I was surprised by how much activity there was yesterday over SOPA/PIPA.
If you’ve been following along you’ll know that SOPA/PIPA are the House and Senate versions of a bill that has been proposed in order to manage the fact that there are a lot of websites that basically help you get copyrighted content for free. I’ve spoken previously about my opposition to this legislation and I made my site “go dark” thanks to a WordPress plugin, to register my displeasure. On MetaFilter we made an interstitial clickthrough page so that everyone coming to the site would see it and would be encouraged to contact their representatives if in the US, or other actions for non-US people. And I knew other sites were doing it, most notably Reddit, but I was surprised personally at just how big it got how quickly.
And by the time I called Patrick Leahy, the guy who was actually responsible for drafting PIPA, and his Montpelier office said they were having technical difficulties and to please call the Burlington office, I knew something was up. And I spoke to a staffer who clearly thought I was some sort of “Hey the internet sent me” person, telling me “It’s not like Google says it is” and seemed surprised though maybe not pleased when I went into the details of what my objections to the law were. And I used the internet like usual, except things weren’t usual. Wikipedia was dark (read this link for some laughs). Reddit was dark. BoingBoing was dark. Cheezeburger network and Craigslist had clickthroughs. Google did a custom logo. In fact I found it a little tough to predict which sites might go dark. The Syracuse iSchool had a very well done page. ALA hadn’t done anything in the morning but thanks to a little nudging, had a message of support up in the afternoon. The protest made the news. Here’s a quick roundup of some screenshots I made, in case you missed some or all of them. And, to bring this full circle, here’s Jon Stewart talking about how this sort of thing just might drive people back to the library.
I think one of the many many things that is exacerbated by the digital divide is the gap in understanding about digital content. That is, the difference between what digital content is innately, what it becomes when it becomes a transactional item (i.e. with checkoutability), and what aspects of both of these “states of being” are created by whom.
So, it’s one thing to say “We have ebooks!” and quite another to represent the “ecosystem” of ebooks (to quote a recent talk I heard from a representative of the American Publishers’ Association) as being analogous to the one that paper books inhabit. This is just a long lead-up to linking to this article about bittorenting and using it to access copyrighted works and what you might find there. The author, Jeff Duntemann, is a friend of a friend and wrote a piece looking at which Dummies books are actually available on The Pirate Bay in the light of Wiley filing a copyright lawsuit against people pirating their books using Bittorent. For people familiar with the world of underground ebooking, this will be nothing new. For people who aren’t quite sure exactly how people get and/or redistribute digital content, this post should be helpful for you. Duntemann notes that the bulk of ebook swapping likely isn’t even taking place on big public torrent tracking sites like The Pirate Bay because ebook files are smaller and can be distributed in any number of different ways. He notes:
Video rules the torrent world because video is big, and the BitTorrent protocol is the most effective way to get video downloaded quickly. Small files like ebooks are elsewhere, unless they’re gathered into massive collections the size of Blu-Ray rips. Ebook piracy seems to be a minor issue today because ebook piracy is mostly invisible. It’s out there, and for all that I’ve pondered the problem, I return to the conclusion that the problem has no solution other than to sell the goods easily and cheaply, and to stop teaching people to be pirates by making the media experience complicated with DRM.
In the meantime, I’m considering purchasing this book for my local library. I think we as librarians need to understand these systems if we’re going to be working within and around them.
And if anyone’s wondering where I’ve been this week, the answer is “Mired in getting copyright permissions for the intellectual property in my book. Thanks for asking.” I have a pretty firm grasp of Fair Use and have been trying to follow the guidelines for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education. I signed a book contract that specifically says that I am responsible for assuring that my materials are being used with permission. Despite this, my publisher (who I am quite fond of otherwise) is risk-averse and wants to make sure I have permission anyhow. Permission that I assert that I don’t need for small screenshots of, say, Google search results or an ALA nested menu.
This gets even more confusing when some of the organizations involved claim that I need permission when I don’t. Since Fair Use, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, is mostly something that gets hammered out through litigation there is no strict set of guidelines as to what Fair Use is. So, big companies with a lot to lose err on the side of compliance with other big companies’ requests, requests that may be extralegal. So Google can’t legally tell you to only use the public domain offerings from Google Books (which they admit) but they make a polite request, a polite request that sounds a lot like a terms of service.
So right now I’m waiting to hear back from Facebook after filling out a form on their website asking for permission to use a screenshot. They say it will take 1-2 weeks. I am confident that my screenshot is fair use. My editor also thinks it is fair use. However they’re not willing to risk it. And so we wait.