Nina Paley's "Ask Me Anything" at Reddit -- Art, Truth, Copyright, Censorship.

Nina PaleyQCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley did an AMA ("Ask Me Anything") on Reddit today, for "Fair Use" Week:

"Cartoonist, animator, and activist Nina Paley here to talk about making art and fair use!"

She was joined by lawyer Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge.

My favorite exchange from the AMA:

Q: Hi Nina! Big fan of Sita Sings the Blues. As you may probably be aware, the right-wing moral policing is at an all time high in India. What are your thoughts on censorship and its implications on artists?

A: Censorship: all the more reason to keep my work Free, open and decentralized. Centralized distribution is easy to censor. Decentralized distribution is impossible to censor.

Q: Is there such a thing as good censorship?

A: http://mimiandeunice.com/2011/06/07/censorship-vs-copyright/

See the full AMA here.

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One more for 2014: Donate to Snowdrift.coop's launch campaign.

Snowdrift.coop logo.Snowdrift.coop has been quietly building a platform for sustainably supporting libre digital works -- "a matching patronage system funding freely-licensed works", in their words.  Snowdrift is trying something different: instead of the all-or-nothing, one-time lump sum style of funding that gets lots of projects out of the starting gate but doesn't stay with them as they grow, Snowdrift has developed a peer-matched patronage model in which people say "I'll give a certain amount more for every person who joins me in funding this project, up my personal limit".  See their illustrated introduction for an overview, or their detailed explanation.

Snowdrift.coop is now very close to launch, and they've been running a funding campaign to get the last pieces put in place.  They've received generous support from Linux Fund and Aleph Objects, among others (I just donated $50 myself).  If you think a sustainable funding platform for free/libre digital works is a good idea -- and I'm betting you probably do, if you're here reading this -- then please donate to the Snowdrift.coop launch campaign today (and select a donation reward, including customized Snowdrift snow gear at a high enough donation level).

Yes, Snowdrift is an experiment, but it's a good idea and has the chance to create a new world of sustainable crowdfunding for libre works.  If it succeeds, we all win.

Here's that donation page again.

Happy New Year!

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Give to Internet Archive in 2014, while a supporter is matching donations at 2-to-1!

Internet Archive logo.For the remainder of 2014 -- just a few hours, depending on your time zone -- a supporter is matching donations to the Internet Archive at 2-to-1.  If you give $50, that's $150 total for the Archive.

Please donate now.  The Internet Archive saves the Internet... literally!  From founder Brewster Kahle's end-of-year message:

I’ve always believed in libraries. The digital world is no different. We need a library for the digital generation. A place we can all go to learn and explore.

 

Our children will learn from whatever is accessible to them. As parents, teachers and librarians, we should put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. At the Internet Archive we are striving to make our cultural treasures accessible to everyone. Forever.

 

Technologically—we now have the possibility of doing this--making knowledge massively accessible.

 

At the Internet Archive, we’ve preserved 430 billion web pages. People download 20 million books on our site each month. We get more visitors in a year than most libraries do in a lifetime. The key is to keep improving—and to keep it free. That’s where you can help us.

 

The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. We don’t run ads. We don’t sell your personal information—in fact, to protect your privacy we don’t even save your IP address. But we still need to pay for servers, staff and bandwidth.

I just gave $100, resulting in $300 for the Internet Archive.  Please make me look cheap!

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Announcing BookLiberator Beta.

BookLiberator Beta, with cameras and book, on table.

Announcing BookLiberator Beta — the affordable, low-tech book digitizer that's made of wood, looks good in your living room or library, and can scan 600-900 pages per hour!

Order now from our online store

We're very pleased to announce the availability of BookLiberator Beta kits. This is a project we've been working on for some time, and it's very important to us.

We've always known that whenever people feel the effects of copyright restrictions directly, in their own lives, they inevitably start questioning those restrictions. The goal of the BookLiberator project is to enable people to encounter those restrictions more often, in more situations, so they'll ask the same questions we ask here at Question Copyright.

BookLiberator Beta is the early-adopter release of what will eventually be BookLiberator 1.0. Please note that the Beta version comes without cameras — the 1.0 version will have cameras, but first we have to learn which cameras work best, and that's where the early adopters come in. Any modern consumer-grade digital cameras will fit, as long as they accept a standard screw-in camera mount. Once the brave beta testers have reported field results, we'll be able to offer appropriate camera options for the 1.0 manufacturing run.

If all this sounds like something you want to get involved in, please see BookLiberator.com for more information. Remember, any scans you make now can be reprocessed as many times in the future as you want; as software improves and becomes better able to extract text from images, you can just rerun your old images through newer software.

Video of a BookLiberator usage demonstration, at a HOPE conference:

There are many perfectly lawful uses of a book digitizer, of course. We encourage people to use their BookLiberators to liberate text and images from the printed page in

  • Public domain works;
  • Works under Free Culture licenses;
  • Works for which one has (for whatever reason) special exemption from the usual restrictions on copying, sharing, and sharing modified copies;
  • Works for which the digitization constitutes "fair use".

We're glad the BookLiberator can be used for all those things, but that's not really why we're selling it. We're selling it because we want people to have one more route by which to experience copyright restrictions. We want people to look longingly at their bookshelf and be reminded of why they can't work with digital copies of most of their books. We want them to realize that the only thing preventing them from liberating that text from the tree pulp on which it rests is an increasingly problematic law that does much to support monopoly-based distribution industries while doing little to support artists (indeed, while often harming artists — learn more here).

We don't endorse the use of the BookLiberator to engage in unauthorized copying, and we strongly discourage you from using it that way. Our goal is for people to not make such copies — to feel the handcuffs that prevent them from doing so, and to debate whether those handcuffs are a good idea.

Join us in feeling the pain. Order your BookLiberator Beta kit today.

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Copyright as Censorship in Science: Striped Nanoparticle Edition

Striped nanoparticle images, except for the censored parts.A band of researchers has been tirelessly trying to demonstrate that a body of scientific work which rests on a paper from over 10 years ago is completely wrong. The only problem is, their argument isn't being allowed to stand or fall on its merits — instead, copyright restrictions are interfering with their ability to make their case at all.

The "stripy nanoparticle" saga begins with a 2004 publication in the journal Nature Materials (DOI: 10.1038/nmat1116) from Francesco Stellacci's lab, describing a method for synthesizing small gold nanoparticles — particles on the order of 10 nanometers in size — that are coated with alternating "striped" domains of two different chain-like molecules attached to their surface.

While it wasn't surprising that those specific types of chain-like molecules attach to the surface of the small gold nanoparticles, it was surprising (to some scientists) that the chains would order themselves into such organized striped patterns. So surprising that Raphael Levy, a researcher from the University of Liverpool, took a critical look at the data behind the conclusions in the 2004 paper. He believes that the evidence for the existence of these striped nanoparticles is the result of spurious observations that likely originate from poor experimental technique and cherry-picking of statistical data.

After extensive delays in the peer reviewed publication process, Levy's first response was eventually published in the journal Small (DOI: 10.1002/smll.201001465), three years after the response had been first submitted to Nature Materials for publication. It was around then that Levy began blogging to focus attention on the topic as well as on more generalized shortcomings of scientific publishing process. The blog attracted discussion from a number of other researchers and spurred writeups in the scientific press.

Since that time, Julian Stirling has authored a paper along with Levy and a group of other researchers that has provided a comprehensive critical analysis of  Stellacci's 2004 paper and related work that followed.  Stirling et al.'s "Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles" was deposited on the open access preprint server arXiv, and became the most discussed paper on the popular post-publication peer review site PubPeer. The paper was also accepted for publication in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

What does this have to do with copyright?

In order to make their case to the reader, Stirling et al. need to reuse figures from Stellacci's earlier work, so that the comparisons and alleged errors can be clearly communicated. The problem is that publishing houses like the the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), John Wiley & Sons, Nature Publishing Group and the American Chemical Society must grant permission to make use of these figures for PLOS to republish them, as PLOS publishes under the freedom-friendly Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license, and its readers depend on what they receive from PLOS ONE being reuseable under terms no more restrictive than that.

At the time of writing, only the RSC has granted permission. Wiley has responded in the comments at Stirling's blog, saying that while they'll allow re-use with no fee under standard copyright, they won't simply relicense the images to be compatible with PLOS ONE's non-restrictive distribution policy.  (What Wiley actually says is that they are "unable to change [the images'] copyright status", which is simply false.)  It isn't yet clear how this will be resolved.  Offering the image at no fee for this one use is not a particularly helpful move on Wiley's part: the restrictions would still be quite onerous, because Wiley's one-off exception would not be passed along to PLOS ONE's readers — instead, they too would have to ask Wiley for permission if they wanted to use the figures in a scientific critique... and so on, ad infinitum.  Creating a gatekeeper does not always create tolls, but it does force everyone to at least stop at the tollbooth before proceeding, and that's exactly the problem here.  Wiley's "rights department" (that is, their restrictions department) has inserted itself into scientific discussions where it has nothing to contribute and can only hamper the flow of communication.

Stirling et al.'s frustration is tangible — and they clearly understand that the culprit is censorship implemented via copyright:

"The traditional publishers who published the work we're critiquing can't censor our paper now, can they? It isn't their journal, so they can't refuse to review/publish it ... But they still have one trick up their sleeve. Copyright. They own the copyright on the papers we criticise, and many of the new open-access journals they hate so much use Creative Commons licensing. They have the right to refuse permission to reuse parts of their figures. But just how can anyone write a self-contained critical article about data misrepresented in figures without being able to include at least some of the original results for critique and analysis?"

     -- from julianstirling.co.uk/how-can-we-trust-scientific-publishers-with-our-work-if-they-wont-play-fair/

"It beggars belief that the scientific publishing system is so screwed up that this type of farce can happen."

     -- from raphazlab.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/stripes-open-access-and-copyright-as-a-form-of-censorship/

"Dear publishers (@plosone, @WileyExchanges @NatureMaterials @J_A_C_S) I don't want to become a lawyer - plse just sort this mess - quick"

     -- from twitter.com/raphavisses/status/512354945236873216

These events clearly illustrate how copyright restrictions are not just a problem for cultural production. Copyright interferes just as much with the clear and referential communication needed for the healthy functioning of the scientific process. The point is not that Levy and his colleagues are right or wrong. The point is that whether they are right or wrong should be a matter of science, not censorship.

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