Author Archives: Martha

Finally DRM-free music at iTunes, but…

Apple announced yesterday that they are now offering iTunes Plus songs (News release – there doesn’t seem to be a permalink). iTunes Plus files are DRM-free, so that is nice. The not so nice part is that if you want to convert your previous purchases to this DRM-free version, you’ll need to to pay: 30 cents (apparently 40 in Canada) per song or 30% of the album price.

Since I’ve been reluctant to buy too much online because of the DRM limitations, this would mean I would have to pay about $25 (for 84 songs) to do what I should be able to do right now: download my music to my non-iPhone phone and stop counting how many times I burn songs.

I am glad that apple is finally giving us our users rights back, but I am still upset that they present it as an added bonus, when it shouldn’t be. I probably will get over it sometime soon and start buying iTunes Plus stuff – lets face it, it’s easy, convenient and very tempting- but right now, while I debate if I’m willing to pay those $25, I am busy sulking.

Want to read more? See the Globe & Mail’s “Apple cuts the digital locks off iTunes.”

- martha

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the price of funding

Capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts

Academic institutions, both private and public, are under enormous pressure to raise money from individual or corporate donors.  We all seem to be on a competition to get donations, big donations.  But I worry that in this race to be the chosen recipient of those big donations the original mission and goals of our colleges and universities might be the losers.

Who decides what is funded? How come those with money get to decide which programs flourish, which lines of research are supported?   Don’t get me wrong; there are many examples of wonderful projects (short and long term) that are made possible by the generosity of alumni, foundations, corporations and many others, but what gets me every time is that more and more there is a shift, even at public institutions, in the responsibility of funding from the public, represented by our governments, to the private world, to special interests. I know; there are special interests within the government too and those who make decisions about how to allocate public funding at all levels, do not always support or understand the importance of education or, at least, its nuances.

As the university I work for embarks on a major capital campaign, I wonder who will come to the rescue of our library branch. Yes, we have a beautiful historic building, important library collections and archives, and we serve well ranked programs in architecture and planning, but we are competing for funds with science, business, technology… not to mention athletic facilities.

 On December 11th I read on Chronicle of Higher Education about Princeton recent dispute[1] with the heirs of the Robertsons, major donors for the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  I understand that when you make an important donation (and important is a relative term, at least for me) you, as the donor, might want to have guidelines and limitations in to how that your contribution will be used and I also understand that when accepting such a donation, an institution should stick to the terms established, but but I feel that the pressure that we are feeling to get more and more donations is putting more and more institutions in a place where they might be compromising the integrity of their mission and that is really sad.

We also hear stories from all over about raising tuitions and, naturally, this has devastating effects limiting access to education to only those in a privileged position and it seriously limits the diversity in our campuses.

State contribution to the running of public universities keeps dropping and I believe that is where the answer lies, in giving back the state the responsibility of funding these institutions. We need to decide what are priorities are, what do we want our governments to fund and we need to let those in power know.

- martha

1. Gose, Ben. Princeton to Pay $90-Million to Settle Dispute With Donors’ Heirs. Thursday, December 11, 2008

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Bill C-61 (or how we all became criminals)

About 6 months ago I started a post about copyright legislation in Canada after reading an article in CBC news “Copyright reform bill critics eye victory .” I got sidetracked and never got it finished, just got to vent but didn’t add enough content, then things sort of got quiet for a bit. This is what I had written:

It looks like one more attempt to have a tougher copyright law in Canada has been quashed, but when are we going to get a decent proposal for copyright law reform that looks at the interest of the public instead of corporations? When are we getting a law that allows fair use for educational and non-commercial purposes? I personally want a copyright law that allows me to make copies of what I’ve paid for, a law that allows my public library to provide movies for our multicultural communities even if it means disabling DRMS. I want to stop paying a levy on cds that does not go to the artists.

Well, things are not looking better now, things are pretty grim. Now we know that Prentice, Ministry of Industry, was not consulting with Canadians, or at list not with the general public, after realizing that we were starting to make noise and organizing things such as Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group. Little did we know that Mr. Prentice was just retreating to gather strength and plan an unexpected atack  (as in there was no consultation with the public) in the form of bill C-61.

I am looking at the official page for the “Copyright Reform Process” and my blood is about to boil. The lovely introduction is entitled “Government of Canada Proposes Update to Copyright Law: Balanced Approach to Truly Benefit Canadians.” Then, the short text explains to us how the bill ” introduces long-overdue and much-needed amendments to the Copyright Act that will bring it in line with advances in technology and current international standards.” The part this leaves out is how the reforms benefits anyone but Canadian individuals and seriously restricts our rights.

If you don’t feel like reading all or even part of this 57 page bill, check out their Fact Sheets. For example, in Education and Research Amendments it all sounds good until you get to the limitations. You would think this copyright amendment will finally take us out of the dark ages and allow ILL (interlibrary loan) delivery and reserve readings online, and use material for education as per fair dealing. Well, think again. You might do all these good things that will allow you do your work more effectively and serve students and researchers better… unless the material provider doesn’t want you to. If the material has digital locks, well, you are out of luck, because it is illegal for you to circumvent this technologies. Never mind these are actually infringing on your rights under fair dealing.

As far as I am concerned, those digital locks are the ones that are illegal and digital content producers, distributors and clearing houses should be the ones to be penalized. They want their stuff to be protected? Then they need to provide mechanisms for legal use such as for personal, educational and research purposes. How would the do that? I don’t know, but that should be their problem, not ours.

The media has been covering well what this bill will (or I hope, would) mean for Canadian consumers if it became law, as in the Globe and Mail’s “Ottawa gets tough with illegal downloaders,” and organizations such as Canadian Library AssociationCanadian Music Creators Coalition have express their disapproval. Michael Geist has written so far 7 posts on this bill since last Thursday and many other bloggers are covering this issue too. Particularly good is his The Canadian DMCA: A Betrayal. So go to any of these or all of them, read, get informed, get outraged and lets do something about it.

mar

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Is Microsoft learning to share? Yeah, right…

I first read about Microsoft announcement to release Windows code in La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper. Microsoft hace públicos los códigos de programación de Windows [Microsoft makes public the programming code for Windows]. By the time anybody reads this post, this will be all over the news (see CNET News, BBC, CBC, CNN) .

These seem to be the main reasons for Microsoft’s “generous” offer to share:

  • The ongoing investigation by anti-trust regulators at the European Commission: this is something that they are definitely worried about. Microsoft has already lost a previous anti-trust appeal.
  • The upcoming vote on OOXML (Office Open XML) for ISO standardization (Feb 25-29 2008): Some of the issues with this format is that it would mandate the use proprietary technology – Windows Metafile. As the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (U of Toronto) suggest “…energy would be better spent in the ongoing effort to improve the existing ISO ODF standard (with which OOXML would overlap and compete if it is adopted).” Microsoft is unlikely to do this since ODF is the standard used by Open Office, the free open source office suite that continues to attract users and therefore is starting to be a competitor for Microsoft Office.

The pledge to offer free access to some of Microsoft software is still vague:

  1. ensuring open connections
  2. promoting data portability
  3. enhancing support for industry standards
  4. fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities [Source:Microsoft PressPass]

During the press conference where this was announced it was also mentioned that “Microsoft is providing a patent covenant not to sue open source developers for development, or noncommercial distribution of implementations of these protocols” so, theoretically, they will not go after developers any more… or that is the theory anyway.

    I don’t know why but keep coming up with analogies with organic farming… I’m thinking: Is Microsoft’s “open source” the equivalent of industrialized organic farming?

    Note: In the last couple of days I also came across another sample of Microsoft “generosity”: it’s donation of $3 Million to the Library of Congress (of course, the donation is in products and services). It seems like a very nice way to promote Silverlight, their flash-like application. See:

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    Another one bites the dust: Publish & Perish

    A press release from January 7 announced that Raincoast Publishing will soon bite the dust. Apparently this branch of Raincoast Books has been brought down by a stronger Canadian dollar (and the soon-in-sight end of the Harry Potter bonanza), they have decided to kill their publishing program in order for their wholesale/distributing business to stay profitable.

    This is very sad news for the struggling Canadian publishing industry and, naturally, for many writers. It is also sad for Canadians and anybody interested not only in Canadian literature but also those who are concerned about the growing globalization of the publishing industry which gives less and less room for none-commercial hits and for regional interests. Like in most businesses, the multinational giants are either swallowing the smaller fish or pushing them out of the publishing ocean to die.

    I wonder how Raincoast Publishing would have evolved if they hadn’t grabbed the Harry Potter deal. This blockbuster series allowed them to unprecedented growth, and as it often happens, some expansion decisions might have not been the best, but just late last May, Raincoast was featured in the Arts | Books section of CBC as a glowing example of one of the lucky surviving Canadian publishers.

    Maybe we need to keep in mind that, like local organic produce, locally published books by local writers are worth paying more for and that there is a price to pay for not spending our money there. This is might be key at this point for Canadian publishers to survive. Anybody has better ideas?

    See:

    Raincoast gets back to basics. (2008, January 8). Message posted to http://blogs.raincoast.com/weblog/comments/raincoast-gets-back-to-basics/

    Raincoast Books to ditch publishing arm. (2008, January 8). CBC.ca Arts. Retrieved January 23, 2008, from http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2008/01/08/raincoast-cut-publish.html

    Buium, Gr. (2007, May 28). Life after Harry: What the final Harry Potter novel means for Vancouver’s Raincoast Books. CBC.ca Arts. Retrieved January 23, 2008, from http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/raincoast.html

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    Filed under globalization, publishing

    “Future Reading” and the digital divide

    A few of weeks ago I came across an article in the New Yorker by Anthony Grafton entitled “Future Reading” that first interested me because of the really cool drawing involving a library and google.

    The article started with the well known recantment of the role libraries play as a place of knowledge, their history, digitization programs, why we have some concerns… you know, the usual stuff. But what really got my attention was when Grafton started addressing the many limitations of Google Books and similar projects, particularly in this paragraph:

    Other sectors of the world’s book production are not even catalogued and accessible on site, much less available for digitization. The materials from the poorest societies may not attract companies that rely on subscriptions or on advertising for cash flow. This is unfortunate, because these very societies have the least access to printed books and thus to their own literature and history. If you visit the Web site of the Online Computer Library Center and look at its WorldMap, you can see the numbers of books in public and academic systems around the world. Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as in lack of food. The Internet will do much to redress this imbalance, by providing Western books for non-Western readers. What it will do for non-Western books is less clear.

    Grafton is touching on one more aspect of the digital divide where non-Western societies are lagging behind. Although I agree with his asertion that Internet will increase access to resources for poor countries, it seems to me that the fact that digitization projects are hardly touching material from non-Western countries will seriously increase the Westernization of their histories, their cultures, their languages (says a Spanish native speaker, writing in English). This new form of colonization uses information as commodity and those with the technology to disseminate it will continue to select only material that will bring them substantial economic profit.

    martha

    reference:

    Grafton, A. (2007, November 5). Future Reading : Digitization and its discontents. New Yorker. Retrieved December 9, 2007 from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/11/05/071105fa_fact_grafton

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    Filed under digitization, preservation