The Digital Economy Bill: Fred Figglehorn, won’t you please come home?

Do you know who Fred Figglehorn is?

He’s is a fictional 6-year old with his own TV channel. Not any old TV channel. It’s modern, it’s 21st century. And yes, it’s on YouTube. I quote from Wikipedia:

Fred Figglehorn is a fictional character created and portrayed by American actor Lucas Cruikshank (born August 29, 1993). Cruikshank, a teenager from Columbus, Nebraska, created the character for his channel on the video-sharing website YouTube.[1] The videos are centered around Fred Figglehorn, a fictional 6-year-old who has a dysfunctional home life and “anger management issues”.[2]

Cruikshank introduced the Fred Figglehorn character in videos on the JKL Productions channel he started on YouTube with his cousins, Jon and Katie Smet. He set up the Fred channel in October 2005. By April 2009, the channel had over 1,000,000 subscribers, making it the first YouTube channel to hit one million subscribers and the most subscribed channel at the time.

Over a million subscribers. And creator Lucas Cruikshank is 16 years old. He calls his channel “programming for kids by kids”. By kids. Let’s remember that.

Now fast forward to IMDb, let’s find out a little more about this Lucas Cruikshank. Here’s an excerpt:

Lucas Cruikshank is a teenage director and actor who got his start by making videos with his cousins John and Katie, and posting them on YouTube. Together, the trio is known as JKL Productions. Recently, Lucas decided to make videos by himself and came up with the character Fred, who is an annoying 6-year-old with an uncaring mother and is most noted for his sped-up voice. Lucas said that he created the first Fred video to poke fun at video bloggers who talk about every single thing that they’re doing in the video. The first video received tons of positive feedback, and Lucas continued to post videos in the Fred series, which he edits, directs, and acts in by himself. When not making videos, Lucas auditions for movie and TV roles, and also pitches ideas to television channels. He is also a dancer and takes jazz, tap, and hip-hop classes. Lucas resides in Columbus, Nebraska, with his two brothers and five sisters. He is the middle child.

Trivia
  • Uses a Zip It instant messaging and e-mailing device in the Fred videos as part of a deal with its manufacturers.
  • His Fred videos receive between 1 and 9 million views per video.
  • JKL Productions, the video-making trio of his two cousins and him, made a grand total of US$14,000 from their videos and merchandising during one year.
  • Is very appreciative of his fans.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Secretherapy

…receive between 1 and 9 million views per video. Let’s remember that.

Is very appreciative of his fans. Let’s remember that.

Now let’s move on to another Lucas. George Lucas. Here’s an abstract from his wikipedia entry:

Lucas was born in Modesto, California, the son of Dorothy Lucas (née Bomberger) and George Lucas Sr. (1913–1991), who owned a stationery store.[2]

Lucas’ experiences growing up in the sleepy Central Valley town of Modesto and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti. Long before Lucas became obsessed with film making, he wanted to be a race-car driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing on the underground circuit at fairgrounds and hanging out at garages. However, a near-fatal accident in his souped-up Autobianchi Bianchina on June 12, 1962, just days before his high school graduation, quickly changed his mind. Instead of racing, he attended community college and later got accepted into a junior college to study anthropology. While taking liberal arts courses, he developed a passion for cinematography and camera tricks.

During this time, an experimental filmmaker named Bruce Baillie tacked up a bedsheet in his backyard in 1960 to screen the work of underground, avant-garde 16 mm filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner. For the next few years, Baillie’s series, dubbed Canyon Cinema, toured local coffeehouses. These events became a magnet for the teenage Lucas and his boyhood friend John Plummer. The 19-year-olds began slipping away to San Francisco to hang out in jazz clubs and find news of Canyon Cinema screenings in flyers at the City Lights bookstore. Already a promising photographer, Lucas became infatuated with these abstract films.

[Incidentally, I just want to say thank you, publicly, to Jimmy Wales and all the people at Wikipedia. It is such a privilege to be able to annotate my posts using Wikipedia. Thank you.]

Souped-up cars. Bedsheets in backyards. You see a trend here? Fast forward to 2006. On August 2, 2006, the following post was made on Star Wars Blogs:

We would like the fan film community to know that this was not done at our request. Let’s remember that.

Fast forward to a week ago. Take a look at this story from techdirt:

Official channel blocked due to a copyright infringement issue. Let’s remember that.

Many of you will be aware of the Lenz v Universal case, where Universal Music Publishing Group asked Youtube to remove a 29-second clip of a child bopping up and down to a Prince song:

Mere allegations. Let’s remember that. These are the sort of abuses that happen when the law is so badly crafted that “mere allegations” have this kind of effect. Note that the music company involved in the 29-second fiasco is none other than Universal, whose Group CEO Lucian Grainge is a “known associate” of the Dark Lord.

Where is all this leading?

Simple.

  1. The kids of today are adept at making stuff out of digital raw material. People like me are of an older generation, less adept at these things. We know this. We were adept at making stuff with physical tools working on physical things.
  2. When it comes to digital culture, the barriers to entry have been sharply reduced, so much so that 16 year olds can make home videos regularly enough to run a channel that has a million subscribers and gets nine million views. The world of “content creation” is learning to adapt to this, with people like George Lucas leading the way.
  3. What George Lucas and these kids have in common is also simple: they know how to treat their fans.
  4. Many of the organisations that are being made irrelevant by the digital youth of today, in contrast, don’t know how to treat their fans. Instead, they go to court to attack 29 second videos of very active children.
  5. Attempts to mutate the laws of yesteryear to cope with the challenges of tomorrow are riddled with failure.

Human beings like to make things. They also like to unmake things, to take things apart. They like to get under the hood of things, dismantle stuff, unscrew stuff, put them back together in ways that no one had dreamed of before. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Alex Deschamps-Sonsino and team at tinker.it to come and work with the leadership group at BT Innovate and Design. A splendid time was guaranteed for all. And a splendid time was had by all. Smiles everywhere, as people built stuff and unbuilt stuff. Serious play.

This maker instinct is in all of us, and has been captured brilliantly by Cory Doctorow in Makers and by Larry Lessig in Remix, something I’ve written about before.

As the maker instinct begins to manifest itself in the digital generation, strange things are beginning to happen. Things I cannot conceive of, but things I hear and see. Things that fill me with glee and with sadness, things that teach me, things that I can learn from.

Things like Line Rider. Things like stop-motion video of Monkeys and Engineers, which I wrote about here. Things like this Hips Don’t Lie Parody. Things like the Team Hoyt “My Redeemer Lives” video.

Stray off the beaten track a bit. Watch RIP: A Remix Manifesto.

This is an extract from a blog called Copyright in the Digital Age, in a post headlined Brazilian Dance Party: In it, a journalist called Barry Hertz is quoted as saying:

“After marvelling at the artistry occurring within the shantytowns, the director stupefyingly proposes that the future of art and commerce lies not with the over-branded environs of New York or L.A., but within the copyright-free slums of Rio, oblivious to the fact that he is standing hip-deep in abject poverty.”

The copyright-free slums. Incidentally, thanks to a comment by Martin Budden, I’ve had the opportunity to read James Boyle’s The Public Domain, and then order the hardback. Excellent book. Well worth a read.

Copyright is in a mess. Takedown notices that shouldn’t have been sent. takedown notices that were claimed not to be takedown notices, takedown notices that hadn’t been asked for. Official channels shut down, official material no longer available.

  • Folks, there is a new generation out there. They do things we couldn’t. They make magic in ways we don’t begin to understand.
  • We cannot allow them to be criminalised via the Digital Economy Bill.
  • We cannot constrain their maker culture just because we don’t understand them.
  • We cannot allow others to constrain their maker cultures just because they feel threatened.

There’s enough bad law out there already, particularly in this space. Even as I write, I think it’s still illegal to copy songs from a CD purchased by me on to an iPod purchased by me via iTunes on a computer purchased by me.

Every time the maker culture meets the digital generation, wondrous things happen.

We have to make sure they continue to happen. So contact your MP, push back against this Bill, make sure your voice is heard.

The Digital Economy Bill: Thinking about Banana Ice Cream

My thanks to Victoria Bernal for Larry’s Ice Cream,, itself a riff on Picasso’s Guernica.

Imagine there was a little tinpot dictatorship somewhere. Let’s call it a Banana Ice-Cream Republic. You know the kind I mean. Colourful stamps, country and capital going through ritual name-change on a regular basis, no rule of law, no civil liberties, a bunch of officials wandering around with grand titles and grander uniforms, with “President-For-Life” just the table stakes, and Grand Panjandrums 2-a-penny (not to mention Chief Scientists!).

Imagine you lived there.

Imagine you lived in a town where a lot of people ate banana ice-cream. Imagine that this ice-cream was available a number of ways: you could go to the shop and buy the ice-cream; you could go to a restaurant and order some; you could send off for ice-cream via phone or mail or suchlike; you could even make some yourself, or, if you’re very lucky, have others make the ice cream for you.

Imagine some people stood in front of the shops and restaurants asking you to try their wares, and they gave the ice cream away for free. So that you would be tempted to come in and spend a lot more money on a lot more things.

Imagine you could also buy ice cream from vans that passed by your house. [Have you ever bought ice cream from a passing van? I have. Many times. And I hope to do so again, many times.]

Now imagine that some people held up the vans and stole the ice cream and gave it away for free to everyone. This would be wrong, wouldn’t it? Of course. No one would argue that stealing is right. Even in a country without rule of law, this is usually understood.

So let’s imagine a little more. Imagine that some of the ice cream distributors got upset about all this stealing, and started trying to convince the local council that Something Has to Be Done About It. [An important point to remember; the distributors were the ones getting upset, because they were the ones making the money, not the guys who created the delicacies]. Imagine that some of the ice cream distributor big cheeses got together with some of the local council big cheeses, and they went for a boat ride on the town lake. And imagine that when they all came back, the councillor announced, completely coincidentally, that he was going to introduce a law to Stop This Stealing.

Imagine he came up with such a law. Imagine a law that went like this:

1. All people living in houses in any area where ice cream stealing was even suspected would be banned from using the roads. Any roads. No proof was needed.

2. All people living in houses in any area capable of storing stolen ice cream would also be banned from using the roads. Any roads. No proof needed. The house itself would be cordoned off.

3. If people were suspected of having bought the ice cream and then having used it to make an ice cream based dessert, this would also qualify for a ban on road use. No proof needed.

4. The people looking after the roads had to make sure that anyone in any house suspected of stealing ice cream, or harbouring stolen ice cream, were prevented from using the roads. Again, no proof needed. Failure to do this would mean the road-looker-afterers would also be fined.

5. If asked, the people looking after the roads would also have to report on the movements of the people who lived in the houses. Which roads they used. When. To do what.

6. Anyone providing maps or similar tools that could be used to find houses that may be suspected of harbouring people who steal ice cream, or of storing stolen ice cream,  would also be prevented from making those maps available to anyone. Again without proof.

7. Axe murderers were to be allowed to use the roads. Child molesters were also to be allowed to use the roads. The only people banned were those suspected of stealing ice cream or handling stolen ice cream.

8. The councillors had the president-for-life power to amend and extend this Ice Cream Law at will.

If it happened where you live, that would be horrible, wouldn’t it? People use roads for so much more than banana ice cream. There are so many ways to get banana ice cream. Some people even give it away for free, they make their money selling the spoons and cups and napkins. Some banana ice cream makers have lost faith with the distributors; so they now make and sell the ice cream themselves, telling passers-by to pay whatever they like, only if they like it. And people pay.

People use the roads to learn and to teach. People use the roads to take children to school. People use the roads to take the elderly to hospital. People use the roads to go shopping. The town is an open town, many people use the roads just to get from A to B. People use the roads to keep the town clean, to make sure that everyone gets what they need. Some people even use the roads to walk to council meetings.

In fact people use the roads for many many things besides banana ice cream.

Which is why the change in the law made so many of the townspeople very angry. They didn’t believe that banana ice cream stealing was going on at the levels that are claimed. They didn’t believe that the banana ice cream industry was losing as much revenue to stealing as the industry claimed. They didn’t believe that ice cream vans had much of a future, they thought that there are better ways to make and deliver ice cream. Some of them didn’t think that ice cream distribution was all that important anyway.

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in a Banana Ice Cream Republic?

Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

WH Auden, The Unknown Citizen.

The Digital Economy Bill: The Power of Not Being Elected

Gordon Brown, the UK PM, will be calling for a general election very soon; he may even become the first to make that call in the Commons.

This is happening at a time when trust in the parliamentary process is low, perhaps even at an all-time low; my perspective is clouded by reports about expenses and second homes and cash-for-questions, cash-for-honours, cash-for-lobbying, cash-to-protect-oil, cash-for-something-or-the-other.

Against this backdrop, it would seem prudent to surmise that one of the issues this election is likely to be fought on is that of trust.

Trust. I’ve always seen trust in the way I see beards. It takes a long time to grow a decent beard. And minutes to lose the beard. So it is with trust.

Which is why I find the behaviour of our elected officials bizarre in the extreme when it comes to the treatment and passage of the Digital Economy Bill. If you want to know more, read Cory Doctorow here.

Did I say “elected officials”?

My mistake. I shouldn’t have said “elected officials”. Because when it comes down to it, many of the players in the Digital Economy Bill are anything but elected officials. Let’s take a look at who’s pushing the Bill and some of the key people involved in the debate.

Lord Mandelson. Unelected. Appointed. Powerful friend of  the Powerful. Friends include Lucian Grainge (Universal) and David Geffen (Asylum, Warner, Dreamworks SKG). Lord Birt. Unelected. Appointed. On the Supervisory Board of EMI. Lord Triesman. Unelected. Appointed. Chairman of the FA.  Lord Clement Jones. Unelected. Appointed. On the board of a company that makes its money on intellectual property law, and publicly showing himself to be of the opinion that civil breaches are similar to criminal offences.

A bunch of unelected officials. With clear ties to vested interests in music, film and intellectual property rights.

I’m used to bias. We all have bias. I think it was Einstein who said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we build by the time we’re eighteen. We all have masks and anchors that frame what we think and say.

But this is not about bias alone. Because, besides being unelected officials, we need to look at the way the Bill is being bums-rushed through Parliament. With no time for a proper debate. With a complete disregard for all the debate that has taken place earlier, proper or not.

Major amendments being put through in the days before Easter, in the days before the calling of a general election. Major amendments that would give presidential powers to ministers with scant regard for law or for human rights. Major amendments that would not stand the close scrutiny and heated debate that would normally take place. Major amendments being relegated to the horse-trading of wash-up, at a time when many of our elected officials are too busy thinking of a precious break away from it all, at a time when many of our elected officials are preparing to fight to be re-elected.

So we have unelected officials. With clear and present bias. Driving a process that is as far removed from trust as it is from democracy. Hoping people won’t notice.

People are noticing. And people will notice. There are many people who will make sure that people will notice.

The Digital Economy Bill now represents a wonderful opportunity for would-be next-Parliament MPs. Show us why we should trust you. Show us that you will stand in the gap and uphold democratic rights and due process. And think before you alienate a good slice of your electorate.

I guess dinosaurs have to be allowed their ritual dances as they exit the evolutionary stage. And this Bill, flawed as it is, may still become law. Because of clever timing, apathy. And the Power Of Not Being Elected.

But there will be consequences. You cannot tax salt.

The Digital Economy Bill: A taxation on salt

Regular readers will know how I feel about these things: if you don’t know, then please read The Kernel For This Blog and About This Blog, it will give you some idea of where I’m coming from.

For many years now, I’ve been putting forward the notion that artificial scarcity is something to be abhorred, and that every artificial scarcity will be met, at the very least, by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. In fact, a search of the term “artificial scarcity” in my own blog yielded over 20 hits. The Customer Is The Scarcity. We would do well to remember that.

The internet is a wondrous thing, God wot. It can be used to make scarce things abundant, as Kevin Kelly posits in Better Than Free. It can also be used to make abundant things scarce, as Rupert Murdoch would like us to believe.

People have tried to make abundant things scarce since time immemorial; all they need is to be able to control the factors of production and the supply chain. That’s all. So people have tried to hoard things, to corner markets, to create cartels, to act in concert. Thankfully, society hasn’t always allowed them to do so. Many of these things are seen as abuse of market power and are considered illegal in many places and at many times. Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped people trying.

And sometimes they succeed. Because they’ve been able to control how something is made, how it is priced, how it is distributed. They’ve been able to control supply.

When you don’t control the supply, your ability to sustain artificial scarcity weakens somewhat. If you think about it, that’s what the Dandi Salt March was symptomatically about, although its symbolical value went much further. I quote from Wikipedia:

The Congress Working Committee gave Gandhi the responsibility for organizing the first act of civil disobedience, with Congress itself ready to take charge after Gandhi’s expected arrest.[12] Gandhi’s plan was to begin civil disobedience with a satyagraha aimed at the British salt tax. The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt, limiting its handling to government salt depots and levying a salt tax.[13] Violation of the Salt Act was a criminal offense. Even though salt was freely available to those living on the coast (by evaporation of sea water), Indians were forced to purchase it from the colonial government.

Gandhi’s choice of the salt tax was met with incredulity by the Working Committee of the Congress,[14][15] though Gandhi had his reasons for choosing the salt tax. The salt tax was a deeply symbolic choice, since salt was used by nearly everyone in India. It represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue, and most significantly hurt the poorest Indians the most.[16] Gandhi felt that this protest would dramatize Purna Swaraj in a way that was meaningful to the lowliest Indians. He also reasoned that it would build unity between Hindus and Muslims by fighting a wrong that touched them equally.[12]

People who are currently debating the Bill should learn from history. Remember the Salt Tax. Deeply symbolic. Used by nearly everyone. Hurting the poor the most. A means of dramatizing a message. Building unity by fighting a wrong that touched people equally.

Unlike salt, which occurred naturally, digital music does not. Someone has to place it there. And you know something? If the music industry went and avoided the use of the internet altogether, then things might have been different. But once they chose to make music digital and accessible on the net, they waved the genie goodbye. And he took his bottle with him.

Now some bands have done just that, they’ve kept off the web. And there’s anecdotal evidence showing that piracy related to those bands is relatively low as a result, because any availability of digital tracks from those bands lights up like a christmas tree and can be dealt with quickly.

In some ways, it’s worth thinking of the internet as a sense, similar to sight and hearing. There are limit cases where some human beings are able to tell other human beings to shut their eyes and ears: parents are able to say to to small children. But in the main it is not possible to tell someone that she can’t use her eyes and ears.

If you didn’t want someone to see something you covered it up.

If you didn’t want someone to hear something you quietened it down.

And anyway, what was heard and seen was done in real time, there were no persistent copies. All you had were memories.

The problem is, we’ve all grown new eyes and ears, external eyes and ears. They’re called mobile phones. And they have persistent memories. So while the music industry worried about tapes and CDs and what-have-you, they weren’t prepared for the flash memory onslaught.

The mobile phones have gotten smarter, and they’ve gotten connected to the internet. So now memories of what you hear and see can be persisted and shared.

I’m one of those people who likes going to concerts, watching people play music live. And it’s been quite instructive watching what happens in concert halls nowadays. Years ago it was no cameras. And it was easy to police because cameras were big and bulky, and indoors meant you normally had to use a flash. Nowadays, cameras have gotten a lot smaller and better, mobile phones have excellent cameras in them, and the rule has become very hard to enforce. In fact in many places the rule has been discarded, with a replacement saying “no flash photography please”.

The mobile phone is a sensor. The internet is a sense. As natural as seeing and hearing. And it comes with a memory. And makes sharing easier.

People share narratives, stories. Sometimes these stories are embedded with things they saw and heard. The things that we can see and hear and share are now abundant.

There’s a simple way to make sure that something remains secret. Don’t tell anyone. There’s a simple way of making sure something is not shared via the internet. Don’t put it there.

The internet was built for sharing. That’s fundamental, and will not change.

MPs have the opportunity now to take the Digital Economy Bill in wash-up and do just what a wash-up implies: clean it out. If they don’t, and if lobbies like BPI get their way, we’re in for a satyagraha.

Music is about performance, not constipation. Performing bands have tended to do well in many respects, including merchandising. There is growing evidence that there is a high correlation between downloaders and buyers. There is growing evidence that digital music has a high price-elasticity of demand. There is growing evidence that people are happy to pay the artists, they’re just not happy with having to pay monopolist intermediaries. There is growing evidence that digital music is cheaper to produce and sell, and for that matter produce sustainably.

This is actually not about free or paid. It is about artificial scarcity. A dangerous thing. With dangerous consequences, corrupting the basis of the internet.

Otherwise who knows? We may see the equivalent of a Dandi Salt March as the beginning of real civil disobedience, as people fight for the freedom of the internet.

Thinking about monkeys and engineers and copyright

I just love this. First, take a folk song popular in the 1960s, written by someone born in 1896.

Once upon a time a engineer had a monkey and everywhere he go why he’d take the little monkey along and so the monkey would watch everything the engineer would do so one day the engineer had to go get him something to eat and so the monkey got tired of waiting so he thought he’d try out the throttle and down the road he went.

Once upon a time there was an engineer
Drove a locomotive both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey that sit on the stool
Watchin’ everything that the engineer move

One day the engineer wanted a bite to eat
He left the monkey settin’ on the driver’s seat
The monkey pulled the throttle, locomotive jumped the gun
And made ninety miles an hour on the main line run

Well the big locomotive just in time
The big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind

Engineer begin to call the dispatcher on the phone
Tell him all about how is locomotive was gone
Get on the wire, the dispatcher to write
Cause the monkey’s got the main line sewed up tight

Switch operator got the message in time
There’s a north bound limited on the same main line
Open the switch, gonna let him in the hole
Cause the monkey’s got the locomotive under control

Well the big locomotive right on time
Big locomotive comin’ down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind
Left the engineer with a worried mind


It’s not just any old folk song, it’s a Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller song. [Do read about him, he’s a fascinating character].

Then, take that song and make it even more popular: make sure that the Grateful Dead play it regularly. In fact make sure they play it 31 times. For good measure, make sure that Bob Dylan also plays on it with them.

My thanks to dead.net for the wonderful photograph of Jerry above.

To make it a little more interesting, make sure someone, David Opie, writes an award-winning book about the song.

So now you have the song. The lyrics. The book. Some dead people. And some Dead people. And some alive people.  Make sure someone makes a video about the song/book/whatever it is by now. In fact go one better, make the video using Lego pieces.

Then get your children to draw what they see.

Song. Book. Video. A bit of Lego thrown in. More people involved than you can shake a stick at.

I think the Copyright Police should try and work stuff like this out every day. Because they’re going to have to.

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