February 25, 2005

Something To Track [6:19 pm]

And to play at, if you have the skills! A project in progress: The Copyfight - documentary on copyright reform. Seems like I’m going to have to get my BitTorrent setup working before April 3.

The aim of The Copyfight is to serve as a link between the scholars’ debate and the general public. Notwithstanding the successes of recent political documentaries, video has traditionally been the most suitable medium for reaching a mass audience. People spend more time watching television than reading the newspapers and listening to radio combined. To reach its objective, The Copyfight will adopt a two-front approach. First, a sixty-minute documentary will be produced and released under a permissive Creative Commons license to allow file-sharing. Second, the website will serve as an index of videos related to copyright reform - be it recorded lectures or moderated debates. Along with the interviews gathered to produce the documentary, these videos will be available for the public to download and edit for their own documentary narrative. Tutorials will be designed to assist in that process.

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An Estimate on iPod Shuffle Margins [5:07 pm]

A voyage inside the iPod Shuffle

Sylvester believes it costs Apple about $59 for the materials to build the 512MB device. The most expensive component in the Shuffle is its flash memory chip, which right now costs about $31, Sylvester wrote.

Thus Apple appears to have a profit margin of about 40 percent on the 512MB player, she wrote. Sylvester estimated that Apple’s margin on the 1GB Shuffle is slightly smaller, about 35 percent. The report did not mention costs beyond the components, such as marketing, packaging, labor and other overhead. Also, while Apple sells iPods directly, it would not receive the full retail price of those sold through other stores.

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I’m Shocked, Shocked That There’s Price Gouging Going On Here!! [5:03 pm]

Says something about the mindset of the purveyors of DRM, doesn’t it? Expensive Anti-Piracyware Threatens Open Standard [pdf]

Several consumer electronics makers balk at the $1 charge for anti-piracy technology proposed by the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), they told Reuters. The OMA is a group of handset makers, wireless telecoms operators and other technology companies.

Mobile phone makers and consumer electronics makers said $1 per device is too high a price only to protect music and video against illegal copying. They will not be able to recoup that money through revenues expected from digital entertainment.

“This kind of price is certainly unreasonable. It’s not in proportion to the economic value,” said one senior executive at a top five mobile phone maker who declined to be named.

Then again, what would be its economic value?

One more statistic:

He points out that last year alone 684 million mobile phones were sold. If handset makers had put anti-piracy protection software in those phones, the $684 million in royalties would have exceeded total digital music sales on the Web last year.

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A Plea For Moral Rights [3:28 pm]

The BBC’s Bill Thompson is always good for a different take on things. Here, he suggests that an increasingly backwatered legal doctrine ought to get more attention: The copyright ‘copyfight’ is on

However the question of reusing work does uncover a fundamental divide in this debate, one which I think may be irreconcilable.

It concerns moral rights - the rights I have as a creator to control how my work is used and exploited.

Moral rights are not about money but about integrity, and they pose great problems for those who want to liberalise copyright because they open questions of judgment, taste and even politics.

Put simply, if the law is changed to allow for remixing of work without my explicit permission, perhaps by introducing a compulsory license, then I cannot stop people I do not like or approve of using it.

This is not about getting paid - I would not want an article I had written to be used by a neo-Nazi group in their newsletter, however much I was offered.

Unfortunately most of the copyfighters take the US view of copyright as entirely about economics, and neither understand nor are interested in moral rights.

(Lessig’s response: on the challenge of moral rights)

Later: commentary at The Register - Doonesbury savages Pepperland’s copyright utopians (Lessig’s response: well, no one ever called him Jimmy Olsen) - also see Seth’s comments - Bill Thompson, Creative Commons, and “Moral Rights” in Copyright

Note that the Doonesbury comics cited are actually reprises, with new words and positions as Trudeau shifts his position. Here’s the current cycle

Hmmm - He’s put up a pay wall, so you’ll have to decide if you want to pony up the change to see how he’s changed - here’s an archive of my postings discussing the way he revisits this topic

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James Boyle: The Value of “Free” Information [3:06 pm]

Public information wants to be free [via Copyfight]

Take weather data. The United States makes complete weather data available to anyone at the cost of reproduction. If the superb government websites and data feeds aren’t enough, for the price of a box of blank DVD’s you can have the entire history of weather records across the continental US. European countries, by contrast, typically claim government copyright over weather data and often require the payment of substantial fees. Which approach is better? If I had to suggest one article on this subject it would be the magisterial study by Peter Weiss called “Borders in Cyberspace,” published by the National Academies of Science. Weiss suggests that the US approach generates far more social wealth. True, the information is initially provided for free, but a thriving private weather industry has sprung up which takes the publicly funded data as its raw material and then adds value to it. The US weather risk management industry, for example, is ten times bigger than the European one, employing more people, producing more valuable products, generating more social wealth. Another study estimates that Europe invests €9.5bn in weather data and gets approximately €68bn back in economic value - in everything from more efficient farming and construction decisions, to better holiday planning - a 7-fold multiplier. The United States, by contrast invests twice as much - €19bn - but gets back a return of €750bn, a 39-fold multiplier. Other studies suggest similar patterns in areas ranging from geo-spatial data to traffic patterns and agriculture. “Free” information flow is better at priming the pump of economic activity.

Some readers may not thrill to this way of looking at things because it smacks of private corporations getting a “free ride” on the public purse - social wealth be damned. But the benefits of open data policies go further.

The National Academies does have a WWW page on the Committee on Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services, but I can’t find the NAS publication to which Prof Boyle refers. Note that Peter Weiss seems to have been writing on this theme for some time. Some examples:

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Lessig on PA, TX, etc. [12:12 pm]

Why Your Broadband Sucks

You’ll be pleased to know that communism was defeated in Pennsylvania last year. Governor Ed Rendell signed into law a bill prohibiting the Reds in local government from offering free Wi-Fi throughout their municipalities. The action came after Philadelphia, where more than 50 percent of neighborhoods don’t have access to broadband, embarked on a $10 million wireless Internet project. City leaders had stepped in where the free market had failed. Of course, it’s a slippery slope from free Internet access to Karl Marx. So Rendell, the telecom industry’s latest toady, even while exempting the City of Brotherly Love, acted to spare Pennsylvania from this grave threat to its economic freedom.

Related: Imagine Electricity - other earlier posting pointing to more

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Pricing in Music eTailing [8:32 am]

A couple of Register articles on the state of play in the EU:

  • Europe probes ‘rip off’ Apple iTunes pricing

    The European Commission (EC) has confirmed it is looking into allegations that Apple’s iTunes Music Store discriminates against UK consumers by charging them more to download the same song than it charges other European music buyers.

  • Woolworths targets digital music rivals with price cut

    UK retail giant Woolworths today put pressure on rival - and better known - online digital music services like Napster and Apple’s iTunes by offering sales tax-free downloads, bringing the per-track price down to 67p.

    [...] There’s a catch, of course: the new price is only available for the next six weeks. Woollies is simply absorbing the 17.5 per cent VAT due on each download itself as a loss-leader to encourage sales.

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WaPo Discovers iPod DJing [8:14 am]

Downloaded and Ready to Rock[pdf] (also see earlier Music Sharing: Public Performance)

It’s 9:20 p.m. on a recent Wednesday. P.Vo, known by day as Paul Vodra, is the first of 21 DJs — ahead of Seeking Irony and Weird Curves — who will play at this city’s version of an iPod DJ party. On this night, the most popular MP3 player, the iPod, serves as the lounge’s source of music, roughly three songs at a time. No turntables. No vinyl. Bring an iPod. Be the DJ. Please sign your DJ name on the white board in the front.

[...] Sure, there’s an intimate feel to the lounge, a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. Still, there’s always someone like Paul Straka who sneers upon hearing “Pieces of Me,” not Ashlee Simpson’s, but the cut from the local go-go band Rare Essence.

“Listen to this awful, awful music,” says the 28-year-old computer programmer from Manhattan who’s in town visiting friends. Just because it’s iPod night doesn’t mean the music is going to be any good, he says.

Wotowiec decides tonight is not the night for his iPod debut. So a few hours after arriving at the lounge, fresh from evening Mass, Wotowiec makes two vows: to come back next month, and to come back with “better stuff.”

“Next time, I’m gonna come back with more edgy stuff: You know, one hard-core country song, one hard-core metal song, one really, really, really dark techno song. Maybe a movie clip. Next time, when I come back, I’ll be prepared, I’ll be myself.”

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Another Kind of Technological Alienation [8:07 am]

Prozac to My Ears [pdf] Certainly one explanation for why lately I seem to need a coupe of good shots of Green Day’s “Holiday” to get through the day.

Say you’re headed for a meeting with an important client and need to be bold, aggressive, pumped up. A licensed M.D. — that would be “musical doctor” — might prescribe Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” with its driving, syncopated beat and its now-or-never refrain, “You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance” to seal the deal. Prepping for a job interview and need something to boost your confidence but also calm your nerves? “Smooth Operator” by Sade can make you feel like James Bond without the messy duty of killing archvillains and waves of henchmen. These selections work for me, at least. The point is that anyone can, to some extent, guide the way he or she feels.

Apple sold 5 million iPods this past Christmas season alone, which poses an obvious question: Why do so many of us need to block out the world and rearrange our moods this way? I think it’s because our lives don’t give us time to do it the old-fashioned way.

We’re always plugged in: The cell phone rings. The PDA chimes an alarm. The BlackBerry buzzes in its awkward holster, or the Sidekick signals an incoming instant message that demands an equally instant response. We tote around our laptops and WiFi while we sip our lattes in Starbucks.

This is no Luddite yawp, mind you — I can’t imagine a world without cell phones, and the BlackBerry that lets me sit in a cab in Washington, exchanging gossip with an old friend on his farm outside London, is indistinguishable from magic.

But we should realize that constant interaction truncates the mental treks that once led us to our moods — the sustained train of thought, the extended reverie, the day-long smolder, the can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head anticipation, the lingering funk. It used to take a while to internalize a slight to the point where we reached a proper state of righteous indignation, or to reflect on our many blessings and soar into unbridled joy. But there’s no time, and the cell phone keeps ringing. We plug in our ear-buds and whisper-click the wheel to shut out the world and get our heads where we need them to be, in a hurry.

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Hmmm - What Does This Price Competition Suggest? [7:41 am]

Selling DVDs Next to Pirates

Taking its battle against rampant piracy of films and music to the front lines, Warner Home Video said it will sell cut-rate DVDs in China in a bid to compete on the counterfeiters’ home turf.

Basic DVDs, to be available shortly after a film’s theatrical release, will sell in China for as little as 22 yuan ($2.65), the company said. That’s still more than the pirated versions readily available in China for 8 yuan ($1).

Warner’s basic versions will not carry any DVD extras such as directors’ interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, the company said. But versions with more features will be available a bit later for 28 yuan ($3.38).

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