Joho the BlogAugust 2009 - Joho the Blog

August 31, 2009

Copyright’s creative disincentive

Tucows is participating in the Canadian copyright consultation process. Rather than submitting a comment written in the usual lawyerly prose, Elliot Noss, Tucow’s CEO, asked me to write up something about copyright in my usual imprecise and incoherent prose. I like Elliot a lot, and I care about copyright, so I wrote about the argument that without strong copyright protection, creators won’t have an incentive to create. The piece is now posted… [The next day: I absolutely should have mentioned that this was a commissioned piece. I.e., Elliot paid me to write something, and posted it unaltered.]

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August 30, 2009

RIAA wins DMCA case: Now illegal to decompose

The RIAA has won a ruling that the DMCA‘s provision that forbids backward engineering software to see how it work applies also to musical recordings. The ruling forbids any attempt to figure out the melody, arrangement, or chord progression of any copyrighted song, whether that figuring out is done mentally, at a keyboard, or using software. It also forbids graphical displays based on the music, including the psychedelic visualizations that come with many music players or the tapping of feet to beats embedded in a copyrighted work. An exemption has been made for those with perfect pitch, although they are not allowed to transmit or communicate the internal structures of music that they have mentally decoded.

The RIAA has also announced that it will sue to protect all who claim unique musical contributions to the culture. As a result, Pat Boone now owns the Motown sound, John Lennon owns singing above one’s natural range as a way of expressing emotion, Cat Stevens owns singing below one’s natural range for the same purpose, and Van Morrison has been awarded custody of any two-chord song to which musicians improvise while high enough on marijuana that they think other people are enjoying it.

An RIAA spokesmen expressed delight with the ruling and the new set of protections: “We think we’re now within sight of producing the last two or three original songs, and then the entire culture can call it a day.”

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August 29, 2009

The NY Times is 100% correct

So, don’t listen to me when I tell you to get to Lenox to see Shakespeare & Co.‘s production of Twelfth Night. Listen to the NY Times, which just gave it a rave review.

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August 28, 2009

My arms too short to box the Internet

Doc’s got an excellent, provocative post about how our thinking about the Internet hems us in. I find myself nodding my head but also holding back just a little.

My head nods up and down to Doc’s overall point. We hear “Internet” and we think an infrastructure of cables and radio signals, when in fact the Internet is a set of protocols that can be implemented over anything from copper wires to carrier pigeons. We shouldn’t be surprised. We reify stuff all the time. For example, somehow bits themselves went from a measurement of difference to the “stuff” inside a computer. So, it’s practically inevitable that we’ll think about the Internet in overly concrete terms. It’s what we do. At least in the West.

And I certainly nod my head at Doc’s conclusion that we need to “re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.”

And I’m at 100% nod-RPMs when Doc talks about Erik Cecil “thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to.” In fact, I find myself understanding issues ever more frequently in terms of traditional structures becoming networks or taking on the properties of networks. E.g., news is a network, not a set of stories. Businesses ought to view themselves more and more as networks. Expertise is a property of a network. Leadership is a property of a network. Markets are networks within which conversations take place, natch. Networks are very much becoming our new paradigm. And, as Erik says, a network is not its physical path.

So, where do I diverge from Doc? I’m not entirely sure I actually do. But I think Doc feels we need to come up with a new framing of the Internet, whereas I see networks as a growing paradigm that will naturally reframe it.

The reframing is here; it’s just unevenly distributed?



August 27, 2009

What’s wrong with Craigslist?

That’s more or less the question that prompted Wired’s cover story, according to its author’s blog post:

The cover story of this month’s Wired started when the magazine’s editors asked me a pointed question: How can a site that’s so good be so bad? Serving a vast community at an irresistible price (mostly free), craigslist nonetheless seemed the antithesis of what a modern web business should be. Oblivious to innovation and stuck in a 1997 mindset, craigslist was hogging the sector and holding things back. When the editors invited me in to propose that I write the story, they wanted an exposé.

That helps the dissonance in the article. I read it feeling like Gary Wolf, the author, was out to get Craig, but couldn’t find anything negative, so he wrote a weird Attack of the Positives article.

Sure, Craigslist’s site design is cramped, prosaic, and old Webbish. Sure, Craig is quirky and eccentric. So? Instead of writing a piece titled “Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess,” why not write one called “What Craiglist Gets Right,” because, Craigslist gets just about everything right: It offers a service of immense value to users, but prices it not by that value but by its cost. And there isn’t a thing on that cramped, prosaic, old Webbish page that isn’t for the benefit of the user. Craigslist is so much for us and about us that many of us feel it’s actually ours. That’s why we trust it — a classified ads site, for Lawd’s sake! — so much that we’ve built communities there. And the folks who run it, do it with the utmost humility, out of a sense of service.

Cripies, what more could you want? And yet we end up with a story that seems to want to be an expose … except the further it digs, the better Craig looks. So, Gary’s blog post helps to explain what happened. I wonder if the headline was Gary’s; the writers often aren’t even told what the headline will be. (This happened to me here: I don’t think copy protection is “a crime against humanity.”) I also found Bobbie Johnson’s posting about the Wired story to be helpful.

We could do with a WHOLE lot more Craigs.

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August 26, 2009

The lion sleeps

Senator Ted Kennedy always stood with the poor, the weak, those who need defense, and those who need a hand. He was the embodiment of what it means to be a liberal and of one important reason that we have governments at all.

You can tell me tomorrow about how flawed he was as a man, so long as tomorrow you also take up the work of his life.

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Later that day: Here’s Joe Biden’s moving reflections. They start about 2.5 minutes in. As Biden says, with Ted, it was never about Ted.

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Encyclopedia of Life – Now by Humans!

The Encyclopedia of Life is encouraging citizen contributions to its experts-vetted pages, so far with what seem like excellent results. There’s a good article about this at Science Daily. After two years, they’ve got 150,000 species pages underway, with 1.4 million stubs awaiting drafting.

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August 25, 2009

Rock, paper, scissors

Rock, paper, scissors isn’t just a children’s game. It’s also the history of writing.

First we wrote with chisels on stone.

Then we wrote with ink on paper.

Now we write with hyperlinks — cutting our pages apart and joining all the pieces with blue underlined words.

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Wikipedia’s tactical change mistaken for strategic

At the English language version of Wikipedia now, changes to articles about living people won’t be posted until a Wikipedian has reviewed it. Those articles are now moderated. (See Slashdot for details and discussion.)

I am surprised by the media being surprised by this. Wikipedia has a complex set of rules, processes, and roles in place in order to help it achieve its goal of becoming a great encyclopedia. (See Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution‘, and How Wikipedia Works by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews, and Ben Yatesfor book-length explanations.) This new change, which seems to me to be a reasonable approach worth a try, is just one more process, not a signal that Wikipedia has failed in its original intent to be completely open and democratic. In effect, edits to this class of articles are simply being reviewed before being posted rather than after.

The new policy is only surprising if you insist on thinking that Wikipedia has failed if it isn’t completely open and free. No, Wikipedia fails if it doesn’t become a great encyclopedia. In my view, Wikipedia has in many of the most important ways succeeded already.

PS: If you think I’ve gotten this wrong, please please let me know, in the comments or at, since I’ll be on KCBS at 2:20pm EDT to be interviewed about this for four minutes.

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August 24, 2009

Doctors and the DMCA

TechDirt reports that some doctors are having patients sign contracts that say the patients won’t rate the doctor online. Worse, the contract assigns to the doctors the “intellectual property” rights for anything the patient may write about the doctor. So, if the patient rates or reviews the doctor on a public site, the patient has violated the doctor’s copyright. This then enables the doctor to issue a DMCA takedown notice to get the site to remove the patients’ review.

Copyright. What can’t it do? Wow.

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