Answering Questions About the SOPA / E-PARASITE Bill.

real copyright educationjust because justice is blind doesn't mean the law has to be[Update 2011-12-06: Jennifer Novotny's article in the Stony Brook Press is now up.]

We got a question from Jennifer Novotny, a student at Stonybrook University in New York, about the slow-rolling disaster that is the E-PARASITE/SOPA bill in the U.S. Congress.  There are many bad things to say about this bill, most of which have already been said elsewhere (we give some links below).  But with Jennifer Novotny's permission, we're sharing her original question and our response, which focuses on the collateral damage this law would do to the Internet itself, and on the general impossibility of ever successfully implementing the kinds of restrictions Congress is attempting here.

Jennifer E Novotny writes:
>I'm writing an article for a journalism class on the subject of
>digital piracy in relation to the recently proposed Stop Online Piracy
>Act. I hoped you would be able to answer a couple of questions for me.
>For instance, do you believe the bill, if passed, would actually have
>any affect on piracy? I know there is a lot of debate and the idea
>that the bill would "break the internet" and I wondered what your
>specific opinions were on this matter.
>
>I look forward to your response,

 

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Remix Stallman, Anyone? (Or: Why Won't the Founder of Free Software Embrace Free Culture?)

Richard StallmanThis is a bit of inside baseball [*] in the copyright reform world, so we'll understand if you wonder what the big deal is.  But for those of us who were first inspired -- as I was -- by Richard Stallman's radical and prescient commitment to software freedom, his unwillingness to go the whole way and embrace Free Culture for non-software works is puzzling.

Recently we had some correspondence with an Internetizen known to us only as "openuniverse" or "libreuniverse", who resigned his membership in the Free Software Foundation over Stallman's insistence on exercising his state-granted monopoly to prevent derivative works from being made of his writings and speeches.

I phrase it that way for a reason.  Elsewhere, you might see it expressed as "Stallman's insistence on using his copyright to control what can be done with his works".  But Stallman himself understands these issues very well, and could easily spot the unspoken assumptions in that way of putting it.  No one was asking to change his works, or to attribute to him thoughts or expressions not his. No one's existing copies of Stallman's works would be changed.  Rather, openuniverse wanted to make a new work, using material from one of Stallman's books -- and Stallman quashed it.

Specifically, openuniverse asked:

i want to make a bash script (or python script) that is free software and contains the entirety of your book's text. (though it *might* have some parts in a different order, i'm not sure.)

(In this context, "script" means a computer program.)  Stallman's reply, which is consistent with what he's said elsewhere, was:

Sorry, you can't incude my essays in such a program.  Free programs can read my essays, but they need to be separate.

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A good sign: Blackboard.com bucks the trend and promotes a truly free license.

A very interesting announcement from Blackboard.com:

... Blackboard will now support publishing, sharing and consumption of open educational resources (OER) across its platforms. [...] Support for OER enables instructors to publish and share their courses under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) so that anyone can easily preview and download the course content in Blackboard and Common Cartridge formats...

What makes this big news is that these kinds of initiatives usually use one of the non-free Creative Commons licenses: one containing either no-derivatives ("ND") or non-commercial ("NC") clauses or both.  Instead, Blackboard.com bucked the trend and opted for full freedom: by offering CC-BY, they're encouraging users to choose a truly Free Culture license.  Let's hope others follow their fine example!

Kudos to Blackboard.com.  And congratulations to the educators and students who will now be able to share, translate, re-use, and transform educational materials for any purpose, without having to ask permission first.

Blackboard.com logo

Creative Commons Attribution license (3.0)

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