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Archive for October, 2007

Happy Halloween

Pumpkin Deathstar

That’s no pumpkin…

Rob Sheridan: When Pigs Fly

oink picture by rob sheridan

picture by Rob Sheridan

Demonbaby blogger Rob Sheridan has written a great piece on the death and re-birth of the music industry, prompted by the closing of oink, which he and music fans everywhere are furious about. Sheridan lays out what fans can do to support their favorite artists without supporting the major labels or the RIAA. He suggests we:

1. Stop buying music from major labels. Period.

“The only way to force change is to hit the labels where it hurts – their profits. The major labels are like Terry Schiavo right now – they’re on life support, drooling in a coma, while white-haired guys in suits try and change the laws to keep them alive. But any rational person can see that it’s too late, and it’s time to pull out the feeding tube. In this case, the feeding tube is your money.”

2. Support artists directly.

“Here’s a little secret: Anything a band sells that does not have music on it is outside the reach of the record label, and monetarily supports the artist more than buying a CD ever would. T-shirts, posters, hats, keychains, stickers, etc. Send the band a letter telling them that you’re no longer going to be purchasing their music, but you will be listening to it, and you will be spreading the word and supporting them in other ways… If you like bands who are releasing music on open, non-RIAA indie labels, buy their albums!”

3. Get the message out.

“Get this message out to as many people as you can – spread the word on your blog or your MySpace, and more importantly, tell your friends at work, or your family members, people who might not be as tuned into the internet as you are.”

4. Get political.

“The fast-track to ending all this nonsense is changing intellectual property laws. The RIAA lobbies politicians to manipulate copyright laws for their own interests, so voters need to lobby politicians for the peoples’ interests.”

I’ll be talking more about how the new music industry can and is growing from the ashes of the old one on Tuesday in California at Business of Software 2007, because the cultural divide Rob talks about in this article, one of the main themes in my book, is something the software industry, and every other industry needs to understand, and they need to understand it quickly. Read the Demonbaby piece, it’s a good start.

My speech at BIF-3

Matt Mason

Earlier this month I spoke at BIF-3, an incredible innovation summit that happens every year in Providence, Rhode Island, about how I came to think that piracy could sometimes be a good thing. It’s now up online, you can see it here.

Amen to that: the world’s most important 6-second drum loop

Be Kind Rewind

User generated content was better in the eighties…

Handbags at dawn


Is piracy killing the fashion business, or is the new clothing copyright bill a corporate stitch-up?

A debate around the role of copying and piracy in the fashion industry started last year when law professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman published The Piracy Paradox, a compelling paper which makes the case that innovation in the fashion industry is driven by loose copyright laws that allow designers to imitate one another, thereby creating fashion trends. The idea is that more copying creates a quick turnover of trends, because as soon as a style reaches the mall (providing it’s not dead), the early adopters are ready for a new one. It’s a very well written paper, which makes a very good point. But as I argue in the book, the good point it makes is about the freedom designers have to remix each other’s work, not make pirate copies.

This September James Surowiecki wrote about the paper in the New Yorker, using it to criticize the Design Piracy Prohibition Act, a bill currently being considered by Congress, backed by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) that would give designers the power to copyright their clothes the way we copyright music, movies or books. Designers would be able to protect their overall designs for three years (not elements of their design, which would still be fair game for remixes), and designers could sue pirates for up to $250,000. Surowiecki doesn’t think this is a good thing.

Susan Scafidi, author of the great fashion blog Counterfeit Chic hit back at Surowiecki’s analysis in Portfolio, arguing that because of the intertubes, this process is now happening almost instantaneously, which is hurting the fashion industry, not helping it. “The speed of the internet and other technologies allows copies to make it to the stores before the originals” says Scafidi. She writes:

“Consider the accessories designer who received an order for a belt from a large department store – only to have the store place its larger reorder with a cheaper manufacturer. Or how about the jeweler whose work was admired by a buyer at a trade show and hoped for a sale, only to open the large company’s catalog months later and see an exact copy of her design? Maybe the dress designer who saw her dress praised in an online forum, only to have the next post recommend buying an exact knockoff elsewhere – followed by thanks for the “tip”? Perhaps you’d be convinced by the handbag designer who actually received a wholesale order, only to have it canceled a few days later because the buyer found an exact copy of her original design elsewhere at a lower price?.”

Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the CFDA, also responded on the letters page of the New Yorker with her own fashion statement, declaring that “there is no such thing as the piracy paradox,” and that the proposed bill would support short-term protection for designers while “preserving the flow of trends and styles at the heart of fashion design.”

There may not be a piracy paradox here, but there is a remix paradox, it just doesn’t sound as good. There’s a lot of hot air around this subject, especially when it comes to the numbers. If this bill does protect struggling, unknown designers and still allows remixes to happen, then great. But how long would it be before big fashion houses were lobbying congress to have the protection period extended from three years to six to twelve and so on, as big media companies are in other areas? If the copyright periods stay short term, the bill seems like a good idea. But if copyright periods become extended, long term there is a danger this bill could hinder innovation in fashion, not help it. Over-zealous copyright laws can be just as dangerous as rampant piracy.

What’s unique about this argument is that the fashion industry, Congress and everyone else involved in the debate all recognize that the creator’s ability to remix the work of others in original new ways is valuable, desirable and creates new innovations that benefit everyone. This is not the case in the business of music or movies. The fashion industry is a great example of how fair use and loose copyright create innovation, one other industries might benefit from imitating.

Question: Which generation has spent the most on music per note?

Rhythm Division by Jamie James Medina

Photo by Jamie James Medina

Answer: The current one.

I was made aware of this fun fact a few weeks ago by Silicon Valley veteran Ellen Levy, whom I met at the BIF summit. It makes sense if you think about ringtone sales, which jumped by 86% in 2006.

According to Chris Anderson, every single part of the music industry is actually doing much better, except for the selling little plastic discs part (which accounts 25% of the entire music business).

Concerts and merchandise are up 4%, digital track sales increased by 46% and licensing music to commercials, TV shows, movies and videogames is also up. Vinyl singles more than doubled in the UK (I blame the funky house scene) and iPod sales went up 31% this year.

CD sales meanwhile, fell 18%. I’m sure VHS tapes, 8-tracks and horse-drawn carriages didn’t have a great year either.

Open = Terror Proof

spies like tux

We need more spies and first responders like Tux, because open networks have one huge advantage: They are one of our best defenses against terrorists and natural disasters.

The debate over open and closed systems is one of the main themes of The Pirate’s Dilemma, and all over the place this question is coming up. Is open source better than proprietary? Is software property, or information? Is our DNA property, or information? It’s a big question, with a lot of different answers.

In the fight against terrorism, citizens are being told they need to reveal all sorts of private information, which is proving more than a little controversial. But the industries and organizations whose job it is to protect intelligence and secrets could benefit greatly from opening up to the right communities. The New York Times ran an article in December 2006 suggesting spying need to go open source, claiming US intelligence agencies were relying on search engines that were “a pale shadow of Google.” The CIA, NSA and FBI lacked the ability to share information with each other instantly, because the agencies, as The New York Times reported, “had created their online networks specifically to keep secrets safe, locked away so only a few could see them. This control over the flow of information, as the 9/11 Commission noted in its final report, was a crucial reason American intelligence agencies failed to prevent those attacks.”

After 9/11, emergency workers and businesses trying to get back on their feet in lower Manhattan found themselves relying on an invisible cloud of free Wi-Fi networks while broadband internet connections and phone lines were down. Within the first two weeks of Hurricane Katrina hitting in 2005, community Wi-Fi systems were set up so that relatives could find each other with sites like peoplefinder.com, or find temporary accommodation through katrinahousing.org, which connected refugees to people with spare beds and couches. As Steven Johnson observed in Discover magazine, “The people at the forefront of these efforts had no professional disaster experience. All they had was technical expertise and access to a vast network of people willing to volunteer time, provide shelter, or donate equipment… In the war on error, they are the true first responders.”

The UK cover…

The Pirates Dilemma

The cover for the UK edition came in this morning, I really like how they used the logo, it looks simple but there is a lot of detail and color at the same time. It’s interesting to see how each publisher views the book – in the US it’s being targeted primarily at a business audience, whereas in the UK it’s a wider (and possibly younger) audience. The weird thing about the book is it’s both a business and pop culture title, and (I hope) both these audiences will respond to it. But that’s not up to me, or my publishers. Again, thoughts on the cover much appreciated.

A&F gets flashmobbed

A&F gets flashmobbed

One hundred and eleven shirtless men descended on Abercrombie & Fitch’s 5th Avenue store in NYC yesterday. The flashmob was put together by the group Improv Everywhere.

According to their website: “Agent Nguyen came up with the idea for this mission when he noticed the 5th Avenue Abercrombie and Fitch store had a shirtless male model greeting all customers as they enter. Upon further examination, we discovered the model is only one aspect of the store’s celebration of the shirtless male. There are photographs all over the store of bare-chested men, both on the wall and on the products themselves.

“Agent CScott was the first to take his shirt off. He thought the go-time was 4:30 and accidentally pulled the trigger 7 minutes early.

“He slowly realized he was the only one and that he must have gotten the time wrong, but decided just to roll with it. Employees didn’t seem to care. In fact, one went and checked on a size for him without even commenting on his bare chest.

“At 4:37 the other 110 joined in on the fun. Within seconds everywhere you looked there were shirtless men.

“I instructed everyone to simply mill about the store and shop. I told them that if anyone asked questions, to just claim that you’re shopping for a shirt.”

If you live in NYC and want to be part of Imrpov Everywhere’s next flashmob, sign up here.

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