2003 May 21

(entry last updated: 2003-05-21 19:59:58)

  • Cory Doctorow points to William Gibson’s talk to the Director’s Guild of America on the evolution of media and technology. I cite below the same paragraph that Cory picked (and I see that it’s time to get back to technological alienation again, especially as I’ve had a little time to think some more about it):

    But I need to diverge here into another industry, one that’s already and even more fully feeling the historical impact of the digital: music. Prior to the technology of audio recording, there was relatively little one could do to make serious money with music. Musicians could perform for money, and the printing press had given rise to an industry in sheet music, but great fame, and wealth, tended to be a matter of patronage. The medium of the commercial audio recording changed that, and created industry predicated on an inherent technological monopoly of the means of production. Ordinary citizens could neither make nor manufacture audio recordings. That monopoly has now ended. Some futurists, looking at the individual musician’s role in the realm of the digital, have suggested that we are in fact heading for a new version of the previous situation, one in which patronage (likely corporate, and non-profit) will eventually become a musician’s only potential ticket to relative fame and wealth. The window, then, in which one could become the Beatles, occupy that sort of market position, is seen to have been technologically determined. And technologically finite. The means of production, reproduction and distribution of recorded music, are today entirely digital, and thus are in the hands of whoever might desire them. We get them for free, often without asking for them, as inbuilt peripherals. I bring music up, here, and the impact the digital is having on it, mainly as an example of the unpredictable nature of technologically driven change. It may well be that the digital will eventually negate the underlying business-model of popular musical stardom entirely. If this happens, it will be a change which absolutely no one intended, and few anticipated, and not the result of any one emergent technology, but of a complex interaction between several. You can see the difference if you compare the music industry’s initial outcry against “home taping” with the situation today.

    …Which is to say that, no matter who you are, nor how pure your artistic intentions, nor what your budget was, your product, somewhere up the line, will eventually find itself at the mercy of people whose ordinary civilian computational capacity outstrips anything anyone has access to today.

    Interesting that Gibson, who has made a career around examining the seamy side of technological innovation (and particularly by considering the illegal activities of a technological elite), elects to avoid the flip side of the technologies that he describes here – their potential to impose control in ways that are not necessarily apparent to the users of that technology.

  • Siva Viadhynathan summarizes Doc Searl’s Printwash discussion (see more below), and then closes with this observation:

    One thing that complicates Searls case is that the Times and other newspapers sell their archives to Lexis/Nexis. So maintaining open archives on the Web would undermine those contracts.

    While this may complicate things, I don’t think it is a defensible basis for putting online archives behind walls. (Unless the NYTimes signed a really stupid contract with Lexis/Nexis – unlikely in light of their past efforts to capture the digital rights to all their contributors’ articles- see also New York Times v. Tasini) The Lexis/Nexis business case, as I understand it, is based on the quality of the search they can provide, not the exclusivity of their content. Is a Google search really competitive with Lexis/Nexis? And, if it is, does that mean that Google should be cut off – or that Lexis/Nexis ought invest some more effort into making their searches something worth paying for?

    The notion that the value proposition in Lexis/Nexis should be sustained by exclusive access seems dangerously anticompetitive, not to mention inhibiting technological advance – an example of the issue of MediaConcentration in the very space that is expected to offset its effects!

  • The Shifted Librarian discusses the Pro-Music WWW site: Clueless International Music Industry

  • Something on the mechanics of the music industry and studio recording: Searching for Kelly Clarkson: The grim fate of American Idol winners.

  • Benny Evangelista gives a little more detail on the conversion of Pressplay into Napster by Roxio: Online musical chairs

    Roxio buys Pressplay from industry titans for its revived Napster

  • The Copyright Office has posted proposed rules for licensing rates for certain digital performance rights, superseding an earlier posting: Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings and Ephemeral Recordings. (Related www site: SoundExchange)

  • Billboard discusses Elvis Costello’s statements at the ASCAP event last night: Costello Defends Outspoken Artists

  • Donna’s resurfaced briefly and left us with a host of links: Working Full Time

  • The Tennessee Digital Freedom Network is actively tracking that state’s super-DMCA proposals; SB213 and HB457

  • USA Today has an article on the new sound reproduction technology that got a great write up in the NYTimes Magazine a couple of weeks ago, but is now gone (the Slashdot discussion is still around, of course): Sound technology turns the way you hear on its ear

  • Wired News’ writeup of Dusney’s plan for disposable DVDs introduces another constituency: Disposable DVDs Go to the Dumps

    “We’ve developed a new type of DVD that (can be) sold at any point of sale that your imagination can think of,” said Art LeBlanc, president of Flexplay, which manufactures the discs. “It brings an unprecedented level of convenience. This is intended to address people who find renting inconvenient.”

    Yet for the environmentally conscious, that argument is as appealing as the pile of garbage these DVDs will create.

    “This is taking the idea of planned obsolescence to a whole, absurd new level,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit environmental group. “This is one of those disposable products that we don’t really need. This is actually building a limit into the device.

    …The trash generated by the DVDs is not as much of a concern as the environmental impact of producing these one-use products, Murray said. Now, instead of producing a disc that will be used by 50 to 100 people, he said, the resources and energy used to create that one DVD will be multiplied 50 or 100 times.

    Hmmm – strong copyright is not only unsustainable in an economic sense but also an environmental one? What an interesting angle to consider…….

  • The Doc Searls Printwash discussion continues: Follow along. Or contribute. Or both. Whatever. Welcome to DIY journalism, folks.

  • From Salon: Can the Web beat Big Media?:

    So, given the power of the technology, one may reasonably ask: What harm can come of Powell’s plan to let the big guys get bigger if the rest of us, the little guys with laptops and Wi-Fi, can simply steer around the monopolies?

    But when you set out to answer that question, it’s hard to find anyone in the media world — aside from interested parties — who can furnish serious proof that new technologies are shaking the foundations beneath the entrenched media giants. If anything, the Web and cable and satellite have expanded the reach of media conglomerates. Ninety percent of the top 50 cable channels are owned by media giants. Every single one of the top 20 news Web sites is under the thumb of a media giant.

    … “What will happen is that the economics of show business will shape the Internet economy,” Jeffrey Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, says. “Those services owned by cable companies will be able to afford the kind of lightning-fast distribution that will be standard for broadband applications. My fear is that in the absence of policy safeguards, progressives and alternative media and civic sites will wake up too late to recognize that although people can reach us on the Web, by God we are slower and it costs us more to transport our messages. There will be a dimming and a gradual banishment of our views on the Internet. And it’s a terrible error on the part of progressives and others to hold out for an imaginary redoubt such as wireless. Cable is the dominant medium, and there are just really three or four companies doing it, and we better ensure we have a voice there on the broadband Internet.”

    Chester’s fear sounds alarmist — by what mechanism could the corporate media stifle bloggers and alternative publications? But surprisingly, Glenn Reynolds, the proprietor of InstaPundit, a very popular, mostly right-leaning blog, says something similar. “Powell’s theory is good as far as it goes,” he says, “but as people try to tame the Internet, how long before the concentrated big media try to shut down guys like me? I’m not trembling over it — but honestly, if you asked me 10 years ago if the DMCA was even possible, I’d say no way.”

  • From ExtremeTech: Digital Rights Management: For Better Or For Worse?

    Based on the available evidence (i.e., broken DRM systems), the persistent protection methods employed to date have been extremely lame. It’s difficult to know exactly what protection mechanisms are being employed by most unbroken DRM products, since companies are extremely tight-lipped when it comes to technical details. This secrecy is itself disturbing since one of the fundamental principles of security engineering (Kerckhoff’s Principle) states that a system must be open to public scrutiny before it can be trusted. This basic principle is grossly violated by virtually all DRM purveyors today. As far as I am aware, MediaSnap, Inc., is the only DRM company that provides a reasonable technical overview of the security features in their product.

    This dearth of technical information should be viewed with considerable suspicion. The likely explanation is that DRM products rely on “security by obscurity”, which, in the eyes of most security experts, is equated with “no security at all.”