Friday, July 17, 2009

The "How To" Web - El Cocinero Fiel

Whenever Internet theorists want an example of how the Internet changes the world and makes possible things we never could have had before, Exhibit A is almost always Wikipedia. Now, I also think Wikipedia as a social phenomenon and as an information resource is pretty incredible. But, often I think this talk drifts into a kind of Wikipedia-exceptionalism. Even when one sweeps in free software as another form of peer production, I think the discussion about building an "it" misses what I think is the more fundamental human urge to teach one another.

It is a strong impulse learned in the nuclear family to teach others so that they may grow. In my view, it is this impulse that leads folks to contribute to Wikipedia, to essentially provide free software support or customer service to producers through user forums, and to share practical tips and knowledge through all manner of blogs. Taken together, all of this advice and sharing of practical knowledge forms the "How To" web.

(Of course, sometime this exercise comes off the web. At Campus Party 2009, Patricio Lorente of the Wikimedia Foundation taught a group of astronomers f2f at Campus Party 2009 how to create a Wikipedia entry.)

A case in point is the growth of video blogs or posts to YouTube that provide all manner of instructional video. While in Columbia, I had the good fortune to get to know Txaber Allue Marti, otherwise known in the Spanish-speaking world as El Cocinero Fiel (the funky cook). Living in Spain, but increasingly engaged in gastronomic tourism, Txaber's video blog is essentially an interactive cooking show hosted on YouTube. An important part of his success is that he interacts with his audience through the comment feature. He also posts his blog under a Creative Commons license.

Having been an occasional viewer of television cooking shows, I find Txaber's videos refreshingly direct and fun. In part, he makes the food the star of the videos, not the cook.

Below is Txaber, Carolina Botero (Creative Commons Colombia), and Patricio.

Bogota - Campus Party 2009

On July 11, I gave a keynote on Creative Commons and the principle of copyright neutrality at Campus Party 2009. Many thanks to Carolina Botero of Creative Commons Columbia and the folks at CampusBlog for the invitation. Pictured at the right are Carolina and Jaime Rojas, two of the four founders of CC Columbia.

Below is a scene from Campus Party.

Guangzhou - International Workshop on Copyright Industries

On June 15, I participated in the 2009 International Workshop on Copyright Industries and Intellectual Property, hosted by the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou. This invitation also was through the good offices of Peter Yu and the faculty at SCUT. My talk was on the role of intellectual property licensing in copyright industries, and the interrelation between private licenses and public licenses, such as the GNU General Public License or Creative Commons licenses.

Our hosts were very generousm and we were very well fed! I particularly enjoyed the river tour of the city.

Hong Kong - Age of Digital Convergence Conference

On June 12-13, I participated in the Age of Digital Convergence conference organized by Peter Yu in conjunction with, and hosted by, Hong Kong University. My talk was on "Copyright and the Role of Machines in Cultural Production." I briefly look at issues concerning the roles of machines as reading tools and authoring tools. Machines as readers has greater impact on copyright practices than on the interpretation of copyright law as such.

As a matter of practice, copyright owners are, or should be, increasingly aware of machines as the immediate audience for their works. These machines may be acting as discoverers, filters, organizers, translators, etc. Machines need rules to perform these functions, and digital works need to be marked up or formatted consistently with the rules used by these machines. In the open access context, the big lost opportunity is that most scholarship is not being published in a manner that enables machines readers to fully assist researchers.

Machines as authoring tools raise a host of interesting legal questions. I use the case of David Cope as an example. His Experiments in Musical Intelligence software composes music in the style of famous classical composers. WNYC has a nice interview with him, in which he explains how EMI works and the kinds of reactions he receives when audiences who find themselves emotionally moved by live performance of the composition learn that it is the produce of Cope's algorithm.

According to Cope:
Ultimately, the computer is just a tool with which we extend our minds. The music our algorithms compose are (sic) as much ours as the music created by the greatest of our personal human inspirations.
Well, "ours" in what sense? As a matter of copyright law, it is not at all clear that Cope is the legal author of the music that results from the operation of his software. There are four choices concerning copyright ownership of the outputs of an authoring tool:

(1) designer of tool
(2) user of tool
(3) joint ownership between designer and user
(4) no ownership

Tool designers can influence the outcome by running multiple permutations and fixing these in a tangible medium (digital storage).