The Small Print Project

I launched my big school-related project today with the help of a posting from my instructor, Cory Doctorow, on Boing Boing.

Please visit the project and provide input, insight, and thoughts if you could!

What’s the Small Print Project?

I explain it briefly on the site’s About page, but Cory sums it up even better here:

looks to catalog all the “agreements” we find ourselves “consenting to” when we open a box, install a program, sign up for a service or visit a website. These “terms and conditions,” “terms of use” and “end-user license agreements” do terrible violence to the noble agreement, backing us into arrangements that no sane individual would ever agree to. Sony’s DRM made you promise to delete your music if your house burned down; Amazon Unbox lets them spy on your computer and shut down your videos if they don’t like what they see. And it doesn’t stop there. Think of the “agreements” on the back of your dry-cleaning tickets, on your plane tickets, in your credit-card statements, and your cellular phone contract.

Check out The Small Print Project! Thanks.

GooTube: Impending Doom? For Users, Maybe

In the same breath as pocketing a cool $1.65B in Google stock, licensing and copyright-protection agreements were made with the likes of Warner, Sony/BMG, Universal, CBS (it’s looking like one singular beast of a media mongrel at this point).

You Tube has been all the rage for it’s year-and-a-half existence, but — isn’t YouTube’s success primarily a result of its lax oversight and takedown policies? Surely, Chad Hurley and his couple dozen of employees at You Tube don’t care anymore — as long as they sell their Google stock in the near future. But once you can’t get anything you want on You Tube, the traffic will most naturally channel itself elsewhere.

Alex Veiga wrote about this today for the AP, and the article‘s a good read, complete with a variety of quotes. The basic drift is:

[R]ecent agreements with high-profile content creators require YouTube to deploy an audio-signature technology that can spot a low-quality copy of a licensed music video or other content. YouTube would have to substitute an approved version of the clip or take the material down automatically.

Veiga predicts that YouTube’s anti-piracy platform will resemble the nightmare watermarking techniques of Audible Magic. Competitor Guba uses content-comparison software called “Johnny” to filter out copyright infgingements on videos uploaded there.

CJR’s Gal Beckerman says the deal is “doomed just because it is.” YouTubers are “gravely concerned,” summarizes another article.

The real winners here are the VC’s, like Sequoia Capital, which invested 11 million into YouTube and come out of the deal with a whole lot more, writes Staci of Paid Content.

Sure, Google and YouTube will most likely come out OK. The real losers, however, are the users — that is to say everyone save for the handful of jackasses makin a mean living by hording and raping other people’s property (not the kind of OPP that any content producer or consumer would be down with).

Is Google lining up to be the darling sweetheart of government-sponsored corporate Internet ownership? Google does publish a little one-sheet guide to Net Neutrality, deep in their help section). I’m guessing there aren’t many Save the Internet badges floating around Mountain View.

(Apparently you’ll never find out what’s going on at Google if you’re using Yahoo Maps). Which reminds me of a prank Yahoo! pulled when they launched their new Maps beta last year. The address for Google was listed as “The Dude’s Fish Store.” It’s hilarious — read about it here. Perhaps the grey boxes on Y!Maps are just retribution.)

Online News Readership Up Big in U.S., UK

Start spreadin’ it: Online newspaper Web sites are averaging 55.5 million unique visits per month according to a new study released by The Newspaper Association of America. That’s one-third higher than last year’s average over the same period. (Click here to download the complete Fall 2006 Newspaper Audience Database [PDF]).

Across the pond, new Nielsen/Net Ratings research shows that 40% of all Britons with online access use newsfeeds. But, as BBC News — which has consistently been ahead of the curve as far as online news sites — stresses, more than two-thirds of all respondents did not know that the official term for newsfeeds is RSS or Really Simple Syndication. The RSS (or whatever ya wanna call it) revolution is alive! Click here for a PDF of this report. (Thanks Niall Kennedy for blogging this to my attention and also for grabbing the image below):

Also fresh out — The RTNDA’s The Future of News ten-part report, summed up in a great Poynter article / Q&A as “Viewers to TV Execs: We’re Smarter Than You Think.” (Duh!)

Finally, I’ve just gotta post this — YNET printed a translation of a Q&A exchange on The Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khameini’s Web site which included such issues as masturbating on Ramadan. Read all about it here.

Siva Vaidhyanathan on Journalists, Google, and the Future of Copyright

“As the most pervasive regulation of speech and culture, the copyright system will help determine the richness and strength of democracy in the twenty-first century,” Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in today’s Columbia Journalism Review. In “Copyright Jungle,” Vaidhyanathan examines the borderline legal/illegal copyright issues in the present day and how copyright law is currently being reshaped before our eyes — and most reporters are missing the point and risking the access and freedom that they (and most everybody) have grown so dependent on in the digital age.

In recent years, large multinational media companies have captured the global copyright system and twisted it toward their own short-term interests. The people who are supposed to benefit most from a system that makes ideas available — readers, students, and citizens — have been excluded. No one in Congress wants to hear from college students or librarians.

What begins as a critique of Kevin Kelly’s “Scan This Book!” feature in a May ’06 NYTimes Magazine (which mentions Google’s Library project at least 50 times), continues as a timely updated supplement for those of us thumbing through The Anarchist in the Library for the first time.

Google’s project, if it survives court challenges, would probably have modest effects on writing, reading, and publishing. For one thing, Kelly’s predictions depend on a part of the system he slights in his article: the copyright system.

Tim O’Reilly, who once argued that fewer than 4% of all books ever published continue to be commercially exploited, supported Google’s Book Search initiative posting research after Kelly’s article indicating the “long tail” effect of online indexing of as many books as possible (or in Google’s proposal, all of the titles in five major U.S. libraries). [link is to UC Berkeley research paper PDF, Google’s documentation on the library project is here].

But with corporations and media conglomerates hankering to lock up digital rights and ignore/shun the concept andn value of CC-style copyrights, the mainstream is missing the point by focusing on Google’s ambition to slightly alter or circumvent U.S. copyright law in an effort to add only a little to society — and “snippets” at that, writes Vaidhyanathan:

Google is exploiting the instability of the copyright system in a digital age. The company’s struggle with publishers over its legal ability to pursue its project is the most interesting and perhaps most transformative conflict in the copyright wars. But there are many other battles — and many other significant stories — out in the copyright jungle. Yet reporters seem lost.

The essay as a whole serves as a great heads-up to journalists and Free Culture-ite copyright activists alike, alluding to distortions in the media and confusion regarding ethics and legality (Da Vinci Code case), technology and it’s effect on consumer culture (p2p scare pieces) and one-dimensional dichotomies (hackers v. movie studios). (In fact the piece concludes with a “primer” for journalists).

It’s only natural for journalists to report stories with characters andn consequences regular people can relate to, but:

Reporters often fail to see the big picture in copyright stories: that what is at stake is the long-term health of our culture. If the copyright system fails, huge industries could crumble. If it gets too strong, it could strangle future creativity and research.

The modern journalist depends on Google’s system of copying (or caching) practically every pixel of information on the Web — be it for research, fact-checking or even publishing. Understanding media/copyright law in the digital age is crucial, but to report on the controversies of the day as if the sky were falling could only precipitate further restrictions on fair use and information sharing.

LINK

Future of the Internet: Liberty + Privacy

Among the more interesting studies released Sunday in the second installment of the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Future of the Internet (PDF) survey, are respondents reactions to the following hypothetical:

Prediction: As sensing, storage and communication technologies get cheaper and better, individuals’ public and private lives will become increasingly ‘transparent’ globally. Everything will be more visible to everyone, with good and bad results. Looking at the big picture – at all of the lives affected on the planet in every way possible – this will make the world a better place by the year 2020. The benefits will outweigh the costs.

The mean response of 742 individuals is of uncertainty (46% agreed vs. 49% disagree). But it’s the substance of the varied & impassioned responses that set the course for what many believe is one of the most important issues of modern time and the near future.

Here is a link to credited answers. And here’s a collection of anonymous one-liners.

The answers range from amusing to asinine, but overall the essence is that transparency — while essential to and inevitable in an open society — is a double-edged sword.

In a rather oddly phrased question, a majority of respondents agree (to my dismay) with Thomas Friedman’s mostly-BS “The World is Flat” argument, aggreeing with utopian naivete, that, by 2020, “the free flow of information will completely blur current national boundaries as they are replaced by city-states, corporation-based cultural groupings, and/or other organizations tied together by global networks.”

Perhaps it’s only appropriate — in a very Sci-Fi-esque study, that there would be no more New York and China and Japan.

Other notable conclusions from the abstract:

* A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world.
* Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey.
* Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems.
* Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change.
* People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy.

As Bruce Schneier said at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy tonight, “freedom equals liberty plus privacy.” Digest that…

The IEEE prefers their recently released “Bursting Tech Bubbles Before They Balloon” survey, authored by Marina Gorbis and the Institute for the Future’s David Pescovitz.

For historical reference, see PBS’ 1998 survey: Nerds 2.0.1 — a who’s-who of nerdtrepreneurs and their late 20th century musings on the future of the Internet.