The superb novelist and teacher Meredith Sue Willis, who is also my sister-in-law, is teaching a course at a local Veterans Administration hospital on literature and medicine. It’s taught to hospital staff after work in the hospital.
Here’s the syllabus, which Sue has put under a Creative Commons license (which is where all syllabi belong, amirite?). It looks like a great set of readings organized around important topics. Isn’t it awesome that we can get curated collections like these from which we can learn and explore?
In fact, it prompted me to start reading The Young Lions, which so far I’m glad I’m doing. Thanks, Sue!
(Ack. I forgot that Sue told me about this because she’s using in the course something I wrote. So I am inadvertently logrolling. But sincerely!)
When Doc Searls and I published our New Clues, we put it into the public domain. Even two months later, it feels good. In fact, seeing it reprinted in its entirety on someone else’s site fills me with an irrational exuberance.
Normally we would have put it under a Creative Commons BY license that entitles anyone to reuse it in whole or in part so long as they attribute it to us. CC BY is great. It takes the “#1. Ask permission” step out of the process by which what you write can be absorbed by your culture. Or anyone’s culture.
The public domain is different. A CC-BY license keeps a work copyrighted, but permits use without first asking permission. Works in the public domain are not copyrighted. Ok, so it’s more complex than that, but that’s basically it. A work in the public domain is like a folk song: you can sing it, you can change the words, you can record it and charge for the recording, you can print the lyrics on the front of your ice cream containers. You can even claim that you wrote it, although that would be wrong of you.
In practical terms, putting New Clues into the public domain [here’s how] really doesn’t do much that CC BY doesn’t do. Yes, someone could reprint our public domain document without crediting Doc and me, but they could do that with CC BY also — we’d have the right to insist that they provide attribution, but Doc and I are likely to use moral suasion in either case, by which I mean that we’d write a polite email to the evil doer. So, pragmatically, there isn’t much difference.
So why does putting it into the public domain make me happier? I get as close to smiling as my stony visage permits when I see a site that’s copied and pasted the whole thing. It makes it feel that what Doc and I wrote was really about what it says and less about what the writing says about Doc and me. The focus is where it should be.
And it feels deeply good to know that we have created something that can spread as far and deeply into the culture — and thus into people’s lives — as our culture wants. The only barriers are those of interest. And we’re not going to try to tease you with a snippet, with a taste. Not interested? Fine. It’s still there for anyone who is.
I expressed this to Peter Suber, who is dedicated full time to expanding the sphere and influence of Open Access works. Peter pointed out that my reaction rests in part on the privileged position I occupy: I can do some writing for free, and because Doc and I are known a bit within the domain of people who blab about the Internet, there’s a disincentive for people who might want to pass off our words as our own. If we were, say, unknown high school students it’d be easier for someone to get away with crudely plagiarizing our work. True enough.
Even so, putting work into the public domain feels good. I recommend you try it.
The clues are designed as an open source publishing project: The text is in the public domain, and we’re making the clues available at Github in various computer-friendly formats, including JSON, OPML and XML.
We launched this morning and a happy hell has broken loose. So I’m just going to posts some links for now. In fact, I’m copying and pasting from an email by Doc:
The Harvard Business School Digital Initiative [twitter:digHBS] — led by none other than Berkman‘s Dr. Colin Maclay — has launched its blog. The Digital Initiative is about helping HBS explore the many ways the Net is affecting (or not affecting) business. From my point of view, it’s also an opportunity to represent, and advocate for, Net values within HBS. (Disclosure: I am officially affiliated with the Initiative as an unremunerated advisor. Colin is a dear friend.)
So replied CV Harquail to a question from HBS professor Karim Lakhani about the effect of bad actors in the model of “generative business” she was explaining in a recent talk sponsored by the Digital Initiative.
Karim’s question addressed an issue that more than one of us around the table were curious about. Given CV’s talk, the question was perhaps inevitable.
CV’s response was not inevitable. It was, in fact, surprising. And it seems to me to have been not only entirely appropriate, but also brave… [more]
 I understand that the Net doesn’t really have values. It’s shorthand.
 I’m very happy to say that more than half of the advisors are women.
I went to see To Be Takei last night, and George himself was there for an interview afterwards. It occurred to me that I’d like him to autograph his book Oh Myyy, but I only have a copy on my Kindle.
So, here’s a proposal for the Kindle, the Nook, and for any other DRM-ed ebook reader: Allow us to embed one and only one photo into our copy of an ebook. That photo can never be replaced. It can be deleted, but then the slot is gone forever. This could be implemented as a special one-time-only annotation, and it would be managed by your fearsome machinery of control.
That way, I could take a selfie with George, post it into my Kindle copy of his book, and have the digital equivalent of an autographed copy.
I don’t see a way of doing this for open access e-books. Stupid open access e-books what with their “Oooh look everyone can read me!” smirks and their “Now everyone can learn and participate in culture” attitudes.
PS: To Be Takei was really enjoyable. Totally worth seeing, especially with an appreciative crowd.
Over the years as I’ve edited my own writing, I’ve come to rely on two heuristics: 1. Most paragraphs are better off without a topic sentence. 2. The ends of paragraphs sometimes make better beginnings.
My obvious hypothesis is that the Web has made us impatient readers who won’t wait to get to the end of the paragraph to decide whether the paragraph is worth reading. That’s true for me, anyway. Thorough reading takes more of an act of will than I remember.
TL;DR: Paragraphs are obsolete. Skip to the TL;DR.
I’ve transferred my Google Play Music from one account to another (because of something I’ll explain in a post coming soon) and have found in it some albums I don’t own, have never heard of, and sometimes from singers I never heard of. No, no extra U2. Plus, some of the names of singers whose albums I do own have been mangled: Amanda Palma is sonorous, although I personally prefer Amander Palmer.
Anyway, one lagniappe I appreciated was a Paul McCartney album I’d missed. I still find it hard to listen to The Beatles without being overwhelmed: awe at their genius, longing for my youth, depression at how badly I and my generation failed you, regret for who I was then and what I am now. You know, the whole lifelong shitteroo. (Christ, get me some chocolates!) But Paul’s solo albums I can listen to without being overwhelmed. If I like half the songs, it’s a good album.
So, this morning I listened for the first time to McCartney’s Memory Almost Full (2007), which had unexpectedly materialized in my Google Play collection. As the title implies, it’s mainly about looking down as you near the peak of Mt. Old. The excellent Wikipedia article tells me that it was a Top Five album, went gold, and was Grammy-nominated. Apparently I have not been paying sufficient attention.
His song “End of the End” has some lovely lyrics, although I prefer the verses to the chorus. Here’s one of each:
On the day that I die I’d like bells to be rung And songs that were sung to be hung out like blankets That lovers have played on And laid on while listening to songs that were sung
At the end of the end It’s the start of a journey To a much better place And a much better place Would have to be special No reason to cry No need to be sad At the end of the end
The line “like blankets that lovers have played on and laid on while listening to songs that were sung” makes me glad that Paul knows what his music has meant to some of us. And I like the wrapping of the metaphor — “songs that were sung … while listening to songs that were sung.”
The slightly sappy chorus nevertheless makes me glad Paul appreciates the sweetness of his life, even though I’m not much convinced that any of us are going anywhere at the end of the end.
But when someone says about their impending death “Don’t be sad. I had a full life,” or whatever, they’re acting as if their death only happens to them. We may not be sad for you, but how about for us? It’s not all about you, you know! Though I do have to acknowledge that in this case most of it is.
Furthermore, the idea that we’ll “always have them in our hearts,” is not consolation. It’s what we need consolation for.
A year ago, Harold Feld posted one of the most powerful ways of framing our excessive zeal for copyright that I have ever read. I was welling up even before he brought Aaron Swartz into the context.
Harold’s post is within a standard Jewish genre: the d’var Torah, an explanation of a point in the portion of the Torah being read that week. As is expected of the genre, he draws upon a long, self-reflective history of interpretation. I urge you to read it because of the light it sheds on our culture of copyright, but it’s also worth noticing the form of the discussion.
The content: In the Jewish tradition, Sodom’s sin wasn’t sexual but rather an excessive possessiveness leading to a fanatical unwillingness to share. Harold cites from a collection of traditional commentary, The Ethics of Our Fathers:
“There are four types of moral character. One who says: ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.’ This is an average person. Some say it is the Way of Sodom. The one who says: ‘what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine,’ is ignorant of the world. ‘What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours’ is the righteous. ‘What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine’ is the wicked.”
In a PowerPoint, it’d be a 2×2 chart. Harold’s point will be that the ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.’ of the average person becomes wicked when enforced without compassion or flexibility. Harold evokes the traditional Jewish examples of Sodom’s wickedness and compares them to what’s become our dominant “average” assumptions about how copyright ought to work.
I am purposefully not explaining any further. Read Harold’s piece.
The form: I find the space of explanation within which this d’var Torah — and most others that I’ve heard — operates to be fascinating. At the heart of Harold’s essay is a text accepted by believers as having been given by God, yet the explanation is accomplished by reference to a history of human interpretations that disagree with one another, with guidance by a set of values (e.g., sharing is good) that persevere in a community thanks to that community’s insistent adherence to its tradition. The result is that an agnostic atheist like me (I’m only pretty sure there is no God) can find truth and wisdom in the interpretation of a text I take as being ungrounded in a divine act.
But forget all that. Read Harold’s post, bubbelah.