Notes Fest

I’m teaching a course, INF 312 this semester. It’s going to be great, but certainly keeping me busy. ^_^ Between working full time, teaching, going to class and working on a couple of research projects, it’s going to be a fascinating semester. ^^

But now for some brief notes. ^_^

  • Dinosaur Feather Colors – Perhaps a strange thing to start with, but cool nonetheless. ^_^
  • Copyright and Cultural Institutions – An incredibly useful book for libraries, archives, and museums in the US involving copyright. Really, one of the best new resources out there. One of my copyright idols (and that goes on the list of ‘phrases you never expected to use’), Peter Hirtle is one of the authors. Creative Commons licenses and also freely available, but I’m going to buy a hard copy when I get a chance.
  • The Google lawsuit settlement moves ahead full steam. Pamela Samuelson has a number of really great articles on the Huffington Post about them. These articles are one of the reasons I still look at the Huffington Post despite all of it’s bs supporting anti-vaccination and homeopathy.

William Patry, Back in Blog

I’m very excited: the always-worth-reading William Patry is blogging again at Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars! His new book of the same title just got added to my Amazon Wish List.

He is currently having a relatively pleasant disagreement with Ben Sheffner of the Copyright & Campaigns blog. Sheffner is an advocate of strong copyright laws, and his blog is generally quite informative from that particular viewpoint.

X-Posted at librarycopyright.net.

From the damned-if-you-do department…

Techdirt is discussing the very strange lawsuit against text-sharing site Scribd. The strangest part of this particular lawsuit involves Scribd’s copyright protection measures. Because Scribd has to have a copy of the work at some point and in some form in order to make sure that the infringing file can’t be uploaded for public viewing, the lawsuit is apparently claiming that their protection itself violates copyright.

If Scribd is found infringing in this manner, the decision has some potentially far-reaching implications for the implementation of copy protection technologies, and (following the money) the businesses that create such technologies.

Careful, Educators…

Cross-posting a post I made at the Copyright Advisory Network.

The Copyright Alliance (not to be confused with the Library Copyright Alliance) is one of, if not *the* largest promoters of strong copyright in existence. It’s membership list mainly consists of copyright and entertainment industries. I’ll occasionally look at their cited scholarship when I feel like being depressed about the state of copyright scholarship. They’ve recently created the nonprofit Copyright Alliance Education Foundation to educate K-12 educators and students about copyright.

Unsurprisingly, I have problems with the materials found on that site. It’s not all bad, but one should be very careful before using any materials “as-is.” The materials stress the importance of permission, the vagueness of fair use, and a fear of technology. Believe it or not, I started reading the document with a sense of hope- creating copyright materials for K-12 is not easy. The organization has dedicated a lot of resources to this important subject; I had at they would acknowledge some of the purposes behind copyright law and the areas that are controversial. Sadly, it was not to be. In simplifying a complex subject (and this is even for the teachers, not only for the students), the organization has made their elements a lot less useful for educators who are actually interested in getting copyright right.

My biggest gripe is that they offer a simplistic and binary view of how copyright works, in and out of the classroom. In the guide for educators, they claim that the use of copyrighted materials requires fair use (characterized as scary, vague, uncertain) or permission. My first question: how in the world can you offer a copyright guide specifically for educators without talking about educational exemptions to copyright? We have actual exemptions specifically for educators in copyright law! Their guide specifically denies such exemptions. In the FAQ, they state that there are no special privileges for educators. That statement is completely incorrect. Sections 110(1) and 110(2) offer teachers ways to use copyrighted material that are not covered by fair use. Furthermore, their coverage of fair use could use a great deal of work. They don’t appear eager to have students attempt to use fair use, and in my opinion really minimize its importance.

As I was writing this message, Tim sent a message about EFF‘s new site: http://www.teachingcopyright.org/
The EFF talked about a “balanced” copyright system. The Copyright Alliance doesn’t. The EFF site walks people through the decision making process in determining whether or not a use is fair, and discusses different situations in which a use was determined to be fair. The EFF site isn’t perfect (and I’ll write to them with a couple of suggestions), but it’s a much more appropriate and realistic introduction, in my opinion.

Would that everyone could work together. The people in the copyright industries aren’t bad people. But there really are some fundamental differences in beliefs about public good and fairness in general that have made compromise difficult (and it seems to be the public side that is willing to compromise). I’ll write about this later when revisiting the government’s Section 108 report.

I believe that copyright is useful and important. I also believe that copyright exemptions are vital to creativity and innovation. Teachers, please be aware that there are problems with the Copyright Alliance’s approach. It’s very one-sided about issues that are not one-sided. I’m not saying reject it out of hand, but be careful. Not all of the true/false statements they offer can be evaluated by a true/false statement.

Ars Technica on the Theater of the Absurd

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/05/big-contents-theater-of-the-absurd-at-dmca-hearing.ars

Wendy Seltzer characterized the process as the theater of the absurd, and she’s very much correct. This really is theater, and bad theater. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits bypassing any technological measure that protects copyright on media; for example, most DVDs are protected by programs, and you’re not allowed to circumvent those programs even for uses that should be legal. Every three years, the Copyright Office has hearings to decide who should be allowed to circumvent those protections under what circumstances.

The process is something of a farce. The industries provide no *evidence* that they’ve been harmed or that they will be harmed by allowing these exemptions. They seem to have a knee-jerk reaction that any sign of compromise is weakness. They won big with the Digital Millennium Copyright provision, to the detriment of public interest, in my view. They can afford to be magnanimous in these instances. But they refuse.

No, they insist that if any type of getting to the material is available, then there’s no need to circumvent, no matter the situation, no matter the cost. Their big solution for professors that wants to use film clips: take a camcorder and film the TV. That’s complete drek. As Jonathan Band (representing the American Library Association) pointed out, if that was good enough, why have the DMCA at all?  The easy answer is, it’s not good enough. In my time working tech support, working with digitization, working with libraries and academics who study preservation and digitization and culture and all of the related subjects, I can say with confidence that it’s not good enough. And in the long run, it is the public that is going to suffer.

This is upsetting to me. The exemptions requested would not harm the industries in the least. More importantly, they would not harm the creators in the least. Quite the contrary, there is every possibility that creative people and educators could be greatly helped by allowing some of the exemptions.

Important decision related to the public domain…

Back in 1994, Congress removed certain materials from the public domain and placed them under copyright. Was that action unconstitutional?

Groklaw has a good summary:
http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20090405224406465

Amazon and the Kindle 2

Oh, Amazon. Every now and then you do things that make it difficult for me to be a fan (and customer) no matter how much I like your stuff. (This is a characteristic you share with Blizzard, so you’re at least in interesting company.)

First, the Kindle 2.

My house is filled with bookshelves and books, perhaps unsurprisingly. Holly has been very interested in the potential for electronic books to serve as a replacement for physical books in certain circumstances- for example, for travel, ease of storage, and the possible replacement of some of MY books. 😛 We bought the Sony Librie from Japan some years back and have had a mixed experience with it. For her birthday we bought a Kindle 2. That one didn’t work out so well, so Amazon sent a replacement, which is what I’m basing “the good” below on.

The Good:

-Readability. It’s a good device for reading standard text- without killing your eyes.
-WHISPERNET. Free access to the Internet, just about everywhere, without a monthly charge. This isn’t all good (elaborated below), but it’s been useful for using sites like Wikipedia.
-Text to Speech. The “experimental” text to speech feature is surprisingly decent. It’s not as good as a regular audio book, naturally, but it’s certainly been usable when set with the male voice at the fastest speed. H has been using it regularly, and it is by far her favorite feature.
-Images look surprisingly good. One of the things we’ve been very interested in is the use of the Kindle 2 as a manga reader, and it does that job adequately (with a couple of caveats I’ll address below).
-Free books. There are several free public domain books available from the Kindle store, as well as some newer free books (usually the first in a series). For example, the first book in the Temeraire series, His Majesty’s Dragon, is free.
-It’s easy to buy things. This can be dangerous (see “the ugly” below).

The Bad:

-The manga selection sucks. There’s about one.
-The overall selection could be better.
-Book organization could be better. It would be nice to have folders or better ways to view your books instead of a big list that you can only organize in a limited number of ways.
-The browser. The Kindle is in black and white, and not all sites render well- not even sites that are mostly text.
-I wish they’d kept the ability to use memory cards with the Kindle.
-I keep on comparing it to my iPhone and trying to zoom in and out to no avail. ^_^;

The Ugly:

-DRM. I disagree with the idea of tying a specific copy to a specific device. This alone almost caused me not purchase the Kindle 2. That’s the basic reason for my dislike of DRM, which goes beyond that- my experiences with DRM with games, music, and the work of libraries and archives have made me very distrustful of its use.

-Having to zoom in each manga page to get the best image possible. Really, they should just allow you to keep it zoomed in at all times. (Zooming basically takes away the top and bottom information bars.)

-It’s easy to buy things. Possibly too easy. We returned the first Kindle 2 we received because it would freeze when we did certain things (such as, oh, hitting the “back” button on the first page of any chapter). When this first occurred, we pressed various buttons to try to get it to unfreeze, and nothing worked- not even a hard shut down. After about 10 minutes or so, the screen started responding again- and somehow, during this time of non-response, we purchased the then best-seller 3 times. Oops. Amazon promptly refunded the purchases, and after a week or so and a number of phone calls I convinced them to send us a replacement, which has worked much better.

-Amazon’s capitulation on the text to speech issue. I submitted feedback and received their standard reply, part of which is excerpted below.

We’ve looked carefully at the legality of Kindle 2’s Text-to-Speech software, and it is clearly legal.

Nevertheless, we believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat. With text-to-speech, Kindle can still read every newspaper, magazine, blog and book out loud to you, except if the book is disabled by the rights holder. We believe most rights holders, usually the publisher or author, will decide to keep text-to-speech enabled.

Here’s the thing: if it’s clearly legal, then rights holders don’t deserve to be in the driver’s seat. In this case, users do. You’re not doing us any favors; quite the contrary, your stance can hurt lawful use in the long run. I realize that you’re probably doing this in order to convince publishers to put their books on Kindle in the first place (not to mention possible contract disputes), but I’m pretty unhappy with the decision.

Also, Neil Gaiman’s take on the subject seems eminently sensible.

-Amazon’s attack on the ability to place other legally purchased books on the Kindle. If Amazon wants electronic books to succeed, I think they’re doing it wrong.

All in all, despite the problems we’ve had, we both agree that we like the Kindle. We truly hope that Amazon changes its practices, and we hope that the Kindle continues to improve.

Cross posted at the Copyright Advisory Network.

Quick updates: Useful links for Google Books and the OCLC Policy Change

Many things have happened in the copyright/libraries and games/libraries world since my last post, and I’m not going to comment on them too much just yet. I did want to mention some resources I’ve found very useful when tracking some of the larger controversies.

-Walt Crawford’s March 2009 Cites & Insights has a wonderful summary of various perspectives on the Google Books settlement.  I’d add Scrivener’s Error for an additional useful perspective from an author’s attorney. ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy also has a Google Book Settlement blog.
-The Code4Lib Wiki’s OCLC Policy Change article  has been very valuable when trying to keep up with that controversy.

I’ve been hired by ALA to write articles related to copyright for their Web site, so I’ll be working on that for a bit.  The articles will be available under a Creative Commons license, and I’ll probably make them available here as well. The Copyright Advisory Network group got together in DC this past December, and we’ve been working on developing resources on the revamped librarycopyright.net site since then (and we will continue to do so). In the near future I’m going to address a few issues related to some problems institutions have come across in their digitization projects and also when not to use a Creative Commons license (hint: when you don’t own the copyright in the material). Before that, though, expect a post on the Amazon controversy from the perspective of a Kindle 2 owner (as well as one who’s a bit frustrated with the Kindle 2 experience right now…)

Today’s slightly-off-my-normal-track link was to the Mont Blanc trademark infringement lawsuit against a person who was selling altered pens. Alas, the legal  documents have been removed from the places they were publicly available and are only accessible through Pacer at the moment. I’m not a fountain pen user- as a lefty with poor hand writing in general, my penmenship with a fountain pen is a pretty scary thing- but Holly is a dedicated collector, and I’ve been following this situation with some interest.

Fair Use in Scholarship

I’ve been involved in a few disturbing conversations the last couple of days.

Fair Use has a vital role in copyright law- it allows the use of copyrighted material without permission for what are essentially societal benefits. Criticism, scholarship, teaching and research are specifically mentioned in the text of the law as examples of the kinds of work that should be fair. Fair use is necessary for scholars.

I’m interested in a wide variety of subjects that don’t directly involve copyright- much like the field if Information, looking at copyright often involves looking at the areas that copyright touches, and much like the field of Information, those areas can be just about anything. So, for example, I look at how copyright affects the practices of libraries and archives, or K-12 education, or other subjects.

One of the things that got me interested in copyright in the first place were the practices of fans, because I am a fan and copyright seemed to bring up interesting and problematic questions for fan activities. In the anime fan world, for example, the practice of fansubbing- that is, groups of fan subtitling and distributing anime that hasn’t been released in the U.S.- used to be, and still is, relatively common. Anime club showings, where people get together and show anime, are also common. I have doubts that the anime industry would exist if these practices hadn’t occurred, but they certainly bring up copyright challenges. Anime itself has become a serious subject of study, and I’m on a few related mailing lists.

I recently gave a presentation about copyright to a group of archivists and educators from different universities in the U.S. One of the topics that came up was working with attorneys. At UT, we’re very fortunate to have strong copyright scholarship advocates like Georgia Harper. I know some other universities also have advocates in that area- Kevin Smith at Duke, for example. But one thing that really struck me from that meeting was that not all groups in other universities have that kind of support. A couple of people described how risk-averse their counsel is when it comes to copyright issues. That’s a problem. There’s too much going on in the world for fear to win those copyright arguments in education.

A related discussion popped up on one of the scholarly anime mailing lists I mentioned. One student working on a dissertation was told that he was required to get permission for every thumbnail or image he had intended to include in his work- well more than a hundred. A few people chimed in about how such a requirement seemed excessive, but many who contributed to that conversation said they had to work under that same restriction: “No permission, no dissertation, no graduation.” Some flat out said that they were told to just avoid such use altogether- don’t even plan on using images at all. If you had planned to, change your plans. Write about something else.

That’s terrible. Even when the law is likely on your side, your institutional situation can put you in a position where you’re not allowed to assert your rights and do the type of research that could contribute certain types of understanding. And when universities take this type of attitude and base their practice on this attitude, it affects the rights of scholars everywhere. Looking at actual practice is part of evaluating fair use. Making your practices so very restrictive is not only detrimental to your researchers, but to everyone doing research.

We, the scholarly community, need to be fair use advocates. We can’t let fear rule our decisions.

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.”