Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What about the audience?

Much of Copyright and Creative Commons discussion revolve around the artist/author and a publishing corporation. It seems to me that, overall, the Creative Commons serves not to protect the author's work from copying, but rather to protect his/her audience from prosecution. Again, this may reveal my shallow understanding of the Copyright concept, but it seems to me that the significant effects of Copyright, today, lie between the author and the publishing corporation, leaving us - the audience - pretty much out of the picture (unless we, as the audience, somehow contribute to the product, thus becoming an artist/author) (Examples such as Girl Talk and the numerous film mash-ups on the web illustrate that we, as the audience, don't treat copyright with much respect anyway). By protecting us, the audience, the Creative Commons' most successful aspect could be seen as its protection of the artist from our scorn ( us with you product!), which in a way could be seen as mere advertisement (you should buy my album - its protected under a CC license!)> When artists (such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails acting as examples) release tracks and/or albums through the Creative Commons attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license, for free, they ultimately see in return popularity and financial kickback - from us, the audience (as these "free" and CC licensed albums act as publicity of sorts, casing a rise in the purchasing of the particular album.) The audience in turn pays for (even if limitedly offered for free), receives, and consumes the product. A Creative Commons license could therefore only be significant for those who are still mainly affected by copyright: the artist/author and the publishing corporation. The rest of us - the public, the audience - may very well treat CC with as much respect as we currently give (c) - not too much!

Continuing on this unformulated thought track, this week's material also illustrated, for me, that the majority of CC licensed work is only available online - which in part could quite possibly make this whole concept irrelevant in places where fast internet access is unavailable or too expensive.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Being in the A group, I was supposed to comment one someone else's post this week, and while I had a few thoughts of my own that could have gone under a few people's posts, I wanted to keep them all together instead, so here goes...

The "Freedom of Expression" introduction was at times depressing and enlightening. It was interesting to read about how some thought the VCR was going to ruin the film industry. I wonder if those people ever look back and laugh at some of their misinterpretations of the power created by technology and advancement? I was surprised to read about how Amazon has a patent on its "one-click" ordering. Rather than penalize other companies (and looking like greedy jerks because of this), wouldn't it make more sense to share the technology and the programming that makes this possible? I guess I find it odd that patents can be given on something like an ordering process on a website. I think that's carrying creative protection just a little too far.

Others have said that copyright laws "stifle creativity," of the little people, and I would agree. If every little thing has a copyright or a patent or is protected under some sort of law, then we may as well live in a bubble, because we're extremely limited in what we lawfully can and can't do. And yet here we go as a society buying name brand shoes, shirts with logos and jeans with leather brand tags on the back, offering what seems to be free advertising for these brands (after all, we only pay a one-time fee to purchase these items, but we wear them almost daily), and what do we really get from these companies in return? My library just started a Building Club for kids, and we refrained from using the word Lego in club's name for fear of someone finding out that we were using it without permission. I also recall a few years ago when Major League Baseball required kids' baseball teams to buy licenses in order to use the same names and color schemes as MLB teams. Way to punish the little guys. When we have to worry about things like these, the world becomes a pretty sad place indeed.

I also have a question concerning copyright and use of submitted materials for contests, sweepstakes and the like. My department is entering a contest being held by the Playaway company, and while reading the fine print on the entry form today, I noticed that it states that all work submitted becomes the property of the Playaway company. Of course, this kind of notice is included with most every contest I've ever read the fine print for, but...doesn't that seem a little odd? Yes, I want to enter the contest, but I don't think it's necessarily fair that the photo I submit of the work that myself and a coworker have completed becomes the property of the company to which I submit it, giving them the rights to use it any way they please (again, free publicity, anyone?). What happens to my rights as the "artist" of that work? After all, don't I have a copyright on that photo as soon as I click the camera button?? To be forced into giving it away in order to enter a contest hardly seems fair.

Week 4

An interesting blend of film and reading this week. The video grabbed my attention, and I want to thank the professor for making me aware of this important bit of music history that I wasn't aware of. I love learning about music, and hearing the history of the ubiquitous drum loop from Amen Break was fascinating. The loop just passes under the radar with the different songs it's sampled in, from Straight out of Comption to the Mantronics song, and yet the discerning ear can detect it underneath the new sounds. With the slicing and dicing of the beat in the later 1990s, it's almost impossible to know what it is. Fascinating. When the narrator discusses the copyright, he comes to the conclusion that companies like Zero G Limited company own the drum loop more than the band does.

The Mcleod article, as well as the video, touches upon Led Zeppelin's habit of incorporating blues songs into their music. When I was an undergrad, I also studied this, but the article made a good point that Led Zeppelin borrowed chunks of blues music just as the artists before them did. Blues and folk artists took from each other, and the book compares this to the early ages of the internet: without solid copyright law in place, innovation was at an all-time high. Now, copyright law is jumbled and confusing; so much that I'm taking a class that focuses on it. The more readings I do, the more I want to come away from this course with some semi-solid answers on how to deal with copyright issues. Today's readings helped.

Monday, September 27, 2010

week/module iv: freedom of expression

From copyrighting human genes and prohibiting generic production of potentially life-saving drugs, to the severe constraints against filmmakers and musicians, all of the material was educational and…disheartening. There is so much that has lit a fire under me.

The one shining light for me this week is Lawrence Lessig and his partnership in the Creative Commons. Not only is he fighting for a larger public domain, he has found a way to do something about it. The CC’s free licenses allow for creative flexibility by artists in the use of their original work, thereby allowing some breathing room once their work is put out for the world to see, hear, etc. Unfortunately, the government has not caught on the copyright law needs to be more “porous,” allowing credit where credit is due, but not strangle holding future creativity on the original idea.

And, without people like Professor Lessig, and hopefully many more in the future, I believe that are freedoms of expression© are, right now, being diminished every day. In the world of cultural criticism, I should be free to praise or criticize what I like, especially since corporate culture is now an indelible part of our daily lives. As the reading and film covered, I cannot legally criticize an individual, a corporation or use their logo on my web site. The artist who created, and then was sued for, the Barbie in a Blender exhibit is an example of how corporations dictate and control their image and products to the point where we can’t utilize them for expressing our thoughts about the world around us. Or we’re at least very afraid to because we don’t want to get sued. Well, I don’t care to see 500 McDonald’s commercials every time I watch TV, or 50 McDonald’s billboards on my way to work. Can I sue them for being obnoxious? No, but they can definitely sue me if I publish a blog with negative opinions of their corporation. This is not democratic and this is not free.

I could go on and on about this, but just one more point to make about how copyright stifles creativity, the one thing the law was originally written to protect. As the movie stated, there has been nothing entirely new since the invention of fire and it has been this way for eons. A fellow poster talked about the Kelly Clarkson/Beyonce song debate. This is not new, and neither ripped off from the other. There is a term called jazz contrafacts, which Wikipedia defines as “a musical composition built out of an already existing one, most often by using the original tune's chord progression as a basis for a new composition.” One cannot copyright a chord change and because of this, jazz musicians created a huge catalog of rich, vibrant, new and original music was created. The same happened, as Krenshaw described in his book, with Woody Guthrie, Marianne Moore, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and thousands more. A rich public domain serves as the foundation for continuous new creative endeavors, and also denies the misappropriation of things that can’t be copyrighted in the first place. Case in point: in the Amen Break film, a UK company included the Amen Break in a software sampling kit and copyrighted it 2002. Well, that’s nice, but you can’t really copyright a drumbeat, just like you can’t copyright a chord change.

My husband and I are both musicians, and I believe that credit should be given when and where it is due. But if I write a song, the idea comes from somewhere. And since I haven’t been living in a cave I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of influences so who knows what will show up. And without file sharing and the Internet, the RIAA and a handful of corporations that control the music business would completely control the music that I could be exposed to. Record companies give contracts to artists that are marketable, and who will make them money. Telling me I cannot download a track from a great, unsigned band is forcing me to have bad taste, forcing me to limit my musical experience, and infringing on my free choice.

Like Mazzone’s reading last week stated, the government has got to do something to redistribute the power of choice back to the people, and re-amend the laws that were originally written to protect both the author’s idea and the ability of the public to synthesize that idea.

copyright pt. 2

I found the Mcleod book very interesting and good food for thought. I was faintly aware of many of the issues he brought up--I remember everyone's obsession with Napster when I was in Middle School and my IP law class gave me a brief look into the problems with patents relating to organisms and drugs. I have also run into professors who have been unable to include articles or book chapters into their course packets because they couldn't get permission and no one was willing to fight out the legal battle of fair use. I think something needs to change, whether it is changes in the laws or changes in how the publishing, music, or movie industries view copyright protection.

After reading the Mcleod book, I spent a lot of time thinking about how our culture really is an interconnected web of old and new. I have to admit to knowing nothing about sampling until I read the book, but afterwards I was shocked how much music has a long history before it is recorded and copyrighted. It also brought back memories of my brother's band; I remember them not only playing cover songs but also original songs, which I am sure were built off of songs they had heard and liked. Since I am a nerdy law student this got me thinking about all the copyright problems he could have gotten into for playing cover songs in our basement for crowds of his high school friends: does that count as public performance even though it was private property or is it fair use since no one made any money and this was obviously not going to reduce sales of other band's records?

I can understand musicians and artists wanting to reserve some rights in their works, and I think they should have some control over their works since they did create the work, but I do not think copyright should be wielded as a weapon to prevent others from creating new works. I think for this reason the Creative Commons license is an interesting proposition and will hopefully become popular. I also wonder whether the US copyright law will increasingly protect the moral and related rights that are recognized in Europe and other countries. The US laws have not explicitly protect these moral rights, like right to recognition and the right to protect the integrity of the work, but I wonder if they will not sneak into our laws. This creates an interesting thought, if the author has the right to protect the integrity of the work, would sampling be considered destruction of the work?

Sunday, September 26, 2010


So far I have had a lot of fun reading Mcleod's Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity. As I've been reading I've been combing through my iTunes and re-listening to Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash and others. As music fan, I mourn for some of the music that has not been created due to overzealous copyright protection and the exorbitant fees and legal hurdles for clearing samples. As is the case with so much else in the music industry, the game appears to be rigged in favor of large record labels and the few artists fortunate enough be able to pay the licensing fees to clear their samples. Kanye, Rick Ross and others can afford to clear their samples, while the next generation of up and coming DJ's, Emcees and other musicians cannot.

While I'm not the biggest fan of the resultant music, I am big fan of the motivations behind copyright provacateurs such as, Girl Talk. Girl Talk's album Feed the Animals was made entirely from sampled music, I believe some several hundred samples in all, none of which were licensed. Unlike earlier Hip-Hop DJ's, none of his samples are obscure or even altered in any way. However, the resultant sound collages are transformative. Does this make Girl Talk's samples an example of fair use?

The video about the Amen Break was also very educational. I had never heard of the Amen Break before, but once I heard the sample in the video, it was immediately recognizable. The Amen Break is but one small example of the cultural impact of sampling. It is nothing short of stunning to think about the fact that 6 seconds of music gave birth to entire music scenes.

However, the stunting of musical innovation by copyright abuse is a small tragedy in comparison to the research that has not been done because of the hurdles created by patenting genes and other discoveries that have come from genetic research. It makes me angrier to know that a lot of this genetic research is done at publicly funded Universities. Yet one more example of socializing the costs and privatizing the gains. There can be no more clear example of capitalism and privatization run amok than this.

Perhaps the most galling example of patent abuse pointed out by Mcleod was the United States' attempt to protect pharmaceutical companies and their intellectual property by preventing the manufacture and importation of generic antiretrovirals. To think of the millions who died and suffered needlessly of one of the most horrifying diseases we have ever known, all in deference to bottom line of a handful of corporations, is to despair.

As other posters have pointed out I want to see artists, creators, scientists and others credited for their work and rewarded for their labors. I am a realist and I recognize that there have to be financial incentives for a bio-tech firm in order for them to pour millions of dollars into research. On the other hand, I feel that there is something deeply wrong with our current regimes for protecting intellectual property rights.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Culture, Inc.

I would like to focus my blog post on the McLeod (2007) chapter 4 entitled "Culture, Inc." Much like Kathy's response to the mashup videos and CC information, I just ate McLeod's writing and points right up! Intellectual property is something that I frequently struggle with, and continue to do so, but I have never considered it in the arena of musical performance. A listener of hip-hop myself, the notion of sampling has never occured to me as something that involves copyright because I love it so much when artists do it. Everything we know today as great originals are more than likely ust another portion of this intricate tapestry of interconnected pop culture. The familiar cultural references made in the great originals of hip-hop, which I do think they still are, is this form of music's major draw, giving me a sense of deep personal connection to the artist. Plus, not to mention that sampling has never appeared to me as stealing simply because I assume that by the time it hits the airwaves, the producers and anyone else involved with the song(s) production has already figured out any points of contention.

Thinking of copyright, intellectual property, and music reminded me of last year when Kelly Clarkson's song "Already Gone" was accused of being a rip off from Beyonce's new hit at the time, "Halo." Here is an article that gives an idea of what happened, but basically, the two songs use almost identical chord progressions and people criticized Ms. Clarkson for "stealing" the idea. Turns out the writer gave the same track to both artists, who then went on to write and produce two totally different songs, yet the who situation was under fire for a period of time because of the defamation that it brought on Ms. Clarkson's musical authenticity. I find this horribly unfortunate because both songs were unique pieces of music that - although they used the same progressions - were not done in poor form. If I were to write a song about single ladies with sweet dreams about being crazy in love (granted these are textual, not musical), would I too be framed as an artistic thief, when the work I produce is a standalone piece?

Intellectual, I mean, property... has a unique dualism in that it seeks to encourage original thought and creativity while at the same time suffocating independent work of the cultural influences surrounding it. Going back to the example of hip-hop provided by McLeod (2007), ideas and art and text and everything we see today - even advertisements - is part and parcel to the dialogue of the world in which we live. McLeod (2007) writes, "Referencing pop culture helps us define our identities and cultural preferences. It also provides us with a kind of grammar and syntax that structures our everyday talk." The freedom of expression (I LOVED that he has a registered trademark for that phrase in the book) no longer feels free, especially when we're expected to bind our fierce loyalties to brands and images, yet are cut short when we try to turn around and use them in a benefit for ourselves. The whole idea that the more highly recognizable you are = the more targetable you are = the more control you have over your image just seems to be a recipe for disaster in the world of information as we know it. Question: why didn't everyone on Facebook who recently jumped on the bandwagon of posting a photo of their celebrity doppleganger as their profile pic get sued? Or Facebook itself? Is it considered "personal" fair use, which then why do satirical domain names for personal websites get threatened by multi-billion dollar corporations? (i.e.; 17-year-old Canadian Mike Rowe).

I just really found McLeod's arguments compelling and would encourage you to check out chapter 4, if you have the chance. A lot of food for thought with regard to information policy, as he also touches on DMCA and the digital world's changing information environment. And to second Kathy's excitement, I'm a huge Creative Commons fan (I mostly use Wikimedia Commons for the images on my other blog and for work sometimes) and am even considering contributing to it. Are individuals creating a community of information sharing enough to overhaul the rigidity of copyright laws? :)

Week 4 - Power to the People!

First, I must apologize. I'm in the "A" group for blogging, and I think the "Bs" are supposed to lead this week. However, I'm leaving for the ILA conference on Monday and will not have much homework time for a few days.

Gotta tell you ... the Creative Commons tutorials, the NFB film, and the "Amen Break" video were outstanding. Talk about illustrating copyright/copyleft/copyfraud/etc! I feel more informed about copyright from both an historical perspective and copyright in the Internet age. In hindsight, I'm thinking 1-2 of these videos the first week of class (as a complement to Mill) might have been helpful in framing the discussion for me.

I took a boat load of notes while watching/listening. Here are a few of my thoughts. Fire away at 'em:

1) Lawrence Lessig is my new hero! In the NFB film, he observed that copyright law is extreme relative to our traditions as Americans. His journey to other countries to deliver his message (particularly the Brazilian footage) was incredibly interesting. The analogy of remixing to symbolic "cannibalism" was cool - that one can like a piece of music so much, for example, that one "eats" it up and transforms it into something new.

2) As pointed out last week, those that have the money control the game. Creative Commons and the grassroots movement of those on the Internet may, ultimately, change the game's rules.

3) Gregg Gillis' (Girl Talk) observations about patent infringement were striking to me from his perspective as a biomedical engineer. That is, the engineers were expected to come up with at least 3 new ideas a year; however, ideas were moot if any nugget of the idea impinged on another's patent (completely contrary to the concept of a body of knowledge building on what came previously and being transformative). Might we have a cure for cancer and other catastrophic problems if bureaucracy didn't get in the way?

4) I think it was Lessig who said, "Culture is improved with a rich public domain. Overprotection is as dangerous as underprotection." In my mind, the underlying concepts behind Creative Commons seem to be a humane, creative sort of answer. I'm interested to hear the opinions of everyone else.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I stumbled across the article somehow and was very intrigued by both Google's new tool AND the implications of Google's compliance with nearly 83% of the government's requests for removal of information on the web. What would John Stuart Mill say to this, and how does it influence our perceptions and actions regarding information policy?

Google: Internet freedom is declining from (Sep 21, 2010)

For Module 4

In the interest of contributing to next week’s discussion on the topic of mashups – by way of classroom-style instructional fair use - I submit the following for your consideration:

A Collection of Mashups for Module 4
The individual tracks
The entire collection in a zip file

As an avid fan of the mashup genre, I've assembled here a collection - 20 tracks, about CD's worth - of some of the more historically significant examples of mashups, as well as some interesting recent works. While a fair number of these can still be found, with some effort, on the open web, I'm intending this to be more of an introduction for the uninitiated, as well as an audio supplement to the readings for Module 4 (and to be honest, just because some of you might actually enjoy it). If you're curious, feel free to download it, load it in your iPod (or whatever) and check it out.

The track list:
For the tracks that have been the subject of legal action, I’ve added links to more information.

1. Soulwax/2 Many DJ’s - Smells Like Booty (Destiny's Child vs. Nirvana)
2. Yold - Initials D.D. (Serge Gainsbourg vs. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg)
3. A Plus D - Beethoven's 5th Gold Digger (Kanye West vs. Walter Murphy)
4. DJ Lobsterdust - It's Fun To Smoke Dust (Queen vs. Pastor Gary Greenwald vs. Midfield General)
5. Danger Mouse - Encore (Jay-Z vs. The Beatles)**
6. Pilchard - Macamuppet (The Muppets vs. The Doors vs. Los Del Mar)
7. The Evolution Control Committee – Rocked By Rape (Dan Rather vs. AC/DC)
8. RIAA - St8 Outta San Jose (Dionne Warwick vs. N.W.A.)**
9. Negativland – U2: Special Edit Radio Mix (U2 vs. Casey Kasem & others)**
10. 10,000 Spoons - This Charming Caravan (The Housemartins vs. The Smiths)
11. Freelance Hellraiser - A Stroke of Genius (Christina Aguilera vs. The Strokes)
12. DJ Moule - Give This Way (Aerosmith vs. Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. The Chemical Brothers vs. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas)
13. Wax Audio - Whole Lotta Sabbath (Led Zeppelin vs. Black Sabbath)
14. DJ Schmolli - Don't Cha Rock My Milkshake (Zoe vs. The Pussycat Dolls vs. Kelis)
15. Norwegian Recycling - How Six Songs Collide (Jason Mraz vs. Howie Day vs. Boyzone vs. Five For Fighting vs. Angela Ammons vs. 3 Doors Down)
16. Loo & Placido - Safari Love (Aretha Franklin vs. The Beatles vs. Elton John vs. Bob Dylan)
17. Go Home Productions - Rapture Riders (Blondie vs. The Doors)
18. Dean Gray - Boulevard of Broken Songs (Green Day vs. Oasis vs. Travis vs. Eminem)
19. Half Mast/Hat - Poker Faces (Lady Gaga vs. Christopher Walken vs. Eric Cartman)
20. DJ Earworm - United State of Pop 2009 (Blame it on the Pop) (a mashup of the top 25 most popular hit songs of 2009, according to Billboard Magazine).

** - Parental Advisory: contains strong language.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Well, I feel I now have the much more thorough understanding of copyright law that I felt I was missing after last week’s readings; as well as an understanding of copyfraud, which I think I may have been even less acquainted with them copyrights. However, despite the surprisingly plain language for such a complex topic (I particularly appreciated the examples of copyright cases and copyfraud respectively that the Stanford page and Mazzone offered), there is still so much that is up in the air.
In our information driven world it makes sense that creative work needs to be protected from unpermitted reproduction, so it is natural that the legislature would lean towards broadening the protection offered creators and owners; and they have. I found the idea that copyright protection started as a 14 year period and has now extended to the owner’s lifetime plus 70 years interesting. What has changed? It would seem that a good deal of it is all about the protection of financial gain through a given work. Was this not the case when the original laws hit the books? Maybe not to the same extent that it is today. That, and the fact that information has only become exponentially easier to spread and copy over time has seemed to require such action.
While the reasons why seem clear, the idea that copyright laws have become so wide spread and so one sided in their protection of rights is unsettling. The fears of being sued mixed with an unintentional neglect (I hope) of the public domain by lawmakers have given publishers a way to print their own money. It baffles the mind as to how there are not any clear cut ways to respond to and sanction those that take part in copyfraud. The fact that it is as widespread as it is illustrates very clearly, despite my new level of understanding, my continuing ignorance of this complex system and that I am apparently not alone. The example of universities that just purchase the licensing to everything at the eventual expense of the students in order to play it safe stands out particularly clearly in my mind.
Sorry. This is more rambling then synthesis.
I think the ideas Mazzone puts forth to help restore some of the balance and prevent copyfraud seem reasonable and relatively simple. The idea of the ‘PD’ stamp as a counterpart for the copyrights ‘c’ for example seems like it would be a simple way to help improve understanding in this situation. Plus, I really enjoy the idea of copyfraud bounty hunters. Why haven’t these or similar ideas been instituted?

One more response to Copyright...

It is so interesting how the Digital Age has transformed our perceptions of laws and regulations. Regarding copyright, much of what I read and hear has to do with its legal and financial ramifications. This makes some kind of sense, considering in large part our Democratic government and Capitalist economy. Laws can change, and I agree with the majority of the class that a newer, more appropriate scheme may very well improve accessibility while encouraging the advancements in knowledge, culture, art, etc. With that said, ethical issues such as plagiarism that branches off the legal aspects of copyright, must also be reviewed, as both can involve making the claim that something is original when in fact it has already been produced.

According to this New York Times article, incidence of plagiarism at the collegiate level in the United States is rising exponentially. This is interesting, as today’s college students represent a generation that has mostly come of age in our current digital era. All in all, it’s difficult for me to separate the reverberating dialogue concerning copyright and free-use laws from this rise in unethical academic practices. According to the article, a percentage of students who plagiarized apparently believe that information found on the Internet is considered “common-knowledge”, and therefore is authorless and subject to use without proper and ethical credit.

The ramifications of changing copyright laws will undoubtedly affect many other branches of our society, like our education system. Being taught to site sources, I think, serves as a much larger cultural tool than merely providing a list of references. It allows us to submerge ourselves in differing ideas, provides us the tools to understand and accept criticism, all the while encouraging argument and dissent (which I think is almost as American as you can get!). I agree that copyright and intellectual property issues may very well need reform, but I am also wary of how such reform will affect nearly everything.

Another Short Video for Module 4: "Everything's a Remix"

Brought to you by another intrepid young mash-up fan/access advocate/artist on the Web, here is another video - this one very brief - of a project underway that gets at some of the same general ideas and concepts as our required viewing, "Can I Get an Amen? The Amen Break Movie" and our highly recommended optional viewing, "RiP! A Remix Manifesto" do.

What is particularly interesting about this effort is both its focus (some would say "ripping on") of Zeppelin as a particularly egregious bunch of blues rip-off artists (a theme touched on in RiP!, too) as well as the comments below this first installment that take issue with what some viewers consider the creator's conflating and confusing of terms and actions like "sampling," "remixing" and "mash-ups" ("mashings up"? I don't know).

To be sure, there will be much less video content available on the open web for our later modules, so enjoy this while you can!

Everything is a Remix from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Who's Viewing our Blog?

Poking around in the settings, I came across some stats-reporting functionality, and thought the class might be interested in knowing a bit about who is viewing our blog, where they are from and how they are doing it. I took a screenshot of the stats, which you see below. Note that this lists traffic from "May 2010," but I didn't create our blog until late August.

We have a worldwide audience, folks!
Visitor Stats to our blog, August 2010 to September 21, 2010 - Click to enlarge

Monday, September 20, 2010

In response to copyright

I also thought that the Stanford readings did a very good job in providing a good overview of copyright law in a fairly readable manner. But I think that is where the black and white begins and ends. I agree with Erin’s thoughts on the vast gray area that exists in this legal arena. For example, the brief case analyses at the end of the Stanford reading did provide good examples to explain what happens when copyright infringement cases are presented to the courts. However, also like Erin, a few of those cases had decisions I couldn’t put a solid opinion on either way, or could not see why the decision went a particular way. As the Stanford readings suggested, copyright cases are subjective and will always depend on the opinion of judge and/or jury, especially when dealing with moral issues.
I really enjoyed the Mazzone article (a nice surprise since law articles aren’t usually the easiest reads!). I think that he makes a really solid case in bringing up the discrepancy in the government’s concern and action between copyright and copyfraud. A national office to oversee fraudulent claims against claiming ownership in a public domain is definitely one way to go. With our economy, it’s not likely that it will happen. Even so, something should be put in place to look out for the interests of the public domain, and not protect the companies that are blatantly “copyfrauding” works that they have no right to copyright.
Unfortunately, the little guys (and gals) are the ones who suffer: by paying for something that they have access to, and being “stifled” creatively. This is an international issue as well. For example, the length of copyright in Europe is 50 years. Some companies are re-releasing jazz albums that contains music made and recorded before 1960, and are making a mint on them. Neither the artists nor the record producers and record companies see a dime of profit. Some of the artists are still alive. I don’t feel that re-releasing an album by Miles Davis on CD is transformative, and, since the copyright is expired-and therefore public domain-why is a company allowed to blatantly exploit an entire musical genre with no repercussions? Furthermore, with the Internet, people from all over the world can buy these imported CDs. There has been a little bit of a backlash on jazz forums asking people not to buy these re-releases, but with no legal intervention, it’s pretty much a grassroots campaign. (Thanks to my husband for providing the idea that helped me to formulate this paragraph.)
Mazzone also wrote that one of the biggest challenges of public domain materials is in accessing them. As librarians (and archivists, and curators), how do we feel about that? How can a library institute a viable way for easy access to materials that, legally, are available to everyone?

From the headlines: Academic Libraries Add Netflix Subscriptions

September 18, 2010, 10:34 AM ET

Academic Libraries Add Netflix Subscriptions

A Netflix subscription seems like a no-brainer for an academic library with a limited budget to meet campus demand for audiovisual materials. But as more librarians sign up for its popular mail and streaming-video services, Netflix says library distribution of rented DVD's or streaming video violates its terms of use.
According to Steve Swasey, Netflix' vice president of corporate communications, Netflix does not offer institutional subscriptions. All of its media are meant only for personal consumption. Loaning DVD's out for faculty members to project onscreen in class or allowing students to watch streaming video from a library Netflix account is something the company "frowns upon," Mr. Swasey said.
The company knows that its service is being used by librarians, but so far it has not taken legal action to stop them. "We just don't want to be pursuing libraries," Mr. Swasey said. "We appreciate libraries and we value them, but we expect that they follow the terms of agreement."

Week 3: Mazzone, and a general unease

This week's readings left me with a sadly familiar feeling of unease. The system of laws in this country, in this case with regard to copyright, is at least nominally intended to protect all, but frequently ends up serving the interests of those with the most money.

To echo a sentiment expressed earlier by Mel, "it's all about the Benjamins." Does anyone really believe that the financial well-being of Lucasfilm (to borrow Daniel's example) was seriously threatened by a smartphone calling itself "droid?"? The plaintiff's argument in these sorts of cases always seems to involve the slippery slope concept - "If we let these folks violate our trademark, everyone will be doing it and the financial impact to our brand will be significant." Leaving aside the legal merits of whether or not Lucasfilm actually owns the word "droid", isn't it safe to say at this point, some 30 years after "A New Hope," that ship has sailed? "Droid" is as much a part of the vernacular as are other trademarked/copyrighted words - Kleenex, Zip-loc, Brillo, etc. One would think that common use of your brand name would amount to some sort of decisive victory in the marketplace. Apparently, that's not the case.

A similar case played out last year between Rockart Brewery, a small craft brewery in Vermont with limited distribution in the east coast, and the makers of Monster energy drink over Rockart's 10th anniversary barley wine, called "The Vermonster". That's right, because the name was phonetically similar, Monster's lawyers contended it might cause confusion with their product. Apparently, there are consumers who can't tell beer from sugar water, and Monster brought their suit hoping to prevail on the basis of being able to absorb the legal fees more easily than Rockart. Fortunately, Rockart was able to use the power of Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter to mount a successful public relations campaign against Monster that ultimately convinced them to drop their suit.

Rockart vs. Monster:

As Mazzone repeatedly points out, this sort of abuse - false copyright claims, and court cases on an overbroad application of the law - take place largely for the benefit of those with enough money to bring the legal actions and outspend their opponents in court. If there is to be any sort of public domain at all, it must be afforded the same legal protections as copyright.

"RiP! A Remix Manifesto" (For Digital, Remix/Mash-Up Culture and Copyright Alternatives)

Folks, I have added an optional documentary for the coming module because it happens to be streaming from right now from the National Film Board of Canada!  It is called RiP! A Remix Manifesto ( and you can access it in streaming format at:  You may find a great deal of inspiration for blog posts - agree, disagree, love or hate the music, and so on - from this movie alone. You will see a number of synergies with the reading you'll be doing this week, including the appearance of some of the authors! Update: Let's watch it from the National Film Board of Canada and eschew the commercial breaks from Hulu.

"Shining," a trailer for a feel-good family movie recut and mashed up from one you may be more familiar with - to dramatic effect

Also, if you've visited the blog in the last day or so, you'll see that I added a cosmetic upgrade in the form of my own visual mash-up logo.  Using keyword searches including searching for images in the public domain or under CC licensing, I found some images and threw them together to come up with a course logo.  Think you could do better?  I'm sure you could - it wouldn't take much.  If you have a few minutes and the interest, throw together something new and upload it to the blog!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Week 3: Copyright and "copywrong"

The topic of copyright has always confused me because there are so many different stipulations in place for whether a work is or isn’t copyrighted – dates and “if, then” rules that are near impossible to ever fully memorize, though the Stanford readings really helped to clarify some of the issues and questions surrounding copyright laws and infringement. But just as I thought I might be starting to understand it, I read the “Summaries of Fair Use Cases” (Chapter 9, Section C), and was confused all over again. While understanding that not all the examples given were the same, some of them seemed so close to one another, yet the final rulings were quite different, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the little differences that decided the outcomes of each case. I’ve come to a personal conclusion that copyright law is not a black and white area but rather a fuzzy grey that will never be easily and truly clarified.

As for the Mazzone reading, while initially being intimidated by the length of the article, I found that the writing itself was very approachable, understandable and especially informational concerning what he calls "copyfraud." It’s quite depressing to realize that so many publishers and institutions take advantage of and bully the public by using fraudulent copyright claims and that really little is done about it in the end. What a shame that it’s so easy (though not common) for claims to be brought against the common man, resulting in expensive legal fees that many probably can’t afford, but it’s so easily glossed over when it comes to some of these same organizations making statements that claim their copyright over works that are obviously in the public domain. Shouldn’t there be some kind of institution or office in place that can occasionally review copyright claims by publishers, etc., to see whether they are actually valid?


Copyright Law is a very confusing law and that is probably because it can be taken in so many ways. Even if there is a lawsuit, a judge can rule any way they want depending on how they perceive that particular situation. As librarians, this is hard to enforce since we do not necessarily know if a patron is copying a specific work in their own papers or other such projects. The Section 108 study was a very confusing way to explain copyright law. I did enjoy Mazzone's work (at least what I read of it!). "Copyfraud" is a very interesting topic to read about. But in today's world, I can see this happening more and more. People are always looking for ways to make money and why not do it with something that is confusing to most people anyway?

Stanford's explanation of copyright and Fair Use acts were clear and concise. They are able to explain all of the laws and give examples which makes the explanations even clearer. I especially liked the seeing the 4 Factors used to determine Fair Use. This clarified the details of how court cases are determined and who might win the case depending upon the judge.

Is copyright law as confusing to everyone else as it is to me?

It's a Trap!

First, some links.

As Mel pointed out there's a lot of monetary/greed wrapped up in this here copyright issue. A system that was put in place to protect creative people's ideas has in many cases been perverted into protecting the status quo and stifling new ideas. See article above, Lucasfilms sent a cease and desist notice to a new startup company: Addroid. Why? Because they own the rights to the word Droid, and this little advertisement start-up is going to confuse people into thinking it's associated with Star Wars and hurt George's lunchbox sales. It's the same issue Mazzone (who's name makes me hungry) talks about. This sort of reactionary legal offense mindset towards copyright issues. Addroid could fight of Lucasfilms and have a good chance of winning, but if they choose to it'll end up costing them a fortune and could sink them. This situation is unfortunately not too rare.

I've been pondering what a fix could be, because I certainly believe that the creative types do need protection from having their ideas stolen. Could we ever enact a system where it's not beneficial for large corporations to send shady cease and desist orders? My first reaction is sadly one of cynicism, too many lobbyists would stop any sort of venture. What do you think, other half of class?

Switching gears, I thought the Stanford FAQ did a good job of laying out the basic tenets of copyright in a clear fashion. I think one of the most important distinctions it makes is the difference between an idea and the expression of the idea. This was the example where you can't copyright a space opera, but you can for a specific instance of this type of story. I'd hate to think what would happen if this were not the case. Namely, we would not have been graced with both Armageddon and Deep Impact. All kidding aside, while I believe this distinction to be important, I also wonder how much people are allowed to toe the line. At what point does the same basic idea infringe too much on specifics? I'm curious to see what the rest of the class has to say.

© Daniel J., 2010

It's All About the Benjamins, Baby

The cynic in me just couldn't help thinking about how ridiculous this whole copyright business has become.  After reading the very informative, Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center's FAQ, I was left with several unanswered questions and a lingering feeling that it all boils down to money.

On the fluffy side of things, copyright was developed to protect creative expression and those who share their works as to not rob them of their efforts and subsequent profits. But, what happened to the good ol' days when works were submitted by literary scholars, who wanted their efforts to be based on merit and their subsequent benefit to society? I'm guessing it came down to who was getting the recognition at the end of the day….inevitably in a monetary sense.

So, on the not so fluffy side of things, copyright is too nebulous to make words like fair use and individual expression make me feel all warm and fuzzy.  After reading through the examples of what was fair use and what wasn't fair use in the Stanford FAQ, it was still all too murky. The majority of the time, it seemed that if someone was taking profits away from someone else it wasn't considered fair use. It also seems the only way to wrap your head around copyright is to hire a copyright lawyer.

Which brings me to the biggest issue I have with copyright and fair use. If someone holds a copyright and feels you've violated it, the likely way to settle it is through court. If the copyright holder is powerful and wealthy, they can rake you through the coals while you spend your hard earned cash trying to defend the use of the material. Even if you are under the pretense of fair use, the legal expense and time spent in litigation is extraordinary. Just ask the ghost of Edwin Howard Armstrong.  So who really wins at the end of the day? Those who have the money and the power.

Copyright can also place a limit on further expression. For example, if a company placed a copyright on a pill/formula that cured a particularly harmful disease, they could charge extraordinary amounts of money and thus limit its access to those who may not be able to afford the product. They are using their copyright to benefit themselves not the society.

One of the main questions I had when reading the Stanford FAQ, was how courts were awarding copyright. That was all cleared up when I read Mazzone. It turns out it's just being handed out with no real consequence to using copyright fraudulently. Therefore, companies are benefiting from copyright placed on things that are in the public domain. This just adds to my confusion and seems overwhelming if I'd ever need to research copyright for a publication (and I'm not willing to pay someone at the Library of Congress $150 an hour to do it for me).

Someone needs to get on the publication of the directory of material in the public domain STAT….and add their copyright in the colophon.


I also thought the readings for this week did a good job of explaining the basics of copyright law in understandable language. I found some of the issues and recommendations in the Section 108 document especially interesting; for example, the need to amend the statute to allow libraries and archives to provide electronic copies of television news programs. I also found Mazzone's article interesting because it touched on a topic that was only briefly mentioned in my copyright class at the law school. I agree that prosecution for copyfraud could act as a deterrent to publishers trying to copyright everything, especially considering the penalty for falsely claiming a patent is $500 per item that is marked falsely with the patent mark (35 USC 292). Nonetheless, I think the government is overreaching as it is and does not currently have the resources to embark on the projects that Mazzone suggests, for example creating a database of public domain works or a special division of the DOJ to pursue copyfraud cases.

I also thought it was interesting that others picked up on the problems with having a fair use doctrine that requires actual litigation to determine whether something is fair use. On the surface it does seem inconvenient that you can not predict whether something is going to be fair use until a court considers the four factors, but I am not sure other approaches to the fair use doctrine are better. For example, in some countries fair use is based on statutory law rather than an equitable balancing of factors, which means if the use is not mentioned in the fair use statute it is not fair use. This has the benefit of allowing some predictions as to whether your use is fair use, but this approach lacks flexibility in allowing new uses to be considered fair use and uses that could arguably fit under one of the enumerated uses but not exactly a listed fair use would still require the expensive and long litigation. On the other hand, the four factors approach provides a broader, more flexible doctrine that allows the court to shape the fair use doctrine to balance the first amendment and copyright as new technologies allow new ways of presenting and using information.

As this relates to some of the things we have previously looked at in the class, I think the copyright law when improperly used can hinder dissemination of information and the ability for people to freely discuss and express ideas, but I think we also need to remember that the purpose of the copyright law is to encourage the progress of knowledge. If we weaken the copyright protections too much in our efforts to make information freely and easily accessible, authors will no longer have the motivation to create new and original works, in which case it won't matter that we have such broad access. I think this is why Mazzone emphasized that he was not suggesting that we weaken copyright protections but rather create protections for the public domain.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Copyright Part I

As part of my undergraduate degree, I obtained a minor in Library Science. I distinctly remember that in every single Library Science course I took, the prof always covered copyright. Towards the end of my degree, I started to groan and roll my eyes when I saw it on the syllabus. Yet all these discussions of copyright did not give as solid an understanding as the information from Stanford that we read for this week. I thought this piece did an excellent job of discussing all components of copyright law, but particularly fair use (which is usually where a vast majority of copyright cases/discussions are centered on). The following quote summarized the four points of fair use succinctly and understandably, "As a general rule, if you are using a small portion of somebody else's work in a non-competitive way and the purpose of your use is to benefit the public, you're on pretty safe ground." (Copyright FAQ, Section B)

As much as we would like to think that Fair Use can be boiled down to this statement, we all know that it's as clear as mud. The authors of the piece from Stanford also do a great job in the section on Fair Use of explaining that these are the guidlines for fair use, but it is ultimately up to a judge to decide whether a use of a copyrighted work falls into this arena or not. I felt that the inclusion of court cases was particularly helpful - it took the theoretical principles of Fair Use and put them into real life contexts. If only my undergrad prof would have used a similar pedagogy, I wouldn't have come to loathe the discussion of copyright so much.

Then, just when I think I might actually have a working understanding of copyright, the Executive Summary of the Section 108 Study Group confuses me all over again. There's no doubt that sections of copyright law need to be revised in this age of digital content creation. But what should this look like? The Section 108 Study Group spent 3 years conversing about what changes should be made to just 1 section of copyright law, and their findings are Greek to me. One issue that makes enough sense to me for me to form an opinion about is "Preservation of Publicly Available Online Content." (Page viii) Certainly the writers of the original Copyright Act of the 70s were not thinking about libraries/archives role in preserving our class blog (or any of the other information publicly available online). The Study Group's recommendations that libraries/archives should be able to "capture and reproduce available online content for preservation purposes" (page viii) is in line with the currently stated exceptions in Section 108 that allow libraries/archives to make copies of copyrighted works in order to make them available for future scholars. However, this statement got me thinking about copyright in general as it relates to online content. Copyright is difficult enough to enforce when you're holding a book in your hand that clearly states the author. But what about 140 character Tweets that may or may not be attributed to the creator's actual name.... Does the Tweeter have copyright protection over his or her content? Talk about a whole 'nother can of worms!

Week 3 - What's a person to do?

Initially taken aback by the breadth of the Mazzone article, I must admit I was hooked. I had not previously heard the term copyfraud, and I like clever blended words! I read the other class readings (I REALLY did), but Mazzone provided most of the fodder for my thinking.

THOUGHT #1: I would have to agree with Mazzone's assertion that copyright law is not balanced with protections for the public domain. It is not reassuring to me that "the only way to get a definitive answer on fair use is in federal court." I think a regular person could possibly be screwed (even though prosecutions are rare) when facing off against a publisher and attorneys ... even if the regular person's intentions are innocent.

THOUGHT #2: Although I applaud Mazzone's belief that there should be more "teeth" in the Copyright Law to enforce false copyright claims made by publishers and others, I see a federal government already collapsing under the weight of programs it can't afford. In my next life, I'd like to be a Copyright Bounty Hunter ... but only if I can wear a superhero outfit with a "c" inside a circle on the front =)

Finally, I appreciated Sarah's presentation, which framed our first 2 weeks of work and provided some context. Though rigorous, the study of information policy is important in whatever library environment we work. I gotta tell all of you, though, that the policy I've had to address in the last several weeks deals with a patron who wanted us to amend our user conduct policy to allow barefoot patrons in the library. This might be the reason I'm having trouble shifting gears to this more erudite topic!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Module 3: Mazzone, Mill, and the Public Domain

Following Sarah's suggestion that we ask WWJSMD, I have concluded that Mazzone is a devout Millist. Mill, as we all remember, argued for a vibrant public space where ideas could be propagated, debated, and honed. Mazzone, when discussing the public domain, echoes JSM: "...false claims of copyright chill creativity and expression. The public domain should be a large and ever-growing depository of works that everyone is-- and feels-- free to use" (Mazzone 1059). In other words, these works belong to us all, as part of our cultural heritage, and we ought to be (and legally are!) entitled to utilize them for our own purposes. It is clear that publishers, taking full advantage of the lack of any real legal deterrent, improperly extend copyright claims in a way that stifles the public's legal right to materials in the public domain.

Furthermore, the circulation of ideas, ostensibly protected by Fair Use, is hindered by the high degree of gray area therein. If I quote a couple sentences from an author's work, and that author or his publisher sues me, I have a very good chance of succeeding. The cost of defending myself, however, is sufficiently high to prevent me from using that quote without permission. Then the process of seeking permission is sufficiently laborious that Mazzone can sum up the Chicago Manual of Style's advice as: "Everything has to be licensed and licensing is a hassle so it is better to avoid any form of reproduction" (Mazzone 1051). Such daunting hindrances effectively prevent much expression that is perfectly legal.

Mazzone goes on to suggest several solutions to this problem, solutions which bring to mind another of our previous course authors: Vaidhyanathan. As you will recall, V. essentially called for the government to create spaces for public expression (Vaidhyanathan 304f.). Mazzone strikes a similar note, calling on Congress to "giv[e] citizens easy access to public domain works" (Mazzone 1092). Much as there is a copyright office that keeps track of works under copyright, he proposes an office to monitor and publish in an easily accessible format those works which are within the public domain. Such an office, along with more aggressive legal remedies against copyfraud, would help to check the understandable efforts of publishers to make money off non-copyrighted works, as well as ensure the public's access to, and use of, information in the public domain.

I have highlighted a couple parallels between Mazzone and some previous course readings. I am curious what other parallels the rest of you have found.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 3 - Mazzon

Well one thing is certain, this weeks readings answered a lot of last weeks confusion about information use and copyright law. The Q&A reading was especially useful. The following stances which I take are deliberately one sided:

This week, I want to focus on Mazzon’s article. Much of what he discusses is why I “disagree” – more so dislike – copy right law. According to Mazzon, the current wording of copyright law perpetuates its disuse and abuse. Copyfraud, as he puts it, is the result of misunderstanding (and sometimes deliberate) oversuse of copyright statements. Skakespear, for example, is fully within public domain; yet, every adaptation or reprinting of MacBeth in my library has the standard “we own this” copyright statement. Obviously this is a lie.

I remember back in English class in Elementary School when my teacher told me to write down every fact and its source on an index card to prevent plagiarism. First of all, I hated using index cards; the things were too small and my handwriting was too big to put anything significant on them. Secondly, as I learned from the readings, facts are not protected by copyright. Therefore, am I correct in assuming that this process was useless? I understand that the teacher was trying to instill creating individual work, but, was it going too far? Also, if facts are not copyrighted, then why does the field of academics require peers and students to site where they got their information? Or, is there something I am missing?

Secondly, it doesn’t help that publishers create Copyfraud statements. Copyright laws are difficult enough to understand without them creating misinformation. No wonder why so many librarians I talk to get copyright laws confused easily. I agree with Mazzon, copyright law needs to be enforced on both sides of the coin. If publishers and authors can sue each other and the public for the misuse of their information; then, the government, representing the public, should be permitted to punish those who create false copyright statements.

That’s my two cents for this week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week 2

Delighted to meet all of you. My name is Crystal, and this is my first semester of library school. I graduated from UW-Eau Claire this May and worked at their campus library for five years. Now I work at Madison's university archives and at the education library. Like many of you, I had trouble following the readings. I was an English major in undergrad, so I feel a little embarrassed to admit that, haha. Here's what I did gather.

Braman really analyzes the concept of information as in three different ways: information as a resource, commodity, or as a perception of pattern. Of her three takes on information, I preferred the idea of information as a perception of pattern, as that definition gives way to thinking about how we use information in a variety of contexts. While reading this article, I thought about how I would define the term "perception of pattern", and I would summarize it as the culture, environment, and time the information is used, and how it is understood during that time (and will be in the future). This perception seems to have more leeway and allows for more nuances than viewing information just as a resource to be consumed or a commodity to be bought and sold. A very specific look at "information." Rowlands also goes into different ways of defining information, but I think Braman covered it more succinctly.

Vaidhyanathan was more readable, and I enjoyed reading her thoughts on copyright policy, the history of it and how academic writing has changed through these past few centuries. My favorite line from the entire article? "Academic writing in the humanities is needlessly burdened by bad writing about what might otherwise be fascinating subjects" (Vaidhyanathan 301). Right on. The power of information is only as good as its presentation, and poor writing of a great subject can really dampen its effect on the reader.

Week 2

In a struggle to finish the readings and feel like I had a full grasp on what they were getting at, I caved and looked at the blog to see what other people had been posting about this week. Good to see I’m not the only one who was struggling with it! I liked what Sarah said about these articles demonstrating just how complex information policy is, given how ambiguous and contended just the definition of information still is today. This is definitely what I took away from the readings, as well as the realization that this is an entirely new playing field for me.

I sensed flashbacks to my Communication Studies day in undergrad, especially with reference to Ogg and the likes, and the discussions feel all too familiar but with a different spin (aka “information” rather than media). I found Braman’s topic of information as a constitutive force in society to be one of the most intriguing sections of that article, in particular. The idea of something as ubiquitous as information having a reflexive relationship to society as we see it is very interesting to me. You could talk in circles all day about this, but – going back to Sarah’s question – how is it that we as humans then grapple with this mirrored cycle and try to discern just how to approach questions of information policy.

I really clung to Rowlands note that there is not just one information policy, but rather many information policies created by people, in which case I see Braman’s “information as commodity” becoming even more problematic in society. I also am interested in pushing that notion of context especially within policy. Can there be policies based on context, when – as the readings pointed out – those vary from person to person, discipline to discipline, even culture to culture? I think there are attempts at doing so, but it is impossible to even guess at what the ranges of perspectives are in a given subset of people, let alone on a societal level.

Week 2

I kept finding myself drawing parallels with other disciplines while attempting to synthesize this weeks reading, and time and time again I kept thinking about how we react to other difficult definitions for entities/ideas/occurrences that we don’t fully understand. One of the unconvincing examples that I came up with, and which undoubtedly will not hold up to too much scrutiny, has to do with anything that relates to the environment (for, like information, can be viewed through varying lenses – as a resource, a commodity, a perception of pattern, and as a constitutive force in society). From the ‘green’ movement and recycling programs, to climate change and fossil fuels, our modern lives are inundated with environmental topics. The main difference between the status of current thought about the environment and that of information is how we think about them. Environmental issues have largely been defined for us and policies/laws abound regarding environmental issues (hazardous waste and pollution laws, policies regarding the air and water, car manufacturers needing to adhere to miles per gallon restrictions, etc), many of which have proven insightful, functional, and beneficial. But a great deal of damage has occurred by the very act of ‘defining’ the issues. A glaring set back has been the political polarization of occurrences such as climate change (once known as ‘global warming’). All of a sudden, an occurrence is defined so that public policy can be created and implemented, and the issue is confounded by the multiple disciplines that have a vested interest in it (governments, businesses, religions, etc.). As a result, ‘global warming’ and ‘tree hugging’ have been largely restricted to the ‘leftest’ ‘hippie’ corner, where they’ve been ridiculed based upon how they were defined.

I could go on and on how varying environmental movements have been largely thwarted by the simple act of having been ‘defined’. The consequences of “defining” information may very well mirror the damaging effects that occurred when we defined these other multidimensional and multidisciplinary issues. I myself, as an ‘information hugger’, would hate to be reduced and rendered powerless based on a damaging definition.

Many of the difficulties and warnings inherent in the defining the concept of information, as presented by Braman, Vaidhyanathan, and Rowlands are the very same that librarians must deal with on a daily basis, which is why I think librarians will contribute vitally to its formation, if one is ever ‘created’. Librarians, especially in public libraries, are (or should be) experts at working in a multidisciplinary landscape, maintaining a unique element of detachment while at the same time being passionately involved, and being able not to politicize or polarize a patron’s requests. Yet, if this is the case and a librarian’s skills are seen as a suitable match of those of a policymaker, the argument will undoubtedly arise as to whether librarians should become more proactive in their dealings and overcome their historically viewed reactive stance.

Regarding the contemporary discussions of copyright and open-source touched on by Rowlands and Vaidhyanathan, there was an interesting write-up today on BoingBoing ( about Jean-Luc Godard (a French-Swiss film maker) and his stance that “there is no such thing as intellectual property”. He was also quoted as saying “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them.” (the comments on the article are just as interesting) Ideas such as these may illustrate the need for no policy, as is currently understood now as policy (as being created by ‘qualified’ people) – Maybe we should just let it ride without restriction and see what happens. ??

Monday, September 13, 2010

Week/Module 2 (information policy)

module ii

This week’s readings were certainly a challenge. I won’t claim to understand them fully but here are what I believe are to be some of the major issues brought forth.

First and foremost, in Braman’s article, she says that the only constant in the use and description of information is the term itself. With “…more than 40 academic fields that deal with information…” each has a separate and varying definition of information.

Braman diagnoses the term information as a “definitional dilemma,” and rightly so. With so many competing definitions, it can be safely said that the views and approaches to information making policy are just as diverse, which can create a cluttered, cumbersome process in agreeing on a definition of information, creating information policy.

Braman’s approach to this “definitional dilemma” is the application of theoretical pluralism, using a multitude of theories that each seek to find and analyze various aspects and effects of information. Rowlands, too, discusses multiple theoretical approaches in the study and development of information policy.

The one thing that is clear to me is that information is analyzed in a myriad of ways: economically, culturally, sociologically, politically, etc. Each approach has it pros and cons, and no one theory can justify a policy that would affect thousands or millions of people. For example, as Braman quotes Straus “’ information policy’s issues seen in one country as cultural are understood in another as economic.’” Therefore, one generalized theoretical approach would not suit the diverse study of information, and not preclude a well-thought out policy. Additionally, the study of information is interdisciplinary, and it seems impossible to create one agreeable definition of information. Library professionals must well-versed not only on their own definition of information, but on how different definitions may compete against and/or complement with during the policy making process.

Finally, Vaidhyanathan’s article, among many other things, promoted the idea of “semiotic democracy,” where creative influence can be allowed to thrive in media and social culture. In the areas of copyright law, intellectual property and other information legislations, information policy will directly influence how information can be “revised, edited, and manipulated.”

A lot of this is still fuzzy, but I may be trying too hard to finish the puzzle at the beginning of the class, rather than processing it one piece, one week at a time.

Week 2 readings

I also struggled with the readings at first and I agree that the order that they are read in makes a difference. I started with Braman, moved on to Rowlands and ended with the Vaidhyanathan article. It was really the Vaidhyanathan article that brought everything together for me, which is kind of fitting for this module, as one definition of "information" is anything that reduces uncertainty. For me, the reason that the first two articles dragged a bit was they were primarily focused on research and much more academic in their tone. Vaidhyanathan's article was much more broad spectrum and full of real world implications for how information and information policy can effect our day to day lives and cultural discourse.

So after struggling with the readings I've been struggling to scrape some disparate ideas regarding copyright, fair use, sampling, open access journals, cultural influence and voting machines into a coherent post. Thankfully, for everyone, I've given up on that idea.

By way of synthesis, I thought that the two primary threads to this weeks readings were: 1. Informational is multidimensional and therefore eludes easy definition and 2. The way in which we define information i.e. resource, commodity, perception of pattern or constitutive force has has political, social, economic and cultural consequences.

We need to have a variety of lenses through which we view information and create information policy because information could fit any one of the above definitions or all of them at once. Ignoring one aspect can lead to unintended consequences when crafting policy. Vaidhyanathan's example of the Swarthmore students outing internal Diebold memos is a perfect case in point. Copyright law was never intended to censor information that is essential to an ongoing public debate, in this case a matter of central importance to our democracy, the reliability of of our electoral process.

The ongoing debate regarding net neutrality is another example and I think that some of the implications get to the core of what Rowlands meant by information as constitutive force. The resolutions that we as a society come to regarding net neutrality will have a lot to do with whether we become a true "Information Society" in David Puttnam's sense of the term or whether we become, in his words, "a marketplace full of information companies."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

week 2

Well, I guess I will get things started as best I can.

I at first had trouble with this weeks readings which I think could have been avoided if I had read them in a different order because after reading all three I began to see some overarching themes that I think are important for thinking about information policy.

I think the three authors got at the idea that information policy is driven by and a part of many disciplines and creation of information policies need to take into account ideas, policies, considerations, etc from these different areas. For example, copyrights or other legal protection of an author’s rights can be viewed from cultural, economic, legal, political, or social perspectives. I personally encountered this last spring when I had to do background research in business models, computer sciences, politics, and culture in order to right a paper about China’s copyright laws.

I also noticed the authors focused on how we do not have a clear definition of information or an agreed upon approach to discussing or thinking about information and information policies. I think the problems with defining and approaching information creates problems with creating policies because different groups are approaching the problem from different directions and we need to find a common ground to create effective information policies. I thought it was interesting that Braman talked about information as resources, information as commodity, information as perception of pattern, and information as a constitutive force in society, and then discussed how the policy maker’s perspective, how information will be treated in a particular situation, and the power of information in a situation will affect which definition of information is used. However, I am not sure that the hierarchical approach to defining information really helps clarify things for me.

Finally, I found the Vaidhyanathan article the most difficult to think about and apply to the other readings and real life. I think on a basic level he is also talking about a need for scholars and people form a plethora of disciplines to come together in the establishment of information policies. I did not completely agree with his discussion of positive liberty versus negative liberty; I am not sure if it is suspicion or cynicism but I do not think it is a good idea for the state to “foster spaces, technologies, norms, and processes that maximize certain kinds of speech (304).” In his discussion of positive liberty he talked about open source, open systems, and open standards. I think providing free and open access to information is important but something about government supporting and encouraging certain forms of speech does not sit right with me.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Oh, my goodness!

Is it just me, or has anyone else struggled with the Week 2 readings? I've read and re-read, trying to make some connections to my public library world. I know why these 3 pieces fit in the context of our class, but I am having difficulty grabbing onto anything to discuss.

Looking forward to the class's collective and individual wisdom.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Hello everyone. I apologize for the lateness of my introduction, but I have had some technical and personal difficulties this past week. In any event, here I am, on with the introduction.

My name is David. This will be my last semester in the SLIS program. I hope to find a job as a Children's or Young Adult librarian after graduation.

I've chosen to use my first name here on this blog despite some reservations about my privacy. I suppose my main concern is one outlined by Halavais, in that a prospective employer could stumble across (or search out) a former or current digital self of mine that has expressed a controversial opinion or perhaps just expressed one in a less than artful manner and then that employer may think better of providing me with gainful employment.

However, I believe in standing behind one's opinions and I believe that in using my own name I will have accountability for what I say, much as I would in any other public forum. I also don't plan on outing any elected officials or leaking classified documents this semester, so anonymity should not be required.

I have some undergraduate experience in Philosophy (just short of enough for a degree) so I think this class should be a lot of fun and I am excited to explore some of the ethical dilemmas that Librarians and Information Professionals face with all of you.