Amazon Prime a good start, but needs some work

by on May.13, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing, resale

It’s important to consider what media sellers and rights-holders are doing correctly, and not solely deride them for their perpetual myopia in terms of business models.

To wit: what’s the deal with Amazon Prime? This three-tiered service costs $80 a year for unlimited streaming, access to their ebook library, and free two-day shipping on some items.

Streaming is certainly a step in the right direction. The more that larger companies continue to license streaming content, the cheaper and broader the selection will become. Compare this with rip-offs like some ISP’s “on-demand” movies that cost $6 apiece. Sure, those films are newer, but for the majority of consumers that are at least partially price sensitive, charging $6 for one streaming session is the same as offering nothing at all (especially for those of us without cable to begin with – a sub-group to which I happily belong).

Prime doesn’t have as many titles as Netflix, but they’re also the new kid on the block. In time, they should build a comparable library. If you’re super-picky, let’s face it: you’re probably reluctant to abandon your cable anyway. But if you’re flexible, you can get much more media for much cheaper with either streaming service.

Skipping to the free shipping: like most services, this is advantageous when used often. If you buy the hell out of media, then it could be a perk of Prime, but that’s not what I’m interested in here.

The most important feature is “access” to the lending library of ebooks. When I read this pitch over quickly, I was immediately impressed. Finally, someone gets it – way to go Amazon! But then the fine print (it wasn’t fine, I have to admit, but it wasn’t exactly bulleted as a feature either). It seems you can only get one ebook loaned per month. This stopped me entirely. What do the huge numbers of available titles really mean when you’ve so completely bottlenecked access?

I understand: few people even finish one title a month; this should be enough, and compared with ebook prices (and considering that ebook sales skirt first-sale doctrine’s right to resale), this is a great deal.

But it’s still fundamentally an approach of exclusion and artificial scarcity. And while they understandably don’t want to give access to unlimited downloads of unlimited titles to everyone on the Net, the Prime model still assumes that the way to do business is to limit what your customers can do. Pick one book out of 100,000? The idea is silly.

What indeed would customers do if allowed unfettered access to the entire collection? Would they suddenly “borrow” hundreds of titles per month and then refuse to buy any? Of course not. And even if they did: what is Amazon selling here? Prime or ebooks? The two needn’t be mutually exclusive, of course, and they wouldn’t be, but perhaps they shouldn’t need to be mutually inclusive either.

But what’s wrong with a more pragmatic model that’s much closer to the way a physical library operates? I love the idea of having unlimited numbers of copies (a bottlenecked which currently affects library ebook loans, alongside horrid DRM schemes), but why have the loan last forever? If someone is a Kindle owning Amazon customer, they likely value their immediate selections rather than their long-term library, especially if it means having higher availability.

Would you rather have any number of books available to you for a limited amount of time, or one book a month for as long as you want it? Most would choose the former, and – importantly – that doesn’t imply that they would stop buying ebooks. I use my local library like crazy, and I can check out a book over and over if I want, but eventually, if it’s a book that I want to read multiple times or one that I need always to have on-hand (or one that I eventually want to give away, though we’re not there yet with legal ebooks services) then I end up buying it.

If they had to restrict access, perhaps the barrier could be connectivity instead of the number of media. Say, Prime allows unfettered access so long as the user is connected, but to have a book available “off-line”, the person might have to buy it. This might sound restrictive, but this is essentially how the successful Steam platform operates. The price of easy shopping, demos, deals, updates, and stability is that you have to be connected. The benny for them is obvious: that they can better know who you are (and thus that you’re supposed to have access).

That said, it would not take long to conjure many more scenarios that beat the pants off of one book per month. It’s still certainly a step in the right direction, but because it employs artificial scarcity, I have to remain critical.

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Facebook sharing not cause to surrender personal data

by on May.10, 2012, under File-sharing, Publishing

An unsettling trend has emerged on Facebook timelines, and I don’t mean sharing copyrighted content. I’m talking about sharing media behind access walls that demand Facebook information to view.

One thing should be clear at the onset: sharing media – embedded or linked to – should not require surrendering your personal data to some third-party application. Facebook makes sharing ridiculously easy. You just paste the URL into your status update, and Facebook even adds a thumbnail image and a synopsis.* For videos, you can even watch the clips inside Facebook. There is no need to abide by the shady terms of some application that supposedly makes sharing easier at the expense of selling out all your friends.

Take an example. Here’s what pops up when you attempt to listen to a music post. Sure, the post LOOKS like you could just play it right within Facebook, and what could be easier? Then you’re presented with yet another access wall, which we’ve come to detest and ignore, simply clicking whatever it demands to move forward. After all, we’ve got Farmville farms to tend to and mafias to run; we can’t be bothered to read pop-ups or even create accounts. We’re just fine using Facebook to bypass nag screens, despite what this means for our own privacy and the privacy of our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another access wall – this one for Yahoo! News stories. It seems to suggest that to “share the news with your friends”  you have to surrender your personal data. I’ve seen other Yahoo! Facebook apps that require even more access, and for what? For a news story that users could just as easily find online and post a link to as share with the Yahoo! app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another – called SocialCam – requires access to personal data to play a video, even though the scores of embedded YouTube videos all over Facebook fly in the face of such an unnecessary sharing tack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But notice what it reads at the bottom of each one of these, about posting as you. Isn’t this a little disturbing? Should sharing – an organic and timeless activity – really be coupled with auto-generated, canned opinions about what you’re listening to, or watching, or reading?

Facebook is contrived enough as it is; we don’t need canned updates about whatever media you’re consuming void of any context or users’ actual reason for sharing it.

Because of this, I took a closer look at my own Facebook account, specifically at the apps that were allowed some sort of access. I was surprised to find somewhere around 20 application with some manner of access to my account (and more importantly, my friends’ information). Fewer than half of these did I use on a regular basis. The others I had no doubt carelessly given access many moons ago, and I found that ALL of them had gleaned my updated data no more than a month prior.

So, for that silly little quiz I made a few years back, I’ve been surrendering my own and my friends’ data for countless months.

That sharing or even creating media requires such subjugation is silly. While Facebook is arguably not the freest and certainly not the most anonymous or secure platform for sharing, it does not demand surrendering data to the extent that we’ve been willing to hand it over. We clamor about identity theft and online privacy, but then allow the highest level of access just to view the latest meme pic, falls compilation, or headline news story.

I petition everyone to take a closer look at his/her Facebook settings and to take the few extra seconds necessary to avoid putting shared media behind an unnecessary access wall.

We’re sold out enough by those pushing consumer goods; we don’t need to subject each other to it as well.

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Ebook now available!

by on May.09, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing

An electronic version of my book Pirate Nation is now available for download. Just check out the “My Book” tab above or you can find it on its own site Pirate Nation.

I’ve employed a “pay what you want” model, and I’d love to receive some feedback or criticism about the book via the contact form also above.

Thanks so much for reading Piracy Happens, without which I’m certain Pirate Nation would have never been written.

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Is User-Generated Content Harming Professional Media? – Part Three

by on May.06, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing

Another cause for professional content’s decline is one of business model. I know: blaming business models borders on banal, but in this case it may just be accurate. Newspapers and magazines have long operated off readership (among other factors) dictating the amount to charge advertisers for ad space. So while you’re paying a buck an issue for a top-notch magazine, it’s possible the magazine even took a loss on that copy, but makes its money instead on the idea that you’re more prone to buy something that you saw advertised within its pages.

This is somewhat directed advertising in terms of magazines, but is often slinging spaghetti at the wall when it comes to newspapers. Who reads the newspaper? The old, the young, the rich, the poor, the liberal and the conservative, the male and the female.  The adverts are just as likely to have no appeal to a reader as they are to resonate.

And there are strong forces killing formerly reliable revenue streams for print media, such as lists of job openings moving online to sites such as Career Builder or Monster. The once-lucrative Classifieds are all but dead in print media because of Craigslist. Same for movie show times, community goings-on, and the like.

This has nothing to do with user-generated content (UGC), let alone with copyright, but with technology itself.

In terms of actual lost journalism jobs, while it’s arguable that user-generated film reviews have created a decrease in demand for newspaper-employed review writers, there is still a distinct difference between amateur film reviews and amateur investigative journalism. The former is a matter of experience, insight, and solid communication; the latter is also about access, dogged investigation, and established connections (things that it’s certain the lay writer has not developed like the career journalist).

Thus, it’s unlikely that professional investigative journalism about the war or about Darfur or Haiti has lost out to the rants of someone living comfortably in his mother’s basement so much as it has been negatively affected by the newspapers poor economics from the other listed factors.

Granted, what Slant writer Jack Shafer calls “social currency”  - that is, knowledge of what’s happening in the world right now – is indeed a currency being doled out by users alongside professional journalists, but the question then becomes “so what?”

Is most social currency coming from a professional on, say, political events, community news, or entertainment news necessarily better than from an amateur? It is going to be written better and following guidelines that ensure integrity better than Facebook, but is that necessarily so? Does it need to be that way? Are readers better off finding out that an earthquake rocked India or that a madman gunned down 10 people in a McDonald’s from a journalist rather than from a 140 character Twitter feed?

Sure, the latter is more likely to indulge rumors, but even the most respected television stations and even newspapers got a slew of “facts” ridiculously wrong on September 11th, 2001. I remember reports of vans filled with explosives going off in front of federal buildings across the nation. Can we ridicule Facebook or Twitter for stoking rumors when mainstream media often shovels the same slop?

Indeed, magazines must bear some responsibility for poorer content as well. I heard a speech from a former editor-in-chief of Omni who talked about the “good ole days” where they paid a buck per word and took pieces up to 20,000 words. Such a payday hasn’t been seen since. But the issue was that advertisers disliked the Omni model, where readers actually – y’know – read the magazine. Advertisers and magazine publishers alike are far keener on the mag that gets only ten minutes face time, and a full 75% of that time is staring at ads, not content. This has birthed the 250 word “in depth” and the 100 word blurb. And all this was well underway long before the Internet was widespread.

I don’t believe that this decline has to do with copyright. I believe that – no matter the outcome of UGC and participatory culture – tighter copyright laws would simply not return the genii to the bottle. Regulations to control content on the Web might lessen the flow of some content some of the time. Might force a respect of some content at a hefty price (both in terms of pushback and actual logistical costs that no one entity wants to bear). But if a publication wants continually to pay writers less (spurred, I have little doubt, with fewer streams of income, not necessarily greed), then the quality will continue to decline.

In other words: a decline in quality and pay might be due to the willingness of a million amateurs to write whatever comes their way for pennies on the pro’s dollar, but what came first: the gigs or the willingness to fulfill them?

In case you missed the first two parts of this series, here are parts One and Two!

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Is User-Generated Content Harming Professional Media? – Part Two

by on May.03, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing

I’ve covered how I’m dubious about user-generated content (UGC) and amateur content’s role in harming the market for newspapers and magazines. However, amateur content has greatly impacted a photographer’s landscape, where anyone with a point-and-shoot is suddenly a “photographer” willing and able to shoot everything from a wedding to a birthday. However, here is where a more pragmatic attitude toward copyright can bolster business.

The older photogs who still insist that they retain all rights and only sell “packages” to their clients (with an assumed amount of business coming from clients returning for more photos to which only the photog has access) are going the way of the Dodo. Instead, forward-thinking photographers relinquish most or even all rights to their content the moment the transaction is complete – often by surrendering a disk of full-size or even lossless image files, and also with many “doctored” shots that the photographer cares little about thereafter.

While it’s understandable that this increases the upfront “sitting fee”, clients simply don’t want to be nickeled and dimed any longer; they want to own and be able to share their photos with the world, without the fear of stepping on any photographer’s toes.

And since a photographer’s own overhead has shrunk enormously with digital technology, gone are the days of costly packages anyway. Photoshop demands a fraction of the time light room development required, and there’s no question digital storage media are practically free compared with the erstwhile costs of film.

This doesn’t mean all photographers exist on a level playing field, however; there are still plenty high-end shutterbugs out there, and their work indeed stands above. Just as it’s unlikely that bootleg Louis Vuitton’s entice or take away customers who want the real deal, it’s equally unlikely that amateur point-and-click photographers are taking business away from these higher-end professionals.

Certainly, there are ways in which UGC has edged out other professional content, as well. For instance, I used to buy computer books on any program I was interested in learning or already knew but wanted to develop a mastery of. But where the book is static – having to teach assuming that each reader is going to have the same goal, the same problems, the same projects – I can go online to any of my favorite forums and tap into the wisdom of hundreds of people who work with that program daily. Who love to solve other people’s problems, and who custom-tailor their responses to my questions or problems.

I have received invaluable bits of code, shortcuts, tweaks to my workflow, and all for free. My contribution is that the solution remains online for anyone who has that same problem in the future (and the very sparse moments where I can contribute to the solution of someone else’s inquiry).

I had no problem paying for computer books and I might still buy one here and there if they are very visual and can be treated more for a quick reference (though responses on many message boards are equally quick), but it’s certain that my patronage of computer book publishers has waned almost to non-existence, and in this I am not alone.

Is this to be mourned? Is it any more impacting than the moribund nature of encyclopedias after Wikipedia? In the case of my computer issues, I don’t believe I am any worse off learning from other users than I am from a professional writer. And as much as I enjoyed a well-crafted encyclopedia, I think it’s naive to believe that there is so great a difference between Britannica and Wikipedia that the former is to be idolized as the pinnacle of human knowledge while the other is subject to perpetual ridicule for being “amateur”. Even a cursory glance at a popular Wiki’s edit history will reveal intense scrutiny and refinement. Is this so dissimilar to the sort of scrutiny entries for Britannica underwent? Dissimilar enough to disregard Wikipedia as worthless? Doubtful.

Check out Part Three, where I keep peeling the onion on what is happening to professional content creation, or go back and read Part One if you missed it.

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Is User-Generated Content Harming Professional Media? – Part One

by on May.01, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing

What is causing a decline in the market for professional media?

Inspired by discussion on the sister Facebook page, I want to write a bit about this question, which is on the periphery of copyright law and digital piracy, but certainly germane.

Foremost, is there a decline? That depends on the media. For newspapers, certainly. The only real issue of debate is whether the decline is large or small each year, and not whether – over several years – circulation has indeed shrunk. There are a couple of papers that still enjoy a solid readership, but for most, each year entails laying off reporters and copy editors: both of which mean an eventual decline in professional content.

How about for magazines? Some titles are indeed suffering a steady decrease in print sales, though this offers plenty of time to migrate some facets to the Web and to figure out other ways of reclaiming their former glory. Other magazines, however, continue to thrive. However, content has moved from lengthy articles to tiny blurbs amid slews of adverts, so it’s safe to assume a hefty decrease in the market they present to professional writers.

I’ve heard it argued that the primary culprit hurting professional media is amateur and user-generated content, and – as a secondary but related cause – a cavalier attitude toward having to pay for any media since the advent of ubiquitous Internet.

But for journalism, I’m unconvinced that the rise of amateur and user-generated media is to blame. One big elephant in the room is that content creators now compete with many other media. Video games enjoyed only modest face time until a few years ago, around the time of widespread Internet usage (not implying that the Internet was gaming’s sine qua non, only that they are coeval technologies).  Now, games cull ridiculous amounts of face time that once went to more traditional forms of media: television, books, magazines, newspapers, and films. Where once a game’s appeal was in replay (and annoyingly so) now the technology has allowed game developers to create worlds of depth, immersion, and non-linear game play that demand hundreds or even thousands of hours to defeat.

Too, the Internet itself is taking away face time formerly spent patronizing professional media. Just think about how much time people spend “catching up” on Facebook daily. But neither gaming nor “surfing” needs user-generated content (UGC). At least not content that bears any relation to what one might find in a newspaper or magazine. While there’s plenty of user-generated media akin to newspaper content on Facebook, it is not necessary to garner attention. In fact, I generate much more interest in a picture of my toddler or pithy comment about the new GI Joe movie than I do for any “notes” I’ve written or links to my blog posts. For good or ill, we simply don’t have the time to dedicate to newspapers or magazines that we used to, but that doesn’t imply we’re spending that time reading amateur content covering the same topics.

One has to consider that traditional media was as much about connecting to the outside world as it was building a working knowledge of events, and now games and Internet social media sites provide that connection, despite not being tied to the latest military coup or catastrophic mudslide.

So perhaps it’s just as much a case of decreased demand as it is rising supply – either of which will greatly impact what a journalist is paid for a story (among other things). That’s not to suggest that there is a lack of amateur journalism out there: it is ubiquitous. But blaming it for shrinking a professional’s market and/or paycheck could prove a leaky case.

Check out Part Two, where I keep peeling the onion on what is happening to professional content creation. 

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What would CISPA mean for the copyfight?

by on Apr.27, 2012, under copyright law

I’ll table my upcoming blog on large companies generating ad revenue from copyright violation and if/how this affects content creation, in order to weigh in on CISPA.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was voted on yesterday and passed the House 248 to 168. The main opposition to CISPA is concerned with privacy more than piracy (crazy how close those words look when written), but I think it’s worthwhile to consider what effect CISPA’s passage could have on the copyright climate, despite President Obama’s promise to veto it.

After all, part of the purpose of the bill is to stop the “theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information,” and since SOPA verbiage considered privately held IP as “US property” this is sort of saying the same thing – that the act could be used to secure corporate-owned media. Nesting it in more threatening acts – theft of government secrets or personal data – is no mistake, but a very common rhetorical tactic. Collude something you want to seem egregious with things that actually are. Viola. Guilty by association.

Among the arguments of the opposition is the fear that CISPA will mean that the government can trace one’s movement and dealings on the Net and that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be forced to pony up customer data without preamble or having to prove any probably cause. Personally, while I would – at every turn – wish to limit the government’s ability to glean my personal data, since there is weighty evidence that profiling remains so rife with false positives as to be ineffective, I am also under no illusions that I am important enough to gather data on.

I don’t believe that – as one commenter notes – that CISPA will allow the military to have my phone number “to recruit me to their little robot army.” Hate to break it to anyone under such disillusions of grandeur, but your personal data is not worth as much as you think to, say, military recruiters, black-bag operatives, new world orders, or grey-skinned aliens.

However, this doesn’t excuse the violation of privacy that CISPA would enable. And what’s much more important than any fantasy of what the government would do with this data is what they could actually do with it. Notably, it could mean that ISPs will wash their hands of defending their customers’ data: to include contact info and (more importantly) Internet usage. It is entirely different for Cox to wax faithful to customers when refusing to surrender customer data to the MPAA than it is refusing it to the US government. CISPA, in this way, is a free pass for ISPs to quit caring about surrendering customer data.

Consider the organizations lobbying for CISPA to pass. Among the largest are companies who would financially benefit from the added hardware and software that CISPA would necessitate. Nothing surprising there. However, other contributors include Time-Warner and other communications firms. Why would they want CISPA to pass?

More importantly, would personal data flow from ISPs to the government to the MPAA to the courts? It’s hard to tell. I have no doubt that the government shows far more loyalty to corporations than to the people: this should be common knowledge by now. As well known and ingrained in our collective wisdom as the color of the sky or the smell of smoke. The people’s contribution – tax dollars – while substantial, are not opt-in. You cannot refuse to pay taxes and remain unscathed and unmolested. A corporation, however, can refuse to lobby. To donate. Can – in fact – threaten to move jobs and money and innovation overseas.

So could CISPA be used to create a case against domestic pirates? I don’t see why not. It’s clear that the government is more than willing to spend taxpayer dollars funding the War on Piracy. Why not offer support in the way of culling user data from ISPs to aid a case against them? All under the guise of the pirate representing a “threat to national security” of course.

It is this – all things considered a petty use of taxpayer resources, and at the expense of privacy – that has me much more concerned than someone in the NSA or FBI being able to read my emails or view my personal data. Again, to believe that I am a blip on anyone’s radar borders on solipsistic. While I’ve commonly heard arguments of the government’s “unsung heroes” who stop terrorist attacks or cybercrime but who never make the news, it would be much easier to swallow the necessity of CISPA or its equivalent if it could be shown quantitatively that the act would protect against actual threats to national security.

How NOT to do that? By trying to throw intellectual property into the mix. This only obfuscates an already dubious act, and certainly won’t win any hearts to the side of national defense.

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Is DropBox file-sharing 2.0?

by on Apr.23, 2012, under copyright law, File-sharing

Now DropBox has made sharing files easier than ever, with the ability to link to media outside of the Public folder, and without users having to download the linked-to material (which can now be viewed without downloading).

Notice I said “sharing files” not “file-sharing,” since the latter is loaded with Dark Side implications. No one wants to think about DropBox that way. And yet, Techdirt points out that this feature isn’t far removed from what got Megaupload into hot water to begin with. So what is the difference?

Well, it would be difficult to argue that people are using their DropBox accounts for file-sharing illegal material without persistently peaking in their folders, and who exactly should be applied to do this peeking? The government? Trade organizations? Rights-holders?

While I have no illusions that the contents of my DropBox folders is relevant or even interesting to anyone but me, I wouldn’t be too thrilled to find out that DropBox was allowing, say, the MPAA to sift through my folders in search of songs.

But as I’ve pointed out before, people share naturally, whether it’s their latest vacation pics, a copyrighted image from the web, or an article they just read. Even sharing programs occurs virally, but verification techniques such as blacklisting serials used more than once usually stymies this among unseasoned sharers.

So when sharing isn’t raising any conspicuous flags, will it occur without punishment? Probably. That doesn’t mean it won’t be blamed for projected revenue shortfalls by some creative accountants in the entertainment industry, but so long as DropBox isn’t waving the Jolly Roger, it may well become the smaller, more personal version of p2p or Direct Download (DDL) programs, which have not only been eradicated through legal means, but through a general distrust of their contents by all but seasoned file-sharers.

The most interesting consequence of this will be a lack of impact, however. That is, that without DropBox bearing an obvious target on its back the way that Megaupload and others have in the past, I would be surprised to see lobbyists and mainstream media point to it as having a deleterious effect on media sales.

Certainly, trade organizations will always have a bevy of bogeymen ready to scare legislators into passing tighter controls, but they would be hard-pressed to finger DropBox for the crime, all while file-sharing on DropBox is occurring just as much as it would elsewhere – for both files with and without rights-holder permissions.

The point is, however, that the supposed impact of file-sharing seems to mount when file-sharing platforms become more conspicuous for sharing copyrighted files, no matter whether this indicates actual lost sales. I would love to see a study attempting to find a correlation between lost sales (ceteris peribus – none of this ‘sales fell’ balderdash when there was clearly another reason) and the conspicuousness of a file-sharing platform’s use to share copyrighted content.

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Are corporations benefiting from piracy? Part One

by on Apr.19, 2012, under copyright law, Patents, Publishing, resale

 

There has been some great discussion on Piracy Happens’ sister Facebook page Pirate Nation about the ways in which larger companies are involved in copyright infringement. More importantly, whether this is a boon to them, and even more importantly, whether it actually hurts content creators.

Every day the patent grab means robbing Peter to pay Paul. This company sues this one, who counter-sues, followed by appeals, followed by a lot of wealthy, happy patent lawyers. But I’m not terribly concerned about that in the scope of this post because I don’t believe that patent infringement has much in common with, say, generating ad or transaction revenue from copyright infringement. It is far more diaphanous than that, and – arguably – has much more to do with rights-holders than content creators.

For example, I’ll choose auction monolith eBay. There should be little doubt that – according to the letter of copyright law – eBay facilitates copyright violation every hour of every day. That is: they house auctions for items that violate copyright, whether it’s a bootleg film or tv series, unauthorized re-sale of royalty-free b-roll, or selling computer hardware with pre-loaded apps that are not legitimate versions. I’ll be borrowing from my book Pirate Nation a little here.

So foremost: does eBay profit from this? Despite slews of angry customers claiming that eBay is little more than a treasure trove of pirated warez – that they resist fighting infringement because they welcome any commission, there is – as usual – much more to it than that. After a case in which filmmaker Robert Hendrickson attempted to sue eBay for copyright violation for supposedly selling bootleg DVDs, it was decided in the courts that eBay fell under protection based on a facet of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It basically goes like this: eBay isn’t responsible for what others try to sell so long as they remove the content and take action to prevent it recurring whenever the rights-holder (or someone else) files a complaint. But they went beyond this.

eBay created Verification Rights Owner (VeRO), a program to report infringement and for rights-holders to create ‘about me’ pages regarding permissions. eBay also employs hundreds of people who traverse thousands of auctions solely to stop sellers from hawking infringing material. eBay also relies on buyer and seller finger-pointing. A customer receives a bootleg copy of a film instead of the original, reports the seller, and eBay stops their auctions or even cancels their seller accounts.

So it’s incorrect to claim that eBay does nothing to stop infringement OR to claim that they make lots of money from violating content. While I have no balance statement handy, I somehow doubt that their return on commissions for pirated warez is greater than the salary of a few hundred employees. Bit of a stretch there.

And let me say: I DON”T CARE about eBay’s anti-piracy actions. I am not awed by them; I don’t claim they are headed in the right direction; they have their own sets of drawbacks. I merely mention them because they are a fitting example of a large corporate infringer-by-proxy.

Secondly, does it hurt the artists? This would be even harder to prove. First, you’d have to discount all sales using the first-sale doctrine: that is, all used material. If you sell a used copy of The Simpsons: Season 20 on eBay or Amazon or Craigslist or a yard sale, nothing goes back to the content creators. And this indeed comes far closer to constituting a “lost sale” because – unlike with pirates – it’s evident that the buyer is willing to pay something for the media, though not full price. And yet, media has long flourished despite the first-sale doctrine: in music, movies, publishing – you name it.

But are there bootleg media sales where the product is passing off as new, costs nearly as much, and thus might represent a loss to the rights-holder (and often the content creator)? I’m sure. But again, this is a very difficult number to tally. If the buyer were willing to pay full price for a retail copy, he would have walked his butt to Best Buy and laid it down.

Most importantly: is the loss large enough to dissuade content creation? Obviously not. I’m sure there are investors out there gun-shy about putting money into media creation because of perceived threats from everyone from Google to The Pirate Bay, but that does not diminish the zillion or so dollars still poured into media creation all the time. Is it less for some media? Sure, but we also have crap-tons more media to choose from now.

Check out part two for a look at what ad-revenue on sites infringing copyright means for content creators and rights-holders. 

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Worlds, Inc suing Blizzard for ubiquitous MMO feature

by on Apr.16, 2012, under Gaming, Patents

Patent troll company Worlds, Inc has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against World of Warcraft creators Activision Blizzard, Inc. The claim? That Blizzard violated a patent for a “System and Method for Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space.”

This should sound familiar, since it’s the premise for pretty much every MMO game ever. As one commenter pointed out, the patent was actually filed three days AFTER the release of the first Everquest game back in 1999, which means that Worlds, Inc had absolutely NOTHING to do with innovating the digital environment currently used in WoW or any other MMO game.

This should come as no surprise. Companies are always suing each other – no different for smaller, do-nothing companies such as Worlds, Inc suing larger companies who are actually making things happen. Who have made it big. The difference here – and what drew my attention and ire – is that Worlds, Inc is operating on the platform that they contributed in some way to the huge success of MMO titles – a billion-dollar industry.

Worlds, Inc CEO Thom Kidrin said: “Technologies created by Worlds have helped the businesses of virtual worlds gaming and the sale of virtual goods to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry. While we are pleased to see that the gaming industry and its rapidly growing customer base have enthusiastically embraced our patented technologies, we deserve fair compensation for their use.”

There are several problems with this statement. First, that Worlds, Inc has helped anyone do anything. That Everquest was already in stores, and that WoW game designers had never even heard of Worlds, Inc completely invalidates this claim. They didn’t DO anything but walk their butts to the patent office to file a piece of paper that has about as much to do with innovation as lawyers have to do with justice (ie – nothing at all).

Second, that game companies have “enthusiastically embraced” their technologies. If the hundreds of thousands of software patents imply anything, it’s that no one has the capacity to predict or reference what “outcomes” have been patented. It’s not as if MMO game makers were spit-balling in an office and checking the US patent office Web site for ideas.

The idea of “Enabling Users to Interact in a Virtual Space” is completely ordinary, expected, and obvious. Patents are supposed to be for “non-obvious” products or processes, so I’m not sure how this one even got through, but I’m not surprised, either.

Lastly, that Worlds, Inc now deserves a slice of the billion-dollar MMO pie. Just because they were first to the patent office doesn’t mean they did or are entitled to anything. This “virtual space” they patented, has been around – as noted – at least for 13 years. Why wait to file suit now? It’s obvious: they were waiting for some MMO manufacturer to grow large enough to make their predatory practices worthwhile.

And realistically, they don’t want to WIN, they want to settle. Proof of this rests in their choice of counsel. Max L Tribble, no doubt a real stand-up guy, has a long history of extorting settlements for patent infringement. Representing patent trolls and taxing companies that are actually creating something.

This is all old news, but until our courts (and our citizenry) recognize this important and obvious flaw in the patent system, such suits will continue to proliferate, to no one’s benefit but a few leeches, sucking money from content creation while contributing nothing.

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