September 28, 2010

Interesting visual analytics of large amounts of text to come up with a visual representation of the concepts and narrative of the subject matter in a word cloud, in this case, The French revolution.


A Look At Piracy Culture

May 29, 2010

When looking back on all the copyright readingsI have read, it seems to me there is a continuously recurring theme ̶ the clash of sharing culture VS protectionist business practices. Two schools of thought continue to battle with no real sign of a (near) future resolution, which makes me wonder why the file-sharing phenomenon has, till this day, not slowed.

I found an interesting ethnographic research paper by Ian Condry, Cultures of Music Piracy, which compared business response and the attitudes of music fans toward file-sharing between Japan and the USA. He emphasised being in the current social climate, not only is sharing with family and friends an expectation, bit it is integral in creating and enforcing social bonds. He put it aptly with this quote:

If you live in a college dorm, for example, the question is not why you don’t respect copyright law. The question is, how could you not share music?”

Condry provided some useful insight that in many ways Japanese and US music fans shared similar attitudes about file sharing. Common to both groups was the opinion that businesses charged excessive amounts for CD’s which may only have one or two good songs on them. The US college students also added predominantly moral justifications for file sharing ̶ bringing balance to a system of greedy corporates, musicians who earned too much, feeling cheated by music marketing and the belief that the money they paid was not going to the right people, such as the artist.

Comparisons between Japan and the US showed that around 2001-2003 although Japan didn’t see an explosion in peer to peer (p2p) file sharing like the USA did, Japanese fans were still sharing music by lending each other CD’s which they were then recording to mini-disc or renting CD’s for $3. This lends itself to a fairly obvious question, even if record companies could stem file-sharing would it actually stop or would it simply proliferate in other ways?

Condry goes on to say Japan, who have similar copyright laws to the US showed much more leniency with respect to copyright infringement, this same leniency used in their anime and manga industry which allowed these industries to flourish. On the other hand the US business community had been aggressively defending their music, but even with numerous lawsuits US and Japanese music sales saw a similar decline.

What was most interesting was a comment that was made by Katsuya Taruishi, head of statistics of Oricon, the company which tracks album sales in Japan, he said that some of the blame for copying rests on the record industry for promoting music through TV commercial tie-ups and prime time dramas, focussing on hit songs instead of developing fan relationships between artists and fans. This inevitably positioned music as a commercial item instead of a piece of soul of an artist or group- meaning fans felt less guilty about downloading it.

Respondents in the US said they would buy CD’s from artists they knew needed money, who weren’t getting record label support, local bands, people they knew and for music that stood the test of time (jazz, classical).

In studying the attitudes of the customers, you get a clearer picture of what they want. There is a strong anti-capitalist sentiment held by file-sharers, but it seems that many music lovers are still willing to pay if they perceive value in the music that they purchase. Artist-Fan relationships appears to be essential in adding value to music. Whilst artists who go against the conventions of distributing through major record companies, using independent companies or their own resources, gain respect from their fans which can be realised in a monetary form. There are now numerous examples of bands embracing technology and using inventive ways, to promote their work, proving that a more open approach can work. One of the most famous successes is Radiohead’s 2007 Album, In Rainbows which was released in digital format, users could choose what they paid for the album, this resulted in 3 million copies sold in the first year, estimated sales revenue came to approximately US $9-10 million. Another example is Wilco with 2004 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They circulated the album for free, afterward, they were contacted by fans saying they wanted to give something back to express good faith and solidarity to Wilco’s  joining of the file sharing community. Wilco told the fans to pick a charity to donate to instead, in which they raised $15,000 for Doctors Without Borders.

REFERENCE: Condry, I, 2004, ‘Cultures of Music Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan’, International Journal Of Cultural Studies, Vol 7, No.343

Fair Use and Copyright…

April 29, 2010

The grey area which represents the limits of fair use has created contention in the intellectual property arena for some time. The permissions to use copyrighted material within the boundaries of a certain type of usage is governed loosely by certain guidelines. The argument continues; when are people infringing on copyright and when does it fall within the category of fair use? Although these guidelines can be adhered to with some degree of clarity, it appears debate will inevitably arise due to the conflict of goals and self interest between different parties. From recent cases, it seems fair use is still not concrete enough to allow users firm rights to fairly use and publish material owned by a party who opposes this idea. Right now it really boils down to the content owners not only understanding of the terms of fair use but understanding its place in modern society and embracing it.

Youtube has been under some heat for this very reason in the recent Hitler parodies case in which Constantin Films, through Youtube’s content ID system, pulled down Youtube clips of a parodied Hitler Scene, to which it owns the rights to the original film. We can see the same argument- disgruntled Youtube users and uploaders who believe (and fairly so) that the way they have used this video is within the boundaries of fair use, whilst Constantin Films hold an evident contrariness  of the same matter. Whether or not fair use should be determined by the owner of the content is debatable. Youtube’s imposition of a content ID based system has summoned a somewhat hostile response from creators and users.  YouTube acknowledges that uploaders are usually the types people rights holders should be embracing but argues that content owners have the right to account for fair use of its own content. YouTube’s attempt to solicit some sort of happy medium in an area which is not clear has created problems, but is there another way to address this problem to satisfy everyone?

YouTube is in a difficult position as a platform provider for (almost) free expression. Achieving balance as an intermediate body between consumers, creators and owners of content is indeterminable challenge- there are high expectations for YouTube to provide a space where people can express themselves in the spirit of creativity, community and common interest in the grounds of fair use for both users and consumers, whilst big media companies which are still coming to terms with the web 2.0 phenomenon are trying to hold what is theirs, close to their chest.

Part of problem as I see it is the long history in strict copyright standards and enforcement prior to the internet revolution and a longstanding history of piracy which has been difficult to control, has given rise to longstanding practice of enforced protectionism, which is still embedded in modern business psyche of many. Piracy is an issue so aggressively defended but remains an ever growing issue which can’t be stamped out that, naturally, rights owners are protective of their work and strongly associate fair use with copyright breach. What is needed is a widespread shift in attitude and culture in order to re-establish norms in this area which are more flexible and cohesive to accomodate today’s online economy in order to support the innovation and proliferation of sharing ideas and expressing oneself in innovative and new ways.

But for all the industries and companies which have been using the same aggressive tactics to suppress fair use to this day, there have been rapidly rising numbers of forward thinking organisations, businesses, artists, individuals, programmers and so on… which now advocate and participate in movements such as Lessig’s Creative Commons.  Multitudes of other open source projects exist on the internet which understand that building on existing creation is actually a new way of creating and expressing oneself and should not be quelled. This new culture of building and sharing information is invaluable in terms of social enrichment, nurturing innovation and even growing economies. It seems that cultural shift is indeed happening and although very quickly gaining momentum, it is has not yet caught up with expeditious pace of web 2.0 although, hopefully eventually, it will.

BitTorrent Users Beware.

April 23, 2010

Recently I’ve been reading about the lawsuits being carried out on what looks to be like up to 50,000 Bit Torrent users by the U.S Copyright Group.

These unfortunate individuals have been descended upon by lawyers of the group – who, in this case, represent a coalition of independent film makers – and have been given two choices, either pay up in an out of court settlement or pay (through the nose) for legal fees to defend themselves in court. A few people have chosen the former, to avoid litigation’s excessive costs. But really in either case it sees the charged putting up some big money to pay for their ‘errors’.

Although the scope of the charges involves only a few fairly obscure art-house movie titles, the problems that arise from actions such as this are multifarious. A primary and most evident concern would certainly be the precedent set for other corporate media companies to begin asserting the same agressive actions on a prodigious scale- we could see these cases move from 50,000 to the hundreds of thousands.

This story isn’t the first of it’s kind, in late 2003, the American Recording Industry sued 261 people for sharing music on Peer to Peer (P2P) networks – needless to say this resulted in some severe public backlash, and essentially music industry heavy weights alientated its market, the very thing which supported these corporations in the first place. Surely, with the adoption of the same coercive and aggressive tactics, history is bound to repeat itself? I guess we can then assume why Motion Picture Association of America may be interested, but also wary of using these methods to address the issue.

The technology used, sourced from Guardaley IT, pinpoints real time downloads to particular I.P addresses. I don’t know much about this technology but it seems that amongst an array of ways a user could be misidentified, I.P addresses can be faked by hackers, leaving someone in the hot-seat with no idea how they may have landed there. Although I doubt how frequently this may occur it certainly brings an element of ethics into question.

And speaking of ethics we have to wonder now at issues of privacy, personal safety and accountability in the realm of the internet if this kind of initiative is adopted. And how many of users can be held accountable? If you speak in terms of general usage almost anyone and everyone who is sharing material on a P2P network could be held responsible- this would involve millions of people. In regards to individual user safety and privacy, users should know that I.P addresses being handed over by some ISPs are apparently being handed over at a price, according Mark Gibbs from PC World Online- up to $60 per account. Not only then is there incentive for entertainment corporates to bring forth action, but ISPs will have a strong financial incentive to give out private information at a cost. To be profiteering from information given out over legal matters, to me, seems grossly unethical.

In the context of modern digital culture, it seems once again big companies are using suppressive initiatives to try and exert control over the digital movement which shows no signs of slowing or even being able to be subdued. Instead this will only serve to add to the dysphoria of regular internet users who are already concerned for their safety and privacy in their online lives and as  mentioned before could only result in considerable consumer backlash. Surely this cannot be a solution to the issue of copyright and if the film industries think it is- it certainly is not one with much foresight.

Breaking Ground?

March 24, 2010

After posting a number (very few against the almost infinite amount) of articles which talk about the drawn out conflicts over patent breaches on Diigo, I stumbled across something which I believe is a significant step in the other direction; New Zealand are preparing to vote on a new patent reform bill. The exceptional element in this reform is the exclusion of software patents.

With every major digital/tech/comms company company tied up in fierce and drawn out litigation over who owns what and who’s intellectual terriory is being invaded and plundered of its worth, it is interesting to see that New Zealand have acknowledged the detriment of patenting on the development and continuing innovation of software, particularly as so much new software development is derived from existing software.

The bill also recognises the significance of open source which has become an almost irreplaceable form of software provision to the digital community. Many major companies use open source for their commercial products which has also often result in legal conflict, take HTC vs Apple as a recent example (also one example of MANY). It is encouraging to see this bill considers the moving forward from patents to the open source model.

The New Zealand Commerce Comittee have included this clause in the bill after directly reviewing feedback from the software industry, and have also made allowances for companies- still allowing them to patent hardware which encompasses embedded software.

You can find detailed information on the Patents Bill here.