Tag Archives: Free

Illegal file sharing in the UK – Three strikes and you’re out

strike

The Phillies have just won the fifth game of this year’s World Series against the Yankees and people in the UK couldn’t care less. They prefer the more gentlemanly version of the game called cricket. Only when it comes to combating illegal file sharing do UK lawmakers borrow a bit of baseball terminology (the author apologizes for such a sleazy introduction). A “three-strike” policy will soon be rolled out, which may lead to offenders’ Internet connections being cut in 2011. But is that gonna help? Continue reading

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Crawling the news

google

A few weeks ago, I had to read through a bunch of blogs and websites covering the UK newspaper industry. It made me feel very sorry for those guys. Basically, articles and posts on those websites fall into one of two categories. The first is “disastrous revenue reports/circulation figures” – any sign that the decline in these numbers is slowing is taken as a sign of hope these days. The second category may be called “where are you, new business model?”. One of the hot topics at the moment: news aggregators, in particular Google News. Newspaper websites like those links to their articles but they grow increasingly uncomfortable over Google taking their content for free. And Google has responded… Continue reading

Premium version of Lady Gaga coming back to Youtube (soon)

ladygaga

Good news! After several months of secret negotiations, Youtube and the Performing Rights Society (PRS) for music have finally agreed to make “premium music videos” available to viewers in the UK (that includes the author of this blog, who had to live with illegal, sometimes hard to find, but otherwise rather identical versions of the songs for a while).

Unfortunately, when I tried to start the day with a legal premium version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, I was still denied this acoustic pleasure because the legal agreement apparently takes some time to translate into “tangible” changes. Or the guys at Youtube can’t find the list of things they took offline because some intern deleted it. Or the guys at Youtube are actually on holidays and the legal department doesn’t have their phone numbers. Whatever the reason, I have to wait for my Lady Gaga video.

You and I may wonder what the deal was that Youtube and the PRS took so long to agree on. The answer is, nobody knows. Well, maybe a handful of people know but they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In other words, they were unmistakably told to shut up about it or they would be send to work in a Google server farm in Siberia.

How to pay Lady Gaga

Until somebody leaks the information, we can only guess what the agreement entails. First of all, it may help to note that drafting, managing, and enforcing online copyright regulations is a terribly, terribly complex thing that not many people fully understand (I’m certainly not one of them). One reason it took the PRS and Youtube so long to agree on something and then keep it secret is that it hasn’t been done very often on such a scale before.

In a nutshell, the PRS collects royalties for the artists and songwriters it represents when their works are played out. As far as I understand, this has very little to do with the record labels (who also hold some rights regarding the performance and reproduction of these works). There are basically two ways in which such royalties may be collected: as one-by-one payments and as a flat rate. For example, radio stations pay a flat rate (a so-called “blanket license”).

So far, Youtube had a one-by-one payment agreement with the PRS. Every time somebody listened to Lady Gaga, Youtube had to pay a certain amount of money (a fraction of a penny, I believe) to the PRS, which forwarded it to Lady Gaga. This may have been too cumbersome for Youtube. More importantly, it may have been too expensive. So there are rumors now that Youtube succeeded in switching to a flat rate, paying one sum of money, irrespective of how many times a video is watched.

Why Lady Gaga may not be happy

Some people in the music industry seem to be pretty upset about this agreement, including the artists and songwriters themselves. They are upset because they don’t know how much a performance of their work on Youtube is actually worth. It is an entirely nontransparent agreement. What is more, the value of each played out video would be decreasing if Youtube actually enforced a flat rate payment. No matter how many times Lady Gaga’s songs are played, she would always receive the same amount of royalties. I’m sure she’s financially in good shape, but it can make a difference for smaller artists.

Anyways, I’ll be checking again tomorrow morning to see if the video’s are actually up and running again.

How Starbucks might kill freelancing – or the other way around

Coffee shops and laptops

Rumor has it that Obama’s inauguration speech was written by his gifted young speech writer at a Starbucks. That may well be the most famous piece of work ever produced in a coffee shop, but it’s by far not the only one. When I think about coffee shops, I think of freelancers. And when I think about freelancers, I think of Starbucks. But how much longer will this happy symbiosis last?

What triggered my worries was a story in the Wall Street Journal the other day (sorry, took me a few days to sit down and write this). Some coffee shops in New York have started to limit the availability of WiFi or restricted the hours in which you can have a laptop on your desk.

The reasons for this backlash aren’t that hard to guess. Tons of people come to coffee shops to have one cup of tea, no sugar, and then spend the rest of their visit working on whatever they’re working on as freelancers. Hence, other people have no place to sit and enjoy their double chocolate muffin and vanilla latte. The recession may have made the situation worse, as some freelancers probably canceled their home broadband connection for good (if not their entire rental agreement). Ironically enough, the same coffee shops that now suffer the burden of too many freelancing, space-wasting customers once invited them in as a nice strategy to attract business.

I’m wondering how it actually happened that freelancing is now so closely associated with coffee shops? Was it coffee shops first and suddenly everyone thought, “Oh, brilliant… let me freelance, now that I can hang out at this coffee shop all day and night”. Or was it freelancers first until one morning over a cup of coffee some business school graduate thought “Oh, brilliant… all those freelancers want to hang out at a coffee shop all day and night”. Hen and egg thingy, I guess.

Now that coffee shops are restricting the use of laptops, will freelancing die? And without freelancing, will coffee shops die? The consequences will probably not be that severe, I must admit. But let me close with some cultural studies snobbery by saying that what we are is what we drink is what we write is what we are… right?!

Dear Mr Anderson…

(Flickr user "The Rusty Projector")

Read why C. Anderson says we should be like dandelions (Flickr user "The Rusty Projector").

The following is copied from a letter I sent to the editor of Wired, Chris Anderson. In his recent article, he argued that computing power is now abundant and that we need to change our business models and mindset accordingly. While I think he’s to some extent right with that, he (and wired.com in general) like to forget about all of those who don’t keep up with the latest innovations and technologies.*

Dear Mr Anderson

let me first say that I am some sort of fan of yours. You are one of the most articulate proponents of the view that technology will radically change business models and markets to empower the customer and satisfy previously unknown demands. Whatever limitations there might be to this view – I was convinced by, and enjoyed reading, many of your arguments.

However, as I came across your latest essay on wired.com – “Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity” – I couldn’t help but voice come critique. This is not to refute your argument entirely, but rather to introduce some balancing perspectives.

Not everything about computing power and its use is abundant. And although a lot of things may seem like they are, we must not forget the scarcities. I will just touch upon a few of them here, hoping that these points will find more mentioning in your future work.

Computers in every home?

I personally cannot imagine life without a computing device somewhere near me. Yet, for many people this is still the case. Just to give one example, the General Household Survey 2007 in the UK found that “only” 71% of all households had a home computer (disregarding for now that those without might still be using a public one).

So my first objection to perfect abundance is that we do not “have computers in every home—and in every pocket and car and practically everywhere else”, as you suggest.

One of the reasons why we don’t is still cost. Without being too fussy, long distance calls on cell phones are not entirely free on cell phones, as you suggest. They require a cell phone to begin with and at least some form of contractual agreement with a service carrier. And while most of us have some form of cell phone today, only a small minority enjoys the services of a smart phone. The same goes for sufficient broadband bandwidth to enjoy the the internet to its full potential.

The regular folks

I also had to stop for a second when you said that “we changed the world by finding applications for [computers] that the technologists had never dreamed of” (original emphasis). Who is “we”? Who are those “regular folks [who] found new ways to use computers”?

I believe it is open to debate how many of those with access to computing technology are actively driving the development of new applications. Admittedly, this share seems to be increasing in times of the App Store and open source software development.

But from a more sober point of view, those “regular folks” don’t seem to be that regular after all. It seems that many of us are still trying to catch up with everyday desktop software when your website is already praising the latest cloud computing service. The skills to use these services, or even to become “a filmmaker”, are unevenly distributed.

Paying the bill

To be fair, the points I mentioned so far might be irrelevant to somebody who’s business or publication targets the large share of the population with sufficient access and skills to enjoy a bit of abundance. Inevitably, innovation will always leave some people behind.

But maybe businesses find it difficult as well to fully embrace the abundance narrative. Is it really “artificial scarcity” when a cell phone company restricts the size of my voicemail inbox? Or does voicemail traffic actually drive the fixed cost on their balance sheet?

I wonder how many businesses – especially in their early stages – can afford to go through “a lot of fruitless minima” before they hit the jackpot. Youtube, as the classic example, has spent several years and billions of dollars, only to be loss-making until today. Without subsidies from Google, such a financial record would be the end of any other business.

Scarce filters

Finally, I would like to pick up on a point that you stressed in The Long Tail – the incredible importance of content filters and aggregators. These are crucial to sift through the abundance of web content out there.

The problem with them is obvious: there is only a few of them which control a massive share of the market. A few companies and their websites control the mechanisms and algorithms that help us find what we’re looking for. You may be right that they help us explore the end of the Long Tail, but how they do it is largely unknown.

And so…

As I said before, the points I tried to make do not serve the purpose of rejecting your argument completely. I believe you provide a nice description of some of the transitions that are currently going on.

What I’m getting at is that a lot of stuff related to computing powers is not abundant. As you are responsible for driving and reporting many of the advancements in technology, it is important to keep that in mind.

* For all of you who’ve studying at LSE with me, the arguments of this post will sound pretty familiar. Please comment if you like to add anything.