Video About the EU Hackathon

I shared this already on my social networks but thought I’d take a moment to highlight it here as I’ve mentioned in my recent travel updates my trip to Brussels last week. This is a seven and a half minute video about the EU Hackathon, event on which I worked as a speaker and organizer. Thanks to the hard work of my fellow organizers and the awesome efforts of the participants, the event far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

The crew responsible for this video did a great job capturing the purpose, outcomes and experience of being involved with this first group of hackers to anchor a hackathon in the halls of the EU Parliament. They produced a couple of accompanying videos focusing on the start and end of the hackathon, both of which were the portions that took place within the Parliament building in Brussels.

As Caroline de Cock explains in the video, the hackathon was organized around two goals, internet quality and government transparency. I helped organize the work on the former, working to select the participants and staying up as much as I possibly could through the 24 hours of hacking and attendant activities to offer my expertise on the source code of the network measurement experiments hosted by Measurement Lab. (Yes, that is the project I’ve mentioned as being a large focus of my current day job.)

We are already talking about next year. Stay tuned, there may be related activities between now and then working on these same two fronts, sponsored and organized by those of us behind the EU Hackathon.

Software Patents on This American Life

A listener, Max, wrote me recently to clue me in to a recent episode of This American Life that may be of interest to other listeners.

I do believe that the current episode of This American Life from NPR is relevant to some of the ground your podcast covers.

Some of it may be old news for the reasonably patent aware person, but the good folks at TAL do some good investigative research when it comes to Intellectual Ventures, a rather interesting patent troll on steroids.

If you’ve been lost during my coverage of software patents, this episode is an excellent way to familiarize yourself. If you’re already aware of many of the issues in the debate, the episode is still well worth a listen for the work Ira Glass and crew have done digging more in-depth into the history and actions of IV.

When Patents Attack! This American Life (thanks Max!)

The UK’s Crowdsourced Coverage Map

A good chunk of my day job is now spent working on Measurement Lab. News of similar efforts to harness end users to generate empirical data on various aspects of the Internet, or in this case the 3G carrier networks in the UK, piques my interest.

An app which is providing data for a BBC survey into the UK’s 3G coverage has notched up 33,000 downloads.

The results will be collated and offered via a clickable map to give the first glimpse of what a 3G UK really looks like.

I am unfamiliar with Epitiro, no idea of their track record and how their survey will stack up against a similar effort planned by the UK regulator, Ofcom, or the existing open project mentioned in the article, OpenSignalMaps. Having more than one data set isn’t necessarily a problem so long as the data is open to all for detailed analysis, the methodologies are clearly explained and, ideally, the source code of the tools used to collect the information are open. (That may also be my bias speaking since all three of these are true for Measurement Lab.)

Regardless, as long as data sets can be correlated to account for differences and for the purposes of confirming the objectivity of each, the more the merrier. In the end the goal should be to ground policy debate on accurate data, to move past bickering over anecdata and others attempts to skew the framing with questionable information.

Thousands download coverage app, BBC

Nina Paley’s Kickstarter: Mimi & Eunice Mini-books

Judging from Nina’s pitch video, she has run afoul of one of the limitations I’ve been hearing about Lulu’s otherwise wonderful print-on-demand service–an inability to set pricing below a set floor. Kickstarter fits the bill nicely for her to experiment with an alternate, almost throwback, approach of capitalizing something more like a traditional print run. Her goal is modest and pitching in at the higher levels can net you some nice rewards. I love my signed copy of “Mis-information Wants to Be Free” and am eager to add a signed mini-book to my special collection shelf.

Nina very neatly works into her pitch an educational aspect to the project. She has worked with Question Copyright in the past to develop some catchy, sticky memetic media that cram key ideas about free cultural sharing and against over-aggressive copyright into your ear like a didactic ear worm. The notion of pulling a mini-book out of your pocket at appropriate venues to that same end is appealing–at least to me. I’d actually love to be able to have a handful of these at events where I speak specifically about copyright. Judging by the eventual retail price she’s trying to reach, that’s the very idea, cheap enough to give away.

My First Kickstarter Project! Mimi & Eunice

Is Portugal Really Trying to Make Creative Commons Licenses Illegal?

Glyn Moody links to a translation of the relevant sections of a proposed bill.

Here: in sum, every author (except software authors, so thankfully free software isn’t affected) has the right of getting money out of private copy, and they can’t renounce it, so every Creative Commons license, where saying “You are free to share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work” (or actually, in legalese, “licensor hereby grants you a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual license to reproduce the Work”) is illegal.

Moody goes on to provide some useful analysis. In particular despite early confusion about what the actual intent here may be, a follow up seems to confirm that the oddly specific language is indeed aimed squarely at free culture.

Moody nicely ties this into a point made by Rick Falkvinge in a recent op-ed, that those advocating for this sort of restriction start from an incorrect assumption. Copyright isn’t about any guarantees on the ability to make money, rather it is a compromise to generate appropriate rewards to encourage cultural creation. If both public interests of cultural creation and access to culture are served without monetary exchanges, that should be sufficient. To use Falkvinge’s word, this proposed law is revolting for interfering with outcomes, fixating an incidental circumstances of some intermediaries, at certain points in the history of cultural production.

Portugal to Make CC Licenses Illegal? Glyn Moody

Annual Day Against DRM

The music industry may have largely given up on digital rights management, a largely ineffectual set of technologies meant to interfere with the simple and ubiquitous act of copying digital files, but the risks inherent in digital locks are as present as ever. Film studios must think that somehow their application of this technology is different, that this time it will work. As book publishers experiment with electronic editions, they also assume any such digital versions must be locked down to prevent their livelihood from being stolen out from under them.

Thinkers much brighter and more articulate than I am have pointed out that strategies relying on DRM proceed from rather flawed assumptions. Above all other things what the personal computer, and its descendants like smart phones, does best is to make perfect, infinite digital copies. Coding a thin veneer over this is comparable to trying to contain a rabid badger with a cardboard box. It willfully ignores the inherent nature of the situation. Hence business models based on digital technologies would be far better served to embrace the very abundance enabled.

Sadly as much as DRM is still a live issue I suspect most readers, viewers and listeners still rarely run afoul of the arbitrary speed bumps raised by DRM. When they do odds are good it comes as a complete surprise. I still have conversations with friends and acquaintances on a distressingly regular basis explaining why they cannot freely move their digital files to different devices, alter their format, or otherwise make full use of the medias consistent with their expectation that they full own the files and everything it should be possible to do with them.

The Free Software Foundation’s Defective by Design campaign has set today aside to keep attention on the problems surrounding DRM. If like me out of a desire for harmony you’ve stopped harassing your friends and acquaintances proactively most of the time, a Day Against DRM is a good excuse to momentarily set aside that policy. People continuing to buy technology and media that contains DRM props up the content producers’ incorrect view that DRM does anything other than intermittently punish honest users.

Check out the Defective by Design page for the day for ideas. At a minimum there are plenty of very understandable hypothetical problems of which the average person may run afoul that you can share to make the point. While no one is advocating for piracy and the mass copyright infringement that entails, we all should have a right to own digital media and do with them just about anything that makes sense within the realm of personal use.

3D/DC Recap

Last Thursday I attended Public Knowledge’s 3D/DC event down near the Hill here in DC. From the description it clearly promised to continue the discussion started in Michael Weinberg’s excellent white paper which frames the potential pitfalls and challenges facing this new technology from the realm of intellectual monopoly.

Yesterday Michael posted a very quick recap of the event. I thought I’d take a few moments to expand on the bare skeletion he lays out, the two panels focusing first on the various actors in the space and on questions posed and possible paths forward in the policy space then the open demonstrations from makers, educators, innovators and established companies. (You can also look at the tweets from the event, I tried to do my best despite a decrepit laptop battery and an extremely finicky touch screen on my notaphone.)

In the meet the makers panel I was surprised to see representatives from established commercial players. That says more about my bias, being most interested in the open source projects trying to make 3D printing accessible and the small innovators focusing much more on the personal scale than even on the smallest scale industrial applications. The story told by 3D Systems and ExOne in some ways is more concerning despite their obvious commercial success. 3D Systems has been bogged down in frivolous lawsuit and both reported an easier time in markets abroad than locally. The conversation did not progress much beyond the frustration at lack of growth, however, to more specific concerns. I also found it hard to muster too much sympathy as these are the very companies that are entirely ignoring people like me who would like nothing more than to purchase a packaged, easy to use 3D printer to place on my desktop and just start making things. However, if those with the most means are struggling to progress, what hope is there for the mere enthusiasts?

The second panel, moderated by Nate Anderson from Ars Technica, in many ways book ended the policy space. Michael Weinberg continued to endorse a view of allowing norms to evolve first before considering any kind of regulation. Melba Kruman coauthored a report on personal fabrication and drew on some interesting ideas from it for models of regulation. She was intensely optimistic which I wanted to be infectious. In reality a lot of what she said I found a bit naive in terms of how notions like micro-patents might work out. Mostly she espoused a view that we, those concerned about open access, have learned hard lessons from bad policy like the DMCA. The problem with that is so have the incumbents hence further reaches like ACTA, TPP and COICA. If we want open access in this space, we have to actively defend it, as much as that runs the risk of having concerns over intellectual monopoly drive much of the discussion rather than allowing focus to sit on innovation. Striking the right balance in that defense will be no easy challenge as my own seeming contradictory views on regulation vs. formalities suggests.

In both panels there were tons of parallels drawn to the earliest days of personal computing. I think that is a constructive model. I am concerned though that the regulatory and policy clime has permanently shifted. As much as I agree with Weinberg’s hope we can watch where the grass goes bare before laying the sidewalk, I simply don’t think we can afford to. Those threatened by the vast potential of 3D fabrication at all scales are simply too savvy to sit still while we dial the right balance in between incentives for progress and open access for the public interest. I suppose the unasked question is what are the possible unintended consequences if we get the defense of the technology wrong?

I am very glad that Michael and Public Knowledge are actively pursuing these conversations, regardless of how my own personal cynicism may temper my view of the general optimism held by others.

During the open portion of the afternoon, where various demonstrations were running, I spent a lot of time talking to the hackers, the makers and the educators. In particular in talking to Mark Ganter of open3dp I learned that intellectual monopoly on printed objects is not the only policy concern here as much as that was the major focus of the day. There is an excellent post on the open3dp site that explains quite clearly how the dominant academic regime for monetizing research has largely stifled certain forms of 3D printing. Spending so much time listening to him detail how constrained his work has been undoubtedly further tempered my enthusiasm. It is a shame really as even as hobbled as the homebrew and education communities may be, they are still doing some staggeringly cool stuff.

Copyright Protest and Parody Song, “Death of ACTA”, Taken Down

Mike Masnick at Techdirt has the gory details of Dan Bull’s “Death of ACTA” song being taken down from the file locker service, Mediafire, one of the many ways Dan distributes his works on his own. Masnick undertook the difficult job of trying to parse a take down letter that was not exclusive to Bull’s work on Mediafire.

Dan was kind enough to forward on the takedown message… and it’s a total mess. There’s simply no useful info in it other than that a French company called TF1 wants the file (and a bunch of others) off of Mediafire as quickly as possible. Now, it’s not clear what the issue is here, but it’s not difficult to take a guess. “Death of ACTA” is obviously a play on Jay-Z’s “Death of Autotune” Jay-Z’s song features prominently a sample of the song “In the Space” by French film composers Janko Nilovic and Dave Sarkys. It’s quite likely that Jay-Z licensed the sample. Not surprisingly, Dan Bull did not, but that’s the nature of creating a parody song.

Masnick also reminds us that the EU (Dan himself is in the UK) doesn’t have fair use laws as such making a parody defense difficult. I interviewed Dan recently and he knows full well his works often exist in a troublesome legal gray area. He also doesn’t rely on only a single means to offer his songs and videos to fans. More likely this take down will serve as an opportunity to highlight the idiocy that the song itself speaks to in copyright law rather than interfering with Dan’s ability to produce his art and connect with his fans.

I would love to see Dan, or perhaps one of his creative fans, create a meta-rap about the takedown of the rap complaining about the overreach of intellectual monopoly like poorly justified takedowns.

‘Death Of ACTA’ Song Taken Down In Copyright Claim, Techdirt

3D/DC, Public Knowledge Brings 3D Printing to the Capital

Continuing the excellent, forward looking work begun in their white paper on potential intellectual monopoly issues around the emerging technology of 3D printing, Public Knowledge is organizing an event to bring together techies and policy folks on March 28th at an as yet to be determined venue near the hill.

On April 28th at 3D/DC, the 3D printing community will descend on Washington, DC to show policymakers what they are up to. Panels will introduce the 3D printing community to the DC policy community, and explore some of the policy issues that this disruptive technology will implicate. During a demonstration phase, you will be able to see this technology in action first hand, and speak one-on-one with people and companies on the cutting edge.

I will be there, for the new day job no less. The event is free and open to the public but does require an RSVP.

3D/DC: 3D Printing Comes to the Nation’s Capitol, Public Knowledge

Case of a FOIA Request for a Public University Professor’s Email Messages

Dan Wallach at Freedom to Tinker has an interesting concern over a case that would otherwise seem easy to evade by using any number of free email services to simply compartmentalize correspondence an employee of a public institution does not wish to have subject to a Freedom of Information Act request. The circumstances he considers are very particular when asking questions about FOIA’s reach, or even that of an employers. Specifically, Wallach wonders if the practice of using Gmail or a comparable service to transparently handle professional email would blur the lines enough to erode any implicit protections from using an outside service.

Here’s another thing to ponder: When I send email from Gmail, it happily forges my address in the from line. This allows me to use Gmail without most of the people who correspond with me ever knowing or caring that I’m using Gmail. By blurring the lines between my and email, am I also blurring the boundary of legal requests to discover my email? Since Rice is a private university, there are presumably no FOIA issues for me, but would it be any different for Prof. Cronon? Could or should present or future FOIA laws compel you to produce content from your “private” email service when you conflate it with your “professional” email address?

Bear in mind that norms have an impact of the law so what he is asking isn’t so far fetched. The potential fuzziness would suggest a better tactic would be to keep a much more explicit division, along with the overhead, that requires. Wallach ponders that practice, asking a final question as to whether that would be enough for purposes of insulating a personal account from such searches.

The case of Prof. Cronon and the FOIA requests for his private emails, Freedom to Tinker