Open Attribute: Now in WordPress!

As you may recall, Open Attribute is a growing suite of tools that makes attributing openly licensed content as easy as cut and paste. We started with browser add-ons for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera that detect Creative Commons license information on a website, and pull that information into a properly formatted attribution that complies with the terms of the license. With our browser-based tools, any user who wanted help attributing open content from anywhere on the web could get it.

Today, we released a WordPress plugin into the wild (you can see the little button over in the sidebar), and our Drupal plugin will be out any day now. We’re shifting our focus to open content creators and publishers, people who want to make it easier for their users to attribute them correctly; after WP and Drupal, we have our sights set on learning management systems.

Laura Hilliger, our designer extraordinaire, gave shout-outs to the rest of the team this morning, and I’m inclined to do the same. This group remains a joy to work with, and I’m flabbergasted by how much we have accomplished in such a short time. A tip of the hat to Pat Lockley, our developer who never sleeps (would you say that you’ve become our developer lead, Pat? I think you have), Paul Booker, Hans Lemuet and Nathan Yergler, developers who do appear to sleep from time to time (but do excellent work nonetheless), and our Mozilla cheerleaders Ben Moskowitz and Matt Thompson.

Goooooo team!

Announcing Open Attribute

I am so proud to announce the launch of Open Attribute, a suite of tools that makes attributing openly licensed content as easy as cut and paste. Today we are launching browser add-ons for Firefox and Chrome that detect Creative Commons license information on a website, and pull that information into a properly formatted attribution that complies with the terms of the license. We have an Opera add-on coming soon, and our next steps will be to build plugins for WordPress and Drupal. This project is a mere three months in the making, and it has been incredibly exciting to be a part of.

Allow me to indulge in the sharing of a little back story. I’ve been involved with Open Attribute since its inception at the Drumbeat Festival last November. It all started in the peer learning tent on the first day of the festival, where Jane Park from Creative Commons was leading a workshop on open content. We broke into small groups to consider the question “What are the barriers to reuse of open content?” More and more people and institutions are publishing open content, but the reuse rates, as far as anyone can tell, are very low. What’s the point of open content if people aren’t using and building on it? After we came up with a list of barriers, each group focused on one and asked “What might some solutions be to this barrier?”

The group I was in quickly zeroed in on attribution, specifically, how confusing people find it. All of us had heard from individuals who resist using open content because they don’t understand how to comply with the attribution requirement. Workshops and how-to guides and step by step flowcharts haven’t reduced the confusion, so we thought, “What if we can just create attributions automatically? Like the citation generators in academic databases? Click a button and you can have a properly formatted citation in MLA style, APA style, Chicago style. Technically, there is no reason why we couldn’t do a similar thing for attribution.”

As soon as this idea came forward (no one remembers who said it first, but I think it was Jane), we all got really excited. We knew we were on to something. Here was a tool we could build to solve a problem that training alone hadn’t solved. And we had come up with it in a setting that was all about connecting the people with ideas to the people with the skills to make those ideas a reality.

At the end of the first day, we reported out on our idea to the whole Drumbeat festival, and a couple of people from Mozilla quickly reached out to offer support with coordinating the project. Several of us spent the second day of the conference working on an outline of the idea, some basic specifications for the tools, and some text that would help us recruit other interested participants. Most of that work is still hanging out in our neglected wiki page.

Mozilla asked me if I would be the “educator lead” for this project. I had no idea what that meant. I don’t think they did either. Nathan Yergler from Creative Commons was to be the “technical lead”. We created a Google group, participated in a couple of Drumbeat conference calls, and through some magical mix of Mozilla outreach, Twitter, and luck, we ended up with a great team of people who had the right skills and a huge amount of energy. At this point, I don’t think anyone knows or cares who was supposed to be the “lead” on the project; everyone pitched in and worked hard, and we made decisions on everything from development priorities to icon design more or less by consensus. Three months later here we are, launching our first tools.

I have never worked on a project like this before. Partly it’s that it was significantly more technical than anything I’ve ever done, with techier collaborators – I had to learn how to use IRC! But mostly it’s that here was a group of people, from vastly different personal and professional backgrounds, most of whom had never met in person, scattered all over the world, who spent substantial time working on Open Attribute just because they cared about it. Yes yes, this is what free and open software is all about, but I’m not a programmer, so I’d never experienced this kind of distributed collaboration before now. It is awesome. I am so proud of what our team has accomplished, and I’m excited to get to work on the next phase of development. Oh, and also, the add-ons themselves are great. I am already using them. They make attributing CC licensed content so much easier. Go install one.

Life on the command line

A grad school classmate of mine, Dianne Dietrich, has created an excellent set of tutorials for librarians who want to learn how to use command line. Here’s why:

If you’re a librarian, and you’re working with lots of information — and I mean, lots, like information overload lots — you need to be equipped with a way to handle this information without resorting to mind-numbing data entry methods. No, really. Every time someone says, “I guess I have to do this exhaustingly repetitive task by hand, I cry a little. It doesn’t matter if you’re one thousand miles away; I know, and I weep.

The tutorials are funny, easy to understand, and created especially for librarians (the examples use the LC Classification Outline!). I’ve been having a great time working my way through them, discovering some of the ways that command line can make my life easier, and it’s just too terrific a resource not to share. If you ever wanted to learn how to use the command line but weren’t sure where to start, look no further.

Copyright, Web 2.0, and RSS

Web 2.0 is one of my biggest professional interests after scholarly communication and its attendant issues. Even though my titles don’t have “digital” or “technology” or “emerging” in them, I see Web 2.0 as being very tightly linked to the copyright and scholarly publishing issues of the moment. Over time, I hope to use this blog to examine that connection more closely.

One of the primary tensions between copyright and Web 2.0 is that copyright is all about centralizing control, and 2.0 is all about decentralized sharing. When creators post their videos to YouTube or their photographs to Flickr, the goal is for the content to be linked, embedded, copied, emailed, and if it’s really good, spoofed, parodied, and remixed. Creators 2.0 may want credit, but they never expect to have anything resembling control, or at least the savvy ones don’t. The best thing that can happen to a creator on the web is to lose control, to have a maelstrom of copies shooting all over the world, to make a work that reproduces prolifically and of its own accord, like bunny rabbits or a virus.

The role of copyright in this landscape is confusing at best.

Blog feeds have come up recently as a major point of confusion. RSS enables people to aggregate lots of content from all over the web in one place; it takes the content that is produced for a single blog or website and puts it into a nice little package that can be exported and imported all over, including into other websites. As Ken Varnum puts it in a recent post on the subject, “feeds are purpose built to make content portable. If the author did not want others to copy the content, the author would not send it out in a format designed for its simple syndication.”

So what happens when someone takes an RSS feed and uses it in a way that the author doesn’t like? Can the author suddenly cry “Copyright infringement!” and have the whole thing shut down? Some bloggers appear to think so:

By providing the full content of my RSS feed, and therefore my content, on their site, they deprive me of those visitors who would otherwise come directly to my site. If I had advertising on my site, they could also be depriving me of revenue… In the same way that I can’t reprint a Harry Potter book and start selling it for my own gain, we need to realize that we can’t do that with RSS feeds or other Web content either. While Fair Use is OK, you can’t just start lifting and reusing entire bodies of work without permission. [Larry Borsato, PC World]

[W]hen a service cannot exist *without* republishing others content in its entirety, and directly profits from that republishing without the original consent of the author, there’s something that isn’t right. [Tony Hung, Deep Jive Interests]

Both of these comments were prompted by a new social feed reader called Shyfter. Shyfter aggregated feeds and posted them on the open web, instead of displaying them only to subscribers who had signed up to get certain feeds. I completely missed it at the time, but there was a whole blogosphere brouhaha about whether Shyfter’s tactics were unfair, infringing, or totally awesome. In the end, Shyfter bowed to pressure and stopped displaying whole feeds.

RSS hasn’t been around long enough to have a body of case law supporting one stance over another, and it will be very interesting to see what happens if a conflict like this ever makes it to court. I certainly understand how blog creators/copyright holders might want to be able to control who re-uses their work and in what contexts, especially bloggers who make money from ads. At the same time, I also want to smack my forehead and say, “Guys! It’s the internet! This is how it works! If you don’t want to lose control, don’t put your stuff online.”

But I suppose that’s not a terribly nuanced interpretation of copyright law, is it? If we hope to have a thriving content industry on the web, we’re probably going to have to find a way to enforce copyright online, right? Ideally a way that doesn’t involve the systematic intimidation and prosecution of music fans, but that’s another story.