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April 9, 2013

Elsevier acquires Mendeley + all the data about what you read, share, and highlight

I liked the Mendeley guys. Their product is terrific — read your scientific articles, annotate them, be guided by the reading behaviors of millions of other people. I’d met with them several times over the years about whether our LibraryCloud project (still very active but undergoing revisions) could get access to the incredibly rich metadata Mendeley gathers. I also appreciated Mendeley’s internal conflict about the urge to openness and the need to run a business. They were making reasonable decisions, I thought. At they very least they felt bad about the tension :)

Thus I was deeply disappointed by their acquisition by Elsevier. We could have a fun contest to come up with the company we would least trust with detailed data about what we’re reading and what we’re attending to in what we’re reading, and maybe Elsevier wouldn’t win. But Elsevier would be up there. The idea of my reading behaviors adding economic value to a company making huge profits by locking scholarship behind increasingly expensive paywalls is, in a word, repugnant.

In tweets back and forth with Mendeley’s William Gunn [twitter: mrgunn], he assures us that Mendeley won’t become “evil” so long as he is there. I do not doubt Bill’s intentions. But there is no more perilous position than standing between Elsevier and profits.

I seriously have no interest in judging the Mendeley folks. I still like them, and who am I to judge? If someone offered me $45M (the minimum estimate that I’ve seen) for a company I built from nothing, and especially if the acquiring company assured me that it would preserve the values of that company, I might well take the money. My judgment is actually on myself. My faith in the ability of well-intentioned private companies to withstand the brute force of money has been shaken. After all this time, I was foolish to have believed otherwise.

MrGunn tweets: “We don’t expect you to be joyous, just to give us a chance to show you what we can do.” Fair enough. I would be thrilled to be wrong. Unfortunately, the real question is not what Mendeley will do, but what Elsevier will do. And in that I have much less faith.

 


I’ve been getting the Twitter handles of Mendeley and Elsevier wrong. Ack. The right ones: @Mendeley_com and @ElsevierScience. Sorry!

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January 15, 2013

Why we mourn

CNN asked me to write 600-800 words about Aaron Swartz. I demurred at first, suggested some other people who knew Aaron better — I met Aaron when he was young, stayed in touch, had the occasional meal with him, admired him and loved him more than he knew — and agreed when CNN came back to me.

I have trepidation about what I wrote, which CNN has now posted. I don’t like the implication that we can sum up any life so glibly. But I also wanted to do a little to nudge attention from Aaron solely as a champion of open information. I also decided not to assess the blame that is so well deserved, because that’s well discussed already.

A handful of better sources and expressions:

There’s so much more, because no life can be told.


Here is Aaron in his own words, in a presentation at the Freedom to Connect conference last May.

And here is Larry Lessig on Democracy Now:

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Tim Wu on prosecuting Aaron

… Swartz must be compared to two other eccentric geniuses, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who, in the nineteen-seventies, committed crimes similar to, but more economically damaging than, Swartz’s. Those two men hacked A.T. & T.’s telephone system to make free long-distance calls, and actually sold the illegal devices (blue boxes) to make cash. Their mentor, John Draper, did go to jail for a few months (where he wrote one of the world’s first word processors), but Jobs and Wozniak were never prosecuted. Instead, they got bored of phreaking and built a computer. The great ones almost always operate at the edge.

That was then. In our age, armed with laws passed in the nineteen-eighties and meant for serious criminals, the federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz approved a felony indictment that originally demanded up to thirty-five years in prison. Worse still, her legal authority to take down Swartz was shaky. Just last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a similar prosecution. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a prominent conservative, refused to read the law in a way that would make a criminal of “everyone who uses a computer in violation of computer use restrictions—which may well include everyone who uses a computer.” Ortiz and her lawyers relied on that reading to target one of our best and brightest.

It’s one thing to stretch the law to stop a criminal syndicate or terrorist organization. It’s quite another when prosecuting a reckless young man. The prosecutors forgot that, as public officials, their job isn’t to try and win at all costs but to use the awesome power of criminal law to protect the public from actual harm. Ortiz has not commented on the case. But, had she been in charge when Jobs and Wozniak were breaking the laws, we might never have had Apple computers. It was at this moment that our legal system and our society utterly failed.

Tim Wu

Full article in the New Yorker.

 


My friend David Isenberg cautions us not to think of this as Aaron encountering one bad apple in the system. Rather, says David, “The legal system was working just like it always works…The case of US v Swartz was business as usual.”

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December 19, 2012

What the recording industry fears

Paul Sanders on a mailing list wrote the following:

And I can assure anyone who is feeling a bit hot under the collar about the music industry in general, that the thing they fear in corporate HQs and trade associations far far more than the digital consumer and bittorrent etc., is an emancipated artist.

Here’s to a world full of ‘em!

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November 18, 2012

An open letter to Rep. Joe Kennedy on seizing the copyright initiative

Dear Joe,

Congratulations on your victory! I’m proud to have you as our new Congressperson from the 12th district here in Brookline and environs. Barney Frank has left you some big shoes to fill, and I’m looking forward to watching you lace up.

Barney did a great job representing our local interests. But our district, and our Commonwealth, has always looked beyond what’s good for us locals. We’ve always had an eye out for the larger common good. That’s why we keep electing Kennedys.

An issue has arisen that not only needs your support, but could help you make exactly the right kind of early mark. Forgive me if you are already on top of it, but, briefly, the Republican Study Committee on Friday issued a report on copyright reform that was — from the point of view of many of us on the Web — shockingly helpful. I say “shockingly” because Congress overall has been woefully one-sided and antiquarian on the question of copyright, taking laws designed for previous centuries and actually making them far worse.

That was Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the Hollywood lobbyists had forced Paul Teller, the head of the RSC, to withdraw the report on the specious grounds that it had not gone through “adequate review.” If so, perhaps Paul Teller should resign. But, I’m willing to bet 10,000 RomneyBucks that instead the young author of the report, Derek Khanna [twitter:dkhanna11], will take the fall.

Anyway, the report punctures three myths about copyright, and proposes four areas of reform:

  • Statutory damages reform

  • Expand Fair Use

  • Punish false copyright claims

  • Heavily limit the terms for copyright, and create disincentives for renewal

I urge you to take a look. Imagine a world with copyright reformed in this way. And if you think the proposals are wrong-headed, impractical, or whatever, at least embrace them as a starting point for a conversation this country very much needs.

This could be a great issue for you, Joe. You’ll find a whole lot of constituents who would be thrilled to see you take a leadership role in this important discussion.

And it won’t just be your constituents. You’ll find yourself surfing a wave — the Internet constituency that represents the future of our party, nation, and globe.

Looking forward to seeing you show the bold leadership your family is famous for and that has so many of us excited about your first term in Congress — the first of many, we hope!

Best,

David Weinberger
Constituent

Note: The original report was here, but people have put up extra copies in case the RSC physically removes the report from the Web. Here’s the copy I posted.

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November 17, 2012

Republicans suggest shockingly sensible ideas for reforming copyright

A Republican Study Committee has posted a document (as a pdf) that nails three myths about copyright law and suggests four areas of reform.

Later that day: The author of the memo has put himself forward for questions at Reddit.

A few hours after that: The MPAA and RIAA have leapt into action, forcing the Republicans to retract the report. Dreams die fast in DC. Fuckwads. (Hat-tip to Jay Rosen.) (And just in case the Republicans decide to take the memo down, here’s a mirror.)

The 3 myths are:


  1. The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content

  2. Copyright is free market capitalism at work

  3. The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity

And the four “potential policy solutions” are:


  1. Statutory damages reform

  2. Expand Fair Use

  3. Punish false copyright claims

  4. Heavily limit the terms for copyright, and create disincentives for renewal


I’ve started a thread at Reddit if you want to talk about it.

 


And for a flat-out statement of how the Net’s regulators don’t understand the cultural revolution they (we) are facing, here’s the statement by Amelia Anderstotter to the 2012 Internet Governance Forum. Amelia is a member of the European Parliament, from the Pirate Party:

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November 13, 2012

New BradSucks album lyrics

Brad Turcotte, AKA BradSucks, has put out his new album, Guess Who’s a Mess. It is tuneful, dark, and remarkably well done. I like not only his music, lyrics, and voice, but also his skill as a producer. He is, in fact, a one-man band++.

So, you ought to buy his album, first because I think you’ll enjoy it; you can listen for free to decide. Second, Brad’s exactly the sort of artist the Web should support: no DRM, tracks posted for remixing, continuous interaction with his listeners as he develops new songs. He trusts the Web. We should repay that trust. It’s the least we can do.

At my request, Brad sent me an unedited copy of his lyrics. He’ll undoubtedly post a better version soon. But for now, here they are.

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October 29, 2012

You own it, you should be able to resell it

Just when you thought copyright extremism couldn’t get any more absurd, the Supreme Court may uphold a decision that would prevent us from reselling goods we’ve legally bought that have parts or content with foreign copyrights (which most goods of any complexity do have). Marvin Ammori has a good explanation of how this would “work” and why it is Kafka-esque in its implications.

I would say that Marvin’s opening examples would never be enforced, but I also thought that Citizens United wouldn’t trash our political system like Godzilla(c) walking through a cheap cardboard city.

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October 12, 2012

A victory for libraries and all of us

Paul Courant, one of the founders of the Hathi Trust, explains this week’s ruling throwing out a lawsuit by the Authors Guild claiming that Hathi’s scan-and-index program violated copyright.

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September 4, 2012

Who forces Google to remove search results because of copyright claims?

According to a post at TechDirt by Riaz K. Tayob, Google has released data on which organizations request certain search results be suppressed because of copyright issues.

From TechDirt:

It may be a bit surprising, but at the top of the list? Microsoft, who has apparently taken down over 2.5 million URLs from Google’s search results. Most of the the others in the top 10 aren’t too surprising. There’s NBC Universal at number two. The RIAA at number three (representing all its member companies). BPI at number five. Universal Music at number seven. Sony Music at number eight. Warner Music doesn’t clock in until number 12.

The velocity is increasing:

As it stands now, Google is processing over 250,000 such requests per week — which is more than they got in the entire year of 2009. For all of 2011, Google receive 3.3 million copyright takedowns for search… and here we are in just May of 2012, and they’re already processing over 1.2 million per month.

The requests and Google’s responses must both be generated automatically. This raises once again the problem with having robots enforcing the law: They don’t know about leeway, which means they (a) lack common sense, (b) have no way of balancing against greater goods, and (c) can’t tell when Fair Use should provide an exception. (Here’s an op-ed I wrote in 2003 about this.)

We saw this this weekend as robots blocked the use of perfectly legitimate film clips at the Hugo Awards. Ridiculous. And scary.

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