Monday, June 27, 2016

Multiple connections to the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) LOD project

One of the things I like about working at is the links between what I'm paid for (systems and software design,administration,maintenance) and other aspects of my life. A project we have with the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) is an example.

A Linked Open Data Internet Hosting Project

Canadiana's primary involvement in the project is to host the Artefacts Canada Linked Open Data website.

The platform was developed by another contractor for CHIN, and is built upon two NoSQL database servers with Solr for text search and Blazegraph as a graph database.  The 'aclod' (Artefacts Canada Linked Open Data) application is written in Java, and runs within a Jetty.

Part of why we wanted to partner with CHIN is that we are growing our access platform and need to explore graph database technology for Linked Open Data (LOD) projects.  The graph database would be in addition to our existing use of Solr, CouchDB and MySQL. Our metadata architect, software lead and myself as systems lead will be taking a close look at this application.

The site is currently hosted within our Ottawa datacenter, but will soon be moving to a more powerful host located at the University of Toronto. As part of our Trustworthy Digital Repository certification we have succession agreements with 3 partners where we have servers as part of our preservation network: Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, University of Toronto, and University of Alberta in Edmonton. We have a half-cabinet in a Montreal commercial datacenter, but I look forward to when this can be moved to a fourth partner joining the preservation network (Greetings to anyone reading this from McGill, Université de Montréal, or UBC which are the other 3 often listed as the top 5 Canadian universities).

An Open Government initiative

I am a long time (Free/Libre and) open source, open data and open government advocate. While I was reading the Draft New Plan on Open Government 2016-2018 I noticed something familiar within Commitment 8: Enhance Access to Culture & Heritage Collections.
In 2015-16, the Canadian Heritage Information Network Program (CHIN) partnered with eight art museums across Canada to develop an approach to link the collections of each museum with each other, and to related external resources, based on industry best practices (e.g., Linked Open Data). This work demonstrates the feasibility of using Open Data approaches to link collections across museums and other memory organizations.
This project that Canadiana has been asked to host is a small part of something much larger that will hopefully grow with further stages of this project and the growth of government released linkable open data.

A past customer

I was a self-employed consultant between 1995 and the summer of 2011, when Canadiana convinced me to become a salaried employee.  This was after completing a 6-month contract with them starting in January 2011.

In the winter of 1997/98 I did a contract for CHIN to upgrade their online subscription registration system to include subscription renewals. This was built with PHP and FI, prior to when those component were merged to become the PHP scripting language people are more familiar with today. I was impressed that this agency of a federal department had adopted this emerging web-based language developed by Danish-Canadian programmer Rasmus Lerdorf. At the time so much of what I saw in the federal government was locked into languages and technology that were proprietary and controlled by foreign corporations.

Part of the copyright debate

For my first few years at Canadiana I requested to be part-time so that I could attend, live-tweet and write daily commentary on the hearings for the copyright bill (first for C-32, which was re-tabled as C-11). I was a witness on March 8, 2011.

Browsing the ACLOD site you will see images of artwork whose creators have died prior to 1966, meaning the works are in the public domain in Canada and not subject to copyright regulations for Canadians. On the site there are notes suggesting some of these images are regulated by copyright, with the gallery or museum alleging copyright.

Canada is a country that requires "skill and judgement" as a test for originality to be granted copyright, and most lawyers agree that merely digitizing (regardless of the type of recording equipment used or if a human or tripod was holding the recording device) existing artistic works does not create new copyright.

This policy of some museums and galleries is controversial for artists as they find it frustrating (and sometimes insulting) that these institutions often don't pay creators to publicly exhibit their works during the term of copyright, and yet charge "copyright" related fees for artists to build upon mere digitization of works in the public domain.

Canadiana is a creation of the Canadian library community: We're a Canadian charity with a board made up of representatives of the LAM community, not a vendor.  I believe it is important for all memory institutions and other parts of the Library, Archive and Museum (LAM) community to work together to help minimise confusion and animosity around copyright. I don't say this as a critique of the great work that went into this or similar projects, but as an area of policy where I believe there is considerable opportunity for improvement within our community.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Copyright-free" material is not edging out Canadian educational texts

The misinformation campaign about the minor clarification to educational fair dealings is ongoing. This includes fictional claims about kids suffering, abusing the standard "why won't they think of the kids" in a way that I believe is harmful to the education of Canadian children.

As my minor contribution to the education campaign about the reality of the situation, and who is actually promoting the interests of foreign interests, I sent the following letter to Nigel Hunt about his oddly by-lined Copyright-free material edging out Canadian educational texts.

While this article accurately portrays the narrative often spun by John Degen, further investigation into the issue reveals a very different story.

Prior to modern communication technology like the internet it was very hard and expensive to get licensing for copyrighted works. To solve this problem Collective Societies were created that offered blanket licensing at fixed fees no matter how many works required licensing. These fixed fees were then distributed to copyright holders based on estimates from surveys.

In the case of Access Copyright, the collective with John Degen is promoting, the money flows primarily to foreign educational publishers. This is in addition to the fact that Access Copyright collects a quite large transaction fee, some estimating about a third of the royalties that flow into the collective.

Modern technology provided many opportunities. Copyright holders can now directly license their works on a variety of business models. Large databases are the bulk of what educational institutions are using for licensing, and this is a great win for copyright holders who no longer need to rely on inaccurate surveys and large transaction fees but accurate computer generated statistics of usage. Another growing model is open access where the costs of creating the work are paid up-front to the authors, editors and reviewers, with later access being royalty free. This also allows for friction free derivatives, enabling things such as low cost localization where a textbook authored by an international community can be cheaply Canadianized.

While these modernizations are good for authors, the educational sector, and taxpayers who are ultimately paying for all of this, it is opposed by Access Copyright promoters.

While it is important to waive the flag, it is important to recognize which flag people are flying. Those who support these modern advances are benefiting Canadian authors, Canadian educators, Canadian students, and Canadian taxpayers while those who promote the conflicting interests of Access Copyright are primarily promoting the interests of foreign educational publishers.

John Degen is also spinning a tale on one of the minor changes made in the recent copyright bill. Educational institutions are quite conservative, and are prone to over-payment of copyright fees by paying in situations where payment is not required by law While the Supreme Court has offered numerous rulings to clarify the law, educational institutions remained nervous. While it made no real change to what the Supreme Court had already stated, the word "education" was added to the list of criteria to help reduce the fears of educational institutions. It was not, as John Degen claims, a radical change to the law that allows educational institutions to not pay where the law previously required they pay, but to deal with overly-conservative institutions which were over-paying collectives to the detriment of Canadian taxpayers.

There are some authors who are trying to leverage their copyrighted works as a type of Trojan Horse to impose Access Copyright on everyone by refusing to add their works to online databases or allow transaction licensing through other methods. This problem reveals the fact recent copyright amendments didn't go far enough on Fair Dealing, and should have included the effect on the market as a major consideration. This should clarify that it would not be an infringement of copyright to use a work where its copyright holder can't be found or no longer exists (orphaned works) or where the copyright holder refuses to license on reasonable terms. This would provide a much needed economic incentive for those who prefer to play political games rather than allow people to pay them.

In the meantime, it is necessary for education institutions to warn staff about these political games and advise them to steer clear of the affected (infecting?) works. It is not educational institutions which are forcing these works out of the Canadian education institutions, but the relevant copyright holders.

Note that none of this relates to public domain works which are the only "copyright free" works. It is simply false to suggest that public domain works have any significant impact on this discussion, making the byline for the article quite confusing.

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