Collective Conditions for (re)Use (CC4r)

By Elodie Mugrefya

Constant offers a different understanding of authorship. They are a part of the Free Culture movement and use FLOS (Free Libre Open Source) software. It gives a new way of thinking about what is free in our society and what is anticapitalistic. It also gives a new way of thinking about authorship, archiving and other important aspects of being an artist and having an artistic practice. It makes us re-think about how we think about using the work of other artists and the laws that are made about it – copyright, and how we earn money with it.

For Constant,1 the ebb and flow of images, notes, texts and media files that emerge from cultural work belong to the world rather than to any of us individually. Oriented by a feminist and intersectional understanding of authorship, we consider cultural expression as always already situated within the communities in which we exist. Constant therefore commits to release materials often and early in the research, and makes an effort to provide access to source files as much as to final results.

Since discovering and participating in the Free Culture movement more than twenty years ago, Constant has used FLOS (Free Libre Open Source) software and published under Open Content Licenses as part of a day-to-day attempt at resisting normalised assumptions about individual authorship, exclusivity and originality. But over time, some of the initial spark and potential of this inventive proposal has been normalised, and the problems and omissions of Free Culture have become increasingly apparent.

The extent to which extractivist platforms have embraced Free Culture, capitalising on voluntary work and free labour, has become painfully clear, as well as how the success of Free, Libre and Open Source software relied on both its alignment with and scaffolding of an IT industry fueled by exploitation, speculation and limitless growth. By their attachment to conventional copyright, Free Licenses continue to hold on to Authors as individualised humans who make original works, as if created from scratch. They are assumed to be legally recognised citizens who have the privilege to decide what happens to a work in the future. In this way, Free Culture perversely repeats the colonial gesture of creating a ground zero for the circulation of knowledge as a ‘Free’ object.

During the worksession, Unbound Libraries in 2020, a collective, close reading of the Free Art License (FAL) took place as a way to actualise Constant’s research on and conceptualisation of authorship.2 This FAL license has been an inspiring project for Constant because, in contrast with more mainstream projects such as Creative Commons, FAL maintains its enthusiasm for F/LOSS ideology and reformulates the interrelated mechanisms of “use, copy, distribute, transform, and prohibition of exclusive appropriation” in its own poetic way. The writing of this license and the collective practice of its implications are part of an ongoing artistic project with explicit anti-capitalist politics.3

This close reading of FAL reminded us how much the politics of our practice had diverted from the framework and language it established, and it felt urgent to rewrite the familiar document that now felt alien. A few months after the Unbound Libraries worksession, we gathered with a group of Constant companions to rewrite the Free Art License into another type of document, which eventually became the Collective Conditions for Re-Use (CC4r). One of the main issues we wanted to address was the establishment of the author as an individual, validated by law, by explicitly reminding users of the entangled nature of authorship. Instead of starting with: “The Free Art License grants the right to freely copy, distribute, and transform creative works without infringing [upon] the author’s rights”, we reformulated this preamble into: “The CC4r considers authorship to be part of a collective cultural effort and rejects authorship as ownership derived from individual genius. This means to recognide that it is situated in social and historical conditions and that there may be reasons to refrain from release and re-use”. This reminder of the collective conditions for authorship is followed by another important deviation from FAL, which suggests the possibility of not sharing: “To take into account that the defaults of openness and transparency have different consequences in different contexts”. With this counterintuitive move, CC4r not only opens up to other authorial relationships but makes space for opacity and refusal.

CC4r further denaturalises the figure of the author by introducing several types of authors who each bring their own networks of identification and responsibility. In CC4r, the ‘legal author’ is the author assigned by copyright law. Sometimes they are also referred to as a ‘reluctant author’ to remind us of the discomfort produced by conventional legal frameworks. ‘Current authors’ are the ones involved in the formulation of the work that is licensed under CC4r. ‘Future authors’ are those committing to the conditions of the license – those that are considering re-use. By pointing out the temporality of their relationship, we hope to crack open the transparent and eternal identification of ‘authors’ with ‘their’ work.

The most important move CC4r makes is to invite users to take responsibility for (re-)use. “The CC4r favours re-use and generous access conditions. It considers hands-on circulation as a necessary and generative activation of current, historical and future authored materials. While you are free to (re-)use them, you are not free from taking the implications [of] (re-)use into account.” This call for careful attention from potential re-users is a way CC4r wants to stay with the potential of Free Culture, but without the universal reliance on freedom bound by law.

The Collective Conditions for Re-Use (CC4r) license is one of many attempts at an affirmative critique, an experiment with possible and impossible, desirable and absurd, experimental and utopian (extra-)legal models for authorship. It provided a welcome opening into a new chapter in Constant’s thinking about sharing culture and knowledge, but obviously only addressed some of the issues. How can we create conditions for re-use which acknowledge different kinds of contributors? What would a decolonial and feminist license look like, which could acknowledge entangled notions of authorship? CC4r opens up a space for negotiation and conversation, but is far from answering any of these questions. With CC4r, we hope to incite thoughtful and irreverent practices that do not evade these questions but instead invite users to inhabit them. For us, CC4r is more than a license. It is a commitment to care for the collective conditions of the many, for “these explosions, the principle and economy of which we have not begun to grasp, and whose outbursts we cannot predict”.4

  1. This is a shortened version of the article “Collectively Setting Conditions for Re-Use” written by Femke Snelting and Elodie Mugrefya for the MARCH journal of art and strategy. 

  2. The Free Art License was created in 2000 based on contributions from artists and legal scholars to the mailing list, including Melanie Clément-Fontaine, David Geraud, Isabelle Vodjdani, and Antoine Moreau. 

  3. From the preamble of version 1.1 (2001): “Creating is discovering the unknown, it is inventing reality without any preoccupation about realism. Thus, the object of art is not equivalent to the artistic object, finite and defined as such. This is the essential goal of this Free Art license: promoting and protecting artistic practices freed from the rules of the market economy”. “Free Art License”, Constant. 

  4. “Chaos-world is what I call the current clash of so many cultures that are burning, pushing each other away, disappearing, yet remaining, falling asleep or transforming themselves, slowly or at lightning speed: these outbursts, these explosions, the principle and economy of which we have not begun to grasp, and whose outbursts we cannot predict”. Édouard Glissant, Traité du Tout-Monde (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 12