Author: Karl Fogel

Big IdeasThe Atlantic magazine has put out its yearly Ideas Issue.  I always look forward to it — sure, not all of the ideas are great, and many are questionable, but that’s to be expected when a lot of ideas are gathered together.  They’re often still instructive, sometimes the more so for being deliberately provocative.

But every so often, there’s one whose most interesting characteristic is that it managed to get past the editors at all.  This year, it’s from Elizabeth Wurtzel, and it reads, in full:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

Er.  Where to start?  The vertigo-inducing ahistoricity?  The clumsy attempt at guilt-by-association through a spurious double mention of pirates?  The unexamined assumption that copyright restrictions are how artists get paid?

Or how about just with a rewrite:

Of the Founders’ genius ideas, few trump intellectual-property rights. At a time when Barbary pirates still concerned them, the Framers penned an intellectual-property clause—the world’s first constitutional protection for copyrights and patents—into a justly famous document that they composed for no compensation and that was in the public domain from the moment it was first published. In so doing, they spawned Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Motown, and so on. Today, we foolishly flirt with undoing that. In a future where all art is free (the future as pined for by Internet pirates and Creative Commons zealots), books, songs, and films would still get made. But with nobody paying for them, they’d be terrible. Only people who do lousy work do it for free.

My suggested edits are in red.

Pirate Party NY

What they’re doing:

Dressing as pirates in a public square in New York City, and singing popular, copyrighted songs while holding up signs reading: “This is illegal”, “We are violating copyright law”, “We could get sued for this”.

Where and when they’re doing it:

Lincoln Center Plaza in Manhattan, New York City
Across the street from ASCAP Headquarters

Saturday, July 14th, 2012, 12:00pm.  (Meeting up at Columbus Circle 59th Street for a briefing first, then walking to Lincoln Center at 12:30.)

Pirate Party NY is providing signs, lyric sheets, bottled water, and snacks.

Golly, that’s jolly!  Where can I find out more?

nypirateparty.org/piratechoir

‘Nuff said.

Mediapocalypse.com Zac Shaw of Mediapocalypse has just written one of the best explanations — and justifications — of the Free Culture movement we’ve yet seen: In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation.

To understand what he’s responding to, you’ll need a bit of background…

Last week, a 20-year-old intern at NPR named Emily White wrote a post for NPR’s “All Songs Considered” blog, entitled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“.  She described, quite eloquently, how her relationship to recorded music was the same as the rest of her generation’s, namely that they don’t see the point of owning physical media like CDs.  She gets her music on iTunes and other online services, and stores it in the cloud and on her playback devices.  She doesn’t see anything wrong with this.

From the point of view of someone steeped in the Free Culture movement, nothing Emily White said is controversial.  Indeed, it was if anything surprisingly tame: she took care to say that she rarely downloads songs illegally, but rather uses state-approved distribution channels, in part because she wants artists to get more money than they do under the old album-based model:

…I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.

 

What I want is one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices. With this new universal database, everyone would have convenient access to everything that has ever been recorded, and performance royalties would be distributed based on play counts (hopefully with more money going back to the artist than the present model). All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?

Then David Lowery at The Trichordist (“Artists for an Ethical Internet”) wrote an impassioned response, “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered“, that was really aimed at the Free Culture movement, using White as a proxy.  Lowery’s letter is worth reading: he’s clearly sincere, and is willing to pull out every rhetorical trick in his bag to make his case (including, unfortunately, some unfair ones).  I don’t think he makes a very good case, but he certainly put his heart into it.  His response got a huge amount of circulation, and the coverage appears to be still expanding.

Zac Shaw didn’t think Lowery made a good case either, but instead of just picking apart Lowery’s argument, Shaw constructed a convincing positive argument for the ethical solidity of the Free Culture movement’s position (which Emily White herself did not articulate, but it was Lowery’s real target, and Shaw was right to focus on it).

Enough introduction.  Read Zac Shaw’s article — it’s really, really good:

In Defense of Free Music: A Generational, Ethical High Road Over the Industry’s Corruption and Exploitation

Google's name.Big news from Google — their regular Transparency Reports will now include information about content takedown requests!

This means that it’s about to get a lot easier to see and talk about the costs of copyright restrictions.  Some background: under U.S. law, Google can protect itself from infringement claims by promptly handling so-called “takedown requests”.  A takedown request is when a copyright owner or their agent asks Google to remove content from its servers (or, in the case of the search engine, from being included in search results) because continuing to offer the content would violate the owner’s copyright, and continuing to link to it in search results could be considered contributory infringement.

But how often are such requests made?  Who makes them?  Unless you worked at Google or a similarly large information-gathering organization, you’d have no way of knowing.

Now Google’s going to tell us.  From their announcement:

Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. So we’re providing information about who sends us copyright removal notices, how often, on behalf of which copyright owners and for which websites. As policymakers and Internet users around the world consider the pros and cons of different proposals to address the problem of online copyright infringement, we hope this data will contribute to the discussion.

The answer, by the way, turns out to be about a quarter of a million takedown requests per week and counting (and remember, they’re starting with just their search engine, so this doesn’t include YouTube or their other major content-aggregation areas yet).  Just imagine the bureaucracy load on both sides for processing that kind of quanitity — and imagine all the more interesting things that money could be going to, if it weren’t processing disputes arising from state-granted monopolies on culture.

Unfortunately, the law that put in place the takedown request system forgot to build in any penalty for fraudulent or abusive requests, which do happen.  In today’s announcement, Google acknowledged that they deal with mistaken requests too:

At the same time, we try to catch erroneous or abusive removal requests. For example, we recently rejected two requests from an organization representing a major entertainment company, asking us to remove a search result that linked to a major newspaper’s review of a TV show. The requests mistakenly claimed copyright violations of the show, even though there was no infringing content. We’ve also seen baseless copyright removal requests being used for anticompetitive purposes, or to remove content unfavorable to a particular person or company from our search results. We try to catch these ourselves, but we also notify webmasters in our Webmaster Tools when pages on their website have been targeted by a copyright removal request, so that they can submit a counter-notice if they believe the removal request was inaccurate.

Their excellent FAQ offers more examples of incorrect requests they’ve received.  It’s not clear if they’ll be publishing statistics on that, but they do link to a 2006 third-party analysis that found a “surprisingly high incidence of flawed takedowns”.

Kudos to Google for shining a light where it has been dark for far too long!

Sample of Google Takedown Report home page.

Gwenn Seemel self-portrait Second Face 2009Zinger quote from full-time artist (and QCO reader) Gwenn Seemel:

I’m fascinated by how artists say that their adherence to copyright is about money (even when they aren’t making a living with their work) but that when you dig a little deeper it comes out that it’s about fear.  It’s about the fear that someone will do what you’re doing but do it better than you ever did.

Thanks to reader Osama Khalid for telling us about another use of Nina Paley‘s Minute Meme Copying Is Not Theft on Al Jazeera — in this case, using it exactly as we hope the Minute Memes will be used: to set the frame or introduce the issues for a discussion. It’s played near the beginning, at about 2:30:


And it’s followed by a fantastic interview with Rick Falkvinge, in which he explains why Pirate Party resonates with so many people and why its political philosophy is deeply connected with civil liberties.

(This is not the first time that “Copying Is Not Theft” has appeared on Al Jazeera.)

The Copyright Flag of Canada.Any monopoly over public information is questionable, but we cast an especially gimlet gaze on attempts to monopolize publicly-funded information.  That’s what the government of Canada is doing to GeoCoder.ca right now (well, “doing to all Canadians” would be more accurate, but GeoCoder.ca is the lucky proximate target).

Canada Post is upset over GeoCoder’s freely-licensed database of Canadian postal codes.  Since 2004 GeoCoder has crowdsourced the creation of a geo-coded Canadian postal code database.  That is, members of the public have entered postal codes (public data) linked to location information (also public data).  The resultant dataset is useable by anyone, and saves people from having to pay Canada Post $5000 CAD for an official copy.

So what does Canada Post do?  Naturally, they sue.

(Plant face firmly in desk here.)

No, really.  It’s not April Fool’s Day anymore — we wouldn’t make this up.  Here’s a quote from Canada Post’s lawyer-gram:

  1. Canada Post is the owner of copyright in the CPC database as further defined herein;
  2. the Defendant has infringed Canada Posts’s copyright in the CPC database by producing and reproducing, without the consent of the Plaintiff, the CPC Database and substantial portions thereof in the course of the development, update, distribution and sale of the Defendant’s dataset products, including the Defendant’s Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset (the “CPCG Dataset”) contrary to section 27(1) of the Copyright Act, R.S.C. 198, c.C-42 as amended (the “Copyright Act”); and
  3. the Defendant has infringed Canada Post’s copyright in the CPC Database by:
    1. selling or renting out;
    2. distributing to such an extent as to affect Canada Post prejudicially as owner of the copyright;
    3. by way of trade, distributing, exposing, offering for sale and exhibiting in public;
    4. possessing for the purposes of the activities described in subparagraphs (a) to (c) copies of the CDC Database and substantial portions thereof, including  the CPCG Dataset which the Defendant knew or should have known infringed the Plaintiff’s exclusive copyright, contrary to section 27(2) of the Copyright Act;

…I can’t really stand to type in any more of that (it’s from a PDF image; also, it’s offensive to reason), but you can see the whole complaint here: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

You can donate to GeoCoder.ca to assist with their defense.  In their words: “Fighting for principle is expensive, and we will do it. Even against the odds, namely the foremost law firm in the country for IP litigation, hired by Canada Post to bring us down.”

Update 2012-04-28: there’s a terrific writeup by David Eaves about this now.

 

The new QCO headquarters.

Well, it’s been a long time coming: we moved into our new headquarters this weekend.  As you can see, at last there’s room for all our staff — no more doubling up at desks, no more working in shifts, no more waiting lists for parking spaces.  We’re really looking forward to finally being able to fit everyone at the all-hands meetings!

Many thanks to the recent donors who made this possible, especially the RIAA, MPAA, and Disney.  Without their steadfast support, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Modern, state-of-the-art buildings like this don’t come cheap, of course.  Although we’re convinced the new headquarters is the right decision for the organization, we thought it would be wise to start a capital campaign now to cover grounds maintenance, heating and cooling, electricity, and, of course, the snack budget.  There’s a full kitchen on every floor — our dedicated associates will need fuel to fight for your freedoms effectively.

If you’d like to support us in our new home, please donate today!

Example of quilt designs from Leah Day.

There’s a terrific article by Leah Day entitled “Copyright Terrorism“, over at the Free Motion Quilting Project.

While we usually try to avoid the T-word over here at Question Copyright, so as not to inflate the language in an already loud debate, the substance of Day’s article is right on.  The growing problem she describes in quilting is the full-grown problem we already have in literature, music, and elsewhere:

Copyright issues seem to be cropping up with increasing frequency in the quilting world and I for one would like to try to stem this flow, or at least open your eyes, to the very real threat looming for our craft.

What is this threat?  Where is it coming from?

It is coming from within our own ranks. Quilters with a certain penchant for copyright and legal wrangling are turning our open, creative craft into a mine field of rules, regulations, licensing, attribution, and copyright lockdown that it’s enough to make anyone set down their rotary cutter and sell their sewing machine.

My favorite passage:

My question is this: is this the world we want to create? 

Is this the industry we want to build, where quilters who quilt for a living must live in fear that they will be sued for the designs they use?  That a blogger trying to teach and spread the love of free motion quilting can be threatened for using the wrong design? That quilters who quilt for show must credit every designer involved in their quilt, down to the fabric and thread manufacturer?

She then goes on to give an example, and points out the insidious positive feedback loop that happens once people start suing.

Read the whole thing.