‘Free’ as in Beer and ‘Free’ as in Speech

A look at what happens when they get conflated — When Free Isn’t Really Free – with quotes from Siva Viadhyanathan and Jonathan Zittrain, as well as TPP alum Alan Davidson.

But now people from all sides of the Internet copyright debate have begun to notice that freebies often mask a multitude of possible cybersins. A report released last week (Ghosts in Our Machines: Background and Policy Proposals on the "Spyware" Problem) by the Center for Democracy and Technology, a high-tech policy group in Washington, called for new regulations, voluntary industry measures and consumer education to combat the problem of “spyware” that often piggybacks on programs, including the software people use to download music.

The Federal Trade Commission has not tried to prosecute any companies for distributing spyware, and courts have declared the programs legal so far. But the Center for Democracy and Technology says that more should be done to protect consumers from sneaky software. “Spyware represents a serious threat to users’ control over their computers and their Internet connections,” the report said.

[…] But the problems with spyware and other rogue programs may offer the music industry a way out, one that doesn’t risk alienating customers by threatening lawsuits. To avoid messing up their computers and surrendering their privacy, people may be more willing to pay for their music – so long as it comes in a form they want and at a price they don’t mind paying.

“It’s not rocket science, it’s not new math, it’s not ‘new economy,’ ” said Mike McGuire, director of media research at GartnerG2, the business strategy research group of Gartner Inc. “If people want this thing, they will pay a reasonable price for it – if it is reasonably priced and convenient, and it works when you hit ‘play.’ ”

In Tomorrow’s (Now Today’s) NYTimes…

There’s a particularly interesting article, Could I Get That Song In Elvis, Please. (The graphic is a wonderful representation of a kind of technological alienation, matching the description quoted below). It’s a story about a technology that Yamaha has been working on that seems to have solved the problem of constructing a digital voice “font,” allowing a music producer to develop a song performance using an assemblage of digitized recordings of a voice. Unlike the voder-like sound that we associate with Steven Hawking, this construct supposedly sounds lifelike — the first development has been for “soul” voices that can serve as backup. (To spook yourself, listen to this Amazing Grace, purportedly generated using Vocaloid — via the Slashdot discussion below. Here’s a link to one demo; other demos coming)

Raises a whole new set of interesting digital IP issues….

Developed at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain and financed by the Yamaha Corporation, the software, which is due to be released to consumers in January, allows users to cast their own (or anyone else’s) songs in a disembodied but exceedingly life-like concert-quality voice. Just as a synthesizer might be programmed to play a series of notes like a violin one time and then like a tuba the next, a computer equipped with Vocaloid will be able to “sing” whatever combination of notes and words a user feeds it. The first generation of the software will be available for $200. But its arrival raises the prospect of a time when anyone with a laptop will be able to repurpose any singer’s voice or even bring long-gone virtuosos back to life. In an era when our most popular singers are marketed in every conceivable way — dolls, T-shirts, notebooks, make-up lines — the voice may become one more extension of a pop-star brand.

[…] Vocaloid’s next application will be Miriam, a third font that Zero-G expects to release later in 2004. (A Japanese company, Crypton, expects to release its own font — “Japanese Pops,” a bubbly female voice — in March.) Miriam is based on recordings of Miriam Stockley, a singer for the new age group Adiemus, which has worldwide album sales in excess of several million. “At first I was quiet horrified by the idea,” Ms. Stockley said. “People tend to pay a lot of money to get my sound, and here I am putting it on a font.”

She changed her mind, she said, because “you can’t fight progress, no matter how strange it sounds.” She also negotiated an undisclosed percentage for each copy of Miriam that sells. But once Miriam the vocal font is out there in the public, Ms. Stockley the actual singer has little control of how it will be used. Anyone who legally purchases the font is entitled to use it to write songs for commercial purposes, though they’re not allowed to market them as Ms. Stockley’s own recordings.

Mr. Stratton reiterated the point, “when vocal fonts are used, the performer is the user and Vocaloid is an instrument.”

In the long term, Mr. Stratton is aware that the true killer application will be recognizable celebrity fonts — the Elton, say, or the Aretha. But so far, none of the world’s most famous voices have volunteered.

[…] Elvis seems like an obvious candidate for vocal reanimation.

A Slashdot discussion of a related topic: Decoding the Algorithm for Pop Music

Slashdot discussion: Synthesized Singers