Post Public Goods

SOPA/PIPA protests on-message or artless?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Go Internet! Instantly message the U.S. Congress! (Tell them to kill the so-called Research Works Act too!)

Another, much bigger, tiresome rearguard action. I’m impressed by protesters’ nearly universal and exclusive focus on encouraging readers to contact U.S. Congresspeople. I hope it works. SOPA and PIPA really, really deserve to die.

But the protest also bums me out.

1) Self-censorship (in the case of sites completely blacked out, as opposed to those prominently displaying anti-SOPA messages) is not the Internet at its best. If that claim weren’t totally ridiculous, the net wouldn’t be worth defending. It isn’t even the net at its political best — that would be creating systems which disrupt and obviate power — long term offensives, not short-term defenses.

2) Near exclusive focus on supplication before 535 [Update: 536] ultra-powerful individuals is kinda disgusting. But it needs to be done, as effectively as possible.

3) I haven’t looked at a huge number of sites, but I haven’t seen much creativity in the protest. Next time it would be fun to see an appropriate site (Wikipedia? Internet Archive?) take what Flickr has done and add bidding for the “right” to darken particular articles or media as a fundraiser. Art would be nice too — I’d love to hear about anything really great (and preferably libre) from this round.

4) While some prominent bloggers have made the point that “piracy” is not a legitimate problem, overwhelmingly the protest has stuck to defense — SOPA and PIPA would do bad things to the net, and wouldn’t “work” anyway. Google goes much further, saying “End Piracy, Not Liberty” and “Fighting online piracy is important.” Not possible, wrong, and gives away the farm.

5) Nobody making the point that everyone can help with long-term offensives which will ultimately stop ratcheting protectionism, if it is to be stopped. Well, this nobody has attempted:

[I]magine a world in which most software and culture are free as in freedom. Software, culture, and innovation would be abundant, there would be plenty of money in it (just not based on threat of censorship), and there would be no constituency for attacking the Internet. (Well, apart from dictatorships and militarized law enforcement of supposed democracies; that’s a fight intertwined with SOPA, but those aren’t the primary constituencies for the bill.) Now, world dominationliberation by free software and culture isn’t feasible now. But every little bit helps reduce the constituency that wishes to attack the Internet to possibly protect their censorship-based revenue streams, and to increase the constituency whose desire to protect the Internet is perfectly aligned with their business interests and personal expression.

I’d hope that at least some messages tested convey not only the threat SOPA poses to Wikimedia, but the long-term threat the Wikimedia movement poses to censorship.


Bad legislation needs to be stopped now, but over the long term, we won’t stop getting new bad legislation until policymakers see broad support and amazing results from culture and other forms of knowledge that work with the Internet, rather than against it. Each work or project released under a CC license signals such support, and is an input for such results.


Finally, remember that CC is crucial to keeping the Internet non-broken in the long term. The more free culture is, the less culture has an allergy to and deathwish for the Internet.

Of the five items I list above, the first three are admittedly peevish. Four and five represent not so much problems with the current protest as they do severe deficiencies in movements for intellectual freedom. Actually they are flipsides of the same deficiency: lack of compelling explanation that intellectual freedom, however constructed and protected, really matters, really works, and is really for the good. If such were well enough researched and explained so as to become conventional wisdom, rather than contentious and seemingly radical, net freedom activists could act much more proactively, provocatively, and powerfully, rather than as they do today: with supplication and genuflection.

I am not at all well read, but my weak understanding is that the withdrawal of economists from studying intellectual protectionism in the late 1800s was a great tragedy. To begin the encourage rectification of that century plus of relative neglect, today is a good day to start reading Against Intellectual Monopoly.

In the meantime, the actual and optimal counterfactual drift further apart, without any help from SOPA and PIPA.

Penumbra of Provenance

Thursday, January 12th, 2012


Yesterday the W3C’s Provenance Working Group posted a call for feedback on a family of documents members of that group have been working on. Provenance is an important issue for the info commons, as I’ve sketched elsewhere. I hope some people quickly flesh out examples of application of the draft ontology to practical use cases.

Intellectual Provenance

Apart from some degree of necessity for current functioning of some info commons (obviously where some certainty about freedoms from copyright restriction is needed, but conceivably even moreso to outgrow copyright industries), provenance can also play an important symbolic role. Unlike “intellectual property”, intellectual provenance is of keen interest to both readers and writers. Furthermore, copyright and other restrictions make provenance harder, in both practical (barriers to curation) and attitudinal — the primacy of “rights” (as in rents, and grab all that your power allows) deprecates the actual intellectual provenance of things.

Postmodern Provenance

The umbra of provenance seems infinite. As we preserve scratches of information (or not) incomparably vast amounts disappear. But why should we only care for what we can record that led to current configurations? Consider independent invention and convergent evolution. Who cares what configurations and events led to current configurations: what are the recorded configurations that could have led to the current configuration, what are all of the configurations that could have led to the current configuration; what configurations are most similar (including history, or not) to a configuration in question?


In order to highlight the exposure of provenance information on the internet and provide added impetus for organizations to expose in a way that can efficiently be found and accessed, I am exploring the possibility of a .prov TLD.

Which counterfactual public domain day?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

1. Each January 1, many people note a number of interesting works that become free of copyright restrictions in many jurisdictions, but a 1998 act means none will in the U.S. until at least 2019.

2. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain provides another counterfactual, imagining policy not pre-1998, but pre-1976 (act; effective 1978), which at the top states (repeated at Boing Boing, which inspired this post’s title) works from 1955 or before would be free of copyright restrictions.

3. But as the CSPD page points out further down (see “the public domain snatchers”), the pre-1976 policy also would’ve meant many works from 1983 or before would now be free of copyright restrictions, as the policy allowed for 28 years of restriction, with an optional renewal of 28 years. Historically copyright holders did not bother renewing 85% of works.

4. The aforementioned CSPD page doesn’t note, but their FAQ does, that prior to 1989 a copyright notice was required in order for a work to be restricted. The FAQ says “By some estimates, 90% of works did not include this copyright notice and immediately entered the public domain.” A counterfactual taking this into account would have not only a robust January 1, but every day would be public domain day.

(Of course as I noted last year, every day is public domain day to the extent you make it so, no counterfactual required. But defaults really matter.)

5. Any of the above counterfactuals would be tremendous improvements over society’s current malgovernance of the intellectual commons. But they’re all boring. They are much more difficult to conceive, but the counterfactuals I’d prefer to look are not ones with recent rent seeking undone, but ones attempting to characterize worlds with optimal copyright restriction, which is itself under-explored: no extensions? 15 years? 1 year? Maybe 0? The thing about this sort of counterfactual is not the precise duration, nature, or existence of restriction, but in changing how we think about the public domain — not some old works that it is cool that we can now cooperate around to preserve and breathe new life into without legal threat (or uncool if we can’t) — but about how the world would be changed in a dynamic way with much better policy. I bet we wouldn’t even miss that 9-figure Hollywood dreck if such disappeared (I really doubt it would, but here’s to hoping) that most writers in this field must genuflect to and that are used as the excuse to destroy, because whatever would exist would be our culture, and everyone loves their culture (which of course may be subculture built on superficial or even real rejection of such, etc). It would just also be our culture in another way as well, one compatible with free speech and more equal distribution of wealth, in addition to practical things like a non-broken Internet.

End of the 2011 world

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I took the above photo near the beginning of 2011. It has spent most of the year near the top (currently #2) of my photos hosted at Flickr ranked by their interestingness metric. Every other photo in the 200 they rank (sadly I don’t think anyone not logged in as me can see this list) has some combination of being on other people’s lists of favorites, comments, or large number of views. The above photo has none of that. Prior to this post it has only been viewed 33 times by other people, according to Flickr, and I don’t think that number has changed in some time. Their (not revealed) code must find something about the image itself interesting. Is their algorithm inaccurate? In any case the image is appropriate as the world of 2011 is ending, and in 2012 I absolutely will migrate my personal media hosting to something autonomous, as since last year someone (happens to be a friend and colleague) has taken on the mantle of building media sharing for the federated social web.

My employer’s office moved from San Francisco to Mountain View in April, contributing to a number of people leaving or transitioning out, which has been a bummer. I’ve been working exclusively from home since May. Still, there have been a number of good developments, which I won’t attempt to catalog here. My favorites include agreement with the Free Software Foundation regarding use of CC0 for public domain software, small improvements in the CC legal user interface, the return and great work of a previous colleague, retirement of two substandard licenses, research, and a global summit/launch of a process toward version 4.0 of the CC licenses, which I hope over the next year prove at least a little bit visionary, long-standing, and have some consideration for how they can make the world a better place.

Speaking of which, I’ve spent more time thinking about social science-y stuff in 2011 than I have in at least several years. I’ll probably have plenty to say regarding this on a range of topics next year, but for now I’ll state one narrow “professionally-related” conclusion: free/libre/open software/culture/etc advocates (me included) have done a wholly inadequate job of characterizing why our preferences matter, both to the general public and to specialists in every social science.

Apart from silly peeves, two moderate ideas unrelated to free/libre/open stuff that I first wrote about in 2011 and I expect I’ll continue to push for years to come: increasing the minimum age and education requirement for soldiers and tearing down highway 980.

I haven’t done much programming in several years, and not full time in about a decade. This has been making me feel like my brain is rotting, and contributes to my lack of prototyping various services that I want to exist. Though I’d been fiddling (that may be generous) with Scala for a couple years, I was never really super excited about tying myself to the JVM. I know and deeply respect lots of people who doing great things with Python, and I’ve occasionally used it for scripts over the past several years because of that, but it leaves me totally non-enthused. I’ve done enough programming in languages that are uglier but more or less the same, time for something new. For a couple months I’ve been learning and doing some prototyping using the Yesod web framework (apparently I had heard of Haskell in 2005 but I didn’t look at it closely until last year). I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like, mostly due to unrelated distractions. The biggest substantive hurdle has not been Haskell (and the concepts it stands for), but a lack of Yesod examples and documentation. This seems to be a common complaint. Yesod is rapidly moving to a 1.0 release, documentation is prioritized, and I expect to be really productive with it over the coming year. Thanks to the people who make Yesod and those who have been making Haskell for two decades.

This year I appreciated three music projects that I hadn’t paid much attention to before, much to my detriment: DNA, Moondog, and especially Harry Partch. I also listened a lot again to one of my favorite bands I discovered in college, Violence and the Sacred, which amazingly has released some of its catalog under the CC BY-SA license. Check them out!

Finally, in 2011 I had the pleasure of getting to know just a little bit some people working to make my neighborhood a better place, attending a conference with my sister, seeing one of my brothers start a new job and the other a new gallery, and with my wife of continuing to grow up (in that respect, the “better half” cliche definitely applies). Now for this world to end!

Mozilla $300m/year for freedom

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

More Mozilla ads by Henrik Moltke / CC BY

Congratulations to Mozilla on their $300m/year deal with Google, which will more than double current annual revenue. I’ve always thought people predicting doom for Mozilla if Google failed to renew were all wrong — others would be happy to pay for the default search position; probably less since Microsoft, Yahoo, and others make less than Google per ad view, but it’d still be a very substantial amount — and the link article hints that a Microsoft bid drove the price up.

There’s always a risk that Mozilla won’t spend the money well, but I’m pretty confident that they will. Firefox is excellent, and in 2011 has gotten more excellent, faster, and I think many of the other projects they’re doing are really important, and on the right track (insofar as I’m qualified to discern, which is not much), for example BrowserID. Even in small and hopelessly annoying things, like licensing, I think Mozilla is doing good. (Bias: Mozilla has donated to my employer.)

I’m no longer enthused about the possibility of huge resources for progress toward Wikimedia’s vision from advertising on Wikipedia. Since I was last on that bandwagon, it has become even less of a possibility in anything but the distant future: Wikimedia’s donation campaigns have gone very well, adequately funding its operating mission, and lack of advertising has become even more part of Wikimedia’s messaging; I’ve also become more concerned (not in particular to Wikimedia) about the institutional corruption risks previously blogged by Peter McCluskey and Timothy B. Lee. (Note these objections don’t apply to Mozilla: its significant revenue has always been advertising-based; very roughly its revenues are already 10x those of Wikimedia’s; and it is also building up an individual donor program, which I agree is often the healthiest revenue for a nonprofit.)

But I still very much think freedom needs massive, ongoing resource infusions, in the right institutional framework. I celebrate the tremendous benefits of the FLOSS community achieves without massive, concentrated, ongoing resource infusions, but I also admit that the web likely would be much worse, much less webby, and much less free without concentrated resources at Mozilla over the last several years.

Thank you Mozillians, and congratulations. I have very high expectations for your contributions over the next years to the web and society, in particular where more freedom and security are obviously needed such as mobile and software services. Such would be just a start. As computation permeates everything, and digital freedom becomes the most important political issue, the resources of many Mozillas are needed. More on that, soon.

Encyclopedia of Original Research

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

As I’m prone to say that some free/libre/open projects ought strive to not merely recapitulate existing production methods and products (so as to sometimes create something much better), I have to support and critique such strivings.

A proposal for the Encyclopedia of Original Research, besides a name that I find most excellent, seems like just such a project. The idea, if I understand correctly, is to leverage Open Access literature and using both machine- and wiki-techniques, create always-up-to-date reviews of the state of research in any field, broad or narrow. If wildly successful, such a mechanism could nudge the end-product of research from usually instantly stale, inaccessible (multiple ways), unread, untested, singular, and generally useless dead-tree-oriented outputs toward more accessible, exploitable, testable, queryable, consensus outputs. In other words, explode the category of “scientific publication”.

Another name for the project is “Beethoven’s open repository of research” — watch the video.

The project is running a crowdfunding campaign right now. They only have a few hours left and far from their goal, but I’m pretty sure the platform they’re using does not require projects to meet a threshold in order to obtain pledges, and it looks like a small amount would help continue to work and apply for other funding (eminently doable in my estimation; if I can help I will). I encourage kicking in some funds if you read this in the next couple hours, and I’ll update this post with other ways to help in the future if you’re reading later, as in all probability you are.

EoOR is considerably more radical than (and probably complementary to and/or ought consume) AcaWiki, a project I’ve written about previously with the more limited aim to create human-readable summaries of academic papers and reviews. It also looks like, if realized, a platform that projects with more specific aims, like OpenCures, could leverage.

Somehow EoOR escaped my attention (or more likely, my memory) until now. It seems the proposal was developed as part of a class on getting your Creative Commons project funded, which I think I can claim credit for getting funded (Jonas Öberg was very convincing; the idea for and execution of the class are his).

Commons experts to develop version 4.0 of the CC licenses

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

As described on the Creative Commons blog some initial discussions were had at the CC Global Summit about 6 weeks ago in Warsaw. I’m looking forward to the start of in depth discovery, analysis, and debate of pertinent issues on the cc-licenses list, the CC wiki, and elsewhere over the coming months. Please join in, commons experts.☺

I gave a brief presentation on one of those issues at the summit, on the “NonCommercial” term of some CC licenses (odp, pdf, slideshare). [Addendum 20111104: This talk was not recorded. Only slides are available. Don’t watch the videos below if you’re only looking for a talk on NC!]

More relevantly (to 4.0; yes, NC is pretty relevant, becoming less so, the commons is super relevant, indeed all important) though more abstractly, I also organized a session on “CC’s role in the global commons movement”. I’m very happy with how that turned out, but it is only a tentative beginning, about which I will write further. For now you can read Silke Helfrich’s summary post and slides, Tyng-Ruey Chuang’s presentation text, Leonhard Dobusch’s slides, and Kat Walsh’s presentation text and download or watch at or YouTube:

Because I may never get around to blogging it separately, I also gave a presentation on “what’s happened in Creative Commons and the open community over the last 3 years.” You may recognize one slide from an earlier post. View slides (odp, pdf, slideshare) or video at or YouTube:

Open World Forum: Knowledge Commons Fail/Fix

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at Open World Forum. Slides (odp, pdf, slideshare), video (, YouTube):

I rushed through my final slides and promised to expand on them virtually, which I’ve done here with more slides (odp, pdf, slideshare), or watch a video narration of same (, YouTube):

Thanks to Open World Forum co-president Louis Montagne and Knowledge Commons track leader Florence Devouard for inviting me to participate!


Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

I backed Novacut’s first, unsuccessful, Kickstarter campaign last year because I think that new tools for distributed collaborative creation and curation are important to the success of free culture (which I just said is a lame name for intellectual freedom, but I digress) and Novacut’s description seemed to fit the bill:

We’re developing a free open-source video editor with a unique distributed design:

  • Distributed workflow – collaboratively edit video with other artists over the Internet
  • Distributed storage – seamlessly store and synchronize video files across multiple computers and the cloud
  • Distributed rendering – seamlessly spread rendering and encoding across multiple computers and the cloud

I didn’t investigate whether Novacut had a feasible plan. My pledge was an expressive vote for the concept of new tools for distributed collaboration.

Novacut is making another go of it at Kickstarter, and it looks like they’ll succeed. I just pledged again.

However, I’m saddened by how much of philanthropy is not also carefully instrumental. The only low barrier way to move in this direction (I’d prefer futarchist charity) that I know of is criticism, so hats off to Danny Piccirillo for his criticism of Novacut fundraising. I’m further saddened that such criticism is not welcomed. I would be honored that someone found a project I am involved in or a fan of worth the time to criticize and thankful for the free publicity.

Now, I’m looking forward to see what Novacut delivers, and/or what Novacut ideas other video editor projects implement.

Speaking of delivery, I noticed today a new crowdfunding site targeting free software and Brazil, makeITopen. According to a writeup, it appears to have a couple interesting twists. Projects that do not reach their thresholds have donations not fully returned to donors, but only as credits within the system (unlike Kickstarter and others, where pledges are not collected until a project has reached its threshold). More interestingly, there is a process for donors to approve (or not) the software delivered by the project. This sort of thing is probably hard to get right, and I fully expect makeITopen to fail, but I hope it is hugely successful, and think that getting approval right could be very useful. At least for donors who wish to be instrumental.

Addendum 20110730: The best two comments on the Novacut criticism kerfuffle: Jono Bacon saying be calm, but onus is on Novacut to explain, and Jason Gerard DeRose (Novacut lead), explaining how Novacut’s intended high-end userbase demands a different program than do casual video editors, and that there’s plenty of scope for cooperation on underlying components. Congratulations to Novacut for meeting its Kickstarter threshold, and good luck to Novacut, (the working editor many critics advocated directing resources toward), and and Gnonlin (two underlying components in common). Onward to killing King Kong with FLOSS.

NYT digital subscription plans as Kickstarter project backer levels

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Apart from curiosity about what the New York Times forecasts for the project and how they arrived at same, I really don’t care one way or the other about the upcoming New York Times paywall.

However, the paywall’s convoluted pricing cries out for taking the form of Kickstarter project backer levels. I haven’t done justice to the NYT plan and have done injustice to well-crafted Kickstarter project backer levels I recently admired. Apologies to all.

NYT Paywall as Kickstarter Levels

Addendum 2011-03-22: Thanks to Kickstarter for appreciating and blogging about this post. I didn’t mean to suggest “the whole thing would work best as a Kickstarter project: funding goal + tiered reward options + the assurance that you will only be charged if they do indeed survive the death of print/revolt of the internet” but that’s certainly correct! For some of the reasons why, extrapolate from Timothy B. Lee’s two recent posts on the paywall, Shoe-Leather Reporting at the New York Times and Misguided Moralism in the Paywall Debate. For a future with good journalism, Kickstarter is of far more relevance than any paywall.