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Writer Naomi Novik explains copyright to Congress

Naomi Novik isn't just a talented author (she won the John W Campbell Award for best new writer in 2007 on the strength of her fabulous Temeraire novels, which retell the Napoleonic wars with dragons providing air-support!), she's also a profound thinker on the questions of reuse, remixing, intellectual freedom and copyright.

Last week she gave testimony (PDF) to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet that described the way that creators rely on their ability to remix in order to create new and original works.

One thing I love about Novik is her intellectual honesty and her willingness to cut through the self-serving, romantic mythology of the wholly original creator, and to both acknowledge and celebrate the fact that her originality comes about by taking the works that others created before her and adapting them through her own artistic process, "Original work, work that stands alone, doesn't just pop up out of nowhere. It is at the end of a natural spectrum of transformation."

I also appreciated her strong arguments as licensing as a substitute for robust fair use: "On the purely practical level, the vast majority of remix artists doing non-commercial work simply don't have any of the resources to get a license — not money, not time, not access."

Novik's testimony is admirably summarized by Dr Matthew Rimmer in this Techdirt post. Rimmer is a global expert in fair use and copyright, and he highlights many of the most salient features of Novik's testimony.

I would like to publicly express my gratitude on behalf of writers everywhere to Naomi Novik for standing up for a fair deal for creators and audiences in Congress.

Read the rest

What the quadcopter was thinking when they used it to buzz a moose (a found fiction in a Boing Boing comment thread)

From the remarkable keyboard of allium, in the comment thread for this post:

"Rocky...is that you? My God, what did those Pottsylvanian bastards do to you?"

It was my own government that did this, I think in jagged letters ten feet tall. Of course after the cyborging I can only talk in Bluetooth, 802.11, and half a dozen classified military frequencies, and I left my loudspeaker module back at the base during my escape, so all Agent B hears are the chainsaw buzz of my rotors. He only knows it's me because the boys under Groom Lake painted a cartoon of...what I was...on my fuselage. As a joke. They thought it was hilarious.

So I yaw back and forth, hoping he'll interpret that as a "no".

Steam rises from B's nostrils as he tosses his massive, antlered head back. "When I see Fearless Leader again. I'm gonna pull a can of whoop-ass out of my hat!"

By the Great Acorn Above, he's dense. I dispense some eka-meth from my internal drug reservoirs to focus; two point eight seconds later I come to a decision and warm up the excimer.

"But wait a second...the Admiral told me you were dead! He spoke at your funeral! He..." B trails off as he sees words of fire appear vertically in the bark of the trees in front of him, one word per trunk. My targeting system is very precise - assassination tools generally are.

"PEACHFUZZ BURNED ME. CALL CLOYD AND GIDNEY."

Two hours later and thirty miles to the west, B paws at a nondescript hillock of frozen earth to uncover the squirt transmitter we buried there after the Upsidasium Affair. As dirt flies into the air, I idly wonder whether there's room for a squirrel brain in a Metal-Munching Mouse chassis, and how long it would take to get through a certain flag officer's sternum with its gleaming titanium teeth.

allium

Fanfic inspired by the apocalyptic state of a ten-year-old Civilization II game


Lycerius's post on Reddit last week by caused enormous, worldwide interest as he revealed that he had been playing a single game of Civilization II for a decade, and that in that time, thousands of years had gone by, and the world had been nearly destroyed by centuries of war and rampant climate change ("a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation"). It was a detailed, apocalyptic vision of a world where war and unlimited resource exploitation leads to a long, possibly eternal dark ages for the unlucky survivors.

Redditors were so captivated by this nightmare world that they have begun to write short stories set in Lycerius's wasteland, little first-person narratives from the miserable simulated people caught in the meat-grinder.

IO9's George Dvorsky has rounded up some of the choicest morsels, but, as he points out, you really owe it to yourself to have a look at the whole thread.

It seemed like just another day in this never-ending war. The last few historians left (who needs history now, really) agree that it has been going on for at least 1500 years, but their estimates vary. Why does it matter, anyway. The leaders of the remaining superpowers are locked in this pointless struggle, with no breakthrough. I have no idea how the Vikings keep being so consistent over such a long time, but the Communists have had the same family (and principles) in power ever since the war began and over here in America we've hooked up our president to a computer so he could rule forever. What a brilliant plan that was... Each nation is powerful just enough so neither can fall. Every time a city is captured, it is taken the next day. When roads are build in order to help dry up the swamps, they are immediately destroyed. The only way to rebuild our Earth is for someone to win, but that won't happen. At least, that's what I thought until now.

Our forces took another city by dawn. Nothing was special about it, apart from the fact that it was the first time it has been under American control since the war began. It's not that it was heavily guarded, only it was never deemed important enough for capture. As a part of our new military "strategy", we had to capture it for the slight chance that an inhabitant over there could have any sort of solution to the famines. We didn't find a man, but we got the solution alright.

I've been playing the same game of Civilization II for almost 10 years. This is the result. (self.gaming)

Russian fan-made fictional table of contents for a Harry Potter encyclopedia of feminism

Charles Tan sez, "Ekaterina Sedia translates a Russian fictional Table of Contents for Encyclopedia of Feminism According to Harry Potter."

The Practice of Female Separatism in Daily Life of Luna Lovegood
Hermione Granger on Liberal Feminism
Female Empowerment in Academia Through the Eyes of Minerva McGonagall
Women in Politics: The Dilemma of Dolores Umbridge
Women in the Military and Psychological Violence: The Case of Bellatrix Lestrange
Consequences of Limiting Abortion Rights: The Tragedy of Lily Potter
The Death Toll of Unpaid Labor: The Duel of Molly Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange
Replication of Violent Family Practices: Family Strategies of Nymphadora Tonks
The Duality of Economic Strategies for Women: Narcissa Malfoy

Russian Language Harry Potter Fandom is Awesome (Thanks, Charles!)

State of Adversarial Stylometry: can you change your prose-style?

Today at the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin (28C3), Sadia Afroz and Michael Brennan presented a talk called "Deceiving Authorship Detection," about research from Drexel College on "Adversarial Stylometry," the practice of identifying the authors of texts who don't want to be identified, and the process of evading detection. Stylometry has made great and well-publicized advances in recent years (and it made the news with scandals like "Gay Girl in Damascus"), but typically this has been against authors who have not taken active, computer-assisted countermeasures at disguising their distinctive "voice" in prose.

As part of the presentation, the Drexel Team released Anonymouth, a free/open tool that partially automates the process of evading authorship detection. The tool is still a rough alpha, and it requires human intervention to oversee the texts it produces, but it is still an exciting move in adversarial stylometry tools. Accompanying the release are large corpuses of test data of deceptive and non-deceptive texts.

Stylometry has been cited by knowledgeable critics as proof of the pointlessness of the Nym Wars: why argue for the right to be anonymous or pseudonymous on Google Plus or Facebook when stylometry will de-anonymize you anyway? I've been suspect of these critiques because they assume that only de-anonymizers will have access to computer-assisted tools, but as Anonymouth shows, there are many opportunities to use automation tools to improve anonymity.

Stylometry matters in many ways: its state of the art changes the balance of power between trolls and moderators, between dissidents and dictators, between employers and whistleblowers, between astroturfers and commenters, and between spammers and filters.

During the Q&A, a questioner asked whether Anonymouth's methods could be used by, say, fanfic authors to make their writing style match the author whose universe they're dabbling in; the researchers thought this would be so. I instantly wondered if avid fans might make a JK-Rowlingifier that could be used by dissidents to anonymize their speech, homogenizing it to pitch-perfect Potterian English so that stylometry fails. And of course, this makes me wonder whether stylometry could be used to falsely identify a block of prose with a third party (making a terrorist rant stylometrically match an innocent's prose-style) -- the researchers doubt this, and suggest that when deception is a possibility, prose-style shouldn't be considered as identifying evidence.

As an aside, the Anonymouth team is part of a lab at Drexel seeking grad-students and postdocs.

Privacy, Security and Automation Lab