It's the time of year for retrospectives, predictions for the next year, and such. I figured that since I started this blog last January, I would put off a New Year's retrospective and and just have a first anniversary wrapup instead. I checked to see when I started the blog, and it turns out that I missed it. I started this blog on January 4, 2003, but I actually wrote the first entries on the 2nd, before I had the blog itself set up. So it's a few days late, but here's my first anniversary review and a look to the future.
Starting at the beginning really requires starting during the summer of 2002. My job wasn't going anywhere and I was trying to decide what to do instead. I hit on the idea of starting an online record label. This would neatly combine my long-established interests in technology and music and my rising interest in law. The premise was to have a network of websites to promote the bands on my label. They would include both free music downloads and music downloads for sale on both an individual and subscription basis. A relatively small number of songs would be offered free on a rotating basis with the hope of encouraging fans to return on a regular basis. All album tracks would be available individually. As an incentive for a subscription, it would include bonuses like live recordings and music that was otherwise unavailable.
I would not attempt to restrict redistribution. In fact, I would include MP3s of all the music on CDs that I sold. I figured that if they're going to be ripped anyway, I might as well try to impose some quality control. The hope was that any sales lost by redistribution would be made up in increased sales.
In addition to selling music downloads, I would sell CDs and paraphernalia, such as t-shirts, posters, and stickers. I would also promote concerts and try cross-promotion between the bands. The goal was to think of everything as a promotion tool and expect that even if I lost money on downloads, they would increase the rest of the business.
I came up with plan without knowing how to do any of this. I figured, how hard could it be? Besides, I learn best by doing anyway. I'd figure it all out as I went. Whether that makes me optimistic or stupid is up for debate, but that was my plan. When I encountered the phrase "rolls a hoover" on RageBoy's blog, I decided it fit what I was doing. I was jumping off a cliff and trusting that I would land safely. (His original post has apparently disappeared. See the FAQ in the right column for marginally more information.)
By last January, I decided it was time to act. I left my job and started this blog. It was a deliberate attempt at self-motivation. I thought that if I had the blog I would be obligated to keep working on my plans so I would have something to update the blog with. Early posts were on technical issues of setting up the blog itself. Unfortunately, it didn't really work as a motivating tool, and by March I wasn't progressing the way I had hoped and my posting frequency dropped off.
Fortunately, in mid-March I went to a symposium on copyright at Harvard. Since this tied into what I had been thinking about for my record label, I jumped in hard and this blog has never been the same. Since then I have posted almost exclusively about the theory and practice of copyright.
My posting frequency fell in September. Since then my major posts have been on subjects that I thought were unlikely to be covered elsewhere and analysis of court rulings. I have some thoughts on why this occurred. First, it's not because I lost interest. It's fairly typical for me to be obsessed with something for a few months and then for that interest to fade, but that hasn't happened in this case. I still follow copyright issues on a daily basis and I have a long list of links that I've been intending to blog. By now it's long enough that I don't know what to do with it. Any hope of actually blogging them all individually seems unrealistic and the list just keeps growing. Maybe what I need to do is put together a single post consisting just of the list of links without any commentary at all. But if I don't comment on them, it may not be clear why I think they're interesting. I don't know.
Further proof that my interest hasn't passed is in the way that I felt compelled to blog the ruling in the appeal of Verizon v. RIAA. It's not just that I was interested enough in the ruling to read it. It's that I had to write my analysis of it immediately, even though I had intended to put it off.
I think one factor that both explains why I've been doing less blogging and why I felt compelled to blog the court ruling is that I've been looking for ways to get a job doing copyright advocacy. What I've found is that there aren't that many jobs available, and the ones that exist are in high demand. That seems even more true for people like me who don't actually have any law experience.
One solution to that would be to go to law school. I've been going back and forth on whether that's a good idea for the past several months. On the downside, law school isn't easy and I would have to take a significant number of courses that I'm only peripherally interested in. Furthermore, what would I do once I had a law degree? There are certain positions I expect I would be interested in, including policy work, appellate work, and academia. But if I ended up doing contract law or litigation, would I be happy? I honestly don't know.
On the upside, it seems like copyright law touches on nearly all aspects of law. Actually having a law degree would help me to fit all the pieces together in a way that I can't always do now. And I actually enjoy reading court rulings. My natural response when I hear of a ruling I'm interested in is to sit down and read the ruling itself. The fact that I'm interested in court rulings at all makes me unusual enough, I suspect, but the fact that I want to work through hundred page rulings myself puts me in a rare class.
I've been discussing the merits of law school with lawyers and non-lawyers. Non-lawyers have generally been more enthusiastic than lawyers and I'm not sure what to make of that. Lawyers in advocacy or policy positions have actually been the most skeptical of the value of a law degree. I'm not sure where that leaves me.
Recently I've been trying to get a position doing IP work in a law firm. I hope that a position in some sort of legal assistant role would give me an opportunity to decide if law is really for me. So far I haven't had any major breakthroughs, but I'm still working at it.
One of the reasons why I've been blogging less, then, is that I've been looking into doing this as a career. Blogging is fun and all, but it doesn't pay very well. I'm also uncertain of the impact it has. Does what I write here influence anyone with real power? It might. If I cause readers to think about these issues more and discuss them with others, there may be real effect of my blog. But it's indirect at best. So if I spend more time thinking about what else I could be doing and less time blogging, that may not be a bad thing.
I'm also not sure that a blog is really the right structure for my writing. If I make a series of posts about a particular issue, they end up scattered all over the archives. I've taken to running Google searches on my own blog, which seems really dumb but it's the only way I can find things. I've considered the merits of switching to a blogging tool that allows more categorization so it would be possible to look things up by topic. Another possibility is migrating to a wiki or some other structure that puts organization by topic ahead of organization by date. While I've been sitting around wondering what to do, it's been a disincentive to keep posting as is.
Another factor that I have to acknowledge in changing my blogging habits has been significant upheaval in my personal life. My natural tendency is to try to separate my personal life from my blogging, but sometimes it spills over. I moved at the beginning of August. Shortly thereafter, my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart. (The two events were not directly related.) Both have been disruptive. Breaking up with my girlfriend has been particularly hard. It's no exaggeration to say that I've been hurting every day since then. The fact that it's been hard for her as well is small consolation. I mention this less for sympathy than to just acknowledge the impact it's had. We may not want one part of our life to affect another, but it's not always in our control.
So that's where I am today. Here are my thoughts about this coming year. I need to get a job of some kind. Right now, I think my best possibility is a legal position, but I'm open to the possibility of unexpected changes in direction. I want to make a firm up or down decision on law school. I hope my job will lead to that decision, but I think it's important to actually make a decision one way or another regardless of what kind of job I end up with. Finally, I want to see what more I can do with this blog. Is a total redesign the way to go? I've had various ideas about a possible companion site. I need to do more experimentation with that.
As usual, my look back is far more detailed than my look forward. I wonder how much that's self-perpetuating. Anyway, here's to 2004 and year 2 of Matt Rolls a Hoover.