Copyright Town Hall Sham-bolics

It appears that by design or chance, the big Town Hall meeting on Copyright law in Toronto yesterday was dominated by one side of the debate – that side representing the (mostly foreign-based) commercial music industry, that side seething epithets about “lawbreakers” and “pirates”, that side representing a tiny minority interest, that narrow slice of Canadian society that weakly resorts to costly litigation to solve its problems when the going gets tough. Blame your customers, eh? Blame the citizenry?

So this is just my short post echoing the growing protest over this entire process, noting the added outrage over Industry Canada apparently modifying copyright consultation submissions. Seems we have a problem – our Federal government is clearly, given its history on this subject, ensnared by the RIAA/MPAA lobbyists, and this purported open-mindedness about policy reform is nothing but political theatre, as could be anticipated.

What to do? Write to your MP, or host your own Copyright Town Hall meeting. Also, you might want to join the Pirate Party of Canada. I did.

“& as is typical of Conservatives, pointlessly drab and sleep-inducingly obvious political theatre”, the moral-aesthetic conscience chimes in…

Last.fm and misinformation

I need to retract a decision I made based on seemingly false news.

Just over a month ago I posted an announcement that Simulacre Media would be removing its entire catalog from the Last.fm service due to the imposition of user fees in countries other than the US, UK, and Germany. I read a misleading Canwest story (and others) that missed the memo about how the new user fees would apply to Last.fm Radio only. Seemingly, I missed this memo too. More correctly, the memo was never explicit about what the changes would actually mean.

Before I posted my original decision, I consulted the original source (Last.fm’s Blog) to clarify what the changes actually meant, and for whom. The responses, as well as the original announcement on March 24 (to be fair to the many naïve journalists who rode the wave of hype) were actually never explicit about how this affected the availability of free music on the site. The Last.fm announcement reads that “scrobbling, recommendations, charts, biographies, events, videos etc. will remain free in all countries”. There is no explicit mention of free music, downloads, or streaming (as distinct from “radio”, if it were to be a distinct thing) in this announcement. So I made and posted my decision anyway, decoding this as surreptitious PR jostling – after all, it is still CBS at the end of the day, right?

Even after a wave of international user feedback expressing much confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal) over the impending changes, the Last.fm team followed up with another announcement on March 30 about the change that still did not clarify what would happen to free music hosted on the site. There was no clear indication at the time, either, about (1)  how a “subscription” would be distinct from a “user account” on Last.fm, nor about (2) whether individuals providing music for the service would be exempt from the fees, which only compounded everyone’s confusion (not to mention feelings of betrayal). It felt like we were losing control over the right to manage our relationships with fans in the ways that are consistent with our business model/ethos/philosophy (as the case may be). User fees would end our ability to share music for free, wouldn’t they?

I decided to wait and see what would happen before removing the music. April 1 came and went, and the Simulacre catalogue was still all available, all free, for download or streaming. I checked a few weeks later – the streaming links were gone, but the “free download” links were still functional.

I checked again today, and now I see some links to a subscription page on some sort of radio widget that I’ve never seen there before. Still, our catalogue is available for free downloading. Streaming is gone, which hurts Last.fm’s extensibility in the social media world immensely, but it’s not really a deal-breaker from an artist’s or label’s point of view, to my mind (it is still a free service for us). Overall, the changes are not as drastic as at first they seemed, according to the vague Last.fm announcements, and the wave of media hype that followed them.

I cannot presume that this story is over (we’ve seen mammoths in this space rise and fall spectacularly before, haven’t we?… transforming eventually into things that barely resemble their original selves). However, for the time being, it seems we’re still able to give our music away on Last.fm. So long as a platform permits users to download our music for free and interact with our artists in meaningful ways, then we will continue to share our catalogue and support said platform.

It’s simply weird to charge user fees in a music economy that is increasingly devaluing its former prime currency (the recorded artifact) in favour of new sources of revenue, and doing so likely marks the beginning of the end for Last.fm (no more sharing and capturing friends’ streams or playlists, kids!), not to mention how Last.fm radio (with its widgets, extensibility into desktop apps, other social media sites, etc.) will likely become a crippled version of what it could be if free.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

Room Enough For Everyone :: Canada On the Web

The Tyee is carrying Michael Geist’s succinct report about the upcoming hearings at the CRTC over the future of Internet regulation in Canada. Most of these proposals don’t make any sense – imposing Canadian content requirements on commercial Canadian websites is dubious at best – how would web content hosts respond to such a scheme? Move south? Sign up with godaddy instead of geohost? We would merely, in some roughshod form or other, reproduce the old Can-U.S. media order, with cross-border broadcasters, Canadian-edition web sites and services (the model of ebay.ca/amazon.ca would extend into domains like flickr.ca, or worse, twitter.ca. yuck), and we’d unnecessarily introduce barriers to communication in what is a global, low-barrier-to-entry medium.

About a year ago I was asked to give an opinion to SOCAN to help inform their proposal. I argued that the Internet is highly resistant to regulation by its technical design (summed up in my persistent “the internet is filesharing” slogan above). I actually agree with SOCAN somewhat – I do support an ISP tax to reward content creators – a levy collected and monitored in ways like SOCAN already does for radio, television, and live performance. Such a proposal would meet little resistance from the public (who cares about an additional 5 bucks on your 70 dollar a month broadband bill? especially if it permits one to download anything with impunity), and would install a theoretically fair (if fairly monitored and redistributed) royalty system by which artists (and the companies they sign their lives away to) get paid.

But this idea needs to be isolated from the wider proposals to reproduce Canadian content regulations which worked (albeit in a broken fashion) during one media epoch, but won’t work within our present media ecology. The Internet is not a scarce medium like broadcast, and so there is room enough for everyone.

But underscoring this point, carriers should not be free to dictate how users access the Internet, which has attained something of the status of a public utility in common understanding. If we want to make room enough for everyone, we need to build networks that are accessible by all, using whatever hardware or software, on an equal footing. This means a nationwide broadband and wireless strategy; this also means Net Neutrality. It also means government support for community wireless initiatives.

The battle for an open Internet that gets along with content creators’ desire for remuneration needn’t be that difficult here. It’s much worse in mobile (where there is a scarcity), as I’ve been saying all along.

Torrent Tracking on Open Networks 101

Today is Northern Voice (I’m presenting tomorrow, but today is the unconference, most of which I hope to catch!), but right now I’m riveted to my laptop (poring over comments about torrent tracking) before I head out to UBC. Really good back n forth over at Nicholas Weaver’s Random Thoughts regarding claims as to whether it’s actually possible to block torrent traffic (more over at Copyfight). I’m convinced such tracking measures can be circumvented and that torrent sharing can’t be stopped. These debates seem to reaffirm this position, notwithstanding drilling into the tech nitty-gritty.

To repeat – the web is an Open network. Strategies to Close it go against its grain, and are stupendously impractical if not impossible.

The Internet Is Filesharing :: On ISP Levies and Creators’ Rights to Remuneration in Canada

I was recently asked by the Songwriters’ Association of Canada (SAC) to submit a briefing on why file sharing is inevitable, and why a levy system for ISPs makes sense. (The SAC is in the process of submitting a proposal along these lines to the Canadian government, in light of the political deliberations over where our copyright law is headed).

Here‘s the draft of my briefing to them (PDF, 176K). The gist of it? The internet IS file sharing. Comment, suggest revisions, and correct me where I’m wrong, if you please.

Read the SAC’s Proposal and sign up to support it here.

Tapes and Tapes

The A List

The image above depicts the “A List”: tapes that are clearly labelled and known to have original music on them. There are 100 more on the “B List”, which are mislabelled but suspected to contain original works (e.g., they were recorded atop prior recordings on the blank tapes, but never properly re-labelled). There are yet 200 more tapes which are not labelled at all, and many of which might not even be mine.

For those just tuning in, this is the beginning of a massive personal digital archiving project I’m undertaking, and which I’m promising to blog about as much as I can. The oldest tape I’ve found so far is from 1987, but I’m certain there are older ones lurking in a box somewhere.

I’ve come up against a few boggles already, in deciding how to prioritize things. First, multiple media. I’ve got floppy disks with writing on them (yes, even the big “floppy” floppy disks – which contain early university papers and oodles of lyrics, poems, and fiction). I’ve got Hi-8 tapes with all manner of film school and ethnographic projects from my undergrad on them, including, probably some early music videos and short films I’ve made along the way. I’ve got VHS tapes of band performances (though I’m missing some very crucial ones of List Of Mrs Arson that I’m mourning the loss of). Then there’s old CDRs that need ripping, and then the tapes and tapes and tapes. I’m prioritizing tapes because they contain the most valued material (the music), and are the most fragile due to their age (20+ years).

Then there is the problem of how to blog this process. I don’t have much interest in putting everything up online, and doing so would be untenable. I need to build a narrative, which can obfuscate as much history as it can illuminate.

And this brings me to a consideration of the scope of the project, which augments my perplexion even further. Some projects I was only slightly involved in – do I include those and thereby prioritize the biographical dimensions of this endeavor? How will former collaborators respond to my requests to make everything public, noncommercial, attribution only, sharealike, copyleft? How will these considerations limit the project? And should I just ignore these concerns altogether and let the chips fall where they may?

And then there are the questions of destiny, of purpose. Why do this, besides my impulse to restore and save the historical record, however personal and idiosyncratic that history is? Who cares? And what if the music bores people to death?

Finally, there are practical concerns – the tedium of scanning homemade cover art, the hopes that I can locate everything, and that it’s all still salvageable (and PS – for those in the know and who do care, Yummibrain has indeed survived the full 19 years since it was recorded), and whether I have the stamina to carry it through, while exposing some very personal (and perhaps embarrassing) stories in my musical learning process since I was a child.

Lots at stake in such a thing. And I haven’t even mentioned the notion that some of it (hopefully) might get remixed by someone. Anyway, it’ll be a couple weeks before the uploading starts, as there’s much planning to do.

Technical Micropolitics and Musical Amateurs

I presented at AOIR today as part of a panel on Music and Sound. Here’s the PDF of my talk, complete with notes.

I did this with an extreme headache, and a growing sense that I need to, as my friend and colleague Flo articulated it the other day, “coccoon” myself in books again for a while. Assez des conférences maintenant!

4S, Montreal

Production-consumption continuumI’m blogging this from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) conference in Montréal. We (Roy Bendor, Jack Post, Peter-Paul Verbeek and I) just completed our panel on Bruno Latour (“Translating Latour”) and I’m now in a very interesting panel about “Problematizing Technological Appropriation”. My first impression is that it’s a great complement to my presentation on digital music and Latour/Hennion, which I’ve attached as a PDF here (PDF, 364 K, with notes!).

The theoretical work around appropriation has really flowered since I first stepped into this space in 2004. It’s interesting – and reassuring – to witness so many theorists constructing diagrams of production/consumption that echo, build upon, and totally dwarf in profundity the one I first proposed then (at right). I’m referring to the work of Ron Eglash – who has constructed a continuum of production and consumption that accounts for appropriation, power and marginality. Cool stuff – I should be reading this.

Other than that, I’m running on a third wave of sleep denial therapy induced by (1) a sleepless redeye flight on the same day I taught for a ten hour day, (2) compressed conference schedule (2 within 2 weeks), and (3) baby’s sleeping schedule. I’ll sleep after my head is over-full with musings on the ethics of cloning, toppling streetcars in the 19th century, the programmable web, Yahoo Pipes and postphenomenology. What dreams may come?