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Reader's Corner - The Library of Utopia + resource links

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Another useful post at Gizmo's Tech Support: (may be some duplication)
13 Places For Free Textbooks Online

I operate on the principle that the sum of human knowledge is to be made freely available to all, and especially if that knowledge has been gained from research at the public's expense. You would expect to find that knowledge easily available/accessible via your library.
Unfortunately, it is not always so. A great deal of documented knowledge/research that the public has funded seems to be secured away from public gaze, for example, by secretive and insecure researchers/custodians who are unsure of the validity of their research and who wish to protect it from the harsh light of scrutiny, or where it is controlled by expensive proprietary publishers/paywalls (Elsevier being a classic example).

I was therefore very pleased to read this just-published policy from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:
Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research
Posted by Michael Stebbins on February 22, 2013 at 12:04 PM EST

The Obama Administration is committed to the proposition that citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars have paid for. That’s why, in a policy memorandum released today, OSTP Director John Holdren has directed Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication and requiring researchers to better account for and manage the digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research. OSTP has been looking into this issue for some time, soliciting broad public input on multiple occasions and convening an interagency working group to develop a policy. The final policy reflects substantial inputs from scientists and scientific organizations, publishers, members of Congress, and other members of the public—over 65 thousand of whom recently signed a We the People petition asking for expanded public access to the results of taxpayer-funded research.

To see the new policy memorandum, please visit:

To see Dr. Holdren’s response to the We the People petition, please visit:

Michael Stebbins is Assistant Director for Biotechnology at OSTP

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Lets just hope that there aren't any weasel-words in this newfound transparency initiative which were designed to succeed in achieving the opposite effect - i.e., making such transparency impenetrable or obscured, or otherwise going backwards and frustrating the operation of the principle that the sum of human knowledge is to be made freely available to all - because we know from experience that people will try to do just that, regardless.

Oh dear. Looks rather like I may have been a bit too optimistic/naive, according to this Slashdot post:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
White House Tells Agencies To Increase Access to Fed-Funded Research
Posted by timothy on Saturday February 23, @10:28AM
from the taxes-and-the-commonwealth dept.

Z80xxc! writes "The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a "policy memorandum" today requiring any federal agency with over $100 million in R&D expenditures each year to develop plans for making all research funded by that agency freely available to the public within one year of publication in any peer-reviewed scholarly journal. The full memorandum is available on the White House website. It appears that this policy would not only apply to federal agencies conducting research, but also to any university, private corporation, or other entity conducting research that arises from federal funding. For those in academia and the public at large, this is a huge step towards free open access to publicly funded research." Edward Tufte calls the move timid and unimaginative, linking to a Verge article that explains that it's not quite as sweeping as the summary above sounds.
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Another good piece of info from Gizmo's:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Want To Learn Microsoft Office? These Top-Class Training Manuals Are Free.
 Updated 1. August 2013 - 22:45 by rob.schifreen

Best STL is a London-based company that specialises in offering training courses for users of Microsoft Office.  The company recently got in touch with me to say that, as well as offering commercial courses, they also make all their training manuals available for free download from their website. 

There are course materials online for Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 at the moment, all downloadable as PDF files with no registration required. The 2010 documents on offer are shown below.

To browse the library, or download any of the files, just point your browser at

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I went to the website in the link, selected the MS Office 2010 training documents, flicked them into FlashGot (Firefox extenstion), which sent them to GetRight to auto-download all 18 of them together. Took four mouse-clicks and a minute or so at most. It was a fuss-free download - no Candyware, no special download manager required, and no forcefully demanding your email address.

Reader's Corner - The Library of Utopia + resource links

These are training manuals used in actual training courses. Be aware of their limitations - they are only part of the material in the training courses. For example, I am currently reading the 40-page Access 2010 Advanced manual. It refers to case/example databases that the reader would presumably have if they were on the course, but it's not embedded as a file in the PDF manual, and I am not sure how one could obtain it without going on the course.

Looks like a piece of good news here:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Google Books ruled legal in massive win for fair use (updated) | Ars Technica
Scans that show snippets are legal—they don't replace the full book.

by Joe Mullin - Nov 14, 2013 4:32 pm UTC

A long-running copyright lawsuit between the Authors' Guild and Google over its book-scanning project is over, and Google has won on the grounds that its scanning is "fair use."

In other words, the snippets of books that Google shows for free don't break copyright, and Google doesn't need the authors' permission to engage in the scanning and display of short bits of books.

The ruling (PDF) was published this morning by US District Judge Denny Chin, who has overseen the case since it was filed in 2005.

The parties tried to settle this case, but the judge rejected the settlement as unwieldy and unfair. Now, the case has instead resulted in a hugely significant fair use win, opening the door to other large-scale scanning projects in the future.

Along with the First Sale doctrine, fair use is the most important limitation on copyright. It allows parts of works to be used without permission of the copyright owner to produce new things: quotes of books used in reviews or articles for instance.

Legal disputes over what or what is not "fair use" are often complex, and there are four factors that judges consider. But the one that's often the most important is what kind of effect the fair use will have on the market for the original product.

Judge Chin seemed to find the plaintiffs' ideas ignorant, if not nonsensical, in this regard. He wrote:

    [P]laintiffs argue that Google Books will negatively impact the market for books and that Google's scans will serve as a "market replacement" for books. [The complaint] also argues that users could put in multiple searches, varying slightly the search terms, to access an entire book.

    Neither suggestion makes sense. Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already—they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book.

Seeing the project as a boon to researchers

Before Chin gets into the deep legal analysis, he begins with a section noting the many benefits of Google books. The giant book-scanning project has already become an "important tool for researchers and librarians," noted Chin. Through data mining, researchers can do things they've never been able to do before, examining "word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time."

The program expands access to books, particularly to "traditionally underserved populations," he notes. The books Google scans provide the potential for them to be read in larger text formats or with Braille or text-to-speech software. And the project could save old out-of-print books that are literally falling apart in library stacks.

Chin runs through the four traditional factors that decide whether use of a copyrighted work is "fair use."

First, he found Google's use of the works was highly transformative. "Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index," he wrote. There's already legal precedent allowing large-scale scanning in order to create indexes and search services—created, in part, by Google. Chin cited the Perfect 10 v. Amazon case, which ruled the scanning of images and publication of "thumbnails" in Google image search is legal.

He also found that Google Books "does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books." The service adds value to books.

Chin notes that Google is a commercial service, which weighs against a finding of fair use. But while the service may draw more people to Google websites, Google isn't engaged in "direct commercialization" of the copyrighted works. The company "does not sell the scans it has made of books for Google Books; it does not sell the snippets that it displays; and it does not run ads on the About the Book pages that contain snippets."

Another factor is the amount of the work used. Google is scanning full books. But "copying the entirety of a work is sometimes necessary to make a fair use of the image," wrote Chin, citing a case involving the use of reduced-sized Grateful Dead posters called Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley.

Important, of course, is the fact that Google is showing limited amounts of text to book searchers. Blacked-out sections and other technical measures prevent full-book copying.

In the end, the full-book scanning weighed only "slightly against" a finding of fair use. It was overridden by the other factors. Especially important was Chin's view, discussed above, that Google Books would not hurt, and may in fact help, the market for the original books.
A nearly-settled case will now be fought on appeal

The parties tried to settle this case but were unable to. A proposed settlement not only involved a complicated set of compensation rules for authors, it also had sections dealing with unaddressed copyright issues like "orphan works." But Chin rejected the settlement in 2011, saying it wasn't fair. Fundamentally, it was just too big—issues like orphan works were best left to Congress, not to a class-action lawsuit.

In the long term, the failure to settle may result in more scanning, not less. If Chin's ruling stands on appeal, a clean fair-use ruling will make it easier for competitors to start businesses or projects based on scanning books—including companies that don't have the resources, legal or otherwise, that Google has.

"This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgment," said a Google spokesperson. "As we have long said., Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age, giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow."

Authors' Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken expressed his disappointment with the ruling, saying that Google's book-scanning project is a "fundamental challenge" to copyright.

"Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world's valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works," said Aiken. "In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense."

The Guild is going to appeal, he added.

That means the issue will end up at the New York-based US Court of Appeal for the 2nd Circuit. That appeals court has decided several key legal battles between content and technology companies in recent years, including the Cablevision decision. That ruling legalized remote-DVR services, which has aided other tech companies, including Aereo.

Fundamentally, the fact that this case was finally decided on its merits, and not settled, is a better result for the public, argued Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen in his reaction this morning.

"Unlike that settlement, which could have ensconced Google as the only search engine entitled to digitize books without the consent of their authors, this ruling provides a road map that allows any other entity to follow in Google’s path," said Levy.

It's judges' decisions in hard-fought cases—not overseeing secret negotiations between giants—that truly benefit the public.

"[T]he main job of a federal judge is not to supervise settlements, and especially not to bully parties into settling their cases," he wrote. "The judge’s job is to decide cases, so that every member of the public, not only the parties, can benefit from the public resources that go into the judicial system."
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