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.
from the erecting-public-structures;-denying-public-access dept
More potential copyright insanity from the European Union. Some positive moves have been made, but they often seem to be offset by extremely awful ideas. Photographing public structures could soon become copyright infringement. At this point, there's no unified "freedom of panorama" across European countries. Some recognize this as a right inherent to citizens. Others feel any photographic reproductions of structures in public spaces are a violation of the creators' rights. (via Boing Boing)
A more logical approach to unification was proposed first in a copyright reform report written by Pirate Party representative Julia Reda.
The [copyright reform] report had originally suggested that the current disparity in laws on freedom of panorama across Europe (see map) be harmonised by proposing a unified standard allowing images of works that are permanently located in public places.
Perhaps feeling that anyone who self-identifies as a "pirate" is likely untrustworthy, the EU Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee has rewritten this proposal, going in the opposite direction.
16. Considers that the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them
Instead of defaulting for the more logical assessment that only very limited protections can be extended to buildings and other structures fully visible to the public and erected in publicly-accessible areas, the Committee has extended "permission culture" to include objects not normally considered to be inaccessible to the public by camera/drawing/etc. because they're accessible to the public in all other respects.
Rather than allowing people to take and publish their own photographs of buildings and monuments in public places—as celebrated in the annual Wiki Loves Monuments campaign, as well as many many books with author-supplied photographs—full permissions, clearances, royalties, and/or use of authorised images would be required for videos, photographs, paintings or drawings with any potential commercial use. (Wikipedia does not accept images unless they can be re-used for any purpose.)
The status of existing books published without such clearances would become unclear; most Wikipedia images depicting public art would be lost; and it would become very much more difficult and more expensive to publish future books comprehensively illustrating architecture and public art (or even artists' sketchbooks depicting them).
You can already see the effects of the legal disparity in regards to the "right of panorama" in effect at Wikipedia. Its page for the Atomium, a structure created by André Waterkeyn for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, contains a censored image, thanks to Belgium's copyright laws.
Waterkeyn's family, aided by royalty collection agency SABAM, has pursued "unauthorized" photographs of the outdoor structure. Despite its actions, there are plenty of images of the Atomium floating around the internet. But you won't find one on its Wikipedia page. The next commercial use of depictions of this outdoor structure won't be happening until 2076, if EU's copyright laws aren't unified into something less completely ridiculous.
It's not just limited to Europe, although that's where the next battle is taking place. This same sort of copyright overreach can be witnessed in photos submitted to Wikimedia Commons which have been edited due to complaints from entities residing in countries without "freedom of panorama" protections. More requests for deletion/editing are cataloged here.
It will be about three months before the EU begins debating the proposed copyright reforms. Those living in the countries possibly affected by a "unified" ruling in favor of this clause are encouraged to contact their representatives.
If you're an EU citizen, for maximum impact please contact each of your local MEPs and ask them to communicate your concern to the MEP responsible for co-ordinating their group position on the matter—in the UK, for example, this would be Sajjad Karim (on-side?) for the Conservatives, or Mary Honeyball (wobbly?) for Labour—and ask them to ask the coordinating MEP to confirm that the group will be seeking to remove this clause as it currently stands from the report, and defend the full right to make use of photographs taken in public places, in this case the existing UK law. In this way you'll get the chance to learn what the group's detailed current position is (which you may then find you need to work to persuade your own MEP away from). The coordinating MEP will also thus be made aware of the full range of concerns being expressed to the group, and may be more likely to answer a request forwarded by a fellow MEP than a direct approach.
The federal government is sitting on 7,584 historical agricultural watercolor paintings that it should make freely available to the public today. Currently, people have access only to low-quality previews of the images; the United States Department of Agriculture, where the archive is held, should serve the public interest by making the entire collection of high quality scans free for all.
The USDA's National Agricultural Library hosts the Pomological Watercolor Collection, which contains images of different varieties of fruits and nuts, commissioned between 1886 and 1942.
The public should have access to these images, and that access should be automatic and unrestricted. Fortunately, that is technically possible: the USDA, through a grant from an environmental non-profit called The Ceres Trust, went though a multi-year digitization effort and now has high-quality scans of every image. However, members of the public can currently only view low-resolution versions online, can only request up to three high-quality scans free of charge, and must pay $10 per file beyond that.
Digitizing the images cost $288,442. Since the collection went online in 2011, members of the public have ordered just 81 images, for a total of $565. That relatively tiny amount simply cannot justify the cost to the public of keeping these images behind a paywall.
There's no question that these paintings, if made more available, could be creating value for the public. High quality images could be used in printed teaching materials, which can spur conservation efforts and spark agricultural research interests in students. They could illustrate relevant articles on Wikipedia, providing historical context from over a hundred years of agriculture. The high quality scans could be examined closely by independent researchers to turn up new information.
The collection could even expand if it is accessible enough, as the National Agricultural Library described in its own report: one researcher, on hearing about the digitization project, contributed seven contemporaneous paintings of blueberries that had been stored in his lab.
With today's growing interest in heirloom varieties and others that are no longer commonly grown, the collection is an invaluable storehouse of fruit knowledge and history.
That knowledge is better served if the public has access to the scans, and it's possible to do that today. If the cost of hosting and bandwidth is an issue, the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons would almost certainly be willing to host even the highest resolution scans.
If you've spent any time on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, you can appreciate the hazards of the digital jungle. And even if you can fend for yourself out there, what about your kids? As well as I know the jungle's safe paths, I constantly worry about my three sons as they begin to navigate social platforms.
The alternate world of our social media identities – profiles, handles, accounts, "friends" – has ruined reputations and ended careers, even lives. Adolescents and teenagers see this daily in the form of online bullying. For adults, the harassment usually comes from the anonymous vitriol spewed across the web. The question becomes then: Will it get better? Or is this simply the new normal of our increasingly all-digital world?
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of a man convicted of threatening on Facebook to kill his wife. The defendant argues that he never meant what he wrote online. The prosecution argues, in effect, that intent is not the issue. Rather, a reasonable person would have felt threatened and that should be standard for a crime committed. What would you – or did you – think if someone dropped a death threat on your profile page?
How the Court decides Elonis v. United States could lead the way toward stemming online abuse. The Justices may uphold the conviction, but as Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during oral arguments, "We've been loathe to create more exceptions to the First Amendment." It's a comment that might leave the floodgates wide open for online abuse, granting online bullies and trolls even greater latitude under the cover of the First Amendment.
No matter what the Court decides, it still would be exceedingly hard to prosecute online offenders whose abuse doesn't include physical threats. Ask any teenager or adolescent if online attacks like, "You're so ugly; you should kill yourself," hurt any less than verbal assaults. The Court's decision won't stem the online harassment of adult victims either, whose tweets, posts or pictures done in poor taste can cause serious digital backlash.
The fact is social networks have changed the way we see ourselves, just as email once changed the way we communicated. Whether it's bullying or harassment, there still exists a sense of comfortable anonymity in the digital-social world. We have our "offline" selves, who would never say such things to someone's face, and our "online" selves, who can't stop from piling on our targets. In many ways, it's no different than the violent mobs of yesteryear – people in a mob find themselves doing things they would never contemplate on their own.
But Court cases like Elonis are helping to erode this digital wall between our online and offline identities. Since its foundation, the Internet has revealed its unique place in society – a place where people are free to be whoever they want. As the classic New Yorker cartoon featuring two canines puts it, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." This freedom has found its purest expression in social network sites. Yet the nature of the Internet is changing. We hardly even talk about "being online" anymore, because we're always online through our smartphones and mobile devices.
And today, more and more of our cars are online. Our televisions are online. Even our clock radios are online. There will be a time in the not-so-distance future when most of our household appliances will be connected to the web – and not in the way we now know them: using the Internet for one application, such as navigation for cars. They will be "communicating" with other connected devices, constantly gathering data through sensors on us, the users, and on our surroundings.
As the Internet evolves, so too will the way in which we see ourselves. Social networks will no longer be confined to our screens – laptops, tablets or smartphones. They will be as seamlessly integrated into our daily lives as the Internet itself. In this digital future, it will be much harder to cyberbully and torment people online, because the anonymity of the Internet will give way as we circle back to a world of singular identity – online and off.
The chasm that once existed between our online selves and our offline selves is shrinking. Given the trends of digital devices and the ubiquity of the Internet we see today, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks will no longer be separate places where our actions live without consequence. They will be as real as our brick-and-mortar reality, where civility and restraint still govern. "Welcome to the jungle" will no longer be a dire warning, but a digital whisper.
Shawn DuBravac, Ph.D., is the chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association and the author of the forthcoming book, "Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate" (Regnery, 2015). Follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnDuBravac
Shaheed said a “widely shared concern stems from the tendency for copyright protection to be strengthened with little consideration to human rights issues.” This is illustrated by trade negotiations conducted in secrecy, and with the participation of corporate entities, she said.
She stressed the fact that one of the key points of her report is that intellectual property rights are not human rights. “This equation is false and misleading,” she said.
The last statement fires shots over the bows of "moral rights" purveyors, as well as those who view infringement as a moral issue, rather than just a legal one.
Shaheed also points out that the protections being installed around the world at the behest of incumbent industries are not necessarily reflective of creators' desires.
The right to protection of authorship remains with the human author(s) whose creative vision gave expression to the work, even when the copyright interest has been sold to a corporate publisher or distributor. We should always keep in mind that copyright regimes may under-protect authors because producers/publishers/distributors and other “subsequent right-holders” typically exercise more influence over law-making than individual creators, and may have divergent and possibly opposing interests to those of the creators.
In addition, the intellectual property standards pushed by the United States and others treat fair use, personal use copying, educational use and other similar aspects as exceptions rather than something inherent to the permissions granted to rights holders by these laws -- a balancing factor between the copyright holders' and the publics' interests.
The main challenge, I believe, is that international copyright treaties generally treat copyright protections as mandatory, while largely treating exceptions and limitations as optional. The standard for judging whether a particular exception or limitation is permissible under international copyright law is not articulated with precision. This is why one of my recommendations is to explore the possibility of establishing a core list of minimum required exceptions and limitations incorporating those currently recognized by most States, and/or an international fair use provision.
Not that any established industry reliant on these expansive protections would ever agree to such a thing. It took a whole lot of public shaming before industry heads agreed to copyright exceptions for the blind. Anything above this level of begrudging "charity" has been forced down the throats of these industries by various governments.
Shaheed suggests one solution to the imbalance of power in the copyright system: a division of rights between creators and their "representative" rights holders.
Creators often need corporate rights holders: to develop innovative ways of delivering cultural works to the public, provide capital to finance high-budget cultural productions, and free artists from many of the burdens of commercializing their work. The human right to protection of authorship requires that copyright policies be carefully designed to ensure that authors (and not only copyright holders) benefit materially. An appropriate balance is crucial, recognizing that creators are both supported and constrained by copyright rules.
She also points out that it's not only incumbent industries standing in the way of better international copyright laws, but also "incumbent" countries.
Several countries, such as Indonesia and Brazil, commented on the issue of the protection of local and indigenous communities, which is mentioned in the report, for which they said “intellectual property historically failed” to take into account the issues of indigenous peoples.
Some developing countries said the current copyright system hinders the right to development by a violation of the right to education, health and progress and many other rights related to affording a basic decent life to millions in developing countries, according to UN sources.
The reaction of the incumbents?
The US said it disagrees with the report, in particular the recommendation related to copyright norm-setting activities at experts’ discussion in other international fora. They also disagreed on the suggestion that individual creators and corporations or businesses should merit different protections.
Portugal said the current copyright framework constitutes an important tool for human development, especially for cultural and scientific advancement.
France wondered why more established countries weren't considered in the report, arguing that cutting out the major players who wield an inordinate amount of power somehow resulted in an "unbalanced outcome."
The UN will take this report under consideration, along with a second report due later this year from Shaheed dealing with the patent system. Unfortunately, this somewhat scathing look at the present copyright system will do little to derail secretive international trade agreements that foist intellectual property "protections" foisted on smaller, less powerful countries.
We have already written about the ridiculousness of a jury awarding over $7 million from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to the children of Marvin Gaye, because their song "Blurred Lines" sounds kinda (but not really) a bit like Gaye's "Got to Give it Up." The ruling is problematic on multiple levels, as many commentators are just now realizing. Copyright lawyer Fred von Lohmann pointed out that, technically, everyone who bought copies of "Blurred Lines" is now infringing as well -- and that could apply to many others too, including Weird Al who famously did a hilarious parody of "Blurred Lines" called "Word Crimes." Weird Al, somewhat famously, makes sure to get permission to do his parodies, even though he could probably just use fair use. But... if "Blurred Lines" is infringing, there's no fair use argument to be made and Weird Al doesn't have permission from the Gaye Estate.
In other words: what a massive mess.
But that's just getting down into the technicalities, which may not matter if the Gaye Estate doesn't push the issue -- but could certainly come up in future cases. Plenty of other folks have pointed out that no matter what you think of any of the parties involved, this ruling is bad for music, bad for musicians and bad for songwriters. And, yes, musicians are concerned:
Los Angeles composer and producer Gregory Butler said Tuesday afternoon that his friends and colleagues in the industry were stunned by the verdict.
"You've made it illegal to reference previous material," said Butler, also a managing director at music startup WholeWorldBand. "I'm never going to come up with something so radically different that it doesn't contain references to something else."
Joe Escalante, an early member of the Vandals punk rock band and an entertainment law attorney, said he was concerned that the jury's decision had been driven by emotion rather than what's protected under copyright law.
"This may put a smile on the Gaye family's face, but it's a dark day for creativity, and in the end, this will be a net loss for music fans," he said. "Good news for lawyers and the bitter everywhere."
And that just hints at how it's bad for culture as well.
"Culture" itself is based on the very idea of common ideas that are shared. Common ideas are the core of every cultural movement. You share a "feel" because you want to identify yourself with a particular culture. Music in a genre has similarities for a reason. People identify with it for a reason. Locking up "the feel" of music decimates that nature of culture. We lose the "shared" part of "shared culture." And you would think that those who are often at the forefront of pushing the shared culture on everyone -- the major record labels -- would recognize this. And yet, they're partly responsible for this mess. Because they're the ones who have been pushing this myth for years that every single scrap of cultural output must be "owned" and doing anything they don't like to build off of it must be "infringing."
To be fair, this case is going to be appealed, and others have made perfectly reasonable arguments for how it's somewhat unique, in part based on the fact that Robin Thicke was an incredibly unsympathetic player in all of this -- admitting to lying and being inconsistent with his statements -- a fact that the Gaye's lawyer gleefully exploited. There is also the simple fact that this is a jury ruling and has no direct precedent-setting ability. That comes from appeals court rulings (and Supreme Court rulings), so we need to wait for any real precedent from this case. Of course, there have been some similar cases in the past, and the results often show the same sort of confusion about copyright, which is troubling.
And, it all seems to come back to this weird concept that people believe in this myth of "ownership" over cultural touchstones. The very things that should be shared: the "feel" of music, the "groove," the cultural sharing point that everyone builds off of. In discussing this case on Twitter, and talking about the horrible implications of the ruling, I noticed more than a few people on Twitter brush off all the concerns with a simple kind of "dude, they copied Gaye, so good ruling." Amazingly, one songwriter insisted that the ruling was correct and when I looked at his personal webpage it was all about how his music was "inspired" by other famous bands. Watch out, because now those bands could come after you.
This case has strayed far from actual copyright law into a made up fantasy land of copyright law -- one where people are punishing Thicke because they don't like him or the way he acted. They're also punishing both Williams and Thicke because of this amorphous idea that they must have "ripped off" Gaye because the songs feel the same. Even the press is confusing this. You see idiotic headlines, like this one from Vulture, which claims the lawsuit was about plagiarism. Except plagiarism isn't illegal. Copyright infringement is -- and plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing. And even if this were "plagiarism" the question is plagiarism of what? Musicologists who have compared the two songs note that they're actually really, really different. The only thing that's the same is "the feel" of the songs. And "feel" is not something covered copyright.
But people know that plagiarism is "wrong" so they look at what Williams and Thicke did here -- copying the "feel" -- and they insist that it must be "wrong," even if copyright is only supposed to cover the specific expression written down in the sheet music for Gaye's song. The actual notes in "Blurred Lines" don't match that sheet music at all. But rather than sticking to the letter of the law, or even bothering to understand that copyright only covers specific expression, we keep getting this message pushed on us, by the RIAA, the MPAA and others, that every bit of culture must be "owned." And you can't do anything without a license. And people have heard that refrain so many times, that it infects their psyche.
As Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman note in their own writeup about the ruling, the incredible thing is just how wrong it is on copyright. Yes, there may be some elements that were copied, but those are not the elements covered by copyright:
In short, what the “Blurred Lines” team copied is either not original or not relevant.
So when they see a situation here, where a less-than-likable character has made a song that was inspired by another, they assume that something must be wrong with it, and even if the law doesn't actually apply, dammit, they're just going to say that it does. It's the inevitable result of constantly pushing for a society where every bit of culture is owned under lock and key and the idea of sharing, remixing, reusing is deemed subversive, rather than the way that culture happens.
Whether or not this case really does have a long-term or wider-term impact may not really matter that much. But the results here are indicative of something bigger: and it's a dangerous view that undermines the very nature of culture itself.