Corporate Authorship Feed

McDaid on the Boskone Blogging Panel

John McDaid's Boskone trip report has a good write up of the blogging panel I moderated. I was hoping someone would do that, since it was a panel I was proud to have moderated. I thought it went really well: Boskone trip report: Doctorow rips IP a new a-hole, Cramer is the Eye in the Sky

It's always a pleasure to hear Cory Doctorow testify, and he was in great form this weekend for his special guest speech. He excels at expressing intellectual property issues with an sf-writer's eye for the telling moment. Discussing the corporate desire to plug the problem of analog to digital conversion (or, as he puts it, the 'a hole') he imagines a future camcorder that respects IP: a parent is videoing their child's first steps. Child walks in front of the TV, and the image goes black. Yes, the proposals are that dire, and without folks like the EFF out there fighting, this is the future we may well end up with.

Also wonderful was a panel on blogging with Cory, Kathryn Cramer, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Teresa warned that as the military-industrial complex increasingly takes blogging seriously, we can expect to see more "astroturf," or faux-grassroots sentiment being seeded into the blogosphere. And Kathryn provided a case in point of why blogging is worrisome to powers that be: she's increasingly using tools like Google Earth and Flickr to monitor hotspots, and finding that people gravitate to the site and feed her info not seen in the mainstream media. (She also just made the cover of Nature in a piece on mapping for the masses.)

FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF "INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY," see Teresa's new post, What perpetual copyright means to me:

It is right that what’s new and unique in a writer’s work be recognized as peculiarly their own. That’s fine. But copyright is not a statement of inalienable natural right. It’s a social convention, intended to reward (and thus encourage) writers and publishers to produce more books. To pervert it into a claim of perpetual ownership, especially when that claim is being forwarded by large entertainment conglomerates, is the moral equivalent of driving a fence around the commons.

In the comments of that post, Charlie Stross makes a point that I think cannot be made often enough:

The semantic framing of the whole debate fascinates me.

Pet peeve: "pirates" and "piracy". It's a pretty extreme label to pin on a practice which is, on the small scale, about equal to shoplifting, and on a large commercial scale roughly equivalent to any other form of forgery (watches, scent, designer handbags, whatever). But it's an example of how the folks who pin the label on the donkey get to define the debate. Piracy, after all, is a Serious crime, and deserves draconian sentencing (twenty years! life!) ... which is a whole lot harder to argue for in the case of shoplifting. And indeed, the next time the MPAA or RIAA accuse one of their profit centers -- excuse me, infringers -- of shoplifting, it'll be the first.

If people who copy DVDs for their friends are pirates, what then shall we call the entertainment executives who insisted our electronic rights must belong to them even when they had no viable plans for developing these rights in a way that would benefit us? I know who the pirates are.

MEANWHILE, Octavia Butler has died suddenly and unexpectedly. I last Octavia at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, where she was attending the ceremony to induct Philip K. Dick into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I think I took her picture sitting on a bench next to Charlie Brown of LOCUS.  I did not know her well, though I encountered her socially from time to time and  although I know her work.

This is hard for me to think about. I keep bouncing off it to think about somethng else. The manner of her death -- a fall, bleeding in the brain, maybe a stroke -- reminds me of what I'm afraid of. David's mother died of a stroke in November; and I still haven't entirely come down from the ceiling from David's emergency angioplasty a few years ago. My incomprehension in the face of the suddenness of it remind me also of my reaction to the death of SF editor Jenna Felice in early 2001.

Watermarking as a Strategy for Insisting on Corporate "Creators": Is DRM the Killer App for Corporate Authorship?

Ed Felton at Freedom to Tinker has a good post on the problem of digital watermarking, How Watermarks Fail (via BoingBoing), in which he concludes that watermarking schemes (such as Koplar's VEIL technology, discussed in my post VEIL Technology: Four Patents & an Application the other day) are not well suited for Digital Rights Management (preventing unauthorized copying of copyrighted material).

The discussion in the comment section is particularly interesting. Consider this comment, for example:

Let’s imagine a case where Microsoft’s post-Vista OS, codenamed Blacksheep, will only work with video cards that require a watermark in order to play Super-HD video (2048-4096 lines of resolution). Then such videos could be distributed in encrypted form with the watermark embedded. The decryption and watermark detection algorithm could be public; however the encoding/embedding algorithm would be secret.

Users could use the public decryption algorithm to create raw MPEG files with the watermark stripped, but would not be able to play them on commercially available video cards (similar to how video cards are now requiring monitors with HDCP support in order to play HD video). Users would not be able to create new videos with altered watermarks because the algorithm to do that is secret.

If digital watermarking schemes for DRM are put into practice, they may have little effect on the problem of bootleg versions of mega-corporate products. However, as discussed in the comment section, they may be quite effective about keeping digital artistic productions by individuals out of the distribution system: in the end, what DRM may accomplish is forcing individuals to give big corporations a cut for distribution just to get the authorized watermarking.

My experience in the early-mid 90s teaches me that part of the purpose of setting the production standards of early CD-ROMs absurdly high was to promote corporate authorship over individual authorship with the idea that digital products could be authored like film and TV, not like books, thus empowering the executive level and disempowering the actual creators, or rather reconfiguring relations such that executives become part of the creative "team."

Now computers are being sold that allow individuals, and small groups of individuals, to produce works to very high production standards on very low budgets. This also threatens the rise of corporate authorship. So watermark-style DRM may do very little to prevent the "piracy" about which the big media corporations are up in arms, it may be the killer app of corporate authorship.

It needs to be said over and over that in the early '90s, corporations did not own or control most of these digital rights they now claim the right to defend. In large part, these rights were taken, without additional compensation, from the artistic creators. (I know who the real pirates are!)

Transitioning from a world where art is created by individuals to a world where it is "created" by corporate "creative teams" is the second part of an overall stratgey to consolidate corporate control over the revenue that can be extracted from the popular arts; for creating a future in which consumers remain consumers and don't try to horn in on the revenue due to producers of artistic commodities.

(See also Dr. K.)