Thursday, June 30, 2005

British Library acknowledges digitization

Lynne Bryndley, Chief Executive at the British Library, expresses an embracing approach to digitization in regards to the Library's three-year strategy, unveiled 29/6 2005:
"Most people are aware that a national switch to digital broadcasting is expected by the end of this decade. Less well known is the fact that a similar trend is underway in the world of publishing: a study by EPS , commissioned by the Library, projects that, by the year 2020, 40% of UK research monographs will be available in electronic format only, while a further 50% will be produced in both print and digital. A mere 10% of new titles will be available in print alone by 2020."
[Quote from the press release. See also Redefining the Library: the British Library's strategy 2005-2008 as pdf.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Grokster case — possible outcomes... [updated version]

The New York Times writes:
The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously today [27/6 2005] that Internet file-sharing services like Grokster and StreamCast Networks could be held responsible if they encouraged users to trade songs, movies and television shows online without paying for them.
The verdict is that the case thus can go back to lower court for proper trial. The justices' main argument is that there was enough evidence that the prosecuted Web services were seeking to profit from their customers' use of the illegally shared files spread through these networks.
In other words, a field day for Big Business — the established American movie- and music industry — which has argued persistently not only that online sharing of content severely harms their profits (an argument that is intrinsically hard to prove and duly has been disproved in several scientifical papers), but also that file-sharing ultimately could inhibit the creation of new content (which, of course, is simply untrue). So the bullies of the game keep smiling self-righteously while get a temporary advantage position in the continued struggle.
Cnet lists the prospective winners and losers of this slightly new situation; they conclude that licensed music and mp3 retailers are a winning bunch, with digital music sales probably continuing to soar, whereas mainstream file-sharing networks like eDonkey, LimeWire and Kazaa as well as mp3-only devices like today's iPods will lose out.
Obviously, these news report only address the mainstream, big-money networks out there. For more noncommercial/smaller/underground networks, the Supreme Court ruling is likely to have less of an effect. As New York Times once again writes,
there was some relief expressed among lawyers and advocacy groups aligned with Grokster, in that the Supreme Court seemed to clearly focus its attention not on the legality of peer-to-peer technology itself, but on the behavior of players seeking to make a profit from the technology [emphasis added].
read more (NY Times)
read more (Digital Music News)
read more (Cnet)

Added 28/6 2005, afternoon update:

Allow me to quote Swedish law and IT specialist Nicklas Lundblad, who points out that the ruling was one that essentially underlines how companies that knowingly support their customers to infringe on copyright law (and thereby indirectly breaking the law themselves) should be banned from doing so. In line with this, Lundblad argues, BitTorrent as a technology should not be outlawed (since its originator Bram Cohen neither contributorily nor vicariously has infringed on copyrights), whereas tracker sites definitely might be made illegal (they might well be already):
Probably our focus on Grokster was superfluous: the case is not the principal one we believed it to be, but a rather simple proceeding. And that it would be a blow against file-sharing is probably wrong too: what has happened is that companies that have gained from infringing the copyright of others have been condemned for this business model (which has been explicit and conscious).
The important part is this: it won’t become possible to outlaw file-sharing technology per se, nor the development of this technology. And [as pointed out above in this liquidculture posting] when there are no commercial businesses to refer back to the ruling becomes entirely irrelevant.
The music industry probably celebrates this as a victory just because there is so little else, that goes well for them.
read more [Swedish only]

Monday, June 27, 2005

MS reshuffle

MS Reshuffle — a call for all bloggers out there to start writing “how to switch from MS ____ to ____” articles, in a clear, simple, effective language.
read more

The long tail of reggae riddims

Boston College research student Pacey Foster has (in collaboration with fellows Stephen Cook and Rich DeJordy) mapped the structural properties of how reggae riddims are networked together in different versions of songs (originally archived at, and it all makes for some quite amazing insight.
The world of reggae is often said to operate more like a creative commons than the corporate Western music industry, since artists freely compete with each other making different versions of the same songs, or riddims (rhythms). (Since as we all know, the Western ideal of copyright wouldn't allow for such free reproduction of rhythms and melodies...)
As with many other natural and cultural phenomena, the distribution of these reggae riddims display significant characteristics of a power-law distribution: a small number of riddims get versioned a lot and the vast majority (a long tail of different songs) get versioned only once or twice.
read more

other similar projects:
The word count flash site (shows how the dissemination of words in the English language displays similar properties).
The interactive sample application (shows how sampling creates interconnected links between works of music, displaying network properties).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Patent absurdity

If patent law had been applied to novels in the 1880s, great books would not have been written. If the EU applies it to software, every computer user will be restricted, Free Software Foundation-founder and GNU guru Richard Stallman says in The Guardian.

Monday, June 20, 2005

openDemocracy goes CC

OpenDemocracy, the online global magazine / debate forum of politics and culture has gone Creative Commons. As they put it:

From 13 June 2005 openDemocracy will be publishing the majority of its articles under Creative Commons licences. It's part of our contribution to global democracy. The rest is up to you...

read more

remix the BBC! [updated version]

The BBC has launched a new site, that actively encourages people to mash up, remix, and re-invent the BBC content. “Like the Creative Archive, but for data”...
read more
Worth mentioning here as well is the Wikiproxy BBC initiative: all matching words in all articles linked to wikipedia.

Added 20/6 2005:

J. Grant offers a critical outlook on the current state of the BBC Audio Download trial. While of course opening up BBC content for extended use over digital platforms is on the whole a positive step forward, the licenses used for the current BBC Interactive Media Player project involve so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM)technology, which basically severely restricts the use of this downloaded material.
The DRM software will make the content expire seven days after it was originally aired, and the user will then no longer be able to watch it. The software also prevents users emailing the files to other computer users or sharing it via disk. Why would it be in the BBC's interest to so severely limit the use of their newly-made-digitally-available content?
The answer, as the BBC probably would argue, might lie in the cumbersome nature of revisiting contracts with actors, script writers, music contributors and other copyright holders involved in the making of programmes. The nature of earlier contracts limit the re-broadcasting of content, and in the light of new, digital forms of distribution the problem becomes painfully complicated. But to counter this argument, we need not go further than a direct quote from J. Grant:
BBC is a public broadcaster, providing for people who pay the TV licence fee. The BBC agreement is set out in the Royal Charter. Providing that content over a TCP/IP should be no different from the way the BBC broadcast on Freeview. We can record programmes on VHS or DVR from Freeview, why do people with TV licences need to be restricted when the medium is an alternative digital form?
Yes, why? Is it simply so that there still is a lurking, not-fully-discernable fear of the fickle, fast-moving nature of digital media, especially after recurrent reports on DVD/CD piracy and mass-scale, allegedly illegal file-sharing? Doubtlessly, the issue of releasing audiovisual content into the public realm is still surrounded by a veritable morass of moral panic...
The BBC has a leading role here, though. Just as with the introduction of the concept of public service into the broadcasting technosphere 50 years ago, the BBC could make a bold strike and introduce a fuller realisation of this concept into the current digital technosphere!

Friday, June 17, 2005

BitTorrent as 'video-on-demand'

The Guardian's Simon Waldman offers a brief introduction to BitTorrent for the uninitiated. He makes some interesting analogies; essentaially, he means, BitTorrent can be understood as a form of unofficial proto-version of a 'video-on-demand' system, allowing people to watch whatever TV they want when they want it – something the industry has been talking about for decades but never yet fully managed to provide to any distinguishable scale:
In this world the traditional restrictions of schedules and broadcasting territories disappear. You want to watch the latest OC, 24, or Desperate Housewives months before it arrives in the UK? No problem. You're addicted to Comedy Central's the Daily Show, but don't subscribe to Cable? It's all yours.
read more

British government planning to extend copyright on pop music

The British government wants to extend copyright laws to ensure pop songs are protected for almost twice as long as the current 50 years. This will in effect create a system more similar to the American, where copyright protection lasts more than 90 years.
The Sunday Times writes (although quite uncritically) on how the British government has announced plans to extend copyright for pop songs even long after the death of their authors. Like with the American 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (where currently active copyrights are given terms of 95 years from the date copyright was originally secured), is it a coincidence that these calls for copyright extension occur when certain corporate entities face their copyrights soon expiring?
In 1998, the rights for early Mickey Mouse were soon to expire — what happens? Extended copyright.
In 2005, the rights for 60's era Beatles and Rolling Stone material faces expiration under current British law (50 years after their original recording date) — what happens? It'll be exciting to see...

Added 17/6 2005:
Recording industry lobbyists claim that extending copyright terms will lead to further returns from a few, still profitable recordings from the 50s and 60s which can then be invested in new acts and artists. This perhaps might be true, but such a move would also cause many tens of thousands more unprofitable records to be kept out of the public domain and moulder slowly in private hands. This would be an immeasurable loss to current and future generations for the sake of increasing profits.
read more
/ James Davis
The only beneficiaries will the owners of limited number of valuable back catalogues — the large labels and a very few lucky performers — who will receive windfall gains. Meanwhile an extension would lock up for no-one's benefit the vast number of old works that no longer have commercial value — a huge loss to the public domain and our culture generally.
read more
/ Rufus Pollock

Thursday, June 16, 2005

OECD dismisses record industry claims

A recent OECD report dismisses the crude logical leap the recording industry makes through persistently claiming online file-sharing being a direct and single cause of faltering CD sales:
The number of simultaneous users on all P2P networks reached almost 10 million in October 2004. The United States makes up more than 50% of all simultaneous file-sharing users, with Germany at around 10%, Canada and France at 8%. In principle, file-sharing networks are an innovative technology that finds increasingly useful applications in new services and in authorised file-sharing. However, the use of P2P networks to exchange unauthorised copyright-protected content presents a significant challenge to the music industry and to the enforcement of intellectual property rights. There is currently a considerable volume of copyright infringement that is taking place among users of peer-to-peer networking software. This unfair competition puts pressure on legitimate online music and other content services and may have slowed commercial services that offer access to content online.
Nevertheless, it is very difficult to establish a basis to prove a causal relationship between the size of the drop in music sales and the rise of file sharing. Sales of CDs, as well as the success of licensed on-line music services are likely to have been affected to some degree by a variety of other factors, for example physical piracy and CD burning, competition from other, newer entertainment products and faltering consumer spending in some markets. [p. 11]
The Economist reports that the music industry strongly objected to these conclusions, but it only confirms what many of have been saying for some time. P2P may have some impact on music sales but it is by no means the evil that the industry suggests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Journalists must stop being in denial: bloggers are here to stay

A good article by John Naughton, pointing out that although blogging makes a small but significant change in our media ecology, it should neither be denied nor be percieved as a monocausal threat to journalism.
He pitches a sharp criticism of how some traditionalist commentators like David Shaw (an uber-hack who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for his media criticism) describe blogging as a "solipsistic, self-aggrandising, journalist-wannabe genre". Shaw stands for a view where bloggers are seen as "practitioners of what is at best pseudo-journalism" and "many bloggers... don't seem to worry much about being accurate".
Contra this, Naughton points out that
Shaw omits to provide any links to blogs which illustrate these dismissive claims — in itself an interesting lapse in journalistic standards. But that is par for this course.
And it isn't just professional hacks who editorialise like this. Non-journalists who are dismissive of blogs behave similarly — and in my experience those who are most critical have rarely actually seen any blogs, and certainly have not read any serious ones. But in truth the view that 'all blogs are x' (where x = 'self-indulgent', 'vanity publishing', 'solipsistic' or whatever other term of abuse comes to mind) is as absurd as the view that 'all books are x' or 'all newspapers are x'...
read more
see also: John Naughton's own blog

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Brazil adopts open-source software

Increasingly, Brazil's government ministries and state-run enterprises are abandoning Windows in favour of open source / 'free' software, Steve Kingstone writes for the BBC.

Open source-based software proves to be ideal for developing nations, partly because it drastically reduces costs, and partly because it can be modified to suit local needs, the author argues.
We thus see, once again, how the open source model for R&D and innovation becomes not only a matter of preference, choice or taste — but in many cases a matter of need, viability and survival!
read more

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Google = the world?

Google has ambitions of covering the world...

Google + Keyhole = Google Earth
Google are allegedly about to replace the Keyhole virtual map service, with 3D renderings of the entire planet.
read more

Add to this the already existing Google Maps initiative... soon the world will be slightly more overseeable.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The copyright 'copyfight' is on

A “battle continues around the world,” BBC columnist Bill Thompson argues;

the continuing dispute over what sort of legal protection creative people or the companies that employ them should have over the ways in which their works are used.
Remix culture is everywhere. All we can do is accept it, adapt to it and find ways to work and make a living within it.

read more