Blown To Bits

Archive for the ‘Open Access’ Category

Support Creative Commons; Join the CC Network

Saturday, December 20th, 2008 by Hal Abelson

As the New Year approaches, and you are wrapping up 2008, please
consider making a charitable contribution in support of Creative
Commons, by donating at

I’m immensely proud to be a founder of Creative Commons.
Our planning for Creative Commons started in the summer of 2000, with
the recognition of the  dissonance between copyright law and the
hopes and reality of the  Internet age. Blown to Bits chapter 6
explores some of that dissonance.

Over the past 8 years, Creative Commons has blossomed to become a
central part of the Intenet’s open economy, with an international
network of licenses designed to facilitate sharing over the  Net, and
a large family of volunteers who promote values of open sharing in
education, science, and culture.

Just a few weeks ago, we released the Creative Commons Network, which
lets you identify yourself as a CC supporter, and also provides an
authentication mechanism (based on Open ID) designed for
interoperability with CC licenses, and a visible way to signify your
support for an Open Net.

Please join the CC Network and make donate generously.  The future of
the open Internet rests with all of us.

More on the Creative Commons Download

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

A brief postscript on the release of Blown to Bits as a download under a Creative Commons license. First, by popular demand, we’ve posted the book under the Download tab both as chapter-by-chapter PDFs and as a single 22MB PDF of the whole book. And second, we should have mentioned that this download is the third printing, which corrects a variety of small errors in the original (the first and second printings were identical). The third printing should be appearing in bookstores soon (I haven’t yet seen a bound copy myself).

Blown to Bits Now Available for Download

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Blown to Bits is now available for free download, under a Creative Commons license. You’ll notice that the tab above that used to say “Excerpts” has been relabeled “Download,” and the Download page has links not just to excerpts but to PDFs of the individual chapters.

Harvard’s Deal with Google Books

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Alex Beam has a good piece today on the complexities of Google Books. This is Google’s program of scanning in books, in furtherance of its general corporate mission of organizing all the world’s information and making it universally accessible. And, of course, to draw more eyeballs to their advertising while they are at it. Nothing wrong with that, and the Books site is, for the time being at least, laudably clean.

Now there was a certain disagreement between Google and certain authors and publishers about whether what Google was doing was legit copyright-wise, and Google recently settled up. That’s an important story. But Beam notes that libraries are having a different worry — they worry about Google becoming the sole point of access to digitized books. Some alternative venues exist and are growing. Certainly we should hope they succeed, simply because corporate monopolies are dangerous.

Beam praises Harvard’s library for dropping out of the deal, because the agreement between Harvard and Google imposed too many restrictions on the redistribution of the digitized material. What he doesn’t ask is why Harvard signed a bad deal in the first place. And the answer is: there was a different librarian and a different president then, and almost no one was consulted about the terms.

In a 2005 post entitled How Harvard and Google Got In Bed Together,¬†the ever-vigilant Richard Bradley noted that Sheryl Sandberg, who negotiated the deal on Google’s side, had been the chief of staff to Larry Summers, who, one might reasonably imagine, had a lot to do with cutting the deal on Harvard’s side (though the name in the news at the time was library head Sidney Verba, not Summers). See also a later post, Harvard Goes Ga-Ga Over Google.

Sandberg has been quite visible during the past few weeks defending Summers’ record on women, while his name was still in the air as a possible Treasury Secretary (for example, writing about Larry Summers’ True Record on Women).

I don’t doubt the truth of a word of what Sandberg says about Summers and women. The issue of women faculty has been way overblown as the source of Summers’ downfall at Harvard. The more serious issues had to do with the way he mixed friendships and business to Harvard’s detriment, most notably the scandal surrounding Andrei Shleifer’s role in Harvard’s venture to help the Russian economy. This deal between Harvard and Google also may have seemed good for both parties but could have used a few more independent eyeballs to prevent the problems that the new Harvard administration apparently identified. Has Summers learned his lessons about the wisdom of a bit more consultation and transparency?

Viacom and Myspace Cut a Deal

Monday, November 3rd, 2008 by Harry Lewis

In a development that bears a family resemblance to the deal Google cut with the book publishing industry, Myspace has reached an agreement with one big part of the entertainment industry. Its users will be allowed to continue posting video clips from the Colbert Report and other TV shows without anyone getting hassled with DMCA takedown demands.

When the user posts a video, third-party software will identify it automatically, and place a visual tag on the clip, at the bottom of the screen. Advertising will be posted and the viewer will be given the opportunity to buy the whole episode. The revenue from the advertising and episode purchases will be split up among Viacom, Myspace, and the company that makes the software that identifies the videos. Everybody makes a little money (except, of course, the people who are doing the posting and the people who are doing the viewing!).

This deal is narrow — it affects only MySpace and Viacom. Google’s deal is broader — it is a deal with the group that represents publishers and authors — but the court hasn’t approved it yet. And of course, it covers only Google, not anyone else who might like to create a book search service. Do these deals show the outline of a more encompassing, public solution to the problems with DMCA and the Internet?

More on the Google Book Deal

Thursday, October 30th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Siva Vaidhyanathan has a good summary of the deal, in the details of which may lie the devil. Like me, he regrets that we won’t now get any clarification on the limits of fair use in the digital age — though he thinks Google would have lost, which would have been a disaster since it would have strengthened the hand of the content industry to keep cracking down on people using small amounts of material for commentary or indexing.

He notes that as long as we rely on Google book search, it’s better for us if it works better. And it will work better — Google will be free to show larger excerpts from copyrighted works. But the deal also will firm up Google’s status as the dominant digital book depository. And in light of the anti-trust issue that raises, Siva notes an interesting coincidence: Google CEO Eric Schmidt hit the road campaigning for Barack Obama last week, just at the moment when the parties must have been hammering out the final draft of this agreement.

And finally, he cautions us not to get too excited about the deal until the court has approved it.

In a related development, Harvard has announced that its library won’t be extending its cooperation with Google to its collection of in-copyright materials, because the deal places too many restrictions on the ways in which they would be made available. Google has been digitizing only the out-of-copyright works in Harvard’s collection, though apparently Harvard’s position has been that Google’s entire project was legal. Not clear to me that Harvard’s decision poses any great problems for Google, since there tend to be multiple sources for copyrighted works.

Google Books Lawsuit Settled

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

A huge sword that has been hanging over Google Books was lifted today, when the company came to terms with representatives of U.S. authors and publishers. Those groups had claimed that by scanning in copyrighted works and making them available in limited form, Google was infringing their copyrights. Google here explains how book search will work in the future. In essence, the company will add an option so you can buy access to the full, scanned version of a copyrighted work. You won’t be able to download it, but you’ll be able to access it any time you log into your Google account. Libraries will be able to buy institutional subscriptions. An independent rights registry will be created to figure out where the money should go, in the (very large) case of copyrighted works for which the copyright holder is unknown (orphaned works).

Many, many details will determine whether this is a good deal for society or not. A lot depends on the price points, where the kitty of undistributed money goes, and so on. Any time an important issue like this is settled out of court, it’s a two-edged sword. On the one hand, most people will continue to get the service they’ve gotten used to and the courts have not gotten in the way. On the other hand, the underlying legal questions have not been settled, and could come back in another form.

Update: The settlement involves payments by Google of at least $80 million up front. The full details are available here, including how the user payments will be divided among the parties going forward. Again, the bottom line is that Google never admitted to doing anything wrong and the publishers never agreed that what Google was doing was within “fair use,” so the most important copyright questions may come back to bite us another day.

YouTube Responds to McCain

Thursday, October 16th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Yesterday we blogged about the request by the McCain-Palin campaign that YouTube respond to takedown notices less automatically. YouTube has responded in the negative, stating (as I did) that the problem is the law, not YouTube’s manner of dealing with the opposing parties. Here is YouTube’s response; I find it pretty reasonable. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wishes YouTube would show a bit more willingness to ignore obviously spurious takedown notices, e.g. ones where the contested material is a few seconds of a news show.

An interesting question is whether political campaign ads should get some special treatment. McCain’s campaign argues that because of the time sensitivity of campaigns and the importance of the free flow of information to the electorate, there should be a higher standard for taking down a campaign ad. YouTube doesn’t agree. Neither does Chris Soghoian in a well-argued, passionate post: Stand in line, he tells McCain, along with all the other people who are being abused by inappropriate DMCA takedowns.

In Defense of Piracy

Sunday, October 12th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

That’s the provocative title of a good¬†column by Larry Lessig in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that American copyright law is unreasonably stifling creativity. That Lessig would think that is not news, but the article has some new examples of abusive practices, and makes the argument effectively. This argument is compressed from a new Lessig book called Remix, due to be published this week.

More Copyright Madness

Monday, September 8th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

A law firm acting on behalf of the Church of Scientology has sent more than 4000 takedown notices over a twelve-hour period this past weekend, demanding that videos and other information critical of the Church be removed from public view. The Church of Scientology is famous for this abuse of the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.