Copyright, Copywrong?

Last week in LAPIS we tackled the somewhat controversial topics of copyright and intellectual property laws. While the class conversation was great, I think as  budding Information Professionals who support open access, it’s easy to get black and white over something that is a pretty gray issue. I’ll preface this by saying that like most people, I’ve pirated items. Although I have a Spotify subscription I’ve pirated music, torrented expensive books instead of paying full price, and as someone who has enjoyed writing fanfiction for years, used copyrighted characters in crazy fictional scenarios of my own choosing. However, while for some the issue of piracy and copyright can seem a cut and dry issue, I think it’s really very important to look at the arguments for both sides with an objective mind. With copyright and intellectual property issues, people tend to jump back and forth between arguments based on morals and those based on the law. So, instead of talking about how things should possibly be, I’m focusing in this post more on how and why things are the way they are.
When asked if artistic creators should be able to protect their works in some way, most would say “Duh, yeah, of course!” Morally, it seems incredibly straightforward. You make something, it’s yours. You have the right to exercise control over that work, and Jimmy from down the hall can’t just wake up one day and decide to snatch it. But the question is, how do we best deal with the issue of this ownership? Through copyright, we say to the creators, “Hey, you have the right to determine where your stuff is published, and who is and is not allowed to make copies.” Copyright is a solution to a really complicated moral and legal problem. How to give creators control over their own output without violating or unnecessarily limiting the autonomy of anyone else.

The creator of a work becomes its owner by default, and thus, has full rights concerning what is done with that work. If they choose to transfer those rights to another party, that is their choice – a choice I don’t believe should be taken away and violated arbitrarily by third parties, especially if for profit. Whether they want to sell, license, loan, or give away for free their property is their right as a content creator.

But by sharing I’m basically promoting the artist anyway, what’s the big deal?

Okay, sure, yes. I agree that in some ways piracy and file sharing can contribute toward the marketing of a product, but such an act doesn’t change the fact that someone is violating the terms of the agreement. You are infringing on copyright. Whether or not you have a “good reason” or other post hoc rationalization doesn’t change this point. Also, when you think about it, this is really quite a self-serving view. Assuming you shouldn’t have to pay because other people probably will, which doesn’t make piracy sound very altruistic, freedom-fightery, or “for the greater good.”

But I don’t care. It’s out there, it should be free. What does a tiny bit of money matter to these giant labels and corporations, anyway?

Well, we live in a capitalistic society and whether or not you think that’s totally cool (spoiler alert: I don’t), isn’t actually the point of the argument. We don’t live in a sweet utopian paradise where everyone is on equal footing and can get everything they want at no cost. Copyright doesn’t exist to beef up big companies to beat up on the poor “little guy,” and arguing as such with emotion is pretty disingenuous and unhelpful. Content is stolen or copied not only from big time artists, but from developers, writers, and backyard underground artists. Copyright laws were designed with the intention to protect these people who are often the lowest paid workers. I write original fiction and post it online because I enjoy creating content for fun, but also in part because I know that I’m promised control over that work the moment I write it. What I’ve written belongs to me, all thanks to copyright. Regardless of whether the artist is a multimillionaire or your best friend living in her mom’s basement, they have the right to distribute and choose to profit from distributing copies of their own work. An unlicensed third party does not. Are you stealing her property? No, but you are wrongfully taking away her exclusivity. Stephanie Vardavas, Former Assistant General Counsel for MLB and Nike brought this up in an answer about the question of intellectual property on the social answers site, Quora:

“In asserting that right [of exclusivity] yourself, without consent of the inventor, you are misappropriating it and depriving the inventor of her exclusive right to control the invention for a fixed period of time.”

But it’s not theft. This isn’t a crime.

True. On the flip side, those who believe that piracy isn’t truly theft (as defined by the law) bring up a good point that copying information isn’t technically the same act of removing someone’s possessions. One is more obviously stealing, while the other could be defined as sharing, which doesn’t necessarily cause measurable harm to an individual or company. Of course, this really depends on how you define “harm.” Legally, no harm is done, but I would also understand an artist feeling slighted by the unauthorized sharing or usage of their work, because that’s exactly what’s happening. And the claim is that what one does by making an unauthorized copy is deprive everyone in the value chain of distribution a potential sale and potential income. Whether or not people should consider these copies potential sales, however, is still up for dispute. I tend to agree that artists lose out when people make unauthorized copies, however, I think it’s often crazy when large companies to try and claim back damages based on every single one of these proposed lost sales without taking into account the probability that the consumer would actually buy an authorized copy in the first place and the lowest actual sale price available to the consumer via other online sales hubs. So yes, piracy isn’t theft, but copyright infringement is a crime. In the US, under the statues of 18 USC 2319 and 17 USC 506, to be exact.

There are artists and creators out there who are open to sharing their works. That’s how it should be.

That’s awesome! That’s why Creative Commons exists (although technically, artists already have the right to choose how their works are shared even under Copyright law), and I wholeheartedly support those artists who create and allow for sharing and redistribution within their own limits. In a perfect world, all creators would be crystal clear about their personal views toward how they want (or don’t want) their works to be used.

creative commons logo

But that doesn’t mean that those creators who want to make a profit or receive some form of royalty from the use of their work are “bad” or “greedy.” If the creators choose to let you use their content for free to boost publicity — awesome. If not,  I think there’s a case for respecting their choice. I’m not exactly of the mind that copyright always stifles creativity. Really, copyright exists to help reward those people who create, and Creative Commons licensing helps make that more transparent.

Intellectual property and copyright law is not just about big, faceless corporations picking on individuals with meager means. They might get a lot of the coverage, but small creators are quite often the victim of copyright infringement. Think about hobbyist photographers who have their images posted, or small scale web designers who have their UI or code copied. In the end of this long spiel, I just want to say I think it’s important we continue to learn how to adapt and regulate the law so that both creators and consumers are able to benefit. It’s complicated, it’s tiring, and honestly, piracy isn’t going away anytime soon so creative industries have to find some way of competing or coming to terms with it.

References:, (2015). 18 U.S. Code § 2319 – Criminal infringement of a copyright | LII / Legal Information Institute. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Feb. 2015].

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The Lady in Red

In our second session of LAPIS, we focused on the history of publishing and its changing role in society – specifically from a knowledge economy to a sharing economy. In a society that tends to be quite eurocentric even in its view of history, T.H Barret’s “The Woman Who Invented Notepaper: Towards a Comparative Historiography of Paper and Print” takes a unique view of the development of early printing by focusing on a cultural figure from Chinese history. Barret points out that within the area of the comparative history of information technology, there is has not been much attempt to include the histories of China or other cultures outside the west (with one example being Bloom’s paper on the Islamic world).

“…the assumption seems always to have been that the differeing historiographies of China, Europe, and elsewhere have had no impact on our comparative understanding, and have therefore not been worth mentioning.”

There is a necessity for the discussion of differing cultural and historical values outside the West, and to compare and contrast this infomration in order to better understand the role of paper and printing in these societies. In the words of the late philosopher Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message,” and historically, the development and usage of paper in society has allowed for “freer self-expression in poetry, painting, and calligraphy” (Barret, 203). Parituclarly in Tang Dinasty china, where the woman in question in Barret’s paper, Xue Tao, was able to become a renowed poet. In Tao’s age, Chinese paper sizes were unstandardized and “always failry large” (Barrett, 206). Restricted by this sizing, Xue Tao set out to invent her own personal stationary, and reduced the size of each sheet so suit her short poetry style.
Xue Tao
What started out as a “mere medium” however, “became a locus of cultural meaning in its own right and the focus of a rich metaphoricla tradition” (Hsiao, 2011). Though she created a number of styles, Xue Tao’s stationary was most notably red. Historians suspect that the red stationary functioned not only as a trademark for Xue Tao, but as also a metaphor for the continued companionship between she and her lover, Yuan Zhen. This rich, romantic meaning led other famous poets to request supplies of the red colored stationary for their own poetry, and even later, after Xue Tao’s death, many attempted to reproduce its quality.

After reading about Xue Tao and the way she transformed a medium to meet her needs while inspiring others, I agree that it’s really a great disservice to these historical and cultural figures by not mentioing their influence on paper, printing, and its resulting artistry. These stories, whether from China or elswhere outside of the “European Experience,” are just as important to the historical narrative of printing, and very much represent a sharing and expansion of knowledge.

Hsiao, L. (2011). Xue Tao Stationary: Delivering Love for a Thousand Years. Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 33, pp.160-8.
T.H. Barret (2011). The Woman Who Invented Notepaper: Towards a Comparative
Historiography of Paper and Print. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 21, pp 199-210

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The Student as Publisher

Last week marked the start of a new term at #citylis, and with it, oodles of new topics to discuss. This module, in particular, seeks to expound upon Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society. Over the next ten weeks we will be challenged to consider what role publishing has taken in the past, what its context is now, and of course its implications for libraries and information management sectors in the future.

The topic of our first session was entitled “This is the Modern World: Why ‘Publishing’?.” Here, we considered the 1934 work of German critic Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer.” Though the writing is quite political, Benjamin challenged the notion of the author as one who tackles a “purely literary enterprise” (Lupton, 1998). Continue reading

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I Survived!

It feels as though I’ve just started this module, and already I’m writing my final DITA blog post. It’s been a whirlwind of new information and experience, but I’ve made it through. Looking back, upon first browsing the course guide and expectations, I was intimidated by the mention of SQL, XML, information architecture, and data visualizations, but DITA has provided me with a foundation in understanding how all of these things shape user experiences of the internet from a layperson and LIS perspective. So much so, that I’ve taken a particular interest in IA and UX. I started out as someone who wished they were able to understand programming and code, to joining meetup groups on interactive design and really getting into the practical application of information technology in the library sphere.

These 9 weeks gave me a taste of a field I would have never considered prior to citylis, and by blogging about different aspects of IT each week and reading the views of my colleagues, my views have shaped and changed. One of my favorite parts of the module was discovering Altmetrics, and the way twitter and data visualization have made the sharing and finding scholarly research papers so much more engaging.

The blogs were also a great way to interact with the other students and challenge my own preconceptions about . Even as someone who loves creative writing as a hobby, I have to admit, sometimes I struggled to put out blog posts. Blogging was totally new to me, but in the end I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  In the future, I can see myself writing more about my journey through the course

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Data Mining: Digging Up Graves with Old Bailey Online

This week in the DITA Lab we did some hardcore digging and text analysis via data mining. Although it sounded incredibly intimidating to me at the start, data mining is just really all about picking out the juicy bits from a data set and using those morsels to form a simple, delicious final product.  So, by using the Old Bailey Online archive of criminal proceedings from 1674 to 1913, we were able to perform detailed searches using their API Demonstrator and export the information to Voyant Tools for pretty and detailed analysis.

Compared to the Old Bailey API Demonstrator, the Original search provides a more basic way of exploring the criminal proceedings. As with the API, users can input keywords, use boolean operators, and restrict search results by time period, and verdict. Results are presented in a series of links, and the only way one can refine the search is by starting over on the original page. original search

original search findings

However, when searching with the API, Old Bailey provides the option for users to export their findings to bibliographic management system, Zotero, as well as Voyant Tools, for linguistic analysis. Results are also presented in a way that allows users to build searches based on how often certain words appear in the proceedings, and break down findings “Drilling” or “Undrilling” certain results. In the search below, I was on the hunt for proceedings in which the defendent was female (limiting to gender is also not offered by the Original Search), and found guilty and sentenced to death for the crime of murder.By using the “Break Down” function of the OldBailey API and selecting “keywords,” I was able to hone in on the use of specific phrases in the court proceedings. In this case, I “Drilled” the words “willful” and “murder,” and was provided with 17 relevant hits.

Old Bailey search query Capture2

By clicking on “Send to Voyant,” I’m able to export the results for further analysis and vizualization. The Old  Bailey API allows for exporting in bundles of 10, 50, or 100. When I exported my first group of results to Voyant, things went smoothly. Voyant analyzed the results and created a clean wordcloud with data on frequently used words. However, as I refined my search a second time, Voyant Tools wasn’t nearly as cooperative (and OF COURSE I forgot to save the screenshot of the initial run). It seemed only the first try was successful, regardless of the number of results I was working with. A bit frustrating, but at least when searching for proceedings, the Old Bailey API demonstrator was a pleasure to work with.

It was also pretty cool to see that there were quite a few women convicted and put to death for murdering men so far back in the day, and that many of them seemed to cases of child murder. Creepy-cool!

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Delicious Donuts

Whether it’s on Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, or Reddit, in today’s world, people are sharing more than ever. And while a majority of these shares are about what someone ate for dinner last night or cute pictures of cats, another, greater part of this open communication is the distribution of scholarly publications. How do we know this? Well, thanks to things called “altmetrics,” we’re able to track the impact that these papers have left through views, downloads, citations, social media shares, and hashtag references. There are many websites out there today that collect this data and make it available for view, including ImpactStory and Plum Analytics, but the site we looked at this week was

The question is, how is this useful? Altmetrics measure the scholarly impact of articles, and in a world where the landscape of traditional impact is changing, librarians and other information scientists are using this data to track academic interest. While in lab, I used Altmetrics to find some information about scholarly publications on User Experience Design within the field of Library and Information Science.


The Altmetric website is easy to navigate, and by using their Altmetrics Explorer, I could limit my searches to find publications mentioned in certain publications, within certain time spans, and even on certain social media sites. And after finding a wide range of articles, I was able to save them to my workspace and make the entire search string accessible each time I log in.


The results display themselves not only in a list of articles, but each with their own colorful little donut and Altmetric score. The colors on the donut visualization represent the types of sources that mention the article. Blue is for Twitter, yellow for blogs, red for mainstream media sources. And the score in the center of the donut is a “quantative measure of the attention that a scholarly article has received. It is derived from 3 metrics” including volume of mentions, sources, and who the authors mentioning the article are.

It’s important to note that while the scores are beautiful to look at and a great measure of how social media is shaping the landscape of scholarly publications, one doesn’t actually get any information about the quality of the paper itself.  A controversial paper with flawed methods could earn a high altmetrics score, so it would still be up to the reader or the researcher to figure out how to properly utilize the data.  Overall, Altmetrics is an amazing way to compile and visualize the way scholarly publications are shared across the web. I’ve already made use of it for my DITA assignment, and I can see myself using it more in the near future!

Screenshots and data courtesy of:

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Designing Archives: Twitter & Data Visualization

Over the past few months of studying, I’ve developed quite an interest in Information Architecture, particularly the realm of User Experience Design. As librarians, how we shape the patron’s “user experience” is quite clear. It starts from the moment we receive an inquiry, whether in-person or remotely, and concludes by providing in-depth, courteous service to our patrons. But in the Information Architecture sense, User Experience meets these needs in design-centered in a way I believe goes hand in hand with Data visualization. In our last lab session, we jumped headfirst into Data Visualization by using TAGS, which with the help of our Twitter API, archived, organized and created a beautiful display of information surrounding the #citylis tag, including tidbits like the top tweeters and the most retweeted.

B08-VetIIAAYrDS (1)

It’s amazing how social media is now being shared and collected in a way that produces quantifiable and aesthetically pleasing results. Immediately, I’m reminded of Northeastern University’s project, “Our Marathon” which is a “crowd-sourced archive of pictures, videos, stories, and even social media related to the Boston Marathon.” The “Our Marathon” social media section provides an archive of Facebook statuses, tweets, timeline photos from before, after, and during the bombing. Like TAGS, Northeastern searched and collected tweets and other social media postings revolving around a certain “tag,” but displayed them in their own way. Although the social media information is available in the archive at Northeastern University, you can also easily browse the tweets and statuses on their website.

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As I’ve learned recently, the role of the user experience (UX) designer is to take these visualizations and make choices that make the most of the data while at the same time enhancing usability for consumers. As Librarians we conduct reference interviews in order to bring the right data to our patrons in the same way UX designers conduct user research testing. They talk, they interview, they review the information and frame it in a way that makes sense to the audience. To me, graphics are just as important to understanding as the data point themselves. It’s part of supporting the quantitative elements and making them accessible to a wider audience. The more I read on UX/UI design, the more I become see its parallels with librarianship/information management, and the more I just want to get stuck in.

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Theme Change!

Although I loved the color of my previous blog, I quickly became tired of how blocky the style was. I felt as though everything was too restricted on the page, and with this new theme, “Chunk,” the text seems far more “free” and definitely not as dark. Overall, I find it a brighter and more refreshing share my thoughts here.

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Sharing is Caring

Even as a very “non-tehcy” person, I’ve heard the term API tossed around quite often. However, it wasn’t until our lab session this week that I realized how integral APIs (application programming interfaces) are in program development and the way we interact with the web each day. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and others publish their APIs and allows users to be dynamic in the way they use the web, posting, sharing and embedding content. The mobile applications I use every day, like Spotify and Citymapper, have all been developed by way of API use. APIs are like instructions that let applications talk to one another, but without being seen by the user. As a user, you only see one interface while behind the scenes, many applications and services work together seamlessly using APIs.

For example, if I wanted to create an Android application that incorporated YouTube videos, I could download and use YouTube’s Android Player API to control video playback. The user would see my app’s interface and a YouTube video playing, but without having to be taken to an external website or application. In this case, YouTube provides instructions on how to download and set up the API as well as registering the app with them. APIs are often referred as “Windows to Code,” and I think that’s a great way of looking at it. After all, what APIs do is expose some of a program’s inner workings and make it possible for apps to share that data.

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter APIs, I can use Ticketmaster and share new concerts I’m going to with my friends by posting straight to my timeline (Maroon 5! Can’t wait!).


When I log into Yelp on my Android phone, I can find a restaurant near me due to the Google Maps API it has running in the background. However, API use isn’t without its complications. As author Brian Proffitt writes,

Companies can shut down services and APIs that your applications depend on – or they can go out of business entirely…These kinds of service shutdowns can leave you in a lurch if your application depends on those APIs to function.

Proffitt mentions cancelled services like Google Health, and Google Reader, which raises a great point. While API use is wonderful for development and sharing, what happens when they’re discontinued? How do developers cope when the code they crafted their app around is gone, and they’re left hanging? And although I certainly don’t see Google Maps API fading away anytime soon, it’s certainly something to think about!

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