Month of January, 2008
Here's some great news for those of you who have not heard: the UN Treaty Series Collection online can now be accessed without subscription! That's right ... "Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations" is now available for free.
The United Nations Treaty Series is a collection of treaties and international agreements that have been registered (or filed and recorded) with and published by the Secretariat of the United Nations since 1946, pursuant to Article 102 of the Charter. The UNTS includes the texts of treaties in their authentic language(s), along with translations into English and French, as appropriate.
The collection currently contains over 158,000 treaties and related subsequent actions which have been published in hard copy in over 2,200 volumes. Currently, the UNTS is being enhanced to include the latest desktop published volumes.
- There is a good article in Searcher Magazine that documents specialists and other interested in public domain materials should read:
- Title: 'Copyfraud' and Public Domain Works.
- Author: Ebbinghouse, Carol
- Source: Searcher; Jan2008, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p40-52, 9p
- Ms. Ebbinghouse does a good job of explaining how some try to usurp the public domain through fraudulent notices and/or slight alterations of materials. Her opening gives a good flavor of what's to come:
You find a PDF version of the Federalist Papers on the internet that is just what you need, but it carries a copyright date of 2001. Now that's odd, considering that the last Federalist paper was written and published in 1788. Cautious, you find an ASCII text version, but it has a copyright date of 1999. Can you download this one? Does the fact that one is an image and the other plain text make any difference? And how the heck does anything written in the 18th century end up with post-1923 copyright dates?
Can someone legitimately move public domain text into copyright? What about when you go to an archive, only to find open source and nonpublic domain titles mixed in with public domain items, but the archive seems to put restrictions on your subsequent use of everything (no copying without permission; no commercial re-use, etc.)?
- What leads some vendors to attempt to convince people that public domain materials are really under copyright? In part, because there's little legal cost to doing so, According to Ms. Ebbinghouse:
- As Jason Mazzone points out, "Copyright law suffers from a basic defect: The law's strong protections for copyrights are not balanced by explicit protections for the public domain. Accordingly, copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The limited penalties for copyfraud under the Copyright Act, coupled with weak enforcement … give publishers an incentive to claim ownership, however spurious, in everything. Although falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act [17 U.S.C. §506(c)] prosecutions are extremely rare. Moreover, the Copyright Act provides no civil penalty for claiming copyrights in public domain materials. … [and] no federal agency is specially charged with safeguarding the public domain."
- Reading this paragraph gives rise to an interesting idea. What if there were substantial fines for removing works from the public domain and the fines were used to run an orphan copyright registry that people could use without fear of prosecution. What if the American Library Association could get together with large foundations and start suing corporations for violations of the public domain? Would it lead to a world where if you weren't certain of a work's, you presumed it was public domain for fear of the consequences of an illegal claim of copyright? We could live with that.
- Waking up from that daydream, I want edto point out this articles to readers of FGI because so much government information is both public domain and often repackaged as being in copyright. And occaisionally like the first edition of the Iraq Study Group report, government documents have copyrighted materials embeded into them. Ms. Ebbinghouse's article can help you navigate these difficult issues and help you deal with the copyfrauds out there.
Some of you may remember that we've been interested in visualization tools like tag cloud generating services (i.e., Tag Crowd). We haven't done one of these for a while, but watching tonight's State of the Union address, I thought it'd be interesting to visualize that text (courtesy of the NY Times). Let us know what you think.
Seeing two news reports so close together got me thinking about the eternal connections (perhaps affinities is a better word) between government information and urban development. It strikes me that the myriad issues of information haves and have nots extends not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of population density. In other words, for the great many of the poor around the world live in essentially dense urban wastelands with little access to services or facilities that are quite commonplace in most developed cities. In America, this discussion often plays out along rural versus city lines, but even in most cities, there are still tens of thousands of people equally isolated from much of the broadbend and robust aspects of the web many middle-income families take for granted at home, work, and in school.
A recent UN report shows that the issue of housing and the poor is only going to become more difficult. World’s Cities Report 2006/7 points out that it --
"...comes at a time when the world is entering a historic urban transition; in 2007, for the first time in history, the world’s urban population will exceed the rural population. Most of the world’s urban growth – 95 per cent – in the next two decades will be absorbed by cities of the developing world, which are least equipped to deal with rapid urbanization. The majority of migrants will be moving to small towns and cities of less than one million inhabitants. Already, more than half of the world’s urban population lives in cities of fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, and almost one-fifth lives in cities of between 1 and 5 million inhabitants."
At the same, from another source, zdnet, is mention of an initiative called the Open Architecture Network (http://www.openarchitecturenetwork.org) a program designed to use open source software to facilitate more affordable housing.
Strikes me that these reports are just further indication that the importance of other kinds of public information (state, local, international, regional, non-profit) will likely dominate in our near futures.
A good overview of the need for open availability of government information and the current status of making Thomas more open:
- Lawmakers Favor Outside Access To Legislative Data, by Aliya Sternstein, National Journal's Technology Daily, January 23, 2008 PM edition [subscription required] [The article is available without a subcription here and here ]
The legislative process could become a lot more exciting if lawmakers get their way in freeing the data inside the Library of Congress' legislative Internet database so that independent Web sites can repackage the information....
The data is important because no single view into the workings of Congress is best for everyone...
But the change likely would affect paid-subscription sites that charge for legislative updates. Their "business model will need to evolve to compete with citizen technologists," Sunlight Foundation Program Director John Wonderlich said.
There also may be resistance from congressional administrators, who "are often wary of taking on new departmental responsibilities if they are not accompanied by statutory justification or appropriations," Wonderlich said.
US censors Arctic scientists' findings as it prepares for oil and gas auction, By Daniel Howden, The Independent, January 22, 2008.
The United States has blocked the release of a landmark assessment of oil and gas activity in the Arctic as it prepares to sell off exploration licences for the frozen Chukchi Sea off Alaska, one of the last intact habitats of the polar bear.
Scientists at the release of the censored report in Norway said there was "huge frustration" that the US had derailed a science-based effort to manage the race for the vast energy reserves of the Arctic.
The long-awaited assessment was meant to bring together work by scientists in all eight Arctic nations to give an up-to-date picture of oil and gas exploitation in the high north. In addition to that it was supposed to give policy makers a clear set of recommendations on how to extract safely what are thought to be up to one quarter of the world's energy reserves.
Speaking yesterday from Tromso, one of the report's lead authors, who asked not to be named, said: "They [the US] have blocked it. We have no executive summary and no plain language conclusions."...
This seems to be a week of stories about the need for better broadband access in the United States. Yesterday, we noted the new report from the state of California. Today, we find a story in The Economist and a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
- Open up those highways, From The Economist print edition, Jan 17th 2008.
- Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber-Optic Options, by Christopher Mitchell. (See also: press release.)
From The Economist:
What accounts for the differences among rich countries? Two or three years ago demography was often cited: small, densely populated countries were easier to wire up than big, sparsely inhabited ones. But the leaders in broadband usage include Canada, where a tiny population is spread over a vast area. The best explanation, in fact, is that broadband thrives on a mix of competition and active regulation, to ensure an open contest.
From the ILSR press release:
The United States, creator of the Internet, increasingly lags in high-speed access to it. In the absence of a national broadband strategy, hundreds of communities have invested in broadband infrastructure to solve their problem locally. A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) explores this essential infrastructure and the options now available to communities.
The ILSR Report contends that DSL and cable networks fail to offer the speeds and capacity necessary for the digital future.
"As broadband has gone from convenience to necessity, communities can no longer rely on private providers to satisfy their broadband needs," explains Christopher Mitchell, author of the study and Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for ILSR.
Researchers at The Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism have assembled a full-text database of every public statement made by eight top Bush administration officials from September 11, 2001, to September 11, 2003, regarding (1) Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and (2) Iraq's links to Al Qaeda.
The database was assembled from official government publications, news accounts, books, and more. Sources include the websites of the White House, State Department, and Defense Department, transcripts of interviews and briefings, texts of speeches and testimony, prepared statements, articles from major newspapers, transcripts of television programs, government studies or reports, and books.
The "Overview" of the research says that
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
- Study: False statements preceded war by Douglass K. Daniel, Associated Press, Jan 23, 2008.
- Web Site Assembles U.S. Prewar Claims by John H. Cushman Jr., January 23, 2008
The Fund for Independence in Journalism, is a nonprofit, tax exempt organization "created to foster independent, high quality public service journalism in the United States and around the world." It provides legal defense and endowment support for the Center for Public Integrity, The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization "dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Center is non-partisan and non-advocacy."
MAPLight.org has announced the availability of "widgets" that you can use on your web site to display the fundraising activity of any of over 1,500 congressional candidates.
Citizens can now track fundraising for over 1,500 congressional candidates with free widgets for blogs, social networking pages, and personal web sites. MAPLight.org, a nonpartisan watchdog group, released today customizable widgets - portable chunks of code that allow content to be displayed on any web page - that make political fundraising more transparent. Bloggers and reporters will be able to easily share the campaign finance data for any number of congressional races with their audiences.
Try it on your own website!
A new report on broadband access in California highlights some of the problems of broadband that are often glossed over in other reports.
The report is available in several files including maps and a spreadsheet here: The State of Connectivity: Building Innovation Through Broadband.
The report says that, while 96% of California residences "have access" to broadband of some kind, only half of Californians have access to broadband at speeds greater than 10 Mbps. And though access is available, barely more than half of Californians have adopted broadband at home. Further, "broadband infrastructure is deployed unevenly throughout the state, from state-of–the-art to nonexistent." And 1.4 million mostly rural Californians lack broadband access altogether.
Since by some measures, according to the report, "California remains a domestic leader in broadband adoption", this is not an inspiring situation.
I found the spreadsheet, "Appendix: Broadband Pricing Survey" particularly interesting. It compares more than 100 broadband services throughout the state and shows the price for download speed varies from $3.81 to $144, per megabyte.
Press coverage: California Broadband Task Force Releases Final Report, By Gina M. Scott, Government Technology, Jan 18, 2008.