Book Review: The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind

James Boyle’s The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind is an excellent overview of the complexity of the modern intellectual property system. This book builds upon the works of the popularizers of copyright scholarship, including Lawrence Lessig, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Yochai Benkler.

This would be an excellent book to teach a survey class (or for self-study) on IP issues, considering it touches on many cutting edge legal and public policy issues (and does not shirk on patent law).  There are more distinguished reviewers who will be able to critique the substance of the argument — therefore the remainder of this review will focus on this book as a knowledge provider.

The gift (of knowledge) that keeps giving

The Public Domain has a very unique copyright statement. It starts with the usual (c) statement of “All rights reserved” but does not end there, by acknowledging fair use and other rights under sections 107 and 108 (though it would be nice if they were delineated rather than lawyer-talk).

But by far the most unique aspect is the listing of the website of the online version, available under a Creative Commons license. While other authors, such as Lessig, have released online versions of their books, these releases have not been simultaneous with the print version. To my (present) knowledge, only Yale University Press (also publisher of Benkler’s Wealth of Networks) has allowed for readers of the print and online versions to read the same materials from publication date.

Yale University Press, the publisher, thinks it is financially feasible to both allow the author to retain the copyright — and to have the entire book available online. I hope this strategy works because it has led to at least two purchases (this review is based on my physical copy and my library is buying another) and you reading this should consider buying a copy too!

Fandom matters

I don’t really know if James Boyle is a music fan, but he writes like one. In my favorite section of the book, Chapter 6 describes the musical history of a single song back to 1904— George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People. Like Vaidhyanathan’s description of the H.R. Pufnstuf / McDonaldland case in Copyrights and Copywrongs, the detailed description is fantastic.

One of the most important aspects of this section is showing how blurry the line is between parody (has greater legal protection) and satire. When Kayne West in Golddigger uses a sample of a Ray Charles song about a profusely giving woman sung by Jamie Foxx (who starred as Ray Charles in his biopic) to describe “a predatory, sensual, and materialistic woman” is it parody, satire or homage? And when that song’s similar sample is used as “a lyrical and profane condemnation of the response to Katrina by both the government and the media,” especially George Bush what type of legal protection (or not) should the samplel have? Boyle does an excellect job of demonsrating how musical compositions build upon each other over time — disregarding legal consequences.

Where do we go from here?

Often when anyone starts research they do not know where to start and a very underutilized source of information is the bibliography / works cited (and the index!). Boyle’s Notes and Futher Readings Section is the best I’ve seen in a long time, with notations for both the novice and those doing in-depth research. For example, the notes for Chapter 6 are divided into further reading,musical history, musical borrowing, music and copyright law, the people and the music, and citations. I am so pleased that the phrase “single best starting point” is employed in the notes section! The Notes section will be useful to researchers for many years to come.

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Book Review: Catch the Hallyu Wave: Two Recent Books on Korean Pop Culture

Two recent books, East Asian pop culture : analysing the Korean wave (EAPC) & Pop goes Korea : behind the revolution in movies, music, and internet culture, discuss the Korean wave of pop culture — called hallyu in Korean (and hanryu in Japanese).

While there have been several books written about hallyu in Korean — and Korean pop culture icon Rain has appeared on the Colbert Report based on his placement in Time Magazine’s “Most Influential” list for three years running, these are the first books about hallyu written for an English language market.

The books dramatically vary in tone and focus — Pop Goes Korea focuses on the business and economic aspects of Korean pop culture in the last ten plus years while EAPC focuses on hallyu from an academic perspective and primarily on hallyu’s impact throughout other East Asian countries (China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore). Both books are highly recommended and complement each other — but Pop Goes Korea is a better starting point for the average reader looking for a basic understanding of Korean pop culture.

Mark James Russell‘s business oriented focus makes sense, considering his experience as a Korean-based entertainment journalist for American publications. Therefore, Pop Goes Korea gives an excellent overview of how the film industry has changed, allowing local films to reach success at home and abroad, including a highly successful film festival.

From the manhwa Goong (Princess Hours)

From the manhwa Goong (Princess Hours)

Pop Goes Korea also analyzes the Korean equivalent to Motown (if Motown was mostly boy bands) SM Entertainment and why so much of modern Korean music sounds like early 90s American R-and-B. There is also discussion of television dramas through the lens of the experiences of one actor. For any reader that would think that manhwa (Korean comics) are derivative of either manga or American comics, the book quickly disabuses the notion:

Korea’s comic artists and writers continue to create whatever it is they want to create, and over the years have produced some of the most interesting comic books in the world.

Unlike Pop Goes Korea, EAPC does have a great detail of analysis of fandom. In discussing why Korean television dramas are popular throughout Asia, Doobo Shin in the essay “The Growth of Korean Cultural Industries” in EAPC states

I would argue that the cultural consumption is a negotiation process between consumers and cultural artefacts. In this process, consumers invest their time, money, energy and emotional allowances in cultural commodities in order to acquire pleasure and make meaning. Many commenters note that Korean television dramas touch the right chord of Asian sentiments, such as family values and respect for elders.(26-27)

Elsewhere in EAPC, there is discussion of how “Asian”, Confucian or qing (compassion), Korean media is and why it attracts fans. As a non-Asian (by location or origin) fan of Korean dramas, this is obviously not the only reason to be a fan!

Chua Beng Huat makes an important point about the potential power of fans in discussing fansubbing communities:

The consumers/participants/members are initiated by the passionate involvement of a few multilingual and technologically savvy individuals, taking the lead in constantly doing the painstaking work of initiating and amending translation/subtitling of their favorite drama series. These are done for the benefit of the other members of the fan community, beyond the clutches of profit-oriented market players and the copyrights and censorship constraints of the nation state.

There is also an active fansubbing to English community for Korean dramas / soap operas, working similarly to anime fansubbing. I, however, wait to watch my stories after licensing, both due to quality (sometimes fansubbing ends midstream) and so I can find new restaurants in ads.

Bluntly, I feel too ignorant of the ethnic and historical divides amongst Asian cultures to properly analyze and understand the impact of hallyu in East Asian pop culture : analysing the Korean wave, as discussed in Section III-Nationalistic Reactions. But that is one of its strengths — the information here is not readily available to those who do not have access to academic publications in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese.

My favorite essay is Yoshitaka Mori’s Winter Sonata and Cultural Practices of Active Fans in Japan — both for its in-depth discussion of a particular fandom and for how much this essay reminded me of the fandom writings of Henry Jenkins.

Yoshitaka Mori states that

Winter Sonata fans are [portrayed as] passive, manipulated and poor ‘consumers.’ This pejorative perception is often uncritically reproduced both in academia and in the circle of critical leftist intellectuals. I would suggest that, on the contrary, once their activities are examined in detail, a lot of complicated and interesting cultural, social and even political possibilities can be discerned. [Fans can be] active cultural agents. (132)

Fandom truly is universal.

Both of these books left me wanting more, especially about the experiences of fandom. How is Korean culture experienced by those outside of Asia? How connected do Korean-Americans feel to Korean pop culture? What is the impact and influence of Soompi (a very popular English-language Korean pop culture website)?

Russell provocatively implies that Hallyu doesn’t really have staying power in the U.S.:

the biggest Korean television impact in the United States has probably been Bobby Lee [a Korean-American comedian] and MadTV‘s Korean TV parody … Which says something when the parody of a trend travels faster and farther than the trend itself.

Korean television also travels poorly to the West, coming across as histrionic soap operas. … But for people used to C.S.I. and The Sopranos, there are only so many stories of separated twins and dying lost loves that one can take.

However, his statement is belied by the experiences of at least some (including me), who are becoming more interested in Korean pop culture. For example, these reviews of the Korean drama, Mom’s Dead Upset (the last episode in Korea had 40% of the audience!), show that non-Korean viewers are increasingly being drawn to this different style of storytelling.

Japanese pop culture in the West started as a subculture in with comic book fans becoming interested in manga and anime and spreading outward to become more mainstream. I think that the Korean Wave will get here to the U.S. too.

Race and online behavior: Do users “surf black?”

I was checking out Ars Technica about a week ago and they posted this article about Blackbird; it’s a customized version of Mozilla that’s geared toward the African American community.

The idea behind Blackbird, (CEO of 40A, Inc.) Ed Young told Ars, is “to broaden the Internet experience for African Americans. We want to offer a tool that makes it easier for this community to find resources that are geared more towards them.”

blackbird-1main

News of this this gave me, and apparently other people, pause, but not for the same reasons:

After soft launching (with no official marketing) as a beta Sunday night, Blackbird has already received a tremendous amount of interest—and mixed reactions. Young said that some early feedback has viewed Blackbird as almost a racist or exclusionary product. As an African American himself, though, Young explained that “it isn’t about exclusion, but rather inclusion.”

Well, as you may know, I am African-American as well, and I am skeptical for an entirely different reason. Namely, the fact that Blackbird, as described, presumes black online behavior to be homogeneous:

A search for “Barack Obama” in Safari’s search box, for example, will bring results like BarackObama.com, Wikipedia, and Chicago Tribune. But the same query in Blackbird’s box will return results from AOL Black Voices and blogs.bet.com.

Remember back in the day when Jet Magazine would do the list of top 10 shows in the back of the publication, and it would have stuff like “227” or “Frank’s Place” or “Amen” or other shows with primarily black casts?

These days, you’ll find shows like “Lost,” “American Idol,” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” When it comes to popular culture and leisure, the interests and consumption habits of black folks often dovetail with non-white folks. For example, check out this marketing report on tv viewing habits from marketingcharts.com:

* During the 2006-2007 television season, seven shows placed among the top 10 primetime programs among both African-American and white viewers.
* The top 3 shows last season (American Idol – Wednesday, American Idol – Tuesday and Dancing With the Stars) ranked in the same position for both groups of viewers.

And online, where we can obscure, change and even erase our ethnicity when connecting with others (via avatars, etc.) a person of color is just as likely to connect with online affinity groups based around age, interest and location as much they are around race. As we all know, there’s not just one Internet, there’s various Internets, based on extremely specialized affinity groups that drill down a lot further than most market research would reveal. I’m not saying that there aren’t race-based online affinity groups (hello, Black Planet), just that I suspect it’s much more difficult to quantify and segment what an “average” African-American online user experience is likely to be, especially among Millenials.

Gender, age, class, education and personal interests play a huge role in online user behavior. (Anecdotally, I read Crunk and Disorderly as often as I read i09, but I check out NPRmore than either. Is Blackbird for me?) Based on the example Ars Technica uses above, Blackbird’s approach to black online experience appears narrow.

But I could be wrong. I am going to do my own informal test. I have downloaded Blackbird onto my computer, and over the holidays, I plan to test out a few choice search terms myself and then with my mother and sister. We are all black, but our online behaviors are VERY different. So I’ll keep you posted on my findings

*On a related note, Flock has a customized browser for women called called Gloss that I suspect will not be an ideal place for me to keep up on the latest Dillinger Escape Plan news.

Can You Tube really make it Rain?: Why the average user creator matters

According to today’s New York Times article, YouTube Videos Pull In Real Money, we could be making the big bucks on You Tube:

One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site.

But how many people or companies are making this much money?

YouTube declined to comment on how much money partners earned on average, partly because advertiser demand varies for different kinds of videos. But a spokesman, Aaron Zamost, said “hundreds of YouTube partners are making thousands of dollars a month.”

So it is possible for me to make a living on You Tube? But wait — “some of the partners are major media companies; the ones with the most video views include Universal Music Group, Sony, BMG, and Warner Brothers.” So those that are making the most money are media companies and individuals that make lots of money this way are outliers. In looking at a story like this it is important to remember a statistics joke — if Bill Gates enters a room, on average, everyone in the room now is at least a millionaire. Very few “everyday people” are likely becoming rich through becoming a partner of YouTube, through the placement of ads around the video for a cut of the revenue.

While the author of the article states that “Sites like YouTube allow anyone with a high-speed connection to find a fan following, simply by posting material and promoting it online,” those that are creating You Tube’s user-generated content discuss how difficult it is to create and sustain a fan following.

The article’s poster child states that

I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime.

The well-known Lisa Nova (Lisa Donovan) states that making bucks this way isn’t going to work for most:

Everybody’s fighting to be seen online; you have to strategize and market yourself.

And these quotes say more than the rest of the article — it is possible for ye average person to make money from user-generated content — but it is difficult to get there and the average average person (not a typo) is not likely to make much.

So who does this arrangement benefit monetarily? Popular users, called by a YouTube exec, “unintentional media companies, ” allow You Tube to to profit from non-anonymous users. While You Tube helps people “to turn these hobbies into businesses,” it also allows You Tube to better manage their site from claims of copyright violations.

The article also includes a sad refrain about the state of big media,

In a time of media industry layoffs, the revenue source — and the prospect of a one-person media company — may be especially appealing to users.

But these video producers can’t rely on a steady stream of revenue, no matter how much this serves as “an example of the Internet’s democratizing effect on publishing”! You can put your videos up on You Tube — but it doesn’t mean anyone will watch.

Goodbye to you: Is changing canon the best way to keep fans happy?

Some stick with reading comics for their entire lives (the norm in Japan, though the type changes over the lifetime), while others put them away after childhood, or give up due to “women in refrigerators” sexism. I gave up on the X-men comics for good during the Age of Apocalypse storyline (glad I missed what happened to Emma Frost with the “bad use of baby” Stepford Cuckoos, and the Scarlet Witch’s family only in her head). A close friend, a literal lifelong comic book fan, had enough with his favorite superhero Spiderman after Peter Parker’s marriage (lasting twenty-one real world years!) to Mary Jane was erased.

But lest one think that striking over twenty years of canon storyline by Marvel would be it, DC ups the ante by changing parts of the origin story of Batman after almost seventy years. And they don’t end it there — with a gihugeic shocker to the entire Batman franchise (hint: the series is called Batman RIP).

Canon defying time, Batman!

Canon defying time, Batman!

This extreme change to the Batman mythos / canon could be undone, but I doubt it. This step seems made to upset both long-term and casual fans. I’m puzzled by the need to make such a dramatic change in canon, after all, the Batman franchise has survived Congressional hearings, and the franchise is flexible enough to include stories ranging from the campy 60s TV show to Frank Miller’s nihilistic misogynistic vision (and as a manga series in Japan). At present, the Batman transmedia franchise includes many varied elements — comics, movies, toys, video games, and these products are marketed at audiences ranging from toddler to adults.

But as Will Brooker discusses in his conclusion to Batman Unmasked, Batman has served many roles over time — and the icon will live on. Similar to Robin Hood, the story of a avenging hero who rights wrongs — in often illegal ways, the story of Batman will continue to be retold. Brooker hints at, and I come right out and state, that one company cannot fully control the limits of who Batman can be as long as children through play use their imagination to create their own stories (Batman is friends with a manatee and Spiderman? Sure!).

Interestingly, much fan anger was not directed at DC, but at the news media for spoiling the ending — in the U.S., USA Today and in the U.K., The Daily Mail and The Sun, which ran panels from the comic before the release date. Newspapers are interested in what is newsworthy (or if you are cynical, what will bring them revenue), so ignoring the fan community’s “I don’t want to hear it, I want to read it myself” impulse makes sense.

I wonder what will be the long-term consequences of changing elements of the origin stories and canonical back stories of these important comic book heroes in ways that veer beyond an easy restart. Will fans be interested in keeping up with the official story from this point on — or are they likely to seek out fanworks? Or will they just give up on the characters and comic books and seek entertainment elsewhere?