Saturday, October 03, 2009

Do something you're interested in...

One of the best pieces of career advice I ever heard was to do something you're interested in.  Comparative biomechanist Adam Summers discovered this by accident.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Call for international negotiation on the public domain

I also learn from the Enlightened Economist that I'm not the only one who has been arguing recently for a 'restoration of the wildlands' or space for the public domain to roam free or find safe harbours. Apparently Berkeley professor of economics, Suzanne Scotchmer, at the Global Economic Symposium, called "for international negotiation on what forms of knowledge should form a global public domain and be kept out of the international arms race towards ever-tougher (and probably ever-less enforcable) protection of IP via ludicrous patents and copyright terms."

James Boyle book seminar

I did a seminar for some respected colleagues at the OU yesterday on James Boyle's book, The Public Domain.

Boyle is an exceptional scholar, activist and storyteller.  Needless to day I can't recommend the book highly enough.

In The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, he eloquently and passionately argues that our culture, science and democracy depend on a delicate balance between ideas that are controlled by intellectual property and those that are freely available in the public domain.  He tells a terrific series of engaging stories about, for example, why the building blocks of synthetic biology, business methods, pairs of musical notes are now owned, why blues, jazz or soul music would probably be illegal if it were invented today, why most of 20th century culture is legally unavailable to us, and why the World Wide Web would, most likely, have been killed at birth if lawyers, commerce and policymakers could have reacted quickly enough.

This all adds up to what Boyle calls a 'second enclosure movement' – except that on this occasion we’re not facing an enclosure of the grassy commons of olde Englande but rather an enclosure of the 'commons of the mind' and a serious erosion of the public domain, a state of affairs future generations will rightly condemn us for allowing to happen; at the very point that we have the technical and economic capacity to facilitate universal access to recorded human knowledge, a digital library of Alexandria.

The book, destined to become the standard text in the area, also serves as the Silent Spring of the information society – a clarion call to understand and protect the public domain through scholarship, communication, articulation and recognition of shared interests and values that allow that notion - the public domain - to come into public consciousness and a diverse ecology of activism to support all this. A kind of "environmentalism for information" and the public domain.

Sadly I can't put the slides on Slideshare since I included some audio and video sequences of the evolution of some songs James mentions in the book and a parody animated sequence of Disney characters explaining copyright, fair use and the public domain.

My thanks to John Naughton, who very kindly attended on his first day of  long overdue study leave and recorded proceedings, despite having endulged my rants about IP for more years than he would care to remember.  So John had already heard the stories and my views on them on mulitple occasions previously.  Thanks also to Doug Clow who made a valiant attempt, live blogging, to make some sense of my incoherent ramblings during the afternoon.

In the final chapter of the book James makes a persuasive and heartfelt plea for a politics of the public domain. Although I'm pessimistic about his vision coming to pass I was just thinking in preparing for the seminar and following on from my presentation at the Gikii conference recently, wouldn't it be nice to have a visual representation of the erosion of the public domain equivalent to the kind of work James Balog does with the Extreme Ice Survey on glaciers.

Update: Just a PS for policymakers. When you do get round to reading The Public Domain and you should, pay particular attention to what Professor Boyle calls the "Jefferson warning" and its corrolary the "Sony axiom".

Update 2: Diane Coyle aka the enlightened economist posted a terrific review of the book at more or less the same time as I was discussing it yesterday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Right to Read campaign in India

India has launched a right to read campaign.

The Problem

Nearly 70 million persons in India have some form of disability (visual impairment being the most common) that prevents them from reading printed matter. The good part is that there are technologies available which can help persons with print impairment to read, if the material is converted into an alternate format such as large print, audio, Braille or any electronic format. Unfortunately the Indian law does not permit a person with print impairment to make an accessible copy of a book in order to be able to read it. What this means is that every time a print impaired person wishes to read a book he/she has to get permission from the copyright-holder – a completely unfeasible proposition.

The Solution

To solve this problem the law in question i.e. the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 should be amended to permit persons with print impairment to convert materials into accessible formats.

Campaign Objective

The Right to Read campaign seeks to accelerate change in copyright law, raise public awareness on the issue of access to reading for the print-impaired; and gather Indian support for the Treaty for the Blind proposed by the World Blind Union at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
 Thanks to Christopher Friend of the World Blind Union for the alert via the A2k list.

Senator Proposes $15 Million in Grants for Open Textbook Creators

Thomas O'Toole at the E-Commerce and Tech Law blog reports that:
"Last week Sen. Richard Durbin introduced a bill (S. 1714) that would create a $15 million federal grant program for "open textbooks." The bill is a further example of continuing federal government interest in openness, transparency, and using information-sharing technologies to promote social aims.
Sen. Durbin is promoting his bill as a means to drive down the price of college textbooks, but I think it is going to have more far-reaching consequences than that. If it passes."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fry and Anderson

Stephen Fry has been interviewing Ross Anderson for BBC Radio 4.

Professor wins fees from Joyce estate

In a long running legal saga, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that:
"A Stanford professor who battled James Joyce's estate for the right to quote family documents in research on one of the author's most celebrated works will get $240,000 from the estate for her legal fees, the university said Monday.
Carol Shloss' settlement with Joyce's heirs ends a court case in which the estate, fiercely protective of its rights to his works, refused to let Shloss use excerpts from his papers or his daughter's medical records in her 2003 book, "Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake""