Political Signs at UT Dorms

President Powers has responded to the controversy:


The University’s rule prohibiting the display of signs in students’ residence hall room windows has been the subject of a great deal of discussion for the past few days. I am keenly aware that this prohibition is of intense concern to many members of the student body, as well as the larger community. I believe that the free expression of ideas is crucial to our educational mission, and that our rules should foster civil discourse and debate. I conclude, therefore, that this rule should be carefully reviewed with the participation of all constituencies in The University of Texas at Austin community, including students.

Effective immediately, I am suspending the prohibition on signs in individual students’ residence hall room windows and any sanctions related to its enforcement. The rule will be removed today from the Division of Housing and Food Service’s rules, and will be replaced with an interim regulation that expressly allows the display of signs and posters in students’ residence hall room windows.

Juan Gonzalez, Vice President for Student Affairs, has kept me well informed on this issue. I have asked him to convene a committee composed of all major constituencies to discuss all aspects of the policy on residence hall room signs and make recommendations on any changes that need to be made. The interim rule allowing signage in individual students’ residence hall room windows will remain in place until the committee issues its report and I act upon their recommendations.

William Powers, Jr.
President

Now I wonder if anyone will evaluate the “Free Speech Zones.”

Yeah, those “loss to piracy figures” are more or less made up.

Ars Technica is running a very informative story about the claims that various organizations and government agencies make about losses to piracy:

http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/dodgy-digits-behind-the-war-on-piracy.ars

The ultimate conclusion is that the numbers are highly questionable, likely biased, and didn’t really deal with piracy in the first place.

The confusion is a result basically a 20 year “game of telephone” (yes… before P2P!), with all kinds of cross-citations obfuscating that the original numbers probably came from the publishers themselves.

Whether or not the selection of these particular numbers has been intentional (and selecting from the high end of a dubious estimate was likely intentional at least one time), this unexamined citation is certainly lending an undeserved air of authority and legitimacy to those numbers. For example, it sounds better if those numbers come “from the F.B.I.” or “from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” even if the monetary loss estimates were originally coming from self-reports of the industry itself. Furthermore, those numbers didn’t actually deal with “piracy.” For example, the estimates included revenue “lost” from countries with laws that weren’t as broad as ours! Those estimates, reportedly according to the initial author, “could admittedly be biased and self-serving.”

Of course, those aren’t the only numbers thrown around, but they are used quite a bit by a number of sources, including government agencies themselves and those responsible for passing the recent “PRO-IP” bill. (Meanwhile, the Orphan Works bill languishes…)

At any rate, we need better and more transparent research involving potential losses to infringement.

Harry Potter Lexicon Case decided

Judge blocks Harry Potter Encyclopedia on CNN.

I’m not particularly thrilled with the news. I can’t comment on the specifics of the case, since I don’t have access to the decision itself yet. I do think that this will have a chilling effect on similar endeavors. According to CNN, the judge said:

“While the lexicon, in its current state, is not a fair use of the Harry Potter works, reference works that share the lexicon’s purpose of aiding readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

My guess is that this decision will pretty much the opposite effect. Even without the specific text of the case, the decision would seem to add to the risk of the authors and publishers of such texts. Such authors typically have less power/influence/money when compared to the resources that the established author and publishers have, and I’ll guess that publishers will be more averse to accepting such works. We’ll see. Call me skeptical, but I’m curious about the fair use evaluation and what “irreparable harm” Rowling would suffer from the publication of the Lexicon. And I am a fan, now a disappointed one.

Update: I have actually read the text of the case, and I don’t really think it changes the character of my earlier message. Yes, it’s a second circuit case and not binding all over the country, and yes, the facts are specific to this case, which is usually the situation. But you don’t have to convince the lawyers and judges that this case might not affect them- you have to convince the publishers and potential authors.

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Book Copyright Renewal Database

Stanford has just come out with a copyright renewal database for books published between 1923 and 1963. One of the problems that people struggle with is trying to determine if a given work is or is not under copyright, since materials published during that timeframe had to have copyright protection renewed (unlike today, when copyright is automatic for the entire term of copyright protection). The database is now available and builds on work undertaken by Project Gutenberg.

Song of Ice and Fire on HBO?

Apparently so! George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series has been acquired by HBO. Excellent news for book and fantasy lovers. The Song of Ice and Fire series is one of the only fantasy series that my other half actually enjoys, so I’m particularly looking forward to it. ^_^ Let’s hope it doesn’t have the delays that Martin is known for. ;)

Et Tu. Universal?

Universal took advantage of Firefly fans as part of its viral marketing campaign to promote Serenity. (Firefly is awesome, by the way). According to Slashdot, Universal is now going after fans demanding licensing fees- so fans are serving Universal marketing invoices. Now, Universal might have some points in there- but when are they going to learn that cease and desists from lawyers are not the best way to convey their ideas?

Immigration and the Valley

OK! I’m finally back from the MER Conference in Chicago (which was a lot of fun) after a canceled flight and unexpected night at O’Hare. I’ll write about Electronic Records later- I learned some great things at the conference. For now, I mentioned the subject of this post in an earlier message when I was at the Region One Technology Conference at South Padre Island.

All right, here’s an ususual subject for this blog, related to my hometown. Although I’ve been in Austin for about a decade, I’m originally from Edinburg, TX in the Rio Grande Valley, close to the border between Texas and Mexico. We have immigrants. Lots and lots of immigrants, and lots and lots of people crossing the border both ways every day. You can’t really tell if someone is an immigrant (legal or illegal), Mexican, or other. Some American citizens don’t speak English. Some people in the Valley don’t speak Spanish (including, terribly enough, me). We were about 95% Hispanic, I’d guess, although I’m not certain about the percentages. Some of the discussions I’ve seen in the news talk about migrant workers. One thing that I don’t see mentioned a lot in news articles is that many of these migrant workers aren’t illegal immigrants, and there are many that aren’t immigrants at all- they’re American citizens, many native-born, and several from the Valley. Of course, the news often describes the Valley in pretty rotten terms. While at Syracuse, I recall writing a paper on media depictions of the Rio Grande Valley, and those descriptions were neither pretty nor terribly accurate. I think things have improved somewhat since the mid-90s, but I still see the occasional depiction that I don’t really recognize.

Heading out of the Valley on any road, you have a border patrol checkpoint about an hour north of the border. Going through the checkpoint has always disturbed me. I know of people stopped and searched for no particular discernable reason. The stop everyone and ask where you’re from, and/or where you’re going, and other questions. They’ll search your vehicle. It only occurred to me very recently that you might have the right to not answer or refuse the search, but I never have and I don’t know anyone else who has refused the search. I’m often nervous for no reason going through the Falfurias checkpoint. I remember thinking in high school that there’s nothing similar to this checkpoint an hour south of our Canadian border. That seemed unfair to me. (As far as I know from my time in New York, that’s true.) And I understand that the checkpoint does some good- it does catch drugs going north, for example. But it a) feels like the US doesn’t really care all that much about the Valley- it’s like they’re protecting the rest of the country from us or not really caring about drugs coming into the Valley from Mexico, and b) really brings questions about privacy, dignity, and so on. At any rate, it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t really have anything against the border patrol- they’re for the most part good people doing an important job, and I have family members who are in the border patrol. The checkpoint, though… I don’t know. It seems to be an isolating mechanism.

So, I was down in the Valley while some of the ongoing immigration debate was going on. Most people I spoke to don’t particularly like many of the proposals. The fence: “Do we have a fence between the U.S. and Canada? They’re just stopping the brown people.” (I’m reminded of the Daily Show sketch with the Canadian Minuteman.) “Seems like a waste of money, since people are going to get across anyway.” The National Guard: “Do we really need the military on the border? What are they going to be doing?” There was a lot of uncertaintly about the National Guard, but I did hear at least one positive statement. “It’s better than the Minutemen.” The Minutemen were really not trusted by the people I spoke to. The National Guard, at least, was legitimate authority. There seems to be the perception that there was too much potential for racism with the group, and people- ordinary citizens of the US who might be indistinguishable from immigrants- are worried about it. Because there has been, and there is racism. The older generations have blatantly experienced it. For one quick example, I had a brilliant math teacher who was told she wouldn’t get an A in her college mathematics course because even though she deserved one, A’s were wasted on Hispanics. Some of the younger folk have also experienced racism. I have. I know it exists. I understand why people are nervous.

Gormon’s a n00b.

At any rate, you can read about the latest Gorman speech at fellow GSLIS alum Steve Lawson’s blog, See Also. Steve’s also got several links to responses to Gorman’s statement, in which he discusses the current state of LIS education, which he perceives as in crisis. He decries the opinions of “the millenniarist librarians and pseudo-librarians who, intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology, will dismiss you as a ‘Luddite’ or worse. They and their yips and yawps can safely be left to their acronymic backwaters and the dubious delights of clicking and surfing.” There might be a point in the statement, which can be read in full using the dubious technologies of the Interweb and PDF, but it’s easy to lose his point with such divisive and dismissive language. He may have “rattled some cages,” as he puts it, but he’s really drawing attention away from the areas that he wants to focus on. That’s a pity, because the subject itself is an important one. What does it mean to be an ALA accredited institution? What are the core values of librarianship that every librarian should learn before they graduate from such a program? What are the best ways to teach these values? What are the practices and skills that people need? There are all sorts of discussions that we could be having. There are differences in values among different types of librarians, and other information professionals as well. How do we reconcile the professional values to the different types of jobs that people who graduate from our program are going out and getting?

As I commented on Steve’s blog, I’m starting to hear “traditional” librarians, presumably the main focus of Gorman’s statements, completely dismiss his statements. I suppose the pseudo-librarians and millenniarist librarians already do. I wonder what I am? I’m not a librarian at all, but I’ve got The Degree. I’m certainly not technology-phobic, working on IT at an ALA-accredited program. I also value “traditional” librarian values and practices. Come on, Gorman.

Ah, well. At South Padre Island near the town where I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley on the border between Texas and Mexico. I’ll be talking to educators and librarians about copyright, education, and technology. The recent national immigration focus has certainly been interesting here… I’ll write about it a bit later.

Barenaked Guide to Copyright Reform

Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies joins with a group of musicians including Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan to form the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. They are looking at copyright music reform, and look for policies “that priorize musicians, not outdated business and the corporate bottom line.” They question suing fans, the use of technology for restriction, and the goals of some international treaties. Very interesting. I remember back around 1999/2000, they planted messages against infringement in their songs and released them on P2P networks. While I’m sure they desire for people to purchase their music rather than download it, this is an interesting joining of the beliefs of creators and some public rights groups.

PERFORM Act to restrict recording, broadcasting rights

PERFORM Act to restrict recording, broadcasting rights From Ars Technica, a disturbing story about the way some members of Congress think about technology and copyright law with the new PERFORM Act, and this just after the scary new intellectual property bill (via Library Juice).