The transcript of David Heinemeier Hansson keynote from last year’s RailsConf is well worth reading. It’s ostensibily about open source software but it delves into much larger questions.
Monday, February 10th, 2020
Monday, August 26th, 2019
Maciej goes marching.
The protests are intentionally decentralized, using a jury-rigged combination of a popular message board, the group chat app Telegram, and in-person huddles at the protests.
This sounds like it shouldn’t possibly work, but the protesters are too young to know that it can’t work, so it works.
Friday, February 23rd, 2018
Mike pours his heart out on Ev’s blog.
I’m not entirely sure if I agree with him about licensing or certification for designers (and developers?), but I absolutely 100% agree on the need for unionisation.
We need to be held accountable for our actions. We’ve been moving fast. We’ve been breaking things. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes out of ignorance. The effects are the same. The things we’re building are bigger than they used to be, and have more reach. The moment to slow down is here. Because what we’re breaking is too important and too precious. Much of it is irreplaceable.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
When Aaron talks, I listen. This time he’s talking about digital (and analogue) preservation, and how that can clash with licensing rules.
It is time for the sector to pick a fight with artists, and artist’s estates and even your donors. It is time for the sector to pick a fight with anyone that is preventing you from being allowed to have a greater — and I want to stress greater, not total — license of interpretation over the works which you are charged with nurturing and caring for.
It is time to pick a fight because, at least on bad days, I might even suggest that the sector has been played. We all want to outlast the present, and this is especially true of artists. Museums and libraries and archives are a pretty good bet if that’s your goal.
Images, videos, sounds, and 3D models are now available from the European Space Agency under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license.
Monday, August 29th, 2016
The history of the GIF—a tale of licensing, compression, and standards.
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
Adrian documents how he’s using Service Workers on Soundslice. I could imagine doing something similar for The Session.
Saturday, March 21st, 2015
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
This is a superbly-written, empathetic, nuanced look at the issues around Creative Commons licensing, particularly the danger of inferring a “spirit” in a legal agreement.
“Spirit” as it’s being used in this conversation is a relative term. You have the spirit of the user, the spirit of the license, the spirit of the community, the spirit of the service, and the spirit of the law. All these can align and all these can diverge and that’s OK. It is also the reason we have a legal system that sets clear parameters for how things can be interpreted: Spirit is relative, legal decisions and documents are not (at least in theory). The whole idea of a legal contract (under which we can find CC licenses) is that there is no room for interpretation. The meaning of the document is singular, unambiguous, and not up for debate. Of course this is purely theoretical, but that’s the idea anyway.
The problem arises when the spirit – or intent – of the user when applying a license differs from the actual legal interpretation of that same license.
The title is harsh, but this is a good summation of the issues involved in choosing a Creative Commons licence.
Open licensing is about giving up control so that other people can benefit. That’s all it will cost you: control. Having control feels nice. But you should ask yourself what it really gets you. And you should think about what others might gain if you were able to let go.
Think carefully and decide what you need. No one is going to make you tick that Creative Commons box. But when you do, it’s a promise.
Creative Commons licences have a variety of attributes, that can be combined together:
- No-derivatives: the work can be reused, but not altered.
- Attribution: the work must be credited.
- Share-alike: any derivates must share the same licence.
- Non-commercial: the work can be used, but not for commercial purposes.
That last one is important. If you don’t attach a non-commercial licence to your work, then your work can be resold for profit (it might be remixed first, or it might have to include your name—that all depends on what other attributes you’ve included in the licence).
If you’re not comfortable with anyone reselling your work, you should definitely choose a non-commercial licence.
Flickr is planning to sell canvas prints of photos that have been licensed under Creative Commons licenses that don’t include the non-commercial clause. They are perfectly within their rights to do this—this is exactly what the licence allows—but some people are very upset about it.
Jeffrey says it’s short-sighted and sucky because it violates the spirit in which the photos were originally licensed. I understand that feeling, but that’s simply not the way that the licences work. If you want to be able to say “It’s okay for some people to use my work for profit, but it’s not okay for others”, then you need to apply a more restrictive licence (like copyright, or Creative Commons Non-commercial) and then negotiate on a case-by-case basis for each usage.
But if you apply a licence that allows commercial usage, you must accept that there will be commercial usages that you aren’t comfortable with. Frankly, Flickr selling canvas prints of your photos is far from a worst-case scenario.
I licence my photos under a Creative Commons Attribution licence. That means they can be used anywhere—including being resold for profit—as long as I’m credited as the photographer. Because of that, my photos have shown up in all sorts of great places: food blogs, Wikipedia, travel guides, newspapers. But they’ve also shown up in some awful places, like Techcrunch. I might not like that, but it’s no good me complaining that an organisation (even one whose values I disagree with) is using my work exactly as the licence permits.
Before allowing commercial use of your creative works, you should ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” The worst that could happen includes scenarios like white supremacists, misogynists, or whacko conspiracy theorists using your work on their websites, newsletters, and billboards (with your name included if you’ve used an attribution licence). If you aren’t willing to live with that, do not allow commercial use of your work.
When I chose to apply a Creative Commons Attribution licence to my photographs, it was because I decided I could live with those worst-case scenarios. I decided that the potential positives outweighed the potential negatives. I stand by that decision. My photos might appear on a mudsucking site like Techcrunch, or get sold as canvas prints to make money for Flickr, but I’m willing to accept those usages in order to allow others to freely use my photos.
Some people have remarked that this move by Flickr to sell photos for profit will make people think twice about allowing commercial use of their work. To that I say …good! It has become clear that some people haven’t put enough thought into their licensing choices—they never asked “What’s the worst that could happen?”
And let’s be clear here: this isn’t some kind of bait’n’switch by Flickr. It’s not like liberal Creative Commons licensing is the default setting for photos hosted on that site. The default setting is copyright, all rights reserved. You have to actively choose a more liberal licence.
So I’m trying to figure out how it ended up that people chose the wrong licence for their photos. Because I want this to be perfectly clear: if you chose a licence that allows for commercial usage of your photos, but you’re now upset that a company is making commercial usage of your photos, you chose the wrong licence.
Perhaps the licence-choosing interface could have been clearer. Instead of simply saying “here’s what attribution means” or “here’s what non-commercial means”, perhaps it should also include lists of pros and cons: “here’s some of the uses you’ll be enabling”, but also “here’s the worst that could happen.”
Jen suggests a new Creative Commons licence that essentially inverts the current no-derivates licence; this would be a “derivative works only” licence. But unfortunately it sounds a bit too much like a read-my-mind licence:
What if I want to allow someone to use a photo in a conference slide deck, even if they are paid to present, but I don’t want to allow a company that sells stock photos to snatch up my photo and resell it?
Jen’s post is entitled I Don’t Want “Creative Commons By” To Mean You Can Rip Me Off …but that’s exactly what a Creative Commons licence without a non-commercial clause can mean. Of course, it’s not the only usage that such a licence allows (it allows many, many positive scenarios), but it’s no good pretending it were otherwise. If you’re not comfortable with that use-case, don’t enable it. Personally, I’m okay with that use-case because I believe it is offset by the more positive usages.
And that’s an important point: this is a personal decision, and not one to be taken lightly. Personally, I’m not a professional or even amateur photographer, so commercial uses of my photos are fine with me. Most professional photographers wouldn’t dream of allowing commercial use of their photos without payment, and rightly so. But even for non-professionals like myself, there are implications to allowing commercial use (one of those implications being that there will be usages you won’t necessarily be happy about).
So, going back to my earlier question, does the licence-choosing interface on Flickr make the implications of your choice clear?
Here’s the page for applying licences. You get to it by going to “Settings”, then “Privacy and Permissions,” then under “Defaults for new uploads,” the setting “What license will your content have.”
On that page, there’s a heading “Which license is right for you?” That has three hyperlinks:
- A page on Creative Commons about the licences,
- Frequently Asked Questions,
- A page of issues specifically related to images.
In that list of Frequently Asked Questions, there’s What things should I think about before I apply a Creative Commons license? and How should I decide which license to choose? There’s some good advice in there (like when in doubt, talk to a lawyer), but at no point does it suggest that you should ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?”
So it certainly seems that Flickr could be doing a better job of making the consequences of your licensing choice clearer. That might have the effect of making it a scarier choice, and it might put some people off using Creative Commons licences. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I would much rather that people made an informed decision.
When I chose to apply a Creative Commons Attribution licence to my photos, I did not make the decision lightly. I assumed that others who made the same choice also understood the consequences of that decision. Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that some people made uninformed licensing decisions in the past, which explains why they’re upset now (and I’m not blaming them for making the wrong decision—Flickr, and even Creative Commons, could have done a better job of providing relevant, easily understable information).
But this is one Internet Outrage train that I won’t be climbing aboard. Alas, that means I must now be considered a corporate shill who’s sold out to The Man.
Pointing out that a particular Creative Commons licence allows the Klu Klux Klan to use your work isn’t the same as defending the Klu Klux Klan.
Pointing out that a particular Creative Commons licence allows a hardcore porn film to use your music isn’t the same as defending hardcore porn.
Pointing out that a particular Creative Commons licence allows Yahoo to flog canvas prints of your photos isn’t the same as defending Yahoo.
Saturday, December 14th, 2013
This is a wonderful addition to the already-wonderful Flickr Commons: over one million pictures from the British Library, available with liberal licensing.
Y’know, I’m worried about what will happen to my own photos when Flickr inevitably goes down the tubes (there are still some good people there fighting the good fight, but they’re in the minority and they’re battling against the douchiest of Silicon Valley managerial types who have been brought in to increase “engagement” by stripping away everything that makes Flickr special) …but what really worries me is what’s going to happen to Flickr Commons. It’s an unbelievably important and valuable resource.
Thursday, September 19th, 2013
The document that officially put the World Wide Web into the public domain on 30 April 1993. - CERN Document Server
Earlier today, thanks to Robert Cailliau, I held the only notarised copy of this document. That was quite a feeling.
Friday, November 16th, 2012
A lovely new service from Adrian that allows you to sync up guitar tabs with videos. It’s a very impressive in-browser app.
Monday, August 13th, 2012
This is a great idea: a community of volunteers distilling the Terms of Service agreements from websites into understandable terms.
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Getting ahead in advertising
One of the other speakers at this year’s Webstock was Matthew Inman. While he was in Wellington, he published a new Oatmeal comic called I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened.
I can relate to the frustration he describes. I watched most of Game of Thrones while I was in Arizona over Christmas. I say “most” because the final episode was shown on the same day that Jessica and I were flying back to the UK. Once we got back home, we tried to obtain that final episode by legal means. We failed. And so we torrented it …just as described in Matt’s comic.
The single least-attractive attribute of many of the people who download content illegally is their smug sense of entitlement.
As Marco Arment points out, Andy might be right but it’s not a very helpful approach to solving the real problem:
Relying solely on yelling about what’s right isn’t a pragmatic approach for the media industry to take. And it’s not working. It’s unrealistic and naïve to expect everyone to do the “right” thing when the alternative is so much easier, faster, cheaper, and better for so many of them.
The pragmatic approach is to address the demand.
I was reminded of this kind of stubborn insistence in defending the old way of doing things while I was thinking about …advertising.
Have a read of this wonderful anecdote called TV Is Broken which describes the reaction of a young girl thitherto only familiar with on-demand streaming of time-shifted content when she is confronted with the experience of watching “regular” television:
“Did it break?”, she asks. It does sometimes happen at home that Flash or Silverlight implode, interrupt her show, and I have to fix it.
“No. It’s just a commercial.”
“What’s a commercial?”, she asks.
“It is like little shows where they tell you about other shows and toys and snacks.”, I explain.
“Well the TV people think you might like to know about this stuff.”
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
Andy Ihnatko might argue that the young girl needs to sit there and just take the adverts because, hey, that’s the way things have always worked in the past, dagnabbit. Advertising executives would agree. They would, of course, be completely and utterly wrong. Just because something has worked a certain way in the past doesn’t mean it should work that way in the future. If anything, it is the media companies and advertisers who are the ones debilitated by a sense of self-entitlement.
Advertising has always felt strange on the web. It’s an old-world approach that feels out of place bolted onto our new medium. It is being interpreted as damage and routed around. I’m not just talking about ad-blockers. Services like Instapaper and Readability—and, to a certain extent, RSS before them—are allowing people to circumvent the kind of disgustingly dehumanising advertising documented in Merlin’s Noise to Noise Ratio set of screenshots. Those tools are responding to the customers and readers.
There’s been a lot of talk about advertising in responsive design lately—it was one of the talking points at the recent Responsive Summit in London—and that’s great; it’s a thorny problem that needs to be addressed. But it’s one of those issues where, if you look at it deeply enough, keeping the user’s needs in mind, the inevitable conclusion is that it’s a fundamentally flawed approach to interacting with readers/viewers/users/ugly bags of mostly water.
Can UX designers make a difference in the advertising field? Possibly. But I see it as a a quixotic endeavour, swimming against the tide of a value system that frequently causes the disempowerment of the user.
I realise that in pointing out that advertising is fundamentally shit, I’m not being very helpful and I’m not exactly offering much in the way of solutions or alternatives. But I rail against the idea that we need to accept intrusive online advertising just because “that’s the way things have always been.” There are many constructs—advertising, copyright—that we treat as if they are immutable laws of nature when in fact they may be outmoded business concepts more suited to the last century (if they ever really worked at all).
So when I see the new IAB Display Advertising Guidelines which consist of more of the same shit piled higher and deeper, my immediate reaction is:
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
A lovely new typeface from Nicole Dotin that’s available to purchase as a web font under the very reasonable terms of the Process license agreement.
Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
A handy template for releasing code into the public domain.
Friday, December 10th, 2010
A well-written account of a disgraceful situation. "We all go down together, horses looming above us, baton blows still coming down on our heads and shoulders. I am genuinely afraid that I might be about to die, and begin to thumb in my parents' mobile numbers on my phone to send them a message of love."
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
A repository of liberally-licensed fonts to link to with @font-face.