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12 Oct 17:03

Traditional Knowledge and the Commons: The Open Movement, Listening, and Learning

by Mehtab Khan

CC licenses and public domain tools help individuals, organisations, and public institutions better disseminate digital resources and data, breaking down the typical barriers associated with traditional “all rights reserved” copyright. At the same time, CC licenses can’t do everything for everyone. First, the licenses operate in the sphere of copyright and similar rights. They do not attempt to license, say, personality rights, trademark, or patent rights. Also, the CC community recognizes that voluntary licensing schemes will never be a comprehensive solution for access to and reuse of knowledge and creativity around the world. This is one reason why CC works on international copyright reform issues, including the protection and expansion of user rights.

Another dimension of openness that could be better understood from the perspective of the “open” community is the sharing of cultural works related to indigenous communities. This has been talked about with terms such as “traditional knowledge”. Traditional knowledge consists of a wide range of skills, cultural works, and practices that have been sustained and developed over generations by indigenous communities around the world. These communities hold entitlement over this knowledge as well as responsibility for the preservation of their knowledge, but haven’t always had the autonomy to decide what can be done with their knowledge. International and national instruments have attempted to codify the value of traditional knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples, but the place of such knowledge within conventional intellectual property structures remains  deeply contested and uncertain.

These issues and more were brought up at the 2018 Creative Commons Global Summit as well, and has since started an important conversation within the CC community. I’m an attorney and doctoral candidate at UC-Berkeley Law, and over the summer I worked as a research fellow for Creative Commons to conduct an investigation into the current issues regarding traditional knowledge and its intersection with the open movement. A draft of the paper is complete, and we welcome your thoughts and suggestions to it.

In addition, we’ll be hosting a session on the topic on Thursday, September 27 at 3:00p at the 5th Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.

The tension between traditional knowledge protection and IP frameworks is exacerbated by digital technologies that have made the creation, dissemination, appropriation and remixing of knowledge and cultural artifacts easier than ever before. Indigenous communities’ preservation efforts and control over traditional knowledge sometimes also seem to conflict with the ‘open’ ecosystem, which consists of organizations, communities, and individuals supporting open and free culture, open licensing and access to knowledge. This is because traditional knowledge is often perceived as being part of the public domain by default, when it is not. 

There is a colonial history of this perception. The doctrine of discovery, which was used to legitimize and expand colonization, held the assumption that indigenous peoples were “uncivilized,” and hence could not own property like European settlers. Therefore, the land and knowledge of indigenous peoples were seen as part of the commons, open for ‘discovery’ and appropriation. Another oft repeated concern that traditional community representatives have voiced at global venues like WIPO is the misuse and appropriation of their knowledge. Appropriation refers not just to taking something of value to a community, but also reaping economic benefit from it. For these reasons, the public domain may be perceived as detrimental to the interests of indigenous communities. It’s important to recognize this because it affects how these communities might perceive open and free culture movements.

Copyright law in particular is based on a number of assumptions that are sometimes at odds with the protection of indigenous knowledge. For instance, sometimes it can be difficult to identify an author of a cultural work because “ownership” might vest in a community, is sometimes continually being invented, or might be passed from generation to generation. The categories of copyright law may not encompass the kinds of expressions found in traditional knowledge. For example, a dance could be manifested in several ways and may have a sequential unique style over several performances. One sequence might be removed and placed in a western song or performance. Not only would there be no protection for this disparate piece, any social or spiritual meaning that might be attached to that dance would also be lost. Furthermore, some traditions are conveyed and preserved orally, and this might not be ‘fixed’ in a tangible form to receive conventional copyright protection.

This perceived disconnect with copyright law in particular puts Creative Commons in a challenging position with regards to indigenous knowledge. On the one hand, Creative Commons strives to make knowledge and information as widely and freely accessible as possible. It seeks to empower individuals who want to define the terms of access to their works. On the other hand, Creative Commons must grapple with ownership structures of traditional knowledge, its position within copyright law, and the terms of access of different kinds of traditional knowledge online. The CC licenses were never meant to be applied to content that is not meant to be shared broadly — so to the extent such content is not intended to be shared broadly or if open licenses do not adequately meet the needs of these communities for reasons described above, then it makes sense not to expect acceptance or use of open licenses as currently available.

Despite these challenges, digital technologies also represent an opportunity to help resolve some of the tensions between IP structures and traditional knowledge and have been used by indigenous communities. Projects like Mukurtu and Local Contexts help preserve and label traditional works while giving indigenous communities autonomy to set the terms for sharing. Local Contexts also provides guidance to indigenous communities about controlling access and preservation of their knowledge. There are flexibilities within CC licenses that could be used in empowering ways by communities that want to make their works open. The conversation needs to involve more communities, policymakers and scholars and the Creative Commons team is exploring the possibilities of working with other projects and involving indigenous communities more closely to understand the role CC licenses could play in the protection and dissemination of traditional knowledge.

The post Traditional Knowledge and the Commons: The Open Movement, Listening, and Learning appeared first on Creative Commons.

26 Sep 18:23

Why For-Profit Academic Publishers Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank

by Jason Schmitt

If you’re not an academic or scientist, then you probably have no idea how off kilter research scholarship has become.  (more…)

26 Sep 18:13

This adhesive patch closes wounds without stitches

by Mark Frauenfelder

Zipstitch is a patch that closes wounds without stitches. It's available over the counter, but I suggest if you get a cut big enough to require this nifty gadget, you should probably go to the doctor as soon as you can.

17 Sep 19:24

Birtherism for everyone: Kansas woman told birth certificate can't be used for passport renewal

by Cory Doctorow

With nativism and xenophobia on the rise, Americans are increasingly required to "prove" that they are actually Americans: whether it's at a border checkpoint (far from any border), or in a government office. (more…)

17 Sep 17:04

Spiders blamed after broken siren played creepy nursery rhymes randomly at night to UK townsfolk

by Rob Beschizza

Floating in on the wind, yet again, the sound of It's Raining, It's Pouring being sung by a child on the creepiest siren in Britain. The Ipswich Star reports on what one local described as "something from a horror movie." I've embedded a recording made by one alarmed local at the top of this post so you know what they were hearing.

A tormented mother living in Bramford Road with her two young children has been woken on an almost nightly basis by a tinny, distant rendition of ‘It’s Raining, It’s Pouring’. She said the threatening undertone of the song had left her frightened and questioning whether she was imagining things. After months of torment, she finally reported the unusual complaint to Ipswich Borough Council.
The next time it happened, they scrambled workers to her address and she helped them track down the unnerving music to a loudspeaker installed at "an industrial premises on the neighbouring Farthing Road estate [business park]." The council subsequently issued a press statement, which follows.
“This is unique in our experience – it was difficult to believe a nursery rhyme would be playing in the middle of the night. “But we do take all complaints extremely seriously and asked the residents who contacted us to let us know when it was actually playing so we could investigate properly. “We took a call around midnight and immediately went to the Bramford Road area to find out more - we did hear the nursery rhyme playing from an industrial premises and it sounded very eerie at that time of night. We appreciate that people living nearby would find it quite spooky.”
The premises' operators blamed spiders.
“The sound is only supposed to act as a deterrent for opportunistic thieves that come onto our property, and it’s designed only to be heard by people on our private land. We are now aware of the problem - the motion sensors were being triggered by spiders crawling across the lenses of our cameras and it looks like we’ve had it turned up too loudly. We’ve spoken to the resident who brought it to our attention and adjusted it so this shouldn’t happen again.”
The BBC adds that it had gone on for months.
For several months she would hear the rhyme, which would go away only to come again another day. The woman, who did not wish to be named, said: "The first time I heard it it was the most terrifying thing ever, I went cold and felt sick, and thought 'what on earth was that?'"
14 Sep 19:25

This website lets you listen to pleasant noises while you work

by Mark Frauenfelder

Right now I'm listening to a mix of coffee shop chatter and tweeting birds. I'm using a website called A Soft Murmur, which lets you create an ambient mix of rain, thunder, waves, wind, fire, birds, crickets, coffee shop, singing bowl, and white noise. You can save your favorite mixes, too, or click a button for a random mix.

[via Nag on the Lake]

14 Sep 15:21

Today, Europe Lost The Internet. Now, We Fight Back.

by Cory Doctorow

Today, in a vote that split almost every major EU party, Members of the European Parliament adopted every terrible proposal in the new Copyright Directive and rejected every good one, setting the stage for mass, automated surveillance and arbitrary censorship of the internet: text messages like tweets and Facebook updates; photos; videos; audio; software code -- any and all media that can be copyrighted.

Three proposals passed the European Parliament, each of them catastrophic for free expression, privacy, and the arts:

1. Article 13: the Copyright Filters. All but the smallest platforms will have to defensively adopt copyright filters that examine everything you post and censor anything judged to be a copyright infringement.

2. Article 11: Linking to the news using more than one word from the article is prohibited unless you're using a service that bought a license from the news site you want to link to. News sites can charge anything they want for the right to quote them or refuse to sell altogether, effectively giving them the right to choose who can criticise them. Member states are permitted, but not required, to create exceptions and limitations to reduce the harm done by this new right.

3. Article 12a: No posting your own photos or videos of sports matches. Only the "organisers" of sports matches will have the right to publicly post any kind of record of the match. No posting your selfies, or short videos of exciting plays. You are the audience, your job is to sit where you're told, passively watch the game and go home.

At the same time, the EU rejected even the most modest proposals to make copyright suited to the twenty-first century:

1. No "freedom of panorama." When we take photos or videos in public spaces, we're apt to incidentally capture copyrighted works: from stock art in ads on the sides of buses to t-shirts worn by protestors, to building facades claimed by architects as their copyright. The EU rejected a proposal that would make it legal Europe-wide to photograph street scenes without worrying about infringing the copyright of objects in the background.

2. No "user-generated content" exemption, which would have made EU states carve out an exception to copyright for using excerpts from works for "criticism, review, illustration, caricature, parody or pastiche."

I've spent much of the summer talking to people who are delighted with this outcome, trying to figure out why they think this could possibly be good for them. Here's what I've discovered:

* They don't understand filters. They really don't.

The entertainment industry has convinced creators that there is a technology out there that can identify copyrighted works and prevent them from being shown without a proper license and that the only thing holding us back is the stubbornness of the platforms.

The reality is that filters primarily stop legitimate users (including creators) from doing legitimate things, while actual infringers find them relatively easy to get around.

Put it this way: if your occupation is figuring out how filters work and tinkering with getting around them, you can become skilled in the art. The filters used by the Chinese government to block images, for example, can be defeated by simple measures. Meanwhile, these filters that are bound to be thousands of times more effective than any copyright filter because they're doing a much more modest job with far more money and technical talent on hand.

But if you're a professional photographer, or just a regular person posting your own work, there's no time in your life to become a hardcore filter-warrior. When a filter mistakes your work for copyright infringement, you can't just bypass the filter with a trick from the copyright infringing underground: you have to send an appeal to the platform that blocked you, getting in line behind millions of other poor suckers in the same situation as you. Cross your fingers and hope that the overworked human reviewing the appeals decides that you're in the right.

Of course, the big entertainment and news companies aren't worried about this outcome: they have backchannels direct into the platforms, priority access to help-lines that will unstick their content when it gets stuck in a filter. Creators who align themselves with large entertainment corporations will be shielded from filters -- while independents (and the public) will have to fend for themselves.

* They grossly underestimate the importance of competition for improving their lot in life.

Building the filters the EU just mandated will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There are precious few companies in the world who have that kind of capital: the US-based tech giants, and the Chinese-based tech giants, and a few others, like Russia's VK.

The mandate to filter the Internet puts a floor on how small the pieces can be when antitrust regulators want to break up the big platforms: only the largest companies can afford to police the whole net for infringement, so the largest companies can't be made much smaller. The latest version of the Directive has exemptions for smaller companies, but they will have to stay small or constantly anticipate the day that they will have to take the leap to being copyright police. Today, the EU voted to increase the consolidation in the tech sector, and to make it vastly more difficult to function as an independent creator. We’re seeing two major industries, both with competitiveness problems, negotiate for a deal that works for them, but will decrease competition for the independent creator caught in the middle. What we needed were solutions to tackle the consolidation of both the tech and the creative industries: instead we got a compromise that works for them, but shuts out everyone else.

How did this terrible state of affairs come to pass?

It's not hard to understand, alas. The Internet has become a part of everything we do, and so every problem we have has some intersection with the Internet. For people who don't understand technology very well, there's a natural way to solve those problems: "fix the technology."

Arthur C Clarke famously said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Some technological accomplishments do seem like magic, and it's natural to witness these workaday miracles and assume that tech can do anything.

An inability to understand what tech can and can't do is the source of endless mischief: from the people who blithely assert that networked voting machines can be made secure enough to run a national election; to the officials who insist that we can make cryptography that stops crooks from breaking into our data, but allows the police to break into crooks' data; to the hand-waving insistence that a post-Brexit Irish border can be "solved" with some undefined technical fix.

Once a few powerful entertainment industry figures were persuaded that filtering at scale was possible and consequence-free, it became an article of faith, and when technologists (including a who's who of the world's top experts on the subject) say it's not possible, they're accused of mulish stubbornness and lack of vision, not a well-informed perspective on what is and isn't possible.

That's a familiar-enough pattern, but in the case of the EU's Copyright Directive, there were exacerbating factors. Tying a proposal for copyright filters to a proposal to transfer a few million euros from tech giants to newspaper proprietors guaranteed favorable coverage from the very press looking for a solution to its problems.

Finally, there's the problem that the Internet promotes a kind of tunnel vision in which we assume that the part of the net we interact with is the whole thing. The Internet handles trillions of articles of public communication every day: birthday wishes and messages of condolences, notices of upcoming parties and meetings, political campaigns and love notes. A tiny, sub-one-percent slice of those communications are the kind of copyright infringement that Article 13 seeks to address, but the advocates for Article 13 keep insisting that the "primary purpose" of the platforms is to convey copyrighted works of entertainment.

There's no doubt that people from the entertainment industry interact with a lot of entertainment works online, in the same way that the police see a lot of people using the Internet to plan crimes and fashionistas see a lot of people using the Internet to show off their outfits.

The Internet is more vast than any of us can know, but that doesn't mean we should be indifferent to all the other Internet users and the things they lose when we pursue our own narrow goals at the expense of the wider electronic world.

Today's Copyright Directive vote not only makes life harder for creators, handing a larger share of their incomes to Big Content and Big Tech -- it makes life harder for all of us. Yesterday, a policy specialist for a creator's union that I'm a member of told me that their job isn't to "protect people who want to quote Shakespeare" (who might be thwarted by bogus registration of his works in the copyright filters) -- it was to protect the interests of the photographers in the union whose work is being "ripped off." Not only did my union's support of this catastrophic proposal do no good for photographers -- it will also do enormous damage to anyone whose communications are caught in the crossfire. An error rate of even one percent will still mean tens of millions of acts of arbitrary censorship, every day.

So what is to be done?

Practically speaking, there are several more junctures where Europeans can influence their elected leaders on this issue.

* Immediately: the Directive will now go into "trilogues" -- secretive, closed-door meetings between representatives from national governments and the European Union; these will be hard to influence, but they will determine the final language put before the Parliament for the next vote (Difficulty: 10/10)

* Next spring: The European Parliament will vote on the language that comes out of the trilogues. It's unlikely that they'll be able to revise the text any further, so this will probably come to a vote on whether to pass the Directive itself. It's very difficult to defeat the Directive at this stage. = (Difficulty: 8/10)

* After that: 28 member states will have to debate and enact their own versions of the legislation. In many ways, it's going to be harder to influence 28 individual parliaments than it was to fix this at the EU level, but on the other hand, the parliamentarians in member states will be more responsive to individual Internet users, and victories in one country can be leveraged for others ("See, they got it right in Luxembourg, let's do the same”) (Difficulty: 7/10)

* Somewhere around there: Court challenges. Given the far-reaching nature of these proposals, the vested interests involved, and the unresolved questions about how to balance all the rights implicated, we can expect this to rise — eventually — to the European Court of Justice. Unfortunately, court challenges are slow and expensive. (Difficulty: 7/10)

In the meantime, there are upcoming EU elections, in which EU politicians will have to fight for their jobs. There aren't many places where a prospective Member of the European Parliament can win an election by boasting about expansions of copyright, but there are lots of potential electoral opponents who will be too happy to campaign on "Vote for me, my opponent just broke the Internet."

As we've seen with Net Neutrality in the USA, the movement to protect the free and open Internet has widespread popular support and can turn into a potential third rail for politicians.

Look, this was never going to be a fight we "won" once and for all -- the fight to keep the Internet free, fair and open is ongoing. For so long as people have:

a) problems; that

b) intersect with the Internet;

there will always be calls to break the Internet to solve them.

We suffered a crushing setback today, but it doesn't change the mission. To fight, and fight, and fight, to keep the Internet open and free and fair, to preserve it as a place where we can organise to fight the other fights that matter, about inequality and antitrust, race and gender, speech and democratic legitimacy.

If this vote had gone the other way, we'd still be fighting today. And tomorrow. And the day after.

The fight to preserve and restore the free, fair and open Internet is a fight you commit yourself to, not a fight that you win. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

Donate to EFF

Help Us Protect the Free, Fair, and Open Internet

14 Sep 15:01

President Trump falsely claims 3000 death toll in Puerto Rico is a lie

by Rob Beschizza

The Republican president speaks for the Republican Party.
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.... [twitter] ....This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico! [twitter]
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. The 2,975 count comes from a George Washington University study, published in July, which included people who died of thist, starvation, disease or neglect as a direct result of the storm. 64 (not "6 to 18") were reportedly killed outright by drowning, falling debris, in collapsing buildings, etc.
14 Sep 14:51

The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel

by Gord Doctorow

On the 170th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, British graphic novelist Martin Rowson has produced an illustrated adaptation. Apart from a few pages of prose, the whole work is presented in the style of a graphic novel.

The preface describes how the middle-aged Rowson became smitten by Marx and Engels' exciting prose when he was only 16. Aside from expressing his great admiration for Marx’s writing, as well as his own critical stance, he furnishes the reader with some historical backdrop to the completion of The Manifesto. Marx had been commissioned to write it by a socialist group in the summer of 1847, but, under pressure, succeeded in producing it at the beginning of 1848. Significantly, that was before the outbreak of revolutionary movements in Europe later on in 1848. Rowson goes on to explain that the initial publication failed to attract the attention of many people. Only after the events of the Paris Commune in 1871 did the pamphlet receive a wide audience and a publication renewal.

The illustrations create an atmospheric accompaniment to the Marx figures whose speaking balloons relay the text of The Manifesto. The graphics pair nicely with the text with dense images that impart the feeling of the clashes of historical forces (classes) or with the dramatic rendering of the first lines of The Manifesto in which a spectre appears, so Hamlet-like in two dark and foreboding images to haunt the reader’s mind. There is plenty of theatricality too: images of Marx interacting from a stage with a hostile audience (Rowson’s added flourishes added to enhance the exposition in a stimulating theatrical way).

As a literary work, the illustrations do justice to the marvelously compressed, yet sweeping, literary quality of Marx’s verbal imagery and present readers. Though I had read The Manifesto years ago, I found the adaptation to be both a refresher and newly insightful.

The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel [Martin Rowson/SelfMadeHero]

14 Sep 13:12

Friday essay: who owns a family's story? Why it's time to lift the Berndt field notes embargo

by Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University
Vincent Copley senior and Vincent Copley junior at Redbanks Conservation Park, Burra, in June, 2018. They are holding Ngadjuri book, with their grandfather and great-grandfather, Barney Waria, on the cover. Photo: C.J. Taylor, Flinders University.

Imagine your grandfather was interviewed about his life, over many hours, some 80 years ago. Everything he says is written down, enough to fill more than 20 notebooks.

You’ve heard that those notebooks hold stories of your grandparents and their grandparents. Stories they would tell as they sat around a fire in the winter, by a river in summer. There are stories about the sports they played, the food they ate, their spirituality, how they celebrated important events. Stories about their songs, dances, artworks. Stories of the events that shaped them, many of which play out even now.

Then you learn that the wife of the person who wrote down your grandfather’s stories has locked the notebooks away. You and your family are not allowed to read them.

This is how it is for a number of Aboriginal people today, among them 81-year-old Vincent (Vince) Copley senior, co-author of this article.

Between 1939 and 1944, Vince Copley’s grandfather, Ngadjuri man Barney Waria, provided information about his people and culture to anthropologist-in-training Ronald Berndt. When Berndt died in 1990, 45 years and an illustrious career later, he’d published only one significant article about Barney Waria and the Ngadjuri people.

Four years after his death, Berndt’s wife and fellow anthropologist Catherine Berndt died. Her will, written in 1993 and following her husband’s wishes, stipulated a 30-year embargo on a subset of their extensive collection of papers. This embargo included the Barney Waria notebooks. As it stands, the embargoed material - stored in the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia - will not be accessible until 2024.

Vince Copley hopes to see these notebooks before he dies. He would like to be able to read them with his adult children, to give them a fuller picture of their Ngadjuri ancestry. He hopes they may trigger his own memories of his father’s side of the family.

Barney Waria. Author provided.

Barney Waria was born in 1873 at Orroroo, on Ngadjuri Country in the mid-north of South Australia. He died in 1948. As far as is known, he was the last initiated Ngadjuri man. Vince’s father Frederick Warrior - the name was anglicised at some stage - was the eldest son of Barney. He died in an accident in 1938 when he was 30 and Vince was a baby.

Between 1936 and 1944, Barney Waria worked with three anthropologists: Norman Tindale, Charles Mountford, and Ronald Berndt. Berndt was in his early 20s when he met Waria for the first time, around 1939.

Important cultural knowledge

One of Berndt’s 35 books.

Over his lifetime, Berndt published 35 books and many articles. When he met Waria, however, he was just starting his anthropology studies. They met either at Berndt’s father’s house at Rose Park or at Light Square, in the Adelaide city centre, a gathering place for Aboriginal people from many different language groups.

In either 1942 or 1944, Berndt took the older Aboriginal man to visit the Aboriginal collection at the South Australian Museum. As they walked past the exhibits, Waria pointed out artefacts that were familiar. Berndt writes that at one point, Waria stopped and opened his arms wide as if to embrace the gallery of objects. Waria said:

It’s wonderful that we can look at all these things and know their meanings, wonderful to think of the power and the songs and the ritual associated with them, to think about all that has gone. But what they were lives only in the minds of a few of us!

It’s not clear what to make of Waria’s words, as he would have intended them. Lament? Pragmatic acceptance of a new reality? Something else?

What is clear, however, is that Waria was conscious that important Aboriginal cultural knowledge was disappearing. It is our view that he chose to work with anthropologists as one way of preserving that knowledge for his descendents. Much of Waria’s knowledge was recorded in Ronald Berndt’s field notes.

In the late 1950s, the Berndts moved to Perth, taking up senior roles at the University of Western Australia. In 1976 they founded an anthropology museum to hold their extensive collection of material. In 1992, after Ronald’s death, it was renamed the Berndt Museum.

Why an embargo?

Anthropologist John Stanton is the literary executor of Ronald and Catherine Berndt’s estate. Now retired, he was the couple’s protégé, and worked with them for many years. He became a curator of the Berndt Museum, and then director from 1980 to 2013. He remains on the Committee of the Professor Ronald M. and Dr Catherine Berndt Research Foundation.

Stanton says that neither Catherine nor Ronald Berndt trusted Australian governments to support Aboriginal interests. Thus the embargo on Berndt’s notes - placed during the time of the Mabo case and the eventual 1992 ruling that recognised native title - was a result of their concern that their material could be misused by a government.

In the pre-Mabo era, the embargo on Berndt’s field notes would have been viewed as a purely personal decision. It would not have crossed people’s minds to consult with Aboriginal people. Also, Ngadjuri people had been removed from their lands as a result of colonisation. At that time they were not widely recognised as an identifiable language group.

Today, universities actively pursue decolonised approaches. At the very least, they work in partnership with Indigenous people. Often, their work supports Indigenous self-determination. Within the academy, it is increasingly accepted that field notes should be available to the descendants of the fieldworker’s Indigenous teachers.

Stanton has confirmed that the notebooks containing Barney Waria’s interviews have been read by people outside the Berndt Museum on only two occasions. Both times, access was subject to South Australia Supreme Court writs. The first was during the controversy over the Hindmarsh Island Bridge which concerned the Ngarrindjeri people. The second was by an anthropologist from the South Australian Native Title Service in response to a Ngadjuri native title claim in 2011.

At present, native title claims are the only avenue for Aboriginal people to try to access the embargoed material. However, this is a flawed process. Families seek to find as many of the missing pieces of their traditional languages and cultures as they can. These cultural reasons tend to get lost in complicated and often combative legal processes.

Ronald Berndt may have decided it was best to avoid these confrontations by imposing the embargo. However, the descendants of the people whose lives and culture he documented have much more at stake than he did.

Unfairly withheld

Vince Copley contacted Stanton in November 2017 - a colleague emailed on his behalf - because he’d heard a rumour that the embargo had been lifted. Stanton emailed back saying he’d retired and a new associate director, Dr Vanessa Russ, was in charge. He acknowledged the difficulties for families, saying he was sorry that “we have been so hamstrung by Catherine Berndt’s will.”

Vincent Copley senior, Redbanks Conversation Park, Burra. June 2018. Photo: C.J. Taylor, Flinders University.

In recent email correspondence, Russ, an academic, artist and Ngarinyin/Gija woman from the Kimberley, has confirmed that the embargo continues. The university, she says, accepted the donations made by Berndt in their entirety, to secure the material for future generations, and has been working to conserve and share these collections. “Unfortunately this has included an embargo on the field notebooks. We acknowledge that we would therefore be breaking the law if we contravened the terms of the Will by providing access before 2024, but that this has caused some distress to Elders.”

The university, she says, is striving to ensure that future consultation will take into account all individuals and communities who through their heirs and ancestors provided information to the Berndts, “in order to find the best process and procedure for future research and teaching with this material post 2024.”

Our position is that the Berndts were not solely the owners of the intellectual property in the field notes. It was jointed owned by Aboriginal Elders, such as Barney Waria. Consequently, the field notes are being unfairly withheld from their descendants.

Recently, we published an article arguing that Berndt’s field notes are joint intellectual property. They could not have been produced by either Berndt or Waria by himself. Both men contributed to this intellectual soup. One shared his specialist knowledge. The other recorded this knowledge in a notebook. It is likely that Barney Waria’s knowledge was recorded verbatim in Berndt’s field notes.

Moreover, there is a further injustice behind the current situation, of which many Indigenous people are acutely aware. Academics achieve careers and financial security on the basis of Indigenous cultural knowledge. However, the Indigenous teachers who impart that specialist knowledge, and their descendants, receive meagre pickings.

Where to from here?

The question of who owns this sort of material is slowly being resolved in this country. However, for people like Vince Copley senior and his family, a solution to the Berndt embargo seems an impossibly long way off.

What reasonable expectations did Barney Waria have when he decided to talk to Berndt? It is likely that these expectations were based on his previous experiences with Norman Tindale and Charles Mountford. Their notebooks are readily available in libraries and museums.

The current situation undermines trust between Indigenous people and anthropologists. If the knowledge you impart to a researcher is likely to be kept from your descendants, why share it? The Berndt example demonstrates that intellectual property can be appropriated as soon as it is written down.

It is time that the University of Western Australia re-assessed the legal basis for the embargo. For Vince Copley and other descendants of the people who shared their specialist knowledge with Berndt - whose stories and culture are locked away - time is running out.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

13 Sep 11:44

Serena Williams is angry...and rightfully so

by (Samantha Moffett, Associate Editor)

Serena Williams felt she was trested unfairly in 2018's U.S. Open. A series of calls fines have sparked a debate among fans, players and tennis officials. PHOTO COURTESY OF EDWIN MARTINEZ

The discussion surrounding the potential double standard that female athletes face has prompted a firestorm of a debate among athletes, officials and fans since Saturday’s U.S. Open final match between 20-year-old Naomi Osaka and veteran Serena Williams.

When Williams was penalized during the final for breaking her racket and receiving “illegal hand gestures” in the form of coaching, she firmly disputed the umpire’s call, demanding an apology for being accused of cheating and calling him a “thief” for costing her points.

Williams was fined a total of $17,000 for three code violations by chair umpire Carlos Ramos. She lost the match in straight sets — 6-2 and 6-4 — to Japan’s Osaka. Williams later went on to call out the blatantly unfair treatment that women face in sports, explaining how an umpire has never taken a game from a male tennis player or claimed “verbal abuse” for exhibiting the same emotion.

Williams is right.

When British tennis player Andy Murray kicked a ball at an umpire’s head in 2016, he suffered no consequences and was even jokingly praised for his “football skills” by media outlets.

American tennis player Andy Roddick was called for a foot fault in 2010 and repeatedly harassed the lineswoman during the set. After the set, it was the lineswoman who was replaced even though she made the correct call.

Roddick who was never penalized.

Would Williams be treated the same way by officials if she exhibited that behavior? The answer is no, she would not and she was not treated equally at Saturday’s match.

The juxtaposition of these instances to Williams’ is glaring.

Tennis umpires have expressed their distaste with Williams’ behavior by announcing their potential boycott of her matches. The Guardian reported that umpires are also so outraged over the Women’s Tennis Association and the United States Tennis Association showing support for Williams that they are considering forming a union.

While these umpires do indeed have the right to disagree with Williams’ behavior, they are, again, showing a blatant disregard for the double standard shown on Saturday and throughout tennis’ history.

A political cartoon drawn by Mark Knight portrays Williams pitching a fit on the court and exaggerated her features to make her look overweight and like a child. Why is it that when female athletes show outrage for a call, they are labeled as disrespectful, childlike and hysterical, but when male athletes show outrage for a call, they are simply passionate?

The umpires who are threatening to boycott Williams’ matches should consider the sport’s history with an unfair double standard. Perhaps Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, can then too just be considered passionate.

13 Sep 11:38

The future is here today: you can't play Bach on Youtube because Sony says they own his compositions

by Cory Doctorow

James Rhodes, a pianist, performed a Bach composition for his Youtube channel, but it didn't stay up -- Youtube's Content ID system pulled it down and accused him of copyright infringement because Sony Music Global had claimed that they owned 47 seconds' worth of his personal performance of a song whose composer has been dead for 300 years. (more…)

13 Sep 11:36

Bernie Sanders' new bill will force companies to reimburse governments for low-paid employees' welfare costs

by Cory Doctorow

Bernie Sanders has introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (STOP BEZOS) Act, which will force any corporation with more than 500 employees to reimburse the government for any workers whose wages are so low that they end up on food stamps, national school lunch/breakfast programs, Section 8 housing or Medicaid. (more…)

13 Sep 11:33

'No one should be sleeping well tonight': WHO encourages fear of Ebola

by Jason Weisberger

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to fight off the worst Ebola outbreak in years. Butembo, a major regional hub of 1 million people, has now had a confirmed death.

The World Health Organization is worried, and recommends you worry too.

Via HuffPo:

The Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed its first Ebola death in the eastern city of Butembo, a trade hub with Uganda that is home to almost a million people. This first urban death, combined with ongoing violence in the northeastern outbreak area in DRC and some community resistance, is worrying experts that the slowing outbreak could still escalate.

Having already killed 87 people, this outbreak is close to becoming the eighth-largest Ebola outbreak in history. While officials have been pleased with the decreasing pace of cases and a successful vaccination and contact tracing campaign, this new case in an urban setting is worrisome, Peter Salama, the World Health Organization’s emergency response chief, told HuffPost.

“When you have an Ebola case confirmed in a city with 1 million people, no one should be sleeping well tonight around the world,” Salama said.

The patient traveled from the current outbreak hotspot, the town of Beni, 35 miles southwest, to Butembo after disregarding medical advice, Salama said. The patient died at a health facility there.

While WHO team members are on site and working to quickly trace and vaccinate those with whom the patient came into contact, the potential for further spread could “change the trajectory of the outbreak,” Salama said. Two more cases are suspected in the trading hub, the DRC’s Ministry of Health reported Wednesday. Butembo is known for being critical to import and export between DRC and East Africa, Reuters reported.

12 Sep 19:47

Academic publishing is a mess and it makes culture wars dumber

by Rob Beschizza

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal suspected that cultural studies lacked academic rigor. So he wrote an intentionally nonsensical paper, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, and submitted it for publication in the respected academic journal Social Text. It was accepted. Sokal exposed the hoax, the embarrassed academics made their excuses, and the paper was retracted. The imbroglio was posed largely as a story of flimflam and imposture in postmodernism. This year, mathematician Theodore P. Hill co-wrote a paper about how the variability of traits differ between men and women. Uh-oh! It was accepted for publication by the respected academic journal The New York Journal of Mathematics. But within days it was gone, leading to accusations that scientific ideas were being suppressed. Upon close reading, though, the paper turned out to be, as Fields Medalist Tim Gowers put it, "a bad mistake." The imbroglio is still being posed largely as a story of academic censorship. By The Feminists. And just last month, researcher Lisa Littman authored a paper suggesting a social contagion model of transgender identification, replete with a DSM-ready diagnosis named "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria." Once more eyeballs (not least those of angry trans activists) fell upon it, serious methodological flaws were noted and both Littman's university and the publishing journal, PLOS ONE, began cringing at what they had put their names to. Censorship, etc. Sokal was a scientist deliberately trolling the pompous appropriation of scientific terminology by sociologists. In these new papers, the authors sincerely believe in their work, but face accusations of shoddiness and inappropriate abstraction. Sokal was presented as evidence of academic fraudulence; the recent examples as evidence of academic censorship. But these dynamics are shared: 1. Dubious work is accepted for publication in an academic journal. 2. It is publicly debunked, making fools of the institutions involved. 3. Retractions and other defensive PR exercises generate the bulk of media attention. There are two things about this "Sokal model" of media attention that stand out to me, lowly humanities graduate that I am: First, beware excuses from academic publishers and institutions. Whatever else it might accomplish, it evades discussion of the sausage factory of scientific publication, especially the failure of peer review and the fact no-one gets any sleep. It's worth thinking about how culture war debates might obscure the systematic flaws of process that aggravate them. Conversely, beware any story about culture war stuff that rides in on conveniently angry tide of academic conspiracy. You're promised steak, but you're getting cake. Second, the scientific certitude of nonexpert journalists is taking on an uncanny air. It's a permission slip to glibly turn science stories in culture stories without addressing the science. It even suggests a game! Can you get an internet knowitall to support any old horseshit so long as it serves their ideological vanity? Per Sokal that's a lefty postmodern trap, but we are all Post-Truth now. Just put your horseshit somewhere you know it'll get removed, wait for the censorship to happen, then tell someone about it. QED. HARD MODE: Skeptics
NORMAL MODE: Libertarians
EASY MODE: "Classical liberals"
STORY MODE: Target identifies or is identified as part of the Intellectual Dark Web. Look, I know we've all got our stock stories and Ctrl-V at the ready. I'm just saying that academic publishing is a mess and it makes culture wars dumber.
12 Sep 19:43

California Farm Bureau sells out farmers, hands John Deere a monopoly over tractor repair

by Cory Doctorow

Farmers are the vanguard of the Right to Repair movement; accustomed as they are to fixing their own equipment (you can't wait for a repair tech when the tractor doesn't work -- as the saying goes, you have to make hay while the sun shines), they were outraged when companies like John Deere started using DRM to pick their pockets, creating tractors whose engines wouldn't recognize a new part until they paid a tech a few hundred dollars to drive out in a day or two and key an unlock code into the tractor's keyboard. (more…)

12 Sep 19:42

Trump diverts millions from FEMA for ICE detentions, calls Puerto Rico "unsung success"

by Gina Loukareas

As the Carolinas prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 4 storm, Senator Jeff Merkley appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show with a document that shows $10,000,000 was diverted from FEMA's budget to pay for ICE detention centers. [youtube] It's believed the transfer of funds took place at the beginning of summer. You know, right before the start of hurricane season. And if that's not enough to make your blood boil, this video of Trump calling his administration's handling of Puerto Rico during and after Hurricane Maria "an incredible, unsung success" should do the trick. [youtube] I'm sure Carolinians are relieved the President of the United States considers 3000 dead Americans an incredible, unsung success. No worries, Outer Banks! He'll be there to throw paper towels at you soon. Trump admin took millions from FEMA for ICE detentions [MSNBC]
12 Sep 19:41

Europe just voted to wreck the internet, spying on everything and censoring vast swathes of our communications

by Cory Doctorow

Lobbyists for "creators" threw their lot in with the giant entertainment companies and the newspaper proprietors and managed to pass the new EU Copyright Directive by a hair's-breadth this morning, in an act of colossal malpractice to harm to working artists will only be exceeded by the harm to everyone who uses the internet for everything else. (more…)

11 Sep 11:26


05 Sep 17:47

Lesson from Brazil: Museums are not forever

by Chip Colwell, Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver
Brazil's gutted National Museum now resembles an archaeological ruin itself. AP Photo/Mario Lobao

We now know what history going up in flames looks like.

On Sept. 2, the National Museum of Brazil lit up Rio de Janeiro’s night sky. Perhaps started by an errant paper hot air balloon landing on the roof or a short circuit in a laboratory, the fire gutted the historic 200-year-old building. Likely gone are a collection of resplendent indigenous ceremonial robes, the first dinosaur found in South America, Portuguese royal furniture, ancient Egyptian mummies, a vast library and so much more. In six hours, an estimated 18 million artifacts were turned to smoke and ash.

The images of the hollowed-out museum are a living nightmare for a curator like me. I know that most museum collections are truly irreplaceable. But, for me, the fire is also a vital reminder that the greatest dangers to humanity’s collective heritage are not natural disasters but human ones.

There’s an important lesson for all of us in the fire’s embers.

White walls and imposing columns signal that this place is pristine and eternal. Tamara Menzi/Unsplash, CC BY

The perils museums face

A museum presents itself as permanent and timeless. It’s why so many sport Greek columns, sterile white walls and clean objects under clear glass. The message is that the museum and its treasures should exist beyond the fleeting moment of our visit – connecting past, present and future. Whether displaying dinosaurs or dodos, art or archaeology, the museum is our bank vault for the world’s natural wonders and human achievements. The museum aspires to be a fortress against time.

The reality is that time is inexorable and relentless. Museums are locked in a constant struggle against decay and an almost absurdly wide-ranging array of natural and human threats. There’s even a formal list of the evil-sounding “agents of deterioration” that museums use to evaluate risks to their collections, ranging from bugs to temperature to water to fire.

Sometimes looted pieces, such as the ‘Warka Mask,’ a 3100 B.C. Sumerian artifact taken from Iraq’s National Museum as Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, are recovered. Oftentimes they are not. AP Photo/Samir Mezban

These risks are constantly evolving. War might turn a museum overnight into a looter’s paradise, as in the case of the National Museum of Iraq. Market forces or colonial revenge may spur thieves to steal artifacts, as recently seen with a pandemic of thefts of Chinese art. Some are even adding climate change to the menaces facing collections, such as the Bass Museum along Miami Beach, as it prepares for rising sea levels.

For museum curators, a terrifying range of hazards could devastate the treasures we are appointed to safeguard. Tragically, fire has long been at the top of the list. As early as 1865, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. – “America’s attic,” as it is famously known – caught aflame, resulting in what was then called a “national calamity.” In more recent years, infernos destroyed Madagascar’s royal palace museum, Delhi’s natural history museum and a history museum in Washington state, which housed rare artifacts from the late musician Kurt Cobain.

Despite the known risk of fire, reports suggest that Brazil’s National Museum was woefully unprepared. It apparently lacked a fire suppression system. Nearby fire hydrants went dry.

The spark that started the fire was perhaps an unforeseen event, but the conflagration that followed was not.

Holding off decay can rely on expensive technical resources. AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

Collections don’t care for themselves

Most hazards that endanger museums can be mitigated. Conservation programs can hunt artifact-eating bugs, storage rooms can control temperature and humidity, security systems can prevent burglary and more. But implementing such protections requires serious resources.

By all accounts, this is where Brazil’s caretakers failed. As a national museum, Brazil’s elected officials were responsible for directing the appropriate funds to the museum. Instead, they underfunded the museum and allowed it to fall into disrepair. With the proper buildings and equipment, Brazil’s museum fire would likely not have been so disastrous.

Such indifference is not limited to Brazil. For example, a 2016 report found that Canada’s six national museums are underfunded by about US$60 million each year. In the United States, President Trump’s 2019 fiscal year budget sought to entirely eliminate three vital federal agencies – the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts and Institute of Museum and Library Services – that preserve much of the country’s cultural heritage in museums. Even before Trump, all of these programs have had relatively stagnant funding for years.

Walls alone can’t protect what’s inside. Scott Webb/Unsplash, CC BY

From Brazil, those holding the purse strings on citizens’ behalf must learn that museums are not forever. Collections are never permanently safe. They require focused investments and proactive stewardship to ensure their survival long into the future. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before the next fire.

The Conversation

Chip Colwell has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is participating on projects funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He is also a senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

04 Sep 19:47

Victory! California Passes Net Neutrality Bill

by Katharine Trendacosta

California’s net neutrality bill, S.B. 822 has received a majority of votes in the Senate and is heading to the governor’s desk. In this fight, ISPs with millions of dollars to spend lost to the voice of the majority of Americans who support net neutrality. This is a victory that can be replicated.

ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast hated this bill. S.B. 822 bans blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, classic ways that companies have violated net neutrality principles. It also incorporates much of what the FCC learned and incorporated into the 2015 Open Internet Order, preventing new assaults on the free and open Internet. This includes making sure companies can’t circumvent net neutrality at the point of interconnection within the state of California. It also prevents companies from using zero rating—the practice of not counting certain apps or services against a data limit—in a discriminatory way. That is to say that, say, there could be a plan where all media streaming services were zero-rated, but not one where just one was. One that had either paid for the privilege or one owned by the service provider. In that respect, it’s a practice much like discriminatory paid prioritization, where ISPs create fast lanes for those who can pay or for other companies they own.

ISPs and their surrogates waged a war of misinformation on this bill. They argued that net neutrality made it impossible to invest in expanding and upgrading their service, even though they make plenty of money. Lobbying groups sent out robocalls that didn’t mention net neutrality—which remains overwhelmingly popular—merely mentioned the bill’s number and claimed, with no evidence, that it would force ISPs to raise their prices by $30. And they argued against the zero-rating provision when we know those practices disproportionately affect lower-income consumers [pdf].

There was a brief moment in this fight when it looked like the ISPs had won. Amendments offered in the Assembly Committee on Communication and Conveyance after the bill had passed the California Senate mostly intact gutted the bill. But you made your voices heard again and again until the bill’s strength was restored and we turned opponents into supporters in the legislature.

In the middle of all of this, the story broke that Verizon had throttled the service of a fire department in California during a wildfire. During the largest wildfire in California history, the Santa Clara fire department found that its “unlimited” data plan was being throttled by Verizon and, when contacted, the ISP told the fire department they needed to pay more for a better plan. Under the 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC would have been able to investigate Verizon’s actions. But since that order’s been repealed, Verizon might escape meaningful punishment for its actions.

The story underscored the importance of FCC oversight and its public safety implications. On August 30, S.B. 822 passed the California Assembly and then, on August 31, it received enough Senate votes to continue to the governor. With the governor’s signature, California will have passed a model net neutrality bill.

California’s fight is a microcosm of the nation’s. Net neutrality is popular across the country. The same large ISPs that led the fight against it in California are the ones that serve the rest of the country, a majority of which don’t have a choice of provider. The arguments that they made in California are the same ones they made to the FCC to get the Open Internet Order repealed. The only thing preventing what happened to California’s firefighters from happening elsewhere is Verizon saying it won’t.

We need to net neutrality protections on as many levels as we can get them. And Congress can still vote to restore the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. In fact, the Senate already did. So contact your member of the House of Representatives and tell them to vote for the Congressional Review Act and save national net neutrality protections. Californians, tell Gov. Jerry Brown to sign S.B. 822.

Take Action

tell the governor to sign the california net neutrality bill

04 Sep 19:11

ALA files amicus brief in support of net neutrality protections

by Larra Clark

The American Library Association this week argued in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) strong, enforceable rules to protect and preserve the open internet with an amici filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“The FCC made an ill-considered decision to roll back vital net neutrality protections in December 2017, and it will now have to defend its arbitrary move in court,” said American Library Association (ALA) President Loida Garcia-Febo. “Network neutrality is essential to ensuring open and nondiscriminatory access to information for all, and we have long been clear that preserving strong protections is a vital concern for our nation’s libraries. By rolling back court-affirmed and broadly supported net neutrality protections, the FCC has enabled commercial interests at the expense of the public, which depends on the internet as its primary means of information gathering, learning and communication. We will continue to fight the FCC’s decision, and we have filed as a friend of the court in support of strong, enforceable net neutrality protections.”

The American Library Association, along with other network neutrality allies also filing legal briefs, joined the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and higher education organizations including the American Council on Education and EDUCAUSE to file in support of petitioners in the case of Mozilla Corporation v. Federal Communications Commission and United States of America. ALA and the other library and higher education organizations focused their filing on how the FCC ignored the impacts on libraries and institutions of higher learning in its decision to eliminate the 2015 Open Internet rules. In its rush to judgment, the FCC ignored the impacts on libraries and institutions of higher learning that these organizations detailed and submitted into the record. The group of organizations filing in support of petitioners seeks to demonstrate to the Court that the FCC’s action will “imperil the internet’s continued operation as a reliable platform for research, learning and information sharing, and that the FCC’s decision should be reversed as arbitrary and capricious.”

Oral arguments are not yet scheduled.

The post ALA files amicus brief in support of net neutrality protections appeared first on District Dispatch.

04 Sep 18:26

Stop working on your commute – it doesn't benefit anyone

by David Spencer, Professor of Economics and Political Economy, University of Leeds
Just stop. Shutterstock

Our journey to and from the office has been taken over by work. Rather than reading a book, catching up with the news, or just relaxing, our commute time is now increasingly spent reading and replying to work-related emails. The transport we use to get to and from our jobs has become another venue for work.

The sad thing is that we consent to this extra work, despite it not being remunerated. Hours spent commuting are unpaid – they add nothing to our bank balances, though they save our employers the expense of higher wages.

The extension of work into commute time reflects the presence of an intrusive and pernicious “always-on” culture. It reflects an environment where we are enslaved to work, even when not physically in the office. Our busyness, however, can only come at the expense of the quality of our lives and our health. We must fight to resist it.

Work-life imbalance

Research shows how workers fit work into commute time, in part, to ease the burden of work. Answering emails on route to work can help to save time once you’re at work. Equally email can be answered on the way home from work to ease the pressure of work during the next working day. Work can also be done on the move that could not be finished at work.

But here “savings” of time and effort are likely to be illusory. Employers are not going to cut email traffic just because workers are replying to emails on the way to and from work. To the contrary the incentive is for employers to encourage email traffic outside of regular hours in order to exploit the free work of workers.

Work “saved” during commute time, in this case, may translate into more work during paid work time. Workers again may be in the position of doing more work, for no extra pay. Out-of-hours working implies that work cannot be fitted into paid hours. It suggests that workers are overworked (and underpaid) for the work they do.

Always-on culture

New technology enables us to connect with our work, beyond normal hours. Laptops and iPhones mean we have instant access to our work and workplaces. Wifi on trains and buses has helped to turn commuting into work time. But technology itself does not explain why work is performed outside of regular hours. For that we need to look at organisational culture.

Organisations increasingly demand that their employees give their bodies and lives to work. Staying late at work is a badge of honour. Presenteeism – the act of being present at work for longer than is required – is rife in workplaces and reflects on the culture of overwork that is endemic in modern society.

Staying late has become a badge of honour in some companies. Shutterstock

Working during commute time is simply an extension of the same culture. It demonstrates the way work has taken over our lives. We find time to work even when not at work because we are exposed to a culture that venerates hard work.

Few benefits

Yet, all this extra work seems to bring few economic benefits. Productivity remains low in the UK despite workers working all hours. Commuters are no more productive for answering emails on the go. Indeed productivity is likely to be lower due to the stressed out and exhausting nature of long commute and work schedules.

Research continues to show the negative health effects of long hours of work. By working more we suffer ill-health, physical as well as mental. We also neglect our families, friends and communities. And we lose the ability to think and act beyond the roles we fill as workers.

Work may now be a normal part of commuting time but its performance imposes high costs on us and society more generally. In a rational world, we would move to ban out-of-hours email, not just to protect free time, but also to safeguard health. Beyond this we would look to challenge the hegemony of work and promote ways of living that are less work-centred. Cutting work hours would be the only sane way of restoring any semblance of balance between jobs and life.

The Conversation

David Spencer has previously received funding from ESRC, EPSRC, and FP7

04 Sep 18:05

Could Andrew Gillum be the next governor of Florida?

by Sharon Austin, Professor of Political Science and Director of the African American Studies Program, University of Florida
Andrew Gillum with wife R. Jai Gillum addresses supporters after winning the Democrat primary for governor. AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum electrified Democrats with his surprising victory in the Florida’s Democratic primary – but will he go on to win in the general election?

Come November, voters will choose between Gillum and Trump-endorsed candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, who represents Florida’s Sixth Congressional District, won his nomination by a significant margin. Both men are 39 years old, politically experienced Florida natives – perhaps the only two similarities they share.

After trailing in the polls for weeks before the election, Gillum, who spent US$6.5 million in the primary, defeated three opponents who each spent more than $100 million in their campaigns. Gillum, the only candidate who was not a millionaire, received $650,000 in last-minute contributions from donors such as Tom Steyer and George Soros.

He now joins Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Maryland’s Ben Jealous – two other young African-Americans with strong chances of winning their state’s gubernatorial elections. Each won their Democratic primaries because of the strong backing from black voters. But because none of them could have won with the black vote alone, their campaigns emphasized issues voters of all races were concerned with, like health care, and education and jobs. All received significant backing in some predominantly white communities.

Their victories are significant and rare because only four African-Americans have ever served as governors in our nation’s history – but winning during the general election won’t be an easy task.

An uphill battle?

Gillum in particular is competing in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in 20 years. True, former President Barack Obama won Florida twice, but it was by close margins – 3.8 percent in 2008 and 0.9 percent in 2012. Then, President Trump again put Florida in the red category in 2016 by defeating Hillary Clinton by a mere 0.8 percent. However, as a professor of political science and African-American studies, I believe the unpredictable outcomes in recent national elections – as well as Florida’s tendency to swing from red to blue – should encourage Gillum.

So how can Gillum win? He’ll need a large turnout among his base of minority voters and progressives. He’ll also need to expand his appeal among moderate Democrats and to seek crossover support from Republicans who are dissatisfied with President Trump. In the primary, he won only 18 of the state’s 67 counties. Some of these included cities and towns with larger minority populations, but others were rural or suburban predominantly white counties – like Clay, Escambia and Hamilton. Gillum also did well in South Florida counties like Broward, Hendry, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Unfortunately for Andrew Gillum, he won’t be running against Ron DeSantis alone. He’s also be running against Donald Trump.

DeSantis is one of Trump’s most loyal allies. Hours after Gillum won the primary, Trump referred to him as “[ DeSantis’s] biggest dream … a failed socialist mayor.”

Problems at home

A more troublesome dilemma for Gillum concerns Tallahassee’s problems.

Three years after he entered office, in June 2017, the FBI issued a subpoena of city records. Although Gillum is reportedly not the focus of their corruption investigation, the investigation allows the DeSantis campaign to accuse him of being untrustworthy regardless of the outcome.

Tallahassee also has the highest crime rate in Florida, even though crime has actually decreased since Gillum began his term in 2014.

On the positive side, Gillum’s progressive agenda and endorsement from Bernie Sanders may appeal to younger voters. During the primary, the Gillum campaign emphasized the mobilization of African-Americans and younger voters. Even before he began his gubernatorial campaign, Gillum carried out several efforts to mobilize young voters in support of progressive causes. About a week after a February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in the deaths of 17 students and educators in Parkland, Florida, Gillum led thousands of gun control advocates in a march at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He also opposes Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground Law.”

Race as the ‘elephant in the room’

Soon after Gillum’s primary victory, the issue of race surfaced. In a television interview, DeSantis said, “You know, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views and he’s a charismatic candidate.” He then said, “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That is not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

Immediately, a debate surfaced about racialized rhetoric. DeSantis later argued that he had no racial intent. But, DeSantis has taken heat before. He referred to Puerto Rican candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a “girl of whatever she is” after she won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

He also was criticized by Democrats – and praised by Republicans – because of a controversial campaign ad that featured him showing his young daughter how to “build the wall” and reading Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” to his infant son.

Regardless of the outcome, this will be a campaign that won’t soon be forgotten in Florida.

The Conversation

Sharon Austin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

04 Sep 18:00

FactCheck: have the Trump tax cuts led to lower unemployment and higher wages?

by Fabrizio Carmignani, Professor, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

The evidence on the ground is very clear. The Trump tax cuts have led to stronger investment, stronger growth, lower unemployment rate and higher wages.

– Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, interview on RN Breakfast, August 13, 2018

After two years of debate and months of intense negotiation, the government’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25% for companies with turnover of more than A$50 million was voted down in the Senate.

But while the government’s attempts to pass tax cuts in Australia were not fruitful, tax reform remains a significant international issue.

In arguing for a tax reduction for big business, Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann pointed to economic outcomes in the United States, where corporate tax rates were cut from 35% to 21% in January this year.

“If you look at the economic data in the US in the second quarter, of course post the Trump tax cuts, the US is recording in excess of 4% growth on an annualised basis, the unemployment rate now has a ‘three’ in front of it, and wages growth is the strongest it’s been in a very long time,” Cormann said.

“Massive, massive capital investment has been returned to the United States.”

Is that right? And if yes, are the tax cuts to thank? Let’s take a closer look.

Checking the source

In response to The Conversation’s request for sources and comment, a spokesperson for Cormann provided GDP and capital investment data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, employment data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Bloomberg article, and a January 2018 World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund.

You can read the full response from Cormann’s office here.


Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann’s statement that corporate tax cuts in the US had “led to stronger investment, stronger growth, lower unemployment rate and higher wages” is not supported by evidence.

Cormann pointed to US economic data from the second quarter of 2018 (shortly after the US corporate tax cuts were enacted) to support his statement.

Cormann correctly quoted the figures about GDP growth and the unemployment rate. His statement on wage growth is debatable, and there are qualifications to be made about his interpretation of the capital investment data.

But the simple observation that some US economic indicators improved in the second quarter of 2018 does not imply that those improvements were caused by the tax cuts.

Even if causation could be established, one quarter of data tells us very little about the effect of tax reform. It takes time for companies and workers to adjust to changed taxation environments. These adjustments happen progressively over time, and this can lead to significant differences in the short term and long term responses.

It’s worth noting that the improvement in economic conditions in the US started in mid-2016, around 18 months before the tax reform.

The fundamental issues with the claim

Can we really look to US economic data from the second quarter of 2018 to support (or for that matter, reject) the argument that corporate tax cuts would benefit Australia?

My answer is no, for two reasons.

There is not evidence of causation

The simple observation that some US economic indicators improved in the second quarter of 2018 (after the introduction of the corporate tax cuts) does not imply that those improvements were caused by the tax cuts.

Several other factors will determine economic dynamics in any given quarter. A sophisticated statistical analysis based on a longer string of data after the second quarter of 2018 would be needed to determine the causal contribution of corporate tax cuts.

The assessment of causality is further complicated by the fact that there is a lag effect of corporate tax cuts on the economy.

It takes time for companies and workers to adjust to changed taxation environments. These adjustments happen progressively over time, and this can lead to significant differences in the short term and long term responses.

It’s also important to note that the improvement in US economic conditions started in mid-2016, around 18 months before the tax reform.

One quarter of data is not enough

Even if we neglected the causality issue, data from the second quarter of 2018 only gives us a limited idea of the very short term effects of the corporate tax cuts.

When it comes to tax reform, long term effects are what really matters. The important difference between short term and long term effects is evident from the preliminary economic projections published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in August 2018.

According to the authors of the IMF working paper, the US corporate tax cuts are projected to have a modest impact on long term growth, but will also cause an increase in the US federal debt to GDP ratio by approximately five percentage points by 2023.

Therefore, the corporate tax cuts may, in the end, fail to sustain long term growth, and make it harder to reduce government deficits and debt.

Rather than focusing on what happened in the second quarter of 2018 in the US, those debating corporate tax cuts should look at the economic theory and evidence drawn from countries where tax reforms have been implemented for a longer period of time (for example, Canada and Germany).

In general, this body of research does not provide any solid theoretical or empirical evidence backing the argument that corporate tax cuts will lead to a more prosperous economy.

A closer look at the economic figures

As outlined above, we cannot say that the Trump tax cuts “led to” the economic outcomes quoted by Cormann. But we can take a look at the numbers, for interest’s sake.

Cormann pointed to four macroeconomic benchmarks:

US GDP growth

Cormann said the US is “recording in excess of 4% growth on an annualised basis”.

Based on GDP data from US Bureau of Economic Analysis, and with the growth rate calculated as annualised change over the previous quarter, Cormann was correct: GDP growth hit 4.1% in the second quarter of 2018.

The GDP growth rate can also be calculated as the change compared to the same quarter of the previous year.

On that measure, the growth rate was 2.8%, compared to 2.1% in the second quarter of 2017, following a steady increase from 1.3% in the second quarter of 2016.

US unemployment rate

In July 2018, the US unemployment rate was 3.9%, as Cormann correctly stated.

The chart below shows both the employment rate at the end of each quarter (for example, June 2018 for the second quarter of 2018) and the average rate across the three months in each quarter.

US wages growth

To support his statement about US wages growth, Cormann pointed to a Bloomberg article which drew on data from the US Bureau of Labour and Statistics Employment Cost Index. In the second quarter of 2018, this particular index did record its highest growth since mid-2008.

However, measures of “wages” differ depending on which parts of employees’ salaries are included, and which are excluded.

Another, and perhaps more useful, definition of wages is employees’ average hourly earnings, also reported in the table.

The picture emerging from this measure quite different. These figures show that employees’ average hourly earnings actually fell in the year to the second quarter of 2018.

This doesn’t support the conclusion that wage growth in the second quarter of 2018 was the “strongest it’s been in a very long time”.

US capital investment

We can measure capital investment by looking at Nonresidential Gross Private Domestic Investment data, sourced from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. These figures show a pick up in investment in the first and, to a lesser extent, second quarters of 2018.

These figures are not, however, necessarily evidence of “massive capital investment” being “returned” to the US, as Cormann stated.

The figures Cormann quoted in his response to The Conversation measure capital expenditure on commercial real estate, factories, tools and machineries in the US – not where the investment comes from.

The term “nonresidential” doesn’t refer to foreign investment, but to investments in commercial (rather than residential) assets.

The chart below, based on data from US Bureau of Economic analysis, shows there was an increase in capital investment in the first quarter of 2018 (when the tax cuts were implemented).

Again, this follows a trend of increases in capital investment, with peaks and troughs, since the first quarter of 2016.

The continuation of an existing trend

Overall, the data paint a rather favourable picture for the US in the second quarter of 2018.

However, it also seems that these macroeconomic indicators began to improve in mid-2016. This is particularly the case for GDP growth and unemployment.

Therefore, the positive outlook for the US in the second quarter seems to be the continuation of a positive cyclical phase that started before the enactment of the corporate tax cuts. – Fabrizio Carmignani

Blind review

I concur with the verdict.

Senator Cormann’s assertion that the growth in business investment and wages and the decline in unemployment observed in the US over the first half of this year can be attributed, either wholly or in part, to the Trump administration’s corporate tax cuts is not supported by the evidence.

As this FactCheck points out, all of these trends were under way well before the corporate tax cuts took effect, and one or two quarters worth of data is not sufficient to establish that the tax cuts have made any significant or sustained change to those trends.

I disagree that average hourly earnings is a ‘better’ measure of US wages growth than the employment cost index (for the same reasons that most Australian economists regard the ABS wage price index as a better measure of Australian wages growth than average weekly earnings).

But that doesn’t undermine the conclusion that the gradual upward trend in US wages growth was well established before the Trump administration’s corporate tax cuts came into effect, and owes far more to the gradual tightening in the US labour market (which has been underway for a long time before those tax cuts came into effect) than it does to those tax cuts.

Indeed, over the first two quarters of 2018, the employment cost index rose by just 0.1 of a percentage point more than it did over the first two quarters of 2017, which is hardly compelling evidence of a significant impact of the corporate tax cuts.

It is worth noting that one-fifth of the 21% annualised rate of growth in US real private non-residential fixed investment over the first half of this year was due to a 156% (annualised) increase in investment in “mining exploration, shafts and wells”.

This category that accounts for less than 4% of the level of private non-residential fixed investment, and the spurt in this category of business investment would have owed far more to the rise in oil prices since the middle of last year than it would have to the cut in corporate tax rates.

Finally, it is also worth noting that the one component of the Trump administration’s corporate tax reforms which the IMF and others have acknowledged would likely have some temporary positive impact on business investment - the immediate expensing for tax purposes of capital expenditures incurred before 2023 (what we in Australia call an “instant asset write off”) - isn’t part of the measures which Senator Cormann had been asking the Senate to pass. –Saul Eslake

The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit was the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

Have you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

The Conversation

Fabrizio Carmignani has received funding from the Australian Research Council for a project on the estimation of the piecewise continuous linear model and its macroeconomic applications.

Saul Eslake does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

04 Sep 17:56

Want to solve the world's problems? Try working together across disciplines

by Jonathan M Adler, Associate Professor of Psychology, Olin College of Engineering
Collaboration across disciplines is key to solving the world's toughest problems, researchers argue. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Labor Day is our New Year’s Eve. Rather than vowing to lose weight or spend less time on our phones, as college professors we head into the new school year with a different kind of resolution: to inspire and prepare our students to become agents of positive change.

The world’s problems certainly didn’t take a break this summer, and we know that successfully addressing them depends on a mindset much broader than any one discipline can offer. Our strategy is to cultivate a way of thinking that blends insights from multiple perspectives.

As a psychologist, an anthropologist and an historian who teach at an engineering college, happily, we see examples of this kind of integration all around us.


Global climate change may be the biggest challenge facing humanity, and it is a problem that illustrates the world-changing implications of interdisciplinary problem-solving. In an analysis of the economic impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, experts at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company identified a spectrum of strategies and their associated costs. Options like converting to nuclear energy, shifting to electric vehicles, and retrofitting coal and gas plants all have great potential, but we can produce the most benefits for the lowest cost by adopting strategies such as switching homes to energy efficient lighting and better insulating our residences and workplaces. Compared to changing the national energy supply chain, these changes aren’t highly technical. They are matters of changing human beliefs and behavior.

An article published in Science last year diagnosed the real problem of climate change in this way: “Experiencing the self as separate from nature is the foundation of humanity’s damaged relationship to planetary resources.” The only real solution to the climate problems facing our planet is to change mindsets, an approach that requires a complex understanding of all the ways that individuals and institutions interact with the natural world. In other words, students should not only study the social sciences or the natural sciences, but also learn how the insights gained from both can be combined to be even more powerful.


The importance of making connections across perspectives also plays out at the local level.

One traffic intersection in the center of Drachten, Netherlands, accommodates 20,000 drivers as well as many bicyclists and pedestrians each day. As a result, it became notorious for its high rate of accidents and deaths. A conventional solution might have been to load up the roads with signage and signals that clearly instruct everyone where to go and when. But when Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman approached the problem, he saw the congested conduit as a place of profound disconnection. Rather than peppering the roads with signs, in 2003 he took all signage away. This approach to “shared space” design meant that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians had to increase their awareness of each other to successfully navigate the intersection. This reliance on human connection rather than engineered traffic patterns upended conventional thinking, and dramatically decreased the number of accidents and deaths. The most innovative solutions to local problems like this demand deep integration of quantitative and emotional insights that are too often segregated between traditional academic disciplines.


Finally, we see many challenges at the individual, personal level that call out for integrated thinking.

Terri, a Boston-area woman in her 60s who uses a wheelchair, told a team in one of our engineering design classes here at Olin College of Engineering that she finds grocery shopping a cumbersome and physically painful experience. A traditional engineer’s answer might point her to online services that could provide convenient in-home grocery delivery without unpleasant exertion.

But when our students joined Terri at the supermarket, tried to navigate the store from her wheelchair, and spent time with her in her home, they discovered something unexpected. For Terri, grocery shopping wasn’t only focused on getting food, but offered a special opportunity to laugh with the butcher, exercise autonomy and experience community membership. An online service could deliver her ground turkey, but it would also make her feel lonely. The students’ solution was a custom easily adaptable rack for the chair – painted bright purple, Terri’s favorite color – that eased the physical challenges of shopping while enhancing her ability to engage with her community in a meaningful way. Devising this solution required a nimble synthesis of engineering design and attention to human values.

Teaching new approaches

As these examples illustrate, we need to teach students to approach complex problems differently. Our future is at stake.

This past May, a joint task force from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled “Branches From the Same Tree: The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education.” This study identified the great potential in interdisciplinary education. The list of possible benefits include improved student motivation and enjoyment of learning, development of teamwork and communication skills, ethical decision-making and critical thinking.

Done correctly, engineering begins and ends with people. Done optimally, tackling our world’s biggest challenges requires a diverse and integrative approach.

We see encouraging examples of this type of innovative integration in diverse corners of academia. For example, at George Mason University, the Rain Project, part of the EcoScience + Art Initiative brought together faculty from sciences, arts, humanities and design departments to develop a floating wetland. The project not only improved water quality and stormwater management, but also demonstrated the local community’s dependence on their wetlands for survival. Or the STAGE Lab at the University of Chicago, where new pieces of theater and film are created within the context of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. Here, the creation of new plays and films alongside the creation of new scientific findings inspires new ways of asking questions, in both art and science.

Ethics, sustainability, questions of identity, equity or social justice, and many other topics, must be included in the scientist’s or engineer’s design process. And their repertoire must include rigorous communication, teaming, self-directed learning, self-reflection and other skills. Similarly, artists, writers, managers and other non-technical professionals lose out when their work ends where scientific thinking begins.

Our Labor Day resolution this year won’t help us with weight or time management. Instead, it will help us to humbly remember the limits of any one way of thinking about major challenges and the promise of true integration.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

04 Sep 17:44

Can we learn from the past in tackling witchcraft-related violence today?

by Charlotte-Rose Millar, UQ Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
A medieval engraving of the persecution of witches: historians are increasingly demonstrating that belief in witchcraft survived in Western Europe well into the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries. Wikimedia Commons

Between 1450 and 1750, some 45,000 men, women and children were executed in Western Europe as accused witches. Today, emerging new research shows that, during the past 20 years, upwards of 600 people were reported killed in witchcraft related attacks in Papua New Guinea, while current estimates are that thousands are killed in witchcraft-related violence around the world each year.

Today, it is popularly believed that violence against those accused of “witchcraft” and “sorcery” in the Global South mirrors European witchcraft-persecutions in the past. For example, international media outlets have responded to current accusations of sorcery related violence in Melanesia with headlines such as “Papua New Guinea ‘Witch’ Murder is a Reminder of our Gruesome Past”.

Various reports similarly state that, unlike in Melanesia today, “Witch-hunts went out of style in Europe some time in the 1700s” and that “We Europeans also killed lots of witches in the Middle Ages”.

Supplied image obtained in 2015 of Mifila, a Papua New Guinea woman reported axed to death after being accused of sorcery in the country’s highlands. Anton Lutz/AAP

But what exactly are the connections and similarities between these two different contexts? Historians and anthropologists are understandably wary of the colonial overtones of any argument that places present-day Melanesian beliefs and practices in an evolutionary schema – equating them with those of pre-modern Europeans. But does this mean such comparisons should never be made?

Historians today largely attribute the decline in European witchcraft trials to increased scepticism by judges and magistrates about the possibility of proving witchcraft in a state court (even if they continued to believe in the existence of witchcraft).

This scepticism included concern about the veracity of confessions obtained under torture, which was the main source of evidence in many trials (a notable exception here is England in which suspects were not tortured). As torture is widely used in vigilante “trials” of those accused of sorcery in PNG today, we wonder if efforts to end torture might have far-reaching consequences in ending sorcery-related violence.

Although state-sanctioned witchcraft trials did die out in Europe (almost entirely by the 18th century) we now know that belief in witchcraft and associated violence lasted much longer. Indeed, historians are increasingly demonstrating that belief in witchcraft survived in Western Europe well into the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries (see, for example, Owen Davies’ work on witchcraft in America or his new book on supernatural belief in the First World War).

Read more: Witches both mad and bad: a loaded word with an ugly history

For contemporary policymakers, this suggests that overcoming sorcery accusations and related violence may not require first changing entire belief systems, or introducing so-called “rational” ways of thinking into a population.

Instead, it directs attention to considering far more specific questions about what motivates people to accuse and harm those they suspect of witchcraft or sorcery.

The role of law

The role of law in addressing contemporary violence related to accusations of sorcery is a contentious one. There are debates for and against creating specific forms of crime to deal with the problem, such as crimes of accusing someone of practising sorcery, or specific types of violence addressed at those accused of witchcraft. For example, in India last month a specific anti-witch hunting Bill was enacted.

Read more: What witch-hunters can teach us about today's world

In early modern Europe, the legislation criminalising witchcraft was eventually repealed and replaced in some countries with legislation criminalising those who tried to “trick” or deceive others through pretending to use witchcraft. The historical record indicates that one impact of this legislative change was that it made it much easier for people to talk openly about their scepticism towards witchcraft, and made the public defence of witch beliefs increasingly socially unacceptable in educated circles.

While law alone cannot change belief systems, the early modern experience suggests a potentially valuable role for legislation in facilitating certain types of public discourse about witchcraft, and officially condemning violence as a response towards fears of it.

Contagious narratives

History is also replete with examples of stories with a catalysing effect on communities, provoking sporadic “outbreaks” of violence. This suggests that all populations can potentially be susceptible to contagion of new and terrifying narratives, particularly where they resonate with existing prejudices or ways of thinking.

In PNG, and indeed many places across the world today, new or revised narratives of sorcery and witchcraft are infecting populations and leading to what some describe as “epidemics” of violence. These are spread by word of mouth, social media, and in Africa at least, through popular local films.

In tackling their impact on populations, it is important to recognise these as being new or recently modified stories in many places, rather than entrenched cultural traditions. Framing them as foreign can potentially help to undermine arguments that such violence is justified by culture, and can prompt attention to countering their transmission.

There are of course some limitations with taking a comparative approach. Violence against witches in the South Pacific tends to be incited by individuals or communities acting outside the law; whereas early modern Europe executed and tortured witches fully in accordance with legal statutes against witchcraft.

It is crucial to acknowledge these differences and to be very careful not to suggest that witchcraft is the same everywhere, across time and place.

But, at the same time, if it is possible to learn anything at all from the past about how to stop the torture and murder of hundreds of innocent men and women in the world today then these conversations can have a very real impact.

The Conversation

Daniel Midena receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Miranda Forsyth receives funding from Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development through the Australian Aid program.

Charlotte-Rose Millar does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

04 Sep 17:42

Explainer: can you copyright furniture?

by Kylie Pappalardo, Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology
The on-paper designs for furniture belong to the designer, just like any other artists. But things get more complicated when designs become physical objects. Shutterstock

Furniture stores are often filled with designs that look similar to others. But is copying furniture legal, and should we feel bad about buying replicas?

Recently, interior designers accused the supermarket Aldi of copying an Australian designer’s stool in the launch of a new range of “luxe” furniture. Some, including the Design Institute of Australia, noted the stool’s similarities to designer Mark Tuckey’s eggcup stool, which retails for more than $550. Aldi withdrew its stool (priced at $69) on the day of the sale, citing quarantine issues and said it was scheduled to return to stores in late August. (There is no suggestion that Aldi has broken the law here).

In general, copying furniture designs that have not been registered in Australia is likely to be legal. This means that, in most circumstances when designers have not registered their work, businesses are able to sell, and Australian consumers are able to purchase, replica furniture without breaking the law.

How designs are protected

A designer of furniture, fashion or any other product will normally start out by creating a 2D drawing of their product. The drawing might be made by hand or using a computer or machine. This initial design is automatically protected under copyright law as an “artistic work”. For most types of artistic works, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus an additional 70 years.

Furniture designers’ drawings will be protected under copyright automatically. Shutterstock

Copyright law prevents a person from copying someone else’s work if they do not have permission or a legal excuse. Making a 3D reproduction of a 2D artistic work counts as “copying” under law. So a person who makes, for example, a physical 3D chair using a designer’s 2D design of that chair may be infringing copyright of that 2D artistic work.

However, there is an interesting feature of copyright law that applies only to designers. A designer will lose copyright protection in their 2D artistic work if it is “industrially applied”.

“Industrial application” is generally understood to mean that 50 or more copies of the 3D product deriving from the design are made and offered for sale. Any mass commercial production will therefore take the product outside of the scope of copyright law.

However, mass-designed products can be protected by Australia’s designs system. This system protects the visual appearance of a product. Unlike with copyright, designers must register their designs to be protected under law.

For a design to be registered, it must meet certain minimum requirements. Importantly, it must be new and visually distinctive. The novelty of a design is critical to protection. These requirements ensure that ordinary and unremarkable designs are not constrained by intellectual property law, but are free for people to make and sell.

How is this determined? An application for design registration is filed with and assessed by IP Australia, located in Canberra. It usually takes between three and 12 months to process an application, and costs around $300 to apply. Once registered, design protection lasts for five years, with the opportunity to renew registration for a further five years - so 10 years in total.

The designs register is searchable online. Our search did not reveal any designs registered to Mark Tuckey.

Incomplete protection is deliberate

There are important policy reasons why designers are not given complete protection under intellectual property law. For one, it is often difficult to determine what is an original design when aesthetics meets functionality - there are a limited number of ways to design a seat that people will actually want to sit on! Designs protection is limited so that consumers can affordably access practical products.

Designs law tries to balance a designer’s right to protect their product with the public’s right to access. Getting the balance right is tricky, and is likely to be under increasing pressure with the advent of 3D printing for the home.

It is now possible to print replica furniture, and this practice may become more popular as 3D printing technology becomes simultaneously more sophisticated and more widely available. This is likely to raise ongoing questions about the scope of designs protection under copyright and designs law, and whether the law is appropriately tailored to protect designers.

The option of 3D printing your furniture brings about new headaches for copyright. Shutterstock

For Australian designers, the answer may not be stronger legal protection. First, we should ensure that the designs registration system is working effectively. Anecdotal reports suggest that the designs system is underused. We need to make sure that registration is affordable and accessible. Only then will we be in a position to know whether the protection offered by designs registration is enough.

For consumers, the good news is that replica furniture is likely to continue to be available in retail stores. There is certainly nothing illegal about buying replica furniture. Those with the budget to do so, however, may want to consider supporting local Australian designers of furniture and home crafts.

The Conversation

Kylie Pappalardo is a postdoctoral researcher on the ARC Discovery Project: "Inventing the Future: Intellectual Property and 3D Printing".

Karnika Bansal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

04 Sep 16:24

Trump's government denying passports to some Americans born near U.S.-Mexico border: WaPo

by Xeni Jardin

They served in the Army, Border Patrol and as police. They have legitimate U.S. birth certificates. But Trump's government is denying their passport applications and telling them they aren't U.S. citizens. (more…)
04 Sep 11:40

Di streghe,zucche e gatti neri

OCTOBER 2019, of witches, pumpkins and black cats!
The order of the calendar is open: all the info in the dedicated post!