Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

a writer, the copyfight and internet freedom

Thanks for the memories, Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy RIP

I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Leonard Nimoy, a man who made such a great impression on so many of us with his incredible portrayal of the most decidedly human-alien, Mr. Spock.


Image Credit
This is a thumbnail drawing of Mr. Spock I did (yes, I used the pseudonym “Vega” for my artwork back in the day) for the science fiction fanzine CANEKTION, my very first self publishing effort (circa 1970s). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

February 27, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Finding a Digital Public Domain Book

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elmira carnegie 2
DRM-Free LabelAn avid Public Library user asked me if there was some way to access the book “Daddy Long Legs” by Jean Webster without having to submit to the Library’s Overdrive system.  My friend believes this book was published around 1912, which places it squarely in the Public Domain.

(This is not to single out any particular library… my understanding is that “Public Libraries” all seem to have fallen into the thrall of Overdrive… I’ll blog about why people might want to avoid the odious Overdrive and DRM later.)

Any number of “free websites” like Public Bookshelf allow you to read online so they can serve you ads:
http://www.publicbookshelf.com/romance/daddy-long-legs/

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster cover (1912)For myself, I prefer to go the free-as-in-freedom route.  The first place to look for any Public Domain digital book is online at the awesome Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/157

PG has been digitizing books since the 1970’s, so they have a very good selection.  Sure enough, PG does have “Daddy Long-Legs” which you can:

(1) read online, or

(2) download

  • in the Kindle proprietary format or
  • in the free eBook standard ePub, which can be read with any ePub reader on any digital device, or
  • in Plain Text.

Plain Text can be read in your computer’s text reader (Notepad or Geddit etc.)

If you don’t know if you have an ePub Reader, the one everyone can use is FBReader, the Free and Gratis ePub reader I know will work on windows, mac, GNU/linux, tablets/phones etc  Download it free/gratis at http://fbreader.org/.  (I am pretty sure this is the reader that comes native with the Calibre eBook conversion software.]

Mary Pickford“Daddy Long Legs” is a famous classic, so you can also download it:

  1. as a digital audio book free/gratis from Librevox [https://librivox.org/daddy-long-legs-by-jean-webster/]
  2. where it is actually stored on Internet Archive  [https://archive.org/details/daddy-long-legs_librivox)]
  3. or you can listen to the whole Librivox ebook on YouTube
  4. If you prefer movies, you can watch Mary Pickford in the 1919 Public Domain movie on YouTube
  5. which you can also download from Internet Archive

[There are also what I presume to be copyright encumbered film versions, like the Fred Astaire musical version:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04M9M9yaNG8
and the 1970s animated version:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQIGNow-03E
Either of these would be illegal to copy if they are still in copyright… they may or may not be; but it would take research to find out for sure, so until you know either way,it is always safest to assume the worst.]

If you are looking for digital Public Domain books, the best place to get them is not from the Public Library.  The problem is that even Public Domain books that library patrons acquire through Overdrive come  encumbered with DRM and/or  TOS requirements.

against DRM (cc by Nina Paley)In these days of copyright insanity, we at least ought to be able to access unencumbered Public Domain work.  Why should some faceless corporate entity have the right to tell us what we can or can’t do with works in the Public Domain… because the Public Domain belongs to the public– and that’s you and me.

For future reference, when you’re looking for Public Domain material, always check the free-as-in-freedom & gratis Project Gutenberg, Project Gutenberg Canadaarchive.org and Librivox, because they very often have them.  (And, if you’ve a little extra time on your hands, these wonderful public service organizations are always in the market for volunteers.)

waterloo library

Happy Public Domain Day!

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Happy New Year from the Public Domain

In the beginning, everything was in the Public Domain. But that all changed when the English Queen Anne put an end to public ownership of our shared culture by passing the first Copyright Law in 1710. The idea was that this would encourage creators to create. Initially this Intellectual Property monopoly applied exclusively to the printed word. The term was limited to a few years to ensure creative works would return to the Public Domain.

As time went by, however, the scope of copyright has expanded to include most of the creative realms, and what were once limited terms (ostensibly intended to encourage creators to create) now extends decades past the death of the author. (So far no one has explained how this can possibly encourage dead creators to create new art.)

Because copyright terms have been extended so long, and sometimes even retroactively, works going into the Public Domain have flowed to a trickle, and in some cases to a halt. Those works that are emancipated from copyright bondage are scheduled to enter the Public Domain on January 1st every year, so on this day we celebrate the expiry of the monopoly over the works that return to the Public Domain.

Happy Public Domain Day!

Happy Public Domain Day!

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

January 1, 2015 at 2:03 am

Wishing You a Very Merry Saturnalia

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My lovely Rudolph card would not have been possible without Per Harald Olsen’s gorgeous Svalbardrein pho which he has released on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“Happy Holidays” by Laurel L. Russwurm is likewise released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

December 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

The British Library’s ‘Curious Images’

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The British Library is organising a free event on Thursday 18 December to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of their million images onto Flickr Commons.

The ‘Curious Images‘ conference focuses on what researchers and artists have been doing with these and other images and what library plans for the next phase of the project. A set of international researchers and artists will speak about and share interesting ideas, techniques, methods and insights they have been applying to various image collections, including those of the British Library.

For more information:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/curious-images-tickets-14438270255.

[Thanks Lieke!]

Original British Library Scan (left) found at Wikimedia Commons and my own digital restoration (right) of “Canadian Patriotic Indian Chiefs” [full size hosted on Flickr

original scan
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               This is the only British Library image I’ve done anything with so far. Initially I simply did the digital restoration above, but when I wanted a free culture image to use for the Canadian “Blue Dot” campaign, I chose this.

blue dot "Canadian Patriotic Indian Chiefs"

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

December 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

Trademark Law and Free Software

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Even though I write about Intellectual Property Law a fair bit, the one thing I almost never talk about is Trademark Law, because Trademark is the one branch of IP that seems to be almost reasonable.

The idea is that when an entity adopts a name for itself or its product, it wants exclusivity. The justification for this is that the entity will be doing the hard work of building a reputation, and it wants to prevent any other entity from either taking unfair advantage of their good name by getting business through name confusion, and avoid being associated with (and possibly sullied by) projects, products or organizations it neither endorses or is affiliated with.

Groupon vs Gnome

Groupon had this idea for a POS tablet it chose to name “gnome.”

Understandably, the GNOME Foundation was not pleased.

To use the GNOME name for a proprietary software product that is antithetical to the fundamental ideas of the GNOME community, the free software community and the GNU project is outrageous. Please help us fight this huge company as they try to trade on our goodwill and hard earned reputation.”

Help the GNOME Foundation defend the GNOME trademark against Groupon!

Of course, in a sane world where trademarks are not only allowed to exist but are protected by law, Groupon should have backed down immediately.

In the real world if you trespass on someone else’s real property and get caught, when told to leave you must leave or you can be removed or arrested.

In the demented world of IP, Groupon trespassed on the GNOME trademark and was caught. Instead of gathering up it’s IP infringement and going home, the response appears to have been “This isn’t trespassing, this is the name we chose, and we won’t give up without a fight.”

In the copyright mad world we actually live in, the only way for the GNOME Foundation to fight this was to oppose Groupon’s Trademark Applications, requiring the outlay of large sums of money.  Oddly enough, free software purveyors generally don’t have large sums of money earmarked for legal battles. So naturally the GNOME Foundation had to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the estimated $80,000 it would need to opposing the trademark registration.

If a state is going to allow the existence of trademark law, it should not matter who is richer. In a sane world, Groupon would have backed down the moment it became aware of a conflict, because there would not have been any hope it would acquire a trademark that was already in use, and any Trademark Application process would have effective penalties to discourage specious applications.

Except there doesn’t seem to be any more sanity in Trademark Applications than there is in any other form of Intellectual Property Law. IP Law is always a gamble, and it always costs a lot of money. Without enough money, the best argument in the world can be drowned out.

Like any entity, GNOME had to jump through legal hoops — which surely cost money — in order to get the Trademark on it’s name. You would think that would provide protection. The problem is that it doesn’t. Like all IP law, the protection is only good until your money runs out.

The problem, of course, is that Trademark Law has become such a monster that if the entity doesn’t actively fight for its name, it can lose the right to use it.

Crazy.

But luckily the GNOME appeal to the Free Software Community must have achieved enough traction that Groupon felt the heat, because today I discover that Groupon has agreed to change its product name.

Proceeding in a campaign to commandeer the “gnome” name in the light of day could very well damage Groupon’s own reputation, so it has “decided to abandon our pending trademark applications for “Gnome.” “

So this should be cause for cheering, right?

what’s in a name?

JULIET
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene ii

When I started writing professionally, television production companies used de Forest Research to vet the scripts they produced, to ensure that things in their scripts — like character names — wouldn’t be a legal liability. Say your movie’s villain is a doctor who murders his patients. Now if there is only one human being alive in the world with this name, and that person is a doctor, he could suffer reputation damage and may very well sue the production company (and the writer) into oblivion. But if the name you’ve chosen for your murdering doctor is John Smith, there are sure to be so many doctors named John Smith that any reputation damage would be minuscule.

So the rule of thumb was that it was safest to use a common name like John Smith. or a name so uncommon nobody has it. In today’s Internet world, we can get a pretty good idea if a name is common or non existent through internet searches. (Note: be careful to search outside your default search engine because you want an unbiased search. If you’re making a movie, it’s still wise to hire de Forest.)

Reputation is just as important to human beings as it is to corporate entities or products. Yet there are many people in the world with the same name.  Maybe I’m just biased, but I think the reputation of a human being is far more important the the reputation of a corporate entity or a product. If a human being’s reputation is destroyed, a life is effectively destroyed.  And yet nobody suggests human beings should be obliged to have unique names that must be registered (as racehorse names are) and defended in court on pain of losing them.

And law provides recourse to slander and libel and fraud without requiring human beings to stick to a single name.  In fact, a good number of human beings have online pseudonyms as well. Certainly, name space collisions happen, but it doesn’t require human name registration.

Intellectual Property

The Free Software movement began as a way to fight for the existence of free (as in liberty) software. This movement was begun by programmers, because they didn’t want to lose the freedom to innovate and create. The Free Software Foundation fought against the application of Patent Law to software, because software is made up of mathematical formulas — the programmer’s raw materials — which should not be owned by anyone.

Ever.

By the same token, words make up our human languages; they allow human beings communicate. And as a writer, words are my raw materials. Which is why no one, no person, no entity, should be allowed to lay claim to ownership of a pre-existing word.

Ever.

Which is why this victory doesn’t sit well with me.
PD German Garden Gnome by Colibri1968


Image credit
German Garden Gnome by Colibri1968 has been released into the Public Domain.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

November 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Why I Don’t Support the Humble Bundle

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my copyleft symbol

Even though I can’t be considered a gamer, I used to support the Humble Indie Bundle, because it supported free software and independent creators, and made it possible for creators to realize that a locked down patent encumbered copyright driven world was not the only option.

But even as free software and free culture supporters flocked to buy Humble Bundles, and incidentally made the Humble Indie Bundle wildly successful, somewhere along the line, the word “Indie” fell by the wayside, and they expanded into publications as well as games. But when they introduced a Microsoft bundle, it became apparent the people running this initiative weren’t as committed to the principals they espoused as they would like us to believe.

Unsubscribing from their mailing list but it doesn’t seem to work, so today I was horrified to receive a mailing for their new offering: The Humble Star Wars Comics Bundle.

I grew up with Star Wars; it has had a profound cultural impact on me. And all of the contemporary culture I grew up with is firmly locked up in copyright. Before I understood how copyright works, I actually thought Sonny Bono was a hero for championing more restrictive copyright law. But I’ve lived through the aftermath, and now I know better.

These days, I don’t go out of my way to find new copyrighted works. The only exception I make is for Independents… I will go to the local music festivals, and buy Indie CDs to support the artists. Funny thing, though; I almost never play them. Oh sure, I have lots of movies on DVD, and I even buy new ones, on occasion; and them only ever from remainder bins, because I think the worst thing we can do is to support the corporations that work so hard to strangle our culture.
So even though both my cultural history and my head are full of copyright encumbered creative works, I don’t need any more.

I do realize that not all Free Software supporters are equally committed to free culture. I will always disagree with Free Software champion Richard Stallman’s position on free culture, because it suggests free culture is somehow less important than free software. And The Humble Star Wars Comics Bundle proves me right.

Star Wars stopped being a creative work a long time ago: these days it isn’t a movie, it’s a “franchise.” And poor George Lucas was so desperate for a few billion dollars that he sold his franchise to Disney.  Disney is certainly the corporation most invested in the pursuit of perpetual copyright, the driving force behind the MPAA’s perpetual lobbying for increasingly onerous (and the criminalization of) copyright law — not only with the American government, but with any government it thinks it can influence. So we’ve seen laws like SOPA and secretive International Trade Agreements like ACTA being pushed and passed. Oh sure, Europeans took to the streets over ACTA anf the EU turned it down.   And around the world, Wikipedia led a fight against SOPA and it was stopped.  Sort of.

But.

Lots of other countries (like my own Canada) went ahead and passed ACTA anyway.  And there is no end to secret trade Agreements.  All the worst things are coming to pass.   Frankly, I would rather be writing a novel than this.   If things were left to muddle along at their own pace (as would happen if that mythic “free market” actually existed) I have no doubt that free culture would win in the end.  But those powerful special interests aren’t willing to run the risk of that happening. They aren’t willing to live and let live, their goal is total control.

And corporations have an unfair advantage in their war on human beings; they don’t get tired, and they can pursue their goals 24/7. And politicians, especially the unaccountable politicians common in winner-take-all “democracies” like ours, are easily influenced by such powerful special interests.

And our biggest failing is that we humans have other things to occupy us. You know, frivolous things, like raising our families, feeding our children, and sometimes even creating and sharing our own cultural works.

Which is why the too powerful corporate Special Interests are winning… far from being truly defeated, the worst things about CISPA and ACTA keep coming back.

And the formerly humble indie bundle is supporting this.  But I can’t.  And if you care about freedom, you shouldn’t either.

The Battle of Copyright - CC-By 2.0 Christopher Dombres


Image Credits
My own Copyleft Logo for this blog (the copyleft symbol over my Russwurm Social “LR” monogram) is CC0

The Battle of Copyright” by Christopher Dombres, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

[Also:Thanks Charles!]

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

October 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm

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