Posts tagged “freedom”.


(sourcecode is to binary as ??? is to ppt/odp/pdf)

Ted Gould just posted to the planet with his presentation that he gave at the Desktop Summit. At the end of his post you’ll notice that he uploaded his presentation to Launchpad (at lp:~ted/presentations/2009_desktop_summit/).

I think that is a great idea! Not only does it provide the ability for the community to see what others are using for their presentations but it allows anyone to branch a presentation, which has awesome potential. Especially with the presentation format that Ted chose, SVGs. The S5 presentation format (XHTML/CSS/JS based) would also be a great candidate for easy branching and editing of presentations.

But what if you need to create presentations with others who use Powerpoint or Impress and you wanted to harness the power of a Version Control System? Old powerpoint (ppt) files are binary blobs which don’t work well in version control systems (they *work* but not *well*). Impress (odp) and new Powerpoint (pptx) files are effectively zipped archives of xml and images. However, since it is zipped, bzr treats it as a binary. I only tested with bzr but don’t foresee any of the other systems behaving any differently.

Why would you want to use a VCS for your presentation files? Especially a DVCS like bzr/git/hg? COLLABORATION!

Some of you may know that I am currently working with Open.Michigan, a project at the University of Michigan that enables the creation of Open Educational Resources (OER). OER is effectively a broader term for the concept of Open CourseWare. Basically, everything used in education is a resource, not just presentations, and thus is useful for others to see, use, and remix. If you are curious to see what kinds of things we produce, see our Educommons installation.


Back to the topic at hand though: presentations and DVCS.

One of the major areas that the OER community could greatly improve upon is the area of remixing; taking the openly licensed materials and using them, adding new material, and creating something original. Remixing, in general, is enabled by having access to the source files of the material being worked with. Sure, you can use a PDF or a mp3 in a remix, but it is usually better to have the original .odt or multitrack file to work from. This is why Open.Michigan provides to the public the ppt files along with the pdfs of the presentations created through the OER program.

But lets leverage some of the tried and true methods of the FLOSS community in the OER community. One of the biggest and most fundamental benefits of the FLOSS world is that everyone has access to the source code, and can easily get it, edit it, and (hopefully) compile a new version of the program; effectively a “remix.” How does the FLOSS community lower the barriers and increase efficiency for that workflow? We provide public access to code repositories, instructions on building the software (documentation), and a bug tracker to inform what needs to be worked on next.

I want to mirror much of that to the OER community. One of the first things that needs to happen is to provide an easy way to manage multiple versions of a single resource (eg: presentation, video/audio, book). A VCS seems like the obvious choice. But there must be a better way than just managing binary blobs, right?

That is the part that I need to figure out next: how to utilize the power of a DVCS in this genre. Then I can move on to figuring out what a bug tracker for OER would look like (and if it is even needed). The documentation is actually already there, at least for Open.Michigan.

Do you have any ideas?

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Creative Commons and FLOSS

Tuesday night I gave a presentation at the Michigan!/usr/group (MUG) meeting about Creative Commons and its relationship with Free/Libre Open Source Software. I had a great time giving the presentation and judging from the amount and activity of the questions it seems like others enjoyed it, too!

I started off with a quick background on Creative Commons and what we do, in general. Then, after answering a ton of questions which were raised in the first 5 minutes, I went on to discuss CC’s role in the Free/Open Source Software community. Specifically, the FLOSS projects we develop and/or work on and how we can help others create awesome things.

If you weren’t there, you missed the opportunity to be a part of a great conversation between some great MUG members and I. But luckily, my slides are available online:

And, since Craig was nice enough to use my photo camera to record the presentation, we even have video! We only have 34 minutes of video, but that gets the majority of the talk. Apparently my camera records at a 1 gig per 10 minutes rate, we only got 34 minutes because it filled up my 4 gig memory card.

Thanks to everyone who came out, you made it fun.

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Michigan Jaunty Release Party!

Happy Jaunty Release Day Everyone!

Ubuntu Jaunty Countdown

Those in the Southeast Michigan area are more than welcome to attend our release party THIS SATURDAY. We’ll be toasting to the next great Ubuntu release. Bring your friends, bring your laptop (free wifi!), bring your questions. I’ll bring stickers!

Important Details:
What: Jaunty Release Party!
Where: Corner Brewery
When: 7pm – ???
Why: Because Ubuntu is awesome! Because we’re awesome! Right on.
How: Need a ride? Join the mailing list.

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Copyfraud: False claims of copyright such as a claim of copyright ownership of public domain material. (source: wiktionary)

Let’s start out this discussion with a quick true story:
I was working on a presentation for one of my graduate classes. My group partner and I were making a dang good presentation and wanted to spice it up with some nice photos of works of art (our topic was art related). So, we went to one of the more prominent art image databases: ARTstor. We found some paintings by Marc Chagall from 1911 and I was all ready to download them and insert them into our presentation. I then did the obvious next step: right-click the image to Save as… Not so fast! The flash interface doesn’t allow that. Why not? That is a complicated question to answer.

My aim is not to fully answer that question. The purpose of this post is to raise awareness, pure and simple. There is a problem out there and it has a name: copyfraud. The perpetrators are either ignorant at best or deceitful at worst. The ones being harmed are you and I, the public. People who want to create but are being unjustly[1] restricted. And being unjustly restricted means they are being unjustly censored.

(Nina Paley, CC:BY-SA)

Back to that Chagall painting. The cool part was this painting was done in the early 1900′s, 1911 to be exact. What that means is that the copyright term on that painting has expired (in US law, which is what governs ARTstor as it is a US non-profit). And, here is the part that is the issue, according to US copyright law any faithful reproduction of a creative work that does not add any new creative element does not produce a new copyright. In simpler terms: if I take a picture of a public domain painting then I do NOT hold a copyright on that photo; that photo is also in the public domain. I did not add any new creative anything to it so there is nothing to copyright. This is all explained in the court case Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp[2]. LARGE CAVEAT: this only applies in the US. The US rightfully, in my opinion, does not give copyright rights for “sweat of the brow” aka: hard work only (see: Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service). Countries like the UK do give copyright restrictions (“protections”) for sweat of the brow work.

Back, again, to that painting by Chagall. I decided to click on the “View Full Record” link to learn more about it and I came across this line: “Rights: © 2007 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris” BZZZZZZT! WRONG!

This, my friends, is a classic case of copyfraud

Copyright FAIL

What kind of effect does this have on you and me? First and foremost it “[results] in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use, or altering their creative projects to excise the uncopyrighted material” (Mazzone, “Copyfraud”). People are paying fees to organizations that purport to have our best interests at heart to use images that are in the public domain. Or, almost worse, people are not creating new and cool works because they are told they aren’t allowed to. This is where copyfraud hurts you: our culture will be locked down by those who have no right to do so (cue Free Culture and Free Speech discussions).

Now, let me be clear: I am not saying that people should never be allowed to sell public domain works. That is, of course, one of the things you are allowed to do with public domain works: sell them to people. In fact, paying the people a small fee for the professional work they did to create a high quality scan of a work is important; it means they’ll keep doing it[3].

However, falsely claiming that you hold a copyright on an image is illegal. It is even spelled out explicitly in the US Copyright law: “Any person who, with fraudulent intent, places on any article a notice of copyright or words of the same purport that such person knows to be false, or who, with fraudulent intent, publicly distributes or imports for public distribution any article bearing such notice or words that such person knows to be false, shall be fined not more than $2,500″ (emphasis mine). So either unlawfully claiming copyright or being someone who distributes that unlawfully copyrighted work results in a fine of up to $2,500. ARTstor, if prosecuted, could be fined a large amount of money ($2.5 million if there are only 1000 works that fall into that category, which according to my test searches is probably a low ball number).

This, of course, assumes that ARTstor is willfully, “with fraudulent intent,” making available these images with false copyright notices. Unfortunately, I think that isn’t too much of a stretch. I don’t think it is a stretch because I don’t believe that the people running ARTstore, or their lawyers, are ignorant. If I were a lawyer asked to sign off on a database of scans/photographs of works of art, this is one of the things I would double, nay, triple check. First, make sure that copyright information is being preserved in the database. Second, make sure that the copyright information in the database is accurate. Third, make sure that you are attributing copyright to the copyright holder on each image, if applicable. Fourth, make sure you aren’t falsely attributing copyright on any image. And in doing any of that I would, as a lawyer worth his salt, research court cases that have an effect on scans of works of art like the Bridgeman v Corel case.

In addition to assuming ARTstor has consulted people with JDs, there are reports out there of people who work for other institutions who, when asked about the fact that they are falsely claiming copyright, say “everyone else does it.” I wish I could say I was joking; that is truly what they say, and think. Put that related example and everything else said together and one could easily assume that ARTstor is doing this “with fraudulent intent.” Again, strong words, but this is an important issue.

What you can do:
Leave a comment with an example of copyfraud that YOU have found. Lets get a big list of organizations who are intentionally or unintentionally falsely claiming copyright on public domain works. The next step is to get them to stop. Emails, phone calls, blog posts, notices, whatever. Stand up for your rights.

Beginning list:

[1] “unjustly” instead of “unlawfully” because we are being contractually limited, which is legal. It just isn’t right.
[2] This post doesn’t even get into the discussion of overly zealous publishers making wild claims that over-reach and stifle creativity. Examples are the Major League Baseball and National Football League organizations saying that no part, no matter how small or short, can be reproduced without their permission. That is a blatent lie: those uses fall under Fair Use. The lawyers who wrote those notices, assuming they did any research or know anything about intellectual property law, actively lied when they wrote them. That is a strong statement on my part, but I can only either assume that or assume that the people who wrote those notices were not either A) educated lawyers or B) they didn’t consult an educated lawyer. For a good discussion of this issue see (for example): Mazzone, Jason “Administering Fair Use.”
[3] However, a discussion of the restriction of our heritage via contractual terms should also be had. Contracts are weird things: you can sign away rights that you have, like the right to reproduce public domain images. And remember, EULA and Terms of Service are binding contracts in the US. I think that may be my next post on this topic: “Taking Away Your Rights by Clicking ‘I Accept’”.

Copyfraud links (short list):

EDIT: Clarified paragraph beginning with “In addition to the fact..” I was overloading the pronoun “they.”
EDIT2: misspelling, thanks Douglas.

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University of Michigan Open Access Week

There is a great event coming up at the University of Michigan, sponsored and coordinated by a great team of librarians: Open Access Week 2009.

Molly Kleinman, one of those great librarians, puts it into context for us:

I’m struck by how timely these events are, and how much we could conceivably do under the umbrella of discussing open access and the future of scholarship. … The confluence of circumstances nationally has made this the perfect moment to discuss what’s wrong with existing modes of academic publishing, and to start getting aggressive about making change.

You really should read the rest of Molly’s post for a wonderful explanation of why the current scholarly publishing system is failing for everyone except the Elseviers of the world.

Along with presentations focused on faculty and scholarly publishing models, there is also going to be a talk by my current boss, Nathan Yergler, CTO of Creative Commons. Nathan will be talking about the impact of Creative Commons (CC) licenses on Open Access, what challenges still exist for Open Access, and what the Creative Commons is doing to build and support an ecosystem of openness. Everyone is welcome to join this event, and all the events during Open Access Week. For the details about Nathan’s talk, check out the announcement on the OPEN:Michigan blog.

If you are in the South East Michigan area and are interested in what Michigan is doing to promote Open Access and make it really work, come by for any of the events; there should be a wide enough range to accommodate most interests.

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The HathiTrust – A Report for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy

This past week was Spring Break at the University of Michigan. So I decided to skip the trip to the beach and instead go to Washington DC to work 9-5 for a week. Really.

My school, the School of Information, has this neat program called Alternative Spring Break where students can go work with some really cool organizations in Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. It is an opportunity to go discover if you actually enjoy doing what you are in Graduate School full-time to learn (my words, not theirs). Also, it is a wonderful networking opportunity; I met some really great people last week and whether or not they can help me find a job is secondary.

I specifically worked for the American Library Association‘s Office for Information Technology Policy. This is basically the “think tank” for the ALA Washington office. The Washington office also has the people in the Office of Government Relations; the people that go out there and make sure that the libraries’ perspective is heard on Capitol Hill. It is a really important perspective: who else are as big of proponents of open access to knowledge for all people? who else guards your privacy to such a great degree? Librarians are wonderful people to have on your side, but watch out if you do something wrong.

My time at the OITP involved writing a report about the HathiTrust, an endeavor originating at the University of Michigan and the University of Indiana. It is, in the most simple of terms, a long-term digital works preservation project. It is preserving and providing access to all of the digital scans that are being given to the various member Universities from the Google Book Search scannning program and also the libraries’ internal scanning operations. But there are some important implications of the HathiTrust, and that is what I set out to find. I want to give special thanks to John Wilkin, Executive Director of the HathiTrust, for answering my many questions.

If you are curious what the HathiTrust means for you and libraries in general, feel free to read my report: The HathiTrust – A Report for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License, so feel free to share it with whomever.

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Scholarly Publishing and Authenticated Reviews

First, a review of a neat new tool that provides a cool function for many academics:

GPeerReview is a very simple Open Source tool that lets you write a review of a work, embed a hash of the work in your review, and sign that review with your digital signature (using your GPG key). The last two things are pretty neat. The hash allows you to be sure that people know which version of a paper you reviewed. Or at least, they will know if the version they have matches the version you had. This would be useful in the case where major changes are made to the paper that contradict your review.

Then, signing your review so that the author (and their publisher/advisor/dean/what have you) knows it is actually from you is pretty neat, and an obvious use of gpg. In fact, GPeerReview is essentially just a wrapper around the GnuPG command-line tool (see the FAQ).

I think this is a pretty interesting tool that could have some great uses, especially if we integrate it with the work-flow of academics (somehow). Step one of that implementation would be to move it from the CLI to some sort of Word/ plugin. Or, even better, would be to provide a web-based service for this.

Crazy Idea
Launchpad for Scholarly Articles and GPeerReview

Going back to my crazy idea of a Launchpad for Scholarly Articles: basically a service that provides users the ability to link published articles, whether open access or not, with pre-prints or author deposited versions in Institutional Repositories. The killer feature of this service would be to provide a way for people who DON’T have access to the expensive scholarly journals a way to read and be informed via the pre-prints written by the authors that are not restricted by the overzealous journal publishers.

Then, add on the ability for readers of those articles to make comments on and provide useful reviews of the material. Even adding this ability to places like would be great; it provides a mechanism to build community. And as we all know, the community is what makes any service an important resource for people. Without community the service is just a collection of tools.

But, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know all of the various web-based services out there for scholarly communication; maybe someone has already implemented something like this. Leave a comment if you know of anything out there like this.

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imapfilter + offlineimap + msmtp + mutt + abook = email

So, I’ve spent a little over a week setting up my new email consumption/creation system. As you can see from the title of this blog post, there are a few parts to it. Why would I do something crazy like edit config files for 4 different apps JUST to read and write email? Well, I wasn’t happy with Thunderbird (yes, I’ll try 3.0 when it hits the repos) and Evolution wasn’t at all what I wanted. I do have gmail so why not just stick with the web interface? Because I am wanting to do more self-hosted solutions for web apps. Also, since I have more than one account, I want different messages to be sorted different and archived differently.

In Thunderbird I had an extension that allowed me to press “y” and the current message would be “archived” to the gmail All Mail folder. This was great, but it only supported one account. If I was reading my work email in Thunderbird (which is also hosted by gmail) and I hit “y” the message would go to my personal gmail account’s All Mail folder, not the work account one. Not good (and a dumb limitation).

So, what email program allows you to have complete control over those types of settings? Mutt. And yes, (Al)pine also. But, I have friends local to me who use mutt so exchanging .muttrc files and such is easier and we can meet in person to share tips.

What I want to do with this blog post, though, is not convince you that Mutt is the best solution for you. I do want to, however, share what I did to set everything up for use with Mutt. In fact, all the rest of the pieces of this setup can work equally well with some like Alpine or even Thunderbird.

(since it is a long post, I didn’t want to spam your reader, click for the rest of it)
More… »

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Web Presence Up-Keep

So, a part of being a domain-owning, server-space-using, web-software-running, open-source-promoting person one needs to periodically update software to latest versions and change software to meet ever changing situations and goals.

In short: I’ve made some changes around here that hopefully you have not noticed[0].

First – I finally upgraded to WordPress 2.7 (yes, a bit late).  What caused me to take so long? I wanted to change my installation method to using svn so I can just “svn sw” when  a new version is released. In doing so I ran into a minor permissions issue that was preventing me from completing the switch over, but thanks to my buddy (and sysadmin) Asheesh, all is better now. Do you want to have easy upgrades of wordpress via svn, check out this guide. It is a bit wordy and I never have liked their banner, but it outlines things in language for everyone.

Second – Blog Spam. Or more correctly BlogSpam. Since I do try to use Open Source solutions for my all of my needs (see my post on TinyTinyRSS) the use of Akismet was a little, well, sad. But, thanks to an blog post I found out about (I love straight forward software names).

Basically it is a drop-in replacement for Akismet but it is Open Source and even complies with the Open Software Service Definition. So if you are looking to remove one more piece of proprietary software from your webpresence, check out And for those of you who use Drupal there is even a plugin for that: check out the plugins page.

[0] – I had a minor hickup that most likely lasted from Jan 16th 3am to 3pm EST. During the re-install process I failed to copy back my .htaccess and thus none of the post were showing up since I use “pretty urls.” Sorry if you were trying to reach a post and couldn’t.

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An eventful week

I am now safely back from the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Mountain View after a long week of planning the next 6 months for Ubuntu.

As I said in an message: “I am just now realizing how crazy this past week was. You don’t notice it when you are in the middle.”

But now that I am back and able to reflect on what happened I have this to say: WOW! I am really excited about what will be happening in Jaunty and beyond. I am sure that because this was my first UDS I am, on average, more excited than some. It is always inspiring to be in groups of highly productive and intelligent people all working towards the same (or similar) goals. Now that I have this inspiration it is time to see what I can do with it.

First: My personal/work project (I work for Creative Commons): Content producing/playing applications should be “license aware.” WHAT? By that I mean that applications that play media (songs, videos, images) could display the license for the currently playing item. A good example is Banshee. There could be an additional column that shows which license a song is licensed under. Words don’t describe it well, how about a picture:
Banshee with column displaying CC licenses
The really cool part about the above image is that Gabriel Burt added that functionality after the discussion on Monday at UDS about this very topic. He saw my dent that it was being discussed and decided to code it up for Banshee. It apparently only took him 40 minutes (!) to do it. Gabriel is a rock star, pure and simple.

Gabriel also wrote all of the license detection code himself, which he didn’t need to. Creative Commons provides a LGPL licensed library (liblicense) that can read and write license metadata for a variety of file formats (ogg, mp3, pdf, jpg, png, mov, etc). But, Gabriel would have needed to write Mono bindings for liblicense as it is written in C and only has python and ruby bindings right now.

Second: The Jams that various LoCos have been putting on are always a winner. Whenever you get a group of people together who want to learn something new with each other good things tend to happen. The Michigan Team has done Packaging Jams and Bug Jams. There are even thoughts of expanding the idea to other activities (Answer Jams, Translation Jams [wouldn't work too well for US State teams], and such).

Third: Now that we are getting good at putting on events like Jams and release parties we should let others know how we do it! The various LoCo teams are going to start producing some Best Practices when it comes to hosting events and such. Basically, we want every team to know how Mr. 4k and the French LoCo were able to host a release party for FOUR THOUSAND people. Granted, not every team will be able to do something like that in April, but learning how the French LoCo performed marketing would help us all.

Fourth: The Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase is a great opportunity for artists to get their works on MILLIONS of computers worldwide; how can we get more participation in this contest? This is one project which I will be working on with Jono. Ideas: get the news out to other venues that we didn’t get to last time (ie: ccMixter).

I think that should be enough to keep me busy for the next few months. How about you: what projects/ideas really caught your attention at UDS?

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