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Solving The Pirate’s Dilemma

bittorrent_72_logo.jpg

I’m really excited to announce that tomorrow I officially become a member of the team at BitTorrent, where I have accepted a position as Executive Director of Marketing. I’ll be based in San Francisco at the head office, and while leaving New York City and Syrup was hard, I’m incredibly excited about what’s coming next.

When I met BitTorrent’s CEO Eric Klinker earlier this year, and he told me that “solving The Pirate’s Dilemma was his job,” I knew I had to help. It’s been an amazing couple of years at Syrup, I’ve learned a ton and I’m proud to have built a stellar strategy team there that’s helped double the agency’s billings during that time. But the opportunity at BitTorrent was not something I could pass up.

With more than 100 million users worldwide using their ecosystem of software, devices and content, BitTorrent is focused on pushing advanced content delivery technologies forward in a way that makes sense for content creators and consumers alike. After seeing what’s coming next from BitTorrent, I’m super excited about being a part of the effort to take the most efficient and powerful method of sharing digital information on Earth to new heights. I’ll be posting updates on everything we are doing here, on twitter and everywhere else you can find me on the web.

Some thoughts on 3-D printing…

Makerbot Cupcake

The Cupcake 3-D printer from MakerBot, which achieved self-replication a few months ago.

Rafael Cabral, a journalist working for the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, interviewed me this week for a piece on 3-D printing. He kindly gave me permission to publish the interview here too:

Do you think that everyone will have a desktop 3D printer? If so when? How distant to “downloading sneakers” are we?

It’s certainly technically possible to have one already. Companies like MakerBot are already shipping them to people worldwide. Whether or not they will become mainstream is primarily a cultural question – there are a lot of cool technologies we could be using that just never really caught on in a huge way, like the Segway for example. But as 3-D printers become more versatile and useful, it makes sense that more people would want to use them. I still think we are at least a decade or so away from a downloadable sneaker that should worry the likes of Nike.

What are the major challenges for the popularization of this technology? Do you think that the industry and brands are interested in the development of domestic 3D printers? Or worried?

Right now 3-D printers don’t really have a killer app. Music was the killer app for the internet – filesharing was the thing that really made the internet seem so cool and powerful and disruptive. Right now the closest thing 3-D printers have is being able to print out your World of Warcraft avatar, which is not as cool as free music. Free downloadable sneakers would do it for sure, but I think it will be something simpler first. Bottle openers maybe, a lot of people with 3-D printer are making those already, and a bottle opener is definitely a social object.

There are some large 3-D printer manufacturers out there who want nothing more than to see this all go mainstream and become the new Apples and Microsofts of the world. When you talk to them, they are really excited about the possibilities and what might happen. I don’t think a lot of people feel threatened by 3-D printers yet, because the threat isn’t there yet. None of the record labels felt threatened by the concept of the internet in the 1980s. Most of them weren’t worried in the 1990s either.

The major implications of the popularization of 3D printers are economic and legal. What do you think that will happen if we create technologies capable of allowing citizens to replace much of the historical industrial-era supply chain? Too dystopic or the old economy can try to make it illegal, like they did with file-sharing?

I think there will be some serious pushback from some powerful communities over 3-D printing, if it catches on. It could upset shipping, all kinds of manufacturing and supply-chain businesses, the entire manufacturing process potentially. That would mean more new economic thinking and business models, the kind of thinking we still haven’t figured out for the digital world. It basically means all of the problems of the internet spilling into the real world. But also all of the possibilities. It won’t be the end of capitalism – It is just as likely to lead to some amazing new businesses and economic ideas as it is to destroy some old systems. It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

In Pirate’s Dilemma, Adrian Bowyer said that “engineering has been making things wrongly since the industrial revolution” – I think he was talking about self-replicating 3D printers. Do you agree with his quote? Is it interesting for the technological industry to sell printers that can create others printers?

He meant that nature has always been more efficient at reproducing than our machines have. The self-replicating machine is indeed a conundrum for “industry” as we’ve come to define it. If such a machine were to become mainstream,we would find ourselves making only two things – raw materials and information, which scares people. But on the other hand, aren’t those the only two things we’ve ever made? And those aren’t the things we sell. We sell people stories about the things we make, which isn’t going to change because of 3-D printers. I think people will always buy something if it comes with a good story, it doesn’t matter where it’s made really. Nike doesn’t own any sneaker factories – and they spend way more money of branding and advertising than they do on making shoes. We already live in a world where the story is the only thing worth anything.

Have you read Chris Anderson’s piece about the new industrial revolution (open source, small factorys, 3D printers)? What do you think about his idea? A new model of production can rise?

I think Chris may, as usual, be on to something. A new model of production based on 3-D printing is already there, it’s just very, very small at the moment. It’s growing for sure, but whether or not it becomes the dominant force in manufacturing depends on many things that have nothing to do with how good the technology is. It’s hard to predict where 3-D printing will end up because there are so many cultural and social factors we can’t predict. We live in a world where politicians make decisions because people give them bags of money or send their wives boxes of cookies. Big decisions about what is acceptable or allowed aren’t always governed by rational thought, or what’s the best way for us to move forward as a society. The one thing that is certain is this technology is improving very quickly. If it continues to do so, we will have some important decisions to make. But if there is one thing we’ve learned so far from the digtial age, it’s that technology that’s really good and really useful always seems to win out, even if it is forbidden.

Punk Yankees

Steal me

Chicago based choreographer Julia Rhoads has a new show inspired by The Pirate’s Dilemma. The show, Punk Yankees, focuses on how sampling and fair use questions apply to the world of dance. As Rhoads tells it:

“I had the good fortune of receiving a choreographic fellowship from the Maggie Alessee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) to support the research and initial development of Punk Yankees, which is the title of our anniversary concert. While at MANCC, I began working with the ensemble to address my research questions: What defines “fair use” in dance? Is it permissible to “borrow” choreographic devices if the movement is reinvented? If the dancers can’t execute the movement in the way it was originally intended, is there something interesting about that failure? If someone “stylistically” references a choreographer, should it be acknowledged as a derivative work, or is it what naturally occurs through dance education and lineage? Ultimately what we created was a work-in-progress that experimented with meta-theatrical devices and formal conventions to elucidate these provocative questions with transparency and humor.

“The title Punk Yankees came from some research I was doing online about piracy and art. Matt Mason, author of the book The Pirate’s Dilemma, talks about the fact that piracy and appropriation (in the sense of intellectual property) has historically been linked to the creation of new markets, which he calls a form of “punk” capitalism. He also traces the word “Yankee” to an old Dutch slang word “Janke,” meaning pirate. Ironically, Matt Mason was recently a keynote speaker at Dance/USA’s Annual Conference in Houston, TX (June 3-6), in the session “Fair Use and Piracy: How They Each Support a Sustainable Dance Field.”

Thanks for the reminder Cory!

3-D printed skateboard

Hold tight for the demo at the end. The guy tears the car park a new one!

China on your desktop.

RepRap from Adrian Bowyer on Vimeo.

Lawrence Lessig on the possibility of “i-9/11″

Some chilling thoughts from Lessig on one way the copyright wars might end. Pirates, and to a greater extent, ad-hoc networks of all kinds, are a necessary part of the free market system – they (try to) keep governments and corporations honest. If something like Lessig describes ever happens, the idea of the pirate as freedom-fighter will be widely embraced. An i-9/11 would be devastating for the short term future of not just the internet, but liberty and democracy. On the other hand, this is the battlefield where citizens should want to have this fight, because this is the battlefield where we can win.

Going Dutch

Piraterij

Lebowski are publishing the book in Holland next month, and to promote sales of physical copies, they are giving away the electronic version. Great to be working with (yet another) publisher who didn’t just want to publish the book, but actually put the ideas from it into practice. You can get your copy of ‘PIRATERIJ’ here.

I’ll be in Amsterdam for the launch in the third week of August – do drop me a line if you’re in the neighborhood!

GFC Vision: The Future of Music

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the first meeting of the Miller Global Fresh Collective, a group of creatives from the worlds of music, design, art, and fashion who met to discuss the future of collaboration and other issues affecting music. I led the first session of the day, entitled “After the Revolution, is Free the Future?”, which you can see above. The thing that’s always missing from discussions about the future of music, is musicians, so it was great to hear from so many from so many corners of the world. Brooklyn Vegan has more details.

Umair Haque on Constructive Capitalism

Umair Haque @ Daytona Sessions vol. 2 – Constructive Capitalism from Daytona Sessions on Vimeo.

Mos Def launches album on t-shirt

Mos Def

Some artists get annoyed when “sell more t-shirts” is presented as a solution to beating pirates, which I can understand because it implies recorded music is worth nothing. But Mos Def has hit upon a way to do it which still gives the music value; the album is the t-shirt.

Def is putting out his latest album The Ecstatic as a shirt. The music tee has the album’s cover art on the front, tracklist on the back and a code for a downloadable version of the album on a tag. The medium (not to mention the S, L, XL and XXL) is the message.

I love this idea. This is a really authentic product that will mean something to fans and values everything the artist does. I’d like to see other things being used as media for digital content. A world where the format you release your work on is as bigger creative choice as the cover art is way more interesting than one where the only choices are CD/download.

More on this over at Paste.

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