Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stiglitz in Egypt

Ahmed Abdel Latif comments on Joseph Stiglitz's recent address at the American University in Cairo. Although Stiglitz didn't mention current events in Egypt directly, he emphasized the importance of an innovative society, praised the Brazilian government's move to adopt open source software for its governmental and public institutions, and emphasized balance in the commercialization of university research, emphasizing the importance of publicly funded initiatives in innovative socieities. As well, he encouraged developing countries to take advantage of the flexibilities in intellectual property agreements.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Revolution and Social Media

The Egyptian government today took the unprecedented move to shut down Internet and mobile communications in the face of a massive protest against the Mubarak regime. This follows the protests in Tunisia that, earlier in January, caused Ben Ali to leave office. Alongside these political developments a public debate has been taking place on the role of social media like facebook and twitter in protest movements.

Clay Shirky, in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, argued that social media makes it possible for publics to coordinate massive and rapid protests, contributing to the political power of publics and democracy. Writing before the events in Tunisia, he cited the 2001 impeachment trial of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, in which coordinated protest prevented the setting-aside of important evidence against the president. He argued that the United States, rather than focusing on freedom of information on the Internet and the censorship of major American online news outlets, should focus its foreign Internet policy on access to social media, encouraging its general use.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent piece in the New Yorker, took the opposite view. "The revolution will not be tweeted," he proclaimed, saying that social media fosters only weak ties and commitments - not the kind of political commitment that brings protesters to face down difficult and even dangerous situations and to take the heroic stands necessary for true change to take place.

Others are more ambivalent about the power of social media. During the recent protests in Tunisia, Ethan Zukerman posted a piece that asked why the Tunisian protests had received so little mainstream media attention. Zukerman proclaimed himself agnostic about the role of social media, and expressed frustration with the failure of traditional media to take up the issue. [another agnostic]

The Atlantic has posted a more recent analysis of the role of social media in Tunisia. It features Jillian York of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, who believes that facebook creates relatively strong ties, and that such ties were important in leading Ben Ali to leave office on January 14. Not only does Facebook allow the circumvention of censorship in other media; Facebook, the Atlantic proposes, created strong ties by allowing individuals to show, share, and amplify the injury, pain, and protest that was taking place - especially through video. The Atlantic reports one individual as saying that facebook went from being "a waste of time or procrastination tool "to a primary source of news about the events.

Today's shutdown of Egyptian communications demonstrates, if not the power of social media, then its perceived power. However, the true test may come in the days ahead, as what is tested is not the power of social media, but the power of people without it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Further to C-32 & the A2K Problem

Further to my op-ed, which appeared in today's Hill Times (full text), it is worthy to note that Canada has spoken out at the World Intellectual Property Organization calling for movement at the international level to encourage the export of special format editions for the visually impaired. Currently, Canada's copyright bill, C-32, would allow the export of special-format editions of works by Canadian authors or authors of the country of destination, but not works by authors of a third country. My op-ed suggested that Canada could do more. It's worthy to note, however that Canada has in fact called for an international solution that would also cover those third-country works (see here, p. 41). While not as bold as leading the way by example, Canada's call is definitely a good move.

C-32 & the A2K Problem

My op-ed, "The A2K problem: copyright, accessibility and the future of copyright in Canada," appears in today's Hill Times. In it, I argue that Canada's Bill C-32 is an early move among international efforts to address the copyright needs of the visually impaired, easing the difficulties of creating and making available accessible-format works. It could set an example for other countries and international negotiations to follow. However, I argue that Canada could do more to address those needs than what is contained in C-32. Canada’s efforts should rise to the standard of a new age of access to knowledge, instead of becoming part of the A2K problem.

Carleton University has posted the full op-ed here.