Thursday, December 17, 2009
  Science or commerce? Copy right or copywrong?
Duane posted an abnormally interesting certificate which came from Lawrence Lessig's keynote talk to EDUCAUSE09. The video is here (I have not seen it as we only have slow intermittent Internet here on the Thai-Burma border).

I posted a long comment on Duane's blog, but since I am unlikely to post anything else here in the next while, on holiday with intermittent Internet, I'll reproduce here in even more extended and focused form, as a post.

Copyright, which seems to mean the right to forbid others to copy, may or may not be theft. Actually, of course it is NOT theft, producers of creative works have the right to obtain a reasonable (or at least today an unreasonable, if they are sufficiently famous) income from their work.

But copyright certainly IS the antithesis of science, since any science worthy of the name is open to debate and criticism.

Education is more interesting. There are two extreme cases:
  • There is a commercial form of education that exists to ration and control the supply of licenced practitioners of various professions - that sort must love copyright.
  • Then there is education as the process of learning to share in the process of growing and nurturing knowledge - that sort detests copyright as its antihesis.
Technology is another really interesting case, which Lessig (on this slide, as I have not seen the whole, having slow intermittent Internet here on the Thai-Burma border) does not mention.

As for education, the question is: Is technology science or commerce?

Now let's consider the case of theological study or education. Is copyright right or wrong? Is theology science (in this post I have tried consistently to use "science" in it's European sense of an open and criticisable body of knowledge) or commerce?

I know where I stand :)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008
  Qeiyafa Ostracon Prophecy
Amid all the understandable fuss about the possible consequences of the finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa, and in particular the enigmatic ostracon, one fact has been overlooked by all.

The finding of the ostracon was prophecied by scholars at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (on a page at months before the event!

The image here shows a fragment of the writing, which chronicles in detail the finding and partial or false publications of its finding even giving often precise dates, all in a webpage copyrighted in 2007. This is a miracle! What a shame that the page does not continue beyond this month... then we'd all know what the ostracon reads even before it is deciphered ;) In the meanwhile I plan to wait for more information before I speculate too much...

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Monday, October 27, 2008
  Vernacular resources: watering the desert of books II
I'm just back from a long weekend away, and teaching tomorrow, so before I respond specifically to comments on the post below, I'll respond to some of the frequently asked questions in other conversations about the idea.

Won't the translations be inaccurate?

Oh yes! But this is part of the attraction of the project, as well as being rendered in the mother tongue the out of copyright texts are also adapted (a little more than is usual in a translation – for all translations are also to some extent cultural adaptations) this makes them more useful. But it may mean that some sort of peer review process should be built in, to ensure that undesirable errors do not creep in. I doubt this needs to be formalised. Since the new “text” is semi-oral and since semi-oral cultures have a flexibility to adapt their texts, the pastor would rework and improve any chapter that their colleagues question.

How will we ensure that busy senior pastors actually find time to do the translating?

First, not a lot of time is needed, just read a chapter, then reread it a paragraph at a time and speak it in their mother tongue. Say two hours for a chapter, once they have done a couple during a training day, and done the first few more slowly on their own. Second, the laptop itself is a carrot. It stays under their authority as long as they produce an agreed number of chapters – becoming their possession after an agreed period. Third, the fact that they are producing this resource is a source of honour (mana etc.) and the fact that it is in their voice will also add to their authority in other things.

Senior pastors won't be able to master the unfamiliar technology!

How many senior pastors do you know who do not have children (and/or grandchildren, nieces, nephews...) in their household. How much training do you think those guys will need? But it is true not all will be able or willing to support the project. Many useful medicines cannot be tolerated by some patients, Penicillin is a well-known example, this does not stop their use among the rest of the population!

Sometimes you have to really hunt for that mobile phone signal.
Photo by MikeBlyth

There will be a lot of new technology to break down and support!

Not a lot. Most of the distribution can be to existing mobile phones or MP3 players. So, for each district you are looking at one laptop (the OLPCs are designed to be rugged and if they are becoming the possession of the families there is an interest in protecting them) and perhaps several MP3 players (they are also very rugged and now quite cheap <$20 retail). You would naturally use the laptop model that is that is chosen for the national education system, or one for which support should be available. And anyway, how much does it cost under the old print system to get books to pastors? And they are culturally inappropriate books, in foreign languages!

This scheme gives the power to the local church!

Yes! Great isn't it :) Print allowed foreign missions, missionaries and ministries to produce “great” resources for the poor people people of the land. This way they get assisted to produce resources for themselves. If they start out doing Matthew Henry in Kisangali, how long do you think it will take before some pastors also produce their own “texts” dealing with locally raised issues? Where has print ever achieved that degree of localisation?

This scheme will reduce the motivation for literacy in places with low literacy rates :(

First, get your priorities right! What are you about? Helping people become clones of the West? Or deepening their understanding? Second, if you think this little project will have a bigger impact than radio, TV and mobile phones you have a higher view of its potential than I have ;) Literacy as we have known it for 500 years is under threat, but this project will not contribute much to the change, though it does work with it rather than resist... “Literacy” and “books” are not idols to be worshiped but a technology and skill that are no longer as dominant as they once were – do not make the dominant technology of the past a fetish object!

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Friday, October 24, 2008
  Watering the "Desert of Books"
Following on from my previous post The "book" of the future Theologians Without Borders has converted a comment to a stimulating post in Transferring Knowledge in a Desert of Books Jennifer Turner puts the experience of teaching in Africa where "libraries were very sparse, due both to shortage of funds and lack of materials in the local language" with the sight of an OLPC laptop, to generate the dream that we might "skip to the next generation of knowledge transfer" by putting a library on such a machine for village pastors.

How about we put these two posts together, and then tweak the results a bit?

At selected centres (like theological colleges) someone provides a laptop stacked with out of copyright or e-texts for which permission had been given. Senior pastors with a good command of the "imperial" language (English, French or whatever) then read selected works a paragraph at a time into the built-in microphone, translating into their mother tongue as they go. It would not be an accurate translation, and it might well include explanation, but that would just make it more useful!

It is in the senior pastors' interest to help, because they get to base a laptop at their home (their kids will nag them into it) and the churches they are responsible for will respect them even more.

These audio books get loaded onto mobile phones (or MP3 players) for village pastors and others. The result semi-literate (and lets face it in much of the world village pastors are often either semi-literate or less than fluently literate) pastors get real solid stimulus and information for a fraction of the cost of print.

It is in the village pastors' interest to listen because they will seem better educated, without all the hassle and risk to their status involved in moving from partial to full literacy.

Do the maths! For a district with say 20 local churches:
  • cost of one laptop, loaded with "books" $250
  • plus 20 MP3 players @ $30 = $600
Round it up to allow for labour $1,000. This provides all the pastoral workers and anyone else who is interested with all you can eat access to all the "books" on the laptop for (say, on average) five years. Compare this with printing "real" books, the same money probably buys 100 paper books!

All we need are:
  • enough people to catch the vision
  • publishers of texts like the Africa Bible Commentary to be willing to see their print editions reach extended twenty-fold
  • people to "sell" the idea to senior pastors
  • a bunch of Western agencies to give up their fetish for print!
Which of the above bottlenecks do you think will scupper this vision? Or can you see other problems with it?

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Friday, September 26, 2008
  Centripetal and centrifugal Internet communication
Life comes from the tension of opposing "forces". Or at least liveliness does (and I suspect a good case could be made for my opening statement - I'm just too lazy, and busy, to make it this morning). Internet communications are frustrating and enlivening because of just such a tension. I have been having a cluster of "conversations" over (or under?) my morning coffee:
  • by email and/or Flickr messages with photographers whose work I have taken and used in slides for a sermon I preached which was videoed for a CareyMedia DVD. These are people I don't know, may never communicate with again, though they have enriched my life and work, so it is nice to thank them as well as prudent to ensure we have their permission (Does a CC no-commercial use license allow a non-profit sale of a work - my sermon - that includes the licensed image - in a slide?)
  • on MSN (using Pidgin so that I could also potentially chat with one of you on Yahoo without yet another app open) with my son in the Isle of Man about his application for a job in Kenya encouraging microenterprise
  • on Facebook with Jim West, about the mysterious disappearance sometimes of the identifications Oxford or Cambridge from the officers of SOTS online - I thought it was something to do with proteraenvy by those associated with "the other place", but apparently it is merely Facebook being "helpful"
  • among the comments on my blog with Bob McD, about Hebrews' use of the Hebrew Bible
The centrifugal impetus of the web is evident in the simple fact of these conversations, none of the participants (except Tirau Dan) occupies the same hemisphere as me, yet we are drawn on the web into contact. (Notice that oddly in cyberspace - to use the archaic but descriptive term - I am the centre to which conversation is drawn ;)

This sort of experience - and yours I suspect was similar but different - is a bit like sitting in the Carey staff room, with three conversations at once ranging from the mundane to the sublime and back again. But in the staffroom the conversations intertwine, and participants from one or the other move and realign. On the Internet they remain separate, only meeting in me, this is the centripetal tendency in Internet communication. Since "I" (and you, of course, dear reader, are also "I") am the centre the conversation is fragmented.

Ah, well, play time is over, it is 8:30 and time to start work...

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Thursday, July 12, 2007
  Dead Sea Scrolls in current liturgy?
In a comment that to another post on ancient hebrew poetry I mention that in a radio interview that I listened to as a podcast from ABC (when will I start just saying an ABC podcast?) George Brooke from Manchester made the almost throwaway remark that some of the prayers from the DSS c/should be used in church today. John stes out to demonstrate this in his “Blessed is the one who does not forsake her in tribulation”: 4Q Beatitudes post.

The photo of Cave 4 at Qumran is from mockstar
(thank you you are a star for making it available with a CC licence

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007
  Copyright, theft and ministry II: welcome to the new renaissance!
Between Claude's post: "You Shall Not Steal Thy Brother’s Song", my comments, and then my post below: "Copyright, theft and ministry" there has been some discussion recently of Christian music, copyright and money.
  • The issue is not going away any time soon.
  • Problems financing online biblical content are similar.
  • Although illegal copying of music is widespread it is publicly discussed seldom in Christian circles.
I'll give it another go!
As background, here is how I understand our situation:
  • Christian ministry needs to be paid for
    • although amateur efforts are great professionals are needed too
    • few churches can really employ musical originators
  • Copying of recorded music is:
    • endemic - can YOU be certain you have no "pirated" material on your MP3 player. or family computer
    • technically easy - despite record companies flirting with dubious protection technologies (think Sony and "rootkits") in fact all they do is restrain the less determined or technically literate users from "pirating"
    • culturally almost accepted1 (see 1 above, opinions are still quite split, but informal evidence suggests an inverse correlation of age and knowledge of, and respect for, copyright laws)
  • No one has yet found a way to turn downloads into cash (dreams of advertising revenues may change this, but have yet to be proven viable for material other than blogs and other text-based sites dedicated to such a business model)
  • The morality (and cultural desirability) of the notion of intellectual "property" is debatable2 .
Keith comments on my post below:
It is expensive to produce music and tour. How do you propose Christian musicians do this in a world that is used to paying for the products it consumes?
I wish I knew! That is my point. I do not see a future where renewed private morality ensures that we all dutifully avoid "consuming" pirate music, videos etc.. DRM schemes will fail (they represent at best an ineffective sea wall against a storm tide). Advertising may succeed though as I wrote below:
iTunes sales are beginning to flatline, and Peter Gabriel (the musician and Internet angel) and other less famous investors are setting up an ad-supported (un-DRMed) MP3 download service. Whether this will work, whether we like the idea of adverts everywhere, or not, this reinforces the deep roots of free culture in the electronic world.
I think Keith's claim that we live in a "world that is used to paying for the products it consumes" is not true any longer for "intellectual products", at least when they are distributable online. And in such a world I begin to wonder if a return to some form of patronage (see "Subscription, advertising and appeals online") is the only answer. To some extent this is already our situation, churches support preachers and increasingly musicians, educational institutions support certain forms of publication (at least through research time, but increasingly through direct payment towards publication), companies sponsor sports teams and symphony orchestras...

...welcome to the new renaissance!

NB. Claude has posted again in "Christians and the Copyright Laws" on the specific issues of Christian music, I have not commented on that post here as this post is already too broad and I wanted to ficus on the financing of publishing (of music, and other intellectual "products") today.
Peter Kirk also has an interesting and careful discussion "Is breach of copyright theft?" which is well worth adding to your reading on this topic! In a comment on his own post Peter refers to "Copyrights and Copying: Why the Laws Should Be Changed" by Vern Poythress concluding:

Poythress says he can only speculate on

what might happen if the restrictions on copying were loosened.

Not quite, he can look at what happens in the many countries in the world (mostly towards the East) where such restrictions, even if existing in theory, are in practice not enforced and ignored by almost everyone. I used to live in such a country. But his speculations seem reasonably accurate about what things were like there: life went on, but intellectual work tended to depend on sponsorship.

I am still in the middle of the first semester marking crisis, and so reading Poythress and further comment will have to wait!

1. How culturally acceptable it is may be debated, "pirating" intellectual property is evidently illegal in most countries, but the ubquity and scale of copying (here I offer the increase in plagiarism in student essays as hard evidence) suggests that culture and law are at odds here. [return]
2. The notion of "intellectual property is modern, it was introduced to protect "authors" from publishers. It is now used mainly to protect publishers from the public. It is culturally vital that ideas (including artistic "ideas") get remixed. The concept of property relates to physical objects, "intellectual property is immaterial. Yet "authors" need to derive a living from their work, unless all creativity is to be a spare time activity. [return]


Thursday, June 21, 2007
  Copyright, theft and ministry
Claude has a post "You Shall Not Steal Thy Brother’s Song" in which he reminds us that using copyright material without permission is theft. In the course of the post (and again in reply to a comment I left) he provides examples of such theft, and of how it can hurt (particularly) Christian artists. Claude and I - I believe - agree that breach of copyright is theft (I'd add: of a sort). However, in my comment I went beyond this, since his post evokes a mixed response in me. I said, among other things:
I also have reservations about the whole Christian Music Industry, if music IS a ministry, then it should be funded and supported like other ministries are. Not through the grasping selfish mechanisms of an "industry".

I am deeply saddened when I hear of copyright Bibles, that people cannot copy to disseminate, I am equally sad when I hear of Christian Musicians who make more than a good living out of
"selling" the gospel, just like the worst TV Evangelists. Next thing Pastor X will copyright his sermons, and how long before Disney trademarks the term "Gospel".

So, I agree with what you say, but I wish people would say and do more to help undo this sad
commercialisation of what should be good news for everyone!
Because, while as currently structured breach of copyright is theft, it is also true that as it currently operates the "intellectual property" ideology combines with the worst features of capitalism to become the means by which "stars" and record companies, make excess profit, young struggling artists are NOT supported and the Christian message becomes a commercial "product" to be packaged and sold - quite literally. To my mind selling the gospel is sin - and that is worse than theft, for theft is merely a crime!

Until Christians (whether musicians or not) learn to opt out of the diabolic system of fame, pride and wealth that has crippled the Church in the Western world, and is decimating our reach into our neighbourhoods, Christian music will remain an "industry" and "Christian music" will continue to be protected by complex and restrictive DRM mechanisms, and will continue to be stolen.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007
  Wired and those voices in your head
The Gaget Lab blog at Wired magazine has a short but thought provoking post on how DRM and greed among the publishing classes may have killed the e-book goose, before it could start laying eggs. The item also has a nice (little) link to Librivox, where my rendition of Stalky and Co. by Rudyard Kipling has now passed 1,000 downloads in just over a week!

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Friday, February 16, 2007
  Plagiarism and "The Ecstasy of Influence"
We were discussing plagiarism in the teaching staff meeting yesterday. It's a perennial subject, with a series of well remembered moans and gripes, as teachers battle with students. In the past we conducted a sort of Source Criticism by noticing changes of style, or unusually felicitous turns of phrase, and searching out half remembered passages from the textbooks on our shelves. Or in extreme and bothersome cases in the library. [I'll return to plagiarism as a student misdemeanor later... First I'll direct you to a fine, superbly written meditation The Ecstasy of Influence, by NY writer Jonathan Lethem, in Harper's.]

Art and life in a world of influence and dubbing

Lethem reminds us how Blues, Jazz and literature all exist through an "open source" style adapting and adopting by one artist of what others have done. Yet these artforms are merely well known examples where this phenomenon is overt and often recognised. They are examples of all art. If you enjoy reading and thinking, read the piece!

Gradually Lethem moves on to copyright, noting the early copyright battles over photography (another art that evidently only works by framing existing material in a new way):
Was the photographer stealing from the person or building whose photograph he shot, pirating something of private and certifiable value? Those early decisions went in favor of the pirates. Just as Walt Disney could take inspiration from Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr., the Brothers Grimm, or the existence of real mice, the photographer should be free to capture an image without compensating the source. The world that meets our eye through the lens of a camera was judged to be, with minor exceptions, a sort of public commons, where a cat may look at a king.
Introducing the delightful image that we are all born backwards into this world, experiencing the past through the present:
The world is a home littered with pop-culture products and their emblems. I also came of age swamped by parodies that stood for originals yet mysterious to me—I knew Monkees before Beatles, Belmondo before Bogart, and “remember” the movie Summer of '42 from a Mad magazine satire, though I've still never seen the film itself. I'm not alone in having been born backward into an incoherent realm of texts, products, and images, the commercial and cultural environment with which we've both supplemented and blotted out our natural world.
In such a world the iniquities of "copyright" are clear:
The idea that culture can be property—intellectual property—is used to justify everything from attempts to force the Girl Scouts to pay royalties for singing songs around campfires to the infringement suit brought by the estate of Margaret Mitchell against the publishers of Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone. Corporations like Celera Genomics have filed for patents for human genes, while the Recording Industry Association of America has sued music downloaders for copyright infringement, reaching out-of-court settlements for thousands of dollars with defendants as young as twelve.
Meanwhile back in the classroom

Students who - perhaps rightly in view of the experiences Lethem evokes - see reuse as thoroughly legitimate and teachers who strive to hold them to the rules of academic rigour, which include "proper citation", perhaps need to step back and ask why academics cite while artists remix.

Academics cite because the scholarly guild, like any guild worth the name, is built on community, tradition and authority. Citing sources is not as some non-Western students assume another example of Western individualism and private property running rampant across their lives, but rather the desire to document how one's ideas are built upon the work of others. It is precisely community that drives citation. Failure to record one's dept is not merely theft of ideas (from a member of the same guild!) but also lack of respect for the honour of another, and so dishonouring to the writer who fails to acknowledge that debt.

The three levels of citation:
  • page reference and quotation marks: for words that are being added to your remix
  • page reference: where particular ideas but not the other author's wording are being used
  • mention in a bibliography: for all works that were useful
are distinguished for more utilitarian reasons, the bibliography and page references allow another remixer (your reader) to benefit from your work, and so allow you to contribute to "scholarship" not merely through whatever small idea is "new" but also through your work in searching, sifting and evaluating the prior literature.

So, the academic sin of plagiarism remains a sin - even in the world that we enter backwards, where all our best thoughts and words are remixing the ideas and expressions of others - because it fails the rules of the scholarly guild and lacks respect for other members of the guild and fails to support them.

Plagiarism is individualistic theft, just as copyright is!

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