To get a sense of just how precarious a perch all the transformative work on the internet stands on read this article about former Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio’s struggles and the chilling effect that copyright trolling has on creativity.
TechDirt: Andy Baio On The New Prohibition Created By Copyright
Frankly, it makes me a little ill to think of all the kids who think they’re protected on YouTube by stating the magical–and completely ineffectual–words “no copyright intended” on their vids. What they don’t know is that this won’t keep them from getting sued into oblivion.
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Opinions in Game of Buzz posts are those of the author alone.
This is the world we live in.
With violence spreading across the Middle East triggered by a ham fisted video posted to YouTube by an individual whose resume is littered with felony drug convictions and fraud, Google has begun to block access to that video in the countries that are seeing some of the most damage.
What’s hardest to wrap the mind around is that if the video- a trailer for a “film” called Innocence of Muslims (it’s more complicated than that, but for the sake of argument lets run with it)- featured a snippet from a pop song or footage from a television broadcast it would have been pulled automatically by YouTube’s relentless copyright defending robots. (more…)
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The one about the Hugo Awards’ UStream being shut-down by copyright protection-bots?
It gets worse.
So the YouTube livestream of the Democratic National Convention, which was hosted on both YouTube and BarackObama.com was pulled thanks to copyright claims.
It was embarrassing enough when something similar happened to NASA during the Mars rover landing, but this has now become an issue directly impacting the function of our democracy. Whoever you might favor in the election, it’s just not cool for random pieces of software to block access to the Internet “airwaves”.
YouTube is different from UStream in that it doesn’t offer premium paid accounts for its users, and wants to be seen more and more as a replacement for broadcast television. How embarrassing must this be for the Google-owned company to be held hostage by a system of spurious claims that obliterate their credibility as a primary news service?
Shoot first, ask copyright questions later has to go.
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It seemed simple enough.
Over the weekend the Hugo Awards, the biggest honors in all of Science Fiction, were handed out in Chicago. In an effort to be more inclusive, the organizers of the awards arraigned for the ceremony to be streamed UStream. Everybody was happy.
Until the feed shut-down in the middle of beloved author Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for a particulrlay well-loved Doctor Who episode. The reason? Copyright protection bots had been triggered by clips from Who and the TV Series Community. You know, the kinds of nominee clips that get shown at, you know, awards shows.
Suffice it to say the internet-enabled Sci-Fi community was more than a little P.O.’d by this turn of events. Annalee Newitz of the venerable blog io9 has a breakdown of the reaction to the event which prevented her from witnessing one of her blogging colleagues win the Hugo for best novelette. She’s also collected the UStream apology which points out that they were unable to reinstate the feed despite internal attempts to do so. Apparently their hands were tied by those bots– third party software which they are abandoning to avoid future embarassment.
Not that this is all the blame that is left to go around. Some of that has to be put on the hands of the Hugo organizers, who entrusted their broadcast to a FREE account on UStream. As UStream’s CEO points out on their blog:
Users of our paid, ad-free Pro Broadcasting service are automatically white listed to avoid situations like this and receive hands-on client support.
Not that the Hugo Awards people probably thought they’d have any trouble. The clips had been aquired through legal channels. The awards are good for the careers of all those involved, after all. It’s just that copyright and common sense don’t mix. A situtaion made even more difficult by the sheer laziness of bot-based copyright enforcement.
The DMCA ruled internet is the land of “ban first, ask questions later”. While both consumers and creators have a stake in the rules being reformed to enable a user experience that makes sense, creators and curators have a duty to stop expecting this stuff to be anything approaching logical. The bots being used to enforce these policies are sublimely stupid, anyone who has watched a video that’s been mirror-image flipped knows this. That still doesn’t mean you should rely on unpaid services, like, at all.
[While we're at it: should the websites for the most prestigious organization in Science-Fictiondom look like a Geocities site circa 1998? Come on, people. It was charming in 2010, now it's just sad.]
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Google has announced it will make it more difficult for torrent sites and material that violates copyright to show up in search results.
The Hollywood Reporter, reporting on a Google blog post, says, “The effort ought to thrill the creators of TV shows, movies and music that have long complained of Internet pirates who illegally post their content on websites they have no control over and, therefore, earn no money from.”
The search algorithm will apply to the estimated 30 trillion sites that Google indexes.
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If you care about your freedom on the Internet you really should be tracking Techdirt. Today Glyn Moody has the story of the chilling effect on political discourse that SOPA and ACTA-like laws can have as a Swedish oils company, Neste Oil, goes after the environmental group for putting up a parody site. They’re even looking to gobble up the URL that Greenpeace used in the Internet equivalent of eminent domain.
The scariest bit is this part:
But it’s the claim of copyright infringement that’s more interesting. That’s because the legal action against Greenpeace’s ISP, Loopia, tries to address the issue of parody. The document (original pdf in Swedish) says that Greenpeace was seeking to stir up a “political debate”, and claims that such “political propaganda” loses the protection of parody, and is therefore infringing on Neste Oil’s copyright.
I feel like I stumbled into a William Gibson novel, and that we’re now debating the rights of corporations to be protected from hate speech.
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Turnstyle on Monday, Jun. 25th
Backing up content from a DVD could land you two years in prison or a fine up to two million yen ($25,000) in accordance with a copyright law just passed by Japan’s legislature.
One lawyer says the law even includes activities like watching a YouTube video.
To be subject to the law, you must be aware that the material is illegal to download. Opponents, including some legislators, worry that the law could catch young people in its dragnet.
Previous laws on the books only subjected uploaders to fines and prison time.
Wired has more.
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It has been one hell of a week. Emphasis on hell.
The online protest against the legislative duo of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), meant that large swaths of the Internet — most notably Wikipedia — went dark on Wednesday. The protests appeared to have worked, or at least given legislators in Washington pause, as both pieces of legislation have been shelved for the moment. Emphasis on “on the moment” as SOPA has more lives than a zombie-vampire cat, seemingly being shelved and un-shelved every other day.
Yet the fight over online piracy is a multi-front war. Hours after the protest blackout ended, and before SOPA was put on hold, a federal indictment against file sharing site Megaupload.com led to the site being shut down and its founder (and three others) being arrested in New Zealand. (Remember that last bit, it’s important down the line.)
This prompted a retaliatory backlash from hackers and activists operating under the Anonymous banner, who launched Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against the Justice Department, FBI, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) websites, amongst others. What’s notable about the response was how swift and large it managed to be, although the question must be asked: how much does such an attack truly inconvenience these organizations in the long run?
Here’s an even better question: why were the MPAA and American legislators so hot to pass into law a bill that would have fundamentally altered the way that the Internet works? We must be talking a serious amount of money.
At present, the motion picture industry claims that it is losing $6.1 billion dollars each year to online piracy. When viewed through that lens it’s clear why the studios want to shut off the tap. But as Julian Sanchez – writing for libertarian think tank Cato Institute’s Cato @ Liberty blog – points out, cutting off American’s access to foreign piracy sites won’t recoup those costs:
SOPA, recall, does not actually shut down foreign sites. It only requires (ineffective) blocking of foreign “rogue sites” for U.S. Internet users. It doesn’t do anything to prevent users in (say) China from downloading illicit content on a Chinese site. If we’re interested in the magnitude of the piracy harm that SOPA is aimed at addressing, then, the only relevant number is the loss attributable specifically to Internet piracy by U.S. users.
Which has got to be a lot of cash, what with all those copies of X-Men Origins: Wolverine flying around the tubes. Right?
Of the total $6.1 billion in annual losses LEK estimated to MPAA studios, the amount attributable to online piracy by users in the United States was $446 million—which, by coincidence, is roughly the amount grossed globally by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
Wait. We’ve been fighting over CHIPMUNKS MONEY?
Not AVATAR cash? But CHIP… oh Kibo. Say it ain’t so.
Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow posted those parts of Sanchez’ analysis, and for that I’m thankful. But digging in further we find this killer bit:
As one expert consulted by GAO [Government Accountability Office] put it, “effects of piracy within the United States are mainly redistributions within the economy for other purposes and that they should not be considered as a loss to the overall economy.”
Translated from the bureaucrat: the pirates were never going to spend money on X-Men: Origins: Wolverine anyway, so you might as well find something to sell to them they might actually want. Which is what some pirates have always argued (not to give them the moral high ground). I still find it ridiculous that there are people who claim to love, say, comic books, then spend their nights scanning and uploading pages so that people can read the books without paying. When their favorite books get canceled they rend their cosplay garments and mourn the loss. That sort of myopic hubris is reserved for presidential candidates exploring their relationship options.
Yet the shadow of Adam Smith’s invisible hand is at work here. There’s clearly a demand, and its not being met through legitimate channels. This is an opportunity for innovation, not an excuse to call Interpol. Instead of letting sites like Megaupload define the market, the entertainment industry should stop fighting the tech industry and start bankrolling a new way forward.
They’ll need to accept a few harsh realities to go along with that: profit margins will be lower; and the relationships that matter most are that of talent and fan, not agent and executive. For most of the Aughts we were told to embrace the idea of the personal brand. As it turns out, the brand is dead. No matter how much you try to dress them up no one will buy that a corporation is a person. (Well, one guy does. But no one really likes him.) Big media companies can either facilitate those relationships or watch their power inexorably slip away.
That’s the long view. In the short term we’re stuck with a very complex legal situation, which brings us to our last piece of news to consider.
This week the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has the power to remove works from the public domain and put them back under the protection of copyright. This is a huge blow to those who are fighting for a stronger cultural commons, and while the majority on the court argues that it doesn’t give the power to Congress to create perpetual copyright, the Court under Chief Justice Roberts hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record when it comes to curtailing corporate excess.
In some ways this is a special case, as the works in question are by foreign authors and fall under the purview of the Berne Convention — an international copyright treaty. The treaty in this case trumps the way copyright works here in the U.S.
And here we have the thread that ties it all together: the majority of the profits the MPAA claims to lose (which are guesstimates at best), the national identity of Megaupload (created by a German who lives in New Zealand, incorporated in Hong Kong, bane of American companies), and an international copyright treaty that infringes on rights proscribed in American law. The World Wide Web brings worldwide complexity; as citizens of the Internet we really are citizens of the world. Globalization has come home. You’re looking at it right now.
While the success of this week’s online protest against SOPA should go towards shutting up those who say that online protests are ineffectual, it’s still not enough to just change the minds of legislators here at home. This is a global battle in a global marketplace. Activists, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike need to scale up their thinking, or what we’ve built so far just might collapse under the weight of old wisdom that’s lived past its usefulness.
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Robert Levine, the former executive editor of Billboard magazine, is making the interview rounds this week promoting his new book Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back.
Levine raises the point that copyright law has empowered the business of culture for over 300 years now, and that the dismantling of that law in the form of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – which made copyright opt-in instead of opt-out – has crippled that industry. I’ll concede that point for the sake of argument.
Levine is not mincing words. The issues of copyright – and copyleft as the framers of the Creative Commons would have it – and how they relate to the culture industry are exceptionally complex. Maker knows I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts in this little column and I have a lot of sympathy for both sides of the issue. Creators deserved to get paid for their efforts, whether they are big time studio directors or single moms writing genre fiction in their minuscule free time.
The question I have is this: should we even have a culture industry? More specifically — should we have a culture industry based on artifacts?
It doesn’t surprise me that a former editor at Billboard would seem to cling so strongly to a business model based on selling things. The music industry as we knew it was destroyed when the value of a copy of a performance was dropped to zero. Now musical acts have to rely on live performance (experience) and merchandise (artifacts) to fill their coffers. Not as easy as it was, but more in line with what the grand tide of human history.
With the advent of recording technology, the locus of culture moved away from the experiential – music performance, theatre, dance – and to the consumption of recorded material. Money could be made from records and film because what was done once could be replicated over and over. It helped establish a monoculture because the artifact was cheaper to produce than the performance.
This is rapidly unraveling, and I think that’s a good thing.
Which doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see giant Hollywood blockbusters or hear the next U2 album. It means that the culture industry we have has to do better. Sure, idiots will pirate The Dark Knight Rises and watch it on their laptops. They will also be cheating themselves of the emotional power that watching the film on an IMAX screen has. As for U2, well I’d pay through the nose to see them in concert again, and I am the kind of sad superfan who looks at the $400 boxed anniversary set for Achtung Baby that was released this week (pictured above) and kicks himself for not buying Apple stock back in the late 90s. (Just one share could get that set!)
Where I find myself in concord with Levine’s thinking is with the fate of indie artists. There are few things more daunting than trying to make a living following your vision without the backing of a giant corporation, but the good news is that new models are cropping up. A site like Kickstarter isn’t the be all and end all for indie financing. It’s just the beginning.
Going forward we can’t afford a culture industry that looks like the one we’ve had. There are seven billion voices on the planet, and culture is a conversation. The marketplace of art and ideas is reforming to reflect that unavoidable truth.
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