Opperlandse taal- & letterkunde online, for free

There are three major e-book projects that make electronic books available for free to the general public in accessible formats (usually HTML, sometimes “plain text”). One is Project Gutenberg, an American project that does not limit itself to English. I am a volunteer there. The second is Project Laurens Jz Coster, named after the Dutchman who stole Gutenberg’s ideas for movable type in order to claim he had invented movable type himself. The third is the Digitale Bibliotheek Nederlandse Letteren.

The latter claims a copyright on texts that are clearly in the public domain: a wholly despicable practice that is morally equivalent to fraud. If I could avoid linking to them, I would. Unfortunately they are jealousy inducingly active, and also have managed to convince many authors and estates to let them publish books that are indeed still in copyright.

One of these books is Battus’ Opperlandse taal- & letterkunde, the definitive book for playfully documenting the many quirks of the Dutch language. Battus is the pseudonym for Hugo Brandt Corstius, a computer linguist who knows how to write. The DBNL publishes the 2nd edition of 1981.

I’ll explain the differences between the three projects in greater detail in a future post, because all three projects have their own distinctive strengths, which it helps to know when you are looking for a certain Dutch classic.

Via Eamelje.net.

Rational Response Squad accuses creationist group of perjury

Brian Flemming reports that the Youtube account of the Rational Response Squad has been deleted in response to false copyright claims by a creationist group called Creation Science Evangelism Ministries. The Rational Response Squad, an activist group of so-called New Atheists, had been posting videos that discussed claims by the creationist group. These videos included quotations of videos by Creation Science Evangelism Ministries. Presumably the DMCA complaints center around these quotations.

Atheists are a repressed minority in the USA. According to a recent study they are the least trusted group in the country (the researchers had originally included them as the neutral choice, in the mistaken belief that nobody would have a negative opinion of atheists). They cannot get high-profile jobs such as political offices, and there are plenty of stories known about atheists and non-Christians who get raw deals from the courts.

The DMCA is a section of American copyright law that provides a so-called safe harbour to providers that respond quickly to copyright complaints. In order to make sure that this safe harbour provision is not abused by those who want to leverage the might of the state to silence critics, the person who brings the complaint will have to swear on penalty of perjury that he is the proper copyright owner. Unfortunately this provision has so far failed to be succesful. Estimates reveal that about one third of all DMCA take-down notices are flawed. Providers typically lack the personnel to make this judgment though, and will take down even non-infringing works as soon as a DMCA complaint comes in.

In the USA it is generally considered fair use, that is: non-infringing, if you use quotations in a critique. (The Netherlands has a similar exemption in copyright law.)

The cool-sucky playground fallacy

Here’s a fallacy that in these fast moving times I observe on a regular basis: people on the internet arguing that everything on the internet is wrong. People using free software to argue that free software sucks (a recurring occurrence at Slashdot). Jack Valenti arguing for eternal copyright, yet nobody wants to read his book.

It’s like you have two playgrounds: one where all the cool kids play and one where all the losers play. So one of the losers goes to the cool playground, kicks a stone, and keeps saying to the cool kids: “this playground sucks, I am going to leave any minute now.”

Unfortunately with copyright policy it is the losers who set the tune.

Podcasts and landgrabs

Copyprof Michael Geist has an excellent article up roughly outlining how the US is blackmailing most of the rest of the world into adopting copyright laws even more ridicous than it already has. Basically the idea is that the US wants to force other countries to buy its wares while offering nothing in return. (The US is one of only two net exporters of “content” in the world.)

The surprising thing is that a mainstream publication like the BBC publishes this.

(Thanks BoingBoing.)

Local news: the cabal of Dutch record companies has decided that anyone who wants to podcast in this country, can, for a modest fee of 1000 euro a year. Yeah, whatever.

(Thanks Natasha.)

Would you perhaps be trying to sell me something?

It’s a question I have to ask regularly of the direct marketing scum that call me on the phone: “Excuse me, are you calling me to sell me something?” For some reason, the phonetards try to postpone the anti-climax of the conversation as long as possible by trying to obscure the reason for their call. This is because it’s not really a conversation. The longer they can convince me that we are having a conversation, the better it is for them.

But direct marketing is push. It’s in your face, it is unwanted, it is begging for me to take out the baseball bat and come by to clean the pond. You don’t expect pull marketeers to make life more difficult for the prospective customer. Any ad that has to lure me over basically has to make life as smooth as possible for me.

And I guess when Inmatrix put up a webpage to promote their Zoomplayer Pro product, their intention really was to make life easier for me. After all, if I find out after the fact that I cannot use their product, they’re are going to have one cross, baseball bat-owning customer on their hands. Nevertheless, if I read all the things I have to do for the privilige of using their product, I feel the need to grab my credit card dissipate immediately.

The list of requirements is this long because of Microsoft’s perfidious DRM scheme.

But! If you are going to have a page titled: “Why should I buy this product?,” don’t make the list of cons three times as long. Put that list on another page, titled Requirements, and keep the Why page for the good news.


DRM gone mad, I tells you!

Related earlier posts:

The copyright ghosts of the roaring twenties and beyond

At the Teleread blog (where I also blog), Robert Nagle is talking about works that did not enter the public domain in the USA when they should have, thanks to Walt Disney and other publishers buying legislation to shrink the public domain. His series is called The Copyright Ghosts Of…, discusses actual works (today amongst others: Billy Bud, written in 1891 by Herman Melville), and will run for ten episodes.

Published so far:

Meanwhile, Copyrightwatch discusses Public Domain Day 2007, on which still loads of works returned to the public domain all over the globe, as they should.

Only marginally related: the Roaring Twenties in the Future, as Reinder reruns his White House in Orbit series.

Dreaming of a One Year Copyright

A little under a year ago Joost Smiers and Marijke van Schijndel published an article in the International Herald Tribune called Imagine a World Without Copyright. In it they explore what would happen if works were burdened by only a very short copyright (one year, for instance), or no copyright at all.

The reactions to this article have been interesting. Very few people seem to have actually engaged in the exercise; most either outright welcomed or condemned Smier’s and Van Schijndel’s proposal. Of the ones that did try and imagine a world without copyright, again only very few came with realistic counter-arguments, or refrained from attacking straw men.

Intermezzo: sponsored editing costs

While reading up on Richard Stallman, the subject of my previous entry, I came across an article he wrote in 2001 for Nature in which he sums up the reasons why science must “push copyright aside”. I was struck by a pragmatic pre-emptive counter-argument to the argument that scientists need income from licensing to off-set editing costs:

Instead, the cost of editing could be recovered, for example, through page charges to the authors, who can pass these on to the research sponsors. The sponsors should not mind, given that they currently pay for publication in a more cumbersome way through overhead fees for the university library’s subscription to the journal. By changing the economic model to charge editing costs to the research sponsors, we can eliminate the apparent need to restrict access. The occasional author who is not affiliated with an institution or company, and who has no research sponsor, could be exempted from page charges, with costs levied on institution-based authors.

A publisher provides value-add. Nobody likes to provide value-add, because it makes one dispensable. And so adders of value try and become middle-men. Middle-men cannot be dispensed so easily because — as their name applies — they are in the way.

I would like to see copyright reforms, and that is why I am arguing about copyright so often on this blog. And often I take the approach that we should not care if the entire industry loses their jobs. It is not our responsibility as citizens to provide authors and their middle-men with a special kind of welfare. If they want money, they should get real jobs. Copyright only exists to foster creation, not to care for the creators.

But in order to convince the parties involved, being clear may be being fair, it doesn’t necessarily help to win them over. Developing models in which authors can free themselves of the shackles of the publishing industry might help. Outlining how the money-flow can be diverted so that it flows from the author to the publisher instead of the other way around is extremely useful. In that sense it would pay to keep an eye on Lulu, a POD publisher, where self-publishing authors can and are encouraged to interact with value adders such as graphic designers, editors, copy writers and so on.

Copyright visionary

There are very few people who consistently say smart things about copyright. Actually, I only know one such person, and his name is Richard Stallman.

Stallman’s arguments about copyright center on copyright for software. Basically, he doesn’t want it and would like it to go away. Since that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, he wrote a license for everybody to use that will allow a software commons to bloom in a world of copyright: the GNU General Public License, perhaps better know as the GPL. The GPL covers software such as Linux, the GIMP, and inspired the licenses for Firefox, Apache, and of parts of Mac OS X.

Read the rest of this entry »

Damn monkeys!

From an unnamed book currently doing the rounds at Distributed Proofreaders, as quoted by one of the volunteers:

And here let us remark, that this German prince, in order to read that work, was obliged to have the German translated into French by his friend Suhm, the Saxon minister at Petersburg.

Chasot, who had no very definite duties to perform at Rheinsberg, was commissioned to copy Suhm’s manuscript,–nay, he was nearly driven to despair when he had to copy it a second time, because Frederic’s monkey, Mimi, had set fire to the first copy.