02.04.12

The Copyright Bruhaha

Posted in About Technology, Political Opinion at 12:37 am by Administrator

Is making a copy of a digital movie theft? How do content creators get paid for their work in the digital era? These questions have polarized people into roughly two groups; The status-quo group is of the opinion that people who don’t pay for digital content are “thieves”, The pro-free information group is of the opinion that “information wants to be free”. Occasionally, in the midst of the law suits, raids and fulminating polemics there will be the voice of reason, but not often.

Let us look dispassionately at the issues. I see the issue this way:
1. Artists need to be compensated for their efforts.
2. Consumers want content in a cheap convenient way.
I don’t think it is any more complex than that. Notice, I did NOT say “Middlemen need to make large profits off of creative content”.

The Middle Man

The real problem is the middle man. Before the digital era, the music and movie industry needed an infrastructure to create and distribute songs and movies. Let’s take the pre-digital production of a music album. A record label would identify a talented band, arrange for the recording of an album in an expensive studio, produce the album, market the album and arrange for the band to get advances on earnings. The band in turn would often sign away the rights to some or all of their music in consideration of the benefits of being sponsored through the then-expensive process of getting their music out to the public. Today, it is a different landscape. Let’s take the post-digital production of a music album. First of all, an album is no longer the quantum of consumption. Now consumers can and do buy one song that they like. The band can product their own music with low-cost off the shelf computers and software. The band can design their own art, put the music on a public web site for download and even process their own payments from customers. Most importantly, once the music is digital it can easily be passed from person to person at no charge. To be sure, the issue of marketing their music and making their product visible to the public is still difficult. But it is clear that the middle man no longer has the central role in the selection and production of music.

The now-obsolete middle man still has a formidable, yet dwindling, infrastructure and fortune to expend on trying to stop this change in entertainment consumption. It is something akin to the buggy whip industry using it’s resources to force each new automobile owner to buy a buggy whip. The auto owner doesn’t need a buggy whip! Eventually, inevitably, the buggy whip industry will die. It won’t matter how many congressmen they pay off, or how many law suits they bring against “criminal” automobile users. Buggy whips are no longer needed.

This Has Happened Before

What’s even more interesting is that this has happened before in the entertainment industry. Not once but several times! Before any recording technology existed a singer would sing to a live audience and get paid for that performance. Music was copyrighted and published on paper so people could play the music in their homes on a piano. Then the record player was invented. Some people certainly must have believed that this was the end of live music. In fact, quite the opposite happened. The dissemination of music allowed more people than ever to enjoy a performance. The sale of records brought even more revenue to the industry. The renown of a singer was enhanced so live performances were more lucrative. But what should not be overlooked is that the recording technology added value to singing. It made music portable, reproducible and available in locations previously impossible. This is important. The new technology brought new benefits. The new technology didn’t harm the music industry, indeed it made it more lucrative and ubiquitous than ever!

Following with our music example, next came radio. There was a concerted effort to prevent music from being played on the radio “for free”. Once again, the new technology had a positive effect bringing more music to more people in more places. The money poured in.

More recently, it became possible to tape music. Again, the industry was up in arms, warning that this technology would allow people to “steal” music. And again, the technology had the opposite effect. More people heard more music in more places arranged as they wanted to hear it and more money poured in. I won’t go through the tedious exercise of repeating how this process occurred when CD-roms, mp3s, iPods and now the Internet came along. Each of these new technologies does the same thing. It brings more music to more people in more places in the way the consumer wants to experience it AND more money will pour in. However, the money will not pour in to the obsolete middle men unless they embrace the new technology. The buggy whip industry is dead.

Substitute ‘movie’ for music, ‘television’ for radio, ‘VHS tape’ for cassette tape and one sees what happened in visual entertainment.

Now E-Books Join the Fray

Now we are seeing the same thing with books. I love books! I like to hold them and collect them and read them. But, e-books offer enhancements that are impossible with bound books. For example, I can immediately get the definition of a word I don’t understand. I can instantly translate a foreign language passage or I can link to Wikipedia and get details about an historical character. I can carry hundreds of books with me on vacation. I can loan a book to all my friends instantly. Yes, I just wrote that! Is it stealing to take advantage of the flexibility of the new technology? To my mind it is not stealing just as listening to a song on the radio is not stealing.

Digital Benefits

Here are more benefits of e-books (and e-music and e-movies). If I like a song (or book or movie) I can easily find similar works and procure them instantly. I can share my opinions about a song (or book etc.) with my friends. And, this is interesting, I can share my opinions about a song (or movies) with strangers. As a consumer I can find out what other people think about a work. I can find out what other works the artist produced and I can download them. I can even sample a bit of those works to try and determine if I find them entertaining.

For a producer, the barriers to creation of new art have been significantly lowered. Will this mean that more crummy art will be produced? Certainly. Tell me you haven’t watched a crummy commercially produced movie! Now, in the digital realm, I can read reviews, sample and otherwise vet the quality of an entertainment product without going to the effort of going to a movie theatre and paying to see the movie. The nature of digital media make sorting through the content very easy.

Certainly, all of these systems for determining the quality of music, book and movies have been available for years. After all we have had critics for as long as the human race has existed. What we haven’t had is the brutal efficiency of the digital realm. I no longer have to depend on a handful of critics in the press. I can be my own critic and I can find friends and strangers who are critics I trust. I can also sample a product in the comfort of my home, as I sit in my PJs.

In short, digital products offer extensive new benefits. Sound familiar? So did every other new technological innovation throughout history. Each time a new technology appeared, a different revenue model had to be worked out. Which brings me to the next item; How does the artist get paid for his or her creation?

How Does The Artist Get Paid?

How then does the artist get paid for his or her creation? Again, we need to cleave off the obsolete middle-man. Apple Computer came up with a viable system for music, which they are expanding into video and books. By using iTunes, and allowing customers to procure music instantly at an impulse-buy cost, Apple has created a vast working market place. The money is pouring in, just like it did with each new innovation: vinyl records, radio, television, VHS tapes, CD-roms, DVDs, MP3s, iPods, iPads, laptops and now The Internet.

As a customer I no longer need to drive to the record store, the book store, the library, or the movie theatre, unless I really want to. As a customer I no longer am paying for expensive distribution and production, unless I really want to. As a customer I select that which is pleasing to me and I no longer have to pay for content that is bundled on an album, unless I want to. Why then, as a customer, shouldn’t I benefit from the lower cost associated with putting digital content on the internet where I can get it? I no longer have to pay for the paper, the book binding, the bookstore, the trucking of books, the overhead of unsold remainders and so on, unless I want to.

The artist can sell me product directly now. Or select a low cost new middle-man, such as iTunes. The irony is that more money than ever is to be made. The only loser is the middle-man who is unwilling to provide the consumer with the new benefits from the new technology. The only loser is the middle-man who insists that things shouldn’t change. Things will change.

Piracy

The existing dying infrastructure in entertainment is going under kicking and screaming. Their ill-advised prohibition of digital music worked just as well as the prohibition on beer. It forced law abiding consumers underground and pushed the new profits directly into the hands of criminals who provided the obvious. Pirated music is no bargain, really. What the customer really wants is a high-quality well-organized digital product at a fair price. If it is easy and priced as an impulse-buy, then most people will take the path of least resistance and pay. And, here is the interesting part; when the digital consumer is better able to evaluate more music, and find music similar to his or her tastes that they might normally never encounter, more music will be sold.

There will be a limited amount of piracy when music is well organized and all the benefits of the digital format are available at the fair price. When this happens the volume of music sold and the increased satisfaction of the customer, will more than replace any losses associated with the new technology. Substitute the word ‘book’ or ‘movie’ for music and the same thing is true.

Summary

It makes no sense to make criminals out of your customers! The way out of this mess is for music, movies and books to be made available for a reasonable impulse-buy price. Indeed this seems to be happening with outlets like iTunes and Amazon.com. The distribution mechanisms need to provide every benefit of the digital realm, such as crowd-sourced criticism, instant availability, product sampling, the ability to locate similar pleasing products and, it has to be said, no Digital Rights Management. The existing industry needs to resist the temptation to sue their customers for simply obtaining a desirable product the industry is unwilling to provide. And the existing industry needs to understand that this new technology is making the old distribution and revenue models obsolete. A new way of selling entertainment to the public is happening and the smart content owner will take advantage of the enhanced revenue the digital technology can provide.

Take a lesson from history and see how each new generation of technology was actually a positive development for the entertainment industry. Digital media is a positive development for music, books and movies.

01.16.11

About Wikileaks

Posted in Political Opinion at 7:16 pm by Administrator

by Frederick Gault
© 2011

There are three issues:
1.The memos being removed from US Govt. Custody.
2.The publishing of memos US Govt. people expected to be confidential
3.The criminal complaint against the director of Wikileaks

I’ll take these issues one at a time:

The US Government’s loss of information

The US Government had laughable security in allowing an individual to walk off with a thumb drive full of information that has been characterized as “putting lives in danger”. In this case, it is incumbent upon the government to adequately safeguard such information.

A friend of mine in the military, a man I know and trust, wrote to me to say that the soldier who provided the material to Wikileaks violated orders, and his oath. This is a grey area. Orders are to be followed in the military and it is a crime to disobey an order, EXCEPT, if the order is unlawful. It would be, for example, illegal to follow a direct order to murder a non-combatant. It is equivocal that a legal order was disobeyed. However, this is an old debate, not unique to Wikileaks. One need only to look at The Pentagon Papers to see similarities. I believe that the soldier in question should be tried according the code of military conduct. It seems pointlessly vindictive that he has been held in solitary confinement.

In fact, much of the information in question is declassified, simply confidential and of the items that are marked Secret, many of them seem hardly worth the classification. However, even if one Secret memo was released that resulted in the death of an individual this would be enough to support the position that a crime was committed.

The reality is that much of this information was simply marked Confidential without much thought and some of the information is embarrassing to America, or it allies.

The Publishing of Memos US government people expected to be Secret or Confidential

Again, this is an area with precedent. The Pentagon Papers, once released, were published by The New York Times. In other words, the process of Journalism is divorced from the “theft” of the information. Once it was clear that the information was valid, newsworthy and not a threat to the United States of America or any of its actors, then it was fair game for being published.

In fact, Wikileaks has released the memos slowly so that news sources have a chance to redact (i.e. remove) anything that may prove a threat to national security or human life. There have been some redactions in the material Wikileaks released.

In addition, Wikileaks should be held to exactly the same standards as The New York Times or any other publication that publishes any of these memos. If Wikileaks is guilty of treason, then so is every other publication who mentions anything from the memos! In other words, what would have happened to the New York Times had it been presented with the memos – instead of Wikileaks – and published them?

The criminal complaint against Julian Assange

Last we must address the fact that the director of Wikileaks is accused of a crime unrelated to the leaked memos. This is a separate matter that needs to be handled exactly as it would be if any other individual was accused of this crime. I have no personal information that Julian Assange is being framed of a crime because of the release of the memos. However, it seems unusual that an individual accused of “sex by surprise” in Sweden would be placed in solitary confinement in the UK while awaiting judgement on an extradition request. I have my suspicions that the crime accusation is being used as a tool to try and harass or even gain custody of Julian Assange to punish him.

In any event, the alleged crime has nothing to do with the publishing of leaked information. Julian Assange should have his day in court, face his accusers, mount a defense and do what any of us is allowed to do when accused.

What we can learn

When anyone in the US Government professes that there should be openness, we should be suspicious. As soon as Wikileaks began to publish information that provided just such openness (much of it tedious, mundane or of doubtful interest) it resulted in cries of treason. In addition there were calls for the director of Wikileaks to be executed in an extra-judicial action! Despite the fact that the information is reviewed and redacted to prevent threats to National Security or human life – as journalists have done throughout the history of the United States of America – there are still unsubstantiated accounts that lives are in danger and that diplomacy itself is emperiled.

We also learn that much of what the US Government thinks is Confidential and Secret are in fact not always worthy of the label. Embarrassing maybe, Secret, not necessarily. We see the US Government using the old saw of “National Security” to simply hide blunders and misdeeds from view.

We learn also that openness is good for Democracy! The recent uprising in Tunisia was in part fueled by the Wikileaks publication that showed that even the US Government, despite being an ally, thought the leader of their nation was corrupt and tyrannical.

Summary

Who do we want in charge of information we consume? The government or the press?

02.08.09

Obstructionist Republicans

Posted in Political Opinion at 7:20 pm by Administrator

Time for a rant:

Republicans! They lost the election. I think maybe it is time for President Obama to figure this out. He should look around and notice that he now resides in a large white house in Washington D.C. This important clue might have the effect of bringing to his attention that he is now in a unique position to affect policy. In fact, since he has gained his new position by a good margin of the popular vote, and was blessed with a complete house cleaning of congress, it seems that he should realize that he is in charge.

Typical Republican

Typical Republican

The only Republicans to survive are the hard-core foaming at the mouth neanderthals who think that progress is giving public money to rich people, throwing the middle class under the bus and suckling at the teat of public largess with the most generous benefits known in America (i.e. being a congress person with all the limos, free postage, medical care and kickbacks that entails).

Republican Fiscal Policy

Republican Fiscal Policy

I say, screw them! Obama made his attempt at “reaching across the isle”. He got kicked in the balls for this quite publically. Not one vote with an “R” after it came his way in the House. After cocktails at the White House, an invitation to watch the SuperBowl and meeting with the other side of the isle – Obama was rewarded with public complaints about how Republicans were “not part of the process”.

Republican Party Seal

Republican Party Seal

I got your process right here! These clowns spent the last 8 years of “W”’s reign running America’s economy into the ditch by pissing away Billions in Iraq, de-regulating the hell out of the Banking System, and running the public debt up to somewhere over 8 Trillion dollars. I’m just old fashioned enough to think that is a lot of (my) money. How are we going to pay that back? Why, with more tax cuts for the rich, of course.

deficits

deficits

If you count politics from Ronald Regan to the present we’ve had 28 years of this, minus the moderate Clinton administration who managed to run a surplus even while dancing to the tune of the Republican controlled congress.

National Debt Chart

National Debt Chart

What don’t we understand? Republicans have enjoyed control of the Court System, Congress and the Executive Branch of government for most of 20 of the last 28 years. Their economic philosophy has been tested and shown to be the utter bullshit that it is. Repeat; Supply Side economics, or Trickle Down economics or whatever you want to call it, is crap. There is no substitute for a level playing field in American Business, and providing good infrastructure for society to thrive. This means not only good roads and bridges, but education to train the future workers and entrepreneurs.

Where Republicans have invested our money

Where Republicans have invested our money

So, President Obama, I beg you, kick these Republicans and their dead ideals to the curb. Lets take advantage of your Honeymoon period to fix some of the major stuff the Republicans broke, like infrastructure, health care, expensive foreign wars, the war on the middle class, the war on the environment, global warming, the lack of regulations in just about everything . . . and so on. Please?

Removed Republican

Removed Republican