Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill
policy-making, technical standards development, and technological
innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we
know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property
conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of
copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying
and the law, and more.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.
It appears to be an ongoing publication by Wark of his book, which happens to be on the subject of computer games and their potential for use as allegories to things in society. Unlike other versions of "publish online" that I've seen, this is much closer to "publish the manuscript online" and solicit readership, feedback, and commentary.
Writers, particularly new ones, are often encouraged and bouyed up by physical writer's groups, in which people co-critique works in progress. Some writing workshops/groups also include lectures from established authors and related well-known people in publishing. In SF/Fantasy, the Clarion SF&F Writers' Workshop is well known and has graduated a number of folk who have gone on to great success.
So, can this model work online? I'm dubious. One of the things that makes a good writers' group, and that makes Clarion the success it has been, is a rigorous screening process. You get into these things not just by having good intentions or a lot to say but by having valuable experience and insights to contribute. It's unclear to me how one filters the mass audience of the Web into something resembling useful wisdom.
On the other hand, perhaps a workshop is the wrong model. Maybe this is more like the writing of a massive wikipedia entry on games and game theory. One person writes most of it, but the audence participates in the edit and refinement process? It seems like that model might produce something more useful.
North American monopoly organization Major League Baseball (MLB) has kept tight reign on its franchise products. Team merchandise, broadcasting, and other data streams that surround the game are major money centers for the organization. Now MLB is trying to extend its control of the use of the statistics about baseball players and games.
In specific, MLB is suing CBC Distribution and Marketing, a company that operates an online fantasy baseball league. MLB is claiming a "right of publicity" and saying that if you want to use these statistics you have to pay a license fee. MLB is basing its defense on this claim in part because previous court rulings have held that raw statistics are part of the public domain, but that ballplayers do have marketable identities and that these images can be subject to copyright and license restriction, even when the "image" is only the name and statistics.
CBC is arguing that the data are public domain outputs of public figures - the players. CBC also draws a direct line between what it does and what a news organization does. Your hometown paper doesn't pay a fee to print the sports section, nor report the racing results. To require this, says CBC, would be to put all sorts of data-based reporting at risk. MLB contends that there is a difference between reporting - even commercial, for-profit news - and the mechanics of running a league, even a fantasy one. However, this could potentially put us on a slippery slope - for example, would makers of a game like Trivial Pursuit have to pay a license for its "Sports" category question, even though they might have "Science" category questions that were essentially similar.
Not to be missed in this story is the fact that MLB itself runs fantasy leagues and in recent years has taken steps to cut down its licensees, focusing on the bigger (and presumably more profitable) properties such as CBS and that CBC was among the smaller outlets cut out of the deal.
Also not to be missed is that about 10 years ago the shoe was on the other foot and MLB was arguing that its use of historical players' names and statistics in its own promotional videos was protected by the First Amendment.
As its name suggests, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to catalog hundreds of attributes of music. The technical infrastructure is there to support the human work of this cataloging - no software exists that can do this work because we don't know how to teach computers to analyze music to the depth that we can teach them to analyze, say, text. And now there is Pandora, a way to collect people's notions of their favorite music and, using the musical genome, recommend new things to them. The process is automated - you start with an artist and the system plays something (usually by that artist). You give it a thumbs-up/down response and things go from there. You can guide it at any point, giving more artists to add to the mix, asking for explanations of why something is playing, etc.
Past attempts at this sort of thing have tried to use social navigation techniques (most familiarly seen these days in places like Amazon where you get told "people who liked this also liked..."). These techniques deliberately attempt to distance themselves from the qualities of the items that are linked. If you get two country-and-western artists, it's not because the system itself knows anything about C&W - it's beceause the humans using the system know about it. Pandora takes just the opposite approach. If it works at all, it works because humans (mostly composers and musicians) have painstakingly recorded a tremendous amount of knowledge about what makes music be music.
I can see I'm going to lose a lot of hours to this thing. Oh, and did I mention it's shareable? You create a station and share it. They have licenses to stream music inside the US, and depend on you entering a valid US zip code (which might be secretly correlated with your IP address for all I know). The free version is ad-supported, or you can pay money for a no-ads version.
The video is mostly Moby reading a prepared statement, but the message is clear: artists and musicians have come down on the side of "net neutrality." They've put their weight behind the fight that savetheinternet.com has been pushing - a neutral 'Net, free to carry all messages, equally - is the only way to continue the benefits we've enjoyed from the past fifteen years of Net expansion.
The Web page linked above has a simple form that you can use to get phone numbers for your Congresscritters. I suggest you use it. Some other links on this event:
"Politics and greed" are the main reasons, or so says The Reg's Andrew Orlowski. Not much new here - Orlowski is just recounting the sad reality that the hardware, software, networks and so on to allow a person to stream music he owns to himself anywhere have been ready to go for years. All that stands in the way are the fears and greed of the copyright holders. I get so tired of saying this, but it's still true - the customer experience is paramount. Making more isolated sandboxes and throwing up more barriers to transcoding and transport will not increase revenue. Really.
Kristin Thomson of the Future of Music Coalition (FMC) sent me a copy of their announcement for this fall's 6th Annual Policy Summit which will be held this coming October in Montreal in conjunction with the local Pop Montreal festival..
The FMC summit will be October 5-7 at McGill University's Schulich School of Music, Montreal, Canada. At this point there's not much information up, but we'll update you as the program (or is that 'programme'?) takes shape.
Peter Kaplan has a Reuters story (here on the Washington Post) covering the Supreme Court decision in the eBay/MercExchange patent battle. As Kaplan paints it, the SCOTUS decision comes out rejecting a bunch of things decided by lower courts.
For one thing, MercExchange lost its injunction. The lower court now has to reconsider the injunction request, but on different grounds. For another thing, the Justices rejected a lower court's notion that there is a general right by patent holders to injunctions against infringers. Finally, they appear to have soundly rejected the US District Court's opinion that failure to use a patent (by manufacture or license) is grounds for losing the injunction right. I don't think that SCOTUS expressely addressed the notion of "patent trolls" but Kaplan points to a concurring opinion signed by four Justices that expresses sympathy with the concerns of companies - particularly in high tech - that feel they are being held hostage by patent holders who have no function other than to sue everyone in sight.
The clue? If you offer the product people want in the form they want it, they're likely to buy it. Shocking, I know. But this is the Cartel we're talking about.
In this case, it appears that Warner Brothers have done a deal with BitTorrent (the company) to put out torrents of popular movies at roughly DVD prices, and torrents of TV shows that might be as low as a buck apiece. Here's what Tsujihara is quoted as stating:
"If we can convert 5, 10, 15 per cent of the peer-to-peer users that have been obtaining our product from illegitimate sources to becoming legitimate buyers of our product, that has the potential of a huge impact on our industry and our economics."
This is me sitting here, stunned. Yes, sir. Exactly. It's not about "smashing" "piracy." It's about luring away customers with a superior product. Trading existed before Napster burst onto the public consciousness and it still exists today. The difference is that today downloads of digital music make up a significant revenue stream. Next step - make that true for movies.
The devil is always in the details. As Blakely's story points out, previous download offers from the Cartel have, well, sucked when compared with the features available on DVDs. And please don't forget ease of use. If iTunes taught you anything, it should be that the customer experience trumps everything else. But maybe the Cartel is finally swinging around to a more compatible and less combative point of view.
FAS - the Federation of American Scientists has posted a PDF of a governmental "research" (and I use that term loosely) report titled Patent Reform: Issues in the Biomedical and Software Industries. The thing is weak and bland. Aharonian referred to it as a "trite summary" and I tend to agree.
or, why you should never bet on the same horse as I do. I had pretty much given up Apple Computer's trademark suit as a lost cause. It seemed naively clear that Apple Corps Ltd. had the right when it came to use of the Apple name in the music arena. However, the Judge in the case was willing to accept Apple Computer's distinction between "Apple-the-music-store" and "Apple-the-music-sold-by-the-store" and so ruled in favor of the downloading empire.
It appears that Apple Corps will appeal, but for the moment the end result is "no change" for the music business.
Get Your Sneak Peak While Authors Are Allowed to Give Them
Neil Gaimon's blog today has a wonderful "sneak peek" at the upcoming comic The Eternals. Gaiman posted the image without geting a bevy of lawyers involved and permissions forms signed because he's a creator who loves what he does and wants to share his love with fans (like myself) who enjoy this kind of thing spontaneously, not when it's a corporate-sanctioned mass media "event."
As I noted yesterday, the Cartel are starting to realize significant revenue from digital downloads; however, much (most?) of that revenue is not coming from the 99-cent tracks downloaded off iTunes. Instead it's coming from specialty downloads such as ringtones, for which consumers appear to be willing to pay a lot more money (often over USD 3) for much less music than they get with a downloaded track. Given those numbers, the Cartel reasons it ought to be able to squeeze more revenue out of popular song downloads.
What Jobs isn't currently saying out loud but obviously recognizes is that this would kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Variable pricing would introduce friction into the buying process. Right now I make one decision - do I want to buy that song. I don't have to think about price because it's always the same. If prices were variable, however, I'd have to make several decisions: do I want that song? Do I know how much it costs? Do I want it that much? Will the price go down if I wait a bit?
I make my living studying and building user experiences and I can tell you that thought processes like the latter are a much worse model. They lead to hesitation and missed sales opportunities. Sure, you'll squeeze a few more pennies out of the people who do buy, but you'll do so at the expense of constricting your market and increasing the sales cycle times. Not a good tradeoff. Jobs has it exactly right.
Is the music business up, or down? Seems like a simple question, but the answer depends heavily on where you sit and what your vested interests are (shocking, I know).
For years now the RIAA has been banging the drum of declining CD sales. We're told it's all that illegal downloading by those naughty college students. And for years, annoying armchair quarterbacks like myself have been pointing out that if the consumer isn't buying your product maybe you should offer a different product. So, reluctantly, kicking and screaming and suing, the Cartel has finally been dragged into the download age. Blame Steve Jobs.
In a few short paragraphs, and using the RIAA's own data, Bangeman shows that the advent of mass consumer digital downloading has begun to fill the gap left by spiraling drops in sales of physical media. As of last year, digital product sales accounted for nearly 9% of recording industry revenues.
Since it only took them about 7 years longer than it could have to get to this point I figure it'll be at least that long before they stop frothing at the mouth over the death of last century's hot product.