Archives for category: copyfight

A Eulogy to Authorship, my abecedary attempt at lit-art, is now published the magazine Pulse Berlin. The piece is a light-hearted “plagiarism” from over 50 attributed sources. Pretty much each line was borrow or straight copied from someone else in a collage to prove the aesthetic merits of remix. The style of the 12-paged copy/paste article (6 of which are endnotes and citations) is itself a ripoff of Jonathan Lethem’s most excellent The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism, published in 2007 in Harper’s Magazine. He’s my first citation. ^_^

A Eulogy to Authorship is the preface of my bachelor’s thesis, Copywritings: Technology Authorship, and Originality in American Copyright Law.

Here are some great historical anecdotes about the unanticipated affects of copyright legislation as summarized by David & Rubin from William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period:

A simple but striking illustration of the potential cultural impact of an interaction between new communication technology and copyright law is offered by the history of the “accidental social construction” of an American film classic. The copyright on Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life was not renewed upon the expiration of its initial 28 year term, seemingly due to an oversight (the cost of the mandatory renewal registration being quite small at the time). That event subsequently has been regarded as a “tragic” accident, at least by some spokespeople for the intellectual property interests of the motion picture industry. But, only after its “fall” into the public domain did this particular film, largely ignored when it was first released and barely remembered – save by the most dedicated fans of Jimmy Stewart – commence its rapid ascent in the late 1970’s to a perennial place in popular television-programming for the Christmas holiday season.

A parallel, but somewhat more intricate passage in the cultural history of the English reading public may be remarked upon here, indicating the broader scope of the issues upon which this straightforwardly quantitative research project will touch. William St. Clair recently has made a persuasive case for the idea that enduring literary tastes may have not only a materialist basis, but one that is quite serendipitous, in being shaped by quite transient conjunctures of events affecting the economics of the book trade (St. Clair, 2004:ch. 20-23). In the course of developing this thesis, St. Clair (2004) documents the persisting and remarkably strong impact of the poets and novelists of English Romantic period upon the reading public of the Victorian age, and shows that the literary canon that prevailed in 1900 owed much to the particular circumstances that arose in the business of printing and publishing in Britain at a much earlier point in the 19th century. The application of stereotype printing technology in particular ushered in the profitable mass reprinting of inexpensive titles that could be kept “in print” for an unprecedented length of time – beginning with the cheap Bibles of the 1820’s. By 1837, when Victoria came to the throne, the works of the remarkable preceding generation of poets and novelists – Scott, Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Campbell, Southey, and Wordsworth – presented themselves for similar treatment. Many were dead, or had withdrawn from writing for publication, but their work had appeared during the transient interval of short copyright protection that was ushered in by the judicial implementation (in Beckett v. Donaldson, 1774) of the statutory copyright prescribed by the Act of Anne 8 (1709).

In this way the literature of the Romantic period serendipitously emerged from copyright to reach a greatly enlarged readership in innumerable cheap editions within only a generation of their having been written, whereas after 1841 in Britain, the span of copyright protection was lengthened to two, and then to three generations.

A thesis paper, drafted during the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s interdisciplinary political salons, seeks to capture the complexity and importance of natural and knowledge commons. The manifesto, written jointly by the salon’s attendees and lead by Silke Helfrich, is a rallying call for the public to defend and strengthen these invaluable resources. Because such efforts build on the small contributions of many, David Bollier and I worked closely with Silke to translate the text into English in hopes of sharing the salon’s results with a wider audience.

Strengthen the Commons. Now!

”Commons are institutional spaces in which we are free.” – Yochai Benkler

Over the last two hundred years, the explosion of knowledge, technology, and productivity has enabled an unprecedented increase of private wealth. This has improved our quality of life in numerous ways. At the same time, however, we have permitted the depletion of resources and the dwindling of societal wealth. This is brought to our attention by current, interrelated crises in finance, the economy, nutrition, energy, and in the fundamental ecological systems of life.

These crises are sharpening our awareness of the existence and importance of the commons. Natural commons are necessary for our survival, social commons ensure social cohesion, and cultural commons enable us to evolve as individuals. It is imperative that we focus our personal creativity, talents and enthusiasm to protect and increase our social wealth and natural commons. This will required an eye on the goal to change some basic structures of politics, economics, and society.

More social prosperity instead of more gross domestic product!

When the economic growth curve drops and the GDP sinks, it seems threatening to us. Yet appearances deceive. The GDP merely maps production figures and monetary flows without regard for their ecological or social value; such numbers do not measure the things we truly need to live, they may simply count their destruction. Social prosperity cannot be measured through such means. A reduction in the GDP does not necessarily signal a reduction in the real wealth of a society. To recognize this fact widens our perspective and opens the door for new types of solutions.

The commons can help us overcome the crisis, but it requires systematic advocacy. This is our contribution to give the commons a voice.

What are the commons and why are they are significant? … to the complete Manifesto (pdf).

(Manifesto posted by Silke Helfrich on Commonsblog. Image: “Network of works produced in the ccMixter community” by Giorgos Cheliotis et. al. in Visualizations of remix culture from Remix Culture: Creative Reuse and the Licensing of Digital Media in Online Communities / CC BY 3.0)

The 6th Communia workshop convened in the historic Universitat de Barcelona to sink its teeth into memory institutions and the public domain. Communia is a thematic network of over 50 members (universities, libraries, NGOs, and even companies), fueled by the generous public funding of the EU, to develop policy recommendations on the public domain and open licensing. The policy recommendations will be online in Sept. 2010, but currently they are being debated and digested internally within the network. It targets European legislation, soft law, and tools for the public domain in fields such as education, scientific research, libraries, businesses, and technology. It sounds ambitious, and it is.

Scoreboard of “openness” in universities

To break down these topics, we’re divided into six working groups. I joined WG 1 & 5, a joint endeavor to produce a “scoreboard” to evaluate universities against the various criteria set in the Wheeler declaration. The scoreboard arose from the Università Aperta online debate, organized by NEXA with Sopinspace during the Biennale Democrazia. A questionnaire will be completed in the next few days and circulated to universities. I’ll post the link once it’s available, so you can share it with colleagues or complete it for your own institution.

Public Domain Manifesto

You can find more proceedings and working group outputs on the Communia website. One project to keep an eye on is the Public Domain Manifesto, an effort to map and define the public domain, what it is, and should be, in theory and in practice.

Image: Communia Break by Wrote. CC BY-SA

oh-logo mickey

Mickey Mouse is a legendary symbol in the copyfight. Of late, though, I’ve been noticing a surprising number of Mickey references — in street art, activism, and high-end fashion — that are making me revisit the controversial Disney mouse.

In winter 2008 H&M had a front line of Mickey Mouse clothing, no doubt mainstreaming a sub rosa fashion cue that had inspired the likes of Rihanna and Cate Blanchett. Elsewhere this year, sneak designer Jeremy Scott rolled out Mickey adidas kicks, while Hong Kong had an entire luxury Disney collection, and Louis Park presented a (super-Flashy) tribute to the mouse. Admist all that, fashionistas are posting endless snaps of themselves sporting Mickey gear.

Entering the scene with a twist of critique are the blank-face Mickey Mouse prints by Oh Logo. Their “Do Not Wear” collection is “ripping icons from the collective memory and reducing and diversifying them into a visual experience.”

The Oh Logo motto builds upon the older Mouse Liberation Front, an underground coalition launched in the seventies by cartoonists rallying against Disney’s “corporate seizure of the American narrative”. The MIL is rediscovering itself in the digital age and adapting the cause to the current copyfight. Screenings of RIP! The Remix Manifesto, for example, is one way people learn about Mickey, lawsuits, locked creativity, and the liberation efforts.

mouse liberation front

These developments interest me because they allude to an intersection of high-end / mainstream fashion with a political movement. Perhaps Mickey Mouse parallels what’s happening already with pirates — those daring outlaws who are stealing the limelight both in fashion and politics.

Come to think of it, pirates are pretty well-backed by Disney, too.

What do you make of the Mickey Comeback?

Suggested reading: Cory Doctorow’s debut novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Bob Levin’s Disney’s War on Counterculture.

Images: Classic serigraph by Oh Logo, Official member of the Mouse Liberation Front bysukisuki / CC NC SA

Picture 4

Open Up! Creative Commons Case Studies in Design on Slideshare

Last month, John and I gave a presentation about Open Design at the DMY Symposium in Berlin. It was a bright and welcoming audience of young designers from the International Design Festival DMY. We were graciously invited by the event’s organizers (thank you, Ake!) to talk about how open concepts and Creative Commons licensing can help designers realize their ideas, reduce barriers to collaboration, and altogether foster creativity.

So you want to Design?

We started off by outlining a few problems that designers might typically face. My friend Linda, a designer herself, helped tease out some of these issues. Firstly, young designers may not know where to find material they can build upon, let alone where and how to publish thier work so that it too can be discovered.

Secondly, young creators lack what their successful counterparts do not: fame. So while established artists have more clout and social capital, an aspiring designer has to fight bitter battles to just get their work seen let alone purchased. Nowadays, perhaps more so than ever, audience attention is drastically limited and overburdened by digital noise. That’s why Tim O’Reilly’s observation continues to ring true: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” So designers, instead of worrying about someone “ripping off” ideas, you should be more concerned about winning eyeballs and getting people to talk about your work.

Lastly, what other problems might a budding designer face? Basically, anything that’s going to cost them a lot of unnecessary money. Like lawyers and extraneous licensing fees.

A Ray of Hope


These are at least some problems that open licenses such as Creative Commons’ can help solve. For example, all CC licenses require attribution, so each time someone distributes or reuses your work, your name is mentioned. And for anyone who understands how the net works, getting mentioned (i.e. getting linked to) is a good thing. Plus, with CC licenses you can embed metadata, which enables your work to be maschine-readable and indexed by search engines and other tools, which makes it much easier for people to find your stuff.


By granting additional permissions to your work, you’re inviting people to participate in the creative process with you, which can improve your designs and encourage people to become fans and active supporters of your ideas and projects. It’s also important to reiterate that with a CC license, you never give up your copyright. You still retain certain rights, and it’s within the frame of copyright that CC licenses acutally function. What’s more, when you use CC’s free licensing tools, you don’t have to go through the hassle of hiring a lawyer and negotiating a contract for every use. Instead, the licenses are standardized and publicly available, which means anyone can use them to publish a work for which they control the appropriate rights.

Ok, now that there are some arguments for why one should open up their work, but what about some good examples of how?

Open Design in Practice

One elegant story of open design comes right out of Berlin. Ronen Kadushin, a long-experienced designer and adventuring spirit, is pioneering the practice of releasing “source code” for high-end furniture under a Creative Commons license. Students, amaetuers, and competitors alike can download Ronen’s AutoCAD files and build and customize the pieces themselves.


Ronen’s beautiful and playful designs, as well as innovative approach, have won him much attention and fans. People often send him design remixes and purchase completed pieces from his online retailers or gallery exhibitions. Ronen says he enjoys the adventure of going open source and seems quite pleased with the results so far.


Open fashion is another field of innovative design in Berlin. Cecilia Palmer, founder of the open source fashion label Pamoyo, recently unveiled The Red Shop in Kreuzberg, where she sells finished pieces made from organic materials. You can also download her patterns and make the clothing yourself. As with Ronen’s designs, people are encouraged to unleash their creativity on Pamoyo’s collection and drop Cecilia a line when they’re done.

aruino board

Arduino is of course another cool example of how openness can inspire  creators and reinvigorate design. This low-cost electronics platform runs on simple yet powerful hardware and software, and it’s been the darling of design and circuit communities since it hit the market. Users can buy completed boards or build their own from Arduino’s freely available CC-licensed files. The applications for Arduino are nearly limitless: robotics, game design, visuals, interactive sculpture, energy monitors, you name it. But one of the most fun ways to learn about this open tool is to hack it in collaborative geek-glee at an Arduino workshop. As for the economics and social trends around the platform, Clive Thompson’s analysis in WIRED is certianly worth a read.

reprapA final key component in many open design circles is community. Thingiverse, for example, is a lively online community for digital fabrication: 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, and the whole lot. They share their projects online under open licenses so that people can play, comment, build upon and improve the designs. The same is true for cadyou, Flexible Stream, and Open Draw Community.

Looking for more?

A number of these example and more are documented in the Creative Commons Case Studies project. We’re always looking to expand this resource, so if you’d like to share your experience in Open Design, please consider adding your story!

Images: Open Up! Creative Commons Case Studies in Open Design by Michelle Thorne / CC BY, Bird Table by Ronen Kadushin / CC BY NC SA, Pamoyo / CC BY NC SA, Replicating Rapid-Prototype by Ethan Heim / CC BY NC SA

Suw Charman-Anderson of Open Rights Group fame, announced her pledgeto publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

Well, I’m not usually one to take the girl-power bait, but Ada Lovelace Day seems like a fun opportunity to out myself as a fangirl. The gender debates have by no means reached a catharsis, but rather than tangling myself in *that* web today, I’ll dedicate a post to a Lady of the Interwebs that I admire: Rebecca MacKinnon.


To start off, Rebecca has a CV that makes your jaw drop: former head of CNN’s Beijing and Tokyo bureaus, Assistant Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center, Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Open Society, a member of the inaugural Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board, and and and.

But more important than just a resume laundry list, Rebecca’s been a tremendous force in amplifying voices from regions underrepresented in Western media. In December 2004, Rebecca and Ethan Zuckerman launched Global Voices Online, an international network of bloggers and citizen journalists reporting, summarizing, and translating the news and blogosphere opinion around the world.

Beyond journalism, Rebecca dedicated a lot of energy to lowering legal and technical barriers to sharing creative content. She’s been involved in a project near and dear to my heart, Creative Commons. In October 2008, CC Hong Kong launched as Creative Commons’ 50th jurisdiction. Rebecca was behind the effort to bring CC to Hong Kong since Day 1, and she’s been curating good arguments for it ever since.

In the meanwhile, she finds time to publish articles on censorship, China, and other juicy internets topics. What’s more, despite all the high-brow accomplishments, Rebecca is an incredibly down-to-earth person, articulate, smart, and judging from the brief time we worked together, very kind.

So there you have it. The fangirl is outed; you’ve heard my high praise for a woman in tech I admire. Now what about you? Join the pledge and tell the ‘webs about your geek heroine!

Image: “Rebecca MacKinnon” by Joi, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Unported license.

The most iconic 2008 U.S. election image is under fire. Shepard Fairey’s Obama “HOPE” poster is getting heat from Associated Press, the news agency that claims Fairey’s work infringes on AP’s copyrights.

For months, the internets have been a-buzz trying to identify the original photograph used in Fairey work. On January 14, netizen investigations led many people to believe that the original photo was taken by Reuters photographer Jim Young, who later admitted he hadn’t even recognized Fairey’s alleged spin-off of his repertoire.


A few days later, however, the dust seemed to settle on the origins of the mystery photo. Flickr user stevesimula, among others, argued to have found a better match: an Associated Press photo from October 2006.


Image origins aside, the HOPE posters have certainly generated a remix phenomenon far beyond Fairey’s initial piece. The portrait, and its many mutations, appeared on t-shirts, banners, screens, and pretty much everywhere else throughout the election. Obama supporters and critics alike found expression in the image, brandishing, commenting, and rallying behind the poster at innumerable occasions. What’s more, in our era’s true participatory fashion, the election saw countless spin-offs of HOPE, including the popular Obamicon.Me, which cleverly renders user-submitted photos into the now classic HOPE design. Some of the more popular images are worth a look:


This whole wave of remixing, kicked off by Fairey’s poster but part of a longer political tradition, is an exciting and positive thing, demonstrating humor and parody and all the other important layers of cultural commentary that we as citizens are by law allowed to enjoy. Fortunately for Fairey, and for all us, really, Stanford’s Fair Use Project will be representing the artist against infringement claims. Let’s *hope*, for the sake of our collective sanity and cultural freedom, that AP sees the light and drops its charges.

Images: “Obama “Hope” source.” by MikeWebkist and “fairey poster photo source?” by stevesimula, both available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Screenshot from “Obamicon.Me“, created by author for the purpose of commentary under the provisions granted by fair use.

Significant news for the future of the music biz, and a clearly persuasive case study for openly licensed content:


NIN’s Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV has been making lots of headlines these days.

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

Take a moment and think about that.

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule, and point them here.

Repost from “NIN’s CC-Licensed Best-Selling MP3 Album” by Fred Benenson, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.