Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Falling Cost of Ideas and The Fair Use Defense

...So realizing that this blog's raison d'être (or lack thereof) allows it freedom to pretty much do whatever it wants, be it cultural critique, sample-digging, cross-posting- whatever- I decided that today I'd provide you with a few useful services!

First, I'd like to point you in the direction of a few interesting artifacts, namely a forward-thinking, well-educated critique of the current beliefs about changing business models and consumptive practices in the journalism industries, this one put together by Jason Pontin, the publisher of Tech Review. He proposes effective business practices and critiques the over-simplified analyses of polemicists like Andrew Keen and Clay Shirky. Being a starving professional journalist and media-man, I am especially interested in the ways in which print media can or can not adapt to the changes in consumer demands as the cost of intellectual property seems to drop to virtually nothing.

Also, in line with this discussion of rapidly shifting production and consumption practices in various media-based industries, there's "The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education," one version of which has been converted into a short video presentation about what rights you have in reproducing, transforming, or borrowing from copyrighted video material (everything is a resource), the other of which is a slightly less user-friendly article outlining the same things in a bit more detail. It may seem like an obscure venue in which to discuss the politics of intellectual property law and free speech, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how much video mash-up practices and the appropriative trends that they represent play a significant role in creative expression and self-representation. A look at the ubiquitous presence of Youtube in the lives of young consumers shows what's to come in terms of the role that user-generated video will play in new internet technology and media industries.

Certainly in light of Youtube muting the soundtracks of user-generated content which relies upon copyrighted audio, I think a discussion that informs file hosts and consumers alike of what their rights are and when, in fact, they are clearly able to uphold a "fair use" defense, is urgent and important. And, if you were ever on top of the unbeatable Palms Out Remix Sunday series, you would know that Google as well has started removing posts or pages that host material which potentially infringes on copyright law. Keyword potentially. I would probably be able to argue fair use for most of the supposedly offending material. BAD GOOGLE. BAD BAD EVIL GOOGLE.

I've heard through the grape-vine (sorry, no sources to cite) that the moment Youtube receives a flag or a complaint warning them that they are illegally hosting copyrighted material, the offending material is muted or removed immediately without much further inquiry. Does anyone know what the intricacies of this process actually are?

Anyways, taking that into account, it seems important for businesses like that to have a clear rubric for what they are and are not allowed to host such that they don't have to buckle at every accusation of copyright infringement. Yah'da mean? Granted, it's probably far too time-consuming to scrutinize the legal status of every offending piece of material, so I expect that for the next few years, groups like Youtube will indeed be reacting quickly and in the interest of the property-owners against appropriative practices like video mash-up. But yes, check the video, read the article, know yr rights!!!

There is also L. Gordon Crovitz' article from the Wall Street Journal:

The point that this article makes is that people will pay for information as long as it is unique in its content and delivery. The industry seems to be splitting into niches; DJs who have specific needs, namely full sound-quality dancefloor mp3s and an interface that allows the navigator to jump from one recommendation to the next seamlessly and accurately, have put their faith in Beatport, a pay-per-download independent music distributor. They are willing to pay for a number of reasons:

a) The ease with which new music can be discovered, downloaded, and situated within a cosmos of genres and sub-genres. The interface is slick, navigable, and trustworthy.

b) The partitioning of payment, something discussed by Pontin in the article described above, which allows users to buy in slices as big or as small as they want; single tracks, doubled-sided digital EPs, or full-length albums. The service does not charge for subscription, a tactic that has obviously proved ineffective for consumers who see subscription as too much of a commitment.

c) The unmatchable authoritativeness of the distributor. Not only are they expected by consumers within a certain niche to accommodate comprehensively, by they have also become taste-makers as the consumers build more and more trust with the service.

As Crovitz says, "People are happy to pay for news and information however it's delivered, but only if it has real, differentiated value. Traders must have their Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters terminal. Lawyers wouldn't go to court without accessing the Lexis or West online service... Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?"

I wouldn't necessarily agree with his caveat, "...however it's delivered..." especially because I think of user-interface as an example of the ways in which delivery, or presentation, can make the process of consumption extremely painful or extremely pleasant. I'm really not saying anything new here, I'm just summing up some points in terms that hopefully my readers can understand, and directing you to learn further about these issues of intellectual property, consumption, and the changing landscape of various media-centric industries.

OH AND SPEAKING OF DESPERATION ON THE PART OF FORMERLY SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRIES, I saw these over at The New New, a dope Boston-based blog about Hip-Hop, streetwear, UK Underground music, etc. Seriously, like, gag me with a spoon.

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