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Information wants to be free
"Information wants to be free" is slogan that has been thrown about lately by folks whose goal is the opposite. For example, John Ridding
of teh Financial Times, who says "information wants to be free is an absurd notion." or ASCAP's Paul Williams, who has been running around making disparaging comments about the Creative Commons, but refuses to debate Larry Lessing
Like a preacher quoting from the bible to make a point, these folks like to quote part but not all of the statement, losing the context. Here's the rest of the quote
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other
Of course, information doesn't want to be anything. Information is just the change in uncertainty between before and after you receive some bits. The problem is a question of how much that change in uncertainty is worth. The bit sellers seem to think it's worth a lot more than the public seems willing to pay.
The amount charged for information often doesn't reflect its true value. For examples, if your kid swallows a household cleaner, the information provided by the poison control center is priceless, but it comes at no direct monetary cost to you at the time. On the other hand, the arrest status of Lindsey Lohan is essentially worthless information, but if it resides behind a paywall, you will be forced to pay for it along with a large amount of marginally useful information and an even larger amount of useless information.
A term from economics is information utility
- the value given to a product by virtue of the fact that it can provide the user with information that is useful. The problem with the paywall concept is the low utility of the general news media. I'm willing to pay for Science magazine because it has high utility in my work. I wouldn't pay a dime for a year's worth of People magazine because it provides no utility to me. Until information utility and information cost come into line, newspaper paywalls will fail. The problem isn't that people won't pay for information, it's that the news has low utility density.
stumbled on to yooouuutuuube.com today. yooouuutuuube
takes videos from Youtube and creates a shifting panel of frames from the video. It's a big improvement fro those boring videos that are put on Youtube consisting of a few simple images while playing a song. It turns a simpleminded video into a psychedelic vision.
The large media companies (ABC, Disney etc.) think of the net like television - a delivery vehicle for content, which they own. I think content delivery on the net is great, but the idea that the content is property that can or should be controlled limits its power and usefulness. To many, such as Youtube music video posters and more importantly folks like yooouuutuuube creators, other people's art is raw material for their own. The model of creative activity typically involving high development costs and thus creators requiring a monetary incentive and thus a large amount of control over their products is breaking down rapidly. The net is turning that model on its head. The image of a solitary creator or small team of creators is breaking down. anybody with broadband and a laptop can be a collaborator - download a few tunes, a few videos and re-mix. It may seem unfair that original creators are being paid, but it's no more unfair than the fact that the "original" creators took ideas and material, albeit indirectly from others.
The net has started to eat newpapers (Newspapers face 'unending losses,' says Warren Buffet
). Television is next. Companies like Time-Warner are desperately trying things like bandwidth caps to protect their cable business, but bandwidth caps are the new DRM. We know how well that has worked. TV is dead because it's passive. There is a whole world of people who see TV, music, and movies as raw material. The big money in the near future is in finding a way to let them do just that and making a buck on it.
Aram Sinnreich and Masha Zager have an interesting article at TruthDig
. They point to the increasing restriction on digital free speech. Many of these come about because of commercial restriction on transferring information, for example DRM which restricts what devices you can use to play music. Various laws and treaties get the government in the act as agents for corporate interests. As part of the article, they coin the term e-speech, making the point:
Without a name for the big picture, itís difficult to do anything about it. Imagine trying to reverse global warming, reduce pollution and save species from extinction without the umbrella of the word environmentalism connecting the issues. Therefore, we propose the term e-speech as a concept to unite these issues, and to discuss potential solutions to the problem they collectively pose.
I don't know if e-speech will catch on. It sounds like something Apple would dream-up, although they would call it i-speech. But the concept is a good one. The increasing restriction of free digital expression has to become an issue that is debated in the mainstream. Our rights to free-expression may be dying from a million paper cuts.
However, there are contrary views. I have felt that the DMCA was a travesty, but this article in Wired argues 10 Years Later, Misunderstood DMCA is the Law That Saved the Web
. The article argues that immunity to ISP for copyright infringement by their users has prvided the freedom for the growth of the web. Paired with the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity against noncopyright claims like defamation, the DMCA made it possible for everyone to provide forums for users without constant fear of being sued.
I'm a bit dubious about that argument given the heavy-handed way the DMCA has been wielded by corporations. A major problem is that it is very difficult if not impossible for a single user to defend their free-use of digital material against a litigious corporation with deep pockets. Once sent a takedown notice, what do you do? You can certify that the material is noninfringing, but if the corporation decides to sue, can you afford to defend your rights?
This sort of activity even hurts the big guys like Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who voted for the DMCA. McCain has been reusing snippets of broadcast news footage in his online campaign videos, and a variety of news outlets have been getting the videos yanked from YouTube with takedown notices. The McCain campaign is probably within their rights to use these snips, but can they afford to fight all the battles during an election campaign?
One big problem with DMCA is that it fails to recognize fair use. Until it is changed so that it does, it's a one sided law that penalizes the little guy while giving corporations the power to restrict speech.
Is there such a thing as free speech on the net?
As Internet companies continue to consolidate and Internet users spend more time using vendor-controlled platforms such as mobile devices or social-networking sites, free speech and other rights diminish. Consider these examples from a Wired News
Verizon Wireless barred an abortion-rights group from obtaining a "short code" for conducting text-messaging campaigns, while LiveJournal suspended legitimate blogs on fiction and crime victims in a crackdown on pedophilia. Two lines criticizing President Bush disappeared from AT&T Inc.'s webcast of a Pearl Jam concert. All three decisions were reversed only after senior executives intervened amid complaints.
One interesting aspect of this issue is that the quote above s from an article copyrighted by the Associated Press. The article outlines some of the problems that free speech faces on a vendor controlled internet and seems to be arguing for greater openness. This somewhat ironic considering the AP's stand on the online use of quotes from their articles. From PC World
The New York Times is reporting that the AP is setting guidelines for blog usage of AP content after the AP sent takedown notices to The Drudge Retort last week. The AP's guidelines will deal with what and how much content blogs can quote and still be considered legal use under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.
The AP initially sent a take down notice to the Drudge Retort demanding it take down seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words. The quotes were linked, but the AP felt they somehow violated their copyright, even though they fell squarely under the fair use doctrine.
The AP eventually backed off somewhat, but the issue is still in the air. As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value." says Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of the AP.
Mr. Kennedy seems to equate value to his organization with the right to control expression. However value also exists for bloggers, scholars, and other news outlets when they quote from standard sources such as the AP. That value reflects back to the AP. The notion that being an information outlet implies absolute control is a difficult one for many large organizations to shake.
All your videos are belong to us
Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users' names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyright videos to appear on YouTube, a judge ruled Wednesday.
A number of questions arise about this: Why did the judge allow this massive violation of privacy; what will Viacom do with this information; why was Google tracking this? I think the answer to the latter two questions is obvious. To Google, it is a marketing goldmine. To Viacom, it may be proof that their copyrighted material was popular on YouTube, although that could established by other means. It could also be a marketing goldmine to Viacom. Google correctly that the data should not be disclosed because of the usersí privacy concerns. Of course, that works both ways. Google should not have accumulated that information because of users' privacy concerns.
This is big enough news that it made CNN. CNN gave it about 30 seconds, followed by several minutes about black actors portraying fictional US presidents. The EFF
is getting involved.
This is a big potential privacy violation in the US and can lead to some interesting embarrassing moments (Maybe John McCain watches that dumb teenage lightsaber guy over and over). The real problem is in other countries. Now that the cat is out of the bag and every user has been tracked, will Google/Viacom turn information over to various governments about who watched what video that is illegal in their domain? Think that's not a possibility? Consider Yahoo and China
OMG!! TEH TERRORISTAS!!!
Attorney General Michael Mukasey claims
that terrorists sell pirated software as a way to finance their operations. He provides no evidence. Mukasey mentions a number of cases of arrests for pirating software but no links to terrorism in any of the cases. This sounds like another case of the government using the terrorist
bogey-man as an excuse to push whatever new law or enforcement scheme they have come up with. In this case, it is to force Congress to pass intellectual property (IP) legislation that would increase IP penalties, increase police power, set up a new agency to investigate IP theft.
Library of Congress uses Flickr to tag photos
This is cool. From Boing Boing
, the Library of Congress is now posting photos at Flickr
so citizens can tag and describe them. I find this encouraging. It's great to see a government agency embracing the wisdom of crowds
Front runners front running
Network Solutions has been caught front-running domain names. Front running is the process whereby a domain name that has been searched for by a potential domain purchaser is purchased by the registrar, thereby preventing a registrant from purchasing the domain at any other registrar. Network Solutions' front running activities were discussed on /.
today. Now, Network Solutions has issued a response
. To my mind it's one of the lamest corporate responses ever. Basically, Network Solutions says, "Yes, we're front running, but we're doing it for your good because we don't want someone else to take the domain name." Oh yes! I'm sure this will improve their standing in the tech community.
A hacker by any other name
Bruce Schneier asks Is Sears Engaging in Criminal Hacking Behavior?
Sears.com is distributing spyware that tracks all of your internet usage, including banking, purchases and anything else. All you have to do is sign up for My SHC Community
. The fact that they are spying on you is somewhat obscurely described in the EULA, but it's certainly not going to be obvious to most users. As Schneier points out if a kid with a scary hacker name did this sort of thing, he'd be arrested, but this is Sears. In other Sears news
, if you register for Sears' managemyhome.com, you can look up major purchases for any address, not just your own. A goldmine for Sears' competitors as well as nosy neighbors. Someone in Sears' top management needs to buy a clue, but they probably won't find it in the clue department at Sears.
Followup: It looks like Sears has fixed
the managemyhome.com hole.
Brits reject copyright extension
Harry Potter leaks
is reporting a scan of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has made it to the web. The publisher spent something like $20 million to keep the book secret. I can't say I really care much about the fate of Harry Potter. I tuned out half way through the first book and I thought the movies were a big bore. However, It's a big deal to lots of folks. As Bruce Schneier
points out Anyone fan-crazed enough to read digital photographs of the pages a few days before the real copy comes out is also someone who is going to buy a real copy.
Two things stand out to me: it's pretty hard to keep a secret these days and despite the fact that the author and the publisher think they own Harry, the fans have a stake too. Some fans are so invested in Harry that they can't wait. Harry, like many other cultural icons, is not just intellectual property
, i.e. a government granted monopoly, but a major part of people's lives. It' s hard to tell folks who have an emotional stake in a cultural artifact that it's owned by a corporation and they can only use it under the corporation's terms. Everybody owns the culture, just like everyone owns the air.
The Day the Music Died...almost
Today, July 16, is the day that the new Internet radio royalty rates were supposed to take effect. It is the day, too, on which thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of U.S.- based Internet radio stations would go silent, as a result of dramatically increased license fees. That didn't happen. So, what did?
I think two thing intervened: First, as Findlaw
points out, the RIAA was handed two victories, one from the Copyright Board setting the huge increase in royalties and another by the appeals court, which rejected an attempt to hold back the rate increase. Why did the RIAA compromise? SoundExchange, the radio royalty monitoring and collection arm of the RIAA has a staff of fewer than 30. They just don't have the staff or technology to monitor and collect from the thousands of net radio broadcasters. SoundExchange doesn't seem to be preparing to take advantage of the greatest windfall in copyright history. SoundExchange must have known, too, that if today came and went with little or no change it would weaken their position in future negotiations.
Secondly, the RIAA knows that net radio is small potatoes financially now, but it will be big in the near future. They don't want the royalties as much as they want control of all music distribution. Ars Technica
points out that the net radio "compromise" hinges on DRM adoption by net radio. This will be the real win for the RIAA. They will have control of the future of web music broadcasting because they will be able to limit where, how, and when you are able to listen. Of course, it will be a big loss to music fans, but Big Entertainent, just sees us as sheep to be fleeced anyway.
This is pretty cool
A congressman from PA defends the right
Congressman Doyle: Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about him is "based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is legit and deserves to be heard."
In one example, Mr. Chairman, he blended Elton John, Notorious B-I-G, and Destiny's Child all in the span of 30 seconds. And, while the legal indie-music download site eMusic.com took his stuff down due to possible copyright violation, he's now flying all over the world to open concerts and remix for artists like Beck.
The same cannot be said for Atlanta-based, hop-hop, mix-tape king DJ Drama. Mix-tapes, actually made on CDs, are sold at Best Buys and local record shops across the country and they are seen as crucial in making or breaking new acts in hip-hop. But even though artists on major labels are paying DJ Drama to get their next mixed-tape, the major record labels are leading raids and sending people like him to jail.
I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it's the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle's hit "I Saw Her Standing There."
Maybe it is. And, maybe Drama violated some clear bright lines. Or, maybe mixtapes are a powerful tool. And, maybe mash-ups are transformative new art that expands the consumers experience and doesn't compete with what an artist has made available on iTunes or at the CD store. And, I don't think Sir Paul asked for permission to borrow that bass line, but every time I listen to that song, I'm a little better off for him having done so.
Until our questions about the future of music get answered, we first have to look at the future of radio... (and then he wraps up his talk with a few words about the Webcast issues of the day)...
The DMCA is dying...
...and some of its former biggest boosters are out to kill it. First example, Viacom asked a federal court to order YouTube to pay it more than $1 billion in damages for videos that Viacom claims it owns and have been uploaded to YouTube. As Lawrence Lesig points out in this insightful article
, YouTube is following the DMCA. The laws says that once notified an service provider must take down the offending material. YouTube, owned by Google, says it is willing to do that if Viacom notifies them. Viacom says this is too hard. They want to push the job off on YouTube, forcing YouTube to police its uploads and remove material that Viacom deems unlawful before Viacom sees it. Of course, there's lots going on underneath this. Viacom has a deal with Joost to supply video so the last thing they want is YouTube competing with them. Costing YouTube money helps either in a lawsuit or by forcing them to expend effort policing uploads helps Viavcom's deal with Joost. Big media's answer to their problems with the DMCA will turn out to be more DRM, but that won't work well and the battle will continue. I think the best answer may be compulsory licensing. If a reasonable license fee were set for the distribution of digital media so that anyone who paid could distribute the material in any form they wanted, everyone would make money. The fee would have to be set by Congress of a public commission and not the media moguls. It would have to be low enough that mash artists and start-ups could afford it, but high enough that the content producers would go along. It's unlikely to happen as long as the content mavens think they can control the distribution of digital material. We're likely to see more technically lame DRM attempts and more bad laws for quite a while.
The second nail in the DMCA's coffin came from the NFL. The NFL is aggressive about controlling the distribution of NFL sanctioned material. Boing Boing
reports that the NFL is ignoring the DMCA's dispute resolution system by sending a second takedown notice to YouTube demanding that it censor Wendy Seltzer's clip from the Superbowl. Wendy, a former EFF lawyer posted a clip of the NFL's copyright warning. The NFL sent a takedown notice to YouTube, Wendy sent a counter-notice, and now the NFL is supposed to go to court to pursue its claim. Instead, the NFL sent another takedown notice and YouTube waffled and deleted the video. It seems like the NFL, like Viacom, wants others to do their work. Posting the copyright notice probably falls under fair use, but big media seems to want absolute control over digital material even it means not following the rules they helped create.
The DMCA is dying, but like the creature in a bad horror film, it will rise again in a more hideous form.
This sounds like extortion
From Slyck News
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of the major record companies, today sent 400 pre-litigation settlement letters to 13 different universities. Each letter informs the school of a forthcoming copyright infringement lawsuit against one of its students or personnel. The RIAA will request that universities forward those letters to the appropriate network user. Under this new approach, a student (or other network user) can settle the record company claims against him or her at a discounted rate before a lawsuit is ever filed.
Pre-litigation? Students can settle at a discount rate? Did Tony Soprano think this up? Nice little education you have going here, we wouldn't want anything to happen to it, would we? People who call them the MafIAA don't seem far from wrong. This sounds like a simple pay-off scheme. They know most students, whether they have shared files or not, can not afford to fight the RIAA in court and will have to settle.
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