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July 1, 2016

Will blockchain kill culture?

Peter Brantley [@naypinya] has posted an important and succinct warning about the effect blockchain technology may have on culture: by making the mechanism of trust cheap, transparent, and more reliable, blockchain could destroy the ambiguity that culture needs in order to thrive. Peter’s post is clearly thought and powerfully put.

Pardon me while I agree with him, including about blockchain’s positive promise.

Culture is the ultimate analog phenomenon, even when it’s communicated digitally, for it is only culture to the extent to which people—we—make it our own. We understand our lives and our world through culture. If we can’t appropriate it, re-express it, and re-use it, culture simply dies.

As Peter says, blockchain could perfect the system of tracking and control, leading us further into the tragic error of thinking that ideas and culture are property. Property has boundaries and borders that can be precisely demarcated and can be defended. Culture by definition does not. Blockchain technology can further the illusion that culture is property.

While blockchain will have a positive, transformative effect on systems where trust is valuable and expensive, it almost inevitably will also be used to impose restrictions on the appropriation of culture that lets culture thrive. If so, I expect we’ll see the same sort of response that we’ve already seen to the Internet’s inherent transparency—the transparency that has simultaneously made it the liberator of culture and the surveillor’s wet dream: We will route around it with some degree of success. And we will—I hope— continue to encourage an ethos of sharing in which creators explicitly exempt their works from the system of copyright totalitarianism.

The license you adopt will be your uniform in the coming culture wars. It already is.

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February 26, 2015

Literature and Medicine: The syllabus

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!)

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February 19, 2015

The joy of the public domain

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.

 


Peter Hirtle points out that Creative Commons 0 isn’t exactly the same as public domain, although functionally it’s identical. The whole question of trying to eliminate all copyright interests in a work is vexed. Peter points here for details and evidence of the complexity of the issue. Thanks, Peter!

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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.

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