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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.

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Monthly Archives

February 18, 2010

How To Rescue Things from the Slush Pile

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I got a very nice comment from Vincent Chandler of Slush Pile Reader, on the topic of the death of the slush pile and wanted to point those of you who are interested in self-publication to his site.

Slush Pile Reader is a (still in beta) publisher that provides editing, publication, distribution, and promotion services for submitted books - a slush pile, in effect. The twist here is that those books SPR will publish will not be selected by an editorial staff, but rather will be those that the site's readership have voted as books they'd like to see published.

Authors who want to see their books published through SPR have to be willing to have those books out on the net for anyone to read. SPR allows completely free anonymous reading. In order to vote, though, you must register with the site (also free) and registering also lets you see material that the submitting authors want to mark as 'adult' or otherwise age-restrict. Authors also will retain their rights in non-published manuscripts. As with a print-based publisher, the manuscript will be in the publisher's hands for a certain period and if not selected for publication will then be 'returned' to the author who is free to submit it elsewhere.

Unlike some other publishers, SPR does not plan to charge authors anything up front for books it chooses to publish. Again following the model of traditional print houses, SPR's chosen manuscripts will get the author a contract that will cover terms such as royalties and other payments that may be due to the author.

Overall, this is such a small deviation from the traditional small-press publishing model that I'm at a loss to see how it can be any more profitable than those small presses. By relying on a voting system, SPR is hedging its own bets on which titles it chooses to publish but those are still very similar bets to those made by publishing houses who rely on the insights and discerning tastes of their editorial staff.

SPR is a neat idea and I'd love to see them succeed but I don't see them as the saviors of the slushpile.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

February 17, 2010

February 16, 2010

Reclusive Mathematician to Crowdsourcers: Hold On There

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Steven Landsburg's blog "The Big Questions" tells the interesting story of the aborted attempt to crowdsource the work of Alexandre Grothendieck. The work in question is a series of very dense volumes of fundamental, game-changing publications in mathematics.

Grothendieck's work was originally published in 20 now out-of-print volumes from Springer-Verlag. Unfortunately, the demand for these works in the specialist mathematical community far exceeds the size of the supply of original printed volumes that remain. No problem, this is the Net age, and indeed a Dutch mathematics professor, Bas Edixhoven, had organized a crowdsourced effort to retype the works with proper mathematical symbols, typo corrections and so on.

All of which came to a screeching halt on receipt of a letter from Grothendieck himself that, while not threatening legal action, insisted that all such efforts cease. Grothendieck appears to hold the copyrights but his objections are not commercial. According to Landsburg (who admits he is also guessing) it has to do with the old man's unhappiness with how his works have been used since their publication.

I'm reminded of the story from January of last year, in which a copyright holder chose to withdraw works from circulation despite the likely benefits that would have resulted from their use. It's a reminder that not everyone sees things the same way, and not everyone cares about getting the widest possible distribution for what they've done.

ETA: the comments on the blog post contain several links with more information and a rough translation of the letter, if you're interested in more details.

(Full disclosure: Landsburg and I are casual friends and occasional verbal sparring partners. Neither of us makes any money from our blogs, though of course he makes money if you buy his book of the same name.)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

February 12, 2010

DOJ to Google Books: "Hold On There"

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I haven't posted anything in the long slog over the Google Books deal since last November. People do still send me pointers, which I appreciate, but I just haven't found any of them interesting enough. This story on CNET (by Elinor Mills) caught my eye, given that this is the new Cartel-owned DOJ we're talking about here.

They appear to be standing behind the Bush-era filings from last September opposing key parts of the settlement between Google and the Authors Guild/Association of America Publishers, and in opposition to the modified agreement filed last November (see in-depth analysis at those links above). The next step seems to be all sides waiting for the judge in the case to read the DOJ's filings along with the other supporting and opposed commentary and amicus briefs - after which presumably the settlement will be approved or sent back for further negotiation. My money is on the latter - we're far from done with this one.

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

February 8, 2010

Remix As Social Activity

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Boingboing pointed to a very interesting YouTube video on "The Evolution of Remix Culture". The video is, in lovely recursive fashion, also something of a mash-up of previous videos. In a short eight minutes, the author identifies a generational change in how remixes are being used.

First generation remixes involved the appropriation of pop culture material for the creation of new work, as has been done since oral storytellers sat around a fire listening to each others' tales and improving on them. Second generation remixes, the argument goes, are "social" remixes, in that the purpose of the remix isn't just to create a new work but to provide a response in a conversation or other interchange. Social media sites such as YouTube facilitate this by providing things like video response links as well as by popularizing user-created content across thousands (or more) of likely respondents.

This is nice, but not particularly revolutionary. What gets added here is that the creation of the remix itself performs social functions. People choose which video they want to remake for themselves - check out the vast number of groups of people redoing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, for example. And in the way they stage their own productions they're also making statements about themselves and often their own locales and local social networks. It's not a hugely revelatory thing for someone (or a group of someones) to say "Yes, we're like them" for some particular them depicted in pop media. What's new is that this statement becomes embedded in a conversation and also itself becomes fodder for further remixing by others down the conversational line.

In about the last 1:30 of the piece, the author (called "Normative" according to boingboing) touches on some of the copyright problems that influence this kind of thing. And, shockingly, he identifies control as the central issue. No, really, I did not pay him to say that. The Copyright Wars that have waged for the past 12 years or so really are about control, over expression, over technology, and ultimately over the shape of the culture in which we live.

I continue to be bored and frustrated by the grinding, trench warfare-like nature of the conflict these days. But videos like this give me hope that precisely because the war has ground on so long we may see it end. We've raised up a generation that sees its self-expression as intimately tied to the appropriation and reuse of... well, everything. Remix culture has become normative culture and trying to suppress that is just patently doomed to fail.

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

February 1, 2010

Mashup As New Music

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

If you don't like modern music you're probably going to hate a good chunk of what I blog about this year. I may create a new category tag so people can find or skip these as they wish. However, I think that modern dance music, particularly the mash-up, is one of the most Copyfight-challenging and lively art forms out there. And since it has hit the mainstream media, finally, I expect to see more public culture clashes over it this year.

Today I'd like to introduce you to DJ Earworm, one of the less prolific and most brilliant mash-up artists I've found. He's worked with some original artists, taking tracks directly from their studio masters and creating new pieces from them.

For the past few years he has created a year-end "top of the pops" mix using the Billboard Magazine list of top 25 songs. This past year's "United State of Pop 2009 (Blame It On The Pop)" has gone seriously viral on YouTube, with over 10 million hits last time I checked. That kind of popular spread gets you noticed, and got DJ Earworm a story on CNN, who seem to think that mash-ups are fair use. I highly doubt EMI or any other record label would agree.

That all aside, and even if you don't like pop music or mash-ups, I highly recommend viewing the color-coded lyrics sheet that Earworm has posted on his site to accompany the mix. In this post he shows exactly which songs he snipped lyrics from, down to the level of the individual word. I particularly love his use of five different sources for "'re tumbling down down down (down down)".

The notion that DJ/remixers are just blindly copying or reusing without innovation is just flat-out wrong. Apprentices may copy without much added skill, much as apprentice painters sit and copy masterwork paintings for hours on end to learn their craft. But as they learn they also learn to add their own creative elements and styles, producing new works that are based on the source material in the way so many art forms of past decades have done.

And what the heck, go ahead and push the play button. It's an AWESOME mix.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture

Publishing for People Who Want to Read (Magazines)

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The state of magazine publication is the suck these days. You can read it anywhere - the magazines themselves are smaller, printed on cheaper paper, and so full to bursting with ads that you get barely any content. This is in large part because the single-issue and subscription prices do not cover the costs of print publication and newsstand distribution. So many unsold magazines end up as pulp it's a shame and an environmental mess.

Bucking this trend comes the first issue of the official World of Warcraft magazine. They claim it's "...more like a softcover book" than a typical magazine these days. There are no ads, it's printed on high quality paper, you can't get it from a newsstand distributors, and it's designed as a collectible item for people who love the game.

And the cover price reflects it. At USD 10 for a 148-page zine it's more expensive than most trade paperback books and certainly more than any magazine I could find scanning the extensive shelves in Harvard Square (not counting some very pricey tech journals). Because the magazine only sells to subscribers, the publishers are pretty much guaranteed that every copy they print will be sold. I imagine they have some free issues that are going to be sent to review sites, but those are probably negligible compared to the copies that will be snapped up by the millions of WoW fans.

This is, in essence, the patronage model of publication, which we've discussed in the past. The people with the money (game fans) pay to have works of art made for them. Mass distribution here happens because the game is so hugely popular that printing a magazine for subscribers only makes sense. If you were to do this with a less-popular subject matter you'd have to charge each patron/subscriber a higher price per issue.

If you're interested in the thinking that went into making this a print-only art item (no online edition) you can read various interviews and blog entries on gaming sites; ars technica's Ben Kuchera published something on this last August and has a brief update on the first issue.

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

Scalzi on Amazon Fail

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I find myself unable to add anything to the snarky but oh-so-on-point commentary by John Scalzi on just exactly how epic Amazon's fail was this past weekend in its spat with Macmillan. You'd think after the 1984 fiasco, and the gay books fiasco they would have learned something. Apparently not.

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