Musical ethics: In defense of free music, Shaw and Masnick shine
A recent kerfuffle about music sharing, free culture, and direct support of artists began on NPR and ended on TechDirt.
Last month, Bob Boilen wrote “I Just Deleted All My Music” for NPR’s All Songs Considered blog; to which summer intern Emily White replied last week “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With“. Trichordist’s David Lowery shot off a ranting Letter to Emily White that was a viral hit.
Finally, Zac Shaw of mediapocalypse wrote “In Defense of Free Music“, an eloquent explanation of Free Culture ideals and commitment to supporting artists. And culturist and summation genius Mike Masnick has the last word, wrapping up the discussion and aftermath.
UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition)
My recent post about China’s parody of the annual US reports on national human rights made me want to read the actual reports. It’s the sort of cleanly organized information that I love, combined with the lack of citations and categories that I hate. We’ve never issued a high-level summary of that form about our own country. But we did take part in a review of national human rights last year, for the UN Human Rights Committee – something similarly high-level but less methodical.
If this sort of thing interests you, you will enjoy the full details of that process, which gives quite a rich flavor to our internal national discourse, complete with:
- A puffy initial “toward a more perfect world” self-assessment
- A mix of moral, practical and political recommendations from all UN member states (put forth by any interested state during an open 3-hr Q&A session, and compiled into their own report; resulting in a fascinating set of ~250 recs including 70 or so duplicates for the popular ones)
- A quick reflection after that Q&A, followed by a refreshingly detailed set of straightforward responses to those recommendations
The recs and responses are worth reading all the way through. They are concise and – aside from Cuba and Venezuela occasionally derailing the discussion – all seem to take the process most seriously. If you’re not keen on all the details, here are some highlighted recs with our responses in italics:
- Perennial topics: Ratify the declaration of indigenous rights (x10 different recommendations for this): yes, done; similar covenants on the rights of women; on children; and on the disabled(x20+): support, let’s make progress; the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (x18): sorry no progress here; limit our policy of treaty reservations: no, though we may consider specifics)
- The death penalty: this is unsurprisingly the juiciest topic. We are the last western country to kill prisoners, which is more clearly immoral to each generation. This drew the plurality of recs. Again, straightforward and telling responses (Abolish the death penalty(x20+): no; place a national moratorium on the death penalty (x10): no; consider placing a moratorium on the death penalty(x5): no; restrict the number of offenses carrying the death penalty(x2): noo; consider reviewing relevant laws or studying the possibility of starting a campaign to implement a moratorium(x3): still no; withdraw the reservation to article 6, paragraph 5 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights that prohibits the death penalty for those who committed a crime when they were minors(x1): not as such; consider withdrawing the reservation to article 6, paragraph 5 of the ICCPR(x2): okay, will consider.)
- Those 200+ recommendations just keep giving. Algeria made the recommendation I did above, “include and rank the human rights situation in the US in the annual country reports on human rights – as was done for the annual report on trafficking of persons” (in 2010) This was met with one of our few specious responses: no need, also we don’t rank anyone.
- Norway is awesome. They make 7 solid apolitical recommendations. No rehashing international policy disputes or convention-signing, which can be nominal at best: a focus on essential changes that can be carried out now, and would be historically significant.
All this gets at my initial questions in more detail than I knew how to ask. Details after the jump.
Identifiers and work classification: Beyond FRBR levels
Revisiting an old “let’s replace ISBN and FRBR” essay of mine:
Many library systems currently rely on ISBNs and… FRBR-style groupings of related works, without a universal and generalizable system [for global identification of part of a collection, or its level of abstraction]. I will use “Open Work Number” and “Abstraction and Originality Level” in place of ISBN number and FRBR level  as placeholders for future better-defined specifications…
General knowledge is social infrastructure, not commodity
For ages, learning was assumed to be social, interactive, oral. Written knowledge, where available and somewhat portable, was a specialized complement that few scholars, recordkeepers, explorers and other specialists used or needed.
As long as you needed a tutor or guide to learn, whether or not good static (lifeless) written material was available was a lesser concern.
In the last three millennia, it gradually became cheaper to produce text, commonplace for scholars to learn to write concisely and convey ideas so that others could learn them on their own. In every field, books eventually replaced ritual and oral record as the standard for precipitating knowledge into a lasting, canonical form, and passing it on. This was driven forward by personal memorials and finance and law – pillars of clan- and city-building.
Certain forms of knowledge were considered a shared good of society – from how to find resources to social and practical norms. And some were actively disseminated as necessary, such as legal and religious dictates. Other knowledge was something that could be sought out, or bought and sold. During the time when knowledge about the world was a scarce resource, yet easy enough to write down and transmit, even basic information about the shape of the planet was bartered and sold like any other good.
Today we both have bounteous knowledge, and pressing problems that better global education can address. The opportunities that could result from a more broadly educated world society are far greater than the short-term opportunities of a commodity market for practical texts.
And we will get more thorough, more accurate, and better texts of all sorts – once we think of general knowledge as a part of culture and civic infrastructure, not as something that can be owned and hoarded. We made this transition with scientific discoveries centuries ago, with mathematics before that, and today we reap tremendous benefits from that. It is time for all knowledge to join their ranks as a cornerstone of our civilization.
How can we help this come about? Take a piece of awesome, inspiring, practical knowledge that you currently buy or rent as a commodity, and make a free version of it. Publish it to a shared commons that makes it easy to maintain and update over time. Tell others who get it from the same source you did. Stop using general knowledge that you can’t repurpose, and your use of the alternative will make it the best in the world in its niche.
Librarians v. interdisciplinary existential threats
“Existential threats don’t scare us. We’re librarians.“
Bethany Nowviskie on the arc and glory of digital humanities, interleaved with modern creative work.
via Jacob Rus
A brief, awkward tale of abandoned policy: Old English 5P
This history from Ænglisc Ƿikipǣdia has it all. Vandalism, pasta, unfinished translation, capricious bots (and bot edit wars)… typical low-points of pages on small wikipedias. There must be better ways to do all of these steps.