felix's blog

The Big Sort

Another book for my reading list. Bill Bishop: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. 2008. http://www.thebigsort.com

The Wall Street Journal: 'Like-Minded, Living Nearby' (April 22, 2008)

The more diverse America becomes, the more homogeneous it becomes.

No, that's not a misprint; it is the thesis of "The Big Sort," Bill Bishop's rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying. "As Americans have moved over the past three decades," Mr. Bishop proclaims, "they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics."

It is an idea that has all but obsessed Mr. Bishop since he began thinking about it years ago in his hometown of Austin, Texas. In his Austin neighborhood, he observed, there were virtually no Republicans. In another community of similar size nearby there were very few Democrats. Thirty years earlier, he was willing to bet, nothing like that uniformity would have been possible. Values, ideology and partisanship would have mingled more variously in even the most compact neighborhood, ward or district.

Ups and downs Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, film and games

On Februry 18, a report commissioned by the ministry of Economic Affairs, the Justice Department and the ministry of Education Culture and Science called "Ups and downs Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, film and games" was released. A few days ago, the official English translation was released as well.

The research shows that the economic implications of file sharing for welfare in the Netherlands are strongly positive in the short and long terms. File sharing provides consumers with access to a broad range of cultural products, which typically raises welfare. Conversely, the practice is believed to result in a decline in sales of CDs, DVDs and games.

Determining the impact of unlicensed downloading on the purchase of paid content is a tricky exercise. In the music industry, one track downloaded does not imply one less track sold. Many music sharers would not buy as many CDs at today’s prices if downloading were no longer possible, either because they cannot afford it or because they have other budgetary priorities: they lack purchasing power. At the same time, we see that many people download tracks to get to know new music (sampling) and eventually buy the CD if they like it. To the extent that file sharing does result in a decline in sales (substitution), it usually entails a transfer of welfare from producers to consumers. With estimated welfare gains accruing to consumers totalling around €200 million a year in the Netherlands, music producers and publishers suffer turnover losses of at most €100 million a year. These calculations are necessarily based on several assumptions and contain uncertainties as many of the underlying data are not precisely known. Whereas comparable figures cannot be provided for the film and games industries, they follow a similar logic.

AP alleges copyright infringement of Obama image


NEW YORK (AP, 04.02.2009) — On buttons, posters and Web sites, the image was everywhere during last year's presidential campaign: a pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, and has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.

The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees.

The article quotes competing opinions about whether this is fair use or not, with all the usual hair splitting.

There's an interview with Fairey where talks about all the different influences that guided his transformation of the image and how other people worked on his stuff. Which makes the fair use discussion even more absurd.

IRIE – International Review of Information Ethics: Search Engines

Nothing new, in fact, already more than 3 years old, but still worth noting. All essays are available online.

The third edition of the ‘IRIE – International Review of Information Ethics’ (06/2005) and the first under its new title after having been renamed from IJIE (due to a name similarity with another infoethics journal) is dedicated to the focal subject “Search Engines”.

In his essay “Funktionen, Probleme und Regulierung von Suchmaschinen im Internet (Function, Problems, and Regulation of Search Engines in the Internet – an extended abstract in English is enclosed)”, Christoph Neuberger reports on this debate in Germany as well as on the most recent results of the communication sciences. Furthermore, we publish an English translation of the “Code of Conduct” which also was developed in the context of the already mentioned research project. Important aspects like “Ethical and Political Issues in Search Engines” (Hinman), the necessity of the “Symmetry in Confidence” in search engines (Rieder), search engines and their relation to the “Ethical subject” (Blanke) and finally the “Problem of Privacy in Public” (Tavani) are treated by these four English contributions.

The issue is supplemented by two articles that do not fall under the focus of ‘search engines’ but complement it in one or the other way. Thomas Hoeren argues in ‘Laws, Ethics and Electronic Commerce’ that the Internet is leading to a dematerialization, deterritorialization, extemporalisation and depersonalisation of law and thereby the legal system loses its traditional (Roman law) roots (person, space, time). Secondly, the ‘Attitudes of UK Librarians and Librarianship Students to Ethical Issues’ have been empirically examined by Kevin Ball and Charles Oppenheim.

Commons: A rough definition

Last week, I spent a few days at a small but intense workshop where we were looking at a the political dimensions of various forms of commons. The discussions were open and far ranging. I tried to distill some of these into a definition of commons that tries to take its various dimensions into considerations and separates structural from political issues. Far from perfect....

COMMONS, A DEFINITION

A commons is a resource held as joint property by a community. Thus, it is distinct from private property (held by natural or legal persons) or public property (held by the state). Typical for commons is that the management of the resource is oriented towards use-value for its members, rather than towards exchange-value within society at large. The separation between producers and consumers is minimized. Thus, commons are also distinct from other forms of collective ownership (such as co-operatives) that produce for the market.

All commons are social institutions, they depend on a community to create and maintain it. A resource that is freely available to all but not managed in a meaningful way by a self-aware community (e.g., the fish in the open sea) are not a commons. Like in all communities, questions of membership (boundaries) and internal decision-making are subject to ongoing, more or less conflictual, negotiations.

It is these questions that define the political quality of the commons, which can serve as defensive mechanism against market encroachment (e.g., in the case of indigenous commons), as a project of exclusion (e.g., in far-right conceptions of the body national) or as the basis of open cooperation (e.g., in the case of Free and Open Source Software).

Economy Profits From File-Sharing, Report Concludes

Source Torrentfreak:

Commissioned by the Dutch government, a recently published report concludes that file-sharing has a positive effect on the economy, both on the long and short term. A massive 30% of the Dutch population uses file-sharing software to download music, games, movies and other forms of entertainment, which is now considered to be a ‘good thing’.
....
File-sharing gives people access to a wide range of cultural goods and is often used to sample content that is bought later, the report concluded. Most file-sharers would have never bought the content they downloaded, but having access to such a large media library increases the welfare of Dutch citizens, the researchers note.

Frankly, the findings of this study do not surprise me and they point to the power of the long tail for cultural economy. Wider range of access to cultural product is a good thing, in and off itself. People will be able to find what they really care for (rather than stick to what is just not objectionable enough to switch off -- the basic mode of operation of TV and other broadcast media) and form that engagement, many things can flow.

Ars Technica writes:

Things get really interesting on page 116 as the report starts to dissect the societal effects of file sharing. The study concludes that the effects are strongly positive because consumers get to enjoy desirable content and also get to keep their cash to buy other things. Because the consumers save much more money than the producers lose, the net economic effects are positive. The report also reinforces the truth that unpaid downloads do not translate into lost sales in anything close to a one-to-one ratio.

Online Collaboration goes legit

David Bollier writes:

It is one thing to talk about the “virtual corporation” and online commons as new organizational forms. It’s quite another to have those forms be legally recognized. Yet in a little-noticed law enacted in June 2008, the State of Vermont has formally conferred “legal personhood” on online communities that wish to form limited-liability partnerships.

[....]

The Vermont law strikes me as an ambitious next stage in the evolution of tech and legal infrastructure that started with free software and Creative Commons. The General Public License (for free software) and CC licenses authorize new forms of sharing and collaboration, and have the force of law. We’ve seen the explosion of new online creativity and collaboration that has resulted. The new Vermont law has the potential to authorize all sorts of interesting new collaborative organizations that would have the full legal standing to “compete” with conventional corporations.


My friend John Clippinger of the Berkman Center has described the virtual corporations law as the first step toward imagining a new type of “cloud law.” He is referring to “cloud computing,” the next generation of computing that will locate software systems in the “cloud” – remote server-farms that are accessible from anywhere, through one’s iPhone, laptop or other portable device. Cloud computing will be sold as a utility – like electricity or phone service – and will enable even more powerful modes of Web 2.0 collaboration. For economic reasons, tech experts regard the Cloud as the virtually inevitable next stage of computing.

Thoreau, Walden or the Life in The Woods

As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance.
The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; ... We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.

Source: Chapter Economy http://www.princeton.edu/~batke/thoreau/

Making Money on YouTube

The NYT has an interesting article on people who make money with the regular video shows (apparently all comedy). Through YouTube's partner program (where people can register to have adds shown next to their video -- so that youtube can be sure not to show adds on pirated content). According the a company spokesperson, there are "hundreds of YouTube partners are making thousands of dollars a month." One of the shows as an average of about 200'000 viewers with popular episodes up to three million.

Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube’s advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.

On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle “cross-pollination” of ideas.

Why Copyright? Canadian Voices on Copyright Law

In June 2008, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-61, new copyright legislation that closely followed the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The public response to the bill was both immediate and angry - tens of thousands of Canadians wrote to the Minister and their local Members of Parliament, leading to town hall meetings, negative press coverage, and the growing realization that copyright was fast becoming a mainstream political and policy issue. This film, produced by Michael Geist and Daniel Albahary, asks Canadians from across the country and from a wide range of sectors the question - "why copyright?"