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January 20, 2005

German National Library receives DRM exemption

From Slashdot:

The Deutsche Bibliothek, the German equivalent to the Library of Congress, has received an exemption to foil the encryption of content under DRM protocols for access and duplication. Deutsche Bibliothek reached an agreement with the German Federation of the Phonographic Industry [think RIAA] and the German Booksellers and Publishers Association [think AAP] for a license to copy.

Information liberation and the commons

The E-Content Institute has an article from Information Highways Magazine called "Information liberation: Exploring the promise of information commons," by Paul Lima.

While respecting the right of corporations to charge for information, some information professionals are calling for fewer restrictions on the distribution of information and are lobbying for, or actively participating in, the creation of information commons -- a new way of producing and sharing information, creative works and democratic discussions.

Information commons are like information portals -- digital repositories of thematically related information. The information may include scholarly journals, medical and scientific research, Supreme Court arguments, marketing and business data, or even information pertaining to knitting, culture or alternative news. Instead of being run by corporations, information commons tend to be run in a collective manner by like-minded individuals -- associations or university departments for instance -- and they are accessible to all.

The article goes further into the tensions of information-as-commodity, access to information and overload.

Open Access issues

From Conservator and DigLet:

1) Library Journal reports that Cornell University Libraries convened a 6-month task force on the subscriber-pays model of Open Access publishing. Among the findings of the task force:

  • "Our Task Force has concluded that what appears at present to be the most viable route for sustaining Open Access to peer-reviewed scholarship – a model in which institutionspay for their faculty to publish in refereed OA journals – would not bring about cost savings for Cornell. In fact, taking into account the number of articles published by Cornell researchers eachyear and the average cost to publish a single refereed article, CUL would likely see its serial expenditures rise significantly if the library used its current subscription funds to pay for authorfees instead – even in scenario in which the majority of publishers switch overnight to a producerpays OA business model ..."
  • "While proposed new publishing models obviously democratize accesson the most basic level, our Report holds that the question of author and even reader empowerment is a complex one and that a blanket approach to Open Access publishing may haveunintended effects on the communities it is meant to serve."

The report can be downloaded here in PDF format.

2) Peter Suber's Open Access News has several items about the NIH Open Access policy and the speculations regarding the delay in announcing it. There's an article about the delay in The Scientist.

January 19, 2005

Blogging conference co-sponsored by ALAOITP

From Free Range Librarian:

The ALA Office for Information Technology Policy is a co-sponsor of a blogging conference taking place this weekend in Boston. Blogging, Journalism and Credibility is an invitation-only conference "but it will be webcast live and there will be an IRC so that people can participate remotely in the discussion. All conference sessions and all online discussion will be completely public and on-the-record." There are also pre-conference resources linked to the site.

And it looks like Karen Schneider will be a participant at the conference, as well as Carrie Lowe and Rick Weingarten of ALA-OITF.

January 08, 2005

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Andrew Leonard of Salon has an column on the state of copyright at the beginning of 2005 [caveat: registration/log-in required to read the article].

A major thrust of the column regards the following:

Just before Christmas, an article published on Wired News detailed the sad story of "Eyes on the Prize," an award-winning documentary series about the civil rights movement in the United States. It seems that it is currently illegal to broadcast or sell new copies of the series because rights to the archival footage included in the documentary have expired. (Typically documentary filmmakers operate on very tight budgets and can buy such rights only for short periods.)

If you are unfamiliar with Eyes on the Prize, here's a little info from the Wired News article:

Documentary filmmaker Henry Hampton's Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years/Bridge to Freedom 1965 debuted on PBS in 1987. The six-part series covered 1954 to 1965 and included such events as the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional and the 1963 march on Washington, D.C. Eight additional programs make up Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads, which aired in 1990 and covered the civil rights movement to the mid-1980s. The programs won a slew of awards, including several Emmys and an Oscar nomination.

"It is the principal film account of the most important American social justice movement of the 20th century," said Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University history professor and editor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers.

Continue reading "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize"

January 06, 2005

Copyright stories blog

Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a non-residential fellow at Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society and author of the Academic Copyright blog, has started a sub-blog for copyright stories:

In the next few months, I will be posting stories I find about scholars and copyright. I encourage others to submit their experiences -- good and bad. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

- experiences gaining permissions (tips, struggles, etc)
- experiences with literary executors (good and bad)
- stories about deciding not to research something because of potential copyright roadblocks

Ms. Gard's blog is a good read and a very useful perspective on copyright from the scholar's perspective. And I think the stories to be highlighted on the blog will add to our collective understanding of how copyright, the public domain and fair use affect scholarly communication. Thank you and good luck on the new blog, Ms. Gard.

Posted by misseli at 01:11 AM [Permalink] | Comments (0)

ALA Study on the USA PATRIOT Act

From the ALA Washington Office Newsline:

ALA begins PATRIOT study to measure law enforcement activity in libraries

This week ALA initiated a set of surveys to assess the impact of the USA PATRIOT act on America's libraries and library patrons. Working with several teams of academic researchers, ALA seeks to quantify and examine contacts by federal law enforcement agencies in public and academic libraries. The planning phase of this project was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Knight Foundation is helping to finance these studies, with additional support anticipated from other foundations.

As homeland security tops the 109th Congress's list of priorities and parts of the PATRIOT Act are scheduled to sunset in December, 2005, ALA seeks to ensure that library patron privacy is preserved. The results of these surveys will provide much-needed information to inform the debate about law enforcement's role in libraries and the effect that the law enforcement activity is having on library users. Preliminary results will be made available to members of Congress as they debate the status and necessity of the sunset provisions.

The Web-based surveys, titled Impact and Analysis of Federal Law Enforcement Activity in Academic and Public Libraries, are directed at academic and public library administrators. The survey questions will examine the contacts being made by law enforcement in libraries, how library policies have changed since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, and any resulting changes in library patron behavior. The survey instrument has been carefully reviewed by counsel for the ALA to ensure that respondents do not violate the gag order imposed by the USA PATRIOT Act, and the U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged its interest in the results of the project.

The team of researchers working in tandem with ALA have selected a diverse sample of United States public and academic libraries reflecting geographic, population, and size differences. Administrators of the libraries selected for the study will be notified by mail. Libraries selected for the survey are strongly encouraged to respond.

The results of the studies will be presented as a report at the American Library Association's 2005 Annual meeting in Chicago. The results may be used to create an educational resource for practitioners on dealing with federal law enforcement.

Posted by misseli at 12:44 AM [Permalink] | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

The obligatory Google/libraries post

There's already been a lot of conversation, on blogs and lists, about the deals announced yesterday between Google and 5 major libraries to digitize parts or all of their book collections.

Some commentators have already brought up concerns over copyright. Oxford and NYPL are limiting their initial projects to books that appear to be safely out of copyright, but Michigan and Stanford will be digitizing post-1923 texts. Google says that for material still in copyright will display only excerpts of material, with links to where the text can be accessed physically, either by buying it or getting it through a library. There's also talk of disabled copying and printing, which slightly resembles other online text access interfaces, such as Amazon's Search-Inside-the-Book and the International Children's Digital Library.

Earlier on NPR, during a segment on Talk of the Nation about the Internet and libraries (re: the Google deals), a caller brought up the issue of just how copyright will be determined for texts. No details were given in the press releases; the systems may take the route of assuming anything published after 1922 is copyrighted and thus can only be excerpted until express permission is given. If so, this only marginally affects the problems of orphan works, at least until it absolutely clears copyright. Another concern is the removal of material based on copyright or other ownership concerns. Both Google and the Internet Archive have removed websites from their caches when the website owner has claimed potential copyright violations AND when the government has claimed that the information has been re-evaluated to be sensitive -- this happened quite a bit right after 9/11. Whether the fact that the material in these projects has already been published will idemnify Google or the libraries from similar requests is, I think, an interesting question.

December 13, 2004

"Transitional" fair use?

The waters of fair use might get murkier, if this article is correct:

A middle-level executive at Time Warner has approached several cable companies and broached the idea of restricting the ability of customers who use those company's Digital Video Recorders to record several popular Time Warner TV programs.

The term being used by the executive is "transitional fair use," and the scenerio laid out goes roughly along these lines:

Viewers would be able to record an episode with their DVR, but there would be a time limit on how long it would be available for viewing. The executive was pushing for an expiration date that coincided with the premiere of the next episode. The consensus of the cable executived was that it needed to be between 2-4 weeks.

Tivo fans are watching the skies on this. As should we all: if this concept takes hold as a "compromise" between copyright maximus orgs and media technology companies, 1) it will spread to other media/formats, 2) it's a challenge to time-shifting as fair use as set forth in the Betamax case and 3) it will naturally conflict and be confused with traditional fair use.

December 03, 2004

Dismissal of Kahle v. Ashcroft: the end of the road?

As has been reported in a number of venues, Kahle v. Ashcroft, a second attempt to have CTEA overturned, was dismissed in federal court last month. Larry Lessig, who represents briefly reports that the dismissal will be appealed.

There's been general and legal commentary on the case from:

As someone who had a minuscule role on the plantiff's side, I am very disappointed that, as Mary points out, "the plaintiffs can't present any 'real world' effects on libraries and archives unless they win an appeal." I think there are concrete real-world consequences for libraries and archives: material that has little to no commercial appeal, but is of scholarly or cultural interest, is in limbo and libraries/archives must either sit on their collective hands and watch such material degrade or spend precious resources (money, man-hours, operation resources) on inefficient methods of tracking down ownership of such material and still run into ... well, brick walls.

Both the Eldred decision by the Supreme Court and the dismissal of Kahle have rested on the broad authority of Congress to decide elements of copyright law, particularly what is meant by "limited times" in the Copyright Clause, as given in the Constitution. To oversimplify: "limited" is what Congress says it is, unless they say "forever," which isn't limited. Question 1: is there a way to show the courts that a term less than "forever" can indeed by "unlimited" and thus in violation? If Eldred remains precedent, it's unlikely unless substantial harm has can easily be demonstrated, and we don't want to wait for the harm to become substantial or easily demonstrable, especially for orphan works.

So where else can/should libraries, archives, etc. turn for relief in this situation? The obvious answer is to get Congress to reconsider. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D - San Jose) has introduced the Public Domain Enhancement Act, also known as the Eldred Act, that would specifically place works in the public domain after 50 years unless the owner renews the copyright and registers the work for $1.

What about the possibility of workarounds? Karen Coyle suggested the following for current orphan works:

So how about this as an idea: register uses of orphaned works. Before you go through the whole research into copyright, you can see if anyone else has had the audacity to use the orphaned work. You can add your use to the record. We'd end up with a database of desirable works that no one has claimed copyright in. If someone does come along with a legitimate claim, however, everyone owes them some set fee or percentage of profits. So there's a risk to declaring your use, but it is less risky than a "sneaky" violation of copyright.

Is that suggestion viable? I can't say. Is the Eldred Act likely to pass? I don't know the answer to that, either, but it certainly won't if the tech/legal/library/creative sectors who are currently concerned about the current copyright regime don't keep the bill up for discussion and in the public. I'd like to think that Congress will naturally see the error of its ways and revise the limits to have works covered for up to only 2 generations rather than the current 3-5 generations (give or take half a generation). But, time's awastin', and works are slipping away.

So, to quote from a great episode of Buffy: Where do we go from here?

December 02, 2004

Point-counterpoint on open access

The Financial Times of London has printed a debate/dual editorial of sorts about the implications of the open access movement. Both Matthew Cockerill of BioMed Central in the U.S. and John Enderby of the Royal Society in the UK support the goals of the open access movement. Cockerill's stance can be viewed as being more 'gung-ho' about various aspects of open access while Enderby is much more cautious and skeptical about certain open access models, especially the "author-pays" paradigm of open access publishing.

From Cockerill:

Around the world, scientific funding agencies are recognising that the current publishing model must change. Only recently, two of the world’s largest biomedical funders, the Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health, have both drafted proposals calling for all funding recipients to deposit electronic copies of resulting research articles in a central archive, to be made freely available within six months of publication.

With support from librarians, the research councils, the National Health Service and countless individual researchers, the trend towards open access has acquired unstoppable momentum. This year, BioMed Central will publish at least twice as many open access research articles as in 2003, and almost every week another important journal announces it is moving towards an open access model.

The scientific community will ensure that open access becomes a reality because the benefits are simply too significant to ignore.

From Enderby:

The real solution is for all journals to allow free access from time of publication to scientists in the developing world, something the Royal Society and others are already involved in and want to see across the industry. There are already schemes, such as the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, which distributes journals freely to institutions in developing countries with the help of publishers, governments and the research community.


The open access movement must present more than an ideological argument and provide evidence that its approach yields better scholarly communication. The Royal Society believes the evolution of the present business model offers the most sustainable solution. Experiments with this and other models should be encouraged and we will continue to work with academics, librarians, the government and other learned societies to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

November 17, 2004

Lame duck copyright bill

From Wired News:

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill

Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law, which they say would radically shift in favor of Hollywood and the record companies and which Congress might try to push through during a lame-duck session that begins this week.

The Senate might vote on HR2391 [PDF], the Intellectual Property Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer-to-peer networks, digital-music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of "fair use" -- the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay.

The bill lumps together several pending copyright bills including HR4077, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act, which would criminally punish a person who "infringes a copyright by ... offering for distribution to the public by electronic means, with reckless disregard of the risk of further infringement." Critics charge the vague language could apply to a person who uses the popular Apple iTunes music-sharing application.

Copyfight has commentary on the bill. When IPPA is indeed introduced, more information will (hopefully) be forthcoming ...

November 15, 2004

Ready to Share

Ready to Share: Fashion, Ownership and Creativity
January 29, 2005

Some time ago commons-blog linked to an op-ed by David Bollier and Laurie Racine in which they argued the "social ecology" of the fashion industry, in contrast to other creative industries, actually encourages creative appropriation of designs originating with other people ("Control of Creativity? Fashion's Secret," Christian Science Monitor, September 9, 2003). Bollier and Racine have been pursuing that idea in conjunction with the Norman Lear Center's Creativity, Commerce, & Culture Project and now announce:

On January 29, 2005, Ready to Share: Fashion & the Ownership of Creativity will explore the fashion industry's enthusiastic embrace of sampling, appropriation, and borrowed inspiration, core components of every creative process. Presented by the Lear Center's Creativity, Commerce & Culture project, and sponsored by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), this landmark event will feature scholarly debate, fashion shows, multimedia presentations, the clash of perspectives and the cross-fertilization of ideas. Participants will include top fashion designers, entertainment and fashion industry executives, musicians, filmmakers, journalists, fashion historians and legal scholars. Attendance is by invitation only. If you'd like to find out more, please contact us at

It will be interesting to see the results of this event and of the project overall. Could the fashion industry provide a vision of creative sharing that might be embraced by other industries? As a casual observer I am somewhat skeptical: after all, the fashion industry thrives not just on creative appropriation, but on strong defense of trademarks, aggressive prosecution of brand fraud, and highly secretive processes for selecting trends. But I have great respect for the work the organizers have done to promote and defend commons, and I am curious what will they will create in this case.

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November 10, 2004

Free Culture Education On Campus

Wired News reports that students at a dozen universities are forming Free Culture groups (an homage to the title of Lawrence Lessig's latest book) to teach their peers about the importance of defending the public interest in copyright ("Students Fight Copyright Hoarders," Nov. 10, by Katie Dean). The groups are working to help students experience firsthand open source software and creative appropriation and to educate them about the negative effects of excessive intellectual property legislation.

"While copyright law might seem like a dull topic to ponder on campuses, Free Culture groups say it is a critical time for students and young people to pay attention. Large copyright holders -- namely Hollywood studios and record companies -- are gaining veto power over technology at a time when digital technology and the internet allow more people than ever to film, record, edit and distribute their own movies and music, among other forms of expression."

It looks like this group has lots of creative momentum. Check out Undead Art a Free Culture-sponsored site that is holding a contest for people to re-mix scenes from Night of the Living Dead, which is now in the public domain, to create new works. The folks behind Free Culture seem to have energy, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor, all excellent qualities for people who want to build a movement.

--Frederick Emrich

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government sanctions vs. business interests vs free speech

Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Iran, is suing the US Government in order to be able to publish her memoirs in the US with a US literary agent, a move that is currently forbidden because of regulations of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctions against Iran. She joins an earlier lawsuit brought by the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing division (AAP/PSP), the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), PEN American Center (PEN), and Arcade Publishing.

"It seems ironic that a woman who has been honored by the Nobel committee for her work on behalf of free speech and human rights should find herself effectively barred from sharing her ideas with American readers," Wendy J. Strothman, a Boston literary agent who wants to assist Ebadi, told [the Washington Post]. [WP]
The OFAC regulations specifically forbid the publication of works by authors in Iran, Cuba and Sudan unless the works in question have already been completed before any American is involved. Americans may not co-author books or articles with authors in the embargoed countries and may not enter into "transactions" involving any works that are not yet fully completed—even though authors, publishers an agents generally must work with one another well before a new work is fully created—and Americans may not provide "substantive or artistic alterations or enhancements" or promote or market either new or previously existing works from the affected countries, unless they obtain a specific license from OFAC. Violators are subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years or fines of up to $1,000,000 per violation. [PEN]

Posted by Jessamyn at 12:46 PM [Permalink] | TrackBack (1)

November 09, 2004

Higher ed.: public & private

This doesn't really have anything to do with commons. Or libraries. But I think it's important anyway.

BusinessWeek has a commentary by William C. Symonds on the pressures and temptations of public universities to start acting like private ones and what society may lose in the balance if the trends continue.

At the same time, creeping privatization accelerates a broader movement by the top 100 or so flagships {i.e. prestigious public universities -- ed.} to hike their tuitions at a double-digit rate. The result is that a public good designed to give all Americans access to higher ed is turning into something more like a private one, open primarily to those whose families can afford it. Already, the student body at some flagship campuses is more affluent than at elite private schools: At Ohio's Miami, for one, the median family income tops $100,000 a year.

Moreover, as flagships break free, support could erode for less prestigious state schools that remain more dependent on public funds. Privatization "will accelerate the social stratification of higher education, in which the elite [public colleges] are primarily filled with kids from privileged backgrounds, and the kids from poorer families are concentrated in less prestigious schools," says David W. Breneman, dean of the Curry School of Education at UVA. At the nation's 146 most selective colleges -- including the top flagships -- just 3% of entering freshman come from the bottom socioeconomic quarter, while a staggering 74% come from the top quarter.

Actually, this has a tangential link to libraries: there are currently 57 ALA-accredited programs, 7 of them in Canada. Of the American ones (I'm also including Univ. of Puerto Rico in the US column), I count 10 as being part of private colleges (I could be off by a few schools, since I didn't go to all 50 college websites to confirm that they're private or public). So, by my count, 80% of American colleges/unis that offer accredited MLS/MLIS degrees are part of public universities. Just in case a significant minority of "University of ..." aren't actually public schools, let's double the initial 10 and assume that 20 library schools are in private colleges and universities. That still leaves 60%--nearly 2/3--of programs at public schools.

And, bluntly put, how much more marginalization can LIS education afford at this point?

Mind you, I can't pretend to be anything other than biased about this: both of my degrees are from second-tier public universities and I came from that "bottom socioeconomic quarter" mentioned in the commentary. Nevertheless, I think it's an important issue that deserves broad consideration and discussion.

On the Commons

David Bollier, author of Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth and one of the most prolific writers on commons issues, is editing a new web portal and blog, On The Commons. The site will:

"explore the value of diverse commons, probe their distinctive dynamics and re-invent mechanisms for strengthening them. The commons provides a powerful critique of markets, property and neoclassical economics. But equally important, it is a force for innovation in social governance, political action, public policy and cultural change. investigates these issues through blogging, essays, book reviews, profiles of commons leaders, online archives, discussions and other resources."

On The Commons promises to be a valuable resource. The site is sponsored by the Tomales Bay Institute and published with a Creative Commons License. I recommend checking it out.

--Frederick Emrich

Posted by info-commons at 06:26 PM [Permalink] | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

cornucopia of commons

A way to sneak up behind metadata, from Jon Udell: self-interested use leads to collective abundance.

We categorize our own items first and foremost for our own benefit, so that we can find things more easily and so that we can better understand how new items relate to our collective works. But is also a social system. The tagging I do is also potentially useful to you.

Posted by Jessamyn at 05:17 PM [Permalink]

November 08, 2004

More Maps of the U.S. Presidential Election Results

A few days ago I linked to a collection of maps at The Big Picture portraying the results of the U.S. Presidential election in various ways. How we represent the results of the election matters. The dominant graphic image of the outcome–a map showing a stark contrast between red Republican states commanding the center and south of the country and blue Democrat states that take up significantly less area on the coasts–reinforces the mistaken impression of a sharply divided country in which Republicans are an overwhelming majority with a clear mandate to govern as they see fit. That simply is not true.

No map can adequately present the complexity of national politics, but some of those linked above provide useful correctives to the simplistic Red vs. Blue model. Take a look at the Proportional Electoral Map, which uses the number of electoral votes in each State to determine the size each should be in relation to the others. This map shows more accurately the balance of electoral votes between the two major parties. Another map, Purple America, still portrays the States by their relative geographic size, but instead of using stark red and blue depending upon who won the state, it uses shades of purple to indicate the relative split of the vote. This map suggests we are living in a sea of purple (States more or less equally divided between Democrat and Republican) with just a few States tending to be a bit more red (Republican) or a bit more blue (Democrat).

Another site by some folks at the University of Michigan demonstrates how adjusting for both population and relative division of ballots takes us from the standard Red vs. Blue map to a much different picture.

--Frederick Emrich

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November 07, 2004

On "Messaging" and the Lived Experience of Commons

Peter Levine raised an important concern at the American Library Association’s Cerritos workshop on the information commons last weekend–a concern he wrote about shortly afterward on his weblog. In response to a comment at the workshop (by Nancy Kranich, I believe) about the need to develop compelling ways of speaking about commons in order to create a critical mass supporting commons, Peter raised strategic and ethical objections to the process of “messaging,” which he describes as:

“boiling down a complex message into a short slogan or statement, testing that statement in focus groups, advertising it, finding celebrities to endorse it, persuading allied groups to promote it, identifying cases and examples that boldly illustrate it, attacking enemies who oppose it, incorporating it into school curricula, and scaring people into thinking that it's a crucial cause.”

Peter describes this approach as “manipulative and often arrogant (because the promoters of a message assume that they know the truth about their issue).” If that weren’t enough, he suggests it is ineffective because any potential audience for the message already experience so much demand on their attention and time that it is unlikely a new issue would break through and capture their imaginations.

Before I proceed, I’ll add a further objection to those Peter has laid out: the kind of messaging he describes also presumes that people are not smart enough to understand issues; that they need someone smarter to figure out for them what they should think. This sort of hubris goes beyond assuming one knows the truth oneself to ignoring the humanity of one’s intended audience and ultimately, I think, creates an insurmountable barrier for any meaningful communication.

I have no disagreement with the objections Peter has to the process of messaging as he describes it (we might also call it “sloganeering”). That process probably sounds familiar to people steeped in advertising techniques and (particularly after a long election cycle) would be seen by most reasonable people as cynical and debased. I count myself among those reasonable people.

However, I don’t think Peter’s characterization of messaging is an accurate portrayal of what people involved with ALA’s Information Commons Project are suggesting and there is no way such a program would actually be put in place (the phrase “over my dead body” comes to mind). Yes, I think that many of us are concerned with developing ways of speaking about commons that people would find compelling. Yes, I think we are (or ultimately will need to be) concerned with how to present those ways of speaking most effectively. However, those concerns do not amount to pursuing the kind of bankrupt “messaging” agenda Peter describes–far from it.

Language is a crucial element of communication. Choosing one’s language in ways that reach an audience effectively is a prerequisite to effective communication. Yes, the choices can be made cynically, with the intent of deceiving the audience. But recognizing the importance of language in no way demonstrates such cynicism.

I have been involved with the Information Commons Project for a few years now. In that time I have become increasingly aware of a constant problem that people who support commons face: We must develop a compelling language and philosophy of information commons (not only for others, but for ourselves) as a way of clarifying what we mean by commons, why they are important, how they might be threatened, and what can be done to support them. That general language and philosophy, however, must be developed through a demonstrable understanding of actual commons–of common resources put to use. To draw on the thought of Raymond Williams, in order to develop a general perspective on commons we need to draw on the lived experience of commons.

Peter Levine, in my experience, is always worth listening to. Even on points over which ultimately I may disagree with him, I find that his concerns raise important issues that we would do well to consider. This is no exception. Although I think he is wrong that anyone involved with the Information Commons Project is ultimately advocating “messaging” in the sense he describes, I do think he is right to remind us that we cannot rely foremost on crafting a clear language of commons in order to promote commons. Rather, the language of commons must be developed as part of a process of organizing people to experience commons in their many varieties. The lived experience of commons is an essential prerequisite of the philosophy of commons.

--Frederick Emrich

ed (8 November): I have been reviewing my notes from the Cerritos event and I can see how Peter could get the impression that some people at the event might have been suggesting an approach like the "messaging" he describes (though perhaps in less stark terms). I don't think that's the case, of course, but I will reiterate we would be wise to keep Peter's cautions in mind. We should be concerned with developing a language that is based in the lived experience of commons; we should not be focused on trying to create an advertising campaign that is disconnected from that lived experience.

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November 06, 2004

the conversational commons, tragedy of

Clay Shirky discusses the commons model in relation to our online interactions in his article Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software

Flaming is one of a class of economic problems known as The Tragedy of the Commons. Briefly stated, the tragedy of the commons occurs when a group holds a resource, but each of the individual members has an incentive to overuse it. (The original essay used the illustration of shepherds with common pasture. The group as a whole has an incentive to maintain the long-term viability of the commons, but with each individual having an incentive to overgraze, to maximize the value they can extract from the communal resource.)

In the case of mailing lists (and, again, other shared conversational spaces), the commonly held resource is communal attention. The group as a whole has an incentive to keep the signal-to-noise ratio low and the conversation informative, even when contentious. Individual users, though, have an incentive to maximize expression of their point of view, as well as maximizing the amount of communal attention they receive. It is a deep curiosity of the human condition that people often find negative attention more satisfying than inattention, and the larger the group, the likelier someone is to act out to get that sort of attention.

"The First Thing I Want to Say is, 'Mandate' My Ass"

In the wake (or is it "aftermath"?) of the U.S. Presidential election, I've been amazed and appalled (though not particularly surprised) at the claim that a 51% to 48% majority constitutes a mandate. Even the Guardian Weekly (yes, the London Guardian) repeated on this week's front page the fiction that the vote "came down heavily in favour of the Republican candidate" even as it showed, in the very next sentence, the narrowness of the Bush win. (Julian Borger, "Americans Vote in Droves to Answer Bush's Prayer," November 5-11)

It is one thing to have the Republican Party touting their slim victories as a mandate, but to have the press parrot the claim is too galling for words. The vote resulted in no major victory except in the sense that the U.S. electoral system's winner-take-all structure has given the Republicans just barely enough of a majority in the political system that it appears they are set to try to push through radical legislation and policy (to say nothing of Supreme Court nominations) regardless of the legitimate concerns of half the voters.

"Shock and Awe" was no success in Iraq. With his post-election claim that he "earned political capital" that he now expects to "spend," George Bush signalled his intent to apply the principles of "Shock and Awe" to U.S. politics. In effect, he told half the voting public, "you don't count!" Or to put it another way, "If you think the last four years were tough, you ain't seen nuthin' yet!"

How we portray the election results matters. For a few examples, take a look at the election maps posted at The Big Picture.

--Frederick Emrich

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Dan Glickman interview in USA Today

Dan Glickman, who has succeeded Jack Valenti as head of the MPAA, has been interviewed by USA Today on the direction the MPAA plans to take against movie piracy. Definitely following the RIAA model ...

November 05, 2004

Cerritos Commons Meeting

This past weekend I went to a meeting on the information commons (a gathering I helped to plan) hosted in Cerritos, California by the American Library Association’s Washington Office for Information Technology Policy. There were lots of thoughtful folks there including some bloggers who have posted a bit on the event at their sites. (Take a look at Eli Edwards’s and Fred Stutzman’s sites for conference notes, Jessamyn West’s for brief comments, and Peter Levine’s for some extended reflection.)

The plan the organizers had going into the event was to bring together a group of people who could help us make a move from talking about commons to coming up with ideas about how libraries can promote commons and what the American Library Association might do to encourage them.

Often when I return from action-oriented meetings (even those I help plan) I end up feeling somewhat disjointed. Frequently I hear lots of interesting ideas (not all of them compatible or manageable, of course) and it is only through engaging in some extended reflection that I decide for myself what was achieved and what remains to be done. This event fit that pattern very well.

So in coming days (and weeks and months) I will be churning through notes, continuing conversations, and perhaps initiating new conversations as I consider directions for the future (and I hope others will be doing the same independent of me). Thanks to all who participated in the meeting, and I hope to give those who were not there a flavor of what transpired before too long.

--Frederick Emrich

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November 04, 2004


Has Hilary Rosen seen the light? Is she on the Damascus Road? And why did this have to happen after she left the RIAA?

Let me back up a bit: Rosen, former CEO of the RIAA and most visible lobbyist for the music industry, has an editorial on Wired about how she has "Learned to Love Larry" Lessig and appreciate the Creative Commons.

It's a start.

Nominations Sought for L. Ray Patterson Award

L. Ray Patterson was a distinguished professor of law who made unparalleled contributions to copyright law and championed the idea that copyright is above all a law of users' rights whose fundamental purpose is to produce works for public use. I had the privilege of meeting Professor Patterson when he was honored for those contributions by the American Library Association at its annual conference in Atlanta in 2002. The meeting left me with the impression of Professor Patterson both as a scrupulous and committed scholar and as a kind and giving person well-loved by family and friends (his wife, children, and several grandchildren attended the award ceremony).

Sadly, Professor Patterson has since passed away; but those of us who call for the defense of the public interest in copyright still benefit from his legacy. He has influenced many of us with his writings and his work, and we can only hope, by working to promote the public interest and to extend his ideas, that we can do that legacy justice.

ALA is working to honor L. Ray Patterson and to extend his legacy with the L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award: In Support of Users' Rights. The Patterson Award is given to an individual or group who has made an important contribution that embraces the spirit of the U.S. Constitution's copyright clause "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" and furthers users' rights. I can't think of a better way to honor L. Ray Patterson than by recognizing people who he likely would see as fellow travellers.

Nominations are now open for the next L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award: In Support of Users' Rights. If you know someone who you think deserves the award, write up a nomination. Award recipients need not necessarily be librarians or legal scholars; they could also be creators or other people who have made significant contributions. The deadline for nominations is December 1 and nominations should go to Claudette Tennant at or to L. Ray Patterson Award Nominations, P.O. Box 1863, Auburn, AL 36831-1863.

For more information see the extended entry link below.

--Frederick Emrich

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Update on AZ Prop 200

As noted in a previous post, there was a measure on the Arizona ballot regarding government services requiring proof of citizenship. Critics of the proposition argued that if passed, the law as written would extend to a myriad of public services, including procurement of library cards.

Proposition 200 was passed on Tuesday -- 56-44% -- and is scheduled to go into effect on November 22nd of this year. Daniel Ortega (no, not that one) of the National Council of La Raza plan to challenge the law in court and ask for a restraining order to prevent it from going into effect.

Because this could affect a class of minority voters, it's expected that the Dept. of Justice will also need to rubber-stamp the law in order for it to be implemented in full.

Comments due Nov. 16 to NIH on proposal

From the ALA Washington Office:

On September 3, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a proposed plan to make research articles based on NIH funding available to the public free of charge. These articles would be publicly available in NIH's PubMed Central (PMC) within six months after their publication in a peer-reviewed journal. NIH has requested public comment on the plan prior to November 16, 2004.

Many organizations have expressed strong support for the NIH proposal, including various members of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, to which ALA belongs; the Association of American Universities; the Association of Independent Research Institutes; and the National Academy of Sciences.

However, there is considerable opposition from some parts of the publishing community, hence ALA urges libraries and individuals in the library community to provide their views to NIH. As set out in the September 3rd notice, your comments can be submitted through a simple web form.

Frequently Asked Questions about the NIH proposal are available from the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

November 03, 2004

Taking the "Public" Out of the Public Library?

In the Record-Journal (Meriden, Connecticut), Ralph Hohman writes on an issue that has the local library board struggling over just how "public" the public library ought to be ("Where's the Line Between Censorship and Taste?" November 3). Apparently as a result of a recent controversy over a library attempt to censor (or edit, depending upon one's perspective) the works of local artist Mary Morley that had been planned for display in a library installation, the library board is now considering changing a "longstanding policy" allowing local artists month-long exhibitions. According to the story,

City Attorney Lawrence J. Kendzior's suggestions for a policy include the statement "The library reserves the right to decline any exhibit for artistic, cultural or educational reasons, in its sole discretion." Kendzior also suggests saying "The Meriden Public Library is not a public forum and exhibit space is not open to the public. The Library reserves the right to refuse to display any art work or exhibit for any reason."

I wish I had more time to reflect on this right now. Just for now, though, I thought I'd share this one f.y.i.

Thanks to Don Wood at IFACTION.

--Frederick Emrich

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October 27, 2004

a chat with Creative Commons Creative Director Matt Haughey

I had a chance to talk with Matt Haughey, the creative director of the Creative Commons Project.

Creative Commons is working to find balance in the current copyright melee where corporate information-as-property models battle the information-wants-to-be-free [as in beer] crowd. In their own words, Creative Commons is about "offer[ing] creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them — to declare "some rights reserved." Thus, a single goal unites Creative Commons' current and future projects: to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules." I asked Matt a few questions about copyright and the role of businesses and libraries in preserving and encouraging creative expression.

Continue reading "a chat with Creative Commons Creative Director Matt Haughey"

October 26, 2004

Want a library card, show your passport?

This attracted my attention a while back, but I haven't seen much about it.

There is a proposition on the Arizona ballot regarding public services and proof of citizenship. As California residents have long known, increases in immigation (especially illegal or undocumented immigration) usually leads to heated debates over the benefits and costs of immigrants on the local, state and national economy/ecosystem/society.

Arizona's proposition will require, according to the CS Monitor, "state and local governments to verify the identity and immigration status of all applicants for certain public benefits, and to require government employees to report violations. It also asks proof of US citizenship for every person who registers to vote and for every voter to show ID at polls."

Continue reading "Want a library card, show your passport?"

October 25, 2004

The Information Commons: Selected Bibliography [2004]

I'll be heading to Cerritos California for the ALA Washington's Office of Information and Technology Policy's Workshop on Libraries and the Information Commons. Nancy Kranich prepared a bibliography about information commons issues in 2002 that appeared on this site and has made the rounds. She has updated it but I was unable to find an updated copy online. Until I do, I'm copying it below. If you are a true scholar, you might also enjoy the The Comprehensive Bibliography of the Commons compiled by Charlotte Hess.

Continue reading "The Information Commons: Selected Bibliography [2004]"

October 21, 2004

Neal Stephenson on Slashdot

Author Neal Stephenson, known for his high caliber and prolific fiction output as well as clear explications of complex technology systems is interviewed by Slashdot and holds forth about a number of weighty commons-relevant topics such as hacking, the future of publishing, and the author/publisher/patron/money thing.

hacking: "I'm no constitutional scholar but I'm pretty sure that the Founding Fathers were thinking of flintlocks, not perl scripts, when they wrote the Second Amendment. Now you can dispute that and say "No, anything that enables citizens to defend themselves against an oppressive government is covered by the Second Amendment." There might be something to such an argument. But pragmatically, the question is whether you can get nine (or at least five) non-hacker Supreme Court Justices to see it that way. I suspect the answer is no. It's just too easy for them to say "it is not a weapon." To me it seems a lot easier simply to invoke the First Amendment."

publishing: "if you think of a publisher as a machine that makes copies of bits and sells them, then you're going to predict the elimination of publishers. But that's only the smallest part of what publishers actually do. This is not to say that electronic distribution via CC is just a fad, any more than online bookstores are a fad. They will keep on going in parallel, and all of this will get sorted out in time."

accountability and creativity: "One way to classify artists is by to whom they are accountable.... [i]f you look at many old books of the Baroque period you find the opening pages filled with florid expressions of gratitude from the authors to their patrons. It's the same as in a modern book when it says "this work was supported by a grant from the XYZ Foundation."

Nowadays we have different ways of supporting artists. Some painters, for example, make a living selling their work to wealthy collectors. In other cases, musicians or artists will find appointments at universities or other cultural institutions. But in both such cases there is a kind of accountability at work. "

October 15, 2004

DOJ IP report

On Tuesday, the U.S. Dept. of Justice released its Report of the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Intellectual Property[PDF].

At the press conference announcing the report, Ashcroft provided his own synopsis of the direction the DOJ is taking:

Ashcroft said the Justice Dept. under him would lean toward protecting copyright holders even when some legal issues are still in dispute and others are looking to utilize intellectual property.

"I don't think we have a public domain attitude," he said.

Some commentary/synopses of the report include:

furdlog’s take
Declan McCullagh for C|Net News
Copyfight, which is not to be confused with A Copyfighter’s Musings, or Copyfutures, which manages to draw South Park, Chewbacca and Sylvester Stallone into the whole thing.

Appendix B of the report also indicates the current mindset on P2P within the Justice Dept. -- it's a memorandum on peer-to-peer (P2P) network use:

“While there may be appropriate uses of this technology, research shows that the vast majority of files exchanged on P2P networks are copyrighted music, motion pictures, and pornography. P2P file exchanges are also a common distribution avenue for viruses and other types of malicious code.


There are very rare occasions when employees need to use P2P capabilities within the Department. Such uses can only be authorized after consultation with the CIO. Use of the P2P file sharing using the Internet is expressly forbidden. Technical controls on such use are already in place and they will be strengthened as appropriate.”

Edit: A few commentators have complained that the password protection on the PDF has prevented anyone outside of the DOJ from copying and pasting material from it. Well, I believe there are two PDFs files. The one linked above is without password protection, but the PDF placed on the Cybercrime subunit site ( is password protected. Dare I ask why a document that appears to be in the public domain has restricted access of its noncopyrighted content in this manner?