Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doctor Who fans must wait or be forced into an "infringe or be infringed" decision by BBC

The following is a comment I added to a Kasterborous editorial: iTunes, BBC? Really?

This is not a question of money for me — I have spent $thousands$ in recent years on my love of Doctor Who, and I’m more than willing to pay extra to get early access to these episodes before the DVD’s come out. Unfortunately BBC didn’t give me that option, so I will need to either wait for the DVD’s or get the episodes from an “unauthorized” source.

I am not a customer of Apple, nor will I ever be. I’ve spent more than a decade of my life as a political activist in support of IT property rights. As I discussed in a recent submission to the Canadian government on this issue , Apple is one of the worst infringers of IT property rights. They also actively lobby for legalizing and legally protecting infringements of IT property rights.

While Apple is a direct infringer, inducing people into infringing situations puts the BBC in the same league for those of us trying to protect these property rights as ISOHunt and PirateBay does for copyright infringement.

I agree it is great news that these stories were found, and great news that the BBC decided to make individual episodes available before they have completed the DVD sets. It is clearly bad news that they decided to make an exclusive distribution deal with such a highly controversial company.

I can understand people who may opt out of allowing their own property rights to be infringed, and instead infringe the copyright of others — DRM has never reduced copyright infringement, and in nearly every anecdote I have heard of has encouraged people to infringe copyright.

BTW: The “International” iPlayer is a similar failure by the BBC. Having this be Apple infringing devices only excludes those of us who use computers that are owner-secured rather than controllable by third parties. I am more than willing to pay a subscription fee to access iPlayer in Canada, but BBC hasn’t yet offered that to me at any price.

We live in a time where the importance of cyber-security will be increasing, and yet all these direct (by apple) and contributory (by BBC) infringements of IT property rights only decreases security by creating back-doors where non-owners control computers.

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 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 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".


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Social media a better Doctor Who monster than WIFI

I'm a big fan of science fiction, and my favorite is Doctor Who.  One thing I do find annoying is when science fiction is too light on the science part, and perpetuates the general lack of scientific knowledge of our "modern" society.  Like constantly spelling quality with a "K", science fiction lacking in credible science makes us less intelligent while good science fiction can help us better understand ourselves, science, and how we interact with technology.

While we don't know how to travel in time or as quickly in space, it is not that aspect of science fiction like Doctor Who that bothers me.  I am bothered when science fiction takes a real-world technology and makes it into something it can't be, or stories which aren't internally consistent with how science would work in the fictional world created.

Two recent Doctor Who episodes are examples of good and bad science: The Bells of Saint John is the most recent television episode(11'th Doctor), and Babblesphere is the most recent audio drama from the Destiny of the Doctor joint range from Big Finish and AudioGo.

Spoilers, Sweetie

In The Bells of Saint John the monster was WIFI, controlled by The Great Intelligence. Someone would be trying to connect to the Internet and find hotspot names like "┓┏ 凵 =╱⊿┌┬┐".  After connecting your computer would be broken into and the operators able to spy on you through your webcam and other such features of newer computers and mobile devices.   This part is plausible  relying on the lack of security on many of these devices (partly due to bad government policy that makes security our devices harder and less legal, but we can get into that later).

Then magically a robot with a spoon head shows up that reminded me of the Nodes from Silence in the Library, which then download someones brain.  The Doctor refers to this spoonhead node as a walking WIFI base station, trying to make some direct connection between the WIFI link which hacks the computer and the spoonhead nodes which are hacking people's brains.  The script can say there is some connection between WIFI and this robot that was teleported in, but that doesn't makes the science plausible or consistent.  WIFI is a real-world technology with real-world limits which shouldn't be just waived away by the writer (Steven Moffat, same as for the Library -- funny how some of the tech seemed familiar even if far better written in the Library).

The more science fiction makes things like WIFI out to be magic, the less the general public will understand and be able to differentiate between real-world threats and imagined ones.  This not only encourages people to see boogeymen where they don't exist, but also to not recognize the real problems that do exist (like the government policies making network and other computer security harder and less legal).

Babblesphere is set in a future human settlement where social media technology goes bad.  Initially we have helmets people would put on in order to interact with a virtual reality environment, which was eventually replaced with a chip people would embed and never be disconnected.  A computer AI program was written to moderate social media forums, and this AI program in typical "I, Robot" fashion takes over and stops anything that gets in the way of what it believes to be its job.  For example, rather than just ejecting boring participants from the forums it would use the implant to murder them by electrocuting their brain.   Chip implants are made mandatory by the AI program, but people don't realize the AI has taken over and thinks that this is the government of the colony creating the laws.

This is all plausible futuristic technology as well as plausible (if frightening and infuriating) inappropriate reactions to the technology by humans.  Nearly all the colonists have voluntarily had the implants, never questioning whether there could be any risks or like current society asking who controls the implants (who is writing the software that ultimately will control their lives).  This is like current politicians increasingly passing laws which allow non-transparent software to unaccountably control more and more of our lives: eventually putting politicians out of work as the most important policies will be authored as software and not laws.  While it is insane to allow third parties like device manufacturers to be in control of our private communications devices like cell phones (IE: like anti-circumvention clauses in "copyright" laws), it is beyond insane (time to lock up the politicians insane) to allow unaccountable and non-transparent software to be embedded in medical technology.

It is only an extreme minority of the colonists that needed the implants to be mandatory, with the majority of the colonists treating those who didn't as terrorists for wanting to have "private thoughts".  "If you have nothing bad to hide, why have secrets" is a sentiment shared by far too many in our society, and why the colonists outlawed private thoughts.  You can read this type of dangerous thinking in Hansard quite often ("Lawful access" anyone?), and is something we as a society have to become more aware of and more vigilant against.  Not surprising the same people who think that citizens don't deserve any privacy are the first to believe that those in "authority" (government officials, police, military, etc) should have more privacy and less accountability/transparency. Common sense dictates that there are at least the same percentage of "bad actors" within these authorities as there are in the general public.  Add to that the fact that power corrupts and we clearly need to have greater scrutiny of authorities than the general public.

While The Bells of Saint John is great and exciting drama, it is in my mind poor science fiction while Babblesphere is all thumbs up for both the science and the fiction.  While Bells makes us mildly curious about who Clara will turn out to be, Babblesphere entertains as well as encourages its listeners to think about real-world issues with our human interactions with science and tech.

Monday, March 11, 2013

AudioGO and Big Finish even easier for audio-books than eMusic

Back in May 2008 I offered my thoughts on three services that offered Cory Doctorow's Little Brother as an audio book. Audible didn't work at all, Zipidee worked but was less than ideal, and eMusic was the best of the three.

As part of the 50'th anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who I have decided to go where I've never been before, and check out some of the Doctor Who audio-books. AudioGO offers Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures that are based on TV Soundtracks, readings of novelizations, as well as original stories. Big Finish offers many original science fiction audio dramas for Doctor Who, Stargate and Sherlock Holmes.

It goes without saying that like eMusic both offer unencrypted (AKA: DRM-free) audio in vendor-neutral audio formats, which in this case included MP3. I discussed my unwillingness to access or pay for DRM-infected audio-books in the 2008 article. I suspect given these services have a focus on science fiction that they recognize that discouraging purchases from more science and technology literate customers would be strongly against their best interests.

Big Finish solves the problem of offering multiple files as part of a single title by offering ZIP files for download. After purchasing they offer a "Download MP3" and "Download Audiobook" option for each title, allowing you to download the title again if necessary. The MP3 option offers a ZIP file with a series of MP3 files (multiple tracks for a given title), a JPEG cover image, and a PDF of the current issue of Big Finish' Vortex magazine. The Audiobook option replaces the series of MP3 files within the ZIP file with a single m4b file (Note: for listening on my Android phone I rename the file to .m4a to use the built-in audio app rather than downloading a dedicated Audiobook app).

AudioGO offers "Download with Manager", "Download in Browser" and a "Listen online" for purchased titles.

The download manager is a Java application which requires that Java be installed on the desktop, but runs well on the OpenJDK that ships standard with Ubuntu Linux. It is much simpler, cleaner and interoperable than the platform-specific binary that eMusic uses for a download manager. I hope that eMusic will consider upgrading to a Java application for this purpose.

The "Download in Browser" attempts to use JavaScript to handle multiple downloads. While this and downloading each file separately works, it didn't work as well as the Java download manager. This option will be great for those who don't have (or don't want to have for many legitimate security reasons) a Java interpreter on their computers.

The "Listen online" makes use of HTML5 (with Flash for legacy browsers) for an audio player that lists each track/chapter to allow you to jump to a specific track.

Overall the experience with these two services have been great so far. I only finished my watching of the DVD's of the classic series a week ago, so will now be spending time checking out more of the audio adventures. Check out my Doctor Who and Me page for a list of what I've purchased/watched/etc. Always looking for Who recommendations if you have them.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cancelling my Fair Vote Canada membership/donation

Since some time close to the founding in 2000 I have been a member of Fair Vote Canada, including having a $10/month automatic donation. Today I have contacted FVC to cancel the donation and let my membership lapse.

When I first joined the group was in favour of electoral modernization, was non-partisan and appeared agnostic to any specific voting system alternative to the very broken First Past the Post system. It appears over the years it has moved from being non-partisan to being multi-partisan, and is now focused on voting systems that favour political parties. When they speak of being proportional they mean party proportional, fixated not on the potential of a representative having the most voter support but only on votes which are targeted at parties rather than representatives.

While I heard ramblings over the years about what I consider a change, the policy direction became obvious in the language of a motion for FVC members to have a referendum on limited support of Alternative Vote (AV).

Whereas support for the Alternative Vote (AV) in a municipal context has become an increasingly divisive and disruptive debate within the electoral reform movement;

Whereas National Council has concluded that Fair Vote Canada’s Statement of Purpose does not allow the organization to support the Alternative Vote because it is not proportional, while some Fair Vote Canada members support the Alternative Vote as an improvement to First Past the Post where no parties exist and as a stepping-stone to proportional representation;

Whereas Fair Vote Canada's membership should be involved in major policy decisions for the movement including clarification or modification of any foundational documents, and this done in an open, transparent and democratic manner;

Be it resolved that a Referendum be held on the following question, and that a majority of votes cast shall settle the question:

Please indicate your support for one of the following positions:

A: Fair Vote Canada’s mandate is to promote Proportional Representation and that Fair Vote Canada only support systems that are proportional, at all levels of government.


B: "Fair Vote Canada supports the Alternative Vote for municipal council elections where no parties exist" and that line be added to the paragraph on Proportional Representation in the Statement of Purpose.

This language not only demotes Ranked voting systems in scenarios where parties already exist, but only sees them as a stepping stone towards imposing parties in municipal elections.

Of those two options (B) is more palatable, but is still not something I can support given if parties exist at all FVC is only willing to support voting systems which will further privilege parties over independent representatives. I believe this would only corrupt municipal politics further than is already the case, something I don't want to be seen as supporting.

In my ideal world we would be seeking to minimize the influence of political parties on our democratic system as a whole. Recognizing that this isn't a goal that is achievable in the short term, I've been willing to align myself with other electoral reformers interested in moving us towards systems which were better than FPTP, and which are at least hybrids with representatives and parties. The BC STV system proposed in BC and the Mixed-Member Proportional system proposed Ontario both offered systems that was a healthy compromise between those goals.

The wording of the referendum has clarified that FVC as an organization isn't intending to be working for goals compatible with my own, even if they coincidentally support a hybrid voting system that both they and I can support. While I can still work on specific campaigns to modernize when such as compromise is offered, it is clear that giving (or even being seen to give) support to FVC itself is not in my interests.

Note: With a Ranked Ballot in a single-member district the winner is the individual candidate that has the highest proportion of voter support, regardless of whether they were the first choice (the only choice with the antiquated FPTP) or was offered support at a lower ranking than first. Single Transferable Vote systems can be proportional even with single-member districts. The word "proportional" has been taken by FVC to be synonymous with party proportional where it is the proportion of support for a party that matters, not the proportion of support for an individual candidate (which may or may not even be a member of a political party).

It is quite unfortunate that many I've spoken to in FVC don't see this as an extreme narrowing of the original statement of purpose, and a major change in the overall policy direction of the organization since its founding.