Europe Asia Express

04 Oct 2020 | 210 words | europe railways travel infrastructure maps

Lately there has been a lot of talk about reviving the Trans Europe Express (TEE) that had its heyday well before i was even born. If that means more investment into high-speed trans-european rail infrastructure it has my full support (even though it will be next to impossible to match the design sensitivity that came along with the TEE).

Speaking about railway nostalgia, I came across this illustration on flickr today, which illustrates the networks serverd by the TEE predecessor Simplon Orinet Express and its middle eastern equivalent the Taurus Express in the late 1930s:

Taurus Express and Simplon Orient Express via Bruce Sterling's flickr

If there is talk about reviving old railway networks then we should probably skip the TEE and go right here. If revieved, this network would cover more than enough of the world for me to never set foot into an airplane again and spend the rest of my life exploring these parts (as of writing i have visited or lived in 9/11 of the stops on the European side of this network and 7/13 on the Afrian/Asian side).

And since we are discussing reviving express trains here, i am also very much looking forward to the Chungking Express sequel that is apparently in the works.

Destroying e-bikes for profit

28 May 2020 | 243 words | cycling capitalism

early last year i wrote about the joy of using JUMP e-bikes during a short stay in San Francisco1. Turns out that less than one and half years after being introduced, these bikes, while still being perfectly good and much needed, are getting retired and destroyed by the truckload.

This seems to be the outcome of an unfortunate but probably inevitable collisions of the logics of startup consolidation and the dysfunctional way how the US legal system structures liability. As many others have pointed out before me, destroying perfectly good bikes instead of giving them away to people for whom having access to a bike could make a world of difference, is the logical conclsuions of the sociopathic business model of so called “sharing platforms”.


  1. I have sometimes wondered if that post was not too much in terms of expressing admiration for an UBER owned service, but i really did enjoy riding on those bikes. So i am somewhat relieved to find out that i am not the only one who admired these particular bikes. As Kurt from the bikesharemusuem observes: “Put simply, the JUMP e-bike is a wonderfully clean and well thought-out design, straight out of The Jetsons; just substitute the wheels for rockets. This made the experience of riding all the more exciting, in the same way some become giddy at the thought of driving a Lamborghini at 10 mph: It’s not that you’re doing anything extreme, it just feels special.” ↩︎

On urban cycling and electricity

20 Nov 2019 | 141 words | cycling urbanism

I have always considered myself to be a fairly accomplished urban cyclist. Much of this confidence stems from having worked as a bike messenger between 1993 and 2004, mainly riding fixed with no brakes. Over the years, the rules of the urban cycling game have not changed much even though cycling became massively more popular during at the same time.

However, over the last few months the game is changing by the emergence of a new class of participant, the electrical motor assisted cyclist. As a result i am finding myself learning again, this time trying to master the art of drafting-off e-assisted cyclists navigating though urban traffic1, which is a fun game to play… (these days on bikes with imperfect brakes which significantly increases the difficulty)


  1. These days i am riding bike with brakes, although this does not necessarily help. ↩︎

Towards an auto-generative Public Domain?

A couple of days ago,  I came across the website generated.photos (via the Verge) a new service that offers 100.000 computer generated portrait images and positions them as an alternative to traditional stock photos. The Verge article highlights the fact that the pictures can be used “royalty free” and the generated.photos website claims that “Copyrights … will be a thing of the past”. This made me postulate on twitter that we might very well be witnessing the emergence of an “auto-generative public domain”.

It has since become clear that the creators of generated.photos do not intended to contribute the output of their algorithms (or for that matter the algorithms themselves) to the public domain: By now the website has been updated to note that the images are available for non-commercial use only. A new terms and conditions page states that “Legal usage rights for content produced by artificial intelligence is a new, largely unknown domain” only to go on to list a number of restrictions on the use of the “materials and software” made available on generated.photos.

As noted in the terms of conditions the copyright status of images (and other types of artworks) that are autonomously created by AI-powered software is largely unsettled. As Andres Guadamuz notes in his excellent overview post on the topic, there are generally two schools when it comes to the question if computer generated artworks are (or should be) protected by copyright. One school argues that copyright protection only attaches to works that have been created by humans and as a result computer generated artworks can by definition not be copyrighted. The other school points out that such works are not created without any human intervention (someone needs to start up the software and set basic parameters) and that whoever initiated the generation of these works should be considered the creator and receive at least a minimum level of (copyright) protection as a reward for their investment.

In the case of generated.photos it is evident that the people behind the project have made a considerable investment into the project. The website states that they have shot more than 29.000 photos of 69 models that have subsequently been used as a training set for the software. Judging by notes on their website, the 100.000 images made available on the website have been created using the open source generative adversarial network StyleGAN that is freely available via GitHub. It remains to seen if creating photos (which are copyright protected) that are then used to train a out of the box GAN does indeed mean that the output of the network is (a) protected by copyright and (b) that the copyright belongs to the entity that trained the GAN.

While it seems to be at least possible that the creators of generated.photos do have a legitimate copyright claim in their output, that does not necessarily invalidate the idea that we are witnessing the emergence of an auto-generative public domain, i.e circumstances in which computer algorithms produce a (possibly endless) stream of artworks, that are indistinguishable from human created works and that are free from copyright and can be used by anyone for any purpose.

In terms of quality, the images provided by generated.photos are still far from indistinguishable from human made stock photos, but it is clear that it is only a matter of time before the technology gets good enough to produce high enough quality outputs at scale. Projects like the next Rembrandt illustrate this development is not limited to stock photography but will likely happen across the full width of human creative expression.

The future: AI driven on demand creation of visual assets

Such a development would dramatically upend a large number of creative professions. It seems like it will only be a matter of time before stock photography and other forms of creative work where the primary draw is not the specific style of a particular creator will be replaced by AI-generated output that will cost almost nothing to create. Once AI powered systems will be able to deliver high quality creative output at zero marginal cost the question if these outputs are protected by copyright or not will be largely meaningless (a single system releasing its output into the public domain will render any attempts to enforce copyright futile).

From the perspective of those making a living by creating stock photos, background music and other forms of creative work that is about to be eaten up by AI, the emergence of this “auto-generative public domain” must feel dystopian. Under these conditions the primary question that we must ask ourselves is not how we can fit works created by computer algorithms within the framework of copyright law. Instead we should ask ourselves how we can create the conditions for human creators to leverage these technologies as tools for their own creative expression. Instead of mourning a future in which humans are no longer employed to shoot endless variations of the same stock photos, we should look out for entirely new forms of creative expression enabled by these tools.

Towards a Shared Digital Europe

Today, we are launching a project that i have worked on for the last 6 months: A Vision for a Shared Digital Europe. I started working on this while i was still at Kennisland (where the idea was born) and i have continued this work after my departure from KL with Centrum Cyfrowe and the Commons Network. This vision is an attempt to set the stage for a different way about digital policy making in Europe.

With our vision we are proposing a uniquely European way that refuses to the the digital space as a marketplace alone and that sets out to identify a number of principles that can guide policy makers in developing alternatives for the status quo that go beyond an essentially defensive approach that relies on curtailing and regulating practices and operators that are considered to be problematic. In publishing our vision we hope to kick-start a conversation about what kind of digital environment we want for Europe:

Today we are launching a new vision for digital policy making in Europe: Our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe lays the foundation for a new frame for digital policy making in the EU. We propose an overarching policy framework that brings together varied issues and policy arenas, including copyright reform, platform regulation, privacy, data-protection and data governance, antitrust, media regulation or innovation policy.

Digitalisation has led much of our interaction, communication and economic activity to take place through data or over online intermediaries. What kind of space should this digital sphere be? We believe that seeing this space as a market place only does not do it justice. This space is in effect our society – a society that is experiencing a digital transformation. Therefore we cannot accept the digital sphere as a place where only market dynamics rule. Society is more than an interaction between market players, and people are more than entrepreneurs or consumers.

As supporters of the European project, we believe that Europe needs to establish its own rules for the digital space, which embody our values: strong public institutions, democratic governance, sovereignty of communities and people, diversity of European cultures, equality and justice. A space that is common to all of us, but at the same time diverse and decentralised.

Over the past five months we have worked with a broad group stakeholders on developing a frame that can replace the existing Digital Single Market frame that dominates discussions about digital policy making in the EU. We propose a new, society-centric vision that is intended to guide policymakers and civil society organisations involved with digital policymaking in the direction of a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions - a Shared Digital Europe.

The Shared Digital Europe must be based on four principles that aim to ensure that the balance between private and public interests is safeguarded. We believe that a Shared Digital Europe must enable self-determination, cultivate the commons, decentralise infrastructure and empower public institutions.

Combine these four elements with a truly European set of values and a new strategy presents itself. **A strategy that policy makers and civil society actors can use to counter the current lack of democratic oversight in the digital space, the deteriorating online debate, the monopolisation of the digital sphere, the enclosure of knowledge and the means of knowledge production and the increasing violation of human rights in the digital space. **

**Most importantly our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe provides policy makers with an opportunity to work towards a truly European idea about how society should function in the digital age. **

Are you working on digital policies and want to learn more or join our effort? Or do you want us to come by and share and discuss our vision with you? Don’t hesitate to reach out to hello@shared-digital.eu

On selling AI fever dreams to gullible publics

The Guardian recently had an op-ed by John Naughton on how the media is guilty in selling us AI fantasies at the behest of the technology industry. This scratches my long held belief that (a) AI is both poorly understood and as a result (b) completely oversold (at least when it comes to non-trivial problems of optimising consumption patterns1. In his op-ed Naughton primarily looks at how industry serving narratives about AI have come to dominate media coverage of AI, which he mainly attributes at journalists doing a fairly shoddy job:

The tech giants that own and control the technology have plans to exponentially increase that impact and to that end have crafted a distinctive narrative. Crudely summarised, it goes like this: “While there may be odd glitches and the occasional regrettable downside on the way to a glorious future, on balance AI will be good for humanity. Oh – and by the way – its progress is unstoppable, so don’t worry your silly little heads fretting about it because we take ethics very seriously.” […]

Why do people believe so much nonsense about AI? The obvious answer is that they are influenced by what they see, hear and read in mainstream media. But until now that was just an anecdotal conjecture. The good news is that we now have some empirical support for it, in the shape of a remarkable investigation by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University into how UK media cover artificial intelligence. […] The main conclusion of the study is that media coverage of AI is dominated by the industry itself. Nearly 60% of articles were focused on new products, announcements and initiatives supposedly involving AI; a third were based on industry sources; and 12% explicitly mentioned Elon Musk, the would-be colonist of Mars.

Critically, AI products were often portrayed as relevant and competent solutions to a range of public problems. Journalists rarely questioned whether AI was likely to be the best answer to these problems, nor did they acknowledge debates about the technology’s public effects.[…]

In essence this observation is neither new or specific to media coverage of AI. Similar dynamics can be observed across the whole gamut of technology journalism where the media is breathlessly amplifying thinly veiled sales pitches of technology companies. A couple of years ago, Adam Greenfield did an excellent job at dissecting these dynamics for the “smart cities” narrative. Adam’s post went one step further by focussing on how these media narratives find their way into public policies via bureaucrats who are ill-equipped to critically question them.

Even if we assume that the current capacities and impacts of AI systems are massively oversold, it is still clear that widespread deployment of Artificial Intelligence has the potential to further wreck the social fabric of our societies in pursuit of optimising the extraction of value. Given this it is not entirely surprising that the purveyors of the AI driven future are anticipating on the inevitable backlash:

Another plank in the industry’s strategy is to pretend that all the important issues about AI are about ethics and accordingly the companies have banded together to finance numerous initiatives to study ethical issues in the hope of earning brownie points from gullible politicians and potential regulators. This is what is known in rugby circles as “getting your retaliation in first” and the result is what can only be described as “ethics theatre”, much like the security theatre that goes on at airports.

The term “ethics theatre” seems spot on in this context. So far the whole discussion about AI ethics does indeed resemble a theatre more than anything else2. On multiple occasions I have seen otherwise critical people become almost deferential to some imagined higher order of discourse as soon as discussions were framed as being about the “ethics of…”. Having unmasked the abundance of ethics talk as an attempt to proactively deflect regulation Naughton points out that what we really need is indeed regulation:

…in the end it’s law, not ethics, that should decide what happens, as Paul Nemitz, principal adviser to the European commission, points out in a terrific article just published by the Royal Society. Just as architects have to think about building codes when designing a house, he writes, tech companies “will have to think from the outset… about how their future program could affect democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law and how to ensure that the program does not undermine or disregard… these basic tenets of constitutional democracy”.

This is an idea that we should take very seriously. Now that our public spaces are more and more defined by code and data, it is high time to realise that ideas like “moving fast and breaking things” are the equivalent ignoring building codes when constructing schools in earthquake-prone areas.



  1. That being said, I would totally be in the market for an AI powered app that can reliably tell me if an avocado is indeed ripe to eat. i would imagine that it can’t be that hard to train a neural network to do so by feeding it thousands of avocado images labeled according to ripeness. ↩︎

  2. The notable exception is the 2017 MIT experiment about the who should be killed by autonomous vehicles, which probably kick-started this entire AI ethics trope. Although in retrospect that was not so much about AI ethics but about the personal ethics of the participants. In my case the strongly held belief that any “self driving” car must always attempt to minimise harm done to anyone not driving in a car, even if that comes at the cost of maximising deaths among vehicle passengers. ↩︎

Cheating in San Francisco

27 Jan 2019 | 623 words | cycling united states

The last time i rode a bike in San Francisco was in 1996 when i was here for the Cycle Messenger World Championships. Since then the city has changed a lot, and while much of that change has not been for the better, when it comes to cycling things have improved a lot.

In 1996 bike messengers where pretty much the only ones cycling and as a cyclist you had to fight for your space on the road which was pretty much constantly challenged by ignorant/agressive motorists. These days the city is full of well marked bike lanes and the majority of motorists seem to treat cyclists with respect. The bike lane system is pretty remarkable with dedicated bycicle only shortcuts and clear indications on many streets that cyclists have the right to use a full lane. Combined with Google maps that skillfull routes you around the most challenging hills this makes for a really cycling freindly city and there are actually a lot of cyclists in the streets.

Cruising uphill on McAllistair Street

Over the past few days i have been criss-crossing the city on JUMP shared bycicles. The JUMP fleet of shared bycicles is brand new (the seem to be on the streets since earlier this month) and what sets them apart from other shared bikes is thier build quality and (more importantly) the fact that they are pedal assited electric bikes1. The bikes come with a electric motor that kicks in as you pedal and provides more power the harder you pedal. This makes for an extremely fun ride and a super fast way to get across town. The electric motor makes the most difference when going uphill which is a pretty effortless affair on one of these bikes. In fact going up hills is so easy that it constantly felt like cheating compared to my earlier adventures in this city and especially when you are passing a ‘real’ cyclist who is struggeling to climb up a hill.

These JUMP bikes are the most convincing implementation of a bike share programme that i have encountered yet. Clearly a lot of care went into both the design of the bikes and the overall system2. The bikes feel very solid and are fun to ride (in part due to the fact that they also have excellent brakes). Still i have my doubts that these bikes will indeed last for the three to five years that JUMP expects them to last. While the bikes feel rock solid at this point they have been in use for less than a month and i already had some minor hickups with the 3 speed rear hub which feels as if these will break relatively quickly. I also have my doubts regarding the exposed front disc brake which seems destined to come loose sooner rather than later.

It seems to me that at this stage the idea that these bikes can do with “a yearly check-up” is a little bit premature, but these weak spots shouldn’t be difficult to fix (go single speed and shield the front caliper assembly). All in all these bikes show that the shared micro mobility space is maturing and that a well-designed bike share system can really add to a city.


  1. This seems to fit into the local trend of turning pretty much everything that has wheels into a battery electric powered version of itself. ↩︎

  2. When you sign-up for the JUMP app you have to approve that JUMP can sharing your trip data with the city government. This is very much in line with calls that data produced by private companies using public spaces should be available to the public to improve public services (something that seems badly needed in this city). ↩︎

Leaving Kennisland (pt. 2)

The text below is an adapted version of a text first published on the Kennisland website under the title “Time to move on: what we have done to improve copyright and access to cultural heritage”. Both texts are identical except for the last section. The version published here provides a more in depth reflection on the challenges ahead for digital policy making.

At the end of 2018 we will end our activities in the areas of copyright and cultural heritage. Kennisland has been working on these themes for over a decade but with the departure of Paul Keller, who has been leading these efforts, we have decided to focus our energies on innovation in Education, Cities and Care.

Internet access, civil society media and open content

Over the past fifteen years our efforts to create an open, knowledge driven society have taken a lot of different forms. Driven by the conviction of our founders that the technological revolution started by increasing access to the internet presented a lot of benefits to an open, inclusive and diverse society, we have worked on a wide range of projects that tried to leverage new technologies for social progress. This ranged from initiatives to improve internet access in disadvantaged communities like Digitale trapvelden (‘Digital playing fields’) to ideas ahead of their time like WIFI in de trein (‘WIFI in the train’)1.

The main catalyst in this area turned out to be the Digital Pioneers programme we ran from 2002 to 2010. Through this programme, designed to support small civil society organisations in setting up technology driven activities, we learned a lot about the potential and the challenges posed by the rapid digitisation of society. One of these challenges that we identified early on was how copyright and other forms of intellectual property were not evolving at the same speed as technology. This meant that technology enabled many activities that were in conflict with copyright and other laws. Therefore, in 2003, we started the project DISC (Domain Innovative Software and Content). Together with Waag Society we helped civil society organisations to leverage the power of open source software and open content. Our involvement in the emerging field of open content led us to set up Creative Commons Nederland, which Kennisland ran (together with the Institute for Information Law) from 2005 until 20182.

Working on the development and promoting the use of the Creative Commons licenses was our first step into the area of copyright, and brought us in contact with the copyright establishment. In the fall of 2007, after years of discussion and relationship building, we launched a pilot project with Buma/Stemra that for the first time allowed members of a collective management organisation (music authors) to share some of their works under an open license. This breakthrough later provided the basis for a flexible model that gives Buma/Stemra members more say over how their rights are managed.

Opening up cultural heritage

Also in 2007, Kennisland, together with the Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision, the EYE Filmmuseum and the National Archives embarked on an ambitious project to digitise the audio visual memory of the Netherlands. At the time, the project called Images for the Future was the largest digitisation project in Europe. Kennisland was responsible for the copyright, communication and business model aspects of the project. During the project (2007-2014) the project partners restored, preserved and digitised over 90,000 hours of video, 20,000 hours of film, 100,000 hours of audio and 2,500,000 photos.

As one of the initiators of Images for the Future our priority was to make sure that the digitised works would become available online under conditions that would allow reuse. With regards to this objective the project turned out to be less successful. Regretfully only a small percentage of the overall collections could be made available online, mainly because of unresolved copyright issues. Copyright turned out to be a much more thorny issue than we had expected. The original project plan was based on the assumption that copyright owners would provide permission for the digitised material to be used in return for payment. In reality, most of them did not, as the economic incentive never materialised3.

However, we did manage to demonstrate the impact of making cultural heritage collections available under open licenses through platforms such as Open Images4 and the collaboration between the National Archives and Wikimedia. The latter illustrated that by sharing content on open platforms, institutions could reach new and larger audiences. These experiments around opening up collections for reuse became very influential for the nascent OpenGLAM movement. Realising that opening up GLAM collections (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) was primarily a matter of working with public domain works and metadata, we worked with Creative Commons on developing the tools to facilitate this5.

From 2009 onwards we also worked with collective rights management organisations on a number of pilot projects that explored the possibility of extended collective licensing as a mechanism to get more digitised cultural heritage available online. These projects proved to be successful and in response in 2013 cultural heritage institutions and collective rights management organisations joined forces (article available in Dutch only) to ask the Dutch legislator to provide a legal basis for extended collective licensing6.

Based on our work in the cultural heritage sector we were an early partner of Europeana, the EU funded platform that brings together digitised cultural heritage from thousands of libraries, archives and museums across the EU. Europeana provided us with an opportunity to apply the lessons that we had learned in the Images for the Future project on a wider scale. Together with the Institute for Information Law and the Bibliothèque Nationale de Luxembourg we developed a licensing framework that ensures full reusability of the metadata aggregated by Europeana. It encourages institutions to make their collections available for reuse under open licenses7. Today, ten years later, Europeana is the biggest aggregator of openly licensed cultural heritage resources, hosting more than twenty million freely licensed works8. The success of the Europeana Licensing Framework, which focuses on clear rights information for end users promotes reuse, has inspired other cultural heritage aggregators around the globe9, such as the Digital Public Library of America. Over the years of our collaboration Europeana has developed into one of the leading voices advocating for open access to cultural heritage and for the protection of the Public Domain10. We are proud to have been a driver of this.

Since 2016 we have also worked with Europeana on making sure that the ongoing EU copyright reform will improve the ability of cultural heritage institutions to make more of their collections available online. While the reform process is not concluded, there are indications that the EU copyright reform package will finally provide a workable answer for the copyright problems faced by libraries, museums and archives engaged in large scale digitisation efforts.

But our fight for better copyright rules11 extends further than improving the position of cultural heritage institutions. As a founding member and core contributor of the International COMMUNIA Association we have been advocating for a more user-friendly and modern EU copyright framework. Together with our partners we have been advocating for Europe-wide rules12 that benefit educators13 and scientists, and encourage innovation and broad access to knowledge and culture. The fight for a more sensible copyright system remains an uphill battle. The legislative fight over the Digital Single Market Copyright Directive14 is still ongoing, and while it looks like we (together with our partners) have achieved substantial improvements for the cultural heritage and the educational sectors, it is also clear that copyright will continue to serve as a major barrier to unlocking the full potential of digital technologies for public institutions and civil society at large.

What’s next?15

As we look back at almost fifteen years of activities, it is clear that many of the hopes that drove us to invest in these areas have failed to materialise. Instead of contributing to a more decentralised, democratic and equitable society, the digital revolution has brought us an increasingly centralised digital space that is undermining democracy and personal self-determination. At the same time, the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence is likely to raise an entirely new set of issues.

So why are we stopping our activities in this area when there is more urgency to act than ever?

We feel that after fifteen years we have exhausted our ability to intervene in meaningful ways. As an organisation that is entirely project-funded we need to find funders that are willing to pay for our interventions. Most funders that we have worked with prefer to fund activities/interventions that directly address a specific problem or issue that is relevant to their own mission (such as cultural heritage institutions for whom we have worked on copyright reform) or business (such as tech companies who have supported our copyright reform work). Such funding is usually tied to concrete opportunities or threats (like the ongoing EU copyright reform) and as such a lot of our work in the past years has been reactive to these kinds of threats and opportunities.

This has allowed us to change a lot of things for the better for the organisations and sectors that we have been working for. At the same time it is clear that we (as part of a bigger movement) have failed to counter the general trend towards an online space that is more and more dominated by a small number of powerful platforms that have built their dominance by extracting more an more of our private and public information. This situation poses a challenge for those like us who are part of the open movement. By advocating for opening up access to data, culture and information we have contributed to a favourable environment in which these platforms have come to dominate the online space.

If we want to reverse these developments and double down on our efforts to create a more decentralised, democratic and equitable society, there is a clear need for developing a more strategic, forward-looking policy agenda that furthers the policy objectives of the open movement.

Despite our long and successful track record in this field, Kennisland is no longer the place where this can happen. Both the funding model (dominated by relatively short-term project funding) and the relationship with our network of partners with whom we work on concrete social challenges (and who expect us to deliver concrete interventions in their immediate reality) drove us to the conclusion that Kennisland is no longer the place for long-term strategic policy work with an international focus. This is why I have decided to take these ambitions elsewhere.

Over the course of 2019 I hope to develop the foundations for a new entity that can be the host for these ambitions and that can become the basis for policies that rethink the digital environment in the light of what we have learned over the last decade and a half.


  1. Our 2005 project proposed to install WIFI networks in all trains. It took more than ten years before a majority of the Dutch trains were equipped with WIFI. These days most of them (with the notable exception of the “Intercity direct” service between Amsterdam and Rotterdam) broadcast our old project name as the SSID of their free WIFI networks. ↩︎

  2. In 2018 Creative Commons Netherlands was relaunched as a chapter of the Creative Commons Global Network. The Dutch chapter is chaired by Maarten Zeinstra (who previously worked at Kennisland) and our own Lisette Kalshoven serves as the global network representative. ↩︎

  3. You can find a more in-depth analysis of the results of the project in our publication ‘Images of the Past – 7 years of Images for the Future’. ↩︎

  4. Open Images became an important source of historical video content for Wikipedia, with large audiences. For example, in October 2018: 5,6 million pageviews↩︎

  5. In 2010 Creative Commons launched the CC0 public domain waiver which later became the de facto standard for sharing cultural heritage metadata. In 2010 Creative Commons launched the Public Domain Mark intended to label works that are in the Public Domain. ↩︎

  6. In 2015 the government responded by announcing that they intended to introduce Extended Collective Licensing into the Dutch copyright act. In the light of the 2016 EU copyright reform proposals this process is currently stalled. ↩︎

  7. To set an example, we developed Art Up Your Tab (together with Studio Parkers and Sara Kolster), a browser extension (plug-in) that shows users inspiring hi-res images from the rich collection of Europeana and the MET with every new tab or browser window that they open. The extension generates over 6 million views per year. ↩︎

  8. Since earlier this year our former colleague Harry Verwayen serves as Director of Europeana. ↩︎

  9. In 2016 together with Europeana and the DPLA we launched rightsstatements.org to better allow cultural heritage institutions around the globe to clearly communicate the copyright and reuse information of objects in their collections. ↩︎

  10. As expressed in the 2009 Public Domain charter which Kennisland drafted for Europeana. ↩︎

  11. Over the years we published numerous opinion articles on the subject of copyright reform. Read more about our efforts to modernise copyright law in the EU↩︎

  12. See copyrightexceptions.eu for research on the fragmented nature of user rights in the EU copyright framework that we have undertaken in 2016. ↩︎

  13. The education community (teachers, educators, lawyers, researchers, librarians, activists, experts on copyright) joins forces to ask for a better copyright for education. Check out the campaign website copyrightforeducation.eu ↩︎

  14. A controversial proposed European Union directive intended to ensure “a well-functioning marketplace for the exploitation of works and other subject-matter … taking into account in particular digital and cross-border uses of protected content.” Read more ↩︎

  15. You can find the (much shorter) original version of this paragraph that provides the perspective of Kennisland on the Kennisland website↩︎

© Piet Mondrian, 85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

15 Oct 2018 | 863 words | copyright art united states business travel

On the 16th of July 2015, a couple of hours before flying back to Amsterdam i rented a car in downtown Washington D.C and drove for a about an hour to Warrenton, VA to take a photo of a residential property located on one of the main thouroughfares of the small town:

85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

So what triggered my interest in this rather unremarkable building in an unremarkable town? The house on Waterloo Street was home to HCR international, a company that since 1998 has been managing the copyright in the works of the Dutch born artist Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944). As a result the name of the company featured prominently in the copyright notices alongside reproductions of the works of Mondrian on Museum websites and exhibition catalogues all over the world.

I had developed an interest in HCR international when we were working on the “Wiki loves Art/NLpublication in 2010. During the work on the book i became aware of the somewhat dubious reputation that a certain Hillary Richardson (presumably the H and the R in HCR international) had among museum curators who dealt with works by Piet Mondriaan. Apparently Ms Richardson was rather demanding when it came to providing permission for preproductions of Mondrian’s works. Not only was she known for asking high royalty rates (see this 2015 NY Times article for examples), she was also known to be very specific with regards to the copyright notices. According to a 2011 art magazine article, HCR generally demanded that copyright notices are placed vertically alongside any reproductions, that Mondriaan name must be written with one ‘a’ (the original Dutch spelling is with ‘aa’). Evidence from around the web also seems to indicate that she insisted that HCR international is named in all copyright notices.

So how did the copyrights of the most famous 20th century artist from the Netherlands end up in a residential house in Warrenton, Virginia? Like many other artists from continental Europe, Mondriaan had to flee from the Nazis. During a short stay in Paris in 1934 he became friends with the American artist Henry Holtzman. In 1940 Holtzman arranged for Mondrian’s passage from London to New York City, where he rented an apartment-studio for Mondrian. During the next three and a half years he was one of Mondrian’s most intimate associates.

When Mondriaan died of pneumonia in 1944 he willed his estate (including the copyrights) to Holtzman. Holtzman continued to live for a considerable period but eventually died in 1987. His estate, including the Mondriaan copyrights, fell into the hands of his three children, who set up the Mondrian/Holtzman trust. In 1999 they hired the art historian Hillary Richardson to manage the copyrights on behalf of the trust and, as a result, from 1999 onwards HCR international managed Mondriaan copyrights from the House in Warrenton, VA.According to its website (2015 version), the Mondrian trust…

… aims to promote awareness of Mondrian’s artwork and to ensure the integrety of his work. We intend to carry forward his legacy and influence a new generation of artists by managing and encouraging copyright use for Mondrian’s artwork. The trust grants licenses and copyright permissions to those whishing to reproduce Mondrian’s images.

In reality, as evidenced by the way that Ms Richardson operated, it is fairly clear that HCR international was not primarily concerned with Mondrian’s artistic legacy and integrity but rather interested in bringing in licensing revenue. In an email exchange between Ms Richardson and me in 2010 she declined an to contribute to our publication because “Mondrian is keeping me very busy!”.

Things changed when the Mondriaan copyrights expired on the 1st of January 2015. When i contacted Ms. Richardson again in early 2015 to see if she would be willing to talk about how  the fact that Mondriaan’s work was now in the Public Domain, she declined pointing out that because of the expiration of the Mondriaan copyrights, she was no longer working for the trust:  

Dear Paul Keller, Thank you for your inquiry. Due to the expiration of Mondrian’s copyrights worldwide–except for many in the US and in Spain, I decided not to renew my contract with the Mondrian Trust for the limited rights. That has given me the opportunity to consult for a producer of educational art apps and to use myart historical background researching works in private collections here in Washington, many of which span several centuries and cultures. They are new and rewarding challenges after 16 years working withMondrian’s incredible images …

That email was singend off with a new adress for HCR international:

HCR International 4100 Cathedral Avenue Washington DC

So when i visited the house on 85 Waterloo street in July 2015 both the Mondriaan copyrights and HCR international were no longer residing there. Still, looking at the house on that hot summer day, I could not stop but wondering how Mondrian, the 20th century icon of modernist abstract art, would had felt knowing that more that half a century after his death his copyright would be administered from a small residential property in rural Virginia.

More pictures of the house and Warrenton, VA in this flickr album

New Horizons (leaving Kennisland)

27 Sep 2018 | 731 words | work kennisland copyright future

For the last eleven and a half years Kennisland has been my professional home and base of operations (first high above the the Keizersgracht and since 2015 as part of Spring House). Today we have announced that it is time for me to leave to make place for the next generation to take over the helm at Kennisland. The past decade has been an amazing ride during which I have learned and grown a lot. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with lots of amazing people both at KL and all over the world1 on making the world a little bit of a better place.

Most of my contributions in doing so have focussed on fairly nerdy and technocratic issues. The most impactful - and hopefully lasting - change that we have managed to achieve is that we have convinced large parts of the cultural heritage sector to embrace digitisation as a chance for radical openness instead of seeing it as a threat (or, even worse, as a business opportunity). We have changed many organisations internal policies from closed by default to open by default and at this moment it feels that there is enough momentum in the direction of open access to collections and other data for it to sustain itself.

But changing internal policies of public institutions is not enough if they operate in a legal environment that is stacked against them (and against individual users and creators). This is why, over the last six years or so I have spend an ever increasing amount of my energy to fight for better copyright legislation in Europe. As I am preparing to leave Kennisland this fight is nearing its logical conclusion, and the jury is still out to determine in how far our attempts to change things for the better will be successful. Right now it is not looking particularly good, but as the saying goes, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

I will focus my remaining time at Kennisland on continuing this fight and I am optimistic that we still have the chance to move the needle in the right direction. Even if the end result of this round turns out to be disappointing the struggle for a legal environment that prioritises the interests of individual creators and the general public over the interests of profit driven intermediaries (both legacy entertainment industry and our new platform capitalist overlords) will continue for the foreseeable future.

It is somewhere in this space that I see my post-Kennisland future to unfold but at this point in time it is too early to say what I will be doing next2.

Reflecting about my time at Kennisland also means to look at the darker moments: During my tenure at Kennisland, the Netherlands has become a more selfish and closed society that has shed lots of traits that once made it an attractive environment to operate in. Over the years we have seen a decimation of a support system for a vibrant, experimental and optimistic cultural sector. The feeling of embracing the future and shaping it through experimentation that was still very much present when I started at Kennisland is largely gone, displaced by a sheepish admiration for disruptive innovation that cherishes individual responsibility above collective imagination and solidarity.

But the darkest moment of my time at Kennisland was the fact that no matter how hard we put up signs, organised campaigns and tried to ignore the inevitable logic of the destructive carnage in Syria, we lost Bassel (R.I.P). Thinking about Bassel and the never-ending carnage in Syria puts whatever I managed to achieve during my time at Kennisland into the perspective of the world around us ever so slowly getting more unhinged.


  1. This is not the moment for thanking everyone who needs to be thanked but among all the people who have influenced me over these years two absolutely stand out: Chris & Jill. Without either of them and the strange magic of complementary characters between us i would not be where I am right now. Thanks! ↩︎

  2. While I have no definitive plan for what I am going to do next I have lots of ideas for future endeavours and I am still open for suggestions. If you have any ideas or plans that you want me to be part of, please feel free to get in touch↩︎

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: