I Read A Book: Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back

Creative Commons licensed photo of a parasite

The best thing about this book is the title. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn about how to stop parasites? Especially when they are digital! But the book offers little more than the simplistic model of payment is good for copyrighted materials – and pirating is bad.

One of the ways that I judge books that talk about culture and copyright is based on how fans and fandom are written about. And this book doesn’t disappoint, by carefully discussing elements of fan culture and their importance to the continued economic success of multiple media properties. I joke. There is no mention of fandom at all, beyond a page-long dismissive mention of the concept of 1,000 true fans, no mention of consumer buy-in, nothing beyond “you parasite.” In a book about digital culture, this is an EPIC fail.

I also judge books in this oeuvre by their description of Nine Inch Nails’ effort to release music via Creative Commons and other more open means, including the Creative Commons-licensed albums The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, and the label-delayed therefore placed online for the free remix album, Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (AKA Year Zero Remixed). And lest we forget, Trent Reznor decried his labels at every opportunity, including praising fans for … wait for it, engaging in illegal downloading, Levine’s “parasitic” behavior, extorting them to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

But Levine’s description of T. Rez is:

“the acts that have most successfully used free music to promote major tours –Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails—have benefited from millions of dollars’ worth of marketing from their respective major labels.”

What ho, Jeeves.

If you think I’m playing the detail game, Levine calls out William Patry, one of the pre-eminent copyright scholars for getting the sales of Grand Theft Auto wrong, and then intimates that he would not have the viewpoints he does, but for being Google’s attack dog. Correlation does not imply causation – and Patry held the same views before starting his present job. Levine’s anti-scholar bent is not just directed at Patry. One of the most detrimental aspects of this book is the implication throughout that academics (and academic institutions, like Harvard and Stanford; and non-profits, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons) that are not copyright extremists are activists and in the pocket of big companies (read: Google and its ilk). He directly calls Pamela Samuelson an “activist [,] who wanted to weaken copyright in other ways” (26), calls Jessica Litman someone who ignores the law (46), but saves the majority of his directed fury towards academia towards Lawrence Lessig.

There are actual well-reasoned critiques of Lessig’s work – but this isn’t one of them.  And to publish a book in 2011, critiquing Lessig with nary a mention of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, where in 2008 Lessig spends a whole book discussing the ways that remix culture can work with traditional media so everyone makes money, is just intellectually lazy. Or deliberate.

Because I am *that* sort of reader, I checked the acknowledgements, which include mentions of Fred von Lohman, Jane Ginsburg, and Marybeth Peters – all huge figures in the area of digital culture and copyright. Highly surprisingly, there are no quotes in the book from them –  except for a brief snippet of Peters’ congressional testimony in her role as the Register of Copyrights, but nothing from the interviews Levine conducted.

In an odd way, I actually prefer Mark Helprin’s “alone in my room, I reign supreme” copyright-should-last-forever-because-I-am-a-brilliant-author diatribe because he was straightforward about what he wanted. And if you want to read about the dangers of Google, read Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything. If you want to read about how the music industry took things in the wrong direction, read Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.

Summary: Not recommended. Save the entertainment and publishing industry through paywalls! Google bad!

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I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Transformative Reinterpretation or Total Rip-off?: Namie Amuro and Copy That

At what point is copying

  • homage (as a way of honoring and being respectful of the original)  even through direct copying?
  • transformative (in the traditional copyright sense) as building upon the original to create new meaning?
  • or copying as a means of economically exploiting copyrighted works?

This first post in a series about the difficulties in making this distinction focuses on three different examples of how difficult it is to carefully draw these lines, focusing on Japanese pop star Namie Amuro’s Copy That (official Vidal Sassoon music video-ish commercial above), and later posts will focus on Glee’s Madonna and Lady Gaga episodes, and Christina Aguilera’s Not Myself Tonight video (and dance responses), and other similar situations.

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‘Cause we’re freak remixers baby!: Lady Gaga and remix culture

On this blog, we write often about the value of fan-created works, about how fans use their creativity, using works created and owned by others. And fans of Lady Gaga has been very busy, remixing and reusing both the video and song, Bad Romance. They vary in quality and skill, but most convey the message of “This is so cool — and I want to be part of it!”

Additionally, complicating matters, legally there is a difference between the use of a work in the entirety (such a cover version) and sampling, and between using the style of a video and the music — but for fans, these distinctions don’t exist. And the parody (making fun of this work) / satire (using one work to make a statement about something else), truly falls apart in the midst of montage/collage/remix culture, where one work can simultaneously have multiple messages.

Two years ago, American University’s Center for Social Media released a study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, suggesting strongly that remix culture is not only socially acceptable, but should also be legally acceptable because transformative reuse falls within the fair use exception/defense to copyright.

Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance song and video have proven to be the source material for all but one type of the nine types of reappropriation discussed in the study.

The types — in order of their frequency in my wholly non-statistically valid study (i.e. I watched lots of videos!), considering different types can exist in the same video:

  • Pastiche or collage: Several copyrighted materials incorporated together into a new creation, or in other cases, an imitation of sorts of copyrighted work: I subdivide these works into two different categories — the homage and the sample — both used extensively by remixers of Lady Gaga’s work.
  • Positive commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a positive message: Such as taking the “We traveled 10,000 miles to say we love you, Lady Gaga” approach.
  • Parody and satire: Copyrighted material used in spoofing of popular mass media, celebrities or politicians: Lots of examples, but have yet to find a good one.
  • Negative or critical commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a negative message: Many of the parody/satires included negative views of Lady Gaga, especially her physical appearance.
  • Quoting to trigger discussion: Copyrighted material used to highlight an issue and prompt public awareness, discourse: Such as commenting about Lady Gaga’s support of the GLBTQ community
  • Illustration or example: Copyrighted material used to support a new idea with pictures and sound: Such as quick, small, samples.

For these next two types, I don’t have examples below the jump — considering the always existing threat of takedown notices, I don’t want to be responsible for publicly pointing out kids having fun at concerts!

  • Personal reportage/diaries: Copyrighted material incorporated into the chronicling of a personal experience
  • Incidental use: Copyrighted material captured as part of capturing something else

The one type missing missing from these reuses is:

  • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials: Copyrighted material that might have a short life on mainstream media due to controversy. While Lady Gaga is controversial, there isn’t a need to archive this specific time.

Below are examples of some of these varied uses of the original — starting with the original official music video — from the official YouTube Channel.

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2010: the year when fandom becomes serious business

Around  about the end of last year,  all the big shit web 2.0 blogs started to pull together their prediction list for 2010. I was very close to pulling up such a list myself until I concluded that there was absolutely nothing that I wanted to put out there as a sure-fire prediction? Everything in this online world changes way to quickly for anyone to have a real handle on what the next big thing is, and it’s all subjective anyway.

But yesterday, i started thinking about many of the online trends in fandom, and specifically many of the topics we’ve covered here at The Learned Fangirl,  and they all seem to point to a particular trend that may come to a head in coming year.  So, here’s my one prediction for 2010:

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I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.

Commercial versus Non Commercial use?

Creative Commons licenced work by dbking

Creative Commons licenced work by dbking

Due to the difficult line determining what is commercial and non-commercial use of copyrighted materials, Creative Commons has recently completed a study regarding this issue — with surveys of both content creators and users (PDF full report here). This study has lots of interesting  information for the fan-creative-remix community.

The study’s findings include that

Many group participants noted that there are promotional and thus potentially economic or commercial advantages to creators in connection with releasing content freely for noncommercial use. For these creators, “credit” for permitting noncommercial use is very important, and the question of attribution is something that gets factored into their consideration of when a use is acceptable. … As a practical matter, many seem to consider noncommercial use as having minimal or indirect commercial impact, rather than absolutely no commercial impact.

What about users?

As do creators, users often approach the question of noncommercial use on a case-by-case basis. Paralleling many creators’ approach to deciding when to allow or license a noncommercial use, many users also explained they use content guided by their own principles or personal rules of thumb, or in accord with practices followed by other users, which they hope creators are more likely to accept, on a “safety in numbers” theory. Verbatim examples of how some users articulate their understanding of when a use is noncommercial include:
· “if it’s for education or personal use”
· “if it does not compete – noncommercial is really non-compete”
· “if the creator is getting promotional value”

Jessica Litman in Lawful Personal Use suggests that personal uses of copyright works arguably *is* outside of copyright protection.

So how does the study respond? It alows for leaning towards that direction:

users are much more likely than creators to rate personal or private uses as noncommercial, and there is strong consensus among users on this point. Thus this particular use scenario, at least as rated by users, stands out from all the others as being the most ‘definitively’ noncommercial …. Creators also agree that personal or private uses are the least commercial of all scenarios measured, but it is striking to have this one instance in which users believe the use is even less commercial than creators.