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December 10, 2011

European Commission has an Internet advocate

Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has become a lonely voice trying to protect the Net’s most basic values. At a cultural ministers’ meeting held in Avignon last month, she had the temerity to suggest that the copyright system is not working to protect the rights of creators or to spread culture. Now she is suggesting that the Net can actually help the forces of freedom and democracy around the world. This new speech not only makes the case, it seems to have paid attention to the debate over previous claims that the Net is overall a positive political force, not merely a neutral technology, and not primarily a tool of oppression.

Neelie gave her full speech in Avignon in a closed door meeting, but she presented a version of it the next day at the Forum d’Avignon, which I was at and live-blogged. At the time, it struck me as certainly better than the copyright totalitarianism espoused by President Sarkozy, the values of which were mirrored by most of the participants in the Forum. But I thought Neelie was proposing nothing more interesting than adjusting copyright law so that more money went into the hands of more artists, rather than addressing the imbalance between the rights of creators and of the public. But I’ve been convinced by European friends, particularly Juan Carlos de Martin that I’m failing to hear her remarks in the right European context.

So, go Commissioner Kroes, go!

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November 21, 2011

[avignon] What I learned at Avignon about the Internet

So what did I learn at the Forum d’Avignon about the fate of the Internet in Europe?

It’s of course impossible to distill the entire conference, especially since much of the benefit was getting to meet some fascinating people. And, it’s impossible to feel confident about these lessons because the event consisted of 450 invited guests, so my sample was skewed, even though there was an attempt to achieve balance across cultures, beliefs, and genders. (Fully half of the attendees were women.) Nevertheless, …

Within this set of policy makers and large industry players, there is a conviction that the Internet is primarily a threat that has put all of culture and creativity at risk.

Why do they see it that way? Many of them are content publishers. To them, the Net looks like a competitive publishing medium that connects cultural content to consumers via search engines. Although the conference puts this concern in terms of the failure of the Net to connect consumers to worthy objects of culture, virtually all the public discussion was about the economic threat the current purveyors of mass culture feel. They believe that without the strictest enforcement of copyright, creators won’t be able to earn a living, and thus the Net will kill culture. The idea that the Net is actually the greatest engine of culture in history was expressed only three times, each time by Americans. [The next day: That last sentence is an overstatement. Americans expressed this idea the most directly and forcefully, it seems to me, but not solely.]

Authors rights were taken at the Forum as an economic imperative and as a moral imperative. There is no sense at all that those rights might be usefully balanced with the rights of “consumers” and makers. None. Zilch. Fair Use — granted, an American concept — was raised once in passing. (Victoria Espinel, Obama’s IP Czar, mentioned it, very positively.) The attendees were so convinced that authors’ rights are supreme that they left the conference convinced that there is consensus on the topic. Indeed, the conference ended with a summary of the ministerial summit on culture that was held in parallel with the first day of the conference: All the stakeholders agree on the supreme importance of fighting piracy. Of course, that ministerial meeting [Later: it was called the Cultural Summit, I have learned] included no users at all. So much for “all the stakeholders.” (I pointed this out to the person who convened the meeting (which I was not at, of course), and he said that the government representatives were there to represent users.)

Because of their view of the Net as a publishing medium, and because of the abundance of content on the Net, the dominant paradigm of the Forum views Google as the center of the Net. The participants thus wondered what sort of legislation is required to enforce “search neutrality” against Google. Now, there is no denying that Google is a center of the Net, and its algorithms have a great deal of effect on which pages are seen. But the participants at the Forum had what seemed to me to be a monomaniacal focus on Google, which makes sense if you’re thinking of the Net as a pile of content mediated by an index. They seemed to have no sense that there are living networks of people recommending and linking outside of Google’s search box. And for many of us, the transformative effect of the Net has been as a social place, not as an information medium.

Based on random interactions, it seems to me that at this meeting the small coalition that supported users’ rights as well as authors’ rights consisted of Americans, librarians, and students. Had there been more hackers here, I suspect they’d join our little band, but engineers, geeks and techies were woefully under-represented.

Overall, quite depressing, with the most profound anti-Internet sentiment coming from President Sarkozy in an 1.5 talk and discussion he favored us with.

Vive l’internet ouvert!

[All errors in French due to Google Translate.]

________

It is true that European Commissioner Neelie Kroes attacked the focus on copyright as misguided. Many in the media seem to have heard this as a call for copyright reform. (Here’s my live-blogging of her remarks.) I did not. I thought she was fully backing the rights of authors and strong copyright protection, but saying that we need to do more to create business models that create more money for creators. I did not hear Neelie suggesting copyright reform. I hope I’m wrong.

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November 8, 2011

How to tell that you’re at a European industry conference

I’m at the Gartner conference in Barcelona, giving a talk sponsored by Telefonica. And there is no doubt I’m not at an American industry event:

  • Wine at lunch.

  • Snacks at the break have multiple parts, none of which are chocolate, caramel, or creamy nougat.

  • They expect you to have a favorite “football” team.

  • The corporate dinner at an opera house begins with a tour of a stage set that consists of a giant statue of a woman’s hindquarters with her anatomically-correct vagina lit up in red.

  • If you translate “euros” as “dollars,” everything is quite reasonably priced!

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November 4, 2009

[iab] Alain Heureux on regulating marketing

I’m at IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) in Milan. The Europe-wide president of IAB, Alain Heureux, is giving a talk that includes a section on the self-regulatory mechanisms IAB is proposing as it watches Brussels begin to formulate policy.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Alain goes through the following “road map”:

1. Opt out. It’d be a burden on the user to ask for opt in for IP addresses and cookies, so it’s important that there always be opt-out mechanisms. There could and should be centralized pages that explain exactly what the various types of cookies are, what they’re used for, and that give users the ability to turn them on or off.

2. Education and transparency. There should be sites [built by IAB?] that educate the public and that are completely transparent about the practices.

3. Good practices and codes of conduct.

4. Communication.

5. Research. Alain points to a survey of 32,000 customers across Europe (the MCDC), and a consumer benefits study that tries to quantify the economic value that users are getting at all those free sites we love so much.


By the way, attendance at the Italian IAB (pronounced “yob”) continues to increase. It started 7 years ago with 300 people, and this year there are 7,000 attendees, which is up 20% over last year. Pretty impressive given the state of the economy.

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October 23, 2009

Three strikes and you’re European, or, How to Lose a Generation with One Single Law

BoingBoing reports boingnantly on the miserable enthusiasm of the (unelected, heavily-lobbied) European Commission for making it illegal to provide families with an Internet connection if any member is accused of having violated copyright three times.

Take a look at your hard drive and tell me for sure that a judge reviewing the charges in a 1-2 minute traffic-court style proceeding would not find you unworthy of a European Internet connection. Three Flickr photos you passed around because they were amusing? Three newspaper articles you downloaded and attached to emails you sent to friends? Three recipes you enjoyed and shared with your family? Three attachments friends sent you that you didn’t ask for but didn’t bother deleting because you didn’t even realize they were copyrighted? Three extended quotes from medical information sites sent to an ailing relative?

And, by the way, downloading copyrighted material is not necessarily a violation of copyright. Fair use creates exemptions that are based on factors other than mere possession.

This rule has nothing to do with advancing our arts, sciences, education, government, or economy. So, if the EC passes two more stupid/insane/corrupt (your choice) laws, can we disconnect them from governance? Please?

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October 28, 2008

Old-fashioned elevators

I built up on my nerve and successfully used the old-fashioned elevator at the hotel I’m at in Frankfurt. It’s a continuous, and continuously-moving, loop of open cubicles, large enough for two skinny people, or one American. No waiting, no doors. You step in as an empty compartment approaches and hop out as it moves past your floor.

The clerk assures me that there have been no injuries, although it seems easy to hurt yourself: mis-time your exit and you will be part way between the elevator and the floor as the elevator moves on. I’m surprised the lobby isn’t littered with severed arms and torsos split cleanly in two.

On the other hand, I only got in once the clerk assured me that if I panicked and was unable to force myself to hop out, it doesn’t turn the compartments upside down at the top of the loop.

Damn thrilled-crazed Europeans!

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