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2009 Unlocking IP conference

Yesterday I came back from a 3-day stay in Sydney. I was up there for the 2009 Unlocking IP conference, the third in a set of three, held at the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at UNSW. I remember coming across the programme of the 2006 conference at some point and thinking how interesting it looked, so it was wonderful not just to attend but also to present at this year’s! (NB: Kylie Pappalardo has also posted some notes about this conference on her blog.)

Liam and I co-presented Wikimedia in copyright/copyright in Wikimedia, which is something of a grab-bag of topics that we thought might be of interest to legal academics and practitioners. I humbly submit that our experiences of “copyright in practice” and adjudication in the court of XfD-style “consensus” may be of interest to those mainly focused on the theory of how it all works. The feedback we received was very positive and I feel encouraged to expand one of my topics into a psuedo-academic essay.

Video, 25 min, licensed CC-BY-SA

Some highlights:

Graham Greenleaf, a co-director of AustLII, talked in the opening sessions on National and International Dimensions of the Public Domain. He raised the idea of creating a “peak body” to represent the public domain/public rights in copyright, perhaps by expanding the Australian Digital Alliance or by creating a new body. It seems a fitting conclusion to the Unlocking IP project — launching ideas for the next phase.

Delia Browne of MCEETYA (a government education body) gave two talks, of which I saw the first: The Open Education Revolution: Sharing Nicely, which was a comprehensive overview of how the movement for open education resources (OERs) has evolved around the world and particularly in Australia.

Anne Fitzgerald also gave multiple talks, the first being Re-use of Government Works. She talked about the notion of OA to PSI (open access to public sector information, i.e. government works) and how it has developed significantly in the last five years, and even more so in the last 12 months. Australia is a member of the OECD, which has made statements of support for OA to PSI (e.g. June 2008’s Seoul Declaration, in which members promised to create policies that “[m]ake public sector information and content, including scientific data, and works of cultural heritage more widely accessible in digital format.” But sadly unlike the EU, OECD promises are not binding.

The Cutler report on the national innovation review released in September 2008 made moderately supportive noises towards this and similar concepts. The DBCDE Future Directions for the Digital Economy consultation (report expected mid-2009) asked questions that are best addressed by a National Information Policy; indeed, this was Recommendation 7.7 in the Cutler report:

Australia should establish a National Information Strategy to optimise the flow of information in the Australian economy. The fundamental aim of a National Information Strategy should be to:

(My emphasis.) Well, we will see what DBCDE’s report says. There are a couple of good signs in recent times. One is the launch last week of the Government Information Licensing Framework website, which is more targeted at other government departments than the general public. A licensing framework is something that you might use to help you set up all your department’s information to be published under a permissive license by default. GILF was developed in Queensland and is, as their website proudly states, “leading the world in establishing a new approach to public sector information licensing.” Another is the Queensland government’s draft Right to Information Bill, which would complement the Freedom of Information Act. Where FoI is “pull” (you have to request the information to get it), RtI will apparently be “push”. It is not hard to remember criticisms made about FOI over the years, so if a “RtI” approach removes the ability of ministers to bin reports that make them look bad, that will be welcome news for all.

On the second day I enjoyed Roger Clarke on Open Access to Journal Content as a Case Study in Unlocking IP, a kind of “how far have we come?” retrospective. The paper has a lot of very interesting detail and numbers (they haven’t yet been published, but they should be available from the Unlocking IP website). It concludes that although progress has been made in creating the “appropriate legal context”,

…the exploitation of the opportunity has lagged, because of impediments to adoption, especially the lack of any positive incentive to self-deposit, and downright apathy. The outcomes to date are disappointing for proponents of OA and Unlocking IP. Only a small proportion of the literature is readily available, academics continue to be primarily dependent on the formal versions, academics continue to be uninformed and apathetic about self-deposit, and libraries continue to pay inflated prices to enable academics to gain access to the papers that they collectively wrote and that they collectively quality-assured. There are limited signs of the adoption process speeding up sufficiently to deliver significant results. OA and Unlocking IP in the area of journal articles are at serious risk of being still-born.

Hm… what to do? I thought from what I learned at Arthur Sale’s open access presentation at LCA that institutional mandatory self-deposit policies were the answer (ie. the university requires that all academics put a copy of their journal articles into the university’s institutional repository). But according to Roger Clarke that would only increase the percentage of deposited articles to 30-50%. Perhaps the other 50% is the existing, unarchived works? Can academics somehow get extra cred for depositing their back archive?

In the same session, James Dalziel spoke about Successes and Challenges for open IP business models. He went through a detailed “hypothetical” comparison between a “traditional IP” software company and an “open IP” one (ie open source). His conclusion was something like: although open IP businesses can make money, it’s an order of magnitude below the potential of traditional IP companies. Therefore, traditional IP companies cannot adapt to an open IP approach, and all that is left is WAR!

I was one of the commentators on this session and I responded that since our (FLOSS) legal foundation is valid, all we can be attacked with is FUD (negative marketing), and even that doesn’t work forever. And calling it “war” is a strange thing, since it is a one-sided war, as we aren’t aiming to topple traditional IP companies — that will just be a completely unintentional side-effect.

The conference ended with the launch of the Public Rights Licenses Database, which aims to collect all the licenses that grant general users some rights — open source and open content licenses, from the Free Software Foundation to Creative Commons, and every other two-bit license in between. :) The earliest one dates to 1979! It also indexes licenses by country — I was surprised to learn of several Australia-specific licenses I had not heard of before. Equally, if you know of any licenses that should be there but are not, email them and let them know! (feedback at worldlii.org)

(I notice that the WTFPL is not listed, but, uh…maybe there’s a reason for that.)

In summary, Unlocking IP was a fascinating crash course in where Australian copyright, open access and other ‘open’ movements might be going. Thank you to the Cyberspace Law Centre for hosting this event and provoking these conversations.

20 April, 2009 • , , ,

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Video from AussieChix microconf - Wikipedia & the education system

I had a great, although tiring, day yesterday: I went to the AussieChix microconf event. AussieChix is the Australian arm of LinuxChix. The “microconf” was a one-day event simultaneously happening in Melbourne and Sydney, with speakers in both cities, connected via videoconferencing. Giant thanks to Mary and Alice for organising it, and Google Australia and their wonderful employees for donating their space, bandwidth and time to enable us to have this event.

I first got involved with LinuxChix not long after WikiChix was founded, I suppose. I was curious about this group that we were modelling on, and I was probably feeling more confident about exploring Linux. I really can’t speak highly enough about the Australian LinuxChix. They are some amazing women. Every single one of them is just doing really cool stuff. Whether they are quiet or boisterous, they are all really strong and each have their own way of not taking shit from other people. It’s like women-company nirvana for me. And that we all just utterly geek out is the icing on the cake. :)

Anyway enough raving. I gave a ~15 minute talk on “Wikipedia & the education system”. It’s not anything super polished, just some thoughts I have been having since I attended ACEC, the computers in education conference.

Talk: Wikipedia & the education system from Brianna Laugher on Vimeo.

Skimmable format:

26 October, 2008 • , , ,

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"Foundations of Open" Australia 2020 local summit


Well, it’s over a week since I attended the Foundations of Open: Technology and Digital Knowledge local summit. For those outside Australia, in November last year Australia elected a new government after eleven years. One of the new government’s first initiatives was to announce a plan for a Australia 2020 summit. The summit proper is being held next week, with 1,000 attendees taking part. The whole thing is very encouraging of participation, and part of that includes the “local summits” by MPs. Senator Kate Lundy held hers with a focus on open source, open access and related issues. In 12 years, where might progressive and friendly government policy lead us? This summit was about putting heads together and dreaming big, then filling in the steps in between to try and make the ideal a reality.

Appropriately enough, Senator Lundy runs her own website using Joomla, and the summit co-chair Tom Worthington put up all the notes from the day into a Moodle course. (And I noticed while slides and things were being set up that Senator Lundy runs Ubuntu. Mad :D)

Anyway, for some reason I find the video files time out or something and won’t play. You can download them directly instead. The recordings are excellent – close up and very good sound. (The small sized files are quite decent quality, don’t feel obligated to download the large files.)

I particularly recommend

The first four are very good speakers, each in different ways. Tridge was very impassioned and articulate. Jeff is has quite a showman style. Pia is straight-up and her talks are information-dense and clearly informed by her experience. The integrity and leadership of all three, from the free software movement, is inspiring. While they know the importance of being able to speak other audiences’ languages (business, government) and how “selling” free software can help it spread, they also know there are certain values that cannot be compromised — and they are up-front about this too.

Professor Cram’s talk is considered and nuanced; he’s clearly aware (in a way that perhaps people from the free software movement tend to underestimate) that there is a cost to freedom (from (7’20’‘):

I think the way that we’re [ANU] thinking about it [university open access policy] is interesting to reflect on. There’s a technology layer that we’ve already got control of: the repositories, and the interfaces that people can access our work through are now available, and in many respects turned on. We’ve got a policy layer that has to do with the management of copyright, the interactions that we have with publishers. […] And then finally there’s the user layers, and they’re really quite interesting.

Just to show the kinds of things that we have to worry about: suppose that we conduct medical research. And our medical researchers publish a paper that’s quite erudite about a treatment for diabetes. And suppose that that, then, is on the web. And it’s uninterpreted. People will access that. The writers of the article never intended it to be addressed by people who worry about diabetes, and it’s not, therefore, interpreted in a way that’s helpful to them. It would be wrong, I think, to withhold the information, but it also has elements of wrongness to not interpret it as well. And the interpretation is something that we don’t think of doing at present. If you publish a medical paper in a medical journal, you’ve got a pretty good idea about most of the audience, and you don’t need to interpret it. So we are thinking about what it would mean to interpret, the portal through which the community accesses our online information.

(Professor Cram’s talk of “interpretation” reminds me of Andrew Keen in The Truth According to Wikipedia, lamenting the loss of “gatekeepers”, editors and publishers who choose what to publish — except Professor Cram can see the potential benefits despite the guaranteed difficulties on the way. It strikes me that Andrew Keen can see no better society than the one we had 10-20 years ago.)

There is also Jessica Coates from Creative Commons Australia (video, 37min), just in case you’ve never heard a Creative Commons spiel :) and Ann Steward from the government Information Management Office (who knew such a thing existed!), (video, 29min) if you want to hear some more perspective from someone actually in the public service (eg. what barriers exist to adoption of FLOSS). (I also found out about this document: Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies.)

…FLOSS. I just wrote “free software” and changed it. The phrase reminded me of a “nomenclature problem” that came up from Ann’s talk. Tridge earlier had deliberately used the phrase “free software” (well, I kinda feel everyone who uses it must do so deliberately). Ann, during her talk, said something like “Open, but not necessarily free, software”, then talking about the cost of e.g. training. “Open, but not necessarily free” is a strange thing to people who hear the phrase “(as in freedom)” in between the words “free” and “software”. After her talk, Tridge tried to make clear the distinction, of free-as-in-freedom software, but it didn’t quite make it.

Stallman says, Every time you say “free software” rather than “open source,” you help our campaign. Sadly I think the campaign for keeping alive that distinction is one that does not survive outside the software development community.

Anyway, Foundations of Open is now done, and the presenters’ submissions are now available. Let’s see if this big picture thinking can translate into anything concrete!

12 April, 2008 • , , , , , ,

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Reminder: ISEA 2008 Call for papers

International Symposium of Electronic Arts 2008 (ISEA2008) is happening in Singapore, July 2008. One of the five themes is wiki wiki:

The relative ease in developing online content with a community of ‘at a distance’ presents wiki as a model tool for tele-collaborative production. Wiki is yet another example of how technologies are changing the ways in which creative knowledge production is being transformed by enabling collaboration between diverse individuals. In this theme, we seek to initiate discussion, deliberation and development in collaborative creation using new technologies. How have new and old technologies contributed to the development of collaborative making? What are some of the issues raised by collaborative creation; for example, authorship, artistic responsibility, claims to intellectual property, conflicts and confluences of disciplinary knowledge and practices, etc. What are the spaces of such collaborative work – what are the transitional spaces between the artists’ studios and scientific labs?

We invite artistic and academic work that addresses and/or exemplifies the problems and possibilities of collaborative creative work that are enabled by technologies. Works that are created by collaborations between diverse and geographically diverse communities are especially encouraged.

Given that Singapore is just 7.5 hours away hm, that seems awfully long for just three hours time difference), it seems a shame for me to not even try to submit something. So I will have a think about it. Collaboration is something the free culture movement has down pat, after all, and Wikimedia especially so. Perhaps a look at the collaborative nature of the FPC process might be of interest.

It seems like something Joi might attend. Would be cool if there were some other Wikimedians around!

Abstract submissions close November 14th.

(Thanks to Adam @ FLOSS Manuals for telling me about it in the first place!)

29 October, 2007 • , ,


PacLing 2007

Today I attended PacLing2007, the 10th Conference of the Pacific Association for Computational Linguistics. I attended sessions on Named Entities, Lexical Semantics, Machine Translation and Terminology. There was also an invited talk by Ann Copestake on applying robust semantics. She had a neat example of how underspecification works, in solving Sudoku, and how you can make inferences from something underspecified. Well it’s easy with sudoku, I wonder how easy it is with language. :)

There were two main interesting points to me. The first is that Francis Bond, the Program Chair, asked all the presenters to license their papers under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, and they did. All of the papers from the conference program are available under this liberal license. (The webpage doesn’t say so, but each paper’s PDF has this as a footnote on the first page.) I think this is a fantastic forward-thinking and commendable move on behalf of PacLing. It acknowledges that all human knowledge builds on what came before.

The second thing that was interesting was the session Bridging the Gap: Thai – Thai Sign Language Machine Translation , although in the end it was not perhaps a terribly exciting MT system. I was curious about how TSL was represented. Apparently they have a big dictionary of Thai word <-> photograph of someone making the equivalent TSL sign(s). Given that movement is a meaningful part of sign language I wonder how well this works. I am not sure now if the presenter told me that they slice up a video of the movement into frames to represent it, or if I imagined that. :)

I spoke to the presenter (I think it was Srisavakon Dangsaart) afterwards about signwriting, which she had heard of. She seemed to indicate it wasn’t used for TSL. I asked if it couldn’t be useful for TSL ‘speakers’ to be able to write using it. Her MT system is definitely useful and cool, but it’s basically one way: not really possible for TSL ‘speakers’ to create sentences using photographs of people making signs. She said it would mean they would have to learn three languages: TSL, signwriting, and written Thai (to communicate with the rest of the population). I don’t disagree, but I imagine it would be easier to learn to write Thai given literacy first in signwriting, which I presume would be an order of magnitude easier to acquire over any phonemic representation of a language (such as an alphabet-based script, which Thai is). That would be a fertile area for research I imagine.

20 September, 2007 • , , ,


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