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.
Feel free to spread the link as widely as possible around the web. If it works, and people read it, then a) we may be able to put up another book and b) sooner or later they'll simply let us give away the book in electronic form....
Yes, that's what he said. A privilege of success on the scale of Gaiman's is that you can think in terms of just giving your books away. But it's still true that other authors of comparable stature and success haven't publicly stated this as a goal. So excuse me if I boost signal for Gaiman a little bit.
The discussion is partially about political views, but it's also got a few things to say about originality and 'plagiarism' in political speechwriting. As with so many other creative endeavors, this kind of writing does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it sits within a stream of history, an awareness of what has worked earlier and what has failed, and it copies from the successes of the past. In some sense, speeches are copyrighted works, owned by the creators. When performed (spoken) they're also recognizable works, with added rights beyond the written texts. And yet, it makes no sense to build rigid regimes of ownership and limitation around them - doing so would weaken political discourse. But our conversation around copyright and ownership of IP has become so constrained of late that I don't see people generally willing to acknowledge this. As Obama says, we've "entered the silly season".
The logical question, not answered by Mr. Wallis, is why not take this material on line? For me the definitive online anti-war cartoon was always "Get Your War On" which never pulled any punches. On the other hand, it never made any money that I'm aware of - according to Wikipedia, the print book version's royalties were donated to landmine clearing organizations.
Could it just be that there's no established revenue model for taking independent cartoon work online and getting paid for it? I certainly read a lot of Web comics but beyond the occasional Paypal or donation drive by the cartoonist I don't pay for any of them. Like e-zines, about which I blogged earlier this month, online comics have been around for enough years that one would expect a reasonable set of business models to have emerged.
This is being painted in the context of net neutrality and copyright enforcement; I see it as a way to automate attacks on any particular users of any information. There's no reason this technique couldn't be used by, say, the Chinese government to disable access to Web sites it finds objectionable. Or paint your own picture.
The plan involves examining a torrent to see if it has material the MPAA doesn't want sent around, then selectively disabling pairwise communication between providers of the torrent and would-be consumers. The torrent identifies participants, so they can be blocked and Weaver describes a fairly clever scheme that disables pairwise communication without harming general network communication. The system has significant advantages to its users, not least of which are that it's completely automated and scalable. It also means AT&T gets out of the content-examination business and avoids the associated liability. The copyright holder (MPAA or other) is examining the content and assuming liability if legitimate content is blocked. This is the same situation we have now with DMCA 'takedown' notices.
The system isn't perfect - I can imagine counter-strategies - but it would certainly disable general P2P networks as they presently operate.
In this case the victim is one Deborah Gregory and the villain is Disney but the same story could be told hundreds of times - just change the names and it's the same again and again. In this case Gregory started as a successful but naive author, then signed with Disney for 4% of net. After two movies, millions of CD and DVD sales, and god-knows-how-much spin-off merchandising, Gregory has gotten exactly nothing for any of this. In fact, Disney won't even give her statements showing revenue and expenses that would allow her to pursue her share of the profits.
As the Times piece points out Hollywood has been using shady accounting and unfair contract terms to screw people for decades. They have all the power, especially when dealing with newcomers, and they use it shamelessly. Keep that in mind the next time they cry about how much money they're losing to "piracy"; I'm not a big fan of theft, but I sure do love schadenfreude.
Earlier this week I had a chat with Jason Nazar of docstoc.com. The company had contacted me a while back suggesting the chat. They're a beta-level software startup dealing with professional, legal, and business documents.
I was initially dubious that there was a Copyfight angle to this story. As Nazar himself pointed out, there's not a lot of illicit traffic on the P2P nets in business content, particularly when compared to the volume of entertainment-oriented content (music and movies primarily). That said, docstoc does have some points of interest for this blog, particularly in thinking about new business models that could be built around sharing.
First, back up a few steps. Docstoc is a hosting, sharing, and community site. Like YouTube it produces no original content bur rather holds and shares content (documents) uploaded by people. There's no membership fee and anonymous uploading is allowed. If you want to download a document, then you have to have a site login.
Since the point of the site is to share documents, everything placed on the site is in some sense free. Docstoc takes advantage of several Creative Commons licenses so when you upload files you can specify varying degrees of free - free to view and free to download being the two most popular I saw. The site uses a proprietary Flash program to embed the content for viewing, which allows them to encapsulate most of the popular business document formats (PDF, Word, Excel, PPT, and so on) in a uniform UI. In addition, they allow the player itself to be embedded; for example, here is a TechCrunch blog entry on WikiMedia's financials that contains an embedded docstoc player. Paradoxically, their use of an encapsulating player may both protect documents from casual copying while thwarting automated scanners like Attributor, which attempt to detect reposting of private content.
Docstoc is what I'd call a 'data cloud' play. Like Google Documents and other applications, there is an appeal to upload your content and access it from anywhere you have a net link, not just the hard disk on which the document currently resides. Like YouTube it also has nascent community features, including ratings, view counts, and personal blogs. Though these seem to be de rigeur in today's apps I'm not sure of their value here.
So, if everything is free, how does anyone make money? Well, from an individual point of view, docstoc is at worst free advertising. Many small companies and sole proprietorships put free samples, white papers, and other business-related downloads on their sites, which then languish in obscurity. These same files, uploaded to docstoc, become indexed and searchable both on the docstoc site and on major search engines that crawl the docstoc pages. When Google searches start to return hits into docstoc's cloud there's a good chance the uploader is going to see higher SERP placement than he could manage on his own.
Docstoc itself has to figure out how to make money on this and so far they don't have a solid model in place. Obviously there are advertising possibilities. As with any kind of targeted search, docstoc has the chance to generate high-quality sales leads to advertisers. There's also an option to partner with high-end paid content providers. These providers (think Gartner Group) are never going to put up their expensive paid research on docstoc. But they could put up teasers and previews, then kick back a piece to docstoc for sales leads and link referrals.
Finally there's the idea that documents + service are more valuable than just documents alone. This is similar to the open-source notion that software+service is better than only raw code. If I've just downloaded a business plan template it might behoove me to sit down with a consultant in my area to flesh that plan out. Again, docstoc is positioned to know what I've downloaded and possibly where I'm located so they can hook me up with a service professional, taking a small slice of the business referral revenue.
It's an unproven model, but that's true for most anything you can say about trying to make a legitimate business around freely sharing information. I don't know if I'm convinced enough that I would invest my own cash in the business, but I'll probably upload some documents and see how they fare.
Dave Langford's February ANSIBLE (a fanzine for fantasy/SF readers and authors) has a commentary from Steve van der Ark relating difficulties encountered in producing a print edition of a "Harry Potter Lexicon."
For some time there has been an online Lexicon, which has been criticized for both using and linking to large chunks of Rowling writing. Many of the critics feel that the online Lexicon goes beyond the bounds of fair use. In an attempt to avoid this, van der Ark rewrote, cited, and reduced the use of original material. He claims to have "received assurances from several copyright and intellectual property experts that the book we were creating was legal."
Except now there's a lawsuit. Warner is suing the Lexicon's intended publisher in an effort to enjoin the book as a violation of both copyright and trademark protections. The book's author and publisher are vowing to fight, noting that Rowling doesn't have "the right to completely control anything written about the Harry Potter world."
Intuitively I'd tend to agree with that assertion, but IANAL and it's not at all clear to me which way the judge is going to go in this case.
Gaiman's blog entry today also quotes from a New York Times story on this contest. In that Times piece Gaiman admits that he didn't buy every book he read growing up. He borrowed them from friends, from libraries, found them, and so on. Eventually he grew up into a normal book-buying adult.
The point, he says, is not just that, it's that
...there's not and there has never been a simple one-to-one relationship between the books you read and way you find authors and the books you buy. It's more complicated than that, and more interesting. It's about the way that it's assumed that books have a pass-along rate, that a book will be read by more than one person. If the people who read the book like it, they might buy their own copy, or, more likely, just put the author in that place in their heads of Authors I Like. And that's a good place for an author to be.
E-zines in this field are at least 10 years old now and one would think they'd have had time to establish a field. Instead what we see is a vast graveyard of virtual corpses and nobody with a sustainable business model. That's kind of sad but perhaps we're still in the infancy of this market and someone will figure out a good content model soon.
This mashup takes one of Barack Obama's New Hampshire stump speeches and remixes it with contributions from over 35 artists. The motivating forces behind this appropriation - the campaign doesn't appear to have authorized or endorsed it - include Jesse Dylan (son of Bob Dylan) and will.i.am of the group Black Eyed Peas.
I'm reminded of the point Cory Doctorow made in his latest piece for the UK Guardian Unlimited. In this entry in his "Digital rights, digital wrongs" series Doctorow argues for a tuning of the sensibilities of copyright law. In particular, the law doesn't distinguish between the reuse of a copyrighted work for a mass commercial project such as a blockbuster movie and the reuse of a copyrighted work for personal and noncommercial use.
Doctorow argues that "folk copyright" use existed for a long time prior to the net, but
Now you have billionaire media empires behaving as though parents should get a licence for a Prince song before they upload a YouTube video of their adorable toddler dancing to it.
The idea that individuals need lawyers to negotiate their cultural personal material space shows how broken current copyright handling is. Doctorow would "stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright" and instead create a new copyright regime that treats small-scale copying differently.
Doctorow names (but doesn't point to) A2K, the Access To Knowledge project around reforms to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties. A2K is trying to make this new copyright regime happen, but WIPO is a huge thing, dominated by big companies... err, excuse me, countries doing the work of big companies such as the US carrying the banner for the Copyright Cartel. Any change through this method will be many years in the making.
Meanwhile we have an election coming whose outcome just might change what positions the US chooses to defend at WIPO and in related forums.
I tend to avoid most digital music stories not because they're not Copyfight-able but because I find them boring. After eight-going-on-nine years of the Copyright Wars there's very little new in the trench warfare. So excuse me if I gloss over a lot.
By the way, I keep hearing persistent rumors that Microsoft is having to fork over $1 of every track sold on Zune to the Cartel. Truth? Anyone have a good source?
Also, yesterday I heard about a new online music service, Qtrax. Yawn, another service, right? Well, hold on, this one is "free." That's 'free' as in 'ad-supported', but they're claiming to have over 25 million tracks available (for PC at the moment - Mac version coming in March).