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August 26th, 2008

With A Little Help From My…Space

Last week(-ish), several of the interns and I were speaking about music copyright. The conversation started when I innocently asked if the Beatles cover I have up on my MySpace is legal. I know that there are clearly legal processes to complete in order to sell a cover song, but I was not selling it. I simply wanted to share my version of With A Little Help From My Friends with some of my friends. (And probably some lurkers and stalkers.)

We came to several main points of contention:
-Whether it is different for streaming music (like on MySpace, or YouTube, etc.) vs. downloading a hard copy. However, I was informed that it is apparently fairly easy to (illegally) copy music playing out of your speakers onto your computer.
-Whether it is different that I was not charging money.

I’ve been doing more research on whether my interpretation is fair use, or whether it is legal for people to be able to listen on-demand to my music, or whether it is legal for MySpace to have a copy of my song on their server. This post will probably get updated soon after I get to the correct section in the book I just purchased on “The Future of the Music Business: How to Succeed with the New Digital Technologies” by Steve Gordon.

I find these issues so fascinating that I am in the process of formulating it into a Government thesis. Any input is of course welcome.

I was experimenting with the features of this blog, so here is an embedded copy (also hopefully legal):
With A Little Help From My Friends – Ali Sternburg

August 13th, 2008

in the spirit of the the olympics, how i learned to row from an olympic all-star

Zack McCune (of RIAA lawsuit fame) blogged yesterday’s rowing outing with Adam Holland.

in the spirit of the the olympics, how i learned to row from an olympic all-star: “”

(Thanks Zack.)

August 13th, 2008

An Engineer’s Adventures in the Berkman Center

A year of law school hadn’t broken me of my long training in physics and engineering, so I first thought that the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, my initial Berkman project, was about developing new technology to protect children from harm on the internet. I knew a few things about developing technology, so I was ready to dive in—until the project director at the Cyberlaw Clinic corrected me. We were not developing technology; we were identifying and assessing it. In my experience, that meant evaluating the technology against performance specifications—again something I was very familiar with. Of course, that wasn’t right either.

Not until I heard danah boyd and Michele Ybarra speak about snuff sites and pro ana/pro mia sites did I finally realize what the Task Force project is really about. See Michele’s presentation. The focus is not on the technology itself and how the technology acts on society, but on how people use the technology as part of living. People use the technology to change their own lives and the lives of others.

It was a revelation to me that the social implications of technology meant more than just the abstract, aggregate effects of new technology on the national economy. The free flow of knowledge over the internet facilitates commercial innovation, which in turn creates wealth. To me, that was the kind of influence that the internet has on society.

That view ignores the intimate effects of the participatory web. It enables citizen journalists, empowers grass-roots activists, evades repressive governments, and creates valuable, globe-spanning communities. That people have integrated technology deeply into their lives also has a dark side, which created the need for an Internet Safety Technical Task Force in the first place.

No example of that dark side is starker than the case of Lori Drew and 13 year-old Megan Meier. The Cyberlaw Clinic helped write an amicus brief in the Drew case this summer. See Sam Bayard’s post about the brief. Lori Drew, the mother of Megan’s schoolmate, allegedly posed as “Josh” in flirtatious electronic messages to Megan, befriended her, and then abruptly cut off their month-long relationship with words to the effect that the world would be a better place without Megan in it. That day Megan hanged herself in her bedroom closet.

According to these allegations, Lori Drew used the internet to call up an apparition so lifelike and powerful that it drove Megan to suicide. This is the power of a person wielding technology. It raises questions, not so much about any quality inherent in the technology itself, but instead about the moral decisions that people make in using the technology. Just as I learned in the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, the issue is not the technology itself; the issue is how people use the technology.


July 16th, 2008

Just-in-time notes and your finances

Berkman Fellow Gene Koo hosted a great discussion about finances and games last night as a part of his Valuable Games series. The big takeaway was that it’s quite difficult to make a game that promotes good financial practices, since games feed you instant gratification and that’s absolutely not a thing that encourages longterm planning.

One of the simpler approaches to gaming discussed was compelling saving by charging for play time, coin-op style. You rig your kid’s xbox up to a laundromat-style quarter acceptor, and deposit any money into 2-year savings bonds. Here’s a coin-op wifi node. No real values are transmitted with that, though.

A different approach, not really a game, involves parsing your spending history for patterns and pushing reminders to you just in time. So if you consistently spend $3 between 9 and 10am on weekdays at a place called “Primo Coffee”, the system sends you a text message at 8:50am that says “You can save $3 by not spending money at Primo Coffee today”. And if you do it, you get a neat congratulatory message at 10:10am. (Adam Holland might suggest that it also reward you with a new piece of gear for your character on some MMORPG)

Or what if regular exercise on a bicycle connected to Mario Kart on the Wii at an approved gym reduced your insurance premiums?

D2D Fund, a nonprofit, is looking at running non-digital “games”with the same allure as the lottery through local credit unions (they’re starting up in Michigan), but lottery laws make it difficult for an institution other than the state to take peoples’ money through games of chance. Prize Linked Savings

Matt Hampel

July 10th, 2008

WARNING: You are about to buy music made by thieves!

Last week I was listening to the radio and heard a crazy electro-pop song I had never heard – a song that once I heard the hook, I had to find out who the artist was. A couple days later, I found the song (“Vanished,” by Crystal Castles) on iTunes and, without hesitation, downloaded the song.

But I wasn’t quite satisfied with purchasing just one song from the new Crystal Castles album. After previewing several of their other songs, I began reading reviews by other iTunes users. Several five-star reviews were sharply contrasted by single-star reviews, most of which alleged that Crystal Castles had “stolen” much of their music from artists who had posted various 8-bit music samples on Creative Commons, subject to a CC license. The reviews, of course, were scathing, intending to deter potential buyers from supporting artists who steal from others. I decided to dig a little deeper.

As it turns out, Crystal Castles had created several songs which sampled several 8-bit music samples from a group of artists who had formed a collective, 8bitpeoples. Their website allowed visitors to download their music for free, subject to a CC license. The license allows for free copying, distribution, and transmission of the works in question, provided the person doing the copying/distributing/transmitting:

1. Properly attributes the work
2. Does not use the work for commercial purposes
3. Does not “alter, transform, or build upon” the work

Artists can waive any of the above conditions by giving their permission for other artists to do so.

The Crystal Castles controversy began in May, with the bad publicity becoming so destructive that Crystal Castles was forced to publicly respond. Surprisingly, they admitted to taking the samples without permission, but maintained that they had not used any of the samples in their album. Crystal Castles member Ethan Kath told Pitchfork that the infringing songs were either too “awful” to include on the album or were too difficult to clear with permission from the artists of the samples. The only song with infringing material available to the public was posted on their record company’s MySpace page by a record company rep. Pitchfork approaches the whole situation from a legal angle:

So yes, Crystal Castles did create derivative works based on the music of chip music artists without proper attribution (though the attribution wasn’t the band’s doing)–two Creative Commons agreement no-no’s. But since they didn’t release or perform the works — and deny that they were responsible for disseminating them — it would be hard to mount a case for the third Creative Commons violation (“commercial gain”). And indeed, even the other two Creative Commons conditions wouldn’t apply to experiments that were intended to remain in the bedroom/studio.

We may very well take Pitchfork for their word. But for me, there were other, more personal implications. Should I buy the album? The music was made by artists who clearly had not taken the time to seek permission for the use of these samples, let alone given them credit for the use. As a consumer who understood some of the implications, did I have a responsibility to boycott the album?

Creative Commons certainly has its critics, and those critics would be quick to point out a situation like this — where CC has created a set of rules that may be unmanageable and not complied with. But it is up to artists, as a community, to respect the rules of the Commons, and to act by an ethical code that goes above and beyond legal liability. It is also up to consumers, as a group, to bring attention to instances in which the code has been broken, and for which there may be no legal consequences. At the very least, consumers can create economic change through protest.

June 23rd, 2008

One of Music’s Possible Futures

Following up on my thoughts from Friday on Gene Simmons’, er, interesting views on the music industry, and via Rob Walker, comes news of the release of Feed the Animals, Girl Talk’s newest album and a possible model for the future of music distribution. Girl Talk, for the uninitiated, is a Pittsburgh DJ who constructs hyperkinetic mashups of everything from ultra-profane gangsta rap, ’70s corporate rock, indie guitar riffs, and pretty much anything else – often all at the same time, and rarely one sample lasting more than 20 seconds. Quite simply, it’s awesome stuff, and manages to make often-iconic pop standards sound at once nostalgic and familiar, and totally new and exciting.

For his latest album he has initiated a pay-what-thou-whilst scheme as follows:

any price grants the download of the entire album as high-quality 320kbps mp3s
$5 or more adds the options of FLAC files, plus a one-file seamless mix of the album
$10 or more includes all of the above + a packaged CD (when it becomes available)

Pretty clever stuff, and also interesting (as Rob notes) is what happens when you signal your intention not to pay for the album – it takes you to a landing page where you answer just why you’re not paying for the album, including the following options:

I have opted to pay $0.00 because:

I may donate later
I can’t afford to pay
I don’t really like Girl Talk
I don’t believe in paying for music
I have already purchased this album
I don’t value music made from sampling
I am part of the press, radio, or music industry
Other reasons

This is an exciting approach, and hopefully Girl Talk will share the results when there’s good data that comes in – as opposed to Simmons, he’s not sitting around waiting for the music industry to figure out a way for him to get paid, he’s trying out ways to get his music out there and see what people will pay for it. But mostly, this is exciting (to me) because it’s a new Girl Talk album, and as such is super-excellent. Go get it, and pay what you will.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield

June 20th, 2008

Journalism and annotating space

In the journalism world, there is a tremendous emphasis on hyperlocal news media — that is, reporting on issues that are relevant in a very small geographic area. To what extent can we see this style of journalism reflecting back on the spaces it covers?

The bus schedule, taped to the bus stop’s signpost.

Restaurants post favorable reviews in their windows. Beyond advertising and good press, what other civic information from newspapers can be added onto the places they describe?

  • Schedules of events that happen regularly. Or if the event is well known, list the deviations instead.
  • Reminders of what’s coming to the space. X marks the development site.
  • Reminders of what’s been in the space. Each of these silhouettes represents a cyclist hit at this intersection. This footprint marks where the demolished building stood.
  • Highlight a path: this way to Davis Square.
  • Post who’s in charge, how to contact them, and what they’ve done in the past. The Alderman for this district, X, is responsible for: …

RFID promises to make place-specific information accessible on a large scale. But “soon” has been “soon” for over 4 years now, and we aren’t seeing any widespread adoption in civic settings. And it won’t be a technology accessible to those who would benefit the most from that type of annotation.

For now, it’s the arrows spray-painted on the ground and the fliers taped on telephone poles that are the most relevant and useful. Decidedly low-tech, but the methods of getting them up don’t have to be.

“Pay Attention,” says this guerilla crochet project.

— Matt Hampel


June 20th, 2008

Gene Simmons Wants You to be Civilized

From Wired’s Listening Post comes the following Gene Simmons quote:

“The record industry is dead,” he mourned to AOL. “It’s six feet underground and unfortunately the fans have done this. They’ve decided to download and file share. There is no record industry around so we’re going to wait until everybody settles down and becomes civilized. As soon as the record industry pops its head up we’ll record new material.”

Simmons seems to think that “becoming civilized” is somehow synonymous with “buying Kiss records.” I would submit that, for Digital Natives, Simmons – if they indeed know him at all – is known as that guy with the big tongue from “Celebrity Apprentice” and the knock-off Ozzy Osbourne with another reality show about his family. As to the second, that brings them up to speed with what real metal fans have known for 30 years.

Jacob-Kramer Duffield

June 12th, 2008

Intern Hour #2: ‘Cross-Pollination’

Or How Three Groups Realized Common Ground

Things started out with what must be the 8th round of personal introductions. But nobody minded as there were new faces, and it provided yet another opportunity for the interns to learn one another’s names.

At least that’s what I was used it for.

After a brief note on tagging relevant material for delicious, and a reminder that by next week the intern community must decide upon the summer’s group trip, Carolina Rossini of Copyright for Librarians spoke up. She explained that her project had recently realized some common ground with two other groups, the Digital Natives project, and Adam Holland’s work with Lewis Hyde. As a result, Rossini explained, the three groups now were working in tandem and had great collective energy that allowed for rich collaboration and support. It was, as Rossini, explained as though the three groups had become a sort of triple helix, each representing a different community of education. Copyright for Librarians, of course, represented librarians, Adam Holland’s worked was geared towards teachers, and the Digital Natives project was interested in students.

Rossini then turned it over to Adam Holland, who further elaborated on his own research and the common ground it shares with other work at the Berkman Center. Working with Lewis Hyde, Holland hopes to create a guide line for fair use, one that improves upon existing guide lines that are often produced by content holders, who wish to restrict fair use. Holland feels that not enough people take advantage of the fair use provision in copyright law, largely because of corporate intimidation and conservative institutional policies that wish to avoid conflict by not even chancing fair use appropriation. The challenge, of course, is that fair use is a loose, non-explicit option for copyright that is hard to quantify and explain to the average citizens

Holland hopes that because of a recent 8-page publication, Best Practices in Fair Use, people will take more confidence in employing fair use. Moreover, it may follow that the community will come to see this terms, “best practices,” as standards and will therefore naturalize this standards toward codified law.
that the community will come to see this terms, “best practices,” as standards and will therefore naturalize this standards toward common cultural paradigms.

Nikki Leon and Jacob Kramer-Duffield, both with the Digital Natives program, then spoke up for the third strand of the triple helix. Both felt that the group’s current work responded to a recent survey, which demonstrated that most teachers do not understand what is the domain of copyright and what is fair use, particularly fair use for education. The group has taken this as an incentive to inform, hoping to follow-up on this statistic and seeking to educate educators such that they will feel confident in fair use and producing creative commons content for other educators. Kramer-Duffield, explained that the current manner of implementing this mission should take the form of various web videos, and explanatory media, packaging certain lessons.

John Randall, also with the Digital Natives project, followed that this was only the first of three phases for implementing/responding to the idea of digital natives. The summer interns, however, were quick to admit that they were likely to only see the first phase, and simply create a frame work for the later work. Randall also discussed Scratch, an MIT web-app and interface that allows for cheap, easy, animation. As an interface, Scratch is “a cross between Flash and visual basic” according to Randall, but has proved to be an interesting space for kids to engage with copyright and plagiarism issues, when users began “borrowing” material, or making subtle tweaks to existing work and calling it their own.

Carolina Rossini cautioned that while this projects may address local issues, over target American education, they will have repercussions all over the world and may serve as a model for the international community that are being to consider these same issues for their country and education systems.

Holland rejoined that it is important that his work represent “an aggregate wisdom,” a knowledge that many people have contributed to, discussed, and come to a consensus, so that it may be helpful for society at large. Otherwise, it represents a single perspective, that however strong, lacks support and therefore is not as informed as a consensus-based guideline might prove.

“The basic goal is to shift people’s perspective from where copyright is the bogeyman,” said Kramer-Duffield, “to a place where people might think of it as fluid, as something to engage with.”

— Zachary McCune

June 10th, 2008

Costs and Methods of Curation

Others will have their own thoughts on today’s excellent Berkman Luncheon session with Anne Balsamo, “Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work,” but I’ll focus on spinning out a little further some of the ideas that came up at the talk. As I noted, I come at this from a Library and Information Science context, so the production and future not just of libraries but of librarians is pretty important in any discussion. Given always-scarce resources, one of the key functions of librarians is (and always has been, and always will be) that of curation and collection development: the determination of which things are included and which are not. Digital libraries and repositories certainly make the marginal cost of storing the next book extraordinarily low, but their maintenance is very much not zero, so this will be just as much of a problem going forward as it always has been.

David Weinberger noted the tendency of any curation project towards canonization, saying that “these are the good books and these are not,” and I don’t disagree – moreover, that’s the point, as every library should seek to serve its community and constituency as well as it can. But there’s nothing that says this needs to be a top-down process – indeed it never has been entirely, as generations of reference librarians can attest from continual questions as to why they don’t have ____.

Social media tools can, as with anything else, make this a much more democratic process. Just as the physical design of public libraries undergoes a public planning and review process, so too can librarians engage their constituencies in collaborative processes to determine what needs are and aren’t being served by existing (or not-yet-existent) collections. That being said, at the end of the day it’ll still be the library professionals that open up in the morning and close in the evening, whether they’re looking after books, computers, or the exciting new kinds of resources and affordances that Balsamo mentioned in her talk (e.g., scanners, 3D printers, sewing machines, etc.). After curation, library and information professionals also take on the exceptionally important role of intermediary: for every generation, libraries can serve this key function of providing access to scarce knowledge and information resources, for the transmission or creation of knowledge, and they can (and should) best serve patrons by facilitating access to those knowledge resources, whatsoever they may be.

Even as easy as replicating 1s and 0s has become, there will never be a virtual equivalent of Borges’ Library of Babel – resources, and the means of accessing and interpreting knowledge will remain scarce. Whatever physical and conceptual changes might happen to the places and ways of accessing, interpreting and creating knowledge, we will still need to have publicly available and accessible places in which to do so, and people to facilitate those interactions.

-Jacob Kramer-Duffield

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