Archive for March, 2009

notes from copyright reform presentation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation about copyright reform in the context of education in Canada.  I was a few minutes late and unfortunately missed most of the organizers names. I recognized Olivier Charboneau however, after having had spoken with him about open access publishing last year. Reading yesterdays post again, I realize the other speaker was Ben Lewis.  First off, I really appreciated the talk and hope for more.

Key issues:

  • Copyright law is confusing. Not many know what is legal and what isn’t.
  • Copyright law is not the same in Canada and the U.S.   Ie. legalities over showing copyright films in classrooms. Argued that in U.S. it is okay, but in Canada it is not.
  • Corporate lobby groups are working hard to change copyright law in their favor – but there is very little public consultation.  The Canadian Federation of Students is holding public talks/presentations to open up the dialog and to bring educational needs to the forefront of any future copyright legislation.
  • Pooling resources to access information.  Charbonneau discussed the Library as being a kind of union, which goes out and negotiates access to information on behalf of its users. Last summer librarians across Canada banded together to spend 100 million on digital materials. By banding together they have more leverage to negotiate access/cost. More clout to build digital markets.
  • Issue of academic freedom. Librarians don’t want to impose, or interfere with a teachers right to chose reading materials. Charbonneau very much supported the right of a teacher to assign a $150 text book, but he did balance this by stating the library does advocate, and suggest, alternatives.
  • The Concordia Self-Archiving Repository will be available “soon”. There are challenges involved in creating such a repository because it involves creating a usage policy between numerous academic departments.

As the presentation reached its finish, questions were posed to the audience, including a very controversial opinion poll: Do you support an internet media levy whereby all internet subscribers pay a fee ($5-$10) that gets paid to media companies to cover downloading?


This would require a way to track usage, and a way to split the revenue up fairly to artists. It was called “a truly Canadian perspective”. Sure, it is Canadian, but isn’t it also Bell Canada’s perspective?

Imagined Pro’s

Huge money pot is created to support artists.

More money to artists is a good thing.

Imagined Con’s

How do you monitor downloads? I got a hint that the plan would involve legalizing torrents and all – but I imagine Bell Canada has much bigger ideas. They want to be the only legitimate Itunes, offering specialized gateways to media. This is Bell’s way to become a government mandated Itunes. Bell would continue to “shape” traffic, killing torrents and other P2p applications, while offering a premium “fast lane” with access to selected copyright material.

If Canadian’s really wanted this, wouldn’t they subscribe to itunes? The fact is, they want to pirate it so they can stick it to the recording industry which has done nothing to fix its horrible image. The only thing with worse public relation policies than the recording industry, would be the US armies human terrain system. I buy all my movies, music, games online through media gateways like itunes, steam, etc. Would this levy work towards them too?

Why select material? There is no way a download structure could track copyright materials from around the world. Charbonneau argued that it might be possible, since already systems were in place to track the usage of essays in assigned course packs. Isn’t this exactly how Bell wants to provide tiered internet access. “Here, you paid your internet levy, now you have access to 5 course packs! Pick and choose your favorites.”Oh, you wanted access to live sports feeds? Sorry that is a different kind of copyright material. That costs $34.95 to access. Thanks.”

Some of my teachers claim they have never been paid for their essays being used in a course pack. Money is collected, but never paid to the authors. Where does it go?  Is money from course packs distributed fairly? Some teachers refuse to use course packs because they claim the system only benefits publishers and never the authors.  Now try doing this for ALL media… whoa… Okay I’m imagining this whole debate, since this was simply a question at the very end, and was not a topic discussed prior.

Canada couldn’t keep track of a gun registry, how will it fairly distribute revenue to artists??? I’m torn to scream “stay out of it government” and “government stop Bell Canada from shaping traffic”.  Clearly government policies are needed, but I can’t imagine how one could monitor downloads and get money to artists fairly.  I’m ranting again.

The big argument for having these talks was that copyright in Canada is confusing. Well in that case, can’t it simply be explained better? I found the presentation tried to create fog where there doesn’t need to be any. The presentation failed to demand, or even push open access or the Creative Commons. The reason for this was they felt “academic freedom” was equally important  (and perhaps it was meant more as a consultation than a presentation, so positions weren’t being crammed down anyones throat… it was an open talk to let others share their ideas too).

Charbonneau admitted that the library was working between numerous competing forces and that they had to “wiggle” around certain issues. Since the presentation was an attempt to motivate students to share their own perspectives on copyright reform, I’ll take a clearer stance –  since my job isn’t on the line.

STOP PUBLISHING IN CLOSED ACCESS JOURNALS AND [this battle cry has been screamed before, and perhaps we are well passed it having any consequence or meaning considering the importance of publishing in prestigious/established places.]


Okay so I avoid the entire question of music, art, creativity…by shouting at academic researchers, specifically those in anthropology,  whose livelihoods don’t depend on direct revenue from their work. So I am only touching on a tangent of what copyright reform involves.

Wouldn’t implementing a tracking system for copyright content also involve destroying whats left of anonymity online. Would users willingly allow media downloads to be tracked? How would they determine copyright when users download from international locations? Would downloads be restricted to a certain set of servers/trackers? How would media companies pay international copyright holders, or keep track of them? How would individual artists get paid, would they have to affiliate with the recording industry? Where would services like Itunes fit in?

In terms of education reform and copyright, I think the open access movement is doing a lot right.

In terms of making copyright intelligible, the Creative Commons is doing a lot right too.

Copyright reform presentation at Concordia

copyright_educationThe Concordia Student Union is organizing a talk about copyright reform and education in Canada:

“Due to the Canadian Government’s lack of public consultation on copyright reform, this event has been organized by the CSU to heed necessary critical thinking and engaged discussion on this contemporary issue.

Panel speakers Olivier Charbonneau of the Concordia Library and Ben Lewis of the Canadian Federation of Students will lead the discussion by demystifying copyright legislation and inciting public dialogue.

This event is on Wednesday March 18th, from 1:30 – 3:00pm on the 7th floor lounge, Hall building, SGW Campus”

(ripped from their facebook page)

Big thanks to the organizers, and I’ll certainly be there.

In the meantime you can check out Olivier Charboneau’s blog “Culture Libre”. He will be speaking at the event, and did I mention he is a library all in himself?

ethnographic sources

I’ve been moving ideas from this blog and others into “my” thesis. I’ve run into some interesting challenges that relate directly to having done so much research on a blog. For one, I cannot mask the identities of people I spoke with. Some people used pseudonyms, but others used real names.

You might say, “well shit, since it was all public in the first place, you don’t have much to worry about”,

to which I reply “well actually, it is all public but that doesn’t mean amplifying the message won’t have an affect on the author of it! If a post was embarassing to someone, certainly re-posting it in my thesis isn’t a good thing to do!”

Especially when everything I am writing about in the thesis has already been said on this blog somewhere, and in this way it is easy to track down original discussions.  Hence it is much harder to obscure such interactions.

Further, I’m writing about things other people have also written about. When discussing open access and peoples access to information, I have a number of sources to draw on. I can cite interviews done in person, other peoples books, and other peoples blog posts. By using interviews done by me it looks like I’ve done something original, whereas if I quote someones blog, it seems like I was lazy and didn’t do the work myself.

How do you feel about this? Have you ever used interview material instead of quoting published work, as a way of “making it your own”? It feels like a nice plagiarizing strategy. Take the basic argument from someone, then go out and “back it up” with “empirical evidence” developed in the form of face-to-face interviews.

In fact, I would say I can find everything I learned in interviews, on peoples blogs. Especially now that I know what to look for. I’m researching a topic people are already vocal about, and these online expressions are as informative as any interview I did in person. What arguments might exist for using interviews over public blog posts… (when it is easy to find the desired points in both places…)

Cold? Tired? Have some energy.

Big thanks to Rich at “The New Freedom” blog for sharing this video on his about page. Feeling tired mid-winter? Here is the perfect medicine to freezing cold February and a thesis:

Better than coffee.

creative commons licensing, dissertations, and you!

Looking for a dumb idea? Here’s one – stop blogging as a way to “focus” on your thesis. That’s right, I’m back and I have nothing. Two weeks of “nothing”, strange as it sounds, produced absolutely “nothing”. This morning I decided to cut my losses, and went off in search of meaning and I found lots of it.

Looking for some good ideas? danah boyd suggests grad students should publish their dissertations using a creative commons license:

But I also want to make a plea to all of you grad students out there who are slaving away on your dissertations… Use Creative Commons. The forms you fill out when you file your diss under ProQuest encourage you to make sure to copyright your dissertation. While theft is part of the framing, it is also framed as being about you profiting off of doing so (and ProQuest brokering the sale of your diss). Realistically, 99% of all grad students are never going to see a dime directly from their dissertation. What’s the advantage of keeping “all rights reserved”? Why not let folks use it for whatever non-commercial purposes they deem fit (like teaching a chapter or two in class)? I mean… I would LOVE it if someone translated my dissertation. Or remixed it. Or turned it into a movie. That ain’t ever gonna happen, but still… why actively prevent it?

And while we’re at it… why not make it freely available? Part way through my dissertation, I realized that I had never read a dissertation. I was surprised to find that very few people make their dissertations easily available. Why? In some senses, the diss is quite embarrassing. It’s imperfect. You’re sick of it. But there are huge advantages to making it available. At the very least, it allows future students to get a sense of what they should expect. (There was nothing more nerve-calming than realizing that my mentors’ dissertations were totally sloppy at points.)

This blog has been using the creative commons license for a while now and I hope my thesis will too. I’ve also been looking into the open access publishing option available with ProQuest. Having referenced numerous papers produced and shared by grad students, I look forward to more being made available online. I also hope these papers make their way into self-archiving repositories, because it isn’t easy to find the thousands of great papers people post on their blogs!

But doesn’t an author already have copyright on his work? What does the creative commons license add? Well for one thing, it makes the kind of copyright explicit, and allows for some control over how the work will be used. Christopher Kelty was recently asked this question in response to his book “Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software”:

“I understand the purpose of Two Bits, and the thesis behind the other assignments, however, I found a fundamental problem with the idea of “sharing” as promoted here. At the bottom of your About page there is a link “Material on this site released under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA 3.0 License. On this page, you are encouraged to “share” and “remix” the work, but only if you “attribute” it, and that the work you create is “noncommercial” and “shared alike.”

I understand that there is the element that you can change a text, but you still have to refer back to the original and as the Two Bits site indicates, leave the author’s name on the work. Given this then, how is the Creative Commons Attribution basically any different than citing a work that you write about?”

Kelty responds that the creative commons license at least clarifies copyright and usage issues:

“If I had put the site and book online without the CC-BY-NC license on it (i.e. relying only on the full power of copyright), you would have no rights whatsover to do anything with it. Arguably, you would only barely have the right to read it, since in doing so you would be making an unauthorized copy. You would certainly have no right to re-distribute it, change it, or remix it, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

So the CC license gives you the right to do that, and yes, it does that subject to certain restrictions– that you attribute the source work to me (though you would own the copyright on the modified work), and that you refrain from competing with Duke. You retain your “fair use” rights (which generally covers the right to cite a work in another context) regardless of whether there is a license or not… but fair use is a tricky and limited doctrine… it should cover more than just citation, and in some ways the CC license is just a clear and explicit legal green light to you to exercise, at minimum, your fair use rights.

A more radical gesture would be to dedicate the book and the writings here to the public domain, which would in principle mean that you could do whatever you want with it, no restrictions.”

Isn’t the main idea to simply allow people to access academic research more easily? Not for some! Beyond the price-barrier issue are arguments against controlling ideas through intellectual property rights. See Rich’s post “Fuck Creative Commons” where he writes:

“Acceptance for the license is growing globally and their legality has been proven in court. However, I feel there is a type of evil greed that undercuts the good intentions of the foundation, hidden in its subtle support of the existing copyright structure.”

So within the “open access” movement are numerous competing ideals. Stephen Harnad argues that most researchers goals for open access to research can be satisfied by breaking down the price-barrier. Self-archiving and open access journals can achieve this. There are also more radical arguments against intellectual property.

Personally, I don’t see how I can remix an essay licensed with the creative commons any differently than I can one published in a ‘locked down’ journal. How I use material in an academic context isn’t really controlled by legalities, but by academic tradition. Legally I can cite Wikipedia.  Morally I want to cite Wikipedia.  Some teachers won’t let you anyways.

I do see how making the material free to access online helps me and other researchers tremendously. But if someone wanted to take paragraphs from my blog, post them in a collage, then throw paint all over it as some sort of art installation – well do I really care if they attribute my work? Nope.  So maybe in some ways I disagree with my own use of the creative commons license.

At least I get to use the fancy logo which might be a rhetorical trick to establish authority and value!

+1 to remixing other peoples great blog posts.