Joho the Blog » creative commons

January 30, 2013

The lyrics to the latest BradSucks album

Brad Sucks’ latest album, Guess Who’s a Mess, is dark, funny, witty, creatively produced, CreativeCommonsed, and totally home-made by a one-man band. You ought to buy it.

I asked Brad for a pointer to the lyrics, and he instead sent me an unpolished version. I’m just now getting around to posting them. Here they are.

So download the album, or get it on iTunes or Spotify, give it a listen, and let Brad know that you love him.

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July 24, 2012

[preserve] Michael Carroll on copyright and deigital preservation

Michael Carroll, from American University Washington College of Law, is talking about “Copyright and Digital Preservation: The Role of Open Licenses.” (Michael is on the board of Creative Commons.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Michael begins with a comparison to environmentalism: Stewardship of valuable resources, and long-term planning. There are cognitive challenges, and issues in providing institutional incentives. (He recommends sucking in as much data as possible, and worrying about adding the metadata later, perhaps through crowdsourcing.)

Michael notes that copyright used to be an opt-in and opt-out system; you had to register, and deposit a copy. Then you had to publish with a ©; anything published before 1989 that doesn’t have the © is in the public domain. You had to renew after 28 years, and the majority of copyrights (60%) were not renewed. We therefore had a growing public domain.

The court in Golan upheld Congress’ right to restore copyright for works published outside the US. This puts the public domain at risk, he says. He also points to the Hathi case in which they’ve been sued for decisions they made about orphan works. There is a dangerous argument being made there that if archiving occurs within the library space, fair use goes away. The legal environment is thus unstable.

Now that copyright is automatic and lasts for 70 years after the author’s death, managing the rights in order to preserve the content is fraught with difficulty.

He reminds us that making a copy to preserve the work is unlikely to have market harm to the copyright owner, and thus ought to be legal under fair use, Michael says. “You ought to have a bias toward believing you have a Fair Use right to preserve things.”

He asks: “Can the preservation community organize itself to be the voice of tomorrow’s users on issues of copyright policy and copyright estate planning?” For orphan works, copyright term shortening, exceptions to DRM rules, good practices open licensing in the long term…

And he asks: How can you get the FBs and Googles et al. to support long-term preservation? Michael suggests marking things that already in the public domain as being in the public domain. Otherwise, the public domain is invisible. And think about “springing” licenses, e.g. an open license that only goes into effect after a set time or under a particular circumstance.

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December 20, 2010

Support Creative Commons

Creative Commons is good for the ecology. It makes it easier for creators to let people use their work without having to worry about a copyright goon squad showing up with truncheons…all within the copyright framework. CC needs some money. Now would be an extraordinarily good time to donate, what with the tax clock clicking both in the CC offices and in yours.


July 28, 2010

What does non-commercial mean?

Slashdot has an interesting discussion of a question I’ve often wondered about: What does non-commercial mean in a Creative Commons license? If your blog runs some ads, does that mean you can’t use a photo CC-ed for non-commercial use? CC-friendly BoingBoing is the possible offender in this case.

BoingBoing has removed the image to respect the author’s wishes, and has posted a brief notice acknowledging ambiguity about “non-commercial.” I think that’s the right way to handle it. But I’d love more clarity about this. I’d be fine with commercial entities using a photo I CC’ed, so long as they weren’t directly making money from it, because I think the culture of sharing is improved with that policy. But, it is a knottier problem than it would be if CC were more explicit about what the intended norms were for commercial use.

[Later that day:] Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing responded to my tweeting of the Slashdot discussion with three tweets:

Slashdot post is fake. Did you know the photographer is a flickr friend of @doctorow’s and namechecks him in the photo?

the post by the slashdot anonymous troll is NOT by the proprietor of the image. But by a troll.

They’re trolling because the very post was written by Cory, a longtime CC activist, & post said “I’m going offline for a month”

Thanks, Xeni


July 13, 2010

Lessig vs. ASCAP, Smackdown between the Lions!

Larry Lessig has responded to ASCAP’s near-total misrepresentation(1 2) of Creative Commons with a clear explanation, and a challenge to debate the president of ASCAP at NY Public Library. (You can support CC here.)

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May 10, 2010

Dan Gillmor forced to choose between traditional publishing and a CC license. Guess which he chooses?

Dan Gillmor got an offer from a publisher for his “Mediactive” book (“a user’s guide to democratized media”), but the publisher wouldn’t agree to publish it under a Creative Commons license. So, he’s self-publishing it at Lulu. He’s doing this on principle, but also for pragmatic reasons:

… the main reason I’m still getting royalty checks for We the Media is that the book has been available as a free download since the day it went into bookstores. Had we not published it that way, given the indifference (at best) shown by American newspapers and magazines, the book would have sunk without a trace.

Of course, Dan’s motive is not primarily financial:

…this isn’t just a book, at least not way traditional publishers understand books even as they dabble online.

To publishers, books are items they manufacture and send out in trucks. Or else they’re computer files to be rented to publishers’ customers, or customers of Amazon, Apple and other companies that use proprietary e-reading software to lock the work down in every possible way. In both cases, publishers crave being the gatekeepers.

Mediactive aims to be a multi-faceted project. Over the next few years, I hope to experiment in lots of media formats and styles with the ideas here. And — this is key — I also plan to experiment with it in the broader context of the emerging ecosystem of ideas.

Dan reports that the folks at (where — product placement alert — you can get a copy of my young adult book, My $100 Million Secret — are being helpful and creative about supporting books in the new ecosystem. Plus, it’ll be available at Lulu this summer, instead of the year it would have taken to get it onto shelves via the traditional route.

Since Dan is one of the most admirable people around, It would be fun as a community to make his book a success in every way, from spreading its ideas to selling a whole bunch of copies…


March 9, 2010

[berkman] John Wilbanks on making science generative

John Wilbanks of Creative Commons (and head of Science Commons) is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk about the threats to science’s generativity. He takes Jonathan Zittrain‘s definition of generativity: “a system’s capacity to produced unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

[NOTE: Ethan Zuckerman has posted his far superior bloggage]

ScienceCommons tries to spark the sort of creativity and innovation in science that we find in the broader cultural Net. Scientists often resist the factors that have increased generativity in other realms: Science isn’t very accessible, it’s hard to master, and it’s not very transferable because the sciences exist as guild-disciplines. He says MIT had to build a $400M building to put scientists into the same room so they’d collaborate. There’s a tension, he says, between getting credit for your work and sharing your work. People think that it ought to be easy to build a science commons, but it’s not.

To build a common and increase generativity, John looks at three key elements: data, tools, and text. First, he looks at these from the standpoint of law. Text is copyrighted, but we can change the law and we can use Creative Commons. Tools include contracts and patents. Contracts govern the moving of ideas around, and they are between institutions, not between scientists. Data is mainly governed by secrecy.

The resistance turns out not to be from the law but from incentives, infrastructure, and institutions. E.g. the National Institutes of Health Public Access requires scientists to make their work available on line within 12 months if the scientist has taken any NIH money. Before it was required, only 4% of scientists posted their work. Now it’s up over 70%, and it’s rising. Without this, scientists are incented to withhold info until the moment of maximum impact.

To open up data, you need incentives and infrastructure if you’re going to make it useful to others. People need incentives to label their data, put it into useful formats, to take care of the privacy issues, to carefully differentiate attribution and citation (copy vs. inspiration). So far, data doesn’t have the right set of incentives.

To open up tools, we’re talking about physical stuff, e.g., recombinant DNA. Scientists don’t get funded to make copies. “The resistance is almost fractal,” he says, at each level of opening up these materials.

We need a “domain name system for data” if we’re going to get Net effects. But there’s no accepted data infrastructure on the Web for doing this, unlike Google’s role for text pages.

Science is heading back to the garage, in the Eric Von Hippel sense. [He’s sitting next to me at the table!] You can buy a gene sequencer on eBay for under $1,000. You can go to People around the world are doing this. In SF, a group is doing DIY sequencing, creating toxin detectors, etc. The price of parts and materials are dropping the way memory prices and printer prices did. We need an open system, including a registry, in part because that’s the most responsive way to respond to bad genes made by bad people.

“PC or TiVo for science?” John asks. PC’s are ugly, but they give us more control over our tools and will let us innovate faster.

Q: [salil] You focus on experimental sciences. Are these obstacles present in mathematical and computer sciences? Data and tools are not a big part of math. Not making one’s work available right now in my field counts as a disadvantage. Specialization is an issue (what you call a guild)…
A: Math and physics are at the extreme of the gradient of openness, while chemistry probably sits at the other end. The lower the cost of publishing, the more disclosure there is. So, in math there isn’t as much institutional, systemic resistance because you don’t need a lot of support from an institution to be a great mathematician.
A: Guilds serve a purpose. But when you think about the competency of a system overall, it comes from the abstraction of expertise into tools. In the research sciences, microspecialization has come at the expense of abstraction. But it’s easier and easier to put knowledge into the tools because we can put lots into computers; that won’t revolutionize math, but it will have more of an effect on sciences with physical components. Science Commons stays away from math because it’s working.

Q: [Eric Von Hippel] State of patents?
A: Most of the time in science, patents are trading cards; they’re about leverage and negotiations than about keeping people from using them. If we think about data as prior art, if we funnel it correctly, it becomes harder to get stupid patents. Biotech patents should be dealt with through an robust public domain strategy. “We tend to get wound up about IP, but then you go out in the field and people are just doing stuff.” Copyright is more stressful because patents time out after 20 yrs.

Q: [ethanz] Clearly, the legal response is a tiny part of a larger equation. If you were coming into it now, not trying to put forward this novel legal framework, where would you start?
A: Funders. Starting with the law lets us engage everyone in the conversation, because as the legal group we don’t create text, tools, or data. But we’re focusing on the funder-institution relation. We want funders to write clauses that reserve the right to put stuff into the commons. “If the funders mandate, the universities tend to accept.” Also, it gets easier to do high-quality research outside the big universities. Which means the small schools can do deals with the funders to make their faculty more attractive to the funder. The funder can also specify that the scientists will annotate their data. The funder has the biggest interest in making sure that science is generative.

Q: Then why aren’t funders requiring the data be open?
A: Making data legally open is easy. Making it useful to others is difficult. Curating it with enough metadata, publishing it on the Web, making it machine readable, making it persistent — none of those infrastructures exist for that, with some exceptions (e.g., the genome). So, the Web has to become capable of handling data.
Q: [ethanz] One reason that orgs like CC have been successful is that they put into law something that is a norm on the Web. Math and physics are so open is that they’re open; it’s the norm. The institutional culture within these disciplines has a lot to do with it. How do you shape norms?
A: Carolina Rossini and I have been working on a paper about the university as a curator of norms. CC lets you waive all your rights. We’ve thought about writing a series of machine readable norms like CC contracts but with no law in the middle. E.g., citation is a norm. E.g., non-endorsement is a norm that says that if you use my data, you can’t imply that I agree with you. But the norm that I should mark my data clearly, should have a persistent URL, are things laws can’t govern but should be norms. We use Eric’s ideas here. E.g., branding something with an open trademark.
A: [carolina] We need a bottom up approach based on norms and a top down approach based on law and policy. If you don’t work with both, they will clash.
A: Our lawyer Tim says that norms scale far better than the law. You can’t enforce the law all the time.

Q: [me] “Making the Web capable of handling data”? How? Semantic Web? What scale?
A: It’s a religious question. My sect says that ontologies are human. We should be using standard formats, e.g., OWL, RDF. Some ontologies will be used by communities, and if they area expressed in standard ways, they can be stitched together. From my view: name things in clear and distinct ways. 2. Put them into OWL or other languages in the correct way. 3. Let smart people who need connected data do so, and let them publish. It’ll be a mix of top down standards setting and bottom up hacking. I’m a big SemWeb fan, but I get very scared of people saying that they have THE ontology. It’ll be messy. It won’t be beautiful. The main thing is to make it easy for people to wire data sets together. Standard URIs and standard formats are the only way to do this. We’ve seen this in the life sciences. Communities that need to write big data together treat it the way Linux packages get rolled together into a release. You’ll see data distributions emerge that represent different religions. If it works, people will use it. They’ll be flame wars, license wars, and forking, and chaos, and 99% of the projects will die. You should be able to boot your databases into a single operating system that understands it.

Q: Researchers are incented to make their work available and open. Frequently, institutions get in the way of that. Are you looking at CC-style MTA’s [material transfer agreements]?
A: We published some last year. The first adopter was the Cure Huntingtons Disease and then the Personal Genome Project. We’re going to foundations. We want to get the institutions out of the way, but only the funders can change the experience. NIH requires you to provide a breeding pair of genetically altered mice, kept in a storage facility in Maine [I think]. NIH is moving away from MTAs, going with a you-agree-by-opening agreement.

Q: Privacy?
A: Big issue. Sometimes used as an excuse for not sharing data, but privacy makes the issues we’ve been talking about look simple. It’s a long-term problem. Genomes are not considered as personally identifying, although your license plate is. “There will be a reckoning.” JW’s advice: If you’re dealing with humans, be careful.

Q: Scientists are already overwhelmed by requests. More open, more tagged, means more requests.
A: Yes, we have to design with the negative impacts in mind. We need social filtering, etc. I worry about the scientist in eastern Tennessee or Botswana who’s a genius and can’t get access. If enough of the data is available, maybe you can get a community that answers many of the questions. People generally get into science because they like to talk with people. They’re more likely than most to share. But you have to make it part of the culture that it’s easy. One of the ideas behind the open source trademark concept is that you have to build up a certain amount of karma before I’ll read your email. People are the answer. Most of the time.

Q: Incentives to motivate institutions, but how incentives for individuals to move them in this direction?
A: PLOS was created because Mike Eisner was so pissed at closed journals that he created a business to compete with them. In anthropology, the Society is trying to go more closed, but groups of scientists are trying to go more open access. There’s a battle for the discipline’s soul. Individuals in these institutions are driving it. The key is to get the first big adopters going. Everyone wants to be in the top ten, especially when the first three are Harvard, Yale and MIT. American Chemistry Society is not going to go open any time soon because they make lots of money selling abstracts.

Q: [eric von hippel] I hope you realize how wonderful you all are.


January 7, 2010

Embed CC licenses into JPGs?

Jeff Goldenson at Harvard Law Library’s Digital Lab (Disclosure: I’ve just started consulting there) has been thinking about the benefits and pitfalls of embedding metadata into JPG images. That happens already, and some of it can be quite useful, although some can be a little creepy.

He and I were talking and began to wonder if there’d be utility in embedding Creative Commons license info into JPGs. So, let’s say you post a snapshot and you want to make it available under a Creative Commons license that allows people to reuse it so long as they attribute it to you and agree to let others reuse it under the same license. That information — including your preferred attribution and a link to the page you want it linked to — would be hidden within the JPG file.

Why bother? Because it would mean that the license info travels with the image. Otherwise, the chain of licenses and attributions can too easily be lost as B republishes a snap posted by A, and C republishes B, etc. The game of License Gossip just about ensures the chain of license info will not be unbroken.

At least as important, if this metadata were inserted in a standardized form, applications could begin using it, making the CC license both more useful and more visible, thus encouraging more people to use it. For example, someone could write a Firefox extension that would insert under any CC’ed image a line such as: “Share this image. Just be sure to include this attribution: (cc) [name] [license],” etc.

For this idea to have any effect, someone (Creative Commons?) would have to promulgate the standardized format for the embedded info, someone would have to write a metadata editor/inserter, and apps would have to add features take advantage of it. It’d help, for example, if Flickr were to let us set a preference for embedding the metadata into any photo we post there under a CC license.

Down sides? Well, the idea is unlikely to take off. And I suppose there’s a chance that the Big Content industry would start to insert their copyright info using the same mechanism, and thus would have something like a “broadcast flag” with which they could try to beat up browser makers and others who make create apps that display images: “Whenever your app displays images with copyright metadata, we insist you turn off the Copy entry on the context menu.” (IANAL, but I believe such a demand would have no legal basis, but since when does that have anything to do with it?)

Care to punch holes in this idea? Point to people who have already done it?


November 15, 2009

Google Books Settlement 2.0?

Google has announced a revised settlement [redlined pdf faq pdf] that it hopes will address the concerns raised by the Department of Justice and many other groups.

Here’s a summary of the summary Google provides [pdf], although IANAL and I encourage you to read the summary, which is written in non-legal language and is only 2 pages long:

1. The agreement now has been narrowed to books registered for copyright in the US, or published in the UK, Australia or Canada.

2. There have been changes to the terms of how “orphaned works” (books under copyright whose rightsholders can’t be found) are handled. The revenue generated by selling orphaned works no longer will get divvied up among the authors, publishers and Google, none of whom actually have any right to that money. Instead it will go to fund active searching for the rightsholders. (At the press call covered by Danny Sullivan [see below], the Authors Guild rep said that with money, about 90% of missing rightsholders can be found.) After holding those revenues in escrow (maybe I’m using the wrong legal term) for ten years (up from five in the first settlement), the Book Rights Registry established by the settlement can ask the court to disburse the funds to “nonprofits benefiting rightsholders and the reading public”; I believe in the original, the Registry decided who got the money. So, in ten years there may be a windfall for public libraries, literacy programs, and maybe even competing digital libraries. (The Registry may also (determined by what?) give the money to states under abandoned property laws. (No, I don’t understand that either.))

The new settlement creates a new entity: A “Court-approved fiduciary” who represents the rightsholders who can’t be found. (James Grimmelmann [below] speculates interestingly on what that might mean.)

3. The settlement now explicitly states that any book retailer can sell online access to the out-of-print books Google has scanned, including orphaned works. The revenue split will be the same (63% to the rightsholder, “the majority of” 37% to the retailer).

4. The settlement clarifies that the Registry can decide to let public libraries have more than a pitiful single terminal for public access to the scanned books. The new agreement also explicitly acknowledges that rightsholders can maintain their Creative Commons licenses for books in the collection, so you could buy digital access and be given the right to re-use much or all of the book. Rightsholders also get more control over how much Google can display of their books without requiring a license.

5. The initial version said Google would establish “market prices” for out of print book, which seemed vague because what counts as the market for out-of-print books? The new agreement clarifies the algorithm, aiming to price them as if in a competitive market. And, quite importantly, the new agreement removes the egregious “most favored nation” clause that prevented more competitive deals to be made with other potential book digitizers.

From my non-legal point of view, this addresses many of the issues. But not all of them.

I’m particularly happy about the elements that increase competition and access. It’s big that Amazon and others will be able to sell access to the out-of-print books Google has scanned, and sell access on the same terms as Google. As I understand it, there won’t be price competition, because prices will be set by the Registry. Further, I’m not sure if retailers will be allowed to cut their margins and compete on price: If the Registry prices an out-of-print book at $10, which means that $6.30 goes to the escrow account, will Amazon be allowed to sell it to customers for, say $8, reducing its profit margin? If so, then how long before some public-spirited entity decides to sell these books to the public at their cost, eschewing entirely the $3.70 (or the majority of that split, which is what they’re entitled to)? I don’t know.

I also like the inclusion of Creative Commons licensing. That’s a big deal since it will let authors both sell their books and loosen up the rights of reuse.

As far as getting rid of the most favored nation clause: Once the Dept. of Justice spoke up, it’s hard to imagine it could have survived more than a single meeting at Google HQ.

Reactions from the critics has not been all that positive.

James Grimmelmann is studying it carefully, but quickly put up a substantial and detailed evaluation of the revisions. He is deep into the details.

The Open Book Alliance (basically an everyone-but-Google consortium) is not even a little amused, because the new agreement doesn’t do enough to keep Google from establishing a de facto monopoly over digital books. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is not satisfied because no reader privacy protections were added. Says the ACLU: “No Settlement should be approved that allows reading records to be disclosed without a properly-issued warrant from law enforcement and court orders from third parties. ”

Danny Sullivan live-blogged the press call where Google and the other parties to the settlement discussed the changes. It includes a response to Open Book Alliance’s charges.


September 23, 2009

Ellen Degeneres should go open source

By the way, if Ellen Degeneres wants to respond in a reasonable and constructive way to the lawsuits over her use of song snippets to dance to, she could always start using Creative Commons-licensed music, with a nice plug for the open-hearted musicians making our lives more tuney.