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About this weblog
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.

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

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Monthly Archives

April 30, 2009

Can Tim O'Reilly Re-Invent the Book?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In today's O'Reilly Radar column, Tim tackles the notion of how one might re-invent the book. Whether or not one thinks this medium is in need of re-invention there's no doubt that the book publishing industry is continuing to upheave, and possibly at a faster rate. If newspapers really are a dying publishing form does that mean that books are next?

And if so, does that mean we should wave bye-bye or should we attempt to re-imagine how large chunks of idea will be communicated from (or between) an author and a mass literate audience? Personally I think we ought to do that latter, regardless of whether or not we think the book will survive. As I've argued before, new art forms are emerging and creators need to embrace and extend the opportunities available to them. Existing writers should continue to break out new experiments, and O'Reilly points out ways that his print press has done some of that.

There is some question as to whether these new things are "books" as we've come to understand them, but let's leave aside labeling for the moment and consider them as a form of creative expression. To make these expressions in new media requires new skills - O'Reilly talks about things like "crowdsourcing" for example - and audiences will need to find ways to acquire, appreciate, and respond to these new forms.

So, no, I don't think Tim (or any one organization) can re-invent something as fundamental as the book. We have over a thousand years of evolution of that art form already in hand and that millenium won't be toppled quickly. But collectively, yes, I do believe that we can employ new technologies to re-invent the book. Right now I'm watching my boys delve into comics and devour graphic novels the way I did as a child. I'm certain that what they give to their children as "books" will be different than what I'm passing down to them, but it will be something additional, not a full replacement.

Also, don't miss the essay by Bruce Sterling on "Design Fiction" that O'Reilly links to. Yes, it discusses the origins of scifi writing, but it's about so much more.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts

Sometimes It Is That Easy

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I've been pursuing various links in my continuing quest to find easy ways to pay for music I like. I came across RCRD which appears to be a curated online community for artists, labels, and fans to share and talk about music. They're obviously aiming at the hipper, more online-centric crowd; for example, you can follow them on Twitter and their "Genres" page is a tag cloud that I'd bet is derived by aggregating tags artists put on the uploaded content.

Currently, all their online content - including the legal downloads - is ad-supported. Much of it is distributed under Creative Commons licenses that allow people to reuse and remix the tracks for non-commercial purposes. They seem to be operating on a sponsorship model, rather than an impulse purchse model, so it's not precisely what I was looking for but it's clearly a very close neighbor.

Obvously ad-based/sponsored sites do better by getting more traffic so in a way I am 'paying' for music I found there by promoting them and I hope getting my dear readers to go to the site and continue spreading the word.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

April 20, 2009

Copyfight is Everywhere

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

No, not this blog. We continue to trundle on in our small way. The lack of outraged emails telling me what an idiot I am is evidence that we're no longer much noticed. Copyfight issues, though. Those are everywhere. Two examples came across my radar this week.

Emeril posing on the set of his show
1. Apparently, noted chef Emeril Lagasse made a stink on the show Good Morning America by claiming that one of its hosts "stole" a recipe of his. For, of all things, Dorito casserole. No, I'm not making this up. Seriously. As the blog post notes, you can't copyright a simple list of ingredients, any more than you can copyright most other simple lists. There needs to be some measure of creativity for the work to be considered an original item, and thus worthy of copyright protection.

Recipes are routinely traded (stolen) in the industry. Chefs visit, or send people to visit, competitors' places. Or they just out and out talk with each other about what they do, and as people will do they get ideas sparked by hearing or tasting or smelling or even just seeing what ingredients someone else has stocked their kitchen with.

It's true that there are new and innovative things coming out of kitchens all over the world, many from master chefs who are pushing the boundaries. One option for an innovator is to stay ahead of the competition by continuously improving. Another is to seek legal protection for innovations. But, really, Dorito casserole?

2. Over in the World of Warcraft world there's an ongoing flap among the mod writers and hosts. This requires a small amount of background so bear with me.

Curse Gaming logo

WoW allows people to write and load mods that change the game, even to the extent of replacing the whole default UI. Some mods are banned, but none of them are supported. To write a mod is a volunteer effort, and distributing a popular mod can incur significant hosting and bandwidth costs. To defray these costs, some mod writers ask for donations, or host their mods on distribution sites such as Curse Gaming. These sites make back their costs by showing people paid advertisements when they visit to download mods.

A heavy mod user can easily be running 50-200 mods and dependent components. And each time the game is updated there's a good chance that the mods need to be updated, too. So players return to the mod hosting sites over and over again. That's good for the hosting sites, particularly if they're getting paid by the page-view, but a really serious pain for players who don't want to be visiting mod sites - they just want to play the game.

There have been several attempts to make the process of maintaining and updating mods easier for players. For a while there was a program called WoW Ace Updater (WAU) which had some flaws but generally came close to the "push a button and update my mods" philosophy. But WAU couldn't survive its own popularity (the more people use you, the more it costs you) and got bought out by Curse, which re-issued it as their own client. Of course, that client sent you to Curse to get files and showed you ads that brought revenue to Curse. Plus it was buggy as hell and only ran on PCs (World of Warcraft runs on Macs and Linux machines as well).

To make matters worse, several mod sites have been the target of hacker attacks. Usually the hackers attempt to subvert one or more pages on the mod site to inject malicious code. When players visit these hacked pages, an exploit in the browser may be used to place a trojan on the player's machine. That trojan then dowloads further malicious code that may turn that PC into part of a zombie farm, or install a keylogger that permits the player's World of Warcraft account to be stolen and emptied.

With all that background, there was a large pent-up demand for a non-browser, one-button easy way to keep a mod library up to date. Enter Wowmatrix. This is a mod updater that runs on all platforms WoW runs on, installs with a simple download and provides quick and easy updating of mods. Heaven, right?

Well, not if you're Curse. Wowmatrix didn't necessarily ask permission to redistribute mods - after all, it's not hosting anything - just downloading publicly provided files. Many mods are released with GPL or other free licensing. But some are not. And since Wowmatrix isn't showing you Curse's ads, people using it are not bringing revenue to Curse even as they download files hosted on Curse's servers.

So about a week ago, without warning, Curse started blocking Wowmatrix. This was timed to coincide with a big release of a Warcraft update and of course a lot of activity in the mod community. That timing didn't improve things, and the boards are full of people sniping back and forth at each other.

Recently, Wowmatrix appears to have taken something of a conciliatory tone. When you try to update a Curse mod they put up a notice inside the app informing you that Curse is blocking them and indicating that if the code is available elsewhere under a free-to-use license then they'll re-point their client to get it that way. Failing that, it's laborious point-and-clicking all over again.

Perhaps Wowmatrix learned something from the Pirate Bay conviction (about which I have nothing new to say, sorry). Or perhaps they really are just trying to make things better for the player community. It's not clear to me that what they're doing is a violation of copyright, so much as it is contrary to the terms of use under which Curse and its mod writers are making their mods available.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

April 14, 2009

More Good Free Science

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

SSRN logo
The Social Science Research Network is offering free introductions to material within its now Cognitive Science Network (CSN). CSN will provide "a worldwide, online community for research in all areas of cognitive science." They will have seven e-Journals in various cog-sci areas and are offering free subscriptions until October 2009, and then $40 after that.

A handy all-in-one subscription link is available now. Generally these are scholarly journals aimed at researchers in the field, but I like to see more online journals opening up scientific publication.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

April 13, 2009

Why Is This Still So Goddamn Hard?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Once upon a very long ago I wanted to hear a very specific song. I was at work, and was making a point to a coworker about how certain male and female voices went together. This duet was part of the point I was making, but I didn't have it at hand. Had someone said "Give me a buck and I'll give you a copy of that song you can play on your computer" I would have cheerfully handed over my USD and been pleased at the exchange.

Instead, one of my coworkers pointed me at Napster, and sure enough I had a copy of the song on my hard drive minutes later. I also had a large bucket of other music, none of which I paid for. Much of it was illegal, but not terribly interesting. I did, however, find that I could get tons of remixes, covers, and DJ mixes this way. That was interesting and I spent most of my time downloading things I couldn't have bought in almost any store.

Fast forward ten years. It's now 2009 and I still love this kind of thing. A friend recently pointed me to 8Tracks, one of many sites where DJs and folk can post mixes. Their motto, "a simple, legal way for people to share and discover music through an online mix" is just exactly what I want. Like anything new, it's very hit-or-miss. But sometimes it turns up real gems. Like La Roux - In For The Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Mix). Go ahead and listen, I'll wait.

In many ways this is exactly what I like about remixes - Skream has stripped out La Roux's beautiful and eerie vocals and laid them over some interesting beats and vibrato thrums. Gone are the insipid pop bits you get with the original. I want to own this specific mix legally and, ideally, have my money compensate the artists. But once again, there's just no way to do that. I can come up with two or three ways to get the tune illegally, but none that involve the kind of "I like that I want to buy it" commercial transaction.

Maybe it's a uniquely American conceit of mine to think that I should be allowed to purchase things I like. Maybe neither the artist nor the remixer intend for this track to be sold. But set aside that specific idea; much as I respect the art-as-performance-only, I think it's pretty commonly the case that musicians and DJs want to be compensated for their work.

So why the hell is it still impossible for me to do just that?

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies