Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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20 March 2006

One of the New York Times’s most emailed articles is, surprisingly, one about early 20th century music history, and in particular an archive of wax cylinders now available free online so we can all hear the kind of things our grandparents or great grandparents liked to listen to (well not my grandfather – he was strictly a classical music guy!).

While I am on the subject of new links, may I remind you that you can see a categorised selection of my bookmarks here – 529 of them now and the number is growing all the time. To see every weblog post I made tagged with “Useful web resources” click on the link above this text or just click here. My “Broadband content” category includes audio and video-related postings…

27 July 2005

As Salon pointed out to me, the wonderful folks at the Internet Archive have 150 tracks of Caruso singing – part 1 and part 2 – turned from 78s into MP3s. Download what you like before some idiot lengthens the term of copyright even more and it goes out of the public domain again…

And along similar lines, I was encouraged to learn that the BBC’s recent experiment with free Beethoven downloads garnered millions of downloads – many more than any commercial single sales.

2 January 2005

Or has this been festering behind the scenes for months and only recently become public? (Or has there been argument somewhere I just haven’t been noticing?) It’s becoming clear that “Chris Anderson”:http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bios/andersonw.html – the Editor in Chief of Wired – has views on copyright that differ somewhat from the ‘bits want to be free’ ideology that the magazine has tended to espouse.

I noticed “last month”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_ecommerce.html#001325 that Chris A (as befits an ex-Economist writer) is keen to encourage commercial companies to sueeze every last penny of value out of their intellectual property while people like “Cory Doctorow”:http://www.craphound.com/ and “Lawrence Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/ would rather copyright protection was somewhat loosened to make it easier for people to exercise their existing rights and to encourage more theoretically-marketable but marginal content to enter the public domain.

Now Cory and Chris have “locked horns on digital rights management”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/29/cory_responds_to_wir.html. Cory it seems never saw a DRM implementation he liked – Chris is a little more open to persuasion. Certainly both Cory and Larry have been able to dig up plenty of examples of how stupid DRM software rules sometimes mess up consumers’ rights and how it is always possible to circumvent DRM if you try hard enough. But my guess is that even the clumsy DRM implemented today seldom inconveniences most consumers much and most consumers don’t bother trying to get around it, unless they are trying to do something they shouldn’t like giving away copyrighted content to their friends.

If companies managed to develop sophisticated DRM that didn’t significantly impede people’s legitimate desires to share media with their friends and their other devices I wouldn’t be against it if it encouraged companies to make more of their back catalogues available more inexpensively and conveniently online. At the moment the absence of a convenient and comprehensive commercial alternative naturally drives people to the free P2P networks (particularly for more obscure fare) and this just makes the ultimate day of digital convergence further away.

The EFF and others should be encouraging responsible DRM development not just slamming it. How about a code of conduct for responsible DRM coding?

23 December 2004

In an October Wired article I just got around to reading, the editor in chief argues the importance of what he (and others) have called the ‘long tail’. As we know most people want things that are popular (expressed through the so called “power law”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/13/inequality.php which indicates visits to web pages (or weblogs) tend to be concentrated on a few big sites, or through book and music shopping where most people buy blockbuster books or CDs). What the ‘long tail’ thesis suggests however is that there are still substantial numbers of people who look at, read or otherwise consume stuff outside the mainstream “bump” – and this article suggests that there is money to be made in serving them as well as more mainstream customers.

The author assembles several interesting facts including the figure that 57% of Amazon’s customers are buying books that aren’t in its ‘top 130,000 books’ (the number of books in a typical Barnes and Noble store).

As a frequent would-be consumer of goods in that ‘long tail’ I am all in favour of encouraging the kind of attention to diverse needs that the article goes on to call for but I have to note one or two flaws in the article’s argument. First of all, Amazon (and the other vendors they highlight) may have lots of ‘long tail’ customers precisely because they are known for the breadth of what they stock. If there were lots of people serving that market, the proportion of sales going to ‘long tail’ customers for any individual one may be lower.

Also, the author dismisses the impact of the free file sharing networks on music too quickly. These already provide much of the variety that conventional distribution has so far failed to offer and there is a danger that the longer commercial organizations stay out of the ‘long tail’ market the more likely consumers are to become used to and dependent on free file sharing networks. And as broadband gets more widely available, movies may increasingly ‘go free’ as well. Indeed, I am a little surprised Wired didn’t suggest this would be a good thing – or at least threaten businesses with this as an alternative future…

Interestingly this article is (perhaps at an unconscious level) an attack on one of the key planks of the arguments advanced by copyright reformers like “Lessig”:http://lessig.org/ (traditional Wired allies) who say that it is ridiculous to retain strict copyright rules for lengthy periods because the commercial lifespan of most material is limited. But if the Long Tail encourages companies to try to wring even small amounts of money out of their lower-worth properties they will have a stronger interest in sticking with existing restrictive copyright rules.

Update There is a Long Tail blog and there will be a book. Also it appears the 57% figure for Amazon (one of the more interesting ones) may be exaggerated.

My friend “Reid”:http://rae.tnir.org/ comments rightly:

The thrust of your post seems to indicate that Lessig et al are labouring to make copyright less restrictive than it is. Fine and good, but it would have been better to point out that this would just return to the way copyright was for years and years (centuries?) before companies in the US pushed to change them starting in the late 20th century.

They key issue is that the duration of a copyright is increasing at about one year per year. Needless to say, this is not good. Read more about all this at the Opposing
Copyright Extension

I agree on this point – copyright expiry dates need to be looked at afresh from scratch and a new balance needs to be struck (certainly for example the need to assert your copyright after x years in order to have it valid which was removed a little while ago in the US needs to be returned so works which have no residual commercial value would revert to the public domain faster).

23 October 2004

I always assumed that the large amount of news I receive about battles with the US Congress about various communications policy issues (copyright, privacy, digital divide issues) was simply due to my own interest in these subjects influencing my choice of online media sources. But it seems according to a report by Syracuse University’s “Convergence Center”:http://www.digital-convergence.org/,

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, communications and information policy (CIP) replaced the environment as the policy domain of greatest congressional activity, as measured by number of hearings. From 1997 to 2001, the annual number of congressional hearings devoted to CIP surged to approximately 100 per year.

19 October 2004

At last someone has produced a free-to-download User Guide to Using the Linux Desktop (there may be others but this is the first general purpose one I’ve heard about). You might also check out “the O’Reilly site”:http://linux.oreilly.com/ for a few free chapters from some of their many Linux books or take a look at “Learning Debian/GNU Linux “:http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/debian/chapter/book/index.html which is completely free – one of O’Reilly’s “Open Books”:http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/.

Thanks to “Slashdot”:http://linux.slashdot.org/linux/04/08/22/1955204.shtml for the link

15 September 2004

It always seemed a shame to me that the commercial nature of documentaries like “Fahrenheit 9/11”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0361596/ and “Outfoxed”:http://www.outfoxed.org/ meant that they would not also be available free – at least not officially – but Robert Greenwald who made Outfoxed found a clever way around this.

Rather than releasing his whole film he has simply released the raw interview material from it, allowing independent filmmakers or the curious to make their own use of it. An excellent use of “Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/’s “Creative Commons”:http://creativecommons.org/ license – I hope more journalists and their organizations start to adopt this practice.

Robert Greenwald’s comments and the interviews in a variety of formats are available on “archive.org”:http://www.archive.org/movies/movies-details-db.php?collection=election_2004&collectionid=outfoxed_interviews&from=thisJustIn

Thanks to “BoingBoing”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/09/15/outfoxed_interviews_.html who led me to Lawrence Lessig who led me to “Torrentocracy”:http://www.torrentocracy.com/blog/archives/2004/09/outfoxed_torren.shtml and “Demand Media”:http://demandmedia.net//?op=displaystory;sid=2004/9/15/1612/10512

3 September 2004

The Guardian (back in April) took a peek at the Librie EBR-1000EP which costs c. 220 pounds (only available in Japan at the moment) and sports a 6in screen with a resolution of 600×800 dots at 170dpi, (better than the 70-90dpi of a regular computer display). It’s using the microcapsule display technology pioneered by “E Ink”:http://www.eink.com/ working with Sony and others.

It’s potentially a very exciting development – it’s a pity that according to “a recent review in Fortune magazine”:http://www.fortune.com/fortune/peterlewis/0,15704,685443-1,00.html Sony predictably enough married this potentially revolutionary technology to a boneheaded copy protection scheme.

15 June 2004

I wish I had the time to do a proper write-up of the NotCon session I attended featuring Brewster Kahle, the man behind the Internet Archive whose mission is nothing less than to provide universal access to all human knowledge. Here is some stuff I noted instead.

Some interesting factoids from his presentation:

* There are 150,000 people using the Internet Archive per day. It stores 3-400Tb of data and recently upgraded to 1Gbps bandwidth.
* There were 300,000 to 600,000 scrolls in the Library at Alexandria. Only around eight of them are left.
* You can store the contents of the Library of Congress as plaintext (if you had scanned it all) on a machine costing $60,000.
* The bookmobile he produced that is connected to the Internet via satellite, travels the world and produces complete bound books from a collection of 20,000 public domain works cost just $15,000 – and that includes the van itself.
* He says that it costs him $1 to print and bind a public domain book – I assumed the books produced would be very rough and ready but he brought some along and they were almost as good as the kind you’d buy in a shop. I suspect he may be stretching the truth a bit – I believe the $1 a book cost he quotes is for an 100 page black and white printed booklet. It’s still impressive though especially as:
* He notes it costs US libraries $2 to issue a book. He suggests they could give people copies of public domain books for $1 instead and pay another $1 to the author to compensate them.

Like many geniuses he just doesn’t know when to stop and thankfully he has a private income from a dotcom or two he was involved with that enables him to try out lots of projects. Aside from archiving the web, movies, books and music he’s:

* taking the US to court to try to get their boneheaded copyright laws changed
* working on mirrors of his San Francisco-based archive in Alexandria and Amsterdam (hosted there by XS4all)
* encouraging anyone to upload anything to his archive (copyright permitting) offering unlimited bandwidth indefinitely (though the site doesn’t make it very easy to figure out how you are supposed to take advantage of this generous offer) including performance recordings of bands that have given their permission.
* Trying to collect and save old software (he got special dispensation from the US copyright office to do this for the next three years but can’t make it available). He does want your old software however so if you’ve got some he would like you to send it to him – in physical form with manuals where available. He’s even
* Trying to provide fast, free wifi across all of San Francisco.

He’s so hyperactive my fingers get sore just typing in all of the projects he is involved with! I worry that he’s taking on too much and that some of it may fall by the wayside if something happens to him. But his enthusiasm and his optimism are infectious. I am pleased to have been able to shake his hand.

P.S. Ironically, I recorded his presentation and have it in MP3 format but because it was 21Mb I can’t serve it myself and so far nobody has stepped forward to host the file. I finally found how to upload it but then discovered I deleted the original file once I passed it on to someone else to upload! So I hope someone still has them – if it does get posted I’ll tell you where.

9 May 2004

I recently decided to download Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville from “Project Gutenberg”:http://promo.net/pg/index.html to read on my Palm T3 in spare moments so I was intrigued to stumble across L’Amérique, Mon Amour – a summary of de Toqueville’s thought and life which reveals him to be a rather conservative democratic thinker (he opposed the extension of suffrage in France for example) and suggests that he is mainly popular in the US because he is so enamoured of the American way.

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