On pasta and music and copyright

I love food. I love cooking. I use the analogy of food to learn about information: in fact, I’ve nearly finished writing a book that looks in detail at information as if it were food. One of the foods I love is pasta. Glorious pasta.

[I’m attributing this to Red Giraffe, though I came across this elsewhere without any attribution.]

Nobody quite knows precisely where pasta comes from, where and when pasta began. The web is a rich resource for satisfying any curiosity you may have on the topic; suffice it to say that most of the stories involve thousands of years, a lot of dead people (usually Greeks, Romans and Chinese) and even the odd saint or two. Marco Polo doesn’t quite make the cut, but that doesn’t prevent the Chinese having a stake in the ground millenia earlier.

Some of the stories are more recent and more enjoyable (albeit slightly less credible) such as this one, harvested from the Alexandra Palace Television Service over fifty years ago:

Some of the stories may be hard to believe, but nevertheless people agree on a number of things:

  • Pasta has been around since the year dot.
  • Pasta is made by mixing ground kernels of grain, usually wheat,  with water or egg; while Italian pasta tends to be made of durum wheat and no other, other types of grain are in use elsewhere.
  • Pasta used to be made by hand (or more precisely, foot); since 1740 or so machines have also been used to make pasta.

[attributed with thanks to Donovan Govan]

Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes and forms; if you’re interested, read the wikipedia article. If you want to delve deeper, there is probably no better book than Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Encyclopaedia of Pasta.

[Attributed with thanks to FoodieSteve’s blog]

Pasta proclamations, even patents, have been around for a long time, perfidious and pusillanimous attempts to pervert people’s creativity. There have even been designers who’ve tried their hand at new forms of pasta:

Giorgio Giugiaro’s Marille pasta

Philippe Starck’s Mandala pasta

Think about pasta. Today, anyone can make pasta. Kafkaesque bureaucracies can make up rules about the nature of the grain used, the water used, the egg, whatever, but basically every human being has a right to decide what to make pasta out of. You can buy machines to make pasta. But you don’t have to. You can buy “readymade” pasta made by someone else, or even try and make similar pasta at home yourself. You can even go to the extreme, and buy not just the pasta but the love and labour that goes into making and serving a dish with pasta: you can go to a restaurant and pay a chef to do that for you, pay waiters to serve it to you.

Basically, you can do what you like with pasta, starting with the wheat and water and ending with the cooked meal. At each stage, you have the choice of whether you want to pay someone else to do something or not. Someone else can make the pasta for you. Sell you a machine to make pasta. Write a book and tell you how to make the pasta. Or the meal itself. Someone else can cook it for you, amateur or professional. There are a million ways people can participate in the design, making, cooking and eating of pasta, a million ways people can make money with pasta.

Wonderful, isn’t it? The freedom and creativity that has given us over 1300 types of pasta over centuries, shared and enjoyed by billions.

But you know something? It would take very little to screw all this up, to make a complete codswallop out of pasta. Imagine this scenario:

  • Step 1: Patented genetically modified durum wheat begins to displace “organic” wheats. Over time, all the durum wheat grown in the world is covered by patent. People continue to share recipes and cook and eat at home, and in restaurants.
  • Step 2: The GM wheat manufacturers do deals with pasta machine manufacturers (also patented, of course). You cannot use the machines except with official durum wheat. [This is called putting the DRM in durum, which then gets trademarked as DuRuM]. People continue to share recipes and cook and eat at home and in restaurants. Some people have the gall to build their own machines, some don’t even use machines; they knead the dough with their feet.
  • Step 3: The pasta and pasta machine manufacture and distribution industry does not like this, so, under the guise of public safety, lobbies and gets legislation passed that outlaws all wheat bar non-GM wheat, as happened for a while with mustard oil in India. While they’re at it, home manufacture of pasta is also banned. People continue to do what they’ve been doing for thousands of years, and the legislation isn’t taken seriously.
  • Step 4: The internet arrives, Moore’s Law continues to march, and the digitisation of the pasta world continues. 3D printing becomes reality. People don’t just share recipes with their friends and neighbours any more, they now use the internet to share recipes with people they don’t even know, people living all over the world. Even worse, people start making their own pasta machines even though this is “illegal”. RepRap pasta machine cells spring up everywhere.
  • Step 5: The pasta and pasta machine manufacture and distribution industry, which had been going so well since the middle of the 19th century, is distraught. They find all this modern technology so unfair, despite the irony that they themselves disrupted an entire industry as a result of technological advancement 150 years ago. So they lobby government for even more law, to declare sharing of recipes illegal, to declare 3D machines illegal, to declare the transport and distribution of such recipes and machines illegal. Up goes the cry, the pasta bandit must be stopped. Billions at stake, millions of jobs lost, all because of the pasta bandits.
  • Step 6: Government is so busy looking for WMD in Iraq, looking through their expense claims, looking for oil, looking for lucrative post-government book deals, speaking assignments and suchlike, that they don’t have time to worry about all this. Their noses may have been deep in the trough, but they know what to do every time they hear words like “bandit”. Bandits? We can’t have them. Thieving uncivilised louts, we need to put a stop to this forthwith.
  • Step 7: And so the pasta “bandit” is born. And over time, five thousand years of eating pasta comes to a halt.

Don’t worry, none of this could happen in a civilised country, we have nothing to fear. Especially in civilised countries like the UK, the USA and France.

Think about pasta. And think about music. Think about laws that require you to take down a home video of people singing Happy Birthday to You. Think about laws that require people’s internet connections to be cut off for alleged acts of music “piracy”, somehow seen as criminal theft while being at best, and that too only if proven sufficiently in a court of law, civil offences of copyright infringement. Think about laws that make it impossible to provide free wifi.

Think about the freedoms that are being traded. Yankee Doodle, as the song says “put a feather in his hat and called it Macaroni”.

Soon we won’t have the right to call anything Macaroni. Forget calling a feather macaroni, at the rate our freedoms are being traded we will soon not have the right to call macaroni macaroni. Not unless it was made out of GM durum wheat made using licensed machines on licensed premises, using officially endorsed recipes.

The Digital Economy Act is not about thieves or bandits. It’s about preserving 150-year-old business models that prevent human beings from enjoying 5000-year-old freedoms.

The Silent Spring of the Internet: Part II: Understanding “unpaid”

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about what Rachel Carson experienced in the period leading up to her writing The Sea Around Us, and following that up a decade or so later with Silent Spring. How we can learn from those experiences as we hurtle towards wholesale destruction of the internet and all it stands for, particularly with phenomena like the Digital Economy Act, the DMCA, Hadopi and the most appalling of them all, ACTA. I shared some of those thoughts with you here.

Today I want to spend a little more time on the same subject, but from a different perspective. Let me explain why.

Ever since I got visibly involved in the Digital Economy Bill debate, I have been dismayed by the number of people who spend time accusing me of complete naivete when it comes to the download and fileshare debate. The accusations usually begin with an assumption (on the part of the accusers) that I (and people like me) do not want to see “creators” properly rewarded for their work; this is then extrapolated into further accusations that classify unpaid digital downloading as theft, somehow taking the civil offence of copyright infringement and converting it into a criminal offence, despite the “owner” of the asset continuing to have complete and unfettered access to the asset, despite the extreme nonrival nature of the asset.

When I’ve tried to debate with the accusers, their usual stance has been “don’t talk to me about the need to change intellectual property law, don’t talk to me about how badly broken copyright law is, don’t talk to me about downloaders being the primary buyers, don’t talk to me about fair use and free speech and all that jazz. What you’re talking about is theft, pure and simple. Don’t come back until you’ve got sensible proposals for how creative people get paid for their work.”

So that’s where I want to begin.

Making sure creative people get proper payment for their work.

You see, where I come from, software is a creative business. Software is a creative industry… it must be: after all, the fancy figures for illegal downloads include the “lost revenue” for pirated software. [I am now trying desperately not to give in to the temptation to make up sentences that have words like “hoist” and “with” and “own” and “petard”. After all, this is a smelly enough business as it is].

Where was I? Oh yes. Creative people getting paid for their work.


Let’s start with Linux. 60% of all web servers run Linux.  “It would take $10.8 billion dollars to build the Fedora 9 distribution in today’s dollars“. Just one distribution.

Or let’s look at the Apache HTTP Server, which went past the 100 million web sites landmark a year or two ago.

Or let’s look at the volunteers who keep the Internet Storm Center manned and productive.

Or let’s go back in time and look at the volunteers who wrote RFC 675, without which there would be no internet.

Or let’s look at the people who work for and with industry bodies like ICANN and W3C and IETF and, more recently, the Web Science Trust.

All possible because of volunteers. Yes the volunteers may get paid by organisations that can perceive the value generated by such voluntary activity; but this form of payment is closer to patronage than anything else.


I could go on and on, but I won’t. I hope I’ve made the point already. The point is that for the internet to exist, many things have to be in place. There have to be people willing to invest in stuff; people willing to connect the stuff up; people willing to run the many-headed beast that emerges as a result of connecting the stuff up; people willing to protect the beast as it mutates organically, naturally; people willing to keep trying to find faster, cheaper, better ways of doing things.

It all begins with a state of mind. A willingness to share. A focus on being open, a focus on enabling people at the edge to do things they would otherwise not be able to do.

Without that state of mind there are no volunteers, there is no set of standards and protocols, there is no process, cumbersome or otherwise, to let the internet evolve: there is no internet.

Without that internet there is no goldmine for “rightsholders” to strip of all value. Without that internet artists will get paid even less than they do currently, however unlikely that sounds.

Incidentally, here’s a very instructive method of visualising what musicians get paid: [My thanks to @gapingvoid and to @psfk for sharing it with me].

[Also incidentally, Hugh is a good friend, I love the way he thinks, and I really like his recent passion “Remember Who You Are”. He’s got some really great posts together under that banner. Which is why it was a privilege for me to be able to contribute this post over at Gapingvoid.]

Which brings me to the end of this particular post.

We need to remember who we are. Stewards of the internet. The internet, a concept, a state of mind, a set of values, a network of networks of people, things and infrastructure. Where people live and work and learn and read and create. Oh yes, and where people occasionally listen to music or watch videos.

I’m going to continue to think about the internet, particularly in the context of writings like Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet; Eben Moglen’s recent speech on Freedom In The Cloud and David Gelernter’s Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously

The internet was built for sharing. The internet relies on people who share their time freely and passionately.

There is a catch, however. These people expect something in return for the investment they made, the investment they make, the investment they are prepared to continue to make. And that something is this: a free, unfettered internet.

So when the talk in cafes and dinner tables turns to creative people and the need to make sure creative people get paid properly, do make sure you include all creative people and all modes of payment.

The Digital Economy Bill: Thinking further about copyright

Image courtesy of Drew Douglas duly attributed here

The photograph above was taken at a rugby league game in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in September 2008. In it you can see young children and older youths watching the game from rooftops adjacent to the stadium.

Tho photograph below, nearly a hundred years earlier, shows fans watching a 1914 World Series game in Shibe Park. My thanks to explorePAhistory for sharing the photo.

Two photographs.  Nearly a century apart. Of people watching a sports game without paying.

The question is, were they stealing? Would you call it stealing? I wouldn’t. But I know some people who would.

People involved in the distribution of published material have tried their best to call such actions “stealing” since the beginnings of copyright. If you really want to understand what copyright is about, what its origins were, then please go and read this excellent piece. It tells you why copyright had everything to do with distributors, distribution and central control and very little to do with authors, musicians and artists. Why it had everything to do with censorship and exclusivity and very little to do with creativity and free expression. In fact, if you get the chance, spend time at questioncopyright.org; there’s some very useful material there, including this video, Copying is Not Theft.

After 9/11, there were people who tried very hard to conflate “Muslims” with “terrorists”. I have many Muslim friends, and none of them is a terrorist.

During Katrina, there were people who tried very hard to conflate “citizen” with “refugee”. Citizens have rights; refugees rely on the generosity of others. The rights of New Orleans citizens were sought to be weakened by the conflation, a technique that  George Lakoff wrote about quite eloquently.

So it is with copying in a digital world. People are trying to make you believe it is stealing. To understand what’s happening, let’s look at the ticketless folk watching the rugby and the baseball from the rooftops.

What are they stealing?

In the same photograph, you can see folks who paid for the tickets watching the game. They’ve paid for the right, and they’re watching the game. The people who sold the tickets make their money, related to the seating capacity of the stadium and the number of tickets sold.

Economists call such “goods” nonrival, to the extent that one person enjoying the good does not detract from the ability of others to enjoy the same good. The people who promoted the games did not incur any costs related to the people on the rooftops. If you can make a copy of something without in any way affecting the ability of others to enjoy that something, economists call such goods extreme nonrival goods. Sunsets and panoramas and views are examples of extreme nonrival goods, as are openair concerts and street theatre.

All these openair events share something in common. They’re in the open. Repeat that. They’re in the open.

People who promote sports events and street entertainment and openair concerts understand this. They know that as a direct result of their actions, others will be able to enjoy what’s happening. For free.

They can stop this. Very easily. By not using open spaces to do this. If they moved openair concerts to closed venues, the possibility of others freeloading diminishes. This open-to-closed spectrum is a continuum rather than a set of discrete outcomes. So, for example, you can build walls around openair venues, as happens with Kenwood. I have paid for, and enjoyed, many concerts at Kenwood, in the wet and in the dry. This summer my children will be going to concerts in Reading, and they will have paid for the tickets. Passers-by will be able to hear the music, but nowhere near as well as people sitting in the roped-off areas.

Shibe Park, in Philadelphia, decided to do something about the onlookers. So they built a bloody great wall around the stadium. Shame, but that is how some people think.

This summer, there are a few concerts taking place around Hyde Park, with tickets and with reserved areas. Can you imagine how it would be if the promoters managed to convince the Crown that a 16ft wall should be erected all around the park, just so passers-by won’t be able to catch glimpses of the concerts?

In a way, that’s what music and film distributors want to do with the internet. Like Hyde Park, the internet is a commons, something that has been designed with openness and sharing in mind, something that can be enjoyed by people without detracting from the enjoyment of others.

But only if we stop people from erecting hideous walls around the commons.

The Digital Economy Bill seeks to do this. And it’s worse than that. Because it seeks to protect and enhance distributor rights while actually damaging the rights of consumers and creators in many walks of life. Photographers, for example, are heavily affected. Just read Kevin Marks here and Simon Phipps here, or go to Open Rights Group to find out more about what you’re about to lose.

Think about this. If internet copying was really stealing, then there would be an active disincentive to produce digital works. Yet, in the apparent heyday of internet copying, every form of digital publishing is on the rise. There are more books being written and published, more films made, more albums released. Why would this be? Looking for that answer, I spent some time with Paulo Coelho some years ago:

I wanted to talk to Paulo for one simple reason: I’d heard rumours that the biggest pirate site for Paulo Coelho books, Pirate Coelho, was actually paid for by Paulo Coelho. In fact that has since changed: Paulo now hosts them in a subdirectory of his own blog, here. An author who pays others to rip him off? I needed to talk to him.

His answer is best understood in this statement from Wikipedia: In total, Coelho has sold more than 100 million books in over 150 countries worldwide, and his works have been translated into 67 languages. As an author, he wanted to reach as many people as possible, particularly in different cultures and geographies. His publishers had their way of doing this. His fans had a better way.

The internet, with its extremely low cost of copying and distributing things digital, transforms the access and distribution landscape for many industries. Its effect is felt most painfully in the publishing industries: music, film, journalism, books. The pain is at its most intense for those whose function with the industry was centralised control of distribution.

I work for a telco. Before that, I worked for an investment bank. Some time before that, I worked for hardware manufacturers with proprietary operating systems. All my life I’ve been working in industries where the core monopoly rights of the industry have been taken away by technological advance, often aided and abetted by regulation.

Regulation is first and foremost meant to protect customers, to protect the consumer. It does this in many ways, at least one of which is in preventing monopolies and reducing any significant market power.

When it comes to music, film, books and journalism, things become very complex. It’s like having a fire in the fire alarm system. The very people charged with telling you the truth about what’s happening are themselves affected by what’s happening. Which means that with a few exceptions, mainstream media have not woken up to the wholesale damage being planned by the Digital Economy Bill.

Let me end with this. Copying per se is not stealing. After Michael Jackson did his moonwalk, children the world over copied him. They were not stealing. Digital forms of music, film, book and newspapers are cheap to copy and to distribute, because of the internet. The internet is a commons, specifically designed for doing this. For copying and distributing. Throwing that away just to protect the “rightsholders” is questionable in the extreme. Digital assets are nonrival goods, shareable without affecting the rights of anyone else to enjoy the same thing.

  • Distributors of digital content are feeling the pressure, and some are using questionable techniques to lobby Government into acting.
  • The data on illegal downloaders is suspect, as is the claimed revenue losses. Price elasticity of demand is not adequately allowed for. It’s like saying kids on the rooftop would otherwise have paid for tickets to watch the rugby. Just not true.
  • The people involved in the process are suspect, largely unelected, and with clear bias supporting the very industries under threat. [This is a bit like placing an investment banker at the head of Treasury and asking him to solve the woes of financial markets. Oops.].
  • The democratic process itself is being subverted, lobbyists are seeking to ensure that the Bill is not properly debated in Parliament before being passed. To me this is more criminal than anything the Bill seeks to prevent.
  • The punishments suggested are technically complex, expensive, time-consuming and guaranteed to fail. They will waste a lot of time and expense, your time, your expense. Our time, our expense.

We have very little time to act. So please please get going, write to your MP, call her up, meet him, do something. Start off with reading this, make sure your voice is heard.

The Digital Economy Bill: Be Careful What You Wish For

Do you find it easy to be moderate about things? It’s taken me a long time to learn about moderation, about knowing how to leaven and temper my passion with patience. For most of my life I’ve been an extremist, either full-on about something or not at all engaged. As a result, particularly of late, I’ve had to take time to learn one thing: If you feel really passionate about something, take the time to step back and look at things from the opposite perspective.

Now the Digital Economy Bill is something I feel passionate about, which is why, as we approach Tuesday 6th April 2010,  I’ve been writing a post a day on the subject for the past few days. The Bill covers a litany of subjects; the particular bit that bothers me is to do with the treatment of downloaders, the what, the why, the who, the how, the whole shooting match. As far as I’m concerned, I feel that the premise is wrong (illegal downloading does not take place at the levels claimed); the people are wrong (the Bill is being pushed through by unelected people who have clear bias in favour of “rightsholders”); the process is wrong (such an important Bill should not be finagled through parliament without proper debate) and the punishment is wrong (as BT CEO Ian Livingston pointed out recently, a fine is more appropriate for the crime, it’s easier to administer and it does not affect others in the household).

Notwithstanding all that, let me try and look at this issue from the perspective of the “rightsholder”. In fact let me go further, let me look at it from the viewpoint of the rightsholder after the Bill, in its current state, has become law. Ostensibly as happy as a creature of the porcine persuasion in an environ of excrement.

What could possibly go wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. People stop downloading all digital music, not just “illegal” music

Retaliation: The music industry, particularly through organisations like BPI and IFPI ,has spent a long time telling its customers what rotten people they are. In the latest report issued by Ofcom, the country had around 17.3 consumer and small business broadband lines; which suggests that a very high proportion of digital music customers acted illegally. Irritated by the change in law and by being treated like criminals, people may just give up and stop downloading music altogether, legal as well as illegal.

Fraud: Given the level of internet fraud going around, people may not want to take the risk of losing their broadband connection by buying music in good faith from a pretend-legal site. When they buy anything else, they tend to get their money back from the credit card company. When buying music, even in good faith, they run the risk of losing their broadband connections. So they stop buying music online altogether.

Streaming: Man’s ability to record and replay music is itself less than 150 years old. Newer than the postage stamp, newer than the locomotive, newer than the Grand National, newer than the FA Cup. By British standards, recorded music is a mere stripling, a callow youth. Man’s ability to own the recorded music and retain it for personal enjoyment is even newer, it hasn’t been there that long. And it may not be in vogue for long either: there is a growing body of evidence that the Millenials prefer streamed music to owned music. My own habits have changed. I still buy vinyl, but in dribs and drabs. I still buy CDs, but also in dribs and drabs. For the most part, I use services like Spotify.

So whether it’s frustration or fear or a change of habit, people may use this opportunity to stop downloading altogether. Since digital music sales are reported to be booming, the industry runs the risk of killing the baby goose before it really has a chance to lay any golden eggs.

2. People stop downloading music illegally, but there is no materially positive impact on revenues

Download levels estimated wrongly: The Mandelson 7 million figure turns out to be hogwash. [And, like Churchill, I shall resist the temptation to say I told you so]. So even though everyone behaves legally when it comes to downloads, the market uplift just isn’t there. [ I am so tempted to ask that, in the event of the law being passed unchanged, the music industry is asked to put down 15% of the loss figures it has claimed into escrow in advance,  to pay ISPs for the cost of implementing the technical solutions].

High price elasticity of demand: The pirated downloads might have been real, but there is greater price elasticity of demand than was anticipated by the industry. Rolex watches sell for thousands of pounds. Rolex ripoffs sell for tens of pounds. No one in Rolex honestly believes that the customer who paid a tenner for a ripoff was a real contender for paying five hundred times that for the real thing.

The end of try-before-you-buy dampens sales: There is evidence that people who download music are also the ones who buy digital music. After all, they must have the connections, the access and the equipment in the first place. By being denied the chance to try the music out, they may not buy at the levels they used to. So any uplift in digital revenues via the change in law is compensated and balanced by a drop in the revenues that used to be there.

It is one thing to lay out a whole series of “facts” in order to browbeat busy politicians to do something; it is another altogether to expect that those “facts” become real in the process. In this respect, the Digital Economy Bill may turn out to be a case of shutting the stable door after the piglet has bolted.

3. People stop buying from established labels and channels and move to new, independent channels that offer them what they want

In a fascinating study entitled The State of Music Online: Ten Years After Napster, the Pew Research Center makes the following, telling,  observation:

While the music industry has been on the front lines of the battle to convert freeloaders into paying customers, their efforts have been watched closely by other digitized industries — newspapers, book publishing and Hollywood among them — who are hoping to staunch their own bleeding before it’s too late. And if the music market is any indication of how consumer expectations will evolve elsewhere, the demands for free content will extend far beyond the mere cost of the product.

In the decade since Napster’s launch, digital music consumers have demonstrated their interest in five kinds of “free” selling points:

  1. Cost (zero or approaching zero).
  2. Portability (to any device).
  3. Mobility (wireless access to music).
  4. Choice (access to any song ever recorded).
  5. Remixability (freedom to remix and mashup music).

All of this makes for a tall order, but if history is any guide, music consumers usually get what they want. And as researchers look back on the first decade of the 21st century, many will no doubt point to the formative impact of file-sharing and peer-to-peer exchange of music on the internet. Napster and other peer-to-peer services “schooled” users in the social practice of downloading, uploading, and sharing digital content, which, in turn, has contributed to increased demand for broadband, greater processing power and mobile media devices. Further, the Napsterization effect extends to non-media areas such as sharing health information, oversight of politicians, access to government data and online dating via free social networking sites.

Remember this is about digital music consumers, not “dirty rotten illegal downloaders and filesharers”.  The people who crafted the current version of the Digital Economy Bill appear to have thrown away all the input and consultation to do with the consumer side of the music business and concentrated on the “rightsholders”. [I suppose this should have been expected, since that is the precise problem with a lot of modern copyright law, too one-sided to be useful or progressive]. Consumers want the five things stated above. If they don’t get it from the established digital music industry, they will go somewhere else to get it. Which gives independent labels and new entrants the chance they’re waiting for, to drive a bus through the barndoor of opportunity that’s opening up for them. Artists have the opportunity to set up their own label and distribution capability, like the Grateful Dead did nearly fifty years ago. There are many who are watching and learning from the Dead, from Radiohead, from Nine Inch Nails, and so on.

4. Content is not king: simplicity and convenience rule

There was a very interesting article published by Andrew Savikas in the middle of last year, talking about content being a service business. In it he quotes from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails:

[W]hat you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever. [emphasis added]

Reading through what Reznor had to say in his original post, I found another extract telling in the extreme:

The database you are amassing should not be abused, but used to inform people that are interested in what you do when you have something going on – like a few shows, or a tour, or a new record, or a webcast, etc.
Have your MySpace page, but get a site outside MySpace – it’s dying and reads as cheap / generic. Remove all Flash from your website. Remove all stupid intros and load-times. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO NAVIGATE AND EASY TO FIND AND HEAR MUSIC (but don’t autoplay). Constantly update your site with content – pictures, blogs, whatever. Give people a reason to return to your site all the time. Put up a bulletin board and start a community. Engage your fans (with caution!) Make cheap videos. Film yourself talking. Play shows. Make interesting things. Get a Twitter account. Be interesting. Be real. Submit your music to blogs that may be interested. NEVER CHASE TRENDS. Utilize the multitude of tools available to you for very little cost of any – Flickr / YouTube / Vimeo / SoundCloud / Twitter etc.

The key phrase for me is this one: make it simple to navigate and easy to find and hear music.

When I read the Savikas article, one of the points I understood was this: the success of iTunes lay in the quality of the service they offered, the simplicity and convenience, rather than in premium content. In fact, the pricing of digital goods tends to reflect this: prices for songs, albums, films and books tend to be very similar for a given class of digital good, suggesting that the content behaves like a commodity, that the perceived value is in service simplicity. When you take into account recent developments such as Ofcom’s stance on Sky’s exclusive premium content, there is every possibility that there’s going to be downward pressure on the prices of premium digital content.

So let me summarise. I don’t know much about  how the world is changing as a result of the internet and the web, as a result of digitisation. What I do know is this: these changes are putting real structural pressure on a number of industries, particularly on the “publishing” industries of music, film, journalism and books. Every participant in the supply chains of those industries is feeling that pressure.

During such a time of flux, the customer becomes even more of a scarcity, even more of an asset. Any action you take which alienates customers, you take at your peril.

In this context, the actions of the music industry at this time, particularly in the context of the Digital Economy Bill, seem foolhardy in the extreme. Foolhardy enough for shareholders and activists to look at the consequences very carefully, and to take legal action against the decision makers.

You know something? If I was one of those people who’d lobbied to put all the garbage in the Digital Economy Bill, I would start praying. Now.

And I would write to my MP and ask that the Bill be withdrawn. Even if I worked for the BPI. Particularly if I worked for the BPI.

Sometimes it pays to Be Careful What You Wish For.

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.

  • 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?


  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.