by Mike Masnick
Mon, Oct 19th 2009 5:22pm
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Oct 2nd 2009 7:31pm
from the how-can-you-be-against-that dept
Luckily, even as the legal dispute continues, we're starting to see more people realize what a terrible thing it would be to kill off such a valuable resource. In that last link, law professor Peter Friedman not only discusses the Google Books project, but also Scribd, and makes a key point:
Why would you use copyright to stifle marvelous new innovations? Copyright exists to encourage, not stifle, invention.What's scary about the discussions on the settlement, though, is that they don't seem to focus on this at all. Instead, almost all of them seem to be a weak excuse to attack Google because people don't like -- or don't like having to compete with -- Google.
Now, I've been clear since the day the settlement was announced that I thought it was a bad thing -- but not for the reasons most are stating. I thought it was bad because Google had a strong case for claiming that the project was covered by fair use. It was effectively no different than creating a fantastic card catalog -- again, something that should be encouraged. But, as Tim Lee brilliantly notes in a recent post, even if this whole lawsuit was over "fair use," what was so troubling about the settlement was that it deals with a bunch of other issues and sort of ignores the fair use issue! And yet, that was the center of the lawsuit.
In case we've forgotten, this is a copyright infringement case. The dispute between Google and the plaintiffs is not about orphan works, online book sales, or the structure of the publishing industry. It's about whether copyright's fair use doctrine allows the creation of a book search engine that displays "snippets" of in-copyright books in search results. Google says yes. Some publishers and authors said no. Absent a settlement, a judge would have been asked to rule on that question.And, indeed. So, why can't we bring the whole thing back into focus. Having a resource like Google's book search is an incredibly important and valuable cultural tool. It should be celebrated, not hated. But the key question is Google's legal right to create it. Any settlement should be focused on that issue, and not all of these extraneous things that are being shoved through the class action process. The settlement is bad, but Google's Book Search is an unequivocally good thing. Keep that in focus, and a lot of the sideshows melt away as meaningless.
In a rational world, the settlement of the case would focus on that same question. Instead, we got a settlement in which the underlying infringement claims are treated as an afterthought. Instead, the focus is on the creation of an elaborate new structure for selling books online. It's as if Sony Pictures sued NBC for copyright infringement and then wound up with a "settlement" that focused mostly on Sony becoming a partner in GE's light bulb business.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 30th 2009 8:22am
from the it-doesn't dept
"When you give it away for free it has no value. When you begin charging for it it has some value."That's wrong on both counts, and you would think that a major American media CEO would understand the difference between price and value. It's a bit scary that he seems to think that putting a price on something automatically gives it value. Unfortunately, he may have to learn that lesson the hard way. I could say that the blank pad on my desk has a price of $10,000. But that's meaningless, because no one would value it that high. The price you put on something is entirely independent of the value that buyers have for it. If the price you put on it is lower than the value they get from it, then they may decide to buy. But that value isn't created by the price.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Aug 13th 2009 11:49am
from the indeed dept
On it, he's hosting a back-and-forth discussion with an entertainment industry lawyer who disagrees with him, Ben Sheffner, which goes into the same discussion we had last week concerning Sheffner's highly questionable claim that the jury rulings against Tenenbaum and Thomas somehow represent the views of everyday people on copyright. In that ongoing discussion, Patry does a nice job highlighting how the entertainment industry keeps trying to kill off innovation and protect its old business models via copyright while failing to do the one thing it should have done all along: build a real business with new business models that embrace the changing market:
I don't deny the RIAA was entitled to bring all the suits it did (aside from the many false accusations of course), but the business of companies that want to sell mass market goods to consumers is not suing those consumers. The business of the RIAA may be doing that because it has to justify its own existence, but the business of business is business, not litigation. One would never know that from the industry's reaction to virtually every new digital technology that has come along; for example, the suit against MP3.com over storage lockers, and the eventual bankrupting of that company was, in my opinion, a terrible mistake and certainly anti-consumer. (I represented the defendant for awhile). There was no evidence that Mp3.com's security -- which required verification that the consumer had bought a legitimate CD -- had ever been broken; instead, the industry wanted to force consumers to buy multiple CDs of a work they had already bought, rather than letting them listen to it regardless of where they were.Indeed. Read the whole thing and be sure to subscribe to the blog...
The industry's suit against Launchcast, brought deliberately while it was being bought by Yahoo, was a similar anti-consumer suit. (Yes, I represented defendant there for awhile) too. Launchcast was engaged in the authorized streaming of music, in conjunction with intelligent software designed to learn consumers' test and that helped introduced consumers to new music. The service could never result in loss of sales; quite the opposite. The functionalities the industry objected to had nothing to do with violation of any rights remotely granted by the copyright act. There are many more examples in addition to MP3.com and Launchcast.
The industry's failure to offer any alternative after Napster isn't just a small oversight; in my view, when coupled with the industry's repeated suits against almost any business it had not authorized (read controlled), and the decision to send out massive cease and desist letters and suits against individuals, that failure is directly responsible for the highly negative attitude many people have toward the industry. The failure of the industry to provide a way for people to access legitimate product led consumers both to unauthorized product and to rightly conclude that copyright was the primary weapon being used to thwart consumers' desires. I really don't think these assertions should be controversial. I repeat that copyright doesn't create economic value, a statement that is not intended to disparage copyright; it is merely to state the obvious: it is only consumers' willingness to buy something that creates economic value.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jun 9th 2009 3:54am
Newspapers' Plan For Survival: Charge Money, Beat Up On Craigslist And Keep Repeating To Ourselves That We're Needed
from the good-luck-with-that dept
Apparently part of the plan to get around anti-trust issues is to create an intermediary, sort of like an ASCAP for the newspaper industry, which suggests a near total misunderstanding of the differences between news and music -- but if that's where the industry wants to go, why not let them and watch smarter business folks mop up the mess for profit.
In the meantime, an absolutely fantastic teardown of the API's whitepapers comes from John Temple, the former editor, president and publisher of the now defunct Rocky Mountain News. If anyone were susceptible to the backwards looking "let's try to recreate the way things were" argument, you would think it would be him. But, instead, he responds to the API's reports by describing just how backwards looking it is and why it should scare anyone in the news business:
Imagine you're a young business school graduate trying to decide where you want to start your career. (OK, I know there are no jobs, but imagine it anyway.) You attend a newspaper industry summit and hear one of the big ideas from an organization at the heart of this world is to compete with Craigslist. What do you think you would think? Talk about an industry looking in the rear view mirror. Isn't that an idea that might have had legs, oh, maybe five years ago? How could it represent in the eyes of that young business school graduate any kind of exciting opportunity today? The advice boils down to, "Let's win back our business from the guy who's eating our lunch." How is the newspaper industry going to attract any of the best and brightest into its ranks if its ideas are stale, at best?Temple also points out two big problems with the API's suggestions. The first is that it's suddenly trying to get people to pay for what they're used to getting for free -- without adding any additional value worth paying for. And, the second (though related) is that they're not actually looking to do anything really new or unique to embrace what the internet enables. While plenty of other websites and services are embracing the technological power of the internet, the best this report suggests is "people who work at newspapers should start experimenting with social networks":
What might even be more troubling about this proposal is how newspaper people seemed to denigrate the Craigslist brand, when all they need to do is talk to people -- including in their own buildings -- to find out that most of those who've used the site seem to genuinely value it. Why? Because it gets results and it's free.
Of course leaders should always be learning. That's a given. But are they serious? Isn't this a little late? If newspaper industry leaders aren't doing this already, do they really belong in their positions? Why should shareholders pay executives to learn all they can when they should be able to find ones who already know what they're doing? If people need advice like this, should they be running newspaper companies?All in all, the meeting itself, and the recommendations from the API certainly show an industry that's not looking to compete or add value. It's looking for ways to rebuild the walls that let it exist without competition in the past. It's a recipe for suicide.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, May 15th 2009 7:33pm
from the it's-growing dept
Cuban gives an example of trying to buy a car, where there may be a lot of value in being able to message a guru on the type of car he wants to buy via Twitter (or, better yet, finding a few of them). I know I've found Twitter to be useful in this manner. A few months ago, I was looking for a new backpack for my computer -- and I had very specific requirements (such as the ability to carry both a laptop and a netbook at times comfortably). It was quite difficult to come up with a Google query that made sense for such a thing, but I could ask it easily in 140 characters and plenty of people could easily understand it, and then provide thoughts and recommendations. It comes back to two points:
- Having real humans respond to a query works well for more specific queries that simply aren't well automated.
- Perhaps much more importantly, real people can better offer recommendations or explanations than an automated query on Google, which simply seeks to find data or answers.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 29th 2009 11:37pm
from the let's-try-this-again dept
Yet, Stephen Brill's new operation is based on this very premise. The fine folks at NPR's Planet Money spoke to Brill about his new venture, but what was frustrating was that they didn't directly challenge a number of his highly questionable assertions. They did bring on someone afterwards who disagreed with Brill, but it could have been a lot more powerful. For example, Brill claims that readers have always paid for a share of the news -- while the truth is subscribers usually barely (if at all) covered the costs of printing/delivering the physical paper, but not for the reporting itself. Brill claims that the decision by newspapers to go online was "group suicide," but neglects to note that almost everyone (with a very few exceptions) who tried to charge online -- including Brill himself -- found that people just didn't want to pay. It wasn't "group suicide," it was economic survival to recognize that charging wasn't working. He also claims that giving away content for free online is why newspapers are in trouble, which is shown as wrong later in the program, when it's pointed out that most newspapers are still profitable -- but the real problem was how much debt the papers took out. It's not about getting readers to pay, it's about how screwed up management has been.
Brill also seems to totally misunderstand iTunes, saying that it works because it's simple and cheap, so his Journalism Online project will be that way too. He leaves out the key point of why iTunes worked: the iPod. People wanted to fill up their iPods and iTunes made that easy. But in the case of news, there are already lots of other options that are easier and more efficient.
Yet, at the same time, folks like Alan Mutter (who will be on the "news" panel at The Free Summit), are suggesting that newspapers should raise their prices. But, again, this seems to be mistaking price for value, assuming that if you just raise the price, people are more than willing to pay.
Instead, the opposite seems to be true. Mark Potts recently pointed out how the online price of the Wall Street Journal (usually held up as the example of online news people will pay for) has gone up so much that he's reconsidered subscribing. Every time they raise the price, it just becomes an increasingly questionable expense, for no added value.
In contrast, however, Potts points to the Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa, who unlike most of these other papers, actually does seem focused on actually providing more value, not just talking about how everyone should value the paper, or nostalgically reminiscing about the "good old days" before there was competition. Instead, the paper has absolutely everyone talking and thinking about ways to really become the central hub for everyone in their community. They recognize that they can't rest on their laurels and be the voice of the community because there's no one else. Instead, they know they need to work at it, embrace new technologies, and actually strive to provide a better solution than what else is out there. That's a paper that's focused on value first, rather than complaining about price. Who knows if it will work, but it's a much better strategy than just focusing on price, like so many others.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 15th 2009 9:44am
from the it-ain't-that-hard dept
Kilgore observed that then new media such as radio meant market news was available in real time. Some cities had a dozen newspapers that had gained the Journal's once-valuable ability to report share prices.It seems like newspapers today could actually learn a lot from that core message: focus on providing additional value beyond what they can get elsewhere. And, if your fear is that aggregators or bloggers are somehow "stealing" from you, you're not providing enough value.
The Journal had to change. Technology increasingly meant readers would know the basic facts of news as it happened. He announced, "It doesn't have to have happened yesterday to be news," and said that people were more interested in what would happen tomorrow. He crafted the front page "What's News -- " column to summarize what had happened, but focused on explaining what the news meant.
On the morning after Pearl Harbor, other newspapers recounted the facts already known to all the day before through radio. The Journal's page-one story instead began, "War with Japan means industrial revolution in the United States." It outlined the implications for the economy, industry and commodity and financial markets.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Feb 13th 2009 11:14am
from the no-wonder-no-one-uses-it dept
But one of the -- Google -- I mean, the harsh way of just defining it, Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it's terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.This is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Google doesn't devalue things it touches. It increases their value by making them easier to find and access. Google increases your audience as a content creator, which is the most important asset you have. It takes a special kind of cluelessness to claim that something that increases your biggest asset "devalues" your business. Thomson's mistake seems to be that he's confusing "price" and "value" which is a bit scary for the managing editor of a business publication. Yes, the widespread availability of news may push down the price (that's just supply and demand), but it doesn't decrease the value at all. It opens up more opportunities to capture that value.
As a content publisher, I can say, definitively, that Thomson is completely off base if he thinks Google is terrible for content providers. Google has been a huge help to us because it has helped us build our audience and our community -- which is the biggest asset we have. Thomson's mistake seems to be that he thinks the asset of publishers is the content. It's not. It's the community. It's the community. It's the community. Sorry for the repetition, but it doesn't seem to be getting through.
He's also wrong if he thinks Google divides content "quantitatively." Google's ranking mechanism is the exact opposite. It works out ways to measure the value of content at a qualitative level -- pushing the best content up. If the WSJ is afraid to compete with other content providers, you can understand why they'd be afraid -- but if they truly believe they have good content, that content will rise to the top (of course, the WSJ is harmed by its practice of making that content harder to read).
Finally, he's very wrong that the key to getting people to pay is to have them "make qualitative decisions about that content." If they've reached that stage, they're not paying. The value of the web and Google is that it lets people look at many sources and compare and contrast them qualitatively. Putting up a paywall is what devalues the content. It makes it harder to access and makes it a lot less useful. People today want to share the news and spread the news and discuss the news with others. As a publisher, your biggest distributors should be your community. And what does the WSJ want to do? Stop the community from promoting them. I can't think of anything that devalues their content more.
In that one paragraph, Thomson seems to be wrong on every single point. Is there a way to short the Wall Street Journal? It's really stunning that these newspaper guys (Isaacson goes on to agree with Thomson) can be handed the greatest mechanism for building their audience and adding value to their sites, and they whine about how it devalues them. It's the horse carriage company owners complaining about how automobiles destroy the value of a beautiful horse drawn carriage. Guys: you're looking in the wrong direction. Turn around and look forward at all that opportunity.
Wed, Dec 24th 2008 12:37pm
from the economics-101 dept
Apple was in the practice of individually deciding which applications to allow and which to ban, regardless of customer demand. The most curious and paternalistic of Apple's App Store policies was the ban on applications of "limited utility." As a result, developers weren't sure if their hard work would be deemed useful enough to warrant acceptance into the store. Yet, like so many centrally planned economies in the past, this policy failed and Apple began letting in silly applications. However, what may be silly to Apple's gatekeepers may actually prove to be valuable to consumers. Such is the case with a suite of applications that simply produce fart sounds. Dozen exist, and one developer of a fart application is reportedly making nearly $10,000 per day with his crass software. That is the beauty of free markets - consumers and producers can better decide what is valuable than any individual person or firm. The distributed intelligence and preferences are far more capable than Apple's gatekeepers.