Day 3 Thoughts

From Cyberlaw: Difficult Issues Winter 2010
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Tyler: I am wondering if the terms in AMT's conditions of use that works prepared by turkers are to be considered works for hire would be considered valid. My initial instinct is that it would not necessarily be so.

To paraphrase, the Copyright Act defines a work for hire as (17 U.S.C. 101):
  • 1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment
    • The factors to make determination were listed in the CCNV v Reid case (790 U.S. 730, 1989)
      • The two most important factors are provision of employee benefits and tax treatment (from Aymes v. Bonelli, 980 F.2d 857, 1992)
  • OR 2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work if:
    • 1. category: is one of:
      • part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
      • a translation
      • a supplementary work – adjunct to a work made by another author
      • a compilation
      • an instructional text – systematic instructional activities
      • a test
      • answer material for a test
      • an atlas
    • 2. intent: if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire

must fit into one of the 8 categories to be a contracted work made for hire (p132) Most work produced for HITs would not seem to fall into either of these categories.

Michael: I think many works produced through HITs are going to be considered compilations or collective works. Certainly David's Sheep or 100 Dollar Bill are compilations so long as they are taken as a whole. Even in any attempt to monetize the individual elements, the Turk Participation Agreement states that any works which cannot be considered works for hire are assigned to the requester. (full text copied below)
Section 3(a): "As a Provider, the Requester for whom you provide Services is your client, and as such, you agree that the work product of any Services you perform is deemed a "work made for hire" for the benefit of the Requester, and all ownership rights, including worldwide intellectual property rights, will vest with the Requester immediately upon your performance of the Service. To the extent any such rights do not vest in Requester under applicable law, you hereby assign or exclusively grant (without the right to any compensation) all right, title and interest, including all intellectual property rights, to such work product to Requester." The full policy can be found here.
Jason: Michael just sort of stole my mojo - I was about to say a similar thing - but Tyler, I guess I too don't see why you think HITs are not works-for-hire under test 2. Take the book about cats: it seems to me that Bjoern specifically ordered those stories for his compilation, which would fall under the rule. I guess there could be a problem of asymmetry if both parties need to know that they work is being commissioned, since in many cases only the commissioner might know what it's being used for. But given the Mechanical Turk terms of service that Michael reproduces above - which probably constitutes a "written instrument" - I think the Turker would be hard-pressed to argue that he had zero notice, even if he didn't know specifically what his work would be used for.
Andrew: I think there's certainly enough wiggle room in the words "specially ordered or commissioned" to support a claim that the AMT contract does not effect WMFH status, at least in some cases. Take the cats book: When it was ordered, Bjorn himself didn't know what he was going to do with the cats when he got them. How could he argue that he had "specially ordered or commissioned" them for that compilation at the time of the contract? More generally, I think the 'meeting of the minds' aspect is more important than Jason suggests, given that it's the basis of so much doctrine in contract interpretation. That is, I think it's an open question whether a task which the performer does not know to have a certain purpose can be said to be "specially ordered or commissioned" for that purpose with regard to the written instrument.
Sharona: While I agree with Jason and Michael that this is probably a work made for hire, do you think this may run into contracts of adhesion problems? Or, do you think if the average turker was aware of what his "original" (after all, to be copyrightable, it must be original) work would be used for, he would have agreed to the Participation Agreement? Does it matter?
Tyler: To follow up on my original thought, I agree that an argument could be made for HITs to be WMFH, but I see big problems with the "specially ordered or commissioned" language as Andrew mentioned. Also, I'm not sure mention in the terms of service would qualify as a written instrument signed by both parties.
Jason: Hmmm, that's interesting. After doing a bit more reading, I agree that the WMFH requirements are a bit stricter than I thought they were, so I do see your point, even though I stand by the view that the cat book contributions likely qualify as works made for hire. Maybe we need to find a HIT that becomes a creative work and then sue the compiler for copyright violation to find out? Sure, it'd be an ironic copyright suit coming from this group, but we can work around that.

Victoria: I think what bothers me most about Ub. Hum. Comp. through tools like Mechanical Turk and re-Captcha is the lack of transparency. I think a lot of the fear about these programs - that lead to the Iranian hypo stem from a lack of transparency. The task master is not required to say what the micro task is for. However, what I found to be a fascinating comment last night in response to this came from Bjoern. After publishing the cat book he said he asked a test group if it was OK to publish the book without asking first. Bjoern reported that the Turkers seemed to be OK with it. I wonder if it is just the non-Turkers (like myself) that have a problem with the lack of transparency and dream up these dystopic problems.

Secondly in addition to transparency I have a problem with the micro-tasking. Although Aaron's artwork is completely beautiful - Crowdflower kind of makes me feel uneasy at times - especially when thinking that it could eventually be tapped into on an IPhone app during a person's idle time and that a security guard is doing it while he is supposed to be engaged in surveillance. By making the tasks so short and small Turk infuses money-making into every aspect of life. It makes everything a cost-benefit analysis. Should I go to the beach and read a Magazine or make money. Should I stand in line and think about what I have to cook later or make money? Should I spend time with my family or make money?

Juan: I'm thinking the "addiction" problem Zittrain mentioned. From the requesters' perspective, they want to come up with some interesting idea to attract people to work on it. The more attractive the idea, the more time people might be willing to contribute. Like the ESP game, some people spend more than 20 hours a week on it, almost "work" as a full time employee. The downside is "addiction". However, the good thing is people contribute while they are playing. To put it another way, human computing collects human intelligence which would have been wasted on meaningless on-line surfing. Especially for those countries with a large population like China, human computing can make use of a large amount of human resources.

Another interesting thing is the responsibility of Ubicomp sites. Lukas said they will not accept works to spam other one's website. How about political abuse? Transparency may be one solution, because users would be given the opportunity to judge the social value and choose to walk away. Should there be some code of conduct governing the activities of Ubicomp sites? How can we make sure Ubicomp sites will follow the code of conduct?

Sheel: To be honest, I was surprised that Lukas cared about monitoring the customers (i.e. those requesting services to be performed) at all. Sure, there are plenty of ethical issues as mentioned above and as talked about, but doesn't it make sense from a business perspective to not spent capital on monitoring something for which there is no legal reason to monitor? I feel like the more he claims to say that he is monitoring, the more the public may demand and expect monitoring. It makes more sense to me for Crowdflower to be like YouTube or eBay; in other words, if content is so obviously illegal (like child porn videos on YouTube or selling presidential inauguration tickets on eBay) then it should be taken down upon notice, but otherwise it should be left up and not monitored.

Elisabeth: A lot of our concerns are quite paternalistic, and it's hard to imagine what appropriate legal solutions would be. I don't know much about labor law in this country, but I think we mostly try to regulate minimum wage and truly hazardous working conditions. Regulation of addiction issues or mind-factory issues would really be a brave new world. I left class more interested in providing market solutions for workers who like microwork, but want away around some of the downsides -- for instance, a Crowdflower-like service that filtered tasks for workers, giving them access to better tasks and allows them to carry their reputations with them.

Reuben: I was intrigued by the ways Turkers have already united to protect themselves to an extent. Between the Turker Nation message board and the Turkopticon Firefox extension, dedicated Turkers have already found ways to warn the Turker community about bad job providers and inform each other about what HITs are easy and what pay well. I can't remember who it was, but I believe someone was concerned that he who controls Turkopticon would be in a powerful position to influence what tasks are performed on Mechanical Turk, but I don't think an open source system that depends on community reviews really has that kind of vulnerability. Combined with other forums, like Turker Nation, I think the community could play a strong role in weeding out the bad and directing people to the good parts of Mechanical Turk and human computing.