As you no doubt have heard by now, and as we already tangentially discussed earlier, there has been yet another mass shooting in America. This time, it came to Oregon, where a single gunmen made his way into a community college and managed to murder nine innocent people, injure others, before his own life was extinguished, either by his own hand or by those of law enforcement. And, as we wake up the next morning, anyone with any interest in civil society and culture grapples with the story. President Obama remarked that these stories have become routine, seeming to suggest that everyone has become numb to these events, accepting them as part of the American life. He's wrong about that. Desperately and importantly wrong. Instead, the truth is that the public is the opposite of numb. The public is angry. Unfortunately, because of the way that a fragmented and ideologically aligned media landscape has emerged in the past two decades or so, we all end up angry about different things, with our outrage stoked and guided in avenues that put us at odds with those that have had their outrage stoked and guided in entirely different avenues.
Predicting these avenues is trivially easy. A cursory glance at the story of a mass shooting and the media reaction to it provides everything required to act as a Nostradamus for the outrage outlets we will see. Over the next few days, we'll hear stories about the gunmen being from a broken family, with traditional family breakdown serving as a punching bag for remorse. Some outlets will discuss the shooter's video game hobby. Or his interest in horror movies and novels. Some outlets will focus on his access to guns, while others will focus on his reported targeting of Christians and religion. Still others will scream "false flag!", sadly undermining the very real lives lost and lives shattered through injury and terror. Too many of us, a majority of us, will ingest the news of the shooting in the medium and outlets of our choice, chosen specifically because that medium and outlet feeds us the meal we want the way we want it. Cable news started this, of course, planting flags of partisanship in a realm once at least thought to be dominated by facts. Spin-masters will work their magic, taking dead bodies and boldly morphing them into causes and outrage. Meanwhile, the shooter gets exactly what these shooters want: fame. Rather than employing the seriously genius "some asshole initiative" by refusing to name these shooters or focus on them in any way, we'll do the opposite and turn on the spotlights. We will be distracted.
Put another way: we will retreat. Retreat away from the horror of death and into the comforting arms of the outrage that lets us feel like it all means something else to us. Here's what you'll see. A discussion about guns will arise before quickly falling away and nothing will happen. A conversation about 4chan, and other internet sites, and whether or not more needs to be done to police the internet looking for potential killers will be sparked, but nothing will happen. Some will lament the decline and/or targeting of religion in America, wondering aloud, stupidly, if too much religion or not enough of it is responsible for the killings, but nothing will happen. Violent media, be it games, movies, or novels will be trotted out as sacrificial lambs for our anger, but nothing will happen. From the fringe will be another crowd, bleating that none of this actually happened and that it's all fake news and actors playing out a game of gun-snatching that never seems to actually materialize, because nothing ever happens.
Why? Because we retreat to fragmented media and mediums that focus our outrage onto the target of our choice. Facts matter little if at all, as one can tell by the speed with which reports and reporters begin funneling our outrage. This is a problem, one started by mass media and continued, unfortunately, on the internet. There's nothing wrong with choice, of course, when it comes to us choosing our media outlets. The problem as I see it is when the choices become fragmented by political or ideological lines. The fact that we can name a media outlet and guess with an unfortunate amount of accuracy exactly what spin will be put on the reporting of a mass shooting is a problem. The answer to that problem is, as usual, the dropping of ideology, of political dogma, of the retreat. So, as you read the news about this reporting in the coming weeks, notice the rush to find factors of blame and reject them.
The news is that this was a tragedy. The sad news isn't just that we're not going to do anything about it, but rather that we're not going to do anything about it even though we all have a cause in it.
As I was poking around the interwebz yesterday morning, I came across an interesting project one fan of Mad Max: Fury Road had made. To preface this, if you haven't seen the movie, shame on you and all of your ancestors. It's two hours of mind-blowing nonsense wrapped up in an action film that appears to be attempting to be the definitive action film moving forward. That said, director George Miller has also made some comments about how he would have preferred to have the film edited in black and white, with limited to no dialogue and the musical score taking center stage.
Well, one fan went ahead and worked to produce Miller's vision. The resulting movie was strikingly different and resulted in a very different experience compared with watching the movie. If nothing else, it was a wonderful example of the power of dialogue, editing, musical scores, color and sound. The person responsible for the edited film put it this way.
George Miller has said that the best version of his film is in black and white, with no dialogue. BLACK & CHROME is an attempt to realize Miller’s alternate vision. The cinematography, the editing, the sound design, and the score, are now represented in a completely new experience.
I do not own the rights to this video. All rights belong to its rightful owner/owners. No copyright infringement intended. This is merely an exercise and study of the art of filmmaking.
But before you go rushing to check out this awesomeness for yourself by clicking the link above, you should know that this is what will greet you.
Yes, in an outcome that I predicted immediately after I shared the fan project with the rest of my Techdirt compadres, it appears the video has been taken down over copyright issues. And that's dumb on a variety of different levels. First, the takedown itself wasn't necessary. Nothing about Black and Chrome competed with Fury Road. The entire point of the fan project was to show just how different small changes could make the overall experience. Those experiences were unique enough to be non-overlapping from the film viewer's perspective. This is just a control power move by whoever made it.
But I'm not entirely certain fair use shouldn't come into play, as well. As a matter of art, the project is undeniably transformative. Certainly there is little effect on the original work to consider, save perhaps for an increased likelihood that others will want to see the original after seeing the fan-edit. That said, a significant amount of the original work is used to make the derivative, so I'm not sure it goes far enough for fair use. Regardless, the creator of the fan-edit appears to be taking the takedown well.
Thank you for liking, sharing, and watching BLACK & CHROME. This is it for now. Your response has truly shown what the joy of movies is about. Hopefully, the right person(s) will have WITNESSED this and we can look forward to an official version of Mad Max: Fury Road in black and white. The film has lived, and has died, but can it live again?
It's just too bad the film wasn't allowed to become a fun bit of experience for Mad Max fans everywhere.
Last week, we wrote about how the famous hacker magazine 2600 received a copyright threat letter concerning the cover of its Spring 2012 issue (which, we noted, meant that the three-year statute of limitations had passed for a copyright claim anyway). But this was even worse, because the "claim" was over some ink splotches that were in the background of an image that the threat letter claimed copyright over, and which 2600 used a tiny bit of on its cover. Except... that the splotches themselves were actually from a Finnish artist going by the name Loadus, and licensed freely for either commercial or non-commercial use.
The orange is the magazine cover. The purple is the image the copyright threat letter was about and the green is the actual painting that is freely licensed.
There was some confusion over who sent the threat letter, as it officially came from a company called Trunk Archive, but was sent by a company called License Compliance Services (which appears to be a copyright-troll-for-hire business), but also used an entity called Picscout which is owned by notorious copyright troll Getty Images. Either way, after 2600 pointed out how ridiculous this was, License Compliance Services sent a ridiculous email saying the matter had been closed:
Subject: Case #373018082 , Ref #4440-1159-6664
Hello, I just wanted to take a moment to inform you that after further review this matter has been closed.
License Compliance Services
605 Fifth Avenue South, Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98104
For what it's worth, that address is also the address of Getty Images, so it appears that LCS may be a part of Getty Images after all.
Either way, 2600 points out that this response is fairly ridiculous, given that the company just tried to shake 2600 down for a large sum of money based on a totally bullshit claim. And from there, 2600 goes off on a nice and wonderful rant about the stupidity of copyright maximalism, and the belief that everything must be licensed and paid for. It's wonderful and you should read it:
We're talking about the attempts to license everything under the sun, using high technology to match the tiniest of images, and crushing the very concept of fair use. Art has always been derivative and transformative - our cover at the center of all this is a great example of such a work (just not with any of Trunk Archive's material). But by making people look over their shoulders whenever they try to create something unique using elements of existing works, a chilling effect is created that will result in less works being created. This is also bad for the original artist, who is robbed of the opportunity to see how their creation can be adapted and transformed into something completely different. But in the end, we are all hurt by this kind of thing. Creations such as remixes of music, mashups, new arrangements and interpretations, parody, patchworks of images, logos and pictures captured on film, snippets of code - they can all be identified and monetized. That neat little app on your phone that can identify music? Imagine that going out and automatically charging a fee for anyone who has captured a bit of that music on something they created. Every corporate logo you capture in a picture would also have to be paid for. Imagine where this technology can take us in the next few years if this unbridled greed isn't reigned in.
This has nothing to do with art as most any artist will tell you. It's about control and intimidation, using the prospect of payoffs to lure in unsuspecting contributors. With that in mind, the LCS/Trunk Archive slogan of "Creations Are Valuable" makes sense in a much more opportunistic light. That's why we need to make sure this derivation of art never catches on. Our case may be over, but this is a fight that is only just beginning.
Intellectual property is often times used to censor others or control that which should otherwise be free. Sometimes it does this for arguably valid reasons. And sometimes it does so in ways so laughably and obviously against the intention of intellectual property protections that it would make you laugh if you weren't too busy yelling in anger. This story is about an example of the latter.
Marcel Duchamp was first and foremost a French-American artist. He painted and sculpted, composed music, and constructed kinetic works of art. He was also an avid player of chess, going so far at one point as to fashion his own chess set personally from wood while in Buenos Aires. This chess set, originally thought to be lost to the world but now confirmed to be part of a privately-owned collection, survived until recently only in archival photographs of the man and his chess pieces. Until, that is, Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera used the photograph to come up with the Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set, which would allow a person to 3D-print Duchamp's chess set for themselves. Kildall and Cera then uploaded the 3D files to Thingiverse and made them available for all to download. Here is how they described the project.
Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set is a 3D-printed chess set generated from an archival photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s own custom and hand-carved game. His original physical set no longer exists. We have resurrected the lost artifact by digitally recreating it, and then making the 3D files available for anyone to print.
We were inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymade — an ordinary manufactured object that the artist selected and modified for exhibition — the readymake brings the concept of the appropriated object to the realm of the internet, exploring the web’s potential to re-frame information and data, and their reciprocal relationships to matter and ideas. Readymakes transform photographs of objects lost in time into shared 3D digital spaces to provide new forms and meanings.
Pictured: an example of the 3D modeling from the archive photo of the chess set
Cool, right? The duo's project generated some press after they uploaded it and the two were particularly thrilled to see a discussion emerge between artists and technologists about just what could be done in 3D printing material generated form archival photos. Adjacent to those discussions were conversations about the ownership of design and ideas, which, while interesting, Kildall and Cera didn't think were germane to Duchamp's chess set for any number of reasons (more on that in a moment). Regardless, the estate of Duchamp apparently caught wind of the project and promptly sent a cease and desist letter.
Unfortunately, the project also struck a nerve with the Duchamp Estate. On September 17th, 2014, we received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing the heirs of Marcel Duchamp. They were alleging intellectual property infringement on grounds that they held a copyright to the chess pieces under French law.
Except that doesn't make any sense for any number of reasons. Kildall and Cera outline why they chose Duchamp's chess set for the project and, to my reading, they appear to be correct on every count.
1) Duchamp’s chess pieces were created in 1917-1918. According to US copyright law, works published before 1923 are in the realm of “expired copyright”.
2) The chess pieces themselves were created in 1917-1918 while Duchamp was in Argentina. He then brought the pieces back to France where he worked to market them.
3) According to French copyright law, copyrighted works are protected for 70 years after the author’s death.
4) Under French copyright law, you can be sued for damages and even serve jail time for copyright infringement.
5) The only known copy of the chess set is in a private collection. We were originally led to believe the set was ‘lost’ – as it hasn’t been seen, publicly, for decades.
6) For the Estate to pursue us legally, the most common method would be to get a judgment in French court, then get a judgment in a United States court to enforce the judgement.
7) Legal jurisdiction is uncertain. As United States citizens, we are protected by U.S. copyright law. But, since websites like Thingiverse are global, French copyright could apply.
Except that, all that being said, this isn't a work of art we're talking about. Duchamp created his chess set so that he could play chess. It wasn't something he sought to reproduce for sale. He played chess. This would be akin to me drawing a four-square board on the sidewalk in chalk and then claiming I have copyright over it. That's insane. If copyright is built to encourage expression, how does having the one chess set Duchamp ever created locked away in a private collection deserve copyright protection? There's no further expression to encourage. And, indeed, under American copyright law, the clock has run out on the protection anyway. The fact that the Duchamp estate would try to apply French copyright law to this case, where the creation happened in Argentina and when Duchamp himself became a naturalized American citizen, is crazy-pants.
The duo's solution was to lay down their king and take the files down. Well, that was step one in their solution, at least.
We thought about how to recoup the intent of this project without what we think will be a copyright infringement claim from the Duchamp Estate and realized one important aspect of the project, which would likely guarantee it as commentary is one of parody.
Accordingly, we have created Chess with Mustaches, which is based on our original design, however, adds mustaches to each piece. The pieces no longer looks like Duchamp’s originals, but instead improves upon the original set with each piece adorned with mustaches.
If you're not fully aware of Duchamp's artwork, this solution is especially clever because the Duchamp estate would have a difficult time arguing that this is inappropriate, given Duchamp's own artwork. So, it's funny, but that never should have been necessary in the first place. The Duchamp estate's use of copyright to disappear recreative files for a chess set once constructed is a bastardization of copyright's intent.
Update: Quick update on the story below, again alerted by Mitch Stoltz, a copy of the actual text of the law has been released and it does appear to more closely track with the safe harbor protections for ISPs. That is, the claims made by the copyright bureaucrat above that it's about making ISPs liable was misleading... The rest of the post stands however.
Via Mitch Stoltz, we learn of a new proposed copyright law in Kenya that not only would be a disaster for the internet in that country, but where the people pushing it don't even seem to understand what they're talking about. The key element: forcing ISPs to be copyright cops and putting liability on them if they somehow fail to magically stop piracy:
The Government is now turning it’s sights on ISPs in a move to curb piracy, which erodes revenues for the country’s film industry.
“We are proposing to introduce an amendment in the Copyright Act that will place the onus of responsibility for Kenyan content illegally downloaded, squarely on local internet service providers,” said Head of the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) Edward Sigei.
Bizarrely, Sigei argues that he's just copying the DMCA in the US:
“We are borrowing from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of America and others that have come after it and we have designed an amendment where the ISP will be liable under certain circumstances for infringements that happen through their channels.”
Except, that's the exact opposite approach of the DMCA, whose safe harborsprotect ISPs from liability, by noting that the responsibility should be on the actual people infringing, rather than the service providers in the middle. It's this safe harbor protection that allows the internet to function as it does, encouraging platforms for communication, sharing and content creation and hosting. Making ISPs liable puts tremendous liability on those ISPs, meaning they're much less likely to offer such services at all.
Is Kenya really looking to shut down useful internet services in that country?
Even more bizarre is that Kenya claims it's doing this in order to catch up with countries like Nigeria, whose movies have become huge throughout Africa:
This is part of a push to have Kenyan local content earn a larger foothold on Kenya’s airwaves currently dominated by Nigerian and Latin American programming.
Except, if you actually look at why the Nigeraian film business became so successful, it was actually because of a lack of copyright enforcement that helped create informal distribution and promotional channels across Africa. As the Economist explained years ago:
The merchants curse the pirates, but in a way they are a blessing. Pirate gangs were probably Nollywood's first exporters. They knew how to cross tricky borders and distribute goods across a disparate continent where vast tracts of land are inaccessible. Sometimes they filled empty bags with films when returning from an arms delivery. Often they used films to bribe bored guards at remote borders. The pirates created the pan-African market Mr Akudinobi now feeds.
A detailed academic research paper a few years later made it clear that it was piracy, not regulations that helped establish Nigerian film as a dominant player across Africa and further noted that this lack of copyright enforcement actually massively helped the economy.
Notably, although many countries have sought to incentivize particular types of film production through direct government funding, subsidies, or film protection schemes involving film quotas, many of these industries have not been commercially viable in the absence of subsidies or other support schemes. In contrast, Nollywood has created significant volume of local video film content with virtually no government involvement or subsidies. The success of Nollywood may in many respects be attributable to a lack of government involvement and its decentralized nature, which has permitted Nollywood participants to be highly entrepreneurial, adaptive and innovative. Nollywood now may employ as many as 200,000 people directly, with estimates of indirect employment as high as 1 million. The market-driven Nollywood approach is less costly than existing models of film production and distribution and may offer a new model for developing countries that wish to develop domestic film industries.
And yet, Kenya insists that it's trying to copy Nigeria, but it's doing the exact opposite? And it's going to do so by "copying" the DMCA, by apparently doing the exact opposite of the DMCA? It really makes you wonder what officials in Kenya are actually thinking in pushing this forward. Given the nature of the proposal, it looks much more like the wishes of foreign film interests, such as those from Hollywood, looking for yet another beachhead from which to push bogus rules to make ISPs copyright cops, rather than fixing their own business models.
As broadcaster licensing squeezes Netflix ever tighter, you've probably noticed that the streaming company continues to lose higher-end, popular television and film content at an annoying rate. The latest such shift occurred when Netflix last week refused to extend its licensing agreement with Epix, resulting in Netflix customers losing access to mainstream films like Hunger Games: Catching Fire, World War Z and The Wolf of Wall Street. Epix then proceeded to strike a deal with both Hulu and Amazon, who'll now be carrying those titles instead.
Such deals are at the heart of Netflix's permission culture dilemma, where the company is at the whims of broadcast licensing, often tied to a cable industry (Comcast/NBC) that intends to directly harm Netflix. These copyright gardens, built under the illusion of control, increasingly fracture content availability, confusing customers as they try to find a service that has most of the content they're looking for. Unfortunately, in many instances these customers then wind up finding that piracy is easier than decoding and running this availability gauntlet, where shows appear and disappear daily as deals are struck or cancelled.
And while Netflix's catalog of mainstream, high-end fare may be looking relatively skimpy these days, the company penned a blog post informing customers they really shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about that. Why? Because Netflix is busy working on creating an additional array of original content that may or may not be any good:
"We hear from our members that you wish we had newer movies. So do we. Studio licensing practices means it often takes more than a year before consumers can watch a theatrically released movie when and how they want. Just like we’ve changed the game for TV watchers by releasing entire seasons around the world at the same time, we have begun making movies that will premiere on Netflix globally and in some cases, simultaneously in theaters. It will take us time to build a robust slate of original movies, but we’re hard at work on it with such great stars and directors as Brad Pitt, Ricky Gervais, Judd Apatow, Angelina Jolie, Sofia Coppola and Adam Sandler."
And yes, while some Netflix content (House of Cards, Bloodlines and hopefully soon one of my favorites, Black Mirror) is great, it's not entirely clear that more Adam Sandler movies are the answer for users frustrated at the growing lack of popular options in Netflix's B-grade heavy content catalog. And while licensing does certainly hamstring Netflix, in this instance both Hulu and Amazon didn't find Epix's asking price too severe, meaning that Netflix made a judgement call and decided this content was content that its customers can live without.
At the moment, Netflix is focused on international expansion (200 countries by year's end), disrupting stale movie release windows, and original content. That's respectable, and it's likely the right path toward independence long-term from the noose of tightening broadcaster copyright. But at the same time Netflix's core catalog and satisfied customer base still relies on a certain threshold of quality content. As such, Netflix has to walk a fine line between giving consumers what they want, and trying to navigate the permissions culture tightrope dictated by broadcasters.
Netflix also has to walk the minefield of explaining all of this to consumers who just want the latest and greatest content and options and don't care about the details. For example, Amazon recently announced it would be letting users download content for streaming at a later date (albeit via Amazon's heavily DRM'd system). That's an appealing solution for usage-capped customers, but Netflix last week stated it wouldn't be following suit, claiming that offline downloads would prove too confusing for customers:
"I think it’s something that lots of people ask for. We’ll see if it’s something lots of people will use. Undoubtedly it adds considerable complexity to your life with Amazon Prime – you have to remember that you want to download this thing. It’s not going to be instant, you have to have the right storage on your device, you have to manage it, and I’m just not sure people are actually that compelled to do that, and that it’s worth providing that level of complexity.”
Of course that's crap: letting people store a local copy of a film isn't remotely complex. What's complex is explaining to consumers why such functionality would likely cost Netflix significantly more in copyright licensing fees and layers of mandated DRM deployment. As we've noted previously, Netflix is still transitioning from a DVD rental business governed by the first sale doctrine, to a streaming business governed by the permission winds of countless fickle media empires. Communicating the costs of that transition to consumers clearly and honestly certainly isn't easy, but much like its Qwickster snafu of a few years back, it's entirely possible that Netflix could be pushing too far, too fast.
Content Creator of the Month is a new project from the Copia Institute that we'll also be highlighting here. Each month, we'll profile a new content creator who is doing interesting and compelling things, often using the internet in innovative and powerful ways. Here is the very first installment...
A few weeks ago, a couple of friends friends were tweeting about an incredible new YouTube video in which some people created a "real life first-person shooter" and hooked it up to Chatroulette, Skype and Omegle. Random people on the services were transported into this game, which they controlled with their voice. If you haven't watched it, find ten minutes to check it out (or just 5 if you speed up YouTube to 2x speed). It is incredibly detailed, and awesome beyond words:
My first reaction was to marvel at how much effort must have gone into setting all of this up. I had initially assumed the "game" couldn't go very far beyond the tiny room where it started — but it goes much, much further. My second thought was about how hard it must have been to coordinate all the sounds, effects and movements (even while recognizing that the final version is cut together from the takes that "worked"). Thankfully, the people behind it — Realm Pictures — also put together a behind the scenes video that reveals the inner workings (and doesn't make the original any less magical):
I started looking into the team, and realized I actually knew a bit about them, as this is hardly the first time that Realm Pictures has done cool stuff online. Years back, while based out of their home in Devon in the UK, these guys filmed their very own zombie flick called Zomblies, which they posted for free on YouTube. For a bunch of "amateurs" (at the time), the production value is amazing -- they even got someone to donate time in a helicopter, allowing them to film aerial shots. But there's another important piece of the story: while they were making the film, Realm Pictures was also using the internet to build up a community of people who were interested in the process, with their daily blog about the work acquiring a big following.
David Reynolds, the founder and creative director of Realm Pictures (and the voice in the first person shooter above), told me that "building a community has always been instrumental to both our process and our success with projects thus far." The community has followed them from project to project, such as the team's next giant undertaking The Underwater Realm, a series of five short films with large segments taking place underwater — an incredible challenge for any filmmaker, let alone relatively inexperienced independents. The team originally tried to use wires and a green screen, but realized it just wasn't realistic enough. Eventually someone donated a special casing for a camera, allowing them to actually film underwater (mostly in a local public swimming pool). Here's the first of those films (and they also have a behind the scenes video):
In order to make that movie, they also embraced another useful online tool, Kickstarter, to cover some of the production costs, eventually raising over $100,000 (they had sought $60,000). While Reynolds is supportive of crowdfunding, he does worry that it may be peaking, and that "the bubble is beginning to burst, as now it seems that everybody and his dog has a Kickstarter campaign."
One of the things that struck me personally about Realm Pictures is their ability to create visually amazing narrative film projects on relatively small budgets. For many years we've been debating the question of "the $200 million movie," in which traditional Hollywood studios keep asking how they can continue to make movies that require such huge budgets if people are unwilling to pay to watch them. And yet, as we've seen over and over again, technology and basic creativity are enabling the creation of incredible movies for a lot less. Much of Realm Pictures' work shows how that's possible. Still, Reynolds has talked in the past (notably in an interview with Kevin Smith) about being interested in doing a much bigger, Hollywood studio-funded version of Underwater Realm, which he estimates will cost somewhere in that $200 million range. So far, studios haven't been willing to pony up — but Reynolds insists there are lots of fun projects the company will be working on, even as they hope they'll one day be able to create that underwater epic.
Throughout these projects there's a strong thread: building a community and bringing it along for the ride. Reynolds tells me this is very important to how they've been able to succeed and, at the same time, give back to those who have supported them:
It is a practice we hope will always continue through our career, and at the same time give back to the community which has supported us by giving back in the form of a transparent insight into our work and things like the free tutorials we have released on our YouTube channel.
Reynolds points out that, in the end, none of this matters if the content isn't great, and that's always been the key: create great content for your community. Without that, the community won't last either. This is the combination that we've seen work for so many successful creators today. Creating great content is always at the core, and building up a loyal community around it helps spread that content and open new doors.
In terms of this latest video, which went viral super fast (I first saw it when it had about 3,000 views, but now it has over 7 million), Reynolds says it was just a fun project that they did in a weekend, with "one practice run, with a member of our team on a Skype call... to check that the system was working, and then straight into finding strangers on the internet." They ended up doing about 50 runs, with the few players who completed the whole "level" taking about 20 minutes. This is one of the first really "interactive" film experiences I've seen where the interactivity fits right in and doesn't feel forced (though of course now everyone is just watching instead of playing — but watching how others interact still feels kind of interactive). Reynolds points out that they're really just taking what makes video games so engaging, and moving it to video.
Oh, and Reynolds also notes that they're now working on level two of the game, so stay tuned (and maybe start using Chatroulette, if you want to play!)
You can read below for my whole interview with Dave Reynolds of Realm Pictures, our very first Content Creator of the Month.
One of the most hilarious claims that we hear from internet trolls and the like concerning copyright and infringement is something along the lines of "but, without strong copyright, there would be no music!" It's a silly argument that has been debunked so frequently that we'd thought that it had been relegated to living on only among uninformed internet commenters, rather than actual industry execs. Enter Neil Turkewitz, one of the RIAA's top execs, who has been with the organization since 1987, and apparently still has the "Home Taping is Killing Music" phrase permanently imprinted on his brain, no matter how laughably false it is.
Turkewitz submitted a paper to the UN last year when it was investigating cultural rights, and that piece has now been republished by IP-Watch. It's a fairly astounding piece of ridiculousness that argues that there's no more cultural output in Africa or the Middle East... because they just don't have strong enough copyright laws.
It starts off with one of those classic lines about how, without copyright, no one makes music any more:
This has been the unfortunate reality in many developing countries where the lack of effective protection has eroded the willingness of private capital to fund production of original cultural works, contributing to economic stagnation and a dearth of cultural diversity. Simply put, when a society fails to reward its own creators, such creators will cease to exist, and “access” will be limited to foreign cultural materials.
Hmm. Except that's not what we've actually seen around the globe. In fact, with the rise of the internet and computers and the easy creation of works, people are finding that it's much easier (and cheaper) to create works and to get distribution. Pull up YouTube or log into Spotify and go searching for music from basically any country and see what you find. And compare that to what those of us who grew up in the era of the "record store" had to do to find world music (which was always all lumped together in a single tiny section in the back).
And, from there, he argues that the Middle East and Africa in particular are now silent. Because they just don't have strong enough copyright laws.
In many developing countries, the marketplace has been so dominated by piracy that there is no viable mechanism for private capital to be employed in facilitating the creation and distribution of creative works. In such instances-i.e. where copyright protection is not effectively introduced and maintained in law and in practice, the creative community is silenced. Communities throughout the globe-particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa, bear silent witness to the devastating impact that lack of effective copyright protection has on the ability to create. Where there is no financial incentive for the creation and distribution of cultural materials, the distribution of local cultural materials ceases, much to the detriment of society, as well as to the putative creators who are foreclosed from adding their voices to the cultural mix.
Apparently, it does not occur to Turkewitz that there might be other factors that are impacting the markets for music in parts of those areas -- such as civil war, civil unrest, religious beliefs, turmoil, astounding levels of poverty and much, much more. But the idea that people in those regions are just sitting around not making music because of too weak copyright laws is simply laughable.
Besides, it's also not true. It wasn't that long ago that the NY Times was writing about the so-called "African Invasion" of African music coming to the US. Hell, it was just a few days ago that Ebony magazine noted that African music is the "new pop gold rush" which includes this paragraph:
But now that’s all transforming. Africa is now! The Internet has democratized music and threatened the major label’s cash cows. Radio and TV are no longer the only barriers to entry, and the borders are wide open. Our blinders are off, and we are exposed to music from all parts of the globe via the interwebs.
One thinks that, perhaps, Turkewitz's concern may be a lot more about the "threatened the major label's cash cows" line, than the supposed and mythical lack of music in Africa.
Oh, if you're interested in some Middle Eastern Pop or African pop music, click on those links. Or do a basic Google search, which will turn up a lot more. Apparently, Turkewitz couldn't be bothered (perhaps it's that whole "entertainment industry hates Google" thing).
So, uh, Turkewitz's argument is already just wrong.
Even more bizarre, he argues that this lack of copyright means that since no one in these countries is making music any more (totally false), it means that those markets are, instead, flooded with American music. You see, it's the lack of copyright protection that's leading to American cultural hegemony in those regions, and the good hearted Neil Turkewitz -- whose job is literally to advance the interests of the copyright holders behind American cultural hegemony -- now insists that he wants stronger copyright laws around the world not to advance the interests of the big labels (oh no!), but rather because he wants to protect local African and Middle Eastern music. Because he thinks whoever's reading this is an idiot.
Make no mistake — cultural hegemony flows not from the protection of intellectual property, but from its absence. We owe the world’s creators and societies a better deal, and effective copyright protection has well served the societies which have maintained such systems. We therefore urge policy makers around the globe to reject simplistic formulations of the public interest that are grounded only in considerations of access to creative works without considering the incentives for the production of creative works. We must ensure that policy makers ask themselves “access to what?” before adopting policies that endanger their own ability to foster creativity and innovation.
Now, we absolutely agree with the central claim that Turkewitz tries to pin his article on: that those who create culture need incentives to do so. But, as we've seen, there are all sorts of ways of doing that that don't require crazy extreme copyright that hinders freedom of expression and innovation at the same time. We see it all the time where new tools like crowdfunding and micropayments are making things possible. We see how the cost of production and distribution has made it so it's just easier for people to create and distribute music no matter what.
And, Turkewitz's claim that developing countries need stronger copyright for their local music just has no support in any historical context. Take, for example, the story we had a few years ago about the rise of a new genre of music in Brazil called "technobrega," which embraced sharing the music either on the internet or via passing around CDs -- often instigated by the artists themselves. That helped technobrega become a cultural phenomenon -- and the artists make money doing live shows. And there are tremendous parallels to the rise of Jamaican music, where an entire industry was created and built off of weak copyright laws and widespread sharing of music and reusing of riddims.
The argument that without copyright, regional and cultural music doesn't get created is simply laughable. The idea that we're somehow now in an era where American music is a "cultural hegemony" as opposed to a decade or two ago is similarly laughable. Turkewitz's basic premise doesn't even pass the most basic laugh test.
From there, we get the other silly old debunked RIAA talking point that "without strong copyright, there is no way to make money." I'd really thought that the RIAA had retired this one, but apparently not:
An effective and functional copyright environment is not a panacea; it does not on its own create global parity in the marketplace of ideas. But it does give individual creators a fighting chance, and an opportunity to compete. The ability to generate revenue from one’s creativity — to earn a living as a creator — is central to a society’s ability to foster cultural production. In its absence, dreams and creative lives perish. The moral and economic aspects of this equation are inseparable. We simply must ensure that all creators, regardless of their location, are able to enjoy the fundamental human right to choose the manner in which their creations are used as reflected in international law.
First of all, this is bullshit. Most creators do not earn a living as a creator. This has always been the case. Unless the RIAA is suddenly promising a basic income guarantee to anyone who can sing a few notes, it's never going to be true either. But, some artists do earn a living -- and it's rarely because of copyright. Sure, sometimes it is, and it may frequently be one important component, but arguing that it is the only lever to pull and that without strong copyright laws creativity goes away is laughable. Lots of artists make more from other ways: live performances, merchandise, crowdfunding and more.
And then Turkewitz gets even more ridiculous:
It does not serve the aspirations of developing societies to return to a system in which the voices of the people serve the whims of the private elite, or worse, to allow governments to be the sole determining body in the matter of cultural works.
A "private elite"? Really? Such as letting a tiny group of top execs at the three major labels choose what songs will be the hit records of the year, and then pay(ola) their way through millions to make sure that those are the songs that everyone listens to? Those kinds of "whims of the private elite"? Because, you know, that's kinda been a big part of the problem with music for a while.
Yet, in the last few years, we've gotten way past that thanks to the internet -- and, for many -- thanks to file sharing.
By permitting creative genius to be fueled by market forces, we unleash the cultural power and potential of the diversity of individuals, freeing creative impulses from the tyranny of centralized controls and making creative works accessible to the public at large. While copyright may be inadequate on its own in creating fair market conditions, it remains by far the most powerful tool for fostering creativity and democratizing culture itself.
Based on what? First of all, copyright is the opposite of "market forces." It's a government granted monopoly to stop market forces from working. Copyright is what has allowed "centralized control" over the recording industry from the likes of the RIAA itself. It's hilarious that a guy who has worked at the RIAA for almost three decades is actually trying to argue that there needs to be stronger global copyright to stop "the tyranny of centralized control."
Yes, it appears the king would like to raise taxes to better help the peasants avoid the tyranny of government coercion.
Besides, we're actually seeing exactly what happens without the "tyranny" of control under the old copyright system, and the true "marketplace" thanks to the various innovations that the RIAA has fought hard to kill, from YouTube to MP3 players to streaming music and more. And it's allowing artists without major label connections to outperform the biggest names from the major labels at times. Perhaps we need less focus on the old system, and more of these new innovations that appear to be giving power back to the public to determine what they really like, rather than the power of Universal Music's payola budget.
Copyright protection, while it may sometimes serve the interests of multinational corporations, is the mechanism that permits individuals to devote their lives to the creation of original materials;
It may be one mechanism, but it is hardly the only such mechanism, and what we're finding more and more is that it is a rather poor mechanism for that -- though it has been a fantastic mechanism for helping the RIAA labels screw over artists. But I digress...
If we want to foster cultural diversity (and I assume we all do), and want to ensure that diverse content is available to be accessed (and I assume we all do), then we must be more vigilant in ensuring the effective global protection of copyright.
Again, copyright may be a tool that works for some in some cases, but this ridiculous insistence that it is the only such tool and that it is the core thing that must be protected -- at a time when it's so obvious that it also creates tremendous problems elsewhere and when many other solutions to funding artists are coming on the scene -- just makes Turkewitz look incredibly out of touch.
Ms. Shaver writes that “copyright protection inflates the price of cultural works.” But again, that is completely wrong. Copyright protection gives economic value to cultural works, and sustains creators. It doesn’t inflate price – it recognizes a property interest so that the creator can determine the conditions of subsequent use.
Of course copyright inflates the price of cultural works. That's its sole purpose. That's what monopolies do. To argue against that is ridiculous. An intellectually honest argument Turkewitz could make would admit that, yes, copyright inflates the price, but in doing so creates new incentives for the original creation of the work. Then we can debate whether or not that's true. Instead, he makes the completely ridiculous assertion that copyright doesn't inflate the price at all. Of course it does.
And, no, copyright does not "give economic value to cultural works." Turkewitz, like so many others, is confusing price and value. Something may have tremendous economic value, even if it's free. This blog is free. Yet it has economic value in generating other kinds of revenue. Turkewitz's article is free. Yet I'd imagine he thinks it has economic value in (he hopes) convincing policy makers to bow down to the RIAA's distorted view of copyright law.
While I'm sure that some will argue that this is just the RIAA spouting nonsense as usual, it's important to note that Turkewitz isn't just sending a random note to the UN with this nonsense. He's also the Vice Chairman of ITAC-15, which is the USTR's "advisory committee" for intellectual property in trade agreements. All that crap we've seen in the TPP and TTIP about intellectual property -- that's partly Turkewitz's doing. And he is either totally ignorant of what's happening in the market (unlikely) or he's willing to make completely outlandishly bogus statements in order to push the RIAA's preferred course of action, at the expense of all of the innovation and cultural development we've seen in recent years.
Since I run Techdirt, book publishers frequently push random books on me. Sometimes they just send the books. More frequently they send me announcements about books to see if I might be interested. Most go directly in the recycle bin. But one that came in just recently caught my eye -- and not because of the subject matter. Usually the books are about the tech industry or politics or something. But this was a James Bond story. I almost tossed it out immediately, assuming someone mail merged the wrong press list -- but then I realized why we were on the list. James Bond recently went into the public domain in Canada, raising some interesting questions over what that meant -- since 007 is still protected by copyright in the US and some other countries. So, now it appears that some guy named Curtis Cook has decided to write himself his own Bond book, and the press release touts the fact that it's because Bond is in the public domain in Canada.
At the end of the letter, it notes that review copies are available worldwide, but that "commercial sales [will be] limited to Canada and other countries that are "life plus 50" Berne rule signatories." In other words, don't expect to see the book in the US, unless you snag a review copy.
Of course, the book may be absolutely terrible. But it does seem interesting that this book can only be sold in certain countries -- and not in the US -- thanks to copyright law. Something seems fundamentally wrong about that -- but I guess that people who live in countries outside the US who frequently experience ridiculous geoblocks will note that this is just a physical form of the same thing, but in reverse.
In the meantime, with Bond in the public domain in Canada, it's not just new Bond books we're seeing, but other interesting projects as well -- such as a new unauthorized anthology of Bond stories called License Expired. I imagine plenty more is on the way as well. All this creativity... and none of it can touch the United States. Because of our broken copyright system.
The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we're still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They're supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place.
"The Music industry" has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century.
Even the creative process will have to change.
Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you're simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer:
Music was participative
Music was mostly a social experience
Music was more intimate
Music sounded a little bit different every time
Music belonged to everyone
I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn't consume high margin products while you create.
The KLF's Bill Drummond about Recorded Music
The KLF's Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below.
"As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion."
"Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. […] I think it's possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?""
The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium.
Most people call performed music "live music" —
some people call recorded music "dead music"
The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that's going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous.
Why is Music still static by default?
Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music?
Look at the gaming industry. It's a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a 'special ability' than it is to sell them a piece of content.
Intimacy and Immediacy
The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It's hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry's model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator.
Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly's theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators.
The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands.
One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator's wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you're working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc.
An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist's success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music's future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion.
More on Games
The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions.
Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it's the former that provide value for the latter.
Music needs a new format that's feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators' incomes.
There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let's start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry.
"The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense."
Imagine applying that to music… Some companies are already closing in on that.
Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj
Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of last.fm, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project:
"There's a thing I've been searching for and I've been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond 'you just download a piece of music and it's just always the same'."
The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you're being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie.
They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you've just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones.
I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say.
"I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really... no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear... that's why we sync it to real life."
"I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it.
As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way.
Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities - what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different - its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun - you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment."
Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player's absolute and relative position (it's called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that.
Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or 'game') was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There's nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can't die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase 'soundscape'. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music.
I asked David Kanaga, the game's sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music:
"Yes, anyone could do it. It's maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what's successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i've been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary."
Example: Biophilia, by Björk
In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Björk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa’s collection.
Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with.
Example: Don't Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim
Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an 'immersive album', which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music.
Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN
Then there's Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York's Central Park. In a way it's similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual.
Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav's aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify's new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav's platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don't just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen:
"We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav."
If you're waiting for disruption in the music industry, don't look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording.
Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music.
Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things.
Music may be static, but it doesn't have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn't be.