Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Winners and Losers of User-Led Content and Music Piracy... continued.

This is a post in response to Scott's insightful comment.

I think this is a good point. The internet and produsage means that lots of people are contributing for little or no financial reward but they are also consuming for little or no cost. It could be argued that what we get out of the internet could be equivalent to what we put in.

In an ideal world I would like to see better recognition for the quality contributors to the internet. I commend people who set up sites that reward people for their contribution by sharing the profits of the website, for example such as Jamendo (music) and Revver (videos).

My argument is that the old way of looking at things does not work. Those who were the power brokers in the old economy are no longer. What's more is that those people need to stop crying poor and get with the times.

In relation to music it's not like the old system always protected the artists either. In their song the Taxman the Beatles publicly aired grievances about their massive tax bill. Despite worldwide fame they were near bankruptcy.

And Paul McCartney has long fought to buy back the rights to their music as most of their catalogue is still currently owned by Michael Jackson. The music industry gossip mill has long surmised that Jackson's record company has deliberately let Jackson become in debt to the company and that, at some stage down the track, they will try to acquire the rights to the Beatles catalogue in return for clearing the debt. Obviously I can't verify this but it is plausible. And as it's plausible it's easy to see how the music industry itself "robs" artist of the fruits of their labour.

On the flipside, copyright in Australia endures for 75 years after the authors death. It's arguable that there are times where it is simply ridiculous that an artist could continue to reap an income for so long. I mean let's be honest does anyone really think that Joe Dolce's contribution to music, the famous "Shaddap Your Face", was so great that his estate should continue to be paid royalties for 75 years after his death? Let's pretend it's a symphony that took him a year to compose, which is unlikely, but for the sake of argument let's say it is. Then do we agree that this is worth a lifetime of income? Should he never have to work to earn a living again?

I'm not saying that I have an answer here. What I am saying is that it's worth considering another point of view on copyright than what the music industry power-brokers have sold us for the past hundred years. Wouldn't an ideal system be one that rewards more creators modest sums for their contributions; rather than one which rewards a few creators (the ones at the top) with huge amounts money.

We now have the technology. We just need to change our attitude. Surely someone smarter than me (and the music industry) can develop a solution to this problem.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on Music Piracy...

I thought since I have the chance to I'd go a little further on my views about music "piracy".

The reality for many musicians, and creators for that matter, is that it is not people stealing their work that deprives them of an income but the fact that no-one knows of their work. Obscurity is the enemy of the artist. I need not preach to students of virtual cultures as to how online communities can provide incredible marketing opportunities for artists, artists who are prepared to "give away" some of their content in the hope that they will be able to reap the rewards for doing so. After all, the very reason that we have copyright law is to protect the right of the artist to do what she or he wishes with their music, that is to control the uses.

The growing evidence that giving away work improves your viability can be seen across many genres. Cory Doctorow, online journalist and science fiction author, released his book “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” under a Creative Commons licence. Doctorow already had a following so within the first twenty-four hours over 30,000 copies were downloaded. According to Doctorow “I’ve given away more than half a million digital copies of my award- winning first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and that sucker has blown through five print editions (yee-HAW!), so I’m not worried that giving away books is hurting my sales.”

The use of the word piracy itself presumes a sense of illegality. As I've referred to in an earlier post there are varied ways that people share music online and they are not all illegal. The debate over online music sharing has been co-opted by people with vested interests and has resulted in a, sometimes less than logical, assumption that all sharing and copying of music is criminal.



These types of emotive arguments have long been used in the fight against piracy but I am yet to be convinced that it is illegal downloading that is hurting the industry. As Lessig points out, even if we agree with the RIAA that the decline in CD sales is due to online sharing, how can it be explained that

"[i]n the same period that the RIAA estimates that 803 billion CDs were sold, the RIAA estimates that 2.1 billion CDs were downloaded for free. Thus, although 2.6 times the total number of CDs sold were downloaded for free, sales revenue fell by just 6.7 percent"
(2004, p. 71).

I think that the explanation for this figure is that not all types of downloading hurts the music industry. In fact the more music fans there are the bigger market share the music industry has to sell to. It's more a case of give and takes as far as I'm concerned. And I doubt that, while the major music companies continue to have signed artists in the top of the charts, any record company executive will find themselves in the dole queue. Unfortunately it's an age old problem; our musicians, even some of the most popular, seem to find themselves in exactly this position.

I firmly see the way of the future as a new music industry that encourages and allows musicians to tailor individual business models that make the best use of new technologies rather than blindly labelling all online sharing as "piracy".

If you're an interested party (i.e. a musician) I recommend that you check out the following resources:

Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture. Penguin Group: New York.
The full book is available online under a Creative Commons Licence.

Simpson, S. (2006) Music Business: A Musicians Guide to the Australian Music Industry.

This book is also available in full online.

"Technoslave?" - continued...

This is a response to Bre's post "Technoslave?" Thanks for your post Bre.

I, right now more than ever, am a slave to my technology. I love the story about the guy throwing the phone out the window. I am so enslaved that I believe even if I threw my phone out of the window they would quickly find another way to contact me; landline, email, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, MSN, iChat... the list goes on. And these are just the methods of contact that I voluntarily use!

Meanwhile I'm multitasking working on my web-log project, a research paper in word and managing to clear my inbox of the emails come thick and fast to my four email accounts from work colleagues, university lecturers, friends and spammers - I'm exhausted just thinking about all the things I have to do tonight. And then I hear the news that multi-taskers like myself get less done. The New York Times reported that technology has increased the level of multitasking in the workplace and that

“beyond an optimum, more multitasking is associated with declining project completion rates" (Aral & Brynjolfsson cited in Lohr, 2007).

I understand the concept but I'm so damn engaged with technology that I'm going to need to do a university degree to teach me how to live a life without it!



References:

Lohr, S. (2007, March 2). Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic. New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/business/25multi.html?_r=1&ex=1332475200&en=f2&oref=slogin

Sunday, May 11, 2008

User-Led Content: Are There Winners and Losers?

There are so many users creating all this content, willing and freely. Often the motivations for the produser go far beyond monetary concerns. It seems to me that there could be some long term winners and losers of the rise in quality user lead content, and it may not always be the content creators. Bruns describes the Produsage Environment as being made up of people who participate in the process the following ways:

  • content development space to foster produsage, such as MySpace, Wikipedia and Google
  • contribution to intellectual property, by public domain or commercial sources
  • users who harness the power of user generated content for commercial purposes
  • commercial or non-profit groups who harvest the user-generated content for their own purposes
  • commercial or non-profit groups who provide services to support content development

(Bruns, p. 5).

Although the line between producer and consumer is now blurred the financial benefits have not necessarily been redistributed accordingly. Every time I post a photo on my, very popular, Facebook page I am adding to the value of Facebook. They have given me the use of their content development page free of charge but they needn't charge me because they are making very good money from sources other than their consumers (who incidentally are also their producers - the people that produce all of the material that make their website so popular).

Similarly those computer game fanatics who produce such fantastic content for their games often do so for, well, the love of the game. In reality they are contributing greatly to the value of the game but may not necessarily ever reap the financial rewards. It seems that of all the groups in this blurry tangle of produsers some are reaping more benefits than others. While clever participants in the online world continue to toil away producing quality contributions for reasons other than financial reward it seems that people will continue to be able to profit from their efforts.

Whether it be a games producer, a social networking site, or the guy who took your small idea posted on your blog and made a million dollars, perhaps there will always be winners. And perhaps the losers will be the people contribute their time and effort free of charge. Is user led content comparable to the fight for unpaid home duties to be recognised in divorce settlements? Will the creators of the most popular Facebook pages soon be arguing for their share of the Facebook revenue. Or will someone be smart enough to start a content creation platform that pays people a share of profits based on the popularity of their website? Maybe that is my million dollar idea. Pity I don't know anything about building a website.

References:

Bruns, A. The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage. http://produsage.org/files/The%20Future%20Is%20User-Led%20(PerthDAC%202007).pdf

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Anti-Piracy: Save the Musician or Save the Record Company?

According to Professer Lawrence Lessig the reasons for online file sharing are varied and different but essentially the sharing of music can be categorised into about four categories (2004, p. 68). Lessig defines the reasons for online music sharing into the following categories of use:

a. download of music as an alternative to buying the CD
b. download to sample music and eventually purchase the CD
c. download of music to access content that is no longer commercially available through other outlets (he likens this to the purchase of secondhand CDs for which that artist would also receive no financial benefit)
d. download of music that is no longer copyrighted or that the copyright owner has decided to give away

(2004, p. 68).

Since the technology became available to enable internet users to easily share files, including music, the music industry has been crying poor over the decrease in CD sales. A video called Australian Music IN TUNE was released. It features prominent Australian musicians and claims to have been produced with the support of the "Australian music industry".

video

One of the musicians featured in the video was Lindsay McDougall, of Frenzal Rhomb and Triple J Radio. McDougall was later quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald claiming that he would never speak out against downloading as he believes that this is a personal issue for each artist:

I would never be part of this big record industry funded campaign to crush illegal downloads, I'm not like [Metallica drummer] Lars Ulrich. I think it's bullshit, I think it's record companies crying poor and I don't agree with it.

Lessig makes a very convincing argument that while the record companies moan about lost revenue we must very seriously consider how much society will lose if peer-2-peer and other technology were unavailable, asking:

How much has society gained from p2p sharing? What are the efficiencies? What is the content that otherwise would be unavailable?

(2004, p. 73).

Clearly the fast habitation of the virtual world has provided our society with incredible efficiency and vast cultural gains. Jarred Madden and Adam Purcell, New Media Consultants frustrated with the attitude of anti-piracy crusaders, released a response To the Music Labels pointing out that the Music Industry have failed to move to keep up with the new and exciting ways to interact, collaborate, and communicate. Madden and Purcell point out how the internet has provided a digital space which affords users incredible opportunities to develop new forms of entertainment and interact with each other. Their message to the Music Industry is this:

You have an amazing opportunity to develop new and exiting ways to interact with us and develop a future-sustainable digital economy, and we are willing to put our money where we perceive there is value.

The music industry's slow, and sometimes inadequate, take up of new technologies as well as a failure to venture into new virtual communities is causing the older economic model to become obsolete. There are many alternative and sustainable models for the future of musicians. Many musicians and industry professionals are well and truly active in the virtual world but those from the old school are missing the point, the opportunity and very soon... the boat.

To sign Jarred and Adam's petition click here.

References:

Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture. Penguin Group: New York.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Is Facebook the devil? Or should we take responsibility for our own behaviour?

During this week's tutorial we had some discussion about Facebook and the problems with having so much personal information on the web. One person mentioned that they've used social networking sites to check out potential employees. Another had some problems with a boss who wanted to become their Facebook friend. A colleague of mine also discussed with me the difficult predicament he'd found himself in when married friends separated and he wasn't sure of the correct etiquette for dealing with the divorcees online.

A recent Sydney Morning Herald headline read Facebook murder rocks 'perfect little family'. On closer reading it would appear that the truth of the matter it was actually an, unfortunately not too uncommon, domestic situation. Facebook did play a part in the story but certainly not the part that the headline would have you believe. It is interesting how new technology is often met with this type of fear and distrust.

It is also interesting how people fail to utilise these new technologies with that same regard for their own privacy and personal safety as they would apply in the rest of their lives. There is so much to be gained from virtual communities that it seems wrong to blame the technology for the stupidity or recklessness of its users. Apparently these problems are facing more and more members of online communities. On May 12 2008 radio show Hack did a story about employees who have faced consequences as serious as being fired for airing their thoughts about their bosses publicly, via social networking sites. Harmers Workplace Lawyers rightly pointed out that employees need to be careful when posting on the internet.

I wholeheartedly agree that online communities can be difficult to make sense of. I do occasionally cringe at the personal correspondence, between distant acquaintances of mine, that I am privy to. That said, I also agree that we should not have to sensor ourselves. There is a good argument that negative comments made about a boss on Facebook should be taken as seriously by management as genuine disquiet from employees about that boss, after all where there's smoke there's often fire. And that all-in-all dealing with friend requests from "a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy" (Doctorow cited in Bruns, 2008) or your boss does require a great deal of tact and understanding of the virtual culture in which you are participating.

One thing that we all probably agree on it that there is much development of the technology to come. Perhaps to this end necessity will be the mother of invention and the technology will enable use to keep our prying bosses out of our weekend capers and our cool Creative Industries Faculty buddies from knowing that you actually enjoy your work doing data entry in the accounts department at BHP Billiton. Bruns points to an already develops such, Ning, which deals with these problems in perhaps the most sensible manner: it makes the technology solve the problem. I think the answer to this question my question is that it's a bit of both. The technology will evolve to suit our needs and we will also evolve as users. Hopefully we will learn that we cannot publicly discredit the boss. For if we do, we run the risk losing our job.


References:

Bruns, A. (2008). Social Networks on Ning: A Sensible Alternative to Facebook. Snurblog. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from http://snurb.info/node/801

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What Makes a Citizen Journalist Different From a Journalist Who is a Citizen?

As culture and media have converged they both become increasingly participatory. Media audiences who engage in the appropriation of popular media texts have often been viewed as ‘mindless consumers’, ‘cultural dupes’ and ‘social misfits’ (Jenkins, 1992, p. 23). Jenkins refutes this idea asserting that those who appropriate cultural material for their own purposes are actually ‘active producers and manipulators of meaning’ (Jenkins, 1992, p. 23). Not a truer word could be spoken when it comes to the topic of citizen journalism.

Presumably most journalists are citizens too but what is it that makes citizen journalists so different from professional journalists? Obviously there's the all-important pay-cheque that the professional journalist receives but there is something more to the way that a citizen journalist approaches reporting. These days news blogs are written on all sorts of subject matter and can be tailored to a specific audience with a specific interest. For example, at Slashdot, the motto on the home page reads: "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters."

One of the main benefits of citizen journalism is that involvement in news blogging decreases passivity and increases interest in democratic issues and political behaviour (Bruns, 2006). Once again, this break from the traditional model of information flow, changes the nature and source of information that makes it into the mainstream media. It provides people who may not otherwise have a voice, such as the "Nerds" who use Slashdot, with an avenue to produce material and a source of material and news that is more specific to their personal interests or viewpoint. Previously the hierarchy of news staff in mainstream organisations decided ultimately what readers and users of the news would eventually read in the media.

Citizen journalism relies in many ways on mainstream journalism as individual citizens contributing to online opinion or news stories don't often have the resources that mainstream organisations have. Citizen journalists are more like a 'watch-dog', keeping an eye on the stories of the day and ensuring that alternative viewpoints are put forward in the public sphere. A link to a video regarding US Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul was recently sent to me. This video titled Jerry Day: Media & Ron Paul suggests that mainstream media still has a significant effect on the behaviours of online communities and media. Although it's difficult to truly 'measure' the effect, even using the methods in the video, it's easy to see how this may be the case.

The very existence of such a video, whether it is accurate or not, is what is so different about citizen journalism. It is the independence of the citizen journalist that allows them to put forward a viewpoint different to the mainstream media. They may publish freely without limitation by editor, newspaper, or company hierarchy to alter or pass over their article. Bring on the era of the citizen journalist. An era where the story will be determined by citizens who choose to publish and any misinformation can be responded to by engaged citizens.

References:

Bruns, A. (2006). The Practice of News Blogging. In Bruns, A. and Jacobs, J. (Eds). Uses of Blogs, pp11-22. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Jenkins, H. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.