Monthly Archives: December 2009


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Creativity, Innovation And Happiness

Last year, for our final post of the year, I wrote a message On Staying Happy. It seems, at time, that people think that I am filled with anger or rage, because of all the annoying or “bad” stories that show up here all the time. Of course, for folks who know me, this is pretty funny. I’m pretty laid back and quite happy and content for the most part — which was the point of last year’s post.

This year, for my final post of the year, I wanted to take that a step further, and point out how in awe I am of the continued amazing creativity we’ve been seeing. In just the last year alone, we’ve seen and written about so many incredible stories of creativity and innovation in a sea of negative from those who insist that it can’t be done. We’ve heard that music and movies are “dying” because of piracy, even as we’ve seen incredible new music and movies being created by people who are embracing new and innovative business models.

We’ve seen things like how Amanda Palmer connected with her fans and gave them a reason to buy, allowing her to create some fantastic new music. We’ve seen how a guy in Israel by the name of Kutiman, that no one had ever heard of probably broke all sorts of copyright laws to create create an amazing album (one of my favorites of the year). We’ve seen how Nina Paley went from being stifled by copyright to embracing alternatives and how she’s used that to build a different kind of business model. We’ve seen how the business models we talk about are suddenly being applied widely to things like books, photography and even everyday objects. It’s been an incredible year for amazing creativity both in content creation and in business models.

As a part of that, I’ve personally been blown away at the reception I’ve received (sometimes from initially “hostile” audiences) when I’ve been granted the opportunity to go out and present and discuss these business models and how they’re working.

Finally, as a result of all this, we’ve had a lot of fun running our own experiments, from which we’ve learned a ton and were able to work with some amazing and talented partners and content creators. Seeing all this happen even as the stories (without any evidence) of doom and gloom get louder and louder from those who aren’t willing to embrace change is even more exciting and encouraging. The pace with which these ideas are being adopted (and adapted) is breathtaking and exciting. We’re looking forward to the pace of this activity to only increase in 2010, and we’ve got a bunch of surprises in store as we look to not only continue discussing these concepts but to really help more people join in the fun as well.

Thanks to everyone here for making it yet another fun year. We’ve been at this for over a dozen years now, and each year is more exciting than the previous one — in large part due to the amazing community of folks who spend at least some of their free time here. We hope that you had a wonderful and exciting year as well, and look forward to more opportunities in 2010…

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Tomorrow Is National Book Burning Day; Thank Your Friendly Entertainment Industry Lobbyists

January 1st of each year should be National Public Domain Day, when many different creative works enter the public domain, where they can be made useful. In years past, it was a regular occurrence as tons of creative works went into the public domain each year. Often this was by choice on the part of the copyright holder. That’s because copyright used to have a renewal requirement, and the vast majority of copyright holders found little reason to renew their copyright. In 1958-59, only 7% of book copyright holders chose to renew their copyrights, meaning that 93% of books that could have been covered by copyright were allowed to enter the public domain. The small number that did have their copyrights renewed were (not surprisingly) the books that were still huge commercial successes, whose authors and publishers wished to retain their monopoly rights.

But a change happened in 1976 in the US, with the adoption of a new Copyright Act that not only took away the renewal setup, but also made very lengthy copyrights automatic on works. Add to that continued copyright extension at the urging of the entertainment industry lobbyists, and we haven’t had an actual Public Domain Day in ages — and many of us may never see another one in our lifetimes. Considering the incredible value that the public domain has on our culture, this is a huge culture killer.

James Boyle is noting that, assuming he would have renewed his copyright, tomorrow is the day that Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 would have gone into the public domain under the law as it was before 1976. But now it won’t be. Instead of the “book burning” found in that book, we’ve created a different kind of book burning. Thanks to lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, we’ve locked up a massive number of works that should be available for all, and the vast majority of which are available for none.

Unlike Fahrenheit 451, the vast majority of the culture swept into this 20th century black hole, was not commercially available and, in most cases, the authors are unknown. The works are locked up — with no benefit to anyone — and no one has the key that would unlock them. We have cut ourselves off from our own culture, left it to molder — and in the case of nitrate film, literally disintegrate — with no benefit to anyone. The works may not be physically destroyed — although many of them are; disappearing, disintegrating, or simply getting lost in the vastly long period of copyright to which we have relegated them. But for the vast majority of works and the vast majority of citizens who do not have access to one of our great libraries, they are gone as thoroughly as if we had piled up the culture of the 20th century and simply set fire to it; and all this right at the moment when we could have used the Internet vastly to expand the scope of cultural access. Bradbury’s firemen at least set fire to their own culture out of deep ideological commitment, vile though it may have been. We have set fire to our cultural record for no reason; even if we had wanted retrospectively to enrich the tiny number of beneficiaries whose work keeps commercial value beyond 56 years, we could have done so without these effects. The ironies are almost too painful to contemplate.

And, of course, it’s not just Bradbury’s book that is still locked up. Among the many things that would have/should have gone into the public domain tomorrow are Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy cover, JD Salinger’s Nine Stories and Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. But, again, it’s not these works that we should really be mourning. It’s the other works that no one really has access to any more. What a shame.

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The Problem Isn’t Middlemen, It’s Monopolies

I love middlemen. Yes I do! Most indie filmmakers I talk to complain about distributors and “middlemen,” but they’re missing the real problem. Middlemen — publishers, distributors, resellers — can do excellent work. The problem is not middlemen; it’s monopolies.

So many middlemen insist on monopolies, we’ve forgotten we don’t need to grant them. They say that without a monopoly (aka “exclusive rights”) they have no incentive to promote and distribute. Actually a monopoly gives a middleman no incentive, because no one is competing with them. Take away the monopoly, and the middleman has to compete with other potential middlemen (including the artist). Then they have an incentive to work. Rather than monopoly, they succeed on the basis of expertise (theatrical distributors already know how to track, ship, and manage prints), innovation (finding better ways to meet customers’ existing desires and identifying new ones), and quality.

I’m very happy with the middlemen I work with. FilmKaravan, who distributes Sita Sings the Blues on DVD, promoted and placed DVDs in outlets and markets I was too lazy to reach. (They out-competed me, which is great!) GKids, who distributes the film theatrically East of the Mississippi, manages the prints professionally, finds great new venues for it, and promotes it cleverly without overspending. These middlemen do their jobs very well, and I’m grateful for the services and value they add to the film. They have my non-exclusive Endorsement.

I’m only unhappy with one middleman, an overseas distributor who uses their monopoly to block access to the film rather than facilitate it. For example, a professional conference held by their country’s national television company, and attended by important players in the film industry there, sought a one-time conference screening of Sita, but the distributor refused to lend the local print. Lending it would have helped the film tremendously, but the distributor was focused on immediate money instead of on the long-term good of the film. Because I had foolishly granted this distributor an “exclusive endorsement” in their territory, there was no one else in a position to lend a print. (What distributor would take up a film knowing that the filmmakers’ imprimatur had already been granted to a competitor?)

My endorsement wasn’t a mistake. I want that distributor to make money, and lots of it! But endorsing exclusively was a mistake: although not as bad as copyright, it’s still a kind of monopoly, and monopolies invite abuse. That is their nature. I now know that to get good work from a middleman, I can’t grant them a monopoly. They need to feel that if they let an opportunity slip by, another middleman may jump at it. Business competition improves business performance; some say it’s an essential incentive.

Middlemen will only have monopolies if artists keep granting them. They’re not going to give them up on their own. It falls on us artists to simply refuse to grant these monopolies in the first place. A copyleft license sends a clear, simple, and non-negotiable message to middlemen that they need to innovate and compete to profit from the work. Only we artists can supply the incentives they need to do their jobs well; and we can only do that by refusing monopolies.

A middleman without a monopoly is a great help to art and artists. Rather than abusing monopolies, they provide valuable services. The better they are at providing services, the more successful they become. Competition keeps middlemen on their toes, and eliminates the lazy and incompetent. Monopoly does the opposite.

In sum, the problem isn’t middlemen, it’s monopolies. Yay for middlemen! I love middlemen!

Nina Paley is an expert at the Insight Community. To get insight and analysis from Nina Paley and other experts on challenges your company faces, click here.

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FCC Boss Spams Facebook Friends With Make Money Now Scam

Hey, sooner or later everyone falls for some sort of phishing/scamware type of thing, right? It’s just especially embarrassing if you’re the head of the FCC. The NY Times is reporting that FCC Chair Julius Genachowski had his Facebook account spam all his friends with a message saying “Adam got me started making money with this” which was followed by a link to a now defunct site. Facebook has taken down Genachowski’s page, and appears to be effectively blaming him for the problem, putting out a generic notice about how users need to be careful not to click on strange links…

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Who Says Data Centers Aren’t Cool?

Sun / Intel This post is part of the IT Innovation series, sponsored by Sun & Intel. Read more at
Of course, the content of this post consists entirely of the thoughts and opinions of the author.

Ah data centers. They may seem like a rather boring concept, but Data Center Knowledge recently put together a rather long list of some of the coolest data center video tours including Google’s infamous data center:

As well as a “James Bond” data center buried 100 feet beneath Stockholm in a former military bunker, with backup power from submarine engines and which has waterfalls and a glass-enclosed conference room that appears to “float” above the colo floor.

I have to admit, suddenly data centers seem a lot cooler. Anyway, those are just the top two. The Data Center Knowledge link has a bunch more.

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Must-Read Software Development Resources for 2009

This post is really two posts in one. The first (and lengthier) portion focuses on online blog posts and articles that I consider “must-read” for software developers. The second, shorter section provides a quick overview of the articles contained in … Continue reading

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A Look Back At Major Label Online Strategies A Decade Ago

The excellent MusicAlly blog has a neat look back at a piece written in March of 2001 covering the digital strategies of the major record labels. Some of it is quite amusing in retrospect — such as how Warner Music’s plans were entirely focused on how its newly merged parent, AOL Time Warner, would offer it all sorts of digital opportunities (how’d that work out)?

The company’s internet strategy begins and ends with AOL. The thinking here is that AOL, with 24 million subscribers, has a natural customer base for Time Warner’s extensive music catalogue, as well as serious Internet expertise in house. Although MBI World Music Report lists Warner Music Group’s global market share as equal to BMG’s at 11.9 percent (tied for fourth), AOL was working to secure licensing rights from the other music titans.

Combined with Time Warner’s cable-modem Road Runner service, AOL also has control of fat pipes in the US. The reason many people didn’t use Napster is because it is slow and expensive. With control of broadband, subscription is that much more compelling.

Of course “compelling” in theory is different from “compelling” in execution, and AOL, Time Warner and Warner Music never bothered to come up with anything close to compelling (for years we were amused by the fact that the company even refused to let AOL work together with Road Runner, despite them being the same company!).

As you read through the rest, you just keep seeing names of long-dead sites and projects — none of which came up with anything compelling. You see plans for “new proprietary digital formats” that rely on RealPlayer (yeah, there’s a winner) and other short-sighted concepts. But what you see is really the same old story, and effectively still the same thing we’re seeing today. Everyone was focused on recreating the same old retail world, pretending that the digital world is just a replica of the physical world. It’s all focused on direct sales of recordings, rather than anything larger. And, of course, all of these plans ran into trouble when backwards-looking execs freaked out about being too open or too free, and so all of the plans were locked down, inconvenient, expensive and useless (if they ever came out at all).

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Despite Awful Customer Service, Woman Felt Forced To Buy Another Sony eBook Reader… Thanks To DRM

We were just discussing the DRM tax on a Kindle, which is the “price” of having to rebuy any ebooks you want to keep later on if you decide to switch to another platform. Some of the commenters on that post scoffed at the idea, and insisted that “in the future” this wouldn’t be an issue, because most likely there would be ways to take your ebooks with you to other readers. Of course, that’s little comfort to people today. Reader Mark sends in this story of how Sony initially refused to fix a Sony eBook Reader that only broke because of an update that Sony pushed the woman to install (oddly, they required her to send them the reader). So, effectively, Sony contacts her, tells her to send in her working eBook Reader, then they send it back and it’s broken. And they refuse to fix it because it’s out of warranty. Nice.

But here’s the kicker. After all of this, she went out and bought another Sony ebook reader. She noted that she would have gladly purchased a competing product “but would have lost access to the library she’s spent hundreds of dollars building up.” And there it is. The DRM tax at work creating serious lock-in and consumer problems. At least in this case, due to the publicity from Consumerist, Sony agreed to reimburse the woman, but you shouldn’t have to get a major publication to tell your story first to get that kind of resolution.

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Why Schools Should Learn To Use Online Services Like Facebook & YouTube Rather Than Banning Them

It’s no secret that we live in a world of moral panics — where new technologies are feared by those who don’t understand them, often leading to regulations that block their potential. For years now, a number of politicians have sought laws to ban social networks in schools, assuming that they are either bad or simply inappropriate for schools. While those laws have yet to pass, many schools already do ban access to social networks and other sites. I’ve never quite understood how this makes sense. Rather than training students to use those sites properly, now they’re seen as forbidden — which only makes them more attractive to students, while making it even clearer that students won’t be prepared to handle those sites properly. On top of that, as more powerful mobile phones become popular, students will easily bypass the school’s own network and access those sites on their own — and there will be nothing the schools can do about it.

So it’s nice to see a sensible opinion piece in Slate arguing that rather than ban or block social online services like Facebook and YouTube, schools should be embracing them and looking for ways to incorporate them into the learning process. There are a variety of strong arguments for why this makes sense, but two that stick out:

  1. Students already like using these sites quite a bit. Using those sites to make other things more relevant and interesting seems like a good way to reach kids in a manner that they understand, and which doesn’t feel quite as much like “education,” but more like something fun that they want to do.
  2. Using these kinds of free tools may be cheaper, easier and much more effective than a number of the super expensive e-learning tools out there, which would require a steep learning curve anyway. But incorporating lesson plans and info and assignments into the tools that students already use would be both cheaper and more likely to actually be used.

Of course, some will decry that these sites are automatically bad for kids — or that it makes no sense to waste time on such issues. But the fact is kids are going to use these sites no matter what. Ignoring that doesn’t change that. Banning the sites doesn’t change that. It just makes the activity more underground without any oversight or reasonable lessons. But incorporating the technology into the educational efforts could actually get a lot more attention. Yes, some of the examples in the Slate article seem pretty lame (and would be seen as such by the kids), but if done right, it really could add a lot more value to students’ educations.

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Rank your favorite songs with Rank’em

In beta-testing now, Rank’em lets you vote on favorite songs by your favorite artists, then shows aggregate ratings.

Originally posted at Digital Noise: Music and Tech

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