Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodbye 2018

I turned 50 at the end of March. I was very reflective around that time, starting to think about a future that might include retirement and pondering if I was currently where I wanted to be.

Adjusting to my new employer starting in April hasn't always been easy, as I continue to struggle with different ideas about where priorities should be when time is limited.  Over the years at Canadiana several projects were started without clear plans for completion or ongoing maintenance, and technological debt has built up.

Early in April my mother had a heart attack. Her birthday was April 14'th, and we didn't know if family was getting together for a birthday or a funeral.  When she managed to survive she was told she only had weeks or months to live - that it was unlikely she would see another Christmas.

My mother's health has been declining for years, and life became harder for her after my father's death in 2009.  Decembers had already been particularly hard for her since my sister died in 1989.

Relationships with parents have different stages, if you are lucky enough to experience all of them.  In the early years after you are born your parents take care of you, then there is a stage when everyone is adult and you care for each other, and in later years the roles reverse as the child takes care of the parent until their death.

While I have been doing my best to help my mother since my father's death, the relationship became much stronger since April.  While I wasn't able to travel to Sudbury in April, I was with her for 2 weeks in May and a week each month after.

As emotional as it was to become closer to someone I knew was near death, I am thankful I allocated the time.  I considered all the time since the heart attack to be extra visiting time, and extra time to help her get her affairs in order and be as ready for the next stage as one could become.

My mother died on August 19.

This December has been different.  For obviously reasons I have been doing a lot of reminiscing -- and the memories are fond memories.  I've been posting pictures from various Decembers on Facebook, including some from before I was born as I now have all the photographs my mother kept.

Over the summer I became closer to my mother's 4 sisters.  My mother has two sisters living near Sudbury who had already been helping her, and who continued to help me help my mother over the summer.  We continue to have family conversations with a closeness that I didn't have with them before this year.

I also had many other friends of mine and Rina's helping, including bringing me to their cottages for "canoe therapy" several times over the summer and into the fall. When times are hard you really appreciate these friendships.

The CRKN offices close between Christmas and New Years. This is different from past jobs and when I was self employed, and I realised that it hasn't been since university that I had this time completely off.  My management helped me through the summer by looking for ways to enable me to be with my mother for many weeks over the summer without having to buy vacation days.

I don't know what 2019 will bring, but as the stress of the last year winds down I'm hopeful.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

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.