Stormtrooper Copyright

Every grown child dreams of his very own Storm Trooper uniform and this dream can come true! The original designer Andrew Ainsworth has been selling copies to fans. But there has been a long drawn copyright battle over the uniforms. But now the final battle has come to a close when Ainsworth won yet another victory (via BBC):

Andrew Ainsworth, 62, of south London, successfully argued the costumes were functional not artistic works, and so not subject to full copyright laws.

Judges at the Supreme Court upheld a 2009 Court of Appeal decision allowing Mr Ainsworth to continue selling them.

But they also ruled that the director’s copyright had been violated in the US.

Mr Ainsworth told the BBC: “This is a massive victory, a total victory, we’ve already got the champagne out.”

I have written about this earlier here and here.

The Future of Money

Tomorrow it’s time for the first Swedish CC Salon which will be held in Stockholm and focus on the topic The Future of Money. The main speakers are Gabriel Shalom & Jay Cousins but I will also have the opportunity to speak on the topic. The Future of Money is part of a Nordic CC Salon Tour, which is being held between 3rd – 7th of May 2011. This Nordic tour is very intense: May 3 is Copenhagen, May 4 Aarhus, May 5 Stockholm, May 6 Oslo and May 7 is Reykjavik.

Right now I am working on my part of the presentation which is being inspired by the fascinating work of Georg Simmel called The Philosophy of Money. My basic idea for the presentation is that the move from the barter system to the monetary system creates a major change in fundamental human relationships.

Where the barter system is a relational system, building by necessity on long term trust and relations. But along comes, by necessity, the monetary system. The long term relational trust is no longer necessary. All focus is now on the transaction and the human relations are changed from the relational to the transactional. Long term trust in others is not necessary, all efforts could be focused on trusting the abstract system of currency.

Our focus on the transactional system has been honed to the point where we dislike (or mistrust) the concept of relational trust in attempting to understand economic relationships. So when we attempt to understand why people spend their time in not for profit work or working without pay, in for example developing Free and/or Open Source Software or writing long articles in Wikipedia or assisting in non-profit organizations, we often struggle to understand the motivation that drives them.

A common explanation used is the idea that people work for reputation – but the flaw in this seems to be that we are simply replacing cash for reputation credits. In other words we are replacing one abstract monetary system for another. What this does not take into consideration is the long term relationships created by the social relations created through work for a common goal.

Well that’s where I am now. Lots of hours left before the actual event and I am looking forward to the feedback. If you are in Stockholm tomorrow please drop by Stallet on Stallgatan 7, we begin at 7pm.

The cost of borrowing

Of course I was naive. I guess if I thought about it I would have known that I was naive. But when I heard that a museum has lent a collection or a work to another museum, I got a warm fuzzy feeling. This was cultural altruism. I know, I know… Naive.

In a fascinating article in The Art Newspaper, the director of Musée Picasso reveals the true cost of borrowing.

Baldassari revealed the museum raised between €1m and €3.5m a year since 2008 from the touring exhibition “Masterpieces from the Picasso Museum”. It has visited eight cities so far, including Madrid, Helsinki and Tokyo. “We have made [in total] €16m,” she said, adding that the museum levied different charges for loans. “The tariffs vary according to the number of works, the team [involved] and the expertise.”

Brings a whole new meaning to the word to borrow. But then I guess art lease would sound a bit to0… mercenary?

Koons ends dog dispute

Not long ago I wrote about the rather strange case of Jeff Koons balloon dogs. Koons has built much of his artistic reputation around the creative reuse of other peoples copyrighted work. So it was rather surprising to find him initiated a copyright violation case. The case is obviously strange because Koons’ work is basically a hard copy of the traditional balloon dog made by any clown with a long balloon.

Koons’ lawyers have now backed off and decided not to go forward under the condition that the objects were not sold as “Koons’ dog” – which they were not doing even prior to receiving the legal letter. Park Life writes:

Bloggers largely scoffed at the threat, but Park Life decided not to just sit around and see if Mr. Koons would sue. On January 20, its lawyer, Jedediah Wakefield of Fenwick and West, working pro bono, sued Jeff Koons LLC in San Francisco federal court, asking the court to declare that Park Life wasn’t infringing on Mr. Koons’s i rights. “They very quickly indicated they weren’t interested in putting up a fight,” Mr. Wakefield said of Mr. Koons’s lawyers. Ultimately, Jeff Koons LLC agreed not to pursue the gallery for the sale of the bookends, and the gallery agreed not to indicate that the bookends were by Mr. Koons, which, Mr. Wakefield added, “they hadn’t done and weren’t going to do anyway.” As a result of the deal, he said, he was planning to file on Thursday for a dismissal of the declaratory judgment suit.

Questionable New Renaissance

On the 10 January 2011 the Comité des Sages (give me a break, what a title) delivered their report ‘The New Renaissance’ (again with the big titles). But seriously, the Comité was set up by the European Commission in April last year with the purpose of making recommendations for bringing Europe’s cultural heritage online. The reports main headings cover areas like:

  1. Ensuring wide access to and use of digitised public domain material
  2. Stimulating the digitisation and online accessibility of in-copyright material
  3. Reinforcing Europeana as the reference point for European culture online
  4. Guaranteeing the sustainability of digitised resources
  5. Finding sustainable financing for digitisation and Europeana
  6. Complementing public funding through public private partnerships for digitisation

Also they have some interesting & innovative ideas (compared to others) for resolving the orphaned work issue and preventing it from re-occurring by introducing a registration for copyright. This would also help works which are not orphaned but just ignored.

On the question of digitalization the sages (LOL, again I can’t ignore the title) suggest that  if right owners don’t want to exploit then digitization should be paid for with public money in collaboration with the private sector. Also in the case of non-copyrighted, ignored or orphaned works digitalization should grant the digitalizor up to 7 years preferential use by private partners.

My main beef – and it seems to be shared by the 1709 blog – is the conflict between the reports title and the reports content: The New Renaissance will only be digital. Now don’t get me wrong I like digital. But in an age when we are closing museums and libraries, or cannot afford to display the contents of our archives digitalization is an alternative. However it is also an excuse not to maintain the physical – and that would not be a renaissance.

Where plagiarism comes from

The idea of property is a social construct and it varies both in places and in history. But is there a point where property is a given? In an interesting study at Yale Kristina Olson and Alex Shaw have been studying at what age children recognise that plagiarism is wrong?

By contrast, three- to four-year-olds did not rate characters who copied as any less likeable or any more bad than characters who came up with their own ideas. In a control condition, children of this age gave negative ratings to characters who stole physical property, thus showing that the the null result for stealing ideas wasn’t because the children didn’t understand the rating scale or weren’t paying attention.

Obviously it is important to try to understand where their values come from. But this is an interesting starting point in the discussion. Read more Olson, K., and Shaw, A. (2010). ‘No fair, copycat!’: what children’s response to plagiarism tells us about their understanding of ideas. Developmental Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00993.x

Originals, copies and confusions

The word originality has never had a peaceful existence. In its early history it coincided with the issue of plagiarism where an author attempts to claim the works of another as his own. The Roman poet Martial (ca 41 – 104) accused one Fidentinus of repeating works he had not created in the Plagiarism cycle:

Fame has it that you, Fidentinus, recite my books to the crowd as if none other than your own.
If you’re willing that they be called mine, I’ll send you the poems for free.
If you want them to be called yours, buy this one, so that they won’t be mine.

It is from this argument that the author creates the term plagiarist which at the time referred to someone who kidnapped slaves. Read an interesting analysis: Martial 1.29: Appearance and Authorship by Peter Anderson.

According to the myth of creativity in the Middle Ages originality was not a valuable trait the author was supposed to repeat the perfect forms created by the ancients rather than attempt to meddle with perfection. In the film The Name of the Rose (1986) the reactionary character known as Venerable Jorge lays out this position

Preservation, I say, and not search, because it is a property of knowledge as a human thing, that it has been defined and completed over the course of the centuries, from the preaching of the prophets to the interpretations of the fathers of the church. There is no progress, no revolution of ages, in the history of knowledge, but at most a continuous and sublime recapitulation.

With the development of the machinery of reproduction the question of original and copy began to become more interesting. The first printed books attempted to emulate the look and feel of hand-written manuscripts “…because in scholarly circles printed were regarded as vulgar and inferior products…” (Bernard Knox introduction to The Iliad p 5). The copy/original discussion was explored by Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935). In this essay he noted that that the work of art (the original) had a special aura which the copy doesn’t. From Introducing the Frankfurt School

Benjamin here attempts to mark something specific about the modern age; of the effects of modernity on the work of art in particular. Film and photography point to this movement. Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura through the mechanical reproduction of art itself. The aura for Benjamin represents the originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. A painting as an aura while a photograph does not; the photograph is an image of an image while the painting remains utterly original.

But what happens in the world where the copy becomes art? Where the ready made works of such as Duchamp’s Fountain become works of art through their contact and intentions with the artist? Well they seem to regain their aura. There is even an interesting issue of the copy of the ready mades discussed in Sam Leith’s article in The Guardian A plague of pissoirs is upon us! And there could be thousands more. This re-aura-fication also seems to happen to “everyday” objects with connections to the lives of the rich and famous. Recently Marilyn Monroe’s chest x-ray was sold for $45 000. And this week I read that you could buy J.D. Salinger’s old, uncleaned toilet for $1 000 000 on eBay!

In the midst of all this we are struggling to understand and regulate the copy in digital environment where the copy is the dominant norm. No wonder we are confused. The problem is that we believe in the myth that the physical world has a clear distinction between original and copy – and that this distinction can translate into monetary value. As long as we are confused about the physical world we can never expect to resolve the property of copies in the digital world.

The beauty of open data

Some news is tweetworthy and some is bloggable but the Live train map for the London Underground is definitely both!

Its a map that shows all trains on the London Underground network in approximately real time. How does it work

Live departure data is fetched from the TfL API, and then it does a bit of maths and magic. It’s surprisingly okay given this was done in only a few hours at Science Hackday and the many naming/location issues encountered, some unresolved. A small number of stations are misplaced or missing; occasional trains behave oddly; some H&C stations are missing in the TfL feed.

This is a beautiful example of the strength of open data. Its created by Matthew Somerville (with helpful hinderances from Frances Berriman and James Aylett). The Source code is available.

This is a static shot. But look at it live. Its a work of art… hypnotic!

Cat & Mouse of internet regulation

Regulating technology is (almost) hopeless. When giving a speech to the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre Symposium on ‘Meeting Privacy Challenges’ in 2008 Senator John Faulkner  said

Trying to legislate to control technological development or the ways people use technology is not perhaps ordering the tide to not come in, but it is certainly like trying to empty a bathtub with a teaspoon.

And yet we keep digging away with the teaspoon. Take for example the latest developments on The Pirate Bay site (via Slashdot)

“The Pirate Bay has shut down their BitTorrent tracker. Instead TPB is now using Distributed Hash Table to distribute the torrents. The Pirate Bay Blog states that DHT along with PEX (Peer Exchange) Technology is just as effective if not better for finding peers than a centralized service. The Local reports that shutting down the tracker and implementing DHT & PEX could be due to the latest court rulings in Sweden against 2 of TPB’s owners, and may decide the outcome of the case.”

Check out warsystems for a better and more thoughtful analysis of tpb’s latest move.

And thats just it. No matter what the single state may attempt to do, technical individuals will find a way to evade the problem for a little while longer. It is doubtful whether this can go on forever, the individuals will still lose but the problems will remain and grow. At best any victory will be a Pyrrhic one.

The good, the bad & the ugly: Copyright & Open content licenses

Despite being close to the planning and organisation I had not paid attention to ensure that Creative Commons presented at this years FSCONS. Then today we had the unfortunate news that one of our presenters on Sunday was too ill to attend. So the opportunity presented itself and I will be presenting The good, the bad & the ugly: Copyright & Open content licenses

Taking its starting point in the principles, growth and development of open Creative Commons licenses this talk takes a closer look at what licenses can and cannot do in a world were copyright is attempting to lock-in culture into a eternal artificial monopoly.