by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jun 19th 2013 1:31pm
Fri, May 17th 2013 7:39pm
from the derpa-derp dept
It's sad to note how collective humanity has done an ostrich on the warnings about the machines. Still the NFL exists, robbing us of our best and brightest, who will no longer be available for the coming war with SkyNET. Conferences on what to do about the surely coming robot horde have produced little in the way of a path forward and have gone relatively unreported in any case. Due to this, we know very little about what form the non-existent threat of terminator-like metal monsters will take. Will they simply wage war against us? Will they syphon our body heat for energy? Will they farm our skin and dance around in it to Goodbye Horses, like some kind of graphite Buffalo Bill?
Not according to Rice University professor Moshe Vardi, who claims that they have a far more terrifying plan in store: displacing the human workforce.
Pictured: A Rice University professor in the near future
Image source: CC BY 2.0
According to Vardi, sometime around the year 2045, you won't have a job any longer because the robots will have taken it away from you.
In recent writings, Vardi traces the evolution of the idea that artificial intelligence may one day surpass human intelligence, from Turing to Kurzweil, and considers the recent rate of progress. Although early predictions proved too aggressive, in the space of 15 years we’ve gone from Deep Blue beating Kasparov at chess to self-driving cars and Watson beating Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Extrapolating into the future, Vardi thinks it’s reasonable to believe intelligent machines may one day replace human workers almost entirely and in the process put millions out of work permanently.Well, looking back through the history of technological progress, you can certainly see his point. And once you've seen that point, you can laugh at it. And once you've laughed at it, you can call his local police station and request that they remove any science fiction movies from his home by force, because he's clearly seen too many of them.
The problem with thinking that artificial intelligence is going to replace us in the workforce is two-fold. First, it cheaply ignores the impact every other form of technological progress has had thus far. Robots are used on assembly lines, yet there's no drastic net loss of jobs. When the automobile was invented, it isn't as though the buggy whip makers simply died off in unemployed starvation. There are other jobs to be had, most often created as a direct result of the advance in technology. Assembly line workers become machinists. Buggy whip makers go to work for the auto companies. There can be pain in the market in the short term as it is disrupted, but on a long enough timeline everything seems to even back out.
The second problem is the failure to recognize that people value some products and services provided by our fellow meat-sacks. Can auto-attendant systems handle phone duties? Sure, but there are tons of companies that specifically advertise the concept of customers being able to talk to a "real" person. Can machines make rugs? Yup, yet there's a huge market in hand-woven rugs out there. And the service industries rely heavily on personality. A machine might be able to serve me my beer at my local watering hole, but will it listen to me complain about my job if I'm having a crappy day? Will it be able to offer me an opinion on which wine is the best on the menu? And, as the article notes, what if any workforce disruption that does occur is desirable?
Perhaps in the future, while some of us work hard to build and program super-intelligent machines, others will work hard to entertain, theorize, philosophize, and make uniquely human creative works, maybe even pair with machines to accomplish these things. These may seem like niche careers for the few and talented. But at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, jobs of the mind in general were niche careers.I call dibs on being the new Socrates.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, May 17th 2013 8:32am
from the some-starting-points dept
- Too many Representatives flat out mis-stated what the Constitution says. They said that the copyright is "guaranteed by the Constitution" or that their Congressional mandate is to protect science and art. Neither is true. The Copyright Clause of the Constitution grants Congress the power to issue "exclusive rights" for the sake of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. That is, it was never about "protecting" but about "promoting the progress." Those are very different things. For that matter, it had nothing to do with creative works, for the most part. If we go by the originalist mandate, "science" was the part that copyright was about, and it meant "learning." The framers of the Constitution were focused on promoting learning and education via copyright, not a specific entertainment business. That it does that now is fine, but don't claim that the Constitution says that Congress must "protect" the entertainment industry. Because it says no such thing. After all, that same section grants Congress the power to grant letters of marque to privateering ships to seize foreign ships. If copyright is guaranteed by the Constitution, then so would the right to demand your right to a letter of marque.
- Too many representatives continued to set this up as a battle between "content creators" and "the tech industry." This is dangerously misleading. In fact, at one point, Rep. Deutch flat out said that any copyright reform must carefully benefit "creators and the tech industry, as if those were the only two stakeholders. The real stakeholders of copyright law, however, have always been the public, who were barely mentioned at all in the hearing. Or, when they were mentioned, it was often with the somewhat disparaging term "users."
- Finally, the myth that "everyone just wants stuff for free" was brought up a few times, in an effort to defend the idea that greater enforcement is a necessity. Except, that's not true. As we've seen over and over again, consumers are actually spending more today on entertainment than ever before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And tons of studies have shown that the biggest infringers also tend to be the biggest spenders. You don't make good policy based on catchy myths, and this one is a myth. It should be stricken from the debate as false. And, I won't even bother with the one comment from Rep. Poe that "copyright won the cold war." Where do we get these people?
- Pretty much everyone is both a content creator and a content consumer. Over and over again we heard about concerns of certain creators as if they were a separate class of people unrelated to the wider public. That's silly. Especially as we have copyright law today -- in which every piece of creative content is immediately covered by copyright at the moment the expression is set in fixed form -- we are all creators. Nearly every email you write is probably covered by copyright. Every creator is also a consumer of content, and that includes professional creators. Professional content creation often involves building off of the influences of other works. We should support that as well. Otherwise, we begin to treat copyright as a sort of welfare program for professional creators, which is never what it was intended to be.
- Technology is just a tool. It is neither a competitor to, nor an enemy of, content creators. With so many Representatives setting up the debate as "content vs. technology," we start to go down a very dangerous and distorted path that has little to do with reality. As a tool, technology certainly can create challenges for existing and traditional business models, but also tremendous opportunity. Look at the success of platforms like Kickstarter today. Would anyone seriously argue that the "technology" company Kickstarter is "anti" creator? Similarly, we're seeing more and more artists succeed by embracing new technology platforms that enable them to do amazing things: Bandcamp, TopSpin, BandZoogle, ReverbNation, SongKick, Dropbox, SoundCloud, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, HumbleBundle -- and many, many, many more. The list literally goes on and on and on. These are the tools that so many content creators are embracing today to help them to be better able to create, to promote, to distribute, to connect and to monetize their works than ever before. To argue that this is tech vs. content, when the tech companies seem to be handing content creators the most useful tools they've ever had to be successful, seems ridiculous.
- Every legislative choice has costs and benefits. Too often, it seems like those pushing a certain proposal like to only look at one side of that equation. If we're to have an effective debate over copyright reform, it should include an upfront look at the costs and the benefits, the conditions and the consequences of various decisions across the board on the public. The purpose of copyright law, explicitly, is to promote the progress. We should be weighing carefully whether or not each change really would promote progress of science and the useful arts.
- Decisions need to be made based on empirical data. As we've discussed in the past, historically, copyright reform discussions have been almost entirely faith-based. This is why the claims of "everyone just wants stuff for free" are so concerning," since the data suggests that's not even close to true. Given the recent call for objective research that would be useful in the copyright debate, by the US National Research Council, I'm hopeful that we'll actually begin to see some useful data for this discussion. Hopefully those in Congress will actually pay attention to the data, rather than continue to insist that blatantly false claims must be true.
- Finally, and most importantly, the focus needs to remain on promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. It's not about "protecting" any industry or any class. It's about what most helps to promote overall progress. Each proposal should be judged on that standard.
by Leigh Beadon
Wed, May 15th 2013 11:43am
from the it's-innovators-who-need-freedom dept
There's a lot of buzz about Sen. John McCain's proposed Television Consumer Freedom Act (pdf and embedded below), a bill designed to encourage cable companies to unbundle the TV stations they offer, and force the networks to do the same. It also takes away the weak bargaining chip that some networks have attempted to play against Aereo, in which they threaten to pull their broadcasts from the open air, by making them sacrifice broadcast licenses in order to do so.
Everyone on the consumer side agrees that they'd like to have à la carte choices from cable companies, but beyond that there's no shortage of debate as to how effective the bill is likely to be and whether the end result would actually be any better for those consumers. The television market is badly distorted at all levels by monopoly interests and those whiffs of not-quite-collusion by groups of companies with a shared interest in maintaining the status quo, but is this bill capable of overcoming that? And is the practice of bundling really at the heart of the problem, or just a good public face for the deeper issues?
This is hardly the first attempt to stop the practice at either the network or cable provider level. Some courts have already found bundling by cable providers to be legal and not anticompetitive; meanwhile Cablevision is currently pursuing an antitrust suit against Viacom for the network's bundling of stations that it sells to providers. Most of the details of the latter are under seal, but one notable point is Viacom's claim that it already offers channels individually, they just cost way more. If that's true of all Viacom's content, then it wouldn't be affected by McCain's bill anyway, which still permits bundling as long as there is an à la carte option.
And even if it's not true, it just underlines the core problem of this approach: the bill doesn't give networks any reason to make individual channels affordable or desirable. They either already offer an expensive à la carte menu that nobody orders from, or they could easily do so. Moreover, it's not as though the justification for bundling offered by the networks is completely falsified: they can spend more money on niche channels and programs by subsidizing them with the revenue from more broadly popular fare. Of course, it's not as though that justification isn't exaggerated and twisted to suit their needs either, nor is it true that the same fundamental idea couldn't exist without bundling. Networks get more value from niche programs than just transmission fees: they care about audience reach, brand-building, competing with other forms of content, accumulating accolades for prestige shows and even, believe it or not, making good television. There's no reason their businesses could not be structured to continue subsidizing niche programming with popular programming in a slightly less direct manner.
So the final solution, as always, needs to be found in the market — and that's already happening. Basically every single noticeable trend in media consumption habits, not just in television but in music and publishing and every format, points towards a more à la carte world. It's not news that the networks and cable providers have dragged their heels on this in the hope of milking their incumbent position a bit longer, nor is it news that they are privately a lot more freaked out by the cord-cutting movement than their public statements admit. Ultimately, it will be consumers making choices that force these companies to either adapt or perish.
But for that to happen, innovators do need to be able to actually give the consumers those choices. If the market has become so badly distorted that innovators are being locked out, then legal action and new laws are needed. And that's why the aspect of the bill that is likely to be the most effective (not to mention the most interesting) is the way it all seems to come back to Aereo.
The fight that Aereo started sits at the core of almost everything in the bill. Network owners don't like Aereo because they don't want to lose their retransmission fees from cable providers. Cable providers don't like Aereo because they don't want to lose the appeal of the major networks which, despite the ascendence of cable channels, still sit at the core of their service bundles — and because, generally, they don't want cord-cutters to have more options. McCain's bill basically says: Aereo or no Aereo, consumers need choices, and they're going to get them, whether you like it or not.
Is it a worthwhile step? Yes — or, at least, it's hard to see how it could do any harm, even if it does prove ineffectual. Is it the best approach? No. It almost feels like a bet on Aereo's failure. If Aereo were permitted to innovate, rather than being forced to jump through endless technological hoops and still spend more time in court than in the workshop or the boardroom, then the market would already be giving consumers what they want and pushing the networks and cable providers to become more competitive. If there is to be legal reform, it shouldn't be another layer of conditions and caveats on broadcast licenses and the retransmission fee structure that attempts to force the hand of the networks and cable companies, it should be a clarification (and probably a relaxation) of the rules, removing the legal and regulatory uncertainty that holds disruptive startups back. Television doesn't need a Consumer Freedom Act — consumers already have lots of freedom, they just don't have many choices in how they exercise it. The heart of McCain's bill is in the right place, but a Television Innovator Freedom Act is what we really need.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 8th 2013 8:46am
Authors Guild's Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, Google, Ebooks, Libraries & Amazon Are All Destroying Authors
from the old-man-yells-at-cloud dept
However, in his latest NY Times op-ed, he's basically thrown all of his cluelessness together in a rambling mishmash of "and another thing", combined with his desire to get those nutty technology kids off his lawn. For the few thousand members of the Authors Guild, it's time you found someone who was actually a visionary to lead, rather than a technology-hating reactionary pining for a mythical time in the past.
First up, a confused reaction to the Supreme Court's protection of first sale rights in Kirtsaeng.
LAST month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.First of all, no, this was not a "change" in US law. Courts had not forbidden this particular situation in the past, because the specifics of this hadn't really been tested in the past other than a few recent cases with somewhat different fact patterns. The point of the Supreme Court's ruling was to reinforce what most people already believed the law to be: if you buy a book, you have the right to resell it.
As for the "surge" in cheap imports, let's wait and see. It might impact markets like textbooks, which are artificially inflated, but for regular books? It seems like a huge stretch to think that it would be cost effective to ship in foreign books just for resale. And, of course, secondary markets have existed for ages, and studies have shown that they actually help authors because it makes it less risky to buy a new book, since people know they can resell it. Turow admits that secondary markets have always existed, but then jumps to what this is all "really" about in his mind:
This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.Yes, that's right. The Kirtsaeng decision isn't just about first sale, it's really about the evil "global electronic marketplace" sucking authors dry. Of course, Turow fails to mention that Kirtsaeng had next to nothing to do with the internet. Yes, Kirtsaeng ended up selling his books via eBay, but tons of books sell on eBay. That had no impact on the ruling at all. The issue in the ruling was about books legally purchased abroad, and Kirtsaeng did that without the internet -- he just had friends and family back in Thailand buying books for him. To blame that on "the global electronic marketplace" is just completely random and wrong. It seems like the kind of thing someone says when they just want to blame technology for everything. Turow has his anti-technology hammer, but he's got to stop seeing nails in absolutely everything.
Authors practice one of the few professions directly protected in the Constitution, which instructs Congress “to promote the progress of Science and the useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The idea is that a diverse literary culture, created by authors whose livelihoods, and thus independence, can’t be threatened, is essential to democracy.Turow is a lawyer. As such, I would expect him not to misrepresent what the Constitution says, but he's done so here. Authors are not "directly protected in the Constitution." The Constitution does not "instruct" Congress to create copyright to promote the progress. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress specific powers concerning what it can do. It does not "instruct" Congress that it must do these things. The same section of the Constitution also gives Congress the ability to "grant letters of marque" to privateers ("pirates" on the high seas) to attack enemies. No one would ever argue that the Constitution "instructs" Congress to authorize pirates on the high seas to "attack and capture enemy vessels." In fact, Congress has not officially used this power since 1815. Similarly, there is no requirement that Congress "protect" authors in this manner, no matter how much Turow may pretend this is the case.
Frankly, it's bizarre that Turow would so misrepresent the Constitution, when he must know what he's saying is untrue. It really calls into question why the NY Times allows such blatantly false statements to go out under its name.
That culture is now at risk. The value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated, a crisis that hits hardest not best-selling authors like me, who have benefited from most of the recent changes in bookselling, but new and so-called midlist writers.Note the implicit assumption: only publishers produce books. Turow, apparently, ignores the fact that these modern technological wonders (which he hates so much) have enabled an entire new world of massively successful self-published authors, who take advantage of this situation to realize that they don't need publishers, and the lower costs and ease of distribution makes things much easier. As Clay Shirky has said in the past, publishing is a button, not an industry. And, no, that doesn't mean that authors should all do it by themselves, but the challenges are in marketing, not in "publishing" or distribution any more (with respect to ebooks).
Take e-books. They are much less expensive for publishers to produce: there are no printing, warehousing or transportation costs, and unlike physical books, there is no risk that the retailer will return the book for full credit.
Also the idea of a literary culture at risk is laughable. More books are being published today than ever before. More people are reading books today than ever before. More people are writing books than ever before. Books that would never have been published in the past are regularly published today. There is an astounding wealth of cultural diversity in the literary world. Sure, some of it means a lot more competition for the small group of authors (only about 8,000 or so) that Turow represents... oh wait, I think we've perhaps touched on the reason that Turow is all upset by this. But, of course, more competition for that small group of authors does not mean the culture of books and literature is at risk at all. Quite the opposite.
But instead of using the savings to be more generous to authors, the six major publishing houses — five of which were sued last year by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division for fixing e-book prices — all rigidly insist on clauses limiting e-book royalties to 25 percent of net receipts. That is roughly half of a traditional hardcover royalty.Again, this totally ignores the new reality. Authors who don't like this admittedly crappy deal from the big publishers can go to alternatives. They can self-publish. Or they can sign up with one of a new crop of digitally savvy publishers who are much more like partners than gatekeepers. No surprise that Turow doesn't even seem to know these things exist. Hell, just last week we were talking about a successful self-published author who leveraged his massive success into an extremely favorable deal with Simon and Schuster to handle physical book distribution. And a week later Scott Turow argues that only historical top sellers like himself can negotiate better rates with the Big 6 Publishers in NY? Wake up, Scott, there's a whole new world out there that you seem to be ignoring.
Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it. But writers whose works sell less robustly find their earnings declining because of the new rate, a process that will accelerate as the market pivots more toward digital.
Barry Eisler famously turned down a half million dollar contract with a publisher, because he realized that the economics of going direct were much better. Plenty of authors are recognizing that they have leverage today where they used to have none. It seems odd that Turow doesn't even acknowledge this reality at all, instead assuming that authors are still locked into the system where the only way they can become published is by taking a bad deal with a publisher.
And there are many e-books on which authors and publishers, big and small, earn nothing at all. Numerous pirate sites, supported by advertising or subscription fees, have grown up offshore, offering new and old e-books free.If you're an author earning nothing at all, then you've got bigger problems than technology. It probably means you're mired in obscurity and no one knows who the hell you are. On top of that, it means you've done nothing at all to connect with your fans. Because we've seen authors who actively encourage the piracy of their books, but who also work to connect with their fans, and have seen their sales go way up, because those fans want to support the authors. Also, as most people know (why doesn't Turow seem aware of this?) ebook "piracy" is a fairly small part of the market, in part because the initial market was dominated by the Amazon Kindle, and publishers smartly jumped on board. Yes, there is ebook piracy, but it's not like the music and movie business where the official sources basically ceded the entire market to piracy for years.
The pirates would be a limited menace were it not for search engines that point users to these rogue sites with no fear of legal consequence, thanks to a provision inserted into the 1998 copyright laws. A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages.Okay, this is just dumb. First of all, no one is searching for "Scott Turow free e-books" so this shouldn't be much of a concern. I did a Google Trends search on "Scott Turow free e-books" vs. "Scott Turow books" and it shows no one searches for "Scott Turow free e-books", so he doesn't have much to worry about. Frankly, he should probably be a hell of a lot more concerned that not too many people seem to be searching for "Scott Turow books" either.
If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it, I’d be on my way to jail. And yet even while search engines sail under mottos like “Don’t be evil,” they do the same thing.This is silly on multiple levels. First of all, by his own numbers, Google (who uses "Don't be evil") had the least number of "bad" sites in the results according to Turow. I did the same search and actually found only a couple sites that possibly were infringing. Instead, I did see links to the Authors Guild, to Amazon, to Turow's Wikipedia page... and to an old Techdirt article about Turow's cluelessness. That said, you could argue that if Google is "being evil" here it's actually by not giving its users what they're looking for -- which is clearly "free e-books." If people were actually doing this search (and we've already shown they're not) then perhaps it really just meant that Turow should be offering his own damn free ebooks, since that's what people are looking for. Why not offer an early work as a free download to get people interested in his books? Hell if he's really worried about it, offer up the first five chapters of a book. I've read a few of his books, and they can really grab you. Let people read the first few chapters for free and I'd bet lots of people would pay a reasonable price for the full book.
Instead of understanding any of this, Turow falsely attacks search engines on multiple levels. First, he suggests they're at fault because people are looking for free ebooks (even if they're not actually doing so for his own books). He assumes that because he did that search, others must. Second, when those search engines actually try to deliver what these theoretical people want (despite the fact that Turow himself has failed to do so) he complains about it. Finally, he falsely suggests that the search engines are making money doing so. They're not. Search engines make money if people click on ads. If someone sees a free ebook and clicks on an organic link, the search engine isn't making any money. I recognize that Turow hates technology, but that's no excuse for being blatantly ignorant about it when spewing misrepresentations in the NY Times.
From there, he attacks Google's book scanning project.
Google says this is a “fair use” of the works, an exception to copyright, because it shows only snippets of the books in response to each search. Of course, over the course of thousands of searches, Google is using the whole book and selling ads each time, while sharing none of the revenue with the author or publisher.The second sentence has nothing to do with the first sentence. It is fair use because they're only showing snippets at a time, and most of those searches lead people to places where they can buy the books. I just did a search on Google Books for "Scott Turow" and the top links is to an Amazon page listing out all of Turow's books for sale. You'd think he'd appreciate such things. But, then, he'd have to not be a technologically illiterate Luddite.
All of this also ignores that Google's book scanning is really just about creating a rather useful card catalog for books, making them easier to find. Over and over again, people who have actually looked at the issue (i.e., not Scott Turow) have found that Google books increases sales of books. Considering he was just complaining about authors not getting any money, you'd think this would be a good thing.
He drones on about Google scanning books for a while, and then... attacks libraries for wanting to lend out ebooks, insisting that if they can do that, no one will ever buy a book again.
Now many public libraries want to lend e-books, not simply to patrons who come in to download, but to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection. In this new reality, the only incentive to buy, rather than borrow, an e-book is the fact that the lent copy vanishes after a couple of weeks. As a result, many publishers currently refuse to sell e-books to public libraries.One might also say "in this new reality," libraries are helping people access the wealth of information contained in books, just as they've always done. Who knew Scott Turow was so anti-library? It's kind of silly that maximalists and luddites keep jumping back to this trope. The idea that if you can get something for free, no one will ever pay for it. That's never been true and will never be true. All of the works that people pay for and download to their Kindles are already available for free on unauthorized sites. But tons of people pay. All of the music that people pay for and download to their iPods is already available for free on unauthorized sites. But tons of people pay. People will pay all the time for things they can get for free. Just check out the bottled water industry.
Turow then jumps back to attacking his other technological nemesis, Amazon, based on random speculation about a patent the company received:
An even more nightmarish version of the same problem emerged last month with the news that Amazon had a patent to resell e-books. Such a scheme will likely be ruled illegal. But if it is not, sales of new e-books will nose-dive, because an e-book, unlike a paper book, suffers no wear with each reading. Why would anyone ever buy a new book again?Well, there's that trope again. Also, this ignores the ReDigi ruling, which has already said this is illegal, though that will be appealed. But, again, lots of people will still buy new ebooks, because they like to support authors. Also, it's likely that smart authors will embrace new and interesting business models in which this kind of thing isn't a problem. They can use Kickstarter to "pre-sell" the books and get support from fans. They can offer special benefits for fans who buy new books (such as membership in a fan club with other fans of that author). They can provide early previews or discounts on future or past works to those who buy first run copies of their new works. The list goes on and on -- and those are just the ones I came up with in the 30 seconds I spent thinking about it. Give me a full day to work on it, and the list would be in the dozens. But Turow, bizarrely, assumes that no one could possibly come up with any other reason.
And, from there, we go off onto a totally wacky tangent about Russia.
Last October, I visited Moscow and met with a group of authors who described the sad fate of writing as a livelihood in Russia. There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation.Note that he names Tolstoy and Chekhov -- two authors who both died more than a century ago. Could Turow easily name for us a Russian author from the 1940s who regularly affected the national conversation? How about the 1960s? 1980s? 1990s? No? Perhaps the problem isn't ebooks and piracy.
Meanwhile, as it so happens, not too long ago, we wrote a report on the content markets in various countries, including Russia. Turow might find it helpful, since he seems to be at a loss for actual data and facts in so many of his public statements on these issues. He can get a copy of The Sky is Rising 2 if he'd like. We offer it for free (the horror!). In it, he'd discover that the Russian book business is on the upswing. In the past fifteen years, the number of books published has increased by an impressive 266%, from just 33,623 in 1995 to 122,915 in 2011. That rate of growth exceeded all of the other countries we studied in Europe. It is true that the Russian market saw a decline in book revenue between 2008 and 2011 as the worldwide recession had an impact, but it has also recently seen the absolutely massive growth in the sale of ebook readers. As we've seen elsewhere, growth in ebook readers almost always acts as a leading indicator for later growth in ebook sales, because most readers connect easily to various authorized ebook stores, and the convenience factor leads to sales. One of the issues in Russia has been that many of the established players have been exceptionally slow in offering up authorized copies in the Russian market. If there are no authorized copies to buy, it shouldn't be a huge surprise to find out that people seek out alternatives.
It should be noted that when famed author Paulo Coelho decided to pirate his own book in Russia, it was because his publisher refused to offer a Russian translation. And what Coelho discovered was that sales of his book jumped from around 1,000 books to over 100,000 books because of his own decision to seed an unauthorized Russian translation. At the very least, this suggests that "piracy" isn't the problem and that, if handled well, authors can absolutely get people to buy, even when free works are available.
Scott Turow is clearly a smart individual. He's a fantastic author, whose books I've enjoyed for years. But it boggles my mind that he's so anti-technology based on ridiculous and ignorant claims, and that despite being called out on his ignorant statements for years, he chooses not to learn, but instead doubles down on those same ignorant statements by saying even more. It's doubly confusing that the NY Times sullies its own good name by allowing such obviously false statements to be published under its masthead.
Finally, the 8,000 or so authors (a mere fraction of the number of actual authors out there) who make up the Authors Guild are not served well by having someone as technologically reactionary as Turow leading them. It seems they'd be much better served by having a visionary leader who looks at ways to embrace new opportunities and who has realized that they can help to better promote, to connect with fans and to monetize their works. Having someone just yell about general progress, and try to ignorantly shoo the "kids" off his lawn over and over again, does them no favors.
by Joyce Hung
Tue, Mar 19th 2013 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Sad fact: Funding for basic science research makes up less than 1% of the federal budget. Even sadder is that cutting the small amount the government spends on basic science will have little impact on short-term fiscal goals, but its negative effects on the economy will be felt for decades to come, potentially costing the U.S. billions of dollars in missed future opportunities. [url]
- Lasers are an example of how a discovery in basic science can eventually lead to a revolutionary invention. The first laser was built in the 1950s, but practical applications for lasers didn't appear until decades later. Today, lasers are a multi-billion dollar industry and are key to many technologies used in manufacturing, communications, medicine, entertainment, and scientific research. [url]
- Cutting funding for basic science research will impact young investigators the most. Actually, brand new tenure-track professors are somewhat insulated because there's always some money set aside for them. It's the just tenured professors that will feel it the most, as they try to compete for grants against the entire population, which includes Nobel laureates, National Academicians, and more well-established researchers. [url]
by Glyn Moody
Fri, Mar 8th 2013 7:19am
from the death-wish dept
There have been many posts on Techdirt about the copyright industry's hatred for new technologies that eventually turned out to be important sources of additional revenue -- the VCR being perhaps the most famous example. Here's a splendid column from Adam Turner in the Sydney Morning Herald about the same thing happening again in Australia.As he points out, last year Australia saw a 4% growth in music sales, which outpaced the rest of the world, whose much lower 0.3% growth we discussed recently. In other words, if anything, the Australian recording companies should be celebrating the present and optimistic about the future. Instead, they are once more frightened by some technological developments that will in fact help them: an upgrade to the country's Internet infrastructure. Here's how Turner puts it:
As the National Broadband Network [NBN] rolls out across the country, it's going to make music and video downloads more accessible to all Australians. It's time for the music industry to learn the lessons of the past decade and seize the initiative. But it seems you can't teach old gucci-clad dogs new tricks.It's really extraordinary that even in the face of figures that suggest digital sales are taking off, the recording industry is still demanding harsher measures against people who share unauthorized copies of files online, as if that ever worked -- or ever could work. For, as Turner rightly says:
"If more action isn't taken by the government and ISPs to curb piracy levels the NBN could have disastrous results for the local industry," according to a major report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. "All Australian content industries" will suffer if pirates are allowed to run rampant on the NBN, added Dan Rosen -- CEO of Australian Recording Industry Association.
Ramping up the war on its customers won't see people start buying more music. It's a war the music industry can't win, but it seems determined to die trying.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+
by Tim Cushing
Mon, Feb 18th 2013 3:40am
Dateline 1901: In Response To Presidential Assassination, Department Of Justice Orders All Phone Calls Logged And Stored
from the a-bold-new-era-of-surveillance...-and-safety! dept
If the telephone were a new invention, DOJ would be insisting the phone company record & store all conversations, Just In Case.— Julian Sanchez (@normative) December 3, 2012
PRESIDENT MCKINLEY ASSASSINATED! RECOVERS BRIEFLY BEFORE FINALLY SUCCUMBING TO ILL EFFECTS OF 'INTERNAL BULLET SYNDROME'!
While our grand nation still mourns the passing of President McKinley at the hands of an assassin, our fine gentlemen in Congress are meeting with our other fine gentlemen in the Department of Justice in an effort to prevent future tragedies such as this.
The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, an American-born foreigner of Polish descent, fired two bullets in a cowardly fashion at our nation's leader, striking our President in his glorious abdomen. The cowardly bullet then refused to exit the President's body, turning the wound gangrenous, a medical condition which can only be cured by amputation. A plan to save the President through an experimental "abdomendectomy" was briefly entertained before McKinley's sudden onset of death made the discussion irrelevant.
"Czolgosz's actions mark a turning point for this nation," stated one lawmaker. "We can no longer expect our presidents to remain sans bullet wounds if we do not engage these activists on their own level. We vow to take action, together with the members of Department of Justice, and other unnamed or unformed national security agencies. We are declaring war on anarchy."
LAWMAKERS DECLARE WAR ON IDEOLOGY, TELEPHONES!
Lawmakers have nearly unanimously approved the Department of Justice's recommendation that anarchists be hunted down and brought to justice before another such tragedy can occur. Citizens who have overheard derogatory comments about our fine Government are encouraged to report these occurrences to the Department of Justice by calling KL5-5503 between the hours of 8 am and 12 pm alternating Tuesdays. All calls are confidential and no information will be shared with anyone not currently on the party line.
"Anarchy isn't simply an ideology," stated one irate Congressman who wished to remain anonymous. "It's a threat to our American way of life, one that relies heavily on an unchallenged government and a careful blend of horse and automobile travel."
The Department of Justice has also recommended, in order to battle this rising tide of anarchy, our nation's telephone companies be required to transcribe every conversation occurring via this possibly dangerous communication device. A spokesman for the DOJ stated: "Czolgosz and his contemporaries were known 'early adopters,' and had been misusing our nascent 'talking boxes' to recruit Americans for anarchist activities, including fundraising picnics with no distinct starting time and a plan to violently overthrow the leadership currently controlling Ward 32."
The telephone, which allows young ne'er-do-wells to talk avidly of destroying the nation, is to be feared and distrusted, according to the Department. Its report, composed in great haste and at great length, recommends that all telephone companies build a secure room in which a security agent may be placed to record telephone conversations. This room will give the agent access to all phone lines as well as grant them the right to interrupt recorded conversations with requests to "slow down a bit," "please repeat that," and "English, motherfucker. Do you speak it?" All calls are to be dictated live to each agent's personal assistant, using a secure typewriter built to exacting and impossible specifications.
CONVERSATIONS RECORDED FOR 'CONTINUED SAFETY OF THE NATION!' CRAZY MAN WORRIES ABOUT 'PRIVACY!'
The Department's spokesman has pointed out that, despite listening in on every conversation transmitted via US phone lines, it only has an interest in suspicious conversations and derogatory comments about the US government (including derogatory comments about interruptions by surveillance agents). "Americans who harbor only warm, patriotic feelings towards our President and Government have nothing to worry about and should feel free to discuss any number of subjects without fear of recrimination, including sporting events, lurid gossip, suspicious goings on in the immigrant district, the superiority of the horse and buggy, violations of the "No Child Left Behind" labor law, non-lurid gossip, jazz as an overrated genre, the rejuvenating powers of Cooper's All-In-One Snake Oil™, gambling winnings over $500 and post-millennial anxiety."
An obviously insane lawmaker protested this proposition, claiming that transcribing every phone call made by American citizens is a clear violation of their "expectation of privacy." This phrase generated blank stares from nearly all in attendance at the proposal's mooting. One enraged Senator fired back: "We've been using 'moot point' incorrectly for several years now, no doubt due to the seeds of confusion sown by C... zolog... whatshisname and his ilk! It means 'something to be debated,' rather than 'something already decided!' Curse their anarchic blood!" Another responded: "Americans have no 'expectation of privacy' because any good American has nothing to hide. Speaking of which, we should require all markets and dry goods purveyors to log the names and addresses of those purchasing drapes, blinds and roll-down window shades!"
If the plan is adopted, the Department of Justice expects it will generate nearly 100,000 pages of banal conversation each day, spiking severely on Mothers' Day. These recorded conversations will be forwarded via courier to the home office in Washington DC where agents are expected to maintain a pace of 30 baseless extrapolations per 12-hour shift. "This is an undertaking of grave importance if the safety of the American public is to be ensured," stated a Department of Justice spokesman who wished remain anonymous and have his privacy respected. "The greatest threat to our nation is the free-thinking American citizen, whose lofty ideals and 'this system sucks' attitude pose a risk to the health and well-being of every elected official, except possibly Teddy Roosevelt, who has armed himself with a large stick and has already beaten two interlopers to death just this morning alone. Our war on anarchy and communication has no clear end point, but we will not be deterred or underfunded!"
from the times-they-are-a-changin' dept
We seem to have created an environment in which wonderful music, newly discovered, is difficult to treasure. For treasures, as the fugitive salesman in the flea market was implying, are hard to come by -- you have to work to find them. And the function of fugitive salesmen is to slow the endless deluge, drawing our attention to one album at a time, creating demand not for what we need to survive but for what we yearn for. Because how else can you form a relationship with a record when you're cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic? The tyranny of selection is the opposite of freedom. And the more you click, the more you enhance the disposability of your endeavor.Of course, this is a common complaint -- that digital abundance is somehow devaluing our experience of art. It's a close cousin of the idea put about by the copyright industries that the lower the price of something, the less you value it (neatly confounding two quite distinct concepts -- "price" and "value".) But the post by Spies rises above that, partly because it is so poetic in its phrasing, and partly because it gets down to specifics. Here, for example, is his description of some of the pleasures enjoyed during that now-lost era of analog scarcity (the music was already digital, but the packaging wasn't):
When I returned to my dorm, I unwrapped the cellophane and turned the album over in my hands, flirting with it, searching for clues about what lay within. The cover image of the singer seemed to tell the story of a man who, perhaps in order to avoid great pain, had entered oblivion, but done so in style, with a cool cigarette sticking straight out of his mouth. The question was: How did he get to oblivion, and why did he seek it out in the first place? The answer, needless to say, was the CD itself: the music, the sonic promise.There seem to be two distinct elements here. The first is "clues" for the music: that cover image of the singer. In the pre-Internet days, such images had considerable power because they were one of the main ways musicians were visualized for the public. Today, a simple image search will bring up hundreds, if not thousands of images of musicians engaged in lots of activities, both cool and uncool. But for anyone who was truly "searching for clues" about the music, even the uncool images might, in their authentic awkwardness, offer vital hints.
The other element, of course, is the music itself, and its "sonic promise". But again, to understand any given piece of music, is it not useful to have access to the pieces written before and after it by the artist, the pieces that influenced it, and those that it influenced? Or what about all the pieces written in that year, or for the same musicians, or played at the same venue? Those complex cuts of the totality of recorded music -- the rich and surprising playlists that people make and share -- are something that the Internet with its digital abundance is uniquely well-placed to supply in a way that CDs never could. Isn't that multidimensional richness something to be welcomed, not feared?
On the one hand, Spies seems to be saying that today it's too easy, that we don't do enough to earn the pleasure of our music by spending time as we did in the old days:
if I was going to buy a CD, back when I bought them, I had to eke out some time, and even pray for a little luck, as I could spend hours in a dimly lit store, and leave with nothing. So I had to make a conscious decision that I was going to take my chances.
But on the other, he seems to be lamenting the fact that it's just too hard, that we can never know whether we have found what we are looking for, because there is always more to explore:
how else can you form a relationship with a record when you're cursed with the knowledge that, just an easy click away, there might be something better, something crucial and cataclysmic?
Perhaps he just needs to recognize that, as in so many domains, the shift from analog scarcity to digital abundance brings with it a need to change our own ways of thinking and listening. Now, the difficulty of finding music that we like -- the hours spent bent over racks of CDs in that "dimly lit store" -- has become a challenge that is physically trivial, but mentally far more demanding because it is unconstrained and almost limitless in its extent. It's no longer about arriving at that definitive record that is "crucial and cataclysmic", but more about enjoying the journey through, and connections between, entire sequences of wonderful musical performances.
I suspect that the generation now growing up with digital abundance will have no difficulty forming their own deep and important emotional bonds with collections of music that they have discovered not through a slow process of seeking and finding in the physical world, but by constant, high-velocity adventures through an equally valid digital space.
by Michael Ho
Wed, Nov 14th 2012 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Pick your ammunition, any ammunition you want... for an automatic gun that can shoot hundreds of rounds per minute. The US Army hasn't perfected such a weapon just yet, but it's looking for proposals that could make more versatile guns possible. [url]
- Math has become an important aspect of all kinds of military weapons -- without math, we wouldn't be able to aim projectiles very effectively over long distances. Now, more and more computer simulations are being used to develop defenses and to help predict where enemies might attack. Would you like to play a game of thermonuclear war? [url]
- Anti-aircraft-carrier missiles could take out about 4 acres of naval runways on the open seas -- in one shot. China has been developing anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) for years, and they're probably operational by now. [url]