Category Archives: intellectual property

Google + News

This, instead, is a pretty good way for Google to contribute to the media industry:

Fastflip

Final Burp: Media owners will hate this. Users will love it. To me, that sums up all the current debate on media…

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Google vs News

It seems like a good 20% of the news produced on the internet in the last few months is about news on the internet. Declined as newspapers are doomed, journalists are doomed, journalism is doomed, we are doomed.  And if you’re looking for the killer, you should probably head to Montainview.

Perhaps that explains why like Google has recently joined the club or the more-or-less enthusiastic supporters of micro-payments, using the Google Checkout platform.

However media companies shouldn’t be celebrating, as I think this will turn out to be little more than a PR initiative from a company that’s being accused of being a parasite.

The reasons why micropayments are very unlikely to work still stand:

– In the math of consumers, unlike the math of business models, the difference between zero cents and 1 cent is not one cent. It’s the difference between the feeling of grabbing something for free and the feeling of paying with your limited resources, plus the hassle of registering into and going through a payment verification system. (Dan Ariely has done lots of interesting research on behavioural psychology, check him out)

News can be easily replicated and divulged. Apart from any ideological considerations now why news should be free, it’s simply impossible to keep them from spreading. The same applies to editorials and any other from of digital text.

The analogy with iTunes is wrong: music is something that you own and use over time, whereas for everyone but researchers news are disposable.

The analogy with iTunes is misleading: from every song purchased on iTunes, an estimated 99 are still downloaded via p2p piracy. That’s not what I would call a successful business model for an industry.

Pricing policies would be a nightmare: is an all-you-can-eat model feasible for a search-driven, snack-size consumption? Can you fragment a newspaper down to its elementar financial value? (Clay Shirky suggested you can’t back in 2000, it’s funny to see how the debate hasn’t moved further.)

– They provide a massive advantage for free-riders: the one news organization that will publish news for free will receive almost all the traffic, and the related ad-driven revenues.

It’s no coincidence that 2009 was supposed to be the year when media starts demanding its money back, and so far everyone’s waiting for someone else to take the first step, and the risk of being considered a fool.

Final Burp: So, why is Google going down this route? PR. Why are media owners doing it? Self-delusion.

Everything’s gonna be all right…

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History repeats itself: pirates go to prison. And it won’t change a thing.

Four people from Pirate Bay have been convicted in a Swedish court of contributory copyright infringement, and sentenced to one year of jail.

Aside from the irony of sending digital pirates to prison while at the same time being unable to fight real pirates in the Indian Sea, this historical conviction is likely to change nothing. Just like shutting down Napster did.

Despite numerous attempts throughout the centuries, noone has managed to successfully outlaw revolutions, and technology is inevitably evolving quicker than regulation can, especially in democratic societies.

 

Final Burp: “We have long been a leading IT nation but with these kind of actions we will be left behind and become dependent on other nations’ arbitrary views”. Christian Engström, Pirate Party.  In other words, approach towards digital can be a source of competitive advantage among nations, just like loose financial regulations used to be.

The status of digital music

A few days ago I was looking for a pair of jeans at Banana Republic. I tried on a few, luckily found a pair that I liked and fitted me, and went on to pay.

The gentle girl behind the counter took my credit card, registered the transaction, folded the jeans, put them in a bag. And only after that, she said, “there are also two vouchers to download free music” and carelessly dropped them in the bag.

When I went back home I took out the jeans, and didn’t give those vouchers a second look.

What was supposed to me a sales promotion around music didn’t play any role whatsover in the sale:  the shop assistant knew that it would be completely irrelevant, I knew I wasn’t going to care a bit about it.

To me, this tells more about the status of digital music than any sophisticated strategy or elaborated point of view.

 

Final Burp: a music download is the ultimate commodity, priced at zero. Null. Nada.

 

Who is going to pay for Last.Fm?

No, really. It’s not an hypothesis: Last.Fm has just announced that it will charge  users (outside of US, UK and Germany) 3€/month to listen to its radio.

It’s easy to relate this news to the article by the Economist that announced the end of the free model online*, but ultimately this may just prove how wrong that article was.

The first reaction we can have is that Last.Fm made a stupid mistake, for three reasons:

  1. It’s not something you do now that Spotify is getting mainstream and seems likely to make it big
  2. It’s not something you do in those countries where Last.Fm is less penetrated, and use of the internet is less evolved. If you had a choice, you would probably charge american and english consumers,  because they best understand the value of Last.Fm, and if they’ve been using it for a while there may be an inherent cost in opting out and switching to another service (ie. getting familiar with the new service, reinstating your preferences…). Hopefully that cost would be psychologically higher than 3€/month.
  3. It’s not something you do, period. Digital music is free. Not because it’s a viable business model. Simply because it can be. And people would rather have it for free, than pay for it.

These considerations are so obvious that we must assume Last.Fm simply had no other choice. Let’s see what more will come out of this…

 

Final Burp: Back when Napster was shut down, I was wondering why Shawn Fanning didn’t just move the servers to another country where he wouldn’t face serious legal threats. Still wondering…

 

* If you read the article, here’s my comment:

“There’s a fundamental mistake in the article.

Freeconomics did not happen as a business strategy aimed at making money. It happened because: a) technology enables users to “get stuff” for free; b) a certain number of people globally are willing to create and distribute such technology for free.

Whether this is a sustainable business model or not is irrilevant, because Napster, BitTorrent, Linux, Wikipedia, Facebook and many others were not born to be businesses. If their attempts to make money gets in the way of user experience, somebody in the world will come up with a free alternative, and that’s where users will flow to.

The trick is, one person in the world is enough to create a free alternative available to a global audience.”

“Dear Sir/Madam, do you mind if I turn your world upside down?” (A few thoughts on intellectual property, liability and the internet)

Those above are the words that I believe media owners, the music industry and politicians all over the world were expecting from the internet a few years ago.

The Italian Parliament is currently attempting to regulate intellectual property and personal liability online. You can read about it here, and in the unlikely case you speak italian here and here.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works

 

The suggested law requires nearly every activity — specifically uploads — on the web not to be anonymous (how would they obtain it?) and would hold every provider, social network, website responsible for violations of that rule or any other in the pages they host.

The second matter is even more dangerous, since it’s a bylaw in a broader bill. It gives any judge the power to ask providers to close or block webpages that applaud or approve crimes or contain hate speech.

The bill requires providers or social networks to block such pages, or stand accused of the same crimes. Obviously, no rule explains or defines such crimes, so such a law can allow for any interpretation. 

This law is not the result of an evil plot. It’s just ignorance and shallowness at their worse.

It’s what you get when a political class unable to address the challenges they were elected to address, because the world has just grown too big and complicated, turns to regulate whatever they can think of, in order to legitimate their existence: that’s how you get to politicians regulating what science can and cannot research, what media can and cannot talk about, what comedians can and cannot make fun of…  This happens all over the world, but when you add in the incompetence, egotism and narrow-mindedness of italian politics it pushes new boundaries.

Quite predictably, this law has been generating an enraged debate over the blogosphere.

Quite less predictably if you’re from anywhere else in the western world, there no trace of such debate in traditional media: they’re too busy reporting the latest joke of Prime Minister Berlusconi, or the latest episode of urban violence that raises public concern and media audience, to talk about something they don’t quite understand in the first place.

When I first heard about this I was outraged and frustrated for the latest un-needed proof of incompetence from our elected officials: one that, for instance, would allow a judge to shut down the website of a newspaper backing a certain party, because someone on an opposing party felt insulted by a comment. (Knowing our politicians, such an insult would be likely to be well deserved)

But then I thought: no big deal. 

Digital has always found a way around regulations: when Napster was shut down, Kazaa, eMule and eventually BitTorrent replaced it, and even did a better job.

All it could happen in this case is that some random judge could forcefully shut down a website, and users would find a way get that same website back online, until the stupidity of such an approach will be fully exposed.

Eventually, this could be the best way to show wannabe regulators how pointless this kind of superficial attempts are.

You can’t leglislate against a revolution. (Believe me, lots of smarter people have tried it throughout human history. Noone succeded).

Revolutions don’t ask for permission from parliaments and business leaders, they just happen. And change everything along the way.

 

Final Burp: Tomorrow doesn’t need to be easy, or simple, or reassuring to happen. It will just happen. Tomorrow.