on 24 February 2006 at about 19:52

This week: newsr

This item was originally posted on CEMP's Interactive Media Portal on 24 February, 2006.

This week: anti-corporate, goatboy, rant: warning!

This article’s name is brought to you by the word news and the MakeWords domain name generator.

London Anagrammap

The more perspicacious will notice I have a thing about copyright and corporations who try to wrestle ever more control over it from the public domain. Indeed, it provokes words of gentle admonition, such ‘Hey! stop forcing us all to fellate goatboy’ – to borrow a (possibly copyrighted) image from the late and wonderful Bill Hicks.

The debate going on this week at WIPO goes to the heart of the matter. While countries like the US are trying to lobby for ever-tougher measures to shrink the public domain, voices like Chile are actually talking some sense: no public domain means no creative resources means no more innovation.

Does the US really want to shrink consumer rights and trample all over fair use? Well, yes. The ‘Broadcaster’s Treaty’ being discussed at WIPO removes all fair use provisions from all internet audio/video casts – even the head of the US’ Copyright Office admits the rest of the world totally rejects the proposal. In practice, this measure would mean that anyone wishing to produce audio/video content on the web (eg you and me) would need further permissions (eg from hosting services) to distribute it even though they authored it themselves. Starting up ideas like this internet TV site would be an even bigger colossal pain the arse, and, basically, who would bother? Corporations with money accrued through draconian tactics perhaps?

Does the public domain / fair use really drive innovation? Well aside from all the mashup services coming online every day (which re-use resources provided by third-parties to create new services – think of all the implementations of google-maps) there are entire musical genres which owe their existence to a six-second drum sample.

Does commerce suffer because of the public domain and fair use? Well sure if you think that free viral marketing for these companies hurts them somehow. NBC thinks so, since they slapped a cease-and-desist on YouTube for distributing Saturday Night Live’s ‘Lazy Sunday: Chronicles of Narnia’ video, creating an Internet craze increasing the show’s flagging profile. Hey you pirates! Stop making our content popular! Apple also thinks so, since it has shut down a message board where people discuss ways they might install Mac OS X, designed for the switch to Intel chipsets, on non-Apple Intel chipsets. So that would be Apple getting it’s OS onto more computers, then, which would be, um, bad, cos, like, Apple has such a massive market-share when it comes to operating systems…

And while we’re on it, can someone please show me any evidence whatsoever that there is a causal link between piracy and declining sales? I’m a music pirate: I have loads of maxell tapes from when I was nineteen and couldn’t afford to buy the latest My Bloody Valentine (etc) album. Of course, if I hadn’t had those tapes I would a) not have been a criminal, b) have been entirely ignorant of MBV, c) not spent any money on going to their gigs and d) not spent my first pay-cheque on their back-catalogue. And besides, the industry’s lawsuits against p2p networks are on questionable legal ground, anyhow, and, furthermore, if the movie industry wasn’t so intent on maximising profit by staggering film releases across the globe, many people watching pirated copies wouldn’t need to do so.

Now of course, these corporations and institutions who respect Intellectual Property so much wouldn’t dream of invading citizens’ privacy or misusing their personal information, would they? Well, um, yes, and yes. The RIAA is trying to use the private data of children in a court case to sue their mother. A Houston Police Chief has suggested installing CCTV in people’s homes to counter-act crime. The US DoJ wants search engines to hand over search records, which some argue will set a precedent allowing the identification of individuals and their digital interests.

What’s to be done? Play them at their own game, like this Kokomo 16-yr-old who successfully sued his mayor to release his mailing-list. Indeed, teenagers, currently being variously sidelined, suspected and criminalised, are the topic of a number of stories this week. They’re ‘driving a cultural shift’ as they gather in myspace. And they’re also gaining valuable social skills in cyberspace. And, oh my god, they’re sharing files.

Finally: a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the London Anagrammap – a remix of the iconic LU tube map which replaced all station names with their anagrams. LU immediately slapped – wouldn’t you know – a cease-and-desist order on it. Not long after that (and I’d like to posit a causal link here), anagrammaps of the world’s underground networks started springing up everywhere – including a copy of the original London version right HERE!

Because anti-piracy measures work, folks.

[Original] Comments

On the one hand the various user-driven initiatives to circumvent copy protection, ignore IP rights and get and make culture for free seem to go against the very soul of capitalism. I mean where will it end if people realize that you don’t need to always sell everything for a profit; that things can be shared and freely distributed? I mean what next? Is car ownership just a way to increase the profits of global car manufactures and oil companies? If we all just shared cars we could make do with without car dealers and finance companies and car security firms and everyone would get access to cheap transport. And of course this wouldn’t be the end of cars at all – far from it. The big firms would go bust, but people (students mostly) would still tinker and make better cars in their sheds. Which they would freely share with everyone. And they would be powered by potatoes. Same is true of clothes. Most just sit around in people’s private houses not being worn. They could all be shared. And we could make our own too. And then share them. And then there are houses themselves. With so many people across the world with so little, think of the changes that could be made.

But on second thoughts, the stealing of music should not be seem as an important political movement aimed against the capitalist power structures simple because it is so trivial. The few who make mashups shouldn’t be confused with the millions who are just interested in nicking stuff. Of course people will steal music and films if they can, but in most cases this is just plain selfish individual opportunism. P2P turns out to be more Adam Smith than Carl Marx after all. And with that motive at its heart who can blame the media industries from responding with law suits.

I do. It’s total hypocrisy. For an entirely trivial example, Dean Gray got stamped on for mashuping Green Day’s songs for breach of copyright. How about stamping on Green Day for being so utterly derivative that mashups of their songs are possible at all? Or how about encouraging Dean Gray since it gets the Green Day meme out there at no cost to Warner?

How about letting amateurs/students tinker all they like because they are the future cash-cows for corporations which cling to 20th century distribution models? There’s nothing more likely to teach you how to design a car than taking one apart and putting it back together. IP lawyers would like to make this illegal.

Imagine if you had to buy clothes before you could try them on, or it was illegal to borrow your friend’s clothes because the designer still controls fair-use of your clothes. Making your own clothes wouldn’t seem quite so stupid, but it would be a colossal drain on your time. Just think – a whole new market of home-delivery emergency clothing suppliers could spring up, licensed directly by the labels.

Imagine you move house and want to get rid of half of your books – you can’t sell them on, you can’t give them to charity-shops (they don’t exist anymore since reselling anything is illegal), you can’t even give them to someone because they’re licensed to your eyes only: perhaps you’ll invent a book-powered bicycle – that or destroy them. If that sounds preposterous, it is – and it’s exactly what DRM does.

Imagine you decide to distribute your own music, that you wrote and recorded, but had to seek permission from BT to give it to other people. Hmm, suddenly sounds like a nice acquisition target for the RIAA’s members… and will they let you distribute your own free music when they’re in the business of selling it?

Imagine some invented a potato-powered car in their garage. Do you think the a) car and b) oil industries would leap for joy at the prospect of environmentally friendly cars? Or do you think that they would first consider a) profit from all the new cars they get to refactor, and b) stop it at all costs? And if a) and b) start to groupthink, how long will it will be before they sue the inventor for breach of IP for opening his bonnet?

This isn’t about stealing, it’s about industries responding to realities of consumer behvaiour and hauling their arses into the 21st century, and it’s also about allowing people to have the freedom to be curious and productive. I mean, I don’t suppose that lead technologists in tech R&D departments all waited til they were employed by their firms before they started taking things to pieces to see how they work.

Just because people act in selfish ways doesn’t mean that your policies should be selfish. That’s why we have anti-monopoly laws. It is in the financial interests of corporations to have monopolies, but in no-one else’s interest at all.

But laws are always designed to ‘level the playing field’ and media industries are right to protect themselves from selfish individuals who try to steal by using and even creating laws. They also have an obligation to the many 100,000s of people who they employ and to share holders (so they are not quite acting selfishly, but also on behalf of others).

A system where we all own cars and then leave them sat around for most of the day, and all own clothes that we never wear also seems sily, but this silliness is the price of free market ecconomics which we generally accept is a good system. Now a few people don’t like the IP aspect of this system so they complain that the law is wrong and that restrictions on what they wnat to do are unfair. That’s just selfishness. It isn’t even a real complaint against IP. The solution is not to steal, but to set up a political party and wait for the next election. I think you are just rationalising the thoughless actions of a few who don’t realy care about the media, creativity or IP by claiming that they have some higher purpose to overcome an unjust system.

Well I don’t claim that people currently missing Razorback 2 are all marxists working to overthrow the system (though I make my arguments because I think debating things is more socially transformational than voting once every four years, particularly since whoever I vote for will not influence decisions at WIPO this week).

However, I’m not just trying to justify piracy either. What I am saying is that it would be more productive for bodies like the MPAA to think about how they can harness p2p activities in new business models, instead of endlessly, and fruitlessly criminalising people. Tim O’Reilly is on record that he views the people who use piracte copies of the books he publishes as contributing to progressive taxation. This is similar to the shareware software model. Accept what consumers do with your products and exploit it, whether viewing it as virtal marketing or as seeding your future markets.

So if we could name the top 50 graphic designers and illustrators in the UK, and survey them on how they first used Photoshop, how many of them would have started on a pirate copy?

And I charge these industries with hypocrisy because with one hand they try to sue p2p networks out of existence, and with the other, say they’re going to start using them to distribute content. It’s like banning air to stop criminals breathing. And to mix my metaphors, by kicking up such a fuss about piracy and bumbling around with lunatic strategies like Sony’s DRM rookit, they just provide oxygen to people who want to stick it to them, reverse-engineer their encryption, or just use pirate copies of albums instead of crippled CDs so they can listen to it in the car.

plus many of the things these industries lobby for about anything but creating level playing fields.

All fine, but lets not make heros out of petty theives either. P2P users are not robin hood figures, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, they are petty criminals (and mindless too, because for the most part they don’t think about their actions, only their wants). And as such, it seems unreaonable that media owners should want to work with them and very reasonabale that they should want to stop criminal activity (and don’t get me started on the links between dvd piracy and other crimes). So debate is good, but it should have a balance and it’s interesting to note that the collective online intellegence seems to take a very different position on where that balance might be than the courts. Or are you suggesting that not only is big business on the whole corrupt, but the legal system is too?

I’d like you to get started on the link between DVD piracy and crime :) If p2p dents the sales of legal industries, then it must also dent sales of black marketeers.

So the link between organised crime and piracy is a separate issue: simultaneous release (like Soderberg’s latest film) – and hopefully simultaneous global release as well – is a better way to counteract that kind of piracy than criminalising kids who use Kazaa.

And yes, I think it is entirely possible for laws to be wrong, even corrupt – eg segregation, clause 28 – and I also think it is entirely possible for media owners to lobby for laws which make their positions more comfortable. Look at the attempts to get the broadcast-flag enacted in the US, or software companies trying to get US-style patent law applied in the EU. Why stop at media and tech industries? How about pharmaceuticals who want to patent genes in crops which grow naturally in developing countries and license permission to grow them back to the same farmers? How about the suppression of data about suicidal urges related to the use of Seroxat, because it is sensitive data which Glaxo-Smith Klein owns?

And as I’ve said before on this forum, I find it very difficult to accept any profit-driven organisation trying to occupy moral high ground, whether its the media, pharmaceuticals, OPEC, or search engines capitulating to oppressive regimes in order to access markets, and just because a law technically removes any conflict of interest doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Cory Doctorow in interview today says it all far better than I do :)

ON ‘simultaneous global release’. 4 years ago a source at a major management consultant firm told me that as a result of work he had undertaken, their advice to film distibutors was simultaneous global release. Wew now see this all the time. Other predictions to watch out for are: The eventual sale of DVDs in Cinema at time of release and online release of films at time of release. I already notice that the time difference between cinema and DVD is down to a few months. A key reason for this is to aviod piracy. So legal or not, the actions of consumers do lead to industry change.

All I’m saying is that it’s equally dificult to accept moral arguements from opportunist theives

and as far as kids and downloading goes. Today it’s just a few downloads, tomorrow it’s just a few sweets from a shop. Then it’s a car, then drugs, voilent crime and then what have you got. Just read the Daily Mail for crying out loud, they seem to get it about right. So it is the duty of the music industry (and others) to teach kids right from wrong.


- faints in apoplexy -

prehaps any early example to the music industry how to embrace (and monetize)file sharing.

also like the way works.


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