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Google and Authors Guild agree on settlement

Seems like Google is quickly moving to settle major copyright issues, first in respect to youtube, now with in the case of Google Book Search. On October 28, 2008 the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and Google announced the landmark settlement of Authors Guild v. Google. This is a major deal, both in terms of providing a new economic infra-structure based on the abundance of information, rather than its scarcity, but also, worryingly, in further cementing Google's central position as provider of the world's information. It's clearly another move in centralizing basic services on the Internet.

As Google explains the settlement:

What does the settlement provide?

If approved, the Settlement will authorize Google to continue to scan in-copyright Books and Inserts; to develop an electronic Books database; to sell subscriptions to the Books database to schools, corporations and other institutions; to sell individual Books to consumers; and to place advertisements next to pages of Books. Google will pay Rightsholders, through a Book Rights Registry (“Registry”), 63% of all revenues earned from these uses, and the Registry will distribute those revenues to the Rightsholders of the Books and Inserts who register with the Registry. Distribution will be made pursuant to an Author-Publisher Agreement and a Plan of Allocation, which are part of the Settlement Agreement.

The proposed Settlement also will authorize Google to provide public and higher education libraries with free access to the Books database. Certain libraries that are providing Books to Google for scanning are authorized to make limited "non-display uses" of the Books. Those uses are described in the Notice and the Settlement Agreement.

Linux Foundation: the kernel is worth $1.4 billion

Ars Technica writes

The Linux Foundation has published the results of a study that the organization conducted in order to compute the approximate financial value of the Linux platform. Based on the results of the study, the Linux Foundation has concluded that it would cost $1.4 billion to develop the Linux kernel from scratch and $10.8 billion to develop the complete platform stack.

Even though this is just a very rough estimate (based on the volume of code) it's still a handy figure. The full study (which includes a discussion of the limitations of its methodology) can be found here.

Clay Shirky responds to my review

A few weeks ago, I published a review of Clay Shirky's new book "Here comes Everybody" on Metamute. In the mean time, Simon Collister did an interview with Shirky were he specifically asked him about my review, where I criticized him for talking only about non-controversial issues and omitting major questions such as copyright and business models / profiling / privacy. In his response, Shirky focused only on the question of copyright, claiming, strangely, that while he had written a lot about in the past it is was not a real issue in the big picture. Here is what he had to say:

The Featured Artists' Coalition

The Featured Artists' Coalition campaigns for the protection of performers' and musicians' rights. We want all artists to have more control of their music and a much fairer share of the profits it generates in the digital age. We speak with one voice to help artists strike a new bargain with record companies, digital distributors and others, and are campaigning for specific changes.

This coalition includes some of the best-selling acts in British Music Business and is yet another sign that the business model of the record label has become unacceptable, even for the those for whom it works relatively well. As the labels's exclusive control over on distribution has vanished, their ability to dictate the terms been reduced as well. Really, the only reason they still matter is the monopolistic control over our musical history, i.e. the back catalogue.

The Coalition will begin by focusing on six areas where it is seeking change:

1. An agreement by the music industry that artists should receive fair compensation whenever their business partners receive an economic return from the exploitation of the artists’ work.

2. All transfers of copyright should be by license rather than by assignment, and limited to 35 years.

3.The making available right should be monetized on behalf of featured artistes and all other performers.

4. Copyright owners to be obliged to follow a ‘use it or lose it’ approach to the copyrights they control.

5. The rights for performers should be the same as those for authors (songwriters, lyricists and composers).

6. A change to UK copyright law which will end the commercial exploitation of unlicensed music purporting to be used in conjunction with ‘critical reviews’.

Automate everything: NewsBots and TradeBots

The Wall Street Journals runs a story on how the Google News algorithm mis-read an old story (from 2002) about UAL's financial problems as a breaking news, posted it, thus triggering other algorithms which sell stocks based on news stories.

Google traces the appearance of the 2002 article in its search engine to a process that began late last Saturday night. At 10:36 p.m. PDT, Google's "crawler" -- the technology that finds Web pages -- discovered a new link on the Web site of Tribune's South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper in a section called "Popular Stories: Business." The article -- which didn't carry a date but was published by the Chicago Tribune in December 2002 -- hadn't appeared there when Google's crawler last visited the page at 10:17 p.m., the company said.
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From the Sun-Sentinel site, the article became available through Google News service, accessible if a user searched for keywords like "United Airlines." The article didn't appear in any of the headlines on Google News's home page, but it was picked up and sent via email to people who had created a custom Google News alert about UAL or related topics.The stock market opened Monday with no drop in UAL shares, but the UAL story began circulating widely via a posting by research firm Income Securities Advisors Inc. that was made available to users of Bloomberg L.P., the financial-news service widely watched on Wall Street. Shortly after a headline from the outdated report flashed across Bloomberg screens at about 10:45 a.m., UAL shares began a precipitous drop. Over the next 15 minutes, before Nasdaq halted trading, they dropped as low as $3.

It's not the first time erroneous news reports have swung stock prices, but the increasing reliance on Google, Yahoo and other news aggregators ratchets up the speed with which information -- correct or incorrect -- can spread across the globe.
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Who will profit from EU plans to extend musical copyright?

As Ars Technica reports, the Open Rights Group has published an estimate how revenue -- created if musical copyright in the EU would be extended by another 45 years -- is going to be distributed:

Only the labels and the top performers would benefit, while the great majority of musicians would little -- less then € 30 -- or nothing at all. This makes it abundantly clear that the main argument for the extension of the terms, helping aging musicians, is utterly insincere. Yet another indication that the expansion of copyright does not benefit creators, but amounts to a subsidy of the exploiters. (see also Berndt Hugenholtz on the subject, or more generally, Martin Kretschmer's work on IP based incomes of creative producers.)

Shift from p2p to Video Streaming?

Ars Technica reports on changing traffic patterns, with streaming video rising while p2p traffic, overall, stagnating, now accounting for only one quarter of the overall traffic. They conclude:

The shift, as it take hold around the world, benefits everyone. For content owners, the gain is obvious: the vast majority of high-traffic streaming content is legal and licensed (Dr. Who, Battlestar Galactica, Colbert Report, etc.). This stands in contrast with P2P, of course, and even though user-generated content sites like YouTube still have copyright issues, those issues are "above water" and easy to deal with.

For users, legitimate on-demand access to huge troves of high-quality video removes the risk of lawsuits, but it also has other beneficial effects. For one thing, the P2P blocking/delaying/filtering schemes being trotted out around the world don't affect most of these services. ISPs have gotten away with such blocks using the argument that most P2P is illegal anyway; without that support, it will politically be much harder to block or limit access to legal streaming in the same way.

In a way, this seems to follow suit with a more general trend related to web2.0 of centralizing infrastructure, thus the ability of big organisations, media companies, to reassert control. Very troubling.

ca 1900, Remix Postcards

At the turn of the last century, photographic post-cards became hugely popular, among them so called "photographic phantasies" which created surreal motives, based on all kinds of visual trickery (montage, close-ups, distortions) that the public had not yet been accustomed to. Some of them were purely for entertainment, others for advertisements, or even for political purposes.

Spiegel Online has a selection of them, based on an exhibition called "stamped fantasies" at the Folkwang Museum in Essen on the subject.

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Note: Kaiser Wilhelm II. as an armed insect. French Postcard, ca. 1900.

Opentape invites RIAA to play whack-a-mole post-Muxtape

Seems like there is no learning in the music industry. What happens when you kill a centralized service that might not have all the right licenses, but at least an address and presumably someone willing to do business (think Napster)? Well, a decentralized service appears with no address and no business model (think Bittorrent, the protocol, not the company).

So, here we are again. Ars Technica writes:

The RIAA's unending game of cat-and-mouse with unlicensed music distribution sites has taken an abrupt turn with the introduction of Opentape, a purportedly unrelated open-source clone of Muxtape that the RIAA got shut down last week. Opentape's appearance demonstrates that the RIAA has opened a much larger can of worms than it may have expected when it convinced Muxtape's owners to take the site offline.

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Whether Opentape truly has anything to do with Muxtape, the RIAA now has a whole new set of headaches. By striking down a centralized, streaming-only music discovery service like Muxtape, the RIAA has apparently inspired the release of a simple, decentralized software package for easily streaming and sharing music from any host and URL across the globe, with nary an affiliate link for a legitimate music shop in sight.