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February 7, 2005

firstmonday: Music Copyright & Earnings [7:35 pm]

Artists’ earnings and copyright: A review of British and German music industry data in the context of digital technologies

Abstract

Digital technologies are often said (1) to enable a qualitatively new engagement with already existing cultural materials (for example through sampling and adaptation); and, (2) to offer a new disintermediated distribution channel to the creator. A review of secondary data on music artists’ earnings and eight in–depth interviews conducted in 2003–04 in Britain and Germany indicate that both ambitions have remained largely unfulfilled. The article discusses to what extent the structure of copyright law is to blame, and sets out a research agenda.

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Some Good Letters [6:59 pm]

The Register’s posting of letters (Your ‘fancy’ Napster bashing bites) responding to a disparaging review of the Napster To Go kickoff (Why Napster will be a fully-integrated flop) has some great points:

Here is something to add to the ridiculous scheme:

Suppose some bloke is bent on getting his money’s worth and downloading 10,000 tunes. Suppose it take him 3 minutes on average per tune to search for, select, and download each tune. It will take him two months, 8 hours a day, every day to do this. Let’s be practical and suppose it take he will spend one hour a day - that’s a year an a half. The fellow needs time to work and listen to the stuff he downloads too.

Payman


I have to agree with you. The market for renting entertainment is poor. Almost nobody has cable TV for example. And almost nobody ever goes to a movie theatre and rents a single play of a movie.

Bruce

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Economist on the Economics of Sharing [3:03 pm]

The economics of sharing [pdf]

The characteristics of information–be it software, text or even biotech research–make it an economically obvious thing to share. It is a “non-rival” good: ie, your use of it does not interfere with my use. Better still, there are network effects: ie, the more people who use it, the more useful it is to any individual user. Best of all, the existence of the internet means that the costs of sharing are remarkably low. The cost of distribution is negligible, and co-ordination is easy because people can easily find others with similar goals and can contribute when convenient.

The question is, can sharing be used to supply more than just information? One of the most articulate proponents of the open-source approach, Yochai Benkler of Yale Law School, argues in a recent paper* that sharing is emerging for certain physical, rivalrous goods and will probably increase due to advances in technology. Where open source was about sharing information by way of the internet, what is happening now, Mr Benkler notes, is the sharing of the tangible tools of technology themselves, like computing power and bandwidth. This is because they are widely distributed among individuals, and sold in such a way that there is inherent (and abundant) unused capacity.

[...] Mr Benkler does not limit his analysis to computing and bandwidth, but tries to make a broader point in favour of sharing goods far beyond information technology. “Social sharing”, he asserts, represents “a third mode of organising economic production, alongside markets and the state.” However, with the exception of carpooling, he acknowledges he is hard-pressed to find instances where sustained sharing of valuable things is prevalent in the world outside information technology. For most goods and services, sharing will remain the exception not the rule. But Mr Benkler has identified an intriguing alternative.

Slashdot: The Economist On The Economics of Sharing

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Copyrighted Public Spaces? Ugh [9:59 am]

BoingBoing points to tragic misuse of copyright concepts: New (sub)Urbanism: The Copyrighting of Public Space

Wimmer thought it was preposterous that the city would even think of charging photographers to take pictures in a public park. “I was laughing — I actually thought it was funny,” he says, “I said, ‘You people are out of your minds.’ He said,’ This whole park is copyrighted.’ I said, ‘Pardon my ignorance, but how can you copyright a park?’ I said, ‘I’m not going to pay this money. I’m going to leave.’ He said, ‘We have a problem here.’ I said, ‘If I leave we have no problem.’”

See earlier discussions of restrictions on photographers these days: Once Tripods Are Illegal…. and OT: More Weirdness For Photographers . A photography forum discussion: Millennium Park ”Rules”, Chicago

Dabid Bollier’s take; BoingBoing’s followup

See earlier discussion of the Eiffel Tower copyrighting from Fast Company, BoingBoing and Copyfight; Slashdot

Later: Millennium Park Photography: The Official Scoop

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What’s Broadband Connectivity For? [8:26 am]

One early adopter decides to let it go when she/he finds it taking over her/his life: Why I’m giving up broadband

Having nothing much to do with your broadband gives rise to a curious sensation that could be termed: “bandwidth guilt”. When I’m not using it, I feel like I should be. I keep trying to find ways to utilise its sheer power - and justify the £30 a month fee. I feel bad if I don’t.

And the only thing I’ve discovered that really gives my ADSL a workout is, sadly, illegal. I’d rather not go into it here. Let’s just say it’s the not-so-well-kept secret of what everyone is using broadband for. Depending on who you talk to, between 50% and 65% of all internet traffic is currently peer-to-peer (p2p) piracy. Everyone’s doing it. Do you know what technology makes it possible? Yep. Broadband.

Spending an inordinate amount of time at my computer, using my broadband, I’m developing what I can only term an information habit.

[...] Half an hour has passed. I feel like I’ve done something, but actually I haven’t. All that’s happened is that I’ve been distracted by constantly rising info urges. I spend most of my day like this, divided between what I need to do and what the internet wants me to do - which is look at it. Constantly.

[...] So, just like a drug addict, I can’t control it. If web access is there, I’ll have it. Especially now, since I had wireless internet installed I can browse on the toilet, in the garden, even in the shower. There’s no escape. So the only recourse for me is an extreme one: to have it chopped off.

[...] I used to spend all day slaving away at my computer, watching the day ride past my window - only to come home and do the same in the evenings. But now I’ve distilled the useful and vital from the compulsive (and illegal), I am left with just two online activities: e-mail and web browsing.

Isn’t that what the internet is really for?

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Billboard’s New Charts [8:21 am]

Downloads enter US singles chart

Billboard’s Hot 100 chart now incorporates data from sales of music downloads, previously only assigned to a separate download chart.

Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams is currently number two in Billboard’s pop chart, and tops its digital chart.

[...] Digital sales in the US are already used to compile Billboard’s Hot Digital Sales chart. They will now be tallied with sales of physical singles and airplay information to make up its new Hot 100 chart.

Its second new chart - the Pop 100 - also combines airplay, digital and physical sales but confines its airplay information to US radio stations which play chart music.

[...] Sales of legally downloaded songs shot up more than tenfold in 2004, with 200 million track purchased online in the US and Europe in 12 months, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reported last month.

In the UK sales of song downloads overtook those for physical singles for the first time at the end of last year.

Related news: EMI shares hit by profit warning; EMI Shares Fall 16% on Lowered Sales Forecast

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Erosion of the Rule of Law [8:16 am]

Another arena where the disconnect between legislation, enforcement and norms leads to a decline in the legitimacy of law: ‘Half of drivers’ admit speeding

More than half of British drivers break speed limits every day, a survey by motoring organisation the RAC suggests.

Of the 1,074 questioned, 55% admitted regularly speeding, compared with 45% in last year’s RAC Report on Motoring.

The RAC says 30mph limits are the most likely to be ignored, and drivers continue speeding because they do not believe they will be caught.

[...] Two thirds of drivers admitted speeding in 30mph zones, while 57% said they broke motorway speed limits.

[...] But Paul Smith, founder of campaign group Safe Speed, who wants to see speed cameras scrapped, said the survey only showed how many people were prepared to admit speeding.

“The figures are low, almost every driver exceeds the speed limit on occasion, sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally,” he told BBC News.

“If there are more people prepared to admit it this year, it means the government’s message is being laughed at.”

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Register Rant on Product Region Controls [8:07 am]

Revealed: the tech consumer as prawn

“I wouldn’t eat prawns,” said Julie Walters, portraying a prissy housewife in one of Victoria Wood’s comedy sketch shows. “You know how they are. They spend all day treading water at sewage outlets with their mouths open.”

Somehow one gets the impression more and more that the bigger companies - both hardware and software - increasingly view you and I, the so-called “consumers” of the world, as just a bunch of prawns. Except real prawns don’t have to pay for their food.

[...] Hang on, though - isn’t the idea of the World Trade Organisation that trade barriers should be coming down? Yes, little prawn, but not for the likes of you and me. Even though it costs manufacturers more to make region-specific gear, the combination of obvious currency variations plus cheap international transport means “regionality” is a growing trend. Far Eastern companies can make cheaper versions of inkjet cartridges; so Hewlett-Packard, among others, is designing printers that will only work with cartridges with the right “region coding”. You want to take advantage of free trade to get cheaper cartridges? The computer says no. (More precisely, the firmware in the printer itself says no.)

[...] The problem though is that, rather like Julie Walters and the prawns, the big companies have lost trust in their buyers. They’re happy enough for us to tread water with our mouths open. But they don’t trust us not to take advantage of currency fluctuations; even though they do the same themselves. They don’t trust us not to want to get inside their DRM-protected files; although as Cory Doctorow points out (quoting Ed Felten, who cracked the music biz’s SDMI) “keeping an honest user honest is like keeping a tall user tall”.

[...] In the hardware and software makers’ fury at our natural reaction to being denied something we thought we already had - such as freedom to buy things where commerce makes it feasible - the protectionism is getting increasingly hefty. So much so that at the end of January the Electronic Frontier Foundation announced an endangered list of technologies such as the Morpheus filesharing network, virtual soundcards (which music, film and radio companies hate because they let you capture a copy of what’s playing on your computer), and HDTV tuner cards (threatened in the US by the “broadcast flag” mandate).

[...] Apple and HP and the film companies might make a touch more money in the short term from regionalising us, but if all they end up with is customers who fume at the restrictions placed in their way, is it any wonder that subterfuge - or even outright criminals - seem like a preferable alternative? Perhaps we’ll just have to keep treading water until they realise. But we don’t have to swallow any of it. Honestly.

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Flexplay Soldiers On [8:01 am]

Disposable DVDs at Crossroads

“We believe wholeheartedly in the platform,” said Dawn Whaley, executive vice president of the Convex Group. “I don’t think we would have acquired a company if we didn’t think it would be successful.”

During the holidays, the Convex Group released an independent film, Noel, in the Flexplay format. Copies of the film are still available on Amazon.com for $5 plus shipping. Whaley said the company is talking with retail partners and content providers, and plans to roll out additional titles later in 2005. She declined to be more specific.

[...] A spokesman for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the division of Disney that released the films, confirmed that its disposable DVD pilot program is over. He said they are now evaluating what they want to do next.

“It looks like the technology has been set back, at least for now,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “This is just a bad idea. I’m glad to see that both the customers and the studio … have not responded very favorably to it.”

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Something to Watch: New US Archivist Nominee [7:56 am]

The Washington Post points out that the hearings into the new archivist appointment are taking place today and, in the face of an administration that has taken secrecy in government to new heights, the Post reminds us of what’s at stake: A New Archivist [pdf]

You could be forgiven for thinking that the archivist job is about ensuring that fading documents behind thick glass are adequately protected from the elements. As important as that is, the position involves far more. The archivist oversees and — in the best of worlds, facilitates, promotes and prods — the release of far less musty government documents, material essential to understanding modern American history. In an age when the amount and type of information are proliferating, the archivist decides what information must be preserved and ultimately made public and how best to make it accessible.

[...] In recognition of the sensitive role of the archivist, Congress created an independent agency, the National Archives and Records Administration; gave the archivist an unlimited term in office; and required that a president, to replace an archivist, must explain why. No such explanation has been offered by the Bush administration. It approached Mr. Weinstein about the job in September 2003, and a few months later pushed the current archivist, John W. Carlin, to resign, without providing any reason either to Congress or Mr. Carlin, a former Kansas governor named to the post by President Bill Clinton in 1995.

[...] [T]roubling, however, is the Bush administration’s still unexplained move to oust Mr. Carlin and install its own candidate. That heavy-handed and questionable process will make it all the more important for Mr. Weinstein, if he is confirmed, to demonstrate his independence and commitment to robust disclosure.

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The Times on Grokster “Mania” [7:40 am]

As Piracy Battle Nears Supreme Court, the Messages Grow Manic

“It’s hard for two reasons,” said Rick Weingarten, the director of the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association, which has been exploring ways to strike a balance in the copyright and antipiracy messages being aimed at young people.

“Copyright law is not the easiest thing to explain, and it’s hard to put a bumper sticker on it,” Mr. Weingarten said. “But, you’re also talking about the future, and it’s hard to explain to a consumer that there could one day be a lot of restrictions on what you can do with new technology.”

One side must make people care about obscure technological innovations that they say will be stifled by legislative action or an adverse Supreme Court ruling. The other side battles the image of greedy corporate profiteers and the perception that freely downloading copyrighted works is something other than theft.

[...] But the nagging fear of legal action, even among right-minded users of digital materials, has made it difficult for copyright holders to foster a positive public image - even though they see lawsuits as critical to stamping out theft.

“It would be ideal if our educational efforts got more attention,” said Mitch Bainwol, the chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which has waged a well-publicized legal campaign against file sharers. “But the lawsuits get more coverage because of the nature of the controversy.”

Those on the digital rights side of the debate recognize the content industry’s image problem - and they are not above exploiting it. But they know that their own image is troubled, too.

Indeed, all but the most strident digital anarchists agree that illegal file sharing is wrong. Yet those who argue for strong fair-use protections are often portrayed by opponents as supporters of theft.

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