My Book is Out Now!

Book cover: Digital Culture IndustryDigital Culture Industry:
A History of Digital Distribution

I’m very happy to announce that my book is finally out with Palgrave Macmillan.

If you’re interested in the history of peer-to-peer piracy and how it shaped digital media today this is the book for you. Covering MP3.com, Napster, GNUtella, Kazaa, Streamcast, Grokster, BitTorrent and The Pirate Bay this comprehensive history is a great read for anyone interested in the field of digital media.

….if I do say so myself.

For a more comprehensive overview of the book head over to the book page where you can see reviews and chapter summaries.

There was a lot of research that went into the book, and a lot of resources to boot. If you’d like to see some of the things I made related to the book head over to this blog post and also take a look at the resources.

Available now from…

PalgraveMacmillanwaterstonesref=sr_1_14

‘Instant Pop’: Give the Kids What they Want

Grabbed from The Guardian

Ten years after piracy first began to ravage the music industry, Britain’s two biggest record labels will finally try to play their part in stopping it, by making new singles available for sale on the day they first hit the airwaves.

Now this, is a good thing.

The further I’ve read into the technicalities of retailing digital media the more sympathetic I’ve become to the difficulties of digital retail. This softening of my opinion has primarily come via reading a healthy dose of intellectual property law and the various EULAs attached to services like iTunes, Steam and Amazon’s digital arm, those things none of us read but sign our souls away to, quite literally in some cases. I’ll post something regarding my adventures in EULAland in the near future; for now we’ll stick to the recent ‘Instant Pop’ announcement.

As much as I have softened in some regards, there are still areas where I’m fairly critical regarding industry practice. Digital retail at first seems to be about manufacturing scarcity in an inherently bountiful product, something that is profoundly difficult. However rather than apply old scarcity economics to digital media, the successful retailers have realised that it is not the product that gains them the custom, but the service surrounding it. The latest pop hit is the latest pop hit, whether you buy it from Amazon, iTunes or pull it down off of some P2P network. What differs is the process surrounding that acquisition. P2P is a pretty good service if you ignore the legality issue; contrary to industry opinion the files are of high quality, speeds are solid and if you are competent enough to operate some P2P client you’ll probably be street wise enough to not get a trojan of some sort.

With a service like iTunes however, because of their nice walled little empire they have something that P2P doesn’t; that nice little button, default on all iPods and iPhones that says ‘iTunes Store’. As long as you’ve got connectivity you can hit that button, search for a track and purchase within about 30 seconds. Then it’s there ready for you to own it at the moment you decided you wanted to own it. Put this hand in hand with radio and you’ve got a brilliant system; song comes on the radio, listener hears it, likes it, wants it. Listener goes to device in pocket and a few taps later they have it. The price is higher than P2P, but P2P couldn’t give it to them right then and there. The customer paid to have the song NOW.

iTunes WiFi Store Logo

People are walking around with miniature record shops in their pocket all day, at any moment they have the potential to purchase a small something that takes their fancy or even go on a media bender when looking to kill some time. Having a gap between radio promotion and single release, to deny the individual the option to purchase it at that moment when they are primed to be consumer, to tell them to wait and buy it in a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours, is a strategy that will lose you that customer. They’ve had the marketing plugged straight into them, they’ve got the shop out of their pocket and are ready to go, but due to a perception that you can still maintain media scarcity, there’s no single in the shop and the customer will look elsewhere because they know they can get it somehow, it’ll just take a bit more work.

This instant pop strategy is a good one, it plays to new behaviours of consumption and takes advantage of the fact that a grand majority of people are hooked up to media retail wherever and whenever. It won’t be a panacea for piracy, there’s more factors in people’s decisions to pirate than simply speed and convenience, sometimes p2p offer a service or a product that the legit spaces don’t. However for those people who previously would have taken the costlier but quicker option if only they had one, this move will bring them back in to the shop.

Guardian Article: Universal and Sony Music plan ‘instant pop’ to beat piracy

Props to @tegularius00 for sending me the article.

Real Culture is Bought Culture

I should be writing my thesis at this moment, however a small jaunt over to the Open Rights Group blog left me with a small thought (just a small one mind) about the perhaps less obvious disruptions that digital media have caused. One of the commenters on the most recent post stated…

You ORG people are pathetic. I’d like to see your point of view if it was you who produced a film or wrote a book in the course of your work (your way of life, how you get paid), and little slimy leeches like the operators of the Pirate Bay/Oink/etc made a crapload of money in ad revenue/subscription fees for enabling the piracy of your work, giving you nothing in return. The majority of your spotty live-in- parents-basement members should get out more, get a girlfriend, just get out and please join the real world where people need to get paid for their work. I hope you’re not ever actually taken seriously at the government level, your counter-arguments are too poor to be taken seriously.

As you’d expect from a blog comments section this elicited a fair amount of responses, many (though inevitably not all) of which I’m happy to say were much more polite and much less aggressive than the above. Now this may be a case where one should pull out the ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’ sign, however it does illustrate a larger issue.

The countless discussions that we have about copyright these days always seem to be chipping away at an assumption of what creative work is that we have had for a long time. If you wanted to bring in some classic critical theory and invoke Adorno and Horkheimer’s writings on mass culture (which I do because I’m a geeky obsessive), you would hark back to their considerations of how mass culture has impacted our understanding of what the value of culture is. When they were criticising the idea that culture could be commodified and sold as a product they were also concerned that only culture which was commodified would be classified as ‘real’ culture, with the rest being confined to the derogatory category of ‘amateur’, creativity without profit. What seemed to define real culture from amateur culture was the involvement of some economic value. Therefore only people that make money from their cultural production are ‘real’ artists and culture is best judged on its economic merits. Now this of course is a gross simplification; as anyone that has a passion for any sphere of culture will rabidly argue, just because something sells a lot doesn’t mean it’s any good. However this conflation of economic value with cultural value seems to have stuck in areas.

For example last year when Lily Allen made her little snafu and pissed off the entire internet (hyperbole noted), I recall she stated that she would prefer people go out and buy bootleg copies of her albums from street vendors than pirate it online, because at least that way it had some value. To Lily it seemed her music was worthless unless someone was willing to pay her for it. Likewise from the comments much was made about the commenter’s assumption that ‘ORG People’ could not be creative people because they did not support copyright (In fact as Jim Killock corrected them, ORG do support copyright but not the infringement of our human rights in the name of its protection). Many others replied that in fact many creative people, both ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ were members of ORG and that it was a rather simplified perception of the organisation. One commenter especially, Prof. Andres Guadamuz of The University of Edinburgh, highlighted the issue very well saying…

There is this remarkably short-sighted idea that only those who profit from copyright industries have the right to make any arguments… the vast majority of people are engaged in creative processes, be it taking photographs, writing poems, writing a blog, etc. Only because some people are lucky enough to get rewarded for their creations does not de-legitimise everyone else.

This I think is the crux of the copyright debates along with the progression made in ‘amateurism’ and creativity. That people outside of the established cultural industries are able to produce and distribute work of comparable quality has brought the debates about copyright out of a corporatised context and down to an individual level. Where copyright was once the domain of the industry and viewed in a purely economic context, now it has seeped into the domain of the individual, and its more restrictive elements are visible. People that produce creative work without an economic focus are joining the debate. Again this is not to say it should be abolished, as much of copyright law is about protecting the consumer as well as the producer, it just needs updating for this de-corporatised context. As for the original commenter, they should not be dismissed as just ignorant, but should be engaged with. Not only is the view espoused real, but it is also deeply rooted from decades of commodified creativity. If we are going to reach an equilibrium between industrial and ‘amateur’ creativity, it will need to be addressed.

Then again, maybe I just fed the troll….

Losing British Airwaves to Hollywood

The BBC is moving to encrypt public broadcast signals with lovely lovely DRM.

In early september the BBC submitted a petition to OFCOM to be allowed to encrypt the public airwaves. If it is allowed to go through manufacturers of receiving devices will have to apply for a licence if they want their products to be able to store or output the content it receives to another box as the content will have to be encrypted. This means that every box you have in your home media set-up will have to be compliant with the encryption or none of it will work together. Who has determined these licences? The same people that created the ‘Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator Agreement’; the US studios.

As it stands our current public airwaves are just that, public. Broadcasters are free to use them but in return we are allowed to do what we like with the content, as long as it doesn’t violate copyright laws. We can record it for later viewing, move it around to different devices or cut it up and play with it. If the content is encrypted we can’t do this and suddenly our public airwaves are just another proprietary conduit for US media that hate to see a distribution network that they don’t control.When I saw the Doctorow article that informed me of the BBC encryption it reminded me of a story from April this year.

After getting fed up with poor internet service from Time Warner Cable, the residents of Wilson in North Carolina set up a city run broadband network. It was high-speed and low cost and everyone loved it, Apart from Time Warner. Rather than improving their service and lowering their extortionate prices – like the city requested of them before they went ahead with an alternative – they instead thought the best option was to lobby for the outlaw of community ISP services; their argument being ‘we can’t make a profit’. The issue is still as yet not resolved, but the fact that it could even be considered an issue worth debating is rather unnerving.

As I have mentioned multiple times before, my firm belief is that the attacks on so-called ‘illegal pirate networks’ are not about copyright but about control of publicly produced systems of distribution. The media industries have had dominance over the conduits of media delivery and they don’t like the competition. This has become even more prominent when the industries move to close down legitimate public distribution systems as well as the supposed illegitimate.

The very awesome Open Rights Group has already set to work opposing the encryption scheme, head over and support them if you can.

Sources

Engadget – Time Warner and Embarq can’t compete with city-owned ISP

Daily Tech – Time Warner, Embarq Fight to Outlaw 100 Mbps Community Broadband

The Guardian – The BBC is encrypting its HD signal by the back door

If Mandelson is Telling the Truth…

The Digital Britain team recently posted up some rebuttals to the accusations directed at the government, one of them being that Lord Mandelson did a u-turn on policy after having a hearty meal with David Geffen. According to team DB…

No discussion took place with David Geffen about Digital Britain. Peter Mandelson has said he doesn’t even think the issue is on Geffen’s radar.

Suppose then that this is indeed true. If we do accept that the dinner with Geffen and the policy change announcement are completely coincidental, does that dissipate the issue? According to The Independent

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is said to be persuaded by the argument for tough laws to curb illegal file-sharing after an intensive lobbying campaign by influential people in the music and film industry.

Stating that their decision to enact some very controversial policies is based on intensive lobbying from the media industry to me is not an absolution but equally damning. Considering that the Digital Britain report was produced based on taking the opinions of many different groups and developing a middle ground. From these recent developments I can only assume that the media industry were not content with a balanced solution and instead continue to demand preferential treatment. At least the British citizenry now know where they stand.

Licensing The Pirate Bay

I was caught off guard today by the announcement that Global Gaming Factory’s shareholders voted to continue their motions to purchase The Pirate Bay. Despite the loss of investors scared away by the less than smooth months GGF has had, those that remain have decided to continue on with the venture.

Torrent Freak mentions that as of yet GGF have still not secured any licensing deals, the crucial element required for the business to even start operations. The question is will they secure them at all?

When Napster took a nose dive in court and were forced to close shop until they could operate legally one of their biggest hurdles was the fact that none of the major labels would licence to them. They distrusted not only the brand but also the executives that ran the company and eventually the original Napster liquidated. It was eventually resurrected by Roxio as a sub-par subscription site using MP3.com tech after Vivendi ruthlessly bought them out.

There are some parallels with TPB buyout in that the success of the business model is dependant on licensing, which they have yet to acquire. The brand is certainly one that has caused a lot of sleepless nights to the industry and I imagine many would love to see the venture fail just because it has ‘that’ name. Finally with the freeze placed on their stock due to an ongoing investigation, a sudden loss of key company executives and a run on the investors is it the case that the industry will trust GGF anymore than they trusted our loveable foursome?

There is perhaps a bigger question here as well that I believe has been present throughout the media industry’s relations with ‘illegal’ file-sharing: is it about the content or is it about the system? Is it the fact that their products are being shared across p2p networks that worries them, or is it the networks themselves? It’s more than likely that the industry realise that the real threat these networks pose is that they make much of their business redundant. It used to be that if you were a musician and wanted to get heard your main conduit to an audience was a label, who would promote you and distribute your work. Now for many artists the possibility of going it alone is more tangible.

It’s not necessarily the case that the industry has failed to distinguish between the technology of file-sharing – which is perfectly legal – and the distribution of copyrighted content – which we have to admit is technically not – due to ignorance. They hark back to the old days where they controlled the entire supply chain and the profit margins were great. Now they have pesky middlemen from the computer industry disrupting their perfectly tuned ecosystem. The more they can convince people that the ‘networks’ are illegal, the safer their dominance.

So, will the Pirate Bay MKII receive their licensing? It’ll be interesting to find out.