The morning coffee notes that it’s Friday

We wake today to find that Friday morning has arrived, and the week has passed the morning coffee by with nary a drop for Big Bad Blog readers. Here at the Big Bad Blog we feel for you. Really. It’s been exhausting, which is why we haven’t been dragging our sorry butts to the keyboard to entertain you every morning.

But it’s Friday, and so we made an exception, cast off our laziness, and present the coffee once more …

Proponents of filesharing, and opponents of the major media conglomerates, have long held that when the industry sues filesharers, it is suing its biggest and best customers, monetarily speaking. The industry, on the other hand, holds that it is these exact individuals who are responsible for slumping profits.

It turns out that filesharers make the best customers, after all. In a not-very-surprising revelation, a report commissioned (and then buried) by the industry found that those who download movies and music illegally spend far more money on movies and music, on average, than those who don’t.

Almost as if they like the stuff.

This corner of the internet hopes that this finally gives that push to the entertainment industry to enter the twenty-first century. This corner of the internet also expects the industry to sit in the corner with its fingers in its ears, and then complain to governments worldwide that the internet needs to be turned off so they can keep making money.

Photo is of Manhattanhenge, by Vivienne Gucwa.
Webcomic is Cyanide and Happiness.

The morning coffee and the portable music

Sharing music over the Internet is almost a teenager these days. It’s turning twelve this summer, and a certain pubescent maturity is starting to kick in. There’s hair down there now.

And like all things reaching maturity, it’s suddenly not so easy for the adults to start bossing it around. This can be seen in Amazon’s new Cloud Player. Nilay Patel writes an excellent article explaining why the recording industry’s lawsuit against Amazon is, basically, groundless:

If you’re a Cloud Player customer, you get a defined 5GB or 20GB of storage, and the music that lives in that storage is your copy. Your copy that you’re allowed to make. It’s not “functionally equivalent” to a fair use copy anymore — it is a fair use copy. I’d even bet that additional purchased songs that don’t count against your cap are actually transferred to your storage and given extra space that doesn’t show up on the meter, because that way each user still has their own copy.

This is going to completely fuck the labels, since they can’t argue that Amazon is making unauthorized copies of songs.

For some time now, it has been clear that the traditional media companies have been fighting a losing battle by holding on to their old business models, trying to lobby and sue their way out of the problem rather than learning the new technology and building on it.

Twelve years in, it seems as though we have reached the moment where technology can check all the music industry’s arbitrary boxes, while still giving the end users what they want.

And the music industry? Still no new business model — it’s left clinging to Apple, with its reliance on overpriced devices and a seriously ill CEO.


Photo by Matt Sartain. Found at Smashing Picture.
Webcomic is Amazing Super Powers, by Wes and Tony.

The morning coffee and the minty danger

A ten year old girl in Commack, NY has been suspended from school for “bringing, and then distributing bottled peppermint oil to other students.” Apparently school authorities there believe that peppermint oil, being used in this case to make water taste minty, is a drug.

(by Brian Dettmer)

Discover asks: What happened to the hominids who might have been smarter than humans?

We all know that Bono is a twat. And when he goes on record in the New York Times, naively suggesting that America could emulate China in tracking content online and eliminating piracy in the process, you could hear the BoingBoing reaction coming. Unfortunately, with Mr. Doctorow on vacation, we will have to wait for the full reaction.

Pirates on trial

I have been keeping an eye on the news lately regarding the Pirate Bay trial. For those who may not know, The Pirate Bay is a website that indexes torrent files. These files can then be used to share files with a group of people across the Internet — you download things from other people, and they download things from you. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of bittorrent files are used to share copywritten material — music, movies, TV shows and the like. It is for this reason that the trial is taking place — the industries in question want to stop this sharing, and keep control of their supply chains. The defendents were originally charged with “assisting copyright infringement” and “assisting making available copyright material”, but the former charge has been dropped.

While my purpose is not to report on the trial (see the links below for that), both sides are presenting ridiculous arguments:

digital_pirateThe prosecution’s central argument is that the service exists to share copyrighted material, and that allowing users to search for and download torrents from the site is aiding the copyright violations that occur. This is ridiculous — any search engine can return a ton of torrent files in their results. Simply run a google search, and you can find as many as you like. Also not going the prosecution’s way is that the Pirate Bay is not a typical company — it is more of a community, with nobody really being “in charge”. The four accused are often not responsible for the decisions made at the website.

The defense also makes some dubious claims. For instance, one has testified that the copyright violations are a “sad consequence” of their service. This is clear bullshit — their own site states that any complaints from copyright and/or lobby organizations will be ridiculed and published at the site, and that the site was started by an anti-copyright organisation. The site is clearly in existence mainly to assist people in finding ways to trade copyrighted material. It names itself a haven for pirates, after all.

However, I do not really care to discuss the intricacies of the trial. I am wondering how it came to this. Look at this timeline:

1994 – First MP3 encoder created.
1995 – First MP3-playing-software released.
1999 – Napster goes live
2001 – iPod released
2003 – iTunes Store goes live.

You can see how the music industry might have been blindsided by this. OK — MP3 comes out, but they’ve been through this before: Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs … this is just the newest change. They’ll sell everybody a new copy of their favourite albums. Napster surprises them, and it takes four years before anybody comes up with a workable business model for selling music in MP3 format.

But why were TV show and movie producers caught by surprise? Seriously — in 1999, downloading a thirty minute video (ie, a short TV show) would have been a pain in the ass — never mind your hour long shows or movies. It simply was not realistic. These people had time to consider how they were going to deal with the apparent dawn of a new content distribution system. They had to chose a policy, and they chose to attack their customers.

The wrong solutions

To be fair, they tried a number of other solutions — mostly digital rights management — but ten years after Napster opened the peer-to-peer sharing door, why are companies still hell-bent on closing it? Why can they not accept that it cannot be closed? Why do they not search for a solution?

Even when they try solutions — such as Hulu or BBC’s iPlayer they continue to get it wrong. I challenge you to try to watch a video on each of those services. You’ll be able to do at most one, without using some sort of proxy to pretend that you’re either in the UK or North America when you’re not. Somehow, even when these massive multinational companies realise that they have a new distribution system at hand, they manage to ignore that it’s a global distribution system.

So what is good policy for these companies?

First: Recognise that worldwide rights are the only ones that count. If you do not sell rights on a worldwide basis or if you do not acquire worldwide rights to something, you are giving your content away. People who really want your content will be unable to pay for it, but able to get it for free. Limited distribution simply feeds into the pirate community. Do not attempt it.

Second: Stop suing the pirates. Hire them instead. These are technologically literate people who understand the new distribution system — get them on your side, designing your new distribution systems. Putting these people on trial is little more than a sideshow — it does not fix your business model. Revenge has no place here … let it go, make amends, and move forward as partners.

Third: Keep trying new things, loudly and on a small scale. The worst case scenario is that you have a series of media events to do with content distribution. On the other hand, if one of them works you get to be king of the hill for the near future. That’s little downside with the potential of a big payoff.

Government’s Turn

With the companies addressed, we now turn to government.

Governments need to stop passing laws trying to strengthen the ability of content owners to enforce copyright. Making it illegal to do what you want with content you have bought is simply ridiculous. Currently there is some hubbub that Amazon’s Kindle will read a book to you, because reading something out loud is akin to an audiobook — and customers are buying books, not audiobooks.

The argument is silly, but governments around the world have been encouraging this sort of behaviour by enacting laws that enable it. They seem to have developed a fetish for supporting failing business models; this is not their duty. Their duty is to protect those employed by these businesses as they fail. Instead (on the digital content side of things) they have been eroding ownership rights in an effort to prop up failing industries that do not have the will to reinvent themselves.

Now, in Sweden, they have gone so far as to prosecute people for putting links on a page. This is not the government helping to protect their industries, or the creative works of individuals. This is a government holding back innovation and free speech. And failed policy.

The Pirate Bay is charged with “assisting making available copyright material”. While I do not know what the legal definition of this is in Sweden, it sounds like something that they do. As such, they may well be found guilty.

But the real crime is the chain of failed policies which resulted in their trial in the first place.

A History of the iPod
Mashable [2]
The BBC [2] [3]
The Guardian [2] [3] [4]
Daily Tech
The Pirate Bay [2]
Torrent Freak
513 Rocks