Life is a Mystery

6 March 2011 . Comments Off on Born this way

Born this way

I’ve got to say, I fell off the pop bandwagon long before Lady Gaga came along. I find it hard not to see her as a derivative of Madonna, and when I first hear the song “Born this way” that’s exactly how I responded. The video is even stranger than that, another stage beyond the shock of Madonna, for sure.

In fact, I never would have seen the video except for the story of Maria Aragon, a 10-year-old who put her cover of the song up on YouTube. I’m used to stories of studios hounding this kind of video off the site for copyright violations, but this story turned out very differently. Instead of getting a take down notice it got a thank you from someone having a very bad day: Lady Gaga herself.

You can imagine the reaction to the video above, and the pressure that puts on an artist like Lady Gaga. For her the antidote was watching this video.

Lady Gaga even found Maria on a Toronto radio talk show and shared this:

I want to tell you something Maria, because not only do you have such a beautiful voice, and you are so joyful to watch, but … every once in a while, whether people believe it or not, I have a very bad day. I was not having such a good day, and when Perez sent me the video of you singing ‘Born This Way,’ I was so overjoyed that I began to cry. This industry is very difficult for women sometimes and they want to tear us down and tear us apart. … Thank you so much for making my day better.

I watch Maria and can’t help but marvel at a world that lets a 10-year-old reach out and console a superstar with her own music. This is the kind of creativity and feedback possible today, not just for pop stars, but for politicians, corporations, educators, anyone ready to open their heart to the voices around them, ready to share their creative flame and warm themselves in the rebounding creative light of others. Oh, how I pray this networked world of ours is a force of opening and sharing, sometimes we seem so intent on making it one of ownership and bombast.

I know which version of this song I prefer!

26 July 2010 . Comments Off on Some copyright sanity

Some copyright sanity

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires that the Librarian of Congress check in every three years with a determination of the kinds of works that should be exempt from DMCA enforcement. Today James Billington made the fourth determination of this sort, and one that has me very excited. After a rulemaking proceeding conducted by the Register of Copyright, he has designated six classes of non-infringing use of DRM (digital restrictions managment) circumvention.

By far the biggest news is that “university professors” and “college and university film and media studies students” may rip DVDs for “educational uses”. This has a direct impact on my household, where we have found we had to do this to support media work by my partner, a college professor. Even better, this kind of use is also allowed for “documentary filmmaking” and “noncommercial videos”! There are limits, but they seem reasonable. Mainly this circumvention of DRM is only allowed “solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment”.

Other interesting classes of circumvention allowed by this rulling…

  • You may circumvent ebook protections in order to enable software or screen readers to read the ebook aloud.
  • You may jailbreak and/or unlock your own cell phone.
  • You may bypass an obsolete dongle that prevents the use of software you still need.
  • You may test, investigate, and correct security flaws and vulnerabilities in computer games you own.

Thank you, Librarian of Congress!

James H Billington

26 May 2010 . Comments Off on Fashion’s dirty little secret

Fashion’s dirty little secret

A Slashdot post brought this wonderful TED Talk to my attention. Johanna Blakely describes how creativity in fashion thrives despite the virtual absence of intellectual property protections. This really calls into question the argument that we need copyright to encourage innovation. Check it out, and also take a look at her website at I love the Dali quote on her website: “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

19 November 2009 . Comments Off on Kudunomics and the weightless economy

Kudunomics and the weightless economy

Sam Bowles, once at Amherst and now at the Santa Fe Institute, has had a remarkable career as an economist. These days he has been thinking about something close to my heart: “the weightless economy.” As described by Ethan Zuckerman after a visit by Bowles to the Berkman Center:

The big idea behind Bowles’s recent research is that some of the fundamental laws of economics – notably Adam Smith’s invisible hand, may not work in the “weightless economy – the economy that can’t be weighed, fenced, or conveniently contracted for.” Rather than being based on material wealth, knowledge-based economies are based on embodied and relational wealth. In these economies, individual-posession based property rights are difficult to enforce, and socially harmful to enforce.

Network wealth is the contribution made by your social connections to your well-being. This could be measured by your number of connections, or by your centrality in different networks. A simple way to think about this is the number of people who will share food with you. Embodied wealth is a combination of what you know and how strong you are. It measures factors like hunting prowess and grip strength. Bowles asserts that we’re moving from a history where network and embodied wealth mattered more that material wealth – we briefly (for about eight thousand years) moved into a world of embodied wealth, and now we’re moving back.

It might be time to look back to the Pleistocene.

I’ll have to look for the archived presentation when it appears, the topic sounds dense and I’d love to give it a careful listen. I think it may open up my thinking about copyright issues and fair use, though. We have to come to some sensible place with regard to “intellectual property” and I’m not sure how to get there. I hope Sam may help.


6 November 2009 . Comments Off on Google opens the kimono

Google opens the kimono

Anyone who does business with Google (and don’t we all?) may want to take a look at their Google Dashboard. Google announced yesterday

In an effort to provide you with greater transparency and control over their own data, we’ve built the Google Dashboard. Designed to be simple and useful, the Dashboard summarizes data for each product that you use (when signed in to your account) and provides you direct links to control your personal settings.

And if you are a web devloper, you may also be as excited as I am that Google announced yesterday it is opening the JavaScript library and tools behind Google’s own web apps. This is a big deal, making years of Google development available to even the lowliest web developer. As noted at Ars Technica:

The library, called Closure, includes an extraordinarily diverse assortment of capabilities with functionality ranging from JSON serialization to standard user interface widgets. All of the features are cross-browser compatible and can be readily adopted without marginalizing any users. The library consists primarily of helper functions and user interface widgets, many of which are recognizable from popular Google applications.

This is an astute move by Google. The more widespread the adoption of this toolkit, the more likely vendors keep building browsers that run this code well. Everyone wins.


25 October 2009 . Comments Off on Big book byte week

Big book byte week

Two bits of book news caught my eye this week, the Barnes and Nobel nook reader came out of the closet and my old friend HP announced that they are presenting University of Michigan books scanned by Google in their BookPrep system.

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To my eye the nook is a much more pleasant e-book reader than Amazon’s Kindle. I can’t imagine reading on the Kindle simply because it has all those buttons and keys on it. It feels way too much like a machine. The Nook is all smooth, with what appears to be a calm touch interface. Much more my speed. Not that I can imagine spending $250 on a single-purpose device anyway. I’d sooner read my e-books on an iPod Touch.

As much as I appreciate the Nook’s aesthetics, what really impresses me in the social aspect of Nook. For the first time that I know of, a mainstream e-book provider is planning to differentiate itself by allowing e-books with digital restrictions to be shared:

Lend eBooks to friends, nook lets you loan eBooks to friends, free of charge. Remember, what goes around comes around.

Publishers complain about the first sale doctrine which has given book owners the right to share and resell books. They have seen digital restrictions as a way to prevent the same behavior in the e-book world. I think this is horribly short sighted, since the social behavior of sharing is the best way possible to spread word about titles and authors that you love. It is great to see even a small break in this facade.

Another kind of electronic book is made accessible by HP in the BookPrep system. I didn’t notice BookPrep until the UMich announcement, but it is a great demonstration by HP that even the roughly scanned material from Google and other scanning projects will have a long digital life. They have developed a process to clean up the images of scanning projects so that the pages are legible and even pleasant to read online. I am really glad to see UMich being so proactive about getting the trove of material from the Google project into public view. Thank you John Price Wilkin and everyone else at the UMich Libraries.

Especially charming about BookPrep is the fact that after going to all the trouble to clean images of artifacts like page edges and binding curvature, the presentation software puts artificial versions of these elements back to make the experience of reading these volumes more bookish. Does the experience of reading a book really require the form of the book around it?


I think nook indicates otherwise. I look forward to the day that nook can present all the content from BookPrep, Google Books, the Internet Archive, and all the other scanning projects out there. I think the form of the book will begin to fade, but the content still has a long life ahead.

16 September 2009 . Comments Off on Non-commercial?


I love Creative Commons and I enjoy using Flickr to find images that are available with Creative Commons licenses. I usually use a “BY-NC license, “by attribution” and “non-commercial”. But what do I mean by non-commercial? What do other mean when they specify non-commercial? Recently I realized that I was being paid a couple hundred dollars to give a presentation and used “NC” images in the slides for that presentation. I was being paid, is that “commercial”? I decided that I didn’t think my individual (paid) presentation constituted commercial use, but others might disagree.

All that thinking about non-commercial and what it means made me very ready for a report the Creative Commons recently released documenting a survey of CC users. They asked both creators and consumers what non-commercial means to them. This is a dense read, but very interesting work.

The empirical findings suggest that creators and users approach the question of noncommercial use similarly and that overall, online U.S. creators and users are more alike than different in their understanding of noncommercial use. Both creators and users generally consider uses that earn users money or involve online advertising to be commercial, while uses by organizations, by individuals, or for charitable purposes are less commercial but not decidedly noncommercial. Similarly, uses by for-profit companies are typically considered more commercial. Perceptions of the many use cases studied suggest that with the exception of uses that earn users money or involve advertising – at least until specific case scenarios are presented that disrupt those generalized views of commerciality – there is more uncertainty than clarity around whether specific uses of online content are commercial or noncommercial.


17 July 2009 . Comments Off on Missing Books

Missing Books

David Pogue shares word of a deeply ironic action on the part of Amazon. They’ve quietly deleted copies of purchased books from Kindles across the world, crediting the owners for their purchase. The books were deleted because the publisher decided they didn’t really want those titles sold as ebooks. The books: 1984 and Animal Farm.

This is the trouble with the cloud, you don’t actually have anything, you are just accessing objects that others hold on your behalf. The Kindle is basically a cache for your most recent reading, the rest of which lives at Amazon awaiting your call. Deleting these books is just a simple clearing of the cache, nothing significant from a technical point of view. But it feels significant, doesn’t it? It feels invasive. It feels arbitrary. It will help Kindle owners realize how little control they have.

Episodes disappear overnight at Hulu. Videos come and go at YouTube. We are living in a sand mandala. Enjoy it while you can, it won’t be the same tomorrow.


UPDATE: It appears that the publisher of these ebooks had no rights to the titles. Amazon was right to take them off the store, but I still question taking them off Kindles in the field.

18 May 2009 . Comments Off on On with whose show?

On with whose show?

Mary points to a great summary of license terms for online video sites. It turns out that appears to claim many fewer rights to your video than YouTube and Vimeo. YouTube and Vimeo say, essentially, that they can do anything they want with your video so long as you leave it on their site. And after you remove your video? They still retain rights to do anything they want for an undefined “commercially reasonable” amount of time. Yikes, maybe it is time to try


12 May 2009 . Comments Off on US government work

US government work

Today the White House Flickr photostream acquired a new permissions designation. The White House had been posting its pictures with a Creative Commons license, but someone must have caught on to the fact that in order to attach a CC license to this material one had to have copyright of the material. As a work of the US government, the White House photos by definition cannot be under copyright. Instead, these works have now been designated “United States Government Work” and linked to the appropriate law.

What I don’t understand is why these works didn’t use Flickr’s already existent “Public Domain” designation. Works not under copyright are in the public domain, after all.

Furthermore, the White House has added this paragraph of legalese to each photo’s description:

This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way or used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Once the White House lets a photo like this out into the open it is fair game. Technically, even before it lets it out into the open it is fair game (we would just have to use a freedom of information claim to get it). I’m not sure what the purpose of this ugly statement is other than to muddy the waters. There is plenty of case law about using the president’s image in advertising, why reiterate that on each photo? This is unseemly. And even if they did want it reiterated, why not link the designation to a more informative statement than the law? That law is pretty hard to read, and it will leave most people reading way more than the single sentence that is relevant.


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /