Science and Technology

Are book publishers making the same mistakes a the record labels?

Its certainly starting to look like it. TechDirt (via Slashdot) is pointing to an article in Slate which notes that publishers are worried about Amazons Kindle is about to give them the same dominance in book selling that Apple enjoys in online music distribution.

TechDirt then goes on to point out that Apples dominance is a result of the record labels demanding DRM on everything, creating the massive lock-in that Apple has been able to take advantage of.

If the record labels had, instead, pushed for an open solution, then anyone else could have built stores/players to work as well, and it could have minimized Apples ability to control the market. Yes, everyone is now opening up (including Apple), but it took a long time, and Apple had already established its dominant position.

And now book publishers are doing the same thing. Its the publishers that are pushing for DRM and limitations that will inevitably result in users being locked into Amazons platform. If the publishers had pushed for more open solutions, then barriers to entry would be lowered and a more competitive market could develop.

DRM is one of those technologies that looks like an easy solution in the short term but, in reality, it consistently comes back to bite us all.

Of heavy handed over-reactions and internet blackouts

Today Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde Kolmsioppi and Carl Lundstorm, the founders of Swedish file-sharing site, The Pirate Bay, are on trial on charges of copyright theft.

The site is being taken to court by several media firms, including Sony and Warner Bros., who claim that their profits are being harmed by the site and that it has been particularly harmful in distributing copyrighted works prior to their official release.

The defendants argue that their site is completely legal because none of the content is hosted on their computer servers and are seeking to portray themselves as digital libertarians.

A couple of thoughts spring to mind here, the first of which is to wonder how long this is going to take. Whatever the result of this case, there will be appeals and, I would guess, were talking several years before a final decision is arrived at. If, as is likely, the site remains up, running and tracking torrents for the whole of this time, the media companies are not doing a great deal to protect their bottom line right now.

The second, and more significant, thought is: What is the point? At the end of the day, The Pirate Bay is just a torrent tracker. The actual content is scattered across peoples PCs worldwide so, while shutting down the site may cause a temporary blip in filesharing activity, it isnt ultimately going to make any difference.

People will always seek to share content and always have done. Although technologies like BitTorrent and sites like The Pirate Bay makes this easier, the impulse to share is a human one and isnt going to go away. As such, targetting the ways in which people share content is as fruitless as trying to manufacture self-destructing books.

But if we travel a little further afield, things get even worse. I was half-way through writing this post when I happened to glance at Twitter and noticed that a lot of people were talking about a Blackout Campaign to protest against New Zealands Guilt Upon Accusation law that calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny. This law is due to come into effect on February 28th unless the countrys parliament takes action rather rapidly.

The campaign is being organised by The Creative Freedom Foundation which was founded in 2008 by artists and technologists Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and Matthew Holloway in response to Copyright law and its detrimental effect on creativity, the economy, and public rights.

The Foundation advocates on behalf of artists whose creative freedom is affected by major Governmental decisions made in their name, and in the name of protecting creativity. The Foundation represents the views of artists who dont want injustices in Copyright law done in their name, and who want to find better ways to work.

I shall leave the final words of this post to Nathan Torkington who very succinctly sums up pretty much everything I was planning to say:

The Internet has created new opportunities for artists: new opportunities to reach fans and new opportunities to earn a living. In the past, artists like us had to reach fans through companies that relied on old technology. These companies are now being forced to find new ways of doing business but instead of embracing the Internet theyre fighting it.

They fight progress by demanding changes to Copyright laws. In effect, they say, lock down the Internet so our 1960s way of doing business can still work in 2010. In doing so, they erode civil liberties and hold back the discovery of the new business models. They want to control the Internet just as movie companies wanted to control the VCR when it was first released. But, unlike then, courts and lawmakers are not safeguarding our interests.

Its time for artists to stand up and say: enough! The greatest problem that we artists face is obscurity, not piracy. Americas record companies have resorted to releasing malware and suing people without computers, alienating fans rather than figuring out how to turn them into satisfied customers. This cannot continue.

The Internet offers enormous opportunity for New Zealands artists to break out of obscurity and sell directly to millions of waiting fans. But if the record and movie companies get their way, snooping on innocent peoples Internet connections and acting outside the legal system, we risk training fans to have the same cynical attitude in return: to hell with them.

We dont endorse counterfeiting, mass duplication stores. These people hurt artists, robbing us of legitimate sales. But when an individual fan wants our work enough to go through the hassle of finding a way to pirate it online, we see that as an opportunity. Its an opportunity to meet the fan, to connect them to the artist, and ultimately for the artist to be rewarded for their work. This opportunity will be squandered in the world of restrictions, distrust, and civil rights abuses that the middlemen companies want to institutionalise.

Monty Python unlocks the value of YouTube

Back in November, the Monty Python team set up their own channel on YouTube and started uploading high quality versions of their most popular clips. The result, according to Mashable (via /film) has been phenominal:

Monty Python’s DVDs climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.

23000% sounds like an unfeasibly large number but a sizable increase is a sizable increase. While giving away content for free isnt going to benefit every performer quite so spectacularly, this news does strongly suggest that this approach can buld an audience who are prepared to go out and pay for more of your content.

Isle of Man gets real on filesharing

I have, in past posts, argued that the current music industry model of distributing music on physical objects is looking increasingly broken and that it would be better for the music industry to stop chasing file sharers and, instead, start developing a distribution model that actually works.

It appears that the Isle of Man agrees. They are proposing to introduce a compulsory blanket licence for music downloads under which broadband ISP subscribers would pay a nominal compulsory tax, but be able to share music legally.

The idea of legalising P2P rather than stopping it is an ancient one: its been used to create for new technologies for over a hundred years. Where its too complicated and/or expensive to count or police individual exchanges, a blanket licence has been issued.

Im not entirely convinced about the fact that the charge would be applied to all subscribers. Not all internet users share files so simple fairness dictates that ISP customers should be able to choose between a high bandwidth, “taxed” account or a lower bandwidth “untaxed” account. But this move is certainly a step in the right direction and it will be interesting to see whether any other states follow the Manx lead.

On a related note, a TNO study for the Dutch government has concluded that filesharing is good for the economy. The report notes that, although filesharing does affect media industry profits, the net effect is that more media are available overall.

The report also notes that downloading and buying are not mutually exclusive: downloaders on average buy just as much music as non-downloaders, but they buy more DVDs and games then people who dont download. They also tend to visit more concerts and buy more merchandise.

The Producers speak out on piracy

A group of UK film and TV producers, directors and writers have written to the Times to demand that Something Must Be Done about online file sharing. Whats more, they want to ensure that internet service providers become part of their solution.

Inevitably enough, however, they are not talking about looking for a business model that reflects the fact that people will seek to share content, preferring instead to limit themselves to an assertion and a demand.

Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. They have the power to make significant change and to prevent their infrastructure from being used on a wholesale scale for illegal activity. If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so.

First the assertion: Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. Do they? How? To me, this sounds dangerously like the producers believe that it is both possible and desirable for your ISP to monitor and analyse every packet of data that flows through your internet connection. In truth, it is both unfeasable and undesirable.

But it gets worse: If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so. When railing against piracy, ISPs are an easy target to go for - they are visible and there is only a limited number of them - but this doesnt make them an appropriate target. And demanding that ISPs should somehow be obliged to become the unaccountable watchdogs of our online behaviour is both unreasonable and dangerous, as the Internet Watch Foundation has so recently demonstrated.

Lloyd Kaufman Defines Media Consolidation

Lloyd Kaufman, Chairman of the IFTA, delivers a speech on media consolidation and the dangers it poses to independent art.

Ironically, I found this YouTube video by way of Kaufmans MySpace blog.

Monty Python looks on the bright side of YouTube

Tired of being ripped off over the past three years on YouTube, the Monty Python team has finally taken action by setting up their own channel on YouTube (via Slashdot).

No more of those crap quality videos youve been posting. Were giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.

Whats more, were taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And whats even more, were letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

And in return, all they are asking is that you click on the links and buy the films and TV shows. And you cant say fairer than that.

Everything but the industrial laser

Bahnhof, one of Swedens largest ISPs has just opened a new high-security data centre in an old nuclear bunker deep below the bedrock of Stockholm city and they have really gone to town with the design of the place.

“Since we got hold of this unique nuclear bunker in central Stockholm deep below the rock, we just couldn’t build it like a traditional – more boring – hosting center,” [Bahnhof CEO, Jon Karlung] said. “We wanted to make something different. The place itself needed something far out in design and science fiction was the natural source of inspiration in this case – plus of course some solid experience from having been a hosting provider for more than a decade.”

“I’m personally a big fan of old science fiction movies. Especially ones from the 70s like Logan’s Run, Silent Running, Star Wars (especially The Empire Strikes Back) so these were an influence,“ said Karlung. “James Bond movies have also had an impact on the design. I was actually looking for the same outfit as the villain ‘Blofeld’ in Bond and even considered getting a white cat, but that might have been going a bit far!”

The results, which can be seen at Pingdom (via Slashdot) are spectacular.

Cory Doctorow on Copyfighting

Cory Doctorow has an article in Locus Magazine (via) discussing why he thinks the current copyright model is broken:

When you hear a song you love, you play it for the people in your tribe. When you read a book you love, you shove it into the hands of your friends to encourage them to read it too. When you see a great show, you get your friends to watch it too — or you seek out the people whove already watched it and strike up a conversation with them.

So the natural inclination of anyone who is struck by a piece of creative work is to share it. And since sharing on the Internet is the same as copying, this puts you square in copyrights crosshairs. Everyone copies. Dan Glickman, the ex-Congressman who now heads up the Motion Picture Association of America (as pure a copyright maximalist as you could hope to meet) admitted to copying Kirby Dicks documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (a scorching critique of the MPAAs rating system) but excused it because the copy was in [his] vault. To pretend that you do not copy is to adopt the twisted hypocrisy of the Victorians who swore that they never, ever masturbated. Everyone knows that they themselves are lying, and a large number of us know that everyone else is lying too.

Go read the rest


So I started watching the election on Tuesday night and - partly because the delays between nuggets of actual news were so large, and partly because the BBC coverage was pretty dire - I found myself turning to the internet to see what conversations were going on. And, at this point, not much was happening and no-one was really saying anything

until I turned to Twitter who had an election stream set up and the comments were flying by. It was fascinating, if not illuminating and - consequently - I have overcome my resistance to microblogging.

This is all a long way of saying that I have finally signed up to both Twitter and Jaiku and will be digging around in the very near furure to see what WordPress plugins are available.