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Reading Summaries for Week 4

Free culture

Web 2.0 changes the dynamics of communication by allowing what was once passive audience to participate, remix and share content, Lawrence Lessig says in his presentation. This architecture weakens the power of “the few speaking to the many” thus restoring the older ideals of participatory culture. This loss of control creates an anxiety and raises some concerns, such as:

a) the ideals of truth, fairness and accuracy are being lost

b) this architecture facilitates piracy

c) it allows misuse of technological innovations, eg spam, viruses, phishing, and the use of the web for terrorism

Piracy is seen as a justification for the use of intellectual property laws for censorial/regulatory purposes, Lessig says, and the misuse of technology can be seen as an excuse to legislate control of the internet.

Any move towards a more controlled internet will be driven through terror – a phenomenon Lessig names Z-theory, after Jonathan Zittrain.

In order to counter these threats, Lessig stresses the need to believe in the ideals it is based on, taking a middle path between the extremes of anarchy and total control, and preparing a resistance to a move towards complete regulation. He suggests that Al Jazeera, in contrast to news organizations who call for control over distribution of their content, should allow their content to be shared for free.

What if we would not have copyright?

Zoost Smiers addresses the issue of intellectual property rights in the context of changing cultural dynamics – a concern cited by Lessig in his free culture presentation.

Smiers says the prsent western copyright system fails to meet its stated goal of creating incentives for the average artist and is instead become a tool of control to protect the interests of cultural conglomerates. He looks at two alternative models of intellectual property rights:
1) Creative Commons – a ‘coalition of the willing’ that allows artists to have ‘hollow copyrights’ or only reserve some rights to their work (eg allowing noncommercial use). But this voluntary system does not address how artists and art entrepreneurs will earn money.
2) Collective intellectual ownership – of which he gives no particular example, allows for art to be produced in a collective manner. But it can lead to organization related problems eg the terms of shared ownership.

Smiers concludes that the problems of the copyright system cannot be solved by tweaking it while remaining in the existing paradigm. He then proposes his own solution:

The entrepreneur bears the responsibility and the financial risk of art production, and therefore should take the centre stage. The artwork will immediately enter the public domain, in the system he proposes, but the entrepreneur will either benefit from the ‘first-mover advantage’ or add value to his product by facilitating  audience-artist contact. The quality of the artwork will make a reputation and therefore income for the artists. Plagiarism will be checked through some form of a cultural monitoring system that Smeirs says will develop over time.

This reform will have the following effects, he claims:
a) Cultural conglomerates will not be able to dominate production
b) A level playing field will allow more diverse expression
c) The public domain will thrive, faciliating more production
d) Creativity on the internet will meet its potential
e) End to global corporate hegemony and more equitable economic relations

Toward a critique of the social web

In this debate, Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog critique the effects of the fundamental changes in the communication paradigm that is said to have revived participatory culture. Following are the opinions of the participants by topic:

On the control over means of production:

Hartzog: Means of access, and not means of production, are the crucial factor in the new internet economy. The digg user revolt and livejournal crisis show that that decisions of production are now shared by the particpants. The net neutrality debate and the issue of peer to peer sharing show that access is more crucial.
Mmeans of production have become a way of life.

Scholz: As people become isolated and the culture of fear, shortening vacations, and other social factors make public spaces into mere transitional zones of commerce, the social web provides an opportunity for meaningful face to face encounter.
In doing so users create content that has monetary value. the trade off is that corporations make money and the users gain meaningful social interaction. Means of production are available to people, but owned by corporations

On exploitation of participatory users:

Scholz: The situation is paradoxical – corporations benefit from crowdsourcing, but they also technically support the social life of 200 million people. People are being empowered and used at the same time.

Hartzog: the internet has made it easier for amateur artists to get paid for their share of production e.g. in photography and music, but in the new remix culture people don’t need financial incentives to produce art anyway. The copyleft movement etc guard against appropriation, and the requirement for transparency may even become a legal solution.

On the sociality of the web:

Hartzog: The sociality of the social media can be a) aimed at individual, such as a user basing his choice on reviews by other consumers on amazon.com and b) seen by the participants as something beyond themselves for which they are willing to transform. Multiple identity and community mobility creates more active political life.

Schsolz: social participation can be voluntary (eg social network sites) or involuntary (eg through data mining). In ‘captive communities’, users can not take their content with them if they wish to leave (eg videos on youtube, photos on flickr).

On cultural and gender difference:

Scholz: Certain communities tend to become popular in certain demographic groups and users belonging to those groups tend to stick to them.

Hartzog: culture and gender, along with other factors, act as a counter force against global homogeniety. Technology is difference-blind becuse humans are difference blind. but the global outreach of technology brings our own prejudices to the forefront.

Where do we go from here?

Scholz: We do not have to get away from all media and live in the woods. The existing platforms can be used in a way that allows meaningful social interaction (eg even amazon.com reviews can be written as a genre of creative writing). With the arrival of web 2.0, there is more space for manoeuvring for such actions.

Hartzog: Alternative uses of the same platforms can save on development costs but may not be supported by owners of the platforms. But since ‘you get attached to what you attack’, users can also simply ignore these platforms and create and use alternative ones in a way that the act itself will call the existing practices into question.

Taking the You Out of YouTube?

An interesting aspect of the piracy debate is highlighted by Jenkins, who expresses the concern that while the emerging participatory culture brough the ‘we’ to the ‘web’ (in the words of Newsweek), large corporations who are now buying web 2.0 enterprises (eg Yahoo purchased Flickr, Google purchased Youtube, Rupert Murdock took over MySpace) might take the ‘you’ out of ‘youtube’.

If users violate the intellectual property rights of media corporations when they share their content over peer-to-peer networks, then don’t large corporations also violate people’s intellectual property rights by reaping the monetary benefits of the content, value and wealth created by users? He asks whether at some point the revenue should be shared with the users.

Drawing upon a John McMuria article, Jenkins sees that YouTube 1) is a meeting place for various subcultures and allows cultural innovation through cross pollination, 2) allows users to ‘rescue’ the mass media content that deserves greater attention, 3) facilitates grassroots content to be pushed to greater visibility through new and old media 4) is forcing major companies to opt in or opt out of the participatory culture. In that sense it is an illustrated of Bekler’s Network Culture, but then the question whether it allows equal opportunity to all who want to participate is important.
Who is more comfortable with participating and who is less comfortable? What factors is that based on? Who decides the value of amateur content? Is it influenced by mob rule?

While McMuria looks at the highest ranking videos to see a lack of diversity, Jenkins asks whether this matter should be looked at only in the context of the impact of amateur content or also in the context of the ability to cross over to a broader range of audiences. He then quotes Geoffery long’s GOOGTUBE: TV 2.0, OR BUBBLE 2.0? as an alternative approach to the question.

Long says that this participatory culture is here to stay Google might have bought YouTube because a) Humans are better than machines in giving the content a meaning and value (think in terms of crowdsourcing), b) it increases the brand value and potential revenue, c) google can serve as a bridge between major advertisers (because of its cloud) and independent content producers (because of its ‘indie’ feel and approach).

Steal This Film (Trial Version)

“Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century,” Pirate Cinema’s Sebastian Lutgert quotes Getty Images owner Mark Getty in Steal This Film. While it is hard to summarize the documentary, prominent players in the piracy culture in the film make the following argument which can be seen as a context in which this highly meaningful quote can be seen:

While it may take billions of dollars to make the first copy of a film, recently developed technology allows the users to make subsequent copies to be made for less than a dollar (through DVD rippers) and distribute it throughout the world (through peer-to-peer file sharing). Corporations who own the intellectual property rights to most popular digital content see this new technology as disastrous as they lose billions of dollars to ‘piracy’ and since this new technology undermines their very business model, some of them came to the brink of collapse. But this phenemenon is not new, from Cable TV, to VCRs to the first MP3 player, every new media technology was seen as a threat because it undermined the existing business models, and had to deal with lawsuits.

Instead of changing their business models, media corporations want to be able to control the content they own the copyrights to, even after they have sold it, to the extent that they are influencing the US government to bring non-commercial piracy from the civil domain to the criminal domain and demand similar moves from other countries (eg in the case of Sweden). But the decentralized architecture of this new technology makes it impossible to shut it down. Therefore any attempts to do so are only creating awareness about the peer-to-peer sharing and initiating debates that led to such unexpected phemomena as the forming and sudden popularity of the Pirate Party (that now has two seats in the European Parliament).

Just as the printing press – as a new technology that brought copying to the masses – became a symbol of rebellion and emancipation during the Renaissance and shaped the future of the world, the same way peer-to-peer technology of the 21st century chnages our world fundamentally, blurring the distinction between the producer and the consumer and bringing production of art from the domain of the economic back to something that makes people’s lives more meaningful. And there is a need for the world to negotiate a new paradigm that will shape a better future for everyone.

An interesting aspect of the piracy debate is highlighted by Jenkins, who expresses the concern that while the emerging participatory culture brough the ‘we’ to the

‘web’ (in the words of Newsweek), large corporations who are now buying web 2.0 enterprises (eg Yahoo purchased Flickr, Google purchased Youtube, Rupert Murdock took

over MySpace) might take the ‘you’ out of ‘youtube’.

If users violate the intellectual property rights of media corporations when they share their content over peer-to-peer networks, then don’t large corporations also

violate people’s intellectual property rights by reaping the monetary benefits of the content, value and wealth created by users? He asks whether at some point the

revenue should be shared with the users.

Drawing upon a John McMuria article, Jenkins sees that YouTube 1) is a meeting place for various subcultures and allows cultural innovation through cross pollination,

2) allows users to ‘rescue’ the mass media content that deserves greater attention, 3) facilitates grassroots content to be pushed to greater visibility through new

and old media 3) is forcing major companies to opt in or opt out of the participatory culture. In that sense it is an illustrated of Bekler’s Network Culture, but then

the question whether it allows equal opportunity to all who want to participate is important.
Who is more comfortable with participating and who is less comfortable? What factors is that based on? Who decides the value of amateur content? Is it influenced by

mob rule?

While McMuria looks at the highest ranking videos to see a lack of diversity, Jenkins asks whether this matter should be looked at only in the context of the impact of

amateur content or also in the context of the ability to cross over to a broader range of audiences. He then quotes Geoffery long’s GOOGTUBE: TV 2.0, OR BUBBLE 2.0? as

an alternative approach to the question.

Long says that this participatory culture is here to stay Google might have bought YouTube because a) Humans are better than machines in giving the content a meaning

and value (think in terms of crowdsourcing), b) it increases the brand value and potential revenue, c) google can serve as a bridge between major advertisers (because

of its cloud) and independent content producers (because of its ‘indie’ feel and approach).

film:

“Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century,” Pirate Cinema’s Sebastian Lutgert quotes Getty Images owner Mark Getty in Steal This Film. While it is hard to

summarize the documentary, prominent players in the piracy culture make the following argument which can be seen as a context in which this highly meaningful quote can

be seen:

While it may take billions of dollars to make the first copy of a film, recently developed technology allows the users to make subsequent copies to be made for less

than a dollar (through DVD rippers) and distribute it throughout the world (through peer-to-peer file sharing). Corporations who own the intellectual property rights

to most popular digital content see this new technology as disastrous as they lose billions of dollars to ‘piracy’ and since this new technology undermines their very

business model, some of them came to the brink of collapse. But this phenemenon is not new, from Cable TV, to VCRs to the first MP3 player, every new media technology

was seen as a threat and had to deal with lawsuits.

Instead of changing their business models, media corporations want to be able to control the content they own the copyrights to, even after they have sold it, to the

extent that they are influencing the US government to bring non-commercial piracy from the civil domain to the criminal domain and demand similar moves from other

countries (e.g. in the case of Sweden). The decentralized architecture of this new technology makes it impossible to shut it down. Therefore any attempts to do so are

only creating awareness about the peer-to-peer sharing and initiating debates that led to such unexpected phemomena as the forming and sudden popularity of the Pirate

Party (that now has two seats in the European Parliament).

Just as the printing press – as a new technology that brought copying to the masses – became a symbol of rebellion and emancipation during the Renaissance and shaped

the future of the world, the same way peer-to-peer technology of the 21st century chnages our world fundamentally, blurring the distinction between the producer and

the consumer and bring production of art from the domain of the economic back to something that makes people’s lives more meaningful. And there is a need for the world

to negotiate a new paradigm that will shape a better future for everyone.

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9 Comments

  1. Juliette 22:53, Feb 14th, 10

    Very clear summary Harris!
    I actually found very interesting the material of this week as it showed how the debate on intellectual property remains blurred and keeps on dividing people.

    Indeed, Lessig and Smiers both pinpoint how our overwhelming copyright system is threatening our societies. They stress the danger of a cultural environnement under full control of a minority of leaders. The current copyright system seems to benefit almost only to this small group. Thus scholars propose a new approach to intellectual property : a less controlled one.

    However, Smiers proves to be much more bold in his proposal standing for a whole revolution of the system, he reasses the very notion of IP. He is not convinced by Lessig’s plea for a Free culture and discredits the “strong advocate of the idea that knowledge and creativity can be owned as individual property”. (p.197)

    Here is another example showing how the debate on IP is open and how, so far, nobody seems to agree on a new system.
    In his book The Public Domain , James Boyle proposes to come back to a conservative approach to IP based on the rigorous renewal of shorter copyrights (28 years) otherwise the work “fall immediately into the public domain”. (chap. 1 paragraph 40)

    Eventhough many people agree on the failure of the current IP law, the question is obviously far from being answered…

    These texts leave me with one main question: Do we have to redesign the whole IP system or will small changes be enough to preserve the access to culture?

  2. juliette b 22:59, Feb 14th, 10

    Here’s the link to James Boyle’s book until I manage HTML link in my comments! haha

    This is a link

  3. ElzbthMllr 09:51, Feb 15th, 10

    After watching Lessig’s Free Culture Presentation, I did a bit of research online and found this announcement http://mohamedn.com/node/488 detailing that Al Jazeera announced the launch of free footage under Creative Commons License (making it the world’s first repository of broadcast quality video footage released under the Creative Commons license). Maybe everyone else knew that this happened last year, but I had no clue. I wish American networks would have that kind of foresight. I think some of the key concepts from Lessig’s presentation are the influence that this kind of free culture can have on democracy, if we let it (although to a certain extent it has an effect whether or not it is intended). If we combine some of the elements from Shirky – sharing, cooperation, collaborative action, etc – Lessig forces us to think about the repercussions of some of these issues play out online when it comes to living in such a produce/share culture (he characterizes it as a read/write internet rather than read-only, which I think is a helpful way of looking at it). No matter where you look, there are repercussions to what Lessig talks about, from music to television to politics.

    Smiers piece was helpful because it talked about alternatives to a broken system. So often we read things that detail why something isn’t work (eg copyright, intellectual property law etc), and I know these are valuable lessons, how can we fix something if we don’t understand why it’s not working in the first place, but I appreciate the suggested solutions, even if I may be a bit pessimistic about the probably of his ideas becoming reality. I think the powerful companies and industries that have a huge interest in not abolishing copyright law are not going to allow this to happen (although I do wish it were otherwise). I worry that that we will see these industries clinging on tooth and nail to every amount of power that they can have, until they have no choice but to let go. The question is, when will reach that point? And how can we get there faster?

    I think one of the key issues that combined some of the elements from Lessig and Smiers is revealed by Scholz in a comment he makes about knowing “attention is monetized” in “Towards a Critique of the Social Web”. He says, “Are users used? Most definitely. Do they mind it? Not yet.” My question is this: will they mind it when they know that they are being used? What will it take to make users bothered by it? Since we are students in a grad course on media, my sense is that we all know it, but are we bothered by it? It would be interesting to talk about in class on Tuesday and hear what people have to say. Scholz also concludes by saying “Now it is easier for users/producers to join up, complain, strive for free cooperation and for the renegotiation of some rules, as Paul mentions. This, however, has nothing to do with deep-rooted social change.” Although I agree that the two may not necessarily be related, I think that as technology has made it easier for users/producers to join and for there to exist more cooperation makes it easier for social change to exist. It’s like the chart that Mushon drew on the board last class, that each step makes it easier to get to the next step and the next.

  4. mushon 12:05, Feb 15th, 10

    Nice summary but it still lacks the recommended reading (remember, for you it is not recommended, it’s required). Please update this post asap.

  5. Ryan 18:43, Feb 15th, 10

    Lessig makes a good point, but finding the middle ground is hard. There needs to be some control. Total freedom of the net engenders anarchy. Yes people will abuse and mistreat the the tools that make the internet a great participatory environment, but at the expense of having others try to regulate and control the systemic order or structure. Piracy and misuse come with the territory of the internet, because it nourishes and instigates such responses that would precipitate such backlash. Free Culture is tough because we live in a economical world (in reality), however, the internet creates a virtual realm where movies, music, and other things can be pirated and circulated at such massive rates. It does call into question the existing order of ownership and production but, it does not make those practices right. Instead, it creates another problematic issue.

    Creative commons and Copyleft are great ideas but I think that they fail to solve the issue of creativity, authorship, and artistic production. Zoost Smiers is a little too romantic to think that his proposed idea would add to the creative culture. Corporate forces would continue to look for ways to exploit the ‘entrepreneur’ concept to maintain their power and control. In addition, the accountability of everyone would get messy with things that are pirated or plagiarized. Profit for artists are the main concern. Traditionally musical artists for example have always been exploited by forces of ownership. The internet helps to cut out these leech-like owners and the reigns of copyright, but artists have to work extra hard to market their product. Things like the creative commons and copyleft can be good if utilized in the right way. I think the main dilemma really lies in the credit and profit of the art. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking something and building off of it to make something new. However, give credit to its owner.
    A question that I recently thought of was how come authors aren’t paid royalties for when other authors site them for sources but musicians have to pay a fee to use other musicians work. Why can’t musicians use it and just site and give credit? Is there something that I’m missing???

    Hip-hop is a prime example of this re-appropriation of old into new. Sampling other’s music and making into their own was only called into question when Biz Markie blatantly sampled an entire song. Then record labels and copyright lawsuits exploded on other artists who did that. Contextually, it was amazing because you have these underrepresented and marginalized minorities gaming the system with technology. Then corporate control comes back and says that you can’t do that – you’re stealing. The hegemonic struggle of class, race, and gender is amazing with the advantages of using the internet and technology. Something that I would like to explore for my next travelogue would be something like the mash-up/remix culture. We will see…

    P.S. We can see this in the DJ world. Technological platforms make it extremely easy to take music and remix it. This in turn changes the value of the DJ where DJs used to be judged upon their dexterity to manipulate and alter the songs with the records. Nowadays, as anyone can be a DJ, the technology allows users to remix songs at their own will given he or she knows how to use such programs like Ableton live, Logic, Traktor Scratch, Serato Scratch Live, MIDI Controller Pads, or any other digital Djing tool. What does this tell us with copyright infringement? Well, anything is possible and it makes it easier for people to take something, alter it, and call it something new.

  6. Harris 18:51, Feb 15th, 10

    Terribly sorry about leaving out the recommended readings out folks. Just read Mushon’s post and types as fast as I could. I realize this will significantly affect our discussion in class this weak.
    So now I know the network is only as strong as its weakest link – which in this case happens to be me :(

  7. Alexandra 22:08, Feb 15th, 10

    All of this week’s reading was thought-provoking, but I was most surprised by What if We Would Not Have Copyright? I say surprised because I thought it was a pretty weak argument. If we were speaking strictly on a theoretical basis, then perhaps it might get by. I do agree with the core concept that copyright is essentially about control – the same point we have heard from the other readings. But I think it is pretty easy to poke holes through, and I’d be interested to hear what the rest of the class thinks. The utopian picture Smiers paints has everyone acting in a sort of happy-go-lucky, self-policing manner that I personally think is completely unrealistic. Smiers wants to artificially level the playing field by blowing the entire system away and starting over, but I don’t think this will work.

    For one thing, Smiers is convinced that there is “not a single reason to believe there would be no demand for such an enormous variety of artistic expressions,” and that the court of public opinion will sufficiently penalize individuals who commit fraud. I think perhaps Smiers does not know much about human nature. To address the first point, people don’t actually like too many choices. When faced with lots of options, most people’s reaction is to choose the default or nothing at all. As for the second, I think there may be some merit to the self-policing (Wikipedia was a good example of how this works) but it sounds like Smiers is advocating for essentially no concrete consequences for fraud.

    Anyway these are a few of my thoughts, and I look forward to our discussion in class tomorrow.

  8. Leslie 23:07, Feb 15th, 10

    Lessig’s speech was an enjoyable one to listen to. His way of talking sounded poetic at times, like he was trying to elicit emotion and a call to action to protect our freedom of the Internet (which seemed pretty evident by the end of the film when he talked about us currently being in a state of “awakening” with the Internet). I thought his talk on Z-theory and how threats can make people deeply fearful was particularly interesting. It’s a little scary to think of the notion that one massively detrimental virus spread throughout the Internet could potentially change how the Internet is run and regulated from thereon out. It almost sounds like it could be a horror movie, but seems to be a reasonable concern.

    I enjoyed how he ended his speech describing Internet users as currently in a state of “awakening.” It reminded me of the Age of Enlightenment, when reason and science began to challenge religion. With the Internet, we are regaining this ability to grow intellectually, yet again, and break away from the corporate stronghold.

    Smier’s comment on pg. 198, “At what point must a society decide that when nearly everyone is participating in an ‘illegal’ practice-like P2P music or film exchange-it can no longer be considered illegal?” was an important statement to express. As seen in the music industry from the government and corporate companies trying to disable each new P2P music site, from Napster, to Kazaa, and now to torrents, this is something that is not going away and has become almost a normal part of using the Internet for many people. The Internet is a place where sharing is a norm, and while Smier’s “entrepreneur” approach to creative expression might not be the answer, it’s a good thought-provoking start.

    As Elizabeth mentioned, large companies are and will continue to make it difficult to break away from the old ways of doing things. I almost feel like these industries try to make people feel “bad” for bringing down the old system, sometimes. These companies know they are losing power and are using what little control they have left to try to scare people into “submission” through legal threats. They know that once this power is lost for good, it probably will not be coming back, unless a massive threat, such as the one mentioned by Lessig, occurs.

    Seeing big name bands like Radiohead and NIN putting power into the hands of the consumers in deciding how much to pay for an album is a good example of how the Internet could progress and change in the future. Here’s an article about Radiohead http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/2816893/Radiohead-challenges-labels-with-free-album.html and one about NIN http://www.nme.com/news/nine-inch-nails/34824 if you haven’t had a chance to read about how they chose to market their latest CDs.

  9. nadine 14:11, Feb 16th, 10

    @Ryan: I find it also confusing that some areas seem to have tighter copyright regulations than others, we should explore that further. One of the possible reasons could be the US doctrine about Fair Use (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use) that allows “limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders.” Interpretation of that doctrine is tricky, and leaves me a bit confused: could somebody help me out?
    I understand that the secondary work must be sufficiently transformative of the original art work- but where and who does decide this? Must all cases go though the Courts?

    The Brooklyn Museum has a project to digitize its collection. On one of their forum/blogs, even they admit that they face a dilemma: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/community/blogosphere/bloggers/2010/01/14/working-guidelines-for-the-copyright-project/ Their conclusion: ““Any analysis of ownership and duration must be performed on a case-by-case basis for each work.”

    I agree with Alexandra that self-policing is no answer. In that context, guidelines are even more subjective, and can be interpreted differently.

    But to get back to Smiers: He makes an interesting observation when he points out that Western intellectual property systems are more protected than non-Western ones. Famous DJs don’t pay royalties to South-African communities when mixing in some popular local tunes (MCC Professor Martin Scherzinger investigates this issue). So yes, the question leads back to power, and copyright must be reconsidered.

    @Leslie: There is a practice in legal systems that allow out-fashioned laws to be reinterpreted in a more modern way, so they don’t stand in contrast with modern social practices. I’ve just read a chapter of David Bollier’s book The Viral Spiral (you can download it at http://www.viralspiral.cc/download-book), the author describes how Lessig himself tried to bring down antiquated copyright laws by invoking this doctrine (p.76). Nevertheless, Lessig didn’t win the trial, but I believe than in some years, the argument could get stronger. Any legal experts in the class?