IP, technology, human rights

Open Video Conference

Posted by Lea on June 20, 2009

Xeni Jardin -- BoingBoing TV by Roy Blumenthal, part of the Open Video Conference series, Creative Commons licensed

"Xeni Jardin -- BoingBoing TV" from Roy Blumenthal's Open Video Conference series, Creative Commons licensed

The Open Video Conference, co-organized by the Yale ISP, has been an exciting two days.

Registration topped 800, and I have it from a reliable source that 4000 people watched remotely. My own contribution to the conference was a presentation as part of a panel entitled “Human Rights and Indigenous Video: Dilemmas, Challenges and Opportunities.

I drew on examples from the recent protests in Iran to demonstrate how Internet video can be a powerful tool for promoting human rights, and why open video is particularly important to realizing this potential.

Video footage of our workshop is now available here. My presentation runs from 2:15 to 8:50. My slides are also available at the ISP’s blog. Below, a partial transcript.

This talk focused mostly on how open video can help people defend their human rights. But I’ve also written about how open video more directly supports the right to take part in cultural life in this short thought piece.

Open Video and Human Rights, by Lea Shaver

Presentation to the Open Video Conference, New York City, 19 June 2009

The big news story this week are the mass protests in Iran, where a dissatisfied public demands accountability for what appears to be massive election fraud.

Digital technologies have played a crucial role in the popular mobilization, as user-generated media circumvents the official censorship.

Here, the BBC’s website features extensive, detailed videos recorded by ordinary Iranian citizens from their cell phones.

It used to be that big media institutions made the news, and then the bloggers commented on it. Now those roles have been reversed.

Here, the New York Times gathers video from around the Internet, asking readers to help verify its contents, and commenting on its reliability and context.

The opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has a Facebook page linking supporters to various ways to help and sources of information, including YouTube videos.

Now Mousavi’s team would like this particular video to reach  English-speaking audiences as well. But they couldn’t provide the subtitles themselves, whether for lack of linguistic or technical skills, resources, time, or maybe even security.

So they invited the public to remix their video, adding in the English subtitles for them. The call went out to Mousavi’s 60,000 Facebook supporters at 7:47am yesterday.

Less than two hours later, Nico Pitney, writing for the Huffington Post, passed on that subtitling request to a much wider audience. You see, according to the Internet statistics source Alexa.com, yesterday Pitney’s ”Live Blogging the Uprising” was the 11th most popular website in the world.

So, hundreds of thousands of people received this subtitling request almost instantly. And if you’re familiar with the amazing speed of digital networks, flashmobs, and crowd-sourcing, you might think it would take only an hour or two for some volunteer to put these subtitles together.

But you’d be wrong.

See, this is where the openness of the Internet reaches its limits in the world of video. You can’t just cut, paste, and edit Internet video the way you can text.

I had planned at this point to have the video playing silently in the background as I spoke. I found a hack enabling me to download it from YouTube. But then my slideshow software wouldn’t accept the file in FLASH format. And none of my desktop tools would let me extract 30 seconds from the video, remove the audio track, and compress the file to fit on my flash drive.

Why not?

Eirik Solheim -- NRK from Roy Blumenthals Open Video Conference series

"Eirik Solheim -- NRK" from Roy Blumenthal's Open Video Conference series

What makes video “open” or “closed”?

Technology allows playback only
Licensing fees make it pay-to-play
Advanced editing tools are hard to use & expensive

Technology enables copy, cut, paste, edit
Open standards allow costless interactivity
Tools are accessible to an average Iranian teenager

Technology is not an accident and it is not neutral; it is designed by someone, and that design process inevitably promote certain values at the expense of others.

The first generation of digital video technology was not closed by accident. It was designed that way by companies that wanted you to be able to purchase and view their videos, but not to save them, share them, or change them.

Closed video is good for protecting intellectual property. But it’s bad for protecting human rights.

The next generation of video technology will not open by accident. It’s being designed that way by individuals and organizations that believe empowering ordinary people to speak in video is a good thing for freedom of expression, democratic empowerment, and cultural participation.

Open video promotes human rights in two ways, and here I’m making reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1945 and adopted by every nation in the world as sort of an international bill of rights.

First, open video standards empower freedom of expression.

They make it possible for video – as a form of documentation, truth-telling, journalism, expression, partication and dissent – to travel across software, across machines, across borders and languages. For people to translate, adapt, and remix, to utilize crowd-sourcing and rapid response.

Open video makes those who would speak truth to power stronger.

Second, open video enables broader participation and inclusion.

Access to culture shouldn’t just mean that we all get to see movies and watch the news. We should all be able to create them. Open software, open standards, and open content enable that.

Amy Goodman -- Democracy Now from Roy Blumenthals Open Video Conference Series

"Amy Goodman -- Democracy Now" from Roy Blumenthal's Open Video Conference Series

Open video is about democratic culture.

Access has dimensions of equality as well. When you upload video, how do you make sure you’re not excluding people who speak a different language? Or those with disabilities of sight or hearing?

When you use open video technologies, you enable others to build on your work. So your how-to video can be dubbed into Spanish. Your documentary film can be captioned for the deaf. Your political footage can be transcribed for the blind.

You create culture that everyone can access.

In conclusion…

Open video technologies amplify and empower freedom of expression, enabling people to better demand respect for all their human rights, whether it’s the right to education or the right to have their votes counted.

Open video technologies engender broader cultural participation, making culture accessible to those with limited financial resources, and those with disabilities that require adaptive video content, and allowing for translation and cross-cultural conversations.

For this reason, governments should use open video for content that is publicly funded or of public importance.

And if you care about human rights, you should be supporting open video too.

2 Responses to “Open Video Conference”

  1. If you’re interested, we were there and shot a little footage.


  2. Roy Blumenthal said

    Hiya Lea…

    What a neat surprise! Thanks for using the pics I generated during the Open Video Conference! I’m glad they’ve found a use!


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