Monthly Archives: March 2010

A few funny (somewhat relevant) pictures

A few pictures that came to mind while doing these readings/discussing them:

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(full size version here)

Piracy and DRM and such

Very interesting readings that presented several sides of this issue.  I’ve been following this whole piracy/copyright/drm/etc. debate for my own personal reasons, so none of the arguments were really new to me, but these articles were very well written (for the most part) and presented the arguments well.  A few key points that I take away from these articles and my own research are that there needs to be a balance between protection of intellectual property and the ability to share said property, that the only way to ensure that nothing is pirated is to impose such strict DRM as to aggravate paying customers, and that the RIAA/major music labels/the music industry as we know it now is totally screwed.

A world where nothing was ever pirated would be a world where very few people would enjoy any substantial amount of music, movies, TV, etc.  On the other hand, a world where everything is freely available simply does not function at an economic level (I very much liked the analogy of Barnes and Noble giving away books for free hoping people will buy enough coffee at their coffee shop to cover their costs).  Much of a band’s promotion comes from their music being shared between friends.  To a lesser degree, the same is true of games: many people pirate games to test them out and decide if they are worth buying.  Which leads to my next point:

Pirates will almost always get their way in this digital age.  To date, the only DRM on a game that has yet to be broken is the DRM placed on the game Assassin’s Creed 2 which requires users to be connected to the internet the entire time they are playing in order to continuously verify the validity of the game.  Every other DRM has been cracked, and the DRM on AC2 is so severe that it infuriates paying customers and drives away potential sales.  The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game (with no such DRM) have garnered a consumer ranking of 8.8 and 8.2 respectively on metacritic, while the PC version currently sits at 2.4 due to the ire of paying customers whose games got shut off one time too many because of a momentary fluctuation of their internet connection.  Anything short of these measures will alienate consumers, and anything less allows for easy pickings for pirates.  Simply put, anything people will buy can and will be cracked and pirated (experiential things like concerts aside, of course).  Now, if the DMCA is revised as suggested by Ham and Atkinson, then legal issues will come into play.  But, as it stands, producers have really no valid way to prevent piracy.

Finally, the music industry.  Their outdated business model of screwing musicians and consumers because they were basically a cartel was extremely effective at making them money, and it is I suppose no surprise that they cling to it so stubbornly.  However, that model relies on cassettes/CDs being the only way for people to get music.  The digital age of course put the screws to that market domination, and so much animosity has built up over the last couple of decades that people have little or no sympathy for the large record labels.  Other industries like the movie industry and to some extent the gaming industry have transitioned better into the new age of digital media, but the music industry is sorely outdated and its refusal to adjust to changing times will be its demise sooner rather than later.

Online Piracy response

All three articles this week discusses online piracy.  Ham and Atkinson in their article “Napster and Online Piracy” discussed the implications of Napster and the ‘need to revisit the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.’  Despite possible of copyright violations, online music sources can actually “improve productivity and reduce costs to the consumer.”  Many believe Napster’s “danger” to artists and record companies comes from the “technological innovation” in itself, but Ham and Atkinson argue it really comes from “companies and individuals using the technology in illegal ways.”  While the technology enables this stealing, its people’s attitudes that need to be adjusted.  Stealing music has become more and more acceptable.  If we wish to stop pirating of music, we must change people’s attitudes and make them understand the weight of this problem because it “threatens the future of online distribution and all the efficiencies that come with this new technology.” The authors believe other industries should join the recording industry in this fight.

As students at the the Claremont colleges we know that we like 200 other colleges/universities have blocked Napster use on campus. Not only does Napster take up a ton of bandwidth but it also is a liability for the schools if their students are using this program.  This is just a small scale way of enforcing this fight.  It is possible that the courts will also succeed in banning Napste, but that is not guaranteed. And anyway, other similar services could easily pop up to take its place that actually qualify under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).  What we really need is a law that can force users and companies that commit or encourage copyright violations to accept responsibility for their crimes.  In order for this to happen we must:

-collect personally identifiable and verifiable information from their users.

-set a concrete time frame for the “notice and take down” process.

-allow the courts the flexibility to grant injunctions against service providers that are primarily used for online piracy.

In the second article, “Courtney Love does the math,” this singer ‘takes on record label profits, Napster and sucka VCs.’  She follows the trail of money in the music business and how Napster and other similar companies affect this chain.  I found this article hard to follow… may just be because I’m not  a math person.  She discusses the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)  and how artists have essentially been giving their music away for free “under the old system.”   She believes new technology, like Napster, that exposes artists to a larger audience can “only be a good thing.”  Music sales are up… where’s the evidence that “downloads hurt business?” Downloads are actually creating more demand!  The Internet has given artists the ability  to communicate directly to their audiences.  They no longer have to depend on recording companies and their inefficient model.  She calls it  a “radical democratization” i.e. “every artist has access to every fan and every fan has access to every artist, and the people who direct fans to those artists.”  Basically she loves Napster.  In the final article, “Strong Copyright + DRM +Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?” Bailey discusses idea of “property” and its role online.

The thing about the future is that it is rooted in the past and this affects the growing use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies.  He believes DRM has the the ability  “to lock-down content in an unprecedented fashion.”  He discuess how the Internet functions at “its most  fundamental level.” The Internet was designed to be content, application, and hardware “neutral.” As long as certain standards were met, the network did not “discriminate”  There is now an “erosion of the Net.” He calls for a need for stronger copyright- both in its “scope” and “expansion.”  Bailey believes we are amidst a digital revolution and is curious to see whether the internet lives up to its “promise”  or reverts to “resembling the pre-Internet online services of the

past.”

It’s not about compensation, it’s about artistic intent.  I think artists should definitely be credited in their lifetime for their work, I think there needs to be a different approach towards work after the artist dies.  Copyright owners should make more of an effort towards availability… I mean I don’t pirate songs unless they’re not available on iTunes.

Tripping Much?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIZVCCJxIQ4[/youtube]This is a really awesome video one of my friends put on Facebook about society’s obsession with video and online gaming. It reminds me of my idea of programming dreams and it is striking to see how reality could look like through the lenses of the digital world. The video is a bit lengthy but very entertaining. Enjoy!

Copyrights on What?

While I was reading this week’s articles, I developed a creeping sensation of being part of something very wrong. The truth is, it is SO easy to find free content online that it is no surprise so many people do it. I believe that access to free content makes us “victims” rather than “offenders” and the blame for copyright infringements should be put both on the inadequately created law protecting copyright and on the servers providing free content. I realize that providers cannot be fully responsible for the content being shared online but we all have to agree that they are very well aware of the potentials of the service they offer. Therefore, it should be their responsibility to control data sharing as it should be the law’s responsibility to make copyright rules consize, well-defined and neutral. I’m also not trying to defend people who purposefully steal material and use it for commercial purposes. However, for the average person who wants to watch a movie online or get free songs simply to enjoy them in their own home, the word “stealing” and “breaking the law” is extremely harsh. If we had a plate of warm fluffy pancakes shoved under our noses and were told not to touch it, that is simply a cruel joke. I like the idea that Courtney Love presents, even if it is a risky and bold one. She sees herself as a waiter who lives on tips, skipping over record companies which engulf most of the profits. I see her anger and her point makes sense to me. I like her idealism when it comes to defining artistic expression not merely as a content or product, but as a service. After all, she acknowledges that “giving music away for free is what artists have been doing naturally all their lives”. So is this a battle for the production studios and record companies? Because if it is, they should not be able to claim any copyright and there shouldn’t be any issue to begin with.

So what happened to Napster?

After reading the articles, I was able to reminisce about software such as Napster. I know that its popularity was huge but it steadily declined. This brought me to check out the new Napster. I found that it has stayed alive and managed to partner with Best Buy to further its reach. The different membership options seem very attractive for the non-savy music addict. Five to seven dollars a month doesn’t seem like much right? It places the top billboard songs into a nice organizable category and has a simple functionality to listen online or to download. I can see however that they have placed a limit on direct downloads by only giving from 5 to 7 “Mp3 credits” per month.

Napster has evolved and the issues that were so big with the bands such as Metallica came to shape it. I could see the struggle between fighting for the customer but also fighting for the company’s safety.

Here’s a funny comic i found by the way.

Copyright Law and Today's Readings

Today’s readings have two dueling interpretations of modern trends relating to ownership.  One presents file-sharing as the primary villain in today’s digital world and argues that services should essentially designed to prevent piracy.  For instance, for any type of file-sharing service to be legal, you would have to give your credit card information (!) and personal identity (!) so that the service that service wouldn’t be liable for copyright violations.  While the intentions of the author of this article were good, putting this limits on user-generated websites or making them face legal liability would basically destroy most of the Web 2.0 revolution that we have been discussing in such positive terms.  Even after acknowledging that there have been other websites online that provided pirated music before Napster was born, the author still insists that regulation can solve a problem that has been present online essentially since its inception.  Basically, the main thing I got out of this article is the danger of regulation in a world where the law can never experience the type of exponential growth that has characterized the Internet.  As well-intentioned as the lawyers in the Napster case may have been (see my previous article for more information on this), their regulations and decisions have been rendered obsolete by rapid changes in technology.  It’s a pretty interesting in contrast, with precedent pushing the law in one direction even as changes in technology make that precedent irrelevant.
Digital Dystopia was more enjoyable, simple because (as someone else here said) the author acknowledged that media companies had arguments for their legal proposals and presented the controversy around these issues.  In truth, the facts of this article were a lot more damning than a lot of the anti-copyright papers that I have read.  The fact that copyright lasts the life of the author plus an additional seventy years is pretty absurd; as the article notes, inventions (which are just as critically important as cultural works) pass into the public domain all the time owing to their shorter terms.  In addition, I can see why so many people are protesting copyright’s prohibition on the preparation of “derivative works” without copyright protection.  To go back to my earlier post, it seems like “progress” would promoted even if individuals are allowed to right fan fiction or create remixes.
On the other hand, some of the proposals made in the Digital Dystopia article are pretty ridiculous.  Should we honestly tax people to pay for works based on their “relative popularity?”  It seems pretty arbitrary to tax Americans (many of whom may not consume certain media types) and then give that money to people based on how popular the government thinks their works are.  Personally, I like Boyle’s approach the best:  simply shorten the copyright term and carve more exceptions for legitimate uses of copywritten materials.  It would solve most of the problems that we have been discussing and would make copyright law more legitimate.  What do you think?

music revolution

“And without laws and rules governing such behavior, the Internet will devolve toward anarchy, rather than evolve into a powerful tool for e-commerce and individual empowerment.”

We have discussed the internet being a model, a try for a communistic anarchistic community. I see nothing wrong with this. control is for books is for the world of literature. the internet is for everyman as far as writing and blogging and journalism go…I think it is more an issue of allowing change adapting to change…it looks like we’re heading towards a free-er world considering everyone cannot be stopped from downloading pirated music. it’s a REVOLT of sorts. the people stand strong illegally downloading music maybe what they are trying to say is music should be free its not something that should be bought and sold but shared? I don’t know if this is right or wrong but it’s what is being said (if only subliminally) by the people downloading.

Ownership Response: Renting Things That You Don't Own

Taking a page from George Lakoff’s book, it’s easy to see how the metaphor of media as property has shaped both the rhetoric and strategies of media companies in response to internet “piracy.”

Particularly given the rise of digital media, there are many clear differences between “intellectual property” and other entities that we might refer to as property. From an object-based perspective, digital media can not be entirely sold, given, stolen, rented, or borrowed, as after any song is “sold,” “given,” “stolen,” “rented,” or “borrowed,” the “owner” still possesses the song themselves.

The ease with which media can be copied and redistributed in this new digital environment undoubtedly contradicts the metaphor of media as property, which developed when there was always a physical quality to the media being distributed. I can’t imagine there would be as much stigma associated with borrowing your neighbor’s leaf blower and not returning it if that leaf blower were actually an identical copy that your neighbor created instantly, for pennies. I would argue that this is no longer borrowing at all (It’s not as if your neighbor will want the leaf blower back).

What’s interesting is that, in order to combat piracy, media companies are trying to promote a type of “renting” system for entities that I believe cannot really be borrowed or rented at all. DRM systems look to limit the ways that consumers can interact with content, as well as how long they may do so. While in some ways this restricted use is similar to renting property, they are not the same. Returning to my silly example, it’s as though my neighbor tells me that I can only use the leaf blower for 20 minutes, I can only use it to blow certain leaves, and I have to pay him. These rules would be more reasonable (though still pretty unreasonable) if it were really just the one leaf blower in question. Then the rules about property clearly apply, as he can obviously sell, lend, or rent out his one leaf blower. Even if he were the only one who could reproduce leaf blowers in this way, he might be able to effectively charge me and limit my use of the copied leaf blower.

Unfortunately for my neighbor, he isn’t the only one with this fantastic leaf blower reproducing technology (this is really getting silly). My neighbor on the other side is offering a leaf blower with no restrictions and at no cost (he does have to put advertisements on the roof of his house but he seems to be okay with that). Like my hypothetical neighbor, media companies are struggling to eliminate competition that is charging nothing at all for “their property.” It seems to me like this effort is doomed to fail. And perhaps it should. Media is clearly not property in the classic sense, so it makes sense for it not to be treated as such. Obviously there are a lot of very complicated issues regarding incentives and whatnot, but I feel comfortable saying at least that this metaphor is outdated and should be reevaluated.

Napster

I was thinking about this article that we read this week about the legal uncertainties regarding Napster’s status.  In particular, it went into detail about the risk that Napster would be defended owing to its (perceived) status as a conduit for network communication or its decision to host content that was provided by users.  These two provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were crucial in Napster’s defense, as this provisions give broad protection to certain websites against copyright infringement.  In fact, the primary thing that websites that host user-generated content need to do to avoid legal action is to remove content that users complain about, with hosts like Wikipedia and YouTube not being legally required to develop safeguards against copyright infringement before content is posted.  The aforementioned article was written before the landmark injunction against Napster that forced the service to shut down, so I was interested in reading what separated Napster from the numerous legal services that provide user-generated content today.
After reading a variety of different articles and perspectives on the Napster file-sharing service, I can say that the A&M Records, Inc vs. Napster cases touches on all of the issues that were discussed in our other two readings.  Courtney Love made a tangential reference to the music industry as a cartel, a reference that I didn’t really appreciate when the article first came out.  Look at the huge list of plaintiffs on the lawsuits, and you see this huge variety of company names.  This diversity is a mirage, however, as all of those myriad companies are just subsidiaries of the “Big Four” music companies.
Then, moving to the case itself, I found it pretty brazen that the music companies argued that Napster did irreparable harm by reducing CD sales.  First, a variety of different positive forces could reduce music sales as well, and I don’t think the sales of physical records should define the health of the music market.  If anything, music companies should base their argument on the effect that piracy would have on consumers by reducing the amount of music content that is professionally produced.  The shift of focus from the effect that piracy has on consumers (which is embedded in the Constitution) to its effect on producers is pretty surprising, but it seems to have had more sway on the judges in the Napster case.
The case has a pretty surprising end.  Realizing that Napster had name-recognition that could be capitalized on, the owners of Napster developed technology that could locate and remove copy written content.  If Napster had stayed the dominant file-sharing medium, this change (and the addition of, say, advertising to encourage record companies to stay on the site) might have prevented Kaazaa and (especially) BitTorrent from ever coming onto the scene.  Their software reached 99% efficacy but judges insisted that Napster should close until they developed 100% effective software (which was basically impossible).  Several things stick out at me from that little coda to the story.  First, why did the judge arbitrarily insist that 99% accuracy isn’t good enough?  It’s a pretty scare precedent legally, because most DRM measures have nowhere near that accuracy.  If judges one day conclude that YouTube’s DRM software isn’t accurate enough, could that mean the end of YouTube?  Second, I think the entire story is ironic because it emphasizes how short-sighted the record companies were in this instance.  At first, their reaction was completely understandable, but they did nothing to defend a popular music site as it attempted to solve the very problem that the record companies complained about.  If the RIAA had attempted to fix Napster instead of destroying it, they likely could have controlled the development of file-sharing technology and prevented the rise of newer, more resilient piracy threats like BitTorrent.  Once again, we see that an industry’s resistance to a new technology and its refusal to compromise on its copyright stance end up creative problems for said industry in the long run.