Commons, the environment and the public domain

One of the problems with the previous age - the industrial age was (and still is) pollution. The environment which we all depend on to survive has not come into economics which is what business focuses on. So essentially a company dumping toxic or climate changing waste products into our environment was getting a free ride. This works until you add the environment into the economics. The problem with the environment is the problem of commonly owned things. They don't really fit into a private-ownership based economic system. They are a commons. It is complicated to value the damage to the environment in order to make companies pay for that damage. Still, people are working on the problem and good or bad, paying for CO2 is on the horizon just as paying to (or in some cases paying to not) pollute has been there for some time.

In the world of science, knowledge and art the environment is the public domain. Well, it's actually more than the pure public domain. It includes scraps of things which have been created recently. This is the environment or knowledge-base upon which all works or inventions are based. The life, the air from which science and art arise. One of the key unaddressed issues with copyright is what a monopoly right of a work of art or an invention takes out of the intellectual environment, the intellectual commons. i.e. what we lose as a result of those monopoly rights.

For instance, it has mostly always been a right of users and of learning institutions to copy parts of works to show points, to illustrate arguments etc. This is called "fair-use" in the US but it might have other names in other countries, it might be an educational exemption for instance. If companies publish works in which it is not possible to do this (because of DRM say) then they are taking, stealing if you like, from the intellectual commons.

It has almost everywhere been the right of users to lend a work to a friend, to sell it when they don't want it anymore. This in the US is called the "first sale" doctrine. Digital works with DRM do not have this right at all in most cases.

I'm not an economist but I think it's vital that we try and find ways to evaluate in an economic or monetary sense the value taken from the intellectual environment of creative works and including taking rights like fair-use and first sale. ie what do we lose in order to create copyright on a work. What do we lose, or pay if copyright is extended for another say 20 years.

How much does it cost us if DRM takes away fair use and first sale?

Here is a small part of an FSF article which talks about some of these concepts:
In the case of copyright, it’s the public’s freedom that the government is spending, to obtain in return for the public scientific and cultural goods. Right now, governments are squandering this freedom. They are spending far too much and getting far too little in return. Plenty of authors and artists are telling the government that works can and will be made without such expenditure. The international free software movement has been proving this for many years now, having successfully produced a fully functional operating system in GNU/Linux that can be freely used, shared and improved upon by anyone who wants to do so; and more recently there have been people doing similar things in encyclopedias, textbooks, and the world of the arts (including music).

Citizens are tired of watching their governments squander their freedom to enrich this handful of corporations,

Again, we need to find a way of quantifying our losses to make it clear what we are losing.

I don't think it is really possible for most people to make sense of the idea without some quantifiable grasp of what the value is. While I and many others clearly feel we are losing something important, without numbers it is meaningless to many.

I do have one idea but I'm not sure how useful it is. Perhaps the amount lost by a DVD with DRM could be some particular amount. I'm not sure what that amount should be but I think it would probably be the same no matter how popular or unpopular the DVD is. No matter how many were sold.


Thoughts on Ethics in Science

I was reading an article in New Scientist on ethics in science: Immoral advances: Is science out of control? I found the article a bit light and arguing against christian attitudes that are caricatures, straw men. It's a pity that many leading Christian ethicists have shot their bolt on issues that seem trivial to most scientists but that doesn't mean that scientists shouldn't take the ethics and the consequences of scientific development seriously themselves.

For instance like many points of view expressed in New Scientist on Genetic Engineering. I see 2 important ethically related issues with GE.

Before I discuss them an aside.

Human knowledge and art have developed over several thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years or more, by collaboration. ie by sharing, ideas, copying ideas, parts of ideas, building on the ideas of others, adding to others' ideas, etc.

It is how scientists and mathematicians work, how science and maths started and developed. It is how most of scientific and mathematical knowledge is developed at our universities. It is how artists have always worked. It is a method seriously tried and tested over thousands of years. It works in a lot of different economic and political environments. We know it works because it got us where we are now.

The current tendency towards locking ideas up using intellectual property of various kinds is not only very, very new but unproven: there is no proof that intellectual property rights have any positive effect on innovation and creativity and there is even starting to be evidence of the opposite.

For instance: most modern pharmaceutical companies spend most of their money on marketing (Big Pharma Spends More On Advertising Than Research And Development, Study Finds) and much of the research they do do is on maintaining their patents. EU competition commissioner Neely Kroes said recently that this kind of patenting upkeep had cost Europe 3 billion Euros (Commission accuses drug developers of blocking rivals). The strategic directions that Intellectual Property rights gives companies like big pharma has set them in the directions of treatments for rich people rather than helping humanity. Consider also that much of the research and especially the basic research that produces new drugs is publicly funded research.

Intellectual property rights are causing issues that could endanger lives: recently Indonesia refused to allow its H5N1 virus to be used in research to find vaccines for bird flu. (Indonesia wants fair deal on H5N1 vaccine-minister)

Is this not an ethical issue for science, medicine and economics?

A few decades ago we thought it would not be possible to ever own patents or copyrights over living things. This barrier to IP rights has been passed already. Now I'm not going to argue just how silly it seems to me for a company to take the DNA of a plant or animal that has evolved over millions of years and possibly been bred by humans over thousands of years and add a small amount of DNA from some other plant (ditto with the evolving etc.) and declare that that company now owns the all the rights to that plant and its reproduction. Not even mentioning that the "adding of DNA" may be a scatter-gun approach that produces many different DNA variants.

Now companies claim to own parts of human DNA.

If we keep going along the road we're currently on, how soon will it be before companies will want to patent a human being and own that human being's reproductive rights? There's an ethical conundrum.

We have many people discussing "cloning" but cloning was always just a step on the way to genetic engineering. You have to be able to do it first but it's really a red herring, resulting in not a lot that could not be produced naturally. Genetic engineering, including of humans on the other hand is coming or is here already and will have huge ethical implications.

I think many people who understand what is happening in GE are very much concerned about the intellectual property issues involved in GE, much more than the GE itself. I think a lot of people sense with a "wisdom of crowds" kind of sense that something is very wrong in the GE field.

Because of those intellectual property rights we have big companies lobbying parliaments to allow GE crops that have not been through a proper peer-review process to prove or show that they are safe to grow, use or eat or even just let loose in our biosphere. The real issue is not the GE it's the ownership and resultant proprietary pressure brought to bear on our society.

Is science out of control?

Big Pharma Spends More On Advertising Than Research And Development, Study Finds

Commission accuses drug developers of blocking rivals

Indonesia wants fair deal on H5N1 vaccine-minister

Big pharma 'delaying' cheaper drugs
Kroes called for a new Europe-wide patent and a unified system of litigation to save time and money. "The lack of progress is very, very damaging," she said.
"Vicious tactics are used to delay or prevent the entry of more affordable and innovative medicines into the market," said Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumers' Organisation. "Millions of euros are spent in promotional activities, in legal disputes and settlement agreements instead of in the development of new medicines."


Notes on video editing

Notes on video editing.

I needed to do some video editing of a school concert. I have never edited video before but I thought it might be interesting to learn and that the current PCs probably were fast enough to do it. I volunteered because I though it might be interesting to learn. There were 3 different cameras involved, one of them shot in 4:3 PAL one in 16:9 PAL and one 4:3 NTSC.

I am running a MacBook Pro (1st intel) running 10.5.6 and a white box running ubuntu Hardy. The white box was a P5LD2 SE Motherboard with a Geforce 8600GT video card so it could do video effects natively. Actually the white box was running kubuntu with gnome. A bit messy and maybe caused some of the problems with kdenlive. (Why can't I have both KDE and Gnome? Hey maybe even other window managers as well?)

I tried various video editing applications.
FinalCut Pro 5.1 on the Mac (Very expensive)

On Ubuntu (using apt):
Open Movie Editor
Pitivi Movie Editor
kdenlive 0.5
ffmpeg (cli)
mediainfo (info only)

and downloaded directly:

And for creating the DVD:
iMovie and iDVD on the Mac.

One of the hassles I found with some of the programs is that they read in and converted video when you imported a clip. I found this too annoying and often was a very time consuming process. I tended to give up on programs that did this although in some cases there were ways of telling the program to use a format that was read in quickly. ie if you create an mpeg iMovie project it will convert another video format like say raw video to mpeg. If you import a particular format into an iMovie project of the same format it just copies it. So it's a good idea to convert all the videos to the same format. On the other hand you don't want to convert into a lossy format (like mpeg which is what DVDs have to use) until the last moment or the quality of the final product will suffer terribly.

Before I started I had to convert the videos to the same format. I chose 4:3 PAL.
After trying different programs I used ffmpeg to crop the wide format video to fit with the 4:3 format camera. For some reason this didn't seem to be an available option in any of the GUI programs. Working out the spot to crop was no simple matter either. I had to calculate it by hand.

ffmpeg is also very good for converting NTSC to PAL. (hint: use the deinterlace option).

I used Avidemux for converting between different formats and for trimming files. I found too late that kdenlive does trimming easily and for free (without actually changing the trimmed file).

Kino is very good for some aspects of converting raw dv video. Unfortunately with some of the videos it wasn't apparently able to synchronise the audio correctly so I didn't trusted it with those videos.

Pitivi and Open Movie editor just crashed on me. Cinelerra never really worked. If I opened the settings window I could never get it to go away. The OK button never responded. It also crashed and hung on me a number of times before I gave it up, never having done anything at all on it.

Kdenlive was a gem. I ended up using it exclusively for the editing. It does crash a lot, oh, it's so annoying, sometimes even crashing the video card necessitating a cold reboot and nearly always at least taking out the X server necessitating relogging in. Once it crashes then restarting it just makes it crash again straight away. It leaves special recovery files in several places and these needed to be deleted or it would just continue to crash. I discovered that sometimes if I invoked it with a file name all the recover crud that it creates is bypassed. Sometimes renaming the project file after a really major crash would allow me to open it without kdenlive crashing. One day I had to delete everything it left including the preferences file every time I started it or it would just crash. If they fix the crashing problem it would be a truly great editor.

kdenlive does not import files. It creates a xml file with a list of all your edits. This makes it very fast. Also it could use the video and sound cards to view video and the edited product directly on the fly rather than having to render. This makes editing so easy and fast. I didn't at first understand how to do a cut - the basic transition - and sometimes I would ask it for multiple clip playback and get it and sometimes not. I couldn't work out how to turn off sound for a clip, maybe you have to use a track for each clip. If you zoom the main timeline right in so you can see frames the whole program slows down and becomes almost unuseable. Pity, it would have been useful at times. Overall though, the fact is that without really understanding a lot of the features there was enough flexibilty for me to be able to edit a three camera shoot, cutting and fading between cameras, synchronising the audio etc.

I tried out Final Cut Pro on a friend's system. Final Cut Pro I found almost unusable because I couldn't view or hear a clip without rendering it first and after every editing change, the timeline had to be rerendered. Maybe the latest version doesn't have this problem as it was made with more powerful hardware in mind. FCP also used a lot of disk space on a directly connected hard disk. A USB2 or firewire disk simply wasn't fast enough to watch video. This was partly a problem of the hardware I was using though. I didn't have enough space left on the laptop internal hard disk. Oh and did I mention that FCP is expensive? That might be OK if I were going to do this for a living but for a one off volunteer job for a school play? It simply isn't worth it.

Once the editing was done though, for creating the DVD the simplest thing was using iMovie and iDVD on the Mac. There is nothing like it, although I found the lack of flexibility a bit annoying. Adding chapter marks in iMovie and dragging it to your DVD project automatically created all the scenes menus, so simple.

I did try a couple of linux DVD creators but either I couldn't seem to import videos (qDVDAuthor) or I couldn't understand how to create menus (devede) or I would have had to create some horrendous XML file (dvdauthor).