Category Archives: Mediatech

Apple’s iCloud Service as P2P Amnesty?

The recent announcement from Apple about its iCloud service was met with the usual rapture and admiration. The record labels according to the New York Post have been paid some $150 million to license the service while Amazon and Google felt compelled to launch their services with no licenses at all. Of course iTunes has been placed on a pedestal; it represents something like 85% of global digital revenues to the record companies. Just as MTV used, in the analogue era, to be the record companies’ best friend until they started running scared of the power they had given them, so Apple today has been elevated to a privileged, protected prime position which (regardless of the alliteration) offers it similarly low levels of competition. This apparently anti-competitive allegiance to one company promoted to the status of market maker, seems to have become a defining characteristic of what it is to be a major music company today. This model, that looks a lot like “control or be controlled”, seems to fit traditional record businesses ways of working.

But haven’t they just scored a huge own-goal in issuing these $150 million worth of licenses for the iCloud service?   The licenses are presumably in order to allow Apple to scan a customer’s hard drive, identify what music files they have and then allow Apple to enable for streaming to a portable or mobile device, a copy of those music files via their digital iCloud locker. This provides a great competitive advantage over Amazon, Google and other digital locker services that require the end user to upload all their music to their locker before they can stream it.  And therein surely lies the own-goal… When Apple scans a consumer’s hard drive, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish a file that has been ripped from a CD owned by the consumer and a file that may have been ripped from another users CD and subsequently accessed by downloading it via for example Bit Torrent or the Gnutella network.  So when Apple does its scan and adds all your music to your locker, under license from the labels and the music publishers and for the modest annual fee of $25 – haven’t they just legitimised your entire collection regardless of whether you paid for it or not? And by the way, since your $25 is an annual subscription, haven’t they just done that going forward for whatever else might find its way onto your hard drive for the next twelve months too?

This looks like a file sharing amnesty via the back door.  Unless perhaps Apple intends to restrict the files you can upload to ones that have been ripped by you on your copy of iTunes? Details of the service have yet to emerge properly. Are we suddenly going to find that the familiar Apple walled-garden has just added another few feet of  barbed wire to its walls because, by the way, Apple has still been rather coy about what kinds of devices you will be able to stream to from its digital lockers, but we can only presume they will be Apple devices not Android ones…

Based on the damages of $75 trillion that the RIAA sought to claim from Limewire  –  or even the $1bn or so they eventually settled for, it does looks as if Apple’s friends in the music industry gave the “Great Turtlenecked One” (as The Economist recently dubbed him) an incredibly heavily discounted rate on monetizing all P2P in the US market for at least for the next twelve months. Is that really what just happened?

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Digital Tourettes

What a joy and how peculiar are the serendipitous errors of predictive texting!

Boris bike becomes virus bike, my cube becomes my vine, etc.

Who is communicating with whom here?   Are our devices becoming ineptly articulate beneath our very fingers?

Are they in fact emerging with a kind of half-learned Tourettes syndrome, from an algorithmic, primordial swamp to roar incoherently in the background of our misspelt, misread communications?

“Swing by my vine on your virus bike and can ketchup on earth thing”.

 We start to question whether what we intended to write in the first place is as good as the word the predictive text system thought we had mistyped.  We start to wonder whether the digital Tourettes offering isn’t in some strange way more poetic, more suggestive than what our banal brains had initially inserted.

We’re in danger of becoming over-sensitised to the mistakes of language that our mechanical failings engender.  We might almost begin to wonder whether these machine interventions might have a superior, almost spiritual dimension beyond their dumb machine origins.   These are no longer mere typos, but ontological dilemmas which go deep into the very wiring of our brains and the coding of our algorithms.

This is how we become linguistically more enmeshed in our technologies, just as we are becoming more physically enmeshed in the web, our apps and our devices.  Of course the military already has applications so that soldiers get  to kill people remotely using networked devices.  Hopefully we can start to use drones and robots to live more positively too.  What intrigues me is not so much the big immersive experiences but the more subtle enmeshing.  There is an emerging vision of a human prostheticised,  life extended  through artificial components inserted into our bodies, remotely monitored or even remotely controlled. This is no longer science fiction, it’s already normal and accepted.  I’m lucky enough to have my father still with us due to phenomenal non-invasive heart surgery.  As far as I know, his new heart valve is neither remotely monitored nor controlled, but that’s not for lack of available technology. The site of runners in marathons with foot or leg prosthetics is now commonplace, however much it still commands our respect.

So when the tech starts to offer us, plausible alternative views through our digital camera implants, compared to what our eyes naturally see, and our verbal choices start to be influenced by our predictive speech algorithms to make us appear more articulate, what will we end up seeing and saying about our world? And who or what will determine our word choices then?

Why are the Angry Birds – angry?

So Angry Birds is the smash of the year. The surprise game that has become a meme and catapulted (sorry) its makers Rovio to fame, fortune and a frenzy of merchandising and motion picture tie-ins.

But why are the birds angry?  While we were in Tallinn last week at the Creative Hotspots event and economist Neil McEnroy of Manchester’s Centre for Local Economic Studies was probing the inner recesses of the creative industries, this was one of the questions that burned deepest in my mind.

Just why are the Angry Birds angry?

Is it that humankind has wrecked the environment and that now, as a form of punishment, we have to use the birds to wreck our own buildings in order to restore the natural balance?

Is it that the makers of the game would have made planes not birds but that this was not absurd enough and looked too much like 9/11? It seems unlikely that Angry Planes,  a game where you catapult planes into buildings to see how efficiently you can knock them down would be quite as popular as Angry Birds. But in one of the Angry Birds night scenes, the birds do have these light tracers that seem more redolent of missiles than birds…

Or is this some kind of weird tribute to Hitchcock’s the Birds? Is this  (like the Danish cartoons last year) another one of those offbeat and slightly weird Nordic cultural satires? Only sitting long nights in saunas in log cabins makes these things comprehensible apparently.  Has anyone spotted a Hitchcockian cameo appearance of the great director himself yet in any of the Angry Birds scenes?

Tallinn – the Baltic Tech Hub

Last week, I had the great pleasure of giving a keynote address in Tallinn, Estonia during the Creative Hotspots conference. The event was organised by the British Council.  You can catch the video of my presentation here and the others including the fabulous Jenny Tooth of the Angel Capital Group, the dynamic Elizabeth Varley from Shoreditch’s Tech Hub.  a visionary from Skype and a founder of Angry Birds creators Rovio.  The event, organised by the Brits brought together, Finns, Swedes, Russian, Germans, Poles, Brits and Estonians – who would have thought it?

Tallinn is an extraordinary town, picturesque with its medieval centre and still lots of snow on the ground, but also boasts a bit of a tech hub including a NATO cyber warfare research unit – borne out of its recent history and mentioned in the Economist last week.

On the Friday morning, the President of Estonia came along to open Tallinn Music Week  (TMW) and talked with great passion in Estonian about Alvo Part – the greatest Estonian composer. But then talked at great length about how he had discovered Arcade Fire a few years ago and thought for the longest time that he was alone in all Estonia to know about this band. Until he read a review by Helen Sildna – the amazingly dynamic woman who organises TMW. He sent her an email telling her this,  but she thought it was a fake and ignored it. There’s a moral in there some where.

Maybe one day, every country will have a President who loves the music of some hip alternative act from a foreign country and then will come and open an international music event, and talk about them,  in a casual, low key kind of way.

2011: A progressive agenda for the music industry

I was prompted by the initiatives of the current UK administration to draw up an agenda for growth and renewal in the music industry. So here is a five point plan.  I put it here for comment and discussion. It’s probably not comprehensive, but hopefully it does sketch out a blueprint for a new architecture for the music industry. It might also be of help to other content and media sectors who are migrating to a digital market online.

1) Where money is made an artist must get paid – where money is lost, artists should not bear the cost.

Encourage the pursuit of big rogue pirate web-sites, discourage expensive and ineffective pursuit of music consumers who file-share. Put an end to parochial skirmishes with ISPs, collaborate with them to build a fully digital media industry. Reform the Digital Economy Act.

2) Protect artists integrity but set usage switches to “on” not “off”.

Reform copyright legislation to make it recognise that copyright is primary in respect of the creators right to attribution, remuneration and integrity, but that the power to control the online reproduction right is now fundamentally eroded.

Establish a direct moral right that connects an artist and their work (termed recently by Sandie Shaw as a  “mother right” –  this is law in France).
Encourage extended collective licensing that would fundamentally allow people (consumers and b2b) to use music at pre-agreed prices on pre-agreed terms.
Give artists the right to opt works in or out of this scheme.
Establish base-line levels of control around the integrity of a work (eg: not for use in advertising tobacco).

3) Restore balance of power in artists contracts:

Outlaw “life of copyright” contractual terms (this is law in Germany).
Enforce an international audit right, outlaw NDA terms around audits.
Make “use it or loose it” a standard term in record contracts.
Allow artists to sell their own work off their own websites.
Enforce artists ownership of their own “key domain” websites.

4) Be in business not anti-business on licensing.

Make it easier for us to have our music licensed and for third parties to license it:

Encourage bundling of rights offered at the licensee end and better management of payment systems at the creator end.

It should not be a trade secret who created what or who owns what rights in a song or a recording – it should be a matter of public record:

Demand the making public of key commercial metadata on all recordings, artists and works.  Support the creation of a networked global repertoire database, and demand the use of small amounts of public money to create the infrastructure to compel the data to be made open to public access.

Demand legislation to reform collecting societies. Demand the rapid merger of their data-gathering activities. Demand competition between them for service to their members to motivate them to increase efficiency. Ban the monopolistic hoarding of data subsets.

5) Get real with consumers.

Consumers want to and do copy privately, they mash up video and music, they mix tracks, time shift consumption of streams, transfer stuff from one device to another.  Let them – by law.

And… make it easier for the creative among them to explore the commercial opportunities that their work produces by making it easy for them to connect with rights owners who are compelled to be cooperative in licensing. See above.

DISCUSS!

Rights Registry

Last week, in the middle of the TED conference, I had the opportunity to talk to the Westminster eForum about file-sharing, remedies and how to move beyond the UK’s Digital Economy Act. As I’ve worked on this problem and explored what others have proposed as remedies, I am more and more convinced that Rights Registries are part of the solution we need to move to. In a digital networked world where our content moves around in mysterious ways, we need a digital networked solution to mirror and reflect that activity in order to create a new means of managing digital rights in a fluid marketplace.

But this cannot be a wholly owned solution, along the lines proposed by Google.  Instead we need authoritative metadata databases that are open to search and open to updates, that are regulated by governments, moderated by authorised boards and not-for-profit. This kind of structure starts to offer significant benefits over our current proprietary closed systems which are hemorrhaging rights owners revenues.  I have written a white paper based on my talk last week on the subject,  which you can download from here: The Rights Registry 1.5

I’m very interested to hear other people’s thoughts about how we move forward the development of real practical solutions for digital media on the internet,  based on going with the flow of consumer behaviour and encouraging all kinds of  usage not punishing consumers for what the technology allows them to do.

Quotable quotes from TED Global 2010

“Power is no longer a zero sum game”  Joseph Nye

“I’ll simplify a lot of tasks you never had to do before” Patrick Chapatte on Steve Jobs

“The slow hunch – great ideas fade into view over long periods of time” Steven Berlin Johnson

“Re-implement biology but inorganically, so we can grow technology like an organism” Neil Gershenfeld

“Businesses today are built on how you add value not on how you control limited information” Neil Gershenfeld

“Telling me your goal makes it less likely to happen because the mind mistakes the telling for the doing” Derek Sivers

“In order to do good, you have to do something.” Emily Pilloton

“My subject is food, which concerns everyone, it is health which concerns everyone, it is soil which concerns everyone, although they may not know it” Lady Eve Balfour, 1946 quoted by Adrian Dolby

“Personal debt has grown massively because people buy things they don’t want, to create impressions that don’t last on people they don’t care about.” Tim Jackson

“Don’t let life de-genius you.” Buckminster Fuller

“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be!” Arthur C Clarke quoted by Sugata Mitra

“The average cat in Europe has a larger carbon footprint than the average African” Jason Clay

“You cannot wake up a person who is pretending to sleep” Jason Clay

“Images with straight lines in them create a sense of fear in the brain” Alex Kelleher

“Schizophonia – a dislocation between what you see and what you hear” Julian Treasure

“Extracting ice for analysis from Antarctica – each cylinder is a parfait of time” Lee Hotz

“Have a cup of coffee, act fierce and keep on dancing” Andrea Lucard

“If you meet the expectations of women, you exceed the expectations of men” Marti Baletta