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Archive for August, 2008

ISO/IEC reject the appeals against OOXML

Friday, August 15th, 2008

It appears that the ongoing saga of the international standardization of Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) standard has come to an end, with OOXML victorious.  In a release today ISO and IEC announced the joint decision to push forward with publication of the OOXML standard as revised “after appeals by four national standards bodies against the approval of the document failed to garner sufficient support.” The national standards bodies of  of Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela had submitted appeals against the fast track standardization process last spring following a contentious commenting period on the initial draft.  It will be some time before the standard version of OOXML is in use in MS Office, because the standard had been revised in response to the several thousand comments that were received during the balloting.

Court acknowledges copyright law application to Open Source software

Friday, August 15th, 2008

In an important ruling yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit yesterday stood behind the concept that open source software should be covered by copyright law, which strengthens the rights of OS developers. 

This is a critical win for open source developers, which although seemingly obvious was an untested aspect of US law.  Software has long been viewed in the courts as being covered under copyright law.  Some background on the copyright protections provided to software is here, here and here.

The crux of the case centers on whether the terms of an open source license such as the Artistic License in this case (or similar licenses, such as Creative Commons) should be considered “conditions of, or merely covenants to, the copyright licenses.”  When a copyright holder grants a nonexclusive license to use a copyrighted work, he/she forfeits his/her rights to sue for copyright infringement and can only sue for breach of contract.

Why is this an important distinction?  One could consider violations of use a violation of contract law, which would significantly reduce the penalties for violation.  Contract law violations frequently result in awards that are a derivative of the monetary damages related to the contract.  In the case of Open Source software, there is very limited if any exchange of funds, and therefore very limited monetary damages.

In the ruling, Judge White addressed the question of economic benefits accruing to OS developers by writing:

The lack of money changing hands in open source licensing should not be presumed to mean that there is no economic consideration, however.  There are substantial benefits, including economic benefits, to the creation and distribution of copyrighted works under public licenses that range far beyond traditional license royalties. 

Copyright infringement on the other hand has a set of penalties and remedies that are much more significant and are not explicitly tied to the financial terms of an exchange.  In addition, copyright cases can include attorney’s fees in the remediation.

In the decision, the Artistic License used by the plaintiff was deemed to be limited in scope and have conditions, which the licensor violated, then the case was deemed to be infringing on copyright. Deciding in the plaintiff’s favor because of the clause “provided that …” created limitations and conditions in the license to which the licensor must adhere or they would be infringing on the copyrights of the licensor.  In this particular case, the “conditions set forth in the Artistic License are vital to enable the copyright holder to retain the ability to benefit from the work of downstream users.”  In addition, licensors are “authorized to make modifications and to distribute the materials provided that the user follows the restrictive terms of the Artistic License.”  These conditions of use were deemed to be sufficient restrictions to the terms of the license to distinguish them from contractual covenants.

This case will reinforce the legal protections for producers of OS software that have underpinned the development and sharing of OS code for years.  Andy Updegrove, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, standards and a prolific blogger, was quoted in PC Magazine as saying:

“For the community this wasn’t about the money at all, but about receiving the blessing of an important court that the foundations upon which the entire fee and open source and Creative Commons philosophies are based.”

NSF issues report on Cyberlearning

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

The National Science Foundation released a report on Monday entitled Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge. The report was issued by the NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning, chaired by Christine Borgman at UCLA. Cyberlearning is “the use of networked computing and communication technologies to support learning.” This is an incredibly broad term and encompasses nearly everything that the scholarly community engages in: research, publishing, pedagogy, assessment, records management, discovery and access. The report outlines a a range of technical, social and pedagogical recommendations to NSF and the community focused on more broadly applying and benefiting from existing cyberinfrastrucutre for learning, as well as building out capacity for the future.

The five top-level recommendations of the group were:

  • Encourage the development of cross-disciplinary “cyberlearning field”
  • Instill a “platform perspective” into cyberlearning, including interoperable design of hardware, software and services
  • Focus on the power of technology to
  • Adopt policies and programs that promote open resources
  • Focus on sustainability of post-grant funded initiatives

It is very clear that we are only beginning to grapple with the questions regarding the incorporation of technology in learning. While there is much to chew on in this report, the two of these recommendations that caught my eye during a quick skim of the report, were the focus on openness and interoperability. Interoperability is a key problem that most systems face. The group’s recommendation that NSF fund the creation of an Open cyberlearning platform into which new hardware, modules, and the feed the system with further interoperable components funded by NSF is an intriguing model. Although we are at an early stage in the evolution of networked tools for learning, I expect that this approach would be too top-down and unwieldy to be widely successful. A more realistic approach would be to ensure that the existing and growing networks and tools be interoparable, becuase we can certainly expect that there will be approaches growing up outside of the funding network of NSF and the numerous other funding bodies (even presuming that they do work together as proposed in the report).

The second focus, however cold pay true dividends. We as a community have limited ability to envision how scholars and students will engage with content in the future. The ability to reuse, remix and apply discoveries in new ways will be the critical area for success of information technology in the future. The report highlights the application of research data in this regard, but it is equally true of software tools, methodologies, and educational materials. Enforcing the application of openness principles on funded research would expand the availability of these resources, but also likely speed the creative application of those resources in new and innovative learning methodologies.

If you are engaged at all in the educational environment, the report is worthy of a close read.

Ex Libris changes hands

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Last week, Ex Libris announced last week that it was being acquired by Leeds Equity Partners.  According to Harratz.com, the deal is worth “an estimated $170 million.” The company had previously been owned by Francisco Partners, who purchased Ex Libris in November, 2006 for approximately $60-65 million.  Selling at roughly three times the price paid only two years ago, I’d say that Francisco received a pretty good return on its investment. Leeds is invested in a number of industries, from administrative support software, to for-profit post-secondary education, to property management systems, to furniture for education, healthcare and hospitality.  A description of Leeds culled from their website: 

Leeds Equity Partners is a private equity firm focused on investments in the education, training and information and business services industries (the “Knowledge Industries”).  …  We focus on investments across all of the Knowledge Industries, which includes education, training and information and business services. We broadly define these sectors to include businesses offering products, services and solutions that enable individuals and enterprises to be more effective in an increasingly global, hyper-competitive, information-intensive and fast-changing marketplace. … Since 1993, Leeds Equity has invested in more than 20 companies across all of the Knowledge Industries, representing a total enterprise value of more than $4.1 billion.     

The announcement came quick on the heels of the announcement that Carl Grant would be re-joining Ex Libris as the President, North America.  Carl is a long-time supporter of NISO and standards development, having spent time as Chair of the Standards Development Committee, as a member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, and a term as Chair of the Board.  Carl had been the President of CARE Affiliates, a service firm that provided support for open source systems implementors.  CARE Affiliates was acquired by LibLime in August.

Revising the Digital Talking Book Standard

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The NISO membership has approved a new working group to revise the DAISY/NISO Digital Talking Book Standard (ANSI/NISO Z39.86). Of critical importance to the visually impaired community, this standard defines the format and content of the electronic file set that comprises a digital talking book (DTB) and establishes a limited set of requirements for DTB playback devices.  The goal of the revision is to modularize and update it to take advantage of improved technologies.   The DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) Consortium serves as the maintenance agency for the standard, which was first released in 2002.  Earlier this year, the “Save as DAISY” plugin was included in Microsoft’s Office suite.  More information was published in an article last November and the official plug-in release from Microsoft.  The availability of this plug-in provides wide accessibility of the standard for broad consumer application.   A working group roster is now being formed. Anyone who would like to join this working group, or be part of the affiliated interest group, should contact Karen Wetzel, NISO’s Standards Program Manager.

Open Library Environment (OLE) Project – Planning open ILS systems

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The Open Library Environment (OLE) Project, a new initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, launched its website this week.  The group aims to develop plans for the next generation of library automation systems build upon a modular SOA approach. Quoting from their Project Overview: The group “will convene the academic library community in planning an open library management system built on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Our goal is to think beyond the current model of an Integrated Library System and to design a new system that is flexible, customizable and able to meet the changing and complex needs of modern, dynamic academic libraries.”  The group will first research library processes and model practices and the systems necessary. Through the process, they hope to build a community that will This project has ties to the DLF project on ILS Discovery Interfaces and a number of other open source development initiatives in the community looking to address this issue.  It is also interesting to note that at least one ILS system vendor, Ex Libris, recently announced its new Open-Platform Strategy.There will certainly be interesting developments from the OLE Project and how their recommendations tie in with other ongoing work.  Of course, system interoperability relies heavily on standard data structures and interfaces.  If the end results aren’t easily plug and play, only the largest and most technically savvy organizations will be able to take advantage of the advances.