If you're a fan of playing baseball the way its inventor intended, meaning on your couch in front of the television with a controller in your hand, you may recall our discussion last year around 2K Sports' famous Perfect Game Challenge. Should you not be familiar with it, that contest revolves around a competition between anyone who was able to pitch a perfect game in the MLB2K series (no hits, no walks, no errors in a complete game shutout by one pitcher) for various large cash prizes. Deadspin's Owen Good discovered an exploit in the system that allowed players to manually replace the starting lineups of the teams they were opposing, essentially rigging it to face the worst possible lineup for their pitching performance, and still have it be counted as a valid perfecto. He also outted at least one specific entrant into the subsequent playoff contest for the challenge that used that system. 2K Sports declined to do anything about it, saying instead:
"The contest was run properly," 2K Sports said. "We look forward to awarding someone a million dollars on May 10 in New York."
Utilizing the black magic called "reductive reasoning", I can only assume that that the company is deciding this year to actively make their annual contest improper. What else would one conclude, given that they have fixed the exploit? As Owen Good once more notes:
Today, I started a game under the Million Dollar Challenge menu option and as soon as I pressed start to go the substitution menu in the loading screen, I lost the official logo. According to the contest's official rules, you may not pause the game, substitute any player on either team, make a mound visit, or delay the game longer than 10 seconds between pitches.
I learned long ago that the greatest power you have when you make a mistake is to own it, fix it, and move on. 2K Sports appears to have skipped a step, which just makes them look proud and petty. Unfortunately for them, both the internet and baseball keep long memories.
As we announced a few weeks ago, the July Techdirt Book Club book is Year Zero written by Rob Reid and which comes out today, published by Random House. Rob will be joining us in a few weeks to talk about writing a comic sci-fi novel about the mess that is copyright law... but in the meantime, he's provided the following excerpt, which is Chapter 1. There is a "prologue" before this, which you can read here, or you can just watch this video, which more or less covers the prologue info:
As part of this, Rob and Random House have agreed to do another give away, this time just for Techdirt readers, which will go to five commenters on this post, based on your voting scores on the comments. We'll give one copy of the book each to the highest ranked "funny" and "insightful" comments, and then the three highest total scores other than the top ranked (so either funny or insightful). There are a few conditions: you have to be in the US or Canada. I know this sucks for those of you not in those places, but there's nothing we can do about it. Also, to win, we obviously have to be able to contact you, which means (a) you need to be logged in when you comment, so we can email you and (b) you have to respond to our email informing you of your win within 24 hours of our email. Also, you can't win twice -- if you score the highest in multiple categories, you get a prize in one and the others will go to the runners-up. We'll keep the voting open until Wednesday night and then tally the votes. So, get to work with your funny/insightful comments...
CHAPTER ONE: ASTLEY
Even if she'd realized that my visitors were aliens who had come to our office to initiate contact
with humanity, Barbara Ann would have resented their timing. Assistants at our law firm clearout at five-thirty, regardless -- and that was almost a minute ago.
"I don't have anyone scheduled," I said, when she called to grouse about the late arrival. "Who is it?"
"I don't know, Nick. They weren't announced."
"You mean they just sort of . . . turned up at your desk?" I stifled a sneeze as I said this. I'd been fighting a beast of a cold all week.
This was odd. Reception is two key-card-protected floors above us, and no one gets through
unaccompanied, much less unannounced. "What do they look like?" I asked.
"Lady Gaga strange?" Carter, Geller & Marks has some weird-looking clients, and Gaga flirts with the outer fringe, when she's really gussied up.
"No--kind of stranger than that. In a way. I mean, they look like they're from . . . maybe a couple of cults."
From what? "Which ones?"
"One definitely looks Catholic," Barbara Ann said. "Like a . . . priestess? And the other one
looks . . . kind of Talibanny. You know -- robes and stuff?"
"And they won't say where they're from?"
"They can't. They're deaf."
I was about to ask her to maybe try miming some information out of them, but thought better of it. The day was technically over. And like most of her peers, Barbara Ann has a French postal worker's sense of divine entitlement when it comes to her hours. This results from there being just one junior assistant for every four junior lawyers, which makes them monopoly providers of answered phones, FedEx runs, and other secretarial essentials to some truly desperate customers. So as usual, I caved. "Okay, send 'em in."
The first one through the door had dark eyes and a bushy beard. He wore a white robe, a black turban, and a diver's watch the size of a small bagel. Apart from the watch, he looked like the Hollywood ideal of a fatwa-shrieking cleric -- until I noticed a shock of bright red hair protruding from under his turban. This made him look faintly Irish, so I silently christened him O'Sama. His partner was dressed like a nun -- although in a tight habit that betrayed the curves of a lap dancer. She had a gorgeous tan and bright blue eyes and was young enough to get carded anywhere.
O'Sama gazed at me with a sort of childlike amazement, while the sister kept it cool. She tried to catch his eye -- but he kept right on staring. So she tapped him on the shoulder, pointing at her head. At this, they both stuck their fingers under their headdresses to adjust something. "Now we can hear," the nun announced, straightening out a big, medieval-looking crucifix that hung around her neck.
This odd statement aside, I thought I knew what was happening. My birthday had passed a few days back without a call from any of my older brothers. It would be typical of them to forget -- but even more typical of them to pretend to forget, and then ambush me with a wildly inappropriate birthday greeting at my stodgy New York law office. So I figured I had about two seconds before O'Sama started beatboxing and the nun began to strip. Since you never know when some partner's going to barge through your door, I almost begged them to leave. But then I remembered that I was probably getting canned soon anyway. So why not gun for YouTube glory, and capture the fun on my cellphone?
As I considered this, the nun fixed me with a solemn gaze. "Mr. Carter. We are visitors from a distant star."
That settled it. "Then I better record this for NASA." I reached across the desk for my iPhone.
"Not a chance." She extended a finger and the phone leapt from the desk and darted toward her. Then it stopped abruptly, emitted a bright green flash, and collapsed into a glittering pile of dust on the floor.
"What the . . . ?" I basically talk for a living, but this was all I could manage.
"We're camera shy." The nun retracted her finger as if sheathing a weapon. "And as I mentioned, we‘re also visitors from a distant star."
I nodded mutely. That iPhone trick had made a believer out of me.
"And we want you to represent us," O'Sama added. "The reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest reaches of the universe."
The absurdity of this flipped me right back to thinking "prank" -- albeit one featuring some awesome sleight of hand. "Then you know I'll sue your asses if I don't get my iPhone back within the next two parsecs," I growled, trying to suppress the wimpy, nasal edge
that my cold had injected into my voice. I had no idea what a parsec was, but remembered the term from Star Wars.
"Oh, up your nose with a rubber hose," the nun hissed. As I was puzzling over this odd phrase, she pointed at the dust pile on the floor. It glowed green again, then erupted into a tornado-like form, complete with thunderbolts and lightning. This rose a few feet off the ground before reconstituting itself into my phone, which then resettled gently onto my desk. That refuted the prank theory nicely -- putting me right back into the alien-believer camp.
"Thank you very kindly," I said, determined not to annoy Xena Warrior Fingers ever, ever again.
"Don't mention it. Anyway, as my colleague was saying, the reputation of Carter, Geller &
Marks extends to the farthest corner of the universe, and we'd like to retain your services."
Now that I was buying the space alien bit, this hit me in a very different way. The farthest corner of the universe is a long way for fame to travel, even for assholes like us. I mean, global fame, sure -- to the extent that law firms specializing in copyright and patents actually get famous. We're the ones who almost got a country booted from the UN over its lax enforcement of DVD copyrights. We're even more renowned for our many jihads against the Internet. And we're downright notorious for virtually shutting down American automobile production over a patent claim that was simply preposterous. So yes, Earthly fame I was aware of. But I couldn't imagine why they'd be hearing about us way out on Zørkan 5, or wherever these two were from.
"So, what area of the law do you need help in?" I asked in a relaxed, almost bored tone. Feigning calm believably is a survival tactic that I perfected as the youngest of four boys (or of seven, if you count our cousins, who lived three doors down. I sure did). It made me boring to pick on -- and useless as a prank victim, because I'd treat the damnedest events and circumstances as being
mundane, and entirely expected. It had also helped me immensely as a lawyer (although by itself, it had not been enough to make me a successful one).
Sister Venus gave me a cagey look. "It's sort of . . . an intellectual property thing."
One of my favorite radio programs/podcasts is Radiolab. They do absolutely amazing storytelling on really interesting things. I don't think I've ever listened to a Radiolab program and then not gone off to talk to someone about it. Their most recent full episode (they also do "shorts") is a really fascinating exploration of color. The final section, on why Homer (of Iliad & Odyssey fame, not the Simpsons character) never mentioned the color blue is simply brilliant.
That said, it's also been interesting in the last month or so to watch the Radiolab crew start to embrace some of the ideas that we've been exploring for some time, concerning CwF+RtB (Connecting with Fans and giving them a Reason to Buy). I first noticed this about a month ago, when Radiolab announced its Lab Partners premium offering. Just as we've seen with artists who offer up content for free, but give people "subscription" style offering for premium features (sorta like our own Crystal Ball offering), Radiolab is giving people a ton of extras if they subscribe.
Some will argue, of course, that this is nothing more than a modern update to the traditional patronage model of public radio -- wherein they beg for pledges every so often and you might get a tote bag if you spend enough. And, clearly, the ideas come from the same general place. But there are some key differences -- mainly that the premium features aren't worthless tote bags, but are actually related to the show, and include things like access. So, for example, you can join an editorial chat with the Radiolab team, or, my favorite:
Toss Your Name in the Hat: Enter your first name to a pool of names that we’ll draw from whenever we need to use a made-up character name in a story.
Like many of these kinds of offerings, Radiolabs has a couple tiers to let fans self-select. My one quibble is that I think there aren't enough tiers -- and there isn't a really low entry-level tier. In watching these kinds of experiments, at least having a very low level of support as an option can really help get more people involved and build up the buzz for a program. But, either way, it's neat.
Of course, that's not all Radiolab is doing. They really are doing a lot on the "CwF" side of things too. They've done a number of touring live shows (where they often bring along great musicians, like Zoe Keating). But they've also just launched a remix contest for the show. Remix contests are nothing new in the music world, but I've never heard of one for a radio show/podcast before. But they're doing the same basic thing -- releasing the stems, allowing you to re-score the music, etc.
If you've never listened to a Radiolab production, you might not understand why it would ever make sense to remix a radio show. But, the level of production that goes into every Radiolab episode is astounding. And they do a great job with how they reveal stories and plots. I'm honestly not sure that anyone could actually do a better job editing together an episode of Radiolab than host Jad Abumrad, but I'm actually really curious to hear what other fans can come up with.
As a brief aside, last fall, another great radio/podcast story teller, Ira Glass, from This American Life, did a thorough writeup of why Radiolab is so amazing, and it goes into some amount of detail about how Jad and Robert put together an episode. I think anyone seeking to remix an episode of Radiolab might learn a bunch of useful things from reading it.
Either way, I always think it's great to see more and more people in various areas start embracing these basic concepts and doing really cool things with them. At this stage, it's really just a bunch of experiments, but that's how amazing new things happen.
Okay, I know it was just two days ago that we announced the Techdirt Book Club book for June (and, a reminder that tomorrow at 1pm PT/4pm ET, we'll be holding a Q&A with Patricia Aufderheide for the Techdirt Book Club book for May), but today we're "pre-announcing" the Techdirt Book Club book for July. And that's because if you want to get a free hard copy of the book, you can enter a giveaway starting today. You may remember, a few months back, Rob Reid (founder of Listen.com, among other things) got plenty of attention for his rather humorous talk about copyright math. And, earlier this week, we wrote about his op-ed for the WSJ concerning ways to compete with "free."
But none of that compares to Year Zero, Reid's new novel, which is being released on July 10th. It's all about aliens who go bankrupt after they realize they owe the record labels more money than exists in the universe, because they got hooked on our music, and shared that music with other aliens. Rob has released a video trailer as a teaser for the book, which is quite amusing:
I've had a chance to read the book, and I can say that it's awesome. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but with copyright law driving a major plot line. A mainstream humorous sci-fi novel that uses the Berne Convention as a key plot point and tosses aside casual references to Larry Lessig and Fark? Yes. Count me in. And, unlike most novels that bring up copyright, this one gets the legal issues mostly right (there is one point where trademark and copyright get confused, but it's so minor, you'll let it slip).
Anyway, as we said, this will be the Book Club book for July, and we'll be doing some fun things with Rob to have him engage with everyone here—but, if you're lucky, there's a chance for you to get a physical copy of the book delivered a month before it's actually released. Rob has the details on his blog, but basically you have to let him know (via a comment on his blog, a tweet or a Facebook comment) what song you'd like to beam to the aliens. Thirty winners -- ten from the comments, ten from Twitter and ten from Facebook (though you can enter all three) -- will be chosen at random to get books. So, go ahead and beam some songs to aliens. And just hope the RIAA doesn't claim that you're "inducing" infringement by doing so...
Researchers from NYU and the University of Virginia are looking for computer programmers to participate in a study of creativity and innovation. The study involves a creativity contest that will take about 5-10 minutes. The winner will receive a $500 prize. The researchers are looking for professional and serious amateur computer programmers to participate. You can access the study here.
You probably recall all the excitement that went around when a group finally won the big Netflix $1 million prize in 2009, improving Netflix's recommendation algorithm by 10%. But what you might not know, is that Netflix never implemented that solution itself. Netflix recently put up a blog post discussing some of the details of its recommendation system, which (as an aside) explains why the winning entry never was used. First, they note that they did make use of an earlier bit of code that came out of the contest:
A year into the competition, the Korbell team won the first Progress Prize with an 8.43% improvement. They reported more than 2000 hours of work in order to come up with the final combination of 107 algorithms that gave them this prize. And, they gave us the source code. We looked at the two underlying algorithms with the best performance in the ensemble: Matrix Factorization (which the community generally called SVD, Singular Value Decomposition) and Restricted Boltzmann Machines (RBM). SVD by itself provided a 0.8914 RMSE (root mean squared error), while RBM alone provided a competitive but slightly worse 0.8990 RMSE. A linear blend of these two reduced the error to 0.88. To put these algorithms to use, we had to work to overcome some limitations, for instance that they were built to handle 100 million ratings, instead of the more than 5 billion that we have, and that they were not built to adapt as members added more ratings. But once we overcame those challenges, we put the two algorithms into production, where they are still used as part of our recommendation engine.
Neat. But the winning prize? Eh... just not worth it:
We evaluated some of the new methods offline but the additional accuracy gains that we measured did not seem to justify the engineering effort needed to bring them into a production environment.
It wasn't just that the improvement was marginal, but that Netflix's business had shifted and the way customers used its product, and the kinds of recommendations the company had done, had shifted too. Suddenly, the prize winning solution just wasn't that useful -- in part because many people were streaming videos rather than renting DVDs -- and it turns out that the recommendation for streaming videos is different than for rental viewing a few days later.
One of the reasons our focus in the recommendation algorithms has changed is because Netflix as a whole has changed dramatically in the last few years. Netflix launched an instant streaming service in 2007, one year after the Netflix Prize began. Streaming has not only changed the way our members interact with the service, but also the type of data available to use in our algorithms. For DVDs our goal is to help people fill their queue with titles to receive in the mail over the coming days and weeks; selection is distant in time from viewing, people select carefully because exchanging a DVD for another takes more than a day, and we get no feedback during viewing. For streaming members are looking for something great to watch right now; they can sample a few videos before settling on one, they can consume several in one session, and we can observe viewing statistics such as whether a video was watched fully or only partially.
The viewing data obviously makes a huge difference, but I also find it interesting that there's a clear distinction in the kinds of recommendations people that work if people are going to "watch now" vs. "watch in the future." I think this is an issue that Netflix probably has faced on the DVD side for years: when people rent a movie that won't arrive for a few days, they're making a bet on what they want at some future point. And, people tend to have a more... optimistic viewpoint of their future selves. That is, they may be willing to rent, say, an "artsy" movie that won't show up for a few days, feeling that they'll be in the mood to watch it a few days (weeks?) in the future, knowing they're not in the mood immediately. But when the choice is immediate, they deal with their present selves, and that choice can be quite different. It would be great if Netflix revealed a bit more about those differences, but it is already interesting to see that the shift from delayed gratification to instant gratification clearly makes a difference in the kinds of recommendations that work for people.
Through BoingBoing we learn of an interesting contest organized by the Modern Poland Foundation, offering a crowdfunded cash prize for the best proposal to modernize copyright law:
How should a good copyright system look like? Obviously, the one our civilization uses now doesn't fit the reality of today. Outdated, over-extended and unenforceable it leads to ridiculous court cases against random people and clearly fails to meet the needs of the digital world. Without good alternatives, the only solution some can imagine is to take what doesn't work and get more of it, hoping that this will do the trick. It won't.
In order to form the future of copyright system we need to step up and craft a model that will fit the digital reality, shaped by technology of today and tomorrow. There are some initial proposals, most notably Barcelona Charter or Washington Declaration, but we believe there's room for improvement and we want to give it a try. We invite you all to take part in the global project of crafting the Future of Copyright!
There are a number of things that make this contest interesting. Firstly, the judges: one is professor Michael Geist, a vocal copyright critic who comes up a lot here at Techdirt, and the other is Piotr Czerski, who wrote the phenomenal "We, The Web Kids" manifesto that has been making waves online. Secondly, they are accepting submissions in any medium and any genre, meaning we may get to see some cool copyright fiction coming out of this contest. Finally, the whole thing is crowdfunded: they are raising the prize money on IndieGoGo (which uses a similar model to Kickstarter), starting with a modest goal of $500 that they have already surpassed.
One thing is out of place, and that's the requirement that all submissions be licensed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license. I'm surprised they added such a specific restriction, because it biases the entire contest, essentially endorsing Creative Commons as the future of copyright despite supposedly asking for varied opinions on the topic. It also implicitly endorses attribution and some sort of "share-alike" clause, even though there are many viable copyright philosophies that require neither of those things. Why can't people dedicate their entries to the public domain with a Public Domain Mark or a CC0 license, or retain their rights but make the submission freely available? Imposing a specific license on the entries runs counter to the idea of seeking a wide variety of proposals.
Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing the ideas this contest elicits, including those of any Techdirt readers who participate (and I suspect some of you might). If you want to enter, you have until April 15th.
As you may recall, over the last couple months we ran two separate contests, in which we are giving away $11,000 in $1,000 chunks. Today we're announcing all the winners. The first was our PSA contest, where we asked people to create short PSA videos about the impact of technology on creativity. For that one, congrats to Joshua Rodriguez, who made an entertaining video that actually lays out both the "pro" and "con" arguments for how infringement is impacting creativity:
Nicely done -- even if I don't personally agree with all of the arguments, that was kinda the point of the contest. Unlike NBC Universal's similar contest (which was officially put on by New York City), we didn't want to give people a preset talking point. We wanted people to be creative on their own, and Joshua did a great job.
The second contest was for submitting case studies on our new Step2 platform for helping people create "success models." Somewhat surprisingly, we didn't even get submissions in every category, so we're giving $1,000 each to the overall 10 best case studies that got submitted -- per user voting. Here's the list in order of user votes:
Married Man Sex Life: The Marketing Plan: Author Athol Kay discusses the marketing strategy for his book, and then goes on in the comments to give us play by play updates as he experiments and tries different pricing strategies.
There has been plenty of concern recently about companies sneaking their own marketing material or one-sided corporate propaganda into schools. And while some may differ on how big a problem this is, I think most people would agree that a local government shouldn't be aiding the process -- especially without revealing the corporate sponsor. And yet, that appears to be exactly what New York City is doing. And, to make it even more ridiculous, they're doing so by putting forth a corporate-sponsored contest about the importance of copyright... and hiding in the fine print that by entering the contest, you may be giving up your own copyrights.
You may recall that, last year, New York City began running a dreadfully misleading (and at points downright false) ad campaign to try to "stop piracy in NYC." At the time, we suspected that the campaign was really put together by NBC Universal, and the city did nothing at all to check the veracity of the claims used in the PSA. It later took a freedom of information request to the city to reveal that, indeed, the StopPiracyInNYC video campaign was actually "owned" by NBC Universal.
We were troubled to learn that the Federal Government, in the form of Homeland Security's ICE division, had also started using the same videos, never once mentioning that they were NBC Universal's videos. That's troubling enough, but it's even worse to find out that New York City has ratcheted up the campaign, still using the same NBC Universal video with false claims in it, and going into city high schools and colleges, asking students to create their own bogus propaganda video that repeats NBC Universal and the MPAA's debunked talking points.
In fact, the contest rules (in the smallest print possible) make it clear that if you produce a video that provides actual facts about how piracy has not harmed the industry -- but a failure to adapt has -- then your video won't be considered. Every entry will be given a series of points, and the single biggest point category is if the video "clearly advocates against digital piracy and content theft." So if you make a video that advocates that NBC Universal and the other major studios stop whining and start embracing new business models, well, too bad. You're out of luck. This isn't about truth. This is about corporate propaganda in NYC schools, sponsored by the city.
If you dig into the actual "rules" (pdf) for the contest (which are quite buried on the site, but are embedded below), you discover some interesting tidbits. While nowhere on the contest website does NYC admit that NBC Universal is the real sponsor behind this campaign, you do find that information buried in the rules. The rules make it clear that this is a joint project of NYC and NBCUniversal, along with some design agencies.
And, um, must we point out the seeming irony that this video contest is supposed to be about promoting the importance of the protection of copyright... but in order to enter, you agree to completely give up your ability to assert your own copyright?
All Submissions become the property of the Sponsor and will
not be acknowledged or returned.... BY MAKING A SUBMISSION, ENTRANT ACKNOWLEDGES THAT HIS/HER SUBMISSION MAY BE
POSTED ON SPONSOR’S WEB SITE, AT SPONSOR’S DISCRETION. Making a Submission grants
Sponsor and its agents the right to publish, use, adapt, edit and/or modify such Submission in any way, in
any and all media, without limitation, and without consideration to the entrant.
Oh, but that's not the best part. You see, if you win, you have to agree to turn over the copyright, and admit that this video is a "work made for hire" under copyright law, so you can't ever use termination rights to get it back:
By accepting a prize Winner (and Winner’s parent or legal guardian if Winner is an eligible
minor) agrees that his/her Submission will be deemed a Work Made For Hire under the Copyright laws of
the United States, but if it cannot be so deemed, then Winner irrevocably assigns and transfers to Sponsor
all of his/her right, title and interest in and to his/her Submission, including all but not limited to all copyright
and trademark rights which he or she may have, in the United States and worldwide, therein, for
consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged. Winner hereby waives in favor
of Sponsor, all rights of “Droit Moral” or “Moral Rights of Authors” or any similar rights or principles of law
that winner may now or later have to his/her Submission. Sponsor reserves the right to alter, change or
modify Winner’s Submission, in its sole discretion. Upon request of Sponsor, Winner (and Winner’s parent
or legal guardian if Winner is an eligible minor) shall execute and deliver such additional instrument of
assignment (“Assignment”), as may be solely deemed by Sponsor, reasonably necessary to establish the
ownership of record of the right, title and interest in and to the Submission and of the copyrights transferred
and “Moral Rights of Authors” waived under these Official Rules. Should Sponsor fail to request Assignment
as stated, that shall not be deemed a waiver of Sponsor’s rights and Sponsor may at a later time request
In other words, the real message of this "contest" is that you should create a video about respecting copyrights... and if you do so, we'll trample all over your copyrights.
Anyway. The grand prize for this is a mere $500. We must be able to do better than that as a community. If anyone is interested in contributing to a fund to create a "competing" contest, hit us up over email, and we'll see if we can offer a better prize for a more truthful contest...
Solving really tough problems is a more collaborative process than it used to be. Luckily, it's getting easier for a wide variety of people to come together and work on these difficult challenges. Here are a few prizes looking for creative people to produce some really cool solutions.