ORG event: Release The Music, 13 Nov 06

From the ORG blog:

Should the term of copyright protection on sound recordings stay at 50 years or be extended?

This question has been hanging in the air for the last couple of years, with the music industry lobbying government for an extension on the grounds that the royalties they earn from old recordings are essential to bringing new acts to the stage and supporting ageing musicians. They believe that copyright term on sound recordings should be the same length as the copyright in the composition, which currently stands at life plus 70 years.

On the other hand, copyright reformers argue that term should remain the same in order to protect the public domain and to free the huge number of old recordings which are no longer commercially viable and therefore not being released by the record labels. They also argue that there is a greater economic benefit to allowing works to pass into the public domain after 50 years so that new works can be made from them and new businesses that specialise in niche markets can flourish.

This question of term extension, along with many others, is now being considered by Andrew Gowers in his Review of Intellectual Property which was commissioned by the Treasury and is due to report before the end of the year.

The Open Rights Group believes that term extension is such an important issue that it deserves focused and rigourous discussion, so we’ve invited people from number of backgrounds to give us their thoughts and opinions.

We would be delighted if you could join us – the event is free to all, but places are limited so book now!

6.00pm – Registration.
6.30pm – Keynote by Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University.
7.30pm – Panel Discussion, moderated by John Howkins, RSA & Adelphi Charter; guests include Caroline Wilson, University of Southampton, Faculty of Law; others TBC.
8.30pm – DJ set by The Chaps, playing a pre-1955 public domain set.
10.00pm – Close.

Monday 13 November 2006

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London, WC1
United Kingdom

Nearest tube:

If you sign up, but find you are not able to come, please do let us know so we can release your seat to someone else.

Monaco Media Forum: Irrational Exuberance 2.0? Not really.

In January 2005, I went to the Web+10 conference at Poynter in Florida (for the full monty, go here for the audio). Poynter’s Howard Finberg asked what our fears were now 10 years into this real-time experiment of online journalism. I said: Irrational Exuberance 2.0.

Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan used the term back in the 1990s. He first used the term in 1996, but I remember it being thrown around in the boom. As the Wikipedia entry says:

It had become a catch phrase of the boom to such an extent that, during the economic recession that followed the stock market collapse of 2000, bumper stickers reading “I want to be irrationally exuberant again” were sighted in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

As I asked on the Media Guardian’s blog, Organ Grinder: Is GooTube the sign of another internet bubble? I have a personal interest in this. I covered the boom for the BBC, and I remember in the late 1990s, everyone wondered why I didn’t head off across the Potomac to the Dulles tech corridor and AOL to make my millions or better yet to Silicon Valley. I didn’t because I could see the handwriting on the wall in 1999. It was more than the damn sock puppet. I remember when companies launched a round of funding simply to pay for multi-million Super Bowl ads. I knew that there were speculators tacking on to their name simply to float on the market. I knew there was something of the tulip craze to it, and I knew that by 1999, most of the companies that were launching were derivative or trying to be the first entrant in a market without understanding the market they were entering.

I knew that stability at the BBC was worth more in the long run than ephemeral paper millions that would be gone tomorrow in the chorus of ‘Sell, sell, sell’ on the trading floors of Wall Street. However, along with the cyber-snake-oil-salesmen in the late 1990s, the crash wiped out a lot of good companies and a lot of good people and slowed, or in some cases, stopped online news development. I often say that after the crash, of the people who I knew in online journalism, only a fraction – possibly less than 10% – still were working online.

And it boiled my blood that I heard the odd news exec say after the crash: See we told you the internet was just a fad. And even if they didn’t say it, they decimated their online news operations. I remember in 2002, after an interview that I produced for the BBC with Peter Jennings about 9/11 how he led us on a tour of their online operations. He was honest and heartfelt in his respect for these online journalists at ABC and said ‘The Mouse’, ABC’s new owners Disney, were downsizing the department. I don’t really want to see that again.

It heartened me today to hear venture capitalist Pip Coburn put the current wave of digital activity in perspective. Google paid $1.65 million in an all stock deal for YouTube. But back in the boom, network equipment maker JDS Uniphase paid $41 billion for an optical networking company. They later had to write-off $38 billion of the deal. He says that he’s much more excited about what’s going on now. “Real value is being created,” he said.

And I’d have to agree with him. Internet innnovation is far broader and more distributed than it was. That doesn’t mean that we’re in a ‘New Economy’ where the old rules don’t apply. We’ll have other downturns, other waves where speculation outpaces innovation and other crashes, but no one will ever write the internet off as a fad again.

Related Links: Pip Coburn’s excellent post from 2004, The Internet After The Crisis. Fascinating look back and forward.

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Monaco Media Forum: Peer-to-peer grows up

It looks like the industry is finally getting over its fear of peer-to-peer. Programmers and network operators understand the elegance of peer-to-peer. There was always a business paradox with centralised digital content distribution. The more successful you are, the higher your bandwidth bills are. But with peer-to-peer, every consumer becomes a distributor.

It was really interesting to see peer-to-peer companies trying new business models. Companies like Kontiki are setting up a legal peer-to-peer business, and Warner Brothers is launching a P2P service in Europe.

In Monaco, I met one of the developers behind Azureus. I’ve used their free BitTorrent Client. Azureus has now developed another service that uses its own seed servers in a legal BitTorrent distribution network. This allows companies to distribute high-quality video, huge files, without insanely high bandwidth costs. That’s the beauty of peer-to-peer. Seed servers help distribute the files. The distribution happens on the public internet, the files are stored not on central servers but on the customers personal computers. From the demo, it looked like BBC America is one of their clients.

AllPeers embeds peer-to-peer technology in the browser and allows people to distribute content directly to a group of friends. It is also using a system of micro-payments to allow musicians, movie makers and other artists to distribute their content, easily and cheaply. AllPeers makes a commission on the micropayments.

But I’m just having a brainstorm here. I have to look into how this works, but I’m wondering if I could use something like AllPeers to send video back to base when I’m in the field? They say that communications is encrypted with standard SSL, but I wonder how secure the file transmission is? I probably will have to do a little more research before I try to run this by our IT people.

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Monaco Media Forum: Creating video online

There is a theme running through the first session this morning: There are a lot of companies gunning for GooTube. Douglas Warshaw showed off Motionbox which definitely builds on YouTube. Just yesterday as I was uploading video to YouTube, I was wishing that they had some simple editing tools. All I wanted to do was to ‘top and tail’ the video, cut off the bit where I told the person I was interviewing that we were recording. Motionbox allows that.

The web is truly becoming a platform, and these new video services definitely show that. Motionbox generates a series of thumbnails that make scanning and editing video easier.

Douglas was pitching Motionbox to media companies who wanted to set up a service to take in videos from their audience. One of the most problems that companies face in opening up to a lot of video is evaluating all of the material. Creating a stream of thumbnails allow editors to quickly scan video.

Rodrigo Sepulveda-Schulz of allows companies or people to set up their own online TV channel. The tools were very elegant, especially when you consider that it was all done within a web browser. It’s was like embedding iMovie in a web browser. Before broadband, this would have been impossible, but it also showed how far interface design online is evolving.

Video clips are just drag-and-dropped into a channel schedule. Sites on can be ‘reskinned’ at the click of a button, just selecting a drop down menu, the entire look of the site changes. These tools are going to allow a lot of entrants into the online video business.

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Edelman: Must try harder

As you might or might not know, I’ve got a relationship with Edelman, the PR company. I know Richard Edelman, I’ve spoken to their clients about blogging, had meetings with them, and spoken at two of their events. I have also worked closely with Jackie Cooper PR, their sister company, providing training and consultancy.

So I’m pretty embroiled with Edelman, and that makes me even more disappointed to be using the ‘Blog Fuckwittery’ category on this post, but it can’t be helped, I’m afraid.

If you’re into the whole PR thing, then you’ll likely have noticed recently that Edelman have got themselves into a bit of a pinch by helping create a fake blog for Wal-Mart. Called ‘Wal-Marting Across America‘, it purported to be a blog by a couple who decided to go on a cheap holiday in an RV (that’s camper van to us Brits), staying in Wal-Mart car parks overnight. What the blog failed to mention was that the project was a publicity stunt and that Wal-Mart were paying for their petrol, food, and the RV. This trick is known in the trade as ‘astroturfing’ (i.e. faking grassroots). Another way of describing it is ‘lying by omission’, and we all know lying is bad.

I’m not going to go into detail here about what was wrong with this specific project because lots of other people have done that, and I don’t much feel like parroting them. (For balance, I include the frankly lame responses from Richard and Steve.) But I do want to discuss a creeping disquiet I’ve felt lately that this serves only to reinforce.

Now, I like Richard Edelman – he seems to be a nice guy, quite savvy, and genuinely interested in the blogosphere, but the problem here is not just that Richard and his team were not transparent, it’s more fundamental than that. It’s that they are still thinking in old media terms: This was a typical ‘broadcast media’ stunt, an attempt to change the way people think about Wal-Mart by playing up the warm fuzzy angles and neglecting to mention that the whole thing was set up from the start. That is such an old-school way of thinking and it reveals just how much of the bloggers’ ethos has percolated through to the heart of what Edelman do, i.e. ‘not a lot’.

The other week, Kevin and I were invited by Richard and his team to attend a briefing that they, with Technorati, were giving their clients about the European blogosphere. Kevin was on the panel and I was asked by Richard just before the event if I could stand up and say something about the difference between US and UK top ten bloggers. I didn’t really blog it, bar a quick mention on Chocolate and Vodka, because I ended up feeling a little bit uncomfortable with some of the basic premises on show, such as ‘the A-list are important’.

There were a lot of other bloggers there, but that didn’t make me feel any better about it, because it was a little too much like they were there for show. For a long time I’ve felt that Richard is indulging in the zooification of bloggers – collecting and displaying them the way that rich people used to do with exotic animals. I worry that this makes him feel that he’s got a better understanding of the phenomenon than he actually has.

Surrounding myself with Chinese speakers does not instantaneously make me a fluent Chinese speaker. Yes, having access to Chinese speakers can help me learn Chinese better and faster, but only if I actually bother to speak Chinese to them. Surrounding yourself with bloggers is a pointless tactic if you don’t talk about blogs with them, if you don’t actually put some effort into learning what all this stuff means. You can’t pick it up by osmosis.

And this Wal-Mart debacle shows that Edelman still have a long way to go before they genuinely understand blogging. There are a lot of values and ethics they have yet to instil in all their staff at an instinctive level – Wal-Marting Across America should have been simply impossible to conceive, one of the ideas that they never had because it runs so counter to blogging culture. The fact that it wasn’t shows that too many people at Edelman think the old school way, about control and being on-message and spin. This is not the blogger way.

Kevin frequently talks about how he sees big media trying to adapt blogs to their business model instead of adapting their business to blogs, and Edelman are making exactly the same mistake – trying to use blogs for PR, instead of trying to adapt PR to blogs. Having a blog isn’t a magic bullet, it doesn’t fix anything. The magic comes from transparency, openness, honesty and engagement. As Kevin says, that’s the cluetrain, this is just clue-fucked.

Now, a few days after the furore, Richard has outlined the steps Edelman are taking to remedy the situation within Edelman. I have a few thoughts about his ideas, in order:

1. ‘Best practice’ is not something you get by put down rules into a document, or creating a set of processes you make people follow. It’s achieved by ensuring your staff have a deep understanding of what blogging is and how blogging culture works.

2. A single class on ethics in social media will not solve your problem – it will barely scratch the surface. I spent six months this year with employees from JCPR, giving them as thorough an insight into blogging as possible by introducing them to all the surrounding technologies and communities, and by encouraging them to read and write blogs. We spent two hours every fortnight for six months talking about and participating in social media, and you know what? There’s still a lot more they don’t know yet (but we’re working on it!). Blogging is not something you can learn in an afternoon, or a day – it’s as complex and alien to PR people as Chinese culture is complex and alien to me. Do not underestimate the scope of the differences – what’s acceptable in PR circles is far from acceptable in blogging circles and it takes a lot of unpicking to see exactly what’s what.

3. A hotline? That indicates to me that you know your staff haven’t got the requisite clue. But tell me, where are you getting all these lovely guidelines from? I’ve been doing blog consulting for nearly three years, and frankly I’m still learning things. The field is evolving rapidly, and I have yet to come across a nice set of guidelines that encapsulate it all.

4. Who’s writing your ethics materials? Please, God, don’t say WOMMA.

Finally, Richard asks for advice, to which my response is: If you really want to understand blogging properly, stop collecting bloggers to display at your events and start actually learning about the blogosphere. Set up a proper training course for your staff, run by someone who actually knows blogs, and who is not a PR blogger. I am highly sceptical of PR, and that allows me to point out to PR people where what they do is at odds with what bloggers do. If you simply employ PR people who happen to blog, all you’ll get is the same old PR attitudes, but with comments and trackbacks. And we all know that that is not enough.

I do think Edelman are doing better than most, but you are also more vocal than most, and if you’re going to talk the bloggy talk, you damn well better be capable of walking the bloggy walk, otherwise you’re going to look more than a little foolish.

Monaco Media Forum: Quality and news

I just finished listening to a panel discussion titled News 2.0 here at the Monaco Media Forum. It was depressing on a number of levels.

There is a pressing question in the news business right now: What is the business model that will support ‘quality’ journalism? That is usually how it’s phrased. Putting aside the issues of quality for the moment, let’s just talk about the business model of news. I have colleagues in the news business who envy the companies that I’ve worked for: The BBC and the Guardian. The BBC has a huge war chest based on the TV licence fee, and the Guardian has the Scott Trust so that it’s not completely based on profit motive. It’s nice not to worry so much about the money side of things.

Newsgathering is expensive. There is just no doubt about it. I was just thinking back to my former BBC colleague Jonathan Baker who said that the Beeb spends about $2.5 million a year to pay for coverage in Iraq, most of the money going to pay for security. Jonathan was really honest about what that $2.5 million buys in terms of journalism: A lot but not nearly as much as any journalist would like. But the bottom line is that it’s very, very expensive. Newspaper readership is declining, and newspaper readers pay a lot more into the coffers of newspapers than online ads do yet.

And let me be very clear about this, I believe that journalism is very important in a democratic society. Odd as this may seem for what I do and have done for 10 years, I was trained as a newspaper journalist. I still prefer newspaper-style journalism over most broadcast journalism. Mostly because it fits my news consumption patterns. I can scan a lot of text a lot faster than I can quickly scroll through video. I like video news for certain things, but I have to say, it’s not for 24 hour news. I want that kind of news on demand, not every 15 minutes. I just don’t have time to wait, and the presenters telling me to wait for the story that I really want to watch just pisses me off.

But notice, I said newspaper-style journalism. I want information. I want insight. I don’t have time for shouty commentary. It’s of little value to me. But it’s just the style of journalism, I’m not hung up on the delivery medium.

One of the panelists talked about a Latin American newsroom of 1400 journalists. Wow. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. It takes time and investment to do investigative journalism. But recently, the Dallas Morning News ‘right-sized’ their newsroom to deal with current economic realities. Newspapers are trying to reinvent themselves, but it’s painful work.

But what troubled me in this conversation is the issue of quality and what separates what professionals from amateurs in gathering news. Personally, I’m trying to get closer to my audience, not further separated from them. I had another journalist tell me: Well, certainly some of what we do must be telling people what they should hear. I agree with that. I’m not going to write stuff just to please my audience and keep them blissfully ignorant. What I have a problem with is that I’m really uncomfortable having the final say in what my audience thinks is important. When I was a cub reporter, I learned that listening was a pretty important part of my job.

I am just really uncomfortable with this obsession, this almost divine right that some journalists feel in setting the agenda and determining what is important. It’s the gatekeeper role of journalism driven by ego and arrogance. I’m probably going to get frogmarched out of the Fourth Estate for saying that. But it plays into this whole debate about quality, which is really just about control. And I think it’s simply a defensive position that is largely unhelpful in dealing with the real problem of adapting the news business model. Newspapers really need to hop onto the Cluetrain.

Involving your audiences isn’t pandering. Listening improves the quality of your product, and in this Attention Economy, there is no shortage of information, quality or otherwise.

And personally, while they were trying to figure out ways to defend the purity of the Fourth Estate, I was happy to get on with News 2.0, writing my blog post, uploading the video I took with a consumer digital camera that cost £140 and being very happy about my new job.

Blogging the Monaco Media Forum

How did a scruffy blogger like me get an invite to the Monaco Media Forum, akin to Davos for the media? No clue, but I’m here. I had intended to do the full live-blogging here while doing highlights and video on the Guardian’s Organ Grinder blog, but they don’t have WiFi in the main hall. I’ll do a couple of meaty posts here later. The Guardian post is here. Interview with Jason Krikorian of Slingmedia here. Interview with Loic Le Meur on blogs and being a global citizen here.

Parliament and the Internet

I was at a conference today at Portcullis House, APIG‘s Parliament and the Internet Conference which was examining a whole range of internet-related issues, which I wrote up over on the Open Rights Group blog. Here are links to the four sessions I blogged:

ISPs in the content driven era
Plenary discussion round up: internet governance, e-crime, ISPs
Jon Gisby, Yahoo!: were are people going online and what does it mean?
William Dutton, Oxford Internet Institute: what are people doing online?

Interesting day.

The most awesome comment system ever

Jack Slocum has hacked together the most awesome blog commenting system I have ever seen, using a combination of WordPress, Yahoo UI and YAHOO.ext. He’s created a system for paragraph- or sentence-level comments with a slick AJAX user interface which could just revolutionise the way we comment. I saw similar functionality on Traction’s Teampage when I got a demo of it last year, and I can imagine that Jack’s approach would be a very powerful way of facilitating quite granular discussions.

At the Open Rights Group we sometimes do public consultations, such as the one we did for the Gowers Review. To gather public input we use a blog and break down the consultation document into sections. This is quite a clumsy way of doing it, and doesn’t really allow for very fine-grained discussions, but Jack’s solution would be far more elegant and would allow us to tease out the nuances of what can be quite complex calls for evidence.

Question is, how do I get one?

(Thanks to Kevin for pointing this out via IM.)

How can anyone get a blog this wrong?

Thanks to Geeklawyer for pointing out the truly dreadful ‘blog‘ by Watson Farley & Williams, an international legal firm. As he says, it wouldn’t have taken them long to find someone to help them understand what this blog malarky is all about, but instead they’ve gone the FIUY (fuck it up yourself) route and have ended up with something truly atrocious.

Let’s have a quick look at what they did wrong.

a) The blog entries are PDFs. What on earth do they think they are doing? Why use a PDF? Blog entries are supposed to be easy to read in your browser at the click of a button, they shouldn’t involved downloading anything at all, let alone a PDF.

b) The blog entries are dire. The company has asked the trainees to blog, but obviously hasn’t helped them understand what blogs are, what might be good to write about, or how best to write it. Instead of an insight into life in a law firm, you get trite nonsense: “Oh it’s so great top work here… And look! Free booze!” I’m not going to pick on the trainees individually though – it’s not their fault they’ve been asked to do this and given no proper help or direction.

c) No comments.

d) No trackbacks.

e) No archives.

f) No blogroll.

g) No RSS.

h) No links to other blogs.

i) The blog entries are PDFs. Ok, I know I said that once already, but I really can’t get over it. PDFs. For the blog entries. WTF?

In fact, this ‘blog’ has absolutely none of the technology that makes a blog a blog. This is not a blog. It’s is a collection of poorly written PDF articles. Where’s the openness? The transparency? The honesty? The interest? The passion? If I wrote a blog about watching paint dry it’d have more passion than this one, and it’d be a lot more interesting.

Now I’m not the only blog consultant in town, but frankly you don’t need to be a blog consultant to see just how dreadful this attempt at latching on to a ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ phenomenon is. Ask any blogger what makes a blog a blog and they’ll probably give you a list much the same as above, but obviously Watson Farley & Williams are quite happy spouting bullshit and following trends from a safe distance of several hundred light years.

I wonder if they’ll do a L’Oreal (fix it) or a Juicy Fruit (pull it and pretend it never happened)?