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What zombies can teach us about copyright and creation

These days, Zombies are just about everywhere. In addition to last’s summer series of strange events suggesting that a global attack of staggering cadavers was near, a a recently published philosophy paper (Petite philosophie du Zombieexamines the various meanings of this phenomenon. In the meantime, hordes of aficionados can hardly wait for the third season of The Walking Dead to be broadcast in mid-october — expect them to throw themselves on it as prowlers on some fresh brains.

As reminded by an excellent Arte report, one of the reasons why these monsters from beyond the grave have invaded popular culture is their ability to constantly reinvent themselves, ever since Georges Romero’s (“the Godfather of All Zombies“) founding movies introduced the archetype of the modern zombie.

After having colonized the horror movie genre, they spread on every field with astonishing ease : through music, with Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, through literature (Max Brook’s Zombie Survival Guide or Pride and Prejudice and Zombie, a parody of Jane Austen’s novel), or video games (Resident Evil among others, till the recent and crazy Lollypop Chainsaw).

Entire Conferences are now taking place in order to try and analyze the causes of this zombie-mania. In his essay Petite Philosophie du Zombie, Maxime Coulombe explains that these creatures echo our societies’ questioning on death, conscience or civilization. This is certainly true, but there is another explanation to all this, and it’s a legal one.

Georges Romero’s first movie Night of the Living Dead was never protected by copyright due to its distributor’s unbelievable screw-up… Released in 1968, the movie landed straightaway in the public domain, although theoretically it should have remained protected, as Romero is still alive.

This odd legal fate probably accounts for the fact that the Zombie Movie Data Base contains… 4913 entries so far, many of them directly inspired by Romero’s founding movie without fearing a possible trial or having to pay licences. This distinctive feature of the Zombie (which he doesn’t share with the Vampire, as will be discussed below) says a lot about copyright and creation : maximum protection is not always the best way to distribute a work and let it become part of the cultural heritage.

Right of the Living Dead

In the Internet Archive you will find Night Of The Living Dead available for free download or streaming, with a “Public Domain: No Rights Reserved” note, while most of the movies released at the end of the sixties will enter the public domain only in the second half of the 21st century!
 

The reason of this incongruity is the confusion associated with the movie release in 1968. At that time, a work was protected by copyright only if a Copyright Notice appeared in the credits, with the identity of the intellectual property rights holders. Just before the release, the distributor decided to change its title from Night of The Flesh Eaters to Night of The Living Dead. The decision was probably not bad, but in order to complete the modification, the distributor changed the credits and erased by mistake the Copyright Notice.

The movie was therefore never protected by copyright, and yet it had a great success and was considered as the most profitable horror movie ever made. The mishap later allowed many videotape distributors to spread the movie without having to pay for copyright.

Admittedly it was a bummer, however it somehow enhanced the popularity of the movie and made the propagation of the Zombie character easier.

Walking Public Domain

Cinema’s zombies existed long before Romero’s movie. They appeared in the United States in the 30s, in movies like White Zombie, inspired by Hawaiian tradition and the voodoo religion. Romero’s contribution consisted in developing in the Night of The Living Dead many characteristics that reinveinted the monster – zombies’ staggering walk, their taste for human flesh, the way they move in hordes, their vulnerability to head injuries, their fear of fire, the epidemic propagation, the post-apocalyptic dimension of the story, the gore scenes, etc. These elements certainly represent original contributions, which could have been protected as such by copyright.
 

But as the movie belonged in the public domain right away, these features were easily reusable for others to spread them widely. By the way, Romero himself was one of the first who benefitted from this creative freedom – as the American jurist Jonathan Bailey explains, Night of The Living Dead was the result of a collaboration between Georges Romero and co-scenarist John Russo. Following the first movie, an artistic disagreement arose between the two men about the outcome of their successful opus. The Night of The Living Dead being in the public domain, they couldn’t prevent one another from reusing the concept of zombie as it appeared in the movie. So they decided that they would both create their own sequels, and therefoire shared the legacy of Night of The living Dead : Russo made a series of movies whose titles included the phrase “Living Dead”, while Romero’s series were characterized by the phrase ”Of The Dead”. So the initial project experienced some kind of creative fork that could have happened with a free software.

From that point, Romero’s sequel (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead) broached a political dimension, which already permeated the first movie. Fas for Russo, he put forward a humoristic vision of the zombies in his productions (Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part II, Return of the Living Dead 3, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave).

These two approaches represent the two main zombie “traditions” in cinema, leading other directors to play with it by delivering their own variation from the original elements and themes. So zombie movies are appealing because somehow they are fun, elaborate remixes.

 

 

Later on, the staggering living dead left the movie theatres and invaded every field of creation. Its success illustrates in fact the fertility of the public domain, and its major role in the development of creation. It can be enlightened even better by a comparison with another great figure of horror movies: the Vampire.

Call him Dra©ula

The anecdote isn’t well-known, but F.W. Murnau’s movie Nosferatu the Vampire has also experienced a rather incredible legal adventure, due to a fight between the creators of the movie and the owners of Bram Stoker’s (author of Dracula) rights.

In the early twenties, film producer Albin Grau wanted to make an adaptation of the novel Dracula, but did not succeed in acquiring rights from Bram Stoker’s widow, who was particularly tough in business. The project was however maintained, but included notable dissimilarities with the novel so as to avoid plagiarism charges. The setting was moved from London to Germany; Dracula became a monstrous-looking “Count Orlock”, quite different from Stoker’s Victorian dandy. Murnau also introduced details which were not in the novel, i.e. the fact that daylight ravages vampires, or that their bite transforms their victims in blood-thirsty monsters. As explained by Techdirt, a certain number of characteristics we naturally associate to vampires actually stem from Murnau’s struggle to avoid conviction for copyright infringement!
 

Despite these measures, Stoker’s widow sued him in Germany in 1925, and won. This conviction led to Prana Film’s and Albin Grau’s company bankrupt, and the destruction of most copies and negatives of the movie, as ordered by the judges. The story could have come to an end if a film reel had not been miraculously spared and brought to the United States, where the novel had fallen in the public domain because of a recording mistake (again!). Stoker’s widow had no means to prevent the movie’s diffusion in this country, where it became very popular until the sixties. Then, the return to Europe was possible, when Dracula’s copyright expired.

This story shows what could have happened with the zombies movies, if Night of The Living Dead had not fallen so quickly in the public domain. The copyright would have most probably prevented directors from picking elements from Romero’s movie, and the zombie character could not have invaded the popular culture so easily.

Copyright is brain theft! Brrraaaaiiiiinnn!

The morality of these stories is that the relation between copyright and creation is a lot more complex than what we are usually indoctrinated with.

Undoubtedly, authors need protection so that they are able to create, but the creation dynamics itself implies that works should be reused, changed, extended and enriched – a trend which was amplified with the Internet.

Nowadays, not only do artists reuse previous creations, but the audience also appropriate their favorite works, remixing them endlessly. This is particularly true for zombies, who inspire an impressive and vast amateur movie production.
 

In comparison, other emblematic works have become a bone of contention between fans and legal assignees. For instance, Korben recently revealed that Warner Bros had acted against a group of net surfers who had rebuilt Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth, using a map generator from the videogame Skyrim. They were forced by the assignees to remove all the references to Tolkien’s universe, such as names of places and characters, which were protected as such by copyright and trade-mark.

In the end, Romero’s zombies may be more repulsive than the creatures of Lord of the Rings, but they are perfectly adapted to digital culture.

This article is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence. It was translated from French by Tamara and Félicité.

Owning it.

Peddling a product that consumers can duplicate for free is a tricky business. With affordable consumer technology, you can now copy a song a hundred times, with no degradation in the sound quality—and most people seem to immediately recognize why that’s gonna make it harder to get paid for songs. But my first experiences with lossless, duplicable technology didn’t have anything to do with my career as a rapper. My first encounter wasn’t with a torrent site. Or a bootlegged disc. It was a tomato.

Seeds, quite obviously, are the mechanism of plant duplication. You drop a sunflower seed in wet dirt and, bang, you get a brand new one. Essentially, you just ‘burned’ a sunflower. The seeds of this new plant can then be harvested and planted to create an infinite, almost lossless supply of flowers and seeds. ‘Seed saving’ is the term for collecting seeds to be replanted.

So if farmers can just save seeds from previous crops, why would they still buy them from seed companies?

Monsanto is probably a familiar name to most readers. I know it’s often invoked by my generation as the archetypical hulking conglomerate, which regards ‘ethical concerns’ only as pesky hindrances to the bottom line. But I don’t have much interest in condemning agribusiness: people who know more about the industry than I do can speak to Monsanto’s record more credibly than I can.  Suffice it to say that Monsanto is a really big company. It sells seeds that are genetically modified to increase farmers’ yields. The genes in those seeds are patented. Without Monsanto’s express permission, it’s illegal to save seeds for replanting. You gotta buy new ones every year.

A lot of people are concerned about Monsanto. One of those people is my mom. When I was a kid she would take me to a summer conference called the Seed Savers Exchange. Although the nature of the event wasn’t completely clear to me, I knew it had something to do with her gardening. And I knew we were to stay in a tent. And I knew she would try to make me wear a bonnet (I later learned that this penchant for homesteaders’ costuming was idiosyncratic to my mother, and is not integral to any organic movement).

At these summer events, gardeners and naturalists traded heirloom seeds, which is perfectly legal because there’s no patent to infringe upon—it’s just a tomato. Some of the conference participants were motivated by the concern that the planet’s genetic and biological diversity was threatened by big agriculture, which tends to plant only a few varietals. So it was through Seed Savers that I had my first encounter with lossless duplication. These campers were essentially taking it upon themselves to copy and disseminate DNA. They planted heirloom varietals in isolated, uncontaminated gardens; saved their seeds; and met once a year to distribute the genetic codes around the country. You can’t quite download a tomato, but in sharing seed, you can sort of upload it.

Monsanto seeds, as I mentioned, you’re not allowed to save. While farmers buy the seed, they only license the the technologies inside it. And this is why Apple and Monsanto find themselves in such similar positions.

Rap fans and crop farmers are perfectly capable of duplicating the products that they purchase. To protect and maximize their earnings, Apple and Monsanto must find ways to prevent Rick Ross MP3s and Roundup Ready® sugarbeets from being copied at home in a way that would detract from future sales.

Both companies are employing similar strategies to respond to the challenge. Below, I’ve compared Apple’s iTunes Store Terms and Conditions with the Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement:

Both companies limit the way you can use what you buy.

Apple maintains a list of limits collectively called “Usage Rules.” Monsanto maintains a list of limits collectively called the “TUG,” or Technology Usage Guide.

Apple says, “You agree not to modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute, or create derivative works based on the iTunes Service in any manner.” Monsanto growers agree “Not to transfer any Seed containing patented Monsanto Technologies to any other person or entity for planting.”

It’s worth noting that both companies prevent you from transferring ownership of what you’ve purchased. Usually we’re able to sell the things we own: bikes, clothes, even used CDs can be traded, bought, or loaned to friends.

To buy their products, consumers must agree to be monitored.

When you use iTunes, you agree only to do so in the United States. As stated in their terms and conditions: “Apple may use technologies to verify your compliance.”

When growers sign up with Monsanto, they agree “To provide Monsanto copies of any records, receipts, or other documents that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this Agreement,” and to ensure compliance, Monsanto may request “aerial photographs.”

Both companies aggressively limit consumers’ understanding of the purchased product.

Monsanto’s license states that a “Grower may not conduct research on grower’s crop…other than to make agronomic comparisons and conduct yield testing for Grower’s own use.”

Apple is known for making products whose parts are very difficult to access. Most of the iPhone 4 units, for example, are held together with pentalobular screws instead of standard screws. (Looking down at them, you’d see a little flower shape with five petals, instead of the classic plus sign of a Phillips head.) So for a while, you couldn’t open the thing without first finding someone to sell you a strange little screwdriver with a flower tip. Nancy Sims, an attorney and the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of MN, hepped me to the fact that there’s even a If-You-Can’t-Open-It,-You-Don’t-Own-It techie manifesto. (You can buy t-shirts and all sorts of stuff emblazoned with the phrase.)

By preventing crop research and by using “tamper-proof” screws, both companies make their products black boxes. You can’t look inside to see how the thing works.

These rules and regulations can undermine our fundamental ideas of what it means to actually own something. In most of our purchasing lives, we pay for product and then we can do with it as we like. As long as I’m not endangering others, I can throw the thing into the air, I can write in the margins of it, I can mail it, or strip it for parts. So If I’m only allowed to interact with my purchase in meticulously prescribed ways…it starts to feel less like mine. Like a pet I’m not allowed to touch or see.

But if you don’t abide by license agreements, bad things can happen. According to its own site, Monsanto has sued 145 farmers for saving seed. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sued for illegally downloading digital content (though not by Apple—movie makers are the busiest filers of lawsuits, mostly for films downloaded from torrent sites).

Losslessly reproducible technologies are just complicated things to own. And when you really think about what you’re buying (not the jewel case, not the disc, but a particular and incorporeal sequence of binary code) it’s easy to start sounding like a burnt-out stoner, pondering the impossibility of the whole transaction through a haze of weed smoke. “You can’t, like, own a song dude.”

Even as recording musician, I’m not sure you can actually own a song in the same way you own other stuff.

When I was an elementary kid, our American history lessons still had a good deal of the Noble Savage narrative in the curriculum. I remember learning that some tribes didn’t have a tradition of real property rights—land just wasn’t something you could own. So, according to our textbooks’ (rather hasty) explanation, everybody shared everything and generally got along. My little mind was blown by this alternate utopian paradigm.

I wondered then, and still wonder, what sort of things are okay to call ‘mine.’ Can you privatize water? Chile and South Africa think so, and the issue is debated here too. Can you own air? A gesture? An idea? What’s really ownable? isn’t as high-ass a question as it sounds; it warrants some rigorous consideration. Keep in mind that, historically, we’re not very good at recognizing what’s ownable. We tried to own people.

In many ways, the whole ownership model just seems poorly suited to duplicable technology. Square peg, pentalobe hole. When we try to force new technology into the old model, our contracts end up sounding really, well, creepy. In fact, some licensing contracts stipulate that the people who sign them are not allowed to talk about what’s written in them. That just doesn’t sound like our best work. Instead of asking, Whose is this, who gets paid for it, and how much?, the conversation might be better reset by asking What is this, who made it, who uses it, and what’s fair?

If you really have nothing better to do than sitting in front of your computer during the week end

Why not watch the whole movie Sita sings the blues?



Sita Sings the Blues is based on the Hindu epic “The Ramayana”. Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina Paley is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this animated interpretation of the Ramayana. Set to the 1920′s jazz vocals of torch singer Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues is written, directed, produced and animated by Nina Paley.

“Sita Sings the Blues” was released in 2008 only after long negotiations with the copyright holders of the 80-year-old songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw. For more about how retroactive copyright restrictions almost prevented the release of the film, see this interview. Following the experience of almost having her film blocked from distribution, Nina Paley released it freely under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, and now devotes a significant portion of her time to free culture activism.

Nina said: “You don’t need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom“.

Donate to the filmmaker here: http://questioncopyright.org/sita_distribution#donate

Buy DVDs, etc, here: http://questioncopyright.com/sita.html

Downloads:

Nina talking about intellectual disobedience and the future of copyright:

Culture is Anti-Rivalrous – by Nina Paley

Economists talk about rivalrous and non-rivalrous goods, but Culture is neither rivalrous, nor non-rivalrous; it is anti-rivalrous.

 —

I – RIVALROUS

Rivalrous goods diminish in value the more they are used. For example, a bicycle: if I use it, it gets me from here to there, if you use it, it gets me nowhere. If I acquire your bicycle, you don’t have it any more. Only one of us can have the bicycle at one time. We can share it to a limited extent, but the more it’s used the less it’s worth; it gets dinged up and wears out. The more people use the bicycle, the less utility it has.

If I steal your bicycle, you have to take the bus

All material things – things made of atoms – are rivalrous, because an object cannot be in two places at the same time. Everything in the physical world is rivalrous, even if it’s abundant.

A commons is a rivalrous good. Hence the “tragedy of the commons“: the more people use a square of land, the less valuable it is to each of them. The grass gets eaten too fast to grow back, the soil can’t handle the incoming rate of sheep shit, and degradation ensues.

the commons

Fig. 1: a lovely day for grazing on the commons

tragedy of the commons

Fig 2: Tragedy strikes

Rivalrous and non-rivalrous are often confused with scarce and abundant, but they’re not the same thing. Air is abundant, but it is still rivalrous – some “users” could make it toxic for the rest of us, because air is not infinite. Land and water are so abundant in North America that Native Americans couldn’t imagine owning or depleting them, and look what happened. We treat the oceans as infinite, but they are not; human pollution and exploitation is killing ocean life. We also pollute the vast ocean of air – hence acid rain. Air and oceans are commons.

Commons are commonly-held rivalrous goods. Because they are rivalrous, some uses (or over-use) can poison them or otherwise diminish their value. For that reason, Commons(es) actually merit rules and regulations.

But Culture is not a commons, because Culture is not rivalrous and can’t be owned.

II – NON-RIVALROUS

Non-rivalrous goods, as their name implies, don’t diminish in value the more they are used. A favorite example of a non-rivalrous good is the light from a lighthouse. It shines for everyone. No matter how much you look at it, I can see it too.

Everyone can see the light from the lighthouse…

This is a pretty good example, but it’s not quite right. Theoretically, if enough tall boats are in the harbor, they actually can crowd out your lighthouse light.

…except when they can’t. Once again, too many sheep ruin everything.

Consider sunlight in Manhattan; yes, the sun shines for everyone, but if they build a high-rise next to your apartment you won’t see it any more. There’s only so much sunlight that hits a certain area, and that light is rivalrous. You can always move, of course – except land, while abundant, is definitely rivalrous and not infinite, so you’ll have to engage in some rivalry to do so.

The light metaphor has another problem: is light a particle, or a wave? If it’s a particle, then light is rivalrous. If it’s a wave, then it’s not.

Thomas Jefferson used the example of candle fire, writing “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Of course candles burn out but it’s not the light that’s diminished, it’s the candle. That’s a great metaphor for attention, which is scarce: once our attention is used up, the light goes out.

But Culture is not non-rivalrous either.

 —

III- ANTI-RIVALROUS

Anti-rivalrous goods increase in value the more they are used. For example: language. A language isn’t much use to me if I can’t speak it with someone else. You need at least two people to communicate with language. The more people who use the language, the more value it has.

Which language do you think more people would pay to learn?

  • English
  • Esperanto
  • Latvian

More people spend money and time learning English, simply because so many people already speak English.

Social networking platforms increase in value when more people use them. I use Facebook not because I love Facebook (I certainly don’t), but because everyone else uses Facebook. I just joined Google+, and will use that instead of Facebook if enough other people use it. If enough people flock to yet another platform, I’ll use that instead. Meanwhile I love Diaspora in principle (I was an early Kickstarter backer, before they surpassed their initial $ goal), but I don’t use it, because not enough other people do. When it comes to social networks, I am a sheep.

I'm surrounded by stupid sheep

A classic “Nina’s Adventures” comic, which I only realized was anti-rivalrous a few years ago. ♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy and share.

Culture is anti-rivalrous. The more people know and sing a song, the more cultural value it has. The more people watch my film Sita Sings the Blues, or read my comic strip Mimi & Eunice, the happier I’ll be, so please go do that now and then come back and read the rest of this paragraph. The more people know a movie or TV show, the more cultural value it has. Monty Python references attest to the cultural value of Monty Python – we even use the word “spam” because of it. Shakespeare‘s works are culturally valuable, and phrases from them live on in the language even apart from the plays (“I think she doth protest to much,” etc.). The more people refer to Monty Python and Shakespeare, the more you just gotta see em, amiright? Or not, it doesn’t matter whether you see them, you’re already speaking them. That all culture is a kind of language, I’ll leave for another discussion.

Cultural works increase in value the more people use them. That’s not rivalrous, or non-rivalrous; that’s anti-rivalrous.

 —

IV – SOME EXCEPTIONS THAT PROVE THE RULE

I know what you’re gonna say now: “what about my credit card number? That doesn’t increase in value if it’s shared!!” That’s right, Einstein, because your credit card number is not culture. Here are two things that aren’t made of atoms and are nonetheless rivalrous:

1. Identity
2. Secrets

Identity is some mysterious mindfuck that my very smart friend Joe Futrelle says no one has satisfactorily defined yet. But whatever identity is, it’s rivalrous. If more people were named Nina Paley and had my home address and social security number, I’d be screwed. But that should highlight that my name, home address, and social security number aren’t culture. They may be information, but they’re not culture. They don’t increase in value the more they are used.

Secrets have power as long as they’re secrets. They lose their power when they are shared. When I become conscious of some secret that’s weighing on me, I share it with at least one other person (even if they are a confidante also sworn to secrecy): I can feel the secret’s power diffused just by the act of sharing. Notice I use “power” here instead of “value.” Secrets may be of little or no cultural value – most people don’t really care who that guy slept with 6 years ago – but they can certainly have power, especially when used for blackmail. Which is why it’s important they remain secrets, so they’re not used for blackmail, or harassment, or any reason at all. Privacy is important. Because secrets aren’t culture. Culture is public. Secrets are, well, secret. Until they’re public, whereupon we get scandalous stories that are culture – humans love to gossip – but aren’t secrets any more. The story might gain value, but the secret loses it.

Money vs. Currency
And how about money? Money is scarce, right? It has to be, or it doesn’t work (thanks Wall Street & Federal Reserve for screwing that up). But currency has more value the more it is used! Would you rather have your scarce 100 Euros in Euros, or in giant immoveable donut-like stones on a remote island?

A large rai stone in the village of Gachpar

I remember when the US dollar was a valuable currency; markets all over the world wanted dollars, because they were so widely used and exchangeable. So you want your money to be scarce, but you want your currency as widely used as possible.

 —

V – CONCLUSION

It’s important to treat scarce goods as scarce, abundant goods as abundant, rivalrous goods as rivalrous, and so on. Wall Street treated money, a scarce and rivalrous good, as though it were infinite/non-rivalrous, and look what happened.  Power companies, and the politicians they own, treat the environment, which is a rivalrous commons, as though it were non-rivalrous, and we have dying oceans and mass extinctions and other events you don’t want to think about so much that you’ll just get mad at me if I point them out here so I’ll stop. The RIAA and MPAA, and the politicians they own, treat Culture, which is anti-rivalrous, as though it’s rivalrous. They are doing for Culture what Wall Street did for the economy. If you want to help make this better, treat Culture like what it is: an anti-rivalrous good that increases in value the more it is used.

News from the front – 2

 

1) What a surprise! Two more studies confirm that people who share files illegally actually spend more money on culture than the rest of the population.

- The first study is a new extract from the much-awaited Copy Culture in America and Germany, made by Joe Karaganis and Lennart Renkema. The study focuses on music and notably shows that people who are illegally sharing culture (online or offline) buy 30% more music than those who don’t. It also reveals that large parts of people’s music collections come from friends and family, and that for the younger generation, most of culture sharing is made offline, through Hard Disks, Usb Keys and Dvd-Burning. Of course, The RIAA (via their survey firm) and IFPI has been trying clumsily to discard the study, but Joe Karaganis is a very kind and patient dude and you should also read his answers here and there.

- The second study comes from the Dutch Institution for Information Law and expands the scope to movies, books, games, concerts and box office tickets with similar results: yes, file sharers are the biggest culture consumers, and illegally sharing culture doesn’t prevent people from supporting financially what they like.

The survey also looked at the effect of the court-ordered Pirate Bay blockade in the Netherlands. Results show that among the customers of ISPs who already enforce the block, only 5.5% say they have stopped downloading or now download less.

2) Down with Panama, Hail Portugal

- Panama is about to pass the worst copyright law ever. The 510 Bill grants the Panamanian copyright office the right to pursue filesharers directly and fine them up to $100,000 USD, with the money flowing directly back into the copyright office in the form of bonuses for the officials! And none of the money flows to the rights holders (artists and labels)! Infojustice.org reports that Bill 510 has been approved by the Congress and is now awaiting approval from the executive branch. Crafting of the bill was unknown by Panamanians and there is still no space for public debate over the topic.

- Non Commercial Culture Sharing have been declared legal in Portugal!
Last year, local anti-piracy organization ACAPOR reported the IP-addresses of 2,000 alleged file-sharers to the Attorney General. The Portuguese prosecutor came back with a ruling and decided not to go after the individuals connected to the IP-addresses. “From a legal point of view, while taking into account that users are both uploaders and downloaders in these file-sharing networks, we see this conduct as lawful, even when it’s considered that the users continue to share once the download is finished.” The prosecutor adds that the right to education, culture, and freedom of expression on the Internet should not be restricted in cases where the copyright infringements are clearly non-commercial. I want to marry him.

3) The Pirate Cloud

The Pirate Bay have first stopped using trackers, then switched to Magnets instead of Torrents. Their new step is now to get rid of servers and operate from cloud-hosting providers around the world, to frustrate attempts to take The Pirate Bay offline. They stated on their blog: “Slowly and steadily we are getting rid of our earthly form and ascending into the next stage, the cloud. Our data flows around in thousands of clouds, in deeply encrypted forms, ready to be used when necessary. Earth bound nodes that transform the data are as deeply encrypted and reboot into a deadlock if not used for 8 hours.  All attempts to attack The Pirate Bay from now on is an attack on everything and nothing. The site that you’re at will still be here, for as long as we want it to. Only in a higher form of being”. Lofty words, right ? More pragmatically, a TPB member told the TorrentFreak website: “Moving to the cloud lets TPB move from country to country, crossing borders seamlessly without downtime. The hosting providers have no idea that they’re hosting The Pirate Bay, and even in the event they found out it would be impossible for them to gather data on the users. If the police decide to raid us again there are no servers to take, just a transit router. If they follow the trail to the next country and find the load balancer, there is just a disk-less server there. In case they find out where the cloud provider is, all they can get are encrypted disk-images”. TPB says it will retain control of the technology – transit routers and load balancers – which allows to distribute file-sharing requests across multiple computers, and also hide the identity of both the cloud-provider and its users.

War For Sharing : News from the front

The Copyright Justice League delude themselves a lot.
One of their most recent illusion is that Commercial Streaming will make Culture Sharing obsolete, while an old one is that enforcing copyright laws will stop or strongly curtail Culture Sharing (although Hadopi was a massive failure in France, the USA are about to start an analogue program).
In A&D manifesto, we said strenghtening copyright laws is absurd and inefficient, and that “when we’ll be able to store all the music ever recorded and all the books ever written in a hard disk as tiny as a fingernail, it will probably seem more and more strange to buy digital culture products one at a time.” We should have added “Why would we need streaming services when we’ll have such personal storage?”.
Here, Glyn Moody provides some data arguing that this kind of hard disk could materialize sooner than expected, and that even very harsh penalties do not stop Culture Sharing.

 

1 – Spotify in a box

Most people will be familiar with Moore’s Law, usually stated in the form that processing power doubles every two years (or 18 months in some versions.) But just as important are the equivalent compound gains for storage and connectivity speeds, sometimes known as Kryder’s Law and Nielsen’s Law respectively.

To see why, consider that the IBM PC XT had a 10 Mbyte hard drive when it was launched in 1983, which meant you couldn’t even fit a single song on it. Similarly, the first widely-used modem, the 1981 Hayes Smartmodem, had a maximum speed of 300 baud: to transfer a digitized song using a dial-up connection would have taken around 500 hours.

With those kind of figures, it’s easy to see why the recording industry underestimated the threat that file sharing would become once the Internet arrived: based on the past, it was almost inconceivable that people would ever swap music between computers. Of course, once that did start to happen, and the shape of the future became obvious to many, the industry nonetheless wilfully ignored the facts and the trends at every turn, when instead it should have taken the lead in re-inventing media for the Internet age.

That woeful history of refusing to accept the implications of rapidly-advancing technologies makes this prediction, found via Slashdot, even more fateful:

Technologies that will make it possible to expand disk density include heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which Seagate patented in 2006. Seagate has already said it will be able to produce a 60TB 3.5-in. hard drive by 2016.

Assuming Seagate or someone else delivers, that 60 terabyte hard disk could store around 10 million typical MP3 files. A year ago, Spotify was said to have 15 million tracks, which means that you could store most of today’s Spotify on that future Seagate drive. Spotify is likely to grow even larger by 2016, but it probably won’t grow as fast as the storage capacity of hard disks, so there will be some point in the not-too-distant future when you can place all of its holdings on a single hard disk: Spotify in a box.

Obviously, few people will choose to do that, but storing your favorite million songs will not only be realistic, it will be cheap — and even portable. Provided the transfer rate to and from such disks also keeps up with the growth in capacities — an indispensable technological requirement, otherwise they become impossible to use — this means that people will be able to move around huge collections of music, without ever touching an Internet connection. That makes all those three-strikes plans moot, since you won’t actually need your broadband line in order to swap files with friends. You’ll just plug in your portable hard drives to a common computer and exchange stuff directly (as it already happens with today’s terabyte-sized portable disks).

In an ideal world, we would also see a kind of constant scaling of the intelligence of the recording industry, such that by 2016 it would finally accept that trying to stop sharing — whether online or off — is simply pointless. Somehow, though, I think we’ll just have to make do with the other variants of Moore’s Law.

2 – North Korean Study Confirms It: People Will Share, Whatever The Risks

The previous lines are somewhat theoretical, based on general trends in technology; but here’s some supporting data from a rather unusual source: North Korea (aka the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” – DPRK).

It comes in the form of an extensive study entitled “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment” (pdf). It’s long but really worth reading for the insights it gives into a world that has been almost entirely hidden from the West for half a century. Rather surprisingly, it shows the impact that the physical sharing of pirated materials from South Korea and elsewhere is having on the once isolated nation. As TorrentFreak puts it:

With Internet unavailable to all but a tiny percentage of the elite, citizens of North Korea are obtaining their information through other means, notably file-sharing devices such as DVDs, MP3 and MP4 players, and USB drives.

The vast majority of those music and video players are owned by young people:

“About 70-80 percent of people that have MP3/4 players are young people,” a 44-year-old male who left DPRK in 2010 reports. “When you do a crackdown of MP3/4 players among high school and university students, you see that 100 percent of them have South Korean music.”

That’s significant because the penalties for anyone caught with forbidden music and videos are severe: depending on how the offense is viewed, punishments can range from 3 months unpaid labor to 5 years in a prison camp if the media originates from South Korea… TorrentFreak makes the obvious connection:

Despite the massive risks, young people in the DPRK are apparently prepared to defy the regime by consuming unauthorized media anyway, something they have in common with the US youth who share files in the face of $150,000 statutory damages.

That explains why the copyright industries’ current approach to enforcement isn’t working, and — more importantly — why it will never work, no matter how harsh the penalties become. Whatever the risks, people will carry on sharing.

Let me see your bedroom – a short story by William Cody Watson

 

William Cody Watson has been a very close friend for years now.  One thing that is super consistent with him is his undying need to create.  It’s not merely a  need , but more like a  tunnel -vision realm he’s trapped in – happiness is the distant light at the end, creation is bouncing off the thick  tunnel  walls, and the outside world is a severely fucked up place.  And, well, WCW is stuck in the  tunnel  - a  tunnel  used as a dumpsite for tales of love and betrayal, fear, desperation, escape, and shelter.  It’s always been there.  Look at his prolific work, hear his music, and try to deny the tear jerk reactions – it won’t happen.  His latest LP (out very soon) does just this – guides the listener  within , into sustained moments of life’s most raw emotions, pushing out a result of awe followed by the shedding of tears.

Below is one of many selections of WCW’s recent writings.  Knowing him personally and thumbing through his thoughts on a day to day basis, it is crystal clear to me.  It’s in there.  You’ll find it.” 

(Introduction by Jon Hency / Bathetic)

Click on “continue reading” to read William Cody Watson’s short story.

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How The Copyright Industry Drives A Big Brother Dystopia

 

 All too often I hear that the copyright industry doesn’t understand the Internet, doesn’t understand the net generation, doesn’t understand how technology has changed. This is not only wrong; it is dangerously wrong. In order to defeat an adversary; you must first come to understand their state of mind, rather than painting them as evil. The copyright industry understands exactly what the Internet is, and that it needs to be destroyed for that industry to stay even the slightest relevant.

Look at the laws being proposed right now. General wiretapping. Mandatory citizen tracking. Excommunication, for Odin’s sake. Sending people into exile. All these laws follow one single common theme: they aim to re-centralize the permission to publish ideas, knowledge, and culture, and punish anybody who circumvents the old gatekeepers’ way beyond proportion.

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Art, currency & soup – by Dustin Wong

 With the recent issues with currency and the slowly dying music medias, it is a good idea to re-think what these possibilities can be. 

 I’ve been running into a lot of forums and discussions online about the issue of file sharing, whether that hurts the artist or it helps the artist.  The argument goes, that if a lesser known artist can reach more people through illegal downloading or free downloads, they can get more recognition and it would help the sales of their live shows. However I heard some people respond (who are musicians) that they made music but couldn’t physically perform at concerts.  Some artists say they have put their blood and sweat into these songs, and when these are being downloaded for free they feel like they are being cheated.  

 I also have had experience of this when I was in the band Ponytail, and we were about to release Ice Cream Spiritual.  At the time, it was few months before the release date, but then I found a discussion thread based in Boston and someone had gotten a hold of the album and posted a link for download. I thought this was a good opportunity to talk to them, and hopefully have them take down the link. I asked them politely to do so since it was still premature to have it out in the world, but told them that it was fine for them to keep the album on their computer. The response was interesting, some agreed and kindly voiced that the link should be taken down and some just became furious. They told me I was selfish, and that we were going to make money on this anyway so I should pretty much shut my mouth and mind my own business. We are still in the red for this album for multiple reasons and I have been thinking about this incident for a while now, it was such an interesting interaction.

 It’s the whole idea of money. That is why people are upset, it includes listeners and artists. We have been possessed by the whole idea of currency and have been taken under control by it. Paying for services, objects, foods, etc. It all should make sense, but it really doesn’t. It only perpetuates the feeling of desperation and skews the priority of what jobs can actually give us, joy. Because I believe that even dishwashers can unlock the mystery of the universe through their craft. But more on that on another piece of writing.

 We need to revolutionize the idea of the music media and get over the dogma and nostalgia of these media. I have seen the recent resurgence of tapes being sold, but also realized that a good amount of people don’t really listen to them, they just collect them. Then what does that mean? People are buying objects so that they can get the download codes. I’ve sold some tapes as well, but there is already a free download online, but people still buy them.  So in a way, if it is an object, or a service, it can be anything.  If one wants to create ceramic pieces, bowls or cups they can print a download code on top.  A band member might be really good at making soup, when you’re done with the soup you might get a fortune cookie with a download code.  It doesn’t even have to be a download code, it could be a media of the listener’s choice, but it seems like digital files are the media of choice right now. It could be a tour guide of the musician’s neighborhood, anything really. It’s the promotion of versatility. When money is gone it will be about the sharing of abilities, just like it was before when currency was nonexistent. A man might help a farmer for some food and shelter, a musician might play a song for a family, bringing back the idea of a minstrel.  

 If money changes, everything changes, energy, politics, and the little guy, music. Sound as an art form is experienced through the air, it is a form that goes farthest from material form. Since the music is losing this material form, this is its chance to make an example of what it could turn into. A microcosm of what it would be like without a set currency, a versatile exchange. We’ve been used to listening to music through records, tapes, CDs, and there has always been a scare when a new media was introduced. A fear for the capitalist ideal. Music will return to the place where it was about how the artist related to the world and to his soul/mind/spirit. Pretension in art, though originally about integrity-less and false pretenses, is becoming more seriously about people making art for the wrong reasons–fame and fortune.  However that again is for another piece of writing. 

 Dustin Wong, Live at Nana Hari :

Dustin Wong – Pencil Drove Hili Moon (from Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads)

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Dustin Wong – On/In The Way (from Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads)

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