... in policy

This is wrong on so many levels...

12 Jun 2014 | 399 words | healthcare policy stupidity

… that it is difficult to decide where to start. I came across this par of adds in tuesday’s paper (the smaller ad on the left hand was on the front page and the the bigger one on the right was on page 7):

Volkskrant ad for oma app

For those not able to decipher dutch, this is a an add for a crowdfunding project that claims that ‘an app for granny’ is ‘the solution for healthcare austerity’ and encourages readers to donate toward the further development of the the healthcare-phone app. Apparently this app would allow old folks to get in touch with others and healthcare providers with ‘the push of one button’.

Obviously the overall claim that a glorified telephone is the solution for the problems created by healthcare austerity (fewer people will be eligible less care) is dubious at best. What makes it worse is that this add is run by a crowdfunding platform that is operated by a health insurance company. I have no idea what goes on in the heads of executives of this company, but i would suggest that if they are care about providing the best possible healthcare to their customers they may want to find better uses of their money than spending it on a crowdfunding platform that promotes projects like this one.

Also it does not really reflect well on the people who are running this platform that they are spending substantial amounts of money on buying advertisement space to encourage others to spend money on projects (unless this is a scheme to have the health care sector cross subsidize the newspapers in need). Based on our recent ad buys in the same newspaper i am pretty sure that the amount of money they paid for this ad would help the Zorgfoon-app a long way towards it’s €50000 funding target. They currently stand at €3.6500 which means that either newspaper ads are not really effective in driving contributions or that people are rightfully skeptical of the claims made by this project.

Crowdfunding certainly has it merits where it empowers organisations and individuals that do not have ready access to capital to realize projects or where it is used as a tool to organize collective actions. It becomes problematic when it is used simply because it is ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ by organisations that seem to have no clear sense of purpose.

Public policy vs. ideology

Earlier this week i found myself in the bathtub reading through this list of voting recommendations by the ‘Audiovisual Coalition/EP CULT Committee‘ on the ‘Proposal for an orphan works directive’. The voting list makes voting recommendations with regards to amendments (proposals to change the text of the proposed directive) suggested by various Members of the European Parliament. In total it lists 230 amendments and recommends either to vote for them or against them. Here is one of them (amendment 195 by Jean-Marie Cavada):

CULT voting list on orphan works directive, amendement 195

For me these two boxes full of text pretty much capture a lot of what is wrong with public policy making in the field of copyright. But first, let’s recall what this directive is about:

  1. There is a large class of copyright protected works where the rights holders are unknown or where it is unknown if they are still protected by copyright.
  2. Copyright law makes most uses of a copyright protected work conditional on the permission by the rights holder(s).
  3. Such permission cannot be obtained when the rights holder is unknown when it is unknown if there still is a rights holder.
  4. As a result works without a known rights holder (‘orphan works‘) cannot be used without infringing copyright.
  5. This outcome is highly undesirable since it does not benefit anyone, neither the rights holders nor members of the public who might want to use such works.

The proposed directive on orphan works seeks to address this issue by allowing certain uses of orphan works on the condition that a diligent search has been carried out and that this search has failed to locate the rights holder. The core of the proposal is relatively undisputed. The discussion in the European Parliament (and in other places) centers on the scope of the above mentioned ‘certain uses’ and the question who should be entitled to make such uses.

This is where the above snippet from the voting list becomes intresting. MEP Cavada proposes (left box) to add a new article to the directive that would allow broadcasting organizations to use recognized orphan works (i.e works where a diligent search to locate a rights holder has been unsuccessful):

4a. For this Directive to be fully effective, broadcasting organizations need to be able to use recognized orphan works, under the conditions established by this directive, in the course of their normal activities.

In response, the voting list compiled by the CULT committee indicates that MEP’s should vote against this amendment and provides the following argument to support this recommendation (right box):

The inclusion of commercial broadcasters is not compatible with the public policy objectives of this proposal.

Now the interesting part of the argument is the reference to a ‘public policy objective’ that is said to underpin the proposed directive. As i have outlined above the objective of the proposal is to make copyright protected works that have been rendered inaccessible by a dysfunctional copyright system available again.

Available for the public to access these works, but also available for the public to re-use them, and to build upon them. So the public policy objective of the proposed directive is to provide access to these works and it should be self evident that (commercial) broadcasting organization are an important platform facilitating such access.

For some reason the CULT committee of the EP (and many other stakeholders in this debate) seem to have completely lost track of this objective. Instead of promoting access to works that are rotting away in archives (often at enormous costs to the public that is paying for archiving and preserving them), every possible effort is undertaken to limit access to orphan works as much as possible.

The general consensus seems to be that only non-commercial uses by non-commercial cultural heritage institutions who have the actual works in their collections should be allowed. Quite obviously this is not in line with any public policy objectives, since it keeps the works out of reach of most of the public.

The reference to the public policy objective in the voting recommendation perfectly illustrates to what degree the discussion about orphan works (and more broadly copyright) has been captured by special interests. Those trying to limit the scope of the directive are willing to risk enormous amounts of collateral damage in order to make sure that the ideology of unalienable exclusive rights of authors does not get undermined.

It is pretty disappointing to see that the CULT committee of the European Parliament seems utterly incapable to distinguish between special interest driven ideology and public policy here.

Strange things are happening...

05 Nov 2010 | 581 words | copyright europe piracy policy

Not sure why this is happening, but it appears that commons sense is slowly starting to make a comeback in the discussion about copyright. Yesterday we had the British Prime Minster announce that his government is undertaking a review of the parts of the intellectual property laws in order to enable more flexible use of copyright protected works along the lines of the the US fair-use doctrine:

The second new announcement I can make today is to do with intellectual property.

The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain. The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of all the content on the internet at any one time and they feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of innovation as it is in the United States.

Over there, they have what are called ‘fair-use’ provisions, which some people believe gives companies more breathing space to create new products and services. So I can announce today that we are reviewing our IP laws, to see if we can make them fit for the internet age. I want to encourage the sort of creative innovation that exists in America.

This obviously is a huge win for Google (they have been preaching this for years to European and UK policy makers) and also needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt (the UK government basically ignored all the outcomes of the last review that called for less restrictive IP laws and even implemented changes that the review had advised against).

On the other hand the British MP does not seem to be the only high ranking official who seems to have changed his mind when it comes to copyright in the digital environment. Earlier Today Neelie Kroes, the EU’s commissioner in charge of the digital agenda gave a speech in Avignon in which she almost sounds like a copy-fightin-free-culture-activist:

Today our fragmented copyright system is ill-adapted to the real essence of art, which has no frontiers. Instead, that system has ended up giving a more prominent role to intermediaries than to artists. It irritates the public who often cannot access what artists want to offer and leaves a vacuum which is served by illegal content, depriving the artists of their well deserved remuneration. And copyright enforcement is often entangled in sensitive questions about privacy, data protection or even net neutrality.

It may suit some vested interests to avoid a debate, or to frame the debate on copyright in moralistic terms that merely demonize millions of citizens. But that is not a sustainable approach. We need this debate because we need action to promote a legal digital Single Market in Europe.

My position is that we must look beyond national and corporatist self-interest to establish a new approach to copyright. We want “une Europe des cultures” and for this we need a debate at European level.

you can read the full speech here (to be checked against delivery, but since she tweeted the essence here, here & here we can be relatively sure that she actually said this).

Again this needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, since both the UK government and the EU commission are continuing to push for more restrictive IP rules through the secretive and totally not-evidence-based ACTA process, but maybe we are witnessing something like a turning point here. Another hopeful sign is that even the Americans are doing surprising things these days…

Why the U.S is and will remain miles (sic!) ahead of europe.

If you want to understand this you simply have to listen to the below excerpt from a planet money interview with Mark Zandi the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and contrast that with the petit bourgeois, xenophobic attitude towards immigration that is prevailing in Europe:

and again, fundamentally we are fine. we can’t loose the sight of what makes our economy really tick though and that is: the most educated population, the best infrastructure and most importantly of all that we continue to attract the best and brightest from all over the planet, because as long as we can do that we are gonna be just fine.

Telecom Package: we are not going to take it

The French/European advocacy group La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net) has issued an urgent appeal to act against a number of entertainment industry sponsored amendments to the legislative undertaking to reform the European law on electronic communications (“Telecoms Package”) which are currently being discussed by the European Parliament in Brussels. These amendments are aimed at closing the open architecture of the Internet and to introduce more control and surveillance of users as well as the introduction of censorship of internet communications by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) at the request of the entertainment industry and/or national governments:

European Internet users could be blocked from lawful activities by mandatory spyware, in the interests of their security. The right to use free software for internet access would therefore not be assured anymore. The neutrality of the Internet is also directly attacked, as is the principle that technical intermediaries have no obligation to prior surveillance of contents. Other amendments will de facto enable administrative authorities to obligate ISPs to work with content producers and rights-holders’ private police, including the sending of intimidating messages, with no judicial or regulatory oversight.

These measure goes further than the French “graduated response” project, which has been subject to widespread opposition, including by the European Parliament on April 10th. That is undoubtedly why those amendments have turned up on early July, and why those drafting them use subtle rhetoric and crossed-references to make the overall text harder to understand (more than 800 amendments on 5 directives were tabled).

“The politicians who engage in these summer manoeuvres dishonour Europe and their mandate. They rely on the fact that nobody watches them a week before Parliamentary holiday, to divert the Telecoms package from its primary objectives of consumer protection. They pave the way for the monitoring and filtering of the Internet by private companies, exceptional courts and orwellian technical measures. It is inconceivable for freedom but also for European economic development. We call on all MEPs to oppose what they have already rejected.” said Christophe Espern, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net).

These torpedo amendments are currently subject of a series of secret, back-room negotiations between a handful of MEPs who do not always understand all the implications of these issues. Accomplices of lobbyists who hold the pen are in every political party. Instructions for the plenary vote will be established this week for a vote in IMCO and ITRE committee on Monday, July 7th.

La Quadrature du Net has compiled detailed instructions on how to contact the Members of the European Parliament involved in this process and how to attempt to convince them that these amendments are extremely harmful to the interests of all European Internet users. More background information on the amendments in question can be found in this excellent (and very timely!) draft briefing paper on the Telecoms Package by Monica Horton. The paper also contains a very good summary of the core argument against introducing legislative measures that transform the position of ISPs from neutral providers of a bitstream into chain-dogs of the content industries and governments:

Why we should protect “mere conduit”?

The political issue here is that the “mere conduit” status of the ISP was put in place to protect individual privacy and freedom. Once this change to telecoms framework law is in place, “mere conduit” is effectively eroded, and this apparently small legal change will give corporations and governments control over the Internet which they have not previously been able to get. If it is legally possible for Internet content to be monitored and blocked to support copyright infringement, what is to stop it being used for other forms of censorship, including political purposes?

Under the current legal framework, we are protected from such censorship by the “mere conduit” status, combined with data protection law. It is therefore vital to retain that “mere conduit” status, in order to protect citizenship rights to communicate freely using the Internet.

And if we are going to make any changes at all to the ISP status, it must be properly and publicly debated and go through the full legislative scrutiny in a transparent manner, so that all stakeholders, including civil society, can input to it.

Apart from straightforward censorship at the ISP level these amendments also pave the way for the graduated response (three strikes and you are out) type regulation currently under discussion in France and the UK. If these stealth amendments will pass the EU parliament and get enacted they would undermine (if not reverse) the explicit condemnation of activities aimed at cutting off internet access from European Citizens passed by the same parliament back in April. Cory Doctorow has a spot-on observation regarding these insane propositions in yesterdays guardian which underlines why these henchmen of incompetent and inflexible corporate interests must be stopped.

So if you have a little time to spare, go contact your local MEP (especially in case (s)he is in the ITRE or IMCO committee) or bring this whole mess to the attention of friendly journalists to shine a bit more light on the whole affair.

p.s: The title of this post obviously refers of the song ‘we are not going to take it‘ by twisted sister.

Obscurity and confinement for migrants in Europe

05 Jan 2008 | 243 words | border europe migration xenophobia policy

The International Herald Tribune has an excellent article by Caroline Brothers on the spread of detention camps for foreigners that have mushroomed across the European Union (and the neighboring African and Eastern European countries). The article draws from the impressive work done my migreurop (and even links to their excellent map of migrants dentetion camps in Europe).

“Detention is a very serious measure in a democratic society – governments deprive people of their liberty when they are convicted of a serious crime,” said Katrine Camilleri, a refugee lawyer in Malta with the Jesuit Refugee Service, which on Dec. 18 published a report on conditions in detention centers in the 10 newest EU states.

“These people have committed no crime, and though human rights law allows for detention in very specific cases, even then you can’t detain people forever. Even 18 months is a very long time; it destroys them,” said Camilleri, who has just been honored by the UN refugee agency for her work in the face of arson attacks on her car and home.

The smallest centers hold a few dozen people; the biggest, more than 1,000. A network of them has quietly taken form with little scrutiny and few established norms, sometimes reusing old sites, like Rivesaltes in the south of France, which was one of the biggest French internment camps for Jews during World War II.

Go read the entire article here. [thanks to Isabelle for alerting me to this].

Patrice on the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan

Patrice (who refuses to have a web presence so i cannot link him) has some thoughtful comments on the recent french initiative to combat ‘casual illegal file sharing’ by having ISPs terminate internet connections of ‘persistent pirates’. Apparently ISPs have to monitor the data streams of their subscribers and report those who are engaging in file sharing to an ‘independent body’1 who can then issue warnings and after two warnings order the ISPs to terminate the internet accounts of the ‘pirates’. sounds a bit like the Californian three-strikes-and-you-are-out regulation and i guess that is why Tilman Lueder calls this the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan’.

Sarkozy himself prefers to call this ‘A decisive moment for the future of a civilized internet’, something which is hard to argue with as this will most likely result in lots of dumb-ass adolescents being disconnected form the internets which in turn will result in less nonsense being posted to youtube and less time wasted on myspace and facebook, which is a good thing. plus this will give these kids plenty of time to acquire the skills they need to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy (by reading good old fashioned books and writing letters to each other). sounds like a seriously well thought out plan to me….

But before i get carried away, here is what Patrice had to say on the good old (in fact so old that the archive has not caught up yet so i cannot link) nettime mailing list. He is quoting this BBC news article before his comments so you might want to read that first:

From all the “clue-less about the Internet” politicians, the French would seem the ones who have put the most ‘less’ into the ‘clue’ (Thank you, Gunner ;-) This impression, alas, is very deceptive. They have probably thought the most of all about it, and they came to very, very wrong conclusions and decisions. This of course, with not a little help of the lobbying industry, but mainly because of their own (mis)representation of what the whole issue is about. And to understand that you have to dig deeper.

French ‘Republican’ intellectuals, from which class politicians are coming to a (wo)man, hold two beliefs that are deeply inimical to the Internet economy as we know it (for a large part): a quasi-religious faith in the ‘moral right’ of the (intellectual) author, which, suitably reformulated to the wishes of the ‘creative’ industries, gives it a much higher moral highground than in the rest of the world (piracy becomes then the real thing). And, less well known, an abhorence of ‘gratuity’ (“La gratuite, c’est le vol” – ‘gratuity = theft’ is a very commonly held opinion). Getting things for free, or to be more precise, without payment in legal currency, is considered unlawful by default, because harmful to the proper order of society. (Hence France also going after ‘LETS’ systems, for instance)

These two comvictions are then combined with yet another commonly held belief in political circles, subsumed in the funny 1970s slogan “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas!”. This has led to a very peculiar, that is litteral, interpretation of the “Oil of the 21st Century” concept, loudly advocated by prominent public economists like Alain Minc and Jacques Attali2. The French ‘knowledge economy’ shall be firmly copyright based – or bust. All this results in an irresistible aggregate argument to legislate for ‘robust protection of intellectual property’, against which more enlightened critics in the digital community and some intellectual circles (eg the group around the review ‘Multitudes’) are rather helpless.

And how pig-headed the French position may look like, it could well provide an attractive example for other legislations, especially the more authoritarian ones, to follow.

On a more serious note i have to agree with Patrice here. If this plan is really going through this will almost definitely make the copyright ayatollahs in other countries salivate for similar arrangements… [in fact they (a.k.a the Phonographic Inquisition) already are]

  1. Given the composition of the group that came up with this plan (the copyright/entertainment industry mafia and the ISPs/telcos) this should probably be read as ‘without any representation of consumer interests’ ↩︎

  2. [On 27/11/07 Patrice posted the following correction]: Miguel Afonso Caetano send me a rejoinder which I think I should share with the list since he didn’t post it himself. Apparently I am/was deeply wrong about Jacques Attali stand on IP, portraying him as a fundamentalist. I must confess that my pronouncement was based on a limited knowledge of his work, since I read only one book of his (forgot the title – and he wrote so many… ;-( where I got the impression that he put a lot of trust in knowledge as a marketable good (and he was refering to copyright I am sure – but then…) In any case I am glad there is a voice of reason among hi-profile, mainstream French intellectuals. ↩︎

Victory of the weak....

20 Oct 2006 | 394 words | migration netherlands education policy xenophobia

It is not very often that those who are supposed to be the weakest members of a social group manage to slip through policies designed to exclude them from resources. Apparently though, this seems to be what is happening in the case of the stupid language tests that the Dutch government has imposed on would-be immigrants a while back. To recap, would-be immigrants have to do a basic dutch language test in their countries of origin before they get permission to come to the Netherlands even if they do qualify for a residence permit. Now these language tests are pretty basic and fully computerized and they are clearly designed to weed-out immigrants with lower education so that only ‘desirable highly-educated’ immigrants are let into the Netherlands.

Now apparently this policy is a complete failure. i recently talked to a couple of civil servants from the city of Amsterdam and they told me that the whole system does not work at all: According to them it is the low-skilled, lower educated immigrants who pass this language test and the high-skilled, highly-educated would-be immigrants who miserably fail to do so. Of course this was not really satisfactory from the view of the sick bureaucrats who came up with this stupid idea in the first place and consequently they ordered some research into this issue:

So it appears that people with relatively low education have ‘auditive memory‘ and are good in ‘instructive learning‘ while people with higher education levels seem to have predominatly ‘visual memory‘ and engage in ‘experimental learning‘.

What this comes down to, is that people with lower education are better at remembering phrases thrown at them and repeat them to a computer than people with higher education who do seem to get lost in this simple procedure partly because they get offended by the setup. The result is, that non-western people (of course in good old apartheid-style white western people do not have to take this test) with higher education currently seem to have an extremely hard time getting into this little arrogant country. Now this is not to the liking of those who came up with this system and those civil servants i talked to (who did not come up with this system) were pretty sure that within the next 6 months this policy will get canned. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: