29 June 2011

Open for Business in Every Way

For some reason, I seem to be giving talks all over the place this month. I've already written about the one that I presented at the European Parliament at the end of May, and I'll be blogging about my presentation at the Open Knowledge Conference in Berlin this week in due course (once I've finished writing it....).

But in this blog post I want to expand on some of the ideas I explored at a meeting entitled “The Future is Free”, held in Kortrijk, Belgium, last week. The session was recorded, so there should be videos of the talks at some point: when they're available, I'll add the link.

On Open Enterprise blog.

27 June 2011

The Failed Experiment of Software Patents

I've noted before that we are witnessing a classic patent thicket in the realm of smartphones, with everyone and his or her dog suing everyone else (and their dog.) But without doubt one of the more cynical applications of intellectual monopolies is Oracle suit against Google. This smacked entirely of the lovely Larry Ellison spotting a chance to extra some money without needing to do much other than point his legal department in the right direction.

On Open Enterprise blog.

24 June 2011

Opening Up Design

One of the most fascinating aspects of open source is how its key ideas are being applied elsewhere. Obvious examples include open content - things like Wikipedia - open data, open access and open science, but there are also moves to apply them to more specialised business disciplines like design.

Recently, a book called “Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive” was published, which provided the first in-depth look at this world. As you might hope given its subject-matter, the essays that go to make it up are also being made available online under a Creative Commons licence - but with a twist:

On Open Enterprise blog.

21 June 2011

Of Standards and Software Patents

Xiph.org has an interesting name and the following forthright self-description:

Xiph.Org is a collection of open source, multimedia-related projects. The most aggressive effort works to put the foundation standards of Internet audio and video into the public domain, where all Internet standards belong." ...and that last bit is where the passion comes in.

On Open Enterprise blog.

20 June 2011

An Attack that Goes to the Heart of Free Software

The key hack that made free software possible was a legal one: using copyright to keep software free. It did that by demanding a quid pro quo: if you use software made available under the GNU GPL, modify it and distribute it, you too must make it available under the GNU GPL.

If it were possible to take software released under the GPL, modify it and release it, but without passing on the freedoms to users downstream, the entire edifice of free software would be in trouble. And that, alas, iseems to be precisely what is happening in a German court case:

On Open Enterprise blog.

British Library Encloses the Public Domain

There's considerable excitement about an announcement from the British Library and Google detailing a wonderful gift to the world:

The British Library and Google today announced a partnership to digitise 250,000 out-of-copyright books from the Library’s collections. Opening up access to one of the greatest collections of books in the world, this demonstrates the Library’s commitment, as stated in its 2020 Vision, to increase access to anyone who wants to do research.

Selected by the British Library and digitised by Google, both organisations will work in partnership over the coming years to deliver this content free through Google Books (http://books.google.co.uk) and the British Library’s website (www.bl.uk). Google will cover all digitisation costs.

Isn't that just swell? Vast quantities of fascinating books in the public domain are being made "available to all", as the press release trumpets:

This project will digitise a huge range of printed books, pamphlets and periodicals dated 1700 to 1870, the period that saw the French and Industrial Revolutions, The Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War, the invention of rail travel and of the telegraph, the beginning of UK income tax, and the end of slavery. It will include material in a variety of major European languages, and will focus on books that are not yet freely available in digital form online.

Freely available, too... But, er, exactly *how* freely available?

Once digitised, these unique items will be available for full text search, download and reading through Google Books, as well as being searchable through the Library’s website and stored in perpetuity within the Library’s digital archive.

Fab, and....?

Researchers, students and other users of the Library will be able to view historical items from anywhere in the world as well as copy, share and manipulate text for non-commercial purposes.

But hang on: these are materials that are in the public domain; public domain means that anyone can do anything with them - including commercial applications. So this condition of "non-commercial purposes" means one thing, and one thing only: although the texts themselves are public domain, the digitised texts are not (otherwise it would be impossible to impose the non-commercial clause).

In other words, far from helping to make knowledge freely accessible to all and sundry, the British Library is actually enclosing the knowledge commons that rightfully belongs to humankind as a whole, by claiming a new copyright term for the digitised versions. Call me ungrateful, but that's a gift I can do without.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

17 June 2011

The Arrogance of Artists (and Publishers)

You wouldn't expect much else from a meeting organised by WIPO, but this is pretty rich even for them:

Copyright is necessary to allow authors to live from their trade and to guarantee their independence, and exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers, according to panellists on a copyright dialogue held at the World Intellectual Property Organization this week.

Amusingly, this was a "copyright dialogue": but I bet there weren't many people from the *other* side of the equation - the readers. The readers, you see, don't really count in this - "exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers" as the above insists. The fact that copyright is supposed to be a balanced quid pro quo - a time-limited monopoly in return for works entering the public domain afterwards, and that such a balanced of necessity requires both parties to agree, seems not to have entered the heads of those authors and publishers.

The very idea that "exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers" betrays the deep-seated arrogance and contempt that both of these now have for their readers. And that's all part and parcel of the publishing industry's problems: it sees readers as the enemy, something that must be fought and vanquished in order for it to be forced to buy books on the terms of authors and publishers - forced, if necessary, by ever-more Draconian laws that criminalise willy-nilly.

What is so regrettable about this depressing vision is that at the very same conference where these extraordinarily insulting comments about readers were made, another publisher revealed the wonderful truth:

For Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing, publishing is also investing in the future. Copyright is a flexible system, he said, giving an example of Bloomsbury Academic’s business model. The publishing company publishes social sciences and humanities research publications. They are available online under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence, and for sale as printed books. The publications are thus widely available, Charkin said, but surprisingly, he said that sales of books seem to be higher when they offer free downloads than if they do not.

Go that? "Surprisingly", when people can freely share books, they *buy more* - exactly as many of us have been saying for years, and in diametric opposition to the dogma of the same authors and publishers who insist that they know best, and that readers must be brought to heel like recalcitrant curs rather than treated as equals in a pleasant colloquy.

How to make money in the age of digital abundance is there for all that have eyes to see; sadly, even the most basic optical equipment seems lacking in this singularly benighted profession. Looks like they will have to learn the hard way....

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

16 June 2011

Of Open Source and Open Innovation

Last week I wrote about a talk I gave with the title “Innovation inducement prizes as a possible mechanism to unlock the benefits of open innovation models”. I explored the idea of inducement prizes then, and now I'd like to look at open innovation.

On Open Enterprise blog.

15 June 2011

US Abuses Copyright and Extradition Law: UK Acquiesces

If you want a vision of the world of global repression and bullying that copyright maximalists are striving to create, try this:

A Sheffield student is facing up to five years in jail if convicted in America for a website which provided links to movie clips.

Let's just look at the component parts of this story.

On Open Enterprise blog.

14 June 2011

Software Patents: Do as You Would be Done By

I've written plenty about why software patents should be resisted where they don't exist, and abolished where they do. But if I wanted further ammunition for my arguments I couldn't hope for a better example of software patent madness than what is happening in the smartphone sector.

On Open Enterprise blog.

13 June 2011

Do We Still Need the FSF, GNU and GPL?

It's easy to take things for granted – to assume that the world will always be as it is. And then sometimes you receive a mild jolt: some new information appears that makes you sit up and reconsider your preconceptions.

On The H Open.

10 June 2011

Interoperability and Open Standards: Help Make It Happen

In a previous column, I mentioned that I was invited to talk at a meeting at the European Parliament about innovation prizes last week. That's not something that often happens, and I frequently get to hear about meetings only after the event, when it's too late, which is very frustrating. But happily here's one on the 16th June entitled “Interoperability and standards: making it happen“ that I've come across in time:

On Open Enterprise blog.

07 June 2011

Good Apple, Bad Apple

Since Apple has replaced Microsoft as the leading patent-wielding cheerleader for closed-source computing, it will come as no surprise that I have no intention of providing a rapturous run-down of yesterday's wondrous announcements. But there is one aspect I'd like to explore, because it has interesting wider implications.

On Open Enterprise blog.

06 June 2011

The Great Prize: Innovating Without Monopolies

Last week I was in Brussels, talking at the European Parliament - not, I hasten to add, talking to the Parliament. This was a more intimate gathering in one of the smaller (but still quite large) conference halls, discussing a rather interesting matter:

On Open Enterprise blog.

Back to Back-to-Back Bach

Here's some good news:

You can download for free the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach. They were recorded by Dr. James Kibbie (University of Michigan) on original baroque organs in Leipzig, Germany. Start with a collection of Favorite Masterworks, or get the complete works that have been divided into 13 groups for easy download.

It's certainly wonderful that everyone can now enjoy the greatest organ works ever written, but there are a couple of points worth noting here.

First, it's not clear what licence is being used for these recordings: there's no mention of Creative Commons options anywhere, so presumably they are under normal copyright, but freely released. That's not ideal, since it limits what can be done with them.

The other thing is that it's extraordinary that such a move is extraordinary. These works were written at a time when music copyright did not exist, and have in any case been in the public domain for hundreds of years. So why is it only now that people can download them in this way?

It is a mark of a civilised society that everyone has free access to its cultural treasures to study and perhaps build upon. The fact that we only have that now for one part of one composer's legacy is truly damning. The reason people don't have instant access to all music is, of course, copyright. Its deadening hand means that not only are copyright works rigorously locked down, but that performances of works in the public domain also rarely get released freely, partly because yet more copyright artefacts are created by such contemporary recreations.

This latest news about Dr Kibbie's generous move only emphasises how poor we really are when it comes to enjoying the immense riches of our culture. (Via @timbray.)

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

02 June 2011

The Real Legacy of the Hargreaves Report?

Now that the dust has settled a little on the Hargreaves report, I thought it might be worth revisiting it, but looking at it from a slightly different angle. Before, I noted its sensible thoughts on software patents; there's also much good stuff on orphan works, one of the areas crying out for a way to unlock the riches currently unavailable. But I want to step back and look at the bigger picture, and how in addition to offering their specific recommendations, Professor Hargreaves and his team have done something rather clever.

On Open Enterprise blog.