Last week, YouTube announced on its company blog (in an entry titled “A YouTube for All of Us”) that it is tightening its restrictions on sexual content and profanity. Of course, YouTube has always had limits, mostly for pornography, spam, and gratuitous violence, handled primarily through automatic filtering that can spot X-rated scenes, and through the user community itself flagging inappropriate content for review. Now that user community is in an uproar about the recent announcement, because the restrictions will extend to sexually suggestive video and video that uses profanity. It’s not a surprise that sites like YouTube have to strike their own balance, between being an open platform for whatever users choose to post, and building a user community (not to mention a public brand) that’s acceptable to mainstream users and to the sponsors eager to sell to them. Censorship is hardly new to the Internet. What is new is the way YouTube intends to handle inappropriate videos: not only by removing some videos and placing age restrictions on others, but through “demotion.” “Videos that are considered sexually suggestive, or that contain profanity, will be algorithmically demoted on our ‘Most Viewed,’ ‘Top Favorited,’ and other browse pages.” This means that videos with too much profanity or sexually suggestive content will not be removed, but their popularity will be mathematically reduced, so they don’t show up on the lists of what’s most popular – censorship through technical invisibility. And we won’t know which videos, for what reasons. That YouTube can bury the rules, and their judgments, into the mechanisms by which users know what’s available and popular, points to the kinds of free speech dilemmas we’re likely to face in a digital future, and that we’re hardly prepared to think through.

This is fun. Cornell’s publicity office has been asking me and my department colleageus to offer pithy quotes about media industry news events, in the hopes of circulating us as experts to journalists. Hence the last post, about Tribune Company filing for bankruptcy, and this one. What a wonderful university-sanctioned opportunity to spout off about things I find interesting. I’ll keep posting them here.

LenoWhose bedtime is it? NBC has announced that it will hand Leno the 10pm time slot five nights a week. Not so long ago, that 10pm time slot was the one chance for the TV networks to offer dramas with adult themes and concerns, because the kids had been shuffled off to bed. ER, Law & Order, The West Wing, L.A. Law, Homicide, Hill Street Blues, even Miami Vice. Now, with the kids watching The Hills and Grey’s Anatomy online and on DVD, the 8pm shows more explicit and explosive than ever before, and the real drama being provided by HBO and AMC, the networks have nothing left to do but make the economic, rather than the creative decision: to offer up five more hours of cheap talk and celebrity chatter (and, honor their costly contract with Conan). Will the day come when the parents are nodding off to Leno’s monologue at 10, while their kids stay up late downloading True Blood? Or is this shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, the very idea of a TV schedule sinking fast?

Will the information industry be next at Congress’ doorstep, looking for its own bailout? With the Tribune Company’s declaration of bankruptcy today, the recession of 2008 has again proven adept at revealing those industries whose business models were already top-heavy and unworkable. But, while many will point to a decade–long decline revenues for paper-and-ink news and blame this all on the Internet, I wonder whether the business that failed them was that the entertainment industry, so eager to lash together every entertainment property it can swallow into an advertising megaplex. Isn’t it telling, that Tribune is struggling not just because readers are canceling their newspaper subscriptions for digital feeds — after all, Tribune has an enormous web presence — but because they were unable to sell off the Chicago Cubs in time to make this year’s debt payments?

LA Times report here; CEO Sam Zell’s letter to his employees here.

This is excellent news:

President-elect Obama has championed the creation of a more open, transparent, and participatory government. To that end, Change.gov adopted a new copyright policy this weekend. In an effort to create a vibrant and open public conversation about the Obama-Biden Transition Project, all website content now falls under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This may be one of those moments where people will think I’m obsessing over small details, and to some extent its true. But this is a very important gesture, with real consequences. The Obama team has shown some real savvy about the opportunities and implications of new media. I was very glad to see that they plan to post their weekly address online and to their YouTube channel, making online video the 21st century replacement for the radio “fireside chats” of FDR. Opting to make these videos, and the other materials they post, open for redistribution and reuse opens up a wealth of material for citizen commentary. More than that, it indicates their commitment to transparency, free speech, and participation.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that publications of the federal government, like court decisions and Senate reports, are traditionally in the public domain, i.e. with no copyright at all. The whitehouse.gov site does not have a copyright statement that I could find, so its not clear what their policy is. One might argue that, with a CC license, the Obama campaign is being slightly more restrictive than should be expected. However, by posting the CC license, they make an explicit assurance to users that they my distribute and remix as they see fit, which is by far the bigger issue. The very absence of a copyright statement on the current White House site could leave re-users in a grey area, unsure of their rights. The Obama teams commitment goes further, in that the online videos will be accompanied by a link to a high-res Quicktime version, so those interested in excerpting and remixing will not have to make do with the low-res YouTube version.

This is also a substantial vote of confidence for Creative Commons, and yet another moment in the slow move towards the widespread recognition that copyright maximalism simply cannot persist online, and a more moderate balance of rights is required.

Ah, to get back on topic… The “Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO IP) Act” was just signed into law by President Bush, after passing the Senate and the House last month. I haven’t looked closely at this bill yet: here are two commentaries from William Patry (before he silenced his public blog) and Cyrus Farivar at Machinist. The main contributions of this bill are two: to massively increase the kind of financial penalties that can be sought in a copyright infringement claim, and to create an “IP czar” position inside the White House.

The first change is curious, but not surprising. The justification for the change is to signal that the US government is serious about piracy. But I think I agree with Patry, that the main thing it does is give the music and movie industries a phenomenally better position from which to pursue their tactic of punishing individual downloaders. In the one case that has been seen through to a monetary award, Capitol v. Thomas, the record labels received $222,000 for 24 songs that Jammie Thomas had made available on a peer-to-peer network. This kind of damages award helps a record label make the case to a downloader that they should “pre-settle” with them before a lawsuit ever occurs, for somewhere between $3000 and $5000. What will that pre-settlement number look like, now that the possible damages have increased 100-fold? What’s curious about this, in my mind, is that many have argued that the existing damages were too high — set to penalize traditional pirates, stamping CDs in a warehouse, they were too large for the case of online file-trading. Part of the question is what the damages represent, and how should they be set: some (i.e. the record labels) argue that the online fil-trader can do more damage, passing their song to millions with one click. The other way to look at it is that the punishment should fit the crime, and putting a few songs in your upload folder is a much smaller violation, in terms of criminal intent or effort, than setting up a street-corner piracy network.

As for an IP czar, I can only imagine. Maybe, in an Obama administration, it could be his friend Lawrence Lessig?

So, can we just send this to everyone? Just forward this far and wide, send this email to everyone you know, add it to your website or Facebook profile, print it out and stick it up on your office fridge, pin it to your shirt? The quote is real, and is proven by many other statements McCain has made recently.

The recent events on Wall Street have changed this election — we thought we’d be debating the future of the Iraq War, the pursuit of sustainable energy, the collapsing health care system. Then, we spent a bunch of time discussing whether someone’s an elitist for sounding smart or for owning seven houses, and what animals it’s okay to put lipstick on. But it’s clear now that we’re looking at an emerging financial disaster in this country, and we are and will continue to be making vitally important decisions about it in the coming months. Some will be made by the Bush administration, another chance for them to shred our economy and society But the rest will be made under the next administration, which ever it may be.

McCain has said he is the experienced candidate, and it’s true that he has spent more time in federal government than Obama. But what is experience? Is it simply a time spent? Or is it spending that time learning the right things, doing the right things?

Its now a question of the economy, and the Republican candidate, with thirty years of experience in public office, has admitted that he doesn’t know enough about the economy. And he’s proving that, with statements like “the fundamentals of the economy remain strong” in the same week that the federal government has to nationalize the mortgage industry and prop up the biggest insurance company with tax dollars. McCain is a warrior, not a president.

Oh, and he also told the New York Times that he would choose a vice-presidential candidate who would complement his skills. When asked what those qualities would be, he answered: “maybe I shouldn’t say this, but, somebody who’s really well grounded in economics.” This was, obviously, before he picked Sarah Palin. Is she his new, trusted economic advisor? Hardly.

“I’m going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.”

McCain says he’s not ready. I think we should believe him. He’s always been a straight talker.

‘Reform. Reform. Reform.’ John McCain explains his eclectic–and troubling–economic philosophy.
Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2005
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007600

McCain tested on economy, Defends his credibility and experience
Sasha Issenberg, Boston Globe, Sasha Issenberg
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/01/26/mccain_tested_on_economy/

image taken from “McCain’s YouTube problem Just became a Nightmare,” Brave New Films
http://bravenewfilms.org/blog/39179-mccain-s-youtube-problem-just-became-a-nightmare
(umm… thanks!)

-

please, send this, forward this, link this, print this…

A beautiful remix, or mashup, or collage, or exquisite monstrosity, that happens to combine at least four of my favorite cultural texts.


Orson Whales from Alex Itin on Vimeo.

I’ve found myself not blogging because all I want to talk about is the election, and it seemed somehow not part of this blog. Plus its probably preaching to the choir, which seems a waste of energy, especially now. But if its going to kill my blog not to, then here we go.

There was a moment that I thought was telling in the event where Obama and McCain spoke with Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback church last month. Warren asked them each the same question: “Does evil exist, and if it does, do we ignore it, negotiate with it contain it, or do we defeat it?” Obama answered in a way I more or less liked, that we have to be soldiers in the fight against evil, but with a little humility about it, an awareness that much evil has been perpetrated in the name of good. McCain simply said “defeat it” – and the audience roared. Now, it was his audience more than Obama’s, for sure. But McCain’s is the wrong answer, and it’s the seductive answer. What I wanted Obama to say, and McCain for that matter, is “Are you kidding? You do everything you can. Why would you choose one tool for the greatest challenge in human existence? The reality is, you negotiate with it, you contain it, and you defeat it, and the wise man knows which when.” But right now, we still want the kneejerk reaction that we’re going to go out there and kill all the bad guys, Its so stupid, so regressive, so naive, so dangerous.

We’re at such a desperate time, economically, internationally, culturally. I think we need someone who really understands the complexity of what the world is right now, and what America needs to be doing. I think Obama has that – its not about experience, as in years served, its a combination of (a) years served, (b) the world in which those years were served, and (c) insight. I think Obama has emerged in and of a political time in which new lessons are just beginning to be learned. And I think he has the insight to see how things are complicated, to make some important choices. Biden seems to be that as well, despite how much of his career was in an earlier political era.

I thought McCain had it too, once, I really did; but he has spun out in the last two years as a reactionary dressed as a stern realist, with a worldview that has become entirely militarized. He used to be a smart politician, with his focus on making government better, and I admired him for it. But now, and I feel bad saying this, I think the current political climate summons up his POW mindset, where the world seems an essentially dangerous place. (It is, but you can’t let that become fear or hubris or demagoguery.) Palin’s worse. She’s a product of her time, which is even more recent: a panicky, fundamentalist post-9/11 moment that lets her lean on the fear that the terrorist attacks produced and use it to trade complexity for moral certitude, even when the world speaks otherwise. She’s an unprepared, evangelical, anti-science, hyperconservative, deceitful fundamentalist. Really, how dare he — McCain has thirty years in goverment, plenty of time to really know who among his colleagues would be a great leader — even from his side of the aisle.

I feel like its long overdue for the US to take a deep breath, and accept the following facts. (a) It’s a violent world, where our enemies are elusive and dangerous, (b) it’s a complex world, where our actions, however justified, have ripple effects, (c) it’s a messy world, where there simply are no easy solutions, and (d) it’s a world-in-progress, where we can’t just drop everything and go on a revenge crusade, and forget that we’ve got to keep our society running, our economy functioning, our children learning, our society healthy, our knowledge growing, and our eyes open. McCain and Palin are exactly the two wrong answers for this moment: he’s a well-informed but unyielding Cold Warrior who urges us unrealistically to simply extinguish our foes, and recently wrapped in the icky neo-con self-assuredness about good and evil; she’s a uninformed zealot who hides her extremism under an aw-shucks small-town America values pitch.
McCain-Palin is a reversal of the last ticket; it’s Cheney-Bush.

(Thanks to Gary Kamiya’s terrific Salon article for noting the Palin = Bush equation so forcefully.)

This is certainly not the time in this world to be a one-issue voter — if there’s ever a good time to be one. And if you’re going to pick a single issue to base your vote for President on, make it repairing the economy or rebuilding public schools or getting out of Iraq or a forward-thinking energy policy, not whether the candidate has the right policy on the Internet. That said, this is my area of interest and perhaps expertise, so I pay a little extra attention to it. And I do agree with a number of recent commenters, that a technology policy belongs on that list of priorities; we are still in a formative time around information and communication technologies, where the policies we set today, in Congress and ther courts, will resonate for decades.

So I wanted to highlight some recent discussion of McCain’s missing technology policy statement. Obama released his several months ago, and it hits the mark on most issues, if perhaps it lacks some specifity and hews to a gentle line of progress and not a bolder one. But McCain has not released any official campaign statement about technology yet, and many have connected this both to the Bush administration’s severe and devastating disinterest in promoting scientific and technological innovation towards progressive ends, and to McCain’s campaign trail admission that he’s an Internet “illiterate,” has never emailed, and relies on his wife when they need online information. This is simply reprehensible, though again not exactly of the same scope of other crucial campaign issues. There are lots of people who do not and cannot use the Internet, of course, in this country and elsewhere. But it is primarily because they cannot afford the tools or the process of developing the skills, and/or they work in jobs that do not depend on computing. Neither of these is true for a U.S. Senator. And, as today’s Salon piece on this issue notes, it is not simply that he is older; they cite a recent Pew report that 3/4 of Americans 65 and older are on online. I think its striking that former FCC Chairman (and Obama supporter) Reed Hundt has said “Basically, John is a technological troglodyte, and proud of it.”

The Salon piece goes on to discuss McCain’s role in Congress over the last decade and a half, regarding policies relating to the Internet. Their emphasis is on the fact that McCain voted against the Telecommunications Act of 1996 because it was too regulatory — a bill that, in my opinion, has been more harmful than good because it handed too much of the shaping of the Internet over to private companies, i.e. was too deregulatory — that he worked against the “E-rate” elements of that bill, that gave federal breaks to public schools to help them establish Internet access, and most of all for co-sponsoring the Internet School Filtering Act in 1998. This one is, in my mind, the most egregious. It was co-sponsored with Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, who tech and law enthusiasts will know as one of the worst offenders in the digital copyright world, proposing bills that would have required all digital devices to incorporate DRM, at the behest of the entertainment industries. The bill required schools receiving the E-rate funding to install filtering software on their school computers, at a time when filtering software was proving to be deeply flawed, easy to circumvent, and most importantly, an easy means to censor vital online speech. And, it would have given the responsibility for imposing this rule to the FCC, a vast expansion of their jurisdiction. As Salon noted, even conservative tool Rick Santorum disagreed, and threw his support behind a gentler version of the bill — that still obligated public schools to invest in filtering software, pointlessly, at their own cost.

Whether or not McCain has personal familiarity with the Internet is less the issue here. Because you can be an Internet user and still see it as a devil’s playground full of porn and baddies, or as an pristine field perfect for the construction of a corporate shopping mall. My greater concern is the parallel with the Bush administration’s approach. Whatever McCain doesn’t know about the Internet is counterbalanced by his apparent commitment to hand over the task of guiding the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to private corporations, and then allowing government to simply ignore the issue altogether.

Update: McCain has posted his technology policy. Lessig dissects it and finds it wanting here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the shape of cultural and political discourse in the contemporary digital environment. And there’s been no better place to consider it than the current U.S. presidential campaign. Sometimes I feel like the campaigns are simply working to fill my lectures – Obama Girl, the CNN/YouTube debates, The Hillary Clinton 1984 parody. The latest volley was the McCain web ad that called Obama the world’s biggest celebrity, with flashes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, then wondering whether he is ready to lead. (Of course, there’s no logical connection between the two claims, and none is actually made in the ad. But whatever.) The video gets all sorts of play, making it to the top of online circulation sites like Google News and getting picked up and replayed by the traditional media. Then Paris Hilton responds on FunnyorDie.com, with a surprisingly dry and pointed response ad – that itself makes the rounds, enough that the McCain campaign has to respond.

But this note from Crooks and Liars is even more intriguing. A web ad released by the McCain campaign during the primary, trumpeting McCain as the “true conservative” in the vein of Ronald Reagan, has been removed from their site and from YouTube. John Perr notes that the removal is timely, considering McCain’s recent ads present him in his “maverick” role, a reach for independent voters. Not only is the video gone, but the press releases that originally accompanied the video are gone as well. But the curiosity is that the video is still available, and bloggers noting the removal can still point to it — being posted back to YouTube by others, available in Google’s cache, or in the Internet Archive.

Political campaigns are turning to online platforms for an array of modes of comunicating to their base, to undecideds, to the press, to donors. Posting a video onto a campaign website and to YouTube can happen quickly and circulate widely, and with any luck gets repeated on TV newscasts. It can take advantage of the social networks and email mailing lists being cultivated by the campaigns to keep supporters linked in, to whatever degree they’re willing. But there are some points of jeopardy in these online environments. And one is visible here, the way that the record remains, even when a candidate might want to shift the tone of their campaign or the emphasis on certain talking points.

It is not as if YouTube simply retains all submissions. Videos can be removed by their posters, by YouTube itself, or by YouTube on behalf of others (for instance, copyright holders). But, because of the material workings of the web (caching) and the efforts of users (saving the stremed video and reposting it) it cannot be scrubbed clean. What exactly is kept, and when it will reappear, is unpredictable. But it cannot be erased with certainty. And its return can be fast and vast, if the moment calls for it. What you post can always return to haunt you — whether its The Daily Show calling it up to point out hypocrisy, or bloggers digging out a statement once made and since repudiated, or a journalist finding a position statement the preceded financial support from someone who may have benefited from it. The contours of political discourse is only now accomodating this particualr feature of online environments, and whole industries (late night comedy, for instance) are emerging in the space provided by this phenomenon: the uncanny return of the once published and never removed.

Here’s the video:



This is completely off my usual topic, although its not clear that I really have a usual topic. But I just read Andrew Leonard’s latest “How the World Works” post at Salon, and he quotes a radio ad for AM/PM mini-marts:

A woman is criticizing her husband for the excessive indulgence of his 64-ounce soda. He scoffs. “Too much soda? That’s like saying someone can have too much money! Or too many private jets!”

An announcer finishes off the commercial: “More is MORE!”

He suggests that “More is more!” could be America’s epitaph. I don’t disagree. But it reminded me to actually look up how much sugar that represents. I’ve been intrigued by an emerging field of research (for instance, this or this) that considers how socially beneficial ends might be encouraged by the strategic presentation of information and careful design of technology — for instance, if you had a real-time readout next to every light switch that told you how much power you were using and how much it was costing you, would you be better about conserving? I’m not so comfortable with mandating such things, so they probably have to come about through encouragement and subsidy and personal choice — I might want that in my house, because I want to conserve, I’m just bad at remembering. It’s a little harder to imagine a mini-mart that makes its profit on giant soda posting a similar “discouraging information. So I don’t know why it would ever be there, (guerrilla sticker operation?) but I like imagining a label on the AM/PM soda fountain that says:

your 64oz soda…
= 216 grams of sugar
= 7 candy bars
= 0.47 pounds of granulated sugar

with a picture of a large cup with 7 candy bars sticking out.

(I used Coca Cola Classic for soda, with a sugar content [12oz soda = 40.5 grams sugar] reported here; for a candy bar, with sugar content [1 2.07oz bar = 30 grams sugar] reported by M&M/Mars here. For the weight-to-volume conversion, which strikes me as so high that it just might be incorrect, I used this site.)

I know sugar isn’t the only health issue here; most candy hits you with a whole lot of fat too, and most colas have a whole lot of other toxic nastiness to consider. Still, I’m trying to envision the guy who grabs a 64oz soda on his way to work, instead, powering down 7 Snickers, or just spooning down a half pound of sugar. I remember Morgan Spurlock doing this in Super Size Me, when he visited a school that had a mason jar full of sugar on a classroom shelf, representing a can of soda a day.

I don’t know if I’m actually going to get around to it — so many different directions to take one’s research, one can’t do them all — so I thought I would just post this and let anyone think it out for themselves. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately, ever since I published my book, about how to study copyright “on the ground,” to move from the places where the rhetoric about digital copyright is produced and circulated, to where the mundane practices that grapple with and, in quieter ways, shift the workings of copyright in the contemporayr moment.

One of the most vital questions for how information is regulated and culture is shaped, and that copyright offers such an ideal insight for understanding, is to look into the particulars of the interlocking of technology, law, culture, and practice. However, most of the scholarship so far has tended to look at the issue on a very broad, macro-social level: Congressional mandates, court decisions, public debates, cultural controversies. (My book is certainly guilty of this top-down and sometimes generalized perspective.) To deepen our insight into these problems, we must also examine not just the biggest changes and the loudest debates, but also the ways these arrangements play out “on the ground.” How do designers of new technologies understand their copyright obligations, and how do they incorporate those obligations into the tools they design, amidst other economic and practical pressures? How do corporate partners collaborate on techno-legal strategies for enforcing their copyrights, and how do they persuade legislators, the courts, and the public to see it their way? How do users come to understand what copyright is, and in what way do they incorporate or disregard it in their everyday habits of acquiring and producing culture? Insight into these practices will illuminate the ongoing debate about copyright in a digital age. But the question extends beyond the particulars of copyright: how are the rules of information production and knowledge in a digital environment conceived and imposed? How do the various participants in this process understand their role within it, respond to pressures, and rationalize their activities? How do their efforts extend, normalize, or undercut these changes in copyright and information regulation. How are we building what will become ‘digital culture’?

The discussion of digital copyright needs much more ethnographic attention to the lived realities of all this. These questions require a methodological attention to the real spaces and practices in which decisions are made, elements come together, problems are grappled with. Getting inside the rhetorical debate means examining people in their actual social contexts: in the cubicles of software designers, in the meetings of industry consortia, in the offices of media producers, in the dorm rooms of users. It will be very interesting to figure out what the right ethnographic sites should be, which information practices and local discourses are revealing of the complex lived tensions between property and not, which arrangements most need to be drawn into focus and dissected. Is it something like Pirate Bay, where the political dimension of copyright violation is most explicitly articulated? (There’s been some recent work about Pirate Bay — I saw a talk a few months ago dealing with just what you’re pointing to, the way Pirate Bay is moving itself from an outlaw community to a legitimate political force.) Is it Brazil, where the mew politics of IP is not just technological motivated, but wrapped up in seeking alternatives to Western models? Is it at Creative Commons, where people are seeking to shift the debate and locate a third way? Is it in the dorm rooms of avid downloaders, where the anti-piracy rhetoric of established industry reaches for the American “digital native”? (I don’t much like the term, but it makes the point.) Is it with musicians, grappling with a shifting landscape of circulation, the long and tortured history of the role of record labels, and the swirling rhetoric? I feel like these are the obvious ones, and that part of what needs to be done here is to ferret out where else this lived experience of information and property needs to be studied. Still, each of these (and lots I’m not thinking of) have real potential.

Unintended consequences are a bitch. Every once in a while, I find myself feeling sorry for the RIAA and their industry partners. Not only did they fail to anticipate the scope of online file-sharing, and refuse to look into it early for business opportunities, and then come down too hard on their own customers. But they went for, and continue to go for, DRM as a solution to their bleeding business model. (I don’t feel this way all that often.)

So, some bits of news from the DRM battlefield that I’ve been sitting on (cleverly digesting? or failing to get around to?), all of which point to not only the miserable failure of DRM, but the ways it has locked the music labels and retailers into a whole set of unexpected, additional obligations and liabilities.

* First, just to finally prove the point, The Guardian reported last month that removing DRM from iTunes downloads has had no discernable effect on music piracy. I’ve only got this secondhand (hey Guardian, where’s the link to the report that states this?) but I presume it means that the DRM-free tracks from EMI were not showing up any more quickly or in any greater numbers on p2p networks than other tracks from other labels. (Perhaps the EMI tracks, which are DRM-free only in the sense that they have no use restrictions, but are still in a closed AAC format that can carry metadata, had markers in it that could be tracked as music appeared on file-sharing networks — I don’t know.) There are a number of explanations for this, the primary being that all these tracks are also released on CD, which also has no copy-protection; also that many uploads come from inside the industry, before consumer-grade technical protections have been applied; also, as is pointed out here by a representative of Big Champagne, there may not be that much overlap between the population of users who buy from iTunes and the population who upload to p2p networks anyway. Still, it doesn’t speak well for the value of DRM. I have argued elsewhere that combating piracy is not the only or even the primary reason why the music labels like DRM; however, it is one aim, and the most public one, and the more it proves illusory, the worse off the music labels are. (Of course, this may also undercut the claim that DRM and other restrictions are actually driving people to p2p networks. If they were, the EMI tracks should be showing up less than the others, one might hypothesize; not having the data, I can’t speak to this.)

* Second, researchers at the University of Washington studied how music industry lawyers were tracking downloading via BitTorrent and sending out their DMCA “takedown” notices, and were able to spoof them into sending letters to users whose devices were not sharing copyright music, weren’t even connected to a p2p network — weren’t even computers. The report, called “Challenges and Directions for Monitoring P2P File Sharing Networks: or, Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice” raises questions about the legitimacy of this legal procedure, if it can so easily be exploited to implicate innocent users. The key, it seems, is that the RIAA is monitoring whether a user searches for a file, and not also checking if they followed up by downloading it. This is similar to a point that Steve Worona of Educause made at a recent talk, where he told of the RIAA admitting that universities who use the Audible Magic blocking software on their campus networks can still get DMCA notices, because students could still search for files, even though the block prevents them from downloading them. (And, it should be noted, merely searching for unauthorized copies of copyrighted music is not illegal.)

* Third, Microsoft announced, but later backpedaled when users went bonkers, that they were going to shut down their license servers. The quick and dirty is, if you buy music from MSN for your Zune (or from Apple for your iPod), that music is authorized to play on your particular computer only. Try to move it to another computer, or even reinstall your operating system after a crash, and you have to prove to MSN or Apple that its still you, by entering your password and reasserting your license to those tracks on a new device. (This is how Apple limits how many devices you can move your iTunes tunes to.) So Microsoft didn’t want to deal with this process anymore, and decided that as of August, users would simply be stuck with the device they’re using. They could never move their music again, because that authorization call to Microsoft would go unanswered. People flipped, and so Microsoft flipped. But it’s a little reminder of the business music sellers have gotten themselves into — overseeing authorization to users, to continue to use the music they’ve already purchased… forever.

* Finally, the cruel and ironic reality. Throughout the copyright wars, the persistent fear of the music industry was that their product, once something that reasonably carried a price tag, would evnetually seem free to the next generation of users, like water. They assumed that piracy would cause this change. Perhaps it has. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this may be their only viable business model in the future. This report from The Economist, after detailing the continuing decline of the music industry, notes the deal struck between Universal and Nokia, to create the “Comes With Music” plan. You buy the top-tier cell phone, it gives you a year of access to unlimited Universal downloads, which you even keep if you switch phones or cell provider; Universal takes a cut of the cost of the phone ($60, it is told). Or, yeesh, a “piracy tax” in your ISP bill, as apparently the RIAA has been begging Congress for recently. The Guardian article, noting the Nokia deal, predicts that Apple will look for a similar model to go with the iPod, and imagines a three-tiered future: some high-end music consumers pay a little for DRM-free downloads of superior sound quality; the bulk of us get our music “free” in the form of a flat fee bundled into our technology purchases, and the bottom tier will be free music with embedded ads, a la SpiralFrog.

By embracing what looked like a technological fix, and found themselves unwittingly beaten by a technology company who could play the game better, will the music industry find itself entirely beholden to, or swallowed up by, the technology industry? providers of mere data? When every digital technology “comes with music,” will music become the informational equivalent of cole slaw?

Mmm, cole slaw.

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It was a disconcerting experience to scan the AP headlines this weekend, and amid the terse reports of this political move or that bus accident, was this:

Everything seemingly is spinning out of control

The report is hinged on two polls, by ABC News and AP themselves, where Americans were asked some version of “is the country headed in the right direction?” and only 14% and 17% respectively agreed. But this dismal news of public despair was wrapped in a nearly poetic and deeply distressing tale of everything that’s going wrong in our world. Here’s just a taste:

Is everything spinning out of control? Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country’s sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.

The report goes on the chronicle the severity of recent natural disasters, exploding food prices and riots, recurrent power outages in major cities, the weak dollar, steroid scandals in baseball, even the TV writers’ strike. The one bit of good news,at least in my eyes, is the observation that such periods of frustration are historically always “followed by a change in the party controlling the White House.” The saga ends with

Why the vulnerability? After all, this is the 21st century, not a more primitive past when little in life was assured. Surely people know how to fix problems now.Maybe. And maybe this is what the 21st century will be about — a great unraveling of some things long taken for granted.

I wonder, among all the apocalyptic signs they note, none is so indicative that all bets are off than the fact that AP feels compelled to drop its terse, neutral reporting style for it.

(Read the full article yourself — just so AP doesn’t blow a gasket at my extensive quoting.)

Hmm. I’m so trained to be skeptical of techno-utopian talk, that I have often wondered whether I’ll be fundamentally unable to appreciate when a substantive and consequential technological change actually occurs. Luckily, I still also have a rich supply of techno-fetishism, where new gewgaw gadgets thrill me in a way that wants me desperately to forget that technologies don’t, in fact, change the world.

So, with the caveat that this might be me getting intellectually gooey about what could just be a snazzy new toy, I have to say I’m pretty bowled over by this. Machinist at Salon has a sneak preview of a new gaming headset coming from Emotiv, that reads EEG brainwaves as input for the game experience. Apparently this device is going to be on the consumer market this year, for $299. I highly recommend reading the post, and watching the following video, which is Emotiv’s product demo.

There’s been a series of research successes recently where scientists have been able to train chimps to control a video game with their brains — but these have involved implanting chips to read brain activity more directly than an outside sensor can. But Machinist, who got to play with the headset and the game that comes with it swears that it works, and is great fun.

Of course, the implications I could dream up feel intriguing at the start, but wither a bit with analysis. Here, the things you can “pick up with your mind” are virtual objects, digital boulders and trees in a gamespace. But as this technology progresses, it would be easy to imagine the input going to a mechanical device that actually manipulates the physical world. Of course, we already seem pretty capable at moving physical objects with the kinds of technologies that don’t need brain input, that only need a “joystick” — i.e. the bulldozer, the shovel, the simple lever. OK, but the manipulation of digital information with such a means is intriguing, beyond the video game context, if the sensor can distinguish between increasingly complex and subtle commands: not just “move” or “run” but “file this under documents” or “email this to Jeff”. Still, we can do this quite well with our fingers, even with voices.

I’m not an expert in HCI, but it seems that the bottleneck that input devices typically represent (the computer / machine only knows what we want in terms of what we input, and the input device — keyboard, joystick, mouse, Wii-mote — only lets certain information in) only matters when (a) more subtle information can’t get through, or (b) the input mechanism itself is unwieldy or disruptive to the activity. So until a brainwave sensor can get more from us than the input mechanisms we currently have, it’s a novelty, except for those moments or users for which we can’t perform other kinds of input activities — which is why I imagine this innovation will very interesting to the disabled community.

So I can’t quite explain why this strikes me as important, beyond its novelty and its specific applications for entertainment and for the disabled. But I have often wondered what innovation will be the next means around which social and cultural relationships change, which thing our kids will do that really will finally just seem foreign to us. Maybe this is the remnants of my techno-fetishism hiding behind my intellectual commitment to question determinist fantasies.

Just a reminder, as the “DRM is dead” refrain echoes, that this isue is by no means gone. Netflix has been offering streaming movies to the PC for some time now, and just recently made news by offering a set-top box for watching your Netflix streams directly on a TV. But they still don’t have streaming for Mac, or for Firefox on Windows. Guess why:

A key issue for delivering movies online is that the studios require use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect titles. And that’s our holdup for the Mac – there’s not yet a studio-sanctioned, publicly-available Mac DRM solution (Apple doesn’t license theirs). I can promise you that, when an approved solution becomes available for the Mac, we’ll be there. I’ll also say that Silverlight 1.1 looks like a promising candidate – but that its DRM isn’t likely to be fully available until 2008.

That’s from Steve, a project manager for Netflix’s “instant watching” streaming project, on their community blog. In this matter-of-fact post you can see both the control impulse of DRM, the way it absolutely interferes with technical innovation, and the way it gets played in the intra-industry competition around platforms.

So… Silverlight. Here’s the promo for the new “cross-browser, cross-platform, cross-device plug-in” for Microsoft. I love corporate-speak. Of course, you have to download the plug-in to see the promo for it. What it will show you is that Microsoft still loves Powerpoint, and maybe Minority Report. But it aspires to be a one-stop vehicle for high-def online video, streaming, interactive presentations, etc etc. While its free, it looks like Microsoft is aiming to offer streaming video in a “cloud computing” form, where small scale providers can let Microsoft host and stream their videos, for a fee or paired with advertising. Oh, and

Silverlight will support digital rights management (DRM) built on the recently announced Microsoft PlayReady content access technology on Windows-based computers and Macintosh computers.

So… PlayReady, Microsoft’s new DRM system. As I argued in Wired Shut, Microsoft makes little pretense about the fact that the “content protection” at work here is not protection from piracy, but protection of a commercial transaction:

Microsoft PlayReady technology provides the premier platform for applying business models to the distribution and use of digital content.

Microsoft PlayReady supports a wide range of business models for digital content providers, including:

• Subscription: Provide access to an entire catalog of content in exchange for a recurring fee.
• Purchase: Offer content for purchase and download.
• Pay Per View: Provide pay-per-view choices for all content types.
• Rental: Enable rental scenarios with time-based licenses.
• Gifting: Allows one person to pay another person’s fees for a service or its content.

Microsoft PlayReady supports many different options for distributing content:

• Basic and progressive downloads: Content can play while downloading.
• Streaming: Content can be streamed to devices.
• Sideloading: Sync content from a PC to a mobile device supporting Microsoft PlayReady.
• Direct License Acquistion Over-The-Air: Content and license can be provided direct to a mobile handset over wireless networks.
• Super-distribution: Content sent over user-to-user distribution channels such as e-mail, messaging service (MMS), ad hoc WiFi networks, Bluetooth, and so forth can be monetized by providers.

Oh, and just as a dead giveaway for the way Microsoft think copyright works — and so that I can instantly violate their legal demands with my own dead giveaway — the PlayReady White Paper [PDF], available online, includes this statement in its Legal Notice:

Without limiting the rights under copyright, no part of this document may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), or for any purpose, without the express written permission of Microsoft Corporation.

(Oops.)

I think this is exactly the kind of slipperiness between businesses and businesses models that is keeping up the demand for DRM, even when it seems increasingly unwieldy, is arguably too expensive for its own good, and disliked by users. Netflix wants to serve up streaming movies, partner with Windows (both because they want to first reach the bulk of users and because Microsoft wants to play chaperone to protected media content), can’t as easily serve Apple users because Apple has chosen to build its business model on linking its content delivery and its platform, and then finds itself turning to a plug-in format, developed by Microsoft, that has the heft to reach Mac and PC alike, but with its requisite host of DRM limits built in, to smooth a set of commercial transactions that all the businesses involved appreciate. Q.E.DRM.

Update: Thanks to Kim Christen for pointing me to this discussion and this article of the news reports about uncontacted trbes. It is fascinating to know that I am less media savvy when it comes to topics I’m less familiar with — I can spot techno-hype, but I don’t have an eye for anthro-hype. Anyway, read the post, it tells a fascinating and more subtle story about how tribes like this one not only have had sporadic contact with the ‘Westernized’ peoples that live near them, but that a number of organizations and governments work very hard to buffer these tribes from incursions by loggers, governments, and gawkers.

So what was it that was so fascinating to me about this story? I imagine, as someone who studies technology and digital culture, there is always this lingering question of what it would be like to have a radically “other” existence, where the trappings of our technological, capitalistic, globalized society simply did not exist. This is one version of the classic fascination (fetishization) of the other, where we project all our hopes and fears and unease about our own world on those we we see as radically different. But there is something tantalizing about imagining a culture that has siply navigated a very different existence; even as we can question whether this technological advance or this cultural phenomenon is socially valuable, its extremely difficult to question it all. So the “lost tribe” moment is a seductive one. And, as Kim pointed out, the real story is its own kind of insight into our global society too: the messy efforts to both interact with those we share the world with and to preserve something unique about our own collective, the aggressive pressure of capital and nation-building that constantly press into the far corners of the world, the tendency to turn difference into the emblem of difference.

This is not related to my work or my broader interest, I just find it utterly astounding.

(CNN) — Researchers have produced aerial photos of jungle dwellers who they say are among the few remaining peoples on Earth who have had no contact with the outside world.

Indians are photographed during an overflight in May 2008, as they react to the overflight at their camp. Taken from a small airplane, the photos show men outside thatched communal huts, necks craned upward, pointing bows toward the air in a remote corner of the Amazonian rainforest.The National Indian Foundation, a government agency in Brazil, published the photos Thursday on its Web site. It tracks “uncontacted tribes” — indigenous groups that are thought to have had no contact with outsiders — and seeks to protect them from encroachment.

More than 100 uncontacted tribes remain worldwide, and about half live in the remote reaches of the Amazonian rainforest in Peru or Brazil, near the recently photographed tribe, according to Survival International, a nonprofit group that advocates for the rights of indigenous people.

This notice just came through on the Chronicle for Higher Education’s “Wired Campus” mailing:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Starts ‘Science of the Web’ Program

What is the future of the Web? Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute plans to explore this issue when it launches a new academic program next month focused on the emerging academic discipline of “science of the Web.” The field examines the architectural underpinnings of the Web, its social aspects, and who controls the flow of information, among other issues. The university has titled its program: The Tetherless World Constellation. The program will be publicized June 11 at Rensselaer Polytechnic where a panel of experts from academe and industry, including Timothy J. Berners-Lee–who is credited with having invented the Web–will discuss its future. Web users across the world will submit questions for discussion.–Andrea L. Foster

I’ve recently been in conversation with some of my colleagues at Cornell, from both Communication and Information Science, about how to reimagine and rearticulate (dare I say, re-brand) the HCI program here, based on the presence now of a enough people, and a range of people, to really say its something we do. It strikes me that this might be one way to get at some of what HCI is about, while getting away from some of the limits built into its very name and its particular history.

On the other hand, I saw a talk at ICA last week where a very well known scholar in media studies briefed the audience on the emerging discipline they were trying to create, called “cultural science,” which (from an albeit brief and rapid presentation) looked like a push to soak the study of culture in things like evolutionary economics and game theory. The endpoint of the talk was to focus on the “entrepreneurial consumer” — which I think is the most shocklingly wrong direction that the study of culture, media, and society could possibly take.

A regular concern in my class this past spring was whether the kind of worries about media concentration in broadcasting had any parallel in the online world. While its easy to point to Google / Microsoft / Yahoo as an apparent oligopoly, and Microsoft’s attempts over the last few months to benevolently devour Yahoo seemed confirmation, its not exactly clear that the way that media concentration among broadcasters seemed to dovetail so powerfully with commercial imperatives carried over to these players. yes, Google is, at least financially, primarily an advertising company, their business model is to serve every interest, not narrow to a select few that serve everyone, as with NBC.

But here’s a key glimpse of why these concerns do matter in the new media industries, care of Farhad Manjoo at Salon. and I don’t care about this because its “anti-academic”, as I never used their service myself, but in terms of the driving corporate logic:

Microsoft has announced that it is shutting down Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, two search engines that aimed to index scholarly works that are often difficult to find online. The company is also ceasing its ambitious effort to digitize library books, a project that it had long promoted as an alternative to Google’s own such efforts.

The company says it “recognizes” that closing these services will “come as disappointing news” to publishers and Web searchers. And yet Microsoft says it must shut them down anyway, because letting people search through books and academic journals no longer fits into the company’s business strategy.

What’s that new strategy? Microsoft wants to help people who have “high commercial intent.”

I am not making that up. Satya Nadella, the company’s vice president for search, actually uses those words. Microsoft would simply prefer to build search engine just for people looking to buy stuff.

Sigh.

In the next month or so, I’m going to be attempting to back up a bit in my thinking, to take in the big picture of the issues I’m invested in examining in my scholarship. I’m calling it the Big Think 08. We’ll see if the practical realities of life allow it. But, as I go, I’d like to throw to the blog moments and aspects, in an attempt to partially develop this snapshot.

One issue that has always troubled me is the persistent myth of the liberal media. Many have attempted to address this, so its not exactly a new area of study. But its persistence in the face of this examination is quite amazing, and speaks of something else entirely, the way the press gets played within the contemporary U.S. political context. Glenn Greenwald at Salon has a sharp critique of it today, spurred by a comment made by Scott McLellan, former White House Press Secretary for Bush, in his new autobiography:

“the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.”


Greenwald follows this with a litany of evidence of this deference, from the failings of the New York Times in allowing Judy miller’s reporting to stand, or the press adoration of McCain, or their use of military analysts in their Iraq war coverage that were made available by the DoD. He finishes with:

Press secretaries of all types instinctively view the media as adversaries and typically feel besieged by what they perceive to be the media’s unfair hostility. So if even Scott McClellan recognizes the mythical nature of the “liberal media” cliche and sees political journalists as meek little handmaidens for government propaganda, how much longer can this myth be maintained?

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