Friday, June 19, 2009

Kutiman + Youtube Amateur Music clips = The Future of Media?

Man, we are almost at Beatles-level in the world of mashup artists. DJ Earworm continues to weave top 40 hits together. Now, Israeli artist Kutiman has taken unrelated bits of amateur music performance clips on Youtube, blending them together magically to make new creations, like this one:

My advice to the RIAA and media conglomerate executives? It's time to learn to love the world without excessive copyright, because this IS the future, like it or not. No amount of litigation, government crack-downs, or lobbying will end these "violations." Not even a doomsday lock-down on electronic communications itself, China-style. Time to evolve new business models, not cryogenically preserve archaic ones.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Irritants of the Week

Two media snippets I overheard on the radio or read somewhere on the Net made me very agitated:
  • A woman being interviewed about who she's voting for in the coming election saying "I am tired of paying for someone else's children's school lunches."
  • A proposed bill is making the rounds that would allow copyright holders (i.e. media cartels) to break into computers they suspected of holding unlicensed media.
The first sounds like someone who is either Libertarian or a staunch Republican. So many things wrong with that statement. Selfish, in a "I haven't fully thought this through" way. An appropriate response would be something like "Well, I'm tired of paying to stop your house from burning down, should that ever happen." Or, "Did you go to public school? Didn't we all pay for your school lunches?"

The second is not far-fetched. Our administration has no qualms about running over the Constitution, and avoiding all public discussion about it. It also enjoys taking bribes from the industry. Our elected officials do not seem to comprehend technology law, and those with an agenda seem to be pushing through legislation as fast as possible to avoid scrutiny. Scrutiny that might have questioned the MPAA's claim that "piracy is costing the industry" how much? $6 billion in one claim. $30 billion in another. A Harvard study has already demonstrated the flaw in how they came up with this imaginary number. Yet, they keep getting sympathy to the point where they can get ridiculously powerful legislative help, NOT to stop piracy (which they acknowledge can't be done) but to enforce monopoly and shut out international competition.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Hero Larry Lessig on TED

A few years ago I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at a fund-raising dinner for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group devoted to issues such as free speech, consumer rights, and excessive copyright law. Some books of his worth reading are "Free Culture", "The Future of Ideas," and "Code & Other Laws of Cyberspace."

Watch his TED speech here.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

09F911029D74E35BD84156C5635688C0 is a magic number!

The number above is the secret number needed to decrypt an HD-DVD, meant only for devices approved by the AACS licensing authority. Unfortunately, this authority has a vested interest in controlling how people watch the media they purchase. They're just doing their job, i.e. to keep the MPAA and Hollywood production companies happy, and to permeate the idea of combating piracy (though even the MPAA admits it has little to with piracy and everything about control and stifling competiition).

But the downside is they prevent new and better devices from existing. They prevent people who bought HD-DVDs from using them on "unauthorized" devices like a PC or a cool new piece of software for playing it back. Having corporate agencies like this is a Soviet Union-esque style of marketplace where only "approved" devices can exist instead of letting the market decide.

I'm taking a small risk of getting a take down notice from the AACS, but it's already spread to 60,000 800,000 websites out there. 99.9% of people won't know how to use this number even if they owned an HD-DVD, which itself is highly unlikely. The idea that a 16-digit number is somehow "illegal" seems ludicrous to me. It's not secret any longer.

The Global Game of Keep-Away has already started. To read more about the bad law known as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and this secret key issue, click here.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dilbert on Naming a Product

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Ecstacy of Influence: A Plagiarism

I found this amazing essay about copying and creative works by Jonathan Lethem via BoingBoing. Make sure you read it all the way to the end.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

If You Can't Beat 'em, Sue Join 'em

Taking a kind of if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em stance, NBC, which like all of the other networks, has battled the YouTube video website over users posting segments of its shows online, said today (Tuesday) that it plans to promote its fall lineup via the website, providing clips from such shows as The Office, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It also plans to buy ads on the site and mention YouTube on the air.


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Monday, April 17, 2006

Don't Let AT&T Turn the Internet into Cable TV

Recently, the AT&T telecommunications monopoly of the 1980's that was split up has managed to come back as a giant again, under much looser, monopoly-favoring government policies. This time, it wants to control who uses bandwidth on the Internet.

Click the link above for the entire article.
Technology companies do say they fear AT&T's network won't provide a level playing field, and that AT&T's competitors won't be able to deliver videos that work as well as AT&T's content. Networks have finite space, and it is a fact of network engineering that when some data is given a priority on the network, other data will be pushed aside. At the Senate hearing, Stanford Law professor and Internet policy expert Lawrence Lessig argued that this will put companies or individuals that can't pay for high-quality service at an enormous disadvantage, "reducing application or content competition on the Internet." In the past year, streaming-video Web sites have proliferated on the Internet, and some of the most popular services have come from start-ups like YouTube. Under AT&T's plan, flush firms like Google would be able to pay for all the space on the line, leaving the smaller guys out of luck. The Internet has long been a meritocracy, where smart and creative companies can act quickly and beat out established players. That wouldn't be so on AT&T's Internet.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

American History For Sale: Smithsonion sells out to Showtime

From the New York Times:
Smithsonian Agreement Angers Filmmakers
Published: April 1, 2006

Some of the biggest names in documentary filmmaking have denounced a recent agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime Networks Inc. that they say restricts makers of films and television shows using Smithsonian materials from offering their work to public television or other non-Showtime broadcast outlets.

Ken Burns, whose documentaries "The Civil War" and "Baseball" have become classics of the form, said in an interview yesterday that he believed that such an arrangement would have prohibited him from making some of his recent works, like the musical history "Jazz," available to public television because they relied heavily on Smithsonian collections and curators.

"I find this deal terrifying," Mr. Burns said in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where he is filming interviews for a documentary on the history of the national parks. "It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company, and to have access to that attic, we would have to be signed off with, and perhaps co-opted by, that entity."

On March 9, Showtime and the Smithsonian announced the creation of Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture to develop television programming. Under the agreement, the joint venture has the right of first refusal to commercial documentaries that rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff. Those works would first have to be offered to Smithsonian on Demand, the cable channel that is expected to be the venture's first programming service.

A Smithsonian official who is managing the institution's content and production assistance for the venture said yesterday that while the new arrangement did limit the ability of commercial filmmakers to sell some projects elsewhere, it ultimately would affect a small number of the works that draw on the museum's resources.

"It's not our obligation to help independent filmmakers sell their wares to commercial broadcast and cable networks," said the official, Jeanny Kim, a vice president for media services for Smithsonian Business Ventures.

"What it boiled down to is that we don't have the financial resources, the expertise or the production capabilities," she added, to continue to provide extensive access to materials but not to reap any financial benefit from the result.

She said films that made incidental use of a single interview with a staff member or a few minutes of pictures of elements of the Smithsonian collections would be allowed.

The Showtime venture, under which the Smithsonian would earn payments from cable operators that offered the on-demand service to subscribers, comes as the Smithsonian has suffered financial problems. At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, a Smithsonian official said some necessary repairs to Smithsonian buildings could not be made because of lack of financing. That led to a suggestion by Representative James P. Moran, Democrat of Virginia, to suggest that the institution should charge admission, a proposal that its board of regents has rejected repeatedly.

The Showtime agreement began attracting widespread attention this week as filmmakers said they had been told that some of their projects might fall under the agreement. Two Smithsonian curators, who were granted anonymity because they feared for their jobs if they spoke publicly about the Showtime venture, said in interviews yesterday that they could not be certain what kind of projects would be subject to the restrictions because details of the contract with Showtime had been shared with few employees below the executive level.

Linda St. Thomas
, a Smithsonian spokeswoman, said the details of the contract with Showtime were confidential and would not be released publicly. She said the outlines of the agreement had been left deliberately vague to allow the Smithsonian to consider "on a case-by-case basis" whether a proposed project competes with its new television venture or not. A Showtime executive, Tom Hayden, said the deal was not intended to be exclusionary but was intended to provide filmmakers with an attractive platform for their work.

One well-known filmmaker, Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, said she had been told recently by a Smithsonian staff member that her last film, "Tupperware!," a history of the creation and marketing of the venerable food-storage containers, would have fallen under the arrangement, because much of the history of Tupperware is housed at the Smithsonian. The documentary, which won a Peabody Award in 2004, was broadcast on "American Experience," the PBS show produced by WGBH, the Boston public television station.

"This is a public archive," Ms. Kahn-Leavitt said. "This should not be offered on an exclusive basis to anyone, and it's not good enough that they can decide on a case-by-case basis what they will and won't approve."

Margaret Drain, a vice president for national programs at WGBH, said she feared that public television programs like "Nova" and "American Experience" would suffer greatly because of the new restrictions.

"These are programs that regularly rely on the collections of the Smithsonian Institution," she said. "If access is restricted, we are really going to be in trouble."

She added: "I'm outraged that a public institution would do a semiexclusive deal with a commercial broadcaster."

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Marvel & DC steal the word "super hero"

Marvel & DC have decided to jointly trademark the word "super hero". This trademark is on weak ground because trademark law prohibits trademarks common words and phrases, except within specific products. The word "super-hero" existed long before Marvel & DC wrote comics, and as such, if someone wants to make a line of super-hero jeans or have a show about super-heroes, technically there's nothing DC or Marvel can do about it. Yet, they have lawyers and have been sending cease-and-desist letters to web content sites using the word "super hero". Fighting such things in court is too expensive for most of us, even small independent comics, so most of the time this legal bullying works.

I think it's a pathetic misuse of law. Trademark protection was created to serve us, the consumer, so that we would not be confused between products. It was not made for censorship or stifling competitors. Imagine if Starbucks decided to trademark the word "Coffee"?

Super-hero super-hero super-hero super-hero super-hero super-hero super hero... superhero. This word belongs to everyone.


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posted by Brian at 3:04 PM 2 comments links to this post

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Scary Legislation in the works:
Using Trademarks in your own Art == ILLEGAL

The environment is sure changing for our land of Free Expression. Just in the last few weeks I've seen reports of very scary things:
  • American Search Engine companies are adopting Chinese censorship rules.
  • The American Administration is adapting Soviet-style wiretapping and eavesdropping rules on the American public.
  • Companies (such as the one I work for) are installing Instant Messaging monitoring hardware to spy on all chatting activity.
  • Companies like AT&T are acting as government gestapo spies, handing over personal information to our government without warrants or other Constitutionally-required checks.
  • Telecommunications companies controlling the pipes the Internet sits on are lobbying to privatize everything, making everyone pay for preferential treatment. Essentially, no more neutral Internet, and pay-per-view for everything. Those with more money will get to control what is seen (just like TV today). They alone would control who gets that special treatment (and you can bet it won't be the public). link
  • Bills are being considered to give corporate trademark owners ABSOLUTE power over communication with them, tightly controlling the use of words like Coke, slogans, and images of buildings and basically any part of the environment around us built by human beings. Link

My doomsday communications nightmare (that I wrote about in a short short story "Out of Print" back in 1992) may come true if we don't fight back.


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posted by Brian at 5:09 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, December 09, 2005

Post Song Lyrics, Go to Jail

The Music Publishers Association is going on the offensive to protect its ancient business model, selling sheet music. It wants jail time for folks putting up lyrics and guitar chords on the Internet. The false logic behind their offensive begins with this quote: "The Xerox machine was the big usurper of our potential income."

Revenue stream is not guaranteed in copyright, any more than new technologies guarantee the business models of the past. Revenue stream in a free market is based on market demand and actively supplying that demand. People that look at lyrics websites online are generally not the folks who would buy sheet music. If we accepted this logic that folks who don't buy sheet music are "stealing", we are saying that people who no longer use kerosene lamps (now that they buy lightbulbs) are stealing. People that stopped paying for horse whips are stealing (now that they buy cars). Granted, having lyrics online is not a new business. People have been sharing lyrics as long as there have been songs to sing.

There is nothing stopping the Music Publishers from offering a legal, online method of selling PDF files of sheet music in far better condition than the freebies. Sueing the free sites instead of innovating is lazy and un-capitalistic. But thanks to ridiculous misinterpretation of copyright, they can make more money suing and throwing potential customers in jail.

Can you imagine a society where it's illegal to sing songs to children without payment or permission first? Would you call this a Democracy? A free culture?

Whatever you call it, we're getting closer to it everyday.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sharing Creativity = Potential Success

This Wired article describes how an unknown comedy trio decided to write and produce music videos and sketches, which they put online and gave away for free. They encouraged remixing and sharing under a creative commons license, rather than trying to lock their creations with standard copyright.

The result? Word spread, and now they're on Saturday Night Live.

Conclusion: If you want to get into a creative field, just do it. Find a way to make your art. Network with others. Showcase your talents on the Internet. Leverage the perks of your day job if you can. If you're good enough and persistent, you have a good shot at success. Certainly more so than all the dreamers out there who wait for something to happen.


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posted by Brian at 10:46 PM 2 comments links to this post

Thursday, November 03, 2005

BMG vs. Blizzard: When Media PoliceBots Collide

Now that most of us have PCs connected via the Internet, corporate entities want to control what we do with them. Why? Well, that's a good question. They claim it's to prevent cheating, copying, lost revenue, and to protect intellectual property allegedly damaged by making your own modifications to their products. But we know better. In the movie and book The Corporation, we learn that the only motive public corporations have is self-interest and money. Not ethics. Not common sense. It is literally illegal (under current U.S. law anyway) for them to act in any other way. (Google manages to get away with trying to be good somehow, but that's another story).

So what methods to corporations have to police and bully us into compliance?

They have a number of ways of doing so, including instantly-binding one-way contracts that we unwittingly "sign" whenever we open a box of software, cease-and-desist letters, lobbyists increasing the fines for violations and spreading the rumor in government that they are suffering from piracy, and getting the FBI on their side. Each of these has some amount of success. But faced with a losing battle of file-sharing lawsuits, Sony BMG has taken things to the next level with a CD with a built-in trojan horse. You put it in your CDROM drive on your PC, and it (without telling you) installs spy-ware that exploits weaknesses in the Windows operating system by making a hidden system directory to put a spy-ware bot, which snoops about looking for music-copying software.

This is the same game Blizzard is doing too. Online players of the massively parallel online role-playing game World of Warcraft get their computers probed by software called "The Warden" which also sniffs around your hard drive looking for what it thinks are bad things.

I find it hilarious that Sony BMG's policing system can be exploited to avoid Blizzard's policing system. Just hide whatever you want into Sony's hidden directory and rename it appropriately so that The Warden can't see it!

Battles taking place on your PC will become common-place, I fear, as corporate bots duke it out to see who is violating our privacy more.


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posted by Brian at 1:10 PM 1 comments links to this post

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Consumers To Be Punished for Modifying or Doing Things with Products They Buy? has a blurb about the new Blu-Ray DVD format that will be forced upon us in the near future. I work at Sony, and hear that Blu-Ray is technically great, but the following part disturbs me:
On top of that, consumers should expect punishment for tinkering with their Blu-ray players, as many have done with current DVD players, for instance to remove regional coding. The new, Internet-connected and secure players will report any "hack" and the device can be disabled remotely.

"A hacked player is any player that is doing something it's not supposed to do," Andy Setos (engineer at News Corp) said, adding the jury was still out if regional coding would be maintained or scrapped.

Not supposed to do? Like what? Show porn? Show material that the religious minority finds offensive? Play DVDs criticizing the government? Show material that isn't licensed by the Hollywood cartel? Shows material supporting the ideas of public domain or open source? Play back DVDs or music more than the number of times that Hollywood executives want you to? Play back movies from other countries?

Come on! No corporate entity, just because it's acting as a creator of a product, should claim infinite rule-making abilities under patent and copyright laws. Infinite scope is not protected, only the right to control copying with the priviso of Fair Use. That's it. The D.M.C.A. added the ability to sue folks who tried to go around their rules, but there's nothing from stopping them from expanding the scope of whatever rules they want. Hence, Andy's quote of "Anything it's not supposed to" meaning "what we say it should do." You want to try make your DVD player work in your car? Too bad. That's a crime. You want to hook it up to Linux since Hollywood doesn't want to support it? Too bad. That's a crime.

I feel like I'm in the former Soviet Union more and more every day. A centralized design committee declaring that consumers have no rights to change what they buy. Not for safety reasons (like you shouldn't use rat poison in cooking or to make bombs), but because the committee feels it is against their interests.

The good news is, any device that uses the Internet to tattle tale on you can be thwarted by having something listening for its outgoing signals. But if Hollywood gets to build the "uncopyable" DVD player, that doesn't mean we have to buy it. If they want to cry "Oh oh, we're losing so much money because the DVD spec before was so easily copied", and then turn around and make more profit in DVDs over the last several years than regular movies, I couldn't care less. I'll go on renting Netflix until they require me to let my DVD player tattle tale on me.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

The Day The Music Died (in Star Wars Galaxies)

A bizarre consequence of overly-restrictive copyright legislation (or at least the fear of being sued). Although online players of the massively-multiplayer online game Star Wars Galaxies are allowed to create their own characters that can perform virtual music, they are not allowed to make their own creations. Why? Fear of licensing issues if someone makes new music, and the fear of being sued if someone performs a tune by The Beatles or Madonna.

In real cantinas out there, one can pay a small fee to perform someone else's work (i.e. a cover song). But there are no equivalents online.

It just seems odd that in a Galaxy far far away, original music is banned. The only music allowed is pre-canned segments (by John Williams at least?)

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Monday, October 25, 2004

HBO vs. Consumers

HBO has decided to take copyright law into its own hands by locking its content and allowing only one copy to be made of its programs.

Problem is, let's say you have a Tivo. That counts as one copy. Now you want to archive it. Nope. If your DVD recorder or computer complies (as it will soon be required to), you won't be able to.

Now they justify this on their website by saying "You have no need to time shift (i.e. use Tivo) because we provide our OWN tivo-like functionality with our premium (i.e. more expensive) on-demand satellite content, and therefore we comply with the law."

Oh come on, HBO. We, the consumers, can choose to buy Tivo. Why are you entitled by Law to force on us your own proprietary system of Tivo-like functionality? This is akin to Microsoft preventing people from using different browsers.

Actually, the answer is that the Law makes an exception for non-broadcast content (it lets them do whatever rights management they want). That means, Tivo-ing your cable/satellite content may be severely restricted in the near Future.

Lovely. Who wrote this part of the Law, I wonder?

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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

History Deleted, Thanks to Copyright

That same law designed to promote "innovation" is causing a mass extinction of vintage videogames, designed for obsolete computer systems of the 1980's. Many of the publishers are non-existent, and the rights belong to entities no longer interested in them. However, fans of these games have been aggregating these forgotten games and posting them online as a way of preserving them for current and future generations. It's considered illegal, but should it be? Nearly all of these rogue historians would shutdown their sites if the owners asked, or especially if the games became available to purchase.

As a larger question, why must copyright be enforced if the goal is non-commercial, like a library? Since when do creators get to choose absolutely everything about the fate of what they create? Why do their heirs get to also? How does this spur innovation and the public good as the Founding Fathers had explicitly required?


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Friday, May 30, 2003

Sleep, New Music Computer, and Obsessive Copyright Enforcement

Remember that sleep is important, especially if one is to be ready for impromptu technical interviews over the phone.

I'm getting a music workstation upgrade. It will also allow me to brush up on 3D and video skills.

It's nice to know the Constitution & Bill of Rights are still enforced... except when you MIGHT have violated copyrights. The Court ruled it's okay to shutdown websites without a warrant.

Back to mundane life.

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posted by Brian at 3:30 PM 0 comments links to this post