The Dilemma of Software Ownership

As the popularity of the internet continues to grow, more of our lives become uploaded into this new realm. The question is, who owns this realm? Who gets to decide boundaries between what is and isn’t in the jurisdiction of governments, companies, or individuals to restrict software? Richard Stallman’s decision to make the GNU project completely open for review, additions, and changes, however not allowing anybody to restrict the redistribution, is the best method in these sorts of projects. If someone decides to utilize existing software and transform it to a new function or improved performance, than it should be open. This is the alternative to copyright law, or “copyleft” as Kelty puts it in his article. Copyright law although showing signs of appropriate decisions is based on who owns what bits of software, which has led to numerous law suits over the incorporation of such software in other software programs. One example is the Stallman vs. Gosling trial. This was over a GNU project that Richard Stallman wrote using some of the code from Gosling’s original software. Maintaining the openness of software development may be a worry for some, but the potential that this would give to developers could lead to some amazing advancements.

The ability to license creates the potential for software to be bought out and restricted from access. Having that ability gives too much influence to only a few holders who have the funding. Not all software may be possibly restricted, as exampled by Richard Stallman’s decision for his GNU project, which is a good model to follow, as he does not allow for the restriction of redistribution in his GNU project. The ability to learn what you want, when you want to, is a powerful privilege, internet technology has pushed the boundaries, and governments, legal societies, and courts have to explain terms such as ‘software’ in a manner suitable to the court of law. Overall, Richard Stallman’s approach to these issues has been one that I believe would be a good precedent to follow.

Blog # 6: Legislating Creativity in the Digital Age

  Is copyright law a sufficient means of safeguarding intellectual property (IP) in digital media? The short answer to this question is no. In my opinion, copyright law cannot deal adequately with IP because the collaborative and constantly changing informational content of online projects obscures authorship. Copyright disputes are difficult to settle when dealing with crowdsourced media in particular. Still, it’s important to understand where both pro-IP and Free Culture camps stand ideologically.

Advocates of expanding copyright laws argue that companies are well within their rights to protect digital goods and increase profits despite any breach of fair-use and free-speech rights this expansion might cause. Legislative progress such as the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, as well as the creation of bills like the Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention Act, the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) are signs of progress for this camp.

For Free Culture advocates of reducing IP rights such as GNU founder Richard Stallman and Chapman University Law professor Tom Bell, intellectual copyrights and patents on digital materials hinder creativity. 2 These policies, Bell argues, “function as a federal welfare program of sorts for creators. As are other welfare programs, copyrights and patents are necessary evils at best, and thus subject to reform efforts.”[1]

Again, the pace of software development and legislative processes are not one and the same. In addition, the concept of authorship is becoming increasingly difficult to define in a hyper-textual culture of online discourse. All that can be definitively said is that pro-IP and Free Culture camps will be in dialogue for a while.


[1] Bell, Tom W. “The Great Debate on Intellectual Property.” Cato Policy Report . 24. no. 1 (2002): 8-9. http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/v24n1/cpr-24n1.pdf (accessed October 20, 2012).

2 Stallman, Richard. GNU Operating System, “The Free Software Definition.” Last modified 2012. Accessed October 28, 2012. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.

 

Is there a place for a non-financial contribution to the open access community?

This week’s readings actually made me feel bad about myself. That might be a first for this course…

As a result, I’m left with more questions than anything. Someone help?

I recognize that programmers need to be remunerated for their work. Not just so they don’t “starve,” but also so that there is enough demand to finance more and more ambitious projects that improve our digital experience. At the same time, I tend to believe that software that is free and publicly accessible is, in many ways, ideologically superior. Admittedly, this might be borne out of a romanticized view of social justice; After all, what is more noble than ensuring that everyone can make use of information, regardless of their class background?

However, I would feel much more comfortable holding this view if I participated in knowledge and software creation on the web. The truth is, I don’t. I simply wish to receive free access, so as to avoid being out-of-pocket or inconvenienced.

The question now is to what extent can we, as beneficiaries of free software, contribute? If the web is increasingly moving toward an open access model, and if this has significant implications for education more broadly, should developers not expect some reciprocity? How can we, as beneficiaries of free software, contribute? The answer is different for non-specialists, such as ourselves. Richard Stallman’s creation of the EMACS “commune” and similar sorts of community exercises certainly wouldn’t apply to those of us who are uninterested in significantly modifying software. What can I do?

I think the answer to that question might see me out-of-pocket and inconvenienced, after all. Maybe that isn’t so bad, maybe it’s the price we have to pay to participate in the digital community as non-developers. I don’t know. Any thoughts?

(By the way: Does anyone else really want to read Hall’s book?)

Digitizing the Past

For a long time without even knowing it I have been downloading free software. Not that I wasn’t cognizant of the downloading, instead I simply assumed it should be free. Granted I have not downloaded that much however the Internet is about sharing. It is what makes it so popular, we share ideas, videos, music, information and we can comment on what we and others have shared. The internet has created a huge bulletin board of shared ideas so it only seems natural (in this completely non-organic state) that software should be shared too.

Hall sees that “little more than unimaginative digital reproductions of the past” has been created. Yet throughout this class, we have seen many interesting and dynamic websites that have dealt with the past in different ways. They all have their limitations, yet they present history in a new way.

We have seen how journal have been manipulated and changed as a result of being online. Yet what we have not seen, and I do not think exists is a change in the University system. Online course are marketized and managerialized as much as, and possible even more, then universities. Online courses are seen as a way to get more money, thus perpetuating the idea of universities as business, they are unimaginative digital reproductions of class, and does not use the internet in a different way. I do not see the solution to this problem in Online courses, or open source software, perhaps it is my inner Luddite coming out, but the marketization of the university and being more of a business intuition will not be solved on the interwebs.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Blog # 8: Free Internet

This week’s readings had us look into the idea of copyright and the idea of free software. Our readings involved this notion applied to aspects of software and programming; moving away from the aspect of, what Richard Stallman notes as developers controlling programs and thereby its users.

What I want to respond to is how this notion has translated to not only those in software, but to other facets of the online community as well. I’m not sure if any of you remember but last year thousands of interneties faced with a dilemma known as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Essentially these law would prevent internet users for viewing material that was deemed protected under this act; the definition of said material was so vague that almost anyone could claim protection for material they own. This was a huge deal for the gaming community, as we would long longer be able to watch our beloved “Lets Plays” or parody videos of our favorite games.

Now of course their we’re, and will still be, copyright laws that will try to protect artists material but this one is so far the most well known. I mean, if you can get google, wikkipedia, and reddit to shut down their sites to protest such an act then I would say that it is a pretty big deal. The whole point of this example is, that this idea of free software applies to most of the things you find on the internet. Just like programmers viewers are also unhappy about the commercialization of their internet. As Richard Stallman notes we need to think of free software as freedom of speech and we do that then a whole other realm of this digital age becomes accessible.

Blog VII: Are My Thoughts My Own? Are They Mine to Own?

What interests me in the readings this week is a common theme that runs through all of them: the notion of intellectual property, which, as members of an academic community, we are all intimately familiar. I find intellectual property a difficult conundrum. On one hand, I can appreciate the rationale behind it, or rather, the necessity of recompensing people for the ideas that they contribute to our society. I understand that in order for intellectual progress to be feasible, there needs to be a way for people to earn a living from their intellectual production.

However, I cannot help but feel somewhat disillusioned with legal notions of intellectual copyright. It seems as though we have developed a system that inhibits, or at least discourages, collaboration. Necessary or not, intellectual property and copyright laws make taking inspiration from others, and adapting the groundwork of others, more cumbersome and difficult. Like Richard Stallman, I am also wont to recall that intellectual property which modern (Western) society has become increasingly obsessed with, is a relatively new phenomenon. It is difficult to relinquish, for a moment, our contemporary values and remember that for hundreds of years people, including important scholars and thinkers, ‘plagiarized’ left, right, and center without batting an eye; this was not seen as an offense.

The idea of intellectual property or copyright gives primacy to the origin of a work or an idea, a notion that I find somewhat incongruous. While there can be elements of value in knowing the origin of something, this is not always essential or appropriate. To begin with, humans, as individuals, are the sum-total of our memories and experiences. We are in a sense an ultimate collaboration, so it seems difficult, or even futile, to attempt to pinpoint the real origin of a given idea. On a less abstract level, consider cases where there is no one origin of an idea. For example, there have been incidents in the history of mathematics where two mathematicians in different geographic locations have concurrently, but independently, discovered the same formula or mathematical phenomenon. How can it be decided who deserves the credit? Alternatively, think about oral histories and myths, passed down for generations. In such narrative, a unique origin is not relevant; the importance lies in the inseparable collaboration. Debates about intellectual property point to a central tenet of our society: the importance of the individual. We have become so absorbed in the exaltation of the individual that we resist any efforts to consider ideas in a different way, less tied to their origin.

Digitization and Reinvention

Dan Cohen writes of Gary Hall’s belief that wide-spread digitization and open access provides an opportunity to reinvent – to rethink and remake – the university system, and I’m intrigued by this idea of reinvention, and what it might mean for tradition-based institutions like U of T, although I can’t even begin to think what that process might look like. We’re existing in an interesting middle ground between ‘old’ and ‘new’, analog and digital. By attending the University of Toronto, we are participating in a traditional, storied educational experience, modeled off of centuries of perceived educational superiority. But while we are part of this massive, expensive, not to mention old  institution, we’ve grown up with new technologies, amid the digitization of many things around us, a long moment of ‘newness’ facilitated by the digital age, or whatever you’d like to call it. We can still toil for hours in Robarts, speaking to librarians, becoming paler and paler as we wander the stacks – Or, we can go online and find a lot of those same sources digitally available, both legally and not-so-legally. We’re in a moment right now where we can still choose analog over digital, or vice-versa, but I wonder if this moment will last much longer?

Now, I may be writing from a self-centred exceptionalism; has there ever been a time in human history in which the participants of that day and age, or at least the historians of it, have not felt that they are experiencing something ground-breaking, in some way? Regardless, at the risk of becoming ‘one of those’ historians, I think that this moment is one that hasn’t been experienced before, and we should try and take some time to figure out where we fit in it, and whether or not we are influencing the swaying of the university system towards something new.

Anneliese’s Response to Piracy, Plagiarism, and Citation Readings

In “Inventing Copyleft,” Christopher Kelty describes Richard Stallman’s creation of EMACS software and the GPL. In the late 1970s, Stallman’s “agreement” with users expressed the use of EMACS software for mutual aid. Created by users in the public domain, Stallman intended that EMACS would remain free. In 1980, the United States Congress added software to the US Copyright Statute, making software copyrightable by law. I believe that information copyright law is impractical and undesirable.

In our globalized world, over seven billion people interact with each other in person, through telecommunications, and on the web on a daily basis. Now, imagine that you told a friend an idea. Within hours, your one idea would have reached thousands of people. Then, you’re asked how to differentiate between your one idea and its thousands of variants. Information copyright law is impractical because it is nearly impossible to trace the source of an idea to one person and distinguish between where similar ideas come from.

Here’s another thought. You enter into a library, and you’re charged a dollar for each idea that you take. Now, imagine you’re asked to write a two thousand word essay. Before you’re close to finished, you would have wracked up a bill of over a hundred dollars. Hold on, you’re probably enrolled in five classes. Doing the math, you would be spending thousands of dollars a year, paying for others’ ideas. Information copyright law is undesirable because it has the capability to commodify information in drastic ways.

Overall, information copyright is impractical and undesirable. Educational institutions are crucial in challenging copyright law. Harvard’s computer labs use a policy where programs that are installed on the system must have their sources on public display. Following its policy, Harvard has refused to install certain programs. In addition, Gary Hall promotes the universal availability and dissemination of knowledge in educational institutions. Let’s keep ideas the way they should be, free from legislation.

 

Piracy, Plagiarism, Citation

I’m torn.

More torn than the oldest pair of jeans you own.

More torn than the late-nineties hit single by tween one-hit-wonder Natalie Imbruglia.

(Look it up and thank me later)

I’m torn between GNU and the programmers. I can’t pick which side I want to get behind.They both post valid points, and even though these issues are brought to light within the “Some Easily Rebutted Objections to GNU’s Goals” section of the GNU Manifesto, it is evident the objections were not so as easy to rebut as thought. Stallman instead chose to present his rebuttals in overarching, sometimes highly childish statements. For example, when asked “Won’t programmers starve?”, he begins by stating that “I could answer that no one is forced to be a programmer.” Making statements like these are hardly going to get the backing of the internet community. Programmers, and computer literate people amass a large group of internet users, and I feel like he might of instantly lost the support of these people in relation to GNU (pronouncing the g).

What I’m truly torn about is my compassion for the programmers going up against my passion to learn and read and listen for free. I feel for the programmers. To be skilled within the art of computer knowledge is a complicated, tedious concept to master ( ask anyone in our class). These guys are well educated and versed in their abilities with computers and should be paid accordingly. However, the concept of free knowledge is something that I feel is priceless. To be able to learn about anything; whether it be facts or programming knowledge for free is something that is highly unpopular and unlikely (thus tuition fees, textbooks), and is something that must be taken advantage of and relished by eager, willing minds.

Maybe as I learn more about copyright information and free software, the answer will appear by itself. Until then, I’ll remain torn.

Blog 5 “Different Credibility”: Understanding the Psychological Parameters of Oral History

Oral history projects are unique among other types of historical scholarship as they involve a meeting of academic inquiry and human experience. Inevitably, data taken from interviews will be informed by psychological factors including the biases, mental limitations and intentions of the subject. Objectivity is therefore neither guaranteed or even expected by oral historians. Thus, scholars participating in oral history projects require an acute understanding of how human mental processes determine the content, presentation and value of historical testimony. Considering this, the standards which historians use to evaluate oral sources should not be strictly factual. Instead, historians must accept what Alessandro Portelli identifies as “different credibility”[1]—the understanding that factually inaccurate testimonies are still psychologically true and historically significant due to the symbolic and contextual value they add to oral sources.

Psychological Factors in Oral Sources

In her 1993 guide to oral history, Judith Moyer thoughtfully frames the perspective of interviewees participating in oral history projects. She notes several anxieties and obstacles that the interviewer should be aware of including fears of the recording equipment and exposing private information, doubts concerning of the value of personal accounts and non-linear memories.[2] Portelli addresses these factors in a more positive light, arguing that the value of the content of oral history interviews is not so much “facts,” but the “active process of [the] creation of meanings” that it involves.[3] Portelli asserts that the value of direct historical testimony lies not in its ability to “preserve the past,”[4] but instead in the “changes”[5] that memories make to descriptions of events, concepts and facts. Even the slightest alterations of information (when it is recognized) can have powerful implications for the interview as they help place the narrative in its proper historical context.

Conclusively then, the inherently human or psychological element of oral history sources is an asset, not a liability. Discovering the value of oral history interviews and testimonies requires an acceptance of, as Portelli would argue “different credibility.”[6]

 


[1] Portelli, Alessandro . Oral History Reader, “What Makes Oral History Different.” Last modified 1998. Accessed October 22, 2012. 68.

[2] Moyer, Judith. ” Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History.” Last modified 1993. Accessed September 21, 2012. http://dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/oralHistory.html

 

[3] Portelli, 68.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.