Pointing with Pride, Part 3
I’ve received no feedback on these Retrospectives—either good or bad. But I receive very little feedback on most C&I essays, so I’ll assume some of you find these pieces interesting, some of you skip right over them and some aren’t sure what to think. Such is life.
Just as lots of folks went overboard with web hype at the turn of the century, and lots of folks go overboard with “X changes everything” nonsense today, quite a few of us—including me—swung too far in the other direction when things turned sour in the first dot.com bust. (Yes, “the first dot.com bust.” Now it’s more of a rolling process, hopefully thinning out nonsense as things go along. I used the neologism “dead.com” in the same essay to describe pointless and defunct .coms.)
In “The Pendulum Swings” (first part of Trends & Quick Takes, the opening essay in this issue), I spotted that issue:
The Web changes everything. We’ve been hearing that for years, absurdly simplistic though it is. Now we get the reaction: dot.coms are dead, the Web is pointless, there’s no New Economy, it’s all a pack of lies. People (journalists) went overboard believing the hype. Some now go overboard with disenchantment—and the truth lies somewhere in between.
A ZDnet essay by Andreas Pfeiffer, “Has the Internet peaked?” noted cases where businesses were moving back offline, teachers reporting that students were getting bored with the web, online content companies producing print publications. Mostly, Pfeiffer says, we were gaining a more realistic appreciation of the new medium (and moving away from the notion that the web replaces all other media). Then, in closing, Pfeiffer mentions “earth-shattering, headline-grabbing developments” yet to come…including interactive television. My note:
Interactive television as an earth-shattering development? Ah well. At heart, Andreas Pfeiffer is still an industry analyst, with all that implies.
I’ll stand by that particular bit of skepticism.
There was more good stuff in T&QT. Fox accused the University of Wisconsin of trademark infringement…because the Why Files science education site “dilutes the distinctiveness of the X-Files name.” Honest. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Without researching the details of the suit, it’s worth noting that The Why Files is still around at whyfiles.org/, having outlasted the X-Files by several years. I should note that UW’s operation is not The Why? Files (www.thewhyfiles.net), a “UFOlogy” portal—or The Why-Files (www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/ISUNY/why-files.html), a now-defunct newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York.
I mentioned an odder-than-usual pair of defunct web “businesses,” one a little shady, the other hopeless. RhinoPoint promised you’d be paid for filling out monthly online surveys—but you paid $15 to register first. The “company” disappeared, presumably with some significant number of $15 payments. SweepSurf.com—formerly MValue.com—promised to pay $0.50 an hour for viewing ads as you surf the internet. It shut down properly and sent apologies to members. Now, Virgin Mobile’s doing something similar—but it offers minutes, not money.
Same essay—one just full of millennial goodness. Scott Spanbauer of PC World wrote “Libraries share books much like Napster shares songs, although it’s illegal to photocopy entire books in a library.” This was the real Napster, not the current legal MP3 sales site of the same name. My headline: “Arggh.” Circulating books, to one borrower at a time with no other borrower able to use the book simultaneously, is absolutely legal and protected by the First Sale doctrine, and even a PC journalist should have been able to make the distinction.
Several pages discussed ebook developments, including the whole sorry story of Gemstar’s acquisition (and dismemberment) of Nuvomedia and Softbook, Gemstar’s bizarre plans for making ebooks work (no online advertising, only print advertising; only a few thousand bestsellers, nothing like a broad selection; selling through electronics stores, not bookstores), an experienced journalist thinking ebooks had real possibility because Jeff Bezos was (at the time) opposed to them (“when you hear yesterday’s innovators bad-mouth the new kid on the block, take note”), the introduction of a 133dpi notebook, and Mick O’Leary’s assurance that ebooks were about to take off and “in a big surge”—using Stephen King’s “Riding the Bullet” novella as proof. In 2001, O’Leary was certain that “authors, publishers and readers are moving toward ebooks.” The big surge and rapid movement have so far been postponed.
Remember the :CueCat? Using one with LibraryThing? I devoted nearly three pages to “:Cueless in Cyberspace,” suggesting that :CueCat (don’t forget that leading colon!) held a “special place among last year’s innovations…a place somewhat similar to DivX.” Maybe that’s because I couldn’t see the point in scanning a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to get to the Kraft website; wouldn’t you just key in the URL (or, these days, Google “Kraft”)? There were some mildly positive reviews, but most experienced journalists saw it for what it was. I was bemused by the company’s claim that, even though most people received :CueCats free, in the mail, without requesting them or signing for them, they didn’t own the devices—they were only on loan. (Hackers started in on :CueCats early, and the company sent cease & desist letter.) The US Postal Service is quite clear about things mailed to you that you didn’t request: You own them and owe nothing for them.
Trends for the new year: always good stuff. FamilyPC had ten projections from ten experts for great 2001 developments. Philippe Kahn had the right idea, a few years early: We’d all be carrying “candy-bar size wireless devices that combine digital cameras and cell phones.” Well, not all of us, even now, but… Jack Myers thought we’d all buy DVRs in 2001—and they’d be embedded into TV sets. Michael Wolff thought there would be no pure Internet businesses by the end of 2001! Ben Mandell saw the wired home (and grocery-tracking refrigerators) as a surefire development. Joyce Schwartz had us all switching to internet telephony in 2001. There were a couple I hoped (but didn’t expect) to see actually happen; go back to the issue to read those.
Give The Industry Standard credit for being dubious that we knew which companies would survive the struggle for computer-making dominance. That list was Compaq, Dell, Gateway and IBM. Interesting: Only one of those four companies survives as a PC maker—Dell. Compaq’s been swallowed by HP; Gateway’s a brand name for Acer; IBM sold its PC business to Lenovo. On the other hand, the same issue called Larry Ellison a “big winner” and Bill Gates a “big loser”—based partly on stock holdings.
And, while LCD displays were getting better and cheaper, they were still very expensive. A roundup in PC Magazine covered 15" LCDs—costing $700 to $1,240! I thought that was a ridiculous price for an undersized display. Still do. The same “Review Watch” column had an astonishing review of net appliances—with “recommended” seals for three appliances that could only handle email (no attachments, no saved mail) and low-end web surfing through a no-choice ISP. Finally, consider improvements in some areas: A roundup of internal ATA hard drives for Macs gave top rating to a $190 Seagate holding 40GB…and that was an excellent price at the time, particularly for a Mac drive.
This issue was pure miscellany—no essays, lots of piece-by-piece material. A few highlights:
· Windows XP was on its way, and other than the configuration-sensitive activation requirement, most reactions were positive.
· Ebooks got almost five pages, including notes from M.J. Rose’s excellent coverage, a bunch of stuff from and about eBookWeb (a site founded by true believers and dedicated to the idea that ebooks will replace print books), an odd admission about actual sales (for the time—that Time Warner’s “#1 bestselling ebook at Amazon for June” sold hundreds of copies, not in June but overall), and the bizarre case of Scott Adams selling a new book exclusively in ebook form—even though Adams admitted he had never read an ebook.
· I did a long commentary on an even longer group of articles, PC Magazine’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the PC. It included such goodies as George Gilder attacking Bill Joy for being nervous about nanotechnology and genetic engineering and for offering “a tonic for beleaguered socialists,” noting that the techno-left and “Greens” are “the main adversary of freedom and faith.” Ray Kurzweil assured us that “computation will be everywhere…embedded in everything from our clothing and eyeglasses to our bodies and brains” by 2010, a prediction that I’m comfortable in saying is nonsense. (I asked: “With all this computation and embedded chips, why would we have eyeglasses?”) Kurzweil believes that, two years from now, we’ll have web-enabled nanobots in our bloodstream, capable of switching us from reality to virtual reality and blocking sensory input and actual movement. Based on programming received over the web. The cluster of articles also includes profiles of people who changed your life, including Jeff Hawkins (Palm), Seth Warhsavky (Internet Entertainment Group, a porn peddler), Bob Stephens (Adaptec), Esther Dyson—all people who changed your life. Right.
· A First Monday article claimed that the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials, first published in September 1991, was “the world’s first online peer-reviewed journal.” That’s so wrong it’s almost painful—by at least four years and at least half a dozen journals. For a supposedly-refereed article, this was astonishingly ill-informed writing.
· A reminder of the Good Old Days in Review Watch: Best Buy reviews for two Samsung displays (both CRTs), both showing “maximum resolution” of 1920x1440 pixels. Except that the specifications for the displays make it clear that one could only physically display 1407x1055 while the other could only display 1292x969. These days, specifications for displays usually show actual viewable pixels, not a “maximum” that’s not physically possible.
Remember the great PLoS pledge of 2001? 30,000 scientists pledged they would not publish in, subscribe to, or serve as an editor for any journal that didn’t offer unrestricted free distribution to articles within six months of publication. Pretty impressive, but publishers concluded it was a bluff. They called and the scientists folded. The lead essay was about that unfortunate poker game and various Grand Solutions for the serials crisis—including the idea that journals should disappear and web links become the standard for refereeing. (The person suggesting that also claimed that up to three-quarters of academic library expenses are for administration of print journals, a remarkable claim at best.)
Copyright Currents—a third of this issue—considered “Living with DMCA—and Lots More.” IEEE instituted new conditions for its many computer science journals, one of which was that authors had to affirm that their work didn’t contravene DMCA. EFF published a landmark publication on three years of DMCA. I was unwilling to mention the (trivial) details of the procedure for “cracking” Sony’s idiot pseudo-CD copy protection (i.e., turning off AutoRun) because I couldn’t risk a DMCA violation. Then there were CBDTPA and SSSCA, the Bronx cheer and the snake hiss, with lots of interesting byplay but, fortunately, no passed bills. Creative Commons was a new kid on the block and Eldred v Ashcroft was going forward. Meanwhile, Jamie Kellner of Turner Broadcasting said flatly that skipping ads is theft. “Your contract with the network when you get the show is you’re going to watch the spots.” Skip them, and “you’re actually stealing the programming.”
One PC columnist thought PCs should be marketed “like cars” and claimed mainstream car buyers don’t care about horsepower and Civic drivers don’t know anything about the (extremely sophisticated VTEC) engines in their cars. Another columnist decided the midrange PC was dead, that there were only two choices in PCS—cheapies around $750 and high-end units around $2,000. I think that was premature in 2002, but may be just about right in 2008.
We were told that two-megapixel digital cameras were fine for 8x10 prints on one page of PC World—and, later in the same issue (and written by the same journalist), that you needed three megapixels for 8x10. These days, you’d look askance at anything less than eight megapixels, but times have changed.
Looking at library-related literature, I was bemused by an EContent article that viewed the STM serials crisis almost entirely from the publishers’ perspective—and that assured us Harvard, Yale and Stanford “will never compromise on coverage” no matter how much it costs. Guess again. I apologize for a mistake on my part. I read a claim that up to three-quarters of library budgets were “spent on the administrative expenses of dealing with print journals.” I thought it was a ludicrous statement, which it is—but now I see that it comes directly from Andrew Odlyszko. That did, to be sure, give the writer a solution for library budget problems: Get rid of staff and use the saved money to pay for electronic-only access to the journals. “Internal library costs can still be slashed without sacrificing publishing margins for electronic product.” As I said at the time, “Those stones still have blood in them: You just have to squeeze harder!”
I took a cheap shot at another First Monday article, this one discussing the “second-level digital divide,” a divide that can never be bridged. Namely, some web users search the internet more effectively than other users. What! A crisis! How can we handicap effective searchers?
Here’s an essay I don’t think I’d need to write in 2008—the lead Perspective, “A Zine is Not a Weblog.” Back then, Cites & Insights did get labeled as a weblog or blog more than once—and for a bit the idea seemed to be common that blogs were the solution to every communications problem.
Even then, some of my best sources were blogs—and “I read several weblogs five times a week.” No aggregator, and “several” probably meant 20 or fewer. I recounted discussions regarding blogs, some of them on blogs. Ed Felten noted distinctions between blogging and official writing, noting “Blogging works best as a sort of conversation and as an outlet for ideas that aren’t big enough or good enough to merit the investment of full-on editing.” Felten, a scholar with proper papers to his name, handled and handles Freedom to tinker in a manner that’s like a blog-based zine, with relatively few posts but long, thoughtful essays in the mix. Steve Bowbrick, writing in The Guardian, asserted “The best blogs are written with conversations in mind.” At the time, Steven Cohen had changed Library stuff from links-with-brief-comments to a more conversational approach focusing on his own thoughts—a change that’s since been reversed for the most part. Recognizing when I was either wrong or have changed my mind, I suggested that being able to look at 192 blogs in less than an hour means “about 170 sites too many to draw any coherent conclusions or to actually read, as opposed to glimpse.” Little did I know…although, truth is, I never read all of every single post in the 500+ blogs I follow. And I wouldn’t even attempt to “draw any coherent conclusions” from scanning all those blogs. Times change. People change. In this case, Jenny Levine (author of the 192-blog statement) was right; I was wrong. David Bigwood of Catalogablog wrote a particularly interesting post about blogging and different kinds of reading; I like one comment about blog arrangement as it might or might not suit other requirements: “A book that arranged words by the date of usage would be interesting but not much use as a dictionary.”
At the time, I didn’t have a blog; Walt at random was still two years away. Explaining again why Cites & Insights isn’t a blog (and in some ways is the opposite of blogging), I noted:
Could I produce a weblog? Probably. Would it be as good as, say, LISNews, Library Stuff, Scholarly Electronic Publishing weblog, FOS Weblog, Freedom to Tinker, or Catalogablog? Probably not. More to the point, it wouldn’t be my style—and it would interfere with my writing and thinking. For me, starting a weblog would be a bad thing (I believe) for now. Will I ever produce a weblog? Who knows?
Skimming through the rest of the issue (including a brief Bibs & Blather, “The Web is Not the Net,” responding to a very silly quotation from a library publication), we get to the heart of the issue: The Filtering/Censorware Follies, “CIPA and the Supremes.” Sigh. Eleven pages, lots of thought on several sides…interesting history and ultimately futile.
In The Good Stuff, I recommended one of my own columns, noted one writer who believed we were already remembering too much stuff—and pointed to the wonderful anti-phonetic alphabet, with words like cue, irrupt, tsar, ewe, see. Among reader submissions, I was taken with “Q as in quay.” (Go look it up, noting that “Quay West” would sound the same.)
I called this the “Stuff and Nonsense Issue,” since it had a lot of The Good Stuff and The Library Stuff and an essay on “Hysterical Librarians, Attorneys General and Section 215,” dealing with John Ashcroft’s early take on librarians who weren’t enthusiastic about the portion of the USA PATRIOT Act that authorizes FBI searches of records from libraries (and bookstores and businesses). The issue also included fond impressions of the North Carolina Library Association and Charleston Conference.
Remember when Pew wasn’t 100% enthusiastic about everything internet? I discussed a report from Pew Internet & American Life, Spam: How it is hurting email and degrading life on the internet. It was a good report (with carefully reported statistics). Spam isn’t new. I’m not sure whether it’s worse (for email) than it used to be. Unfortunately, we know why spam continues: 7% of those polled had actually ordered something from spam email.
Some controversies never go away. Reuters reported on a lawsuit in which four LA residents were suing eight large PC makers because “their advertising deceptively overstates the capacity of their hard drives.” It’s the old 1,000-vs.-1,024 decimal-vs.-binary issue, and of course the four wanted class-action status. I suggested they weren’t going far enough: Not only does the notation system “rob” you of some capacity, but OS makers are even worse—they use storage space that you paid for in file allocation overhead, automatic indexing and all sorts of other nefarious deeds. Why, when I got my new notebook, that supposed 250GB hard disk only had 221GB—and I think less than 200GB of that was available. (Gateway allocates an 11.1GB—that is, roughly 12 billion bytes—partition as a recovery drive, leaving 238 billion bytes or 221GB for the primary local disk.) I’m shocked—shocked, you hear me!
Abandoned blogs by the millions are nothing new. A Perseus report said two-thirds of four million hosted weblogs (those on services such as blogspot.com) hadn’t been updated in two months—and 25% of blogs “had no postings after the first day.” The report said active blogs averaged one post every two weeks, with just over 1% of blogs being updated daily. It used the term “nanoaudiences” for the readership of most blogs—but their idea of “nanoaudience” seems to be around 250 people, not a bad readership for a niche blog. One big problem with the study: It was extrapolating from a sample of only 3,634 blogs in a field that’s known to be extremely heterogeneous—and extrapolating with absurd levels of precision.
Nor, to be sure, is foolishness about kids and books new. A Wired article claimed that students don’t know there are such things as books—and that the current publishing system made titles “inefficient at thousands of sales per year,” only true for the largest publishing houses.
This was also the issue in which I noted Nancy Pearl’s rule for books that don’t live up to expectations, as she changed the “rule of 50” (read the first 50 pages before abandoning a book) to this modified rule because life is too short:
If you’re over 50, you subtract your age from 100, and that number is the number of pages you have to read.
Thirty-eight pages. I can do that standing up.
The Reading Disaster (or Not). That was the title of the lead Perspective, noting NEA’s Reading at Risk and attacking the conclusions and the numbers. We were told Johnny won’t read, the state of books was “grim” and so on—but pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, the one telling us only literature counts as reading. Biographies: Not literature. Philosophy: Not literature. History: Not literature. The NEA report came to a remarkable doom-crying conclusion: “At the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century.” I see a bull standing out in the field. Now the bull’s walking away. And there, on the grass, is this projection.
I was a little amused that reading plays is considered proper literary reading—where, presumably, watching plays performed wouldn’t count. And, as one who remembers that history goes back beyond World War II, I was less than filled with alarm at the idea that less than a majority of adults do Serious Booklength Reading each year (even noting that bodice-rippers and formulaic series fantasy and SF novels do count as literature, while Winston Churchill’s nonfiction books do not). My conclusion: “The sky has not fallen. I sincerely doubt that America will be a nation of alliterates in 50 years.” That conclusion has hardly dissuaded the Chicken Littles.
The Censorware Chronicles devoted several pages to COPA; I get discouraged trying to summarize this stuff. After that, I offered ALA Conference Comments in one of the first of a series of discussions about conferences and speaking. There followed a fairly long followup on ebooks and library involvement. Again, no summary seems justified.
Back in 2004, I was bothered by a Wired comparison of four CD-ripping services—companies serving those too lazy to rip their own CDs to MP3. Partly, I thought the services were silly. More so, I was appalled by Wired’s conclusion: “Sure, it costs $135 and up for every 100 discs. But you can flip your newly archived CDs at a record store to pay for it.” When you do that—retain a perfect copy and sell the original—it’s copyright infringement, pure and simple. I thought it was wrong. I still think it’s wrong (yes, I have all the CDs I’ve ripped). But, as I’ve noted elsewhere with PC Magazine, some print journalists seem strangely uninterested in the ethics of copyright infringement…if it doesn’t involve print.
Anyone remember www.teemings.com/extras/lotr/? These days, you get a parking page—but back in 2004, it provided a huge number of passages showing what Lord of the Rings might be like if someone else had written it. Many were stupid. Quite a few were laugh-out-loud clever.
This was the issue in which, after twenty years, I finally stopped doing PC value comparisons. Just as well; they’d be almost useless in more recent years.
The lead essay was a ©3 Perspective: FMA: Watching the Way You Want. It was unusual for me, as a hard-core free speech/anti-filtering advocate, because I approved of a new copyright law that certainly didn’t weaken copyright (in general). One part of the bill provided two new criminal offenses—both of which (camcording in a movie theater and infringing on a work while it’s being prepared) struck me as almost wholly within the realm of true piracy, that is, widespread commercial infringement through sales of bogus DVDs and the like. Two other provisions dealt with preservation.
The odd one was the Family Movie Act. Quoting:
This act legalizes (in copyright and trademark terms) ClearPlay and similar models, where software or some other control device “mak[es] imperceptible, by or at the direction of a member of a private household…limited portions or audio or video content of a motion picture…from an authorized copy of the motion picture…if no fixed copy of the altered version…is created…” [There’s more, but that’s the heart.] The act also requires “a clear and conspicuous notice at the beginning of each performance that the performance of the motion picture is altered from the performance intended by the director or copyright holder of the motion picture.” In other words, if you buy, rent or borrow a DVD, you have the right to use a ClearPlay-enabled DVD player and instruct it to skip over “the nasty parts,” as long as it puts up a “This film has been altered…” screen and doesn’t make a permanent modified copy of the movie.
Ed Felten viewed FMA as “an anti-censorship proposal,” noting that nothing in the act says that portions skipped have to be the naughty bits. Charles W. Bailey, Jr. wondered about artistic integrity and the slippery slope; while I’m sensitive to the latter issue, I don’t believe artistic integrity should prevent the purchaser of a mass-produced copy from using that copy as they see fit. If I want to skip or rip out annoying chapters in a book I purchased, that’s my right—and it’s my right to pay someone else to tell me which chapters are annoying. What’s not my right, and not allowed by FMA: To republish the book without the annoying chapters or to pass the no-annoying-chapters version off as being the whole book (which ClearPlay doesn’t do).
I concluded the brief Perspective with notes on moral rights—more an issue in Europe than in the U.S.—and my take on how those rights should work:
What about moral rights? I have mixed feelings, but generally take the “single work or not published vs. reproduced/published work” cut. I believe an artist should have some moral rights over the disposition of a unique work of art. I believe a writer (or whoever) should have complete and total rights over any wholly unpublished work. Once you put it out in public, in reproduced form, things change. I Once I’ve purchased a copy of your DVD, you have no moral right to prevent me from watching it in the manner I prefer. Once you’ve published a book, you have no moral right to keep me from defacing, selling, or otherwise [mis]using it.
If some wacko right-wing operation puts one of these essays into one of their newsletters, with no charge for that newsletter, I don’t have a moral right to object to that inclusion: I’ve attached a CC license that settles that issue as a side-effect of settling the copyright permission issues. Heck, my weblog is on at least one blogroll that I’d prefer not to see it on (shudder)—and I don’t think I have a moral right to complain about that either.
I’m seeing ClearPlay DVD players on the market now. And we’ve started movies where we might have welcomed such players—but usually gave up on them.
That wasn’t all for ©3 Balancing Rights: the same issue includes almost seven pages on various aspects of balance. I’d like to think that the stark opposition I began the essay with is no longer relevant—but I’m afraid it’s worse than it was in 2005:
For some people it’s simple.
· If you’re a songwriter or RIAA/MPAA member with the attitude that creative works are property, the only rights at issue are yours as the property owner. You should be able to control every use and copy made of your property, charge whatever you want, and prevent any use you deem inappropriate—and your heirs should have the same rights in perpetuity.
· If you’re a digital-rights extremist, the fact that copying most “intellectual property” doesn’t modify or eliminate the original property means copyright is irrelevant. If something can be copied at no real cost, then it’s appropriate to copy and reuse it.
My personal take is pretty much the same in 2008 as it was in 2005:
I have no ideal solution for the balance of rights. I’m not sure anyone does. As a creator of sorts, I understand that distribution is a great publicity tool—that I benefit from a certain amount of unintentional distribution, as long as it doesn’t swamp the paid, legitimate distribution. But that’s not the same as saying that all copying should be legitimate.
Another essay focused on weblogging ethics and impact, long before the Bloggers Code brouhaha. Since I’d just started Walt at Random, I was paying closer attention to some of these issues. Remember the Marqui experiment of paying bloggers to mention the company (assuming they’d mention it was for pay)—or more recent (and ongoing) situations where companies pay for blog posts and don’t expect the pay to be mentioned? My sense then and now is that transparency is the issue: Posts-for-pay are unethical if not disclosed, but pose no ethical issues if done transparently. Even then I thought some people could be a little too tough on ethical standards:
The next example strikes me as naïve: Om Malik criticizing a bunch of Silicon Valley “influentials” for being offered free products or services “to tout or not tout as they please.” Malik believes that after you write about a product “you ship it back.” I must say that, when I was reviewing CD-ROMs, it never occurred to me to send them back to the publishers—any more than it would occur to a book reviewer to ship the book back to the publisher. If that makes me unethical, so be it. I appreciate the fact that Consumer Reports buys everything it tests and that Condé Nast Traveler doesn’t accept free travel—but I recognize that those are exceptions.
Most of that essay dealt with Jon Garfunkel’s cluster of posts on ethics and impact. If you’re interested, read the original and look at Garfunkel’s Civilities posts; it’s too much to summarize.
What do you do right after a landmark issue that, unbeknownst to you, will reach more people than anything you’ve ever written? How about a reasonably concise (22 pages) and unthemed issue, with only one longish essay?
The long essay was ©4: Locking Down Technology—Analog Hole and Broadcast Flag. It covered events in one of the most astonishing ongoing copyright stories, one where Big Media explicitly took one stance during negotiations that resulted in DMCA, and now wants to reverse that stance for its own gain.
The stance: That DMCA’s heavy-handed approach to fair use and other copyright limitations was OK because of the “analog hole”—the fact that you could always make an analog copy of whatever digital resource is protected by DRM. That was also a selling point for the Broadcast Flag, with its intent of preventing digital recordings (or passthrough of recordings) for some broadcast programs, even though broadcasting involves free use of the public airwaves.
Attempts to shut the analog hole are not only hypocritical, they would involve a huge new involvement of the FCC or FCC-approved agencies in controlling the design and implementation of many (maybe most) digital devices, certainly including all computers, smart phones, digital music and video players and storage systems.
I’m tempted to repeat a lengthy quotation from Danny O’Brien, but that’s also too long. It’s decidedly worth reading, particularly since MPAA and other Big Media haven’t given up on efforts to close the analog hole. I will quote part of O’Brien’s comments, as appropriate now as in 2005, noting that the original set of quotes occupies a full page in C&I:
Here's what the proposed law says, in a nutshell:
Every consumer analog video input device manufactured in the United States will be, within a year, forced to obey not one, but two new copy restriction technologies…
And what might these MPAA-specified, government-mandated technologies do?
They prescribe how many times (if at all) the analog video signal might be copied—and enforce it. This is the future world that was accidentally triggered for TiVo users a few months ago, when viewers found themselves lectured by their own PVR that their recorded programs would be deleted after a few days.
But it won't just be your TiVo: anything that brings analog video into the digital world will be shackled. Forget about buying a VCR with an un-DRMed digital output. Forget about getting a TV card for your computer that will willingly spit out an open, clear format.
Forget, realistically, that your computer will ever be under your control again. To allow any high-res digitization to take place at all, a new graveyard of digital content will have to [be] built within your PC…
The unprotected analog outputs of computers will be, in perpetuity, restricted to either DRM-laden standards, or to a "constrained image," "no more than 350,000 pixels." Analog video which has been branded as "do not copy," will last for only ninety minutes only in the digital world—and will be erased, literally frame by frame, megabyte by megabyte, from your PC, without your control. You'll watch a two hour film, and as you watch the final half hour, the first few scenes will be being dissolved away by statute…
Oh, and don't think you can just obey the law as it stands now: if the…technologies prescribed by the law become "materially ineffective," then the government can upgrade those standards, and demand compliance on the new spec.
The trustworthy, well-funded technological powerhouse they've chosen to give this new responsibility of monitoring, designing, and managing the upgrading of every video converter in the United States? That uncontroversial institution, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office…
Elsewhere, I was creeped out by PC Magazine’s description of programmable dermal displays—embedded data screens visible on the back of your (not my!) hand, monitoring the “billions of… nanobots monitoring vital signs…throughout the body.” I also noted a PC Magazine group review of community-oriented social sites that gave highest marks to Clipmarks and Yahoo! My Web 2.0—and lowest marks to del.icio.us, “a cluttered mess…[that] we don’t find…particularly palatable.”
Another, briefer copyright-related essay was on the commons: What NC Means to Me. It springs from an article finding the Creative Commons “NC” (NonCommercial) clause harmful because it could interfere with some “free content” aims. I found the analysis unconvincing and portions simply incomprehensible. I noted questions that need to be answered when using NC content or considering the license—and added my own interpretation of “Allowable ‘NonCommercial’ Uses,” binding for all original material in Cites & Insights or Walt at Random. That interpretation is available at waltcrawford.name/ncinterp.htm and citesandinsights.info/ncinterp.htm and there’s a link on the C&I home page, so I won’t quote it here.
I’d just started My Back Pages, but two classics are worth noting or repeating here:
Paraphrasing a great post from my [former] colleague Merrilee Proffit at hangingtogether (December 9, 2005): What if you don’t see how digital items can be preserved in a useful form—and what if you write about that a lot, mostly in digital form (naturally).
If you’re right, no one will know: The work will disappear.
If you’re wrong, “your wrong predictions will mock you from every digital repository and web archive.”
As Merrilee notes, there’s a gotcha: Chances are, your mostly-digital skepticism will be printed out and filed or someone will refer to it in a print publication. Still, it’s an interesting quandary.
Me? I have no doubt many digital items will be preserved successfully—and that many more won’t be. That may be a good thing. It may not.
John Donahe has a great letter in the November 22, 2005 PC Magazine, noting that after subscribing to three computer magazines and several newsletters for some years, he’s now solved all but two problems with his computer. He now has all the “must-have” software and “can’t-live-without” toolbars and sidebars suggested in those publications.
Now, my only two remaining problems are: (1) I had to uninstall all my applications on the hard drive to make room for utilities software; and (2) the workable size of my monitor screen is now 3 ½ by 2 inches.
How many toolbars are in your browser window? How much room does that leave for content?
Two major articles, one on Wikipedia, one on tracking high-def discs. The first covered a lot of territory related to Wikipedia, including that odd Nature comparison of Wikipedia and Britannnica, danah boyd’s trouble with Wikipedia and similar problems with other living personalities (Wikipedia has since changed its policies), a long balanced New Yorker article and an unbalanced Atlantic Monthly piece where the author approves of the notion that two and two do equal five if “the community” says so.
The second followdc an earlier “what you need to know now” piece and noted that most libraries still didn’t really need to do anything about HD DVD or Blu-ray. I suggested high-def discs wouldn’t matter in 2007 and might become a “significant niche medium” in 2008; I still think that’s right. After discussing coverage of the two formats and other issues, and expressing my belief that the “heavenly jukebox” (the death of physical DVDs, regardless of definition) was a flawed notion, I continued to believe that “Blu-ray is the likely winner.” No prescience here—just a simple reading of the real-world factors at play. I was right—and it wasn’t a difficult call to make.
The “On” issue—all Perspectives, with four of five not requiring section sublabels.
It’s an issue I’m proud of—and one that doesn’t bear summarizing, since each essay was through-written as an essay. The first one became part of a serious ongoing discussion on the professional literature. I believe they are all worth revisiting.
Here’s the title and first few paragraphs for each “On” essay. Or, heck, just reread the whole issue; it might make good plane reading for ALA Annual.
I believe that gray literature—blogs, this ejournal, a few similar publications and some lists—represents the most compelling and worthwhile literature in the library field today.
To a great extent, the formal literature now serves as history, explication, formal results of formal research studies and background; the action is in the informal literature.
Yes, it’s the dreaded Britannica Blog essay. Yes, I’m late to the game. No, this is not primarily about Michael Gorman, although his blogging (his blogging!) plays a crucial role in the discussion. There will be no fisking here, tempting though it might be—either of Gorman’s posts or of some over-the-top responses.
This is a scattered essay. We begin with blog posts from an anti-blogger that really don’t address the asserted topic and go from there. I bring biases to the discussion, to be sure:
If authority and worth require advanced degrees and credentials, then what to make of my 15 books and several hundred articles, given my complete lack of advanced degrees and credentials?...
Are librarians willing to disagree with one another?
What a silly question. Of course we are (I’m counting myself as a librarian for this discussion). Consider some disagreements I’ve chronicled and taken part in here and in my blog, just for starters….
Are librarians sufficiently forthright in their discussions and disagreements? Can we disagree without being disagreeable? Can we—do we—debate and discuss positions without viciousness, toxicity, ad hominem and attempts to foreclose effective disagreement?
I think the answer is still yes, at least some of the time, but it’s a more complicated answer.
How much do you need to know about who I am and how I deal with issues, people and organizations that might relate to my writing? What do you need to know about my ethical standards? How much disclosure assures adequate transparency?
I’m moved to write about those issues based on three blog posts and reactions to them…
That’s an odd but reasonable closing point for this set of retrospectives.
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