The Longest Now

Copyright failure: terms are much much much too long; solution needed
Monday May 21st 2012, 6:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,international,meta,SJ,wikipedia

David Gerard recently pointed out that despite recent expansion of the global commons of “freely-licensed knowledge”, all license terms still last for much too long. “Free licenses” still rely on copyright laws which impose restrictions on reuse for unreasonably long term lengths: currently “Life of the author + 70 years” in most countries — roughly 10-50x as long as the average commercial lifespan of a new work.

Economists and researchers studying copyright have often noted that copyright terms have been extended with little justification, always on the request of the publishing industry, since the first copyright term (14 years) was set centuries ago.  And that there is no data to suggest that longer copyright terms are good for society or useful in encouraging creative work.

The social memes of “free culture” and “free knowledge” have been shaped in large part by a community that bought into the idea of copyleft in the past decades: a derivative of copyright law which defines the copyrights the author wishes to exercise in a way that lets people reuse their work, as long as they release the result under the same license.

We should figure out a reasonable maximum term for the sort of rights that are currently covered by copyright – say, something no more than 14 years – and embed that term into the most-recommended free culture licenses. That includes all Creative Commons and free-culture and other FOSS licenses. All of these licenses should explicitly transition to the Public Domain before the ultralong default term enshrined in international law.

(In practice this could mean automatically switching to a CC0 license at the end of the shorter term.)

Related discussions about license reform

David’s comments started a recent discussion on the Wikimedia-l mailing list, about whether Wikimedians should help push for a saner copyright term.  Mike Linksvayer noted similar discussions on the Creative Commons licenses list from last December – part of brainstorming how to improve those licenses.

Two people made comments along these lines: “Shortening the copyright term is totally infeasible in the near term; instead we should encourage people to switch to free licenses.

This misses two key points. Firstly, free culture groups are now some of the largest around; they include major content providers and platforms; and Creative Commons itself is a powerful global brand. Secondly, while convincing slow, conservative national governments to change their laws is hard, almost everyone who is not working/lobying for content publishers — including the vast majority of content creators — feels copyright terms are too long.  So this is an obvious place for citizen innovation to come first, and legislation second.

A few publishers are already adopting limited terms.  O’Reilly Books uses a license that switches to CC-BY after 14 years.
Some free culture groups have taken a position here as well: Sweden’s Pirate Party advocates for a maximum term of 5 years.  Richard Stallman of the FSF recommends a maximum of 5 or 10 years (though only for society as a whole; and only if it comes with open source requirements for proprietary software).

What can we do?  Won’t this make free licenses harder to use?

Adding an explicit term after which works become PD should not complicate the “opt-in commons”, to use Mike’s term. This could be implemented with a few simple changes (I am imagining how CC could implement this; as they have great authority to recommend licensing norms):

  • Define “PD-friendly” licenses as those which become PD in at most N years.
  • Define the PD-date of a composite work as the latest of its component sources.
  • Ask people to use a PD-friendly license.

Within that framework, people can use terms that make sense to them; some may want a license with a fixed PD date, so that a large group can collaborate on a shared work which is set to become PD in 2020.  Ongoing collaborations like Wikipedia could use a license set to become PD after 8 years – so the latest version of a project would always be under a CC-SA license, but one from today would become PD in 2020.

Creative Commons and others could then promote the use of PD-friendly licenses.  Collaboratives like Wikimedia communities, and publishers like O’Reilly, could switch to those licenses for their projects and works.  Together we would return to building a true intellectual and artistic Commons — something which in the US has been starved of almost all works produced in the past 35 years.


Wikimedia: Chapters choose two new Trustees for the Foundation
Sunday May 20th 2012, 8:11 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,wikipedia

Via Béria Lima:

The Wikimedia chapters have, by voting, selected the following two people to serve on the Wikimedia Foundation board, replacing Arne Klempert and Phoebe Ayers:

* Patricio Lorente is the current President of Wikimedia Argentina. He had worked as Project Manager of the Association for Social Development in Argentina. At present, he serves as General ProSecretary of the National University of La Plata.
* Alice Wiegand is an IT specialist for system administration in the public sector, and a former board member of Wikimedia Deutschland, the largest Wikimedia chapter. She runs the IT department of a German municipality, and is starting a Master’s program in Public Policy and Governance.

Congratulations to Patricio and Alice, who will join the Board in mid-June; I look forward to working with both of you.

And much gratitude to Phoebe and Arne, who have helped us all to stay focused on what matters, for their amazing work over the past years.

The Chaos: update
Saturday May 19th 2012, 9:34 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,popular demand,Uncategorized

Spurred by a discussion of language learning and pronunciation, I revisited my favorite English-language poem this weekend: Gerard Nolst Trenité’s “Dearest Creature In Creation” (a.k.a. “English Pronunciation”, or “The Chaos”). I cleaned up my composite version, fitting in most of the remaining couplets that have appeared in one of the author’s revisions, marking where the various versions start to diverge, and adding pronunciation notes for a few more words.

If you haven’t read it recently, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. And if someone with a melodious voice feels like recording a reading of it, that would be a boon.
Update: Jacob Rus points me to this recording he made of a different version of the poem. Awesome! A British version would be grand too.

Finally, which rhymes with enough:
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough
Hiccough has the sound of ‘sup‘ …
My advice is: give it up!

Learning, freedom, and the Web
Wednesday May 02nd 2012, 7:32 pm
Filed under: meta,popular demand,Uncategorized,wikipedia

In late 2010, the Carnegie Foundation convened a few discussions leading up to the first Drumbeat Festival.  I took part in the last of those, and my detailed notes from the meeting are finally up on the Mozilla wiki.   Our discussions from the day have aged fairly well; covering critical issues about learning, the web, and the importance of being free to learn online.   We had a varied group of technologists, educators, hackers, and foundations trying to solve these issues.

Some of the projects mentioned there have already borne fruit, most notably Drumbeat itself; others are seed for good future efforts still waiting to be planted in fertile soil.  While I wish I had a universal projects platform/database where each seed could be broken out for improvement over time — until that exists, detailed notes are at least a world-archived first step.  Enjoy!

Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection
Saturday April 28th 2012, 2:27 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,meta,metrics

A friend yesterday reminded me how valuable and important it is to take time to step back and reflect on one’s direction and focus. And how we should all do this more often. The meta-context was the value of sabbaticals, and the possibility for organizations to do the same thing. (For instance, from recent threads here: the chance for olpc pilots to reflect on their shared vision and principles, while considering how to pool resources; for wikimedia organs to reconsider their purpose; for OER visionaries to review what they want to help society accomplish.)

Today is an excellent day for this reflection – warm sun, tesselated waves, clear skies. I mean to see what I can sort and extrapolate from the wealth of raw individual ideas and motivations that I have seen over the last two weeks.

This context makes me want a more orderly family of terms to describe the form of analytical thought that includes strategy (military, corporate planning), systems thinking (systematics, synergetics), lateral thinking (thinking hats, parallel analysis), and pattern analysis (I Ching, oblique strategies, mesh decomposition). Now… where to file feature requests like this for one’s own language?

Awesome 1-yr Wikipedia Fellowship open at Harvard’s Belfer Center
Thursday April 26th 2012, 10:55 am
Filed under: international,meta,popular demand,wikipedia

Wikimedia and Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs are looking for a Wikipedia Fellow to work on-site in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a year, on topics related to international security.  From the full jobvite posting :

The Wikimedia Foundation and Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs are accepting applications to be a Wikipedia Fellow at the Belfer Center, for one year starting July 1, 2012.

This is a full-time position, tasked with

  •  improving the quality of WP articles related to international security:
  • liaising between the Wikimedia community and Belfer Center experts, facilitating resource sharing;
  • coordinating projects and events, online and in-person, to support improving Wikimedia projects.
  • working with faculty, staff, and fellows at the Center to increase understanding of and participation in Wikipedia and other free content;
  • sharing this experience at Harvard with the global community of Wikipedians, and among academics, via articles, blog posts, and multimedia.

Hacking Open Education, Take 2
Thursday April 19th 2012, 10:18 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,international,meta,metrics

Hewlett Hack Day last Friday was an energetic stone soup affair. Erhardt Graeff, Andrew Magliozzi and I planned it with Amar and Nathaniel from Berkman, and Josh Gay. Erhardt emcee’d the event, and Meredith Beaton, Una Lee, Becca Nesson, and Matthew Battles all helped make it happen. Some 40 people attended over the course of the day.

The past two days had seen the development of two dozen project ideas, many of them hackable, by the Hewlett grantees. We spent the first hour condensing those and some new proposed hacks down to 10 that seemed compelling and doable. People self-selected into groups to tackle these (in hindsight: we should have set a max team size of ~6). 7 projects were attempted, and 6 produced a hack – a pitch or minimum product that could inspire others to move it forward. At the end of the day, everyone gave 2-minute pitches to a panel of judges (a schoolteacher, a highschool student, and two berkman staff) who reviewed the results for hackability and near-term usefulness for OER.

Result: two new github repositories, a ‘Learning metacognition via Poker‘ course up on P2PU, a mobile app for ‘Free Pencils’, a hackable version of FreeRice for standardized test problems, a plan for a high-profile annual OER Awards, a wireframe for a cleaner student portfolio platform, a new OER WikiProject on Wikipedia, and a draft design for Octocat a variation on github for OER materials. The PokOER concept drew the most attention – almost ten team members and three different ideas merged – and many hackers agreed they would love to take a P2P course on the topic. And a hack to make it easy to generate your own Mozilla-friendly badges made partial progress, including testing and filing helpful bugs against the badges API.

The Free Pencils and OER Awards projects won judges’ awards’. They were specific and partly implemented (Becca garnered the admiration of all for producing a working prototype in 4 hours), and addressing particular needs raised in the brainstorming the day before. Their hackers have free passes to the Open Ed conference in Vancouver, thanks to sponsorship by hackday participant David Wiley.

Hacking Education with Hewlett’s OER Grantees
Wednesday April 18th 2012, 11:32 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,meta,popular demand

A few months ago, Colin Maclay got me thinking about how to make this year’s Hewlett Foundation OER grantees meeting different in good ways. Last week I spend three days at the event, and was honored to meet the many remarkable people and projects there. I have been to one of the past grantee meetings, and it is a warm family of practice — I knew many of the groups and people in the room through my own work in open education. Two newcomers worth special note:

The organization I was happiest to meet was the Saylor Foundation — I have been a fan of theirs since discovering them last year; their work addresses the heart of a core problem in the world of educational resources: a free comprehensive collection of texts drawn from all manner of sources — whatever is useful and to hand. Aside from the typical modern-charity peccadillo of feeling organizational ownership of what is a universal mission, and articulating a vision in which they accomplish it through sweat and brand, I find their approach humble and excellent.

My favorite invitee was CoolCatTeacher Vicki Davis, who shared some pointed advice and wit, contributed in most of the sessions I attended, and shared my penchant for live transcription. (We commiserated about how funny it was to be at an event highlighting collaborative creation, where most attendees had computers but were shy of using etherpads or shared docs.) She was not a grantee; Berkman, in their take on this rotating annual event, invited about a quarter of the total guests from a variety of backgrounds, for pursuing in their own way more universal access to education. Her prolific writing and multitasking online, has inspired me to spend much more time writing. But more on that in a future post.

I also met the pedagogy lead for Intel’s global education program – a teacher full of good ideas and strong support for making OER the norm in primary school – and part of the Metalab team working on narrative tools.

I spoke to the grantees about the needs of content Builders, along with Hal Abelson and Ahrash Bissell, and took part in a variety of brainstorming sessions. My favorite moment was a debate about whether free knowledge and educational resources are (as I maintain) civic infrastructure, worth investment by cities and locales the way roads and libraries and wiring are. An unresolved question there: how a local government would identify what part of that global problem is theirs to locally provide or fund.

On Friday I helped plan and run a Hack Day after the traditional meeting ended, something new for this sort of gathering. It was great fun, and refreshing after a few days of simply talking to move one or two ideas closer to realization. I wish most of every conference were like this, since we still managed to get in our share of discussion, presentation, show & tell, and otherwise sharing inspiration. Thanks to the Berkman team for their creativity in the organization, and to the organizers for inviting me to take part. Open education is an idea ready for global adoption, and one we should pursue mindfully, in norm and nuance, as a society.

On building a global network, and collaborative fundraising
Friday February 24th 2012, 7:48 pm
Filed under: international,meta,metrics,wikipedia

Wikimedia has recently been discussing how and why we fundraise, and how we determine where to direct the stream of visitors to our shared global websites when we ask for donations.  In particular, two years ago we directed visitors to over 10 chapters who then each processed their donations directly; this was cut back to only 4 of the larger chapters last year, with clearer standards for accountability and financial transparency for those groups.

A few months ago our eloquent executive director, Sue Gardner, began a detailed consultation on the aptly named Meta-wiki to discuss ways to improve this process, which has grown organically over the past five years.  She is publicly drafting and annotating her own recommendations to the Board, which will be presented to us in a few weeks’ time.  Since this is such a transprent process, we have already had preliminary discussion at our last board meeting, resulting in a letter varying slightly with the draft recommendations at that point.  An annual community-wide finance summit, organized this year by the French chapter, was held last weekend in Paris, and these discussions occupied much of the agenda there.

My fellow Trustee and Wikimedia Treasurer, Stu West, recently published and later summarized his personal views on these matters.

I would characterize this view as “centralize all donation-processing”: he feels the global Foundation can gain economies of scale, and economies of specialization, by processing all donations centrally in the US, and then distributing funds back out to Chapters and other groups around the world — enough to offset the loss of tax-deductibility and other advantages to local processing. (choices of where to distribute, and donor relationship management, would still be made in a communal fashion.)

My own personal view is to “decentralize where excellence and desire meet“: I feel we should support decentralized processing by all highly competent groups with demonstrated skills in these fundraising matters, where they have some local benefit or other reason to process donors directly, and where they decide to take on that challenge.  The skills involved are not trivial; some will not develop them, others have no local incentives to do so, still others may not want the extra work entailed.  This include competence (and legal ability) to redistribute surplus funds raised to projects around the world, through whatever global allocation/prioritization process we build together.  Decentralization of this donor and fundraising work may lose some economies of centralization, but it will gain many others: including direct financial advantages in some regions (tax deduction, matching), and ensuring that we have redundancy of relevant expertise across our movement.

I repost below the comment (copyedited for clarity) that I left on his blog:

I interpret our Board letter in the opposite (positive) sense to Stu’s summary on his blog. I believe that at least some Chapters should payment process, because in some cases we already see that it offers a net benefit for the movement. And I think that any chapter that is sufficiently mature — skilled in dealing with donations, efficient in its work, meets a high standard of financial accountability, and has a history of supporting community-driven dissemination targets — and *wants* to payment-process for banner-driven donations, should be able to do so.

By this description (and reflecting on your four points above), such chapters, before they could process payments from sitewide-banner campaigns, would first have to be:

  • Already processing payments locally, managing their national messaging in sitewide campaigns, complying with local financial regulations, and handling donor relations. (They would already be processing payments from local email and media campaigns)
  •  Efficient in their financial work; so that this would not be significant additional time and money on top of their normal operations
  •  Demonstrably skilled in their financial work, and able to meet strict standards maintained by the Foundation and the movement as a whole.
  •  Lacking in a sense of entitlement, and participating in community-led allocation work to identify and support impactful work worldwide

This would be a limited set of large, respected Chapters. It would not be a natural step in chapter growth, and only those with a financial and donor-focused bent would be in a position to pursue it (or to implement it efficiently). Other options exist now and will only grow for smaller chapters. Some chapters will be founded in countries with strict financial laws that make it too difficult to distribute funds outside the country.

Enabling groups to grow in areas where they have demonstrated excellence and foresight is consistent with our culture of empowerment; and having more than one body competent to do any significant task is consistent with our culture of decentralization.

SOPA, PIPA votes delayed, bills sent back for revision
Friday January 20th 2012, 2:49 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,meta,metrics

SOPA author Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senate majority lead Harry Reid (D-NV) both issued statements today that they would be delaying votes on SOPA and PIPA.  Rep. Smith says “we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem“; Senator Reid will send the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and hopes to “reach a compromise in the coming weeks“.

It looks like those 18 Senators have their work cut out for them.  Few of them have indicated they have any understanding of how the bills are dangerously broken.


PS: Clay Shirky has a brilliant TED talk about the bills online.

The Wikipedian spirit: Dr. Senghai Poduvan
Saturday December 10th 2011, 5:48 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,international,meta,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Dr. Poduvan is a 75-year old farmer from Tamil Nadu and Wikipedian. He captures everything I love about Wikipedia in a few sentences:

When I purchased my first computer in 2005, just using the mouse was difficult because my hands shake. But by 2009 I had discovered Wikipedia. One day, I created an article about ancient Indian poets. I added about 30 of their names to the page and then I went to sleep. The next morning, I found 473 names on the page. That is what makes Wikipedia work!

So it is. Please remember to contribute to Wikipedia, one list and article at a time. (in Hindi · in Tamil)

cowbird: the cowcat’s meow
Friday December 09th 2011, 2:23 am
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,indescribable,meta

Jonathan Harris is a reimaginary nomad hacker artist storyteller.

cowbird is his work of inspiration – the kind once ascribed to a muse reaching through the artist.

it may change the way you see.

Paramilitary police protocols in the US : context and consequences
Sunday November 20th 2011, 11:36 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,metrics

Update: BoingBoing has a lovely interview with one of the students who was sprayed by the police.

Alexis Madrigal writes a sharp historical review of how policing has changed since the 60’s, and the dramatic rise in paramilitary training and expectations among police forces across the country since the Seattle WTO protest.

He also notes with compassion that aggressive police are a symptom of a system we have deliberately chosen as a society.  He references past phases of the public-police social contract, and notes that brutal treatment of students by police
a) isn’t new (it was common in the 1960’s before being toned down), and
b) isn’t a matter of a few bad actors like Lt. John Pike
We need to recognize the systemic problems everywhere in the US,  now filtering onto university campuses, and address them at their heart.

That said, we still have clear legal standards for when it is and is not appropriate to pepper spray civilians in the course of policing.  In prisons, riots, or public squares, precedent suggests it can not reasonably be used on seated or immobile protesters.

Pike violated federal law in his use of excessive force, and is unlikely to be protected by the qualified immunity sometimes granted to officers. Since a number of the students sprayed were injured, some still hospitalized the next day, and this use of pepper spray is usually considered to ‘exceed reasonable bounds’, Pike and his department face significant legal challenges. They will almost certainly try to settle any claims out of court.


The 99%
Sunday October 16th 2011, 8:23 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,metrics,popular demand,Uncategorized

This pair of single topic blogs are excellent and to the point:

Worldwide: the top 1% of household wealth/personal income starts at roughly $10M/$100K (though the available data are weak, and neither is measured consistently).

Many in the top 10% feel as though they are in the top 1%, thanks to the same effect that causes people of all backgrounds to underestimate the imbalance of wealth distribution.

The Metamovement
Sunday October 02nd 2011, 4:22 pm
Filed under: international,meta,metrics,popular demand,SJ

Read this solid post by Umair Haque on the rise of the metamovement in our global society. This is a movement of movements that we are seeing develop unbidden, transcending national, cultural, and social norms across the world.

The opposite of a filter bubble, this directly taps into a universal need for agency and our newfound capacity to cooperate by the millions.

Hat tip to the perceptive Priya Parker.

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