Monday, April 30, 2018

My new job at the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN)

I started my new job at CRKN on Tuesday the 3'rd of April.  I sit at the same desk in the same cubicle as I did at Canadiana the week before, and have the same job title, but there are many differences in how I'll be doing my work.

See: CRKN and Merge as Combined Organization

One difference is how much interaction with members and the larger GLAM community will be part of my job.  Beyond system administration and software work, I will be participating on CRKN, CARL, LAC and other committees and working groups. It is now assumed that technical staff attend ACCESS each year (I had only been to one so far).  I believe we will have many other connections with our counterparts at other institutions at conferences throughout the year, as well as working on joint projects.

The primary committee advising CRKN's board about what the technical team will be working on is the Preservation and Access Committee.  The committee hasn't been launched yet, and is at the stage of collecting nominations for members until May 14.


This is the first posting that I'm using the CRKN label, and the last one I'll be using the label.  If you want to read past work related articles, please click on that tag.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Protecting copyright with blockchain?

I've been reading articles discussing how blockchain can be used to "protect" the interests of copyright and patent holders.  While I agree this technology would be helpful, we need to recognise that this is a philosophy of "protection" that is the opposite to technological measures such as encrypted media.

Blockchain provides a decentralised database technology, ensuring that records that have been added can't be faked, removed, etc without detection. While blockchain provides a level of authenticity and immutability.of the data not seen before, we are still talking about an enhanced database technology.

I've discussed the flaw in copyright law a few times, which is the outdated interpretation of Berne Article 5 used to claim that there can never be formalities with copyright such as registration.

Blockchain would be a great technology to use, along with modernisation of copyright law, to solve problems ranging from the orphaned works problem to the "not available for sale" problem which I believe is the root cause of a majority of copyright infringement.

Without the modernisation of copyright law, these technologies won't be all that helpful.  The technology would only provide a small benefit for copyright holders who are already visible, while the major problems in copyright law are with works where the copyright holders and licensing options have been kept hidden.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Budget 2018 Investment in Canadian Content a missed opportunity

I checked Federal Budget 2018 for new support of Canadian content creators.  What I found under the title of "INVESTING IN CANADIAN CONTENT" (Chapter 4) is disappointing, as it is media creation that continues the conflict of interest tie with the broadcast sector.

The CMF receives funding contributions from the Government of Canada, but it advertises as also receiving "contributions" from Canada’s cable, satellite and IPTV distributors (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings, or BDUs). 

CMF contributions are mandated by the CRTC, shouldn't be thought of as donations, and BDUs shouldn't be "thanked" for actually paying what they owe. CMF contributions should be thought of as a highly justifiable tax on BDUs as compensation to the public for the right-of-way and other privileges which BDUs have been granted by multiple levels of governments.  The CMF contributions page should only list the Government of Canada, with special taxes collected from BDUs being earmarked for small-screen content creation.

The problem with this money being seen as coming from BDUs is that the BDUs then believe they "own" this content and should have the right to deny this content being available from competing legal streaming services.

As discussed in my recent CRTC submission opposing "site" blocking, the business practices of the BDUs do not support the interests of content creators, and are all too often a form of contributory infringement.  A condition of CMF funding should be that the results be made available via legal streaming, at least simultaneously with any broadcast.  I am not suggesting that the content be free, but that all Canadians be given the right to pay without also needing to subscribe to any BDU or access via broadcasting.

While I welcome stable arts and cultural funding from any level of government, I do not consider an increase in funding of the CMF to be an example.  The appearance of a tie to BDUs ties that federal money to the ongoing battles that the BDUs are having with legal streaming services.  This prolongs the current instability.  The fact that (un)Fairplay contains a few vocal stockholm syndrome victims (creator groups who incorrectly believe the BDUs and broadcasters support their interests) suggests that this will continue to be a problem.

While I support the new STEM money for granting councils, it is unfortunate I didn't see new money for arts.  There is only a small mention under "Supporting Canada’s Official Languages".


I found no reference to the CBC, suggesting the federal contribution and policy surrounding the CBC is unchanged.

This is also unfortunate, as instead of the CBC being part of the solution to the problematic tie between the cultural industries and historic distributors, the CBC has continued to be part of the problem.

The CBC decided to sign onto the BDU's (un)Fairplay coalition.  While it might be nice to think of the CBC as creators who are only stockholm syndrome victims, I believe they are acting as a commercial broadcaster who sees the inevitable move away from broadcasting and BDUs as a threat.

I've proposed that the CBC be split up, with government funding only offered to content creation.  This splitting up would effectively be an increase in cultural sector funding, as the private sector broadcasting arm will fade away as broadcasting is replaced with streaming.  Having a more competitive private sector distribution market needing to bid on programming also drives up the cost of higher quality content, meaning more money for the content creators.


Intellectual Property


This term appears in the budget a few times. While there is a focus on patents, copyright policies can help or hinder the interests of the arts and cultural sectors.  Proposed legal clinics and increased literacy might help artists and other creators to harness (rather than be fearful of) new distribution mechanisms and technologies.

While an "intellectual property marketplace" was mentioned in the context of public sector-owned intellectual property, this is needed in the private sector as well.  I mentioned in my CRTC submission how hard it is for Canadian fans to find content on legal streaming services, and the need for public disclosure of exclusive content distribution licenses. An expansion on the concept of an "intellectual property marketplace" could go a long way to solving this problem with a publicly searchable database of private sector arts and culture.  This licensing transparency and creation of a functioning marketplace isn't something that can be left to the existing private sector distributors who have conflicting interests, and requires government intervention at least during the transition.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Intervention in opposition of the Bell Coalition's "Fairplay" site blocking proposal.

I have made an intervention to the CRTC in opposition to FairPlay Canada's so-called "application to disable on-line access to piracy sites".


While is is appropriate for the courts to be able to require Internet Service Providers to block access to specific “sites”, it is inappropriate for vertically integrated media distributors to be allowed to do this without a court order. These media distributors are in a conflict of interest when it comes to providing lawful online distribution of media, and their business models are known to induce copyright infringement.

Given this conflict we should not only be demanding that court oversight exist prior to blocking, and not as an expensive appeal process, but that government and regulators need to reduce rather than increase the influence of broadcasters and BDUs over Canada’s digital communications networks.

Read more:
  • Tweet informing Fairplay of my intervention, as requested by the CRTC. Re-tweet if you agree with my submission.
  • Google Doc (which allows users to download alternate formats, including PDF)
  • CRTC website (which includes the PDF)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The disagreement between the Free Software Law Center (SFLC) and the conservancy (SFC)

There is a mixture of tax law, trademark law, and political strategy behind the disagreement between the Free Software Law Center (SFLC) and the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC).  Understanding what is happening only requires connecting the dots between these.

First, why did the SFLC create the SFC as a separate entity?

Answer: US Tax law

In A New Era for Free Software Non-Profits, Eben Moglen discusses the need for software projects to set up a 501(c)3 tax exempt non-profit organizations of their own.  It also discusses how they created "several 501c3-determined 'condominium' or 'conservancy' arrangements, to allow multiple free software projects to share one tax-deductible legal identity".

The SFC, as its name suggests, is one of those conservancy arrangements.  It was created as a separate entity for what should be obvious reasons, which is that a law center intended to be used by any individual, company, or free software project shouldn't also be the manager of a specific subset of projects.  This is similar to the Free Software Foundation which is also a 501(c)3 that is the copyright holder for a significant number of software projects (Note: Up to October 2016 Eben was also the general council of the FSF).

For the same reason that SFC should be a separate entity from the SFLC, it should be obvious that the SFC should never under that name be seen as offering the same services as a law center.

This is where trademark law forces itself into the conversation.

In Conservancy: How and Why We Should Settle, Eben clarifies how the expansion of the conservancy from offering condominium/conservancy services to offering "legal services" creates confusion in the marketplace.  In Concerning a Statement by the Conservancy, Eben documented how they needed to inform the US Patent and Trademark Office about the confusion.  It is the nature of trademark law that if you don't do everything on your own to avoid confusion in the marketplace that you might lose your own trademark, so this should never have been misunderstood as an "attack" by anyone who understands trademark law.  The SFLC tried to communicate with SFC about the issues, and didn't get adequate response.  Nothing I read directly from SFC contradicts what SFLC indicated, so I have no reason to not trust what SFLC suggested happened (or rather, didn't happen in the case of meaningful communication).

Given some of the directors of the SFC are lawyers, you might ask why confusion might be generated if these related organizations were offering similar legal advise?  This is where political strategy comes in, and how the advise that the SFC is offering clients is often not compatible with the advise that SFLC is offering.

In Copyleft Licensing: Applying GPLv3 Termination to GPLv2-licensed Works, Eben discusses the political strategy behind one of the enhancements of GPLv3, and the larger impact on trying to grow the copyleft ecosystem. It discusses how a “notice and cure period” for first time infringements are preferable to what some see as the overzealous litigious enforcement that some organizations have carried out. While not specifically named in the article, the SFC is one of those organizations that is perceived as being overly litigious, and is seen as one of the reasons why some individuals and companies see copyleft as too risky and seek to move away from copylefted programs to "permissively" licensed substitutes.

The likely confusion between the very different strategy of the SFC and the SFLC will impact SFLC's ability to carry out their primary function, which is legal advise.

I understand this type of conflict on political strategy between well-meaning parts of the FLOSS community.  I had my own disagreement on political strategy with SFC president Bradley M. Kuhn when it came to the GNU Affero General Public License.  I have a major problem with any software license that triggers on private modification rather than only on distribution/communication of the work, given I disagree with the expansion of copyright law beyond public activities.  I don't believe private copying of any works should be regulated, and thus disagree that any software license, especially one allegedly promoting FLOSS interests, should trigger on private copying or private modification.

I avoid AGPL licensed software as I believe the AGPL is contrary to the larger political interests of the Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement.  I may understand the "problem" that the AGPL and the SFC's litigation strategy are trying to solve, and understand some of the emotions behind the specifically chosen tactics, but believe that sometimes we must move past those emotions and take a more reasoned long-term approach.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Canadiana DevOps 2017 year review and look to the future

Many ongoing changes for the DevOps team this year.

CRKN update

The CRKN December 2017 Newsbrief provides some updates about Canadiana itself.  The short-form is that there will be a Canadiana membership meeting mid-January to vote on an offer to consolidate the operations of the organizations.

I'm excited about the possibility of being a CRKN employee in the next few months.  As an organization they maintain close ties with their educational sector members, and they don't get confused with being a 'vendor' as Canadiana has been.  I look forward to not only the new employer, but the closer relationship with other people working in library technology across Canada.

In the new year we'll also be meeting some new staff.  As well as the existing CRKN staff, there are two positions we will need to fill in DevOps.

  • A Metadata Architect, as Julienne left for a job at LAC.
  • A System Administrator, as we have more work than the 2 of us remaining can handle.

IIIF Update

Our custom content server has been replaced with Cantaloup and a few support applications.   We are using our existing authentication model, which requires a signature for each specific request.  This means that regular IIIF clients won't work yet without a separate authentication.

We set up a demonstration for Sascha's talk at Access 2017, which allows specific logged-in users to set a cookie that will tell the content server to allow access to everything.  For these users the "About" tab for any document on any of our portals also has a "IIIF Presentation Document" section which includes a URL that can be cut-and-pasted into any IIIF viewer.   If you wish access to this demo, please get in touch with Sascha.

We have plans for a new authentication system and adopting more of the IIIF APIs in the future, but we need more work done on other aspects of the platform before we can do that.

Future of Canadiana's preservation platform

Back in April I wrote about JHOVE, and how we would be integrating format identification and validation into our preservation platform.

After we started some of that work in the spring we decided to explore some alternatives.  Our metadata architect Julienne did an environmental scan and evaluated some of the available tools.   We came to the conclusion that rather than continue to update and maintain our current OAIS platform that we would adopt an existing and already maintained platform.   The plan is to migrate from our custom OAIS platform to Archivematica.

This will involve providing a clean separation between our preservation platform and our access platform.

As well as changing the OAIS platform, we also plan to upgrade from using our own custom replication and validation services on top of ZFS to using OpenStack SWIFT.

The question of when we will be able to do these changes is dependent on the new staff, and how familiar they already are (or how quickly they can become) on these new technologies.

Future of Canadiana's access platform

As part of the environmental scan we also evaluated access tools such as Access to Memory, also primarily developed by Artefactual Systems.  While a great tool for archival description and access, Canadiana exists in that mushy-middle where we aren't exactly a library, exactly an archive, or exactly like any specific part of the GLAM community.

Before Julienne left she did some data modeling work and pointed us in the right direction for next steps.  We look forward next year to exploring the Portland Common Data ModelFedora, and components of Samvera.

Docker and GitHub

More of our software and configuration is up on our c7a GitHub, an initiative started in the summer.  While we maintain a local private subversion, we are slowly moving everything to public repositories on GitHub.

At the same time as the move to GitHub we started to deploy more of our software via docker, with most of our software and configurations now moved.

Repository servers

A repository server node, which currently also provides public access to repository content, has the following docker images:

  • cihm-public-cos  has the Apache image that sits in front of all related web services.
  • cihm-cookie-authorizer is used to verify JWTs and set related cookies.
  • cihm-file-access verifies JWTs and provides direct access to files, such as for PDF downloads
  • cihm-cantaloupe is our Cantaloupe configuration, with Cantaloupe provides derivative images using the IIIF Image API.
  • cihm-repomanage has tools for managing the file repository, such as replication and validation (fixity)
  • I am currently switching over to using the official Docker CouchDB image (tag 1.7.1 for the time being).

Application servers

An Application server node has the following images:

  • cihm-public-cap has the Apache image which is in front of all the web facing application services.
  • 'cap' , which is currently only in our subversion repository and only deployed to development servers.  In production we still use the older deployment mechanism (capistrano).
  • cihm-metadatabus has scripting to stream search data distributed by CouchDB to Solr
  • We are using the official Docker Solr image (tag 5.5.5)
  • These servers also have CouchDB servers

Demo server

We have a demo server which mostly runs legacy applications like the CDP, rdf and AV which we don't maintain, but also have a current demo:
  • cihm-iiif-presentation offers the IIIF Presentation API demonstration, which reads our current CouchDB presentation documents and provides in a IIIF compatible way.

Other servers that don't provide public access

We have other servers which are used internally which don't have a publicly accessible interfaces, and are used by staff to manage processes.

  • The servers that build SIPs, and the servers we use to ingest SIPs into AIPs to be stored on repository servers, use the cihm-ingestwip image.
  • The server used to manage our metadata bus databases use the cihm-metadatabus image (extracts metadata from SIPs, produces documents for presentation and search) and a server running the official Docker Solr image for local search.
  • We also have CouchDB running on many servers, as we use it as a reliable multi-datacenter replication service for most of our metadata.

Best wishes of the season, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Does public transit "prove" private vehicle ownership and driving is inappropriate?

If you haven't already read it, please read my earlier article where I discuss a layered model for road transportation, and I try to clarify that "technological protection measures" (TPMs) are actually a restriction on who is allowed to drive (IE: author software for), or choose drivers for, communications technology.  I strongly believe there are conversations that wouldn't even happen if we were talking about cars rather than computers.

Once you have a similar understanding of the communications technology being discussed, and the most appropriate transportation technology analogy, you can begin to see just how inappropriate some of the statements made about communications technology sound.

When I was a witness in front of the C-32 committee I gave a version of my "I'm holding up four things" talk I had already given in multiple settings (See: Protecting property rights in a digital world).  The intention is to clarify that when discussing TPMs there are potentially 4 things that have owners (the media, the copyrighted work stored on media, the access device, and the authors of the software on the device), and that focusing only on one of them (the non-software copyright owner) risks inducing infringement or effectively abolishing the property and other rights of the other 3 owners.

I am an example of someone who has all 4 ownership interests: I own media, I am a copyright holder for non-software works, I own devices, and I author software.

One of the most vocal opponents of my attempt to protect the rights of all 4 classes of owners owners is John Degen (See: Making a living as an author vs. off of authors.)  When he was a witness in front of the Senate committee studying the renumbered C-11 he discussed technology as well, but in a way that sounds quite silly for those of us who understand the technology and the relationship to creators.

Mr. Degen: This morning Mr. Henderson referenced a couple of times real world situations and a lot of the panic that goes into extreme situations that might happen. This is a Kobo eReader — not a commercial for Kobo — and I have a bunch of books on it. Let us say I was studying these books in a university environment. I have Moby Dick, that great Canadian classic up here. Let us say I was studying Moby Dick. On this piece of technology, Moby Dick is locked. It is within the Kobo propriety locked system. It cannot be transferred to a Kindle, for instance. They do that for definition within the marketplace. There are fears out there that were I to be studying in a classroom environment, the lock would impede my fair-dealing rights to research and private study. I get around that completely legally, and without breaking any locks, by using paper and a pen. I read what is on the electronic device and I make my notes for research and private studying. I am, in effect, copying what is in the text and I do that perfectly legally. That is more likely what will be happening in classrooms. The extreme fears about digital locks locking students away from information are completely unfounded.

If I provide a transportation technology translation of this intervention, you will see why what Mr Degen said makes no sense.

Fictional person: This morning people expressed panic about what might happen if individuals are no longer allowed to have the keys to the locks on their cars, choose drivers, or drive vehicles themselves.   I came to this committee this morning by OCTranspo.  This is a locked system where the vehicles are owned by the city, and the city employs all drivers.  There are other privately run systems such as Greyhound Canada, a subsidiary of British transport company FirstGroup, that owns the vehicles and hires all the drivers.   There are fears that if individuals couldn't drive vehicles or choose who drives their vehicles, that it would restrict their travel. The fact I got here by OCTranspo is proof this is not the case.  In fact, if these private and public sector transportation systems didn't exist I could have walked to the committee hearings. The extreme fears about non-owner locks on vehicles or prohibitions against choosing drivers or driving ones own vehicle are completely unfounded.

There are many reasons to be dismissive of what Mr Degen claims.

While he makes his living elsewhere (staff at Professional Writers Association and later Writers Union, and at the Ontario Arts Council when he spoke to committee), he is focused near exclusively on textual literary works.  His suggestion he could read the text on screen and do fair dealing research using pen and paper sounds as silly as someone suggesting all witnesses to all committees could have walked there.   While I live within walking distance of the federal parliament, most Canadians (including Mr. Degen) do not -- and while some creative works are only text, others are not.   His words were dismissive of the rights and interests of the vast majority of Canadian creators.  The Copyright Act regulates activities for works which are nothing at all like text literary works, and it is for these other works that many of the worst controversies arise.

Rather than a reason to dismiss concerns about technological measures, his comments are actually a reason to dismiss claims about the alleged effectiveness of technological measures at reducing copyright infringement.  For the works in which fair dealings research doesn't require unlocking, copyright infringement also doesn't require unlocking.  Someone who actually wanted to infringe the copyright on a textual work only has to re-type it.

Mr. Degen doesn't have an interest in driving his technology, or having any say into who does the driving.  I personally don't have a drivers license, but I still care about who is doing the driving when it comes to transportation technology. I think there is a big difference between a privately run transit system where a private corporation decides all the policy, and a publicly managed transit system.  I believe all passenger transportation systems, public or private, should be government regulated.  The fact Mr. Degen held up a device with unaccountable and non-transparent private policy suggests he might not even care about these important distinctions.

While it is his right to not care who controls technology, it is not valid for him to claim his lack of personal interest is a reason to dismiss other peoples interests or seek to diminish or abolish their rights.

What Mr. Degen describes is different than the OCTranspo example because passengers haven't been mislead to believe they own the bus.  In the case of the Kobo people are being dishonestly lead to believe they are "purchasing" something, but where they are not given the keys or allowed to change the locks on what they have been told they "own".  If this was an honest business relationship where the vendor wanted to retain control then they would have retained ownership, and Mr Degen's Kobo would have been rented.  There would have been a transparent rental agreement laying out all the conditions. Whether it is the enforceability of the rental agreements for things you don't own, or the legal protection of digital locks you apply to things you do own, it is dishonest and possibly unconstitutional to claim this is a matter of federal copyright law rather than provincial contract and property law.  Without clearly understanding the relationship is closer to a rental than purchase, privacy and other rights aren't being appropriately protected.  Far from being the subject matter of copyright law, technological measures are being abused to bypass many other laws and regulations.

The communications technology we are discussing is the same technology used to create and disseminate works.  Revoking the ability of owners to independently control or have a say in who controls their technology doesn't only impact audiences, but greatly impacts creators.   If some unaccountable and non-transparent third party has the ability to disallow in software (what controls the devices) specific creative works to be distributed, or even created in the first place, this can have a critical impact on culture.

This is why I believe that protecting technology property rights is a prerequisite for protecting creators' rights, and also why I consider those who are opponents to technology property rights to be opponents of creators' rights.

We wouldn't even be having this conversation if we were talking about cars rather than computers.  If Mr. Degen were talking about transportation technology he would have been appropriately laughed out of the committee.

I am a long time creators' rights advocate, focused on technology property rights. I believe fellow creators need to take a closer look at how communications technology works so that they can tell who are allies and who are opponents to protecting their rights.