observatory watching the free culture laboratory Brazil. If the observation by many cognoscenti that Brazil is the avant-garde of free culture domestically and in the international arena is correct, then an international group of scholars, artists and activists can help support and amplify these developments and translate them into other areas. This is part of civil society liberating culture from government as expressed by Brasilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil at the World Summit in Tunis: „We work in government with the hope that we will not need governments one day.“ My guess is that we will see the first impact of the observatory right after the ongoing elections in Brazil.

Another project responding to current political affairs was initiated by Vera Franz from the Open Society Institute and conducted by Urs Gasser and Ian Brown. Starting already in June, they set up a network of copyright experts from civil society jointly taking stock of the various implementations of the EU Directive on Copyright in the Information Society (EUCD). Their great work of jointly reviewing the different design choices for copyright law in the digital age that EU member states have made, adds another layer to the official review underway that Tilman Lueder and Bernt Hugenholtz discussed on the EUCD panel. Secondly, the peer network developed a Best Practice Guide with recommendations for new EU member countries that will face the challenge of transposing the EUCD in the near future. Participants in the EUCD workshop on Sunday from Macedonia told me that they welcomed the opportunity to network and exchange ideas for further action in their country. With Bulgaria and Rumania now heading the next round of accessions, this WOS4 activity could indeed have a significant impact on copyright law in future EU countries.

A verdict by a court in Hamburg that came just a bit more than a month before WOS4, was reason for another initiative, the petition for open networks. A woman who freely shared her wireless Internet access with others was held liable for copyright infringements by a third party using her connection. While the law clearly states that commercial ISPs are not responsible for the content of their users this is not to be true for communities noncommercially sharing their bandwidth. If this ruling is upheld, the blossoming free wifi movement will be killed. The petition is, of course, only one little step. Your ideas and actions are needed to support the free wireless movement in keeping sharing access legal.

The final highlight I want to mention is the Show of Free Knowledge. When we originally came up with the idea in the talks with our partner Informatikjahr, it was with the same can-do attitude we had before the first WOS. We just didn‘t have a clue. Now, we could at least reassure ourselves that we had managed three conferences already, but a TV show is a very different beast. Conceptually, because you cannot simply invite a group of wizards and have them speak the way they always do, but you need to find metaphors, actions, sounds and images to convey complex issues to a general audience. And organisationally, because a show is fast paced and choreographed minute by minute. Matthias Spielkamp took on the challenge, put together a great team and grew to the occasion. When all was done and the sweat on various brows was drying, I overheard the few people involved who do shows for a living still insisting that, given the resources we had, a show like this is absolutely impossible.

If you missed the impossible or want to see it again, and if you‘re in Berlin you can tune in to the Offener Kanal Berlin on November 2nd at 10 pm. Otherwise watch for the announcement that our own edit is online which will happen asap.

As with previous WOSes, I‘m sure there were more projects and ideas conceived off-stage that we haven‘t noticed. If you would like to share them we‘d be happy to hear about them.

Finally, we can announce another first at WOS4. We had always been striving for comprehensive documentation. This time, in addition to the audio and video recordings there will also be proper proceedings. We will publish them with Humboldt University on the edoc server in the section ‚conferences.‘ They will be available online for free and as print-on-demand. As these things go, it will be a while before we have received all the finished papers. Watch this channel for further announcements.

I close this already very long mail with a very last announcement: we have great “Information Freedom Rules” T-shirts. If you like them as much as we do we are happy to sell you some.

Thank you, dear Wizards of OS, in the name of the whole WOS4 team. It was a pleasure to have you there, in person, online or in spirit.

May information freedom rule!


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