Sunday, June 21, 2009

Craigslist Foundation Bootcamp 2009

Enjoyed my day in Berkeley yesterday at the Craigslist Foundation Bootcamp 2009. They had more than 1000 folks show up to talk about service, nonprofits and social action. I thought Arianna Huffington did a good job as the opening keynoter hitting on the service theme. Announcing All For Good was a big piece of the event, of course.

Randi Zuckerberg of Facebook had the tough gig of presenting a lunch keynote outside under a tent in lower Sproul Plaza (mucho noise and people talking). She was much more on Facebook marketing message, but of course that's her role at FB. Lots of enthusiastic FB users in the audience helped make her points.
Craig Newmark with microphoneI took a lot of pictures, but not that many turned out. Posted the best 30 or so on Flickr: got some great ones of Steve Wright of the Salesforce Foundation.

I enjoyed some of the breakout sessions, although the number of concurrent sessions (often 8 at one time) made it hard to pick. Enjoyed Deb Jospin and Shirley Sagawa discussing the Charismatic Organization, their recent book.

And, as always, great to see people I know and admire like Darrell Hammond of KaBoom!, Ami Dar of Idealist.org and Jonathan Greenblatt of more cool things than I can shake a stick at!

Friday, June 19, 2009

AARP covers Bookshare!

We had a nice piece on Bookshare in the latest AARP Bulletin, entitled: Making Books Accessible for Those With Disabilities.

We've been getting lots of questions about the article, including volunteer offers (yay!) and interest in getting Bookshare for older parents. We have shared with people that it's ok for children of disabled parents to download books for their parents, just as it's ok for parents to download books for children with disabilities. Our team has been explaining how to assist a disabled senior who doesn't have a PC, by empowering a PC-using child to download the book and load it onto a device like a Victor Stream (an ebook player that has a voice synthesizer that speaks our books). These kinds of devices are much more like the tape recorders and CD players with which non-PC users are familiar. Of course, we explain that access to Bookshare is only for the purpose of helping a person with a print disability.

It's always exciting to be covered in the press, and AARP is an organization that has long been on our list of places from which we'd love to get coverage.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fascinating Meeting at the Copyright Office

Last Friday I spent almost two and a half hours in a wide-ranging conversation with Maria Pallante and Michele Woods of the Copyright Office (Michele's name updated, plus a summer law clerk attended). I came away with a much better understanding of the issues they are exploring and certainly did my part to articulate why I support the positions we have.

[Long post alert!]

I would characterize the atmosphere as one of informed and intelligent skepticism on the part of the Copyright Office, with many questions exploring different positions. We discussed Chafee, especially in the context of the Amazon text-to-speech brouhaha, and the proposed international treaty that was tabled at the WIPO SCCR meeting in Geneva last month.

The Chafee Amendment
The U.S. copyright exemption for serving the print disabled is commonly called the Chafee Amendment: Section 121 of copyright law. It’s what makes our Bookshare service legally possible.

The fact-finding public hearing and request for comments seemed to have two purposes: both to understand how Chafee is working and to report back to WIPO about the U.S. national experience. In our conversation, I got the impression that the Copyright Office is getting ready in case Chafee is revisited. That would be the responsibility of the Copyright Office, to advise Congress on any changes to domestic copyright legislation.

That worries me, because I don’t think I’ve heard about a groundswell of demand for changing Chafee in the United States, other than when one textbook publisher's representatives get up in public and sound like banking executives from five years ago (if the government would just stop regulating us, we'd take care of everything). So, I think advocates should be watching out for any signals along these lines. Of course, if there is an international treaty on the topic and the U.S. ratifies it, then there probably would need to be changes to Chafee and U.S. copyright law.

The Amazon Text-to-Speech issue

This one has gotten a lot of press, especially since the National Federation of the Blind and the Reading Rights Coalition has formed to fight the soundproofing of books on the Kindle2. The most interesting part of the conversation was around what I call the “dueling moral high grounds” issue: authors rights and the rights of people with disabilities. The Author’s Guild asserts that they control the audio rights and that delivering a text ebook to a device which could speak it aloud with synthetic text-to-speech and that their commercial market for audio books will someday be significantly affected by TTS. The Reading Rights Coalition is fighting against being locked out of these books by DRM, what is often called soundproofing the book after the paper George Kerscher and I wrote years ago.

My main point is that the two high grounds are not the name in impact. Authors are fighting over how much money they get: it’s clear that they are being paid. The disabled community’s point is that they are being locked out of their right to read by a concern about the level of compensation to authors. And, it’s not even clear the authors would get more money short-term by locking out disabled people. I actually think they’re getting less by stopping people from buying ebooks who are unlikely to buy audio books at higher prices. When you’re contrasting the “maybe more money for authors” against the civil rights of blind and print disabled people to be treated equally, I proposed you have to come down in favor of the civil rights of disabled people.

Of course, the Librarian of Congress has pronounced on this topic already! Don’t forget that the he said it’s legal for blind people to break off the DRM on ebooks they buy so that they can listen to them.

We did some exploration of the likely impacts on the market for audio books: that seems to be one of the major policy concerns about the text-to-speech issue. Putting on my technical hat, I pointed out that the technical advances needed to make synthetic speech a reasonable alternative to human narration were years away and that gave author’s plenty of time to price these conditions into their negotiations with publishers. Of course, very few authors will have the power in practice to negotiate these terms, but it's a long way off before TTS can touch human narration from a market standpoint.

We believe that print disabled people should be able to buy accessible books at the same time and at the same price as nondisabled people. It’s the right long-term solution. But, we’re not willing to lose the copyright exemption and let down the next two or three generations of print disabled people during the transition to equal access nirvana!

Geneva, WIPO and the SCCR

Our final conversation was about international issues around access for people with print disabilities, based on the recent meeting of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights("SCCR"). The hot topic was the proposal made by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, for a global treaty (a treaty for which I was part of the expert drafting team). The goal of the Treaty in rough terms is to set a Chafee-style exemption as a norm around the world, and enable cross-border sharing of accessible materials. One of the big problems today is that copyright exemptions only work in one country at a time, and that materials produced under a copyright exemption in one country can’t be shared with disabled people in another country.

My summary of where the issue is generally: the developing world and people with disabilities are for the treaty, and rich countries and the publishing industry are against the treaty. The publishing industry has put forward an alternative to the treaty called the Stakeholders Platform which is based on voluntary action, which the disability community feels is the status quo, which is not good enough.

Nothing I heard from the Copyright Office made me think they were pro-Treaty. They did confirm that the statement that Kareem Dale of the White House gave me earlier in the week did represent the official position of the U.S. Government, and it talks about being interested in working on addressing the problem and discussing a wide range of solutions including the proposed Treaty. But, the advocacy groups present in Geneva felt that the U.S. delegation was against the Treaty solution.

There seems to be a concern about importing accessible books into countries where the publisher hasn't actually published the print book. These seems to be an important part of international copyright law. Of course, my pragmatic view is that many, many people can simply order books from the UK or India today over the Internet, and I didn't see a reason to deny a person in the developing world a book they need when the publisher didn't bother to publish the book in that country.

In Geneva, the US government did provide a statement as a result of their fact-finding work about Chafee. But, it mainly talks about the complexity of the issue. Pallante did point out that the U.S. did support the final statement which approved discussing the Treaty proposal in the next SCCR meeting.

I think that the advocacy community has an opportunity to continue to lobby the U.S. government to try to get it to actively support the Treaty. It sounds like there will be more public input on these issues in the future, getting ready for the next SCCR meeting. We have multiple places to lobby: the Patent and Trademark Office (apparently the “lead agency”), the White House, the State Department and of course Congress and the Copyright Office (which is linked to the Library of Congress). Given that the Obama Administration is still in the middle of making many political appointments, the key position of Director of IP (bow to Richard Stallman who detests the term 'intellectual property') at the PTO is still vacant.

We discussed why I thought now was a good time for a treaty: shouldn’t there be more effort at the national level first? I pointed out that the disability community had just been part of negotiating the Global Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and that the community was experienced using a treaty approach to secure rights globally that in many cases had been in place in the richer countries. The need for an exemption is even greater in the developing world, because disabled people are really at a much greater disadvantage. Blind people in the U.S. can realistically talk about buying Kindles because of decades of civil rights action and legislation (and the battle for equal opportunity is nowhere near over here in the U.S.). Disabled people in the developing world are the poorest of the poor.

One point that the Copyright Office made is that the U.S. already has a good copyright exemption in place, as do many of the richer countries. Of course, one of our advocacy positions is why would the U.S. be against duplicating in the world a policy approach that is used here with great success? We just need to make sure that any global treaty that is negotiated doesn’t make things worse for people with disabilities here in the U.S.! But, it does make it somewhat harder to get the advocacy juices flowing here in the U.S. to support a Treaty that would mainly help people with disabilities outside the U.S.

Disability advocates have been asking me how they can help increase the chances for this effort. I'm not the best person to advise on advocacy strategy, but I've certainly heard from the advocacy professionals that this treaty needs the support of the Obama Administration. So, there will need to be advocacy on the different agencies that will participate in drafting the approved positions for the delegation to the next SCCR meeting in November. I understand that there is a WIPO general assembly meeting at the end of September, and that there may be an attempt to kill this then (I don't have a clue how that works).

So, listen for the next round of public outreach and respond then with why you support this treaty. And, if you can, lobby the White House, Congress, the PTO, the State Department and the Copyright Office to back this. Enlightened disability legislation is a proud American export!

At Bookshare, we are especially interested in reaching out to the disability communities in the developing world. They need what we have more the most, and our efforts to make our books accessible on inexpensive devices like cell phones and MP3 players will be even more important there. Right now, we're relying on the good will of the publishers (and there is a lot of good will there) to voluntarily allow us to export a small percentage of our books with their permission internationally. But, the idea of Bookshare is to empower the community to play the largest role in solving the book access problem. We need domestic copyright exemptions so that local communities can scan the books they need in their languages. And, we're standing by to provide the technology infrastructure that makes this community action possible.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Craig Newmark Beneblog Interview

Just had a good conversation this morning with Craig Newmark of Craigslist and the Craigslist Foundation. There are two hot issue right now on Craig's social action radar, the new launch of the All For Good website and next weekend's Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp in Berkeley.

Craig holding a microphone, image courtesy of TechPolicySummitOn Craig and Craigslist

Q: Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
A: No, I don't think of myself that way. I may be one, but it seems to have too many syllables. I think of myself as a nerd.

Q: Tell me about the balance between the two bottom lines of Craigslist as a social enterprise.
A: We are wholly driven by our community. We ask them what they want and need, and then we do it the best we can. Then we go back and ask again. Jim [Buckmaster] runs the business. I was influenced back in 1976, when I was considering a job with IBM, by reading a quote from TJ Watson (Sr or Jr) about how if you took care of the customer, the business takes care of itself.

Q: Do you have explicit choices to make trading off the two bottom lines?
A: No, it more sorts of rolls along from our approach [focusing on the community]. We know that we're not maximizing our profits by sticking to our focus.

All for Good and Service

Q: You're just announcing All For Good: what's the goal?
A: There are a lot of people these days who want to help other people out. All for Good makes that easy. The President is focusing on service.

Q: What's the connection to Craigslist?
A: All for Good's spirit is the spirit of Craigslist. Simplicity. People working with each other.

Q: What's the difference between All for Good and other service websites like VolunteerMatch, Network for Good and Obama's Serve.gov?
A: More will be revealed. These sites should be working together using technology like RSS feeds. And All for Good does draw on feeds from other sites. We're all in this together in service. If we’re serious about service, we’ll work together.

Q: What's your linkage to service?
A: Well, I'm going to stick to customer service! Other people are good at other things. For example, you can see that Arianna Huffington is much better at writing in her post:"All for Good: A New 'Craigslist for Service'"! I'm not going to quit my day job in customer service. There are different variations of public service. Customer service is a form of public service. Customer service is done with good will and in conscience.

Q: What are the top three forms of service you're trying to promote?
A: No top three. Service to others takes different forms. Our government's public servants have been released to their jobs better. They're now allowed to do their jobs. My role is to now and then draw attention [to their service]. Examples like the TSA and EPA blogs. FDA transparency effort. US Military Southern Command blog. White House blogs, open government initiatives. The administration is trying to scale up grassroots democracy, people in the White House like Vivek Kundra, Beth Noveck, Aneesh Chopra, Brian Behlendorf. [Updated list with names I missed]

Q: Do you have a strategy or roadmap for these social actions that you’re following for Craigslist or yourself personally?
A: These aren't Craigslist projects: they are me acting as an individual, and/or the Craigslist Foundation. Things are changing in our country with a new civic engagement. I think of people under 30 as the new civic generation, much like the GI generation. People like me help get the word out. We need ways to make it easy, ways like All for Good.

Q: What things are you working on?
A: For me specifically, government and social media (and not just Washington), social media, the Sunlight Foundation ( on government accountability and transparency, data.gov, etc.) Also working with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to help get them the respect and services they deserve, working on reform of the VA. I also want to mention Consumer Reports. They help us all with refrigerator reviews and the like, but they are also in the vanguard of health care reform.

Techies getting more socially engaged

Q: Many people in the tech field want more meaning and more social impact for their lives. What is your advice about what they should do and how they should go about doing it?
A: Get involved, All for Good makes that easy.

Q: What’s your advice to them on going local vs. national vs. global?
A: Think globally, act locally is the cliche, but there's a lot to it. Of course, people dedicate their lives to service in many ways, joining the armed forces or the Peace Corps, becoming teachers, firemen, policeman. That's by no means as exhaustive list, but a big deal for me to support people who serve.

Q: Are there things that techies can specifically do better?
A: Nerds can help. They can build technology like All for Good, that help people connect. Help build tools that allow us to look into government.

Q: Do you have suggestions or advice to the tech billionaires about deploying their personal fortunes?
A: I don’t presume to tell them to do with their money. But it is worth mentioning that Steve and Jean Case (of AOL) are doing some great things.

Q: Any final comments?
A: Looking forward to seeing people next week at the Bootcamp!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Breaking News on the Global Treaty from Kareem Dale

Betsy Beaumon and I had the pleasure to meet today with Kareem Dale, the special assistant to the president for disability policy. We had a wide-ranging conversation about Bookshare and the current hot disability issues. Really exciting.

The one incredibly newsworthy item was Kareem emailed me (during the meeting) a statement he drafted on the topic of the Global Treaty that was discussed in late May at the SCCR event at the World Intellectual Property Organization. I found it very exciting as President Obama's position on this developing issue! The following is the email I received from Kareem Dale in its entirety (and I have his permission to distribute it):

Access to information and ideas is essential for personal and professional growth and full engagement in a democratic society. But engagement can be severely limited when information is not available in accessible formats. We are committed to building a world that no longer puts up unnecessary barriers. We must create and develop policies that ensure everyone has a chance to get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in their communities.

The United States is currently involved in important discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization regarding ways in which to improve access to copyrighted materials throughout the World, including, specifically, for persons who are blind and visually impaired. The United States Government has long been a leader in producing and facilitating the dissemination of materials accessible to blind and visually impaired persons.

We are committed to furthering international efforts to enhance the access to copyrighted materials. There are many issues affecting accessibility including available resources, technical considerations, practices and market considerations. We support the opportunity to explore these issues further at the international level and to develop ways in which to improve the availability of accessible materials, both at home and in foreign countries. We look forward to discussing a wide range of solutions and proposals at the next meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, including the proposal put forward by Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay Relating to Limitations and Exceptions: Treaty Proposed by the World Blind Union.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Copyright treaty in Geneva Advances!

Lots of excitement recently in Geneva at the World Intellectual Property Organization. We've been supportive of an effort by the World Blind Union to get an international treaty in place that sets up a global system much like the one we have today in the United States. I was part of an expert panel that drafted the original proposed treaty.

Bookshare pretty much has been made possible by the Chafee Amendment, a copyright exception provision in U.S. law that made it legal for us to scan just a bout any book without needing to get permissions first. The goal of the treaty is to set a standard that all countries have such a provision, and that they interact with other countries.

Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay joined together to propose that WIPO consider this treaty. During the meeting in Geneva, there was worrisome rhetoric coming from the advocacy community, like the Boing Boing post USA, Canada and the EU attempt to kill treaty to protect blind people's access to written material. My impression from additional tweets, emails, posts and articles is that the French are really leading the charge against a treaty. The U.S. seems to be mostly passively supporting killing the treaty but putting off discussion of it, rather than explicitly speaking against it.

In the end, the conclusion was more favorable. The treaty is still a live topic and will be discussed at the next WIPO meeting, which is a victory for the advocates. But, I'm sure there will be a lot of jockeying for that next round!

Copyright treaty backing e-books for disabled readers survives US and EU resistance | OUT-LAW.COM

WIPO Limitations & Exceptions Treaty Advances

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bookshare hits 50,000 books!

Another exciting milestone has happened with the Bookshare collection. Thanks to tremendous work by our volunteers, our publisher partners, our proofreading partners and our staff, we've added more than 4,000 books in the last two months and broken the 50,000 titles barrier.

Now, I sure wasn't expecting us to add books at this rate! We've been adding books at more than 1000 books a month earlier this year, and I think that rate is definitely sustainable. Can't wait to see what happens the rest of 2009 with the incredible book juggernaut we've got going.

And, we don't lose sight of the equality we're striving to deliver. Just minutes ago I received an email forwarded from our team from a user in Puerto Rico telling us that our response to her rush request for a book had just helped her pass her final exam. She rained down blessings on the Bookshare team for helping her out.

That's why we're all doing this!