Friday, 16 December 2011

Copyright consultation rumbles on

The next stage of the UK government's copyright consultation is now under way. This follows on from the Hargreaves report and picks up several specific points on which comments are requested via a web page at the Intellectual Property Office.

It's a complex set of proposals and I've only just started to look through it but things I note initially are:

Copyright exception for archiving and preservation
Current law allows limited copying for preservation but this, surprisingly, does not extend to sound recordings, films, broadcasts, or artistic works. The irony here is that material which has most difficulty surviving in a digital age is excluded. The proposal is to extend the exception (to more kinds of work and to allow more copies) and to allow more kinds of institution to do the copying. The consultation refers to 'such as museums and galleries' in this context so we might assume any other kind of organisation or even an individual who feels the need to copy to preserve an artefact they possess would be excluded. Would a music company, for example, be allowed to copy masters to preserve them ... assuming their contractual arrangements did not already allow this. There is also an assumption that this exception would not apply to anything that was otherwise available to be bought.

Exception for use of quotations or extracts of copyright works
This, like other proposals in this consultation, intends to bring UK law into line with a wider European legal framework and, at present, UK law only allows use of extracts for the purpose of criticism, review or reporting current events. I assume that use of an insubstantial portion of a work under fair dealing fails because things worth quoting in this way are probably not insubstantial.

Exception for copying of works for use by text and data analytics
This is the so-called Data Mining exception. The proposal here clarifies the question (for me at least) significantly and applies to cases where you already have legal access to material (by subscription for example) but could make further use of it by copying into a database and running analyses.

Protecting copyright exceptions from override by contract
Primarily this seeks to level the playing field for organisation such as libraries who currently have to either take note of restrictions on individual sources of material or adopt a worse case approach. In the light of the data mining exception above, such protection seems to me to be essential.

Copyright Notices
As Hargeaves suggested, the plan here is for the Intellectual Property Office to produce legally-binding opinions on rights questions, called Notices. There would also be 'a duty on the Courts to have regard to any Notices published'. This is designed to help businesses. While I really welcome this I don't think it goes far enough and a more general set of such notices, forming a kind of copyright Highway Code, should serve the public as well as those small businesses who feel restricted by the cost of legal opinions.

Orphan Works
Yes, TwistCo reares its ugly head once more. In fact, the analysis in the Intellectual Property Office document here seems well-considered. It does however hedge the qualms of the photographic community, of 'active orphaning' by stripping metadata, more than somewhat. Given Hargreaves side-stepped moral rights altogether I am of the opinion that the link between moral rights (particularly attribution) and orphans needs a lot more thought. I also note that the wish of the photographers for any use of orphans to be non-commercial has been ignored.

All the sections (and more) are linked from the main page I linked above.

And that's all from us for 2011. Elaine and I wish you a happy and restful seasonal break and a successful 2012.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Signs of the times

A British motorway sign has just been added to the collection of the Design Museum in London. Road signs in the UK have been standardised for years now based on designs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert which included icons, colour schemes and type faces (called transport and motorway). There's a story about this on the BBC web site and it got me thinking about what we used to call normative icons. The idea, dating back to early graphical user interfaces, was that a simple button icon should clearly identify what the button does. As the advertisement/catchphrase says; it will do exactly what it says on the tin.

We are used to quite a few such icons still, even making their way from computer screens onto other devices such as mobile phones. There's the wastebasket, the piece of paper with a folded corner, the loudspeaker cone with waves of sound. Often they are called, or confused with, GUI widgets (depending on whether you consider a scroll bar an icon or a widget). Embellishments like drop-shadows and polished highlights may come and go, but some icons stay with us.

The key thing, the object all sublime, of such things is two fold: they transcend language and (with luck) culture, and they save space. Language sometimes doesn't cut it: I recall being told that Danish had no word to carry the meaning of eject (a floppy disc) so when the Mac user interface was translated in Danish the term put away had to be used. You see the word STOP on French road signs, presumably because arrettez-vouz is a bit long-winded. Some do say arrĂȘt but isn't this a noun rather than a command? The English is usefully ambiguous. However, pretty well all stop signs are the same shape and colour: octagonal and red. You notice that long before you read the words.

Computer screens, having grown larger and with more pixels as time went on, were lulling us into a false sense of security over our icons. The arrival of mobile devices brought the problem of designing icons back to its origins. Have a look at any web pages or mobile apps you use or design and think about how you use icons and how you use text labels in your navigation.

And remember the notorious Welsh road sign incident and always check with someone else.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Usability - hints and tips update

As the iMedia sector has matured and splintered, so has all the associated expertise around the sector. And this includes usability intelligence. The tools used to assess the reactions of users have developed out of necessity. So now we can eye-track how users relate to screens, layout and functionality, for example. We can assess emotional engagement with sites if that is considered important. Gone are the days of large numbers of users being tested - unless you need quantitative testing.

But usability companies claim to need only up to half a dozen users now to discover the key usability problems with a site. Often, the usability experts can utilise their knowledge and assess common problems just by themselves. This is now a sophisticated offering in its own right.

What does your company do about usability? Do you outsource offering it as a cost addition to the proposed project? Do you have an affiliation with a specialist usability company? Do any of your clients ask for such a service? Because more money is spent on interactive advertising than traditional print advertising, more clients are concerned with feedback from users to understand how to influence them better through technology.

If you just want to keep abreast of what is happening in this area there are sites and associations to help.
Usability is a fascinating subject that has risen to the challenges of iMedia. We do need to understand our users in each interactive environment we develop for. How we do this and whether we involve any experts is open to debate. Any thoughts?