Tag Archives: intellectual property

The Ghosts in the Machine

Meet the workers who do your internet-ing for you.

turk.jpgLast year the New York Times wrote a story about so-called Gold Farms — factories where Chinese workers would labour through the initial stages of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft on behalf of wealthy Westerners who couldn’t be arsed. Well now Amazon have taken that model and formed a new business out of it.

The Amazon Mechanical Turk is named after an automaton from the 18th century, ‘the Turk’, which could play chess. The wooden man, compete with turban, appeared to be powered by clockwork and even check-mated Benjamin Franklin at one point. The Turk was — of course — a fraud, with a human chess expert hidden in the rather obvious, rather huge box on which the model sat. Amazon have no interest in hiding their wizards in this way. For fees ranging from a few cents and not much more, workers — who call themselves ‘turkers’ — will perform menial, time-consuming tasks — such as identifying nuances in colour or shape — which can still confound automated computer systems. Originally conceived by Amazon to assist its own sites, Mturk.com is now a marketplace where many companies ‘employ’ workers to do everything from transcribing podcasts for 19 cents a minute to writing blog posts for 50 cents. Amazon, of course, takes a cut for every task performed.

Amazon says that Mturk provider “artificial artificial intelligence” which as a zeitgeist phrase is sure to produce more than one dissertation. According to Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations for Amazon Web Services,

From a philosophical perspective, it’s really turning the traditional computing paradigm on its head. Usually people get help from computers to do tasks. In this case, it is computers getting help from people to do tasks.

Like all crowdsourcing, turking seems to thrive by provoking people’s need to contribute — to be part of something bigger. To test this, UCLA Design/Media Arts grad student Aaron Koblin invited turkers to draw up to five sheep at the rate of 2 cents apiece. Over 40 days and 40 nights, the sheep flooded in at a rate of 11 per hour. By the end of experiment, 7,599 turkers had participated. He collected 12,000 sheep and put 10,000 of them up for sale at a rate of $20 for 20 sheep at The Sheep Market. This blatant profiteering had some turkers up in arms: “they’re selling our sheep!” was the cry on one message board. Another poster wrote, “Does anyone remember signing over the rights to the drawings?”. Of course they had. If there was ever a moral lesson to be learnt from Web 2.0, it’s always check the IP clauses. But even after the student stopped taking admissions for sheep, and after ruthlessly exploiting his workers, more people wrote to him wanting to contribute sheep for free. Koblin says:

“Most of these people clearly weren’t in it for the money. They weren’t doing it so they could get 2 cents. It was more about participating in something larger.

This is of course the philanthropic view. A more cynical take on turking and on the gold farms in particular is that it is just a new economy take on old economy exploitation. Labour activists and lawyers point to the total lack of workers’ rights. Rebecca Smith, a lawyer for the National Employment Law Project says:

The creativity of business in avoiding its responsibility to workers never ceases to astound. It’s day labor in the virtual world.

The workers themselves take a more relaxed view — arguing that it’s basically badly paid Sudoku. According to one, “I think it’s something of a hybrid between trying to make money on the side and a diversion, a substitute for doing a crossword puzzle. It’s sort of a mental exercise.”

MTV news has recently succeeded in getting hold of the first footage shot inside Chinese gold farms. According to the segment, half a million Chinese now make a living from the acquisition and sale of World of Warcraft gold to US and EU gamers. GigaOM has an interview with the filmmaker, Ge Jin:

GigaOM: What does WoW gold farming suggest about the future of work?

GJ: I think these gold farms indicate that the game platform has the potential to engage more people in Internet-driven economy. The gaming workers in China don’t have skills like English, software or graphic design to participate in other forms of Internet-driven work, but they can communicate and navigate in a 3D game world whose tools and routines they are familiar with… So if more social and economic activities happen in an accessible 3D game world, people who don’t have access to other culture capital but gaming knowledge will be more likely to be included in global interaction.

It makes you wonder if all those $100 laptops for kids aren’t actually going to bridge the digital divide but instead create a whole new economy of third-world labour.

Turking story source and quotes from Salon.

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Warner Music Gets It

Warner Music buys into fan-created content through a landmark deal with YouTube.

We’ve said before that the corporations and content owners who will survive in the convergence age are the ones that set their content free to proliferate. Warner Music have today demonstrated that they utterly understand this. As Warner proudly exclaim on their press release:

Warner Music Group becomes the first media company to embrace power of user-generated content. YouTube to deliver innovative new architecture to help media companies harness the financial potential of user-generated content.

What Warner have done is hand over all their entire library of music videos as well as behind-the-scenes footage, artist interviews, original programming and other formerly proprietary content. In doing this Warner have given YouTube users creative carte blanche with both the footage and their music catalogue to remix, mess up and distribute as they please. WMG has thus become the first music company to exploit YouTube as a distribution channel — as the press release goes on to state:

More importantly, [Warner] becomes the first global media company to broadly embrace the power and creativity of user-generated content through a wide-ranging agreement with the category leader, enabling its artists to connect with a vast new audience in an entirely new way.

So far so thrilling. But how (I hear WPP, Viacom, Fox et al cry) does anyone — the artists, Warner, YouTube — plan to make money out of this? Here’s the science bit:

WMG will have the opportunity to authorize the use of its content by the YouTube community by taking advantage of YouTube’s advanced content identification and royalty reporting system, set for release by the end of the year. YouTube and WMG will share revenue from advertising both on WMG’s music videos and user uploaded videos that incorporate audio and audiovisual works from WMG’s catalogue. WMG’s music video library and special artist content will be made available simultaneously with the launch of YouTube’s content identification and royalty reporting system.

Some guy who runs the company, with a nice turn of phrase which we plan to nick, adds:

Technology is changing entertainment, and Warner Music is embracing that innovation. Consumer-empowering destinations like YouTube have created a two-way dialogue that will transform entertainment and media forever. As user-generated content becomes more prevalent, this kind of partnership will allow music fans to celebrate the music of their favourite artists, enable artists to reach consumers in new ways, and ensure that copyright holders and artists are fairly compensated.

We wish Microsoft and Viacom all the best in playing catch up.

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Hackney vs. Nike

Hackney wins …

iIiUKA2DXW.jpgHackney council has been awarded £300,000 in damages after filing a suit for copyright theft against Nike. Back in May we wrote about how the sportswear giant had appropriated the city council’s logo without permission for a range of sportswear.

The payout is based on a percentage of global sales figures for the range, which included trainers, footballs and T-shirts. Nike has apologised and has also agreed to pay Hackney borough’s legal costs as part of the agreement announced today.

Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney, described it as a “great result” for the council.

“This is extra money to spend on sports activities in Hackney, and shows that it was worth standing up to Nike,” Pipe said.

This was always about more than cash — there is a serious principle at stake here. Just because we are a public organisation, it does not mean that big corporations can take what they want from local people without asking.

Source: Brandrepublic.

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Hackney One, Nike Nil

Nike is using the identity of one of London’s poorest boroughs on its World Cup sportswear range. Without permission.

As part of their World Cup promotion, Nike has put together a nice little ad set on the legendary football pitches of Hackney Harshes. They’ve also released a line of World-Cup sportswear emblazoned with the Hackney borough identity. Problem is they didn’t bother to license it from the council first.

Hackney’s newly re-elected Mayor — Jules Pipe — is understandably not amused:

We have been using this logo for more than 40 years — since before England last won the World Cup! I was shocked that such a huge global company would use it without even approaching us for permission. Nike is one of the biggest sportwear companies in the world. They are selling this stuff everywhere — some of our residents have seen it in shops in Spain, and we have seen it marketed on the internet in Japan, Germany, the US and Italy. They have not offered a penny in compensation to the people of Hackney.

One way of putting this right could be giving us a fair percentage of the retail price and some sportswear for every school child in the borough. Nike have taken, for their own profit, something that belongs to the people of Hackney. They have now offered to meet us for talks and I hope they will have the decency to offer a fair settlement and save this going to court.

We have asked them to withdraw all merchandise until this issue can be settled. I also want assurances from Nike that all this kit has been ethically produced.

Mayor Pipe has pledged to spend every penny gained from Nike on sports development in the borough. Given Hackney’s ongoing financial problems, every penny would help.

[Via CMM News]

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Swarm of Angels

Consumer-created cinema.

Swarm of angels invites 50,000 “angels” to each pay £25 to fund a £1 million feature film. The Angels are being invited in batches — first 100, now 1,000, next 5,000, 25,000 and 50,000 — with the level of input being determined by the donation (£25 being the entry level). The first very privileged 100 places have now gone, but the 1,000 Swarm is still open (just about). The film –when it comes out — will be produced under Creative Commons so as hackable and remixable as it comes.

A Swarm of Angels reinvents the Hollywood model of filmmaking to create cult cinema for the Internet era. It’s all about making an artistic statement, making something you haven’t seen before. Why are we doing this? Because we are tired of films that are made simply to please film executives, sell popcorn, or tie-in with fastfood licensing deals.

We want to invent the future of film. Call it Cinema 2.0.
To do it we need your help.

VJ Collective The Kleptones have just signed up to do the soundtrack so you’ll be in good company. Via Protein feed. [See also our earlier post about Mod Films]

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Ad Violation

A Swedish appeals court rules that a TV station violated the artistic integrity of two filmmakers by interrupting their work with commercial breaks.

The news is a symbolic nail in the coffin of the 30 second spot. Swedish director and screenwriter Vilgot Sjoman, who sadly died on Sunday, and director Claes Eriksson, had sued the TV4 channel after it put commercial breaks in the broadcasts of their movies in 2002. Two films, Sjoman’s Alfred and Eriksson’s The Shark Who Knew Too Much were made before Swedish broadcasting laws allowed commercial stations to put commercial breaks throughout movies and the Svea Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling saying that the station had violated the directors’ integrity and copyright because they had not given permission for the breaks. Story via Newsvine.

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Content Owners Lobby to Outlaw Innovation. Really.

Draft US legislation would prohibit consumers’ access to emergent media technologies.

Digital Rights lobbyists the EFF have unearthed a catchy new euphemism: ‘ customary historic use’, a powerful little timebomb of a clause in draft US legislation, which is designed to outlaw any future nasty surprises (nasty to the established media order, that is) like PVRs or MP3 players before they even leave the drawingboard. A post on the EFF’s blog elaborates:

You say you want the power to time-shift and space-shift TV and radio? You say you want tomorrow’s innovators to invent new TV and radio gizmos you haven’t thought of yet, the same way the pioneers behind the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod did?

Well, that’s not what the entertainment industry has in mind. According to them, here’s all tomorrow’s innovators should be allowed to offer you:

“customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.”

Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.

Fair use has always been a forward-looking doctrine. It was meant to leave room for new uses, not merely “customary historic uses.” Sony was entitled to build the VCR first, and resolve the fair use questions in court later. This arrangement has worked well for all involved — consumers, media moguls, and high technology companies.

Now the RIAA and MPAA want to betray that legacy by passing laws that will regulate new technologies in advance and freeze fair use forever. If it wasn’t a “customary historic use,” federal regulators will be empowered to ban the feature, prohibiting innovators from offering it. If the feature is banned, courts will never have an opportunity to pass on whether the activity is a fair use.

Voila, fair use is frozen in time. We’ll continue to have devices that ape the VCRs and cassette decks of the past, but new gizmos will have to be submitted to the FCC for approval, where MPAA and RIAA lobbyists can kill it in the crib.

They’re only getting my hand-built, custom-designed audiophile music library when they prise the remote from my cold dead hand.

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Music Industry Gets Greedy – Again

DJs playing digital music face fees or fines under new licensing scheme.

The BBC reports that royalty collection agency PPL has quietly introduced a new levy on anyone playing downloaded music in public venues. Never adverse to making a quick buck at the expense of long-term gain, the music industry has decided to sting digital DJs a whopping £200 (+VAT) a year for the right to perform using downloaded tracks — on top of the margin the industry has already negotiated with online retailers, and the existing license fees paid by venues playing any kind of recorded music for punters. Double-dipping? Sounds like it to us. Unreasonable? PPL disagrees:

Business affairs director Peter Leathem told Radio 1’s Newsbeat: “Rather than saying stop it, don’t do it, we’ve actually tried to embrace what people want to do and come up with a licence to be able to do that.” He said the £200 charge was “reasonable”, adding: “You don’t actually have to DJ using a laptop. You can use vinyl, you can use CD, so we’re saying that if it’s not worth your while spending £200 then don’t do it.”

We think they’re missing the point of media convergence, cramping creative style, and being greedy — they’ve already been paid! Besides, £200 is a lot of money for most DJs, and after all, who is it who does most of the work in getting new music in front of the punters?

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More bad news for bootleggers

Chanel, Prada and three other luxury goods companies have won China’s first copyright verdict against a shopping mall landlord.

Clearly imitation is no longer the sincerest form of flattery for luxury brands. The International Herald Tribune reports that both the landlord and vendors at the Beijing Xiushui Haosen Clothing Market have been ordered to pay $13,000 in compensation to six luxury goods companies after being found guilty of selling pirated goods, or preventing the sale of them.

According to the US Commerce Department, international companies lose more than $60 billion a year because of piracy in China. The case is believed to be China’s first copyright verdict successfully upheld against a shopping mall landlord and is only part of a huge crackdown into counterfeiting that began last July. China prosecuted 158 people for counterfeiting and imposed 376 million yuan in fines in the 15 months sending September 30th, 2005, according to the State Adminstration for Industry and Commerce. The agency has also investigated 6.77 million business entities and 283,000 markets nationwide resulting in the closure of 6,273 places that made and sold fake goods.

Bizarrely, Vogue is now reporting that Chanel is being sued by one of its own suppliers for counterfeiting. The fashion house faces charges of counterfeiting and “abusive termination of [ongoing] contractual relations” by World Tricot, which is seeking £1.3 million for breach of contract and £2.3 million for counterfeiting. Chanel is, of course, countersuing, claiming that the action is a publicity-seeking stunt. Vogue reports on the vagaries of proving style theft:

After nearly four hours of testimony during which the commercial court’s presiding judge, Jean-Pierre Lucquin, struggled to compare unusual evidence comprising a sample of white crochet and a crochet Chanel vest, he proposed that the complex case be tried in front of a mediator. Both companies must now agree to the mediation before January 20 or the case will have to be tried again.

See previous post, ‘The end of the line for cheap chic?’

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Amen to That

All about the most sampled drum loop in history…

Also an interesting treatise on the nature of copyright law:

Can I Get An Amen? is an audio installation that unfolds a critical perspective on perhaps the most sampled drum [loop] in the history of recorded music, the Amen Break. It begins with the pop track Amen Brother by 60’s soul band The Winstons, and traces the transformation of their drum solo from its original context as part of a ‘B’ side vinyl single into its use as a key aural ingredient in contemporary cultural expression. The work attempts to bring into scrutiny the techno-utopian notion that ‘information wants to be free’- it questions its effectiveness as a democratizing agent. This as well as other issues are foregrounded through a history of the Amen Break and its peculiar relationship to current copyright law.

Listen and learn. On a similar theme, check out leftfield hiphop DJ Edan’s Sounds of the Funky Drummer project: a 60-minute mix of 80s rap records all of which sampled James Brown’s Funky Drummer breakbeat.

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