OpenLibrary.org

There’s enormous promise in the Open Library project, which we’re hearing about today at Berkman’s lunch event from Aaron Swartz. The idea is wonderfully simple: to create a single web page per book. That web page can aggregate lots of data and metadata about each book. In turn, the database can be structured to indicate very interesting relationships between books, ideas, and people. The public presentation of the information is via a structured wiki.

I’m most interested in hearing what Open Library thinks it needs in the way of help. They have a cool demo here. It seems to me that one way to succeed in this project is to combine what start-ups call “business development” with what scholars do for a living with what non-profits think of as crowd-sourcing or encouraging user generated content or whatever. There’s a lot that could be done if the publishers and libraries contributed the core data (should be in everyone’s interest, long-term anyway); scholars need to opt in an do their part in an open way; Open Library needs to get the data structured and rendered right (curious as to whether OPML or other syndicated data structures are in play, or could be in play, here); and human beings need to contribute, contribute, contribute as they have to Wikipedia and other web 2.0 megasites.

A note from a participant: “libraries resist user-generated cataloguing.” This seems to me a cultural issue that is worth exploring. We do need to balance the authority of librarians in with what the crowds have to offer. But I’m pretty sure it’s not an either-or choice, as David Weinberger makes clear through his work.

One thing that makes a lot of sense is their plan for supporting the site over time. The combination of philanthropy (at least as start-up funds, if not for special projects over time) plus revenue generated through affiliate links over time makes a lot of sense as a sustainable business plan.

One could also see linkages between Open Library and 1) our H2O Playlists initiative (hat-tip to JZ) to allow people to share their reading lists as well as 2) what Gene Koo and John Mayer at CALI are doing with the eLangdell project.

It’s not a surprise that the truly wonderful David Weinberger — I can see him blogging this in front of me — brought Aaron here today to talk about this.

Where I’m left, at the end of lunch, is with a sense of wonder about what we (broadly, collectively) can accomplish with these technologies, a bit of leadership, a bit of capital, good communications strategies, and some good luck in the public interest over time. It’s awe-inspiring.

How Long Will Scrabulous Last in Facebook?

I am curious to see how long Facebook leaves this app up after this WSJ article. Scrabulous, a Facebook app made by third-party developers, is an obvious knock-off of Scrabble. One might reasonably raise copyright and trademark issues related to it (perhaps the Scrabulous developers could withstand these complaints; query as to Facebook’s willingness to put itself in harm’s way, though, as potentially secondarily liable). Coming our way in the near-future, a new form of Web 2.0-fired dispute: there are very interesting issues brewing related to Facebook’s role as a platform for other applications and its policing function. Interoperability is a great thing, and Facebook has done well to open up its API. But when a controversy strikes over an app that is framed in Facebook, on which developers and investors have invested time and capital, and into which people have mixed their personal information, who decides whether the app stays or goes? The judge and jury are likely to be Facebook employees, at least in the first instance. Jonathan Zittrain has been teaching about this issue of Private Sheriffs for a long time, with more on this topic coming in his forthcoming book, The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It.

Berkman Books

The faculty and fellows of the Berkman Center will publish four books this year. Two of them are out already: David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous and John Clippinger’s A Crowd of One. In celebration of this high-water mark for the team, we’ve put together a new page on the Berkman web site called Berkman Books, which features most of the relevant books written by Berkman faculty and fellows since our founding nearly 10 years ago. We’ll keep it updated as new ones come online, such as the ONI‘s Access Denied (on Internet filtering) and Prof. Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It, both due out later this year.

Three Conversations on Intellectual Property: Fordham, University of St. Gallen, UOC (Catalunya)

Three recent conversations I’ve been part of offered a contrast in styles and views on intellectual property rights across the Atlantic. First, the Fordham International IP conference, which Prof. Hugh Hanson puts on each year (in New York, NY, USA); the terrific classes in Law and Economics of Intellectual Property that Prof. Urs Gasser teaches at our partner institution, the University of St. Gallen (in St. Gallen, Switzerland); and finally, today, the Third Congress on Internet, Law & Politics held by the Open University of Catalonia (in Barcelona, Spain), hosted by Raquel Xalabarder and her colleagues.

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Fordham (1)

At Fordham, Jane Ginsburg of Columbia Law School moderated one of the panels. We were asked to talk about the future of copyright. One of the futures that she posited might come into being — and for which Fred von Lohmann and I were supposed to argue — was an increasingly consumer-oriented copyright regime, perhaps even one that is maximally consumer-focused.

– For starters, I am not sure that “consumer” maximalization is the way to think about it. The point is that it’s the group that used to be called the consumers who are now not just consumers but also creators. It’s the maximization of the rights of all creators, including re-creators, in addition to consumers (those who benefit, I suppose, from experiencing what is in the “public domain”). This case for a new, digitally-inspired balance has been made best by Prof. Lessig in Free Culture and by many others.

– What are the problems with what one might consider a maximalized consumer focus? The interesting and hardest part has to do with moral rights. Prof. Ginsburg is right: this is a very hard problem. I think that’s where the rub comes.

– The panel agreed on one thing: a fight over compulsory licensing is certainly coming. Most argued that the digital world, particularly a Web 2.0 digital world, will lead us toward some form of collective, non-exclusive licensing solution — if not a compulsory licensing scheme — will emerge over time.

– “Copyright will be a part of social policy. We will move away from seeing copyright as a form of property,” says Tilman Luder, head of copyright at the directorate general for internal markets at the competition division of the European Commission. At least, he says, that’s the trend in copyright policy in Europe.

* * *

Fordham (2)

I was also on the panel entitled “Unauthorized Use of Works on the Web: What Can be Done? What Should be Done?”

– The first point is that “unauthorized use of works” doesn’t seem quite the relevant frame. There are lots of unauthorized uses of works on the web that are perfectly lawful and present no issue at all: use of works not subject to copyright, re-use where an exception applies (fair use, implied license, the TEACH Act, e.g.s), and so forth. These uses are relevant to the discussion still, though: these are the types of uses that are

– In the narrower frame of unauthorized uses, I think there are a lot of things that can be done.

– The first and most important is to work toward a more accountable Internet. People who today are violating copyright and undermining the ability of creators to make a living off of their creative works need to change. Some of this might well be done in schools, through copyright-related education. The idea should be to put young people in the position of being a creator, so they can see the tensions involved: being the re-user of some works of others, and being the creator of new works, which others may in turn use.

– A second thing is continued work on licensing schemes. Creative Commons is extraordinary. We should invest more in it, build extensions to it, and support those who are extending it on a global level (including in Catalunya!).

– A third thing, along the lines of what Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi are doing with filmmakers, is to establish best practices for industries that rely on ideas like fair use.

– A fourth thing is to consider giving more definition to the unarticulated rights — not the exclusive rights of authors that we well understand, but the rights of those who would re-use them, to exceptions and limitations.

– A fifth area, and likely the discussion that will dominate this panel, is to consider the role of intermediaries. This is a big issue, if not the key issue, in most issues that crop up across the Internet. Joel Reidenberg of Fordham Law School has written a great deal on this cluster of issues of control and liability and responsibility. The CDA Section 230 in the defamation context raises this issue as well. The question of course arose in the Napster, Aimster, and Grokster contexts. Don Verrilli and Alex Macgillivray argued this topic in the YouTube/Viacom context — the topic on which sparks most dramatically flew. They fought over whether Google was offering the “claim your content” technology to all comers or just to those with whom Google has deals (Verilli argued the latter, Macgillivray the former) and whether an intermediary could really know, in many instances, whether a work is subject to copyright without being told by the creators (Verilli said that wasn’t the issue in this case, Macgillivray says it’s exactly the issue, and you can’t tell in so many cases that DMCA 512 compliance should be the end of the story).

* * *

St. Gallen

Across the Atlantic, Prof. Dr. Urs Gasser and his teaching and research teams at the University of St. Gallen are having a parallel conversation. Urs is teaching a course on the Law and Economics of Intellectual Property to graduate students in law at St. Gallen. He kindly invited me to come teach with him and his colleague Prof. Dr. Bead Schmid last week.

– The copyright discussion took up many of the same topics that the Fordham panelists and audience members were struggling with. The classroom in Switzerland seemed to split between those who took a straight market-based view of the topics generally and those who came at it from a free culture perspective.

– I took away from this all-day class a sense that there’s quite a different set of experiences among Swiss graduate students , as compared to US graduate students, related to user-generated content and the creation of digital identity. The examples I used in a presentation of what Digital Natives mean for copyright looking ahead — Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, Flickr, YouTube, and so forth — didn’t particularly resonate. I should have expected this outcome, given the fact that these are not just US-based services, but also in English.

– The conversation focused instead on how to address the problem of copyright on the Internet looking forward. The group had read Benkler, Posner and Shavell in addition to a group of European writers on digital law and culture. One hard problem buried in the conversation: how much help can the traditional Law and Economics approach help in analyzing what to do with respect to copyright from a policy perspective? Generally, the group seeemed to believe that Law and Economics could help a great deal, on some levels, though 1) the different drivers that are pushing Internet-based creativity — other than straight economic gains — and 2) the extent to which peer-production prompts benefits in terms of innovation make it tricky to put together an Excel spreadsheet to analyze costs and benefits of a given regulation. I left that room thinking that a Word document might be more likely to work, with inputs from the spreadsheet.

* * *

Barcelona

The UOC is hosting its third Congres Internet i Politica: Noves Perspectives in Barcelona today. JZ is the keynoter, giving the latest version of The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It. The speech just keeps getting better and better as the corresponding book nears publication. He’s worked in more from StopBadware and the OpenNet Initiative and a new slide on the pattern of Generativity near the end. If you haven’t heard the presentation in a while, you’ll be wowed anew when you do.

– Jordi Bosch, the Secretary-General of the Information Society of Catalonia, calls for respect for two systems: full copyright and open systems that build upon copyright.

Prof. Lilian Edwards of the University of Southhampton spoke on the ISP liability panel, along with Raquel Xalabarder and Miquel Peguera. Prof. Edwards talked about an empirical research project on the formerly-called BT Cleanfeed project. BT implements the IWF’s list of sites to be blocked, in her words a blacklist without a set appeals process. According to Prof. Edwards’ slides, the UK government “have made it plain that if all UK ISPs do not adopt ‘Cleanfeed’ by end 2007 then legislation will mandate it.” (She cites to Hansard, June 2006 and Gower Report.) She points to the problem that there’s no debate about the widespread implementation of this blacklist and no particular accountability for what’s on this blacklist and how it is implemented.

– Prof. Edwards’ story has big implications for not just copyright, but also the StopBadware (regarding block lists and how to run a fair and transparent appeals process) and ONI (regarding Internet filtering and how it works) research projects we’re working on. Prof. Edwards’ conclusion, though, was upbeat: the ISPs she’s interviewed had a clear sense of corporate social responsibility, which might map to helping to keep the Internet broadly open.

For much better coverage than mine, including photographs, scoot over to ICTology.

Summer Doctoral Programme 2007 Application Period Open

One of my favorite parts of the year is the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme that takes place in the seond half of July. For the past several years, the Berkman Center has partnered with OII on this programme. We’ve sent faculty and students every year. The especially cool part for this year is that it will take place not in Oxford or Beijing, but in Cambridge, MA, at the Berkman Center. We couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to host this event.

So, starting immediately, we’re accepting applications for graduate students to participate in SDP 2007. As you can see from the site, “Thirty places are available, open to students from any discipline who are currently undertaking doctoral research on social, political, legal and economic issues relating to the Internet. Preference will be given to students at an advanced stage of their doctorate, who have embarked on writing their thesis, and who are working in a research area that corresponds to one of the OII’s research priorities or the Berkman’s research priorities.” Don’t be scared off if you are a lawyer or in another professional-type degree program; some of the best students in the past have been lawyers, for instance.

Applications are due by February 12, 2007. The application form is here.

JZ's Groklaw FAQ (and law review article smoothie)

Prof. Jonathan Zittrain has responded to the enormous outpouring of Groklaw reader comments to his paper on The Generative Internet with an FAQ posted back at Groklaw.

For instance: wondering how Blackberries and other mobile devices fit into the picture of JZ’s argument about the PC lock-down future we face? Here’s an exchange that picks up on that thread. Z writes: “This is a serious challenge to my argument that after years of general purpose PC primacy, the momentum is shifting in favor of limited-use devices. The next few generations of information appliances will be telling, I agree. My sense, though, is that these devices are less products than they are services. Mess too much with an iPod, and the next iPod update (needed, of course, to work with the next gen iTunes music store, and to coordinate with one’s Nike sneakers so that one can upload running times to the iPod) will say, ‘Sorry, this iPod’s functionality has been modified, and it will no longer work with iTunes.’ Or it will simply overwrite one’s own adaptations.”

Also worth reading: a cool post from CALIopolous on JZ’s article and its Groklaw reaction, complete with a picture of a blender.

(A curious side-note: the article itself, on SSRN and in the Harvard Law Review, continues to climb the SSRN download rankings, having just broken into the top 1000 articles.)

Nicholas Carr review of JZ's Generative Internet piece

A thoughtful review/critique, plus commentary, of Prof. Jonathan Zittrain’s Harvard Law Review article, The Generative Internet, on Nicholas Carr’s blog. Mr. Carr concludes, about JZ’s conclusions: “Zittrain concludes that the best course is to ‘try to maintain the fundamental generativity of the existing grid while taking seriously the problems that fuel enemies of the Internet free-for-all. It requires charting an intermediate course to make the grid more secure — and to make some activities to which regulators object more regulable — in order to continue to enable the rapid deployment of the sort of amateur programming that has made the Internet such a stunning success.’ It’s not a question, in other words, of whether there will be limits. There will be. It’s a question of where those limits will be imposed and who will impose them.”

Carr points to the fabulous Ethan Zuckerman’s must-read review of JZ’s piece as his pointer and inspiration.

A cool example of dialogue about serious scholarship happening in public, online.