News! De Lijn, a Flemish bus company, is about to share its data with Google. This means you will be able to look up your trip on Google Maps and Google will return you the possibility of going by public transport. It is a nice step in the right direction since they’re thinking about usability.
But let’s be pragmatic: if their customers want to find their way to the timetables as easy as possible, there is no way they can afford it to support all platforms and all ways of providing data. Therefor there is an easy solution: open it up! Let everyone use your data! Dozens of people, such as the iRail-team, can’t wait to get started on developing new apps and tools.
So yes: News, but not good nor bad news. We’re status quo. Except for some politicians who might think they delivered good work. Am I going to use it? Yes, I am! Everything beats the website of the company at this moment. Am I happy with it? No. If I could I would use an application which is optimised for social interaction and works really fast on my non-googlish phone.
When I’m writing code I’m quite regularly distracted by what-ifs… For instance: what if I’m on a train towards Spain and I boarded in Belgium. As I have a smartphone with an application installed (let’s call it BeTrains for iRail) which gives me real-time information on my trajectory, I don’t want BeTrains to be useless once I cross the border. BeTrains should automatically switch to the trainsystem of that country.
This seems like a pretty good and easy-done concept. However we want to do it the right way: we don’t want other application developers to deal with the same hassle of implementing each country for which it wants to work for. We don’t even want to think about that. Every country should have the same standard for bringing its data to the public. To do this for the EU is a nice start since in Europe transport data is open by law.
We (the iRail team) are however not the right people to make this standard. Our momentum is too small for Europe. Who in Croatia is ever going to think they should be conform to the Belgian system? We need a European open standard for real-time public transport data. We can create a consortium that sets these standards as today everyone is opening its data in their own random way (standards should exist for all open data, whether it’s weather information or geolocation data).
Situation today for standardisation of public transport data
Talking about open data today is more and more accepted. For instance I came across this video about a presentation by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation:
This is an interesting evolution but if we look at their API response itself it looks something like this:
Clearly this kind of XML would not do the trick for real-time public transport data in Europe. We have some other companies who release their data like this as well, each company in another format, and slightly different information.
To make this «transport data roaming» work, we need someone to tell us what to implement. Just for now we’re telling people that we need this and we hope someone will come up with something we can implement. As at this moment we have an API we’re using this non-standard one we specified ourselves.
- Pieter — @pietercolpaert
After listening to Michaël Vanloubbeeck on their Internet strategy, he asked us straight away what we thought about their mobile web application. There are three points we thought worth mentioning:
- The number of clicks before you can see the right data is about 4 times too much. I only want to click once.
- There is no autocompletion on the station names.
- There is no button to switch destination and departure station
On top of that we noted that for big phones like most android, maemo/meego, bada and iphone phones, the site was too small. It was a great mobile website optimized for small screens and fast connections. We concluded that they, in comparison to iRail, have a totally different focus. Both approaches are needed however and we need to cooperate on this. The NMBS however responded that their mobile website is aimed to target all phones and anyone, which we can’t agree on. Discussion still open.
The second discussion is one that we started. We are still having difficulties with Stibbe. Stibbe is a respected law firm in Belgium who apparently has been hired by the NMBS to try to close us down. They’re quite aggressive in their approach by sending scary letters that our lawyer (if you read this, thanks for your free support, we appreciate it a lot!) seems to handle a lot better than we do. They didn’t have a clue about that however. They ensured us however that they will *try* to stop these actions and let us work as we were doing. So the logical question for us is: “Can we hereby officially use your data?”; Yet this seemed to be more complicated as we thought. The real discussion had been started.
The first problem was that for the legal aspect of this we were talking to the wrong people. Personally we still think we are not doing anything illegal and not one of their arguments makes that statement fall. As they are going to stop their lawyers however, we’re going to assume that there is no-one left to sue us and this has encouraged us to crank up our developing speed. The bad part about this legal story is that they didn’t guarantee us anything and we might get a reply about that matter in quite some time.
Their second problem was that the Internet and mobile devices are changing all the time. And there are so many mobile devices they don’t know where to start developing. I didn’t really get why they use this against open data, but I guess it might be that they thought open is just a fad like myspace which will disappear eventually. So this is where I protested heavily and said open data would be a very good thing to do: they would provide a standard API for the data and provide a standard format. Everyone will be able to make their app for their phone and their system. For free! Isn’t that something you should be happy with? No they said. They wanted to be able to delete all the applications that didn’t fit their standard. So I started talking about free market where people who use a bad app will eventually use another app. Discussion still open.
Some other interesting points:
- They recognized that they were wrong by using lawyers in the first place without mailing us. They could have filed a bug-report if something did not meet their standards (which was a lot back then, we agreed)
- They were already planning to provide their own API at some point in the future with a little data in it, to be used under certain conditions.
- They are not (yet) convinced open data is the future. “It’s not because we’re a public company that our data should be public.”
- Complaints about iRail that reach the nmbs will be, as good as possible, forwarded to our mailinglist.
- They think iRail as external API provider is not an option. However, they did not explicitly ask us to stop (nor did they recommend us to continue). They’ll “quality check” iRail and provide us with feedback (probably just the mobile site, not our API)
- We asked if Nokia could sponsor iRail without being sued by NMBS. That’s a question we expect an answer on in October. They didn’t understand however why Nokia wouldn’t come to NMBS for that instead.
- They have partners with whom they share data. Partners include MIVB, De Lijn, Google, …
- They promised they won’t block our IP’s (that’s not something we should be thankful for in fact. In our opinion it would be illegal for them to do so)
I would like to thank the NMBS for inviting us and I hope this will be one of many meetings. We sure did have a lot of arguments but I think that’s a positive thing. We are not satisfied with the outcome of this ffrst meeting, but rumour has it that Rome wasn’t built in a day as well.
Afterwards Yeri and I had a very good and inspiring chat. Keep informed because very soon we will cover you with awesomeness! (we’re serious about this)
-Pieter — Follow me on identi.ca
Today I’ve been talking with Nick De Mey (http://www.mouseover.be) about the non-profit organisation we are about to start (see previous post). As he asked some to the point questions, I was aghast that I could not answer those in a simple and clear way. These are some (frequently?) asked questions that I, mainly as an exercise for myself, try to answer as concisely as possible.
1. What is the current state of the corporation?
At this moment it’s only an idea. As I have very little experience with corporations I’m trying to inform me as well as possible. For that reason I’m trying to talk with as many people as possible in Belgium who might possibly have something to do with the music scene, free culture or marketing.
We would like to found the corporation in the winter of 2011/2012.
2. What’s your product?
The product is a toolkit to provide free artists with a viable business-model for their music. As we believe every artist is an entrepreneur, they should be able to keep their copyright and build a business around their music. We do that by providing them non-exclusive tools/support and passing the right money from the right people to the right artists.
3. Free artists?
Yes. We think artists should be free to do with their own material what they like (although that might sound obvious, it isn’t). On the other hand, consumers should be free to share your song with others, remix it and reuse it. This is for two reasons. People do share music if they like it and they won’t stop sharing because of someone not agreeing. There is no way anyone should or should be able to monitor the use of digital files without explicit approval. The second reason is cultural innovation. Look around! We live in a remix society. If you can’t see remixes of cultural work is the most exciting thing in the 21th century, then I wonder where you got your ideas from.
§1: Free culture has free artists which are free to do with their work what they want
§2: Free culture has free consumers, which are allowed to share, remix and reuse
Yes. Any artist, if their art is licensed under a free license can non-exclusively join our NPO. This means they are allowed and encouraged to join other similar corporations that will help them manage their music in other ways.
5. Who are you aiming at?
Artists who are not yet well established and who need a decent kick-start. Artists who understand the web revolution and who want to join it. Artists who want their fans to support them directly. Artists who have the guts to think different.
6. Do you collect copyrights?
No. We do not collect copyrights. We only help artists, who own their copyright, with earning money in a new revolutionary, cultural approved way.
Apart from free culture and non-exclusiveness, our biggest value is transparency. As an artist you will be able to see where the money you earned comes from.
8. How will you manage these artists?
We are thinking of netlabels. All artists will be assigned to a personal netlabel-maintainer. These maintainer will have you featured on his netlabel’s website. By doing this he may also add your music to online music stores such as itunes and jamendo. When customers buy CD’s their money (at least 90%) will go to that artist.
There are plenty of other ideas (see previous post) to make non-fixed-fee income.
9. Sabam, auvibel, … What are your points on these companies?
We have nothing against those companies. We don’t see them as rivals, since our product is something completely different. Sabam however is an exclusive organisation. This means, once your rights are in their hands, you cannot reuse those rights to go to another corporation and ask for support as well. This being said, artists that want to join our cause will not be able to join Sabam or will have to leave them. That’s not our decision, on the contrary, we strongly encourage anyone to use the support of multiple services.
Auvibel however is a hard one. We oppose any kind of compulsory flat-rate tax at any use of culture. However we think as the levy is already in use to support all artists, our artists should get a fair piece of the money-pie. Ironically this is not possible, due to non-profit organisations not being allowed to join Auvibel.
If you know people who I should contact or if you want to talk to me about this for any good reason, feel free to mail me: pieterc aŧ member.fsf.org.
- Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
I have been thinking and talking about this quite some time now: A «free culture» organisation. So it’s time to get something on paper: I’ve started writing the business-model. As I think for our organisation transparency is a very important value, and as a wise man once said: «Release early, release often. Given enough eyeballs, all mistakes are shallow», I want to share my current view. Hereby I invite you to bring on new ideas, to correct mistakes, to steal my ideas and make an even better organisation.
Currently there is a system of escalating fixed copyright fees. Copyrights are gathered from artists by for-profit companies who will try to use their monopoly on a cultural work to gain more money. The business-model that used to serve as a system to unite artists with consumers changed into one that hires lawyers to ban every case of fair use and reuse to both artists and consumers.
This system where every year new charges on other forms of media are collected is an untenable situation and innovation is required. This should not become a political discussion. It is easy to use the current system to provide artists with a valid alternative. They should not give away copyright on their work, but should be encouraged to manage theirs with support provided by a non profit organisation.
Free culture is defined by two clauses:
§1: Free culture has free artists which are free to do with their work what they want
§2: Free culture has free consumers, which are allowed to share, remix and reuse
Free culture in current legislation has been achieved already. Creative commons licenses are the perfect tools to co-act with current copyright laws.
Our main goal is to provide non-exclusive support for any artist who wants to make a living without relying on fixed fees. A secondary goal is to provide other businesses with music on the fly without having to pay fixed fees. An ambitious but intended side-effect should be that sharing of most files become legalised.
Business form: NPO (not-for-profit organisation)
Initial products :
- mobile band specific applications for android platform: mobile applications for fans to follow their artists. Applications may contain microblogfeed, streaming audio of latest recordings, tourdates, chatbox, etc…
- custom music (~recommendation) for other businesses
- support your favourite artists: become member of our organisation and pay a flat membership fee. By pressing buttons on artist websites, blogs, etc… you can support that artist. At the end of the month this flat fee will be transfered to all the artists you supported that month.
- Free support for artists:
- Assigning to netlabel
- Selling music on itunes, jamendo and other online music stores
Policy statement and vision
We solve a problem
Today if an artist wants to record his music in Belgium/Europe he has a binary choice: or he joins the only copyright management firm, or he doesn’t. We want to be the first of hopefully many organisations that supports artists in a new alternative way that doesn’t want to be evil nor exclusive for both artists and consumers.
The biggest question-mark with culture is to define what it is. Obviously the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is culture. But if we browse with an image search engine through the results of the query «Mona Lisa», few of them are the original work by Da Vinci. Are these remixes of the original work culture?
We like to think they are. Remixing and reusing are both part of our contemporary culture. In the end, all work is in some way derived from other work and by not allowing reuse of your own work you’re blocking cultural innovation.
-Pieter — Follow me on identi.ca
note: If you are a Belgian, SABAM is very similar to the RIAA. Feel free to replace RIAA with SABAM.
RIAA recently showed the Americas and the world some interesting calculation magic. It wants to fine Limewire, a company behind a peer to peer sharing application, 1 billion dollar. In 2008 the RIAA was seeking 13 million dollars from The Pirate Bay, a file-sharing site, but for only 34 cases of copyright infringement (src: this image). That means per file, the RIAA fines $382,353. When we redo the math today (The Pirate Bay links to over millions of copyrighted songs, computer programs, movies, …) the penitence will be so big, there is not enough money in the entire world to pay for it.
I’m not a huge fan of “piracy”, like they tend to call it, though. An author is the first to decide what he’s going to do with his work. He has the copyright. He should decide whether others may use it, hear it, watch it, reuse it… and in what ways. With the current copyright system, anyone else but the author starts with no rights at all. If an artist decides his work should be under such license, there is nothing to bring against that. It’s his work, he is in charge and his choice should be respected.
That’s nice. In theory.
In practice big companies arose who asked artists to give them their copyright, in exchange for some money they would collect from people who listened or viewed their work. As you can see, many artists today don’t think about the consequences before falling for this Faustian bargain. So apparently today, it’s not the «artist» who owns the copyright or «artistsright» (that’s how we call it in Belgium) to their own work anymore. Companies claim to posses this «intellectual property». Any use should be paid for and the system has gone mad: 3 year old kids are criminals, you have to pay an absurdly high amount of money just to cover a song by a band, singing happy birthday is copyright infringement, sharing a song by sending it to a friend is considered highly illegal, etc…
Now it’s time to make a balance: what have we lost? As long as artists give away their rights to copyright firms, we lose the right to reuse that material, until 70 years after the death of the creator. If an artist dies at an average age of 70, and they create their best works at avg. 20 years old, we lose 120 years of culture per artwork. If we multiply this by all art created this century, we might end up with heaving lost 13.9 billion years of culture. Which is indeed how long this universe exists. Interesting theory huh? I think the math is not more absurd than RIAA’s overall monetary calculations.
Fans do not only want to enjoy music. They want to share it with their friends, put it on their website, create derivative works, … Condemning every bit of cultural innovation (CC law: everything is based on something) is not how we want to experience culture in the future. Therefor we need «free artists».
Free artists are themselves free because they can do with their work what they seem is appropriate. They don’t lose their rights. On the other hand, consumers should be free as well. If someone bought your work in digital form, he should be able to use it in a presentation, send it to friends, etc… This can be achieved by a creative commons license.
This however is not a political decision. Artists should become a little more concerned about their rights. Therefor, in Belgium, I’m creating an NPO (vzw) to help such artists getting paid (should not necessarily be less than someone who lost his rights). Any help is welcome. Feel free to contact me in any way described on the about page.
I hope in 1 year our NPO for supporting free artists in Belgium will be able to go live.
-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca
Back in the old days, when the Internet was only among a very few companies, making music for a large audience was not easy. There were a lot of steps to go through before you finally could have your song on an LP, and each of those steps cost a lot of money. The listener on the other hand had only a few options how he could enjoy music: he could go to a concert, listen to the radio or buy an LP. Obviously, to make things more easy for both the listener and the artist, middlemen were needed. These middlemen had the right amount of money, had the right contacts and they had the noble goal to make life easier for both listener and artist.
Nowadays, things got quite different: sharing music on-line is easy, recording music does not require highly advanced technology anymore, recording has become quite affordable, etc. However, sharing music got this funny name ‘piracy’, given by companies who once were the middlemen with the noble goal to protect consumer and artist. Instead of those protectors they became the consumer’s worst enemy: we can no longer share files with our friends, because sharing became theft, and artist tend only to get a very low percent of their music’s gain. With pitiable words, these middlemen nowadays try to keep doing the same as they were doing in those days.
To those relentless speeches on piracy however, I say «amen». Because that’s what you say when a prayer comes to its end. It’s a reckless effort to keep this business in copyrights alive.
You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now, how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
Other people’s money, DeVito’s speech
Free culture (as in freedom)
Today I can say with almost no doubt that you agree with my opinion on free culture, since you are already living it. You listen to some music and when you like it you might want to buy a CD, get to attend a concert, or share the music with other friends. I stand for all those things, except, I want to legalize it in a very nifty way. Artists have to realize these middlemen nowadays cause more problems than anyone else. Get rid of these guys who say your fans cannot listen to your music unless they pay. Fans want to promote your music and want to put it on their site without having copyright claims, they want to play it on their birthday-party without being scumbags since they’re promoting your music.
Yes, you got it right, I do not want you to change whatever you were doing. I only want you to realize this can be legal and can exist without all these uncertainties. If you’re an artist then please read about the creative commons licenses. They allow you to make free culture, as in freedom, the freedom to experience your art in any way.
-Pieter – follow me on identi.ca
I got 4 main reasons why I do not use you and I will try to explain these quite thoroughly.
1. Personal reasons
I don’t like the idea that my entire social life should revolve around the Internet. Some things I do are only known by my best friends and this is the way it should be. I’m not very complicated, neither do I have a lot of secrets, but getting birthday cards because someone cares is so much more romantic than because facebook said so.
2. Ethical reasons
You can’t step out whenever you’d like to. Your data is saved and any attempt to delete your data will be fought. (eg. Web 2.0 suicide machine got blocked)