Interoperability and Innovation Research

Today, the Berkman Center joins Urs Gasser and all our friends from the University of St. Gallen in hosting a workshop on interoperability and innovation, in Weissbad, Switzerland. We are in the company of an interesting, eclectic group of technologists, academics, and NGOs leaders. The briefing papers are online.

This workshop is one in a series of such small-group conversations intended both to foster discussion and to inform our own work in this area of interoperability and its relationship to innovation in the field that we study. This is among the hardest, most complex topics that I’ve ever taken up in a serious way.

As with many of the other interesting topics in our field, interop makes clear the difficulty of truly understanding what is going on without having 1) skill in a variety of disciplines, or, absent a super-person who has all these skills in one mind, an interdisciplinary group of people who can bring these skills to bear together; 2) knowledge of multiple factual settings; and 3) perspectives from different places and cultures. While we’ve committed to a transatlantic dialogue on this topic, we realize that even in so doing we are still ignoring the vast majority of the world, where people no doubt also have something to say about interop. This need for breadth and depth is at once fascinating and painful.

In addition to calling for an interdisciplinary and international group of researchers or research inputs, there is no way to talk about interop in a purely abstract way: interop makes sense conceptually online in the context of a set of facts. We’ve decided, for starters, to focus on digital media (DRM interop in the music space in particular); digital identity; and a third primary case (which may be e-Communications, web services, and office applications). One of our goals in this research is to integrate our previous work on digital media, digital ID, and web 2.0 and so forth into this cross-cutting topic of interop.

Another thing is quite clear, as stated most plainly and eloquently by Prof. Francois Leveque of the Ecole des Mines: we need to acknowledge what we do not know, and we really do not know — empirically — to what extent interop has an impact on innovation. A major thrust of our work is to try to establish models of analysis that might help, in varying factual circumstances, in the absence of empirical data as to the costs and benefits of a certain regulatory decision.

This research effort is supported primarily by a gift from Microsoft (as always in our work with corporate sponsors, this gift is unrestricted and mixed with other such unrestricted funds, as well as our core funding from various sources, to mitigate the risk that we are influenced in our work by virtue of sponsorship). We have been blessed by our partners in industry, including many at Microsoft from the Legal and Corporate Affairs group, led by Annemarie Levins on this project, by their willingness to share with us an in-depth view of their work across a range of areas on interop. We’ve also been supported by the input from technologists at IBM and Intel in this event, and many other firms, through our interviewing process. We’d love to hear from other industry, and non-industry, players with an interest in this field.

Participate in a survey on Digital Media by Harvard undergrads

Five talented students in my Freshman Seminar at Harvard College have created a survey on digital media usage. They could use your help if you are currently an undergrad at a US college. Here’s the announcement, in their words:

“Do you condone stealing?

“Internet piracy is a prevalent issue on college campuses from coast to coast. Many times we, the students, are unaware or even uninformed about what is illegal and what is not. The purpose of the project is (1) to investigate the level of piracy in American college campuses and (2) to see if students understand what actions constitute copyright infringement.

“If you are currently an undergraduate college student studying in an American university and have 5 minutes of free time, please visit [this site] to take the 100% anonymous survey. We are five Harvard undergrad students seeking to understand the computer habits of our generation. Please help us out!

“Spread the word. Thanks. =)

“Andrei, Chen, Elizabeth, Eric, & Lauren
The PiracyEdu Team”

Note also that Chen has posted a real, redacted cease and desist letter on the site’s blog.  And they are working on an “online course” as well.

Silke Ernst, Urs Gasser on the EUCD

A long-awaited paper from Prof. Dr. Urs Gasser and his colleague, Silke Ernst, on best practices for implementing the EUCD has been published.

From their intro: “Today, years after intense struggles and tussles, almost all EU Member States have transposed the EU-Copyright Directive (EUCD) into national law. However,the continuing controversies surrounding the EUCD itself and conflicts about the national implementations have made clear that we are far from having reached a consensus about the appropriate design of copyright law for the digital age that satisfies – or better: serves the interests of – all relevant stakeholders, including creators, artists, teachers, students, and the public at large.

“At a time where the existing EU copyright framework is under review, this best practice guide seeks to provide a set of specific recommendations for accession states and candidate countries that will or may face the challenge of transposing the EUCD in the near future. It is based on a collaborative effort to take stock of national implementations of the EUCD1 and builds upon prior studies and reports that analyze the different design choices that Member States have made.”

Much worth reading, especially if you care about Digital Media, DRM, Europe, the EU and transposition, and so forth.

Interview with Urs Gasser

The Berkman communications team has been conducting a series of interviews with our fellows. The interviews are written up and posted to the Berkman website. The most recent interview is with Prof. Dr. Urs Gasser, a faculty fellow and the director of a research center at the University of St. Gallen. His center — along with a few others, like the OII, the Citizen Lab in Toronto, Dan Gillmor’s citizens’ media center — has become one of the key international partners to the Berkman Center in carrying out our mission.

An excerpt from the interview:

“Q: Have European markets taken a different approach than the U.S. towards regulating digital copyright? Is there an attempt being made to approach digital rights issues from a global perspective as opposed to a nation/market-specific point of view?

“Urs: Painted in broad brushes, it is fair to say that the U.S. and European copyright frameworks follow similar approaches as far as digital rights issues are concerned. This doesn’t come as a big surprise, since important areas such as, for instance, the legal protection of technological protection measures have been addressed at the level of international law – e.g. in the context of the WIPO Internet Treaties. However, the closer you look, the more differences among the legal systems you will find, even within Europe, where copyright laws and consumer protection laws, to name just two important areas, vary significantly if you move from – say – Germany to the U.K. as our Berkman/St. Gallen studies have demonstrated. But from the “big picture perspective” you are certainly right, there is a global trend towards convergence of digital copyright law, driven especially by TRIPS and the WIPO treaties, but also (and equally important) by bilateral free trade agreements.”

For more on Urs’ center and his colleagues, check out the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen (I am proudly a member of its Board), as well Daniel Hausermann’s blog.

Terry Fisher's Testimony on Digital Media

Yesterday, Prof. Terry Fisher testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the digital media crisis on college campuses. He presented the idea of a digital media exchange, or “Noank Media” as the Canadian variant is called. This idea, presented initially in Prof. Fisher’s book Promises to Keep, is sounding less and less radical as time goes by.

Lessig on Interoperability at Wikimania 2006

Lawrence Lessig is giving a rousing lecture right now to a standing-room-only crowd in Ames Courtroom at Harvard Law School. It’s a plenary session of Wikimania 2006. He is in his element. It’s amazing to feel the energy in this room — unconveyable by blog or any other Internet-borne medium, but very very real.

Interoperability, he’s saying, is the key to the story — the Free Culture story — of which Wikipedia is such an illustrative chapter. The instinct to control a platform that you give (or sell) to other people is understandable, but it is also stupid. There needs to be interoperability and free standards that provide the widest range of freedoms for human beings to build upon the platform (sounds a lot like JZ’s Generativity).

We need to remember this lesson as we build a free culture. But we also need to make it possible for this platform to enable people to participate in a free culture. We need also to support the work of the Free Sofware Foundation and work toward free CODECs to allow content to flow across various platforms.

But we need to move past the technical layer, and enable a platform at the legal layer, too, one that protects free culture. The CC movement is an important piece of the story.

Yochai Benkler’s extraordinary book oozes with praise for Wikimedia. You are the central element, the central example, of Yochai’s wonderful argument. It is out of praise for all Wikimaniacs that Larry got on a plane at midnight, he says.

He’s also got a plea for everyone at Wikimania 2006: enable free culture, generally. There are two ways, he says, to do that:

1) Help others to spread the practice with your extraordinary example. There’s a CC/Wikimedia project — PDWiki — to help do this. It will put works in the hands of Canadians in digital form. Beyond demonstrating what you can do with works, it will help to establish what’s in the public domain and what’s not.

2) Demand a user platform for freedom. It came from a conversation with Jimbo Wales; they were drinking awful coffee in Europe. The problem was a lack of interoperability among islands of free cultures. We need interoperability among licenses that are allowing you to do the same thing with the content. We need to support an ecology of different efforts seeking to achieve the same functional outcomes — just as the original web was architected, only this time for cultural works, for content, not for code.

The way it work work is not that CC would have control, but rather that Eben Moglen’s Software Freedom Law Center would be in charge of running the federation of free licenses. The outcome should be that you can say: Derivatives of works under this license can be used under other equivalent licenses.

If we do not solve this problem now, we will face an ecological problem. These islands of free culture will never become anything but silos. We could do good here; we should do good here. Keep practicing the same kind of Wikimaniacal citizenship, he urges, that you’ve practiced to date, and get others to join you.

[Loads of applause.]

* * *

Elsewhere: CNet picks up the event itself as well as a wiki-photo-stream. Artsy, and nice.  And Martin LaMonica has covered Lessig’s talk.
Dan Bricklin, David Isenberg, David Weinberger, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, Mitch Kapor, Wendy Seltzer, Yochai Benkler, many other great people are in the room. An old-home week for Berkman Center.

And what a happy picture this is, taken by Dave (he also has a movie of it): a group posing on the steps of the Old Berkman Center (we’ve just moved across campus).

China's Karaoke police, and dogs dancing jazz

An extraordinary piece in the LAT, (via John Bracken), on the crackdown on free expression in China. The story’s lead, written by Mark Magnier, goes like this:

“BEIJING — With their control over newspapers, television, magazines and the Internet secure, censors in China are now turning their attention to the dim recesses of the nation’s karaoke parlors.

“The state-run Beijing News reported Wednesday that the Ministry of Culture has issued new rules to prevent ‘unhealthy’ songs from ringing forth in the singalong bars, which are so popular here that people joke that overseas, Chinese join church choirs only because they miss karaoke so much.”

It reminds me of Lawrence Lessig’s famous example of Sony and the Aibo. Sony did not want you to teach your Aibo to dance jazz, which a site called Aibopet told you how to do.
This story also joins the topics of our work on the OpenNet Initiative (looking at censorship and surveillance on the Net) with the Digital Media Exchange (the idea of an alternative compensation system for digital expression).