Archive for February, 2014

Shaver: Copyright and Inequality

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

copyright inequality iconI really enjoyed Copyright and Inequality, a new paper by Lea Shaver forthcoming in the Washington University Law Review — enough to attempt a summary on first read, and to read a second time, aloud, in hope that some people who would never read a 52 page paper might still hear its message.

The paper is highly readable, a large part of it (“A Case Study in Book Hunger”, numbered pages 9-22, about books, languages, and the socio-economics of South Africa) of general interest, barely mentioning copyright at all — though if you start by reading that section, hopefully you’ll then read the rest of the paper to find out how copyright is implicated. May the remainder of this post be a complement.

Inequality Promotion

To put it crudely, Copyright and Inequality mostly concerns copyright’s role in keeping the poor poor, rather than its role in concentrating wealth. The latter seems even less studied than the former, but the former seems more important, unless you consider rule by plutocracy the most urgent issue in the world.

In the category of keeping the poor poor, the magnitude of copyright’s negative impact on neglected language (cf. neglected disease) populations was new to me — the requirement of permission to translate contributes to almost no books being available in these languages, for pleasure, or for education, the latter creating a bottleneck for further life opportunities (n.b. “everyone should learn English” is a multi-generation strategy only successfully carried out by wealthy countries so far).

The cost issue is obvious, but can hardly be repeated enough. Shaver provides the example of books (when available at all, almost always in English) costing 2x as much in South Africa as in the US or UK, while income is far lower, especially for the poor (about half of the population lives on less than US$50 a month).

Many countries are far poorer than South Africa, and large populations dependent on neglected languages are common. Many wealthy countries, the U.S. in particular, have large populations of poor and neglected language speakers. Copyright is helping keep the poor poor everywhere. (Expensive textbooks are appropriately a priority target in the U.S., but every good that carries a copyright monopoly tax contributes in some combination to material poverty and cultural exclusion.)

Shaver makes a very strong case for including distributive justice in copyright discourse, along the way summarizing well known problems with the dominant romantic authorship + incentive narrative which has sidelined equality. She doesn’t push for any single solution, but the most interesting discussion is of the possibility of a carve out for translation to neglected languages, along the lines of such for braille and audio versions for use by blind users. Shaver says that copyright term extension should be opposed (additionally) for distributive justice concerns, but term reduction is “politically impossible” due to treaty obligation. (In what other fields is scholarly discourse on substantially alternative and obviously superior arrangements — the current regime based on “more fallacy than fact” — so readily discarded?)


Copyright and Inequality mentions free/open/commons production or distribution briefly in a few places:

  • Another scholar mentioned commons-based peer production in the context of patents.
  • The “more radical” (than providing access at public libraries) solution of “allocating public textbook funds to the production of Open Educational Resources.” (Actually a rapidly growing practice.)
  • “Open business models” meaning very broadly cultural production not dependent on restricting copying.
  • “Limited commons”, e.g., copyright might be relaxed for a neglected language, but translations of new works in that language to non-neglected languages would be fully restricted.

I’m happy that these are included at all, but commons advocates need to make full versions central. A carve out for translation to neglected languages would be better than none, but if it is achieved, will take many years of negotiation, and be riddled with requirements that will limit effectiveness (as Shaver notes is the case with carve outs for disability), and obviously would leave all non-linguistic copyright inequality mechanisms, and the resources of interest groups that support enclosure, fully intact. Commons-based funding mandates and peer production can happen much faster, and are anything but politically impossible, and can make a huge impact, far beyond a “patch”.

This potential huge impact might hold especially for neglected languages, which essentially are not being served at all by proprietary production. For everyone, as I’ve said many times, product competition from the commons both reduces the resources available to enclosure industries to lobby for protectionism and re-imagines the range of desirable policy, in sum shifting what is politically possible.

Buttressed with recognition of copyright inequality, in particular its negative impact on neglected language populations, what might various commons advocates, projects, and movements do? Some off-the-cuff notes:

  • I’ve long admired Wikimedia’s commitment to host its projects (Wikipedia and friends) for any language community capable of maintaining a project, even a very small one, and its enunciation of the importance of this commitment and of Wikimedia’s freedom (as a non-profit) to pursue such a commitment. The result so far includes Wikipedia in 287 languages and much more, with even more in incubation, formal and informal movement communities around the world, a program to make Wikipedia access free of mobile data charges in the developing world, and probably much more I’m not aware of. Should the findings of Copyright and Inequality lead the various parts of the Wikimedia movement to multiply their efforts to support the growth of and access to free knowledge in neglected languages and increase estimates of the Wikimedia movement’s economic values accordingly? The paper’s findings are probably already well known by the staunchest language advocates around Wikimedia, but perhaps they should be taken even more seriously than they already are. I am ignorant of the human side of Wikimedia outreach to neglected language communities, but surely there is now a substantial body of experience which could be leveraged in making further investments and partnerships. On the technical side, perhaps the migration of lots of knowledge into the truly multilingual Wikidata project could enable more projects in more languages to be truly useful, even for very small language communities?
  • The importance of first language availability of texts, especially educational materials, implies that software user interface availability in the user’s first language is probably pretty important too. What would it take to increase popular free/open source software application language support from dozens (Firefox claims over 80, LibreOffice over 30) to hundreds, even thousands of languages, thereby including most neglected languages? More collaboration across program translation efforts? More centralization? Collaboration with governments, educational systems, funders? A higher bar for user interface changes requiring translation updates? Fewer programs?
  • Fund the creation new free knowledge (inclusive of entertainment!) works in neglected languages, e.g., with small grants and prizes, and introduction of collaborative production, e.g., book sprints?
  • Market, sell, distribute, push for adoption of free knowledge works among neglected language populations — this is what publishers do (given a wealthy enough population anyway), and what must be done for the commons. Making works available online, with no promotion, only solves problems for an elite, and doesn’t offer proprietary publishers any competition, where they choose to compete.
  • Could recognition of the value of neglected languages provide an impetus for a new and large effort toward free software machine translation? Little progress has been made thus far, perhaps in part because some proprietary services such as Google Translate are gratis, and work for most non-neglected languages. Could redoubled effort to support neglected languages in Wikimedia projects (Wikisource translations might be especially relevant) and free/open source software projects help provide needed parallel corpora?
  • Awareness of the plight of neglected language populations could buttress arguments for open funding mandates, particularly if it could be demonstrated that some resulting materials were actually translated and used by said populations — neglected language translation and marketing might even be included in some such mandates, or funders and projects working with neglected language populations could specifically target translation and distribution of the “best” of the output of open funding mandates.
  • Awareness of neglected languages could buttress arguments for voluntary release of works under free/open licenses or into the public domain. (A handful of readers might note that translation-only licenses have been proposed, and a “Developing Nations” license briefly offered. The latter got almost no use before it was retired, perhaps in part because it seemed both confusing and paternalistic — and I doubt these very limited commons offer much, including in public license form. I can’t stress enough that sales/marketing/distribution/adoption are very tough and very necessary, and commons projects have largely failed at them to date. Given this, it is insane to cut off entire segments of potential collaborators, e.g., free knowledge projects and diaspora communities.)
  • Increasing commons movements’ self-awareness of their ability to help neglected language populations could buttress these movements’ self-awareness of their own political potency, leading them to act unashamedly as an interest group and to boldly stake a claim for the commons as the central paradigm for information/innovation policy, thereby further increasing their political potency, and ability to help neglected language populations. (Recursion intentional!)


Further excerpts from Copyright and Inequality:

Overall, copyright law works quite well for copyright scholars at leading universities.

Funniest sentence in the paper, presumably unintentional. (One small bit of progress would be for “copyright scholars” to re-imagine themselves as “commons scholars”; cf. copyright experts→commons experts.)

Its protections give us control over our own writings, which we can choose to invoke or to waive, as we believe best suits our own interests. Its incentives help to stimulate the production of an ever-greater variety of informative and entertaining works for our professional and personal development. Its limitations on access and use of copyrighted works only rarely pose significant problems for us. From this perspective, it is easy to miss the more profound problems posed for the 99% of the world that does not enjoy the same privileged position of access.

From this privileged perspective, creative production resembles a constantly expanding buffet of choice laid before us, among which we may select the most appealing options until we are full. Perhaps some of these offerings are being produced in languages we do not speak. No matter, more than enough choices remain. In our affluence of resources and opportunities, we might even choose to acquire fluency in a second language to further expand our choices. Copyright protection promises to raise the quality, the diversity, at the very least the sheer number of offerings placed upon the table. How could this be a bad thing? But can your peripheral vision stretch farther still? If so, you might see, standing back behind you, a hungry crowd. They are the poor. They are a majority of the world. They too admire the buffet. But they realize it is not laid for them. For some of us, the proliferation of new works is a bounty, opening up new worlds of consumer choice, new horizons of creativity to explore. For most of the world’s population, however, the expanding universe of new cultural works is yet another site of social privilege from which they are effectively excluded.

Well and powerfully said regarding the unseen and neglected, but I submit further that our forward vision is profoundly myopic. Relative to the (perhaps two billion?) people who are both poor and only read a neglected language, wealthy people with English fluency are incredibly privileged, and have ready access to an astounding and ever-growing surfeit of culturally relevant educational and entertainment materials. Those employed by wealthy universities have yet more ready access. Just before the humorous sentence:

Located in major research universities, we also enjoy supremely convenient access to the best-funded libraries in the world. As a group, we do not fail to complain when we notice that copyright law impedes our own ability to access, create, and distribute cultural works. Fortunately, our legal expertise and professional experience positions us well to both recognize the legal roots of our problems, and to suggest solutions to our legislatures and courts.

But however well positioned relative to neglected language populations or the general public of wealthy countries, these complaints and suggestions always face a tremendous uphill battle, at best. The enclosure industries are much better positioned than their scholars.

We love whatever culture we grow up in, but I doubt the one driven by the maximization of rents available from cultural products (cf.), at the expense of freedom and equality, is anywhere near the best of possible worlds, even for those with access to those products. I think an analogy to the internet is appropriate: had a small number of closed electronic services continued to dominate, and a decentralized network never developed, we would now think of the AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy of 2014 as amazing — and they would be! The much better world of the internet would be beyond the imagination of most. Culturally, that AOLternative universe is the one we live in. But we can catch some glimpses of the internet universe, e.g., in Wikipedia, in PLOS, in memories of Napster.

Perhaps appropriately, only acting in the interests of poor and neglected language populations, against copyright inequality, will we be able to leave the AOL culture scenario and into the internet culture universe.

Closing quote from Copyright and Inequality:

An often-quoted statement by John Maynard Keynes posits that “The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice, and individual liberty.” The perspectives of economic efficiency and individual liberty have profoundly informed our discussion of copyright law. Yet the perspective of social justice has been comparatively absent. Reckoning with the ways in which social inequality impacts the market for copyrighted work begins to supply this missing perspective. In the end, the inequality insight also leads us back to economic efficiency and individual liberty. For a system of creative production and exchange that excludes most of the world from participation is also not economically efficient. Nor does it effectively promote individual liberty for all. To promote all three of these values, copyright policy and scholarship must account for the realities of social inequality.

Read the entire paper, and share!

The framing is wrong, harmful, and anti-democratic

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Luis Villa’s points are so well put that I just had to copy and blog immediately. The specific context is not needed for the points are apropos to nearly all contemporary info policy discourse — recall the 2003 Benkler excerpt I emphasized a few posts ago:

Although the claim that the Internet leads to some form or another of “decentralization” is not new, the fundamental role played in this transformation by the emergence of non-market, nonproprietary production and distribution is often over-looked, if not willfully ignored.


  1. The framing is wrong – it should be “production models”, or “sustainability models”, not “business models” – the assumption that production of copyrighted works has to happen through “business” is a harmful and anti-democratic in an age where every citizen has access to tools that can publish to the entire world.
  2. Ditto use of “the industry”, as if “the industry” is the only meaningful producer of content. (Really, these two points alone could make for a great blog post; this paper is far from the only one that makes these two mistakes but is particularly blatant in use of the framing.)
  3. In part as a result of this framing, it is sad but not surprising that no citizen/public interest groups were consulted in the creation of the material. Not sure we’d want to say that to them publicly, but if we decide not to offer informal comment I’d want to say that publicly in a blog post when this is published.
  4. If the purpose of the observatory is to study infringement, then clearly peer production should be listed as a “business model” and the infringement of peer-produced material should be treated on a par with material produced through the other production models. I’m sure this group can come up with examples of infringement of our material and of other peer-produced content.
  5. Music: no mention of tools like Soundcloud (.de-based!) that are intended to democratize music creation and publication.
  6. Video: no mention of how Youtube/Vimeo has created a vast amount of non-industry video content creation, or of regular traditional media industry infringement of citizen-created video without penalty or concern. (If we wanted to write this up formally for them, we’d want to find some examples of this.)
  7. Sports: I can’t speak to the EU, but in the US, fan-created commentary (such as is now a huge source of reporting on sports news, often delivering better quality than the traditional news sources. Probably not directly relevant to this section, though (unless there have been legal threats in the EU around fan-provided live-streaming commentary).
  8. Press content: at least in the US, donor-supported/non-profit media is an increasingly important source of news; lots of detail here: Don’t know if there are EU-based examples of this.
  9. Social media: with regards to 4.7 (news/social media), it should be noted that social media probably disproportionately *helps* peer-produced media, since that historically has very few resources to use for marketing/distribution, and so must rely on word-of-mouth.
  10. Sec. 4 and 5 consider “news” and “books”; amazingly, neither consider new text-centric methods of production of copyrighted works, like wikis or blogs. Again shows how blind this is to the actual innovation happening in the content space.
  11. Books: no mention that technical protection measures have encouraged monopolization of the distribution channels, to the detriment of traditional distribution channels and to blossoming antitrust problems in the US (and presumably soon in the EU).
  12. 6.2: a mention of communities! But on cue, statement that these authors may not be being remunerated, as if remuneration was the only potential goal for creators. Youtube gets mentioned here, but not in Sec. 1 (Music) or Sec. 2 (Audiovisual), which is insane.
  13. Sec. 7, Business Software: doesn’t mention open source. Completely nuts.
  14. Sec. 8, video games: no mention that this is a golden era for independently-produced games. Not sure that fits our narrative very well, at least not without a lot of explanation.
  15. B2B Services: this feels overly focused on remuneration/commercial licensing; I suppose that is inevitable to some extent, but it seems like it would be worth noting the increased options for free, high-quality content that business can use (e.g., Flickr photos and Commons for stock photography).
  16. “The fact that the legal offers is at least as diverse as the illegal one” – ahhahahhahahhahaha. Really, it is quite amazing that they think that providing a “portal” will increase awareness of legal content. The best way to increase awareness of legal content is to provide it legally online and advertise it as such…

Near the end of the my recent post linked above:

Commons-based product competition simultaneously changes the facts on the ground, the range of policies imaginable, and potentially create a commons “industrial” interest group which is recognizably important to regulators and makes commons-based peer production favoring policy central to its demands — the likely Wikimedia response to the European Commission copyright consultation is a hopeful example.

That response has been drafted by Villa and others involved in Wikimedia movement advocacy. I highly recommend the advocacy advisors mailing list, where Villa posted the points above, to anyone interested in changing the framing.

IP, commons, and World Values Survey traditional/secular-rational and survival/self-expression dimensions

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

I recently wrote about Benkler’s 2002 claim that “commons-based peer production” or the “networked information economy” could enhance the liberal values of democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation and the corollary that “intellectual property” is a barrier to peer production, thus to realizing these gains. More riffing on Benkler’s papers forthcoming, but that post also serves to kick off a series I’ve long meant to do — looking at IP (take your pick: intellectual property, intellectual/industrial protectionism, inequality promotion, information/innovation policy) and commons from the perspective of various general characterizations of, take your pick: ethics, morality, politics, values. These posts will be rather naive, reflecting in some proportions the generally ignorant nature of what passes as discourse on IP and my ignorance of wide swaths of discourse. I appreciate efforts from others to correct both.

You’ve probably seen a plot of cultures on the dimensions of traditional/secular-rational values and survival/self-expression values, from World Values Survey data, but here it is again:
plot of cultures on the dimensions of traditional/secular-rational values and survival/self-expression values

Definitions, excerpted from Wikipedia:

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.

Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable.

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.

Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

How do the current IP regime and treating knowledge as a commons align on these dimensions?

Property seems aligned with traditional and survival values:

  • Deference to authority: literally, deference to those legally recognized as authors, practically, deference to highly capitalized intermediary “owners” who define culture through mass marketing.
  • Traditional family values: highly capitalized intermediaries are often willing accomplices in promoting, and suppressing other values.
  • Nationalistic: those foreign pirates!
  • Economic security: tropes of caring about starving artists and their descendants, and the centrality of the assumption that knowledge would not be created without property and of showing off how much “economic activity” industry generates.
  • Low levels of trust and tolerance: previous assumption, and want to control unauthorized adaptations and uses.

Commons seems aligned with secular-rational and self-expression values:

  • Less emphasis on authorial and intermediary control, largely debunking and struggling against these.
  • Non-traditional, unintended, global uses welcomed as beneficial: sources of decentralized innovation.
  • Outré uses seen as relatively acceptable, not to be suppressed by dominant intermediaries or legal persecution.
  • Cultural environmentalism, knowledge ecology threatened by enclosure rather than inadequate incentive.
  • Tropes of participatory culture, democratized innovation, commons-based peer production as a means of enhancing liberal values of democratic discourse, individual autonomy, equality.

I didn’t include religion above because it plays little role in contemporary IP discourse, but historically I’d place it solidly with Property, thus furthering its alignment with traditional values — religion has been a and often the primary enforcer of control and exclusivity over knowledge from the dawn of civilization.

Clearly above is a motivated characterization. Please attack it. Three obvious starting points:

  • Commons advocates look back fondly on gift exchange in traditional cultures. I don’t think this will be a fruitful attack, as gift economy does not align with traditional or survival values as used in the World Values Survey. But you could construct a tenuous multi-step argument.
  • Jurisdictions with stronger enforcement of intellectual property tend to have populations with secular-rational and self-expression values, relative to those with weaker enforcement.
  • Property, through its support for centralized control and highly capitalized intermediaries, is exactly what destroys traditional and survival values, even if relying on same for legitimacy, and needing to strike occasional bargains with traditional values advocates.

Perhaps these amount to claim that commons expressively aligns with secular-rational and self-expression values, but property instrumentally aligns with same. This largely brings us back to theory and facts: does property or commons maximize innovation? But, what about freedom and equality as desiderata of innovation policy? I conclude for now that the current IP regime aligns with traditional and survival values and knowledge commons with secular-rational and self-expression values.

Keep Fighting Forward

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Today is the day to mass call for regulation of mass surveillance. I did, please do it too.

I’m still underwhelmed by the rearguard nature of such actions, wonder how long they continue to be effective (e.g., when co-opted, or when policymakers realize mass calls don’t translate into votes, or forever…since at least 1996), and am even enraged by their focus on symptoms. But my feelings are probably wrong. Part of me applauds those who enjoy fighting the shortest term and broadest appeal possible battles. Such probably helps prevent things from getting worse, at least for a time, and that’s really valuable. Anyone who believes things must get worse before they get better is dangerous, because that’s when real trolls take over, damn your revolution.

I enjoyed Don Marti’s imperfect but perfectly provocative analogy, which I guess implies (he doesn’t say) the correct response to mass surveillance is to spend on end-to-end crypto, rejection of private tracking, decentralization, and other countermeasures, sealing net communications from security state poison. I’m all for that, and wish advocacy for same were a big part of mass calls to action like today’s. But I see the two as mostly complementary, as much as I’d like to scream “you’re doing it entirely wrong!”

Also QuestionCopyright’s assertion that Copyright + Internet = Surveillance. Or another version: Internet, Privacy, Copyright; Choose Two. I could quibble that these are too weak (freedom was infringed by copyright before the net) and too strong (not binary), but helpfully provocative.

Addendum: Also, Renata Avila:

For me is . Otherwise, we will be in serious trouble. Donate to resistance tools like or

Art of cc-community

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The reading group (curated by Nate Aune) I mentioned as having started with Coase’s Penguin is on to its first book: The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition (2012) by Jono Bacon. It happens this corresponds with another delayed book review, though only by 18 months in this case, and largely motivated by the book including an interview with me (reproduced below).

This is a large tome. You can download it as a 20 megabyte PDF with 574 pages (linked from the book website along with usual purchase locations). I see substantial portions of about 5 books therein:

  • Autobiography of Jono Bacon. Less of this book is latent in the tome than those below, but tales of Bacon’s life are interspersed, and his personality comes through strong (n.b. Bacon uses “tales” to denote stories told within a community, not “tall tales”; similarly “fables” to denote stories that explain a community, not myths).
  • Inside the Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. community: how it works, its tales and fables.
  • Tools and practices for managing an open source software community, especially one led by a for-profit company (corresponding to Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. above).
  • Reference/workbook for community managers and their managers. Also interspersed throughout, but especially the chapter on hiring a community manager.
  • Community management casebook, heavily leaning on interviews with open source software project managers, but also many other types of community leaders and managers.

If any one of these piques your interest, it’s worth downloading the PDF and clicking in the ToC or word-searching, as is your style. If multiple seem compelling (say your company wants to hire a community manager, or you want to be hired as a community manager by a company), then reading the whole thing carefully would be a good use of your time.

(Of course it shouldn’t be your only reading, not least because “community management” is fraught, maybe especially in service of a for profit, and there exist plenty of criticisms of the Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. community. I even agree with some of those criticisms, but my top level “complaint” about Ubuntu/Canonical Ltd. is that they haven’t been as successful in the marketplace as I’d like, i.e., they haven’t supplanted Microsoft! ☻ Bacon and company continue to work on that from a community angle.)


The interview with me in the book (numbered pages 492-495), conducted late 2011. The “cc-community” in the title of this post refers to a mailing list not mentioned in the interview.

You have been at the CC for a long time now. How did the organization look when you joined?

I joined CC in April, 2003, a few months after the first CC licenses were released. We were in the basement of the Stanford Law School, as that’s where Lawrence Lessig was. Various people had been involved over the preceding year, but essentially there were three staff just before I joined. There was a very loose community initially, based on the notoriety of Lessig and other founders and some friendly coverage in the usual (for the time) geek outlets such as Slashdot — more a variety of well-wishers than a community.

What kind of community did you set out to grow?

The other person CC hired in April, 2003 was our first international coordinator, based in Berlin. One community that we set out to grow, initially via this position, was a network of legal scholars around the world, who could collectively figure out how CC licenses work with copyright law in various jurisdictions around the world. This is the main community that CC was and is intentional about growing. We also set out to grow connections with related communities, eg open access, open education, open source, and mostly deliberately stayed away from trying to create “CC” subcommunities within these movements, and instead play a supporting role.

There always has been a mostly latent “CC community” of people who aren’t tied to a CC affiliate institution, and may or may not be involved with other nearby movements, but for whatever reason see CC as one of their primary passions — which is fantastic of course. CC the organization hasn’t ever really set out to “organize” this largely latent community, mostly due to lack of bandwidth (admittedly this could seem short sighted) and it isn’t clear how this community ought be cultivated — it is a very diverse set of people. I and some others see mobilizing this community (I’m actually more comfortable thinking about it as a movement) in some form as one of the biggest opportunities CC has in its next decade.

What approaches did you use to grow your community?

Regarding the international community of legal scholars we intentionally created, we gave them interesting, challenging, but highly delimited work — “porting” the CC license suite to their respective jurisdictions. (A “port” is usually both a linguistic translation and legal “translation” to reference local laws, drafting style, etc, where appropriate to hopefully make the ported licenses more understandable to the legal community in a given jurisdiction, but achieve the same affects to the extent possible.) This element of work made it relatively easy to determine what kind of team (usually composed of people from one or more local institutions) could be part of the formal community — they had to bring certain legal expertise, interest, and capacity — and gave community members a strong sense of ownership and contribution.

In the past 8 years CC licenses have been ported to over 50 jurisdictions via this process and community. In a sense this is just another instance of work occurring in chunks amenable to work being done by lots of different people, but I think the subject matter and large size and duration of the chunks makes it fairly interesting. Although many of the affiliate projects have formed their own local communities that have given feedback on license drafts, the overall process is highly controlled by experts, and openness to attracting and up-leveling drive-by contributors not much of a factor. This arrangement has been shown to not be competitive for building an encyclopedia, nor for most software and cultural projects, but perhaps should be evaluated if one thinks their project requires long-term commitment from a community with narrow and rare expertise.

Among the community involved in license porting, there has always been desire to also do advocacy and outreach, and sometimes art projects and software development. This has occurred organically, but over the last year or so we’ve also formally recognized those activities as potential responsibilities of a CC affiliate. While producing interesting work, a community that only really needs a few lawyers in each country is self-limiting. The aforementioned activities need unlimited resources, including the involvement of many more lawyers, who are crucial in persuading institutions and governments to adopt CC tools as policy, for example. Probably over the next few years there will be many more institutions and people officially involved in the CC community, with impressive outreach and projects around the world as a result.

The CC philosophy, particularly a few years ago, was fairly alien to the normal culture of content licensing and distribution practised by large record labels and studios. How did you communicate this message to your community?

Building a commons is still completely alien to “big content”; not even relevant really. Giving up the ability to legally persecute fans and users is a bridge too far for those whose dominant interest is protecting and milking existing revenue streams for however many quarters their horizon is. If it takes destroying the Internet to do that, so be it. This has to change, but the change won’t come from big content adopting CC licenses wholesale (though of course we appreciate when a progressive element does so for a project, and I’d be happy to be wrong), but through policy change that removes their ability to persecute fans. Have we reached “peak copyright” yet?

Communicating this to the CC community is not a challenge — they already knew how poorly aligned the interest and practice of big content and society are, and for many people this was a motivating factor for getting involved in CC.

The challenge has been figuring out where the commons can make a big difference, given the indifference-to-hostility of big content. The answer has arrived at fairly organically, learning both from the broader community (e.g., FLOSS, Wikipedians, the Open Access movement) and from the CC affiliate community’s work on institutional and government policy. The summary is that CC’s sweet spots are community and mass collaboration projects, where legal freedoms are necessary for a project to scale, just like in FLOSS, and in publicly interested policy, where the policymaker might be a funder, and institution, or a government. In both of these cases, the appropriate CC license or public domain tool is a standard, well understood and recognized instrument that can be made the legal basis of a project, or slotted into a broader policy intended to benefit the public, instead of engaging in expensive debate and reinvention — and there’s a big community of experts eager to help, wherever one is in the world.

There is a passionate CC community out there. How did you build a community that takes the CC ethos and spreads it further and advocating it to others?

Sharing, giving credit where due, valuing the common good, using technology to encourage such, not persecuting people who do those very natural things — things that one might recognized as “the CC ethos” — all precede CC. They’re essentially human. CC created some practical tools that one can use to further those ends and a brand that denotes such an ethos at our particular juncture in history. People would’ve been spreading that ethos in the same contexts CC is now — one can see an explosion of experiments in open content licensing in the years just before CC launched. Hopefully overall CC has made those people more effective than they would’ve been without a fairly high profile and well resourced (but tiny in the scheme of things) license steward, i.e., CC.

We did make an attempt approximately 2005-2008 to provide a nexus for open movements to meet and collaborate, a subsidiary called iCommons (now a small independent charity) that ran a series of “iSummits”. These turned out to be mostly useful for bringing the CC community together, so our next global gathering, which did not occur until September, 2011, made no pretense of being anything other than a CC summit. There remains huge opportunity to at appropriate times work together with other communities and movements with an overlapping ethos — more of that is happening, but slowly, and not under an umbrella brand.

CC is a now well established organization and community. How do you keep your community passionate about the CC and Free Culture?

Regarding the CC affiliate community (copyright and other experts mentioned above), carefully and collaboratively. Some of the core work by that community is changing — we’re working on version 4.0 of the CC license suite now, which has the aim of being unambiguously global — porting as it has been done so far may end, or at least will be a special case. We have to move and diversity the work of this community, and it has to be even more vital and challenging work, e.g. CC adoption as policy, leveraging CC’s reputation in nearby policy debates impactful to the commons, CC as a subject of legal, economic, and other research, and interfacing with WIPO and other international institutions. We have to strive to make CC a truly international organization itself. What this means for governance, staffing, fundraising, the structure of relationships with affiliates and other organizations — we don’t know yet, and will probably always be evolving.

Regarding the broader community and potential movement, the flip answer is that we don’t have to do anything. The passion is there, and free culture, open access, open education, etc, provide endless good news and opportunity for all interested — and occasionally we get a gift in the form of a ridiculously incorrect attack on CC from a big content executive — that fires everyone up. However, there’s a lot that we do, the single most important one being serving as a great license steward, which includes everything from explaining and answering questions to advocacy to actually getting the licenses “right” so that they’re the best tools for growing the commons. If our explanations of the licenses are confusing, or we have licenses that don’t serve to build the commons, it puts a real damper on the ability of the community to advocate and spread CC, and their passion for doing so.

The 4.0 process is also going to be crucial for engaging the broader community, and be a determinant of how much passion and energy we see from them over the next decade. My highest aspiration would be for the 4.0 licenses to have received overwhelming input and buy-in from both the broadest set of “netizens” (if I may use a 1990s term) interested in the common good and policymakers, forming a standard for info- and innovation-policy and norms for a generation. Coming anywhere near that goal will require lots of community organizing!

CC is a funded by donations. What approaches have you used to gather these donations?

So far the vast majority of our funding has come from U.S.-based private foundations. Our main effort for community support (which I consider the most healthy form of funding, and should over time become the most important pillar) has consisted of an annual fall campaign, mostly conducted online — think a micro version of the Wikimedia fundraising campaigns that most readers should have seen. CC has a lot of learning and growth to do here. The main reason to cultivate the CC community is that doing will be instrumental for accomplishing our mission — but it is true that we hope that a portion of the community has the means and feels our work is important enough to donate each year.

If you enjoyed that, check out the other community case book interviews: Linus Torvalds, Linux; Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park; Mårten Mickos, MySQL and Eucalyptus; Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media; Carolyn Mellor, X.commerce, PayPal, and eBay; Ilan Rabinovitch, Southern California Linux Expo; Richard Esguerra, Humble Indie Bundle; Mark Bussler, Classic Game Room; Mary Colvig, Mozilla; Dries Buytaert, Drupal and Acquia; and James Spafford, Media Molecule.

If you enjoyed the book, Bacon also runs community leadership conferences.

Sleepwalking past Freedom’s Commons, or how peer production could increase democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation, all of them!

Sunday, February 9th, 2014


The most interesting parts of ‘s The Wealth of Networks concern how peer production facilitates liberal values. I’ll blog a review in the fullness of time.

In lieu of that which may never come, some motivated notes on Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (2002, 78 pages) and Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information (2003, 32 pages; based on a 2002 lecture). A friend wanted to trial a book group with the former. Re-reading that led me to the latter, which I hadn’t read before. Reading them together, or even just the latter, might be a good alternative to reading The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, 473 pages).

As might be expected from decade plus old internet research, some of the examples in the papers and book are a bit stale, but sadly their fundamental challenge remains largely unacknowledged, and only taken as a byproduct. I would love to be convinced otherwise. Is the challenge (or my extrapolation) wrong, unimportant, or being met satisfactorily?

Excerpts from Freedom in the Commons (emphasis added by me in all quotes that follow):

[Commons-based peer production] opens a range of new opportunities for pursuing core political values of liberal societies—democracy, individual freedom, and social justice. These values provide three vectors of political morality along which the shape and dimensions of any liberal society can be plotted. Because, however, they are often contradictory rather than complementary, the pursuit of each of these values places certain limits on how we conceive of and pursue the others, leading different liberal societies to respect them in different patterns.

An underlying efficient limit on how we can pursue any mix of arrangements to implement our commitments to democracy, autonomy, and equality, however, has been the pursuit of productivity and growth.

[Commons-based peer production] can move the boundaries of liberty along all three vectors of liberal political morality.

There is no benevolent historical force, however, that will inexorably lead the technological-economic moment to develop towards an open, diverse, liberal equilibrium. If the transformation occurs, it will lead to substantial redistribution of power and money from the twentieth-century, industrial producers of information, culture, and communications—like Hollywood, the recording industry, and the telecommunications giants—to a widely diffuse population around the globe. None of the industrial giants of yore are going to take this redistribution lying down. Technology will not overcome their resistance through some insurmountable progressive impulse. The reorganization of production, and the advances it can bring in democracy, autonomy, and social justice will emerge, if it emerges, only as a result of social and political action. To make it possible, it is crucial that we develop an understanding of what is at stake and what are the possible avenues for social and political action. But I have no illusions, and offer no reassurances, that any of this will in fact come to pass. I can only say that without an effort to focus our attention on what matters, the smoke and mirrors of flashy toys and more convenient shopping will be as enlightening as Aldous Huxley’s soma and feelies, and as socially constructive as his orgy porgy.

Let us think, then, of our being thrust into this moment as a challenge. We are in the midst of a technological, economic, and organizational transformation that allows us to renegotiate the terms of freedom, justice, and productivity in the information society. How we shall live in this new environment will largely depend on policy choices that we will make over the next decade or two. To be able to understand these choices, to be able to make them well, we must understand that they are part of a social and political choice—a choice about how to be free, equal, and productive human beings under anew set of technological and economic conditions. As economic policy, letting yesterday’s winners dictate the terms of economic competition tomorrow is disastrous. As social policy, missing an opportunity to enrich democracy, freedom, and equality in our society, while maintaining or even enhancing our productivity, is unforgivable.

Although the claim that the Internet leads to some form or another of “decentralization” is not new, the fundamental role played in this transformation by the emergence of non-market, nonproprietary production and distribution is often over-looked, if not willfully ignored.

First, if the networked information economy is permitted to emerge from the institutional battle, it will enable an outward shift of the limits that productivity places on the political imagination. Second, a society committed to any positive combination of the three values needs to adopt robust policies to facilitate these modes of production,because facilitating these modes of production does not represent a choice between productivity and liberal values, but rather an opportunity actually to relax the efficient limit on the plausible set of political arrangements available given the constraints of productivity.

We are at a moment in our history at which the terms of freedom and justice are up for grabs. We have an opportunity to improve the way we govern ourselves—both as members of communities and as autonomous individuals. We have an opportunity to be more just at the very core of our economic system. The practical steps we must take to reshape the boundaries of the possible in political morality and to improve the pattern of liberal society will likely improve productivity and growth through greater innovation and creativity. Instead of seizing these opportunities, however, we are sleepwalking.

What arrangements favor reorganization towards commons-based peer production? From Coase’s Penguin:

This suggests that peer production will thrive where projects have three characteristics. First, they must be modular. That is, they must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be produced of the production of the others. This enables production to be incremental and asynchronous, pooling the efforts of different people, with different capabilities, who are available at different times. Second, the granularity of the modules is important and refers to the sizes of the project’s modules. For a peer production process to pool successfully a relatively large number of contributors, the modules should be predominately fine-grained, or small in size. This allows the project to capture contributions from large numbers of contributors whose motivation levels will not sustain anything more than small efforts toward the project. Novels, for example, at least those that look like our current conception of a novel, are likely to prove resistant to peer production. In addition, a project will likely be more efficient if it can accommodate variously sized contributions. Heterogeneous granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to collaborate by making smaller- or larger-grained contributions, consistent with their levels of motivation. Third, and finally, a successful peer production enterprise must have low-cost integration, which includes both quality control over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product.

Regulators concerned with fostering innovation may better direct their efforts toward providing the institutional tools that would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their joint product, making the information they produce freely available rather than spending their efforts to increase the scope and sophistication of the mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good as they now do.

That we cannot fully understand a phenomenon does not mean that it does not exist. That a seemingly growing phenomenon refuses to fit our longstanding perceptions of how people behave and how economic growth occurs counsels closer attention, not studied indifference and ignorance.  Commons-based peer production presents a fascinating phenomenon that could allow us to tap substantially underutilized reserves of human creative effort. It is of central importance that we not squelch peer production, but that we create the institutional conditions needed for it to flourish.

There’s been some progress on institutional tools (i.e., policy arrangements writ large, the result of “political action” above) in the 11 or so years since (e.g., Open Access mandates), but not nearly enough to outweigh global ratcheting of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, despite the occasional success of rearguard actions against such ratcheting. Neither these rearguard actions, nor mainstream (nor reformist) discussion of “reform” put commons at the center of their concerns. The best we can expect from this sleepwalking is to muddle through, with policy protecting and promoting commons where such is coincidentally aligned with some industrial interest (often simplified to “Google” in the past several years, but that won’t last forever).

My extrapolation (again, tell me if facile or wrong): shifting production arrangements so as to favor commons-based peer production is as important as, complementary to, and almost necessary for positive policy change. Commons-based product competition simultaneously changes the facts on the ground, the range of policies imaginable, and potentially create a commons “industrial” interest group which is recognizably important to regulators and makes commons-based peer production favoring policy central to its demands — the likely Wikimedia response to the European Commission copyright consultation is a hopeful example.

There has been lots of progress on improving commons-based peer production (e.g., some trends), but also not nearly enough to keep up with proprietary innovation, particularly lacking and missing huge opportunities where proprietary incumbents real advantages sit — not production per se, but funding and distribution/marketing/cultural relevance making. Improving commons-based peer production, shifting the commanding heights (i.e., Hollywood premium video and massively expensive and captured pharma regulatory apparatus) to forms more amenable to commons-based peer production, and expanding the scope of commons-based peer production to include funding and relevance making are among the most potent political projects of our time.

Wake up. ^_^

RDFa initial context & one dc:

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

One of the nice things to come out of RDFa 1.1 is its initial context — a list of vocabularies with prefixes which may be used without having to define locally. In other words, just write, e.g., property="dc:title" without having to first write prefix="dc:".

In addition to making RDFa a lot less painful to use, the list is a good starting place for figuring out what vocabularies to use (if you must), perhaps even for non-RDFa applications — the list is machine-readable of course; I was reminded to write this post when giving feedback on a friend’s proposal to use prefix:property headers in a CSV file for a custom application, and by a recent announcement of the addition of three new predefined prefixes.

Survey data such as Linked Open Vocabularies can also help figure out what to use. Unfortunately LOV and the RDFa 1.1 initial context don’t agree 100% on prefix naming, and neither provides much in the way of guidance. I think there’s room for a highly opinionated and regularly updated guide to what vocabularies to use. I’m no expert, it probably already exists — please inform me!


The first thing I’d put in such an opinionated guide is to start one’s vocabulary search with Dublin Core. Trivial, right? But there is an under-documented subtlety which I find myself pointing out when a friend runs something like the aforementioned by me — DC means DC Terms. While it’s obvious that DC Terms is a superset of DC Elements, it’s harder to find evidence that using the former is best practice for new applications, and that the latter is not still the canonical vocabulary to start with. What I’ve gathered on this follows. I realize that the URIs for individual properties and classes, the prefixes used to abbreviate those URIs, and the documents which define (in English and RDF) properties and classes are distinct but interdependent. Prefixes are surely the most trivial and uninteresting, but for most people I imagine they’re important signals and documentation, thus I go on about them…

Namespace Policy for the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) (emphasis added):

The DCMI namespace URI for the collection of legacy properties that make up the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1 [DCMES] is:

Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1 (emphasis added):

Since 1998, when these fifteen elements entered into a standardization track, notions of best practice in the Semantic Web have evolved to include the assignment of formal domains and ranges in addition to definitions in natural language. Domains and ranges specify what kind of described resources and value resources are associated with a given property. Domains and ranges express the meanings implicit in natural-language definitions in an explicit form that is usable for the automatic processing of logical inferences. When a given property is encountered, an inferencing application may use information about the domains and ranges assigned to a property in order to make inferences about the resources described thereby.

Since January 2008, therefore, DCMI includes formal domains and ranges in the definitions of its properties. So as not to affect the conformance of existing implementations of “simple Dublin Core” in RDF, domains and ranges have not been specified for the fifteen properties of the dc: namespace ( Rather, fifteen new properties with “names” identical to those of the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set Version 1.1 have been created in the dcterms: namespace ( These fifteen new properties have been defined as subproperties of the corresponding properties of DCMES Version 1.1 and assigned domains and ranges as specified in the more comprehensive document “DCMI Metadata Terms” [DCTERMS].

Implementers may freely choose to use these fifteen properties either in their legacy dc: variant (e.g., or in the dcterms: variant (e.g., depending on application requirements. The RDF schemas of the DCMI namespaces describe the subproperty relation of dcterms:creator to dc:creator for use by Semantic Web-aware applications. Over time, however, implementers are encouraged to use the semantically more precise dcterms: properties, as they more fully follow emerging notions of best practice for machine-processable metadata.

The first two paragraphs explain why a new vocabulary was minted (so that the more precise definitions of properties already in DC Elements do not change the behavior of existing implementations; had only new terms and classes been added, maybe they could have been added to the DC Elements vocabulary, but maybe this is ahistoric, as many of the additional “qualified” DC Terms existed since 2000). The third paragraph explains that DC Terms should be used for new applications. Unfortunately the text informally (the prefixes aren’t used anywhere) notes the prefixes dc: and dcterms:, which I’ve found is not helpful in getting people to focus only on DC Terms.

Expressing Dublin Core metadata using the Resource Description Framework also notes the dc: and dcterms: prefixes for use in the document’s examples (which don’t ever actually use dc:).

Some of these documents have been updated slightly, but I believe their current versions are little changed from about 2008, a year after the proposal of the DC Terms refinements.

How to use DCMI Metadata as linked data uses the dc: and dcterms: prefixes and is clear about the ranges of properties of each: there is no incorrect usage of, e.g., because it has no defined range nor domain, while must be a non-literal, a Perhaps this makes DC Terms seem scarier and partially explains the persistence of DC Elements. More likely I’d guess few know about the difference and lots of use of the DC Terms with non-literal ranges are used with literals in the wild (I might be guilty on occasion).

FAQ/DC and DCTERMS Namespaces:

It is not incorrect to continue using dc:subject and dc:title — alot of Semantic Web data still does — and since the range of those properties is unspecified, it is not actually incorrect to use (for example) dc:subject with a literal value or dc:title with a non-literal value. However, good Semantic Web practice is to use properties consistently in accordance with formal ranges, so implementers are encouraged to use the more precisely defined dcterms: properties.
Update, December 2011: It is worth noting that the initiative is taking a pragmatic approach towards the formal ranges of their properties:

We also expect that often, where we expect a property value of type Person, Place, Organization or some other subClassOf Thing, we will get a text string. In the spirit of “some data is better than none”, we will accept this markup and do the best we can.

What constitutes “best practice” in this area is bound to evolve with implementation experience over time.

There you have people supplying literals for properties expecting non-literals. RDF mappings do not formally condone this pragmatic approach, otherwise you’d see the likes of (addition in bold):

schema:creator a rdf:Property;
    rdfs:label "Creator"@en;
    rdfs:comment "The creator/author of this CreativeWork or UserComments. This is the same as the Author property for CreativeWork."@en;
    rdfs:domain [ a owl:Class; owl:unionOf (schema:UserComments schema:CreativeWork) ];
    rdfs:range [ a owl:Class; owl:unionOf (schema:Organization schema:Person xsd:string) ];
    rdfs:isDefinedBy ;
    rdfs:isDefinedBy ;

Also from 2011, a discussion of what prefixes to use in the RDFa initial context. Decision (Ivan Herman):

For the records: after having also discussed on yesterday’s telecom, I have made the changes on the profile files yesterday evening. The prefix set in the profile for is set to ‘dc’.

Read the expert input of Dan Brickley, Mikael Nilsson, and Thomas Baker. The initial context defines both dc: and dcterms: as prefixes for DC Terms, relegating DC Elements to dc11::

dc Dublin Core Metadata Terms DCMI Metadata Terms
dcterms Dublin Core Metadata Terms DCMI Metadata Terms
dc11 Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1 Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1

I found the above discussion on LOV’s entries for DC Terms and DC Elements, which use dcterms: and dce: prefixes respectively:

(2013-03-07) Bernard Vatant: Prefix restored to dcterms

(2013-06-17) Bernard Vatant: Although “dc” is often used as the prefix for this vocabulary, it’s also sometimes used for DC terms, so we preferred to use the less ambiguous “dce” and “dcterms” in LOV. See usage at,,, and more discussion at

I think the discussion instead supports using dc: and dc11: (because that’s what the RDFa initial context uses) instead. LOV doesn’t have a public source repository or issue tracker currently, but I understand it eventually will.

Now I have this grab-bag blog post to send to friends who propose using DC Elements. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and especially if a more concise (on this topic) and credible document exists, so I can send that instead; perhaps something like an opinionated guide to metadata mentioned way above.

Another topic such a guide might cover, perhaps as a coda, would be what to do if you really need to develop a new vocabulary. One thing is you really need to ask for help. The W3C now provides some infrastructure for doing this. Or, some qualified dissent from a hugely entertaining blogger called Brinxmat.

Some readers of my blog who have bizarrely read through this post, or skipped to the end, might enjoy Brinxmat’s Attribution licences for data and why you shouldn’t use them (another future issue report for LOV, which uses CC-BY?); I wrote a couple posts in the same blogversation; also a relevant upgrade exhortation.