Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why is a license required for a Canadiana project built from public domain material?

I was asked in a comment why the CRKN announcement about the new collaboration with Canadiana.org mentioned Creative Commons licensing.


Short answer:

What is in the public domain stays in the public domain.  What Copyright restricts, this project will be releasing under a Creative Commons license.  It is copyright law which defines the line between the public domain and what must be licensed.

Longer answer:

I am a system administrator at Canadiana, and not someone involved in policy relating to licensing of the parts of this project that will be covered by Canadiana copyright.  When it is a Canadiana decision, it is our Board of Directors made up of librarians and archivists, and our executive director, who ultimately are responsible for such policies.

As someone who has spent more that a decade dedicated to Copyright related policy discussions (see Digital Copyright Canada), and been involved in the Free Software movement since the early 1990's, I have my own opinions -- but they are my own and not those of Canadiana.

A work that is in the public domain in Canada is something which has fallen out of Copyright. For most things that is life of the author plus 50 years.  We have researchers at Canadiana that work on determining the author of works we wish to scan and a database of the deaths of authors to help with the public domain determination.

Copyright term extension has unfortunately been threatened by the federal government many times.  This sometimes comes in the form of treaty negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Canada-Europe Free Trade Agreement (CETA), with our trade representatives never adequately pushing back on calls for term extension.  In some countries term extension has even re-regulated works that were already in the public domain.  This is a risk of any project like ours given we rely on the public domain to be allowed to make the scans in the first place.

In order to scan for this project Canadiana or LAC essentially take photographs of the books, papers, and other articles being preserved and made accessible.  Then the photograph is digitized (sometimes from film previously taken, and sometimes more directly as part of the book/paper scanning process).

It is unfortunately a matter of debate whether a photograph of something which is not restricted by copyright has its own separate copyright held by the photographer. This ties into the debate about sweat of the brow vs originality.  While there are some professional photographers and their unions who believe that all photographs should be restricted by copyright, regardless of subject matter or originality, I believe most Canadians (including many lawyers reading some of  the relevant caselaw, which helps) would disagree.

To avoid being dragged into this heated debate, and to protect against future changes to copyright law, a license provides clarity even for those who wish/believe the photograph has its own new copyright.

If the decision was mine (note: it's not -- talk to your Librarian :-) any license on the photographs and resulting scans would be CC0 which is a method to try to put a copyrighted work as closely to the public domain as domestic law allows.  This avoids the question of whether a public domain dedication is possible in Canada by providing a back-up license.

Scanning is only part of the process, and not the part that takes the most resources.  Researching metatata about the images so that there is something to search on creates a new database.  All this metadata is considered new works under Copyright, and thus a license is required.

There may in the future be crowdsourcing of metadata, and legal clarity will be required there as well. I'm personally a fan of joint-copyright assignments or copyright waivers (CC0 style) for projects like this to allow the non-profit (in our case charity) project to enhance licensing over time.

There are plans, if funding comes together, to transcribe some of the handwritten papers.  More than the photographs there is a presumption that the transcriptions would have their own copyright, so licensing is required.

Hope this helps... I wish copyright weren't expanding all the time, but as it does there is an increased need for licensing where previously copyright wasn't relevant.  The scope and term of copyright is expanding at the same time as exceptions (such as fair dealings) is largely being diminished globally.  There were some minor fair dealings gains in Bill C-11, but there were far more losses.  Canadian copyright law will also be manipulated by Bill C-56, the bill allegedly dealing with counterfeit materials where most of the controversy is in the unrelated copyright aspects.


Note: Being part of the Free Software movement I prefer the subset of Creative Commons licenses which are similar to those we use.  I have never liked the vagueness of the so-called "Non Commercial" (NC) clauses, and thus them and have a preference for CC0, CC-BY and CC-SA.  With the definition I use for "open access" this is what is required, and don't consider works licensed with a ND (no-derivatives) or NC to be "open access".  But, as with many things, different people use different definitions.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Good news Canadiana & LAC project spun into bad news?

For the past few years I've worked at a charity called Canadiana where we research, digitize, add metadata to and provide access to Canadian works in the public domain (IE: *finally* out of our excessively long Copyright term in Canada) for researchers.  While most of our funding comes from educational institutions, we have also had individual members and donors who help fund our work.  While it would be great if this work were paid for by the government and all this information made searchable and accessible immediately free to all Canadians, this hasn't happened so a charity is the next best option.

It's a great place to work.  While I am a technical person, many of my co-workers are librarians and our board of directors are also largely librarians.  I joke with people about how "scary" my employer is, and feel guilty when fellow techies tell me horror stories about some of their corporate employers.

Imagine my surprise when the media claimed I was working for some "private high-tech consortium" involved in a "hush-hush deal" with Library and Archives Canada to try to put Canadian heritage behind a paywall.   I've spent more than half my life fighting against schemes like that, joining the Free Software movement in the early 1990's and spending the last decade+ fighting Copyright maximalists who want to not only lock up our culture but infringe our IT property rights in the process.  I know all about secret back-room deals to lock up culture, and they go with acronyms such as ACTA, SOPA, TPP, and so-on.   As someone who has spent so much time opposing such ideas, I obviously wouldn't work for some "private high-tech consortium" involved in such a scheme.

I'm not sure how or why someone spun a good-news story into its opposite, but what I know of the new project with LAC is very different than how some have mistakenly reported it.

Everything we are doing is in addition to existing methods of access.  The collection will remain accessible from the LAC as it always has.  There is no pay-wall for this project's digital content, and as the collections are digitized they will be freely accessible on Canadiana's website -- making them far more accessible than travelling to the LAC offices as people have to do today.  This is in addition to the fact that our complete collection is available through most educational institution and public libraries, with these libraries providing us funding to make all our collections accessible to their patrons.  If you haven't seen our collections already, please ask your librarian about it and take a look!

Much of the work we do is involved with metadata, or data about the pages we scan and put online.  It is this metadata which allows the information to be searchable.  Given the amount of work, this is where the bulk of the expenses are.   While public funding would be great (!!), the reality is that this type of work ends up needing to be funded through other means including having individual and institutional members fund this metadata. The more charitable donations and memberships we get, the better the metadata and access.   This stuff doesn't come cheap, but given we are a charity the goal isn't to make some profit but to make the information as accessible to as many Canadians as we possibly can.

I wish reporters had done a bit more research into what Canadiana was before accepting someone's spin of the new project we will be doing with LAC.  I suspect their goal might be to trip up the government of the day, but the people who will pay the costs of misunderstandings are Canadians who will end up with less access to our heritage if these types of projects fall through.

If reporters want to talk about locking up our heritage with secret deals they should look into things like ACTA, as well as asking their own employers and unions (PWAC/TWUC, etc) their views on things such as copyright term extension which is where the real threats are coming from.

Update: A colleague has posted something official to our website.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Hurt Doctor theory isn't going to happen.

Since we have been told that John Hurt would be playing an incarnation of The Doctor in the 50'th Anniversary Special in November, there has been speculation as to which number he would be.

There is the idea that he is the doctor previous to William Hartnell, meaning that William was not the first incarnation -- just the first one called "The Doctor".

There is the idea that Hurt plays the incarnation who fought the Time War, situating him between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston.  This still means Matt Smith is the 11'th "Doctor", but as with the first theory he isn't the 11'th incarnation of that Gallifreyan.

There was the idea that Hurt is playing The Valeyard, an incarnation of The Doctor somewhere between the twelfth and so-called "final" regeneration.  Earlier this month we learned that this option isn't happening as Big Finish announced Trial of the Valeyard as a new audio play.  We know that Big Finish is in constant communication with Cardif to ensure that stories don't overlap, so it's impossible that Hurt is playing the Valeyard in November with Big Finish releasing a Valeyard story in December.


I am also wondering how interesting Hurt playing an as-yet-unknown future incarnation would be for fans.  There needs to be some link to what we already know..

I don't buy into the idea that there can only be 13 doctors (12 regenerations) given so much has changed since then.  We already saw The Master offered additional regenerations (The 5 Doctors), so we know this was under the control of the Time Lords who no longer exist to enforce that limitation.

One future incarnation theory that would be interesting is an incarnation who steals a body the way that The Master did in Keeper of Traken (He stole Nyssa's father's body, having run out of regenerations).  A theft of a body in order to gain additional regenerations would be something that would "solve" the silly 12 re-generations problem and would also be something done NOT in the "name of the Doctor".

Thoughts?