... in work

Leaving Kennisland (pt. 2)

The text below is an adapted version of a text first published on the Kennisland website under the title “Time to move on: what we have done to improve copyright and access to cultural heritage”. Both texts are identical except for the last section. The version published here provides a more in depth reflection on the challenges ahead for digital policy making.

At the end of 2018 we will end our activities in the areas of copyright and cultural heritage. Kennisland has been working on these themes for over a decade but with the departure of Paul Keller, who has been leading these efforts, we have decided to focus our energies on innovation in Education, Cities and Care.

Internet access, civil society media and open content

Over the past fifteen years our efforts to create an open, knowledge driven society have taken a lot of different forms. Driven by the conviction of our founders that the technological revolution started by increasing access to the internet presented a lot of benefits to an open, inclusive and diverse society, we have worked on a wide range of projects that tried to leverage new technologies for social progress. This ranged from initiatives to improve internet access in disadvantaged communities like Digitale trapvelden (‘Digital playing fields’) to ideas ahead of their time like WIFI in de trein (‘WIFI in the train’)1.

The main catalyst in this area turned out to be the Digital Pioneers programme we ran from 2002 to 2010. Through this programme, designed to support small civil society organisations in setting up technology driven activities, we learned a lot about the potential and the challenges posed by the rapid digitisation of society. One of these challenges that we identified early on was how copyright and other forms of intellectual property were not evolving at the same speed as technology. This meant that technology enabled many activities that were in conflict with copyright and other laws. Therefore, in 2003, we started the project DISC (Domain Innovative Software and Content). Together with Waag Society we helped civil society organisations to leverage the power of open source software and open content. Our involvement in the emerging field of open content led us to set up Creative Commons Nederland, which Kennisland ran (together with the Institute for Information Law) from 2005 until 20182.

Working on the development and promoting the use of the Creative Commons licenses was our first step into the area of copyright, and brought us in contact with the copyright establishment. In the fall of 2007, after years of discussion and relationship building, we launched a pilot project with Buma/Stemra that for the first time allowed members of a collective management organisation (music authors) to share some of their works under an open license. This breakthrough later provided the basis for a flexible model that gives Buma/Stemra members more say over how their rights are managed.

Opening up cultural heritage

Also in 2007, Kennisland, together with the Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision, the EYE Filmmuseum and the National Archives embarked on an ambitious project to digitise the audio visual memory of the Netherlands. At the time, the project called Images for the Future was the largest digitisation project in Europe. Kennisland was responsible for the copyright, communication and business model aspects of the project. During the project (2007-2014) the project partners restored, preserved and digitised over 90,000 hours of video, 20,000 hours of film, 100,000 hours of audio and 2,500,000 photos.

As one of the initiators of Images for the Future our priority was to make sure that the digitised works would become available online under conditions that would allow reuse. With regards to this objective the project turned out to be less successful. Regretfully only a small percentage of the overall collections could be made available online, mainly because of unresolved copyright issues. Copyright turned out to be a much more thorny issue than we had expected. The original project plan was based on the assumption that copyright owners would provide permission for the digitised material to be used in return for payment. In reality, most of them did not, as the economic incentive never materialised3.

However, we did manage to demonstrate the impact of making cultural heritage collections available under open licenses through platforms such as Open Images4 and the collaboration between the National Archives and Wikimedia. The latter illustrated that by sharing content on open platforms, institutions could reach new and larger audiences. These experiments around opening up collections for reuse became very influential for the nascent OpenGLAM movement. Realising that opening up GLAM collections (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) was primarily a matter of working with public domain works and metadata, we worked with Creative Commons on developing the tools to facilitate this5.

From 2009 onwards we also worked with collective rights management organisations on a number of pilot projects that explored the possibility of extended collective licensing as a mechanism to get more digitised cultural heritage available online. These projects proved to be successful and in response in 2013 cultural heritage institutions and collective rights management organisations joined forces (article available in Dutch only) to ask the Dutch legislator to provide a legal basis for extended collective licensing6.

Based on our work in the cultural heritage sector we were an early partner of Europeana, the EU funded platform that brings together digitised cultural heritage from thousands of libraries, archives and museums across the EU. Europeana provided us with an opportunity to apply the lessons that we had learned in the Images for the Future project on a wider scale. Together with the Institute for Information Law and the Bibliothèque Nationale de Luxembourg we developed a licensing framework that ensures full reusability of the metadata aggregated by Europeana. It encourages institutions to make their collections available for reuse under open licenses7. Today, ten years later, Europeana is the biggest aggregator of openly licensed cultural heritage resources, hosting more than twenty million freely licensed works8. The success of the Europeana Licensing Framework, which focuses on clear rights information for end users promotes reuse, has inspired other cultural heritage aggregators around the globe9, such as the Digital Public Library of America. Over the years of our collaboration Europeana has developed into one of the leading voices advocating for open access to cultural heritage and for the protection of the Public Domain10. We are proud to have been a driver of this.

Since 2016 we have also worked with Europeana on making sure that the ongoing EU copyright reform will improve the ability of cultural heritage institutions to make more of their collections available online. While the reform process is not concluded, there are indications that the EU copyright reform package will finally provide a workable answer for the copyright problems faced by libraries, museums and archives engaged in large scale digitisation efforts.

But our fight for better copyright rules11 extends further than improving the position of cultural heritage institutions. As a founding member and core contributor of the International COMMUNIA Association we have been advocating for a more user-friendly and modern EU copyright framework. Together with our partners we have been advocating for Europe-wide rules12 that benefit educators13 and scientists, and encourage innovation and broad access to knowledge and culture. The fight for a more sensible copyright system remains an uphill battle. The legislative fight over the Digital Single Market Copyright Directive14 is still ongoing, and while it looks like we (together with our partners) have achieved substantial improvements for the cultural heritage and the educational sectors, it is also clear that copyright will continue to serve as a major barrier to unlocking the full potential of digital technologies for public institutions and civil society at large.

What’s next?15

As we look back at almost fifteen years of activities, it is clear that many of the hopes that drove us to invest in these areas have failed to materialise. Instead of contributing to a more decentralised, democratic and equitable society, the digital revolution has brought us an increasingly centralised digital space that is undermining democracy and personal self-determination. At the same time, the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence is likely to raise an entirely new set of issues.

So why are we stopping our activities in this area when there is more urgency to act than ever?

We feel that after fifteen years we have exhausted our ability to intervene in meaningful ways. As an organisation that is entirely project-funded we need to find funders that are willing to pay for our interventions. Most funders that we have worked with prefer to fund activities/interventions that directly address a specific problem or issue that is relevant to their own mission (such as cultural heritage institutions for whom we have worked on copyright reform) or business (such as tech companies who have supported our copyright reform work). Such funding is usually tied to concrete opportunities or threats (like the ongoing EU copyright reform) and as such a lot of our work in the past years has been reactive to these kinds of threats and opportunities.

This has allowed us to change a lot of things for the better for the organisations and sectors that we have been working for. At the same time it is clear that we (as part of a bigger movement) have failed to counter the general trend towards an online space that is more and more dominated by a small number of powerful platforms that have built their dominance by extracting more an more of our private and public information. This situation poses a challenge for those like us who are part of the open movement. By advocating for opening up access to data, culture and information we have contributed to a favourable environment in which these platforms have come to dominate the online space.

If we want to reverse these developments and double down on our efforts to create a more decentralised, democratic and equitable society, there is a clear need for developing a more strategic, forward-looking policy agenda that furthers the policy objectives of the open movement.

Despite our long and successful track record in this field, Kennisland is no longer the place where this can happen. Both the funding model (dominated by relatively short-term project funding) and the relationship with our network of partners with whom we work on concrete social challenges (and who expect us to deliver concrete interventions in their immediate reality) drove us to the conclusion that Kennisland is no longer the place for long-term strategic policy work with an international focus. This is why I have decided to take these ambitions elsewhere.

Over the course of 2019 I hope to develop the foundations for a new entity that can be the host for these ambitions and that can become the basis for policies that rethink the digital environment in the light of what we have learned over the last decade and a half.

  1. Our 2005 project proposed to install WIFI networks in all trains. It took more than ten years before a majority of the Dutch trains were equipped with WIFI. These days most of them (with the notable exception of the “Intercity direct” service between Amsterdam and Rotterdam) broadcast our old project name as the SSID of their free WIFI networks. ↩︎

  2. In 2018 Creative Commons Netherlands was relaunched as a chapter of the Creative Commons Global Network. The Dutch chapter is chaired by Maarten Zeinstra (who previously worked at Kennisland) and our own Lisette Kalshoven serves as the global network representative. ↩︎

  3. You can find a more in-depth analysis of the results of the project in our publication ‘Images of the Past – 7 years of Images for the Future’. ↩︎

  4. Open Images became an important source of historical video content for Wikipedia, with large audiences. For example, in October 2018: 5,6 million pageviews↩︎

  5. In 2010 Creative Commons launched the CC0 public domain waiver which later became the de facto standard for sharing cultural heritage metadata. In 2010 Creative Commons launched the Public Domain Mark intended to label works that are in the Public Domain. ↩︎

  6. In 2015 the government responded by announcing that they intended to introduce Extended Collective Licensing into the Dutch copyright act. In the light of the 2016 EU copyright reform proposals this process is currently stalled. ↩︎

  7. To set an example, we developed Art Up Your Tab (together with Studio Parkers and Sara Kolster), a browser extension (plug-in) that shows users inspiring hi-res images from the rich collection of Europeana and the MET with every new tab or browser window that they open. The extension generates over 6 million views per year. ↩︎

  8. Since earlier this year our former colleague Harry Verwayen serves as Director of Europeana. ↩︎

  9. In 2016 together with Europeana and the DPLA we launched rightsstatements.org to better allow cultural heritage institutions around the globe to clearly communicate the copyright and reuse information of objects in their collections. ↩︎

  10. As expressed in the 2009 Public Domain charter which Kennisland drafted for Europeana. ↩︎

  11. Over the years we published numerous opinion articles on the subject of copyright reform. Read more about our efforts to modernise copyright law in the EU↩︎

  12. See copyrightexceptions.eu for research on the fragmented nature of user rights in the EU copyright framework that we have undertaken in 2016. ↩︎

  13. The education community (teachers, educators, lawyers, researchers, librarians, activists, experts on copyright) joins forces to ask for a better copyright for education. Check out the campaign website copyrightforeducation.eu ↩︎

  14. A controversial proposed European Union directive intended to ensure “a well-functioning marketplace for the exploitation of works and other subject-matter … taking into account in particular digital and cross-border uses of protected content.” Read more ↩︎

  15. You can find the (much shorter) original version of this paragraph that provides the perspective of Kennisland on the Kennisland website↩︎

New Horizons (leaving Kennisland)

27 Sep 2018 | 731 words | work kennisland copyright future

For the last eleven and a half years Kennisland has been my professional home and base of operations (first high above the the Keizersgracht and since 2015 as part of Spring House). Today we have announced that it is time for me to leave to make place for the next generation to take over the helm at Kennisland. The past decade has been an amazing ride during which I have learned and grown a lot. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with lots of amazing people both at KL and all over the world1 on making the world a little bit of a better place.

Most of my contributions in doing so have focussed on fairly nerdy and technocratic issues. The most impactful - and hopefully lasting - change that we have managed to achieve is that we have convinced large parts of the cultural heritage sector to embrace digitisation as a chance for radical openness instead of seeing it as a threat (or, even worse, as a business opportunity). We have changed many organisations internal policies from closed by default to open by default and at this moment it feels that there is enough momentum in the direction of open access to collections and other data for it to sustain itself.

But changing internal policies of public institutions is not enough if they operate in a legal environment that is stacked against them (and against individual users and creators). This is why, over the last six years or so I have spend an ever increasing amount of my energy to fight for better copyright legislation in Europe. As I am preparing to leave Kennisland this fight is nearing its logical conclusion, and the jury is still out to determine in how far our attempts to change things for the better will be successful. Right now it is not looking particularly good, but as the saying goes, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

I will focus my remaining time at Kennisland on continuing this fight and I am optimistic that we still have the chance to move the needle in the right direction. Even if the end result of this round turns out to be disappointing the struggle for a legal environment that prioritises the interests of individual creators and the general public over the interests of profit driven intermediaries (both legacy entertainment industry and our new platform capitalist overlords) will continue for the foreseeable future.

It is somewhere in this space that I see my post-Kennisland future to unfold but at this point in time it is too early to say what I will be doing next2.

Reflecting about my time at Kennisland also means to look at the darker moments: During my tenure at Kennisland, the Netherlands has become a more selfish and closed society that has shed lots of traits that once made it an attractive environment to operate in. Over the years we have seen a decimation of a support system for a vibrant, experimental and optimistic cultural sector. The feeling of embracing the future and shaping it through experimentation that was still very much present when I started at Kennisland is largely gone, displaced by a sheepish admiration for disruptive innovation that cherishes individual responsibility above collective imagination and solidarity.

But the darkest moment of my time at Kennisland was the fact that no matter how hard we put up signs, organised campaigns and tried to ignore the inevitable logic of the destructive carnage in Syria, we lost Bassel (R.I.P). Thinking about Bassel and the never-ending carnage in Syria puts whatever I managed to achieve during my time at Kennisland into the perspective of the world around us ever so slowly getting more unhinged.

  1. This is not the moment for thanking everyone who needs to be thanked but among all the people who have influenced me over these years two absolutely stand out: Chris & Jill. Without either of them and the strange magic of complementary characters between us i would not be where I am right now. Thanks! ↩︎

  2. While I have no definitive plan for what I am going to do next I have lots of ideas for future endeavours and I am still open for suggestions. If you have any ideas or plans that you want me to be part of, please feel free to get in touch↩︎

On risks & rewards (related to sharing metadata)

15 Oct 2010 | 825 words | copyright europeana metadata technology work

In the light of yesterday’s rather confusing and unconstructive discussion about ‘risks and rewards’ at the Europeanaopen culture 2010‘ conference, i thought that it might be useful to clarify a number of things. If you take a step back from form your favourite grief about copyright/public funding and look at the larger picture the whole risks and rewards discussion is actually quite simple:

Say you are a cultural heritage institution that wants to make digital representations of cultural artifacts (your ‘content’) from your collection available online: First you will need to ensure that you are actually allowed to offer these digital representations online (for example because the artifacts are out of copyright (in the public domain) or because you have managed to obtain permission to do so from the copyright holders). Once you have succeeded in this you will probably make some descriptive metadata about the objects available alongside the digital representations (if you don’t it will be very hard for users to find and to make sense of these digital representations)

Now say you want (or have to1 work with Europeana, what does that mean for your content and your descriptive metadata? You work with Europeana by contributing descriptions about the digital representations that you want to make accessible via www.europeana.eu to Europeana. In order to be able to point people to your content Europeana needs to have these descriptions. In contrast to your metadata Europeana does not need or want you content2.

Now what happens if you give your descriptive metadata to Europeana? Europeana will use it in order to point its users to your content. In order to do so Europeana will transform, combine and enrich your metadata with other relevant metadata that has been contributed by other heritage institutions. In order to fully leverage the possibilities offered by the web it also needs to make your metadata available online without restrictions (this is called linked open data, and if you want to understand why this is amazing you should go read the excellent primer on the next generation European Data Model by Stefan Gradman et al).

Now that sounds scary: ‘your metadata available without restrictions’. So lets break down the risks: First of all you loose some control over your metadata since others can work with it as well. This risk squarely falls into the category of a known unknown since you wont be able to tell right now if that loss of control will have positive or negative consequences. Secondly there is a risk of loosing imaginary revenue3: other parties might somehow generate revenue based on your metadata (this is more if an unknown unknown).

But since there are risks to making available your metadata without restrictions, there are also rewards: if your metadata is not available on Europeana users cannot find your content via Europeana. Being findable via Europeana will bring more users to your content and making your metadata available to Europeana will also result in Europeana enriching your metadata (and you are then free to incorporate enriched metadata in your own system or not).

Now all you have to do yourself is to decide if the risks out-weight the rewards: If they do then you should not make metadata about your content available to Europeana and you will not have to face these risks. On the other hand if the rewards out-weight the risks then you should probably make your metadata available to Europeana (and of course you can always experiment with a small portion of your metadata first to see if your cost benefit analysis is correct, you can also exclude your most valuable metadata or provide subsets).

In the end this really comes down to this: Europeana is a search engine that will help people find your content based on the descriptions of the content that are providing to Europeana. If you don’t provide descriptions your works can’t be found via Europeana and you do not have to face any of the risks described above4.

  1. This depends a bit on how you look at this. if you have accepted funds to digitize your content under the condition that you make it available via Europeana then of course you had the choice not to take those funds. ↩︎

  2. Your content is very similar to the secret code that comes with your debit card here: your bank has no reason to ever ask you for your secret number and Europeana has no reason to ever ask you for your content. if they do something fishy is going on and you should alert the competent authorities. ↩︎

  3. Imaginary revenue is always bigger than actual revenue. Imaginary revenue is created by fantasizing about a yet undefined customer showing up and offering lots of revenue for something that so far you have failed to monetize yourself. ↩︎

  4. Depending on how Europeana will grow not making your descriptive metadata available might also carry a risk: you might become less relevant as an institution. ↩︎

What is a bike messenger?

22 Aug 2010 | 224 words | cycling drugs traffic work urbanism

Couple of days ago boingboing ran a post about a SF bike messenger who claims to work while tripping on LSD. Today i finally read the whole text (as opposed to just the short quote on boingboing which focusses on his cycling while tripping experience). Turns out that the his entire rant is rather amusing and that it contains one of the best descriptions of how the bike messenger business works i have ever come across:

In big cities, cars are fucking everywhere. It’s a wonder people still buy them, because they move at approximately the same speed as tortoises with arthritis, are goddamn expensive, and you use up more of your gas tank waiting at stop lights then you do actually driving. And because some people in big cities need packages transported from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time (faster than the tortoises with arthritis can carry them) these people pay us an exorbitant amount of money to us, bike messengers, to bust our asses to transport said packages from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time. Then, the company that hires us takes a small finder’s fee (approximately 90% of our wages) and gives us our pittance sum of cash that we get for risking our lives on a daily basis.

Eye [gif animation]

28 Feb 2009 | 53 words | art technology work

Back during the dot-com craziness of 1999-2000 I worked as a gif animator for a while (at an outfit called interbrand in Amsterdam) and i still have a weakness for this particular form of art.

Today, != points to this wonderful example that is used as a background effect on the e-l-i-s-e weblog:

Between a rock and a hard place

08 Jul 2007 | 77 words | europe art mediterranean work

The ECF has put the report online which i wrote about the euro Mediterranean reflection group meting in Amman in june (yes the one that killed my last macbook). It is called between ‘a rock and a hard place’ and deals with the issues of artistic practice and international collaboration in the Middle East. Get the pdf from the ECF website (More on the activities of the Mediterranean reflection group of the ECF can be found here).

Favela Dubrovnik

So i am at my third summit in three weeks. first summit in Berlin, then the copyright summit in Bruxelles and finally the iSummit in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is absolutely amazing, which is best summed up by someone from FGV in rio de janeiro who’s first comment was. ‘whow! this place looks like a medieval favela‘ (which of course brings up fond memories from last years iSummit).

Photo by Joi Ito

Spain == hell for vegetarians

20 Apr 2006 | 298 words | food spain work waag

Spain is probably the worst place in western europe to be a vegetarian. When i flew to Argentina last year, it was absolutely impossible to find a vegetarian meal in all of Barachas airport. Of course Iberia had fucked up my request for a vegetarian meal so i had to spend something like 20 hours on snickers and peanuts. Now i do not have to deal with the spaniards complete ignorance when it comes to vegetarianism anymore, but my vegetarian colleagues have had to suffer a lot in the first 3 days of our workshop in Spain. After two days of pasta with a tomato sauce made from watered down ketchup, the cooks finally came up with something else, which they referred to as ‘vegetarian risotto‘:

Because of the color we immediately had the suspicion that the thing might contain squid, but because of the funny taste it was kind of difficult to confirm, so we asked them what the fleshy bits in the thing were. Waiter, smiles makes some fishy hand movements that resemble the tentacles of an octopus and tells the two people who had requested something with neither fish nor meat that it was indeed squid. So i start telling him that this is unacceptable and he runs back to the kitchen come back and declares that it is not squid but asparagus. Meanwhile another waiter arrives tells us that it is neither squid nor asparagus and draws a mushroom and tells us it is mushroom. Closer inspection confirmed our initial hypothesis. Later in the discussion one of the vegetarians, in a desperate attempt to justify the fact that he had eaten the entire risotto, came with the theory that actually there was no difference between eggs and squids because they both miss a brain.

Me, alone, working very hard....

20 Mar 2006 | 59 words | creative commons waag amsterdam work conference

Picture taken by Guido van Nispen before the p2p workshop at felix meritis last friday. from looking at the timestamps of the photo and the previous entry (all the way to the bottom in the white box) it seems that he has actually captured me writing the previous blog entry…

See the rest of the Guidos workshop pictures here.

World Information City TV

18 Nov 2005 | 83 words | bangalore india media art urbanism technology work waag

If you happen to live in Shivaji Nagar, Bangalore and you get your cable tv from Devya Satellite Vision you can watch the first installment of world information city tv tonight from 1830h to 2100h IST. World Information City TV is a project of Bombay based artist Shaina Anand and is part of the World Information City event. Apparently they have made a movie out of my camera misfortune a couple of days ago.

watching WIC-TV at A1 auto consultants on Shivaji Road

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: