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Archive for June, 2008

Pirate TV

Since Pirate’s launched I’ve been talking to a few people about doing something on TV or on screen with the book. A few months back Mark Kotlinski and John Carluccio from Current TV did a piece on it, and I really hit it off with them. A while later I had the good fortune to meet Jesse Alexander out in LA, the Executive Producer of Heroes, who also had some amazing ideas for it. So John, Mark, Jesse and I got together to produce the short piece above, just for kicks, just to see how it might work. Let us know what you think…

Kid Rock misses the point.

Kid Rock has been making some noise about piracy this week, first at a concert and now with a PSA. I’ve always had a soft spot for Kid Rock – he was one of the first acts I worked on at Atlantic Records many years ago. In fact I still have a Kid Rock bottle opener on my key chain. But I think he’s got this argument all wrong.

He started out the week making some thoughtful remarks, telling to the BBC, “Back in the day, we all know the stories of the Otis Reddings and Chuck Berrys and Fats Dominos who never got paid… the internet was an opportunity for everyone to be treated fairly, for the consumer to get a fair price, for the artist to be paid fairly, for the record companies to make some money.” But they stuck to the “old system”, he continued. “I will be on iTunes eventually because I can’t avoid it, but I like to always stick to my guns and prove a point.”

But he then goes on to miss the point completely, saying “I don’t mind people stealing my music, that’s fine – but I think they should steal everything.” And followed up with the PSA below.

I don’t get it. He goes from making some important points about the music industry to freetard statements about stealing everything. I can’t tell if he’s trying to be sarcastic, but he sounds like it. The point here is not that stealing is right and property is wrong, a statement I’m often wrongly accused of making by reviewers and journalists who also missed the point. Companies ripping people off, or people ripping off companies, are not the only two options. There are many shades of grey. This problem with information is not an open and shut case, it’s a dilemma. Will send him a book post haste…

Inside the box, outside the bun…

The importance of authenticity in marketing is much talked about but often misunderstood. In the book I looked at authenticity through the lens of hip hop culture, where authenticity is also of utmost importance, comparing Diddy’s confusing partnership with Burger King to 50 Cent’s more productive relationship with Vitamin Water.

This week both artists are at it again, and 50 still seems to be thinking more clearly about his brand than Diddy. Diddy recently teamed up with Burger King again to produce a Sean John-designed container for French fries, the ‘fry pod’. Lame concept aside, there is no authentic reason for these two brands to be working together. The video below posted by a bemused consumer says it all.

Meanwhile 50 is making marketing headlines this week, shunning a similar proposal from Taco Bell. Company president Greg Creed asked Fiddy to change his name to 79 Cent, 89 Cent or 99 Cent for a day to promote Taco Bell value meals—and then rap a lunch order, using the revised currency when referring to himself.

According to Ad Week’s Adfreak blog, “In return for all this, Taco Bell promised $10,000 to a charity of Fiddy’s choice. “We know that you adopted the name 50 Cent years ago as a metaphor for change,” Creed reportedly wrote. “We at Taco Bell are also huge advocates for change. … We encourage you to ‘Think outside the bun’ and hope you accept our offer.” The offer was not accepted. A rep for the rapper called the invitation a “sleazy and ill-conceived publicity stunt,” and Fiddy himself added, “When my legal team is finished with them, Taco Bell is going to have a new slogan: ‘We messed with the bull and got the horns!’ ”

I’m not quite sure what’s more ridiculous, Taco Bell thinking they could get 50 Cent to do anything, let alone change his name, for 10k, or Fiddy’s threats of legal action (for what exactly?). Nevertheless Fiddy made the right decision where Diddy did not. It amazes me that hip hop culture has been alive and kicking for over thirty years, and some of the world’s largest artists and brands still manage to misunderstand it every day of the week.

Superbad: The Action Movie

One of the best remixed trailers I’ve seen in a while.

The thing no one is talking about when it comes to copyright

girl talk

is that although laws are getting tougher pretty much all over the Western world, quietly our definition of fair use is expanding.

Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, just released Feed The Animals, his latest tapestry of music that shouldn’t work but somehow does (Even ODB over Come On Eileen seems to make sense). No cease and desist letters have gone out yet.

Last year Soulja Boy’s Crank Dat was huge, and spawned a slew of user generated videos featuring cartoon characters lip-synching along. Shrek, Dora, Mario, Spongebob, Cartman and many others got super-manned by fans. Every major Hollywood studio had at least one of their cartoon franchises ripped off, but not one of them bothered to issue a cease and desist notice.

Yes, many law-makers and politicians are making some bad decisions about copyright. But culture has shifted regardless. Our definitions of fair use and copyright have changed in our minds already, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

I think this battle is already won.

Free Pirates!

Download pirates

It’s been in the works for sometime now, but today is the day we have finally been able to make the book available for free online. Both my English language publishers (Simon & Schuster in the U.S. and Penguin in the U.K.) agreed we should release the book free online after the UK launch was out of the way, and that time is now.

Click here to get yours.

Hacking Detroit


Detroit: Currently rebooting. Picture by PhotoFusion

Detroit, and the rest of the American economy, is in deep trouble. Drastic changes are taking place because of the skyrocketing price of oil, from GM shuttering plants to the nosediving airlines, but to fix the problems of towns like Detroit, it’s going to take more than an unlikely return to cheap gas prices.

I was so happy to see Obama finally clinch it last night, for so many reasons, but it’s going to take more than changes we can believe in. We need changes we can be involved in and instigate. To fix places like Detroit, faced with uncertain global economic conditions that change by the hour, we need systems that allow for change constantly. We need systems and organizations that can organize and reorganize at a moment’s notice. Companies and cities like Detroit need to become hackable. Ryan Holiday just pointed me in the direction of a great article on hacking industrial economies by Umair Haque over on the HBS site. Haque writes:

“Last week, I asked: how would you rethink a rusting, obsolete American auto industry?

“Let me rephrase that question, to illustrate why I asked it. I was really asking: how would you hack Detroit?

“The answers were (seriously) phenomenal: different approaches to hacking Detroit’s resources, capabilities, business model, and DNA.

“Why is that so important?

“Hacking wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon; a bunch of socially awkward dudes with even worse haircuts than investment bankers geeking out in their bedrooms. It was larger: a loose set of anti-management principles that unlocked innovative capacity companies couldn’t – and still can’t – match. Hacking was a radically different – and often hyperefficient – way to find big economic problems, and then solve them.

“And that’s exactly what we’ve been discussing: the malaise gripping the venture industry, because it’s seemingly unable to find and solve big problems. One of the reasons today’s revolutionaries are failing is because they’re losing perhaps the most essential part of their DNA: they’re forgetting what it means to hack stuff.”

It’s a good read. I think there is also another side to the point above about the venture industry. The VC business and the record industry for that matter, and many other industries besides, are not solving the big problems as well because we have other ways to solve them. We don’t necessarily need an encyclopedia company to make an encyclopedia (See Clay Shirky’s excellent book for more on this). You don’t need a $100,000 video and a fleet of trucks loaded with plastic discs in jewel cases, headed to stores you have to pay to display your plastic discs, to get a great song out there. And you don’t always need a VC firm to scale a good idea. You just need the idea.

Meaning and ideas have long been spoken of as currencies, but it seems to me their value is going through the roof while the value of hard currency is falling. Companies create value by privatizing some idea that starts as social capital – like a form of youth culture which is co-opted to sell sneakers. Sometimes this works out, and the company adds value to the culture as well as making money (see: the surf, skate and snowboard industries). Sometimes it doesn’t, and the culture becomes a bloated corporate parody of itself (see: disco). But now we are finding new ways to create value without traditional companies, and some problems that could previously only be solved with private capital can be addressed with social capital.

Take Zipcar founder Robin Chase’s latest venture, GoLoco.org for example – a great combination of carpooling and social networking. Go Loco hacked Detroit by creating a new layer of social capital on top of the value created by cars. I’m sure business is booming for them given the current price of gas. Of course by ‘business’, I mean the amount of social capital they are creating, but that means the private capital saved can be used in other ways. The money saved on gas can be spent somewhere else. Using social capital to unlock new forms of private capital, which in turn needs to be supportive of new layers of social capital, is a great way to build sustainable economies, and create dynamic systems which could regenerate rusting cities. A rising tide may indeed lift all cars.


Apparently Detroit is already being hacked, for all the wrong reasons. Invincible and Finale made this music video/documentary hybrid rhyme about the impacts of gentrification on the Motor City. This piece includes interviews with community activists discussing displacement and predatory planning versus sustainable development in the D. Thanks to Dart for the heads up.

Bomb It

In the book I talk about how graffiti is a type piracy manifesting in space, a symptom of our failure to create common physical spaces where everyone has an oppurtunity to communicate. Jon Reiss’ new film BOMB IT looks like it explores this idea too, I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

From the BOMB IT website: “Through interviews and guerilla footage of graffiti writers in action on 5 continents, BOMB IT tells the story of graffiti from its origins in prehistoric cave paintings thru its notorious explosion in New York City during the 70′s and 80′s, then follows the flames as they paint the globe. Featuring old school legends and current favorites such as Taki 183, Cornbread, Stay High 149, T-Kid, Cope 2, Zephyr, Revs, Os Gemeos, KET, Chino, Shepard Fairey, Revok, and Mear One. This cutting edge documentary tracks down today’s most innovative and pervasive street artists as they battle for control over the urban visual landscape. You’ll never look at public space the same way again.”
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