O Sweet Mr Math

wherein is detailed Matt's experiences as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. Right now, that means lots of thinking about math.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

12:13 AM

I have one more thought on the FCC ruling. (Have you called your Senators yet?) Specific examples are better than general rants, so here's an example. All in the Family was one of the great sitcoms of television history. Barry Diller, CEO of USA Interactive, has said that he doesn't believe that Norman Lear could have created All in the Family in today's media environment. Norman Lear is far from the only independent television producer who is worried about the harm of the FCC rule change. The Center for the Creative Community has collected letters opposing the rule change from independent producers who worked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Remington Steele, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Murphy Brown, and M*A*S*H, among others. Changing media rules have destroyed the ability of independent producers to get shows on television, and the new rules will only make things worse. If you think television should occasionally make you think as it entertains, call your Senators. If you'd prefer to watch "Must Snore TV", sit back and "enjoy" the show. It's all downhill from here.


Tuesday, June 03, 2003

5:49 PM

In the activist vein, I have another call to action. Larry Lessig is looking for people to sign a petition supporting the Public Domain Enhancement Act. This means you should sign the petition right now. You should go do it now and come back here afterward, but if you need convincing first, I'll explain why.

Most copyrighted works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. This means that if the work falls out of print and the author disappears, the work cannot be reprinted until 70 years after the author's death. That could easily be 100 to 120 years after the work was created. The work will disappear with the author.

Prior to 1998, the duration of copyright was life plus 50 years. The Copyright Term Extension Act tacked 20 years onto that, solely for the benefit of major media corporations who held the copyright on works created during the 1920's and wanted to preserve their copyright. The canonical example is the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, but it's far from the only example. "Happy Birthday to You" (the four line song) would have entered the public domain this year, but now we have to wait until 2023.

Lessig estimates that 98% of copyrighted works from that era are out of print. That means that we, the public, you and me, readers, film buffs, music fans, artists who want to build on the past to create something new, are denied access to 98% for the sake of the 2% controlled by companies like Disney. If George W. Bush (or Bill Clinton, who signed the Copyright Term Extension Act) said that he'd like to give you a $50 tax cut, but he can only give you a $1 tax cut because Disney asked him to, that's not any different than what's happened here.

Lessig has a solution. The Public Domain Enhancement Act, which he has proposed, says that 50 years after something is published, the copyright holder has to pay $1. That's one dollar. If the holder doesn't pay up, the work enters the public domain. This is a really good deal. It gives an escape valve to let the other 98% out into the public domain so it can be used by the public. On top of that, it makes it clear who to go to for licensing. If I want to license something created by someone who died in 1950, figuring out who to talk to now, 50 years later, to try to use it is basically impossible. If someone has paid that dollar, I know who to talk to and I win, the copyright holder wins because of the licensing fees, and the public wins because of the new creation.

And how much hardship does this put on Disney? One dollar. A buck. Almost nothing. Come on, if a dollar is too much to pay to maintain the copyright, the holder isn't really getting any use out of it anyway. And it means that in 2018, when Disney asks Congress to extend copyright again, they won't have to contend with protests that they're dragging along the other 98%. (The history of copyright in the 20th century was of corporations regularly asking Congress for longer copyright terms and Congress giving it to them. There's no reason why that won't continue in the future, but now the public is ready to put up a fight.)

So, that's the Public Domain Enhancement Act. Everybody wins. Even the copyright holders are paying their dollar for the opportunity for increased licensing fees. Why isn't it a law yet? There isn't enough popular support.

Lessig's thought of that, too. He's put a petition online which lays out our case. Read it. Sign it. Strike a blow for culture and creativity.

Copyright holders like to characterize people who favor reasonable copyright laws as wanting to steal their works. Let's talk theft. The theft I see is the 98% being kept from the public, that's every single person, organization, cultural institution, and company in the country, for the sake of the 2%. Let's take back what belongs to us.

If you've gotten this far and haven't signed the petition yet, here's your chance. How easy to I have to make it? If I need to auto-redirect this page to the petition itself, I will.


2:06 PM

There were two news items from yesterday that demand your attention. The first is less important, but it's a feelgood story, and those are important. The Supreme Court has ruled that the public domain still exists. Fox made a documentary about Eisenhower more than 50 years ago. The documentary is not protected by copyright law. Dastar recently made a video that reused footage from the Fox documentary without crediting Fox. Fox sued for trademark infringement and won in the lower courts. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the public domain works the way it should and overturned the previous ruling.

That's just a warmup for the main event, which didn't go so well. Let me ask your opinion on commercial radio in the early nineties, say '93 or '94. Sucked, right? How does radio today compare to radio then? Just about everyone would agree that it sucks more. That's because of one simple reason: the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which reduced limits on how many radio stations one company could own. In the early 90s, no one company owned more that 80 radio stations in the United States. Today, Clear Channel, the largest owner, owns more than 1200 radio stations.

Clear Channel argues that this is a good thing, mostly because radio stations are more profitable than they were ten years ago. As a music lover, I disagree. Radio station playlists are managed on a national level, making radio unresponsive to the local music industry. Radio stations are targeted towards specifically tailored audiences, making the playlists boring. The number of people controlling which bands get on the air has shrunk, making it harder for bands to get heard. And if a handful of people make the decision to not play the music of a particular band for any reason, they disappear from the radio. (That story is misleading. While Cumulus has 42 country music stations, they own 260 stations total, making them the second largest owner after Clear Channel.) Record sales are falling. How much of that is due to the fact that radio is no longer effective in exposing listeners to new music?

Well, the FCC has done it again. Regulation on ownership of television stations and newspapers has been removed. People like Lawrence Lessig will tell you why this is bad for free speech and the political process, but that's not my focus. I'm worried about what impact it will have on the creation and dissemination of creative works. Different people like different things and have different tolerances for creative risks. Fewer people making decisions means a narrower range of creation.

This decision was opposed by practically everybody, with the exception of large media corporations who stand to gain financially (but who, ironically, say that there's no rush for consolidation). The argument goes that there's no need to worry about whether it's a bad rule, because no one will take advantage of it, which raises the question of why the major media corporations pushed for it. The FCC, in a 3-2 vote, gave the corporations what they wanted and ignored the thousands of statements opposing the rule change, which came from all corners of American society (including, for example, Ted Turner, who knows a thing or two about media corporations).

There's still hope. The Senate may step in, in a bipartisan effort, and reestablish ownership caps. Call your Senators (and Representatives) today and tell them that you oppose lifting media ownership caps. Click this link, find your Senators' phone numbers, and call now. I can't make it easier for you, and it's too important to not speak up.


Sunday, June 01, 2003

7:24 PM

There have been enough things going on in the world of music online lately that I figured I should round them all up.

The New York Times: Apple has updated iTunes to prevent sharing music over the Internet. Sharing is still possible over local networks. The article also mentions in passing that Apple has sold 3 million songs during the first month of service, which is three times the labels' expected performance. The article has a terminology error. Rendezvous is Apple's name for a general networking technology. Rendezvous has not been affected by the iTunes update. The confusion probably comes because iTunes uses Rendezvous to automatically find other iTunes libraries on a local network. Internet sharing, which is what has been disabled, did not rely on Rendezvous. Just thought I should clarify that.

MacSlash: reactions to the iTunes change. Cory Doctorow also has choice words about Apple.

Wired News: Roxio acquires Pressplay. Roxio had already purchased Napster, so look for Pressplay to be renamed soon.

Baltimore Sun: Listen.com, owner of Rhapsody music service, has reduced the price of music downloads to 79¢ per song. Listen.com insists that Apple's success has nothing to do with the price cut. Rhapsody also has a $9.95 per month subscription fee, meaning that you only come out ahead if you download more than 50 songs a month. This really may not have anything to do with Apple, though, since iTunes only works on Mac OS X and Rhapsody only works under Windows.

CNET: Microsoft is planning on competing with iTunes. The article seems more speculative than factual. Apple has emphasized the difficulty of putting all the pieces together to provide the service it does and the difficulty of negotiating with the record labels. Reports are that Apple's initial agreement only lasts one year and only two of the five major labels have signed on for Apple's plans to release a version of iTunes for Windows. Apple is likely continuing to negotiate with the other labels in anticipation of launching the Windows version by the end of the year.

Freedom To Tinker: The EFF has filed an amicus brief in the Madster case. The appeals court hearing on the case will be on Wednesday.

That brings me to Aimee Deep. For those who don't get as obsessed as I do, Aimee is the public face of Madster (formerly Aimster). According to news reports, Aimee is the 18 year old daughter of John Deep, the developer of Madster. She provided the inspiration for the service during its development and the service took its name from her nickname "Aimster". Curiously, John Deep registered domain names in the "aimster" family during the same period that he registered domain names in the "icqster" family. AOL sued for the rights to the domains on the basis that the names infringed on its trademarks on AIM and ICQ, its instant message services.

Aimee Deep made her first public appearances during the suit and received a healthy chunk of press attention at the time, during which she didn't miss an opportunity to state that Aimster was named after her. In the courtroom, however, the arguments focused on the claim that "aim" is a generic word not subject to trademark protection and it was being used in the sense of "target". I think those courtroom claims were dishonest (Aimster clearly gets its name from crossing AIM with Napster), but Aimster shouldn't necessarily have lost anyway.

Aimster did in fact lose the case and went on to change its name to Madster. Meanwhile, Aimee started a blog devoted to news "on lingerie, lyrics, free music, and heroes". The legal trouble wasn't over for Madster, which has since lost a copyright infringement suit brought by members of the music industry. And that brings us back to the appeals court hearing on Wednesday.

Aimee has been getting the word out on the hearing, not only on her blog, but in comments on Larry Lessig's blog and email to Frank Field and me (that I know of). While I would like to think that the quality of my writing attracted her attention, I suspect it had more to do my previous post in which I reviewed the available information on Aimee and doubted her existence. Aimee is having further fun with the question of her existence on her own blog.

I've been struggling with the question of why I care and I've been feeling like she's baiting me into talking about her more. Here's how I see it. I suspect Aimee is a constructed spokesperson for Madster. (Aimee reinforces that sense on her blog. She has the "endearing" trait of using Madster to refer to herself and the software interchangeably. This goes as far as referring to the software as "I".) I can't really complain about that. It's been done before. Joe Isuzu comes to mind. I also can't complain about the way Madster uses a mixture of sex and celebrity to draw attention to itself. That's just marketing. I think the reason it bothers me is the sense that Madster is lying to its customers.

Aimee Deep as a marketing ploy is gimmicky, but I think it's valid. She personifies the voice of the company. When she says that Aimster was named after her, and not the other way around, it feels like it's a step too far, especially when the name is subject to a lawsuit. It's as if Madster didn't trust its customers to be sympathetic to it in its lawsuit, so it invented a reason more likely to gain sympathy and put all its energy into backing up the invented reason.

I have to admit, though, that I'm not convinced that that's all there is to my feelings. It feels like that might be a pretty weak reason to get worked up. I also wonder why no one else is really asking any questions. If it's not important enough for anyone else, why is it important enough for me? The question of why I am the way I am is clearly too large for this post, so I'm going to leave it for now.

Aimee has said that she will be at the hearing and she welcomes her fans. I have to say that I'm tempted. It wouldn't be convenient, but I could get to the hearing. Beyond the possibility of meeting her, attending the hearing would be interesting because the Aimster case is significant to the issue of copyright online and because I would probably benefit from actually being present at an appeals court hearing.

I have no doubt that there will be someone calling herself Aimee Deep at the hearing. My question is whether she will offer any proof of her identity. Beyond that, I doubt that Aimster was named after her, and not the other way around. While I'm listing doubts, I doubt that the person writing the Aimee Deep blog and posting comments on other blogs is the 18 year old daughter of John Deep. If I am wrong, I'll apologize to her and to the company. I have to acknowledge that I'm a skeptic. I'm not sure what sort of evidence would be sufficient for me to believe that she is who she says she is.




What does "rolls a hoover" mean, anyway?

"Roll a hoover" was coined by Christopher Locke, aka RageBoy (not worksafe). He enumerated some Hooverian Principles, but that might not be too helpful. My interpretation is that rolling a hoover means doing something that you know is stupid without any clear sense of what the outcome will be, just to see what will happen. In my case, I quit my job in an uncertain economy to try to start a business. I'm still not sure how that will work out.

Why is the HTML for this page not valid?

BlogSpot adds the advertisement that appears at the top of this page. That advertisement is not valid HTML and is outside of my control. I believe that aside from that ad, this page is valid HTML.