omg, government secrets not safe!

“I do think it’s true that the large contours of national and international policy are much harder to keep secret today,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “It would not be possible to conduct a secret war in Cambodia, as took place in the Nixon administration.”NYT 2010/12/12

Indeed. That’s kind of the point.

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

NIH open access policy now in effect

Starting yesterday, NIH’s new open access policy is in effect, mandating deposit of NIH-funded research (no, really, this time they mean it). See A Blog around the Clock for more info, including relevant links to info about the comments — open till May 1.

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.

The awesomeness of Miro

The awesomeness of Miro

Miro is the awesome successor to the Democracy TV player. It’s open source and supports open content. It’s being developed by the Participatory Culture Foundation, whose president, NAME, was recently interviewed at Groklaw.

Reville had this to say about DRM:

[Miro is] not [compatible with DRM], and we don’t support DRM. We think it’s a terrible technology for consumers. We think it’s terrible for the public. It restricts people’s free speech and copyright rights in a whole number of ways. And what’s really going to turn the tide … is that major media companies, like the major record labels, are realizing that when they put DRM on the media that they’re trying to sell, they sell less of it. … I think the television, movie and other video companies … will eventually realize that they’re limiting their own sales, and they’re not preventing any kind of unauthorized distribution by putting DRM onto their media.

… and followed it up with these comments on net neutrality and the impact on lawful activities of ISPs being pushed into network filtering or other non-neutral practices:

We think that net neutrality is vital to the health of the Internet and our hope is that, in the United States and globally, that that will become part of the law for ISPs, and there’s candidates like Barack Obama that have come out really clearly supporting that neutrality. As soon as you get into things like filtering, restricting what type of technologies people can use to share information, you’re going to start locking out speech, and you’re going to start shutting down important ways that people are talking to each other.

Miro, for instance, supports BitTorrent, which is known I think among most people as an unauthorized file sharing platform. But the way Miro uses it is people connect to channels in the Miro guide that are video offered by the publisher in BitTorrent format because it lets them deliver very high [quality] video at very, very low cost. And so you have channels like Democracy Now, for instance, that uses BitTorrent to distribute multi hundreds of megabyte video files every day, and instead of incurring massive bandwidth costs, they’re able to use BitTorrent to keep that price way down. Once you start restricting BitTorrent at the ISP level, that means that organizations like Democracy Now are no longer able to get that message out. It’s just that simple. …

(linked from Thomas Gideon at Open Media Review, 2/26)

mostly information law news round-up

* Judge White withdrew his order requiring the shutdown of See also 3/1 bits blog. (NYT 3/1)

* The music industry has yet to pay artists any of the money it has received in settlements and lawsuits; the artists are pissed. NY Post 2/27)

* The owners of the game scrabble are pissed off at Scrabulous. (NYT 3/2)

* Daniel Solove’s new book, The Future of Reputation, is available online with a creative commons license, thanks to Yale University Press. Annoyingly it’s chapter-by-chapter. badgerbag read it and promises a scathing review, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say.

* Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody, has a hold list at least 3-deep at the Boston Public Library. )-8

* Paul Cash, the principal of Burleson High School in Burleson, Texas, is censoring the school yearbook’s article about students who are also parents, in part because it conflicts with the school’s “abstinence-only” education program. A program that was, umm, manifestly not successful. As illustrated by the kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that seems to think that if only the principal can censor the yearbook, he can change reality, or lie to the community about it. “I believe that as principal of the school it is my obligation to make sure that whatever our students put into press accurately reflects the ideals and values of the community.” Apparently the students think that the press should reflect reality. I guess the teachers have been doing their jobs. Student Press Law Center has the scoop (2/13). (link from pharyngula, 3/2)

* Schwarzenegger’s administration is defending California’s gay marriage ban before the California Supreme Court; a ruling is due by June. There’s a certain gross irony in this: A couple of years ago, Schwarzenegger vetoed a gay marriage act passed by California’s legislature, saying that this was something that should be left to the courts. That was itself yet another proof that the so-called federalist style of conservatism is really just window-dressing outcome-based politicking as principled ideological opposition to particular forms of government. (SJ Mercury, 3/2)

* Some people in Namibia are worried that schools and libraries are getting away with too much using information, so they’re starting a new copyright enforcement body just to go after the lucrative school and library market. Watch out for the Namibian Reproduction Rights Organization (NamRRO), which isn’t enforcing any rights to reproduce that I’d like to see enforced: The rights to reproduce for fair use, the rights to reproduce or not to reproduce biologically …. The organization is being started by “Moses Moses”, whose name seems a little reproductive itself. Good idea, Moses; way to start killing creativity at the most upstream possible place. (All Africa, 2/29)

* In Illinois, reproductive rights are being upheld: A very silly law that attempts to mandate good parent-child relationships and communications, specifically requiring that pregnant minors must tell their parents if they are having an abortion, continues to be enjoined. A “pro-life” group described the decision as, “a major defeat for the people of Illinois,” apparently forgetting that teenagers are people too. (AP 3/1)

* Heather Morrison at her awesome blog “Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics” has pointed out that plagiarists should avoid open access like the, ah, plague, since it’s so much harder to catch them without open access. Peter Suber at Open Access News gathered several of her related posts in one excellent introduction to Morrison’s concept, “aiming for obscurity”. Read it or wish you had.

* Rebecca MacKinnon reviews the latest round of lawsuits against Yahoo! by Chinese dissidents who, among other things, got screwed over by Yahoo!’s release of their information. (RConversation, 3/3)

friday nights are so exciting!
specter undermining open access

good lord, what is wrong with arlen specter?

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.


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.

open content as solution to exploitation of indigenous IP

It’s great to see more info about the rumored the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library — which will publish India’s traditional knowledge:

Indian scientists say the country has been a victim of what they describe as “bio-piracy” for a long time.

“When we put out this encyclopaedia in the public domain, no one will be able to claim that these medicines or therapies are their inventions. Till now, we have not done the needful to protect our traditional wealth,” says Ajay Dua, a senior bureaucrat in the federal commerce ministry.

[I]n most of the developed nations like United States, “prior existing knowledge” is only recognised if it is published in a journal or is available on a database – not if it has been passed down through generations of oral and folk traditions.

The irony here is that India has suffered even though its traditional knowledge, as in China, has been documented extensively.

But information about traditional medicine has never been culled from their texts, translated and put out in the public domain.

A little confusion between “publication” and “public domain” …

No wonder then that India has been embroiled in some high-profile patent litigation in the past decade – the government spent some $6m alone in fighting legal battles against the patenting of turmeric and neem-based medicines.

In 1995, the US Patent Office granted a patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric.

Indian scientists protested and fought a two-year-long legal battle to get the patent revoked.

Last year, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on an anti-fungal product, derived from neem, by successfully arguing that the medicinal neem tree is part of traditional Indian knowledge.

In 1998 the US Patent Office granted patent to a local company for new strains of rice similar to basmati, which has been grown for centuries in the Himalayan foothills of north-west India and Pakistan and has become popular internationally. After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked four years ago.

The rice patent was new to me. Apparently, we will have to document not just every single preexisting medicinal use, but every single preexisting bit of human knowledge, to prevent companies from trying to enclose human knowledge.

Then they mention the yoga case (now settled favorably for open source yoga advocates):

And, in the US, an expatriate Indian yoga teacher has claimed copyright on a sequence of 36 yoga asanas, or postures.

mouse songs verified by at-home cat test

BoingBoing recently posted about the songs sung by male mice during courtship, linking to the PLOS Biology article, and the audio files of the actual songs.

We independently verified the actual mouse-nature of the songs by performing a Spontaneous Audio Performance Test (SAPT) with a feline experimental audience.* Sure enough, four sleeping cats roused, lifted their heads, and twitched their ears while the songs were played. One actually rose to a standing position. The subject felines failed to respond to the recorded sparrow song.

Because PLOS Biology is open-access, you can try this one at home.

* No animals were harmed in this experiment. All research animals involved in this experiment receive the highest quality of care, including personalized feeding and support by a trained post-doctoral biologist and her aide; free access to legal counsel and representation; and consultations with a high-quality veterinary facility.