Why I think Awkward Black Girl is the future of television

I don’t watch a whole lot of television these days. I get most of my entertainment online, and when I do watch television programming, it’s on Hulu or Netflix. My favorite TV show of 2011 isn’t a traditional television show at all, however. It’s a web series called the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. The best way I can describe this show is “Black Grownup Daria” ABG chronicles the daily life of J, a socially inept black woman in her 20’s as she navigates work and dating in Los Angeles.

For obvious reasons, this show resonates with me. For all that I enjoy shows like Community and Parks and Recreation, ABG is the first time I’ve seen anything even remotely reflecting my life presented in such a format. So naturally, I’m a bit protective of the show. (The last web series I loved this much was “McCourt’s in Session” and there was only three episodes of those, so ABG is a vast improvement on a number of levels.)

In the past few months, the show’s popularity has soared. Issa Rae, the show’s creator/star has been on dozens of magazines and blogs and even CNN recently.  It’s like Issa Rae has become the black Felicia Day, and I love it. When the show took to Kickstarter to raise funds to complete additional episodes, ABG fans stepped up to the plate and raised more than the projected goal of $30,000 to complete ABG’s season. Once again, Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans model proves itself replicable:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

I don’t know if Issa Rae is yet making a living from ABG, but she is able to continue her work, improve the show and gain new fans. She’s really stepped up her game when it came to marketing and fan engagement, the college tour is a great idea, the t-shirts/merch are awesome and I love their approach of giving all the ABG characters their own fan pages. Issa Rae knows what she’s doing and understands what the fans want.

As the show’s popularity and buzz increases, there’s been talk of ABG moving to television. When the show first started, I was rooting for Issa Rae to be discovered by a network and picked up for TV, so maybe, for the first the first time in my TV watching life, I can see TV show that reflects my life in some way (what a concept) but with the success of the Kickstarter campaign, and the continuing grassroots support of ABG, I’ve begun to wonder if ABG (or other web series) needs traditional TV at all. TV execs like to pat themselves on the back for having a show with two black leads, but then only keep that show on for three weeks (though, to be honest “Undercovers” did suck) If fans continue to support Issa and ABG (i.e. if supporters become subscribers) who needs traditional TV?

My thoughts have echoed this blogger, who breaks down some of the math:

“…set up a website where fans can pay $5/mo for unlimited viewing. That’s a reasonable $60/year for each of us, and since a show like ABG has at least 25000 fans, that’s a generous $125,000/mo for them. ABG and Ktown Cowboys have shown us that we don’t need to see special effects or massive explosions, or ridiculous, over-the-top wardrobes. We just need to see us. We just need to see people who look like us, sound like us, and behave the way we do in real life, without someone else’s agenda coloring the script. I watch a 10-minute episode of ABG and it sends me straight to Cloud Nine. I end each episode feening for the next one. I see a dark chocolate, natural-haired black woman being witty and holding it down on her own show and I am catapulted into heaven.”

I think “K” is onto something, I love the idea of fan supported online series becoming the rule rather than the exception. And regardless , I think TV execs could takes notes on how popular web series like ABG are marketed to fans. However, I still want to see Issa Rae get the opportunity to create for mainstream television. Mainstream television needs this, more than ever.

Why? I saw “The Help” last month. I was on the fence about seeing it for the entire summer, I had conflicting feelings about the film from the time I heard of its release (I’ve not read the book) Once again we have a Civil Rights era film about Black people but written and directed by white people, and I was bracing myself for some painful stereotypes.

As I watched and enjoyed the film, I was still settled with a growing sense of unease. It’s 2011, Viola Davis and/or Octavia Spencer will likely get Oscar nominations for playing the same type of role that Hattie McDaniel played when she won in 1940. To be fair, Abileen and Minny are certainly no Mammy stereotypes; they’re well-acted and three dimensional characters.

But still, in 2011, this is one of the few times in Hollywood where African-American women are central within a story. That or Tyler Perry movies, and please let’s not go there today. That’s a whole other post. I can count on one hand the times I can walk into a movie theater or turn on TV and see black women’s lives portrayed where they’re not someone’s afterthought. And even then, it’s too often rooted in the past, or the convenient Hollywood narrative of the Strong Black Woman: challenged but unbowed, tough but maternal, drawing from superhuman reserves of emotional tenacity to face hatred and violence. With her sass.

Awkward Black Girl is the present. It’s the future. It’s the story of a black women as she lives and loves now. Awkward, funny, smart, wacky, romantic, vulnerable. And it’s only one story that can possibly be told from the many diverse stories of black women. Stories that have more “universal” resonance that Hollywood seems to think.

So yeah, do I want to see that on TV? In the movies? Hell yeah I do. I wish Issa Rae the very best of luck with ABG and her future endeavors. I think she can make a splash on TV while still keeping ABG real for the web.

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The Man Your Man Could Read Like: Old Spice, Isaiah Mustafa, and Libraries

If you have watched television since February, especially sports programming, then you have likely seen at least one of the Old Spice commercials, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, starring Isaiah Mustafa. The commercial has spawned many parodies — mostly focusing on the vocal style used, the quick cuts used, and shirtlessness.

But recently, Old Spice decided to take the campaign viral — and did so with a major splash. Over the course of  three days, Old Spice posted 180 short videos on YouTube. The vast majority of the videos directly responded to tweets  — and there was even a marriage proposal.

These are two of my favorites:

According to NPR (with an interesting overview of the phenomenon),

The YouTube videos managed to attract more online views in 24 hours than Susan Boyle and President Obama’s victory speech.

What this campaign effectively shows is that it is possible for a commercial entity to create a viral campaign — but it takes a great deal of planning and buy-in, “using a team of around 35 people working 12 hours a day for its three day duration.”

Seriously, this takes work — and letting customers or fans play an important role:

It’s all about customer participation.

“Another lesson from this successful program is the value of giving up some control, which happened at several different levels… A typical ad takes months to plan and execute … Consumers were asked for their input, then a team of social media experts, marketers, writers, videographers and actor Isaiah Mustafa were sequestered to produce over 150 different video responses over the course of two days.”

So what does this have to do with libraries? After the jump!

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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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The problem with decontextualization of intellectual property’s cultural role, or why an algorithm cannot determine fair use

Ignoring cultural context has led to some incredibly bizarre cease-and-desist notices recently. Yet intellectual property and culture are tied together. New works are not created Zeus-like bursting forth Athena-style ahistorically with no need for citation or attribution.

In a recent post on the University of Chicago Faculty Blog discussing the need for social and cultural theory in analyzing intellectual property, Madhavi Sunder quotes Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture, that it is a

“paradoxical result” where “works that are hostile to the original creators” have “greater freedom from copyright enforcement than works that embrace the ideas behind the original work and simply seek to extend them in new directions.” (190)

While technically this is true in the American context, considering that fair use more carefully covers parody than homage, the new non-human computerized “catch-a-copyright-tiger (read pirate!)” lumps all uses together, whether it is one or a combo of:

fair use, parody, satire, homage, send-up, take-off, quoting, remix, mashup, sampling, fanmade, or any other arguably legal use here.

So what does this mean in real life?

Laurence Lessig’s video above has been blocked by YouTube — it is available here from another video service. And why?

“Your video, Part 2: Lawrence Lessig – Getting a Network the World Needs at OFC/NFOEC 2009, may have audio content from Mahna Mahna by The Muppets featuring Mahna Mahna & The Two Snowths that is owned or licensed by WMG.”

Avatar

The IP algorithm can also strike at the heart of cultural criticism. One recent example is a fan campaign calling for the recasting of the live action version of the animated series Avatar: the last airbender with Asian and other minority actors.

According to Glockgal:

All but one of the products on my racebending.com Zazzle store has been removed because “it contained content in violation of Viacom’s intellectual property rights”. This means not just images (all of which were drawn by me), but also WORDS.

Apparently a t-shirt saying ‘Aang can stay Asian and still save the world’ is a copyright violation

The Organization for Transformative Works blogged that the removed items included

“The Last Airbender: Putting the Cauc back in Asian” or “The Last Airbender: Brown/Asian/Colored Actors NEED NOT APPLY”. These design were entirely textual, and obviously political: Glockgal called her store Racebending.com and contextualized its products as a form of political activism: “Stop Hollywood White-Washing of the upcoming movie The Last Airbender!” … since when does [any company] own political speech about its products?

While this story has a successful end, why should preemptive removal be the way that corporate entities react? Because the law is written in a way that fair use is a postaction shield rather than as an anticipatory safeguard — even when the use is culturally significant.

Self-pwnage

But perhaps the best example of why the default should be changed to assumed fair use is self-pwnage — where a company can say “use away!” and “not OK” at the same time.

Recently, Fox had a YouTube user’s account suspended for participating

in a Burger King-sponsored mashup promotion on YouTube, where users were encouraged to use a web-based voiceover-creation tool to dub over videos from Seth MacFarlane’s Google-distributed Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy series.

This isn’t new. Back in 2006, pre the word self -pwnage, though Cartoon Network’s New Media Department decided to place information on YouTube to help fans create their own commercials, the legal department sent out cease and desist letters. In an important moment of honesty, Molly Chase, Executive Producer of the New Media Department said, “Putting the content out there consciously is something we want to do, but we have to communicate that very well internally.” If corporations can’t even figure out what their position is on fan use, why should fans or the public be the ones that pay? Or to determine the outside limits of fair use?

Sunder says that

Culture is the sphere in which individuals create meaning, share ideas and enjoy life with others. Furthermore, culture plays an increasingly important role in promoting freedom in the social, political, and economic spheres of life. Cultural approaches to intellectual property law ought to recognize these interconnections.

Our MIT6 Conference Presentation: The Intellectual Property of Remix Culture

After a truly great time presenting about fan culture two years ago at MIT5: Creativity, Ownership, and Collaboration in the Digital Age, we presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media in Transition Conference — this year entitled MIT6: Stone and papyrus, storage and transition (MiT 6). While our conference summary is forthcoming, here is our presentation (originally entitled: The Intellectual Property of User-generated Content), though the full paper will be on the conference website:

Generators of remix culture create communities and content, making the intellectual property of others more valuable, but receive no compensation for their work that increases the value of another’s property, and receive little to no rights in what they have created or added. Our presentation focuses on a particular sub-set of user-generated content: derivative/ transformative works of creativity – such as music videos (or vidding), fan-fiction, fan-zines and websites – though it could be applied to any situation where there is tension between a corporate content owner and its audience about ownership of the “brand” usually due to concerns of degrading market value or anti-piracy.

Pwnage

So what do we mean when we talk about intellectual property? To greatly simplify, we are focusing on copyright and trademark. In the U.S, copyright attaches to works immediately, once a creative, intellectual, scientific, or artistic works is fixed in a tangible form — and exists for life of the creator plus 70 years. The right to create derivative works is given to the creators — but there is fair use that allows others to use copyrighted works. Trademarks are the “branding” imagery plus auxiliary content (Apple brand computers, Apple brand music providing network (iTunes), Apple brand symbol, etc.) — and require registration, can be kept forever, yet need to be protected to be kept. An additional complicating factor are licenses — either for use of specific intellectual property or for use of a platform, such as YouTube.

Henry Jenkins writes in Convergence Culture that

“American intellectual property law has been rewritten to reflect the demands of mass media producers–away from providing economic incentives for individual artists and toward protecting the enormous economic investments made in branded entertainment”

MONEY! MONEY!

Those who are part of participatory culture are often not seeking compensation in traditional ways, yet are not just doing it for the LOLs. Viviana Zelizer discusses the social meaning of money in her same titled book:

“Money [according to some theorists] destroys, necessarily replacing personal bonds with calculative instrumental ties, corrupting cultural meanings with materialistic concerns…. Observers of commercialization in Western countries have thought they saw devastating consequences of money’s irresistible spread: the inexorable homogenation and flattening of social ties.

Money may not be what fans are seeking — instead recognition, credit, etc — but what are likely at the bare minimum to be seeking the ability to continue to participate. And continue to strengthening social ties in multiple ways — to each other, to the work, and to creators/owners.

LESSIG! (done in Khan style)

Laurence Lessig’s recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy discusses our present situation, includes a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. Therefore, our presentation is about both the successes and failures of hybrid economies and about how in order to get something of value, some measure of control over property needs to be loosened. Commodifying the value added by user-generated content varies greatly depending on who or what is determining the value. culture.

Tiziana Terranova also discusses the role of moral economy that discusses “free labor” found in fan participation:

“Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited….The fruit of collective cultural labor has been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices.

Firefly/Serenity (we have this section blogged here)

Harry Potter (we have a longer version of this section here)

Recently, J.K. Rowling won a case preventing the print publication of the Lexicon, a non-licensed encyclopedia of the Harry Potter universe. While barely mentioned during the trial, this case is not just about one book, but concerns the entire Harry Potter fan community.

The Lexicon was created as a online encyclopedia with a large number of fans helping to make the entries accurate. When Vander Ark signed his book deal, completely ignored were the countless fans that contributed and made the website a success. So the lawsuit was fight between the author and the compiler/host of a fan-created work. Yet the fans who have contributed to the Lexicon get neither money nor recognition of their contribution.

The longest mention of fans during the trial was by the publisher:

Q… if you win this case, out of the money that you receive, you don’t plan to give any of it to fans who submitted their work, their time, to submitting information from Ms. Rowling’s book to Mr. Vander Ark’s website, is that right?

Q. You’re going to give back money to the fans, is that what you’re saying?
A. If the book is successful, there’s a lot of possibilities.

Later, the judge said that the issue of fan payment/contribution was irrelevant:

Whether or not the fans contributed … is a side issue.

J.K. Rowling has always been supportive of the fan community surrounding her works, interceding on behalf of fanworks (she is however against fanworks that use underage characters in illegal physical situations). This case has led to a rift in the Harry Potter fan community, with the Leaky Cauldron (the most popular Harry Potter news-site/message-board) cutting all ties to the Lexicon.

A recent New York Times article, Public Provides Giggles; Bloggers Get the Book Deal, discusses how user input to websites, such as I Can Has Cheezburger? (book sold over 100,000 copies), has led to website owners receiving compensation while those that created value receive nothing:

the latest frenzy is over books that take the lazy, Tom Sawyer approach to authorship. The creators come up with a goofy or witty idea, put it up on a simple platform like Twitter and Tumblr, and wait for contributors to provide all of the content. The authors put their energy into publicizing the sites and compiling the best material.

Nowhere mentioned in the article is whether contributors receive recognition or compensation.

Star Wars

Star Wars is often talked about as a positive example — after all, there is a highly active fan community and a fanfilm contest. However, at present, Lucasfilm only allows for and takes control over certain types of fanworks — and zealously goes after those that do not fit their standards, even if those works arguably could be considered to be fair use.

Both Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture (2006) and Anne Elizabeth Moore in Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (2007) quote the same Lucasfilm exec, who said in the New York Times in 2002:

“We’ve been very clear all along where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is.”

Moore describes the control Lucasfilm expects over the fandom as

It is an idealized brand environment that prohibits any potential negative, critical, or neutral comment.
…The Lucasfilm IP strategy, therefore, might read something like this: imitation is the sincerest, and only allowable, form of flatterry. Yet in practice, this narrow definition of fandom, while encouraging freedoms of certain speech, actively discourages others …[and] even punishes them. The strategy begins to look like a legally enforced suspension of critical engagement.”

Lessig says

A careful reading of Lucasfilm’s terms of use show that in exchange for the right to remix Lucasfilm’s creativity, the remixer has to give up all rights to what he produces. In particular, the remixer grants to Lucasfilm the “exclusive right” to the remix — including any commercial rights — for free. To any content the remixer uploads to the site, he grants to Lucasfilm a perpetual non-exclusive right, again including commercial rights and again for free.

The remixer is allowed to work, but the product of his work is not his. Put in terms appropriately (for Hollywood) over the top: The remixer becomes the sharecropper of the digital age.

Lucas is of course free, subject to “fair use,” to do whatever he wants with his creative work. The law of copyright grants him an exclusive right to “derivatives”; a remix is plainly a derivative. And it’s true that no one is forcing anyone to make a remix for free.

Nine Inch Nails (we have a shorter version of this section here)

Conversely, the band Nine Inch Nails and the musician behind it, Trent Reznor, has in recent years spearheaded novel approaches to user generated content that allows a symbiotic/collaborative relationship with fans and their work. It closely represents both the fundamental mindset of Open Source developer communities (distributed ownership) as well as adopting a model very similar to to the curious copyright culture in Japan, anmoku no ryokai, that allows derivative manga to be sold alongside their corporate-owned source. This approach won’t work for every corporate owner/creator, and it’s certainly not the only one, but it’s at least one current example of a hybrid.

NIN’s fanbase have had a traditional unusually interactive relationship with each other and with the band, serving as self-selected ambassadors and archivists for both official releases of the band and NIN fanworks:

NIN Historian: started in 2002, a fan run website that has documented memorabilia from live NIN shows from the bands inception.

NIN Remixes.com: an archive of fan-created remixes of Nine Inch Nails songs, which allows indivuals to upload their own work, and existed before Trent Reznor allowed his post – Interscope work to be distributed under a Creative Commons license. Remix.nin.com , started two years ago and exists alongside ninremixes.com, the fan run site that has existed for over 5 years. Universal Music group halted the launch of the “official” site

Year Zero ARG: As part of the Alternate Reality Game that accompanied YZ, three of the tracks were made available on flash drives ata couple of NIN shows. When the tracks were leaked on the internet, RIAA cracked down on the fans leaked tracks and remixes, even though the ARG campaign was officially condoned by Universal Music Group.

From Billboard:

“An RIAA representative confirms this, a move that boggles the minds of many. “These f*cking idiots are going after a campaign that the label signed off on,” the source says.”

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig) has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

In The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law Posner and Landes state that

“When several artists contribute to creating an integrated expressive work, it is efficient to vest copyright in one person [or company] and who better than the initiator and coordinator of the project?”

Posner and Landes continue

… [I]f a work is offered as a substitute for another work, then it takes away sales from the copied work. If the work is offered as criticism, it may take away sales too, but not by virtue of the copying– by virtue of the criticism, which should be permitted.”

The Ghosts example is certainly an argument against that statement. Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour. From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org:

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas:

By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Reznor, who even before the video leak, loosened up the video security at the the show, allowing fans to record their own footage. Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ‘04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ‘em All, that featured some fan-made video record during their early years. But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that embraces the open source/Creative Commons approach to fan-works and fair use that presumes a kind of perceived collective ownership of property. (A court would argue whether the derivative works of remixes and fan videos belong to Reznor or the fans, but there’s cultural perception within that particular community that the footage is owned collectively the fan community at large.)

Each party receives compensation from this sharing economy: NIN gets to leverage the enthusiasm of fans, who are willing to invest time and money to serve as free marketing ambassadors for the band, while fans recieve a product to consume free-of-charge.

Conclusion

We’re at a point now where more content/owners creators depending on social media/viral and word of mouth marketing to extend their reach and fans using technology and media tools to create increasingly sophisticated derivative works that conflate the role of media producer/consumer/owner/ambassador. Now, we’re seeing those worlds bump into each other. Current copyright law and culture hasn’t yet caught up to these advances in technology and culture. Pat Aufderheide mentioned at her presentation at MIT6 about a 20th century mindset to fair use being carried over into 21st century practice, and I think that’s what we are seeing here.There’s room here for scholars and practitioners to identify these “best (and worst) practices” of this hybrid economy model to replicate and to guide policy decisions, with more companies at least exploring the possibilities of adopting an approach that allows for a safe haven for fans/brand supporters/etc. to create content that would benefits all parties, and also allow users to edcate themselves on their own rights and responsibilities as media producers in this public sphere.

Laurence Lessig says that:

“there is a deep divide between those who believe that obsessive control is the hybrid’s path to profit … It is for the privilege of getting to remix … that these new creators are told they must waive any rights of their own. They should be happy with whatever they get (especially as most of them are probably “pirates” anyway).

A decade from now, [a controlling] Vaderesque [approach to remix culture] will look as silly as the advice lawyers gave the recording industry a decade ago. New entrants, not as obsessed with total control, will generate radically more successful remix markets. The people who spend hundreds of hours creating this new work will flock to places and companies where their integrity as creators is respected. As every revolution in democratizing technologies since the beginning of time has demonstrated, victory goes to those who embrace with respect the new creators….Businesses will have to think carefully about which terms will excite the masses to work for them for free. Competition will help define these terms. But if one more lawyer protected from the market may be permitted a prediction, I suggest sharecropping will not survive long as a successful strategy for the remixer.

#Amazonfail, the Google Books Settlement, and the importance of open access for preserving cultural heritage: In honor of National Library Week

Over the past two years for National Library Week, I have posted about the importance of openness of publication and accessibility of government information and the limitations of relying on Google. Free Government Information, Public.Resource.org, OpentheGovernment (PDF),  and others, are continuing to do a great job of promoting openness in regards to government (and scholarly) information. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the great usefulness and importance of government information. But they do know about Amazon, Google, and YouTube, with many among us using them everyday. What would many do to find information if they stopped working?

The #Amazonfail censorship/ glitch / griefing situation last weekend shows the power of publics working together and the organic nature of much of tagging and movementsourcing; people will often be able to create a simple way of communicating information with each other (the first person to use the #Amazonfail tag on twitter used it because it worked as a folksonomy of the situation and it spiralled from there because it was effective). But it also shows the difficulty for all when most rely on one source — Amazon — for information about bestsellers and similar items.

Siva Vaidhyanathan says that #Amazonfail is more than just about crowdsourcing and user tagging, it is about “metadata, cataloging, books, Web commerce, and justice.” A commenter quoted in the New York Times states that “We have to now keep a more diligent eye on Amazon and how they handle the world’s cultural heritage.”

Have we really placed Amazon (and similar companies) in charge of our cultural heritage? Perhaps not directly, but many people have high expectations for these companies’ ability to make information accessible –even if this does not take into account most of the aspects of information literacy.

But libraries differ from these for-profit companies in how they organize information and why they exist. Most libraries are not-profit and their goal is to serve some type of public (what librarians call a patron group). Libraries are generally built on similar organizational systems to each other– such as Library of Congress or Dewey classification, but libraries are intentionally duplicative in their collections. Not only do libraries often have the same item in their collections, but through interlibrary loan, libraries are tied together in a larger network.  And unlike Amazon and Google, even if a library’s online catalog wasn’t working, a user could still use the organizational system to find useful information.

But another major difference is that libraries — and even twitter — directly rely on people for the system to work, not a algorithm, as with Amazon and Google. As we’ve seen with Googlebombing and likely with #Amazonfail, it is possible for an algorithm to be fooled. Or provide inaccurate information.

We rely on Google quite openly, even though sometimes the information is not right. For example, as of when this post is posted, the top result when googling “four stages of tornadoes” gives the blunt answer of “u suck balls” from wiki.answers. This can’t possibly anywhere close to the correct answer to this scientific question, but it is the one Google’s algorithm is choosing!

In my previous posts, I mentioned how what Google has promised from Google Books isn’t what is actually available in many cases. However, some are expecting this settlement between two private/non-public entities to somehow also be a settlement that protects the interests of the public, though there are many that disagree, including Siva Vaidhyanathan, some vehemently. There is a group of professors attempting to intervene in the Google settlement on behalf of the public:

“The proposed settlement will make Google the only company in the world with a license to use orphaned works.  No other company will be able to buy a similar license because, outside the context of the proposed class-action settlement in this case, there is no one from whom to buy such a license….The settling parties plot a cartel in orphaned works.

…  Because exclusive rights in orphaned works do not serve the ultimate purpose of copyright, the public domain has a claim to free, fair use of orphaned works.

We have the right to intervene to present the public domain’s claim to free, fair use of orphaned works.  None of the present parties will present our claim….”

And what about YouTube? While there is much government information on YouTube, what happens if the company goes out of business? Free Government Information ponders whether

agencies that rely on YouTube as a channel of communication keeping copies of the videos they post there? Would they make them available through another channel? What if … libraries had copies?

Relying on private companies — like Google, like YouTube, like West — to give us access to government information — leaves us without options if these access points disappear.

Presently under challenge is access to government-funded scientific information by H.R. 801 – The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act introduced by Rep. John Conyers. If enacted, the bill would reverse the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy regarding public access to taxpayer-funded research and make it impossible for other federal agencies to put similar policies into place. Publicly funded medical research is the metadata of our lives — we don’t see it, but it affects our health and how we live our lives.

Many oppose this bill, including Harvard University, which has written a letter opposing this legislation:

The NIH public access policy has meant that all Americans have access to the important biomedical research results that they have funded through NIH grants. Some 3,000 articles in the life sciences are added to this invaluable public resource each month because of the NIH policy, and one million visitors a month use the site to take advantage of these research papers. The policy respects copyright law and the valuable work of scholarly publishers.

[Instead of passing this bill], Congress should broaden the mandate to other agencies, by passing the Federal Research Public Access Act first introduced in 2006. Doing so would increase transparency of government and of the research that it funds, and provide the widest availability of research results to the citizens who funded it.

Google, Amazon, and the publishing industry — are highly valuable and useful tools and services — but we should not allow closed proprietary systems to determine how we address information that belongs entirely or in part to the public — like the public domain, government publications, and publicly funded studies. And even when “public” information is not at issue, we need to become more wary on relying solely on these systems.

Multiple systems, locations, and means of access are essential to preserve our cultural heritage — as Free Government Information discusses in regards to government information, yet applicable to so much more:

… no single digital archive or repository can ever be as secure and safe as multiple archives, libraries, and repositories. … The nature of digital information is that it can easily be corrupted, altered, lost, or destroyed. It can become unreadable or unusable without constant attention. Relying on any single entity is simply not as safe as relying on multiple organizations. … But this is about more than redundant copies. It is also about relying on different organizations because they have different funding sources, different constituencies, different technologies, and different collections. No single digital collection can ever be as safe as multiple, reliable digital collections.

Our first nerd president?

Arguably, Obama is the first nerd president. (Considering that Thomas Jefferson’s books were the basis of the Library of Congress, my vote is for second nerd president).

Obama, who collected Spider-Man comics as a kid, has now appeared in a sold-out Spiderman comic.
And while Obama has more pressing problems to fix — like the economy — there are “nerd” issues that should be considered, such as intellectual property policy.

The Obama campaign, in Technology and Innovation for a New Generation stated

Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.

Public Resource.org has five suggestions regarding how the government can better serve the public. They include

1. Rebooting .Gov. How the Government Printing Office can spearhead a revolution in governmental affairs…[including making government publications, including caselaw, available in an easier to access format]
2. FedFlix. Government videos are an essential national resource for vocational and safety training and can also help form a public domain stock footage library, a common resource for the YouTube and remix era.
3. The Library of the U.S.A. A book series and public works job program to create an archival series of curated documents drawn from our cultural institutions, …
4. The United States Publishing Academy. …
5. The Rural Internetification Administration …bring[ing] high-speed broadband to 98% of rural Americans just as the Rural Electrification Administration did for electricity in the last century.

While the incoming Obama administration is interested in these issues, some have serious concerns about the implementation. Siva Vaidhyanathan says

the General Services Administration is negotiating with YouTube (a Google service) to post federal hearings, etc.

… there is no clear reason for the government to solidify YouTube’s market dominance. In fact, there is no reason why the GSO could not mandate that all federal agencies post their videos in open forms — accessible, repostable, and mashable — on their own sites.

Then We the People could repost them on YouTube with commentary and maybe some cartoon graphics mixed in. Better yet, because .gov can’t deal with the bandwidth demands of too many folks pulling down popular videos, the federal government should post open format video as bittorrent files.

Maybe the Obama administration can help explain why Nancy Pelosi has Congress’ Youtube channel intro video hosted by cats, Capitol Cat Cam, — with a Rickroll (question: is including a section of Never Gonna Give You Up fair use? I doubt the lawyers of the RIAA would think so!)