Tuesday, 23 February 2010

More on TwistCo

By a strange twist of coincidence I found myself discussing the orphan works legislation with officials at the UK Intellectual Property Office yesterday. The context was photography, which the IPO recognise has the worst orphan problem.

Firstly, orphan works legislation is required because the practice of trying hard but publishing anyway is actually illegal to the extent of being a criminal offence! The idea is to make it possible to publish an orphan work within the law.

Secondly, the plan, as outlined to us at the meeting, is to make it as hard if not harder to use an orphan work than to licence a known one or even commission something new. Anyone wanting to use an orphan would have to apply for permission to do so (to our hypothetical orphan collecting agency TwistCo ... see the previous post), prove they have diligently tried to find the rightful owner, and pay a fee appropriate to the intended usage.

Thirdly, this is an extension to the way rights are handled. No existing rights are to be compromised. On the other hand, the proposals would only apply to the UK: there is no international aspect to this.

Fourthly, there is no reason or even implied incentive to register your copyright works with TwistCo in order to prevent them being orphaned. That's not the way it works: TwistCo is reactive and reacts to publishers registering orphans they wish to use. TwistCo will probably be obliged to advertise the orphans they have on a regular basis, so that potential relatives have the opportunity to claim them. Falsely claiming ownership would be fraud but the legitimate parent would still need to prove their case; this is the case with a copyright claim under existing law anyway and we would hope that a claim by a copyright owner to TwistCo would be less arduous than a copyright infringement suit.

Personally I feel somewhat reassured by all this, with the caveat that these plans are not written into the bill, they would have to be facilitated by the Secretary of State if and when the bill is passed. The IPO are also aware that tracking photographs on the web will rely on effective image recognition that can cope with cropping, changes in gamma, rotation, inversion ... and so on. Incidentally, keeping the bill vague is apparently a way of giving it a chance of getting through. The discussion going on at the moment is nothing to what would be happening if the bill actually went into detail.

We should be aware that any kind of work can be an orphan. After the meeting I realised that this could just as easily apply to a computer program, or routine from one. With so much JavaScript floating around the web there are lots of opportunities for lines of code to get separated from their copyright notices. Just when you think you've found all the worms in the can you find another can on the shelf.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Orphans cause stir in copyright plans

Sorry for the bad headline! This is related to the Digital Economy Bill that is currently going through parliament and the plans within it to deal with what are called orphan works.

Basically an orphan is a work whose owner can not be found. Publishers are often unable to use things like images because they have a copy but don't know the copyright owner in order to ask permission. Probably the biggest type of rights involved in this are photographs, but it can just as easily apply to a movie or a piece of text or any kind of work.

The bill makes provision for the Secretary of State to determine how to deal with orphan works. I find this, in itself, odd because it seems rather like baldly saying that theft is bad but we will let someone in government sort out the details of what we do about this.

The text of the section is here: www.publications.parliament.uk

My reason for mentioning this is that the internet is leading to a proliferation of orphans. People put their photos (to continue that example) on things like Flickr, other people link to them without attribution and, hey-presto, you have an orphan in the making. The bill seems to make no provision about how much effort needs to be taken to find the owner before the work can be considered an orphan (that's for the Secretary of State to decide). There seems to be no mention of what happens when someone's orphan is returned to the electronic bosom of its family, beyond authorising the Secretary of State to include provisions in whatever regulations may be produced as a result of the bill. This is all very vague for the rights holders but what might it mean for publishers ... such as you and your clients with web sites?

We may find that there is a body who will issue licences and collect fees for the orphans on behalf of their unknown owners so that if you can't track the owner down you will at least be safe from copyright infringement if you get a licence from this new hypothetical body. Let's call it TwistCo. Note that TwistCo would charge a fee, whereas currently if you do your best but decide to publish anyway, you do not have to pay anything; unless and until the rights holder finds you and, probably, asks for a fee. This new process could take a lot more time since you will, presumably, first have to prove to TwistCo that you have tried your best before approaching them for a licence.

It is likely that the orphan provisions will become law in some way but it reinforces not only your need to use reasonable endeavours to get the right permissions up front for everything on a web site; but also to make sure it is correctly attributed ... and that you correctly attribute everything you use. Who knows ... one day the orphan may be yours.

PS: To save you looking it up ... twistco.org and twistco.org.uk are currently available!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Microsoft Project 2010 – is it different enough for consideration?

Many interactive sections of companies have been forced to use Microsoft Project because it has been the de facto project tool in the organisation. In the past it hasn’t really suited our way of working. With the new version due out soon, has this changed?

The older versions had criticisms from not being web-based, not giving a time-line view of the project, not being team and resource sensitive, and not suiting small businesses. The older versions began from total project management of a single, large project from conception to completion. This mirrored the older style of project management. It went hand-in-hand with the large software development projects coupled with their processes of development – the waterfall method of software development.

Of course, much has changed with approaches to projects, the definition of what a project is, faster software development techniques, simultaneous development of several projects, collaborative team-based processes, and expectations of how to report on progress. The two biggest new features are the timeline view and the team planner. Of course, these have been fundamentals for us from the beginning and that’s why interactive companies have tended to go with other project software solutions that were more suitable.

Well, it seems that this new version can be flexible enough to suit our ways of working. You need to know that there are three versions and apparently the Professional version works in web space while the Standard version doesn’t.
Possibly good news for those forced to use Microsoft Project. There are over 20 million users and 98% of people that use a planning tool use Microsoft Project according to Ivan Lloyd in his article Microsoft Project 2010; Is this the release we’ve all been waiting for?, Project Manager Today, Jan/Feb 2010, pages 12-15.

The last we knew was that Basecamp was proving the most popular project aid in iMedia Companies. Has this changed? What are you using?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Clients from hell or what are the client’s responsibilities?

Despite clients learning a lot in the last few years about digital projects, many of the same gripes crop up from developers. Projects are a partnership. They cannot be successful without both sides pulling their weight. This means responsibilities on both sides throughout the project. Now if you work with a Prince2 Project Manager and your client also has one, then they will work to a framework that both understand. Without this mutual understanding, you have to create one prior to starting the project.

We groan at the quotes on Clients from Hell but we all recognise them! Perhaps we can use them in a positive to help us educate clients. Show your new clients some of the top gripes as quotes and explain why the attitudes are counter-productive in digital design. Agree that they will not make you groan in the same way by working together to produce the project.

Take a look at the gripes in the links below and smile, but make them work for you. The companies that work successfully with their clients get repeat business and respect. How do you avoid having similar gripes?


Monday, 1 February 2010

What is a project?

Maybe it is a good opportunity at the beginning of a year for you to reassess what project categories your company is involved with. We analysed the following in the first chapter of our book: client based projects, bread and butter projects, investment projects, maintenance projects, quick fix projects, R&D projects, good will projects, and pitches/tenders to win projects.

We suggested there that you identified and categorised the types of project you dealt with over the last year to see how and where your time and efforts have been deployed. Try it again. What projects have been most profitable? What projects have generated more business? Which projects have increased your company status? And so on ... Monetary return may not always be as straightforward in terms of the progress of a company. Looking back at projects can help you devise strategies for the future in terms of which projects may have to most impact – even in these uncertain times.

Perhaps we need to go back to some basics like ‘what is a project?’ Here are some views.
For those looking for a formal definition of a project the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.
What is a Project? Module by: Merrie Barron, Andrew R. Barron.

A project in business and science is a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.
Wikipedia: Project

But cnx differentiate between a project that is new and unique and an operation in business that is a repetitive process. Where does this leave us with web site revisions (maintenance?) and micro sites (small client projects?) Are they new projects or not projects at all, just part of a process; and if that is so, should project management tenets be applied in their production?

We have argued previously that they should be considered separate projects and costed out with time, resources and expenditure. We still maintain that, in fact. They can be grey areas but they do have new or different objectives and therefore represent a unique product or service even if they are refinements of a previous attempt.

Well, agree or disagree?