Mapping for the masses: Population Density in Kitchener-Waterloo

One of my sidebar projects this fall has been to get back into mapping socio-economic data. This is something I used to do quite a bit four years ago (these maps have sadly succumbed to linkrot and plugin abandonment). Projecting numeric data onto maps is easier than most people think, and ever since I moved to a new city in 2013, I planned to pick up this skill again to learn a few things about my new town. And as a data librarian, I know where to find and work with census data, so it was easy to kickstart things into gear once more.

Below is a map showing population density in Waterloo Region’s census tracts at the 2011 census. Click through to get the entire map:

The interesting thing about this map isn’t so much its colorful polygons, (based on statistics anyone can download here) but the tools I used to build it.  When I was creating maps in 2010, the average person who wanted to hack something out was limited largely to using Arc on his or her campus, or using the open source (and still maturing) variant, QGIS, or working with Google Maps. These days, QGIS is very mature and has a strong developer community, GMaps is still going strong, and users can use services such as Mapbox’s TileMill. The options to choose from are stronger, and there is an option that can meet your background, whatever it may be.

As an example, I’m linking over to Mita Williams’s recent work mapping population change in Windsor, Ontario, as well as making the case for electoral change in her hometown.  Mita is a UX librarian and far more of a coder than I’ll ever be, so her recent work with maps shows a freer hand at hacking out java to make things go, while I use plugins within QGIS to automate some of the coding for me, which frees up my time to spend on analysis.

At the end of the day, our maps are projected with the same code and with data from the same datasets, so our endpoint is the same, but the tools we’ve chosen to use may be better suited to our own particular abilities. That is something I didn’t see in 2010 as much as I see today. And that change is a good thing. Getting these datasets into the hands of the masses, and then making them usable and understandable for everyone, is crucial to the precepts of openness – open access, open government, open data – that we espouse as librarians. One can have completely open access to data, but its value is lessened when it cannot be used or understood by all of society. Yes, open data is a crucial part of today’s citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-government relationships, but the more tools people have to work with that data, the better.

Share the CLA Statement on Cuts to Statistics Canada

CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)
CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)

This week, in the middle of Open Access Week, the Canadian Library Association issued a statement criticizing the government cuts that have been made to Statistics Canada in recent years. This critique is strongly worded and it packs a punch; I expect it to gain traction beyond our regular librarian circles.

But getting the word out cannot happen without your help. Read the statement and share it with your colleagues and friends, especially with people outside of your typical library and archives networks.  To make the case that StatCan is not just a numbers factory but a social barometer for the nation, we must extend our voice. We must be on point, and we must persuade.

I have copied the text of the statement from the original PDF in order to help circulate this statement. When you share, please link to the original document or to www.cla.ca.

-Michael

Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians
October 23, 2014

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities.

Canadians know that access to reliable and high quality information, from the widest variety of points of view, is critical to a prosperous, functioning and democratic society. The decisions that citizens, communities, and governments make are better informed and have the ability to be more innovative when there is a free exchange of ideas facilitated by open and equal access to information. It is with these values in mind that CLA responds to recent and ongoing changes at Statistics Canada.

Recent programme cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada have made it more difficult than ever for Canadians to track changes to critical issues that affect their communities, such as unemployment rates or the education of our children. The replacement of the mandatory long-form census with the National Household Survey, at a significantly greater cost, and the cancellation of many social surveys has made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for municipalities, hospitals, schools, and government agencies to administer social programmes and to track their success. In some cases, municipalities are financing their own surveys to gather the critical data they once had access to through StatCan. StatCan cuts and changes are continuing to impede effective planning for all agencies, making future programming a costly gamble. Additionally, with all levels of government focused on social and economic innovation, it is imperative that municipalities have the ability to look back on trends in order to plan for the future with reliable data.

Statistics Canada withering on the vine
Budget cuts have affected Statistics Canada enormously, which in turn affects all Canadians and all levels of government. While StatCan extended a lifeline to surveys and tools that tracked the nation’s economy through these cuts, it did so at the great expense of its social surveys, where significant budget reductions to the agency and ill-advised policy changes to its census program created major gaps that cannot be filled.
Canadians have forever lost valuable research that affects their communities as a result of cancellations of and cuts to surveys such as:

  • The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed the development and well-being of Canadian children from birth to early childhood
  • The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which provided valuable insight into the financial situation of Canadian families
  • The Workplace and Employment Survey, which examined employer and employee issues affecting the Canadian work place, such as competitiveness, technology, training, and job stability.

Canadians and their communities are now suffering the consequences of budget cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada. Major, long-standing surveys that paint a dynamic picture of Canadian society have been eliminated, making it nearly impossible to do year-over-year comparisons and to track the changes in social data and programs over time. It is hard to imagine less responsible measures in the age of open data, open government, and evidence-based policy-making than limiting the supply of data or replacing it with inferior products.

In the context of fiscal responsibility, CLA believes that the government can be much more effective at planning and supporting sound planning. The current government is determined to balance the books and bring Canada into an environment of economic prosperity and growth. In order to plan for these outcomes, careful public spending is dependent on correct information to inform decisions. Statistics Canada has long been the core agency for Canada’s ability to plan and spend carefully at all levels of government, and within the business and not-for-profit sectors. CLA believes that without consistent and reliable data, this ability will be lost.

The CLA urges the government to return Statistics Canada to its status as one of the world’s most respected National Statistical agencies by restoring its funding and the long-form census. The CLA urges the government to provide Statistics Canada with the support it needs to collect, analyze, and publish data that has proven, longstanding value for decision-makers, communities, and Canadians alike.

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities, representing the interests of libraries, library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. CLA/ACB represents 1410 library workers, libraries and library supporters; and Canadian libraries serve in excess of 34 million Canadians through the nation’s public, school, academic, government and special libraries.

For more information, please visit
www.cla.ca
Valoree McKay, CAE
Executive Director
vmckay@cla.ca
613-232-9625 x 306

Research Data Management Highlights: Digital Infrastructure Summary Summit 2014 Summary Document

This week, a very significant document regarding the future of research data management and digital stewardship landed on my desktop. This is a PDF all academic librarians in Canada must read – whether or not you are tasked with RDM. If you are in IT, Research Facilitation, REB, Industry Compliance, or are a researcher or an administrator, then you should read this, too. It conveys the pressing importance of RDM to the profession, and it shows that we have an opportunity at hand if we take it – or a storm brewing if we turn it away.

The document is the Summary Report for the Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014This conference was hosted by the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure in January 2014. Group representation included CARL, CRKN, CANARIE, TC3+, and CUCCIO; in all 140 participants took part (p. 1). This document outlines the outcomes of the summit, which argued that RDM is lacking in Canada, that a sincere commitment to digital stewardship and not just technology is required to move forward, and the time to act is now (p. 1). If you are a Canadian academic librarian, download the document and read it now.

Note: I was not a participant of this summit and am only summarizing the PDF in regards to RDM in Canada for librarians. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants when I write this post.

This document asks What is Digital Infrastructure (DI)?, considers the existing problems that are hampering the development of an effective DI in Canada, and traces a clear path forward on which the Canadian research enterprise should move. Research Data Management and the people involved in it are front and centre in this document, and this means academic librarians and preservationists. The library has a significant role to play, and we are expected to contribute.

Digital Infrastructure and Soft Skills

One of the document’s biggest takeaways – and what I argue should be one of the first talking points you should use when discussing research data management – is that digital infrastructure (DI) is far more than technology alone. The executive summary states in clear, plain language that digital infrastructure includes “our ability to capture, manage, preserve, and use data . . . data are infrastructure, as are the highly skilled personnel who facilitate access to data, computational power and networks” (p. 1). DI requires “skilled knowledge management personnel” (p.1) who have technical capacity, but as we see elsewhere in the document, also can participate in local and national policy formulation and interpretation, understand project management, and have the capacity to collaborate and lead in their own field and in others. These are a suite of advanced “soft skills” that are concomitant IT knowledge and experience, and they are bound together with other essential criteria such as sustained funding and ongoing government and industry support, which allow research data management to flourish rather than wither on the vine. A successful solution that addresses near-team and long-team RDM issues requires skilled, committed resources on the ground who are leading the way. DI cannot be left to colleagues on limited term appointments or to our grad students. It demands institutional memory and it requires organizational vision.

I’ve mentioned the argument in the above paragraph in a post long ago, but I’ll take this opportunity to link out again. Chuck Humphrey states this in clear terms when he explains that RDM is the “what” and the “how”, and digital stewardship is the “who”, and both are necessary requirements in RDM infrastructure. If you are a librarian, then read Chuck’s website. If you are a Canadian librarian, then read it again. And again.

What’s wrong with Canada’s Digital Infrastructure?  

The Leadership Council has cut right to the chase in their document. They want you, the reader, to know right away that there are real issues affecting digital scholarship in Canada:

  1. Our research data are a national asset, and they are not stewarded properly (p. 1). Canada needs to get up to speed, quickly. It needs RDM and it needs it now. It requires data storage infrastructure it doesn’t have at present. It requires better skills training. It requires better software development. (Fellow Librarians: This is all about us.)
  2. There is very little governance and coordination (p. 1-2). There are many, many players, from funding agencies to libraries to standards organizations to researchers themselves. We are all trying hard to fix this, but we’re not working together. Our governance model is weak. Time is lost, efforts are duplicated, and we are spinning our wheels. (Fellow Librarians: This is very much about us. Get in there and make it happen.)
  3. There is very little federal policy regarding DI (p. 2). This is related but distinct from the second point. With little direction from government, the community is looking in all directions all at once. Greater coordination, planning, and sustained, reliable investment would be beneficial to the national research enterprise. (Fellow Librarians. This, too, is about us. Do. Take part. Take charge.)

I support it's not a blog post if you don't add a worldle.

How to act. How to improve RDM. How to solve this crisis.

Note: I am focusing on mainly on RDM and digital stewardship in this post; the original document gives equal attention to other areas such as governance, policy, and funding.

Research data management/stewardship is as yet the weakest link in the Canadian DI landscape, despite the massive increases in the amount of data being created daily through the research process. There is currently no agreed-upon strategy and/or the capacity to protect this valuable public asset, with little capacity to support access, use and reuse by a wide range of users. (p. 6)

The document makes a strong case not just for increased technical infrastructure but for greater knowledge management, project management, and policy analysis. We simply cannot allow ourselves to dump data files one after another onto a server and then hope that serendipity or an as-of-yet uncoded search algorithm will help us organize, preserve, and provide access to these files in the future. Research data – especially publicly funded research data – are a public good, and they require maintenance, management, and care.

The document highlights significant RDM gaps in Canada that must be addressed. These are:

  • Lack of a core RDM resource (p. 8)
      • Canada requires a national data service, which can lead in stewardship, policy, and education. RDC, CARL, and CRKN all have assets to contribute in this regard; RDC has shown incredible strength in this area already
  • Lack of strategy (p. 9)
    • Canada has no high-level strategy framework guiding debate and decisions on standards, infrastructure and distribution access networks, obligations to existing international agreements; funding
  • Lack of Policy leadership (p. 9)
    • Tri-Council should take the next step and implement RDM policy under consideration.
  • Weak RDM culture (p. 9-10)
    • The benefits that RDM brings must be better articulated.
  • Lack of understanding of Digital Infrastructure (p. 10)
    • It is incumbent that stakeholders demonstrate to the greater community that digital infrastructure necessarily includes the data, and the professionals who steward them
  • Lack of training (p. 10)
    • RDM training is inconsistent at present and must be improved in the short-term for practitioners and researchers alike
  • Weak policy on long-term data lifecycle management (p. 11)
    • Like any collection, data must be managed in part because its supports are not without cost. Management will include asking tough questions like what should be preserved, if we have the means and capacity to preserve it, and for what length of time. I recommend that we all have discussions about data collection policies as soon as possible. Locally, in our consortia, and nationally.
  • Lack of Storage (p. 11)
    • Storage capacity for all disciplines must be addressed. RDM is in no way an “X not Y” proposition. We must serve all discipline, departments, faculties, and researchers.
  • Means to foster acceptance (p. 11)
    • This is a tricky issue. We need our researchers to accept and be a part of RDM. Compliance should be required, but strict policies at the outset may prevent too much pushback. There will be give-and-take in the beginning.
    • Note: The original document refers to “compliance” here. I don’t want to use that term. Do we need sticks? Yes. Do we want to use them? Only if we have to. But from the outside, we must have the attitude that everyone is a partner in this venture.

Good data stewardship is not just a researcher’s responsibility, but it also needed at institutional, organizational, national, and disciplinary levels. (p. 10)

Making things happen and getting things done.

The LC provides a roadmap for action and results in its summary report from its 2014 Digital Infrastructure Summit. I am focusing on RDM-related activities and policy in this post since they are both so important to me, so I do encourage you to read the entire document yourselves to see the entire action plan.

The LC’s ways forward for RDM and policy include:

  • Maintain the Leadership Council and analyze its organizational structure (p. 17-18)
    • A steering committee is required and the LC has done a good job this far. That said, there are clamours and a need for greater representation. Consider increasing membership, developing an executive committee, form working groups, and establishing a Charter and Secretariat
  • Engage government (p. 19)
    • The LC had developed a strong community-driven response to RDM challenges. That said, push government – again – for improved coordination of policy and funding
  • Establish a national RDM network (p. 20)
    • Working on CARL and CRKN’s leadership and experience in this area, establish a network focusing on services, tools and tech, and education
  • Create an RDM pilot (p. 21)
    • Develop pilot discipline-based RDM programmes in three domains: astronomy, social sciences, and medical genomics
  • Coordinate with CRKN’s Integrated Digital Scholarship Ecosystem (ISDE) (p. 22)
    • Engage with this initiative that will enable next-gen library collaboration for seamless access, and improved infrastructure
  • Develop an RDM metrics pilot (p. 22-23)
    • For assessment, understanding performance

If you have made it this far in the post, then I offer you my congratulations. There is a lot of information to synthesize, but it is vital that academic librarians in Canada understand what is on the horizon for our profession, and what role will be expected of us. As this post shows, the work that follows – the opportunity we can take hold of – is as much resource-related and people-related as it is tech-related. To discuss digital infrastructure is to discuss the people who make it happen. Research Data Management doesn’t happen on its own. RDM requires careful planning, policy interpretation, technical capacity, and a thorough understanding of resource management.  

And yes, this is an opportunity for us. But we must be ready for what is to come. RDM will soon become the coordinated response to big data in Canada as it is elsewhere in the developed world, and it will mean work. But this is our work. It is our field. Take heed, take note, ask questions, and get set. Plan for this, and get set to play a leading role, because things are going to get busy.

tl;dr : read this now.  apply it to your work.

 

Information Literacy, Census Geography, and Maps

One of the things I’m constantly doing as a government documents librarian is giving lessons on Statistics Canada geographic areas. Census geographies can be downright confusing to the new user (and to sometimes to the seasoned expert!). The names are riddled with acronyms and jargon, and their relationships to other areas and spaces can be complicated. One legally incorporated township may be considered a census subdivision while another may be classified as only a census agglomeration. Another city may be classified as a census subdivision, and also be part of a census metropolitan area of a similar name, e.g., Toronto CSD and Toronto CMA.   Or, a city may be classified as a census subdivision and exist not only in a CMA with a similar name, but also a census division (I’m looking at you, City of Waterloo CSD, Waterloo Region CD, and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo CMA). And if you dare introduce census tracts the first time through, your short introduction to the “Russian dolls” nature of census geographies runs the risk of turning your lesson into an information dump about privacy and data validity when all that your first-year economics student wanted to know was why it’s so hard to get comparable income and migration numbers for Kitchener, Ontario, and The Pas in northern Manitoba.

Don’t ask me how many census tracts this CMA holds.

Confusion abounds. One of the problems we encounter are the tools we use to explain these geographies, which should be easily understood but are often abstract – we may live in towns and cities, but we refer to them as census agglomerations or CMAs. What can you use to show how spaces relate to one another, or how certain concepts can be measured and expressed spatially? The answer is a map, of course.  God lov’em, those maps. Maps help us express numbers – quantities, amounts, rations, proportions – with colours and shapes, and in the regions we live in and travel through each day. Face it, “big data” wouldn’t be as big as it is today if we didn’t have “big maps” to help use make sense of the numbers. However, StatCan’s digitized maps are large, layered PDFs that aren’t always user-friendly. The Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) PDFs are great reference items, but they aren’t very accessible.  And this creates a learning gap for so many of our users.

To overcome this gap, I’m constantly pulling out the old SGC print maps, and I’m also cutting and pasting and hacking together magnified screenshots of the PDFs into my slide deck.  Typically, if you need census help and you’ve found me in person, then there stands a good chance that I’m going to crack open the SGC and unfold a map somewhere in the office (I even keep the southern Ontario CD-CSD map posted to a wall).  I started doing this last Spring after I moved to Waterloo and had to learn the region’s geography and confirm its census divisions, subdivisions, and CMAs for myself, and I realized this was a simple and effective tool that should be used more often, especially with new StatCan users.

StatCan’s 2006 geographies for southern Ontario, from a summer 2012 research consultation

 

Typically, I bring students to a nearby conference room and unfold the map on a large table.  I find that being able to “walk around” the entire map and point to the places where the lines that signify the different geographies merge, separate, and then merge again, helps students understand some of the logic behind the regions (at least in terms of distance and population). They may not always be able to recall all the differences between a census division, subdivision and metropolitan area after a session, but they at least remember that there are differences, and these differences are important enough to affect their research.

The original SGC PDF gives us a wide view of Ontario

The classroom is a different story, though. When working with only one person or a small group, there is a persuasive element at work that captures everyone’s attention. Carefully unfolding and presenting a map to a small group of people is like opening a box that holds a surprise. (Let’s call this surprise “knowledge” and we’ll call ourselves awesome for charming our audience so handily into learning something). But if we take that same map into the classroom or lecture hall, it risks becoming an awkward, cumbersome prop. It can become a distraction or even a failed means to demonstrate your expertise in such a short time to such a large group of people.

Zooming in reveals the different geographies

Maps that unfold to become wider and taller than you put the room’s attention onto your map-wrangling skills (however good or poor they might be) instead of on the knowledge you have share, so I avoid them. You’ve never caught me walking to a classroom with a print map, and I doubt many other librarians do that today.

The final zoom focuses directly on the region the classroom is interested in (and it’s often Waterloo Region)

Instead, I give the class what they want and what they expect, and that means I work that map into my PowerPoint deck. Any time I’m introducing StatCan resources and geographies to a class, I insert three images of the same PDF map, each one magnified more than the last. This helps people “zoom in” with their eyes and see the many relationships and regions that are defined in one place alone. The length of time I spend on these slides depends on the classroom’s needs: sometimes, I spend only a few moments on these slides, and other times, I’ll spend five or ten minutes. What matters is that after I’ve finished up and am headed back to the office, I know that the instructor can pass around a slide deck that always refers to all these different areas.

I know I’m not presenting anything new in this post: maps have long been a tremendous tool within government documents librarianship. Perhaps the takeaway lies more in information literacy than it does anywhere else. Is your digital resource, as presented to you, the best way to help the user understand the resource? You may want to turn to the print resource or manipulate the digital resource, as I do with StatCan maps, to improve learning and synthesis. It’s just one more tool (or two, in this case) in our IL toolbox.

Why we must be apprehensive about DRM and digital locks

This little piece of news hasn’t yet got much coverage in the popular press, but it should. It shows why Canadians (and everyone, really) must be concerned about digital locks.  Librarians and lawyers are the ones taking note of it right now, but it’s an issue we should all worry about:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/librarybazaar/status/139008379023667201″]

 

Yes, that’s right – as Michael Geist reports, if you are Canadian and have ever purchased music through Napster Canada, then you run the risk of losing access to content you have paid for:

These downloads are DRM-encoded WMA files and can be backed up by burning them to audio CDs. Doing this will allow you access to your music on any CD player and generally have a maintenance free permanent copy. If you do not back up your purchased Napster music downloads by burning them to CD and you later change or reinstall your computer’s operating system, have a system failure or experience DRM corruption, then the downloads will stop playing and you will permanently lose access to them.

(Source: Napster Canada PR via Geist’s blog)

Let’s put this into perspective:

  • Customers have purchased items (music, objects, widgets, whatever) from a company with the assurance that these items can be accessed.  But the use of these music files are limited by a lock that the company will no longer support now that it has pulled out of the market and been bought by a competitor.
  • Customers have been advised by the company to effectively circumvent their digital locks if they want to continue listening to their music.  

I suppose that Napster Canada/Rhapsody is acting in good faith when they explain to Canadian customers how to ensure that the content they have already purchased will always be accessible. Napster/Rhapsody has informed customers that all they need to do is copy the data to audio CDs to ensure that the music can be played even if the digital lock on the file is ever corrupted. But does anyone else find it a tiny bit illogical that a company that normally espouses the use of digital locks is now effectively telling its customers to break the law and circumvent the lock in order to make sure they will always be able to access this music?

Digital Rights Management is something we must be wary of.  DRM limits the consumer’s rights to the content he or she has purchased; it “manages” rights by taking them away from the consumer. This is of particular concern in Canada, when so many organizations are subsidiaries of larger companies located elsewhere. If Napster pulls out of the Canadian market, will the digital locks that limit access to the content you purchased still be supported? It seems not. If Amazon were ever to pull out of the Canadian market (which is an unlikely scenario, but a worthy point to make), would its digital locks that limit access to the content you purchased still be supported? That would be up to Amazon to decide.  Digital locks keep your purchases at the mercy of the vendor, which is reason enough to oppose them.

Copyright is a mess, especially in Canada.  The law is antiquated and it does need an overhaul to actually work in our digital landscape.  But DRM and digital locks place an undue burden and risk on consumers (be they individuals, families, or libraries), most of whom are law-abiding citizens, respect intellectually property and rights, and do not copy content.

 

Post script: Am I suggesting we back out of all e-content on account of DRM?  No, I’m not. What I’m trying to show, like so many others, is that the system is out of balance right now and will remain so in the future.  Advocacy is required to fix this.

Reading Lessig’s Remix : Copyright Regulating Culture

Lessig at Meet the Media Guru
Lawrence Lessig will tell you what copyright does to culture

My summer reading this year includes Lawrence Lessig‘s Remix, and it’s so far been refreshing to read about how copyright drives and hampers our culture.  Tonight, though, I’m hung up on a dark, sour fact about copyright, especially as it exists in America, which is that an act that was meant to control professional duplications (i.e., piracy) now regulates the lives of everyday citizens.

Lessig explains that American copyright legislation, as it was originally crafted in the 1790s, regulated the ‘printing, reprinting, publishing, and vending’ of works (2008, p. 100), i.e., it meant to prevent the professional reproduction and sale of texts; it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the law was redrafted to refer to the general copying of a text by a variety of means and for a variety of reasons.  As Lessig explains, “as the range of technologies that enabled people to ‘copy’ increased, so too did the effective scope of regulation increase” (p. 101).

On the surface, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this increased regulation – it should be well and proper that an individual’s creative works be protected, right? To an incredible degree, the answer is yes. A problem lies, however, in the fact that “every poet is a thief,” especially in a post-modern technoculture.  So much of art is inspired by one’s encounters with people, places, and texts (in a broad sense), and so many of these texts are today developed and then reserved under license by various copyright holders.  Art today, and our responses to art, are a pastiche of other objects (Lessig would call it a collage), which means that our ability to communicate freely is hampered by a law that has inadvertently grown out of control:

More and more people use technology to say things, and not simply with words. Music is remixed; video mash-ups proliferate; blogs begin to build a culture around the idea of talking back . . .

. . . Digital technology also changes how RW [remix] culture and copyright interact.  Because every use of creative work technically produces a copy, every use of creative work technically triggers copyright law.  And while many of these uses might be fair use . . . the critical point to recognize is that this is still a vast change to the history of American copyright law. For the first time, the law regulates ordinary citizens generally . . . For the first time, the law reaches and regulates this culture. Not because Congress deliberated and decided that this form of creativity needed regulation, but simply because the architecture of copyright law interacted with the architecture of digital technology to produce a massive expansion in the reach of the law.

(Lessig, p. 103.)

The point to take home is this: Copyright as we know it is an old law.  So many recent changes to it (e.g., the DMCA) have maligned the original law’s intention and are encoding into law the regulation of culture.  This isn’t to suggest that we should run back to 1790 or 1909 and interpret the act as lawmakers would have then, but it is to state that our current interpretation of Copyright doesn’t account for the effects that modern technology has on our culture’s relationship with an old statute.  The maligned interaction between copyright law and digital technology was not deliberate, so we have no reason to assume that any modernization should enshrine this faulty status quo.

Readings: Lessig, Remix (2008) – Media Matters

Lawrence Lessig, <i>Remix</i>
Lawrence Lessig, Remix

I’m reading Lawrence Lessig‘s Remix for the first time and it’s a thrill.  Frankly, it makes me want to pursue doctoral work in information culture and the information society – a thought I’ve flirted with for a number of years.

Something that struck me about fifty pages into Remix is Lessig’s contemplation on the nature of fair use and citation with books versus the nature of copyright infringement with other media.  Lessig notes that in literature, academics, and to a certain extent, law, people are expected to borrow and acknowledge other people’s works; the citation serves to create a thread that connect similar ideas to one another.  The example he uses is the production of an English essay on Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, where:

citation is required.  But the cite is always sufficient payment.  And no one who writes for a living actually believes that any permission beyond that simple payment should ever be required.  Had Ben [Lessig’s friend, a former English major and now an attorney] written the estate of Ernest Hemingway to ask for permission to quote For Whom the Bell Tolls in his college essays, lawyers at the estate would have been annoyed more than anything else.  What weirdo, they would have wondered, thinks you need permission to quote in an essay?

Lessig, L. (2008). Remix.  New York: Penguin.  p. 53

But on the following page, Lessig asks us to consider how the act of citing the text of For Whom the Bell Tolls differs from citing, quoting, or referring to Sam Wood’s filmed adaptation of Hemingway’s book: in today’s DMCA culture, permission would have to be sought from a film company for anyone to “use” a clip.  This entire passage struck me because just last week I had written commentary about labor rights in a personal blog after reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  I included in the post a quotation from the book – Tom’s famous “I’ll be everywhere” speech, followed by YouTube clips to the Ford filmed adaptation, and to Bruce Springsteen‘s and Woody Guthrie‘s songs about Steinbeck’s character, Tom Joad.  I knew I was likely violating some sort of DMCA regulation even though my post could probably be considered Fair Use (it certainly would be considered Fair Dealing in Canada).  I was aware of this while I wrote a proper citation for each work.  And I was aware of the fact I might be DMCA’ed not only for the film clip (a “remix” Ford probably secured rights to), but also for the Guthrie and Springsteen clips (where it’s questionble if either performer ever asked Steinbeck or his estate for permission to use the text).  In short, I can cite Steinbeck’s book with ease, but my ability to use these clips might be trumped by corporate rights-holders through the DMCA, even though my reasons for doing so – academic, critical, and commentary – would be considered fair use, even though the content in these clips is not necessarily “original”, and perhaps most important, even though the artists who produced this now-protect content did not not always seek permission to create their own adaptations, derivations, or remixes.

Lawrence Lessig, a different sort of culture warrior
Lawrence Lessig, a different sort of culture warrior

Lessig’s friend’s essay on Hemingway and my compilation of clips inspired by Steinbeck are great examples of what Lessig would call “remix culture”.  The legal manouvres made by the producers of these clips to ensure copyright protection, meanwhile, are great examples of everything that’s wrong with copyright law today.  Fair Use deems it okay to cite from a text, but the MPAA and the RIAA, through the DMCA, would trump Fair Use and demand that I take down these YouTube clips because I never secured permission – even though they are excerpts of cultural products that are remixes or adaptations of a wholy different and antecent cultural product.  The MPAA and the RIAA might claim that I am infringing on their copyright to Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” even though Springsteen was inspired by (or to use the rhetoric of the day: pirated) the works of another.

Why is our relationship with books difference than with all other media?  By studying Lessig’s quotation above, we can see that some of it lies in two areas, value and purpose, and they are closely related to one another:

  • On Value – Lessig frames this as “payment”.  The citation his friend Ben makes to Hemingway’s text is not only an acknowledgement but a transaction of cultural or intellectual value.  Ben saw enough importance in Hemingway’s work to tell his readers that his own ideas were inspired by it.  It also creates a cultural and informational chain that links the consumers of Ben’s work to Hemingway’s book, which in this case is the “original” text.  But as Lessig later writes, since the value transaction Ben makes is not financial, his fair use of the work, his essay, and the citation is generally a non-issue to DMCA rights-holders.
  • On Purpose – Lessig makes clear in this paragraph that no lawyer would care about a silly permission when Ben wants to cite Hemingway’s work for an essay.  Things are different, however, when the object of the remix / cultural adaption / reproduction has discernable commercial purposes.  In my Steinbeck example, John Ford ostensibly secured the rights to adapting The Grapes of Wrath because his art’s mode of transmission (i.e., film) created a financial model that would benefit many others.  Perhaps Bruce Springsteen should have sought permission because his “remix” of elements of Grapes, “The Ghost of Tom Joad“, might have commercial value (see above), but I imagine The Boss didn’t bother because his song is written and performed in a folk tradition that often eschews the merits of capitalism.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me state that Lessig isn’t foolish enough to propose that the production of art should be divorced from the economic engines that drive it.  After all, there are fundamental differences between the economic value of an undergraduate essay or scholarly article and that of a motion picture or song. Lessig’s anecdote reminds me, however, that copyright law and copyright enforcement as it exists today not only protects the interests of the copyright holder (instead of the creator). And furthermore, copyright law is the de facto piece of legislation that regulates society’s relationship with culture (Lessig, 2008).  Something is wrong when I can’t talk online about how a book, its filmed adaptation, and songs derived from its main character, affect me without first securing the permission of rightsholders, especially since the Internet has become the dominant form of communication in western society.  There is something wrong because regardless of the cultural work’s mode of transmission:

  1. my consumption of it affects me so that my discussion is not wholly about the cultural product but about how I have interpreted the cultural product, and,
  2. any ecomomic model that demands constant permission from consumers to so much as talk about a product is rotten at the core.

Imagine having to call Atlanta every time you want to talk about Coca-Cola, Santa Claus, Polar Bears, and the business’s beautifully produced Christmas commercials.  That is not a recipe to control the the Coca-Cola brand and product – it’s a method to destroy any good will the company has with its consumers.  Although my first point is more important to me, I honestly have never been able to figure out why members of the MPAA or RIAA would carry on their ridiculous DMCA business on account of the second point, which is directly related to their ability to remain a going concern.  Creating barriers between the consumer’s ability to interact with your product is a sure-fire way to drive the consumer away from what you’ve got to sell.

For whatever reason, I can quote from Steinbeck’s book without any threat of litigation, but the moment I quote visually from Ford’s adaptation, I better be prepared to deal with a DMCA violation warning.  This may be one of the reasons why Lessig wants the world to open its eyes to the control that culture producers have over the consumer’s ability to interact with a cultural product.  It’s moved well beyond the point of restricting some people (i.e., culture pirates) from intentionally stealing cultural products.  At this point it about controlling the way that all consumers actually consume a work, right down to watching it, reading it, listening to it, and then talking about it. It’s no longer about the regulation, protection and control of the cultural product.  Now, it’s an unfair regulation of our lives.

On Tories, Politics, and the StatCan Crisis

I’m not going to speak much about the Long-Form StatCan fiasco that the Tories have created this summer because so many other people and news organizations are covering it so well. David Eaves and Datalibre.ca have strong commentary and lists of organizations against it.  The Globe and Mail and The National Post have both kept their attention on the issue, too.   Aside from the fact that great resources already exist on this file, I haven’t offered my thoughts on it yet because so much of the issue lies in rhetoric, ideology, and politics.

Munir Sheikh, speaking truth to power. Click for details.

The Conservative Party of Canada, in its role as government, can if it so desires tell Statistics Canada to ditch the long form.  And Munir Sheikh, as the former director of StatCan, protests the only way he could by tendering his resignation.  Sheikh, like a proper civil servant, spoke truth to power and should be commended for it.  On these points, most people will agree.

If the Conservatives really do believe that the Long Form issue is about compelling citizens to offer information to the government under threat of a prison term (as PMO spokesman Dmitri Soudas keeps saying, as wannabe PM Maxime Bernier keeps suggesting, and as Tony Clement, I suspect, has been ordered to continually argued), then all the government must do to rectify this is change the StatCan Act so that individuals would be rewarded instead of punished for filing the long form.   I won’t take credit for this idea, since I’ve heard it several times in the media in the past week: Offer a $20 tax credit upon completion and submission of the long form. Anyone who has filed income taxes will appreciate the idea of a tax credit, and anyone who has filed income taxes also knows that a $20 credit does not equal $20 in tax savings, either.  This incentive could be a win-win for all parties.

As for the second-most argued point of contention about the long-form – whether or not the government should collect what might be privileged, personal data, e.g., what time you go to work in the morning, how many bedrooms are in the house, I think the CPC is making political hay.  What’s important is not how many bedrooms I, Michael Steeleworthy, possess (2), whether I rent or own (rent), or what time I go to work in the morning (between 8 and 830, depending on the time I wake up).  What matters is the aggregate data that comes of it.  No one is ever going to look at my own data to compromise my privacy – the government has not enough time on its hands to snoop into such arcane matters and has more important things to do.  And frankly, StatCan data is closely guarde  Its data is not freely available to the public, and its original files are kept under lock and key; not even Misters Harper, Soudas, Clement or Bernier could access my census form.  Really, if the government is keen on turning themselves into libertarian ideologues instead being the administrators of representative governance when it comes to the issue of data collection, then it should also stop collecting income taxes at CRA, and as Dan Gardner noted in the Ottawa Citizen, it better bow out of FINTRAC as soon as possible, since if there was ever an Orwellian “spy-on-your-neighbour organization out there”, this is the one.

What’s more, if the CPC is bothered by the collection of information, it may as well shred its own database of party members, which is a storehouse of information that their grassroots base would presumably disagree with (if the current CPC rhetoric about data collection is to be believed) in the first place.  Dear Stephen Harper, I’ve heard that teaching by example is the best way to give a lesson, so let’s start this Data Collection Disruption at home and send the CPC’s own files to the great Shredder in the sky.

Former Ontario Minister Snobelin, famous for wanting to create a "useful crisis" to promote political aims. Click for details.

Snarky comments aside, the long form issue is a political issue, and I don’t see the CPC moving back from it.  I may be wrong – I’m not a seasoned political observer, I’m only a fairly bright fellow living on the east coast.  But one thing is clear: in the tradition of one-time Ontario PC Minister of Education John Snobelin (cf. Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution; Snobelin served alongside Ministers Clement and Flaherty, I might note), the best way to create change in government is to create a crisis.  And that’s what’s happened with the Long Form.  The CPC has created a crisis.  Even if Stephen Harper, through Tony Clement, were to suddenly make peace and reach for consensus, they will have shifted the status quo closer toward their own political ideology.

DRM, Canada, and the long arm of contract law

One of my projects at work this month has been to promote the use of e-books.  I’m of two minds on the use of electronic book formats – I think the end user will one day see an incredible benefit from them, but I also think that until e-book readers (both software and hardware) become more user-friendly, e-books will remain subordinate to print editions, especially in the humanities.

At any rate, I’ve been reading a lot of contractual fine print on account of this project.  I’m up to my ears in Terms of Services Statements, Copyright Statements, and Privacy Policies, and some of the clauses in the contracts make me cringe.  Let’s look at some parts of eBrary‘s Terms of Service as an example (there is nothing out of the ordinary with eBrary’s TOS, by the way; I’m selecting it only because it is the reader I’ve been using this week).  You can find a link to the TOS at the bottom of your eBrary e-Reader page.  These links are routed through your own institution’s proxy server, however, so I’m instead linking to the TOS as listed on the eBrary corporate site.  The link may be different, but the terms remain the same.

1. Rights, Restrictions, and Respecting Copyrights

(a) The text, images, and other materials available on this site (collectively, the “Materials”) are protected by United States copyright and other applicable laws. You may not engage in any acts inconsistent with the principles of copyright protection and fair use (see the United States Code, 17 USC Sections 106-110). For example, you may not copy, print, reproduce, distribute, transmit, modify, display, or otherwise use the Materials or copies of the Materials, except that, subject to the other terms of this Agreement:

Unless you live in the United States (and the United States is admittedly a very large market), you’ve got problems at the outset.  These terms bind the users at my institution – a Canadian undergraduate university – to copyright laws developed by another nation.  Leaving aside the fact that an interpretation of these laws will be at best imprecise and uninformed because most LIS professionals are not lawyers and most users don’t bother to read an e-book vendor’s TOS, we’ve got a jurisdictional case study that I’m sure no WIPO representative fathomed in 1967.

The eBrary case presents an interesting dilemma in Canada.   Many Canadian Knowledge Research Network consortium members use eBrary to gain access to Canadian primary materials and critical literature.  This means that the Canadian-resident students and staff I serve are accessing Canadian materials through their Canadian university (which is normally subject to Canadian statues), but are bound to a contract framed by foreign law.  How many Canadian LIS professionals are forced to operate merely on the good faith of the vendor in a situation such as this?  Although I have no reason to believe that an organization like eBrary would intentionally place an entire consortia into a situation that could end only in litigation (that would be a complete and utter relationship-destroying measure), this sort of dealing still puts the Canadian LIS professional in a very weak spot.  Although I may know a thing or two about Canadian copyright law, especially as it pertains to fair dealing and libraries, archives and museums, I certainly can’t speak much to US copyright law, and I don’t think the majority of LIS professionals in Canada could, either.

7. Disclaimer of Warranties

THIS WEB SITE IS OFFERED ON AN “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE” BASIS. AS A CONDITION OF USING THIS SITE, YOU ASSUME ALL RISK OF LOSS RESULTING FROM THE USE OF, OR RELIANCE ON, THIS SITE OR ANY MATERIALS IDENTIFIED, LOCATED, OR OBTAINED BY USING THIS SITE. EBRARY AND ITS SUPPLIERS AND LICENSORS MAKE NO WARRANTY REGARDING THE ACCESSIBILITY OF THE SITE OR THE ACCURACY, COMPLETENESS OR TIMELINESS OF THE MATERIALS. EBRARY AND ITS LICENSORS AND SUPPLIERS SPECIFICALLY DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES INCLUDING WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, NON-INFRINGEMENT AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ALL CONDITIONS OF QUALITY. NO USER SHOULD RELY ON OR ATTEMPT TO TRY ANY INFORMATION, ACT OR OTHER EVENT PORTRAYED ON THIS SITE. AS WITH ALL INFORMATION AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, LEGAL, FINANCIAL, MEDICAL, HEALTH, AND SAFETY RELATED INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL. BECAUSE SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT PERMIT THE EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN WARRANTIES, SOME OF THESE EXCLUSIONS MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.

This clause should remind us that the texts we read and interact with on eBrary are not our time-worn, dog-eared Penguin’s Classics.  Despite the fact that academic libraries pay tens of thousands of dollars in annual licensing fees to accommodate access rights for their communities, the portal their users must employ to view the text – the web site – is offered “as is.”  If the web site ever crashes, eBrary will not be held responsible.  If the notes and annotations one saves in an account disappears (a slim possibility, I admit), eBrary will not be held responsible.  If one chooses to use an e-book as opposed to borrowing a similar text but the site crashes over the long weekend before a funding application is due, eBrary will not be held responsible.

But perhaps the best part of this disclaimer is the statement that, “NO USER SHOULD RELY ON . . . ANY INFORMATION . . . ON THIS SITE.”  Excuse my excessive use of all-caps for a moment, but I wanted to mimic eBrary’s demand that we acknowledge and understand its blanket concession that its main product (information) and its main service (information dissemination) can ever be relied upon.  Ever.  In an attempt to safeguard itself from ridiculous lawsuits, eBrary has warned us that we can’t trust any of its wares to ever be reliable.  If only i could have put a disclaimer like that on every essay I ever wrote.

Sigh.

[eBrary Terms of Service]

Copyright and the abuse of user rights – a Canadian perspective

I love how I can find new voices and opinions on the Internet. Lately, I’ve been reading Shannon Turlington’s blog; Shannon has lately offered a good mix of information policy and criticism, and her work is enjoying to read. She’s also one of the intrepid bloggers who posted a few soundbites about the Associated Press’s decision to impose for-profit licenses on every word it has ever published, regardless of one’s aims when using the work. AP is working to implement a DRM system that “will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used” (AP, 2009).

As many others have pointed out, AP generally has a right to protect its copyright over its materials, but it should not be at the expense of either user rights or of the public domain. The example that’s been used to show the ridiculousness of the situation – AP’s attempt to charge a user a fee to “quote” from one of its articles a letter by Thomas Jefferson that rails against copyright – once again reminds us that when corporate rights-holders try to “negotiate” licenses with digital media, the notions of fair use and the public domain are often trampled underfoot.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about what might happen if it was the Canadian Press (CP) who was trying to implement such a text-based DRM system. Canadian copyright law, we’re well aware, is terribly outdated and stake-holders are right now establishing beachheads for the next battle to create new legislation, but libraries, archives, and museums, as well as academic centers do have the tools to help protect our interests and user rights. Under the six-part fair dealings test that the Supreme Court developed in CCH v. Law Society of Upper Canada (2004), it’s likely fair to say that users can politely refuse to pay CP if ever it demanded similar license fees. Consider: under our Copyright Act (1985), fair dealings exceptions to copyright are granted for:

  • the purpose of research or private study (Sec. 29),
  • the purpose of criticism or review, if
    • the source is mentioned, and:
      • the author is listed, in the case of a work,
      • the performer, in the case of a performance,
      • the maker, in the case of a sound recording,
      • the broadcaster, in the case of communication signal (Sec. 29.1)
  • the purpose of news reporting, if:
    • the source is mentioned, and:
      • the author is listed, in the case of a work,
      • the performer, in the case of a performance,
      • the maker, in the case of a sound recording,
      • the broadcaster, in the case of communication signal (Sec. 29.2)

Of course, there are many limits to these exceptions (see sections 29.3ff), but the Act generally states that a Canadian work, copywritten in Canada, may be copied for the purposes of reportage, education, criticism, or analysis. It is generally “fair” for us to quote Rex Murphy at length so long as our intentions and output satisfy the exceptions listed above.

But what of that word, “fair”? Surely these terms – fair dealing in Commonwealth countries, and fair use in others – were developed because of the malleable nature of the adjective in question. “Fair” is open to interpretation, and therefore so are the user rights granted to us through the fair dealing exceptions. However, in the important 2004 CCH case, the Supreme Court said in no uncertain terms that “[t]he fair dealing exception, like other exceptions in the Copyright Act, is a user’s right” (para. 48). Understanding that the “fairness” of an action of largely a matter of degree, the court developed a six-point framework to help determine if an action falls within or violates the Copyright Act’s fair dealing exceptions. Since the CCH ruling, stakeholders, jurisdictions and courts must now consider:

  1. the purpose of the dealing
    • if “it is for one of the allowable purposes under the Copyright Act” (para. 54),
  2. the character of the dealing
    • courts “must examine how the works were dealt with” (para. 55), i.e. if multiple or single copies were made,
  3. the amount of the dealing
    • “the quantity of the work taken will not be determinative of fairness, but it can help in the determination” vis-a-vis the exception being used (para. 56). i.e. it may be admissible to copy more of an item for research purposes than it would be copy for the purposes of criticism,
  4. alternatives to the dealing
    • if there exists “a non-copyrighted equivalent of the work that could have been used instead of the copyrighted work, this should be considered by the court” (para. 57),
  5. the nature of the work
    • a document that is confidential “may tip the scales towards finding that the dealing was unfair”, but the dealing of an unpublished document that is non-confidential may be deemed “more fair in that its reproduction with acknowledgment could lead to a wider public dissemination of the work — one of the goals of copyright law ” (para. 58),
  6. the effect of the dealing on the work
    • if “the reproduced work is likely to compete with the market of the original work, this may suggest that the dealing is not fair” (para. 59).

Researchers, academics, critics, reporters, and LAMs can generally quote at least portions of copywritten text – including CP’s works – so long as the work is properly attributed, if multiple copies are not made, and if there is no financial gain (or loss) by way of the action.

For the moment in Canada, advocates of user rights are standing on fairly solid ground, but it is a piece of land with major fault lines lying underneath it. The copyright “consultations” don’t bode well for us, though, and certainly if we don’t speak out minds on the issue. Whether we call ourselves “librarians” or “information professionals” – I’ll step back from my previous call to arms if it means rallying more troops to this cause – we owe it to ourselves to ensure that ill-conceived licenses such as AP’s won’t find a home within any provisions of a new Canadian copyright act. If you haven’t spoken up at a consultation or written a letter to the committee or to the Ministers of Industry and Culture, then please do so. This is as good an opportunity as any that we can actually affect positive change in Canadian information policy.