A blow to academic freedom.

I just read about this decision on ALA’s academic freedom list, and I see that Scrivener’s Error has provided an analysis of a recent federal decision that adversely affects the availability of controversial materials to students. In an effort to promote “decency,” they’re getting books removed from the curriculum and the libraries.

When I was in junior high, I had an English teacher that similarly gave us the option of reading banned books. I read them all. I read Go Ask Alice, Johnny Get Your Gun, Where the Red Fern Grows, and other books that had been the victim of censorship. It was incredible to me other people thought that they should determine what I should read and actively deprive me access to those amazing works. I feel terrible for today’s students… This decision is not an appropriate way to deal with controversy.

Here’s one of my favorite responses to calls for book banning.

“I think filters are there mostly for teachers.”

On the one hand, I think it’s quite disturbing that children have to really learn about copyright now while they’re children- so much for unfettered creativity. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to talk to several middle schoolers participating in a community-sponsored film workshop series, and they seriously give me hope for the future. They asked great questions – “What about AMVs [Anime Music Videos]? In Japan, they have fan comics and people are okay with that, why can’t we do that here? What about fan fiction? What if you mix up songs? What about posting clips on YouTube? What about game reviews? Does giving credit matter?” ALL of them had read fan fiction. ALL of them were familiar with P2P technology. ALL of them decided to share their films with a Creative Commons attribution-non commercial license. ALL of them wanted to allow people to create derivative works- even if there was the risk they wouldn’t like what people did with it.

There was even one student following the Harry Potter Lexicon case.

The other funny thing happened as we were going to find a computer with Internet access. One of the younger boys described in passing how he used a proxy server to bypass school filters in order to get to MySpace at school. Most of the students seemed to know of a few ways to get to the sites that they wanted to visit. Referring to the filters, one of the girls confided,
“I think they’re there mostly for the teachers.”

Censorship of Media; Copyright and Video Games

I came across two articles today that aren’t explicitly connected to one another, but are certainly evocative of similar issues.

The first is from CNN: The Pictures that Horrified America.
The article discusses the big push to censor comic book publishing in America, because critics alleged that these materials were corrupting the youth of the day. It certainly directly affected the industry, which took many years to recover.

I’m reminded of a trend we notice in copyright and technology: The New is Scary.
Phonographs? Evil. Cable? Evil. VCRs? Evil. MP3s? Evil. Etc., etc. The emergence of “disruptive” technologies shakes up the status quo, and the powers that be in the status quo respond fearfully- in the case of copyright, sometimes to save their existing power structures and business models. In the case of media, it’s generally to save society (or “the children”).

So video games are the new comic books. Or rock and roll. Or film. Or television. Or television show. Or cable. Or book. We’ve seen the same types of arguments used, the same types of language used, and the same types of “reform” proposed. We’ve seen many, many attempts at the passage of state legislation- that have been found unconstitutional.

The role of research in these arguments- copyright and media alike- is an important subject that needs to be addressed.

Moving on, Law of the Game is a great blog to learn about video game related legal issues. The author, Mark Methenitis, communicates clearly to a wide audience. In his most recent column for gaming weblog Joystiq, he provides a solid introduction to how video games and copyright interact. Because the subject is copyright, naturally there’s a lot more to it- but it’s a great starting place.

There is an occasionally acknowledged tension between copyright and free speech. One thing that makes video games different from other types of entertainment media is that they are generally interactive experiences that require the mediation of technology. Video games themselves are directly attacked as a new media in the manner I mentioned above- that is, there are clear free speech concerns dealing with the publication and expression in games themselves and those that seek to stop such expression for whatever reason. In the copyright realm, though, it’s the end-users who are most affected by law and policy.

Like other forms of software, video games begin their digital lives as digital objects, making them subject to some of the strictest areas of copyright law, such as the DMCA- which prohibits what might otherwise be fair uses. All digital technologies have to deal with those issues to a large extent- particularly when it comes to the preservation of older technologies- but video games are particularly difficult to deal with because of their interactivity. It is difficult to preserve interactivity, and one of the more obvious ways- copying- has a big hurdle to jump in existing copyright law.

Recent actions by the publishers themselves haven’t made this preservation any easier. DRM is both illegal to circumvent- even with what would ordinarily be legal uses- and provides significant technical barriers exacerbated by the commercial lifespan of a game. For example, it’s been announced that console hit Mass Effect is going to have a- well, silly- amount of DRM in its PC release in the form of software that requires one to be connected to a network in order to check the validity of your copy every 10 days or so. Of course, that means the game itself is only playable while those servers are supported. We’ve seen problems in this approach with music or video services that are ended- for example, when Microsoft ended MSN Music, MLB’s changing of access mechanisms, or Google ending Google Video’s purchasing programs. Furthermore, a person is restricted to installing the game on three computers (shades of Apple’s authorized iTunes computers…). This isn’t particularly friendly to end users, and it’s a sure way to destroy the longevity of your work. If I want to play Planescape: Torment now- nearly 10 years after it was originally released- I can. I won’t be able to say the same thing about Mass Effect. That is to say, I wouldn’t have been able to say the same thing had I purchased it- which now, I’m not going to. I’ve got a limited amount of money to spend on entertainment, and I don’t particularly feel like spending it on something I can never return to.

The Public Domain is Offline

Provider of Free Public Domain Music Shuts Down – http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/10/21/0559220

The International Music Score Library Project was a community driven, Wiki based site that offered various scores that were in the public domain- in Canada. That’s the key, there- Canada uses Berne-required copyright term, 50 years after the death of the author. Other countries, including the U.S. and several in Europe, have longer copyright terms (life+70). Universal Edition, out of Europe, sent the Library Project a cease and desist, which it is complying with. A person who runs the site also noted that there were four composers who UE demanded be removed that had been dead for more than 70 years– but it’s possible that they were protected by some Austrian copyright law. At any rate, not having the time, energy, or resources to deal with all of the possible consequences, the site was shut down.

There are many issues brought up by this situation. One of the most worrying is that the most restrictive copyright law in the world can potentially become the de facto copyright law of the Internet, particularly for those with few resources.

The site owner has offered to allow an association of music libraries or similar organizations the opportunity to continue the site in some form, if they can- I hope someone takes that challenge.

What’s up? and Harry Potter Left Behind

So, I’ve been wrapping up my first class in years (what a strange experience to be graded again!) and getting ready for the two conferences I’m going to this month. (Talking about librarians and copyright at one, attending one on electronic records). I’ll be posting more regularly once again soon.

So, here’s a story to warm the cockles of your heart. In “Parent putting Harry to the test” from LISNews, a parent who hasn’t read any of the Harry Potter books (too long) wants to remove it from the shelves because of all the evil magic and replace it with the Left Behind series. Wow. How do you even begin talking to a person with those views? Again, I’ll say- if a parent doens’t want their children to read the book, tell their children not to read the book. Don’t tell other people’s children what they can and can’t read.

Cyberporn and Society

I had an interesting trackback from a student in a course at the University of Buffalo School of Informatics called Cyberporn & Society. They’ve got some interesting student posts at the course blogroll. I won’t even hold it against them that they might skip the copyright law section this year. 😛 My post was about Oklahoma’s bill to remove homosexual and sexually explicit materials from children and youth collections. I’m glad to report that the bill is no longer active.

In response to the trackback- I don’t think this blog is particularly controversial. ^_- When I was using “censorship” I am usually referring to government actions related to denying access to information, and not parental actions. I do believe that parents must have a role in their children’s access to information. The government does regulate certain materials, but there are issues- even obscenity’s “community standards” are problematic, particularly in the online environment, when we start getting into availability and jurisdiction.

IMHO, a problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for “appropriate” materials, including children. Different people will want their children to have access to different things. Parents definitely can’t be there 100 percent of the time, I agree- but I don’t believe that censorship of media is a particularly good alternative. Broad and vague laws like Oklahoma’s do little to help this issue, party because of their vagueness (which I discussed briefly in the earlier post). Regulating the Internet or media, however, is also a losing proposition as well. We risk potentially denying children access to information that should be available to them if we are overly restrictive. We risk potentially providing access children to information that their parents do not want them to have if we do not- but the parents can get involved at that point for their own children (and not others’ children). Librarians can’t, and shouldn’t, replace parental decisions in that respect.

Of course, there are guidelines for “age appropriate” materials and collection development policies. It’s the controversial areas, such as homosexuality and racism, that are complicated. I would far prefer providing more access to information and letting the parents decide what is appropriate for their children then removing those materials for everyone- because there are also parents who believe that those materials should be there.

There are difficult issues. 😛

LISNews.org | Oklahoma House Votes 60-33 to Segregate Books

LISNews.org | Oklahoma House Votes 60-33 to Segregate Books

In a disturbing story from LIS News, the Oklahoma House has passed a bill that will require Oklahoma libraries to segregate books with “homosexual” and “sexually explicit” content from the children’s and young adult collections. A PDF version of the bill is available from Tulsa Library. It’s rather simplistic, and does not leave room for things like, say, redeeming social value. It is almost a cliche at this point to note that a bill such as this could mean that the Bible should be segregated to an adult’s only section. (Song of Solomon, anyone?)
It is completely ironic that one of the biggest proponents is stating that “libraries and librarians should not be usurping the role of parents,” because that’s the very reason that librarians do not tell children what they can and cannot read. Apparently this legislator believes that the government should be the ones to usurp the role of parents.

Legislator Sally Kern gets my vote for should-really-know-better because of her remarkably uninformed statement, “The American Library Association is out to sexualize our children.” I have a feeling I know what group she’s been listening to.

ALA isn’t out to sexualize anyone. The conflict lies in a number of places, including how the argument is defined. There are certainly materials which are illegal (obscenity, child pornography, and so on) and should not be available at a public library. Materials also exist which may be controversial or may be inappropriate for children (such as pornography), but it’s up to the parents of those children to determine what is or is not appropriate for their children, and not others’ children. One person’s pornography is another person’s art. Neither the library nor the state should be the ones to make that determination, in my opinion. The library is there to provide information, not restrict ideas. This is an important concept that should not be so easily dismissed.

It’s easy to fall into “freedom of speech” and “won’t someone think of the children” pleas, but we need to look deeper than that. This is an excellent article about inappropriate books and censorship when dealing with children.

A librarian must have neutrality when selecting and providing access to materials. Part of that neutrality means that they must offer materials even if they might personally object to or disagree with the content. Does this mean that they cannot take part in arguing for or against various issues? The neutrality of the librarian is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. I’ll write more about this when I have it better articulated.

Slashdot | Diebold Whistle-Blower Charged With Felony Access

Slashdot | Diebold Whistle-Blower Charged With Felony Access

From Slashdot, a disturbing article involving the person who blew the whistle on Diebold.

Rockstar legal warriors squash online installation | The Daily Page

Rockstar legal warriors squash online installation | The Daily Page

Again, games and copyright cross paths and the resulting crash isn’t pretty. GamePolitics linked to this article about Rockstar’s use of a DMCA Cease and Desist notice to take down a student’s site. The site used material from the Warriors in a manner that was critical to their games (and video games in general, really). I find the use of the DMCA particularly unappealing in this case. I don’t particularly care for the GTA series- not that I haven’t played any of them, but they’re just not my thing. Despite that, I would defend the game maker’s own free speech and expression rights. I find their (mis)use of copyright to stifle social commentary in this situation hypocritical.

Some not fun headlines…

Several stories from the last few days have been fairly grim.

Reading Harry Potter before release date illegal illustrates a view that some content industries love- that you shouldn’t even be able to read something without the author’s permission. This story is from Canada, and I’m not familiar enough with Canadian law to determine whether that viewpoint is accurate or not, but I certainly don’t think it’s accurate in the US. Michael Geist has a few things to say about the situation (July 12-13) and its attacks on the freedom to read, freedom of expression, and personal property. In the US, there’s also the doctrine of first sale…

In Australia, a man has been found guilty of hyperlinking. Combine that with proposed amendments to Canadian law that would make search engine activity illegal and a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and you’ve got a good picture of how law and policy can affect the Internet as we know it.