The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code (NMDPMBC) of Australia made headlines earlier this year. The Australian government’s new legislation hopes to “[address] bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and [news businesses.]” It does this by imposing that all digital platforms must pay news organizations for any use of its news products. Including but not limited to merely linking to news.
For the past couple of years Andreas Cord-Landwehr has done excellent work on moving KDE in a more structured licensing direction. Free software licensing is an often overlooked topic, that is collectively understood to be important, but also incredibly annoying, bureaucratic, and complex. We all like to ignore it more than we should.
If you are working on KDE software you really should check out KDE’s licenses howto and maybe also glance over the comprehensive policy. In particular when you start a new repo!
I’d like to shine some light on a simple but incredibly useful tool: reuse. reuse helps you check licensing compliance with some incredibly easy commands.
Say you start a new project. You create your prototype source, maybe add a readme – after a while it’s good enough to make public and maybe propose for inclusion as mature KDE software by going through KDE Review. You submit it for review and if you are particularly unlucky you’ll have me come around the corner and lament how your beautiful piece of software isn’t completely free software because some files lack any sort of licensing information. Alas!
See, you had better use reuse…
pip3 install --user reuse
reuse lint: lints the source and tells you which files aren’t licensed
reuse download --all: downloads the complete license files needed for compliance based on the licenses used in your source (unfortunately you’ll still need to manually create the KDEeV variants)
If you are unsure how to license a given file, consult the licensing guide or the policy or send a mail to one of the devel mailing lists. There’s help a plenty.
Now that you know about the reuse tool there’s even less reason to start projects without 100% compliance so I can shut up about it
For this one, two questions, coming at the same topic at different angles. First, this from Dominic Morton:
Should we teach “the classics” in high school? In the past I felt like the novels and plays I teach my students are a part of our cultural vocabulary, so they have common ground with other adults, later in life, but after once again slogging through Huckleberry Finn and (ugh) The Scarlet Letter I’m starting to think that what is important is practicing reading a longer work while holding details in your mind as you analyze a novel. How important do you think it is for all sophomore or junior teachers to teach the same titles from English canon?
And this from Kevin Fortier:
What do you think about classics being banned and censored in public schools (Such as 1984, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc.)?
For the record I’ve read all those books in question, and most of them as a teenager. I liked Huck until Tom Sawyer showed up as a special guest star and pulled focus; Scarlet seemed overwrought; Catcher made me want to roll my eyes at Holden; Mockingbird was okay and 1984 was the one that engaged me on a level other than “dutifully read.” There, full disclosure.
Books being censored or banned in schools is as American as apple pie, enough so that the ALA has an annual list of the top ten most banned and challenged books in the country, from schools and libraries. Strangely, the most challenged and banned books in recent years are not “the classics” but modern books with LGBTQIA+ content, and/or sexual themes or profanity. The classics occasionally sneak on there — Mockingbird showed up a couple of years back, as did the Bible (“Reason: Religious viewpoint,” which, I mean, yes, it definitely has that). But the focus does seem to, shall we say, elsewhere.
I grew up with a parent whose philosophy with books was “if you can reach it, you can read it,” and that was the same philosophy that I had with my own kid, so as a matter of personal temperament, I don’t think it’s either necessary or desirable to try to ban books of any sort from schools or libraries. Also, as a general rule, within the constraints of the US Constitution’s establishment clause, I don’t think any book should be automatically excluded from public school classes or reading lists. Now, this is a very Olympian sort of attitude that falls apart where the pedagogical rubber meets the educational road, and where teachers actually have to make reading choices and then defend them to politically polarized parents of all sorts. Educators, feel free to unload on me in the comments for this (and all the other blathering that follows in this essay). But it is my overarching philosophy and I’m sticking to it.
This does mean when someone wants to have a handwring about a certain book (or a certain set of books) being banned or challenged, my first instinct is to wonder whether their outrage is situational — “It’s fine to ban those books, but these books are different” — and if it is, I admit to being less than entirely sympathetic to their pleas. A book banner is a book banner, and if your attitude is ban those but not this, then you kind of lose me. Having both been a teen and having had a child who was a teen, banning books is pointless anyway. A certain type of kid won’t give a shit one way or another; they were never going to read that book (or, possibly, any book) other than under duress. A different certain type of kid will be encouraged to seek out that book because it was banned, either from curiosity or to piss off whomever was attempting to censor it. Neither sort will be protected or comforted by a ban. It will literally not do any good.
With all of that said, I do not have any special great love for “the classics” in an educational setting, not because I’m worried about their outdated word use and attitudes, but because they’re often boring as shit, and often neither spark a love of the literature itself, nor a deep examination of the issues they are meant to help the students engage with. And that’s no good! So when we ask about whether we should teach “the classics” in school, I think the question is why are we teaching “the classics” in school?
So, for example: Are you doing a class in the History of American Literature? Yes? Fine, throw The Scarlet Letter in there. The kids who are taking the class pretty much know what they are getting into when they sign up for the course; they’re aware they’re going to spend at least some of their time reading work whose style, language and manner of storytelling is of a particular sort, and indeed, that’s part of the reason to take the class.
Are you teaching a general English class and assigning reading to help engage the students in the written word and to see how it’s relevant to their life? For fuck’s sake I beg of you do not assign The Scarlet Letter, you will smother their interest in the written word right there in that classroom. Give the kids something newer and something that they can more immediately see themselves in. Meet them on their own turf before you try to drag their ass back to Puritan New England and Nathaniel gotdang Hawthorne. It’s not too much to ask.
Well, like what? you may ask. What should we give today’s kids to read? Folks, I am not the one to ask. You know who you might ask? A young adult librarian, whose job (in part) it is to keep up with what’s going on in the world of YA, what’s being published and has been published in the last several years that could help today’s teachers achieve specific goals to engage their students. Or maybe check with an actual teacher! They often know! Ask them! Of course, be aware that what they might suggest might freak out a parent because it has a gay kid in it — please see above about what work actually gets challenged and banned in schools on a regular basis .
Which in itself might be a reason that educators often stick with “the classics” — it’s easier to haul out The Great Gatsby (An adulterous con man seeks the approval of high society — surprisingly relevant), which has passed the sniff test for high school for 50 years now, then to undergo the draining process of suggesting, defending and then dealing with the parental freakouts that come with, offering something new and relevant to the way kids live their lives today.
One other point to consider when we consider “the classics,” and not to be overlooked, is that “the classics” did not arise out of nowhere; choices were made over decades, and most of those choices were made by white folks. If there is one thing we know about white folks and their survey of American (and indeed, world) culture, it is a pronounced tendency to, how to put this, leave certain things out, and to make themselves look good. If you suggest to many of them there are other things outside the established canon of “the classics” they tend to get snippy about it. I mean, I get it, I went to the University of Chicago with its “core curriculum,” and when The Core was widened enough to consider the idea that Thought Itself did not spring only from an olive grove in Greece, there was much harrumphing. And this was from people who, from training and knowledge, fucking knew better. Your average white parent with a child in America’s various public school systems is not necessarily going to do better than a University of Chicago classics professor.
If we must teach “the classics,” especially the American ones, then we should be sure that “the classics” reflect more of the American experience than, say, The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby do. Those books do not need to go away! But they sure as hell need more company.
Ultimately, and again: Why are we teaching “the classics”? If we’re doing it because it’s what we’ve always done and we like doing things the way they’ve always been done, well, that’s a shit reason, and we need a better one. There are a lot of “classics” whose putative job in the educational milieu could be done equally well if not better by different, more engaging and more diverse work. Don’t ban or abandon “the classics”; teach them in milieus where they are relevant. Teach other work elsewhere. Students, at the very least, will benefit from that.
(There’s still time to get in a topic request for this year’s Reader Request Week — go here to learn how to do it and to leave a topic suggestion!)
You may remember I have been irregularly streaming on Twitch some of my FLOSS work, which focused almost exclusively on unpaper over the past few months. Now, unrelated to this, Cats Protection, the British no-profit whose primary goal is to rehome cats in need, launched their Pawsome Players initiative, aiming at raising fund through streaming — video games primarily, but not just.
With this in mind, I decided to join the fun, and will be streaming for the whole week at least an hour every day, and work on more FLOSS projects. You can find the full schedule (as well as donate to the campaign) on Tiltify, and if you want to get reminded of a particular night, you can join the events on the blog’s Facebook page.
In addition to wrapping up the Meson conversion of Unpaper, I’m planning to do a little bit of work on quite a few more other projects:
I have a new glucometer I want to reverse engineer, and with that comes an opportunity to see my way of working through this type of work; I’m not as entertaining and deep as Hector, but if you have never looked over the shoulder of a “black box” reverse engineer, I think it might be interesting. The code I’ll be working on is likely usbmon-tools rather than glucometerutils, but there’s a chance that I’ll get so far ahead I’ll actually implement the code.
Speaking of reverse engineering, I have a few adapters I designed (and got printed) for my Saleae Logic Pro 16. I have not released the schematics for those yet, but I now have the work approvals to. I should make a repository for them and release them, I’ll do that on stream!
I want to make some design changes to my Birch Books, which I’ll discuss on stream. It’s going to be a bit more PCB “designing” (I use quotes here, because I’m far from a designer, and more of a “cobbler together”) which is likely going to be scary for those who do know what they are doing.
I’m also open to the idea of doing some live code-reviews — I did lots of those when working at Google, and while for those I had a lot of specific standards to appeal to, a number of suggestions are nearly universal, and I have done this before where I was pointed at some Python project and gave some general advice of what I see. I’d be willing to take a random project and see what I can notice, if the author is willing!
Also, bonus points for anyone who guesses where the name of the fundraising page from.
So I hope I’ll hear from you on the stream chat (over on Twitch), and that you’ll join me in supporting Cats Protection to help find every kitty a forever home (me and my wife would love to be one of those homes, but it’s not easy when renting in London), and reach the £1985 target.
Presented here for archival purposes, and also because I know not all of you go to the Twitters.
Background: Writer Matthew Yglesias, who should have known better but I guess needed the clicks, offered up the opinion that the term of copyright should be shortened to 30 years (currently in the US it’s Life+70 years). This naturally outraged other writers, because copyrights let them make money. This caused a writer by the name of Tim Lee to wonder why people were annoyed by Yglesias’ thought exercise, since he thought 30 years was more than enough time for people to benefit from their books (NB: Lee has not written a book himself), and anyway, as he said in a follow up tweet: “Nobody writes a book so that the royalties will support them in retirement decades later. They’re mostly thinking about the money they’ll make in the next few years.”
This is where I come in.
First Twitter Thread about Copyright, from yesterday:
The fuck we don't, pal
I write books as a fucking business, thank you very much, and part of my business is the long tail — creating a body of work that is saleable for many years. It's one reason I have that long contract with Tor: All my novels at one house, motivated to keep it *all* in print.
MOREOVER, a backlist I control means the ability to sell older novels as new in foreign markets and into other media formats years after the were originally published. Those additional publications/adaptations feed into backlist sales of the original work, and thus, royalties.
It is true that no one knows how well a book will sell in the long run — but then no one knows how well they will sell in the short run, either. Authors should have the opportunity to benefit from their work whenever (and if ever) it generates income, certainly in their life.
If you were to ask me the ideal copyright length for individuals: Life+25 (or 75 years, whichever is longer). This way I can profit from my work, and so can my spouse if I die before her. My grandkids can work for a living. Corporations: 75 years.
I get annoyed when people who clearly don't know my business opine about my fucking business, why I do it, and how I do it. I'm an "artist" but I tend to my career and I have built a business for a long haul. Which, yes, includes royalties as a potential long-term income stream.
Done with this nonsense now.
After this was was the usual back and forth by people who don’t seem to know much about copyright and/or have a pet idea they think is actually useful (but usually isn’t) and/or wanted to go a-trollin’. Dealing with all of these prompted a second thread about copyright, which I posted today:
1. So, as a follow-up to yesterday’s thread and comments about copyrights and lengths thereof, some additional thoughts about the practical and theoretical issues revolving copyrights, their length and copyrightable intellectual property in general. Ready? Here we go:
2. To begin, the pipe dream of a 30-year-term of copyright really is just that, a pipe dream. 179 countries including the US are signatories to the Berne Convention, a treaty tightly wound into the World Trade Organization. Here’s the actual text:
3. Basically, the Berne Convention and its terms are the “floor” for copyrights; you can’t offer less protection than it offers and be a signatory. A copyright term of 30 years-and-out is, uhh, *less.* It is not seriously going to be considered any time soon. So, it’s Life+50, folks.
4. Now, and of course, you may rail, if your heart desires, about the injustice of this particular term of copyright; I myself would trim it back a bit to life+25. But unless you convince 179 national signatories to amend a highly standardized and *functional enough* treaty, meh.
5. Beyond that very practical issue, there’s the matter that you need to make a compelling moral, ethical AND economic argument to copyright holders that they should accede to your revised-but-certainly-less-than-current copyright term. Spoiler: Good luck with that!
6. The moral/ethical case is ironically the easiest to make: think of the public good! And indeed the public domain is a vital good, which should be celebrated and protected — no copyright should run forever. It should be tied to the benefit of the creator, then to the public.
7. Where you run into trouble is arguing to a creator that *their* copyright should be *less* than the term of their life (plus a little bit for family). It’s difficult enough to make money as a creator; arguing that tap should be stoppered in old age, is, well. *Unconvincing.*
8. Likewise, limiting that term limits a creator’s ability to earn from their work in less effable ways. If there’s a 30-year term of copyright and my work is at year 25, selling a movie/tv option is likely harder, not only because production takes a long time (trust me)…
9. …but also because after a certain point, it would make sense to just wait out the copyright and exclude the originator entirely. A too-short copyright term has an even *shorter* economic shelf-life than the term, basically. Why on earth would creators agree to that?
10. (Not to mention that if creators *do* want to offer their creations in a substantively freer fashion to the public before their copyright term expires, they already have options via Creative Commons and estate planning; for those folks, it’s a somewhat solved problem.)
11. But wait, you say, copyright terms used to be shorter! Yes! They were! And at one time they didn’t exist at all! But that’s not *now.* And *now* is what you have to work with. And *now,* it would be you who has to make a compelling argument to lower those term lengths.
12. Let me come at it from another direction: You want things in the public domain quicker. Okay! But what do I get for agreeing to this, that *replaces* my ability to control and benefit from my creations? Are you offering UBI? Universal health care? A robust safety net?
13. If the answer to the above questions is “no,” then fuck you, pal, I got no reason to play your silly game. I live in the US of fucking A, where we have shitty wages, shitty health care and a truly shitty safety net. My creations are how I eat, pay bills, and care for family.
14. “But you can just write other things!” Sure. OR, I can write other things AND still control the things I’ve written before. “But society benefits from public domain!” Sure! AND they’ll benefit even more if I can live comfortably to create more things to go into PD later.
15. Want to make a robustly moral AND economic argument for shorter copyright terms? You MUST start with building a society that does not punish creators for having those shorter terms. Until and unless you do, your words won’t convince creators whose lives depend on copyrights.
16. In sum: Practically, copyright terms are settled (and slightly too long), but even if they weren’t, we have not (in the US at least) created a society where shorter copyright terms make sense for many creators. Let’s create that society! I’d be happy to revisit this then.
17. Thanks for your attention. And now, as usual, a cat picture to close out the thread. Here’s Zeus, all casual.