A Short Poem about S.O.P.A

With sincere apologies to Martin Niemölle, and in no way meaning to diminish the seriousness of its original subject, I offer this short remix, prompted most recently by SOPA:

First they came for the file sharers,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a file sharer.

Then they came for the free content creators,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a free content creator.

Then they came for the political activists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a political activist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I know, I know, this seems like just so much hyperbole and overreaction. Just call me Cassandra. But only if you really believe that things like SOPA and Canada’s Bill C-11 (formerly C-32) or the DCMA or ACTA or… are the ultimate battlefield. They are not. They are simply initial skirmishes in a much large battle about CONTROL and FREEDOM, not just of what you watch or read, but what you are allowed to do. More hyperbole, you think. Well, I URGE you to watch Corey Doctorow’s keynote at the 28C3, “The Coming War on General Computing,” which does as good a job as any in explaining how big the stakes are here.

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This is difficult to explain to many people as it seems arcane, philosophical, excessively technical and geeky. Yet don’t we already see all around us expressions (albeit incredibly tepid ones) of the extent to which technological wherewithal is now a core “21st Literacy.” Get used to it – like Lessig said, “Code is Law,” and unless we start to engage with these “arcane” technical issues, we will be the ones being programmed. – SWL

There’s a war goin’ on here, donchaknow?

I hate to use war metaphors, not only because they refer to a practice I abhor but because they are so trite. But I am getting tired of people blindly accepting the official line of copyright and intellectual “property” as some sort of eternal right, rather than the modern (and increasingly faltering) invention it is. The relationship between “content,” “owners,” “culture” and “folk” morphs and fluctuates over time, and whilst the people who have built up whole industries on selling you content would have you believe that the only role you have is as a consumer, an empty vessel into which they can pour their contenty goodness, it’s time we fought back. So join the not so secret revolution, share your content, use those non-rivalrous goods to make the world a better, more beautiful place. This one’s for you, Jimbo Groomie!








My Comment to CNIE on the Canadian Copyright Consultation process

You may have heard that the Canadian federal government is currently consulting with Canadians about planned changes to our existing copyright laws. In addition to getting my own submission together and working on something on behalf of BCcampus, I was extremely pleased to hear, via Rick Schwier’s blog, that one of the few groups in Canada with a truly national reach in education, CNIE (formerly CADE), were also planning a submission. Rick’s post encouraged comments and concerns be sent to their leadership, and here is the comment I submitted. There is MUCH more to be concerned about the previously badly crafted Bill C-61 (start with these few issues, to begin with), but the move to resign online educational fair dealing to ‘privately protected spaces’ is one I feel we must specifically resist, as not only does it corrupt the notion of education and fair dealing, but it does so in such a way that may enshrine incredibly impoverished models in our already beleagured institutions for decades to come.

Have you had your say yet?

I was very pleased to hear that CNIE will be submitting a brief to the Federal Copyright consultation. It is great that you are staking out a position for distance/online education and recognition that ‘virtual classrooms’ should be afforeded fair dealing rights too. However, I would urge you not to compund the currently stiffled innovation in online education by arguing that content need to be behind password protected “learning management system” sites or the like in order to qualify for fair dealing rights. While this at first seems like a palatable compromise with the copyright barons, it will only lead to a further entrenching of a fundamentally broken technology, the LMS, whose replication of the physical classroom in the virtual world looses almost ALL of the benefits the network has to offer learners.

Instead, I would urge you to stake out a position that the position and intent of the user/usage is of much more importance in ascertaining fair dealing, and that course and content delivered ‘out in the open’ should also be able to exert their fair dealing rights. I believe this is a truly important distinction to make, not only for distance education but indeed for higher education institutions in general, as their future will increasingly hinge on being able to integrate and interoperate with the larger community of informal learners who make up the entire Internet, and enshrining in law the requirement that any fair dealing be exercised solely behind closed doors will only continue our march into the margins.

Zotero creators sued by Thomson Reuters


I don’t usually just re-post stuff like this, but this is important and I’m hoping to add to whatever backlash we can create. This is obscene – that Thompson-Reuters is suing over their proprietary “endnote format.” If you somehow needed a new reason to stop forcing your students to buy textbooks from Thompson-Reuters… And hopefully this will see ed tech departments, libraries and grad schools across the continent remove links and endorsements to Thompson’s Endnote product. Locking in your customers and protecting your business through proprietary data formats is just not acceptable. – SWL

Paper – The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age


This is an important new paper by William McGeveran and William Fisher from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. It’s not exactly earth shattering content for people regularly working on the issue of sharing and reusing digital resources for education, but it is fairly comprehensive (from a US perspective at least) and done by lawyers, the type of document that can potentially have some legitimacy with politicians and other decision makers (and yes, I believe in faeries too!) The Mellon Foundation is to be commended for funding it. I loved their case studies, especially the one that has a media prof cracking DRM controls with freely available tools so as to be able to create a clips reel for his class. That would never happen 😉 – SWL

BC Commons licence


It struck me that while there will be quite a few out there who have seen this before, I haven’t seen it make the rounds of the blogosphere and so maybe it is worthwhile…

The BCcommons Licence is a “open content” licence inspired by Creative Commons but aimed specifically at facilitating sharing of content created within the BC post-secondary system with the rest of that system. It has been developed by my employers (and my boss, Paul Stacey) at BCcampus. It’s a kind of middle ground between “closed” content and the full Creative Commons, a way for our provincial system to promote sharing between institutions but hopefully not pushing people as far out of their comfort zone as the full on Creative Commons might. The first content to be released under this licence should be coming along shortly so we will soon see if this fills the anticipated niche and has the desired effect. And a final note: in a cool twist, the BCcommons licence itself has been released under the creative commons, so if it somehow inspires you and you think it could serve as the basis for your own middle way, dig in! – SWL

Intellectual Property Rights Issues Facing Self-archiving: Key Findings of the RoMEO Project


This interesting paper details the efforts of the RoMEO project to land on, amongst other things, a digital rights schema to enable self-archiving of academic research papers in the U.K. What’s interesting is that while they found that either the Creative Commons or ODRL could possibly fit their needs, the problem with the CC solution was that their metadata was expressed in RDF/XML and did not have an associated XML schema—a prerequisite for any metadata disclosed under the OAI-PMH. Their solution was to develop ODRL versions (XML instances) of the CC licences that would conform to the ODRL XML schema, examples of which can be found in the paper. A more detailed accounting of this process can also be found in the related paper, “Rights metadata for open archiving.” – SWL

NameProtext – crawling your site to protect against trademark violations


You kind of knew this was happening somehow, but here’s the public face of it. Check your server log analysis for ‘unrecognized agents’ with the name “NPBot http://www.nameprotect.com/botinfo.html)” and this is who it is; a bot that scours the web for unauthorized uses of brand names and trademarks. I expect this is a very small example of all the bots currently keeping tabs on what you say. (Although apparently it honours robots.txt, so…) – SWL