Category Archives: open access

Aaron Swartz, RIP

I am really grieving the loss of Aaron Swartz, who killed himself the other day.

His family attributes his suicide in part to depression triggered by the federal CFAA prosecution for his JSTOR hack. JSTOR had withdrawn their charges long ago — but the federal government continued to prosecute. Who knows why — maybe the prosecutor(s) were hoping to expand the reach of CFAA (a bad idea for an already too-vague statute — twitter#reformCFAA), or maybe they were simply pissy because of previous run-ins with Swartz for liberating court records.

What really breaks my heart is that he was only 26 years old. He had spent his whole life since he was 14 years old trying to figure out how to make a more just world. He was largely focused on OUR ISSUES — access to information. He worked with Carl Malamud on PACER and access to court records. He worked on OpenLibrary. He organized, for christ’s sake, against SOPA and PIPA. He contributed to Wikipedia, and on the LawfulUse mailing list, and in scores of ways that I had heard of but wasn’t personally familiar with, and no doubt in scores of ways I never even heard of.

Any loss of a young person is a grievous one, and a loss of potential. Any loss of an activist hurts the movement, and takes positive energy out of the world. Any loss to suicide is a fucking waste that makes all the other losses so bitter.

* Larry Lessig, Prosecutor as Bully, at lessig blog

* Wikimedia Foundation, Remembering Aaron Swartz 1986-2013, wikimedia blog

* NYT, Internet Activist Is Dead at 26, NYT obit

open access humanities scholarship

This is great news. The Open Humanities Press (OHP) aims to be for the humanities what many similar archives and endeavors have been for the sciences.

It will begin including the following journals: Cosmos and History, Culture Machine, Fibreculture, Film-Philosophy, International Journal of Zizek Studies, Parrhesia and Vectors.

link from peter suber @ open access news

electronic provenance

I was checking out Tor’s new wallpapers and thinking about the uses of provenance in the art world. Tor is a science fiction publisher, and they’ve been doing one of those Publisher Experiments with the new digital world. (In fact, Tor released this week Farthing by Jo Walton for free — this was an amazing alternate history book. If you can still get the copy, do it! I already had my print-and-ink copy but was delighted to have an electronic one as well.)

Tor’s model is to release something on their website, and then take it off. No DRM on the released wallpapers or the PDF of the book so far as I know (don’t take my word on that: I didn’t test it out or go looking for testimonials; I just took a bare look at the file format & basic ability to do what I wanted, namely, copy-and-paste). But they make a big deal out of “get it this week, because this it’ll be gone”.

Of course, for the desperate or enterprising fan, they will still be able to get it, somewhere, on the Internet, or from some fan or was a bit more on the ball. But it got me thinking (as I often do, anyway) about this kind of model of distribution. Tor is using the carrot approach to bringing traffic to their website and to their writers and artists, as opposed to the stick approach. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the fabulous & tech-savvy Nielsen Hayden’s were responsible in part for this approach.) They Might Be Giants has done this sort of thing for a while, too, and other artists as well.

Signed-and-numbered prints or casts of works of art are a slightly different take on creating scarcity. Rather than time-limited, the works are quantity-limited. FaceBook just happened on this calculus too: my partner and I were recently amused to see FaceBook hawking icons of flowers and chocolates and what-not for a dollar apiece, noting that they are limited! Only a hundred thousand available! I guess in a network of millions a hundred thousand is limited. And there’s no question that FaceBook would be pretty darn happy if a hundred thousand people pony up a buck apiece for an icon of a chocolate. Hell, even if only a tiny fraction do it, it’s spam economics: Practically free for FaceBook to offer it, so any income generated is 99.999% pure profit.

Tor, or any artist or group trying to create scarcity, could easily do this too, and you’d never need DRM: Electronically number each copy, and maintain a provenance database. That’s the simple version. You could also do something fancier, like provide a unique hash of the original download data trail, for instance. Whatever you did, the point is to make the copies unique in some fashion, and to “officially” verify and/or track the unique copies. Sure people would copy the items, but without proving provenance, you wouldn’t have the original. The knock-offs are every bit as good as the original, except to the collectors and fans — who would be driven by the strange economics of fannish obsession to acquire originals. Or maybe even multiple originals.

In theory the general market for commercial software — which is typically licensed with their “unique” serial numbers — could operate this way, but MS Word just doesn’t have collectability. Functionality is ever the enemy of collectability.1 Or in the case of MS Word, semi-functionality. Games could build this in, I imagine. Maybe they have!

While this idea is wholly my derivation and assemblage of the constituent components ™, ©, etc., I’m sure it has probably been independently invented and may even be out there in other publisher or artist or musician experiments somewhere. If any readers know of such a distribution, I’d be delighted to hear about it in comments or email.


1 – Spellcheck suggests that “collectibility” is probably more correct, but that just irks me. Collectibles is fine, but the attraction of collectibles should be collectAbility.

tentative toe blogging: Harvard approves open access

I’ll be watching Harvard’s A&S faculty vote today to see if they approve setting up a library-run faculty publications open access repository. (A proposal, I noted to my partner, that I first saw some 15 years ago in the library community.) The NYT covered the proposal.

For-profit scholarly publishers have of course been complaining vociferously about the trend toward scholars’ and faculty’s open access archives; scholarly societies less so. The for-profit scholarly publishers are in the same position as the recording industry: A set of middlemen that has profited from a technology that, for two centuries, made their business model profitable and even, in some cases, a virtual monopoly. Now that technology has moved on they feel insulted, as if they have a “god”-given right to their particular business model.

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update 10pm: Yaay! It passed. See Chronicle of Higher Ed which says it passed, and see Harvard Crimson for details about the proposal. More info at inside higher ed.

more artist innovation in music distribution

A NYT blog is reporting that Radiohead is making digital copies of its next album available for pick-your-own-price amount — and the best part is they’re DRM-free.

Commenters on the post were almost all positive. A few salient points pulled out of comments:
* This will generate fans for and interest in its nice physical artifact versions of the albums — which are for sale for a fixed price, offering a solid profit point;
* This offers would-be downloaders an opportunity to get authorized DRM-free music at a reasonable price — a sort of come-in-from-the-cold attitude that, however small, will generate more revenue from these downloaders than they otherwise would have had;
* 100% of the proceeds — however small — are going to Radiohead, rather than 5-10% of the cost of a $15-$20 CD.