Thursday, May 31, 2007

on copyright

"The copyright system is perfect ... for people who have all the money in the world to pay lawyers."
(Lawrence Lessig's parting shot at the CISAC - International Confederation of Authors and Composers Society, Brussels, 30 - 31 May, 2007.)

An interesting, not commonly considered front against copyright holders, that is the distributors of digital content, which have a strong voice against the old fashioned copyright holders and who do not want to be help responsible for piracy happening over their nets.
There is also an intersting attack by Crett Cottle (chair of CISAC's board of directors: "Don't treat the authors like the record labels or the entertainment companies. Hollywood's Jurassic, and we're the mammals.

This comparison joins the unrest against big industry voiced at the launch of the Swiss version of the Creative Commons Licence by the two plenary speakers John Buckman (image) and Volker Grassmuck

Following some excerpts out of a report from the
The Hollywood Reporter, Leo Cendrowicz and Mark Sutherland , May 31, 2007

"BRUSSELS -- The inaugural CISAC Copyright Summit kicked off here Wednesday in with some lively initial sessions.

CISAC -- the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies -- says it represents 217 copyright societies in 114 countries and 2.5 million creators and publishers in music, drama, literature, audiovisual, photography and the visual arts.

The two-day summit, attended by more than 500 delegates, goes under the banner "Creators First" and is focused on the protection of copyright in the digital age.

But in his keynote address, British Telecom CEO Ben Verwaayen issued a brutal warning to rights owners, telling them that business models that had been sustained for more than a century were coming to an end

"Your industry has not changed for 20 years, maybe 50 years. You have to rethink how you work in the digital age," he said. "Are you just a rights administrator that sends me a bill, or are you something more?"

Bragg and others called for "solidarity" among artists to help protect their income.

"The power in the creative industries is moving away from retailers and the industry toward artists and our relationships with our audiences," he said.

While attacking those who commercially exploit user-generated content, or UGC, as indulging in "sharecropping for the digital age," Lessig also told a packed conference hall that Creative Commons licenses are aimed at those who had no interest in making money from their creativity.

"There's an explosion of UGC that never wants to be part of the commercial economy," he said. "If we're arguing, it's only because you think the only model for copyright is the commercial one."

Cottle hit back: "The problem is you give credence to the general anti-copyright argument, particularly in developing countries. Don't treat the authors like the record labels or the entertainment companies. Hollywood's Jurassic, and we're the mammals."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Visualizing our world

In his inaugural talk at the launch of the Swiss version of the Creative Commons licence, Volker Grasmück presented a very thoughtful lecture on the implication of copyright, and ended up with a plea for acceptance of small style piracy. More about that will follow on this site, organized by the Digitale Allmend.

In his talk he showed a slide he got from which has one cool visualizationt tool: using a mapping tool to represent each country's proportional contribution to a topic, such as the world's native plant species. This then allows to compare to the population size, science, or actual physical size.

This map shows the number of native plant species, and demonstrates a bias towards the southern hemisphere, especially the continents of South America and Africa. In contrast, Canada and North America have relatively few species (source:

The land area of each territory is shown here.

The total land area of these 200 territories is 13,056 million hectares. Divided up equally that would be 2.1 hectares for each person. A hectare is 100 metres by 100 metres. (Source:

In Spring 2000 world population estimates reached 6 billion; that is 6 thousand million. The distribution of the earth's population is shown in this map (Source:

Scientific papers cover physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, clinical medicine, biomedical research, engineering, technology, and earth and space sciences. (Source:

This map shows the growth in scientific research of territories between 1990 and 2001. If there was no increase in scientific publications that territory has no area on the map. (Source:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Loosing control

The announcement of last week’s launch of a Nigerian telecom satellite by China is not only China’s first successful launch of a home built satellite, but it well certainly a big step in a much more efficient extraction of natural resources in the developed world by China whose foreign policy is largely driven to secure the supply of its huge need of natural resources. That means, that the exploitation of tropical resources will continue, most likely at an increased rate.

This happens at a time, where the US government creates many enemies abroad and, for conservation and taxonomy more importantly, closed down NASA’s Earth Sciences program and siphons a lot of funding into a Mars program which could not be launched at a worth time. Hopefully, the Europeans can fill in some of this gap with their ENVISAT and a series of new smaller satellites, and hopefully make at least some core data accessible for scientists and conservationists at large, similar to the current NASA policy (see eg GLCF) as partner of the Conservation Commons (A nice contradiction between White House policy and scientists concerned about conservation within NASA!).

Taxonomists better assure, that their data is quickly processed and made accessible so conservationists in the field can use it to have an impact on the increased extraction of natural resources as well as the monitoring of it. The combination of specimen data in the field, near real time remote sensing data and predictive modeling offers now a much advanced tool to support action on the place where it is most efficient. Never before was the chance to have close up images of even the remotest corner of the world (eg Google Earth, or GLCF, and increasingly, the Internet allows to supply colleagues in such places with data, and on the other hand we can get more information to do a much better job from within our own institutions.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?

"WHAT if, after you had paid the taxes on earnings with which you built a house, sales taxes on the materials, real estate taxes during your life, and inheritance taxes at your death, the government would eventually commandeer it entirely? This does not happen in our society ... to houses. Or to businesses. Were you to have ushered through the many gates of taxation a flour mill, travel agency or newspaper, they would not suffer total confiscation.

Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed to flow from one generation to the next. Though they may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.

That is, unless you own a copyright. Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts. And, second, why, when such a stiff penalty is not applied to the owners of Rockefeller Center or Wal-Mart, it is brought to bear against legions of harmless drudges who, other than a handful of literary plutocrats (manufacturers, really), are destined by the nature of things to be no more financially secure than a seal in the Central Park Zoo."
New York Times, May 20, 2007

Seems to me to a logic argument in its own, wouldn't there be more to it then the financial side, which is almost non existant with the majority of the novels diapearing from the bookshelves and only will have a second live because the internet allows to discover them and print, if necessary, them on demand. Enforcement of copyright=ownership would though disrupt the new flow of information and development of web2.0 and similar amazing new possibilites.
A mandate for open access to your publications is necessary

Empiric data from within the open access movement shows, that self archiving only works if an institutional open access mandate is in place. Obviously, this is not just a problem unique to open access but to other fields where compliance to procedures which evidently do have great advantages.

Food security:
"This isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines."
Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 21, 2007

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Copyright = Censorship?

Tonight over a nice dinner talking about the future of taxonomy and science communication, Terry Catapano, a librarian and historian at Columbia University brought up the issue of access to information, and how it would always get out. It’s an interesting comparison between copyright of public funded research and censorship in the age of enlightenment and the former USSR.

In the age of enlightenment, the French would bar not only pornographic but other controversial books from being printed and distributed in France. So Holland and Neuchatel in Switzerland became the places where those of such barred authors like Voltaire or Descartes have been printed an then smuggled into France, where they had their impact. Similarly, the former USSR barred books by Solschenytzyn and others which then appeared in the underground Samisdad literature (with heavy penalties for the owner if caught, like those in today’s hunt for copyright infringement), illegally reproduced works distributed from one reader to the next and eventually finding its way to the West, where it got printed.

Today, copyright in our science has exactly the same effect, that is officially you there is a restriction to access by exorbitant prizing by the publishers like Elsevier, and at the same time, authors happily distribute the pdf via email to anybody who wants to have a copy, like the copied books by the Sowjet dissidents. It is an obstruction to the growth of our knowledge. On the one hand this is leading to small cells of like minded well informed people letting many of us in the dark, on the other hand, the history showed, like in the case of USSR, that such oppressive systems will disappear at some point.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Electronic ark. E. O. Wilson’s idea for a Web-based encyclopedia containing all the species on Earth is now ready for launch. (Science 316: 818; May 11, 2007).

At least somebody get's the credit for all the work done for free to populate electronic ark...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Access to taxonomic descriptions and names

EO Wilson's impact on the access to descriptions of new ant species in 2003. (supported by a grant from Smithsonian's Atherton-Seidall Foundation to scan publications) allows direct access to allmost all the descriptions of the over 12,000 ant species except those copyrighted. Most of the copyrighted descriptions are those of Wilson's Pheidole revision.

In today's Nature (May 10, 2007) is a correspondence by Wheeler and Krell requiring changes in the Codes of Zoological and Botanical Nomenclature to assure that any new described species are immediately known to the universe. For that they require

- First, require such registration before a name is formally available for use.

- Second, require full text descriptions of species to be deposited by publishers or authors in a central, publicly open ‘bank’, free of charge, such as will be provided by ZooBank for zoological names (A. Polaszek et al. Bull. Zool. Nom. 62, 210–220; 2005).

- Third, require electronic publications to include a ‘hot’ link to these banks of names and descriptions. This will ensure precision in reference to names.

The call for open access to systematic literature is not new, but coincides this time with the annoucement of the Encylopedia of Life, which is building very strongly on the published record. Within the Biodiversity Heritage Library component, they plan to scan in the legacy publications. However, there is a limitation to it: Only publications out of what they consider copyright (75 years after the publication which should be in my view 75 years after the death of the author).

That does not give access the way Wheeler and Krell ask for, even if the EOL/BHL team will negotiate with individual publishers to get access, nor does it build on the open access movement green or gold road to open access. Self archiving, increasingly required by research funding bodies (such as the Swiss Science Foundation. Wellcome Trust, etc.) who singed the Berlin Declaration is just one way to go.

It is especially sad to see, that EO Wilson, the figure head of EOL, with all his star power (e.g. as spokesperson for EOL) still supports this main barrier to access to our knowledge by supporting copyright of his own recent work, even though he announced in Nature 424: (2003) "that the publisher is now putting the book online. ", which is still not the case.

- We need to rethink our own behavior. We should change the Codes, that open access to the publication is mandated, and with that that the species descriptions can be discovered online. We need at least to self archive our publications, not signing contracts with publishers which do not allow that.
- We need to convince the publishers that they enter taxonomic specific xml elements marking up the names and the boundaries of descriptions at least (using for example taxonx schema)
- We need to rethink the function of taxonomic publications: The future of systematics will be in data matrices and other databases, from which data can be extracted directly. Currently we need painfully extract information from the legacy publications. This can be avoided if publications would be instruments to control the input into these growing databases as well as to announce in a human readable form that there are new additons to the databases and matrices. It would already be sufficient, if we at least would allow mark up in the current publications so a machine readable xml version could be published at the same time the pdf comes out. PLOS-ONE is such an example, although not yet for systematics.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Launch of the Encylopedia of Life

Yesterday, May 9, 2007 Jonathan D. Fanton, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation, announced the launch of the Encyclopedia of Life initiative here in DC by , which clearly will affect taxonomy and provide much better access to our well hidden knowledge about our species. The project as such is supported by USD50M for the next five years, with a likely extension for another 5 years. It is great, that the money could be raised from MacArthur Foundation (with the lion0s share), the Sloan Foundation and support from the five core institutions, Harvard, The Field Museum, Smithsonian, Marin Biological Lab and Missouri Botanical Garden. The idea is to have within these 10 years for each of the 1.8M species its specific page.

In an interesting way, the participants at the official launch represent – at least for me – the main challenge of this the project: Getting content. I could hardly figure out any active scientist in the crowd. These are the people who actually are building up content, like fishbase or antbase. Populating the database is so far generally a truly bottom up movement, done by individuals and with little support from the respective institutions.

From a different angle, and also in a different time with much more digital tools at hand, the commitment from the core institutions could signal a longlasting shift in this policy, that they became aware, that building up species databases, their underlying catalogues, etc. are a quintessential element in modern research environment, and need be supported similarily to maintaining libraries, GenBank, etc.

This in turn reflects a new development, such as the OECD declaration to provide open access to publicly funded research data. This is again an initiative at top level (Governments).

What is needed now is that we define the needs for our work. We need to talk to the responsibles in these initiatives so that their decisions really reflect what we need, reflect the way we operate, so part of the outcome the EOL or OECD initiatives help us to work more efficiently, as much as it provides a much higher profile for our work. We need to assure, that the initiatives not only reflects the idea of the current core US institutions, but the needs of our colleagues in Europe or the developing world. We also need to assure, that initiatives such as GBIF, IABIN, are not being outcompeted but rather form together a superstructure. These initiatives are global, and thus affect all of us.

For example, a really important part of the project will be the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Clearly, not all the works can be digitized at once, so selection of bodies of literature should happen, to support ongoing research projects and show the benefit of it. Why not propose to scan all the journals with content on Madagascar, reef fishes or other topics, where there is a strong research and conservation community behind?

Don’t sit around, read, be pro-active and voice your concerns and wishes, use your blogs…. It is clear, that even the 100M will not suffice to satisfy all of our dreams, but it is clearly a jumping board into a new age.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The impact of Internet and online libraries on how to do science

"And with the Internet, working in an out-of-the-way town like Missoula is no longer the disadvantage it once was. “People say the library is small,” said Tammy Mildenstein, a graduate student who travels between here and the Philippines to study flying foxes. “But why not get it online and watch deer out your window?”" (NYTimes, May 6, 2007)

A very nice strong statement, that access to online libraries allows to move a away from the big science centers to the places, where the questions arise, be it Montana or increasingly in the developing world. We just need to assure that all our studies are open acecss or at least in self archives.