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Monthly Archives: September 2008

Broadband dialing into the campaign

Like a 14.4k modem, broadband is crawling into the nation debate as an actual issue. Barack Obama reminded voters of his plan to use tax money to expand broadband lines to rural areas (where the government is almost discouraging expansion), though John McCain disagrees. Also, the Senate passed a bill on Friday to improve broadband competition. The bill just scratches the surface, adding a question on internet access to the Census and charging the FCC to gather data on telecommunication services annually. A similar bill passed the House last year.

Obviously this bill does very little and I’d love if Obama would push this broadband agenda which, along with green energy, are growing markets that would create jobs, capital, and innovation. Plus it’s an issue McCain doesn’t even know exists. Except when he invented that Blackberry Obama loves so much.


First Intellectual Property law class lesson in content creation

I’ve had no problem lecturing on intellectual property and shocker, I have no real experience in the field. I’m really excited to formally learn all the stuff I pretend to know already.

Professor Madhavi Sunder has issued a challenge to the students in the class to produce content (yay, content accomplished). It’s not for extra credit or anything, just seeing what comes of the challenge.

This is exactly the kind of experiment that people will produce without obvious incentives like money or even grade. I’ve been writing Prodigeek for more than two years with no attempt at monetary compensation. Instead, I write to not only invest in my career, showing my expertise to potential employers, but also to focus my interests. My interest in intellectual property blossomed thanks to reading and constantly writing about it. I used to think I was just going to study geek culture.

Certainly some brown nosing is incentive to make some great content for this class (good for you, my loyal reader(s)). The six figure law school graduate salaries might help. The key lesson – there’s more incentive than money to creating content. Maybe our IP laws should reflect that.


Geek-Out Moment: Physics through time

galaxy The modern study of physics began during the Scientific Revolution of the 16th century, building on centuries of study from ancient cultures. Before Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus got their minds dirty with equations, early physicists came from the Middle East, developing the concepts of momentum, mass, weight, and force. The study of matter, space, time, and just about everything Star Trek ignores has revolutionized humankind’s view of the world and universe, as physicists say. Researchers are still searching for what the Theory of Relativity can do for the average person aside from make school harder.


Terrible ruling on design patents; perfect timing for law class

Just in time to discuss in the intellectual property class I’m way too excited about (and likely way over my head), a terrible decision has come from the Federal Court of Appeals vastly reducing the requirement to prove infringement on design patents.

Design patents cover the visual design of an object rather than its function like regular, utility patents and covers products like jewelry, furniture, and computer icons and fonts.

The decision changes the standard to prove infringement from “point of novelty” to the “ordinary observer” test where a patent is infringing if a ordinary person rather than an expert thinks the design is unique.

The silver lining in this case is the patent holder Egyptian Goddess lost the case even with the reduced burden of proof. But as we’ve seen with the current patent system, reduced burden of proof leads to more patents, more lawsuits, more money wasted, and more innovation lost.

Yeah, be prepared. I’m in IP mode for the next 10 weeks.


Flow Conference 2008 position paper

I will be speaking at the Flow Conference in Austin, Texas on October 9th at a round table about music and copy protection.  I’m posting here my position paper, though regular readers should be familiar with my opinion on the subject.  If anyone’s heading to the conference, please contact me in the comments, email or Twitter.

The other panelists will be (links go to panelist’s position papers).

Patrick Burkart, Texas A&M University (convener)

Danny Kimball, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ali McMillan, University of Western Ontario

Moderators: Marnie Binfield and David Uskovich

This is the question the roundtable will be discussing:

More and more music fans, artists, and labels are rejecting DRMed file formats in favor of more lenient digital music sharing policies than what are available through most commercial music service providers. Under what conditions do music fans resist copy protections? When have music labels dropped copy protections? What is the disposition of digital music distributors towards DRMed formats?

My response

Thanks to technology, more people are creating and listening to music than ever before. With computers and the internet, it is cheaper and easier to produce and distribute music. Instead of embracing technology, music companies are using technology like DRM to stifle innovation and user value, trying to control their evolving industry.

DRM gives record companies the feeling of control over their music – control they no longer have. But the economics of music are changing. The cost of distributing music has dropped to almost nothing, making music infinitely reproducible by anyone. Music companies used to decades of controlling distribution need to adjust to a new marketplace where plastic discs don’t matter. This means radically changing music’s business models.

Musicians and publishers feared the first digital music device, the player piano, more than a century ago. In 1906, John Phillips Sousa and music publishers asked Congress to ban the player. Instead, Congress instituted the compulsory license system still used today. This took away control from publishers, but helped everyone make more money by embracing the benefits of the technology, selling piano rolls to make songs more popular and performers more valuable.

Computers and the internet can be just as profitable when embraced. Musicians like Trent Reznor, Radiohead, Jill Sobule, Kristin Hersh, and Maria Schneider are experimenting with new business models using infinite goods to sell scarce goods. Reznor posted his own music on file-sharing networks while selling premium editions of his album with a Blu-Ray slideshow, vinyl version, and signature. Reznor grossed $1.6 million in the first week even though his music was freely available online. Sobule and Hersh let fans support the creation of their albums by selling private performances, chances to sing on the album, or executive producer credits. Music companies study file-sharing networks to target advertising and decide tour locations based on the popularity of artists.

Most music companies treat new technology like the enemy, using DRM to limit what technology can do. DRM aims to prevent file-sharing, helping music companies control distribution of an infinite good, while taking away value from paying customers. Music companies expect customers to pay more dollars for less value.

But DRM does not stop file-sharing. Only one MP3 file is needed to spread to thousands of freeloading fans. Almost every form of DRM gets circumvented within days meaning one file always makes it onto file-sharing networks. EMI began selling DRM-free files on iTunes partly because DRM has no effect on piracy.

While DRM fails at its only purpose, it succeeds in making music less valuable, treating paying customers like criminals, and causing technical and public relations nightmares from installing malware (Sony rootkit) to failing devices (Blu-Ray players that don’t play all Blu-Ray discs). DRM-free stores like Amazon and Wal-Mart evolved out of necessity. Music companies forced Apple to lock iTunes with DRM limiting files to only play on iPods. As Apple sold more music, it sold more iPods. When Amazon and Wal-Mart launched their music stores, they had to offer them DRM-free so songs could play on iPods. The music industry handed Apple control over its digital future, from pricing to marketing, because of DRM.

Some DRM validation services get canceled, leaving companies with expensive public embarrassments and unhappy customers with useless music. Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft all canceled support for their DRM. Yahoo and Google offered refunds or DRM-free alternatives to all customers while Microsoft, due to public outcry, reinstated its DRM.

It’s up to the music industry to develop business models that embrace the promotional value of its music to sell more valuable scarce goods. Entertainment has used this model for decades: Television provides free shows supported by advertising and music uses the promotion of radio to increase album sales. There is more money to be made embracing technology rather than fighting it. People can listen to and share music, becoming bigger music fans, and increasing demand for scarce goods like concert tickets and collectibles. Thanks to computers and the internet, every MP3 is a promotional tool.

The music industry needs to adapt to the changing marketplace. Use technology to give customers more value: give people a reason to spend their money. DRM takes away value from customers, causes public relations nightmares, and provides no benefit except a false sense of control. Instead of fighting file-sharing, embrace it as a competitor and offer a more valuable customer experience, not try to control the experience. More value means more money. And that’s good business.

Work Cited

Doctorow, Cory. “Microsoft Research DRM talk.” Microsoft offices, Redmond. 17 June 2004. 1 Sept. 2008 <http://www.craphound.com/msftdrm.txt>.

Masnick, Mike. Techdirt. 1 Sept. 2008 <http://www.techdirt.com>.


7 greatest fictional graduates of University of Chicago

Classes begin this week this at my place of graduate studies, the University of Chicago. To celebrate my upcoming year of paying to work harder than when I was paid to work, I’m praising the many fictional graduates of this fine institution. So if/when I fail out, we’ll know which fake people are smarter than me (let’s remember Cameron Diaz from My Best Friend’s Wedding graduated in a major that doesn’t even exist here).

7. Kitty Pryde

University of Chicago isn’t so bad. Apparently it’s better than a night out with Magneto.  The walking-through-walls mutant member of the X-Men spent some time away from super heroics at the University. Unfortunately her powers were not enough to make X-Men 3 a good movie.

6. Hal

Wunderkind mathematician Hal made quite a name for himself during his days at the University, long before appearing in the play and film Proof.  Of course, like most students here, he ended up suffering mental problems after leaving and struggled to accomplish anything else.  So he turned to theater. That U of C degree really opens doors.

5. Richard Kimble

Renown vascular surgeon Richard Kimble graduated from University of Chicago and made sure to visit like all good alumni. Kimble actually spent some time at the University’s science library, John Crerar, in his big screen Fugitive, as he tried to find the truth behind his wife’s murder. Now that’s a helpful library.

4. Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan

Two murderers might not be the ideal representatives for a respected research institution, but creative murders have to deserve some credit.  Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan starred in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Rope based on University of Chicago students Leopold and Loeb. So technically the characters aren’t even U. of C. students – the real murders are. Best to avoid those classes.

3. Jack McCoy

New York City’s newest District Attorney and long time Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy brings Law and Order on an hourly basis across almost half a dozen TV stations.  His aggressive, bend the rules for justice gives all ethical standards come finals time.

2. Harry and Sally

The love duo known for late night phone calls and picky eating habits began their life on the steps of the University.  After both completing years of learning, the two drove to New York City and began their hilarious two hour life together.

indiana_jones_academic 1. Indiana Jones

Talk about the perfect graduate. He’s a super smart action hero with a kick-ass whip and a sexy smile.  Not the most common combination on campus in a student, let alone an archaeology professor. It’s good to have something to aspire to.


Geek-Out Moment: Origin of the controversy

Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1858 to controversy that hasn’t ended 150 years later. Darwin’s theory of natural selection challenged (and still challenges) the religious views of many who believe God or a higher being intelligently designed humans and animals. Darwin thinks it was all one big crap shoot, and we got damn lucky. Still, natural selection and evolution have become staples of scientific study, shaping the same controversial 150 years of genetic and biological research.


Geek-Out Moment: The land before time

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Dinosaurs are awesome. That’s impossible to dispute. They’re the closet thing to real monsters we know of so it’s no wonder why they inspire everything from science fiction to fantasy creatures. William Buckland discovered the first dinosaur fossil in 1822, though it took 20 years before Sir Richard Owen named the prehistoric creatures dinosaurs. Megalosaurus was the first named dinosaur.


Geek-Out Moment: Old MacDonald had a farm

Copyright © 2007 David Monniaux, from Wikipedia Geeks might not appreciate the toil for farmers in the fields, but it’s because of them that we get to do what we do. Science in all its trivial glory was possible thanks to food production. Instead of everyone in the society hunting and gathering, a few people farmed while the rest become soldiers, artists, politicians, and scientists. Plus, without food production, we’d have never made pizza. Without pizza, geeks just couldn’t survive. For a much longer explanation of the awesomeness of agriculture, check out Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel.


Geek-Out Moment: Say cheese

Old studio camera Alter Studio Fotoapparat, from Wikipedia Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took the first photograph in 1826 or 1827, proving to the future that life used to be in black and white. Niépce used the camera box invented by Charles and Vincent Chevalier, introducing this exciting new technology to peeping toms and private eyes around the world. Early cameras presented challenges, especially at sporting events, since the camera required sometimes several minutes of exposure to make a picture. If anyone moved, the picture would come out blurry. Early horse races were thus run very slowly for the benefit of sport photographers. Cameras have obviously sped up in the modern day, allowing high school boys to take a plethora of pictures of the girls locker room and email them to his friend before getting caught.


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