April 24th, 2015

How the selfie stick was invented twice:

The selfie stick was invented twice, two decades apart, by men on opposite sides of the world – and both times it was the result of problems experienced on a European holiday. […]

[Via notes.husk.org]

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DRM on coffee?

March 4th, 2014

Coffee, now with added DRM for extra flavour:

The single coffee cup craze has been rolling now for several years in both the United States and Canada, with Keurig, Tassimo, and Nespresso all battling it out to lock down the market. […] Keurig has faced the "problem" in recent years of third-party pod refills that often retail for 5-25% less than what Keurig charges. As people look to cut costs, there has also been a growing market for reusable pods that generally run anywhere from five to fifteen dollars.

Keurig's solution to this problem? In a lawsuit (pdf) filed against Keurig by TreeHouse Foods, they claim Keurig has been busy striking exclusionary agreements with suppliers and distributors to lock competing products out of the market. What's more, TreeHouse points out that Keurig is now developing a new version of their coffee maker that will incorporate the java-bean equivalent of DRM — so that only Keurig's own coffee pods can be used in it […]

[Via The RISKS Digest, Volume 27, Issue 78 ]

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In the Cloud (or not)

February 13th, 2013

Dan Hon has learned the hard way that purchases made through the iTunes Store are subject to the whims of the rights owners, with Apple acting much as Amazon did after losing the rights to publish a particular edition of 1984 three years ago:

Why you can't trust iTunes in the Cloud

At some point, it looks like Apple lost the rights to distribute Anchorman. Unfortunately, this happens all the time because the movie industry is shitty and doesn't care at all about what you, the person who wants to watch movies, does. What the movie industry cares about is maximising its profit, and that means release windows. This is why Netflix gets things for a while and then they disappear and then they (maybe) come back. And yes, I realise that sale windows are different from VOD/streaming windows. But the general idea is this:

Studio sale windows trump iTunes in the Cloud.

The business of Apple removing the sale of the item from your Purchase History if they no longer hold the rights to offer it for sale/download is a bit unfortunate. I don't doubt that it grants itself permission to do so somewhere in the dozens of pages of terms & conditions that you're required to claim you've read and understood when setting up an iTunes account on a device, but it's still not good: Apple shouldn't be making retrospective alterations to records of purchases like that.

Basically, a purchase isn't a purchase when it's made online, and we shouldn't ever forget it.

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The Rights to Silence

October 9th, 2012

Former BBC Senior Broadcast Journalist Alan Connor, on making a radio programme about John Cage's 4'33" and encountering problems clearing the broadcast rights for the performances he wanted to include:

A lesser journalist might have bypassed some rights or recorded his or her own performance on a smartphone and used that to provide the wordless, note-less soundtrack for the slideshow. Nobody would know. Actually, that may not be true in the case of Frank Zappa's 4'33". I'm sure there are hardcore Zappa fans who would detect in a moment that the room tone was unlike that of any studio Zappa had ever used. But it wasn't the zappaphile's conscience that made me do the right thing. It was my own.

It wasn't even my training: there had been nothing on the Safeguarding Trust course that covered the appropriate attribution of recordings of nothing happening. But in order to demonstrate that each version of 4'33" is unique, the package had to be exactly what it said. So out went the version chosen by Radio 3 regular Ian McMillan for his Desert Island Discs in which Hungarian percussion instruments were not being played, sadly unclearable in the time available.

[Via currybet dot net]

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Usenet no more

August 28th, 2012

Usenet at 32:

Usenet is 32 years old. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a near-dead, cobweb-covered discussion forum platform, but actually it's more popular today than ever before, and it's thriving as an alternative to Bittorrent. […]

It's interesting to read about some of the clever ways people are using Usenet to distribute other people's content nowadays, but it's a damned shame that Usenet as a discussion forum stagnated.

Web-based discussions are all very well, but as far as I can see even now there's nothing out there that comes close to the flexibility of a good Usenet client that allowed you to follow a series of discussion groups and use scoring and filtering to show you the threads you'd most likely be interested in and block content from known trolls and idiots.

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Reparations required

July 8th, 2012

Dangerous brinkmanship from Kim Jong-un:

Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong-un in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as some of America's best-known cartoon characters pranced as footage from Snow White, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast and other popular Disney films played on a huge backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV on Saturday.

I really hope someone in the DPRK's leadership thought to acquire the proper permits. Such blatant disregard for the norms of civilised corporate intellectual property law will not stand.

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Lip-Dub scrubbed

June 7th, 2012

Remember Isaac's Live Lip-Dub Proposal that I linked to the other week? A huge feel-good moment, thanks to a cast of thousands singing along and dancing to a Bruno Mars track as they helped Isaac propose to his girlfriend Amy.

If you bookmarked the copy on YouTube then you'll find that it's disappeared, thanks to a copyright request. The scary thing, as Andy Baio has noticed, is that one of the organisations listed as being responsible for the video's removal is Scripps Local News. As far as he can see, all Scripps did was produce news shows which included a clip of Isaac and friends' original video in a news report on the story of Isaac's elaborate proposal. Trouble is, YouTube's content detection system apparently isn't clever enough to notice which came first.

As Andy Baio also points out, it's harder to dispute that Warner Music Group, whose artist Bruno Mars created the song to which Isaac was lip-synching, have a stronger claim to block the video. That's a different debate, though. The truly worrying issue here is that it looks as if YouTube's system effectively operates on the assumption that any major commercial media outlet must have some prior claim to content flagged as being a copy of/similar to someone's copyrighted content, regardless of the actual sequence of events.

Fortunately (for now) Isaac's video is still up on Vimeo, among other places.

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The word 'tangled' is far too polite

May 14th, 2012

Andy Baio has been looking into how difficult it is to post a cover song on YouTube and stay within the law:

We all break laws. Every day, millions of people jaywalk, download music, and drive above the speed limit. Some laws are obscure, others are inconvenient, and others are just fun to break.

There are millions of cover songs on YouTube, with around 12,000 new covers uploaded in the last 24 hours. Nearly 40,000 people covered "Rolling in the Deep," 11,000 took on "Pumped Up Kicks," 6,000 were inspired by "Somebody That I Used to Know."

Until recently, all but a sliver were illegal, considered infringement under current copyright law. Nearly all were non-commercial, created out of love by fans of the source material, with no negative impact on the market value of the original.

This is creativity criminalized, quite possibly the most popular creative act that's against the law. […]

Baio reports that YouTube negotiated a blanket license with the National Music Publishers Association last year that potentially covers the rights held by thousands of publishers. Unfortunately, as the NMPA doesn't publish a list of which publishers and songs are covered the existence of the agreement it is of no real help to an amateur musician who would like to protect themselves by ensuring that they stick to tracks covered by the agreement.1

Basically, a user has to decide if they're willing to upload their performance and risk losing their YouTube account if they're branded a copyright infringer once too often. Which is ridiculous, but (IMHO) not just the fault of the music industry. Presumably YouTube know which publishers and songs are covered by the NMPA agreement: once their software identifies an upload as a cover version, presumably it could flag up for the user that their track doesn't appear to be covered by the NMPA license and give them a chance to take it down immediately or confirm that they hold some form of license. But that would put YouTube in a position where they might share liability with the user if it turned out they didn't hold a license, so it's much better not to ask too closely about the tracks being uploaded, keep everyone in the dark and leave it all on the user if the publishers take exception to what's been uploaded.


  1. If they even know the agreement exists. Had you ever heard of it before Andy Baio mentioned it? I know I hadn't.

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Afterlife with an EULA

May 12th, 2012

Welcome to Life. The ultimate in End User License Agreements.

[Via jwz]

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The end of DRM?

April 14th, 2012

Charlie Stross sees one bright side to Amazon's current domination of the ebook market: it could just be that publishers not wanting to be beholden to Amazon will have little alternative but to abandon the use of DRM software in the interests of breaking the Kindle's stranglehold on the consumer ebook market.

This would require a touch of corporate schizophrenia on the part of some of the corporations involved, what with their book publishing business deciding piracy is a price worth paying even as their music, film and TV divisions insist on totting up the1 value of all the sales they'd lose if they dropped DRM, but perhaps the dire straits they're in will finally push them into giving it a try.

I just hope the publishers realise that the abandonment of DRM is a necessary but by no means sufficient step. They need to make the process of buying a DRM-free ebook and transferring it to the device of your choice as painless as possible – not for the sort of techies who would happily use Calibre, but for normal people who have neither the time nor the inclination to learn three different bits of software from three different publishing houses. I'll believe it when I see it.

  1. Strictly notional.

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