Monday, 5 December 2016

Commons are forever

This article is the write-up of a talk entitled Empowering users about their rights to use creative works I gave at the National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference on 14 September 2016. This write-up is also to be published in the Winter edition of NAG's journal Taking stock - which is why it's a bit more formal than my usual posts!

Did you know that Selma, the film about an episode of Martin Luther King’s life released in January 2015, does not use his actual speeches? It is because of copyright issues.
Have you ever tried watching a music video on YouTube, and instead it showed you a message: “This video contains content from … who has blocked it on copyright grounds”?

Copyright is everywhere and even celebrities seem to get embroiled in infringement cases – in these conditions, how can we expect library customers and the wider community to know what they can and can’t do with copyrighted works, especially online videos and images?

Copyright criminal by Alec Couros [cropped]
licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (Source: Flickr)

What role do libraries have to play in this?
Libraries exist to defend people’s right to enrich and improve their own lives, their environment and society. We library and information professionals make this happen by facilitating access to and the sharing of information, knowledge and culture. Therefore we should be helping our customers discover works they have a right to use freely, such as works in the public domain e.g. that belong to them.



The Commons are forever project at Newcastle Libraries
My role at Newcastle Libraries is within the Business & IP Centre. My colleagues and I are certified by the UK Intellectual Property Office to provide inventors and entrepreneurs information on patents, designs, trade marks and of course copyright. I often feel like people leave us feeling a bit scared about using intellectual property (IP), as we have to tell them to be careful when using IP that may belong to others. What I wanted to do is to invert this situation entirely, and instead tell library users: “yes, it's fine, you can use this without fear of infringement”.

What gave me the impetus I needed was the Carnegie UK Trust Library Lab programme, which aims to support innovation and leadership in public libraries. A call for projects was issued in September 2014 and I was lucky enough to be selected as part of the first cohort of Partners. Thanks to the programme I was able to access funding to develop my project and was supported by a mentor – artist and curator Dominic Smith.

The project became known as Commons are forever. It aimed to empower members of the public about their rights to use creative works that are free of copyright, e.g. in the public domain, and to in turn share what they create with others. It took the form of a series of events that ran at Newcastle City Library from April 2015 to Autumn 2016; the events being a mean of engaging citizens in learning about copyright and enabling them to be creative and actually re-use works.

Rebecca Moosavian and Cory Doctorow at Newcastle City Library
Image by Steve Brock under Creative Commons BY-NC (Source: Flickr)

“Discover and re-use creative works at your library”
Commons are forever was launched with a talk entitled "Copying – right or wrong?" with local law lecturer Rebecca Moosavian and author and activist Cory Doctorow. With this event we sought to both attract attention as Cory Doctorow is a well-known science-fiction and young adult writer but also to get people to understand what copyright is and the potential issues with the current system. It was certainly thought-provoking, with Cory Doctorow proposing that copyright on a work last only 12 years (compared with the duration of the life of the author plus 70 years currently!) with the possibility to be renewed but only by the creator.

Other events in the series were developed in collaboration with local digital media artists and focused on remixing public domain or openly-licensed works. There were an “archive cut-and-paste” session using images from the City Library's local history collections; a film remix workshop where participants re-recorded dialogues from public domain films; a live-coding session using sounds that have been published under an open licence... New creative works made by participants during the events were shared via the Newcastle Libraries' Flickr account.

We also ran in both 2015 and 2016 a photography competition called "We Love Monuments!" based on the Wikimedia Foundation's Wiki Loves Monuments but restricted to pictures of listed buildings and monuments within the borders of Newcastle City Council. Participants had to upload their entries to Wikimedia Commons, where all content is either in the public domain or under an open licence. They therefore learned about the licences and discovered Commons as a collaborative repository for such content. The pictures uploaded now contribute to promoting Newcastle's history and heritage on Wikipedia and engaged the community in making a record of the local area.

Old and New Newcastle by Alan Warriner - winner of We Love Monuments! 2015
Published under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

From creative works to open data
Several of the events involved coding or other digital literacy skills – during the project we were able to test out these types of activities which now form part of the legacy of Commons are forever at Newcastle Libraries. Another part of the project's legacy is the work we have been doing around open data. 

Commons are forever was originally focused on re-using creative works: works created by others - the type that in libraries we facilitate access to e.g. books, images... But our library service also collects and creates information and content: we therefore wanted to open these up and get citizens to re-use them as well. 
We published as much of Newcastle Libraries' statistics and data sets that we could under an open licence on the Council's open data pages, and invited members of the community to have a play at our first mini-hackathon – Wuthering Hacks – in April 2016. We continue to work on updating and expanding the data sets we make available, and finding ways to engage our local community in using and re-using the information.

Impact of the overall project
  • 53% of event attendees who filled in a feedback form say the event has improved their understanding of how they can use open licenses and what the public domain is. (40% said they already had a good understanding.)
  • Before the events, 14% of attendees said they felt very confident about using work either in copyright or out of copyright correctly while 25% said they did not feel confident doing so at all. After the event, 36% now felt very confident and the ones who did not at all were 4%.
  • 53% of participants said the event they attended has contributed to improve their image of public libraries (47% already valued public libraries).
  • 86% of event participants strongly agree that the library is a place for the exchange of knowledge and sharing of culture (10% slightly agree). 
  • Through the project we have worked with three local artists, a local lecturer, a local photography group, a local arts and heritage project and the local open data community; none of whom the library service had ever engaged with before.

Mimi and Eunice sketch - Copyleft Nina Paley

Do the same in your library 
I believe opening up library collections and information and empowering citizens about their rights to use and re-use works is part of the mission of libraries and our role as professionals. Libraries should be part of the open movement as we have a similar ethos; librarians should be contributing to open source tools if we can and promote the use of open content, tools and resources to their local community.

To do that might be more of an organisational change: it is not just about empowering library users but about empowering staff, and changing the policies relating to library content to make it “open”.

Another lesson from Commons are forever would be: be cunning in your event planning – organise something fun and creative to teach something as dry as copyright!

And finally: do not be afraid, just try things and see what happens.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

MozFest, part 3: everything else

Last month I went to MozFest - the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. I started sharing my notes in a first post about all the sessions on open data I attended, then a second post on sessions related to copyright and remixing public domain works, and now here is, well, everything else.

GitHub's Patchwork
Introductory session to GitHub, using the Patchwork learning module.


Let's encrypt : someone could listen
The facilitators started the session by trying to make us understand the principle of encryption with a simple exercise. It involved us splitting into groups subdivided into three teams: teams A and C decide on an encryption method (e.g. letter replacement); A write a message - the encrypted version goes to team B who try to decipher it. Then C get the message and decipher it using the key previously agreed with A. If B manage to crack the encryption they win.

After this, the facilitators mentioned a few tools, including:
  • Panopticlick, which checks how secure/private your browser is, and advises on how to make it better;
  • Lightbeam, a Firefox add-on which lets you visualise how your data is being shared by a particular website with others, and who these other parties are.

A bit of painting using stencils
Ok, so that's not the title of a session, but I did some of that too! It was fun, and there were some Creative Commons stencils...

Photo by @biblioluke; used here with permission

Dialogues & debates: Katherine Maher, Chris Soghoian and Ashe Dryden 
Over the week-end there was also a series of talks. In the session I went to Katherine Maher of the Wikimedia Foundation asked how communities can be called open if the issue of online harassment exists, Chris Soghoian of the American Civil Liberties Union talked about privacy and Ashe Dryden discussed the ethics of unpaid labour in open source.

Here are some points made by Chris Soghoian during his talk:
  • Before Snowden's revelations "we the tech community have been a bit lazy: we knew how to encrypt, but we weren't." Now encryption is finally used in mainstream consumer products: iMessage, WhatsApp... You do not need to be able to understand and use complex systems like PGP anymore to communicate securely.
  • Governments are now trying to force companies to weaken or remove encryption, because they can't spy on people. In the countries where putting this into law is not happening governments are also looking at hacking software.
  • There are privacy issues but also some human rights issues: we are not equally vulnerable to surveillance. Not everyone can afford an iPhone - "security shouldn't be a luxury, but it is." We need to do a better job of ensuring it's just as hard for authorities to watch deprived people as wealthy ones.
  • "Android is rubbish for security" [polite version!] Unlike iPhones, Android phones don't use encryption by default and often don't get security updates.
A comment from the audience pointed out surveillance techniques were not just used against "terrorists" but also children pornography.


Unleash the creator in you
"Whether we like it or not, realise we are doing it or not, we all create something, every single day."
In this session the facilitator made us break into groups of 5-6 people before taking us through a (very accelerated!) process of creating a product. She had prepared product ideas - each group picked one at random and got started straight away. Here are the stages we went through and the time we were allocated for each:
  • Brainstorm (10min) - we have what we want to do, what is the challenge of that product or idea?
  • Research (10min) - get user feedback on ideas. Sometimes you need to pitch your idea to the user: "Would this work for you?"
  • Mock up (5min) - designing a visual representation of the product on paper.
  • Prototype / model (10min) - that's the bit where we used Play-Doh!
  • Code / pseudocode (5min)
  • Presentation
My group was given the task to develop a device that regulates the temperature of the room around a person. In the brainstorming we talked about ways this could work, as well as issues arising when several people are in the room, each with their own temperature preference or need! For the research we presented our ideas and issues to the other team and listened to their feedback and questions.
It was great fun, and also showed what you could achieve working as a team with different areas of expertise and backgrounds!


And that's it (finally) for MozFest 2016 - roll on 2017?!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

MozFest, part 2: copyright & public domain remix

Last month I went to MozFest - the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. I started sharing my notes in a first post about all the sessions on open data I attended, and here is a write-up from two sessions related to copyright and remixing public domain works.

Reform EU copyright: what's wrong with it, and what you can do
What better way to start the festival than with a session on copyright - right?! Plus it took place in the library... 😍

Inside the library at Ravensbourne - with CC cushions for the occasion!
The facilitator explained that the European Commission has now handed the draft copyright law to the European Parliament - "MEPs are elected by citizens, and they will listen, if we're loud enough". Each speaker outlined a particular issue in the draft.

  • Caroline (Copyright for Creativity) made us do a quick quiz to see how well we knew copyright exceptions in Europe - "Is it legal to quote a picture, a film, ... ?" "Those of you who said yes, you live in Finland!" She was dynamic and frank in her way of speaking; after the quiz question around the copyright exception for text and data mining and the circumstances in which it is legal, she made the comment: "As soon as it's too efficient, it's illegal"!
  • Alek (Centrum Cyfrowe and Communia) discussed copyright and education - "Ask yourself which of the two is a basic human right, and I hope the answer is obvious". Education is so important, it is good that a copyright exception was included into this reform but the proposal is not enough. The text and data mining exception includes a non-contract override but not the education exception - which to Alek does not make sense.
  • Karolina (IFLA) gave more details on the proposed text and data mining exception in the draft: it would only apply to research organisations and for research purposes, whereas libraries want text and data mining to be allowed both for non-commercial AND commercial purposes. It is important that we don't let culture, research and enterprise be limited by arbitrary restrictions.
  • Dimi (Wikimedia Foundation) talked about the need to strengthen the commons. For example, laws in Germany and Spain are inconclusive when it comes to copyright in copies or digitised versions of public domain works - this is true to an extent even in the UK. "We're afraid that our public domain is being carved out. We believe there should be a clause to safeguard our public domain in the copyright legislation."
  • Tim (Creative Commons) explained the proposal on ancillary copyright for press publications. This type of copyright has already been tried in Spain, where people realised it wasn't working the way it was supposed to. In fact the web traffic to press websites decreased and Google News just decided to shut down. But "the publishers need Google News more than Google News needs the publishers". Another problem is that the proposal would not affect only articles, but also snippets on social media, potentially articles under open licenses; it would apply to scientific publishing too, threatening current open access models. Tim's view was that ancillary copyright (also called "link tax") goes above and beyond copyright, and the draft law does not make clear who that right applies to, potentially making it dangerously broad.
  • Diego (EDRi) described the proposed copyright upload filters on user content as a "massive attack on the Internet", YouTube's Content ID but worse, a "censorship machine". The Commission wants to prevent the availability of content by monitoring uploads, shifting the responsibility of enforcing copyright to the content platforms.

So, what can we do about all this?
  • Tune in to the #FixCopyright hashtag and find out what will happen;
  • join Wikimedia, Creative Commons or another organisation involved in pushing for copyright reform;
  • "Your voice matters!" - feedback during consultations, sign petitions, email your MEP;
  • play the numbers: the more we shout the more we'll get heard.

And finally:
  • We need to have these complicated conversations with people who may be unexpected allies.
  • Libraries need to advise users on how copyright works, because people don't know what they can and can't do with creative works. [Not my words, the speaker's!!]



Remix your own historical narratives
This session was delivered by three librarians from New York State - Nate, Davis and Matthew. They were clear from the start: "We're using you as guinea pigs!" They explained they are aiming to run this type of sessions for librarians to gain some web literacy skills, and for them to in turn run sessions in their libraries.

"There's a tremendous push from galleries, libraries, archives and museums to put collections online e.g. images" though some are locked down with copyright while some are open. In this workshop people learn some basic HTML and discover sources of free-to-use historical images by remixing and manipulating media to produce a zine or a comic.

The zines and comics can be created "in hard copy" by printing pictures and using paper and glue to put them together (which is what I did during the session!) but the aim is to use the zine-o-matic and comic creator templates. Using Mozilla Thimble to remix projects, you simply need to edit the code to make your own comic/zine by inserting the URL of pictures that are in the public domain or openly licensed and by changing the captions.

I loved the session as it was exactly the type of things I've been trying to do these past couple of years with the workshops part of my Commons are forever project: getting people to be creative and remix works that are freely and legally accessible while making them aware of public domain and open licences... And now I have two new tools to try out in a future workshop in my library!

Beer : a short story in 3 pictures GIF
The zine I created during the session... brought to you as a GIF

Notes from the remaining sessions will be published in a third blog post.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

MozFest, part 1: open data

Last month I went to MozFest!!! (And yes, I am still very excited about it.) MozFest is the Mozilla Foundation's Festival for an open internet. Session themes include "fuel the movement", digital arts and culture, open science, demystify the web, ... There is also a youth zone where adults are welcome and where most of the "making" happens.
MozFest 2016 took place at Ravensbourne College in London from 28th to 30th October. I was there as part of a group of six lucky librarians from across England to have received a bursary from the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL); you can still check out our adventures via Twitter under the hashtag #MozLibs. I have already written up my MozFest highlights for the SCL blog (watch out for the snapshots from the rest of our group!) but here I wanted to go in more details into some of the sessions I attended.

I happen to have attended three sessions touching on open data - I'll put all the other sessions I went to in another blog post. But before I start with the notes from my "MozFest open data Sunday afternoon" I want to share with you two quotes from Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation Chief Exec) in his opening speech; just to get you in the mood.

"All of us has a chance to be leaders in this movement."
"Coding is a way to be an activist, to build to change the future". There are other ways: to campaign for copyright reform, privacy, through art...

Spot: six excited librarians in the MozFest crowd
Original photo (cropped here) by Paul Clarke under CC BY-NC-SA (Source: Flickr)

Open curriculum for open data training, presented by Stephanie Wright
This open data training programme has been developed by the Mozilla Science Lab; it's available on GitHub under an open license (Creative Commons Attribution). It comprises primers - short guides for self-guided learning - and instructor guides for using the primers in a group setting, with participatory exercises.
So far the topics covered include the why of open data, how to make your data open and share it, how to find data made available by others. Future topics being considered: visualisation, data ethics, privacy... The course writers are looking for feedback on the training and help from new collaborators for future topics (e.g. visualisation).

It was one of those sessions that four of our #MozLibs group attended a bit by chance, after meeting the session facilitator. Steph is a former librarian and had spotted on Twitter that there were a few of us around, so we arranged to meet up on the Sunday morning, she said she was running a demo on open data training... et voilà.
As it turns out, it's also the one session that I have already been able to do something from within my job. There are other things I have learnt at MozFest that I will be using, but this one has already had a visible impact: I have enrolled my colleagues to try out the open data training next month. I have set aside three one-hour sessions for us to explore the topics currently available as part of the course and see how useful it is for them - we may then (who knows) run sessions for other colleagues in the Council. I am also hoping to be able to give feedback to the course writers on how it worked for us and possibly inform future development.


Let's construct open data initiatives that last, facilitated by Rory Gianni
Open data is a common infrastructure. To make it last, it needs to offer value to everybody using it.
There may be issues around sustainability: if an organisation folds, the data needs to still be available so published on a platform that continues to exist. There is also the need to expand the data, i.e. update it regularly - it can't be something set up by one person that will stop being updated when that person leaves the organisation.
Note: the European Data Portal has an e-learning programme which includes a module on sustainability.

Rory made us discuss in small groups different aspects of open data within our organisations and how to make it sustainable. I was sitting next to @biblioluke so of course we unpicked Newcastle Libraries' open data, helped in our thinking by the people around us. Rory's questions - what's the vision for open data in your organisation? Who's involved? How will they succeed? - and examples made Luke and I feel good that we seem to be on the right track!
A conclusion to the session or next step for us could be: "Go to where people involved in your open data vision are and tell them what you're doing"!

For examples of what was discussed within the groups check out the session's collaborative notes.

Rory giving examples of what could be part of an organisation's vision regarding open data

Creating data literacy, facilitated by Dirk Slater
In this session we discussed how to "make data accessible for people who don't understand spreadsheets" by connecting different actors doing similar things for their own communities e.g. journalists, government, universities. Below are some of the points mentioned.

  • In libraries we are both data publishers and intermediaries. As an intermediary it is important to have a neutral position when doing data literacy work. 
  • Intermediaries need to show the result or tale that can be told from understanding or knowing how to use data, rather than just telling people: "these are the tools you could want or need to use" otherwise people are not going to be interested in learning about data or will not use the tools nor remember about them.
  • A problem may be that the quality of the data is linked to where you got the data from - being data literate is definitely a part of being information literate and knowing to differentiate between sources of data and information based on whether they are an authority in the sector discussed, what is their interest in publishing the information, etc.
  • Data literacy: a way to be a better citizen, exercise your democratic rights and duties better. If you can make sense of the data that is being published you can better understand how your environment works and what the stakes are when making decisions and participating in public consultations.
  • There are groups that have experience of connecting with citizens i.e. advocacy groups, activists group - would there be scope to partner with those groups?
  • There is a role to be played by data regulators, people looking at how data is being used.


Note: Tabitha, another of the #MozLibs, has also blogged about the open data training programme - on her site there are write-ups of some of the sessions she attended.