NYT David Brooks on “The Alpha Geeks”

May 23, 2008

News:  David Brooks has a fun look at “The Alpha Geeks” in an op-ed in the NYT.  Here’s a cool passage:

“The jock can shine on the football field, but the geeks can display their supple sensibilities and well-modulated emotions on their Facebook pages, blogs, text messages and Twitter feeds. Now there are armies of designers, researchers, media mavens and other cultural producers with a talent for whimsical self-mockery, arcane social references and late-night analysis.

“They can visit eclectic sites like Kottke.org and Cool Hunting, experiment with fonts, admire Stewart Brand and Lawrence Lessig and join social-networking communities with ironical names. They’ve created a new definition of what it means to be cool, a definition that leaves out the talents of the jocks, the M.B.A.-types and the less educated.”


What is Web 3.0? Eric Schmidt’s view

January 26, 2008

I’ve been meaning to blog about this video clip of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s take on Web 3.0.  It’s a fascinating explanation and prediction of the next phase of the Internet.  His explanation is so good, I’d rather let you just listen to the explanation rather than attempt to paraphrase it.  You can tell this guy has a Ph.D.

We’re probably not yet there at Web 3.0, but the possibilities seem fast approaching.  We’ve barely had time to digest Web 2.0, but here’s a video with a good explanation of the history behind the term Web 2.0.

In my legal scholarship, I try to analyze complications created by new technologies for existing paradigms of law, usually in the area of intellectual property.  Right now, I’m continuing my exploration of how Web 2.0 affects our copyright laws.  Hopefully, I’ll have a draft soon to share online.


NBC supports mash-ups and remixes of NBC shows

January 22, 2008

News: The General Counsel of NBC Universal Rick Cotton has stated that NBC supports the ability of users to reuse and remix copyrighted shows. As I reported last week, NBC already allows free download copies of many of its shows on its website. When you couple this free dissemination of NBC copies online with Rick Cotton’s statements, it appears that NBC has bought into the mashup/remix culture of user-generated content that relies upon preexisting copyrighted works.

Here are some of Cotton’s statements:

“They can choose to download commercial free episodes of our TV shows or watch free, streaming, ad-supported programs on our websites. We’ve offered fans material from “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Office” to create mashups. And we expect to expand those offerings both on our websites and on Hulu.com.”

“But, looking forward, one of the exciting characteristics of the new, digital world is that technology will allow us greater flexibility to respond to consumer desires.”

“It bears repeating that short-form mashups, parodies and the like are NOT the primary focus of content owners’ anti-piracy activities. Let’s be clear that sympathy for parodies and “re-interpretations” should not be used as a justification for inaction in addressing aggressively the wholesale trafficking in complete, unchanged copies of movies and TV programs. Having said that, most major content owners today want to see fans fully engage with their favorite content and are working hard to provide legitimate ways to do that.”

Full article

Analysis: NBC Universal should be applauded for its stance on remixes and mashups, as well as for allowing free downloading of many of its shows online. If I take Cotton’s statements at face value, he basically gives his blessing to noncommercial remixes of NBC’s copyrighted shows. I would not have expected this kind of position from a Hollywood studio.  But I hope NBC doesn’t scale back the free stuff and start selling all of its shows on iTunes (for more, see Mashable).


NBC allows free copies of its shows online

January 16, 2008

News: You know that the (copyright) times are changing when NBC is now allowing download copies of some of its most popular shows (instead of just watching them online). It’s part of “NBC Direct” (beta) and it’s all free. I’m assuming the free video downloads contain no DRM, but I haven’t verified that yet.

If you go to this menu, you’ll see that over 20 NBC shows are downloadable, including 30 Rock, Law & Order SVU, The Office, ER, and Heroes.

Analysis: The speed with which the video market is evolving is dizzying. Last year, I never would have expected NBC to allow free downloads of its shows. Presumably, by allowing the free downloads NBC has licensed at least a user to collect the episodes for personal use on her computer, if not also some other noncommercial re-uses. I don’t see a specific statement by NBC on terms of use, though.

The free downloading of NBC shows is also a little surprising, given the rather hard-line copyright position expressed by Rick Cotton in this NYT debate.  I wonder what the difference, as a practical matter, between NBC allowing copying of its free broadcast shows and third parties doing it on their own with their own devices for those very same shows.  If the market for free TV shows eventually adopts a free download practice, then the “piracy” rhetoric seems hollow.  (Movies are different since they are not usually free, either online or offline.)


Library of Congress + Flickr project: “The Commons”

January 16, 2008

News:  Flickr and The Library of Congress announced a joint project called “The Commons.”  It includes wonderful photographs from the 1930-40s and 1910s — for which there are “no known copyright restriction.”  Apparently that means in this case of the 1930s-1940s photographs they were taken for the US government and did not get copyrights (I’m guessing).  For the 1910 photographs taken by a news service, they are simply too old to be conceivably under copyright protection today.

This is a terrific idea (and I love the incredible photos), but the copyright description by Flickr and The Library of Congress is a little bit vague.  They don’t come out and say that you can freely copy and re-use the photos, at least not on my first reading of the site.  They simply encourage you to add tags to the photos.   

Analysis:  I would think the more common use that the public wants to make of these old photos, however, is copying and disseminating.  If there is “no known copyright restriction,” the Library of Congress should come out and say that it’s in the public domain, free for all to use and copy. 

The closest they come to stating that is a statement buried in their FAQ, which I’ve copied below:

Enjoying and Re-using Photos

Q: Can I reuse the photos the Library has made available on Flickr? What are the rights and permissions on these? Can I reproduce these pictures? 
A: Although the Library of Congress does not grant or deny permission to use photos, the Library knows of no copyright restrictions on the publication, distribution, or re-use of these photos. Privacy rights may apply.  For further information see the rights, see the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection color photographs rights information and the George Grantham Bain Collection rights information.

Q: Are higher resolution copies available?
A. Yes. Higher resolution TIFF versions of the photos are available through the Prints and Photographs online catalog. Example: Click on the ”Persistent URL” link in the data information for the photograph (the URL looks like “hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a35075”) and when the new catalog record displays, click on the picture for the larger images.

Q: How do I get copies of these pictures?
A: You can download and print copies of the pictures yourself.  Higher resolution TIFF files are available through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  Alternatively, you can purchase copies through the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.  For further information on purchasing copies, see the Reproductions information page on the Prints & Photographs Division Web site.


YouTube’s “Little Loca,” aka Stevie Ryan, premieres tonight on CW network

September 23, 2007

News: Little Loca, aka Stevie Ryan (who in real life is white, even though she plays a Latina on YouTube), gets her own TV show tonight on the CW network, 7:30 p.m. It’s called “Online Nation” and it will be all about amateur user-generated videos. The LA Times has a feature on Stevie in its Sunday edition. Below is a promo:

Analysis: This is ironic. Just as ABC, NBC, and CBS announced this week free videos of their shows online, online amateur videos will be migrating to TV, albeit on the unknown CW network. One day soon, the Internet + TV will be the same thing–or at least delivered on the same device.


Mazda mashup: fastest 3 minutes, zoom3

September 22, 2007

I remixed my Mazda video, shortening it to 3 minutes. It’s faster.  (For the background to this video, visit here.)


Are some YouTubers overreacting to the new InVideo ads

August 24, 2007

News:  I’ve read over some of the negative comments posted by people on YouTube related to YouTube’s InVideo ad system.  Under the new system, YouTube will deploy ads that will pop-up at the bottom 20% of the video screen, lasting for several seconds.  If you click on the pop-up ad, you will be redirected to an internal ad video.  If you do nothing, the ad disappears.  Meanwhile, the original video you played will continue playing.  One thing to note:  the new InVideo ads will only be used on select “Partner” videos — the corporations and select users YouTube has deals with.

Some of the comments sent in to YouTube are filled with expletives, vitriol, and venom.  Here’s one thoughtful comment I read, though:  “‘OK by me. Someone has to pay the bills. Between users fees and advertising I prefer the latter.’ Yeah, but why does someone have to pay the bills with intrusive advertising now when they didn’t before? If YouTube originally had ads IN or BEFORE the videos, it would be just as unpopular as all the other video sites, and it would have never grown the massive user base that greedy baby boomer investors and marketers now salivate over. There is a reason young people latched on to YouTube…it offered something other than the “60% content and 40% marketing” formula that insults us from the television screen. Make no mistake- too much advertising and the real YouTube will soon be remembered as a historical curiousity; a good idea and an interesting phenomenon spoiled by greed. Don’t forget that we are here because we are tired of commercials. If YouTube doesn’t understand that or can’t support thier business in that way, then it’s time you guys found a new line of work.”

Analysis:  The comment has some force to it.  YouTube appealed to people because the videos were ad-free, and not filled with pre-roll ads so common on commercial sites.  I believe the commenter’s exactly right that people were/are tired of seeing commercials everywhere they go (except during the Super Bowl). 

But I’m not sure YouTube’s InVideo ads will ruin the original ethos of YouTube.  As I noted above, the majority of videos won’t have these ads.  One reason is for fear of copyright liability:  YouTube knows that inserting commercial ads into user videos that constitute copyright infringement will expose YouTube to a claim for vicarious liability, outside the DMCA safe harbor.  In other words, there are a bunch of unauthorized videos on YouTube posted by users.  YouTube can’t risk profiting from them with commercial ads because that would defeat any DMCA safe harbor defense for YouTube.


Is YouTube really “killing our culture,” as Andrew Keen says?

June 20, 2007

Book review: Andrew Keen has a book just out, provocatively titled, “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture.” In the book, Keen launches into a tirade against YouTube, Wikipedia, the entire blogosphere, and all other user-generated or “amateur” content in our Web 2.0 world. Keen’s basic thesis is this: “[D]emocratization [on the Internet], despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent. … [I]t is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions” (15). Yes, according to Keen, YouTube is a big part of the problem.

Over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing this book. Today, let me begin with two points.

1. The rhetoric in the book. It’s filled with punchy writing and clever turns of phrase. The rhetoric is often fun to read, in part because it’s so over-the-top. But I think the rhetoric ultimately undermines Keen’s own message. Keen says he wants more detailed, reasoned professional analysis. But his own book sensationalizes stories and speaks with the same kind of overgeneralizations and rantings that Keen criticizes on amateur blogs. Keen is taking a contrarian view on Web 2.0, and because his book is being mass-marketed, he’s more likely to sell books if his position is more sensationalized or extreme.

2. Is Keen himself an amateur?: Keen decries the amateur and hails the professional expert as the source of “truth” (more on truth in a later post). But what kind of expert is Keen? From his own bio, he’s a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who once was a CEO of a dot com and who now is CEO of “afterTV LLC, a firm that helps marketers optimize their brand desirability in the post-TV consumer landscape.” Oh, and, of course, Keen has his own blog.

OK, so does that make Keen an expert in democracy, freedom of the press, journalism, the entertainment industry, the music industry, intellectual property, libel law, click fraud, identity theft, and child predators–topics all covered in his book? My point is not to attack Keen’s credentials, but to question his overall argument in his book–that “amateur” productions should be kept in check because they are ruining “our culture” (more on “our culture” later). If that were the rule, his book shouldn’t have been published at all.  The people at Doubleday should have edited out any bit of material for which Keen had no expertise.


Steve Chen in Taiwan: YouTube on cellphones by year’s end

June 12, 2007

News:  Taiwanese American Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube, spoke at a conference of tech leaders in Taiwan.  Chen said YouTube will be on cellphones by year’s end, and he suggested the possibility of a Taiwanese YouTube.  According to one report, Chen also spoke about Web 3.0:  “Chen said the Internet was moving from the so-called Web 2.0 era — user-generated content in a user-oriented environment — to the Web. 3.0 era, in which users are no longer tied to their PCs, while enjoying much more personalized and individualized content and services on the go.”


CBS exec Les Moonves is transforming TV, and YouTube

January 13, 2007

News: The most significant development at this past week’s Consumer Electronics Show — and perhaps the most significant development in broadcast TV for the past 25 years — was the keynote address by CBS CEO Les Moonves. Why?

Moonves this week announced deals: (1) allowing users of SlingBox to “mashup”– meaning cut and splice–CBS shows at their own pleasure, and (2) airing the best 15-second YouTube videos on CBS, the first to air before this year’s Super Bowl. Moonves has clearly embraced the Web 2.0 technologies, and intends to allow users to use CBS content in their own creations. Said Moonves, “There’s no such thing as old or new media anymore. We’re just media.” (YouTube is now even thinking of having its own TV shows and channel.)  This is on top of CBS’s current deal to run parts of shows, like Letterman and NCIS, on a channel on YouTube.

And perhaps his most important admisssion: “We learned a lot watching what happened to the music industry with Napster, and we’d like to avoid those mistakes.” (More)

Analysis: I don’t like making predictions, but a decade from now we may look back at this decision by CBS as the defining moment for a huge transformation in broadcast TV, which propelled it into a completely different model of providing content to users–from a couch potato model to the mashup model. Web 3.0, here we come.  If you want to create a video for the CBS promotion on Super Bowl Sunday, go here.

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