Yesterday, President Obama used Google Hangout to do a kind of online virtual town hall meeting, which was both live streamed and is now up on Youtube:
Being a "first" such use of a relatively new technology is bound to get some attention, and I thought the coverage from Anthony De Rosa and Alex Howard were both worth reading. The point that Howard makes is that one of the more interesting elements in the event was the actual back-and-forth that happened, rather than just taking questions and answering them. Also, there were some "tough" questions. It clearly wasn't just softballs. There was also a neat use of the technology where the moderator asked people to raise their hands if they disagreed with an answer, and had them ask a followup.
On that question, the President claimed that the administration had expressed its concerns about the bill to Congress since it was introduced. That's interesting, since the White House made no official statement until much later, and the stories we heard were that it hadn't really brought up issues with the bill to Congress until just a few weeks before that. Also of interest to folks around here was his reiteration of his support for a bill making its way through Congress to allow for crowdfunding of startups (currently impossible due to SEC regulations) -- and his statement (as he's noted before) that job growth today comes from startups and entrepreneurs. This was a key point that many of us tried to make during the SOPA debates, considering the bill would add liability and compliance costs on those very startups that were creating all of the net job growth in the country today.
On the whole, it didn't seem like this particular use of technology was a complete breakthrough -- and we've seen elected officials in Congress doing similar things for years. But I do think it's a good thing to see elected officials -- all the way up to the President -- making better use of technology to actually connect with constituents, rather than just hearing from people within a limited advisory circle. Hopefully we see continued experimentation like this. Of course, if President Obama did a Reddit AMA (as suggested by Kashmir Hill), it might break the internet...
Last year, when Universal Music issued a very questionable takedown of a Megaupload commercial -- which involved some Universal Music artists -- UMG suggested that it had extra special rights with YouTube in which it could take down videos that it didn't even have a direct copyright on. Google later said that UMG was greatly exaggerating the details of their deal, and all UMG could do beyond issuing normal copyright takedowns was to take down live performances.
So a bunch of folks are scratching their heads over a highly questionable UMG takedown of a song by a Florida-based rap duo, After the Smoke (who are not signed to Universal). The details are a bit complex, and to understand what appears to have happened, you first have to go back a bit. It seems that After the Smoke recorded an instrumental "beat" which they then shopped around to various artists to potentially rap/sing over. This is pretty common, and if someone likes the beat, they'll buy it. In this case, they offered the beat to Yelawolf, who they had opened for. Yelawolf claimed to like it, and apparently did record over it... but about the same time got signed to Universal Music and nothing happened with the track (and the beat was never paid for). However, about a month ago, the Yelawolf track over the ATS beat got leaked -- leading ATS to get upset about the lack of credit (and, one assumes, payment).
Some of the folks who participated in the Yelawolf track apologized and went public with a statement about how this track was not intended to be released and how leaks suck and how ATS definitely deserves credit. That statement also noted that ATS had (after not finding a buyer) recorded their own version of a song over the beat. And, indeed, soon after, ATS released their own official version.... but then UMG took it down. As far as I can tell, UMG apparently decided that because its act -- Yelawolf -- had recorded over this beat (despite not licensing it), it must own it... and because of that blocked ATS's song -- which was completely their own. It seems likely that UMG simply used the Yelawolf track with YouTube's ContentID to block any tracks with the same music -- but things got screwy when it turned out that neither UMG nor Yelawolf had actually licensed the beat.
Either way, in another report, ATS filed a complaint with YouTube... and was told, too bad, and that UMG owned the track. Eventually, as the story started spreading, someone at UMG realized the mistake and backed down.
But, in the short term, this really does (yet again) highlight one of the many problems of an aggressive takedown system. UMG clearly screwed up here and shut down an independent act's own song -- which, honestly, one of its own acts had infringed on the copyright for. This is really quite an amazing form of copyright abuse when you think about it: UMG artist fails to license beat on a song that is leaked... and then UMG claims copyright over the official song over the same beat. That's definitely adding insult to injury -- or, perhaps, adding injunction to infringement. While it appears that cooler heads prevailed and got this worked out eventually, it seems pretty crazy that any artist should have to deal with some giant industry conglomerate completely shutting down their own works based on bogus copyright claims.
from the and-don't-forget-the--militarization-of-the-police dept
By now, I expect that many of you have heard or seen the reports of police in riot gear pepper spraying students at UC Davis late last week. If you haven't seen one of the many, many videos of the incident out there, this one is particularly popular and has a pretty good view of the police officer walking up and down the line of peaceful protesters with their arms locked, spraying them heavily with pepper spray:
However, there appear to be dozens of other videos capturing the same thing from a variety of different angles. I just watched about a half dozen of them, and each one provides a little more insight or perspective into what happened. None of them make the police look good. This and other recent incidents of police pepper spraying protesters raise a few different issues (regardless of what you think of what people are protesting for). Let's discuss two of them quickly.
First, it's fascinating to see how protest is changing in the age of YouTube. In the past, photographs often captured iconic moments in similar situations. Or, in some cases, merely the stories of what happened. And while there can be something powerful and moving about a still photograph, the video of these latest incidents really lets you see the details, and I find such videos to be much more powerful in showing the full extent of what's happening. It makes it that much harder to cover things up or try to explain away the actions of the police. We've talked about why the right to record police is an important right for Americans, but in situations like this, it also shows not just the value of recording what the police are doing, but also the power of bringing millions of people around the world right into the situation of what happened.
Related to that is the fact that such a large percentage of people these days now carry handheld video cameras, often in their mobile phones. That we don't just get one angle on these stories, but coverage from pretty much every perspective, is really quite an incredible experience.
The other issue worth discussing is the long term unintended consequences of regulatory and legal battles against vague bogeymen without a thought to what happens. If you want to read a really fascinating opinion piece on what happened at Davis, you should read what Bob Ostertag had to say. Ostertag, among other things, is a professor of Technocultural Studies and Music at UC Davis, and his discussion is really fascinating -- directly calling out the administration for its bogus defense of the pepper spraying (and comparing it to a similar situation that was handled quite peacefully at Columbia). He goes on to highlight other ridiculous overreactions first within the UC system (at nearby Berkeley) and then elsewhere in the country, such as the pepper spraying of an 84-year-old woman in Seattle.
One of the key points he uses to summarize all this is the following:
Last week, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper published an essay arguing that the current epidemic of police brutality is a reflection of the militarization (his word, not mine) of our urban police forces, the result of years of the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror." Stamper was chief of police during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, and is not a voice that can be easily dismissed.
Stamper's article is also a fascinating, yet disturbing read. He points to his own failings in 1999, but also how much worse things have become. He also points to some ideas for turning things around -- creating radically different police forces, with civilian involvement.
Part of me wonders if these two issues converge. The ability of people to so widely document the abuses -- and horrify the watching public -- will hopefully lead people to seek out the sorts of "radical" solutions Stamper suggests (and, yes, I do recognize the ridiculousness of suggesting that police work closely with civilians is considered "radical"). But part of me wonders about the likelihood that things just get worse. We see this elsewhere, where "law enforcement" or the government through declaration or regulation declares "war" on something, rather than trying to understand and deal with the underlying issues. It never helps solve the problem, and oftentimes serves to make it that much worse. But oftentimes it seems like once the moral panics and the "war on..." announcements have been made, politicians and law enforcement become totally committed, unable to back down, even as their "solution" makes things worse.
It's stories like these that should make us wary of jumping on any sort of moral panic that doesn't involve a true look at the underlying causes, and how to fix them, but rather seeks solely a stricter "enforcement" solution. What we see, over and over again, is that that level of "enforcement" becomes a weapon that is used more and more regularly and more and more indiscriminately. Even as some amount of transparency hopefully counteracts some of it, people get so committed that the situation moves far away from solving problems, and just creates more and more new ones.
Apparently Justin Bieber has no interest in being kept out of jail. You may recall that the Fight for the Future folks recently started a satirical campaign against the felony streaming bill (S.978 in the Senate, and a part of the SOPA bill in the House) by jokingly launching a campaign to "free Justin Bieber", noting that the bill, as written, could be interpreted to mean that Justin Bieber could have been guilty of committing a felony with his early videos that he put up on YouTube, which helped to really create Justin Bieber. Those videos meet the standards set in the law for criminal copyright infringement, which drives home just how ridiculous the bill is.
Apparently, Justin Bieber (or, at least, his lawyers) apparently would prefer not to be used to defend against draconian, overreaching copyright legislation. They sent Fight for the Future a cease and desist letter, claiming that such a use infringes on a variety of his rights, including (of course) publicity rights and his privacy rights.
Of course, as the EFF writes in its response (embedded below), it appears that Bieber's lawyers are clearly stretching the interpretation of various laws... likely hoping that by sending the legal nastygram, it would cause the FreeBieber team to stop. But that's not what's happening. They're standing behind the use of Bieber and the entire effort:
With respect to the privacy claims, we cannot fathom how this political campaign in any way intrudes on any privacy right your extremely public client might assert. As for the purported right of publicity violations, state laws have long recognized that a celebrity's interest in his or her image must be balanced against the public interest in free speech.
Over the last couple of months I've been hearing more and more about Bad Lip Reading, which is a phenomenally funny site by a guy who takes music videos and video of politicians, and redubs them by (you guessed it) doing a "bad lip reading" of what they might be saying, to make the videos absolutely hilarious (though usually totally nonsensical). It's a little addictive to watch the videos, and every time someone sends me one, I end up going on and watching a bunch of others.
It seems like most of the subjects of these videos (at least the ones who find out about them) find them pretty funny. For example, the singer Michael Buble absolutely loved it when he discovered that BLR had turned his song, "Haven't Met You Yet" into "Russian Unicorn". And that kind of response has led many people to appreciate Buble even more. Seriously, a bunch of folks have been sending me that link and pointing out how Buble really seems so cool about it.
But, of course, not everyone is so cool about such things. A bunch of folks have been sending in this Slashdot snippet about how Universal Music issued a DMCA takedown over BLR's recent video called Dirty Spaceman, which was a bad lip reading of a of Nicki Minaj and will.i.am song and video. It's a little unclear what happened here. The Facebook post that Slashdot links to has been taken down. However, the Slashdot summary states:
Two days ago, Universal Music Group succeeded in getting his parody Dirty Spaceman taken down from YouTube, and despite BLR's efforts to appeal, in his words, 'UMG essentially said "We don't care if you think it's fair use, we want it down."' And YouTube killed it.
The actual details here are important, so it's too bad that no one seems to have them. In a recent interview, the anonymous music producer behind BLR notes that he makes all his own music (so he's not just using the original songs). So there's no infringement on the music. But, of course, the video itself is copyrighted too, so there is a claim there. It's entirely possible that it was caught by YouTube's ContentID filter (i.e., passive catching of infringement, rather than a proactive decision by Universal Music). In fact, if it had been a real DMCA takedown, and BLR filed a counternotice, then UMG's next move would have to be to file a lawsuit if it disagreed with the counternotice. Since that didn't happen, it seems likely that this wasn't the result of a DMCA takedown, but the ContentID filter (which, yes, matches video too).
That said, once he appealed, Universal could have let it go. And, frankly, it should have. Whether or not this actually is "parody" is a bit tricky -- and depends on whether you think the commentary is on the original video. I would argue that it is, and separately argue that if we were to run the basic four factors test on this, you could make a good case that it was fair use (certainly, the BLR video didn't harm the commercial appeal of the original video, a key part of the four factors test).
But, leaving aside the legal issue, let's just talk about the practicality of the whole thing. As the Buble incident showed, embracing this kind of thing wins you fans. Insisting that such a video stays down does the exact opposite. It's emblematic of the sorts of bad decision-making coming out of the major labels like Universal Music these days.
Oh, and of course, in typical Streisand Effect fashion, others have uploaded the video. Amusingly, BLR even included one of the uploads by someone else in his own playlist -- so it's still there if you look on BLR's YouTube... even if the upload wasn't by him.
We've talked a few times about s.978, the bill from Senator Amy Klobuchar, that attempts to make streaming videos potential felonies. The bill is poorly drafted (at best). It basically just adds "public performance" as a possible felony under the law. That seems simple, but it's way too broad, in an era when all sorts of things can be a public performance. Defenders of s.978 again insist that it's not that bad because the law would only apply to willful "commercial" infringers -- but as we've seen repeatedly, the feds seem to interpret that extremely broadly.
Thus, the bill could, in fact, be used against people streaming videos via YouTube for their own benefit. People like... Justin Bieber. In fact, a new advocacy group has kicked off a campaign against S.978 by asking people to help free Justin Bieber.
As they point out, Bieber became famous by posting videos of himself singing famous songs on YouTube as a kid.
As the campaign notes, this video was a big part of advancing Bieber's massively successful music career -- so you could easily make the case that it was clearly commercial infringement. It was "willful" and he clearly intended to infringe on the Chris Brown song. Clearly it was for "personal gain." As the law notes, you don't have to make money directly from the video for it to be criminal infringement. The law "does not require that a defendant actually realize a commercial advantage or private financial gain. It is only necessary that the activity be for the purpose of "financial gain or benefit." Check. It also has to involve 10 or more "performances" within 180 days. That video has over 35 million views. Check. And did it cause more than $2,500 in losses to the rights holder? Given how the RIAA defines losses, hell yes. Think of all that unlicensed use. If the label licensed the song for 35 million plays, I'm sure it would have cost a lot more than $2,500.
Game, set, match. Under Klobuchar's streaming felony bill, Justin Bieber likely committed a felony.
Now, I realize that many people don't much like Bieber or his music, but does he deserve to go to jail? Now, obviously, defenders of s.978 will claim that they don't intend to go after the likes of Justin Bieber. But just the fact that they could suggests a massively problematic bill. And, realistically, the problem isn't the Biebers of the world, but the next kids who upload a video of themselves lip synching to some song. This is a massively problematic bill, and hopefully you'll check out the Free Bieber site to help let Congress know that this bill is bad news.
About two and a half years ago (soon after I did my first presentation about CwF+RtB), I was asked to stop by the YouTube offices, to talk about what things they might do to help artists earn more money. And the key suggestion I made was -- add more features that would allow artists to sell scarcities with their content: let them sell concert tickets, merchandise, access, whatever. I was thanked... and never heard from them again. So it's nice to see that, years later, it appears that YouTube is finally doing exactly that:
We’re launching a feature called the Merch Store that will allow YouTube partners to offer fans merchandise directly on your channel. Fans will be able to buy artists’ merchandise, digital downloads, concert tickets and even unique experiences like meetups. These features are made possible through affiliates like Topspin for merchandise, concert tickets and experiences; Songkick for concerts; and iTunes and Amazon for music downloads. We’ll be rolling out the Merch Store to music partners globally over the coming weeks
As YouTube has become a bigger and bigger source of music listening and discovery, I think this is fantastic. It will be interesting to see how well integrated it really is. As musicians get to test this out, we'd love to hear about their experiences, which they can provide over at Step2.
Kaden sent over this article from an OCWeekly reporter who had a short video he had shot of Pearl Jam performing live taken down from YouTube. What struck the reporter as most interesting was that the DMCA notice came from Ten Club, which is Pearl Jam's fan club. Oddly, we've even used Pearl Jam's Ten Club as a great example of how a band can give fans a reason to buy. In fact, Pearl Jam has actually been really good on issues like copyright. The band embraced the internet early on, has always worked hard at connecting with fans, used the Ten Club to give people extra reasons to buy, shunned DRM, and recognized early on that giving away free music can actually help a band make more money.
So, I'm a bit confused about this strategy of DMCAing short fan videos. However, despite the claims in the article and Ten Club's refusal to respond to the reporter's questions, I doubt that (as the article implies) that it's really "the fan club" itself that's issuing the DMCA notices. Instead, it looks like the corporation that's set up for Pearl Jam is called Pearl Jam Ten Club LLC and that covers both the band's business and the fan club. You can see the full name on various DMCA takedown notices at Chilling Effects. So while it's still a bit surprising that the band would run around chasing fan videos, rather than embracing them, at least it doesn't appear to have reached the point of deputizing fans to file takedowns for the band...
HappyCabbie alerts us to the news that "Hungrybear9562," whose real name is Paul Vasquez, but is much better known as the "Double Rainbow Guy" for his viral video hit "Double Rainbow" (perhaps one of the most viral videos ever), has gone on a fascinatingly ignorant DMCA takedown binge, using some questionable theories. Basically, he's decided that if there's a video he doesn't like, he can take it down. He put up his own bizarre video in which he explains his views on the DMCA:
It's one of those cases where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. He admits that he doesn't quite understand the DMCA, but he feels 100% sure that he must be using it properly. His response to claims of "fair use" are to bizarrely cite (incorrectly) the YouTube/Viacom case, which he claims was about "a music company" suing YouTube for $1 billion, and because of that no YouTube videos can use music any more. And towards the end of the video, he responds to those claiming that his takedowns were illegal because they didn't consider fair use by saying, "you know what, if it is illegal, I'm going to change the law."
Throughout the video he makes it clear that his main concern is that he "doesn't like" these videos, which apparently are somewhat mean and make fun of him, but copyright is not made for censoring speech you don't like. Amazingly, Vasquez even seems to be issuing DMCA takedowns on videos that try to explain this to him, including one from HappyCabbie which tries to explain the Streisand Effect to Vasquez:
Oh, and did we mention that Vasquez seems to have no problem using clips from others in his own videos?
Now some may claim this is just a case of a fairly ignorant guy abusing the DMCA, but that's what happens when you provide such a tool for easy censorship. It gets abused by people to censor speech. What does it mean? It means that we have a double free speech problem all the way...
As a bunch of folks have been sending in a "prankster" was able to remove all of Justin Bieber's videos from YouTube by filing a bunch of bogus DMCA notices. While a lot of people find this amusing for one reason or another, it really highlights a key problem with the DMCA's notice-and-takedown process, which is a "censor now, deal with the consequences later" system. As has been pointed out in the past, it seems like this process is a violation of the First Amendment, in that it involves the shutting down of speech prior to any sort of due process or adversarial hearing. I'm still amazed that the DMCA doesn't allow for at least a notice-and-notice process, giving the uploader/host a chance to respond before the content is removed. In a case such as this, it would have prevented the removal. As for the "prankster," he might want to be careful. Filing totally false DMCA claims can open you up to serious legal penalties, and assuming that Bieber makes a fair bit of money from his videos on YouTube, his representatives probably have decent reason to go after the prankster. And that might not be a bad thing. In the process, perhaps they could establish greater precedence for the ability to punish those who file bogus DMCA takedowns.
Christopher Best: He was a disturbed individual, and a disgruntled software developer. There's explicit tax law that treats software developers very unfairly if they try to work as independent contractors... yaga: that's very true CB Alana: AJ Seriously just compared arguments against copyright infringment to rape. ... Yeah, nobody should take him seriously at this point. err, against copyright* silverscarcat: seriously? Jay: Glenn Beck asking for a 9/12 movement isn't the least bit suspicious? Along with all of the other issues with the IRS right now? Ninja: I am honestly amused that the community is marking the comments of that "horse" guy as funny silverscarcat: Who takes Glenn Beck seriously? Jeff: did the 'new' comment color bars go away? dennis deems: ya I hadn't noticed until you said that. I don't recall seeing them the last couple days. Mike Masnick: new color bars ran into some big technical problems. :) we took them down while we fix them. fix is currently going through testing and should be back (and better than before) soon. dennis deems: yay! the color bars rule! Jeff: whew! Thought I was going... wait for it... "Color Blind" thanks! I'll be here all day... :-) Jay: @ssc I'm talking more in 2011 at the peak of TP hysteria TheResidentSkeptic: @mike - mod for your business model - CwF+RtB+DoP..too many miss the "Deliver On Promises" silverscarcat: Piracy will destroy software! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlniehU08ks Back in 1985