Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

This post violates copyright law.

September 3, 2006

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear [name],
Happy Birthday to you.


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How much stupider can media companies get?

August 24, 2006

Seriously, these people are approaching George W. Bush levels of incompetence and idiocy.

Listen to this:

Microsoft revealed today that no 32-bit versions of Windows Vista will be able to play back “next generation high definition protected content” (translation – studio-released BluRay and HD-DVD movies).

So another feature gets dropped from Windows Vista. These days, the list of dropped features is far larger than the list of actual new features, so it almost doesn’t even rank as news. What makes this one unique though is the reason it got dropped:

“This is a decision that the Media Player folks made because there are just too many ways right now for unsigned kernel mode code [to compromise content protection]. The media companies asked us to do this and said they don’t want any of their high definition content to play in x32 at all, because of all of the unsigned malware that runs in kernel mode can get around content protection, so we had to do this,” he said.

So, let me get this straight. The media companies, forever afraid of the piracy boogeyman, asked Microsoft to disable playback of HD disks on what amounts to 90% of the desktop PC market. Thus, they’re ensuring that the only way 90% of the market can watch HD content is with the pirated versions that don’t have copy protection.

Just to be clear: they’re combating piracy by making piracy the only option for vast segments of the market. Brilliant.

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Debunking the RIAA’s version of history

August 23, 2006

In the course of researching a longer post/rant on the state of copyright law, I came across this little gem from their RIAA: Their brief “history” of copyright.

The utter bullshit found in it is astounding. Not surprising, given it’s the RIAA, but still astounding. The “history” lasts for about three paragraphs before it descends into flat out propaganda and lies:

Copyright law all started with the “The Statute of Anne,” the world’s first copyright law passed by the British Parliament in 1709. Yet the principle of protecting the rights of artists predates this. It may sound like dry history at first blush, but since there was precedent to establish and rights to protect, much time, effort, and money has been spent in legal battles over the centuries.

In the United States, the principle took hold during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when James Madison suggested that the Constitution include language “to secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time.” The provision passed unanimously. It is found in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution. It states…

The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . .

So far so good.

Before free speech, before freedom of assembly, before freedom of religion, there was copyright protection in our Constitution.

The bold is theirs, not mine. I’m not sure if they’ve just never read the constitution (probably) or if they’re too stupid to understand it (also probable).

The copyright provision appears in Article I, Section 8, because it’s a power granted to Congress. As such, it appears in the section of the constitution where it lists the powers granted to Congress.

First amendment rights appear in (shockingly enough) the amendments to the Constitution, listing what rights the people have that the government may not infringe on. Copyright isn’t included here.

To imply that copyright appears before free speech because it’s somehow more important (as they’re doing here) is disingenuous at best and terribly RIAA-like at worst. At the very least, it demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of even the most basic aspects of our Constitution and government.

The founding fathers knew copyright protection could improve society by preserving the economic incentive for people to come up with brilliant ideas and inventions. They also realized the fundamental fairness of granting control of the creative work to the author.

This, again, is disingenuous. I’m sure you’ve heard of Thomas Jefferson, right? He was opposed to federal copyright protections, because they’re monopoly rights and he believed (quite correctly, IMHO) that the ills of a federally protected monopoly outweighed the benefits of copyright protections.

But notice how they left out that tidbit. Or maybe they just think Thomas Jefferson isn’t a founding father?

President George Washington signed the first copyright law on May 31, 1790. Nine days later, author John Barry registered his work, The Philadelphia Spelling Book, in the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania, making it the first “writing” protected by copyright. Since then, the copyright laws have been revised numerous times. The revisions have been aimed at balancing the author’s right to reap the benefits of his or her work, and society’s ability to benefit from that same work.

I’m not sure what world they’re talking about, but it’s not the one we live in.

Each revision of copyright has made it more onerous and almost universally detracted from society’s ability to benefit from creative works, and more often than not did nothing to advance “author’s rights”, instead managing to take away from an author’s ability to benefit from their own work.

How does society benefit from copyright extension after extension? Initially, the maximum copyright term was set at 28 years. Lobbyists fought to change that from even before such people were called lobbyists: the length increased throughout the 19th century, became “lifelong” in the 20th century, extended beyond the life of the author in 1976 and was extended an additional 20 years in 1998 thanks to the Disney’s lobbying (for the sole purpose of preventing society from benefiting from “Steamboat Willie” another two decades.)

As for the author’s rights, how did expanding copyright so that corporations can own them help authors? The law was adapted so that most of the artists, the people the RIAA claims to represent don’t own the copyrights to the works they created, the labels do. How does society benefit from letting a “corporate person” own copyrights (since a corporation is an abstract legal entity that creates nothing)? How do artists that create stuff only to have a corporate claim the rights to it benefit?

But yeah, the revisions to copyright were about “balance”.

Today, in the recording industry, singers Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, and many others, are fighting for their rights. In the music business, stars are made not born, and it takes plenty of hard work to make it. Poe cut her debut album, “Hello,” in 1995. She knows the value of a copyright, “Copyright protects the creative process….It’s rough out there….There is nothing more inspiring to creativity than independence and that requires protection. If you’re an artist that can do something nobody else can, you need to know that your work will not be diluted or mass produced.” It’s as simple as that.

The principle that work one creates belongs to the creator and should be controlled by the creator is as timeless as it is global.

Then why the hell do you steal copyrights from your artists? Douchebags.

Likewise, for centuries, new inventions, from the printing press to the Internet, have threatened that principle.

No, entities like you have fought new inventions claiming that they threaten that principle (which you yourself violate).

The reality is that every new invention has opened up new markets for creative works.

For centuries, advocates have resolutely defended it. The RIAA is just such an advocate today.

You defend your business model and nothing else. A business model that depends heavily on the exploitation of actual artists and demonstrates day after day just how broken our copyright system is.

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YouTube Jumps the Shark

August 22, 2006

YouTube is about to roll out branded commercial “channels” as one way to bring some revenue to the site. The first one? Paris Hilton.

It’s interesting that they’re bending over backwards to find any business model that doesn’t include advertising within the videos themselves. (YouTube would put itself on very shaky legal ground if it did that, given the sheer volume of copyrighted content on the site). I’m not sure if this latest tactic will work, but there’s something about it that’s just… disturbing.

Mashable has some interesting thoughts on this latest tactic (emphasis mine):

So will Paris Hilton and other stars counteract YouTube’s ludicrous bandwidth expenses? I actually think they might – despite all the anti-hype around YouTube and the recurring question “Where’s the Business Model”, I think it’s pretty clear that YouTube is a powerful branding platform – and not just for stars like Paris Hilton. MySpace has totally changed the nature of advertising – users now make friends with brands (see MySpace Marketing and Dasani’s custom MySpace layouts), and advertising is no longer about pushing content to people when they don’t want it. The Paris Hilton channel is just the start, and I expect to see hundreds more of these things springing up – why shouldn’t every media company have their own YouTube channel and MySpace page?

I think he’s right, and that sends a chill up my spine. As if corporate personhood wasn’t problematic enough for our society, we have a new phenomenon where people are making friends with products and the corporations behind them. Welcome to 21st century consumerism.

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Why I Blog

August 18, 2006

One of the recurring debates of the blogosphere is the dichotomy that exists between it’s theoretical “democratic” nature and being “long tail” medium, and the existence of an “A List” of blogs that in turn serve as gatekeepers to which other blogs get read. (See the discussion Nick Carr started the other day, which sparked this post)

There’s some truth to both sides of the equation. Blogging is very democratic and individualistic. The barrier to entry is laughably small (a computer, an internet connection, and an ability to type). I am my own editor; I decide what I write about and exercise absolute control over the content. But the other half is true as well. Just because I put it out here doesn’t mean it gets read. This blog lives on the far, far end of the long tail. My traffic numbers hover in the tens to hundreds. My subscriber base consists entirely of close friends. In short, although I blog, I have the tiniest of audiences and I don’t delude myself into thinking I have any influence over my readers, let alone the blogosphere as a whole.

So why do I do it?

Simply, I blog because I like to write. As much as I’m talking to my readers when I blog, I also talk to myself. I enjoy the process of putting thoughts into words into something coherent. I like that it challenges me to lay out and explain the things I believe and think about; sometimes the very act of writing it down forces me to look at things in a new way.

Further, I love conversation and debate. Long before I was a blogger or even before there was a blogosphere, I was a forum junky. Before I was a forum junky, I was a usenet junky. I may not have a large audience or any influence, but I do get to take part in the conversation, by commenting and by linking. I like that.

And therein lies the primary flaw in Nick Carr’s argument (which has been pointed out in other responses). Not every blogger wants to get on the “A List”, most of us don’t delude ourselves into thinking we’ll change the world by publishing a blog. (Here’s a hint people: you’ll make a much bigger impact writing to your Congressman than you will writing to the internet).

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be more than happy if I found a large audience with whom my blog resonates. But if that was my goal, suffice to say I’d be running this blog completely differently: a successful blog is as much marketing as it is writing, and I just don’t have that much interest in the marketing half of the equation.

I blog about the things I care about, the topics I have passions for, because I like doing it. I blog for me and me alone.

I kind of feel sorry for anyone who does it for any other reason.

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Arrest made in JonBenet Ramsey case

August 16, 2006

And ten years later I’m still asking the same question: Why the fuck is this news? And it’s not just national news, but front-page-of-CNN news. Front page of just about everywhere, actually, as well as all over the TV.

Excuse me while I go contemplate what it would be like to live in a country with a competent newsmedia capable of keeping perspective.

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How much can we rely on photographic evidence?

August 9, 2006

The incident this past weekend regarding Reuters’ photoshopped news photo seems to have sparked off a witch hunt in the blogosphere for other faked photos (the right wing in particular seems to be squealing in orgasmic glee over this: to them, it’s just more evidence of media bias rather than media suckage). Giving credit where credit is due though, it does seem they’ve uncovered more instances of photo manipulation. (I feel dirty linking to Michelle Malkin but here you go.)

Taking a step back, this raises a far more troubling question than the standard political rhetoric surrounding the issue: Going forward in the digital era, how much can we trust photographs?

Photography is on an unstoppable march towards the digital; consumer and prosumer film cameras are already DOA, and professional cameras won’t be far behind as digital technology catches up to and surpasses what’s possible with medium and large format film.To be sure, photos have always been subject to manipulation – photographers alter lighting and make up, crop photos, and apply any number of darkroom techniques to achieve a desired effect. But the extent to which you can doctor digital photos and the ease with which it’s done opens up a whole new pandora’s box as far as photojournalism is concerned.

Pasting celebrities’ heads onto nude models has been done since the earliest days of the internet. School photographers these days all offer digital removal of zits and other blemishes for yearbook photos. You can remove tourists from your vacation photos.

So given the fact that all of this goes on, how can we be sure that any photo we’re looking at is authentic? There are some techniques for spotting digital manipulations. You can hunt down the original unaltered elements that went into a doctored photo, or you can look for some tell-tale signs of manipulation in the photo itself (which is how the Reuters photo was uncovered). Theoretically, digital cameras leave digital fingerprints on photos which could be used to detect manipulation. But none of these techniques are foolproof – you can never be sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that the photo you’re looking at is undoctored.

It’s depressing that we now have to face this question when it comes to photojournalism, although it was almost certainly inevitable; photojournalists are human beings after all, and there’s a lot of pressure to take that iconic photo of a news event.

But in a way, this is just the tip of the iceburg. Let’s indulge in a hypothetical scenario:

A defendant is on trial for robbing a house. He left no fingerprints or physical evidence at the scene, but a neighbor with an established grudge against the defendant claims to be an eyewitness and offers a photo of the defendant fleeing the scene as proof. The defense would argue that anyone who’s even moderately skilled with photoshop could have cut and paste the defendant into the scene, and that there’s absolutely no way to verify that this photo is authentic. Is the evidence strong enough to convict?

I don’t think it will be that much longer before the first time photographs will be ruled inadmissable as evidence in court. Video evidence will follow in another decade or two when the tools Hollywood uses now become widely available.

The bottom line is that we can only trust it as far as we can trust the individual vouching for its authenticity. Which is to say, we really can’t trust them much at all.

Edited 8/15/06 to add: Cnet has a great collection of doctored news photos that have appeared in recent years, which illustrates the point I was making here perfectly.

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Why the blogosphere is more reliable than the mainstream press

August 7, 2006

One further note regarding the blogosphere vs the mainstream media. This from this past weekend:

Reuters admits altering Beirut photo

A Reuters photograph of smoke rising from buildings in Beirut has been withdrawn after coming under attack by American web logs. The blogs accused Reuters of distorting the photograph to include more smoke and damage.

The photograph showed two very heavy plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings in Beirut after an Air Force attack on the Lebanese capital. Reuters has since withdrawn the photograph from its website, along a message admitting that the image was distorted, and an apology to editors.

I use this example to illustrate one simple point: you can’t rely on the mainstream media to get the story right, ever. For every criticism you could level at the blogosphere, I could level the same criticism at mainstream news organizations. Can you be sure that what you’re reading was vetted and factchecked, with verified sources? No. Are sources free from bias and agendas? No. Heck, there are entire sites devoted to debunking the errors and lies in mainstream media.

One of the key reasons that people (including me) are so enthusiastic about the emergence of the blogosphere as alternative media is because the mainstream media does suck so bad. There’s nothing you could say about the information on blogs that you can’t also say about CNN.

Now, I didn’t just say “as reliable” in the post title; I said “more reliable”. One of the most often cited peices of advice for anyone seeking “the truth” is to read as many different sources as possible; the average of all the stories on a subject should be something close to that. That’s somewhat of a lie these days though. The majority of the news you read is syndicated from only a few sources (like Reuters); and wave after wave of media consolidation has resulted in a grand total of five media mega-conglomerates controlling everything. On further analysis, there’s not much to differentiate even those five: they all obey the same financial pressures, they all view their jobs as delivering viewers to advertisers rather than delivering news to people. Each article exists as an island, impossible to respond to in any meaningful way.
The blogosphere is different though. It was the blogosphere that uncovered the doctored photo, not the mainstream press. It was the blogosphere that defeated Dan Rather; it’s the blogosphere that corrects, expands on, and explains the things that mainstream media screws up on. Individual bloggers vet each other, playing a never ending game of “gotcha” with each other and the mainstream press. The biggest blogs with tens of thousands of readers have tens of thousands of people fact checking what they read. As such, the most popular posts aren’t just the product of one individual blogger broadcasting to his audience, but rather dozens to thousands of individuals engaging in conversation and making the information better. Network effects define the blogosphere; what bubbles to the top is the product of the wisdom of thousands of individuals, and much closer to the “truth” than what makes it onto, say, Fox News or your average newspaper front page. Individual bloggers screw up – but the blogosphere is always right on the mark. The same can’t be said for professional news organizations.

(The same logic, by the way, is the reason I’d vouch for Wikipedia whenever anyone attacks it’s veracity.)

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Sifry’s State of the Blogosphere, August 2006

August 7, 2006

David Sifry of Technorati has posted his quarterly state of the blogosphere report, documenting the continued explosive growth of blogs. His summary:

  • Technorati is now tracking over 50 Million Blogs.
  • The Blogosphere is over 100 times bigger than it was just 3 years ago.
  • Today, the blogosphere is doubling in size every 200 days, or about once every 6 and a half months.
  • From January 2004 until July 2006, the number of blogs that Technorati tracks has continued to double every 5-7 months.
  • About 175,000 new weblogs were created each day, which means that on average, there are more than 2 blogs created each second of each day.
  • About 8% of new blogs get past Technorati’s filters, even if it is only for a few hours or days.
  • About 70% of the pings Technorati receives are from known spam sources, but we drop them before we have to send out a spider to go and index the splog.
  • Total posting volume of the blogosphere continues to rise, showing about 1.6 Million postings per day, or about 18.6 posts per second.
  • This is about double the volume of about a year ago.
  • The most prevalent times for English-language posting is between the hours of 10AM and 2PM Pacific time, with an additional spike at around 5PM Pacific time

The breakneck speed of growth is incredible, and provides some interesting food for thought. 1.6 million posts per day is a mind boggling amount of content; what this says about things like the long tail effect and the importance of search and filters could be a post in its own right.

For now though, I’m just going to focus in on this graph, not mentioned in the above bullet points:

The data is the number of times bloggers link to each of the above sources. But what does this chart show, exactly? According to Sifry, it’s a measure of “the level of influence” blogs are having on the mainstream media. In truth, I’m not exactly sure what he means by this but since he’s pretty brief in his explanation I’ll expand on it.

Why does a blogger link to something? Simply, it’s to direct your readers there; it’s a link worth sharing, it’s interesting in some way. So the above data seems less to me a measure of influence as it would seem to be a measure of interestingness. The New York Times produces the most interesting content, followed by Yahoo! News (which is almost entirely syndicated AP/Reuters content, followed by MSNBC, etc.

By contrast, blogs barely crack the top 100, which indicates that despite the growth of the blogosphere, it’s still generating very little original content that’s interesting – most prefer to link to the source material (in fact, there are less blogs on this chart now than there were last February). Blogs add a lot of value to mainstream media content; they highlight it, they dissect it, they expand upon it. But they’re still nowhere near a point where they could be said to be replacing mainstream media content. Indeed, the data actually supports the opposite of Sifry’s assertion; mainstream media seems to have a lot of influence over what’s talked about in the blogosphere, not the other way around.

But on the question of influence, this isn’t the whole story either. If I wanted to know how blogs ranked in this regard, links probably aren’t the best metric to use. Instead, I’d be far more interested in attention data: sheer number of page views, where those viewers come from and where they go when they leave. I don’t have that data handy, but based on the above, it’s probably fair to say that bloggers throw a lot of traffic at, and probably go a long way towards impacting which articles get read and which ones don’t, which in turn would influence what the NYT editors decide to print next time – so the tail does wag the dog at least a little bit.

What will be interesting to see on the long term is if the blogosphere ever does start to usurp the mainstream media in terms of creating original and interesting content. To be sure, this has happened from time to time – bloggers clobbered the mainstream media when it came to Hurricane Katrina reporting, and made a story out of Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House correspondant’s dinner. But instances like that remain exceptions to the rule.

Will bloggers ever start to consistently do their own independent reporting on a scale similar to what the NYT does? Will the blogosphere start to consistently break stories, and force the mainstream media to follow it’s lead? Maybe, but it doesn’t look like we’ve yet reached that point.

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When video killed the radio star

August 1, 2006

You’d think the twenty-fifth anniversary of MTV would warrant more attention than it’s getting today, especially from MTV itself. Flipping past the channel a couple of times today reveals no mention of the anniversary though, and numerous articles confirm that MTV has no plans to celebrate its birthday. I guess 25 is a scary number for the network; after all, we’re at a point where some kids watching the network today actually have parents who watched it when the network launched.

If nothing else, the profound cultural impact it’s had over the last quarter century is worth noting today. From it’s debut with the prophetic “Video Killed the Radio Star”, MTV has systematically changed the shape of music (not necessarily for the better) by putting a premium on marketability and making it more important that artists look good than have talent. Additionally, MTV was the network that was the reason to get cable TV when the technology was still new. Reality TV, adult cartoons, and “audience participation” were all essentially invented (or at least popularized) by the network. It’s also been a source of a steady stream of moral panics, between slut fashion, rap music, Beavis and Butthead, Madonna’s open mouth kiss with Britney, and Janet Jackson’s nipple. And most importantly, MTV almost single handedly defined what was “cool” during the 80’s and 90’s.

Of course, MTV’s history and past impact is far less interesting than it’s immediate future, and whether we’ll still be talking about it in another twenty-five years. The most interesting thing I notice about it, and what inspired this post, is that MTV represents the ultimate form of old media. It’s a top-down network with which an elite few decide what’s worthy of attention and push that out to the masses. Despite all the ways in which it’s led teenage culture over the previous two decades, at it’s core it’s nothing more than a marketing vehicle. The culture MTV promotes is far from natural. Rather, it’s a carefully controlled stage show with men in business suits working behind the curtain, hoping you’ll pay no attention to them. Its content is shallow, it’s programming symbolizes short attention spans and the lowest common denominator, and the cultural value it promotes above all is rampant consumerism. It’s amazing how often what’s “cool” turns out to be a product some advertiser is pushing. Far from being a part of rebellious youth culture, MTV is a tool of the machine that’s used to feed Viacom’s bottom line.

An like all old media, MTV is dying. In an odd sort of way, the network is noting it’s anniversary. It’s using today to launch Flux, a social networking/video sharing site that carries the MTV brand – the clearest signal yet that this generation’s MTV isn’t MTV at all… it’s MySpace. Which is so radically different from what the people behind MTV are used to that I wonder if they’ll be able to keep up.

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