Archive for November, 2007

Fire Fart meets the NRA

November 29, 2007 Comments off

The “CNN/YouTube” program last night featuring the GOP’s starpower–oh, sorry, I guess I should call that a debate–demonstrated conclusively the depths to which presidential politics has sunk in the Fire Fart era. I don’t quite know who we have to thank for this, but the debacle should demonstrate conclusively that YouTube’s domain truly is the dorm room and not the debate podium.

Fans of NRA darling Rick Boucher no doubt enjoyed the clip featuring tossed shotguns regarding the candidates support for the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

As a side note–how these candidates manage to justify appearing on a program sponsored by YouTube without a word about copyright infringement is both galling and comforting. Galling–for obvious reasons, and comforting–because in an election campaign, God knows what candidates would promise if they were visited with a Pandora-style email campaign by the copyhate crowd.

Revolution in France! Aux armes, citoyens!

November 24, 2007 1 comment

Taking a cue from the trendsetters at Stanford University, the President of France is backing an industrywide agreement between the creative community and French ISPs that would drop DRM from French-language repertoire sold digitally in France in return for ISPs cutting off Internet access to heavy downloaders on illegal p2p networks accessed through all-you-can-eat Internet accounts.

This important decision continues and extends the world wide trend toward dealing with Internet piracy by cutting off access to abusers. While there is no silver bullet that will stop the behavior in its tracks, making Internet access very difficult may well be one of the thousand cuts, John Perry Barlow’s “Electronic Hezbollah” notwithstanding.

For those who follow anti-piracy policy in France, President Sarkozy’s plan is a striking turnaround. Two years ago almost to the day, a bill drafted by the far Left snuck through the National Assembly (France’s lower house of its legislative branch) during the 2005 Christmas recess that would have essentially codified the EFF/Terry Fisher program by legalizing p2p downloading. Due to a quirk of parliamentary procedure (also known as stupid lawyer tricks), the bill “passed” the National Assembly with fewer than 10% of its members present during a legislative recess and the works of various anti-copyright law professors being read into the record. That bill was, of course, resoundingly defeated when it came for a vote of the full body after the National Assembly reconvened after the Christmas family holiday.

While the details of President Sarkozy’s plan have yet to be released, his stated intention is to “underline his attachment to culture but also his wish to see artists live from their work and have their rights respected on new platforms”. Is this policy goal really so hard to understand?

President Sarkozy’s support for the creative community is remarkable for a couple reasons. First, the leader of a major world economy is not ignoring the gutting of his country’s artists and is standing foursquare with the creative community against “business models…[whose] principal object was use of [Internet accounts] to download copyrighted works” to paraphrase one court. That’s more than you can say for any other world leader. So far. Of course, there was a time when world leaders said things like “Ich bin ein Berliner”, too, but that might be asking for too much.

But neither is President Sarkozy cowed by those who would have the government not just legalize but also encourage the attack on his country’s rich cultural heritage from illegal p2p file bartering. Starting in the recent past, France is developing a significant literature rejecting American solutions, such as the wonderful book Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, the former president of the Bibliotèque nationale de France (“I wouldn’t want to see—although I’m amused by the thought—the text of Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit prince accompanied by an ad for a sheep merchant”).

It’s pretty obvious really—an ISP may not be able to tell exactly what is being downloaded or uploaded, but they can tell fairly easily that a lot of it is going on. Considering that the overwhelming view is that at least 50% of Internet traffic is taken up with illegal file bartering, the scope of the problem is clear. If a user has a legitimate reason to download large quantities, then they can come forward and demonstrate their needs. Until then, it is well to remember that the Internet was not developed and does not exist for the benefit of illegal activity, any more than the postal service or telephone lines are supported for illegal uses.

One would have to imagine that the levels of illegal activity are getting so high (and probably costly in terms of bandwidth charges to ISPs) that the next step beyond cutting off Internet access is metered pricing. While passing the costs of illegal activity through to be paid by those engaging in the illegality is an attractive proposition, it will be unattractive to deny all consumers in France the benefit of all-you-can-eat pricing due to lawbreaking by even a large number of bad actors.

This is why an independent commission in France as well as President Sarkozy have determined that there needs to be a national law that applies to all ISPs. Otherwise there would no doubt be some dedicated followers of the anti-copyright professoriate who would rather find ways to violate the law rather than comply with it. As the independent commission’s chairman wrote: “It is a little like . . . big store chains putting out free stocks of stolen CDs and DVDs to attract new customers into their shops”.

Expect to hear the answer to the unasked question from the anti-copyright crowd and their amen chorus: Cutting off Internet access won’t stop piracy. No kidding. Nobody said it would. But it might be one of the thousand cuts for Generation L and their leaders in the professoriate.

I remember what it was like to live in Manhattan in the time of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. New York was a scary, scary place and it didn’t look like it would ever change, the city seemed to have past the point of no return, and had gone too far down hill. Then, as now, government had nearly abdicated its role to protect the people from wrongdoers, and then, as now, the forces of evil were very well funded and willing to stop at nothing to protect their ill-gotten “turf”.

Then along came a mayor who believed that the decline could be stopped, that the law should be enforced, that and that there is such a thing as conscience. And guess what—it worked, and positive signs of change appeared almost overnight. The spirit of the people was lifted in an obvious way.

Regardless of politics, I for one will always be grateful to that mayor. If you can’t see past the politics, you’ve probably never had a junkie shove a .38 in your ear outside the Jerome Avenue subway station while crowds of people walked by not wanting to “get involved”. Not quite the same as a YouTube style shakedown, but close. A world in which the rights of person and property are not respected and where might is right is not a world in which culture can flourish. It is the world of the mob, the world of Wired Magazine, of Google and of the EFFluviati.

Unlike many other countries, France has a long tradition of protecting its creators, so if there’s anything unusual about President Sarkozy’s policy, it’s that it took so long. Maybe it just takes one committed man to make a difference in the world. It’s happened before. I sure hope it’s happening now. But it’s natural that the change should first occur in France.

Jean Renoir is rolling in his grave.

Generation L Innovates the Wisdom of Mobs

November 18, 2007 Comments off

In every conversation I have with Generation L about the effects of technology on the music industry, it is only a matter of time until the world “innovation” comes up. “Innovation” must be protected at all costs, including at the cost of the entire creative community. Hundreds of thousands of jobs lost? That’s the cost of innovation. Billions of dollars lost? The industry should have innovated more quickly. Thousands of families disrupted? They were fat cats anyway. $1.65 billion for YouTube?Ahem. $1.65 billion for YouTube????

Er, um…that’s the value of innovation.

So I get it, now. Innovation means something that is great for me but not for thee. It is free for me, but not for thee. So as long as I can steal from you, dont’ get caught and you can’t stop me–I am good and I don’t really care what happens to you because you’re not in my mob.

(But we should add the important caveat–as long as the government sits on its hands. Remember, if anyone had told you that Martha Stewart would be doing time in a federal pen a year before it happened, you would have thought it madness.)

I then watch otherwise intelligent people try to reason their way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into and the answer usually comes out as something like–Google is bigger than the entire creative community, so Google wins. That’s certainly Lessig’s take.This is the essential underpinning of the ethics and logic of Generation L—bigger is better and the wisdom of mobs prevails. Not just because the mob is larger in numbers, but because the decision of the mob can be divined as “wisdom” and its “wisdom” is in fact correct. About everything, in all cases.

Not might makes right, but might is right.

So when the mob decides to take away copyright, it’s not only the case that they can do it because they are huge in number and their anonymity is—interestingly—defended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the hardware manufacturers and others in the anti-copyright crowd whose funding is harder to determine.

It’s also the case that the mob–call them Lessig’s mob–in fact believes they are morally right to do so, that the ability of the mob to rise up and violate property laws en masse is not only defendable but is in fact transcendently correct.

Lester Lawrence Lessig III and his ilk step forward to give these mobs what pass for excuses to steal, all of which sound like “she fell into a door” to those on the receiving end of this mob rule in the creative community.

So one of the fundamental attributes of Generation L is that they believe in the power of mobs. We will have more posts on the attributes of Generation L from time to time.

We Have the Net Covered

November 5, 2007 3 comments

UPDATE: YouTube announces that they have a new bulk upload application so all those movie fans out there can upload full-length movies in 10 minute segments. How convenient.
In the early 1990s, I happened upon the Usenet. I noticed almost immediately that users (who were in those days largely college students) were posting sound recordings on newsgroups (e.g., alt.binaries.bootlegs, if memory serves) for download by other users. Sound familiar?
These files were converted into binary code, which looks like gibberish, but which will be easily decoded with the right software application.

Because of the length limitations of the posting rules, a sound recording of any length required multiple posts, sometimes over 100 separate postings. These postings generally were numbered for each of theft—sorry—ease of use, in a series 1/100, 2/100 and so on.

As I worked at a record company in those days, I dutifully called the RIAA and pointed out to them that there was a very short step from these usegroup postings to something broader that we really would not like at all. We didn’t know to call it “file sharing” at the time.

I was told not to worry because “we have the Net covered.”

Right. Twelve years (and who knows how many illegal files) later, they’re suing.

I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to the problem, and so I left it alone and the rest is history.

Now comes “YouTube, Broadcast Yourself”. Try searching for “full film” in YouTube. 103,000 results today. “full movie”, 390,000, “full show” 66,000 and so on.

Now what might the implications be of these search results?
“Sabrina” (the Audrey Hepburn version) appears posted in 11 parts for your downloading convenience.

“Strangers on a Train”, posted in 10 parts.

“Vertigo”, posted in 10 parts.
“The Princess Bride”, posted in 10 parts.
“The Ring”, posted in 11 parts.
And so on, film after film after film.

One of the posters tells us “well I’m a bit of a movie geek so I’ve started to upload movies but because I don’t want to get deleted most are private.”

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