Sunday, February 19, 2012

Subscription Services: The Future of the Music Business (And Content In General)?

I've covered the various problems that enforcing artificial scarcity in the information age has on society. But almost the entire "creative industry" has made a business model out of artificial scarcity (because copyright encourages it). How would they survive without it?

There is a business model for imaginary works that works without artificial scarcity. You don't impose restrictions on how a piece of content is used or distributed. People are free to share what they want, when they want, with whoever they want. They can remix and create new works. And they have access to all the world's content. Yet, authors still get paid. This business model is called "blanket licensing". Ideas for blanket licensing have been popularized by MIT as a solution to music piracy in their Open Music Model.

Limited forms of idea have been put into implementation. Spotify is a example of a post-scarce music outlet. With a single $10/mo subscription you can access tens of millions of tracks of music, something 20 years ago you might have to have been a billionaire to have. It gives "pirate-like service" at a reasonable cost. That's exactly what people want, pirate-like service with no artificial scarcity at a reasonable cost.

Spotify has the blessing of the "Big Four" record companies who collectively have copyright over a very large amount of music. This shows that even the "music dinosaurs" seem to be open to this idea of "unlimited access to all the music".

Hulu Plus and Netflix can be considered limited post-scarce outlets for video content, although the movie industry has been a bit slower than the music industry in adopting blanket licensing and post-scarce business models (they still practice "windowing" extensively, which is an invitation for piracy). They will get there eventually.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eric Schmidt on Post-Scarcity, Collective Intelligence and the Future of the Internet

I just had to post this very fascinating video by the eminent Computer Scientist and chief Googler Eric Schmidt on the idea of collective intelligence and how it relates to the future of computers and the Internet. Best takeaway quote: “The last gasp of an autocrat is to turn off the Internet.”


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Copying vs Theft: A PSA

Without further ado, here is a public service announcement on this very topic:

Pro-copyright activists often compare filesharing to physical theft of property. I always thought this was a strange argument. Because unlike traditional theft, when something is copied the original copy is intact.

That not only complicates the idea of theft, it also makes is obnoxiously hard to detect. If someone steals my TV, I'm going to know about it pretty fast. Why? Because my TV is fucking gone! :(

Real theft is very visible. Although you may not always catch the culprit, but it's easy to know when it happens. And you don't need anything special to know about theft, the missing TV is evidence enough.

But if someone in Herpderpistan shares a copy of my "content" with someone else, I'm probably never going to know about it (let alone do anything about it). My original copy is intact, bit for bit.

But that's not good enough. I don't care about my original copy, I want to ensure nobody else, nobody in the world has a copy, unless I allow them to. But how can I enforce this? How will I know if someone shared a copy of the content I claim to have exclusive copyright on? The copyright crusader inside all of us wants to know about it, in fact, it's our right to know about it!

But the only way I can truly know about it is by invading everyone's personal lives and dealings. Unlike real theft, I need to violate the property rights of others in order to protect my "intellectual property" from this form of "theft". I need to know what you are doing after-all, so I ensure what you are doing isn't "stealing my stuff". I can't know simply by looking at my original copy. It's always there, bit for bit!

So I need to have commandeer some form of control over everyone's physical property (violating their property rights?) to police my so called "intellectual property". In some irony, I need wide-spread fascist-like levels of power to violate people's privacy at a grand scale. It's truly the only way I can be sure they aren't "stealing" my stuff. Strange how that works, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ACTA Protests Spread Throughout Europe

Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets Sunday in all major (and hundreds of minor) European cities to express outrage over the controversial ACTA treaty.

Perhaps as a result, countries all over Europe have begun to express doubts over the treaty.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Decline of Mass Media: Is Piracy To Blame?

I will not try to dance around the idea that mass media is as vibrant as it was ever. I believe (based on evidence) that mass media as a whole is in a decline. This includes movies, music, TV and newspapers.

Most copyright crusaders also agree with this. They view this decline as a critical problem that needs to be fixed. They also put the blame squarely (or largely) on piracy. But is this a complete view?

Consider that newspapers are among the largest have-nots of the information age. It's not a good time to be professional journalist. Do copyright crusaders believe piracy is destroying newspapers? Do people torrent the Wall Street Journal?

No. The reason newspapers are suffering is because people don't need newspapers to get information anymore. They get it from social media - blogs, social networking sites, and wikis. Basically, user generated content. These sources of information even in the most extreme interpretations are not typically infringing on copyright. But the financial damage they cause to mass media is astronomical.

As I see it, there is one common idea of information post-scarcity. It presents itself in two different ways: in social media, and in piracy. Social media is the legal side of information post-scarcity, piracy is the illegal. But both damage the idea of mass media.

Some copyright crusaders I've talked with acknowledge this fact - social media harms mass media. But they don't care, they are only trying to protect "their" work. Well, if piracy went away they still wouldn't be as healthy of an industry as they were before the information age. And that is because of this social media movement, which if looking at website statistics eclipses piracy sites and mass media sites. Can you find a website focused on creating and distributing mass media in the top 20? The closet thing I can find is BBC News at #47, an entity that doesn't even rely on copyright for most of its revenue.

The fact of the matter, piracy or not: The good ol' days where "content is king" is gone. What matters these days is providing a platform where prosumers can create and share content. That is the heart of social media.

The Scope of Copyright Has Changed

Copyright as a concept hasn't changed for hundreds of years. Copyright law itself has changed dozens of times in the United States. But the fundamental principle of copyright is protecting the "copy right" of authors, this has been immutable over the years. Copyright's most important stipulation is that only the owner of a copyright controls the legal ability to produce a tangible copy of a work. This is typically done for profit. It is believed with strong conviction that such a system can only enhance the creation of works protected by it.

Yet copyright has changed so much since the creation of the Internet, without even a word having to change in copyright law. Copyright has become very hard to enforce, hard to not violate, and it turned into a law that applies to everyone universally.

The "copy right" is no longer easy to enforce because computers are copy machines by their nature and the Internet makes distributing these copies to a wide audience of interested consumers very easy.

The Internet and computers has turned everyone into a possible violator of copyright. Recall from my previous post that the copy machines of old, the printing presses were very expensive and hard to operate. Only a subset of business really owned these machines, these businesses are called "printers" or "publishers". Copyright largely only concerned them. If they didn't like copyright universally, they are still such a minority of the greater population no one cared. There is no way to violate a copy right when you lack the ability to make copies!

Now everyone with a computer has the most advanced printing press ever invented, as good as what the major companies have. The ability to copy conveyed by computers is post-scarce, everyone has can make perfect copies of anything that can be conveyed in information and no one really has this capability better than anyone else. So we live in a world where everyone is potentially a copyright violator. And it's a law that amazingly easy to violate, even if you don't try to. Even the hardline proponents of copyright law have been caught violating it.

All this has led to a once largely uncontroversial law possibly being the single most controversial area of politics in existence.