Category Archives: Copyfighting

The control of ideas and the control of culture

Attribution Chains and Copyright Evolution

The other day, I was interested to see the comments on this Google+ post by BoingBoing contributor and general Internet person Sean Bonner.

Somebody called Steven G appeared to be complaining about Sean’s lack of attribution. Naively, I assumed he meant the creators of the work, and posted a reply along those lines. But I quickly realised by his reply to me that this wasn’t what he meant at all. He didn’t appear to care (or even know) about things like the photographer’s copyright – what he meant was that Bonner hadn’t said where the image was re-posted from.

Perhaps that’s not so interesting really – but wait – Steven G  also refers to an incident whereby G claims to have created an image to be posted on Google+, only to have it re-posted shortly afterwards without attribution by Bonner. Yet in complaining about the lack of attribution about somebody else’s work, Steven G also appears not to make a distinction between original works and things simply re-posted. It strikes me that this is entirely logical. If you create something to be shared on a social network, why indeed make such a distinction?

Continue reading Attribution Chains and Copyright Evolution

Corporations Raid the Public Domain

(I posted this to Google+ a couple of weeks ago, but I may as well post it here too)

Each time I engage in any activity that involves the legislature, I come away feeling soiled. Despite numerous independent and well-respected studies that said term extension in sound recordings would not achieve anything most people would call positive, the EU have voted to extend it.

The thing that really depresses me about this is not that I spent hours sending letters to MEPs and others explaining why they needed to oppose this. Nor is it that I received almost no substantial acknowledgement. What really depresses me, and threatens to radicalised me against participating in all party and issue politics, is the fact that when I did get responses, they were glib handouts citing recording-industry funded studies in support of term extension. I might as well have been writing to the BPI than my local EU representatives! The fact that none of them seemed to give an ounce of consideration to something other than money in their work as public servants just makes me want to… nah, what’s the use.

They stole our public domain, but we’ll take it back one day

Find out why

Where the Internet is Going

At the 2011 FOSDEM conference in Brussels on Feb 5, 2011, Eben Moglen gave talk called Why Political Liberty Depends on Software Freedom More Than Ever.

“Well we can go back to mesh networking. We’ve got to go back to mesh networking. We’ve got to understand how we can assist people, using the ordinary devices already available to them, or cheaply available to them, to build networking that resists centralized control.”

So it’s happening. And in my opinion, it should happen.

The Return of Patronage?

Over at Louder Than War, there’s a good old argument going on. It’s mainly between Alec Empire (who opposes the Pirate Party and free culture by the sounds of it) and some others who are representing the “progressive” view.

As I read Alec’s views, I can’t help thinking that while Atari Teenage Riot is a great name for a band, if most people heard them they’d find it quite hard work being entertained. Personally, I’ve always liked Alec and his work (and even met him briefly), but I say this as somebody who happily chooses to listen to Consolidated and various other industrial stuff.

But why is that observation relevant to a debate about the free exchange of music made for commercial gain? What follows makes me look dangerously like some objectivist lunatic, but I’ll give it a go.

Many musicians like Alec Empire, Metallica and Feargal Sharkey argue for the regulation of the Internet, the arrest of music “pirates” and the destruction of methods of free information sharing on digital networks. They do this in the name of putting money back into the pockets of musicians. That money, they say, is being stolen by file sharing. They do not, however, consider the historical context in which they are saying these things. I think that in fact that historical context may be telling them that the party is over. From now on, it’s back to 1850.

Continue reading The Return of Patronage?

Now Flattr-ing

Having received my Flattr invite, I’ve now added buttons to this blog and hope to retire early on the proceeds. (EDIT: They’re now just on the individual post pages, since they load rather slowly)

Flattr is a system whereby people can show their appreciation of content on the web. It works by allowing you to donate a proportion of a fixed amount of money every month to whomever you want. I’m setting aside 2 euros per month (but it could be any amount). If I click a Flattr button twice this month, two people will get a Euro each. If I click ten times, ten people will get 20 cents each, and so on. If I click nothing, my 2 euros will go to charity.

If you like my thing, and have a Flattr account, you can show your appreciation too. I don’t expect the get much, if anything, but the web is a free global publishing system with Google indexing it. If I were an upcoming musician, an author or an artist, Flattr might make my situation completely different.

Bypassing the Act

We now have HMG’s Digital Economy Act in the wild. Conceived (by and?) on behalf of the music and film industries, drafted in ignorance of many technical realities, and rushed through the legislative process without any effective parliamentary scrutiny.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that avoiding the Act’s provisions on copyright infringement turns out to be trivial. All that is required for consumers to immunise themselves from the Act is for them to declare themselves not to be “subscribers” as defined by the Act, but “communication providers” instead. Here’s one ISP explaining the situation. As a “communications provider”, you avoid being harassed by your ISP if rights holders suspect you of infringing their copyright, and the ISP gets off the hook in having to spy on you as well. Well blow me down with a feather.

What I find the most depressing thing about all this silliness is that the legislators involved in creating the Act probably don’t care about it anyway. Their work is now done: the bungs have changed hands, the lucrative “advisory positions” and board memberships have been negotiated, and the “donations” have been made. Yes, some MPs opposed the Bill, but the vast majority neither knew nor cared about it.

I hope the ballot box in two weeks time will knock them all into a smoking hole in the ground.

Of News, Paywalls and New Ancient History

Everyone as boring as me on the subject of copyright, community and contemporary culture (OMG it alliterates!) has something to say about the Great Paywall of Murdoch. It’s coming to an interface near you in June, we are told.

So naturally, I have been ruminating on this too. My thoughts were crystallised when I read Roy Greenslade’s article in the Evening Standard today (which only recently become a free paper in London – an irony there). Greenslade’s argument is essentially as follows. The paywall might work, it might not, but no matter because we must all remember that “news” is a public service:

“How can we preserve a public service that, not to be too pompous about it, is a key — arguably the key — bulwark of our democracy?”

And in conclusion, he says:

“If people also turn away from online papers that offer serious, quality editorial, the likely outcome is a damaging democratic deficit. We cannot afford to allow that to happen.”

This, I suddenly realised with great and rapid clarity, is tripe.

Continue reading Of News, Paywalls and New Ancient History

Copyright and New Righteous Indignation

On January 5th, 2010, The Independent published a photo as a backdrop to a feature inviting readers to submit pictures of the snow and cold weather. But they never asked the photographer if they could use his work.

Newspapers and magazines have of course from time immemorial sometimes used work without either attributing, asking or paying the creators. There are a number of reasons for this, and cock-up is certainly one of them. Were it, say, 1970 and not 2010, the rights holder would have doubtless written to the newspaper telling them that they had used his or her work and demanded payment. If the paper refused, then Small Claims court would have been the next stop. All things being equal, the paper would have then paid up because in those days copyright was boringly simple.

In 2010, however, copyright is no longer boring. It is no longer the preserve of industrial regulation, it has many shades of grey and personal opinion associated with it. So instead, this is a rather subtle tale of Internet-age righteous indignation, confusion about the law, contract, the prevailing culture of media and art, and the nature of marketing and popularity.

Continue reading Copyright and New Righteous Indignation

DRM’s Role in the Demise of Joost

I’ve written before about Joost, and while I didn’t predict their complete failure, I did predict one thing that some people seem to have missed: that their irrational faith in DRM was not a good sign. That faith led them to go down the proprietary client download route, and not (as Hulu and YouTube did) the more successful path of embedded Flash to deliver content via the browser. The result was obscurity, and ultimately death.

With reportedly millions down the Swanee, Joost is now the first major casualty of the cult of DRM – an idea that cannot work, should not work, and shows every sign of not working so far. So the adage still stands: if you base your business on the principle of preventing anyone copying your content, that business is destined to fail.

But the Joost affair may be a mere skirmish compared to the coming battle waged by News Corp. That, I think, is going to be a biggie.

On a Yacht in Corfu

I’m glad I’m not a full-time political activist, and just an armchair one instead, because I’d be beyond cynical by now if I were.

As it is, today’s announcement that the UK will adopt the “three strikes” policy to copyright infringement leaves me merely livid. Livid that such a bone-headed, technically illiterate policy is being adopted, and livid that a government minister should simply do what a bald billionaire tells him to do, ignoring the advice of numerous independent studies of the issues.

Here, in measured tones, may well me my last letter to my saintly MP on the subject.

Continue reading On a Yacht in Corfu

Retail Piracy

If I forward an email from my MP to a local news outlet without that MP’s written permission, that’s an infringement of Crown Copyright. I copy and paste some text from an online newspaper article. That’s probably an infraction of their terms and conditions. If I take a video of my son with a couple of seconds of The Simpsons on a TV screen in the background, and publish said video on YouTube, lawyers for Fox might send me a letter. I sing new lyrics to the tune of a 1950’s hit in public, and I’m facing a claim from the rights holders. Legal and contract restrictions are everywhere, whether I realise it or not.

Continue reading Retail Piracy

Mashing Up Lily Allen

I’ve just been reading Lily Allen’s blog. For those not following such groovy things as closely as I do, she has recently decided that Piracy (she gives it a capital pee), is bad. So bad in fact that it is destroying lots of jobs and stifling new talent because those poor music executives won’t be able to lavish bazillions on young artists like her. She also hates Harry Potter films by the sound of it. Blimey.

As an example of misdirected fury, it’s a good one. She’s not exactly a hard target, but to demonstrate the effect of her misdirection, I thought I’d get down with her scene by giving it some – mash-up style.

OK what I mean is I’ve changed some bits of her blog post to illustrate a point. See if you can guess which bits I’ve changed.

Continue reading Mashing Up Lily Allen

The New Rights Aristocracy

Today’s news from Tinsel Town is that the heirs of J R R Tolkien and the charity they head, the Tolkien Trust, are seeking more than $220 million in “compensation” from New Line Cinema as a cut from the huge profits from the Lord of the Rings films. The family say have a right to this money because it was promised to them in the contract the author signed in 1969 with United Artists.

The moral, social and (at these sums) economic impact of all this seems rather remarkable. The author of the original work has been dead for almost 40 years. He received $250,000 for the film rights (perhaps about a $500,000 in today’s money). Yet society, and not least Tolkien’s children, sees nothing wrong with providing rewards to his heirs – heirs that had nothing to do with either the books or the films – in perpetuity.

Of course, this particular case is fuelled by contract (and I don’t know anything about the charity involved), but as copyright terms extend ever onward to infinity, will we see a new aristocracy arise from all this?  Those who through nothing but the accident of birth are born instantly into wealth for generations after a single individual of their blood line wrote a book, composed a song, or wrote a play. What is the reason for this? What does it serve other than greed?

The next time I undertake any contract work, I’ll try slipping in a clause that commits my client to paying me and my heirs an income after they’ve paid me a lump sum for the work. Just a few quid a month. Nothing too greedy. But in perpetuity, naturally. I wonder what they’ll say?

Avoiding Being Watched

First, let me say that I have nothing to hide.

Well – I wouldn’t want random strangers looking at my bank statements. Medical records would also be private (although I’m sure I’d put a brave face on any public revelations). Where my kids are is also off-limits. I won’t tell you how much tax I pay (other than it’s too much), or how much I earn, what party I actually vote for, my sexual predilections, my membership of various clubs and societies, where I went on holiday and when, and … lots and lots of other things.The potential list is long. I would think that most people’s lists would be of a similar length. In reality, we have a lot we want to hide for no better reason than privacy. Living in a panopticon is not something we want to do.

Continue reading Avoiding Being Watched


So, jail terms for the Pirates of Pirate Bay.

“Judge Tomas Norstrom told reporters that the court took into account that the site was “commercially driven” when it made the ruling.”

Commercially driven? What then, your honour, is the difference between Google, and The Pirate Bay?

Yes, you could outlaw all trackers, but that’s not going to happen. The fact is that the verdict – as the defendants have always pointed out – is merely theatre. The music industry had to do something, so they did this. It is significant that the trial was a pretty close run thing, and the prosecution didn’t get nearly all they wanted.  The damages awarded in no way reflect the music industry’s fiction that every illegal download is a lost sale, and the appeals process has yet to begin. The site itself will carry on, and the entire affair will be more fuel for the likes of I2p and others.

Please Help Stop Bad Things Happening

Hello? Can you hear me? This might sound boring – a technicality. It involves industrial regulation, copyright and law. But it’s important, and we should all be at least concerned, if not angry, about what is now happening in the European parliament. What is more, time is running out and we need to act now.

What is this about?

The music industry (people who make money from musicians: for example Sony Music, EMI and industry groups that represent the recording industry like the BPI) want more money. Various reason are given: piracy, advances in technology, the situation in their markets in general, musicians needing pensions (er, no that one doesn’t make sense to me either), and other things. But we all know you don’t really need an excuse to make more money. If you see a way of getting more of it, you go for it regardless – just ask bankers.  Greed is good.  So, the music industry is asking politicians in Europe to make a change to copyright law so that recordings can be under copyright for up to 95 years. Right now, it’s 50 – not a very long time to make money from anything, as I’m sure you’ll disagree.

Continue reading Please Help Stop Bad Things Happening

The Term Extension Argument

So I’ve been asking my MEPs what their position is on the proposed EU extension of copyright term in sound recordings. The motion, as  currently tabled, calls for copyright to be extended from its current 50 year term to as much as 75 years plus the life of the artist. I am in strong opposition to any extension, but not in any particularly rigorous way, so I thought it would be good for me to examine the arguments to better understand why it is  our elected representatives in Europe seem determined to flush culture and common sense down the toilet.

Here is a summary of the main arguments put forward, and my rather amateur thoughts interjected (thanks Ben for some hints here too). This is based on a reply to an email sent to me by one my MEPs, anonymous because they have yet to reply to my request for publication.

Continue reading The Term Extension Argument

The Copyright Term Extension Con

Let’s hope the march of paid lobbyists and other industry schills in Europe will be stopped by these clear and concise arguments against extending copyright in sound recordings. It’s rare that politicians don’t take the side of big business, but when the pandering to greed and the destruction of the public domain is this blatant, perhaps common sense will prevail. The European Commission is due to vote soon on the issue.

(Thanks Ben – Link)

Write to your MEP, as I have, and ask them what’s going on. What is copyright for, who does it benefit and why is it always being extended?

The Canary Is Doing Its Job

Phew. I’ve just got out from a large amount of IRC and email about this and this bug on Wikimedia. As of about midnight this evening, it’s boiled down to what seems like (at worst) some over-zealous censorship by the IWF which has now been corrected.

I spent a while hanging out on Be Internet’s new IRC channel watching a couple of people discussing the issues. One of the chatters was kicking up a fuss about it, while just about all the others thought they were over-reacting, mainly because it was about child porn. Kiddie porn is of course a terrible platform on which to make any case for libertarianism, so he/she obviously wasn’t going to get very far. The consensus was that the blocking of a Wikipedia page was of no consequence because most thought that the blocking of such material was acceptable.

What I found more interesting about the debate was the point when the lone voice tried to cast about for non-porn examples. The suggestion that ISPs might block sites with material that infringed copyright seemed rather more contentious. That, agreed all, would be unacceptable.

So, perhaps an interesting test of the net canary in some ways.

The Pirate’s Dilemma?

The Pirate’s Dilemma – How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism – Matt Mason, Free Press 2008

The subject of politics, as they say in college, is history with the work taken out, and history is politics with the brains taken out. While I wanted this book to be an analysis of the political, if not economic strata of Internet-age capitalism, it is in fact little more than a pleasant wind through the recent history of “underground” music, with some loose observations about how people make money along the way.

Mason’s thesis is that art, and in particular the art of making money, progresses by internalising marginal forms. Despite the fact that this should come as a surprise to nobody, we spend most of the book being persuaded. The potted histories he provides are on the whole well summarised: how Richard Hell founded the punk styles that came to be sold into the mainstream via VICE Magazine; how a teenager from London became a millionaire without having a record deal or any commercial airplay; how hip-hop came to be the ultimate commercialised youth culture by maintaining a lucrative stasis of “being real” while managing to funnel large amounts of money to a small amount of people, and so on. Nor does Mason seem to mind losing his way in this. At one point, an entire chapter (“Real Talk”) takes a detour into the biographies of assorted hip-hop artists, lapsing at times into simple hagiography. He treats us to various titbits along the way: step-by-step instructions on how to create a remix is doubtless informative, but leaves one wondering exactly how this helps us to understand the “reinvention of capitalism.”
Continue reading The Pirate’s Dilemma?

iTunes UK and the NMPA

Apple have threatened iTunes-listening Britons with the closure of their iTunes store.

I think this is unlikely to happen, but if it does then the P2P networks will get rather more traffic, thereby providing even more proof that the publishing industry just doesn’t understand what’s happening. Every time they try to throw their weight around like this, it make them weaker and the darknet (1Mb Word file) stronger.

Be that as it may, now might also be a good time to point out an inaccuracy in the BBC’s reporting on this. They say:

Apple pays an estimated 70% of digital music revenue to record companies which in turn pass on a percentage to artists [my emphasis]. It is that percentage that is expected to be changed on Thursday.

Actually, I think the National Music Publishers’ Association pays this percentage to songwriters and composers of works via the publishers that the NMPA represents. And (surprise!) the publishers cream off between 3 to 15%. In many cases the composers are not the same as the artists that perform the works, and many will in fact be dead (the money goes to their relatives, estates or licensees, or nowhere if these cannot be found).

But who cares? The way the money works in music is – to say the least – opaque. With the exception of a tiny minority of super-stars like Cliff Richard and Simply Red, when you listen to your favourite band, you are listening to indentured servants. What will happen when we realise that the copyright system overall is completely iniquitous? In 1994 (MMC, 1996), 10 UK composers received more than £100,000 (from performing and mechanical royalties). How many people working in the UK music industry that year who were not composers earned more than £100,000?

I’m betting that it was rather more than 10.

Majectical Electrical

Michael Forrest has his new album out today. I’m downloading it now, and I commend you to do the same. It reminds me of artists as diverse as Cobra Killer through ATR to Momus and Barry Adamson. This is definitely going out on my ShowCenter.

I’m always interested in the way artists choose to distribute their work – in may cases more so than the work itself. Forrest is notable not least by adding some weight to a casual observation I made about a similar online distribution of a work by Paul Robertson. Forrest distributes the work via the Internet direct to the audience, but this time imposes a time window of 25 days. He also says nothing about any licence.

In the absence of any further information about the license, we must assume it defaults to restrictive copyright. However, I find this an intriguing development not only because Forrest is silent on this point, but also because he invokes the concept of scarcity.

In the digital age, there is copyright and shades of it meditated by CC. There is also the idea that nothing matters as long as its free. I don’t quite know how to deal with scarcity in either context. Perhaps I’m making too much of all this – but my point is that I think those who have championed alternative licensing models may have misjudged the way the public will use (or ignore) the provisions of such schemes. If REM can release videos under a perl licence, “rip, mix, burn” may start to apply to more than just the work itself.

EU Parliament Net Neutrality Attack!

Argh! The reform of the “European law on electronic communications” (AKA the “Telecoms Package”) will be debated in the European Parliament on 7th July – Monday!

Why the sudden flap? Well, it seems they’re at it again. Here’s what’s going on: take one, large, boring piece of regulatory legislation up for routine amends that most MEPs have little interest in. Insert some clauses that bypass the rule of law to allow unregulated surveillance and denials of the right to privacy. Make sure nobody notices. Wait for it to get rubber-stamped by a snoozing bunch of representitives.

That, my friends is democracy at work in Brussles whether we like it or not. All we can do is get on the wires and pummel our representitives to do something.

More info here and here.

Here’s my letter just sent:

Continue reading EU Parliament Net Neutrality Attack!

We-Think: Documenting the Present

I’ve recently read We-Think by Charles Leadbeater, having attended one of his talks a couple of months ago. I thought I’d record my thoughts on it.

Books about the socio-political or cultural effects of the Internet are rolling fast off the presses right now. I’m now feeling a little less like the pallid geek I once was. The penny has dropped, even in the hallows of Downing Street (Leadbeater was a Labour advisor under Tony Blair for a while), that something rather important is happening out there in cyberspace. Territory is now being claimed by everyone from the plainly trivial likes of Macolm Gladwell and Andrew Keen, to the highly constructive, if sometimes baffling, Clay Shirky and Seth Godin.

Leadbeater sets about documenting the various phenomena he finds on the net to support his formulation of what he calls “we-think.” In a nutshell, we-think is the practice of solving problems or enhancing the quality of life by the free exchange of ideas and resources. Such activity tends to move from the periphery to the centre until – if it survives – it pervades the normal way of doing things. Examples of course are free/libre and open source software, but also offline activity evident in grass-roots initiatives in developing countries that spring up independently of governmental or official sanction. All this, he says, may be a new phenomenon in modern history, but a return to aspects of ancient modes of life which hitherto had been sunk beneath the waves of industrialism and refinements of capitalism that came with it. Well, I’d by that for a dollar, even if I can’t understand Leadbeater’s connection between a third-world micro-loans system and playing World of Warcraft.

Continue reading We-Think: Documenting the Present

Joi Ito: Why Mobile Hasn’t Happend Yet

In my dreams, I like to think that if I ever made a lot of money I would be like Joi Ito. He must rank as one of the most worthwhile people on the planet, and somebody that I’d love to meet. Today, he writes an astute post about the “mobile Internet” and why nothing very interesting is happening in that space, nor will it ever while the current closed systems exist.

Incidentally, he recently re-vamped his blog, so even if you have no interest in the subject matter, it’s well worth a look: there’s some excellent design going on there.

The Time Is Now for Local Networks

My ongoing experience with Tiscali’s appalling broadband offering has made me research the overall broadband industry in the UK. The picture is now becoming alarmingly ugly. Something has to happen to avert a disaster, and that something may be local networks. But before I elaborate on the solution (although not a new idea), let me outline the problem.

There seem to be several horsemen of the information apocalypse riding over the horizon towards us. First, there is market economics and the primary fact that the ISPs have clearly oversold their capacity. This has resulted in hoards of disgruntled consumers wanting access to content that is increasingly out of their reach, while the ISPs compete on price after having exhausted what (if anything) they spent on infrastructure. This is also compounded by many other related factors including the BT Wholesale monopoly, the feeding frenzy whipped up by the 3G auctions, and the subsequent reluctance of network providers to invest in better delivery platforms after the spectacular failure of 3G technologies to deliver.

Continue reading The Time Is Now for Local Networks

When Films are Free

I don’t watch nearly enough films, but my attention has been drawn to two animations recently. Both are free.

Firstly, the Blender project has brought out a new film (I wanted to embed it here but it breaks the page). It has a CC licence, and looks like an impressive bit of 3D animation (all the models and source files are also provided on the CD).

Secondly, there is the incredible new production from Paul Robertson: Kings of Power 4 Billion %. I assume this is public domain, but he is clearly is too cool to say anything about anything as boring as licensing, so I’m not sure. I’ve now watched it about … eighty times.

Kings of Power 4 Billion

See also the wonderful anime geek flame war between the kuns and chans in the first thread on Robertson’s Livejournal page announcing the film. It’s Internet gold, I tell you.

Identity Cards are Useful

A friend of mine recently said they thought ID cards could be useful. They said they thought one day they might forget to take their passport to the airport or on the Eurostar. It struck me that I’d not blogged about my thoughts on this (and hey, what’s a blog for if it’s not for idle pontification?).

ID cards will no doubt be very useful – in the same way as DRM is useful, or restrictive EULA contracts are useful. What matters is the consequences of that usefulness.

Take one small example that I’m interested in: the fact that the Identity and Passport Service today has 3,800 employees. That’s 3,800 potential points of data leaks, mistakes, abuse, impersonation, blackmail and other chaos.

Continue reading Identity Cards are Useful

We Love Firmware

The two things that have most irked me about many devices I’ve owned is response time and shoddy UI. Usually, I assume there’s not much the manufacturer can do about response time, so I’m pretty forgiving on that point. But shoddy UI is another matter. Mobile phone UIs have of course been done to death on this point (although it’s fun to read this one), so I won’t harp on that – too much. However, I was recently pleased to discover a way out from bone-headed implementations or crass, commercially driven design. Free firmware – once beyond my powers of geek – is now well within it.

Continue reading We Love Firmware

French Thinking

I see this news from France last week. It’s an interesting innovation in the copyfight, but it’ll be a flop. With margins already wafer-thin, ISPs will be reluctant to ban their customers, and those that do will be removing people who will be clever enough to get round the bans.

However, it’s measures like this that might eventually mean the Darknet moves off ISP-controlled networks. Keep an eye on wireless: is dead, but others like it may well rise again. And this time, they’ll be encrypted…

Won’t Anyone Think of the Children?

When I’m murdered in my bed by a gang of bored teenagers, I’ll try to remember to blame the RIAA as I expire.

Some issues are too big to arrive at any useful perspective until you have thought and experienced a great many ideas relating to them. For a long while now, I have tried to fathom what it is about my concern, not to say alarm, about the increasingly draconian imposition of copyright law and the erosion of fair use that has come with it.

Continue reading Won’t Anyone Think of the Children?

Too Loud To Ignore

I am usually completely unsuccessful in hiding my glee at the demise of music publishers, and this post is no exception. I have been hoping for the last few years that what started as a trickle would become a flood. And now with Radiohead and even (gasp!) Madonna, it surely has.

I think the penny is dropping. If you are an artist, you now have a choice to become an artist and a business, or an artist and a slave.

Max Hole: It’s Businesses as Usual

Max Hole is President, Asia Pacific Region and Executive Vice-President, Marketing and A&R for Universal Music Group International. He has some soothing words for anyone who thinks the internets might be a bit worrying for music publishers.

When he’s using words like “… record companies … sign and encourage great music by great artists. This will never change”, you know they’re in trouble. At least, in trouble in the long term. One thing that’s true in business as in life is that nothing is forever. Mr Hole’s analysis of the situation for record companies seems to be based on the idea that nothing will, or really needs to, change for the music publishing industry. Musicians have no interest in business or marketing… consumers demand much more than just the music… pirates are sapping the ability to find talent… We’ve heard it all before. If you repeat it often enough, it might just make it true.

Hole completely fails to address what happens if, as seems at least likely, the making, discovery and consumption of music moves from the physical world of gigs and CDs to a virtual one, and along with that, whether the gatekeepers will see the fences come down.

Continue reading Max Hole: It’s Businesses as Usual

For the First Time, Ever

The UK government has rejected calls to extend the length of copyright on sound recordings beyond 50 years.

This is the first time any government in the history of the world has refused to extend copyright, and it’s great news. 50 years is of course far, far too long, but at least the madness of extending it has been averted for now. To quote Doctorow in the Boing Boing today:

Extending copyright dooms nearly every author’s life’s work to obscurity and disappearance, in order to make a few more pennies for the tiny minority of millionaire artists like Cliff Richards (and billionaires like Paul McCartney).”

(and I’ll spell Sir Cliff’s name wrong because I can)

While Labour will have to do a lot more to make up for the Iraq war if they want me to actually vote for them, they get my approval on this outcome at least.

Paul Birch of Revolver Records

If you want to know what company directors think about how the government in this country works, look no further than this flabbergasting statement by Paul Birch of Revolver Records:

“I … think allowing indiscriminate criticism of the RIAA is inappropriate for a Government funded institution”

At least in terms of editorial integrity, if you are being funded by the government it should be case that it would be wholly appropriate – if not actually desirable – to criticise a private company!

Paul Birch is probably not alone in seeing the government as being simply a tool of corporate influence. This just shows how bad things have got – that people like him now need to make no secret of the fact that they expect governments to work exclusively for commercial interests. This is just staggering I think.

The Joost TV Business Model

I will not be buying shares in Joost any time soon. This is not because they don’t have a good product – having been on their beta testing swarm for the last few months, I think it’s quite nice really. The trouble is, according to the Guardian they will be getting their content from media owners based on a lie. The lie is as follows:

“… Joost boasts a secure, efficient, piracy-proof internet platform, and is guaranteeing copyright protection for content owners and creators.”

What a wonderful example of hubris: DRM will preserve the sanctity of copyright for the owners of films and videos and they can use the net as just another distribution channel. Phew! Thank god for Joost!

Unfortunately though, that won’t happen. It takes approximately 4 minutes for cracked versions of music from the iTunes store to appear on the P2P networks (according to Big Champagne). What makes Joost – or more accurately their investors – think that won’t happen to them?
I suppose the Graun can’t get it right every time, but let’s make this the subject of experiment. Give Joost the benefit of the doubt, put them up against Cory Doctorow‘s assertion:

“I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business-model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes.”

Joost are pitching their tent right now. Let’s see how long they last.

Is the future PPV for the Beeb?

So the BBC is now the latest broadcaster to sign a deal with the force that is YouTube.

Right now, the Beeb (and CBS, NBC and Fox) are all saying that YouTube is a “promotional vehicle” for them. Nothing to do with their core programming or anything like that. OK, and what about all those naughty uploads that were on YouTube before the agreement? “We don’t want to be overzealous, a lot of the material on YouTube is good promotional content for us.” So, if you can’t beat ’em…

Mind you, I’ve not watched a full-length programme on line yet but I’m sure in a couple of years I will have done. Hell, in a couple of years I might not even have a telly, preferring instead to stream YouTube (or Democracy Player, or Joost or whatever) to a screen attached to my PC. I know the deathknell has been sounded many times for the Beeb before, but under those circumstances – how does a licence fee fit in?

The Right to Copy, Won

Most people don’t know that under UK law, it is currently illegal to copy music from (say) a CD you have bought, to your own MP3 or other music player. As a result of a petition to Downing Street organised the Open Rights Group, the government has responded positively to the suggestion that we should perhaps not be thrown in prison for making copies of stuff that we own.

“As you may be aware, in December 2005 the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced that there would be a review of the intellectual property framework in the UK, led by Andrew Gowers.

The findings of this review have now been published and recommend the introduction of a private copying exception for the purposes of format shifting. This would allow individuals to copy music which they have legally bought on compact disc onto an MP3 player without infringing copyright.

The Government welcomes this recommendation and is currently considering how such an exception should be created in UK law.”

Unfortunately, this is only a small victory in the face of far worse restrictions being imposed, or attempting to be imposed, upon the listeners of music, the readers of books, the viewers of films, television and indeed the consumers of all media. Time shout “Protect your bits! Support ORG!

The Soul of Socialism Under Hucknall

I don’t read the Guardian much these days, but I’ve always known it as a broadsheet with a sense of humour. Their printing today of this article, “written” by Mick Hucknall, and the inevitable comments about it on line, must be one of the funniest online occurrences this year.

Hucknall (oh OK, it’s some music industry lawyer, but let’s just imagine) inexplicably steps into the copyfight on the side of “socialism” and then plays Alice in a Wonderland of inverted logic. Some highlights include:

“Copyright’s democratising effect is seen most clearly in the music business.”

“Far from obstructing this exchange of inspiration, copyright facilitates sampling, …”

“Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset: it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth…”

“The benefits of extending the copyright term will last a long time. “

This is clearly the voice of somebody who has (to use the analogy coined by Cory Doctorow) pitched his tent on the side of a volcano, and is now asking us to rescue him at our own expense. His audience are not amused.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not. Instead, I highly recommend you read the comments to the article. Choose your favourite riposte because, as one commenter puts it, “Hegemony isn’t a word used a lot in Denton.”

Question 1: A Search Engine Is…?

I’ve been attending a few of the many think-ins that the publishing industry, pressure groups and various other institutions have been having recently around the subject of The Internet and What Is Means For Us.

Sadly, these have been largely unnoteworthy, although my attendance at the IPPR event last night “The Long Tail: Opportunities in a New Marketplace?” threw up an example of what I hope is not a very wide misconception about Google and search engines in general.

Continue reading Question 1: A Search Engine Is…?

What Price Pop (and classical)?

I made some online music purchases today from This was mainly because if the USA has its way, then the site may be taken down in preparation for Russia’s entry into the WTO. If you’ve not been there before, AllofMP3 is everything you ever wanted from Internet age commerce: dirt cheap goods sold legally (according to Russian jurisdiction), massive choice and as a finishing touch, stunning typos. Not surprisingly, a whole album for a dollar (or any combination of tracks you like) has been making the RIAA and its international puppet organisation the IFPI see red. Ha!

Like The War On Terror, the copyfight claims the vast majority of its victims innocently, and those victims are predominantly overseas. Last week, it was the turn of a large number of perfectly legitimate Swedish small businesses to be taken off line in the name of copyright as the Pirate Bay‘s servers were confiscated along with a number of totally unrelated ones. The site’s back up now (well, the tracker at least, the website seems to been somewhat patchy since) but the damage has been done – to the publishing industry. Even if the raid turns out not to have been illegal, which it seems to have been, then the number of registered users of the Bay are going to go through the roof as the oxygen of publicity fills its sails even more. We could be seeing the resignation of a Swedish minister or two perhaps.

Bush of Ghosts CC Reprise

As previously observed here, David Byrne and Brian Eno have not only recently re-released their My Life In the Bush of Ghosts album, but have also made all of the multitracks of two of the songs on the album free for re-mixing under a Creative Commons licence.

Things are getting really interesting in this area. Eno and Byrne are the first artists of significant stature to do this as far as I know. This is what I think it might lead to at some point.

UK Government Copyright Must End

The absurdity of UK government agencies having to sell data back the very tax payers that paid for it has been going on ever since I was a lad. I’ve always regarded it as another one of the breathtakingly stupid things the Thatcher government did that, once done, could not be un-done. Like football hooliganism, chaotic public transport and the poll (now council) tax.

But the Grauniad’s now come up with an interesting angle – and a campaign no less – that holds out the possibility of change.

(By the way, I love that Guardian Technology masthead with the picture of Admiral Tojo wearing 3D glasses on it. It’s a classic.)

The Biggest Threat is Obscurity

I went to see Cory Doctorow and others on a panel organised by Free Culture UK last night. The subject was “Open Content” – a moniker given to the concept of digitisable works of either art or craft distributed under an alternative copyright licence (such as Creative Commons). Inevitably, a lot of ground was covered by the speakers, and one of the hottest topics of the evening was the recently-launched BBC’s Open Archive project. I wasn’t actually aware that they’d launched, but it sounds evil.

Continue reading The Biggest Threat is Obscurity

Britt Allcroft: I Am Angry

Laurence Lessig’s written a great short piece (I didn’t know Americans could do that!) for Foreign Policy on the death of the public domain. He’s great at hitting the nail on the head.

“There is no doubt that piracy is an important problem — it’s just not the only problem. Our leaders have lost this sense of balance. They have been seduced by a vision of culture that measures beauty in ticket sales. They are apparently untroubled by a world where cultivating the past requires the permission of the past. They can’t imagine that freedom could produce anything worthwhile at all.”

Proof, if it be needed of this, was given to me last weekend when we visited the Northampton & Lamport Railway on one of their Thomas The Tank Engine events. It was pretty much heaving with kiddies and other Thomas fans and was a good (half) day out. But it could have been better were it not for the state of copyright law.

As part of his banter while we rode the short distance of the restored track, Sir Toppham Hat (pictured in the above) went into some rather interesting detail about how much of the proceeds from our ticket prices, tea and Thomas merchandise went to the current copyright holders of Thomas The Thank Engine (and Friends): Britt Allcroft. It seemed to be a pretty large chunk.

I looked around me and saw the place in a new light. The railway is maintained by volunteers: rail enthusiasts who dedicate their spare time to keeping the rather rusty engines and dilapidated carriages working. We watched some of them working on rolling stock in the sidings, seemingly oblivious to the Thomas event around them. There’s been an immense amount of effort to restore the track and re-build a bride across the River Nene (which is barely more than a stream) with help from Leicester and Northampton councils. But in terms of return on this investment of labour and love, The Thomas The Thank Engine event instead gives a hugely disproportionate benefit to Britt Allcroft.

The writer of the Thomas The Thank Engine stories is dead. His work should be in the public domain. Instead, copyright holders are allowed to skim off profits from events like this at the Lamport Railway and give me and my kids a bum deal. In Thomas’s case, this may be the situation perhaps for another fifty years (if current EC legislation allows it). Our ticket money could have gone towards shiny brasswork, perhaps a restored ticket office and waiting room and many other things that needed care. Instead we had to ignore the fact that the waiting room is a portable home; the cafe is a carriage literally falling apart, and the Fat Controller’s spats are falling off his feet.

All this left me angry. The two councils and the volunteers at the railway have done a wonderful job and the place is truly magical because of it, but Britt Allcroft and HIT Entertainment are a blight. How many people at the event realised this I don’t know. Maybe it was just me and Sir Toppham.

Again, Lessig:

“And the cultivation of culture and creativity will then be dictated by those who claim to own it.”

A possibly ironic footnote, but I think it rather noble that the content of the Northampton and Lamport Railway’s website is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

The Grokster Ruling: Life, Death and the Bay City Rollers

The US Supreme Court’s ruling against Grokster came in today:

"We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting 
its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other 
affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting
acts of infringement by third parties"

So, to quote a Slashdot poster on the subject this afternoon:

In the United States, it's legal to sell armour-piercing ammunition: 
bullets whose sole purpose is to go through bulletproof vests; 
obviously a device designed to kill or maim human beings. The 
manufacturers to do not even make the pretense of proposing other 
uses for said ammunition. This activity is all fine and legal.

By comparison, a device that may or may not be designed for, but 
is certainly capable of, infringing copyright is deemed illegal. 
The manufacturers at least attempt the pretense of proposing legal
uses for the technology and make a somewhat-better-than-marginal 
case for its legit use. This is not fine or legal.

Question for the supreme court: do you really believe the copyright
of the Bay City Rollers first album is more deserving of legal 
protection than a human life?