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Mantis: Profits and Prophets

Mantis: Profits and Prophets

Mantis, from Wooster Collective (thanks Marisa)

This Crowdsourced Life is a radio program made entirely by Mechanical Turk workers.  Go to the HIT page to find out more.

In the last century, the United States has seen a resurgence of fundamentalist religion, especially in the South and Midwest. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mormons, Baptists, and Jews have held back progress in science, human rights, civil rights, and protecting our environment.  Non-believers are essentially not allowed to run for any significant government office, which prohibits a large population of what is arguably our best and brightest (90% of Nobel prize winners are atheists) to lead our country.  These fundamentalists are infiltrating every branch of our society, from government to academia, arguing that separation of church and state was never meant to be a part of US law, and pushing mysticism and superstition dressed up as science (”theology”, intelligent design) while denying all evidence that we are harming our planet.

Meanwhile, fundamentalist Muslims have made their first attack on US soil, scaring our reactionary Christian government into curbing our civil rights and seriously limiting our freedoms.  We have abandoned any moral high ground we once had by torturing suspected Muslim terrorists, which is ultimately the result of religious prejudice.  And in countries like India and the Sudan, people slaughter each other by the thousands, largely because of religious differences.  Religion and superstition kill even more in 3rd world countries because our fundamentalist government refuses to provide the means to stop the spread of AIDS. And even if they did have access to condoms, they might not use them because local priests and mystics teach people that they are ineffective, and a trick by 1st world countries.

Perhaps not all of these problems were started by religion, but it is hard not to see that many of the problems listed here are allowed to continue because of it. Our society has such a warped irrational love of superstition (”faith”) that attributing this or that to faith is like a get out of jail free card, and it is taboo to even question anothers beliefs.  Why perpetuate an institution that gives the evil-doers one more line of defense? If we can’t strip the robes and jewelry from religion and see it for what it actually is (namely fear, ignorance, and thirst for power), then it’s going to be a very sad future indeed.

Any fundamentalist will tell you that “you have to get ‘em while they are young.”  This is like fundamentalist 101. That’s why we’ve produced GodBlock.  GodBlock is a web filter that blocks religious content. It is targeted at parents and schools who wish to protect their kids from the often violent and sexual material in many holy texts, and from being indoctrinated into any religion and forced to check their reason and humanism at the door before they are of the age to make such decisions.

When installed properly, GodBlock will test each page that your child visits before it is loaded, looking for passages from holy texts, names of religious figures, and other signs of religious propaganda. If none are found, then your child is allowed to browse freely.  But if religious content is found, your child receives a page that states simply:

Blocked for religious content.


“Please refrain from devoting your life to imaginary supernatural beings until you are at least 18 years old.”

No filter is perfect, and false positives are an unfortunate reality.  But isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?  Make the world a better place.  Protect your impressionable kids and students from harmful ideas so that they don’t grow up to spread hate, fear, and shame.  Allow them to hold onto their natural reason, compassion, and acceptance without being polluted or destroyed by some self-serving or delusional fanatic.

Install GodBlock today!

xtine burrough and I just published Digital Foundations: an Intro to Media Design with the Adobe Creative Suite with AIGA Design Press/New Riders under a CC license (a first for the publisher.) The book teaches the formal principles and exercises of the Bauhaus through lessons in the Adobe Creative Suite. There are a whole spate of reasons why we wrote this book, but the focus of this post is on how we were able to negotiate the Creative Commons license from New Riders, which is owned by Peachpit, which is owned by Pearson (a big big corporate big thing.)

1. Figure out what you want and ask for it

Every contract is negotiable. Choose what you want and ask for it. Do not be afraid to ask for it. In our case, we focused on getting Creative Commons licensing into the contract, but we also asked for and received other modifications, including a higher percentage of royalties after a certain number of books sold, a stipend to design the book and ownership of the book layout and design (which we licensed CC).

2. Know that your publisher is scared

Publishers saw what happened to the music industry. Sales of print books are down across the board. Publishers know things are going to change, but they don’t know what that change is going to be. Know that your publisher is willing to experiment. “Inspire them to be leaders.” (ironic, but serious)

When we set up our own domain, showed the publisher the wiki (licensed CC, well before we signed our contract), and our blog, we were kind of scared they would be upset with us. We were surprised and relieved when they sent it around to everyone in the company as a model of how to use wikis and blogs. It was something they had been thinking about trying to do, but hadn’t. Be the leader.

3. Show them the money

Ultimately, it is all about the bottom line. Mark Hurst has written a no-holds-barred analysis of how much it is all about the bottom line. Your central argument has to be “you will make more money.” Sure, you may be more interested in free culture, collaboration, or maximizing mindshare, but someone in the decision process will need to be convinced that it will increase sales, or at the very least that it won’t loose them money.

4. Pitch it with facts

Use case studies to argue with facts. It also helps for them to see that other reputable publishers have licensed books Creative Commons. O’Reilly has some a study on an Asterisk book that we used very effectively.

The Asterisk book sold 19k copies over two years (about what comparable books from O’Reilly were selling), but was downloaded 180,000 times from *one* of the 5 sites that mirrored it.

Also consider google as arbiter:

Results from google search breakdown of references to the two books in the oreilly case study (at the time of negotiation, early 2008):
asterisk: 139,000 references in 2 years (2005-2007), or 70,000 per year

understanding the linux kernel, 42,000 references in 7 years (2000-2007), 6,000 per year

So there was 10x the press/blog/reference/hits for the CC licensed book.

And explain the the 75/22/3 breakdown:

“David Blackburn, a Harvard PhD candidate in economics, published a paper in 2004 in which he calculated that, for music, “piracy” results in a net increase in sales for all titles in the 75th percentile and lower; negligible change in sales for the “middle class” of titles between the 75th percentile and the 97th percentile; and a small drag on the “super-rich” in the 97th percentile and higher. Publisher Tim O’Reilly describes this as “piracy’s progressive taxation,” apportioning a small wealth-redistribution to the vast majority of works, no net change to the middle, and a small cost on the richest few”

and more here:

And make the argument that of those who get the book for free, most of them wouldn’t buy the book in the first place. And in that group, there will be a small percentage of converts who will then go out and buy a hard copy of the book for themselves, or as a gift. This percentage of converts more than compensates for any loss in sales due to the free version.

5. Identify your advocates & the decision maker

Different publishers have different agent/editor structures, but in our case, we were working with an excellent Acquisitions Editor, who quickly understood our project, from the concept of the book, to the importance of Creative Commons. We convinced him, and he then convinced the Publisher.

Figure out who in the organization is the decision maker on the issue. Often this is going to be the Editor-In-Chief, or the Publisher. Figure out who the boss is, and figure out what their interest is in it. Know their motivation. Are they conservative? Push the profit potential. Are they known for groundbreaking books? Push the “new-ness” of the strategy. etc. In our case, we pushed profit potential, synergies (see below), bloggability, and newness/coolness.

6. Build partnerships and make CC plans

Early on a colleague put us in touch with Adam Hyde of, an social entrepreneur who has created a community based open source documentation site. We saw the huge potential of the Creative Commons license to “translate” the book from the Adobe Creative Suite to GIMP, Inkscape, and the other FLOSS applications; and because of the way their system works, it would then be translated into Farsi, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, etc. Showing this very concrete example of a tangible way that Creative Commons license would increase the book’s impact helped the Publisher see the power of the CC license.

7. Write it on a wiki.

Pre-emptively license it CC. Write your book on a wiki before you begin negotiations. Give the wiki a CC license. The wiki, or some other electronic version, is a different work, and therefore if you end up unable to convince the publisher, at least the wiki is CC. Other authors we spoke to simply published their manuscript on a wiki and gave it a CC license. While a lawyer might be able to give you an opinion about whether you can post a manuscript for a book and CC license that manuscript retroactively, I think it is safer to pre-emptively license your wiki.

8. Provide sample verbiage

Make it easy for them. Give them the verbiage. Some legal departments are going to rewrite the contract. Others are going to create a rider. Cory Doctorow was kind enough to provide us with the verbiage his agent wrote: . This is the really simple language we ended up using:

“Publisher agrees to add the Creative Commons license designation to the Copyright page of the Work.”

This isn’t perfect, and we did have some further conversations when it came time to actually layout the title page. We probably could have been more specific about which license, but this is what their legal agreed to, and considering we were doing a CC-BY-NC-SA, which is the most restrictive, we were not super worried.

9. Do your CC homework

Allay any of their fears by doing your homework, and answering their questions. One of the issues that came up was the inclusion of (C) images in our CC licensed work. The legal department thought that might mean that we were infringing on the (C) of the images, forcing them to be CC. Similarly, we had concerns that the Public Domain images might be restricted by the CC license on the book, something known as Commons Enclosure.

After a number of phone calls and emails we got confirmation that in fact this was not true. Nathan Yergler of the Creative Commons Foundation wrote us to say

“You can use a copyrighted work, assuming you have the rights to do so (either under fair use or explicitly negotiated), in a CC licensed work so long as you point out the exceptions in the license notice. This is effectively what Creative Commons does with our website — see the footer text where it states “except where otherwise noted…”

And as I mentioned on the phone, Creative Commons can not offer legal advice or opinions and this should not be interpreted as such.”

Of course we could include (C) images in a CC book, we simply had to state that they were (C). Likewise, we stated on the front page of the book (right below the CC declaration) that all images in the book were Public Domain unless otherwise noted. The lawyers liked this.

10. Be patient

It will take a while. Keep writing on the wiki, and move ahead planning on your successful negotiation. Legal departments move very slowly. It took so long, I don’t even remember the dates. At least 6 months. But it took longer to write the book, so it didn’t hold us back at all! It will be worth it.

More links and info:

Digital Foundations:

Article about Cory Doctorow’s successful use of CC:

Example clause of CC contract:

CC info, a case study:

The 75/22/3 breakdown:

I’m teaching two classes at colorado college this winter. The first one is an intro to new media class. Yes, very vague, but it will be a fun crash course on the history of new media art of the last 15 years, along with studio practice of the technique used such as ascii, a little programing, page scraping ect..
Check out their work at :

Then I’ll be co-teaching a class with Dan Raffin, called Interactive Video Art. I’m excited to co-teach with the most influential professor I had in undergrad.

The January 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine featured an editorial listing several headlines from The New York Times Special Edition.

stock crash

14th Street, New York City, January 8th.

I keep hearing of more and more billionaires killing themselves.

End times…

A while ago I wrote Nathan Yergler of the Creative Commons Foundation about the logistics of including (C) work in a CC book? Amazingly I couldn’t find any guidance about this on their site, or elsewhere. It seemed like something you could obviously do, but the publisher’s legal dept had questions. So Nathan answered them:

Hey Michael –

Thanks for following up on this via the phone today. I talked to some colleagues, and generally the situation is this:

* You can use a copyrighted work, assuming you have the rights to do so (either under fair use or explicitly negotiated), in a CC licensed work so long as you point out the exceptions in the license notice.
This is effectively what Creative Commons does with our website — see the footer text where it states “except where otherwise noted…”

* With respect to the digital version of your book that you were asking about, you would typically negotiate rights for digital redistribution along with the rights to use the copyrighted works in
the first place. Whether you have the rights to redistribute the pictures isn’t impacted by the CC license, or the fact that its included in a CC licensed work.

And as I mentioned on the phone, Creative Commons can not offer legal advice or opinions and this should not be interpreted as such.

Hope this helps, and let us know if/when your book is released under a CC license; we’d love to mention it on the CC blog.


Bright Bike at the Holiday Hackshop

Beacon Graphics (our vinyl supplier) has made DIY kits. You can get get pre cut, or a 6 foot segment. For bulk orders, contact Dave Lynn at 800 762-9205. You can also stop by the Eyebeam bookstore and pick some up.

Then go to the instructable to get the steps right

Here is a set of photos from the event:

And here is some press coverage from Core77, Gizmodo, and MAKEzine

albers homage parallel

The new laser drawings are coming together. My dad the woodworker did a quick job of a really nice display case for the encyclopedia.

display_stands05 display_stands01

And we’re burning through paper


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