Monday, June 2. 2008
It is with some interest that I read that David Sifry, founder of Technorati, has come up with a new gig - online travel guides. But not any online travel guides, these essentially scrape other people's content and are the repurposed and resold for $25 a pop. As noted on Techcrunch:
Think Lonely Planet travel guides, except they are created on the fly from Internet data sources, customized to you personally and then delivered via PDF instantly or (a color printed version) by mail within 4 business days. Data comes from open sources like wikipedia, wikitravel, Flickr and Google Maps, as well as proprietary sources that have cut deals with the company. And you can create a guide for virtually anywhere in the world - they have 30,000 or so destinations today, and will be adding regional versions in the futures (”France” or “Napa Valley” for example).....
There are 3 very interesting things about this:
Firstly, its the next step in personalising data taken off our new Read/Write Web for our own needs - the "Daily Me" of dotcom days revisited, with the much lower cost production and transaction costs of today. I'm mildly surprised that there is no "Social network" element to it - or is that sooo 2007 . I personally think this overall approach will be a more useful way of getting information off the web than pure RSS aggregation, as it has a number of filters in operation.
Secondly, it has come to my attention that our own blog (Broadstuff) is scraped by a number of services that sell on our material - along with others' blogs - as "market information" to companies, for profit. Its still small scale and as best I can ascertain to date, its done with attribution (with the exception of spamblogs, where among others our content has been attributed to such worthies as Video Chutney and Barack O'Blogger). This just takes that trend to an obvious conclusion.
The problem with scraping blogs etc (and largely the reason it has only been done clandestinely to date) is that it flies in the face of many copyrights - Creative Commons or otherwise - that expressly forbid the use of their material for other's commercial purposes without some form of condition / payment etc. In other words, its pushing scraping of the Common Wealth of citizen capital on the blogosphere to its logical limit.
(Or as Tom Lehrer said - Plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise - only please always call it research )
To be fair to these guys, they state that they are using sites that encourage use of material for commercial use, but - and if I may be a tad world-weary here - I doubt that it will stop at this point. The pressure is now on to take stuff off the Web. If not these guys, then the fast followers....
Now, no doubt the argument will be made that the material scraped is a "fair use" of the content - which will be pushing the concept of fair use into new territory.....you do actually have to put some of your own input into the changed work for this usage to be appropriate. Also, I also have no doubt the argument will be made that its just extending indirect (Ad supported) blogging to a direct conclusion.
However, up to now most blogged material has returned a benefit in terms of link love and traffic, which has a value - I don't think this will work in quite the same way if its printed or kindled material.
Thirdly, I am quite curious about the source(s) - an A-List, been in there from the beginning, New Web guy has set this up - and if you read the TechCrunch article and later comments, they are supportive - as is Mr "Naked Conversation" Scoble. It would appear these chaps see nothing untoward with this.....despite the issues raised above (which curiously are not mentioned on the supporting sites.... would the same view have been taken if it was an "Evil" main stream media company doing the same thing...... )
But look at the game theory of this - what this essentially declares is that its OK to scrape other people's content, repackage it, and sell it on - despite any copyright issues (taking my world-weary view). Given that a whistle has now been blown for open season on commons scraping, why do we think that a thousand such flowers will not bloom in short order - or that aggrieved website owners will not take counter-action to prevent their content being hoovered up. To say that it breaks the hippy-go-lucky culture of the early blogospere puts it mildly (as a number of the comments on TechCrunch make clear)............ its an Animal Farm moment when it becomes clear who is wearing trousers.
And put the boot on other foot - imagine if we took TechCrunch content (in small, fairly used chunks) and did the same (ah - not so easy - its copyrighted, not CC) - or even took Mr Sifry's material and re-did it (Hmmmm...I'll bet that is not CC either* ). I am sure they will support our publish-for-profit endeavours with the same hearty approbation they support this of course
And this identifies the difficulty with the business model - literally anyone can do the same thing technically, so it becomes a "Devil Take the Hindmost Marketeer" to make these sorts of businesses succeed, and whoever does it for cheapest will win. Someone like WAYN could put these out with very little additional effort and use offset economics to grab market share. I predict a Free version in a month. (Interestingly, a Free version may not breach as many copyrights, giving it access to more material...)
This is going to get very interesting methinks....... I suspect this action is going to have some major impacts on examining copyright law for the digital media. Not before time either.
* Turns out I may have lost that bet, Crosbie Fitch notes (asserts?) in the comments that its returned to the commons, and the pricing is for materials and labour etc. Wot, no profits then, Crosbie?
(Update - I had to insert this from one of he TechCrunch Commentators....
I also assumed it was "the" Carlsbad and was impressed.... I shoulda known. )
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It is a publicly created work and it belongs to the public.
Any member of the public can thus make any commercial use out of their own property that they choose.
Moreover, anyone can reprint the travel guides too if they so choose - without royalty, given they already own the IP and it would be a tad strange to pay yourself for your own work (although governments have a great Doublethink faculty when they charge the public for copies of publicly funded works).
The IP is public, but the compilation, printing, and assembly of paper books is not. Thus when such a book is sold, a licensed copy of the IP is not being purchased, so much as the value added by the publisher to an intellectual work that is already possessed and has already been paid for by the purchaser. Compare to printing of Shakespeare and Chaucer, etc.
The market for copies is over.
Crosbie, updated my post re your note on the licence.
However, I do think there is a big difference in law between Chaucer, who is out of copyright due to age, and material taken off websites that is current and in copyright.
However, for public works, where the copyright is effectively owned by the public (qv 'public domain'), the work should not be 'protected' from use by the public.
If you'd like to create an Authipedia where every contributor's edit was painstakingly tracked and monitored for publication of their original work, such that a respective share from its commercial exploitation could be given back to the author (or their assigns) as compensation, then the world awaits.
Check out http://www.citizendium.org/czlicense.html
for a little more insight into whether public works should deny commercial use by members of the public.
(i) Difficulty of paying rightsholders in no way invalidates their claim - thid issue has plagued existing media holders like the BBC for years.
(ii) If this is truly "public", what would stop me buying a copy and putting it up on my website for free download for ever thereafter?
(i) The BBC will eventually have to require a liberal license for any 3rd party material it broadcasts.
In other words, the BBC will have to confront the fact that it takes public money to fund and deliver public works to the public (IP owned by the public). The BBC too, should thus use a CC-SA license (or copyleft equivalent).
A public broadcaster's function is incompatible with the proprietary IP controls desired by a commercial broadcaster who makes money by being able to show their IP to an audience without the audience actually receiving it.
(ii) You are free to duplicate the entirety of Wikipedia - as some other websites do. You are also free to charge for access to your site, e.g. subscription fees. You can even charge people to download a duplicate of wikipedia.
Remember, it's not necessarily free-of-charge, just free from constraint once you've legitimately obtained it. No-one wants to stop authors being rewarded for their labour. However, authors reserve their right to give their labour away for nothing (as promotional loss leader) and without constraint - so others are encouraged to promote the artist by sharing or building upon their work, and to reward the artist by commissioning further work form them.
As to profits, no doubt if one has the market to oneself one can charge a little more than cost of materials, however, this profit is due to a lack of competition for added value, not for exploitation of unpaid work.
Let us imagine you had been paid $1,000+expenses by a travel guide publisher to write a section on Timbuktu. Let us then say that the publisher decided to publish their book online and offline with a CC-SA license - in order to facilitate the promotion of their (your) work and encourage the involvement of more contributors.
What if a printer in India created a waterproof version of the book, made incredible profits on their added value, and out-competed the paper version?
Would you feel that they had exploited your labour by not paying you a royalty from their profits? Despite the fact you'd already found $1,000 agreeable for your contribution of many.
Even if the book were copyrighted without license, it wouldn't give you any royalty. In fact it takes something away from you. It would prevent you commercially exploiting your own work.
CC-SA actually lets you (and anyone else) continue to make use of your own work even after it has been contributed to someone else's book.
So it's difficult to see why a license that liberates the public to profit from their own labour should instead be seen as one that exploits them.
Ah, but what if we imagined (as I suspect applies here) that those $1,000+ expenses were never paid. Different case totally applies.
I thus await with eager anticipation the $1,000's from people who pull stuff from my website and republish it - as I'm sure will many travel bloggers in this case
And re CC-SA and your last line - that is exactly the core issue with the business model - IF the licence allows anyone to do the same, then where is the barrier to entry and the competitive advantage?
But IF the re-licences are stronger and limit re-copy, to increase the barriers etc, then I'm afraid it potentially starts to look a bit like exploitation.
If you weren't compensated for your work as per your contract, then of course you have a legitimate grievance and claim for restitution - and given no reparation, deserve some compensation for the fraudulent publication of your work or for its publication to be undone (as far as it is possible).
As for free markets without state granted monopolies, there are no unnatural barriers to entry or mercantile privileges that grant competitive advantage.
When the intellectual work within digital art has been paid for, there are no further profits that may be extracted from it, except for a brief time in its diffusion to places the Internet does not reach.
After that point an artist's publications become their promotional ambassadors bringing them an ever greater audience to commission their further work. Note that the audience pays the artist for their work - I haven't suggested the artist lives on adulation alone.
When copies are free, the market for copies ends. The market for new originals however, remains.
Yes, if one can re-license what should have a liberal license with no barriers, to then create barriers via a less liberal license, then this is unfair exploitation.
WikiTravel or similar CC-SA collections that do not have CC-SA licenses are unfairly exploitative. Those that do are not.
"The books will use the same Creative Commons license as Wikitravel Web pages, so they can be copied and reused freely."
"It is a publicly created work and it belongs to the public."
Crosbie, CC licensed work is not in the public domain, nor is it in any way owned by the public. Even the loosest license requires attribution, and you can cease to distribute your work under CC at any time (although you can't revoke previously-granted licenses). It is the very concept of private ownership of the copyright that makes CC possible.
"Moreover, anyone can reprint the travel guides too if they so choose"
In UK law and (I believe) US law, this isn't necessarily the case. These books are compilations, and as such they are protected works - even compilations of works which are no longer themselves protected by copyright can be copyrighted. That means that Sifry's company could put "(C) Dave Sifry 2008" on each copy and sue you if you copied them - or even if you copied the original sources and put them together yourself in the same arrangement. Only if the compilation itself is explicitly put into the public domain, or licensed under a suitable CC licence, would you be able to legally copy it.
I am talking in general terms concerning the principles of copyleft or copyright neutralising licenses such as the GPL and CC-SA.
The general principle of such licenses is that any use may be made of the work as long as this liberty is preserved for the users of resulting publications (recursively).
In requiring attribution, instead of simply requiring that any attribution be truthful (even if implicit by omission), the CC-SA isn't quite as liberal as it could have been.
In not requiring a ShareAlike license to be granted by including works, CC-SA isn't quite as liberal as it could have been.
Nevertheless, even with the CC-SA you remain able to reprint all copies or derivatives of CC-SA licensed works that are included in any book, such as a WikiTravel guide.
I quite agree that it would be illiberally exploitative to publish books comprising collections of CC-SA works and not also license those books as CC-SA.
However, the underlying principle remains valid, that works that preserve the public's liberty are consequently public works and cannot be used to exploit the public's labour.
If anyone attempts to prosecute a member of the public for taking liberties with a book that almost entirely comprises CC-SA works, then I think we can expect extreme public opprobrium to rectify such illiberalism.
So, you have a good point on the legal aspects, but I don't think it's a show stopper in practice, and certainly doesn't invalidate the underlying principle.
I'm not really concerned with the principles. People who assume that others are acting according to the same principles as them in business tend to get taken for a ride.
What I'm concerned with is the law, and there are countless examples of compilations of public domain work which retain copyright and attract precisely no approbrium.
IIRC, incidentally, the "Share alike" principle in CC-SA licenses applies only to adaptations, not collections. Collections of CC-SA material are, therefore, copyrightable in their own right, and may be distributed under more restrictive licenses.
I'm not trying to change the world by propounding better principles.
I'm trying to help the understanding of a changing world by outlining the principles that better explain its changing behaviour.
After all, the law isn't an instrument of the people's repression but a record of the people's natural expression.
If the people naturally express a desire to cultural liberty, then law that contradicts this is in error, if not repressive.
Businesses that rely upon erroneous law may still exploit it, but the more it is used, the more its error comes to light.
How many people have been prosecuted for file-sharing copyrighted recordings of public domain musical works?
It is not the granting of copyright that will cause opprobrium, but its repressive use.
As hard as corporations are pushing for the law to consider possession of unauthorised copies of published works in the same light as terrorist training manuals or child pornography, the public is pushing even harder in the opposite direction.
Published works belong to the public.
I'm not suggesting this is the way it should be, I'm suggesting this is the way it is.
Copyright infringement is not due to social decay, but to the laws of nature governing information and mankind's natural rights governing intellectual works.
I'm just telling you Canute will indeed fail to hold back the tide.
The king's corporate courtiers are of course insisting he will succeed if he but tried a little harder.
"As hard as corporations are pushing for the law to consider possession of unauthorised copies of published works in the same light as terrorist training manuals or child pornography, the public is pushing even harder in the opposite direction."
And if the public were pushing in the opposite direction for child pornography, would that make it morally right?
There's a deep philosophical issue here that deserves longer analysis, but here's almost certainly not the place for it
"Copyright infringement is not due to social decay, but to the laws of nature governing information and mankind's natural rights governing intellectual works."
There are no such things as natural rights, of course. The right to free information is no more natural right than the right to own intellectual property. Both are merely expressions of a belief that a particular state of affairs is of benefit to society as a whole.
The natural right to life supersedes all others.
Thus, one wonders what natural right sanctions the prosecution of one purchaser of "The Office - Series 1" DVD who makes a copy for his brother. Whose life or liberty, is threatened here?
Natural rights are not beliefs, but evident in man and his interactions with his society and environment - self-evident.
Well I'm with Jeremy Bentham on this one:
“Rights is the child of law; from real law come real rights; but from imaginary laws, from ‘law of nature,' come imaginary rights.…Natural rights is simple nonsense; natural and imprescriptible rights (an American phrase)…[is] rhetorical nonsense, nonsense upon stilts.”
I've yet to meet any so-called "natural right" that was self-evident, either - and yes, that includes the right to life.
A man's natural right to liberty recognises within him the power and inclination to forcefully break the bonds of any captor.
A man's natural right to life recognises within him the power and inclination to forcefully defend his life against any threat.
One has superiority over the other as we recognise that as another's right to life does not threaten one's liberty, so liberty does not usurp life, that those who threaten life as a matter of liberty, may have their liberty suspended until such time as they recognise the primacy of others' right to life.
Natural rights represent the simplest possible constraints that we are inclined and naturally able to assert against each other were we all equals.
You meet your natural right to liberty when you are put to work as a slave or are confined to a ghetto for your race, or political/religious beliefs.
You meet your natural right to truth when someone plagiarises your work or you are arrested on suspicion of terrorism.
You meet your natural right to privacy when a burglar enters your house or police search it for evidence of copyright infringement.
You meet your natural right to life when someone attacks you with a lethal weapon or places you in an electric chair.
In those countries where the government does not protect or recognise your natural rights, one day you may wish that you were a citizen of one that did.
If you are in a country where you feel no need to worry about natural rights, you are either fortunate or comfortable.
As for culture, you meet your natural right to cultural liberty when you are sued for making copies of CDs you have purchased or are arrested for making a video recording of a cinema screen.
We recognise that citizens' natural cultural liberty is a threat to those corporations' business models that rely upon copyright's suspension of this liberty, but this liberty is not in violation of any author's natural rights.
That allows us to conclude that the public's reclamation of this liberty is not unnatural, and is thus compatible with revised law that removes the unnatural privileges in conflict.
"In other words, the BBC will have to confront the fact that it takes public money to fund and deliver public works to the public (IP owned by the public). The BBC too, should thus use a CC-SA license (or copyleft equivalent)."
This is precisely the kind of ideologically-driven statement that requires (and rarely gets) some serious analysis.
First of all, the BBC does not own full the rights to a lot of the work it broadcasts, and buying out full rights would be extremely expensive. I've seen figures for this, which suggest that, in order to do what you want, the license fee would need to be increase to £500 per household.
This would, in effect, by an increase in tax on the majority of the country in order to subsidise the activities of the minority who would ever make use of BBC material licensed in such a way. Taxing the poor to let the geeks get stuff for free, in other words.
Furthermore, there is no evidence at all releasing this material would stimulate any further economic activity for the country. Meanwhile, of course, the BBC would lose several hundred million pounds-worth of revenue which it presently makes from its Worldwide arm - producing more upward pressure on the license fee.
The alternative, of course, would be to make less content. I would greatly enjoy the sight of anti-copyright proponents explaining to the rest of the country why the BBC was shutting down BBC's 2, 3, 4, and News 24 and reducing the hours of output on BBC 1 to four a day, while claiming this somehow represent better value because they could now legally copy it to their iPods.
Re the BBC, Ian is correct, I have done some consulting to the BBC in this arena, the reason it gets its productions at lower cost is that a lot of the rights are owned by the producers - but this creates a nightmare for paying them in cases of repeats, new media editions etc.
And the mere fact that this is hard in no way abrogates those rights.
Again, the forces operating here are not the forces of argument or academic theorising, but natural forces, and consequently market forces.
Why did the BBC waste £6,000,000 developing the iPlayer software?
This wasn't because someone argued that the license payer should be forced to respect commercial privileges attaching to some of the broadcast material. It was because the power of law is not sufficient to police the public as well as it polices broadcasting/publishing corporations - and the public were plainly disobeying the corporations' commercial privilege of copyright, and logically required additional policing beyond that which the law could provide.
However, that shouldn't persuade us that the law, being insufficient, needs augmenting by technological measures, but that law in representing the public's will, a priori, cannot be in conflict with it.
What we have seen over the last three centuries is that the public has been quite tolerant for corporations to be subject to each others' commercial privilege. Whereas what we are now seeing today is that the public is not at all tolerant of these privileges being applied to members of the public at large, to subjugate them to corporate will.
Why should this have any ramifications for the BBC?
The BBC is accepting the public's money in advance for the programming it produces.
There is absolutely no need (or right) for the BBC to retain control over how its programmes are used by those who have funded them. If the programmes have been paid for in full, what does it matter if any member of the audience makes a copy to share with a friend? The subscription based revenue model does not require copyright.
If the BBC persists, and shows, but does not give their audience what they paid for, then they will end up in competition with production companies that do give the commissioners of their programmes what they paid for.
In other words the BBC will be outcompeted by production companies that allow viewers to download/purchase hi-def quality versions of programmes with copyleft/CC-SA licenses.
When copyright is no longer functional, subscriptions are naturally voluntary.
The sooner the BBC recognises that its subscribers subscribe out of choice rather than necessity the sooner it will recognise how to compete. Not by giving its subcribers less of what they have paid for, but by giving them all of what they have paid for.
If that means the BBC can no longer afford to show 3rd party programmes that require repressive IP regimes, well so much the better. Audiences can vote with their wallets if they'd exchange their cultural liberty for LCD programming.
And don't forget, all this is inexorable. It's not happening because of my persuasion. I'm simply suggesting how the BBC can keep its customers instead of losing them to a more liberal competition. If it stays as it is, taking advice from corporations on how to enforce a repressive IP regime, it's going to lose customers. It'll lose them to producers who give them a better deal and won't prosecute them for sharing or building upon the works they've paid for.
At the very least, the BBC should create a new channel, 'BBC ShareAlike' perhaps, that permits all subscribers/viewers to share or build upon the programming as they wish.
Blimey @ Crosbie - you have been busy - or not
Reading all your comments, and coming back to what Sifry is trying to do, I think my view would be something on the line of:
(i) You are largely describing a world that could/should exist
(i) Sifry (or his sccessors) are arbitraging the world that does exist with all its imperfections
Re the BBC and what they should do, my wn view is that they should foster an ecosystem to facilitate UK Ltd's digital media play - see:
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Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License