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  FREE BITFLOWS: Communication must be free!

Conference discussed opportunities and risks of the new network society

"Communication must be free - as soon as you move away from that idea, you are creating the basis for censorship."

This message of warning was voiced by Ian Clark, an Irish researcher and the founder of Freenet, at the beginning of the Free Bitflows conference. The two-day conference, organized by the Vienna based Net culture group Public Netbase, conlcuded Friday evening at the Semper Depot building.

The event attracted a large number of international visitors who discussed the opportunities and risks encountered by collaborative practices of new cultural and social networks together with a prominent group of experts, researchers, and media activists.

"The legitimate use of anonymity is under serious threat by the copyright industry", said Sjoera Nas (NL), representing the digital civil rights group "Bits of Freedom". Defending fundamental rights is a key motive behind the establishment of networks and their particular modes of operation. Janko Roettgers (GE) and Reni Hofmüller (AT) presented real life examples and models of networking independent content production and distribution for the benefit of all. "Content behaves like water", said Pit Schultz from, "its quality is socially defined."

"Archives should be seen as the fuel of knowledge society!" In her talk, Paula Le Dieu (UK), from the BBC's new media department, focussed on the accessibility of archived materials - as did Brewster Kahle (US), founder of the Internet Archive, who stressed that "universal access to all human knowledge is within our grasp".

The audience's active involvement contributed much to a lively exchange of know-how and insights, offering some encouraging and optimistic perspectives. "The experience of Telestreet shows that there is a way of leaving the alternative media ghetto behind", declared the Italian media activist Marco Deseriis.

"Free Bitflows is meant to remind us that 'semiotic democracy' is at risk", said the conference hosts Felix Stalder and Konrad Becker at the end of the conference. "After the past two days we have to conclude that the free flow of information has a crucial political dimension. Only if all people are in a position to freely create and share culture can new and independent content establish itself against the engines of the mainstream media and the entertainment industry."

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