May 13, 2006

A Good Argument (But Will Anyone Read It To The End?) [6:54 pm]

A long plea for some copyright sanity (and a little speculation on the definition of text in a digital realm — I’m reading some Katherine Hayles these days): Scan This Book!

In the world of books, the indefinite extension of copyright has had a perverse effect. It has created a vast collection of works that have been abandoned by publishers, a continent of books left permanently in the dark. In most cases, the original publisher simply doesn’t find it profitable to keep these books in print. In other cases, the publishing company doesn’t know whether it even owns the work, since author contracts in the past were not as explicit as they are now. The size of this abandoned library is shocking: about 75 percent of all books in the world’s libraries are orphaned. Only about 15 percent of all books are in the public domain. A luckier 10 percent are still in print. The rest, the bulk of our universal library, is dark.

[...] Which leaves 75 percent of the known texts of humans in the dark. The legal limbo surrounding their status as copies prevents them from being digitized. No one argues that these are all masterpieces, but there is history and context enough in their pages to not let them disappear. And if they are not scanned, they in effect will disappear. But with copyright hyperextended beyond reason (the Supreme Court in 2003 declared the law dumb but not unconstitutional), none of this dark library will return to the public domain (and be cleared for scanning) until at least 2019. With no commercial incentive to entice uncertain publishers to pay for scanning these orphan works, they will vanish from view. According to Peter Brantley, director of technology for the California Digital Library, “We have a moral imperative to reach out to our library shelves, grab the material that is orphaned and set it on top of scanners.”

A familiar argument here, I know. So, for the curveball, I ask you to consider how to reconcile this with the problems raised by Spider Robinson here? Yes, he’s talking about copyright, but notice that plagiarism is also at the heart of this tale. What does it mean when we can’t forget?  Will it change our sense of what constitutes plagiarism?

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A Typical Music Story, Just With A Longer Time Constant? [6:46 pm]

Thriller: Rescuing a Sinking Pop Star

The arc of Mr. Jackson’s career, and his management of his business and financial affairs, tracks some of the timeworn truisms about the realities of the entertainment industry and those who inhabit its upper tiers: a child star unwittingly beholden to others who control his bank account; a more mature adult who is savvy about packaging and marketing himself but who grows increasingly undisciplined about his spending; and, finally, a reclusive caricature locked inside a financial and emotional fantasyland of his own making.

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Looking, Again, At “Convergence” [5:58 pm]

Can TV’s and PC’s Live Together Happily Ever After?

But here is the swirling myth — or is it The Big Lie? — about convergence: It’s not as close as all of that activity suggests. For various reasons, watching TV programs delivered by the Internet on regular TV looks like it will remain tantalizingly out of reach for all but the most enthusiastic gadget junkies for some time.

The point of all these new video-content deals being struck by networks and studios is, of course, to avoid making the mistakes of the music industry, which focused too much on rear-guard actions like lawsuits and not enough on figuring out new ways to give the fans what they wanted.

The music analogy only goes so far, however. The way music is promoted and sold and listened to bears scant resemblance to TV and video products. Ventures like the one announced by Warner and the big networks are not really an alternative way of receiving conventional TV, but rather an alternative to buying or renting DVD’s coupled with an intriguing new market opportunity to reach viewers on their desktop or mobile devices.

David G. Sanderson, who heads the media consulting practice at Bain & Company, offers four reasons most people won’t be downloading their favorite shows onto their TV’s any time soon: limitations in broadband infrastructure, the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal, the behavior of consumers and the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

“If you started from scratch, you’d do it differently,” Mr. Sanderson said of the fitful process of making television shows available on the Internet. “But we have an entrenched structure in how programming is brought to consumers.”

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