Posts Tagged 'cc'

Apparently there’s no such thing as CC BY-NC-ND

Apparently there’s no such thing as CC BY-NC-ND.  Following the link indicates that without a version number, there is no licence…(?)

Creative Commons Australia v3.0 licences go live

Creative Commons Australia v3.0 licences go live

My friends at Creative Commons Australia have gone live with version 3 of the Australian licences.  Follow the link for more details.

Flexbooks – a Non-Braindead way to produce textbooks

Flexbooks – a Non-Braindead way to produce textbooks

I’ve just seen a post on Flexbooks, an initiative of CK-12 so headed over to have a look.  I believe initiatives of this kind are extremely important.  Because copyright makes the price of textbooks too high, copyright is a significant barrier to education.  A poorly educated workforce is a lower production workforce.  In short, copyright ideology substantially lowers GDP.  Well, no more.  The Flexbooks initiative aims to provide textbooks for K-12 under the CC-BY-SA licence.  The obnoxious (and anti-social) ‘-NC’ is absent.  Thank heavens these are enlightened educators!

I have downloaded their 400+ page book on calculus and, after a quick flip, it seems appropriate for a late secondary school course.  In criticism, the typesetting of equations is a bit wonky (and given the long standing availability of LaTeX this seems very mysterious), some diagrams could be improved, the book lacks a preface,  appendicies and an index, and they seem to assume that student have a particular make/model of scientific calculator.  Much of the demonstration information relating to the site is in Flash, so they’re not entirely enlightened.

Downloading and distributing for free is not even half the story.   As the licence is SA, everyone is free to make changes to them – say farewell to the days of textbooks with US-specific references or out of date pricing.  Does the example in the text book refer to buying a penny white loaf at Banbury Cross?    Why, then change it to $2:00 wholemeal loaf in Sydney, a $3.80 milkshake at Ettalong Beach (for school children in that area) or even something from the tuckshop of the specific school it’s used in.  If there is something wrong with a chapter, take it out and replace it with a better chapter.  Over time such books will reach optimal quality – perhaps even in the absence of structured review (in that bad variants will be less used by teachers).

You don’t even need to change the textbooks to see the added value.  The fact that they’re electronic means you don’t need to print them or, if you do, you can print them in a size and format which suits you. If you think the idea of kids lugging 400 pages of text book to and from school every day isn’t a good one, print them out in smaller parts, one for each term.

This kind of initiative is exactly the kind of initiative that Government should be directing stimulus money to.

Lessig and Leveraging FLOSS For Ethical Copyright

Lessig and Leveraging FLOSS For Ethical Copyright

(Does the academy need a different approach?)

Brendan Scott

I went to the Copyright Future: Copyright Freedom Conference that QUT put on at the end of May at Old Parliament House.   The conference included a lot of interesting talks by a lot of academics in the copyright sphere, mainly concerned with the reform of copyright law.   Disappointingly, the technology infrastructure was not open and few (if any?) of the talks were presented using open tools (even the pdf of the the conference program has issues with openness[1])…

One of those giving a talk was Prof.  Lawrence Lessig.  His talk was very well polished.  He has clearly given it often (the slides were timed to  be synchronised to the word with what he was saying – many slides had literally one word on them and flashed up as he said that word mid-sentence).  The arc of the talk was that copyright prevents legitimate, amateur use of works – use which is not only sensible, but was historically permitted.  He noted that the copyright law effectively classifies our children as terrorists.  He compared copyright to prohibition, and noted not only that prohibition was a failed exercise, but that it had harmful effects on civil liberties (eg wire taps were legal without a warrant for several decades in the US).

Prof. Lessig’s key message was that, while copyright is bad, it should not be abolished, but should be reformed.  In his view, private amateur uses of works should be legalised, while public professional uses should continue to be regulated, with a middle ground for public amateur and private professional uses.

My main concern with his talk, and, indeed, with the whole of the conference, was that there was a presumption that academic criticism of copyright was capable of effecting change in the copyright law.   Having witnessed first hand the irrelevance of logical or economic arguments in the face of the immense power that copyright cartels have, this presumption is one in which I have little faith.   The problem is not one of law, but one of power – power that is out of control.   Prof. Lessig does seem to be aware of this, given his stated intention to work in the future on institutional corruption.

For similar reasons I have little faith in the presumption that the digital world will render copyright obsolete.   If that was the case copyright was obsolete ten, if not twenty, years ago when the VCR did the Boston Strangler on “the American film producer and the American public” (which, as victims, nevertheless seem to be in remarkably good shape).  Despite its obsolesence, and despite the enormous costs from its harmful effects on individual action and innovation, copyright has shown no signs of moderating.  On the contrary, it has become more virulent.  This virulence is driven by political power, and an ideological blindness to the overall harm that copyright causes to authors, property and democracy.

The main issue is not, therefore, pointing out the manifold unethical, uneconomic or plain stupid aspects of copyright law.  Such an endeavour could support an untold number of academic careers – and would have as much practical impact as has criticism over the past 200 years.    Moreover, there is an internal logic to any monopoly which permits the above market profits from the monopoly to be used to further increase the scope of the monopoly and therefore the monopoly profits.  In other words monopolies like the copyright monopoly are both self perpetuating and self expanding.  Any change to the copyright law to align with reasonable, ethical civil society will be short lived because of this internal logic.  Indeed, the period between 1980 and today was a period of extensive deregulation of almost every sector of the economy.  This period aligns closely with a period of extensive legislative monopolisation of the copyright sector.  During the precisely the same period in which, for example, telecommunications monopolies were being forced to provide access to competitors at long run incremental cost (or some variation), copyright monopolies were actively encouraged to exploit those monopolies and have been further insulated from legitimate competition.  As an unfortuanate by-product copyright has had an increasingly corrosive effect on democracy  and property law – the French Hadopi legislation is but the most recent affront.

Rather, the main issue is in how to moderate the overwhelming power that a handful of cartels have and exercise.   In my view a good candidate to effect this is by moderating their funding.   This can be achieved by moderating their market.   The free, libre and open source software movement provides a case study in how this could be achieved.  For the most part, FLOSS does not fight copyright law.  There are some issues, such as laws against interoperability and the DMCA related issues (which are non-copyright laws against freedom inserted into the copyright act), but by and large  FLOSS accepts the copyright law as it is, and tries to provide an overlay on the law to convert it from being an unethical and inefficient system into an efficient, more ethical one (and moreover, one which actually helps authors, creators and the economy).  Merely by providing a viable alternative, FLOSS brings competition into the market and thereby disciplines it.  As FLOSS grows its effects become more widespread and it becomes stronger at self-perpetuating.  In the long run the logic of the market is that FLOSS will dominate most market segments, even in the face of closed competition or closed, monopolist incumbents.[2]

In my opinion, much of FLOSS’s success can be put at the feet of the fact that it creates a property-like market for intellectual output.  This is to be contrasted with Old Copyright’s Feudal-like market.  This property-like market of FLOSS increases the rate at which innovations are produced (as it permits individual actors to pursue their own interest based on the information known to them) as well as the velocity at which innovations are communicated through, and implemented by the market.   This is to be contrasted with copyright’s Feudal structure – in which any actor must continually beg permission of an overlord before doing anything new.


[1] Ie: Not accessible with Linux/FF (no flash).   I haven’t signed up for the site (why I should have to sign up in order to access a conference program is not clear to me) but maybe it might be more “open” if I did so.

[2] In theory FLOSS is at a disadvantage in niche markets – as there is a smaller contributor pool.  However, empirically it is those niche markets where FLOSS has succeeded, and has had a harder time in more general markets (probably because of the value of marketing and incumbency).   In general markets where FLOSS has succeeded (eg web servers, CMSs) it is difficult to see how any non-FLOSS entrant could displace the model, even with substantial loss leading or buying of market share (see graphs – note “Google” is FLOSS, as is the new entrant nginx).

Policy Docs on Access to Public Sector Info etc

Policy Docs on Access to Public Sector Info etc

Over the years I’ve put together a number of submissions on topics related to innovation and access to public sector information, some for OSIA.  I thought it would be  a good idea to stop for a moment and collect them into one place.  This is that place (at least for the moment).  Please email me if you would like to engage me to help you put your own policies together.

PSI Inquiries:

OSIA Submission to DBCDE

OSIA Submission to Victorian Inquiry into PSI

Other Innovation related inquiries:

OSIA submission to National Innovation review

OSIA Submission to Gershon review

Other, copyright related:

Why non-commercial licences are bad (ie not optimal)

My post on ACTA and its precursor, the Australia-US FTA

Obvious copyright counter-arguments

My copyright tag

My policy tag

Open Access related

Supercharging innovation paper

Why Non Commercial Licences are Bad

Brendan Scott, September 2008

In this post I work through one example in an attempt to illustrate why purpose based restrictions in “open” licences are a Bad Thing(tm).  Let me state here that “bad” is meant as “less than optimal”, not bad in any absolute sense.  An otherwise open licence with a non commercial restriction will generally be “good” compared with closed licences for example.

Example – The Cure for Cancer

Let’s say that one night (while doing the washing up) you stumble across the cure for cancer (the Cure).   Being a relatively normal human being, you want to share this with the world to save people.  Let’s say you get a monopoly from the State over the Cure and you now need to think about how to licence it.  If  you are a mercenary type, you would start charging money for the use of the Cure.  All else being equal, the imposition of a licence fee will exclude some part of the community from being able to access the Cure (ie those people who can’t afford the fee).

Let’s assume instead that you chose to licence it at no cost, but on some licence terms.  In this scenario there may still be people who can’t afford a cure (if, for example there are other costs in delivering the Cure to them).   The people who will receive the Cure in this scenario are those who are determined by the licence terms.  If you were to chose licence terms which prohibited commercial use then you would limit the people who get the Cure.   I can’t see any reason why someone would do this, except to be able to charge extra to that group of people who would otherwise gain access through commercial means.* Anyone who can see another a reason please add a comment below!

“NC” does not Promote Philanthropy

You might not be interested so much in licensing for a fee, but might want to encourage other people to provide the Cure to others for free.  Alternatively, you might not want to see third parties profiting from something that you have decided to give away for free.  By adding a non-commercial restriction in these cases you would exclude those people who might provide the Cure to others in the course of commerce.  This would, for example, cover medical practitioners, the vast majority of whom charge for their services.  A non commercial restriction would eliminate from the distribution chain exactly the people who would be most important to delivery of the Cure to the general citizenry.

Any delivery of the Cure will have a cost.  At the very least there is an opportunity cost involved when someone chooses to provide the Cure to others in preference to doing something else.  If a person is prohibited from being compensated for their cost, then their provision of the Cure to others will actually cause them a loss.**  Regardless of whether the cost is large or small, this will restrict the scope of the people to whom the Cure will be provided (some people may shoulder a small cost for a small number of recipients, but as the number of recipients grows even small per unit costs will become unsustainable).  A non-commercial restriction doesn’t encourage others to participate in philanthropy. Rather, it simply limits the number of people who will be willing to distribute the Cure.  By trying to prevent third party intermediaries from benefiting from the Cure, a non-commercial licence throws the baby out with the bathwater.  The only thing that can be said for it is that it is self defeating.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the way you prevent third parties from gaining an unconscionable profit from your invention is to adopt something along the lines of an open source licence.  An open source licence would permit commercial entities to sell the Cure (and probably make a profit in the short term) but the licence terms preserve a free market for the Cure.  Over time other commercial entities would also begin selling it.  Economic theory says that, in these conditions, the price that they charge will (over time) be the cost to them of selling the Cure.  This is the ideal solution – distributors have the opportunity to make a profit in the short term so they start distributing the Cure.  Over time however, price pressure from other distributors forces their prices down.  In the long run distributors are still able to cover their costs and the number of distributors is maximised.  Indeed, in this case the only time a distributor can charge above their cost is where they are providing some added value (until others start competing on that value add).  In this case the choice of a share-alike style licence will work to preserve the same market dynamics in respect of the incremental improvements.

It is also important to note that those involved in commercial activity are the ones most likely to be able to identify what needs improvement (through feedback from their customers) and to pay for incremental improvements to be made.  By excluding them you not only have a direct impact on distribution and implementation of the Cure, you also destroy a good part of future innovations based on it.

Reasoning Applies to All Purpose Based Restrictions

I have focussed on non-commercial restrictions as they seem to be inordinately popular and also seem to be the most wide reaching in their effect.  However, the same reasoning applies to any purpose based restriction.  The effects of the restriction will be determined by the restriction itself.  For example, a prohibition on “use for celebrating the 4th of July in the year 2075” may have little practical impact on uptake in the short term (but may have some unexpected consequences around July 4, 2075).


I chose the title of the post, not because non-commercial licences are absolutely bad, but rather to draw attention to the fact that licences with purpose based restrictions will generally restrict the scope of the distribution of the content licensed.  I have chosen the example of a cure for cancer, because it is something which ought unequivocally be distributed among as many people as possible.   The two reasons I can see for a purpose based restriction are:

(a) to charge money for the use of the thing; and

(b) because the person has an ethical objection to the purpose (raised in note *)

I do not want to suggest that these reasons are illegitimate.  I suspect, however, that (a) is a pipe dream in the vast majority of cases.  The publishing industry promotes the idea to authors that untold riches await them if they are as covetous as possible of their “intellectual property”.  The reality though is that for every successful creator there are thousands (if not millions) of unsuccessful ones.  The probabilities are very much against any particular person (authors’ associations the world over consistently report below average income for authors).  In coveting their “intellectual property” authors consign themselves to a lifetime of anonymity – one of the worst punishments for a voice which wants to be heard.  Moreover, they miss the opportunity to make the world a better place by giving others access to their creativity.  This ideology which inspires non-commercial restrictions is an ideology in which everyone (except the owners of a distribution channel) loses.


* Actually, there is one other reason, which is that you have some ethical objection to the particular purpose.  In the case of commercial purposes most people would have trouble living in practice by such an objection (eg they would need to live in a gift economy).

** In practice a distributor will produce a number of units of the Cure in advance and must take the risk of not being able to sell them all.  In this case, even limiting them to their cost of sale will cause them a loss – if not all of the inventory is sold.

Victorian Inquiry into Access to Public Sector Information

The Victorian Parliament has recently announced it is conducting an inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information in which they specifically want to cover creative commons and open source licences.  They have produced a 75 page discussion paper.

It is important for the open source industry to be heard on this issue (and to create collateral for submission to other, similar inquiries), but without funding someone to draft a submission it is difficult to see how an adequate submission could be put together.  Specific vendors might be able to put in partisan submissions I guess.  How will the industry address this?

Submissions are due by 22 August.

Houghton and Sheehan on Economic Impact of Open Access

In July 2006 John Houghton and Peter Sheehan published a paper on The Economic Impact of Enhanced Access to Research Findings. Apparently they have built on this work in subsequent papers. The paper explains how the impact of access to information is factored into standard growth models for the economy. The authors posit two parameters (phi – representing the portion of research and development which ends up being useful – and epsilon – representing that knowledge may not be perfectly accessible). They then go on to identify the consequences of a change in these two factors as might occur from a transition to open access. On their analysis the rate of return on research and development increases by a percentage equal to the percentage increase in the efficiency and accessibility of the knowledge (ie in the parameters phi and epsilon). They state:

“… the results… imply that, if a move to open access has a significant beneficial impact on either or both the accessibility or efficiency of R&D, then the benefits of open access will be high also. Assuming, for example, that a move towards open access increased access and efficiency by 5% and that the social rate of return to GERD was 50%, then if there had been open access to all OECD research circa 2003 it would have increased the social returns to R&D by some USD 36 billion. These are recurring gains from the effect on one year’s R&D. Hence, assuming that the change is permanent, they can be converted to growth rate effects.”

The issue the paper does not address however is what the values of these parameters are in practice, and what how a move to open access will impact them. The put forward some hypotheticals in a country by country table.

They Really Mean Open Access+

However, the assumptions they have made is that the knowledge which is accessible may also be used. This is a stronger assumption than is made by some parts of the “open access” movement which impose differing degrees of purpose based and other restrictions – commentary example 1 example 2.

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