“Grokster” Decision 100% Finished 16.2kb/s 123:58:13

June 27th, 2005 by

Readers of this blog are advised to take an hour or three this week to browse the inevitable deluge of analysis to follow today’s Grokster decision. Corante’s Copyfight is a great place to start and SCOTUSblog is required reading. Further jump-off points include: EFF DeepLinks, Downhill Battle, Notes on the RIAA/MPAA Press Conference, and A Copyfighter’s Musings.

Tonight is my last in Boston until July 19. I will likely break the quiet during my visit to the Copyfight conference in Barcelona but expect little until then as I melt away on the shores of the Mediterranean. (If any readers in Florencia, Roma, or Barcelona would like to meet up, feel free to write me a note: kevinpublic AT crashingjets DOT nu.)

Nike, Minor Threat, and the fluid visual landscape

June 25th, 2005 by

Nike recently caused ripples through underground music communities with the images being used to promote it’s Major Threat skateboarding tour. Compare the Major Threat advertisement to the cover art for Minor Threat’s seminal discography.

In terms of IP discourse, the Minor Threat imagery is as revered and iconic to punk rockers as is Mickey Mouse to supporters of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. For a subculture with a long history of collage and parody, having the tactic work against them has been startling. “fisrt [sic] you rip off children in sweat shops, now you are ripping off the hard core scene!” reads one comment on the Skateboarding.com message boards.

“Nike never contacted Dischord to obtain permission to use this imagery, nor was any permission granted. Simply put, Nike stole it and we’re not happy about it. We are not yet sure what options, if any, we have to stop Nike from using our images to sell their shoes,” — Dischord Records.

Although many critics have advocated in favor of a lawsuit between Dischord and Nike, it is uncertain whether the indie record label could financially sustain a legal dispute with the multinational lifestyle purveyor.

As word of Nike’s alleged trespass spreads across the web, the sinews of semiotic democracy respond in kind. See this collection of parody album cover advertisements for an example of technology enabling increasingly sophisticated expressions of discontent.

Clerks arrested for selling hiphop mixtapes in NYC?

June 11th, 2005 by

Several clerks spent the night in prison after allegedly selling a bootleg mixtape to an undercover officer last week. According to Pitchfork:

“After the sale, police produced a search warrant, fingered the arrestees, shut down the store for roughly five hours, and confiscated, according to the RIAA, “500 CD-Rs, 27 Music DVDs, Nine DVD burners, and a scanner,” among other items, which include the computer containing the store’s database and recent sales records.” — NYC Record Store Mondo Kim’s Raided by RIAA, Pitchfork, 10 June 2005

To people outside of hip-hop, bootlegging of this sort seems a cut-and-dry case of piracy. Upon further examination, however, the situation reveals itself far cloudier. Once purely regional, the underground mixtape trade is responsible for launching careers, testing potential new singles, and carrying news throughout the decentralized rap network. Recognized sports figures and famous radio DJs are often found hosting mixes while artists and producers leak out exclusive mixtape-only remixes to start street-level buzz.

50 Cent and G-Unit, the biggest artists in hip-hop today, got their start on the mixtape circuit. Rising stars (and blog favorites) the Diplomats and Swishahouse have both established themselves based on relentless mixtape appearances. Groups such as these often move more than 10,000 copies of a mix produced, manufactured, and distributed completely independently of existing industry structures. With this type of success, artists are effectively creating a new hip-hop middle class.

The increasingly frequent crackdowns on the mixtape economy evidence a hypocrisy permeating the entertainment industry’s assault on democratized media production. While collecting revenue from hip-hop superstars, major record labels are working to choke out the very farm-league systems that wean them.

Furthermore, the mixtape trade is one of the last areas of contemporary music to retain the regional nature that once characterized pop music across the U.S. Houston’s mixtapes are slow and hazy. Miami is nasty and puerile. New York backpackers value wordplay and sample-based production while the Puerto Rican population churns out reggaeton remixes of every song on Hot97.7.

In the struggle for a liberated culture of critical creativity, the hip-hop mixtape economy deserves to be supported and lauded as an example of bottom-up media democracy in action.

Update: Be sure to visit DJ Ripley’s blog for valuable further discussion.

Doubled copyright term for UK pop?

June 7th, 2005 by

Rather than reduce the term of copyright and create incentives for the creation of a more democratic media ecosystem, UK minister for creative industries James
Purnell has voiced support for doubling the duration of copyright protection on pop music to 100 years

“Bands like Coldplay will make enough money for their company to help them discover around 50 or 100 bands,” says Purnell.

Even with a ringtone topping the UK charts, extending the term of copyright protection is not the right path to a greater diversity of voices pop music. It will instead achieve the opposite effect by encouraging the perpetuation of a non-competitive music industry presently failing to properly compensate artists or satisfy consumers.

Summer of Code

June 1st, 2005 by

Google is dedicating a million dollars to spark a Summer of Code. Student developers may apply to receive 5000$, five hundred of which will be given to a mentoring organization of their choice. If this is anything like DC’s Revolution Summer in 1985, we are in for some seriously exciting new projects!

What will 2014 read like?

May 24th, 2005 by

Breaking my blog-fast for a moment to point you to a flash video from the future describing the media landscape of 2014. As the New York Times is reduced to a pamphlet for the “elite and elderly”, a Google/Blogger/Amazon/TiVo collaborative app called EPIC serves customized content to each user based on a complex blend of personal information. Special algorithms scrape single sentences from blog and news articles to create a limitless torrent described as “narrow”, “shallow”, and “trivial.” In other words, asserts the narrator, “it’s what we wanted.”

A colleague of mine recently described the Internet, and the knowledge of its attendant young generation, as a ocean two inches deep. Does the pursuit of semiotic democracy and participatory culture require deeper scrutiny? Does a diversity of voices lead to a lack of expertise and the devaluation of all information?

I maintain that as access barriers weaken, public education must strengthen in proportion. To responsibly wield the democratizing software tools being created, a population must have the intangible tools of critical thinking and media literacy firmly in place. Do our cultural values presently reflect this need?

Holiday from the Blogosphere

May 19th, 2005 by

Several projects concluding concurrently are forcing this blog into hiatus until June. In the meantime, be sure to read Derek Slater’s criticism of Fort Culture. Ultimately, we seek the same result: an increased diversity of (compensated) voices. When copyfighters support the filesharing of copyright-protected content through either a tacit wink-and-nod or explicit encouragement, do we dilute the strength of our arguments against a limited-liberty future?

Fort Culture raises the flag

May 3rd, 2005 by

Today, Fort Culture goes public. I hope that a resource like this will elevate the general online discourse around issues of digital rights. To achieve the depth and accuracy we want, we need as much feedback as possible. When you have a few moments free, browse some of the topics, find your area of expertise and leave some comments!

If Fort Culture piques your interest, be sure to investigate the other exciting projects Downhill Battle has been engaged with for the last couple of years.

(PS: For the technically-minded folks wondering why we didn’t base the site off of wiki software, we found that the deployment of a flexible WordPress install fit better with the user experience we hope to encourage. For example, as we delve further into link-streams, integrating with del.icio.us/de.lirio.us will be much easier.)

Jimbo Wales on Wikipedia and the Digital Divide

April 27th, 2005 by

Inspired by John Palfrey‘s disclaimer and subtle encouragement, I skipped the 2nd half of class last night to hear Jimbo Wales chat about “the digital divide.” An incoming Berkman fellow, Wales is best known as the founder of the mighty Wikipedia.

I snuck into the lecture hall about ten minutes late to find that Wales already had Q&A in full swing. Projected onto a screen behind the podium were two windows full of periodically scrolling text. We learned later that the left-hand window referred to activity on the German language Wikipedia while the (much more active) right-hand window represented activity on the English-language edition. Ambience was produced from four speakers playing bird calls triggered by the continuous creation, revision, reversion, and discussion of Wikipedia articles online. This multimedia display provided a fitting backdrop for the discussion underway on the development of non-English editions of Wikipedia.

Wales spoke first to the barriers slowing participation in several different cultures. One of the most interesting speedbumps is found in the design of PC interface devices. Hindi speakers, for example, rarely type in their spoken language. Their PC’s are typically equipped with a keyboard designed for English. This makes typing in Hindi a laborious process frustrating enough to seriously inhibit their participation.

Another barrier is attracting early adopters, the people who will write “seeding” articles to get the ball rolling. These articles represent the pre-natal stage of a new wiki. Often, the seeding process involves dumping in large quantities of rough data to be shaped later when the pool of volunteers has grown. There is an on-going effort by participants in the wiki about wikipedia about developing a list of articles all languages should include..

The dominance of English on the Web prejudices English-language speakers who can cut-and-paste wholesale from an enormous number of resources. For new languages, creating this stem-cell content can be difficult, especially if authors have to turn to traditional offline sources. There have been several approaches to dealing with this problem, some involving hiring or compensating a corps of seeding authors.

The Bambara Wikipedia provides an excellent example. Organizers pay authors approximately $0.20(US) per article with a maximum of 200 articles. With $4.00(US) being roughly equivalent to 10% of a respectable monthly salary, authors are eager to participate. Wales indicated some reservations about this startup method, however, citing confidence in the volunteerism and enthusiasm present in the community of “committed amateurs” who have made Wikipedia such a success in French, German, and Japanese (not to mention English!) While Wales was quick to dismiss the idea of using software interpreters to mass-translate any documents he suggested that organizers of a new bilingual Wiki start by simply translating articles directly from an
existing Wikipedia.

At this point, one audience member questioned the relevance many of the English-language articles might have for the residents of developing nations. Another audience member observed that Wikipedia works on shared interests. Wikis grow, he stated, because of connections made between contributors who write about their personal interests and visitors who find the information they need in these articles. Hopefully, as a new Wiki gains local users, the amount of content relevant to readers of a particular language will proliferate naturally.

Discussion turned here to serving the needs of the non-literate. Wales cited a peculiar penetration of mobile phones in some developing nations. There is a possibility that Wikipedia content could be made available over the telephone via text-to-speech synthesis. Audience members speculated on the possibility for non-literate users to edit content over the phone, either through sophisticated voice-recognition or a transcription service, a la Livejournal’s Post by Phone service.

Taking the discussion to the off-line, tangible realm, Wales expressed encouragement for any entrepreneurs wishing to provide printed editions of Wikipedia content. He imagined the cost savings for a school opting for printed Wikipedia over a shelf of Britannica. Wikipedia is committed to enabling the sale and distribution of Wikipedia content offline as CD-ROMs or print material. Wales cited Brewster Kahle’s bookmobile as inspiration.

While Wikipedia passed up tremendous sums by foregoing advertising, the financial future looks bright. As Wikipedia leaves its adolescence and receives 501.3c non-profit status, donations are more reliable than ever. Wales told of a three-week, $75000(US) fundraising drive cut short after $95000(US) was collected in only two! Yahoo recently donated a data center to create homebase for Asian wiki initiatives. The next step for Wikipedia is NGO-status which, according to Wales, requires a more traditionally bureaucratic infrastructure in order that it may “interface” better with other large-scale international organizations.

“Perversely, pathologically optimistic,” (and still afraid of kicking out the Klingons) Jimbo Wales is demonstrating the enabling, democratic promises of the Web with every ambitious new project.

Copynight Cambridge

April 26th, 2005 by

Today is World Intellectual Property Day! People interested (and obsessed) with pushing for greater IP equity will be meeting to celebrate Copynight in several cities around the country. I’ll be in class tonight but Boston folks are gathering on Cambridge Common.