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March 6, 2005

Lessig on Thinking About A Commons [5:33 pm]

An MP3 of his lecture, The Comedy of the Commons [via Copyfight]

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The Long Tail and (c) Terms [5:15 pm]

Several have cited this interesting piece on whether or not there is a conflict between some of the rationale’s for Larry Lessig’s call for copyright term reform and the arguments for the Long Tail economy: Long Tail vs. Lessig. I’m drawn to these particular paragraphs, which express what I have always thought was an ugly underside to the copyright argument - a kind of a “dog in the manger” perception that copyright exists to protect the initial creator from more creators who are better at it than they are:

What’s changed is the presumption that the primary rights-holder is the best at extracting the commercial potential of creative material. Instead, anyone can do it: the advertising company that remixes an old movie to sell a car; the Linux t-shirt done Warhol-style, or just plain old DJ magic. What you need to encourage this multiplicity of commercialization potential is tiered alternatives to one-size-fits-all copyright, from allowing derivative works (good marketing!) to shorter terms for the sake of the remix-culture social good. I can’t think of a better example of that than Lessig’s own Creative Commons, which has already become the license of choice for the right side of the Tail, where the commercial imperative is less all-consuming.

So, bottom line: the Long Tail ends up in the same place Lessig does, but via a different path–the diversification of commercial potential rather than the absence of it. I hope that the hypothetical Member of Congress to whom Hornik’s students were addressing their arguments can see the big picture. The shelf life of creative works may be growing, but so is the social cost of locking them up at the sole discretion of the primary rights-holder.

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Proust and (c) Term Extension [5:01 pm]

In Pursuit of Proust - The curious fate of the last three volumes of the new edition.

In 1995, Penguin UK announced a new translation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, with a different translator in charge of each of the seven volumes. This marked the first entirely fresh English-language version of the Search in decades; all previous renderings had been merely revisions of C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation, which had appeared in the course of the 1920s. So many hands made for relatively quick work. In the United Kingdom, all volumes of the new project were published together in 2002. But readers in the United States have been left stranded midway through the novel, forced to endure two of the most Proustian of experiences: jealousy and loss.

Only the first four volumes of the new translation–from Swann’s Way through Sodom and Gomorrah–are available here. For this we have Sonny Bono to blame. Just before he died in 1998, the congressman sponsored a bill to extend the term of copyright by 20 years: According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Act, passed later that year, rights would expire 95, rather than 75, years after an artist’s death. Since Proust died in 1922, only those four volumes first published during his lifetime had passed into the American public domain by the time the Bono Act became law. It will therefore be at least 2018 before readers in the United States can find the final three installments of the new translation (The Prisoner and The Fugitive, and Time Regained) in their local bookstores.

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Overselling Podcasting? [11:41 am]

From BusinessWeek: The New Radio Revolution [pdf]

How fast is technology turning radio upside down? Ask Brian Ibbott. Last September, when the wannabe Denver deejay started playing music on the Internet, the term for what he was doing — podcasting — had been around for two weeks. These days the 35-year-old produces a half-hour show of popular songs called Coverville. Some 9,000 devotees download it three times a week to play on — what else? — their iPods. And if they tire of Coverville, they now have 3,500 other podcasts — and counting — to choose from.

[...] Maybe a few will come up with a way to make a living doing it. Maybe not. Regardless, a trend is afoot that could transform the $21 billion radio industry. Consider the basics: With no licenses, no frequencies, and no towers, ordinary people are busy creating audio programming for thousands of others. They’re bypassing an entire industry.

The digital revolution took its time getting to radio. Now it’s exploding — and the big bang goes far beyond podcasting. As radio shows are turned into digital bits, they’re being delivered many different ways, from Web to satellite to cell phones. Listeners no longer have to tune in at a certain time, and within range of a signal, to catch a show or a game. As the business goes digital, the barriers to entry — including precious airwaves — count for less and less.

Slashdot discussion: How Podcasting and Satellite Changed Radio

Maybe it is being oversold, but there are some interesting applications: see the SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica audio commentary (Slashdot discussion)

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Maybe It’s Not All PR After All [11:17 am]

Johnnie Roberts: Hip-hop Business Subject of Secret Probe [pdf] [see OT: Taking the Marketing a Little Too Far]

As gunplay between two chart-topping gangsta rappers and the trial of a rap diva vie for top headlines this week, federal authorities are pressing a wide-ranging investigation into the $1.5-billion hip-hop music industry, NEWSWEEK has learned.

According to top industry insiders, federal investigators are digging into a playlist of crimes, ranging from extortion and robbery to the industry’s persistent violence and mounting casualties—including the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG. Investigators are “asking about anyone in hip hop from what I understand,” says a top music lawyer. Another top lawyer and a prominent entertainment business manager also said they were aware of an investigation. In a NEWSWEEK interview, one influential executive who was questioned recently by investigators adds: “It’s a federal investigation of hip hop and the music business and the crimes that have come out of it.”

Later: Guns and Poses

In a sense, the shootouts on Hudson Street were business ventures - investments without much risk, since arrest, conviction, imprisonment and even death all confer status in hip-hop society. As such, at least some of the most gratuitous public acts of violence in hip-hop suggest a variation on Joan Didion’s famous observation about Hollywood: Violence is not the art form; it is just part of the deal.

See this earlier NYTimes article: In Rap Industry, Rivalries as Marketing Tool

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Yeah, But What About The Next Generation Tech? [10:57 am]

A kind of how-to that many would like to see engineered out of the next generation of home sound equipment: Digital Transformation Revives Old Records

Transferring your old LPs and cassette tapes to MP3 files offers a rare kind of satisfaction — for once, you don’t have to repurchase your old music to hear it on your new hardware. But you may still find yourself paying in other ways.

Transforming the contents of vinyl and tape into digital files is simple in theory — play the music through your computer’s audio input and record it with special software — but in reality, each step can dent the quality of the recording.

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Another Patent Bill Under Discussion [10:45 am]

AIDS Drugs Threatened

India’s Parliament is about to take up a bill that could affect sick people the world over. India is the leading supplier of low-cost generic AIDS medicine. The country’s huge generic industry has been able to copy antiretrovirals and other medicines because India grants patents for the process of making drugs, rather than for the medicines themselves. But the Patents Bill that India is considering, at the behest of the World Trade Organization, would change that.

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Dueling Patenting In China [10:37 am]

Whose Patent Is It, Anyway?

Lawyers who represent Western companies embroiled in intellectual property disputes in China, however, point to major loopholes in Chinese law and in the country’s trademark and patent system as parts of the problem. Many Chinese patents, for example, are granted without any examination of their originality, making it easy for local companies to claim others’ innovations as their own.

While foreign experts also point to progress in the country’s courts and especially in the richer provinces along the country’s east coast, they say that local and provincial governments, eager to bolster their economies, sometimes subsidize patent filings for local companies and provide pointers to them on how to beat foreign claims of infringement. Even the Shanghai government speaks of building a “great wall of patents” to protect local companies.

[...] “We have a client in the power business who found that one of his key employees had quit and joined a competitor, revealing confidential information to him straight away, and filing patents of these materials which were literal copies of the original technology,” he said. “When our client warned he would sue over patent infringement, the Chinese company said it was also planning to sue. ‘And by the way,’ they asked, ‘what patent are you talking about? This is our patent now.’ ”

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Interview With A Theatre Piracy Guard [10:34 am]

They Spy

In their efforts to stop pirates armed with camcorders — who cost Hollywood $3.5 billion last year, the Motion Picture Association of America estimates — film studios and theater owners have begun policing preview screenings, with security guards checking for recording devices at the door and then monitoring the audience using handheld infrared scanners like the one shown here. But with new, less conspicuous antipiracy technologies on the way - including a wall-mounted device that pinpoints the location of camcorders in the theater - these sentries may soon go the way of the projectionist.

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Chasing Semiotic Democracy? [10:31 am]

Is a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?

“People endowed with social power and prestige are able to use film and media images to reinforce their power - we need to look to film to grant power to those who are marginalized or currently not represented,” said Mr. Herbst, who envisions a future in the public policy arena. The communal nature of film, he said, has a distinct power to affect large groups, and he expects to use his cinematic skills to do exactly that.

At a time when street gangs warn informers with DVD productions about the fate of “snitches” and both terrorists and their adversaries routinely communicate in elaborately staged videos, it is not altogether surprising that film school - promoted as a shot at an entertainment industry job - is beginning to attract those who believe that cinema isn’t so much a profession as the professional language of the future.

[...] For some next-generation students, however, the shot at a Hollywood job is no longer the goal. They’d rather make cinematic technique - newly democratized by digital equipment that reduces the cost of a picture to a few thousand dollars and renders the very word “film” an anachronism - the bedrock of careers as far afield as law and the military.

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The Record Business [10:09 am]

The Most Expensive Album Never Made

Along the way, [Axl Rose] has racked up more than $13 million in production costs, according to Geffen documents, ranking his unfinished masterpiece as probably the most expensive recording never released. As the production has dragged on, it has revealed one of the music industry’s basic weaknesses: the more record companies rely on proven stars like Mr. Rose, the less it can control them.

It’s a story that applies to the creation of almost every major album. But in the case of “Chinese Democracy,” it has a stark ending: the singer who cast himself as a master of predatory Hollywood in the hit song “Welcome to the Jungle” has come to be known instead as the keeper of the industry’s most notorious white elephant.

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