Digital Natives Conversation Goes International

One of the themes of Born Digital, the book Urs Gasser and I are working on, is excitement around the possibility of an emerging global culture of young people who use technology in particular ways. (We’re equally interested in the problems of those who may be left out of that emerging culture, too, as Ethan Zuckerman and Eszter Hargittai and others are quick to remind us.) It was fun, in this context, to see a few international responses to / reverberations of our post about definitions and subtleties around who is a “digital native” and who is not: one from Canada’s paper of record, the Globe and Mail; a few in Spanish; and a few in German; in Italian; and from our friend and colleague Shenja on the [email protected] (London School of Economics) blog.

(Since this is a joint research project with our colleagues at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, I suppose it’s not really surprising — the conversation actually started internationally.)

Debating the Internet's Impact on Democracy around the World

Students in the HLS course Internet, Law and Politics are staging a debate today. The two sides of the argument are posted to the course wiki. The overall debate page is here, including today’s resolution: “Resolved: The Internet enables citizens to have a greater voice in politics and is, on balance, already a tremendous force for strengthening participatory democracies around the world.” The affirmative argument is here; the negative argument is here. The required reading this week was to follow the news from a single region of the world on Global Voices. We’re blessed to have Ethan Zuckerman sitting in for the class as a special guest, as well.

My notes from class are here.

Reuters, NewAssignment.Net team up

Chris Ahearn at Reuters has made another sage investment in a non-profit, this time to Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.Net. Chris is the visionary president of Reuters Media. He is the key driver, along with his colleague Dean Wright, behind Reuters’ partnership with Global Voices.

Chris writes, at Huffington Post:

“While the Internet is rapidly transforming the world of traditional media, it also presents amazing new possibilities in terms of strengthening the investigative arm of journalism. The Internet is the perfect vehicle for galvanizing the public to become more involved in reporting.

“Earlier this year, Reuters made a contribution to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School in support of Global Voices Online * the largest and most successful international bridge for bloggers. Global Voices Online is a select guide to conversations, information and ideas appearing on various forms of participatory citizen media such as blogs, podcasts, photo-sharing sites and videoblogs.

“While encouraging good journalistic ideas is a worthy goal in itself, Reuters believes that supporting new and varied networks of creators with different perspectives is good for both journalism and business.

“Ultimately, journalism is about the story and the pursuit of truth; it is not about the news industry, a j-school or a traditional newsroom structure. By building bridges and finding new ways to augment and accelerate the creation of quality journalism, we believe that ultimately the public will benefit and perhaps change their minds about the noble profession of journalism.”

Richard Sambrook of the BBC comments approvingly on the move here.

Congratulations, Global Voices Community

As Rebecca MacKinnon reports, Global Voices today won the Knight-Batten Award for innovation in journalism. It’s quite an accomplishment, for which literally hundreds of people can take credit. GV has been a runaway success since RMacK and Ethan Zuckerman kicked it off not so very long ago. I’m so happy for everyone whose hard work has made this recognition possible. Thanks are also owed to those loyal, trusting souls who have supported GV and the Berkman Center through funding and high-level guidance for this project, including Chris Ahearn and Dean Wright at Reuters, John Bracken at the MacArthur Foundation, Hivos, and others. The best still lies ahead for the GV community, and the GV experiment, I have no doubt.  (Here’s more, from NZ).

Following up on the RSS/Copyright debate

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several fresh calls, four in fact (some out of the blue, some from people I know well) about RSS, aggregation, and copyright issues. I think the matter continues to have traction and importance. Two follow-ups:

– I never managed, somehow, to see a very fine reply from Nathan Yergler to a post of my own a few months ago. I had proposed a series of 5 licenses specific to syndicated online sources. (I understand that Nathan works for CC in a technical job but was not writing as a CC employee.) His sense is that there is a need for more explicit licensing of citizen-generated content, but that CC licenses (and other things, like full copyright and the public domain) already cover the five variants that I had in mind. It’s a nice argument. I have to think about whether I agree in full — there are reasons why CC Attribution 2.5 may not get the job done in full for all users, say — but if he’s right, then we’d need no new licenses, but just a campaign to get people to know about the options and to use them in ways that reflect their desires related to aggregation and re-use of their content. (Apologies, Nathan, that I’m just getting to reply now, but I managed to miss it the first time; it was a strong argument.)

– Ethan Zuckerman had a terrific post, and engendered more discussion, on just this topic. As Ethan writes, “I want to see Creative Commons succeed. I share Larry Lessig’s concern that artists of all sorts need material to enter the public domain so that we can comment, remix, repurpose and create. I release (with very rare exceptions) everything I do under CC in the vague hope that someone else will find it useful. But widespread abuse of content published under CC licenses will make creators – me included – reluctant to release content under them.”

These posts prompted me to reflect on another matter much on my mind, which is the difference between holding intellectual property rights in the first place and in enforcing them. Admittedly: I am not a fan of a strong view of copyright. Nor, for that matter, do I think may forms of patents make much sense at all, at least in anything like the form that they currently take. That is not to say, though, that I think it’s immoral or otherwise bad to hold IP rights. I think that authors or recording artists or those who make movies should be compensated; I’m not a fan of piracy. The fact that things are right now out of whack in the IP realm (see Lessig’s permission culture argument, among many other good articulations of the problem, and any number of people who have pointed out silly patents getting issued) and the fact that pre-digital IP laws are looking a bit long in the tooth in a world packed with digital natives do not change the fact that I want there to be an incentive to create and for fairness to reign in the world (i.e., for artists and inventors to be able to make a living).

What I’m coming to think is that, absent systemic reform, holding IP rights, some of which, like copyright, attach automatically, is not the primary issue. The issue is much more about what rights we choose to enforce against others and how we do it. The issue is also whether we have a system of accountability where, when we do give away some rights that otherwise would attach, we can hold others to the rights we’ve chosen to retain. This is a sticky problem, especially when choices about enforcement could, recursively I suppose, affect those rights themselves. (An issue for another day, but: this is true also of the tiny start-up that holds a software patent for defensive purposes, to create freedom of action against incumbents, and perhaps who licenses it to other firms for similar purposes. The issue is whether those rights are exercised in an appropriate manner.)

I think a key next step in the RSS and copyright discussion may not be new licenses (if Mr. Yergler is right; or perhaps tweaked ones, if that would help; or perhaps repackaged ones, so ordinary people can figure it out), but rather 1) a clearer common understanding of what people mean when they in fact license their works in this fashion and 2) appropriate systems to enforce those rights when they’re being flagrantly violated. Of course, the copyright system works just fine on this second score (perhaps too well, sometimes!), but I suppose that those of us who are wildly supportive of CC as an essential add-on to the copyright regime may have to be willing to step up and file cease-and-desist letters where necessary (polite ones, perhaps!), even as distateful as that may seem. A great deal, it seems to me, hangs in the balance of getting it right, if the trends in creativity online, syndication, search, and aggregation continue on their current trajectory.