Firstly, my heartfelt condolences must go out to everyone affected by the tragic events in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) last Friday. Secondly, I’d like to express my admiration for all the young people who took part in the School Strike for Climate activities that same day. Even while we express our sadness at being in the shadow of a dark cloud, we must remember that there is so much more power in the sunshine than in the darkest cloud.

Laura O’Connell Rapira, Director of ActionStation.org.nz, sent out a wonderful email about how we can support the survivors of Friday’s tragedy, which I totally endorse, with one very important exception. Here’s my reply:

 

Kia ora Laura,

Thanks for your compassionate and helpful email at this difficult time. I have signed the petition on banning public ownership of semi-automatic weapons in Aotearoa. I note that having Police roaming the streets with guns in their cars did nothing to prevent this tragedy, while that policy has led to a number of tragedies of its own making. I hope to see ActionStation campaigning to end the policy of providing beat cops with firearms, and redirect resources into making sure our appropriately trained Armed Offenders Squads have everything they need to respond quickly and effectively when things like Friday’s tragedy happen.

Moving on to the rest of your email, I agree with most of what you say, but as I’ve expressed in previous emails, I have some serious concerns about this part:

“TAKE ACTION TO END HATE SPEECH 

For the last few months, our team has been researching the links between online hate, online misinformation and the rise in hate crimes

One thing is abundantly clear: Extreme words lead to extreme actions. We need to do all we can to stop both.

Sign this petition that we’re delivering in a couple of weeks if you want our government to crackdown on online hate and misinformation

I support an end to hate speech and misinformation online.”

I certainly share this goal, as an activist who has been involved in running internet forums since the 1990s, including about 7 years in the editorial collective of Aotearoa Indymedia. But with all due respect, I have to say I think you are going about it exactly the wrong way.

I strongly believe that venues where people can express ignorant opinions and have them firmly but respectfully challenged are - aside from being essential to a functioning democracy - also an essential safety valve that can help to prevent more tragedies like what happened on Friday. What better venue could there be for this than the internet? On the net, arguments can’t escalate to physical violence between participants, as they can in person. Online, we can all make informed decisions about whether or not to engage in the spaces where these kinds of discussions take place, and if we do, use the opinions expressed as a guide to who we might want to connect with, ignore, mute, or even block from seeing or contacting us. Online discussion platforms need to be engineered to put that power in the hands of us, the end users, not corporations or governments. For example, the open source community designing software using the SSB (Secure Scuttlebutt) protocol have a set of principles for how they are going about that.

I think the censorship strategy ActionStation is arguing for is not only ineffective in achieving our shared goal, but counterproductive to it. Why?

For a start, I don’t accept your generalization that “extreme words lead to extreme actions”. I think it’s just as arguable that extreme actions can result from an inability to blow off steam through words, or from feelings of frustration, alienation, and injustice, that can arise in people unable to openly express their honest opinions.

It’s also important to consider the psychological principle of “negative reinforcement”, which states that whenever any behaviour earns someone attention or reactions it is encouraged, even when that attention is negative. Positive Parenting courses integrate this principle by encouraging parents to give their children lots of attention for behaviour they like (”caught being good”), and minimal attention to behaviour they don’t like, ignoring it completely if possible. On the net, this principle is known as the “Streisand effect”, and it’s long been recognized that trying to suppress anything online only increases interest in it, multiplying the problem like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice chopping up his broom.

So not only is trying to suppress racist speech online likely to have exactly the opposite effect, it may also have a more dangerous one. As Three Arrows pointed out in his web video debunking Jordan Peterson, Nazism - like all forms of xenophobic ethno-nationalism - thrived by cultivating a sense of collective victimhood. Excluding people expressing white nationalist ideas from the normal protections of our democratic rights to speak our minds, assemble, and organize, only serves to reinforce that sense of victimhood. So it’s likely it actually helps groups planning racist violence with their recruitment, rather than hindering them.

I strongly suggest you watch the documentary ‘Taking Liberties’, which explains how the governments of the Allied countries - including New Zealand - carefully studied how the Nazis came to power, and why the majority of Germans who didn’t support the Nazis were unable to effectively resist them. As a result of this study, many of the civil rights we now consider essential to democracy were strengthened or even created after World War II, specifically to prevent a resurgence of fascism. Arguably, it is as a consequence of the erosion of civil liberties in democratic countries since 9/11 that we have seen the rise of toxic enthno-nationalism and its associated violence, not as a result of too much of the wrong kinds of speech.

I also don’t accept that the ends justify the means. Even if it was true that giving the state absolute power to stop people openly saying racist things would fix racism, that wouldn’t mean it was the right thing to do. Killing the entire human population might fix climate change and prevent the extinction of many other species, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. In this (admittedly extreme) example, the negative consequences are obvious, but in designing policy, we also need to be very mindful of the risks of unintended consequences.

There’s a parallel here with the well-meaning attempts by US legislators to suppress sex trafficking - another goal we all support - with FOSTA/SESTA. As Norman Shamas of Open Privacy explained in an interview with Final Straw Radio, not only do these laws make life harder for a lot of innocent people, they also make the jobs of the people who investigate sex traffickers harder too. When sex traffickers can’t hide their communications in plain sight among legitimate ads put up by sex workers, it doesn’t stop them communicating. It just pushes them deeper into the darknet where it takes a lot more resources to find and investigate them. Exactly the same is true for communications among white supremacists.

It’s much safer for everyone if people with racist views discuss them on mainstream platforms, where they can be monitored by both law enforcement and civil society watchdog groups like ours. This is such an important discussion that I’m going to post the text of this email on the Disintermedia blog, and submit it to TheDailyBlog.co.nz as a possible guest blog. I welcome you to engage with me by private email, or on either of those platforms.

Kia manawanui,

Danyl Strype

The NZGOAL (New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing) framework officially advises the public service in New Zealand to release publicly-funded works under a CreativeCommons license. In NZGOAL-SE (Software Extension), which came a few years later, the public service is encouraged to use and release software under free code licenses. Getting the NZGOAL frameworks approved by an extreme right-wing National government was an amazing achievement.

When any work is created at public expense, its public service maintainers ought to be allowed improve it by incorporating any fixes or additions made in derivative versions, especially commercial derivatives. So when NZGOAL was being drafted, I argued that the appropriate default license for it to recommend would be CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike). For the same reason, during the pioneering NZGOAL-SE consultation process, conducted using Loomio and GitHub, I argued for the GNU GPL (General Public License) as the default license recommendation. As did my friend Dave Lane, the Open Source Technologist at the OERu (Open Educational Resources Universitas) and long-time President of NZOSS (NZ Open Source Society).

Sadly, and perhaps because of the political circumstances, the default suggested in NZGOAL was CC BY (Attribution). This laissez-faire license means, for example, that map companies can sell corrected maps based on the publicly-funded NZ map data shared under CC BY by LINZ (Land Information New Zealand), but LINZ would need to ask permission to incorporate those map corrections back into the public dataset.

This is still a big improvement on the kinds of privatization that might otherwise have happened. For example, the CC BY license allows the LINZ map data to be used in the Open Street Map. Without NZGOAL, that map data could have been spun off into an SOE (State-Owned Enterprise) to “open” it to the private sector, and made available only to purchasers of proprietary, commercial licenses. Worst-case scenario, the copyright on that public map data could have been sold into private ownership, a fate that has befallen many publicly-funded commons in Aotearoa since the 1980s, including the Government Printing Office.

But although the use of CC BY was a good start, I’d still like to see the default changed to CC BY-SA if there is a Version 3.0 of NZGOAL. Failing that, I’d like to see it recommended side-by-side with CC BY, so that public agencies choosing CC BY-SA are more likely to consider the pros and cons of a ShareAlike license for the data they steward, while still following the default advice in NZGOAL.

The situation in the Software Edition of NZGOAL is somewhat better. Public service agencies are advised to license any modifications to an existing codebase under the license the upstream codebase uses, even when they’re not legally obliged to (eg by a copyleft license). When licensing new software, they’re advised to use either the laissez-faire license that the OSI (Open Source Initiative) calls the “MIT“, or the GPL (version 3 or later). They’re also invited to consider AGPL for server software, or LGPL for software libraries, as appropriate.

While I’m glad that “MIT” did not end up being the sole recommended license, as suggested in the original draft, I don’t see why we ought to allow companies to build proprietary software on top of publicly-funded free code at all. Why not oblige them to make their source code available to their users, and allow their fixes and addition to be incorporated back into the upstream versions maintained by public service agencies or open source communities?

One argument raised for recommending a laissez-faire license as the default was that this would be equivalent to the CC BY recommendation in NZGOAL itself. But as I pointed out  during the consultation process, they’re not really equivalent. The laissez-faire licenses lack the strong “attribution” requirement that is fundamental to CC BY, obliging redistributors of a work to give credit to the original creators. All they require is that a copy of the copyright statement and the license are included when the code is published, which end users might never see.

If there is a revision of NZGOAL-SE, I’d really like to see a copyleft license like GPL become the default recommendation, with a laissez-faire license downgraded to an alternative to be considered along with AGPL or LGPL for special circumstances. In either case, I’d like to see Apache 2.0 replace “MIT” as the recommended laissez-faire license. NGGOAL-SE quite rightly points out that NZ patent law doesn’t recognize software patents, and that public service agencies are not patent trolls anyway. But that doesn’t stop outside contributors to publicly-funded free code, licensed under the “MIT” license, from enforcing software patents on anyone using that code in other jurisdictions. Apache 2.0 explicitly prevents this.

In summary, it was an honour and a privilege to be part of the efforts by CreativeCommons Aotearoa/ NZ (now Tohatoha) and NZOSS to help bring NZGOAL and NZGOAL-SE into existence, and to contribute to the consultations on them. But now that we have a new, more public-spirited government, it’s time to start campaigning for revised versions that maximize public access not only to publicly-funded works, but also their derivatives.

Filed January 14th, 2019 under free culture

Dear not-for-profit community, thanks for all the great work you do in the public interest. As I stumble across your sites in web searches, or check them out on the advice of friends, I note that many of you are using CreativeCommons licenses, which is great. I’m a long-time supporter of CC licenses, in fact I spent a number of years doing voluntary work to increase awareness and use of the CC licenses in Aotearoa (NZ). It’s always exciting to see people making creative use of CC licenses, placing their work under a Some Rights Reserved model that is more in tune with the digital age than the ARR (All Rights Reserved) copyright automatically applied in many jurisdictions.

Just to be clear; I am not a laywer, and this letter is not legal advice. It’s just my opinion as an activist and a support of the digital commons. However, if you’re still using version 3.0 (or earlier) of the CC licenses, or you’ve chosen one of the licenses with NC (NonCommercial) or ND (NoDerivatives) clauses, I’d like to suggest a couple of changes to your choice of license. There are two parts to this, and I’ll explain them both as best I can from an activist perspective.

The first, and simplest part, is the upgrade from version 3.0 of the CC licenses to version 4.0. A number of improvements were made to the wording of the license texts in version 4.0, to bring them up-to-date with changes in copyright law, and further clarify things like what is and isn’t counted as “commercial use” of a licensed work. The biggest change between these versions is that from version 4.0 onward there is one international version of each CC license, instead of having to “port” each license to make it compatible with the copyright law of each jurisdiction, as was the case in previous versions. This is a welcome change, as it makes more sense for international media like the internet and the web. A summary of the differences between the various versions can be found on the CC wiki (just a guide, not legal advice).

So if the CC license you chose still reflects the ways you do and don’t want the work on your site to be used, I suggest upgrading to version 4.0 of that license. See the upgrade guide also on the CC wiki (also not legal advice) But if you chose a license with an NC or ND clause, does the license you chose really reflect the ways you do and don’t want the work on your site to be used? This brings me to the second part of my license upgrade suggestion. Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of using a CC license that includes the NC or ND clauses.

The CC wiki summarizes the meaning of the NonCommercial clause. NC is confusingly named, because it’s useful mainly to creators whose work is intended for commercial sale. For example, NC can be used by musicians, film-makers, or novelists, creators who have to invest significant resources to get their work ready for distribution, to prevent anyone selling copies in competition with them (and any distributors they have negotiated commercial contracts with). The idea that NC marks a work as having a not-for-profit goal is such a common misconception that serious thought was given to renaming it “Commercial Rights Reserved” in version 4.0 of the licenses. While the decision was made to keep the existing wording, for the sake of consistency between license versions, CC encourages us to use the “Commercial Rights Reserved” wording to help make the purpose of the NC clause clearer. Some arguments against using the NC clause can be found on the website of the Definition of Free Cultural Works.

Turning to the NoDerivatives clause, perhaps the best argument for ND restrictions comes from gnu.org, the website of the pioneering GNU Project:

“Works that express someone’s opinion—memoirs, editorials, and so on—serve a fundamentally different purpose than works for practical use like software and documentation. Because of this, we expect them to provide recipients with a different set of permissions: just the permission to copy and distribute the work verbatim.”

But it can also be argued that the ND clause is pointless for works that consist mainly of text. By using an excerpt from a gnu.org work, as I’ve done above, I’ve arguably made a “derivative work”. But this is allowed, because of the long-standing convention that one can reproduce any portion of a text, as long as it is placed within quote marks, and attributed to the original author. The one thing that All Rights Reserved copyright definitely says people can’t do with text - reproducing the entire work in its original form (even with quotes and attribution) - is the one thing that any CC license definitely allows.

One major downside of using a license that includes the ND clause is that it stops people translating your work into other languages, without first getting your permission to create a derivative work. Another problem with ND is that it stop works being included in free commons licensed under BY-SA or BY licenses, from online reference works like Wikipedia.org or Appropedia.org, to Open Educational Resources like WikiEducator or open textbooks, and many, many more. This is also true of the NC clause. Is restricting uses like these what you had in mind when you chose an NC or ND license? If so, then you chose the right license for your project. If not, it might be time to think about other options.

If your work has any commercial value to corporations, or anyone else who might try to extract value from your common work without voluntarily contributing back, the SA (ShareAlike) clause can be used to mitigate this. With an SA license, like the BY-SA license used by Wikipedia, anyone who reproduces the work, or makes a derivative work, must make any changes they’ve made available under the same license terms. If someone publishes a derivative work, you can choose to incorporate any of the changes or improvements you like back into your version of the work.

I originally dipped my toes into the water of creative commoning by putting my own writing at Disintermedia.net.nz under an NC license, but for the reasons given above, I decided on a change of license. All the work I write for Disintermedia, Counterclaim, and any other not-for-profit projects, is now licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (unless there is a very strong argument for doing otherwise). So in summary, based on my experiences as a commoner and a CC advocate, my suggestion is that you consider talking to the people who shared in the creation of the work on your website about the possible benefits of relicensing to CC BY-SA 4.0.

One other thing, I notice some sites make it very hard to understand which CC license applies to their site (I’ll restrain myself from making an example of anyone here). To avoid confusion, please:

  • Indicate the name and version number of the license you’ve chosen in a prominent place on your site, and link it to the appropriate license page on the CreativeCommons website (eg CreativeCommons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0).
  • Make sure if the license is given in more than one place, for example on a copyright page *and* at the bottom of each page, that the license name and version number is the same on both, and they both link to the correct license page.
  • Use the correct CC license icon for the license you’ve chosen, and make sure that links to the correct license page too.
  • Check that the icon and link indicate the same license everywhere they appear, except where they indicate work under a different license from the rest of the site. When that’s the case, it’s best to make the license exception clear in an introduction or footer text, giving attribution to the creator, and if possible, linking to the original.

Keep up the good work!

Filed December 19th, 2018 under free culture

To whom it may concern,

For some time now, I have been trying to make contact with whoever is administrating lists.ibiblio.org. The Wikipedia article for Ibiblio says:

“It is run by the School of Information and Library Science and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with partners including the Center for the Public Domain, IBM, and SourceForge.”

So I am writing to each of these organizations about this. If your organization is no longer involved with the Ibiblio project, it might be a good idea to update this article. Otherwise, I would really appreciate it if you could pass on this message to the appropriate person, or at least to someone who is involved in the day-to-day operations of Ibiblio.org, whether in an organizational or technical capacity.

The problem I’m struggling with, is that I have been receiving ever increasing floods of spam via the mailserver at lists.ibiblio.org. A number of years ago, I was a list admin for a mailing list (cc-nz) hosted at lists.ibiblio.org. I am no longer in this role, and in fact this list is no longer in use, having been moved to a new host some years back by the organization using it. However, my email address is still listed as an admin on the list information pages at lists.ibiblio.org, and I still receive any email sent to the admin address for the cc-nz list.

I have done everything I can think of to make contact with the sysadmins in charge of these listservers and mailservers. I have pored over all the pages accessible from the lists.ibiblio.org domain, and tried sending email to every address there that might direct mail to an admin. I have tried joining any lists that seem to be used for admin communication. All with no success. I have tried looking for admin contact information on ibiblio.org, with no success. I have tried answers.ibiblio.org, but I was unable to sign up for an account, or login with any of the other login mechanisms (OpenID, WordPress etc), so I couldn’t ask a question there.

If you have any idea who is in currently charge of the services hosted at ibiblio.org and its subdomains, can you please ask them to make contact with me. Also, you might suggest that they take steps to update these services, so that anyone struggling with similar issues with Ibiblio don’t have to go on an epic quest to find a human to talk to about them.

Warm regards,

Danyl Strype

Filed December 11th, 2018 under free culture

Update 2018-12-11: I corrected “Project Lead” to “Public Lead”, which was the formal title used by CreativeCommons for the non-legal coordinators of local “porting” and advocacy projects, and while I was at it I decided it was remiss of me not to mention NZ GOAL, so I added a mention.

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In June, while I was preoccupied with preparations to travel to London for the Open 2018 conference on Platform Cooperativism, a significant announcement flew under my rader. The team running what was CreativeCommons Aotearoa/ New Zealand (CCANZ) have announced that “Tohatoha” is the new name for the organization. Tohatoha is the word for “sharing” in Te Reo Māori, the indigenous language of Aotearoa.

It’s now common for public organizations in Aotearoa to have a Te Reo Māori name, as well as an English name, in recognition of the bicultural origins of our country. I’ve long advocated for the organization that promotes the CreativeCommons licenses in Aotearoa to follow this convention. But I remember suggesting some words in Te Reo as potential names in the early years of the project, and being reminded by the first CC ANZ Public Lead (2007-2010), Dr Brian Opie, that it’s more culturally appropriate if such a name is gifted, rather than simply chosen. Now that I’ve caught up with the renaming news, I’m curious to learn more about the origins of the new name. 

For more than a decade now, CCANZ has served as the formal hub in Aotearoa/ NZ for a range of work supporting and promoting the use of the CreativeCommons licensing framework. It emerged from a network of free culture, open access, open source, and open government activists, which I helped to prepare the ground for in early 2006, beginning with the establishment of the cc-nz email list on Ibiblio.org (now hosted by OnlineGroups.net).

The first major projects as CCANZ were establishing the creativecommons.org.nz website (now tohatoha.org.nz), which went live in July 2007, and recruiting and overseeing the legal team drafting the NZ “ports” of the CC licenses, formally launched in October of that year. These projects were coordinated by Dr Opie under the umbrella of Te Whāinga Aronui, the Council for the Humanities (which later became part of the Royal Society of NZ). Perhaps the most significant achievement of this period was the formalization of the NZ GOAL (Government Open Access and Licensing) framework, approved in July, 2010 by Cabinet, the executive body of the NZ Government (the NZ Goal Software Extension came later, in 2016). Subsequent Public Leads, Jane Hornibrook, Matt McGregor, and Mandy Henk (now Chief Executive of Tohatoha), have overseen a number of changes of Hosting Institution, first to the Royal Society, after Te Whāinga Aronui decided to merge with it, then to the Open Educational Resources Foundation, and now to being an independent entity (thus the new name).

Prior to the recent announcements, there had been very little public comment from anyone involved in CC ANZ since the announcements in November 2017 of a new strategic plan, and a 10th birthday party. The cc-nz list and the CC ANZ Loomio group (neither of which have yet been updated to reflect the name), have been quiet since the end of last year too. The only information on the rebranded website about how to get involved is a webform where visitors can submit an indication of interested in a special meeting to take place in 2018, but there is no information about when it is, or if it already took place. If there is still an active community of kiwi CC advocates, it’s a bit unclear how, or where, interested people can join the discussions.

But after years of supporting CCANZ, I’m aware that behind the publicly-available information that makes up the visible part of the iceberg, there is always a huge amount of hard work going on beneath the water line. Reading between the lines, it looks like the release of the strategic plan was followed by a lot of work to secure funding, to recruit and orientate the new staff members, and to carry out the re-organization and rebranding that the transition to self-hosting as Tohatoha required. Now that this work is complete, I look forward to seeing a revitalization of CC advocacy work in Aotearoa.

For the first time in a few years, two new case studies on local CC use have appeared on the website. One is on Isa Pearl Ritchie’s novel ‘Fishing for Maui’ (licensed CC BY-NC 4.0), and one on Siobhan Leachman’s citizen science work with “Wikimedia, the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the USA-based Smithsonian Institution”, both posted in the last few months. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Filed December 3rd, 2018 under free culture

Update 2018-12-19: More good news from the Free Music Archive, they report they will resume normal transmission in the new year, after getting themselves acquired by a camera rental platform called KitSplit. Kudos to the KitSplit crew for stepping in to keep the FMA alive. In related good news,  the crew of the federated audio-hosting app FunkWhale have also imported a large chunk of the FMA collection into a music library at open.audio, by copying from the FMA mirror at Archive.org.

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The Free Music Archive is facing a funding crisis, and at this point, will be shutting down on Dec 1. If you, or your organization, can help keep the FMA alive, please contact them today! While their full collection and an archive of the site will be available on Archive.org, it would be a real shame if the live site, and its community of curators, was lost to the web.

Why are online institutions like the Free Music Archive important? Because they are (ideally) an enduring public record of the work created by musicians who choose a more permissive style of copyright licensing for a wide range of reasons, and often with a level of commercial success that some people may find surprising.

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Update 2018-11-30:  Some good news from the folks at the Free Music Archive. Details are sketchy, but what they can tell us for now is that the site will *not* go down on Dec 1. Uploads are still suspended for now, and their collection is still being mirrored at Archive.org, which is good anyway. Watch this space.

Filed November 27th, 2018 under free culture

Update 2018-11-29: Rich Bartlett wrote an excellent piece on his experiences with trying to get paid for contributing to the commons. Rich is an activist, writer, and hacker, associated with Enspiral, Loomio, and The Hum.

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A couple of years back, I decided to see if I could actually get funded by the communities who I created Disintermedia to inform and support. I started gathering information about different ways people could pay me over the internet, and adding it to a page called Help Disintermedia, which was initially created to publicly thank services like CoActivate that help us in non-monetary ways. First, I experimented with setting up the software to receive BitCoins, and put up a wallet address (is that right?), and over the next year that was followed by a link to a Patreon page, and then a Liberapay page. These “micro-patronage” sites allow people to give small, regular amounts, and in theory, like newspaper subscriptions, many people’s small payments can add up. I’m embarrassed to admit that so far, these efforts have been a dismal failure.

For a start, the BitCoin address I published was: 19KER7hfqXhZnHnnJ3VcGRr2w3i1v6e44e

But I have no idea now where this directs BitCoins to, or if anyone actually donated any, how to retrieve them. I just haven’t had the time to do all the reading required to fully understand how to use BitCoin; how to back up my wallet, how to accept payments to the same wallet from multiple devices, whether I can do this using the same address, so many questions! The same is even more true for other crypto-tokens (FairCoin, FreiCoin, SolarCoin, NameCoin, FileCoin etc). If you can help me get to grips with any of this, especially if you are keen to donate to Disintermedia  please feel free to contact me.

I’m also considering figuring out how to use Brave, Minds, SteemIt, Earn.io, and a bunch of other new systems that claim to offer ways of paying creators who contribute to the weaving of the free web. But seriously, figuring out which of these are honest, and viable, is a high-stakes research project in and of itself. With real money involved, there’s no kind of software more attractive to bad actors, idealistic incompetents, and venture capitalists. They all take time to set up and learn to use well, and you can’t get any benefit out of them without giving them real personal details and banking information. On top of that, there’s a risk involved in implicitly endorsing them if they end up being dodgy.

I’ve thought about experimenting with the newly relaunched Flattr 2.0, since unlike most micro-patronage sites, it’s pretty set-and-forget. Creators can get paid through it without needing to constantly self-promote (”click here to subscribe!”). There have been some hard questions asked about the privacy implications of the Flattr browser extension, but the developers do sound like they take privacy seriously, and it’s encouraging that all their apps are free code (not sure about the javascript on the site itself though). Another critical question is about how much money creators can realistically get out in payments. Even if they took 50% of whatever Flattr payout I got, that’s still potentially more than I’d get by not using it at all, but the new fees scheme for Flattr does seem to take a lot of bites out of my sandwich before I get to eat it.

Really, if the developers of any of these community funding platforms really think they are viable, they should be eating their own dogfood, and funding themselves using their own platform. Gratipay did this (RIP), and Liberapay still do, which is why I tried them first. Any platform skimming their users’ donations with fees, or heaven forbid, sucking up to venture capitalists, isn’t showing much confidence in their own funding platform. After all, you don’t see GitHub developing the code for GitHub on another code forge (they might have a backup there but that’s different).

For example, Ko-fi fund themselves using their own platform, instead of taking fees. I can’t find any source code though, and their use of a proprietary mail missile called SendGrid to send out emails isn’t encouraging. Ko-fi is designed to give the original Flattr model another go; buttons creators can stick on their web page, that users can click to “buy me a coffee”.

A Flattr developer posting on HackerNews claimed that model failed, because:

  • a) people using the web don’t want to click buttons (?!?)
  • b) publishers didn’t want another private company’s branded buttons all over their site

None of this seems to affect PaylPal / Stripe or social media buttons. I suspect it was more like:

  • a) people are used to having to enter their credit card details (or deal with PayPal shudder) when they click a donate button, which is a painful and scary user experience
  • b) when Flattr launched you couldn’t get paid anything without first setting up a monthly contribution to Flattr so most people didn’t bother (that’s why I didn’t), and nobody wanted buttons all over their site promoting a thing that smelt like a pointless ponzi scheme
  • c) Flattr funded themselves by skimming off 10% every time credit moved across their platform, and as mentioned above, Flattr 2.0 has even more ways to charge everyone.

I’ve set up a Ko-Fi account, just to try it out. Is it really going to help to add yet another layer of management between me, PayPal, the bank, and the person trying to give me money? I’m sceptical about whether it was worth the time, or the indignity of having to deal with PayPal or some other toll collector on the information superhighway (again, shudder). Frankly, I’m not convinced that Ko-Fi is an improvement on just having a button for PayPal or Stripe, although it is nice to not have their garish corporate branding all over an activist website. But hey, prove me wrong, buy me a coffee!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

I suspect that for the contribute button thing to really take off, it needs to become a neutral web standard, so the buttons are all over the web, they always look the same, and its a standard icon on them, not one company’s logo. The person clicking them can set up a payment system that gets activated when they click the contribute button, and website creators can decide which payment gateway processes the money when they get clicked. I’m hoping GNU Taler takes off, and we can eventually use that. If anyone reading this is involved in a credit union, or cooperatively owned bank, who might be willing to get involved in a pilot scheme, I encourage you to contact the Taler team.

For now, if anyone can recommend any other sites for collecting one-off donations for struggling web writers, that would be much appreciated. If you want to donate, and you don’t mind the banking system knowing it, please contact me, and I can give you bank account details privately.

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Update 2018-10-01: it just occurred to me that I could be missing out on potential donations by deleting emails from PayPal (which I presume to be spam), and emails offering me money (which I presume to be variants on 419 fraud). If you’ve ever tried to donate to Disintermedia, please reach out via the fediverse (where scam messages haven’t appeared yet), and let me know, so we can figure out if the money left your account, and where it went. 

Filed April 19th, 2018 under free culture, independent media, News, open source

I was please to see a discussion on ‘P2P food system as a major environmental and social solution?‘ started by Robert LaRocque on the Loomio group of the CommonsTransition group. There are *so* many great resources on the transition back to a decentralized, sustainable food supply, thanks especially to folks like the biodynamics and organics movements, the permaculture and slow food movements that grew out of their compost heaps, and the transition movement that grew out of permaculture.

Firstly, check out the Localizing Food Project, spearheaded by one of my permaculture teachers, Robina McCurdy of Earthcare Education Aotearoa. Robina travelled the length of this country connecting with local food projects, and is producing a series of crowdfunded documentary films covering different aspects of them. The latest one is ‘Edible Paradise - Growing the Food Forest Revolution‘.

Secondly, have a browse through Appropedia, a crowdsourced mediawiki site for appropriate technology, PracticalPlants and Plants for a Future. which are the same thing but for articles about plants. There’s also OpenSourceEcology, a development project for appropriate tech based at FactorE Farms. Also WikiHouse, it’s not about food, but like OpenSourceEcology it does demonstrate the way the crowdsourcing and human-centred design principles behind wikis and free code software can be applied to creating new stuff on the physical layer.

Thirdly, it was great to see from the responses in the comments that there are Open Food Network folk participating in the group too. I had a great conversation about the OFN vision when I met OFN co-founder Serenity Hill at the first Open Source//Open Society. The P2P food network/ app idea is already being tried by folks like OFN, and here in Aotearoa, BuckyBox (now fully free code), and OOOBY (Out of Our Own Backyards), see OOOBY founder Pete Russell’s TEDx talk on ‘Hacking the supply chain‘ (sadly I believe OOOBY’s platform remains proprietary). I’m collecting notes about food coop and box scheme software on the Aotearoa Permaculture Network wiki.

Finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion, I wrote a paper for the FreeCulture2010 conference called ‘Free to Know or Free to Own? Convergence of Free and Slow Culture in Global Relocalisation‘. It looks at the parallels and points of overlap between the original ecology movement and what I sometimes call ‘digital ecology’, the worlds of free code, online commons, and green tech.

Filed November 15th, 2017 under free culture, free software, documentary

Over the last month, I’ve been involved in an impassioned debate on the Trisquel forums about the GOLD (Gaming on Linux Distribution) proposal to create a 100% libre GNU-Linux distribution for gamers. As well as more than 15 years as a software freedom activist, I bring to the table a lifetime of experience with artistic communities, and more than 10 years as a CreativeCommons (CC) activist here in Aotearoa (NZ). The perspective I’m coming from is that although you can’t have computer games without code, games are not fundamentally a form of software but a form of multimedia artwork. They are more like films than computer programs.

That experience has shown me that the concerns that motivate artists of various kinds to use ARR (ALL Rights Reserved) or nonfree CC licenses are different (if overlapping in places) from the set than motivate developers to keep their code proprietary. Artists are concerned about ‘moral rights’, something that has no bearing on the software copyright/ copyleft discussion. They often falsely believe that ARR copyright always protects their moral rights (it does in some jurisdictions but not others), and that free culture licenses do not (no CC license extinguishes moral rights where they exist). Artists are concerned about derivative works that undermine or disrespect their creation, as a completely separate concern from any economic aspects of derivatives.

These and other differences mean that the strategies that do and don’t work for getting software liberated, don’t always for getting artwork liberated, and vice versa. Incremental transition strategy in software tends to get stuck at the “open core” stage, which satisfies nobody. Whether they align with “free software”, “open source”, or the middle ground “FOSS”/”FLOSS” philosophies, free code advocates don’t want to volunteer their time to hack on the core of some company’s otherwise proprietary software, so the company doesn’t get the benefits it could expect to get if it liberated its whole codebase.

With artwork, every incremental step liberates useful rights. Moving from ARR to the most restrictive CC license liberates the right to gratis, verbatim redistribution, which is all that’s required to make P2P file-sharing legal. Going from CC-NC-ND to NC or ND, but not both, liberates the right either to remix or to resell. So on with the step from NC or ND to a free culture license (CC-BY or CC-BY-SA). With artwork, a copyright holder is more likely to tip their toes into non-ARR licensing if they don’t have to liberate all the reserved rights at once. Although some experiment with CC and return to ARR (for reasons nobody seems to have deeply investigated), usually once they’ve become more confident with understanding and using CC licenses, they tend to move to licenses that reserve fewer rights.

This is why, returning to games, I think there is potential benefit in dealing with the free code and free culture parts of the equation separately, with the former being the highest priority. We can’t sell games with free code and nonfree art, but that’s not our motive for GOLD, so why does that matter right now? There may be a small numbers of games in the ‘free code but NC’ category now, and there may always be, but I think it functions as an important stepping stone.

Imagine indie game makers are looking at getting their games into a libre game system set up to make it easy for supporters to buy/ donate to game makers, buy BumbleBundle style packages etc, and all they have to do to get onto the first step of that ladder is to liberate their code, regardless of the status of their artwork (minimum condition is allowing non-commercial distribution). My theory, based on my experience with how artists think and work, is that they are more likely to go for this than to go from ARR to 100% libre in one step (although I agree that would be great). Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to test this theory.

Filed May 4th, 2017 under free culture, free software, open source

I’ve been scouring the web for music under CreativeCommons recently for the Common Sounds project, and I can’t help but notice that a lot of the independent sites out there are looking like refugees from the early 2000s.I’ve suggested that some of these folks check out GNU FM (licensed under GNU AGPLv3 or later) the software that’s used under the hood of the Libre.FM site, which is not pretty (sorry guys, but it’s not), but does provide a web media player using entirely free code. But it occurred to me after thinking about it a bit, that a tarted up instance of GNU MediaGoblin (also licensed under GNU AGPLv3 or later) might be more appropriate to their needs than GNU FM. It’s not pretty either, but it handles uploads, gallery displays, and playing of media files of all types using only free code.

One of the problems for these folks is that these days …

One does not simply ... code up some html and css and ftp it onto a webserver 

The bleeding edge of web development has moved a lot in the last decade or so, with HTML5 rendering browser plug-ins like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Sliverlight pretty much obsolete, mobile-friendly design influencing the style of websites (eg the ‘three vertical lines’ menu button), and a browser security arms race driven by software attack tools like the Great Cannon of China (no kidding, this is a thing) which have overwritten the concept of cyberwarfare from science fiction into reality.

Hobby websites set up for music distribution in more innocent times - and even some professional ones - are struggling to keep up. There is a confusing plethora of free code CMS (Content Management Systems) and web frameworks, written in a dizzying variety of different kinds of languages, and a person wanting to modernize their website has to somehow figure out which set of tools is right for the type and scale of site they want to run, and learn how to use them on the fly. No pressure :)

But I guess most of them know they will need to do some upgrade work sooner or later, to prevent their sites becomes unusable by modern browsers. For example, Mozilla Firefox and most of the other browser makers are gradually phasing out support for Adobe Flash because of its fundamentally broken security, not the mention all the spyware Adobe intentionally built-in (see my post on Adobe building the EME module for Mozilla Firefox). They have also flagged that at some point HTTPS will become basically compulsory, and a lot of the browser functions that allow things like streaming media or file downloads will not be possible from sites that don’t have an up-to-date and properly configured HTTPS certificate. The good news there is you can now get gratis (at no charge) HTTPS certificates from Let’s Encrypt. My friends who admin webservers tell me there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve grasped their automated certificate issuing system, it’s pretty much set and forget.

I don’t want to discourage anyone in any way from self-hosting, but musicians and DJs do have a few other options for uploading music and mixes under CreativeCommons licenses. For example, you could host the audio files on a site like Archive.org, and make a simple HTML/CSS homepage that links to the files on the remote host. This is the sort of thing a prettied up instance of GNU FM could be good for. You do have the option of uploading your music and mixes to a platform like SoundCloud or MixCloud, and linking to your account there from your homepage. There’s a good article on LiveSchool.net describing exactly how each of these platforms work, and laying out the pros and cons of hosting DJ mixes on each of them.

I’m still convinced though, despite the many open source corpses littering the road towards it (eg the various zombie products of the defunct Participatory Culture Foundation), that the best way to distribute CreativeCommons music (and other larger media files like films and games) is a P2P system like BitTorrent. I can imagine artists putting magnet links to their songs or albums on their homepages, webseeds on the webserver hosting that page (or some other server), and a Commons Tracker website that provides a search hub for music fans. I like this concept because it distributes the technical and financial cost of the storage and bandwidth that makes that media file distribution happen, so people sharing the media are giving something back in exchange for free non-commercial access to new cultural work. Figuring out how to strap this together is the goal of our proposed MediaFlood project.

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