This week’s favorites mostly fall into 2 categories: Big Picture stories and “[fill-in-the-blank] Behaving Badly.” The combination of these approaches to tech-related news is what keeps me checking Techdirt every week. Plus, I like seeing my name in lights, ha ha ha…
A short introduction: I am the General Manager of Alternative Tentacles Records, a small underground, punk, twang, indie, and mostly left-wing record label that is owned by Jello Biafra. AT began in 1979 with this single by the Dead Kennedys. We are not a member of the RIAA, A2IM, or any other music industry group. My opinions do not represent those of Jello Biafra or any other AT artists or staff. They’re based on my experiences as a band member on various indie labels and working at a couple of labels, as well as being a DJ for 20 years on the excellent local college radio station KALX Berkeley. Also, as GM of a small label, I keep a very close eye on technology–our website is embarrassingly hokey, but we’ve been expanding to Soundcloud, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and doing our best to keep our reputation clean and our fans loyal. By the way, Connect with Fans (CwF) and give them a Reason to Buy (RtB) has always been the rule in punk rock. Without your reputation, you’re nothing. If your rep goes down the tubes, you’re a sellout, a has-been, and/or a rip-off artist. Sure, there’ll always be some ignorant punters who will support you, but the vast majority will shun you.
First up is a Big Picture story that is positive, in a Techdirt kinda way. If Piracy Is So Devastating, Why Are We Seeing An Unprecedented Outpouring Of Creativity? from Tuesday. It’s an important reminder that people are creating content and uploading it to various social networks & platforms every second. But the piece of this that rings wrong to my ears is the glib jab at “copyright industries and cultural commentators”– sure a twitter novel or YouTube webisodes are new, “real” content, but it’s not a stretch to make a value judgement that my 10 word Facebook post is not as creative as, say, the latest album by your favorite band. (Strike that, that depends on how witty I am and which band you love! [/tangent]) Even hinting at an equivalency is a sour note in an otherwise observant, thought-provoking post.
Another Big Picture is half-upbeat, half-depressing–it’s the Constitutional one titled Yes, Copyright’s Sole Purpose Is To Benefit The Public. I’m enough of a civics geek to have strong emotions about the Constitution & misunderstandings of it bug me to no end. (As you may imagine, my head hurts when I read about the latest attacks on the Constitution by particular Arizona sheriffs, the last few Presidents, various Congress people, and too many others.)
I wish the following paragraph was required reading for anyone intending to post here:
“I have trouble understanding why so many people… have so much trouble separating out the purpose from the method. Yes, the clause grants the power to Congress to create copyright law — but for a specific purpose: “to promote the progress of science.” Nowhere does it suggest, nor even hint at, the idea that copyright’s purpose is to benefit creators. Rather, that is the method. So, to claim that the protections of the author are greater than or even equal to the benefits to the nation, is a clear flip-flopping of the method with the purpose. Of course, in doing so, it not only flip flops the method and the purpose, but it completely distorts the nature of copyright law, and leads to maximalist-style positions, where absolutely no consideration is given to how the public benefits (or, more importantly, is hurt) from specific changes to copyright law.”
A quick negative Big Picture post before moving onto the truly trash-talking posts- er, “[fill-in-the-blank] Behaving Badly.” It’s related to the previous one but is international in scope, which I think is a key strength of Techdirt — stepping outside of whatever’s dominating the US/North American headlines/social media networks.
It’s summed up by the title, Just Because It’s Now Cheaper And Easier To Spy On Everyone All The Time, Doesn’t Mean Governments Should Do It! It’s a nice summary of an actual “slippery slope,” complete with points on that metaphorical slope where the slide into a surveillance state could’ve been halted if people had realized what was going on, if there was oversight by a part of the government that wasn’t law enforcement: Could’ve, could’ve, didn’t.
(And that’s exactly why my music industry comrades’ “slippery slope” argument falls down. They assume that there are no possible checks on technology’s mad slide towards free everything all the time besides brute & ultimately useless government regulation. The fact that artists and labels like me are resisting the RIAA & A2IM’s restrictive view of copyright is key–we have to make a living too, as artists and as small companies distributing creative works. We’re not naive idiots & are figuring out ways to keep our fans excited and our bands music out in the world in multiple formats.)
Now for the “[fill-in-the-blank] Behaving Badly” stories. Let’s start w/ the government. A couple made me see red, in part because I, like most non-rabid Republicans, was hopeful that putting a Constitutional law professor into the White House would be enough to halt the Bush 43’s destruction of civil rights after 9/11/01. Once Again, The Administration Vindictively Charges A Whistleblower As Being A Spy is the kind of story that illustrates that in key ways Ralph Nader’s famous equivalency of Republicans & Democrats was accurate. (Don’t get me wrong, overall Bush 43 was worse for civil rights because he attacked social freedoms and labor rights as well.) This story is especially frustrating because it’s going after a brave government worker who blew the whistle on frickin’ TORTURE practiced by our government. Guh.
The common sense civil libertarian in me also bristled at the New York Convinces Game Companies To Kick Registered Sex Offenders Off Gaming Services story. As a species, we’ve gotta stop hyperventilating about the worst of the worst and realize that, as the post points out, a sex offender could be a lot of people. Someone caught nakedly, drunkenly pissing in an alley (not me, I swear!) or a performer whose act includes nakedness, or a couple of teens having oral sex, or a teen receiving a naked picture of their s.o. on their phone are all potential sex offenders, depending on whether the local D.A. is running for reelection. This kind of silly political posturing just embarrasses everyone involved and diverts attention from more worthy government efforts (see: create jobs, feed hungry, battle foreclosure crisis).
Now to a favorite target of Techdirt’s, the music industry, of which I’m a part. As a community radio DJ, I know first hand the idiocy and unintended consequences of the DMCA. So when the big boys dive back into the royalty rates, I get really nervous and start ducking for cover. The idea of different royalties and different types of royalties being required based solely on the delivery system doesn’t make sense, even though my day job depends on income from creative works and you’d think that every little bit helps. Bzzt! Wrong. Even if we did get paid some of these royalties (ha ha ha!) it’d be strangling a proven promotional outlet (radio) in order to squeeze out a few nickels. Music Industry Creates New Royalty Rates is the kind of dry analytic discussion of the Copyright Royalty Board that you have to be a special breed of geek to understand. And the unintended consequences of possibly requiring locker services to pay for us consumers to store music we legally bought in their services could be huge. And for us content creators — why would my band have to pay extra to Soundcloud to stream a song we wrote? This is a detail that needs to be kept on top of.
I’m a fan of sampling and remixing and reusing culture, so I always love it when there’s a cool new mash-up or play on words. That’s why the next “Businesses Behaving Badly” is Dolce & Gabbana Sue Dolce & Banana. I have none of the resources of Dolce & Gabbana, but if a veterinary supply company wanted to market neuticles called “Alternative Testicles,” I’m pretty sure we’d delighted and hype them as a clever twist on our established brand name.
The last story I wanna highlight is a rare first-person account from an artist, A Perspective On The Complexities Of Copyright And Creativity From A Victim Of Infringement by Erin McKeown on her experiences with protecting her creative work and how her ethics and the law intersect in her ongoing case in Eastern Europe.
Her conclusion is a key part of the approach that artists and creative companies should be taking in this scary, new world.
“I’ll say this: if you asked me, we might have worked something out. When I found you, we might have worked something out. Who knows, maybe we could have advanced the conversation around copyright and made a radical contribution toward a different type of economy. Instead, it will drag on in court. And I will fight it in court as long as I have to.”
More cooperation, more communication, more collaboration, less soul-draining legal fights.
Alternative Tentacles Records