Archive:Chapter Kickstarter

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So, you've decided to start a free culture chapter at your school. Great! This Activist Packet is designed to guide you through the process of founding a group. We hope you find it useful.

No pain, no gain

We should warn you: starting a chapter is no simple task. Forming a new student group is never easy, and free culture chapters are no exception. It takes considerable effort and time, and likely a little money too. You will be challenged; you may be confronted. Your skills -- particularly in leadership, organization, and communication -- will be tested. But Students for Free Culture and your fellow chapters will do what they can to help. Don't hesitate to ask for input or advice.

The good news

The good news: starting a new student group is an exciting experience and a worthy addition to your time as a student. You will meet new people and have new experiences. You will have the opportunity to talk with experts and leaders. You will work with -- and against -- elected and appointed officials, faculty, and administrators. You will hone your skills and develop greater confidence. You will develop expertise. You will have a chance to influence decision-making and educate people. Most importantly, you will work to defend your rights and to improve the lives of others.

(By the way: all of the above look really good on a resumé.)

What's free culture?

So. What is free culture? A free culture is one where all members are free to participate in that culture’s transmission and evolution, without artificial limits on who can participate or in what way. The free culture movement seeks to develop this culture by promoting four things:

  • creativity and innovation;
  • communication and free expression;
  • public access to knowledge;
  • and citizens' civil liberties.

Concretely, the “free culture movement” is an umbrella term encompassing such diverse constituencies as the free/open source software movement, sample-based artists, independent musicians, civil libertarians, media reformers, hackers, tinkerers, technological innovators, educators seeking to open access to information, and everyone who loves the Internet and what it represents.

What is Students for Free Culture? SFC is an international chapter-based student organization that promotes the public interest in intellectual property and information & communications technology policy.

The goals of Students for Free Culture are to:

  1. support existing chapters and promote the establishment of new chapters;
  2. network within the free culture movement and build coalitions with those outside of it; and
  3. advocate issues on behalf of our chapters and their members.

SFC has two major bureaucratic structures. First, each year member chapters elect a Board of Directors that makes all the big strategic decisions. Second, there is a Core Team made up of volunteers who make lower-level decisions and work on projects and campaigns. The Core Team has various subgroup teams, such as the Webteam, which focus on particular kinds of volunteer work.

What is your part in all of this? Read on. :)

How to Start a Chapter

Registering with Students for Free Culture

1. Contact to say that you're interested in starting a chapter. Someone from the org will get back to you to discuss getting your chapter off the ground and eventually make you an official chapter.

2. Register your chapter with our handy-dandy chapter registration form.

3. Eventually (usually in the late summer/fall) we'll send you a box of swag from Students for Free Culture and our partner organizations. Yay for swag!

Getting started locally

1. Contact your school administration to find out how to make your chapter an official club/organization at your school. Most schools will require a mission statement, constitution, bylaws, or some combination of the above. (Here are some example constitutions.) You don't have to be an official group in order to hold meetings, but it's a good idea to get started on the process promptly.

2. Find out how to reserve rooms for meetings. Pick a date, time, and place and schedule your first Free Culture meeting.

3. Advertise! Try to give yourself a week or so advance notice before your first meeting. Flyer campus hot-spots with your club name and the date, time, and place of your meeting. (Sample flyer here.) Putting table tents in the dining hall are good, too. (Sample table tent here.) If your campus requires flyers/table tents to be approved, make sure to give yourself time to do this. (Lots of old flyers here; merge it with the Media Dump and pick the best stuff to update the page)

Post meeting advertisements in the student list-serv or other public notification systems. Find other student groups with similar interests--Linux user groups, music organizations, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, political groups, art societies, anime clubs--and come to their meetings to plug free culture. Sometimes there may be classes offered that are Free Culture-friendly (e.g. communications/media studies/art classes dealing with the Internet or copyright)--with the professor's permission, attend and give plugs there too. Make a Facebook event for your meeting and invite your friends.

If your school has an activities fair at the beginning of the year, sign up for a table and talk to new students about joining. If you have swag, don't give it to just anyone. Give it to people who actually look interested. Make sure to have a sign-up sheet and get their email addresses. Email these new recruits to remind them about the first meeting a day or so in advance.

4. Hold your first meeting. Get there well ahead of time to make sure things run smoothly. Explain what free culture is, why it's important, and what things you're thinking about doing that semester/year. Lots of chapters have shown movies/presentations at their first meetings--see the "Movies" section below. Try to keep it from getting too long. Make sure to get the email address of everyone who shows up! If you can afford to get a pizza or other snacks, that's not a bad idea.

5. Schedule more meetings. Reserve that room for the entire semester, if you can. It's generally good to have meetings at the same time in the same place, every week or every two weeks. Figure out what schedule works best for your group. Before each meeting, come up with at least a rudimentary agenda (list of things to discuss). It helps keep meetings short and on-task.

6. Talk to professors who might be interested in free culture issues. Computer science, film, and intellectual property law professors are often helpful. While having a faculty advisor for your group isn't necessary, it can be very helpful for getting around bureaucratic red tape.

7. Once you have a decent number of members, find out how to get funding from your school. Most budget hearings are in the spring, but usually there's a little money reserved for new groups in the fall. Budgets are good. They mean you don't have pay for flyers or food, and you can have much cooler parties and other events!

Establishing an online presence

Email list - List-servs are key for keeping track of your members and making sure they know about meetings and events. If your school doesn't make email lists for student groups, ask the Webteam and they can set a list up for you.

Blog - Blogs are useful for advertising, as well as discussing current events or recording how a campaign went for future reference. There are lots of services that host blogs for free, like open-source Livejournal and Wordpress. If you'd like a blog on, ask the Webteam to make one for your chapter from our blog farm. Wherever you decide to host your blog, let the Webteam know so it can get added to the chapter aggregator on the front page of Students for Free Culture. It's useful for seeing what other chapters are up to!

Wiki - Wikis are good for organizing future events, posting meeting agendas and minutes, and keeping track of who's doing what. If your chapter doesn't have its own hosting, ask the Webteam to make you a wiki from our wiki farm.

Facebook - Make a Facebook group for your chapter. Join other free culture-related groups. Make friends with Free Culture dot Org!

How to Get Involved With SFC

Join the Discuss list

That’s the email list where SFC members and other fans of free culture talk about free culture-related ideas and current events. All the SFC blog posts are automatically emailed to the list, and frequently subscribers post links to interesting news articles and projects. No matter how you are involved with Students for Free Culture, it’s a good idea to be on this list to learn what issues people are currently thinking about and get a sense of the diversity of opinion that exists within the broader movement. There’s everyone from basic reformers to copyright abolitionists, communists to free-marketeers, Democrats to Republicans.

Start a Chapter

(see previous section)

When you start a chapter, you (or your chapter liaison’s) email address will be added to the Chapters email list. General SFC affairs, voting instructions and results, suggested events for national campaigns, and some volunteer opportunities go on this list. It’s the main means for the Board of Directors and other national-level volunteers to coordinate with the chapters--and for chapters to talk to each other!

Join the Core Team!

Of course getting your local chapter off the ground and running is the first priority. However, we encourage you to also get involved at the national level, and encourage your fellow chapter members to do the same! The main body for SFC volunteers is the Core Team, which has meetings every one to two weeks. Members of SFC chapters who attend two consecutive meetings are eligible to vote at Core Team meetings; anyone is free to attend and volunteer. During meetings, the Core Team makes low-level decisions for SFC (e.g. whether to sign onto a petition, orchestrating a national campaign, setting priorities for volunteer work for the semester, etc.). The Core Team then implements these decisions by delegating jobs to volunteers. This packet was created by the Core Team!

There are some subgroups under the Core Team that focus on particular parts of the national org. The most well-developed of these is the Webteam (, which has special working meetings to fix bugs, improve the SFC website, and deal with other technical issues. Another is the Press Team, which is comprised of volunteers who have access to SFC’s email accounts and answer queries from journalists and students interested in starting chapters.

The Core Team can use all sorts of volunteers. Whether you can write blog posts, answer email, do graphic design, code Python, delete spam, improve the chapters database, write event post-mortems, issue press releases, organize a SFC conference, clean up the wiki, coordinate Board elections, or any number of other possible things, the Core Team wants you!

Run for the Board of Directors

So you’ve been involved with Students for Free Culture for a while and think you might have some good ideas for the future of the organization. You should run for the Board of Directors! The Board makes major strategic decisions for SFC. They work on such things as building partnerships with other organizations, building communication with and between chapters, incorporating SFC as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and raising and handling funds. They can overrule most any decision by the Core Team or other volunteers. Most board members have led local chapters and contributed significant volunteer work on the national level. Some are alumni, but most are current students.

Board elections take place once a year. Any chapter member or current board member is eligible to run. There will be instructions for how to get on the ballot when elections are announced. Usually candidates will write a bio and platform and there is a debate or two in SFC’s IRC channel, #freeculture. Each chapter liaison votes for their chapter by ranking the candidates, the results are calculated using the Schulz method (a complicated mathematical method of evaluating preference voting), and the five most favored candidates become the new board!

A Free Culture Activist's Reading/Watching/Listening List


You should also be reading these blogs in order to keep up with current events, and have something to talk about at your meetings besides administrative stuff:



Tangentially Related

  • Multitude by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri - Interesting and surprisingly optimistic text on globalization and the future of grassroots organization.
  • Kevin Kelly, Out of Control - This book is about our ideas about control, and the future we are plunging into. The book is free to read, but I do not believe it is free to change. We're still working on reading it.


Remixes and mash-ups

  • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Edit
  • "The Grey Video"
  • Gimmie the Mermaid - Negativland video actually made using Disney's own equipment by one of their employees after hours.


Event Ideas and Materials

Local projects

Undead Art

Screen zombie films and their remixes. Good for around Halloween.


Promote and attend your local Copynight to talk about copyright issues. If there isn't one in your area, or it's only open to 21+, start your own meetup!

CC Art Show

CC Remix Contest

Free Your PC

Help frosh get their new computers going and introduce them to Linux and other open-source software!

Document Freedom Day

An international event (held on March 26th in 2008) to promote ODF and similar formats, they provided groups with free swag packages including a flag, shirts and fliers. Lectures, talks on the subject probably a good idea, even with the material it is difficult to engage people passing by to the issue if you don't want to do more than a pitch for OpenOffice. Also needs to answer the question what people can do about it if they care.

Free Resources

Face-to-Face Peer-to-Peer

Eyes on the Prize

Good for around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Bring a speaker to campus

Projects/Campaigns and Materials

Open Access

Antenna Alliance

Got a campus radio station? Start a Free Culture radio show and play free/CC-licensed/Antenna Alliance music!

Got campus recording facilities? Help local/student bands record and promote their music through the Antenna Alliance in exchange for CC-licensing their songs!

Don't got campus recording facilities? Talk to the music department and other student organizations to see if you could get your school to put money and space toward making a rudimentary recording studio for student use!

General Activist Advice

New Chapter Tips

Organizing manual - this could probably use an update/edit.

Activist Links