Friday, September 30, 2005

Orphan works article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian News. I'll be speaking out more on copyright issues in the coming months. A recent article mentions why Benetech is concerned about orphan works: obscure works are hard to find the copyright owner, and it costs to much to hassle with.
Tim O'Reilly (who has been hugely helpful to us and especially published an op-ed in the New York Times about the Authors Guild suing Google's Library project. "AUTHORS struggle, mostly in vain, against their fated obscurity. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks sales from major booksellers, only 2 percent of the 1.2 million unique titles sold in 2004 had sales of more than 5,000 copies. Against this backdrop, the recent Authors Guild suit against the Google Library Project is poignantly wrongheaded."

Similar issue: our IP laws and attitudes are overly focused on the incorrect concept that intellectual property is the same as real property or other tangible objects. We have to ensure that the public's interest (and as Tim points out, the authors' interests, even though they don't understand why) stays in mind as we legislate and litigate our way to some interesting places!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Helping protect human rights information is one of our critical goals at Benetech. Information is the core of human rights work, and suppressing of such information is one of the ways perpetrators of abuses get away with their crimes.

We created our Martus software to help protect human rights information. However, the confidential nature of field human rights work often makes it difficult for us to share our successes, lest we add to the risks grassroots activists already take on as part of their daily tasks.

One of our biggest areas of work is in Colombia, a place where violence and human rights abuses are not a thing of the past. One of our strong partners in the country is a group named EQUITAS, the Colombian Interdisciplinary Team for Forensic Work and Psychosocial Services. They concentrate on recovering the remains of the many people disappeared during Colombia's complex and violent internal conflicts. EQUITAS is under particular pressure just now because of its involvement in an excavation of remains on a ranch near San Onofre, a particularly sensitive site that may hold the remains of hundreds of disappeared people from the region, and has already yielded dozens of bodies.

One of the EQUITAS staff was assaulted last month multiple times. In one incident, her taxi was hijacked in Medellin and her computer was demanded. She and her taxi driver were taken to a remote location where her computer, cell phone and other property was stolen, but thankfully, she and the taxi driver were released unharmed. EQUITAS has been among our most innovative Martus adopters. Many of EQUITAS' documents were secured by our Martus software using our "key-sharing" technique, see the Martus manual, section 2g. Whoever stole EQUITAS' computer got nothing but encrypted bits for the data stored in Martus, and EQUITAS has already recovered their materials from the server to their new computer.

Human rights group are all about information. Stealing computers is an increasingly common method of trying to suppress human rights activities. Martus plays a small but important role in safeguarding that information. We appreciate the permission of EQUITAS to mention their experience with our software, and hope that if you know people who are interested in their critical work, you'll connect them with me so that I can put them in touch with EQUITAS.

And, I am sure that a new Mac will shortly be again processing that lifeblood of human rights work, information about abuses and the stories of the people and families who are suffering because of them.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sometimes I like to update people on my travels. I've got a lot of trips planned for the next few months, and sometimes these blogs lead to people getting in touch with me about ideas for action!

Right now, I'm in Kyoto, Japan, to speak at the Science and Technology in Society forum (STS). It's an interesting and high powered group, and I'm looking forward to talking about Security and Privacy of Information.

I'll dash back to Palo Alto Tuesday night for our quarterly board meeting, and then leave Wednesday night for the NIMAS Technical Committee meeting in Dallas. This is the group charged with advising the Department of Education on the adoption of the new digital standard for electronic textbooks for students with disabilities. This will have a huge impact on students with disabilities around the U.S. and we're excited that is part of this effort.

My next trip is to Kansas City for my nephew's wedding, and a chance to speak informally at the Kauffman Foundation about technology social entrepreneurship. In early October, I'll be heading to Washington DC for a board meeting of the Social Enterprise Alliance, the group that promotes social enterprise among nonprofits, and then on to Seattle for a board meeting of RAF Technology, Inc., a tech company that Dave Ross and I founded in 1989. Of course, I'll be trying to arrange meetings with people in both Washingtons!

Later in October, I'll be traveling to Europe, hopefully visiting Amsterdam, Zurich, Barcelona and Budapest, for a combination of speaking gigs, visits and consultations. The head of our human rights program, Patrick Ball, is on a similar trip at the same time, and we're trying to coordinate our visits.

In November, I'll be speaking at a session of the Net Impact conference, and then off to Tunisia for the World Summit on the Information Society. It's my first visit to North Africa, and I'm excited about the chance to meet more of the leadership of the international disability community (especially those engaged in technology issues). On the way to Tunisia, I'm hoping to stop in London for a couple of meetings.

Early December, I'm starting to plan a trip to New York. So, it's a jam packed fall, and maybe I'll see more of the folks who read my blog!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

There are nice occasions where something humorous makes an important point. This presentation entitled Escape from CAPTCHA has a funny slide that captures the inaccessibility of many schemes used on web pages to keep out robot programs by requiring a human to enter obscured text. Thanks to Ivo Pletikosic for the link!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The MacArthur Foundation just published a nice article on Benetech's human rights program in their latest newsletter. The Foundation has been a steady supporter of our work in the human rights field, and recently renewed that commitment with a three year, $800,000 grant to Benetech.

Our human rights program is meeting its sustainability plan thanks to support from people like MacArthur. Our costs are covered by a combination of core support and project-specific funding that we raise in partnership with other human rights groups. Multiyear support for our human rights programs is especially helpful, as it provides us with continuity as well as the ability to invest in core capabilities such as our software for which no one customer can bear the cost. Our goals with core funding, such as the MacArthur support, is to expand our ability to strengthen the global human rights movement with science and technology to make the case for human rights as strong as possible.

I'm very excited about what Patrick Ball and our Human Rights team is doing, and glad that we'll be able to make a bigger impact in the coming years.