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A Non-viable Professional Remix

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Last night, I went with my fiancée and her family to see Canadian legends Barenaked Ladies in concert. Near the end of their set, they launched into what I later heard called a “mashup of pop songs”: a delightful medley of everything from current pop hits, to Bohemian Rhapsody, finishing with a wild rendition of Let It Go. A performance that connected with most everyone in the audience, and was for some their favourite part of the show. By quoting from the culture around them, they created a piece that resonated deeply with the audience.

Part way through, my fiancée turned to me and said, “Stop thinking about copyright infringements.” But I wasn’t. I was thinking about how sad it is that they would never release something like that on an album.

You see, I wasn’t thinking about infringements because none were obvious. The venue where the concert took place has an up-to-date license from SOCAN, the copyright collective administering compulsory licensing for musical public performance in Canada. They could thus perform any song or derivative of a song that they wished to, because the license has already been cleared. This gives performers an avenue for free expression at their concerts without fear.

Then why might they not be able to record the piece? In Canada, there is no compulsory license for recordings of music, only for public performances. In order to record this kind of music the group would have to trace each composition they wished to honour, find the current copyright holder, and negotiate a license. A negotiation that the copyright holder is not even required to engage in. If any holder of any song cannot be found, or simply is not interested in participating, then the project dies. If they’re lucky, the songs are covered by a licensor like CMRRA, but they will have to research each individual piece to find out. If they want an International or radio release, then more research must be undertaken in each new jurisdiction, since licensing regimes are different everywhere.

Even with a major label behind them, this kind of task is quite daunting. And so, this kind of culturally-resonant art stays confined to concert performances and bootleg YouTube camera videos (which eventually get taken down, because they are infringements).

This is just one poignant example of how productive arts are often strangled by the lack of culturally-relevant works from the commons to quote, and a lack of legal structures to empower artists.

My Board Book Printing Journey

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So, you’ve written a board book. People are already telling you not to call it a “board book”, call it a “picture book” and let the publishers decide what format is best for it. Not very many board books get published, so if you sell yourself that way you’re selling yourself short. But, this book was designed for the format. You selected text and images for a young age group that also likes to chew. What can you do?

In my case, I not only wanted the board book format, but I want the result to be released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Going with a traditional publisher would be very complicated. Both my brother and others I know have some experience in the self-publishing world. Companies like Lulu exist to help authors get their books out themselves. The print-on-demand and eBook revolutions have changed the face of publishing for many creators.

So, take my designs, upload them to a print-on-demand system and start selling books, right? Except for one thing. Board books. They don’t print board books. Printing and binding a board book just doesn’t share enough with the process for a paperback. I could do an eBook, but you can’t chew an eBook. Back where I started, I go looking for print-on-demand board books. There are hand-assembled pieces of beauty on Etsy, but the prices match.

Eventually I find Pint Size Productions, a printer in the USA that would do single board books using a digital process. The price is high, but not hand-assembled-Etsy high. They’re set up for one-offs, though, not for shipping and fulfillment of print-on-demand orders. So, I’ll need to order a larger number and handle fulfilment some other way. I write them to ask for bulk pricing. Turns out, they have presses, and will do large runs that way, for much less per book. Minimum order: 1000 units.

If you’ve never had something made, you’ve never had to deal with a minimum order. Basically, most printers and manufacturers figure it’s not worth their time to set up the equipment to make a small number of things. So, instead of (or as well as!) charging you large set-up fees, they set a Minimum Order Quantity. If I have to order at least 1000 books, I’m going to need some up-front demand, which leads me to crowdfunding.

The natural way to do crowdfunding might have been to just head to Kickstarter and be done with it, but I also had to solve shipping and fulfilment, so I found CrowdSupply. They provide optional shipping and fulfilment services to all their campaigns, feedback on your overall strategy from staff who have seen many campaigns, and possible options for continued orders and fulfilment after the campaign. So, I wrote them and got started.

1000 backers is a tall order for a typical 30-day crowdfunding campaign. But no problem, the price for the printing is low enough (and shipping is a large enough part of the cost) that I can set a bit of a margin and instead of using it to pay me, use it to pay for books I didn’t sell. If I’m aggressive, I might even be able to get as low as 500 backers needed. That’s still a lot, but much less. The price of the books will end up higher than I wanted, but what can I do?

I’m not planning on using the “print-on-demand” digital process from Pint Size any more, so maybe I should go looking again. They have been helpful, and even sent me some free samples of other books they’ve printed so that I could get a sense for their print quality, but I’ll just look around. I need a small-run printer who can do board books. Cheaper per unit would be nice, but a lower minimum-order would be excellent. Some Googling lead me to another printing company, PrintNinja, with an interesting model. Their main offices are in the USA, the support staff are in the USA, and the printing is done in China. They handle all import for you. They do a lot of things, including board books, and for very good prices. Best of all: the minimum order is only 500! That’s half!

This company also offered to send me a free sample of a board book they have printed, and the quality looks great. With this kind of improvement in the minimum order I can get the price down to something reasonable and also reduce the number of orders I need in order to succeed. The printing company will also do warehousing and fulfilment! The price is pretty comparable, though, and so I decided to stick with CrowdSupply since they’ll already have facilities for collecting the backer’s addresses and everything.

Last thing I need is an ISBN. Can’t have a real book without an ISBN! I looked around for awhile at different places that sell them before discovering that in Canada, where I live, ISBNs are free to citizens who register. So, that problem solved, I now have a low-volume printing company; warehousing, shipping, and fulfilment services; and ISBNs all lined up. Everything I need to be a little publishing house for my own book at a reasonable price.

The campaign is now under way and at 34%. You can back now to receive a copy of the result of this journey. A freely-licensed board book (with sources to be made available!) based on the iconic Big Buck Bunny short film. If we succeed I hope to go on to make a colouring book, though I feel I’ll have to reprise part of this journey again, as it seems that’s one of the few things my current choice of printing company does not offer!

Christian Faith and Copyfreedom

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I have for quite some time been involved in the Free Culture and Free Software communities. I have long felt that this affiliation was a natural outgrowth of my faith in Jesus, but I have not written much on this topic.

I believe that a desire to see the world reached for Christ requires that we not restrict the distribution and re-use of Gospel materials, that a desire to control one’s own work must not come before the spiritual needs of worshipers, that a belief in mutual aid is aligned with freedom, and that good stewardship requires a proper evaluations of all options before we spend our God-given resources.

A Desire to Reach the World

My first real encounter with this first issue came when I was in Bible College. For individual use, quotations of the New International Version of the Bible (the most popular English translation) must be no more than 50 verses, and must not be more than 5% of the total of the work in which they appear. This means that handouts or flyers comprised of primarily Bible verses are prohibited. For a church the limits are raised to 500 verses and 25%, but still the issue largely remains. There are various other limitations, including the statement: “This limited license may be revoked and/or modified at any time by Biblica in its sole and absolute discretion.” So at any time, and without warning, my quoted material might no longer be an allowed use!

This bothers me greatly. Do we not want people to read the Bible? Is not the proliferation of the scriptures a primary goal of many Christian organizations? Why would it be right to ban the reproduction or distribution of the scriptures, which are at any rate not the original creative work of the copyright holder, but the inspired word of God! If we truly wish to reach the world, to encourage each other to get out and share the Word with others, then we must be, at very least, allowed to share the Word at all! We should not be asking for “$10,000 + $10/copy distributed” just to distribute the scriptures (citation).

For quite awhile, this issue led me to use only the original text of the King James Version of the Bible. I have since found some other translations that believe that the scriptures should be shared with others, including the excellent World English Bible, but this issue is not only restricted to Bible translations. Many materials of great use in the work of spreading the Gospel are similarly restricted, including: songs, pamphlets, bible story books, curricula, sermons, videos, and much more.

The Spiritual Needs of Worshipers

It has become common practice in Evangelical churches to have special guests who will lead (often musical) worship for a single service. Often these guests will end the worship time with an invitation to “visit their table at the back” to purchase merchandise related to their unique abilities. This is highly reminiscent of a concert where the act sells merchandise to fans as they depart. It is also reminiscent of those events which caused Jesus to say: “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16)

Is it wrong for Christian workers to ask to be compensated for their work? Certainly not. The scripture is full of statements to the contrary. Workers deserve to be compensated for their work. However, no one should capitalize on worship activities. The spiritual needs of God’s people are not a market opportunity to be seized, but a ministry opportunity to be cared for. Many churches pay high licensing fees for the right to publicly display just the lyrics to worship songs during services!

When I was in University, I was a member of a small (under 20 people) InterVarsity chapter. There was a desire amongst the group to join together in musical worship, and so the proper licensing was sought. The cost to display just the lyrics was $60! If we gained just a few more members, the cost would rise to $125! So we sought direct permission from the authors of popular worship songs, thinking that certainly our brothers and sisters in Christ would see this small student group as an opportunity for ministry. Very few did. Notably, the David Crowder Band gave us complete permission to use their songs. Other artists (or, more often, the labels to whom they’ve sold their right) wanted much more money, or were uninterested in dealing with us at all.

There does exist the Open Hymnal Project to group together such hymns as have fallen into the Public Domain, or other worship songs which may be freely used. Sadly, there is very little in the way of so-called “modern” worship music available to be used for worship purposes. Think of that! It is prohibited to use worship music for worship purposes unless you can get explicit permission. Do we not wish for God’s people to worship?

Mutual Aid

Suppose your church has a piece of software to aid in display of lyrics for worship purposes. Simply paste in the song lyrics, select a background, and there you go. You find that at a sister church, someone has to spend hours each week copying and pasting the lyrics to the song set into slide presentation software in order to display it during worship time. Well, you wish to help your sister church, and you have this software, so what is the problem? Give them a copy of the software and all will be well. But if this software is proprietary then giving them a copy is a potential cause of action! So, you are not allowed to help.

Luckily, when I experienced this exact issue I was able to direct our sister church to the excellent freedom-respecting software OpenLP, which they now use happily, but this sort of issue can arise so often. Many churches find their computers are running office software, or even operating systems, that a member simply “loaned” to the church — running the risk of legal action they are not aware of, because the members wanted to help.

This is not just the case with churches helping each other, but also within the body of Christ generally. We are called to the mutual aid one of another. This is much more easily done when the tools we have and produce may be freely shared with each other!

Stewardship

The last point I will touch on in this article is that of stewardship. Often, the reason any given Christian organization goes along with the status quo is simply that it is the status quo. Licenses are paid for music, lyrics, and software; CDs (and books and don’t even get me started on “holy hardware”) are sold; new material produced has its copyright dutifully enforced (or at least no license is given for it); bible quotations are limited (or the limitations ignored, at the risk of legal action); all because it seems to be the way things are done. But does not good stewardship of our resources require that we make the effort to find and evaluate all of our options? If someone is offering us material or tools that are useful to us at a lower cost, should that not be evaluated? Freedom is not always cheaper, but when it is that is certainly a factor.

Should we not so much more seek to help others? Why any church insists on keeping the copyright of its sermon podcast or blog posts is beyond me. These materials are almost wholly produced by volunteers or already-paid staff as a part of their normal function in the church. Should not other believers and other churches benefit from this work that has already been done to further the kingdom? This is why, at least for me, I cannot in good conscience release useful material that it is forbidden to share on reuse. I feel that my faith demands I gWhen I was in University, I was a member of a small (under 20 people) InterVarsity chapter. There was a desire amongst the group to join together in musical worship, and so the proper licensing was sought. The cost to display just the lyrics was $60! If we gained just a few more members, the cost would rise to $125! So we sought direct permission from the authors of popular worship songs, thinking that certainly our brothers and sisters in Christ would see this small student group as an opportunity for ministry. Very few did. Notably, the David Crowder Band gave us complete permission to use their songs. Other artists (or, more often, the labels to whom they’ve sold their right) wanted much more money, or were uninterested in dealing with us at all.rant freedom to others.

Free Culture for the Next Generation

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My life has been going through some transitions recently. My siblings are all married, and one recently had a baby. I got engaged. The sort of changes that get you thinking about the future. The sort of changes that get you thinking about what you want for your kids.

For quite some time now, I’ve been an advocate for digital freedoms, for free culture. I promote libre-licensed music, movies, video games, and books to my friends (and sometimes on the street). Jamendo is filled with pop and rock and metal and electronic music of all varieties. There are movies like Star Wreck and documentaries like RiP. So much work to use, share, and remix.

But when I watch my fiancé’s little cousins or my niece, I see Disney colouring books and wallpapers and toys and t-shirts filling their lives. When I go to shop for my niece, what do I get her? I can get her a stuffed baby GNU, but I quickly run out of options. There is no obvious source for libre characters appearing in colouring pages, activity books, or baby books. The Blender Institute has a few cartoons from which characters could be drawn, but little additional content (since their focus is to promote the Blender software).

It’s not that I think we can somehow fill the next generation’s lives with only libre content based on libre characters, and drive the Disney out. I’m not sure we even really want to do that. But I would like kids to be able to grow up loving at least one set of content that they can build on and be creative with as they grow older. Kids who have as a natural part of the cultural and artistic expression language at least one element they are actually allowed to make use of.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. The free culture movement is filled with parents and aunts and uncles who have probably been thinking about these issues even longer than I have. I cannot change this by myself, nor can a body of work spring up overnight, but I want to get something moving. After a long discussion with a friend, I decided the first thing to try would be a baby board book. In the spirit of free culture (and in the spirit of having a body of related work) I am not creating this book from scratch, but rather basing it on the excellent Big Buck Bunny. I have found a printing company in the USA that does an excellent job of smaller-run board book printing, taught myself all the tricks in Inkscape that I needed in order to produce a draft, and been in contact with Crowd Supply about what I need to get ready for a crowd funding effort.

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What I need now, is you. The crowd funding has not started yet, but if you are interested in helping this project move forward please register your email address on the prelaunch page. This gives me a much better idea of what sort of volume the final crowd funding (later this year) will be able to get, and gives the project some momentum right from the start (which is very important for any successful crowd funding).

What will the crowd funding include? Well, the full source files (in SVG) and an eBook version of the baby book will be made available to anyone who backs, and afterwards to the whole world if we’re successful, under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. The physical printed books themselves (printed in the USA) will be available to backers who pledge enough (final costs still being worked out). Other things (kid-size thirts? stickers?) may also be a part of this, so let me know if you have any really good ideas!

Also, if you are a Facebook user, you can also promote this campaign by sharing/liking the Facebook page.

I have put up a promo video for the book on YouTube and on Archive.org:

MK Dating Adventure

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In mid-November, I made the decision to try out the online dating site OkCupid. This resulted in my first ever modern-North-American-style formal dating adventure. This post is something of a retrospective + lessons learned from my cross-cultural perspective. I have done some external research before, during, and after the adventure, but all of the information is highly anecdotal.

Before I say anything else, I will say that I think every TCK should experience their host culture’s most common dating practise sooner after re-entry. It’s a very eye-opening experience and can give you a whole new perspective on this decently-important aspect of the culture around you. If you, like me, find the structure of a formal dating experience crazy, you’re not very wrong, but you should try it anyway. You just can’t really understand anything you hear about it (probably including the contents of this post) until you try it.

The One Thing

If I have identified anything as the “most important” about the whole adventure, it’s that you have to really try. You can’t dabble, or hold back to protect yourself, or anything like that. You must be emotionally available, and willing to bend your normal system of existence in order to be in the other person’s world. This is basically the same as with any other cultural integration experience.

In my case, this involved things like more emotional availability than I normally afford to most friends, heavy Facebook usage, etc. While it was going on I felt like I was following this principle pretty well, though of course in hindsight there were tons of ways I could have done even better.

Online Dating

As I said, online dating was also a part of my particular adventure. If your biggest obstacle to this particular cultural experience is finding someone to try it with, then this may be a good option for you. I tried the site OkCupid, mostly because of their OkTrends blog (even though that has been defuct for ages, it’s still awesome) and because it’s free, so I could try it with no obligation. This is super useful if you’re not sure you want to try it out. The site does a very good job of being fun to use, and I found the various pseudo-gamified elements highly addicting. They do have some really crazy nonsense that’s part of the system (they come up with things to email you about all the time, just in case you weren’t planning to come back to the site. For example, everyone early on gets a “people on OkCupid want you so bad” email, and at some point I even got a “our system has determined that you’re hot” email, which may be the most hilarious email I’ve ever received), but in general that just adds to the amusement.

On the other hand, from talking to other online dating users, I cannot characterize my experience as normal. I played around with the site for only threeish days before someone awesome popped out of the woodwork with an expression of interest. I followed up, and things just sort of went well from there. I’m told this is the furthest from normal you can get, and I put it down to God’s purpose.

Being Creepy is Ok

The first super shocking thing I learned is that it’s considered totally acceptable to use all of your Google-fu, etc, to find out as much as you like about the other person, so long as you don’t use that information in an overly creepy way.

When making conversation, this can give you a tonne of fodder for what the right questions to ask are, so use it to your advantage.

Clarify Expectations

Something you should do by the end of the first date is make sure you’re both on the same page as to what this is and where it is going. Ask your date what they’re looking for, and on what sort of timeframe they usually operate. First dates are culturally constructed to allow these sorts of awkward questions to be asked of complete strangers with fairly little fear, and I can tell you that not knowing is way more stressful than asking the question will be.

Don’t go into this with the expectation “I’m just trying this out as an experiment”, though. That violates the One Thing.

Facilitate Conversation

You have a wealth of life experiences, but it’s way more fun to learn about someone else than to talk about yourself. Don’t be secretive about your past, but try not to use it as a conversation starter. Use what you know to draw the other person into talking.

Telling Your Friends

I paired this adventure with an experiment in being much more open about my personal life with friends and co-workers. This may enhance your experience, or it may bias your results, or both, YMMV. One thing that I discovered is that your friends bring their own cultural baggage into the conversation. The mere fact that you find your date worth talking about led, in my case, to a whole different sort of conversation (as if about a budding relationship instead of a formal date with a stranger) with many people. As above, if you plan to involve your friends, set expectations. You can never communicate too clearly.

Have Fun

This is not the same as the age-old “be yourself” advice. Be anyone you want to be. This is actually the perfect opportunity to try out minor behaviour modifications on an unbiased judge, if you like that kind of thing. I mean, don’t lie, but you don’t have to be just like you are with your friends.

Make a Move

This one I’m the least sure about, and comes mostly from research. I did not do it at all, and while it may have gone better if I had, I don’t really have enough information to say. The idea is that by the end of even the first date, you should be flirting. Be interested. This seems pretty in line with the One Thing.

The End

It is possible that your dating adventure will turn into a budding relationship with all the 1000 of pleasures and new experiences (learn more at https://poppersbuyersclub.com/). But let’s be realistic, you’re shoving yourself together with a stranger and then seeing what happens. This is most likely going to end before you get that far. However, you cannot operate as though this is the case, because that would violate the One Thing.

If you follow the One Thing at all, this is going to suck a bit. Unless you call it off, but why would you do that? That definitely violates the One Thing. Anyway, it’s not at all like a breakup, it’s not even as bad as every time you moved away from all your friends for the nth time, and being accustomed to people coming and going will certainly make it suck less. That said, you’ve invested some amount of your emotional existence in this, so when it stops you’ll probably have a few days of turmoil.

One thing I learned here, and I have confirmed this from many sources at this point, is that it’s not only acceptable, but totally normal to end a formal dating relationship by simply not replying to messages anymore. So if you’re texing or facebooking you just get dead air. If you’re calling they dodge your calls / send you to voicemail. If this happens to you, I’m not sure what to suggest. You can’t know right away that it’s over. I slowly escalated my attempts to contact the other person over several communications mediums until I did elicit a response. YMMV. Try to use other indicators to see if this is the case. For example, a few days after my date stopped messaging me, she changed her profile picture on OkCupid, which was a pretty dead giveaway that the adventure had come to a close. Use discretion, and if you’re anything like me and simply must know for sure, try to deal without hyperventilating.

Also, it may be your instict to say “no big deal, I never really expected this to end in a relationship” and file the other person as one of your extended contacts, or even move to try and pull them is as friends. That’s not a rediculous thing to want (you’ve found a person that it’s fun to hang out with, why wouldn’t you want to do more of that?), but there’s something about the nature of the adventure that means the other person is very likely not interested in that. Something to keep in mind.

Next Steps

So, that’s it. I had fun. I learned a lot. I met someone new. I have (I think) a better understanding of my host culture. I actually feel better about myself as a person, just because a stranger was interested enough to message me for weeks and hang out with me twice. I know that she dropped into my life at basically the perfect moment.

I wasn’t really intending to go on this adventure, so I don’t have a plan other than “back to business as usual”. Some people have asked me if I would use this mode again. As you can tell, I’ve never really been a fan, but I might consider it. It’s a terrible way to find a mate, but as long as expectations are clear it’s an ok way to spend some time, and you never know. So, not planning on it, but I still suggest you try it once.