Happy Public Domain, 1923!

The District of Columbia is mainly laid out in a grid pattern, with streets running north and south, and east and west. Avenues, named for the states, cross these at odd angles, so that throughout the city (and especially downtown) the intersections carve out small triangular plots. They’re too small to build on, but if you’re lucky, you might get a parklet.

Near my apartment is one such parklet, but it’s a sad sight. It’s dedicated to Sonny Bono (1935-1998), singer, style icon and member of Congress. There was a piece of legislation named in his honor after his death that has been a more enduring legacy than the parklet, and far uglier.

Bono memorial plaque

Bare parklet from the south
Images available under license, CC-BY (Scott Wells)

Copyright law is complex and confusing, so I won’t try to unlock that here. (Neither do I recommend confusing that which is publicly available with the public domain, as some church people fall into.) But extending copyright so long benefits the few who own those rare evergreen properties, and effectively locks down useful but mostly forgotten works. Works about Universalism, say.

Under the law, works published before 1978 went from having a 75-year copyright term to 95 years. The yearly pipeline of new works entering the public domain was cut off for twenty years. And the old term was pretty darn long. For this reason, it’s easier to get books about Universalists (and much besides) from 1840 than 1940. (The issue of “orphan works” is problem, but past the purpose of this article.)

Twenty years! I remember thinking “That’ll be forever from now.”

Forever as it happens, is next week.

On January 1, 2019, new works will enter the public domain, namely works copyrighted in 1923. And each year, we’ll get another year’s works.

As a Universalist, I’m looking forward to these entering the public domain. I hope Google or some other scanning project has them in the wings to share on New Year’s Day.

If you want to read more about the works entering the public domain, Smithsonian magazine as a nice treatment.

Lost pictures of Universalist, recovered

Yesterday, Cory Doctorow wrote that millions of public domain images, recovered from Internet Archive’s optical text recognition, have been uploaded to Flickr. The listing includes the text context, and a link back to the book. Like a image index as much as an image resource.

So I’m looking for Universalists, of course. Because the books include local histories and “who’s who”-type works, I’m getting hits for lay persons and lesser-known churches.

And I’ll be posting them.

We need free and open-source tools for our work

It’s not enough for some of us to sprinkle a handful of digital resources into liberally-licensed common use. I think we should be more demanding about the kind of tools we use to wake them: software that is free to use, free to share and (if we have the skill) free to build upon. Our output should be in formats unencumbered by patents; we need te free to open our files in the future.

This kind of freedom is often expressed as term like “free as in freedom” but they are also usually free of charge. This allows us to experiment with no added financial risk: no small thing.

And it’s not a pipe-dream. I’ve used Linux on the desktop at home and work for almost a decade. But I know the Linux market-share is still pretty small, so I intend to point out tools that are available for Linux (so I can test them) and at least Windows or Mac, but preferably both. (And considering that the still-popular Windows XP is coming to its end of life in April, considering a Linux future for those machines will keep them useful and out of landfills. Like in China. Or Germany.)

I’ll be writing about these tools in the future. But the Hungarian-Transylvanian Unitarians do this today.

Creative Commons-licensed Unitarian Universalist sites and resources

Following up on the Creative Commons theme. Here are some congregational websites and like resources that are covered in full or part by a Creative Commons licence. The headers to each section go to a human readable version of the license, presented here starting with the most permissive. (Check the version of the individual licenses made on each site; they have evolved.)




What else here has a Creative Commons license?

So, again on Facebook, a discussion about Creative Commons licensing and the problem (both real and imagined) of using another person’s copyrighted work without permission. As I’ve written before, this unauthorized, unlicensed use has a special place in our history (The 1811 “pirate edition” of the Treatise on Atonement), and that our forebears made a similar, liberal license provision almost 80 years ago.

I’ve moved to licensing particular posts and resources to highlight that they are available under that license. Let’s be clear: a lack of a Creative Commons license doesn’t affect your fair use. (Indeed, my “flaming nectarine” is, I contend, fair use parody. I do have a plan when I write.) Or I could make a particular (just to you!) license for the work. Or I could take a request to license something.

But it does mean everything else isn’t objectively and permissively licensed. This is the kind of ambiguity kills innovation and the measure of use the creator often intends. But one licence doesn’t fit all situations.

One example. The CC-BY-ND-NC is the most restrictive “liberal” license; that is attribution, no derivitive works and no commercial use. It is, in essence, “pass around and post” permission. Not ideal, but the de facto standard for most preachers, with the understanding that a CC-BY-ND-NC sermon could be repreached as-is and without pay. (It’s the lack of attribution that I hear caeses grief.) But it couldn’t be translated, the preaching couldn’t be made into a recording or (to stretch the point) not be made into a screenplay under that license.

A make-it-your-own guide, say for an RE program or HR manual, is a derivative work, so the no-derivitives plank wouldn’t make sense. A non-commercial provision would make publishers shy away. And so forth.

It’s interesting. Reviewing by use statistics, the two posts that get regular, evergreen attention are for an image of a seven-pointed star to be use as a non-cross emblem for Christians, and a Sunday-only calendar for worship planning. (I’ll go back and add a public domain declaration, not available then.)

And, oh, I drew up a public-domain flaming chalice image for anyone to use a few years ago. High time to get those licenses set.

I also licensed my deck from my presentation at the UU Christian Fellowship Revival a couple of years ago.

But every once in a while, in UU circles, I run into an ad-hoc semi-permissive license. The intent is good, but confusing and ambiguous.

The rights around the new UUA logo is a case in point, and its ambiguity and tentativeness wouldn’t fill me with confidence if I was in a congregation and was about to commit to a design re-do. Can you remix the logo for congregational (not the UUA proper) use? Or the background wallpaper-like image? What about applying the color scheme or wordmark into an existing congregational design?

The advice — “Congregations are welcome to download and use the new symbol for their own outreach purposes” — doesn’t really help in these cases.

A liberal license in a liberal service book

Free-culture and free software advocates easily identify art and technology as fields of interest. Software to share creates common tools for further creativity and interoperability. Riffing on existing films, photos and songs unlocks creativity. Drawing from the public domain preserves human accomplishment and refreshes it. These are easy to see, but worship?

Copyright and liturgy — literally, “work for the common good” — exist (for some sensitive souls) in tension. The bonds on what comes from God, or what is given to God, ought to be loose, if made at all. Since this attitude predates personal printing — think spirit duplicators in the pre-computer ago — little wonder the limits of liberal licensing extend to redistribution or free (that is, sponsored) distribution (one example) and not adaptation. In the United States, the public domain ascription of the Episcopal Church’s prayerbook is the exception that proves the rule: it has been widely adapted and modified. Unitarian Universalists could take this attitude to heart.

Gladly, I can point to one example that should still be effect and, for some, still useful. From the introduction to the 1937 Services of Religion prepended to Hymns of the Spirit (the red hymnal).

All of the services are intended to encourage a larger participation by the people than is sometimes to be found in what is called “Congregational worship,” but which too often is carried on only by the minister and choir with the people as silent auditors. To ensure full participation by the people the printed services should be in their hands, and they should be instructed to respond audibly in those parts assigned to them, which are printed in bold face type. In churches which lack the printed services or wish to follow a simpler form, it is suggested that the order of service, in a sense of the main sequence of events be printed on cards to be placed in the pews or hinged into the hymn books, the minister drawing upon such of the materials included in this book as he finds suitable for the occasion. Ministers wishing to reprint single services on leaflets for use in their own churches are liberty to do so but the words “Copyright by the Beacon Press” must appear in every such reprint and reprints may not be sold.

An imperfect license, but there are better ones today. Might I suggest, like the Open Siddur Project, a free/libre license using their license decision tree? (It refers to these licenses.)

Your searchable hymnal bookshelf

I have too many hymnals. They’re useful reference works for worship and portals into the lived theology of a community. But they’re massive and costly.

Enter the iPad interface for the Hymnary.org scanned hymnals collection. Which is a misnomer; I use it on my desktop, though the idea is to keep a tablet computer at your keyboard and use the interface as a hymnal. A public domain, and thus old, hymnal to be sure. But I love how one can flip through different versions of the same hymn. Valuable, that.


Document Freedom Day 2012

If you create documents in closed or proprietary formats, at a basic level you do not control them. I wrote about it at length last year.

Document Freedom Day 2012

Consider, please, saving and sharing your documents in an open format. LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org are two (related) mature and robust office suites that are both free (libre) and open source software, and can be had free of charge.

Or even just using more plain text.

A good (humanistic?) "sermon" with fish and loaves

Software Freedom Law Center executive director Eben Moglen lays it down about the freedom of ideas and the stewardship of human minds and the free access those minds need to information. Also, a fascinating review of the development of United States copyright law with respect to early immigration and religious freedom. (Made me think about proto-Universalist George de Benneville.)
Eben Moglen

Eben Moglen on Origins of Copyright and Patents” (Oggcast, 2009) You may jump past the prolog and start listening at 4:13.

Do listen: a model of visioning for religious humanists and food for thought for producers of cultural goods (like preachers.)

Consider this blog blacked-out

Lots of sites — like the English-language Wikipedia — are getting blacked out tomorrow in protest of SOPA and PIPA, and encouraging readers to contact their lawmakers to oppose these — but since I have a small readership I thought it more practical to say why than to figure out how to do so.

It’s about the proposed SOPA and PIPA, which I think are terrible bits of legislation. I’ll rely on this page from Public Knowledge to make my point.

If you have voting members of Congress, please express your rejection. (Note: some Democrats have been bad on this one, and some Republicans good.)