The UK goes for three strikes law

The UK is merrily going down the same yellow brick road as many other jurisdictions. This report is from Technollama:

The air of inevitability surrounding three strikes legislation in the UK came to its fruition yesterday with the announcement by Lord Mandelson that the government will seek to pass legislation that will force intermediaries to disconnect users involved in file-sharing. I hate to say “I told you so”, but I have been harping about three strikes for a while. The blogosphere is already replete with replies to the new development, so I will not add my voice to the overwhelming condemnation of this step by directing readers to ORG and PanGloss.

My fellow second class scientists or proles…

Can you hear the hordes of Germans academics chanting fight, fight, figth in the background? Apparently the argument stems from the German Wikipedia newsletter Kurier which contained a this text:

Im besten Fall werden Blogs von zweitklassigen Wissenschaftlern betrieben, im Normalfall vom Prekariat.

For those of us language-challenged non-German speakers, there is google translation which gives:

At best, blogs are run by second-rate scientists, usually from precariat.

Damn as a blogger I don’t even understand when I am being insulted. I needed to look up precariat and with the help of German Wikipedia and Google translate I get:

Precariat is a term used in sociology and defines “unprotected end of the work and the unemployed” as a new social grouping. The term itself is a neologism that is fragile from the adjective (difficult, dangerous to dubious) analogy to derive the proletariat. Etymologically, the word “precariat comes” from the Latin precarium = one bittweises to revoke granted tenure status

So as a blogger I am either a second class scientist or a prole?

All I can do from over here is to support my fellow German second-classers or proles and chant fight, fight, fight… or as google translate would have me say:

kämpfen, kämpfen, kämpfen…

Researchers in Web2.0

In the recent issue of Research Information: October/November 2009 David Stuart writes an article entitled Web 2.0 fails to excite today’s researchers. The basic premise of the article is that researchers within academia are not interesting in adopting web2.0 technologies.

It is hard to imagine a group more suited to the opportunities of Web 2.0 technologies than academics, especially when it comes to conducting and publishing research…

…Scholarly publishing 2.0 offers much more to the research process than the simple content management system of blogs and wikis. It does not just give the opportunity to help find collaborators for a project, and possibility of easing the communication process within a research group. It also offers the opportunity to publish new forms of data and can blur the barriers of the research group.

While reading the article I found myself disagreeing more and more with Stuart. The level of academics participating actively by sharing their time and knowledge freely is very high.

There are two reasons why this high level of activity is surprising. One is based on the fact that only a small part of science is about communication and second the academic’s employers do not appreciate the value of web2.0 activities.

Science is more than communication: Most of science work is outwardly boring. Observing, reading, thinking, writing and deep discussions in seminars are not particularly for suitable for short messages and headline based communication. A wonderful example can be found in the words of Donald Knuth in a text entitled Knuth versus Email:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.

The same ideas can be applied to web2.0.

Few academic employers appreciate the value of web2.0 activities: In the final paragraph Stuart writes “Much of the blame for the slow adoption of the Web 2.0 technologies seemingly lies with an over-emphasis on the traditional research paper.” Well this is understandable since despite the whole focus and popularity of web-based communication the academic system does not put any real priority on these activities. True, they are not looked down upon as much as they once were but web2.0 communication is definitely not an activity which counts as a merit.

What Stuart seems to be missing is that web2.0 activity use is high in academia, but, for the reasons discussed above, it is not particularly visible to the general observer. Academic blogs, wikis, twitterers etc. abound but they are used as intended – for communication, sharing and discussion. The problem is that the discussions of academics are rarely interesting enough to be noticeable to the outside world.

Disclaimer: My web2.0 activity is very high (2 blogs (this one and techrisk), facebook, twitter, flickr, librarything etc And I follow tons of people via web2.0) and is very rewarding for me personally and professionally. But I also know that six years of blogging is worth less than one paper. This is mainly because it is easier for a university to count papers and citations.

Us Now documentary

Us Now is a documentary film that explores the ways in which web2.0 technologies are changing the way in which we interact and thus changing the fundamental roots of society. It’s “A film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet”.

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation.

From what I have seen so far this is an insightful and interesting film which presents the viewer with many questions about our society. It is filled with interesting people and examples revealing interesting new social organizational forms and asking questions about the way which will could and should be governed in the future. There is an underlying demand for true participation in the ways we are governed.

The film is also released under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

Here is a blurb from Vodo.net

Can we all govern? Us Now looks at how ‘user’ participation could transform the way that countries are governed. It tells the stories of the online networks whose radical self-organising structures threaten to change the fabric of government forever. Us Now follows the fate of Ebbsfleet United, a football club owned and run by its fans; Zopa, a bank in which everyone is the manager; and Couch Surfing, a vast online network whose members share their homes with strangers.

Check out the trailer:

Free Culture Forum Barcelona

I always think its a good idea to be in Barcelona. But unfortunately I will not be there this weekend. But for those of you who are in the area this coming weekend, you should seriously consider attending the Free Culture Forum:

FC Forum

Across the planet, people are recognizing the need for an international space to build and coordinate a global framework and common agenda for issues surrounding free culture and access to knowledge. The Free Culture Forum of Barcelona aims to create such a space. Bringing together under the same roof the key organizations and active voices in the free culture and knowledge space, the Forum will be a meeting point to sit and put together the answers to the pressing questions behind the present paradigm shift.

Representatives from Creative Commons Spain, Students for Free Culture and Wikimedia will be in attendance (among many others), so it’ll be a great opportunity to meet plenty of people in our community. Registration is free and open to the public, but there are more details on how to get involved here.

(via Creative Commons)

The top 10 laws of the Internet

In its effort to supply basic education to readers who daily use the internet but may be unaware of its history The Guardian today lists the top 10 laws of the internet. Very nice! Well to be honest I did not know all of them but I have definitely followed most of them.

Here is the list – but dont forget to read the whole article with explanations, examples and discussions:

1. Godwin’s Law
The most famous of all the internet laws, formed by Mike Godwin in 1990. As originally stated, it said: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” It has now been expanded to include all web discussions.

2. Poe’s Law
Not to be confused with the law of poetry enshrined by Edgar Allen Poe, the internet Poe’s Law states: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

3. Rule 34
States: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” See also Rule 35: “If no such porn exists, it will be made.” Generally held to refer to fictional characters and cartoons, although some formulations insist there are “no exceptions” even for abstract ideas like non-Euclidean geometry, or puzzlement.

4. Skitt’s Law
Expressed as “any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”

5. Scopie’s Law
States: “In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing Whale.to as a credible source loses the argument immediately, and gets you laughed out of the room.” First formulated by Rich Scopie on the badscience.net forum.

6. Danth’s Law (also known as Parker’s Law)
States: “If you have to insist that you’ve won an internet argument, you’ve probably lost badly.” Named after a user on the role-playing gamers’ forum RPG.net.

7. Pommer’s Law
Proposed by Rob Pommer on rationalwiki.com in 2007, this states: “A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”

8. DeMyer’s Laws
Named for Ken DeMyer, a moderator on Conservapedia.com. There are four: the Zeroth, First, Second and Third Laws.

The Second Law states: “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”

The Zeroth, First and Third Laws cannot be very generally applied and will be glossed over here.

9. Cohen’s Law
Proposed by Brian Cohen in 2007, states that: “Whoever resorts to the argument that ‘whoever resorts to the argument that… …has automatically lost the debate’ has automatically lost the debate.”

10. The Law of Exclamation
First recorded in an article by Lori Robertson at FactCheck.org in 2008, this states: “The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.”

The three main hurdles in the path of free culture

Today it’s the Free Culture Workshop at the Berkman Center (@ Harvard) in Boston and I was going to be there. Unfortunately I missed the whole thing because I had to attend a funeral in Stockholm instead. Check out the event. Here is a short position I was asked to write for the workshop, since I will not be using it I will post in here:

Social advances (albeit unequally distributed) have granted people the leisure time to focus on the production of non-essential products and services. Advances in technology have radically reduced the costs for preserving and communicating these cultural artifacts beyond the boundaries of time and space.  However it was not until the last 150 years where we have seen the technical and social advances necessary to enable widespread dispersion of the tools of cultural creation and communication to a wider group of users – the amateurs.

The oldest of these technologies is the art of reading and writing which challenged the status of memory. Plato was aware of the conflict and wrote about the art of writing in Phaedrus:

“…for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.  The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

This criticism tends to repeat itself with each new technology that redresses the shift of power among those who create culture and those who create culture with the aid of new technology. Arguments similar to those presented by Plato were used in the discussions of the relationships between photography and copyright. Mediating culture with technology brings about discussions on which of the forms of culture are more valuable and deserve protection.

In USA, after Congress amended the Copyright Act to include photography in 1865 the case of Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony[1] discussed whether the photographer Sarony could have sole rights to his portrait of Oscar Wilde. The United States Supreme Court ruled that photographs could be “representatives of original intellectual conceptions of an author.” While in the UK the courts stated in the Graves’ Case, (1869)[2] that it was “…difficult to say what can be meant by an original photograph. All photographs are copies of some object.”

From these illustrations it is my intention to show that the discussions of culture, technology, value and protection are under constant discussion and movement and therefore are neither fixed nor moving in a linear development from one stage to the next. With the widespread dissemination of a cheap and simple (both terms to be take relatively) technology of digitalization coupled with an open communications infrastructure further barriers to amateur production of culture were removed.

This leads us up until today when the hurdles facing the individual wishing to become a cultural producer are no longer issues of time, economy or technical know-how. What are left are the two major barriers of creativity and copyright.  Since it is beyond my ability to discuss the creativity of others I shall limit myself to developing what is meant by the limiting factor of copyright on the creativity of individuals by presenting the three main copyright related hurdles to free culture. The three hurdles are FUD, DRM & copyfraud. The common factor for these three hurdles is that they prevent the free use of cultural material in the development of new cultural artifacts and since our common cultural heritage provides the “raw material” in cultural production the means to develop new material is seriously curtailed.

Fear Uncertainty & Doubt (FUD)

The complexities of copyright have created a great deal of uncertainty among those actors attempting to create cultural artifacts while remaining within the limits of the law. The results of FUD favor inactivity since the perceived risks of violating copyright are seen as too great to risk. FUD is an important factor in different situations, for example: (1) where the creator intends to expose his/her product in a more formal setting e.g. a young film maker may easily add music or images to his/her film without permission but this will limit his/her ability to display the works to the public. (2) Orphaned works i.e. when the author of a work has been “lost” it becomes impossible to ask permission to reproduce and valuable cultural information is lost to the world. (3) The ability of museum and archives to reproduce or present their material to the world. At present the conflict between the National Gallery and Wikipedia provides an excellent illustration of this point.[3] The latter is a great source of concern to many public cultural heritage institutions.

Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)

In an attempt to ensure control over intellectual property many organizations and individuals are implementing digital protection measures. The goal of these measures is to ensure that the copying and spreading of copyrightable material is prevented. However these digital measures tend to create rights for the owners that often go beyond the fair use rights of those attempting to consume the cultural artifacts. In addition to this, legislation intended to prevent users from circumventing digital protection measures have been enacted in most jurisdictions. The effect of such legislation is to make moot whether or not the user has fair use rights under copyright since he/she is illegally circumventing a digital protection measure.

Copyfraud

The general state of confusion surrounding the extent of protection granted by copyright is being used (intentionally and unintentionally) to claim copyright over material which either may not be copyrightable or material for which the period of copyright protection has passed. These illegitimate limitations to the public domain may of course be contested in court but such actions are costly, entail an element of risk and favor the party with better lawyers. Therefore material, which under copyright legislation is available to all, is prevented from becoming part of our common cultural raw material that may be freely used.


[1] l l lU.S. 58 (1884).

[2] 4 L.R.Q.B. 715, 722

[3] BBC News “Wikipedia Painting Row Escalates” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8156268.stm?lsf