Sunday, November 14, 2010

Media establishment fighting back

Photographer
By Nicolás García [CC-BY-SA-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons
I've become aware of two cases of old media trying to take back from the Free media movement.

The first is the usage of Wikimedia Commons images by Encyclopedia Britannica online. We are very diligent about copyright in Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. Multiple groups of people concern themselves with nothing but assessing images and global copyright laws, to make sure our materials are as legal and as Free as they can possibly be. Not so much Brittanica it seems. They happily ignore all license and attribution requirements that these images have, often just giving the username in plaintext (Examples image by
Gnangarra
, image by Toby Hudson). For Creative Commons, a full link to the license is required if in any way possible. And just for kindness, a link back to the Wikimedia Commons description page might be nice/a good idea. The Wikimedia sites do the same for Flickr, it's very easy. Britannica, if you are listening, please read this Creative Commons FAQ.

Is it really required that our users start sending copyright infringement notices to Britannica in order to get issues like this solved ? I know we don't make it easy atm to reuse our material, but come on, these guys are no amateurs and surely they can do better ?

Another development that is starting to affect Commons, is the partnership of Flickr with Getty images. Flickr users can opt-in to a program whereby people can ask for your image to become part of the Getty images collection. Getty images however only excepts exclusive image deals and it seems that when your Creative Commons image is picked up by Getty, it automatically loses its Creative Commons license in Flickr and is switched to an "All rights reserved" status. This is actually allowed, a Creative Commons license is not revocable but you can stop using it on any further distribution. The earlier distributed copies however will remain licensed under the Creative Commons license.

This is already becoming annoying when we need to check the history of an image that has not been automatically checked by our Flickr bot. The larger danger lies in the possibility that someday Google or another large software company, starts filtering for copyright infringements in image search. Google is already doing this kind of thing for Youtube videos and it is logical that as some point in time image data will follow. With such techniques, it becomes possible that valid distribution of previously Creative Commons licensed material, perhaps hosted on Wikimedia Commons, might be tagged as copyright violations, because at a later time Getty appropriated the rights on an image. It would be wonderful if Flickr could make the "licensing history" of an image visible, that is what we need to defend ourselves against such practices.

I have to hand it to Getty however; Smart way to reclaim territory on the Free media movement. Using your industry power and monetary payout to force people into dropping a licensing model they voluntarily chose. I guess Creative Commons will have much more work to do in the coming years.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Printing Wikipedia

Last year saw the launch of book printing for Wikipedia articles. A very nice feature that allows you to create a collection of articles and print them as a book. Since yesterday you can even get hardcovers. There is also a wonderful "Print to PDF" feature that piggybacks on the book rendering technology.

Printing webpages has long intrigued me and the results have always been suboptimal, especially with something as complex as Wikipedia articles. However, the web is moving forward and the printing options for the web are getting better with every browser release. The past few days I was revisiting this issue and I have now added some new CSS to the print stylesheet of MediaWiki which should help browsers detect proper spots to insert pagebreaks and more importantly, where to avoid them.
Before pagebreak CSSAfter pagebreak CSS
When your browser supports it, it will try to avoid pagebreaks in images, wikitables and right after headers. It will also try to avoid lone sentences of paragraphs at the beginning or end of the page, keeping paragraphs more readable. This CSS is part of the Paged media subset of CSS. It is best supported by Opera and Internet Explorer 8. Actually it's one of the few spots where Webkit and Gecko are really lagging behind a bit. There are many more options in the paged media specification that would help improve printing of pages, but they are part of CSS3 and only Opera has made some progress on this so far.

Another thing that I have been working on is a new gadget called Print dialog. It helps you influence how pages are printed, right from Wikipedia. You can remove backgrounds, images and references, and mark all the text as black. Really very useful for if you intend to do some quick printing and since there is demand (Bugzilla 25869, bugzilla 22256), we might actually see this one day in the MediaWiki software.

The most esoteric function of Print dialog, is an option to actually kill the print styling. Normally when you print Wikipedia pages, you will use a different set of stylesheets that are optimized for printing instead of the screen. These stylesheets hide the interface components and elements that might not be useful in print. Usually this is wonderful, but sometimes I just want it all, and on my browser (Safari), this was not possible (well you could make a screenshot). With this new option you can actually fake the screen media while you print. Currently it works only for Safari. IE is untested, and Firefox/Opera refuse me to give the access I need to adapt the stylesheets, due to the Same Origin policy, which is violated due to the usage by the Foundation of a separate server for the stylesheets (Bugzilla 25886).

Example print output with no images Print output without references and backgrounds Print output with all non-print elements restored
I think this could be a welcome feature for many, please let me know what you think !