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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.

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!

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!

FSCONS 2014 logoFSCONS 2014 in Göteborg, Sweden is wonderful: a whole conference of people deeply committed to freedom and actively implementing it.

My keynote talk at 2pm today is entitled “Invisible Monopolies and the Language of Freedom”; clicking that link will take you to the slides.

Among other things, I’ll be talking about the origins and history of copyright, about censorship of translations, about the words we use, about the Declared-Value System, and of course about the BookLiberator (which you can buy from our online store or build yourself).

That’s all for now.  Back to the conference!

 

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.

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.

globeQuestion Copyright recently signed on to an open letter to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), calling on them to withdraw the counterproductive model licenses they have been promoting for use in publishing research articles.  (STM has written a response, but unfortunately it does not seriously address the very real issues raised in the original letter.)

To understand the problem with STM’s model licenses, you need to understand the problem of “license proliferation”.  License proliferation is the phenomenon of institutions coming up with their own slightly different — or sometimes significantly different — copyright licenses, each with its own idiosyncratic terminology and conditions.  The problem with this is that if everyone distributes work under a custom license, no one can really re-use or redistribute anyone’s works in practice (even when redistribution is the licensor’s explicit goal), because it takes too much time to read and evaluate all those different licenses.  Furthermore,  such licenses are often not compatible with each other, which makes remixing difficult or impossible.

Creative Commons came along and basically solved this problem years ago.  They offer a very small set of easily comprehensible, professionally drafted licenses, several of which are genuine Free Culture licenses and entirely suitable for scholarly publishing.  STM should just recommend that research articles be published under those licenses.  There is no need for this new set of model licenses — that just creates a problem for everyone.  Creative Commons already solved this; STM should not help unsolve it.

The original letter (which has 77 signatories and counting) explains this very well:

The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers has recently released a set of model licenses for research articles. In their current formulation, these licenses would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research. They would make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society. There are many issues with these licenses, but the most important is that they are not compatible with any of the globally used Creative Commons licenses. For this reason, we call on the STM Association to withdraw them and commit to working within the Creative Commons framework.

Think of the Creative Commons licenses as an immune response to the disease of current U.S. and international copyright laws.  Those laws are maximally restrictive by default, and lead, as diseases often do, to very bad consequences.  By using Creative Commons licenses, particularly the fully-freedom-compatible ones, you can ensure that you and your works are never part of the problem: you will not transmit the disease to others.

If the CC licenses are an immune response, then STM’s suggestion that different, special licenses are somehow necessary for scholarly publishing is an allergic response.  Like many allergic responses, if it continues unchecked, it can grow to be as bad as the original disease.

A drawing on an artist.  How recursive.There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Crooked Timber in response to a an article by Henry Farrell about Astra Taylor’s book The People’s Platform.

But our post here is just about one great comment from that discussion.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that our post here is one great comment from that discussion, because I can’t think of any better way to say what Clay Shirky said in his comment than the way he said it.

So, since we’re always yammering on about the “permission culture” and how problematic it is, I thought, what the heck, let’s just take a chance and publish Clay Shirky’s comment as an article without asking him first.  If he’s unhappy about it, we’ll take it down, of course, but my guess is that Clay would agree that his spot-on point about the economic inevitability, throughout history, of the “struggling artist” deserves wider attention:

I’ve yet to read the book (getting it now, on your rec, Henry), so I’ll confine myself to reacting to your writing here, starting with your framing of the question: “If there isn’t an economic model for producing culture in some kind of self-sustaining way, will it get produced?”

 

To which the answer is that of course it will get produced. Culture always gets produced, by definition. You can’t have a group of humans living together who don’t produce some artifacts and behaviors that constitute their culture, including cultures who not only don’t have professional artists, they don’t have the concept of money.

 

Since this answer borders on the tautological, I think that this can’t be what you meant, so I will substitute what I think the question behind that observation is (and you’ll tell me if I’m wrong): If the marketplace that forms around cultural production does not produce, on average, a living wage for the producers of that culture, shouldn’t we expect cultural impoverishment to flow outwards from the impoverishment of the individual artists?

 

Now part of that answer comes down to personal taste — in the same way Katie Roiphe argues that feminism, as practiced, has ruined the novel, as produced, it would be possible to prefer the art of the ’70s to today’s, and to link that to the ways that, say, the Talking Heads or Robert Wilson’s Byrd Hoffman folks could support themselves in a way that isn’t possible today, and that these circumstances led to art you prefer. (Dave Hickey often advances just this argument.) There’s no real counter-argument, given the lack of taste accountants.

 

But part of that question is purely economic, and from my point of view, understanding the economics of cultural production comes down to a single home truth: more people want to make things than other people want the things those first people have made.

 

Always. This is always true. The economy where an artist couldn’t make a killing but could make a living has never existed. Being a working artist is such a desirable state that people are willing to endure penury and suffering for a shot at the big time. The hazing rituals of rejection letters, pawned instruments, and shows closing out of town simply reduced the pool of creators to the point where it looked like supply and demand were more in balance than today. This illusion could only be sustained by ignoring the vast majority of people who wanted to do that work but abandoned hope early and left not public trace of their aspirations.

 

What the internet does is to decouple fame and fortune*, so that the cadre of people who make things no longer need to ask anyone for help or permission before making those self-same things public. And the resulting flood of public work has revealed that there are many more talented people around than were surfaced when highlighting the work of a young artist entailed significant financial risk on the part of the people who could reach an audience. Now, we makers can reach the audience more directly.

 

90% of what we make is crap, as has been long noted, but the increased volume and increasingly sophisticated filters mean that the good stuff can be plucked from the crap without subjecting the average viewer to the average quality work. (This is also the answer to Freddie’s question as to what will replace the old model, which is “This. You’re living in the replacement of the old model.”)

 

And the massively increased denominator of available work means the numerator of cultural spending is spread much more thinly. A handful of stars still do well — some, who produce physical objects or live performances, are doing better than ever — but the pool of people who can share our work for no money, or make a little on the side, has increased so vastly that there is no comparison between the pool of people showing their work in public in the 1970s vs. now.

 

It is a category error to assume that there has always been some moderately-sized group of creators who are talented but not destined for stardom, and in the old days those people did OK while today they are immiserated.

 

Many of the people lamenting not being able to make a living from their work today would not have been able to under the old system either, but they imagine that they would have been among that system’s rare winners, rather than being part of the far larger group who was dissuaded from their dreams of being paid to create without ever having even been able to show their work in public.

 

There has never been a normal way in the US to be a self-supporting creator. The consolation prize today is that does not mean also not getting some of the public attention creators typically crave. The economic side-effect of the widely increased scope for that attention is the economic effects you are wondering about.

 

*http://www.shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html

 

By the way, if you liked that, check out his later comment in the same discussion.  More Shirky, please!  (Commenters bobmcmanus and Trader Joe apparently agree.)

Books in a jail cell.At QCO we make a point of calling things by their right names, and of encouraging others to do so.  For example, we always talk about “copyright restrictions“, instead of using the pro-monopoly propaganda word “copyright protection”.  Try it yourself: if you consistently substitute restrict for protect, and restriction for protection, when talking about copyright, it will always work grammatically and it will be more accurate.

The information monopoly industries would much prefer us to talk about “protection”, of course, by which they mean protection of their business model.  But most of us don’t say “pre-owned car” just because used car dealers would rather we said that instead of “used car”, and we can use the same principle of calling things what they are when it comes to copyright.

However, most media outlets (not to mention even other copyright reformers and abolitionists, sadly) still usually take the path of least resistance and continue using the term “protection”.  This may be partly because it lends an air of legalistic authority: lawyers almost always call it “protection”, not just for copyrights but also in the unfortunately consonant phrase “patent protection” and in the conceptually incoherent “intellectual property protection”.

That’s why I nearly jumped out of my airplane seat when I opened the New York Times this Friday, April 25th, and saw Farhad Manjoo‘s article “The Cloud Roots for Aereo, but People Need Better“.  It was the first time I’d seen anyone in a major mainstream media publication use the term “copyright restrictions” where most journalists would have said “copyright protections”.  Here’s the exact excerpt, starting from the beginning of the article:

“The best way to think about Aereo, the company at the center of this week’s Supreme Court battle over the future of computing, is as as an example of legal performance art.  Aero is based entirely on a legalistic leap of faith: If it’s legal to set up an antenna and record a TV show at your own house, which it is, shouldn’t it also be legal to rent an antenna and server space at a big data center, and then stream the show over the Internet to your computer, tablet or set-top box?

 

It’s a clever argument, one that highlights the extreme lengths that tech companies go to to avoid copyright restrictions. …”

Not only that, he never refers to restrictions as “protection” anywhere in the article.  Later he even repeats “restrict”, again accurately, and with a directness that has been too often missing from many others’ writings on this topic:

“Aereo is based on a loophole. To offer TV shows over the Internet, most streaming services like Netflix or Hulu pay licensing fees to studios. But licensing is expensive and restrictive; …”

Why, it’s almost as if he’s determined to report what’s actually going on!

I’ve been a fan of Farhad Manjoo for a while, so it’s gratifying to see him taking such care with language here.  But just to be clear, there’s no behind-the-scenes nudging going on, at least not by me: I’ve never met nor communicated with Manjoo.  Also, we have no reason to count him (or for that matter not count him) among those for radical reform or abolition of the current copyright system.  I don’t know anything about his political beliefs in this area, and his insistence on using accurate language doesn’t say anything about those beliefs.  It just tells us he’s trying to be a good writer, one who uses the most appropriate word despite environmental pressure to do otherwise.  Let’s hope he influences some of his colleagues to be equally accurate.

RE/Mixed Media Festival logo.

We’ve been fans of what the RE/Mixed Media Festival is up to ever since we first heard about it in 2010.  Now they’re in their fourth year!  The next one will take place at the New School in New York City, the weekend of April 26-27.  They’ve kindly offered our readers a registration discount, too — use the promotional code “QUESTION” to get 50% off.

In their own words:

RE/Mixed Media Festival, taking place on April 26-27 at The New School and CultureHub, is an annual celebration of collaborative art-making and creative appropriation. It’s the artists’ contribution to the ongoing conversation about remixing, mashups, copyright law, fair use, and the freedom of artists to access their culture in order to build upon it. Each year, the festival features performances, panel discussions, workshops, electronic remixing/hacking, sampling, film & video, fashion, DJs, technology, interactive installations, painting, sculpture, software, and much more.

Now in it’s fourth year, RE/Mixed Media Festival is a hybrid event – a marriage of art exhibition and critical academic conference, a forum where artists, activists, scholars, musicians, writers, entertainment professionals, and policymakers come together to collectively re-examine the role of creative appropriation in the arts, and the roles of artists, government and industry in creating and maintaining a free and open culture.

RE/Mixed Media Festival IV is pleased to welcome media theorist Lev Manovich and author David Shields as keynote speakers, as well as the NY opening of DJ Spooky‘s international art and design exhibit, The Imaginary App. Other 2014 artists hail from 13 countries, and include 15 students, alumni, and faculty from The New School of Public Engagement’s School of Media Studies and Parsons The New School for Design. Past artists and scholars have included Moby, Steinski, Ricky Powell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jesper Juul, Nitin Sawhney and over 150 other artists, performers, educators, activists, musicians and DJs.

Details:

   Saturday, April 26
      10 AM – 5 PM: The New School
         Theresa Lang Center and Dorothy Hirshon Suite: 55 W 13 St.
         The Auditorium at 66 W 12 St.
         Anna Maria and Stephen Kellen Auditorium, 66 5th Avenue.
      6 PM – 10 PM: CultureHub, 47 Great Jones Street

   Sunday, April 27
      10 AM – 6 PM: The New School
         Theresa Lang Center and Dorothy Hirshon Suite: 55 W 13 St.

NOTE: Registration and check-in will take place at Theresa Lang Center on both Saturday and Sunday.  See remixnyc.com.