Time to Walk the Walk

I am deeply frustrated with the sometimes closed atmosphere in academic life. I feel a profound discomfort when I encounter students and scholars who are paranoid that their research ideas will be stolen, that their sources will be discovered and, shock and horror, will be used by someone else. I’m simply incapable of sympathizing with them. I don’t like it when scholars pass around papers with bold warnings commanding me, “Do not circulate,” and I’m even less happy when I have been given handouts at a presentation only to have the speaker collect them again following the talk as if I was looking over instructor comments on a graded final exam. I feel my stomach churn as, to give a recent example, a professor opens up a database file of archival information and, smiling mischievously to the audience, declares that this is his “secret” source.

Such is life, people say to me, or else quote me some snotty French equivalent. That is the reality of this harsh academic world we live in. Well, perhaps I’m suffering from an early onset of old-age grumpiness, but I just don’t want to play that game. I don’t care that I’m still a graduate student, that job committees will look over everything they can find by me in search of sub-standard material, or that publishing firms will want me to explain why an earlier version of something I have submitted to them is available for download somewhere online. I don’t care if someone else finds some topic I have done some preliminary work on interesting, runs with it, and ends up publishing something on it. I may feel a momentary pang of regret that I didn’t get my own butt in gear and finish the project myself, but if they did a good job, then I really have no cause for complaint.

I’ve decided to just go ahead and start posting everything I produce academically, including short conference presentations and other research works in progress. You can find this material on a new research page here at Muninn.

Endnote Takes A Shot at Zotero

The cold war between Endnote, the bibliographic software owned by Thomson Reuters that has long had a virtual monopoly on the academic market, and Zotero, the open source alternative created by the incredibly resourceful and innovative Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has finally broke out into an open conflict.

Endnote clearly saw its grip on the academic market coming to a swift end as a new generation of graduate students embrace the free and powerful Firefox browser-based alternative that has rapidly caught up to its rival in features. It responded with a huge gamble and an ancient weapon: the lawsuit. It has sued George Mason University for being in violation of its site license for Endnote. GMU has paid for a site license for the Endnote software, much like other universities (I can confirm, for example, Columbia and Harvard’s internal university software sites also provide its download for their university community) and the CHNM at GMU is listed as the creator of Zotero in the software’s about information. The Endnote site license is said to have explicitly forbidden the license holder from engaging in the “reverse engineering, de-compiling, translation, modification, distribution, broadcasting, dissemination, or creation of derivative works from the [EndNote] Software.”

Lets look a bit closer at the players and the issues.

What is Endnote?

Endnote is a piece of software which allows researchers in any field to compile a list of bibliographic entries. This might mostly include lists of books or articles they have come across for use in their publications.

At its core, the software is simply a database client for research sources. However, it eventually developed three killer features that created a reluctant customer base out of virtually the entire academic world:

1) Z39.50 – In Endnote, the user doesn’t have to type in all their sources by hand. If, for example, they want to include a book which was found in the Library of Congress or any one of thousands of libraries which have an online database which supports something called the Z39.50 protocol they can use Endnote to directly import the info in question. Endnote ships with dozens of “.enz” connection files which allow it to connect to most of the important libraries in the United States and search their holdings for the source required. Endnote will then add the bibliographical information directly into the user’s own database. If you can’t find your library in the default list of connections, very often the Z39.50 .enz file can be downloaded directly from your favorite library’s homepage, usually hidden somewhere deep in the geekier sections of the website. The .enz files simply contain connection information, openly available through various library websites, that has been put into a special format readable to Endnote. Interestingly for this lawsuit, I don’t know of any case in which Endnote has sued libraries for distributing (which is a violation of the license) these .enz files which are, like .ens files (see below), a “component part” of the software.

2) Styles – Endnote provides the ability to convert one’s source entries into any bibliographical style, so that your footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies can be easily formatted according to the many different styles used by various journals and publisher needs. These styles are created and openly available to anyone who consults the website of the given publication. In addition to providing the ability to create your own output style, Endnote has simply taken these publicly available style formats, many based on well known formats like the Chicago citation style (see instructions for citation styles for American Historical Review, for example, here), reduced them to their most basic components and created an “.ens” file which saves the formatting requirements in a digital format. If you have Endnote installed, you can see the huge list of style files available in your Endnote folder in the Styles sub-folder:

ens files.gif

If you open any of these files in a text editor you will get mostly gibberish, as the information is stored in format readable only (until recently) by the Endnote software. However, if you open Endnote’s style manager and inspect, for example, the style for the American Historical Review, under Bibliography templates, you will see some of the kind of information stored by the .ens file. For example, under book template you will see something like this:

Author. Title|. Translated by Translator|. Edited by Series Editor|. Edition ed|. Number of Volumes vols|. Vol. Volume|, Series Title|. City|: Publisher|, Year|.

Each of those words corresponds to a variable, or a kind of an empty box, into which Endnote will drop your bibliographical information, in accordance with what you have entered into the database with your sources. It is important to understand, for the purposes of this first battle of the E vs. Z war, that the styles themselves are not proprietary, but Endnote lawyers are arguing that the way they have translated these styles into a digital format, that is the “.ens” file, is protected by the Endnote license.

3) Word Integration – The final killer feature of Endnote is that the software can take your list of formatted footnotes, endnotes, or bibliography and directly interface with the most popular word processor out there: Microsoft Word. If a scholar is writing a paper in Word, they can prepare an Endnote document with all the sources they need for the publication, and directly in word they could assign certain sources to certain footnotes or the bibliography using a Word plugin provided by Endnote. They can then, with a few clicks, format all of those footnotes, endnotes, and the bibliography to the style appropriate for whatever publication they are submitting the paper to.

For thousands of scholars this ability has saved hundreds of hours they might otherwise spend typing up their references and making sure it conforms to the requirements of their publisher.

However, as a side note, this hasn’t been all good. I can share from my own experience and the experience of my friends some of the most problematic issues:

a) Garbage in – Garbage out: The library databases that most users of Endnote interface with don’t always have perfect information. Sometimes information is in the wrong place, lacking capitals where it needs them, or contains a lot of surfeit information that one doesn’t want to include in every footnote. Users must often spend a lot of time cleaning up imported information before having Endnote (or Zotero for that matter) do its magic. This is a problem of data integrity, not the fault of the software.

b) Endnote sucks. We used it because, until the rise of alternatives like RefWorks and Zotero, that is all there was. I’m sorry, but since the earliest version I started using years ago until the most recent version Endnote seems to have thrived in an environment of safety and lack of competition. For many years Endnote could not deal with any sources that used non-Roman scripts, mangling any Chinese, Japanese, Korean sources such as those I have need for. To this day, I have encoding issues with Endnote that makes it a pain to use. Endnote has a user interface that seems to have been designed by programmers that have never written a paper in their life, let alone studied user interface techniques. It is ugly, clunky, and unintuitive at every step. Finally, Endnote has long had serious stability and performance issues when it interfaces with Word. Though I haven’t personally had any major disasters, only minor hiccups caught early in the process, during my tech support days at Columbia University’s Faculty Desktop Support, I have had to deal with many panicking professors who showed me their book or article manuscript Word files with completely mangled footnotes. “All my references suddenly disappeared!” or “No matter what I click in Endnote, nothing converts or changes in my Word file anymore!” were two of the most common complaints I had. Sometimes the tenuous connection between Endnote and Word just seem to breakdown, with disastrous consequences.

c) Endnote only works with Microsoft Word. At least as far as I know in the versions I have used. This created a vicious circle within academia. At FDS I watched more and more professors who loved their ancient alternatives to Word like WordPerfect and Notabene (I had never heard of this until I saw its grip on Classics and English departments), or who stubbornly resisted Microsoft’s power by using OpenOffice or Apple’s AppleWorks having to switch to Word not only because .doc was the dominant format but sometimes because they watched with envy as others used the power of Endnote for large scale pieces.

The Rise of Zotero

Zotero will go down as one of the great open source legends. Unlike many other wonderful pieces of open source software, I believe Zotero is poised to completely topple its commercial rival, Endnote, and do so in record time. Zotero has and will continue to have other powerful competitors who askew the browser-based approach or embed a browser into the software, but the rule of Endnote is soon at its end. I have played with Zotero since its buggy early beta days and watched it grow to the powerful alternative to Endnote that it is today. Developed by and for the browser generation it took a radically different starting point: Endnote users started their bibliography creation process within the Endnote software: typing up or using Z39.50 connections to add sources to their bibliography. Zotero users start on the net, because hey, guess what, we all do.

Zotero assumes we find the majority of our sources while, for example, using a library’s search engine, a list of books on Amazon.com, an article at JSTOR or other academic databases, or when reading a blog entry. Zotero has gradually added a huge list of “site translators” which scrape a web page and extract the useful bibliographical information from the page in question. There are plugins to add metadata readable by Zotero in popular blog engines like WordPress. Whether it is a library book entry or a bookstore listing, Zotero can instantly add information from hundreds of websites and databases available online by simply clicking an icon in the address bar. You can also instantly add bibliographic entries from any static web page, and save offline snapshots of these websites from the time you accessed them for future reference. This all meant that Zotero very quickly far overtook Endnote’s main killer feature #1. It was an instant feature smack-down.

Because the project is free and open source, it quickly gained a huge following even when it lacked some of Endnote’s power. Those without access to a university site license were loath to dish out the ridiculous $300 for Endnote ($210 for an academic license) or face its steep learning curve and were willing to accept cheaper alternatives like Bookends (Mac, $100, $70 for students) or the increasingly powerful Sente (Mac, $130 or $90 for students). Zotero, of course, is completely free. Plugins and site translators for Zotero have spread fast as a result. It also offered powerful tagging capabilities and the easy organization of sources into folders, which is way ahead of the incredibly limited organizational possibilities of Endnote’s file-based bibliography system. The only major weakness in Zotero’s general approach is the fact it is wed to the Firefox browser so researchers may have to do their source hunting in something other than their favorite internet browser.

I think the most powerful attack on Endnote’s market came, however, when Zotero added support for Word, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice integration. Although I think the results have been somewhat mixed in the early stages (I haven’t tried in the newest release) this will eventually eliminate the advantage of Endnote’s killer feature #3.

All that remained before Endnote became an expensive 175MB waste of space on one’s hard drive was for Zotero to catch up with Endnote’s killer feature #2. Now, Zotero’s 1.5 Sync Preview which is available for download as a beta, includes (though this has been temporarily disabled, perhaps because of the lawsuit) the ability to export Zotero database entries using Endnote .ens style files. I’m not 100% sure how this works on a technical basis since I haven’t played with a functioning version including the feature, but the text of the Thomson Reuters lawsuit against GMU claims that Zotero now also provides a way for .ens files to be converted into the .csl style files that Zotero has. I have seen some comments on blogs that claim that the new version of Zotero never provided this ability directly but merely provides a way to output bibliographic data exported via existing .ens files should the user be in possession of such Endnote files. Either way, the developers of Zotero must have engaged in some kind of reverse engineering (which is where the lawsuit claims there is a license violation) of the gibberish we otherwise see in the .ens files in order to understand how Endnote has digitally represented the publicly available output styles and is therefore now in possession of the ability to, for example, convert the Zotero database data, through these .ens files, into a readable bibliographical entry, or if it wanted to, save such style formatting data into .csl files if that feature were ever included.

The War Was Over Before It Began

I think we have to await the official Zotero announcement regarding the lawsuit to help us determine the accuracy of the technical claims being made by Thomson Reuters. An entirely separate question, which has received the attention of various technology oriented law bloggers, is the strength of the approach of the legal attack itself and its separate and bizarre claim GMU is responsible for a misuse of Endnote’s trademark.

What isn’t in dispute, however, is the fact that Endnote should be very very scared. Whatever features are included in 1.5 or later versions, the developers of Zotero have clearly made sense of the .ens files and suddenly the thousands of output styles provided by Endnote might potentially become importable, exportable, or more likely, simply accessible and readable by the Zotero software. Once these publicly available style formats become digitally understood by Zotero’s database, by whatever means, Endnote loses its last and final advantage over Zotero. This will, in my mind, undoubtedly be followed by the slow death of Endnote, already begun, as new users see no advantage to using the flawed aging piece of software with its huge price tag.

The outcome of this lawsuit, even if it goes in favor of Endnote, cannot really do much to stop this trend. Zotero isn’t going to disappear. Even if, and I find this to be extremely unlikely, GMU were to take the radical step of completely shutting down its support for Zotero development, the user base is already huge. Other programmers will pick up where GMU’s team began with the code already in their hands. The reverse engineering of the .ens format, if it has been done successfully, can probably be explained in the space of a few paragraphs or represented by means of a few pages of code, perhaps encapsulated as a plugin that can be distributed separately from the Zotero software itself. The knowledge of a file format’s structure, once in the wild, can’t be put back in the proverbial bottle, a reality faced by dozens of software applications in the past and something we have seen with everything from Microsoft’s .doc to various proprietary image, sound, or movie file formats. Once the .ens output style files, which are all under 50k in size can be interpreted, it is a simple matter, though of dubious legality, for scholars and students to email each other the dozen or so .ens files of journals or institutions most important for their field either in the original format or, if the feature is eventually made available, converted into .csl files.

I believe that, whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, Endnote’s owner has shot itself in the foot. Users like myself do not like to be locked into one solution and when we see a free and open source alternative under attack, it is an easy matter for all of us to jump in and identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys” to paraphrase one recent politician. Endnote is in an unenviable position. It saw Zotero’s latest move as the final straw in its attack on the Endnote user base and decided the legal move was its last chance to halt the bleeding by protecting one of the most important components of its legacy code: the .ens output styles. Strategically, they have made the wrong move and I think all of us who agree should make our voice heard. It would have been far better for Endnote developers to at least attempt to out-innovate Zotero, something very hard to do when your opponent’s staff of supporting developers includes the wider community of open source developers along with solid university and foundation funding. Instead they have given Zotero a brilliant publicity moment.

Update: The official response by Zotero and GMU about the case. Nature magazine editorial on the issue.

Further Reading

Text of the Lawsuit (PDF)

Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus article on the Lawsuit
Outline on Disruptive Library Technology Jester
More Extracts and Discussion at Disruptive Library Technology Jester
Crooked Timber entry by Henry on the Lawsuit
James Grimmelmann Legal Commentary
More Legal Comments at Discourse.net
Mike Madison at Madisonian Offers a Legal Take
Mention and Comments at Slashdot

The Open Source CSL Format

Watching US Online Media Outside the US

I logged on to see if I could watch part of the debate in Texas between Clinton and Obama. The debate, I believe, was partly sponsored by CNN. I tried to view the live feed on CNN but was given a message that is all too familiar to those of us outside of the United States.


Various online media providers sniff out your location from your IP address and block your access to online media. This is how Netflix prevents me from watching movies online through my membership when overseas, how various programs now online through the websites of various US television channels cannot be viewed outside the US, how BBC blocks access to their regular programs usually accessible online to visitors outside the UK, and CNN blocks live streaming of the US presidential primary debate in Texas.

Thanks to the technological art of IP location sniffing, traditional and new media have found another powerful way of rebuilding national borders online. I guess I will have to wait until someone uploads clips of the debate onto youtube and try to view them before they get taken down for violating the copyright on this US presidential debate held by CNN and others.

In Korea, the media have taken a different approach: Just ask everyone for their citizen registration number. Since I am here on an A-3 US government visa, I cannot even get a foreigner registration number in Korea. That means, when I am living in Korea on a one year visa, in addition to not being able reserve train tickets and use the vast majority of the thousands of online retailers and websites, I can’t view any (that I know of) of the Korean television media streamed or archived online.

In short, in Korea I cannot use the internet to see Korean online commercial media and I cannot use it to see major sources of online media in the United States. Fortunately, there is a reason I have never used my TV since beginning my current fellowship (and it isn’t the fact that I recently discovered that the TV in the furnished apartment may never have been working in the first place): this helps reduce the distractions to my studies to that last minor source: the rest of the internet.

UPDATE: CNN blocks the video feed to everyone outside the US but an audio feed is available here. HT dailykos.com.

Orphaned Works and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

I just heard an interesting segment on NPR radio’s Fresh Air on Gospel Music Historian Robert Darden. He is an English professor at Baylor University and runs the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Darden and his team are doing their best to hunt down gospel recordings from 1945 to 1970, restore them, and preserve a digital copy of them.

This sounds like a wonderful project and some of the clips of music played were fantastic. It is great that this preservation work is going on but I worry that the project will not be able to share the fruits of their labor widely.

In the interview Darden says he chose the period from 1945 to 1970 because it is the most “at risk” and speculated that perhaps 70% or more of the gospel recordings from this period are already lost. Older works which are out of copyright are not protected and thus can be easily re-released for the profit of anyone who thinks it will sell, such that a greater number of these very old works can be found. Much more recent works under copyright are not as difficult to find or are still in print.

However, the period from 1945-1970, Darden explains, contains a great many works which are probably still protected by copyright but which in many cases it is extremely difficult to hunt down the holder of the rights. He describes one case where, only after several years of hunting, they were able to find the owner of the license. In other cases, they never can be.

Save orphan works This is a classic example of the problem of orphaned works. I encounter this a lot as a history PhD student studying the 1930s and 1940s. There are a huge number of works out there of every form (texts, music, film, etc.) which are still protected by copyright but which are not in print. I can do almost nothing with these works because, even if I wanted to get permission to use them, the challenge of locating the owners of the rights is prohibitively difficult.

I very much hope that the next few years will see serious reforms of copyright laws which, instead of further restricting the creation of culture, promote its preservation and unleashes the possibilities of wider distribution of orphaned works.

For more info, pay a visit to Eldred.cc and consider supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation. See also the US government’s Orphan Works report, some developments in Congress. I am not sure what the most recent developments have been, the most recent thing I have seen on it is in this article at the EFF.

Open Access: Footnote.com and the National Archives

I think students, researchers, and historians especially should become more aware of a disturbing trend in the world of digitized archival materials: contractual licenses replacing copyrights.

I have already been concerned with this in the non-digital world. Many archives I have visited now ask visitors to sign a “license agreement” which, if you read it closely, restricts the freedom of the visiting researcher. Thus, when I go to the Ôya Sôichi bunko in Tokyo and look at old Japanese magazines that are no longer protected by copyright, I might think I have the freedom to reproduce, publish, etc. materials I have photocopied there. No copyright – then no problem, right?

Well, no. Along with the entry fee to the archive, you sign an agreement in which you agree to give up your freedoms to the use of even out-of-copyrighted material. You are now required to get the archive’s permission before you use any of the material.

This is spreading to the online world like wildfire. Examples abound. One recent case, however, has gotten some deserved attention: the deal between the United States National Archives and Footnote.com. Read this article at Dan Cohen’s blog for the details. Footnote.com, which digitizes the materials of the National Archives, which, it should be noted, are NOT protected by copyright, has the following to say in their terms and conditions agreement:

professional researchers, professional historians and others conducting scholarly research may use the Website, provided that they do so within the scope of their professional work, that they obtain written permission from us before using an image obtained from the Website for publication, and that they credit the source. You further agree that (i) you will not copy or distribute any part of the Website or the Service in any medium without Footnote.com’s prior written authorization

You see, the images they have, of non-copyrighted materials, cannot be copyrighted by Footnote.com, because their scans of these documents do not meet the minimum “creative” or “original” work required to establish a copyright. However, by agreeing to this license, you are not bound by copyright, you are bound by contract. Dan Cohen points to a great section of the Digital History guide which suggests that these licenses might still not prevent you from using non-copyrighted materials…but who wants to risk the lawsuit?

Fortunately, the National Archives made a non-exclusive agreement with Footnote.com, just as libraries have made non-exclusive agreements with Google. Despite this, I am concerned that these massive projects, many of them commercial and not freely accessible like Footnote.com will dissuade academic partners, libraries, archives, and governments from being willing to put serious money into creating large, free, and open collections without these restrictions.

Open Access in 2006

Peter Suber has summed up the Open Access developments for 2006 in the most recent issue of his OA newsletter. You can view the article on his OA blog: Open Access Newsletter 1/2/07. While I haven’t been keeping up with all the changes he mentions in the report, when summed up it is clear that a lot of fantastic progress has been made in the past year, which includes a rapid growth in OA Mandates, Hybrid OA journals, fully OA journals, OA archiving, OA text repositories like Google and Microsoft books, a gradual shift in funding from toll-access journal subscriptions to OA journal publication fees, governments mandating OA for their data, the rise of peer reviewed wikis, the continuing growth in importance of blogs as sources of information, and so on.

Peter Suber takes a look at the long-term progress of the OA movement and sums up his thoughts:

There are roughly three phases for a movement like ours. First, it’s known only to a small group of activists and opponents. Second, familiarity explodes and lots of newcomers start to think and talk about it, not necessarily with good understanding. Third, pretty much all the stakeholders know about it even if they don’t understand it or haven’t made up their minds about it. In my estimation, we entered Phase Two in early 2004 and we started entering Phase Three in 2006. Phase Three is by no means the finish line; the open source movement has been in Phase Three for many years and is still widely misunderstood and slow to make critical gains. And we’re not yet fully in Phase Three. I suspect that nearly all journals and journal publishers have heard of OA, and that the percentage is about as high among funders of research. There are people knowledgeable about OA in almost every university and academic library in the world. But familiarity among professional researchers is still woefully low and good understanding is even further behind.

Regrettably, progress towards OA has been slowest in my own field of humanities. There has been some progress, however. Here is his summary of the developments on this front:

The slowest progress toward OA has been in the humanities, but in 2006 we saw significant acceleration. The US National Endowment for the Humanities adopted a policy to favor applications that promise OA for their results. The long-awaited report from the American Council of Learned Societies not only recommended OA for the humanities, but recommended OA mandates by funders and supportive actions by universities. The EU funded the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH). The OA Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy took large strides toward building its endowment. MediaCommons began to self-assemble as a cooperative OA book press for the humanities. The Karman Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Bern committed itself to OA for all its future projects. The Task Force on Electronic Publication for the American Philological Association and Archaeological Institute of America recommended that American classicists self-archive and may later recommend that American classics journals convert to OA. Eight classicists issued an open letter to colleagues calling for more OA in the field. Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council reaffirmed its support for OA, though it still stops short of a mandate. JISC and two of the UK Research Councils –the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)– are extending the UK’s e-Science program to the arts and humanities. The AHRC is covered by the general RCUK commitment to OA but is still deciding on the exact form of its own policy. The British Academy wrote a report showing how UK copyright law hindered scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. The Modern Language Association recommended tenure reforms to encourage digital publication and departmental rewards for it. And there was wider recognition, approaching a consensus, that the journal pricing crisis in the sciences is a major cause of the monograph crisis in the humanities –and that OA will help both.

My own feeling is that there has to be a greater recognition of and accepted place for a wider variety of the types of contributions scholars can make. It seems to me that currently that the main forms recognized as productive scholarship are: full monograph, chapter in an edited volume, full length journal article; and to a lesser extent: conference paper, translation work, and book reviews. I think that the new mediums we have available to us to spread the results of our research should spark some new thinking and new appreciation for those who make valuable scholarly contributions in a range of new formats, lengths, and mediums.

A Response to Sion Touhig’s “How the Anti-copyright Lobby Makes Big Business Richer”

I just read Sion Touhig‘s article “How the Anti-copyright Lobby Makes Big Business Richer” on the Register, and I found it deeply problematic, even if I sympathize with the cause he wants to defend: empowering and preserving the livelihoods of freelance professionals. See also his posting at his weblog here. From his opening:

“I’m a freelance professional photographer, and in recent years, the internet ‘economy’ has devastated my sector. It’s now difficult to make a viable living due to widespread copyright theft from newspapers, media groups, individuals and a glut of images freely or cheaply available on the Web.”

Throughout his article Touhig argues that “media democracy” and “citizen journalism,” aggregated free content, Copyleft, Creative Commons etc. has destroyed the little man’s business and, if passed, the Orphan Works Bill will also rob the little man of his ability to defend his copyright.

As I understand it, the basic system works something like. You create something—a photograph, say—and find that it, having value, can be sold, or licensed, for a certain amount to certain companies or directly to individuals. Its eventual price, if it can be sold, is determined by any number of factors, including the demand for your kind of creative work and supply of other cheaper or free content. Your copyright to this work, certainly not a divinely bestowed right, is at least nominally protected by the laws of a society which believes that the protection of a creative work will, in the end, encourage its people to create more such content in the future.

We find ourselves in a situation now where people of lesser talent, dedication, or financial means (for surely you need at least one, if not two of these three to succeed as a photojournalist) can easily share what we produce with the entire world. Our motivations may be many. Some of those who share what they create, or contribute it to large news corporations or other websites, may hope that they can eventually develop their art into a future career. However, many if not most of people are motivated out of the desire for fame or out of altruism—out of the sincere hope that what they created might be enjoyed or found useful by someone else out there.

Touhig’s article insults those people. It belittles that desire, and it reflects a bitterness about change which is found everywhere and in every generation.

No one is forcing Touhig to use a Creative Commons license. No major corporation is the malevolent puppet-master of the Copyleft movement. These are tools, admirable ones in my opinion, which have in mind not just the producers of content (including both those who wish to profit and those who do not wish to profit from their creative work) but the consumers of content. It gives them both a wonderful set of choices related to how they distribute, use, and modify creative works. In the case of the Creative Commons, it is designed to compliment, not replace, copyright protections.

Touhig is perhaps accurate in, and I am in no position to challenge, his claims about the specific changes within his industry that relate to the increasing difficulties of photojournalists to charge certain amounts for their work or be paid certain amounts to be dedicated to their craft. However, he is completely off the mark when he says that supporters of the various movements above are the “unwitting allies, or shills” of big business. If individual copyright holders have few means to protect their copyright by legal challenges, this is hardly the fault of the Creative Commons movement or Flickr or OhMyNews. If the photojournalist’s photographs are not selling at the same price they used to because there is a sudden flood of cheap alternatives created by people who have no profit motive, it is hardly appropriate to chide the charitable for giving away their content. If the consumer is satisfied with the less skillfully snapped photo, the less grammatically correct article, the goofy home video, or even the factually imperfect article on OhMyNews, WikiNews, etc. it is disingenuous for an elitist photographer to lament the world’s decline in standards by criticizing the movements which make it possible for us all to easily share content.

I used to put together some free macintosh software which I host foolsworkshop.com. My creations are all but useless now but there was a time when at least one of the free programs I created competed favorably with other commercial and shareware software out there. Before the rise of the internet amateur freeware developers such as myself did not have the means to distribute our creations. Other software developers, large and small sold their products via catalogs and shops. When a freeware product is well done, and it offers a comparable or least nearly comparable feature set with a shareware or commercial option, it out-competes the latter. Touhig’s position in his article is comparable to a small-time shareware developer accusing people like me of being the shill or unwitting ally of the commercial software companies. “You bourgeois running dog scum, how dare you give away your labor? What about proles like me who make a living out of this? What about my labor? How dare you undersell sell me with your free software. Don’t you see how this plays into the hands of the capitalists?”

All I can say to Touhig is that I hope he thinks through his position again and reflects on the two successful approaches that both small and big businesses (after all, things like Youtube started as a small business) have taken in response to these new developments. When they can, businesses try to co-opt these energies for its own benefit. When they can’t, they resist, with all their legal, lobbying, and coercive power any attempt to dilute their copyrighted assets. The fact that they can do the latter far better than any individual artist or professional is a matter of course. That is why movements such as the Creative Commons and those supporting serious copyright reforms need to be organized, committed, and highly vigilant in order to prevent a stifling of the very forces of creative energy that the internet has unleashed. However, Touhig completely misses the fact that creative professionals stand a much better chance, if not an equal chance, in the former approach—competing with large corporations when it comes to making use of these new developments for their own benefit. Individuals can adapt faster than corporations. This will require a change of thinking on their part; a change of business model; a change of their whole sales philosophy. A failure to do so may indeed, as Touhig predicts, lead to the destruction of his kind. The onus, however, is on him and professionals like him to take the initiative and adapt.

Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders

Before there was Google Books there was Project Gutenberg. In fact, the Gutenberg project hasn’t disappeared and I think it is as important as ever. I have already blogged about my frustrations with Google Books and I can only hope that some of the concerns I discussed will be resolved in the future. In the meantime, there are over 18,000 books in the public domain which you can directly download from Project Gutenberg in a whole range of fields, including some of the greatest classics of literature, philosophy, etc. Since you can download full copies of the book for viewing and searching on your machine (or in my case, I install them on my Palm PDA for reading on the road) you aren’t confined to an online interface like Google or Amazon’s on-screen picture-per-page or restricted in any other way.

The project continues to add new public domain books to its collection and this process, done with the help of many volunteers, includes the careful proof reading of OCR scanned books. These are eventually distributed by the project in text, html, and other formats after they have been checked for errors.

The project is always looking for donations to help them out. However, I just learned that now anyone can directly help in the proofreading process by becoming one of the project’s Distributed Proofreaders. Simply log into the site, browse the projects currently available for work in whatever stage of the process you want to contribute (first and second proofreading rounds, formatting round, etc.) and do a page or two or more when you have a moment free. The interface keeps track of what books you have proofread pages from in the past and is very simple to use. I’m currently proofreading a book on “Church History” published back in 1892 but there are many books in all fields out there waiting to be worked on!

Columbia University Open Access Resolution

Via Open Access News, the Columbia University Senate has passed a resolution supporting the Open Access movement. Doesn’t look like it has teeth to it but seems to move Columbia closer to MIT’s position and hopefully they will consider adopting something similar to MIT’s Creative Commons License (See the full resolution below). Inside Higher Ed has a recent article on the MIT project and MIT has a full report on its progress available in PDF. The American Historical Association has an article in this month’s Perspectives entitled Should Historical Scholarship Be Free? which gives an overview of some of the issues.
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