Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Yo! Your Honor! Carl Malamud's Fight to make Public Law Public

Live notes from a lunch talk by Carl Malamud, co-hosted by the MIT Center for Civic Media and the Laboratory for Social Machines. Notes by Rahul Bhargava, Erhardt Graeff, Yu Wang, Chelsea Barabas, and Ed Platt

Ethan introduces Carl as a ferocious public domain advocate with a long history with the internet. He led an election campaign for non-elected office (public printer of the United States). He is working on making existing government docs online and machine readable form. Today he will speak about Yo, Your Honor, which focuses on PACER—a system that provides access to critical government documents for a price.

He started by doing a lot of workshops around the idea of law.gov, coming up with a set of principles about how the laws should be available in the United States. But nothing concrete really came from this effort.Carl mentions his history with the Media Lab; he was here years ago writing a book. His non-profit public.resource.org's goal is to make all public governmental documents, aka the “raw materials of democracy,” free to access. Carl wants to make the laws available to the people, because in the US the people own the law (unlike other countries). The law has no copyright here.

In 2007–2008, Carl started publishing all the building codes in the country, because these are law in all the states. No one sent him takedown notices, even though they are copyrighted documents published by standards organizations (501c3s). They keep copyright for these documents even though they want to make them into the law. When Carl started posting the safety regulations, and he got sued.

The National Fire Protection Association argues they should be the only ones allowed to publish the code because it is their only revenue stream and if they can't sustain then… babies will die. But he argues that they are the law, thus they should be public. This case is currently in litigation (he is being defended by the EFF).

At this same time, he started looking at the PACER system. This includes all arguments the lawyers make and all relevant briefs and other documents involved in public cases. If you want access to these documents, you pay 10 cents a page for every single page. That makes research expensive. There are close to 1 billion documents in the system.

He had the idea to have lots of people download documents from PACER and share them for free, which he thought of as “recycling the public domain.”

Andrew Keen: The Internet is Not the Answer

Live notes from a lunch talk by Andrew Keen. Notes by Ed Platt and Ali Hashmi.

Ethan introduces Andrew as a former silicon valley entrepreneur, then historian. He’s since focused on understanding the culture of silicon valley.

Andrew set out to write about the history of the Internet. Although the book is called “The Internet is Not the Answer,” he thinks it needs to be the answer. In the book, he concludes that so far the Internet is not the ‘answer’ and that the digital revolution is not doing what it expected it to do. He suggests that “The Internet” can’t be described as a single entity. Rather he sees the beginning of a “Networked Age.” Since at least 1995, it’s been common to hear that “it’s too early” to make conclusions about the Internet. He argues that we can.

Hacking Institutional Corruption

Midway through the first full day of Hacking iCorruption, the hackathon that Civic co-hosted with Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics this weekend, a participant and Fellow at the Center for Ethics approached Stephanie Dant, Assistant Director of the Center, and gushed, “This is amazing! I asked them”—she gestured at a team of coders—“if they could build it, and they said, ‘Of course.’” The Fellow was agape, in contrast to her coders: “They were deadpan! Like it was nothing!”

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