The Case for Community Marks

Executive summary: In recommending the establishment of Community Marks, I propose that an alternative to trademarks is needed for community-based projects like Bar Camp and Microformats. The need for Community Marks stems from the non-commercial focus of these projects and the way these projects spread virally on the web. While we need to protect the integrity of a brand like Bar Camp, licensing and legal enforcement is too costly in terms of time and money to make sense for loosely joined communities. Therefore, if we can leave enforcement up to the community via the Community Marks denotation, we will be able to serve the vital function of identifying a community’s work and projects without burdening that community with undue legal process and enforcement costs.

Community Mark You can’t imagine how excited I am to write this post… not only is it an important one, but I’ve just gotten my busted laptop back and wow (is this bad?) I feel like I have my life back again. Never really thought I’d say such a thing, but eet’s true I teenk.

So I’ve been discussing the idea of Community Marks with a wide number of folks for some time (starting back when I was working on Spread Firefox and preemptively released the hi-res versions of the Firefox logo before I had full authority (that post has since been taken down)). I believe that this idea is an important tool which has grown out of the emergent philosophy that I see in the camps and in community-directed, “unowned” projects like Microformats.

Let’s get into it: I’m not a lawyer and I will never pretend to be, but that doesn’t really matter as far as I’m concerned and I’ll tell you why.

When it comes down to it, law is totally made up by humans. It’s just a system of conventions that codify certain beliefs about morality and righteousness within the context of a given civilization, society or group.

Laws weren’t and aren’t always penned in Congress, either. In fact, unbeknownst to most school children, that timeless classic that tells of the “life of a bill” is simply a story that you can choose to agree or disagree with. For the purpose of this discussion, I disagree with its fundamental premise that all laws (and rules governing trade and so on) must go through that process to become “real” or as enforceable as any other law.

Sure, this could be an academic or artistic inquiry on my part, whatev, that’s fine. Today, I’m interested in a little armchair-legislation, the kind that has no teeth or legal basis in our current legal system, but nevertheless solves an important need with which existing law currently doesn’t deal: the need for community owned and enforced marks (as in an open alternative to trademarks).

I won’t belabor where this all came from, but suffice it to say that the SpreadSpread campaigns (Spread Firefox, et al) have repeatedly encountered problems when commercially valuable trademarks need to be put in the hands of a community and the public domain is not an option.

The view heretofore has been that this is necessary, with dubious restrictions that protect the ability of the trademark owner to enforce their brand and indeed ensure the perceived quality that their logo, wordmark or servicemark represents.

In the case of Firefox or Flock, even though they are the result of countless hours of volunteer effort, you still need to be able to prevent some nefarious hacker in the remote expanses of cyberspace from releasing a spyware-laden version of either browser and calling it by the name of the official binary. Allowing such behavior could conceivably cause confusion in the mind of the consumer and potentially lead to an economic impact on the brand’s reputation. Therefore, it would be legitimate (and legal) for either Flock or Firefox to go after the offender and stop them from continuing such behavior. Just check out the on the lengths one can go to protect their IP in such a situation. Seriously.

And that’s why trademark was created: to make sure the people who own a brand can enforce their dominion over it to keep making money off it unfettered.

Um..

I mean.. uh… “to guarantee the integrity of a brand’s goods or services in order to prevent confusion in the marketplace.” (Stupid Freudian slips!)

So anyway, that’s all good and well, but it’s not enough. And it doesn’t address the issue I’m trying to resolve: the need for a mark that is owned, operated and enforced by a community that isn’t driven by purely economic interest. Instead, the motivation derives from the desire to uniformly represent their work product as the output of a specific community. Period.

So the case for community marks is primarily necessitated by projects like Bar Camp, which collectively is the product of scattered cadres of individuals the world over who take ownership of the brand on behalf of the larger community. None own the name or mark outright, instead they agree to hold an event based on Bar Camp, espousing its primary principles; in that way, they are extending the reach of the mark and therefore have earned a de facto license to use the Bar Camp logo and moniker. Now, should another separate event be created with primarily commercial gain in mind that uses the Bar Camp brand and co-opts the integrity of the name, it would be up to the community to go after and enforce the brand, either through blogging, boycotting or other subversive means. We simply don’t have the financial or temporal resources to go after such an offender, but we do have a small army whose response could be economically devastating to that effort.

I mean, let’s look at two precedents here: Creative Commons and Microformats.

With Creative Commons, you’ve got this idea that maybe not everything needs to be owned exclusively by default… Maybe you can allow for some distributed ownership of intellectual work in order to grease subsequent derivative creative expression. And maybe both the community and the original author will see benefits.

With Microformats, they’re leveraging community behavior to standardize the way we mark up our documents for the benefit of everyone. No one owns Microformats, though Tantek et al do a pretty good job shepherding the community. Nevertheless, the result of their work is something that the community takes pride in, identifies with, would be willing to expend individual effort to defend the integrity of.

And we learn two more things from them: to solve human problems as a primary objective and second to pave the paths of existing behavior. Don’t reinvent everything all the time. Just do what’s simple; just codify what’s already being done.

And gee, we’ve come full circle haven’t we?

Microformats are basically mini-laws for marking up your documents. Hell, go ahead and break them, do your own thing, there’s no punishment because the community doesn’t see punishment as being in line with its sense of justice. But joining up and following the rules, in this case, will actually bring you some benefits and not to mention, make your life (if you’re a user of the web, anyway) a little bit better.

So let’s codify this need to represent community works in a common mark. I want to be able to put a stamp on the work that I do within a community that identifies it to the world — that says: Me and a buncha folks made this and we’re proud of it. We did it not to make money but out of passion and love and because it’s in our nature to create without secondary purposes in mind.

And then let’s call it a Community Mark to make it clear what’s driving our purpose. It’s not tradeit’s the community, stupid! And from now on, if you want to create your own Community Mark, just slap a CM on your mark and hope for the best. Hell, we can’t enforce these things unless we hand them over to a broader community anyway — and since it’s really the community that owns the mark anyway, who better to look out for their wellbeing?

A Eulogy for the EULA

Use of this product requires that you have read and agree to abide by the terms of use specificed in the end user licensing agreement

Walking home tonight something occurred to me that is strangely disarming and significant, primarily in its simplicity and “oh yeah…” quotient.

I’m no lawyer, but I’d be damned if any software EULA would actually hold up in court anymore. Any EULA for that matter. I mean, think about it. If you install any amount of software, every time you open up a DMG or run an install.exe, you will inevitably click through some lengthy piece of legalese that invariably concludes with you pressing a button that reads “I agree”.

And we all know how blissfully ignorant you are of whatever it is you just agreed to.

Or how about that shrinkwrap EULA? Now there’s a classic.

I mean, look at the Sony Root Kit fiasco. No doubt somewhere on the packaging or some embedded app that launched on CD insertion warned you: “Hey read this, coz we’re telling you explicitly that we’re taking over your system and spying on you. If you agree to these terms by [clicking a button | inserting this CD], hey, well, don’t say later that we didn’t warn you. We disclaim all liability.

“And we’ve got lawyers.

“Lots of ’em.

“And they write this shit all day long. So don’t even think of questioning whether this is legit or not. We say it is. So of course, it is.”

So anyway, this thing, it sprung on me: Holy crap, EULAs are totally against humanity! Yeah, I mean, I have like a million ideas a second so it’s not like I went looking for yet another salvo for my new war against intellectual property, copyright and anti-human laws — no, this idea just came to me clear out of the evening sky (or the three doses of caffeine I consumed today… damnit).

Alright alright, back to this realization. So I want to do something that will have absolutely no effect on anything, but at least shares the warmth of the flame burnin’ under my kettle. I want to call for a moratorium on EULAs. Yeah, you heard me. Uh huh, that’s right. It’s time we pulled the plug on irresponsiblity-perpetuators. It’s about time that I was able to use a tool, play with a toy, implement an idea without the originator of said thing having to shove off all ownership or responsibility for their contribution to the world for fear that I’ll turn around and sue them over something absurd, like becoming depressed because my car is the wrong shade of lemon-chiffon. Or something else. Whatever.

And hey, you litigious folks who won’t take responsibility for yourselves, who think the world owes you something because you woke up this morning…! Sorry, the world doesn’t owe you shit either. Just because it used to be easier for the big corporations to get away with publicly doing bad stuff and hence had to invent EULAs to protect their asses doesn’t mean that we’re off the gold standard. …You get taken advantage of, get disappointed, lose a limb because of your own actions, because of choices you made (or keep making!). If we’re going dump the producer’s ability to disclaim all responsibility for the things they put out into the wild then we as the receivers of their output must make up the difference with self-reliance and self-policing and taking care of ourselves. Hey hey, no one else is going to do it. Even if that chainsaw manufacturer did screw up, you’re still down 50% in appendages are you not? So yeah, don’t lop off your arm in the first place, they include the manuals for a reason!

Whatever whatever, point being, disclaiming responsibility is insulting, it’s cold and it’s not inline with what our parents taught us. Yeah, that vazz? I broke it. Twice!

So here’s a proposal (I’m full of ’em). Just like how there’s fair use in copyright, there ought be reasonable use in products so that I can put out a piece of software or hardware or some inflamatory idea and be generally protected against the possible ineptitude of eventual receivers. At the same time, as a receiver of other people’s output myself, I need those producers to first feel pride and ownership of their work and a commitment to me as a person to vouch for their work; and hey, if they eff up big time, to be culpable for any malicious or otherwise avoidable offenses that they commit. That’s just fair, right?

Banning EULAs as meaningless and unenforceable is one way to raise this issue. Is it a pratical, realistic solution? Who knows! But now you’re thinking about it, right?

EFF the RIAA

Worldwide Advisory: Fuck the RIAATalked to my buddy Jason Schultz from the EFF about what they’re doing about the RIAA and MPAA. He came back with a bunch of useful links:

Action items

Supporting materials

And if you’re looking for a decent source of non-DRM MP3s, AllofMP3 looks fairly promising, operating in accordance with license # LS-3M-05-03 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. No, globalization isn’t all bad!

Intellectual Property Perpetuates the Intellectual Police State

Intellectual Police State
First you flood the P2P networks then you try to buy them out. You arrest, spy on and insult your own customers and are creating a hostile environment for creative expression.

You want a war? Fine.

You’ve got everything to lose. The artists are against you. Musicians are against you. The people who listen to music are against you. And most importantly, the kids are against you.

You want a war? Bring it on.

Bush comes clean: “Boy were we wrong! Oh and 9/11! Heh.”

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP file, from MSNBCAfter realizing that nobody was buying the “trust us, we’ll find those damn WMDs… soon… ish…” party line, Bush has accepted responsibility for being a moron.

“I am,” Bush said solemnly in speech to US soliders, “a moron.”

“No you’re not,” someone offered from the friendly, mostly reality-despising crowd.

This about-face appears to negate months of lies and misdirections that the administration has tried to feed us about the reasons why we’re at war in Iraq right now and how it’s really been going. Interestingly, the international community has known about this intricate web of self-deception both in Bush and his country for some time. They jokingly have taken to calling it “Bush’s Folly” (Silly Canadians).

Bush’s additional omiss… I mean, admission…, that he is to blame for going to war, should come as no surprise, since, according to the veep, the authority to go to war lies solely with the president. And, for those of you dozing off, Bush is, still, somehow, the president. And oh yes, the Constitution is just a damn piece of paper anyway, so even if someone were to try and make the case that only Congress has the authority to go to war, you’d have to search pretty far and wide to actually substantiate your claims.

Anyway, before we conclude this fake news snippet, just wanted to make mention of another interesting tidbit. Even now, as Bush concedes that the intelligence that justified his case for war (yeah, remember the mobile mobile weapons labs?) is really, no, really full of shyte, we’re reminded that this was the right thing to do™. C’mon, his goals were always bigger than just removing Saddam. Pssh, duh.

And yes, as we enter the holiday season and begin to bargain for our sins with a benevolent and Wal-mart backed Santa, Bush continues to believe that having on his conscience more than 2,300 American casualties, 30,000 Iraqi deaths, and the ruination of 100s of thousands more doesn’t warrant any kind of repetence.

So be it. Now that we’ve got him on record, it’ll be great to hear the full story be told, from beginning to end, sans bullshit, sans Rovian spin. Kent, need any help?

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Gems from Sean Coon

Tara pointed me to a great post on the power of tagging and the creation of grassroots, semantic content creation on Connecting*the*dots. A couple excerpts:

So what’s the connection between geo-political events and blogging and the tactical fervor of Web 2.0? (social bookmarking, tagging, open source, open content, etc.) In a nutshell: everything.

He calls tagging:

a tactical [strategy] in the battle of the information age. … The effort, I believe, is based on the desire of individual voices to be heard amidst the shelling of the mainstream media.

The legitimization of the individual (creative and political) perspective is being sustained in the 21st century by the conviction of the blogosphere, …The concept of social dialog and the elemental foundation of Capitalism are beginning to shift in exciting ways.

Blogs are beginning to bridge the social and communication gaps between nations. My peers are thinking differently when developing this medium, even in traditional business development circumstances. The tactical approach to producing, managing, sharing, finding and using information objects — defined from the bottom up — is finally getting it’s due.

connecting*the*dots: Tag! We’re It! Part II

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Observations on the perceived failure of community after Katrina

Hope - by SALOThe more I read about the crisis in New Orleans, the more I am confused and saddened at what’s happening. And the more I see and hear of the US Government’s response, the more concerned I am for the general and ongoing wellbeing and protection of America’s citizenry.
What’s unfolding in New Orleans is being portrayed as utter chaos and what comes down to a failure of the community to take care of and fend for itself. Rather, it seems, individuals are ruining the relief efforts for everyone by apparently looking out only for themselves and their families:

“Hospitals are trying to evacuate,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, spokesman at the city emergency operations center. “At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, “You better come get my family.”

While I don’t believe that this behavior is true of everyone or even the majority, it is significant enough to be causing the relief efforts to fail or to become to dangerous for those administering them.

And in the midst of all this, our president has the gall to callously call for a crackdown on the looting:

“I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this — whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud,” Bush said. “And I’ve made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together.”

This from the man who sold us on a bogus war in a time when the last thing we as a people coming together needed was to crackdown on a minor madman. What we needed was community leadership that brought us together — and that helped us to see our common humanity. The more I hear and see of this president, the more my concerns are confirmed that he is not one who can lead us towards a greater empathic understanding of ourselves or our neighbors. Instead, his example will further encourage divisive behavior against our better nature.
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