research group – reading group


Hyperlinking as Copyright Infringement

The debates around whether hyperlinking is copyright infringement are important for digital anthropology and all scholars. This case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) centers on the question of whether linking to a copyrighted work constitutes communicating that content to the public.

“A case referred to the CJEU by Sweden’s Court of Appeal is definitely one to watch, as the outcome has the potential to affect the very structure of the Internet.

The case involves a Swedish journalist called Svensson who wrote an article which was subsequently published by a Swedish newspaper both in print and on the newspaper’s website. Svensson’s dispute is with Retriever Sverige AB, a subscription service that supplies links to articles that can be found online.

Svensson said that by providing links to his article, Retriever was communicating his work or making it available to the public without permission and for this he should be compensated.” (Read more…)

The European Copyright Society, a lobbying group/academic collective has released an opinion on the matter writing:

“As Tim-Berners Lee, who is regularly accredited as being an inventor of the World Wide Web, has explained, a standard hyperlink is nothing more than a reference or footnote, and that the ability to refer to a document is a fundamental right of free speech” (Read the full opinion here: direct link to PDF)

This issue affects scholars everywhere, but especially in universities where the corporate discourse of “Enterprise Computing” has a strong impact on policy. Within CUNY, for example, some schools have blocked torrent traffic, simply because the protocol is sometimes used to share copyrighted work – even though it is also used to share work in the public domain, data sets, and research materials. These bans and blocks on particular kinds of network traffic are creating an Information Technology culture that links academic policy making to institutional fears about litigation from copyright holders.

It’s interesting to imagine the state of the Internet if linking starts to be banned by administrators who fear litigation. Or, even more troubling would be an Internet in which hyperlinks must be licensed.



Stefana Broadbent: How the Internet enables intimacy

In our meeting on Monday, February 11, we talked about the perception that computer mediated communication is distancing, and that it interrupts social practices. Alissa brought up a TED talk she’d seen making the opposite claim, that it brings us close together.

“We worry that IM, texting, Facebook are spoiling human intimacy, but Stefana Broadbent’s research shows how communication tech is capable of cultivating deeper relationships, bringing love across barriers like distance and workplace rules.

Stefana Broadbent watches us while we talk (and IM, and text). She is one of a new class of ethnographers who study the way our social habits and relationships function and mutate in the digital age.

Watch the video here.

Android Theater & The Uncanny Valley


Last night, during the ‘blizzard,’ I went to the Japan Society to see the first play featuring an android actor. The Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University Robot Theater Project are currently touring with two one act plays: “Sayonara” and “I, Worker.” Both written and directed by Oriza Hirata expressly for the android and robots featured in the plays.

I worker TPAM2011-3 (c) Tsukasa Aoki

In discussing robots and androids, we often encounter discussions about the “uncanny” and drawing from Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori’s work a more specific version, the “Uncanny Valley.” In watching Sayonara, I didn’t have an experience of the uncanny, the android was very life-like, but not too much so. Not enough to be uncanny, nor enough to pass for human. However as I was sitting in the front row, I did experience a creepy sense of the uncanny when Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro came out and sat in front of me for a question and answer session.


I had seen him before, but not as a human. I had seen the android he had built based on himself. Seeing his human-self sitting there in front of me I was driven to examine him carefully and look for signs of humanity. I watched him more carefully and examined his every move with more skepticism than I had his android creation, Geminoid F, who had performed in the play. You can see video of Dr. Ishiguro and his android-self here.

The theater tour continues to Philadelphia, Burlington, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. More information at Japan Society here.

(Cross-posted from

Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology

Wired reports this week on the Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology.  Written by Amber Case, the founder of, the dictionary illustrates and defines 50 topics with artwork by Maggie Wauklyn. You can preview and purchase it here.


This dictionary is, to say the least, not peer reviewed, although many of the entries do cite articles from peer reviewed publications. However in the image above, for example, she cites herself in the definition. And the citation is for a post on her blog. I wonder what the dictionary entry would be for describing that phenomenon, I think wikipedia editors might have some suggestions.

The release brings up some questions that I’d like to put out for discussion. Amber Case founded a tech company, worked at marketing company Wieden + Kennedy and does guest lectures and a TED talk. She calls herself a “cyborg anthropologist” and lists her biography alongside Donna Haraway and Sherry Turkle. But, I wonder: is she an anthropologist? Does getting a B.A. in anthropology and then becoming well known in the technology and marketing world mean you’re an anthropologist? Is she doing anthropology?  Fieldwork? Anthropological research? Can those things happen outside of graduate degrees and associations with academic institutions?

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