by Mike Masnick
Mon, Sep 14th 2009 1:44pm
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 21st 2009 11:02am
from the where-should-he-send-the-check? dept
However, I was just reading Larry Lessig's long and thorough takedown of Helprin's book, and noticed something odd. Early on, Lessig states:
The product of this feeding, Helprin suggests, is just so much trash. The work of the Internet is an intellectual waste. No serious reader, or especially writer, should pay any attention to this waste.Emphasis mine -- obviously. Now, while this might seem like a bit of a slap at Techdirt, I actually agree -- wholeheartedly. I certainly hope that no one gets their copyright education solely from any blog, whether it's written by me or by William Patry. However, it struck me as odd that Lessig specifically called out Techdirt, seeing as I hadn't even noticed us being mentioned at all in the 1/2 (or so) of the book that I've gotten through (and I've never spoken to Lessig, nor seen him mention Techdirt in the past). So, I pulled out my copy of the book, and went to look at the endnotes for the first time... and realized that a rather large number of the quotes that Helprin spends his time deriding are pulled from Techdirt. But not from what I wrote... but from the comments (which he refers to, oddly, as "sections").
But then here's the astonishing fact about Digital Barbarism: Though the Internet is a waste, though blogs are "subliterate" and wiki's are written "the way Popeye speaks," Helprin draws exclusively upon the Internet to form the knowledge he needs to launch his attack. He cites no book, or scholarly article, that might help explain the copyright puzzle that started him on his odyssey. Literally everything he points to to explain the weirdness that is copyright is either a blog, or a wiki, or an essay in an Internet publication.
Now I like the Internet as much as the next guy, and I guess I had never really had to think about the question before. But Helprin has convinced me that you can't understand the subject of copyright law by simply reading blog posts. To get it, or at least to get it well enough to write a frakking book about it, you're going to need to read something other than techdirt.com.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that we have all types of folks who show up in the comments -- from incredibly intelligent knowledgeable experts in the field of copyright law to interested amateurs to the totally clueless to trolls. To pick and choose a few crazy comments, and position them as if they're representative of the common views of folks questioning Helprin's logic, is incredible. I could equally pick out some of the more ridiculous pro-infinite copyright comments on Techdirt, and make the same nutty claims about those who support stronger copyright laws. Just yesterday, someone wrote in our comments:
There is never a proper debate for copyright theft. If you create it, then you own it. Many countries have unlimited copyright. Maybe that's what North America should consider. If it is created by your intellect then it is yours. You may pass it along as you wish, but it is yours forever.Now, this is all sorts of wrong, but I assume this is one incredibly misinformed individual, rather than a representative of, say, the RIAA. However, Helprin has no such qualms. He takes random comments from up and down that Techdirt post, and assumes they represent the secret agenda of groups like Creative Commons (who he refers to as an "informal" group building software to abolish copyright -- again, all sorts of wrong).
Even more amusing? With at least a couple of the comments that Helprin quotes, he's clearly taking them totally out of context. For example, there is one point in the book where Helprin goes against people who pointed out that he had written a book called Winter's Tale, and assumed (incorrectly) that it was based on Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. In it he quotes a commenter on Techdirt ("section 20") who wrote: "So then Halpron's the guy who did the "West Side Story" job for Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale?" and uses that as evidence of us morons critiquing him. Except, he left out the rest of that comment, which made it clear that the whole thing was a joke: "Was it any good? Have they made a movie out of it yet, or was it only on Broadway?"
And, of course, even for the people who legitimately thought that Winter's Tale was based on Shakespeare, that mistake is certainly no more egregious than the many, many, many mistakes that Lessig lays out in his review of Helprin's work -- specifically taking him to task for clearly not having bothered to read a single scholarly piece on copyright, but relying entirely on hand-chosen silly comments on Techdirt.
Among the errors are things like, "It would be one thing if such a revolution produced Mozarts, Einsteins, or Raphaels, but it doesn't," to which Lessig notes: "Helprin apparently didn't notice that none of those creators enjoyed anything like the "copyright" of today. One might as well say the world of non-copyright gave us Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, while the world of copyright gave us Britney Spears. That too would be a bad argument, but just [the] sort of argument that is at home in this book." It's actually even worse than that. Some of Mozart's greatest works were derivative works that likely would be considered infringing today. Helprin also seems to not know what was in the last copyright extension act, known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension:
Helprin writes: "Previously, a copyright assigned to a publisher or a studio would remain there for all the days of its life. Now, and thanks to Sonny Bono, if it is not a work for hire (which nothing should or need be), a licensee can keep it for only thirty-five years, after which the rights return to the author, the composer, the artist, or the heir." (127). Wrong. The Sonny Bono Act didn't create the termination right. It merely extended it.Yet, Helprin believes that a random small error (which was actually part of a joke by an Anonymous Coward on Techdirt) gives him proof that all copyright critics are clueless? Even if you consider the "errors" of equal magnitude, we're talking about an anonymous quick jokey comment vs. a "professional" book by one of the nation's top authors, from a top publishing house with (one assumes) an editor.
Still, the most amusing part of all, was Helprin's attempt to defend copyright infringement as being the same as theft -- an old argument, and one that's been dismantled many times (including, of course, by the Supreme Court, who famously stated: "interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use"). However, Helprin doesn't even bother to look at the intellectual arguments around this issue, preferring to use an emotional tale from his youth about "stealing" an ear of corn in the field, arguing with a farmer about it, and then realizing the incredible importance of never "stealing" anything.
Yet, as Lessig points out:
So should Helprin have been ashamed that he stole the farmer's food. Of course he should be! What kind of confused mind would think it right to take another person's property? There are a million reasons Helprin's juvenile behavior was wrong, not the least that it would deprive the farmer of a chance to profit from the food he was growing. Helprin's taking that ear of corn meant that the farmer couldn't sell it. It is inconceivable that this should even have been a question for him.Of course, as Lessig then notes, the quoting is fair use -- but according to Helprin's own corn-story description of the importance of never stealing even an ear of corn, any "taking" of one's words would also be stealing. So, by that reasoning, considering how he quoted (by my count) 12 separate comments from the Techdirt story, one can conclude that Helprin clearly believes he has stolen from the commenters here twelve times. If he's willing to send us our royalty check, I'll make sure the money is distributed to our commenters. Mark, we're waiting! In the meantime, I can't wait to see what comments you guys make on this post. Be sure to provide only the best quality stuff, since it may be the raw material for Mark Helprin's next book!
But what's less clear is what Helprin thinks follows from this moral tale. Does he think that it shows that one can't "take" another person's words? That when, for example, I quote a sentence from Helprin's book in this review, I am doing the same thing he was doing when he stole some corn?
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Oct 15th 2008 11:00am
from the making-it-more-accessible-than-ever dept
The idea here is similar to what we started last week with American Express sponsoring an Insight Community case concerning how small businesses are responding to the current financial crisis, the results of which are starting to appear on American Express' Open Forum blog. In situations like that, where we believe the wider Techdirt community would be intrigued by, and benefit from, the wider conversation, we'll be placing those cases directly on the Techdirt blog. Thus, a selection of Insight Community cases that are relevant to the Techdirt community will start appearing directly on the blog, allowing members to jump right in to respond (and for non-members to join up and participate).
This evolution fits in nicely as one of the many ways that the new Insight Community can be used by companies to generate insight and engage with the broader community. Integrating Insight Community cases into Techdirt is based on our strong belief about content and its relationship to advertising. Traditional, annoying, intrusive advertising is a market that won't last -- especially in economically troubled times. It's based on the false belief that there are still captive audiences.
While the online advertising market is still a big one, it's going to need to change. It's entirely focused on a one way push. Companies that buy advertising are pushing a message to an audience. The site is just the one-way pathway to get to that audience -- and that audience often doesn't care about the message being pushed. That's simply not that effective for the advertiser. And yes, before people point it out, we do include some advertising on Techdirt, though we think that the companies buying those ads could spend their money more effectively by actually engaging the community here.
So, rather than focus on that one-way street of merely pushing "message" at an audience, we believe strongly that the concept of "advertising" needs to diminish, and in its place, the focus should be on providing good content that provides real value to all participants. That means not just viewing things as a one way street, but actually engaging the community of folks a company is trying to reach by getting back insight from them and then rewarding those in the community who provide that insight. This is much more of a win-win situation than advertising. It's about actually creating value -- about building an insightful discussion that everyone benefits from, and then making sure that those who participate can be rewarded both monetarily and through reputation, rather than just being seen as a "target" market.
Thus, rather than focusing on "advertising's" one way street to pushing a message on our community, we're asking companies who are interested in the Techdirt community to actually engage with them via the Insight Community, where not only can they start a real dialogue, they can learn from the community, gain valuable insights that can be used elsewhere, and reward the community for participating. That seems a lot more effective and valuable than "advertising." It's about good content and a real conversation where everyone benefits.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Oct 15th 2008 10:00am
from the pardon-our-dust dept
- Floor64 becomes our new parent brand. That's the brand under which all of our products will now reside. It's a brand we've used for years internally (though some have noticed), and now it represents our overall outward brand.
- Insight Community is one of Floor64's two main offerings. This rebranding of the Techdirt Insight Community will allow us to expand beyond the community we've built around Techdirt, to cover much more than just technology and business. The Insight Community is totally redesigned to reflect where the business has been headed over the past few months. If you're already a member, go check out the totally redesigned system. If you're not yet a member, go sign up and start participating (and earning money). If you're interested in sponsoring a case there, go check out how it works and learn about the value of sponsoring a case and engaging with the community.
The Insight Community is all about generating insights for companies, recognizing, as we often talk about here on Techdirt, that there's value in the creation of insightful content. The Insight Community is a platform that makes it possible for companies to generate insightful expertise on demand for use in a variety of different ways.
- Techdirt is our other main offering, and is now solely focused on the blog itself. This should help us avoid some confusion over our different properties and the services that we, as Floor64, offer. Techdirt will remain the same great blog it's been all along, but we'll have some cool new features which we'll be posting about shortly as well. As always, Techdirt, the blog will be focused on providing timely and insightful analysis of technology and business news, with a focus on how technology relates to innovation, public policy and economics.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Mar 4th 2008 10:10am
from the get-some-insight-now dept
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Feb 27th 2008 11:46am
from the it-all-fits-together dept
So, as we were building out Techdirt's business, working with various Fortune 500 companies to better understand various technology trends, we again began to notice an interesting set of scarcities and abundances. On the scarcity side, companies were really hungry for useful and actionable insight about their biggest challenges. At best, they could hire a big analyst firm or a big consulting firm, which would be excessively expensive, and often wouldn't give particularly useful information. In fact, it was a huge risk, since they would only receive a single answer, as if handed down from a wise man on the mountain, with no idea if it was accurate or not. At worst, they could have internal people try to do the analysis, often passing it off to a junior person to handle the work. Again, this would result in a single opinion (often from someone not very experienced) providing an important analysis that was also biased by coming from inside the company, rather than with an outsider's perspective.
At the same time, we were discovering an immense abundance in the ability to find and communicate with smart, knowledgeable passionate experts, many of whom we got to know via their participation on Techdirt itself, or via their own websites and blogs. At first we began to tap that group informally, to help us with the work we were doing with existing clients -- but we realized it was better to formalize the system, which is how we came up with the Insight Community, helping to eliminate the middle man and solve the scarcity (relevant, timely insight) with the abundance (lots of knowledgeable folks). The trick was coming up with a system that allowed the best, most useful insights to bubble to the top. In other words, figuring out not just how to connect companies to smart people, but to make sure that those companies could get the best, most relevant and insightful analysis out of the most qualified folks in that group of experts. To do that, we put in place a competitive system, that allowed experts in the community to compete to show they could provide the best insight. The end result has worked quite well, making it incredibly easy for companies, both big and small, to tap into this network of experts in order to get the best, most relevant insights into the challenges they face, gaining multiple expert opinions -- and doing so at a price the company gets to set.
Of course, while the "name your own price" model works well in some cases, it doesn't work for all. It can sometimes be an impediment for a company that knows they want something specific and isn't sure how much to bid for it. So, to help with those situations, we wanted to focus on common types of cases that the Insight Community was being used for and start to launch more packaged solutions -- the first of which is Smart Dossiers. Many of the customers using the Insight Community, had used it to get a straight analysis of a company. Sometimes of themselves (to get a quick snapshot of multiple outsider expert viewpoints), but more often of other companies they were dealing with: customers, competitors, partners, investments and investors. For example, we had one company use the Insight Community to create detailed "dossiers" on the company's top customer targets, so that its sales people could be better informed while calling on them. Another firm needed a competitive landscape of a new market it was about to enter, and was able to get a bunch of experts to all weigh in on the competitors in just over a week.
So, yes, we are putting into practice the economics that get discussed here all the time. It's all about taking an abundance and helping them "solve" a scarcity that companies desperately are looking for help solving.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Feb 6th 2008 7:00am
from the moving-forward dept
With that in mind, we knew that the members of the Techdirt Insight Community were uniquely qualified to help solve that wide gap in the marketplace, and we've set up the Smart Dossiers offering in response. Companies can now get a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis on any company they'd like, with a minimum number of guaranteed perspectives from qualified, proven experts in the Techdirt Insight Community. Those experts are competing to provide the best possible analysis, continually ensuring quality analysis. Imagine being able to get a detailed, quick, analysis from multiple different people who have experience and knowledge about a specific sector. Actually, there's no need to imagine it, you can do it, right now. There are a variety of Smart Dossier packages available depending on what your company needs, starting as low as $995.
On top of this, we're also thrilled to be announcing a partnership with Thomson Financial, allowing Techdirt to distribute research from the Techdirt Insight Community (including Smart Dossiers) through Thomson's leading platform for providing research and analysis. Thomson offers deep real-time and after market research to thousands of institutional and business customers in 70 countries via professional subscription networks, including First Call and Investext, and we're thrilled to be a part of that system. As Keith Ackerman, Thomson Financial's Global Head of Next Generation Research, said:
"Thomson Financial views the addition of the Techdirt offering into its portfolio of research as significant. Our financial services and corporate clients have increasingly asked for and are spending more for insights, custom surveys and other kinds of research emanating from the use of expert networks and other types of social media. Accordingly, Techdirt and other high quality alternative research firms that feature these capabilities and research outputs are an important part of Thomson Financial's product strategy."We're announcing both of these at O'Reilly's brand new Money:Tech event in New York, which looks like it will be very exciting. If you happen to be at the event, please make sure you say hello! Otherwise, if you happen to need a quick and useful detailed analysis of any company, check out Smart Dossiers today. Finally, if you think you have what it takes to provide this kind of analysis to companies around the world, please apply today!
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 31st 2008 12:03pm
from the a-step-forward dept
I was interested to see how people would react to some of the ideas, and it certainly generated a lively discussion that lived on well-past the class itself. In fact, some of that talk got dragged into the other sessions as well and even a student-run tour the next day of the Edinburgh castle (imagine discussing new business models while touring an ancient castle... surreal). However, the most interesting thing was that, for the most part, people didn't seem to think the idea that you could make money by leveraging infinite goods to sell scarce goods was a strange idea. Almost everyone seemed to grasp that intuitively -- and the majority of the discussions then focused on how such concepts could be constructively applied to a variety of different fields and offerings (with some asides to question why certain old industries have so much difficulty adapting to the changing market).
This was immensely encouraging. While I assume there were some people who disagreed with what I said and just decided to remain quiet, the fact that so many people seemed eager to take these ideas and make use of them in the real world suggests that the next generation of entrepreneurs and engineers aren't going to be tied down by legacy ideas of trying to limit artificial scarcity. They're going to go out into the world and build the new businesses with the new business models that finally force the old regime to change (or simply go away). It was an extremely encouraging experience. I was somewhat concerned that most of the discussion would be about defending and expanding on the concept, but instead it turned into a much more constructive conversation about how to apply it in the real world. Hopefully, that's a sign of good things to come.
As for the other talks, the first one, given to a graduate-level entrepreneurship class, was on market research and how to actually make it useful. The last talk was on the history of Techdirt and how we (hopefully!) have been able to build a sustainable company. That one was to the local Edinburgh Entrepreneurship Club and involved a talk I've done a few times now. One attendee wrote up his notes on it. During the trip I was also able to meet a few local entrepreneurs, including the folks behind PeopleMaps, Hubdub and Scoopt, among others. We held a Techdirt Greenhouse idea workshop, which was quite a bit of fun, as well. It's always interesting to see startup communities outside of Silicon Valley. The experience was somewhat similar to when I went to the Mesh Conference in Toronto last year. While the entrepreneurs there may not have quite the same resources as they would in Silicon Valley, they seem to make up for it with additional enthusiasm and determination. Overall, it was a great trip full of interesting people and interesting discussions. Thanks to Mike Clouser for making it happen.
by Michael Ho
Wed, Nov 14th 2007 11:26am
from the calling-all-experts... dept
- Dow Jones wants to know about social media in the enterprise.
- An investment firm wants to know how WiMax's troubles are going to impact the wider technology ecosystem.
- Another firm is trying to understand how the subprime mortgage mess is going to impact the technology business.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Nov 1st 2007 11:51am
from the Q&A dept
The second interview was by Michael Banks, for his new book called Blogging Heroes. Banks went out and interviewed a bunch of bloggers to try to find out the history of their blogs, what makes them blog and what advice they have for other bloggers. The publisher is conducting a little marketing experiment as well, where they send each of the bloggers who was interviewed a copy of their own interview to post on their blogs. So you're starting to see a few different chapters available. It's yet another experiment in understanding how free content makes good sense, so I can't resist posting my interview here: