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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But using BigtimeAwesomeTorrentBucket.com would be WRONG!

February 21st, 2012

Trying to watch A Game of Thrones can be immensely frustrating.

[Via Electrolite (Sidelights)]

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Most likely, they'd just make it worse.

February 20th, 2012

Adrian Hon would like us to consider his modest proposal:

Imagine you're a new parent at 30 years old and you've just published a bestselling new novel. Under the current system, if you lived to 70 years old and your descendants all had children at the age of 30, the copyright in your book – and thus the proceeds – would provide for your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.

But what, I ask, about your great-great-great-grandchildren? What do they get? […]

(What they deserve?)

Seriously, it's not a new rebuttal but it's rather nicely done. The satire-blindness exhibited by multiple commenters makes for entertaining, if depressing, reading.

[Via Waxy.org links]

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MegaUpload Reloaded

January 25th, 2012

Web designers all agree: the FBI's seizure of MegaUpload is a disgrace

Let's check out the source of the page:

<img src="banner.jpg"/>

No JavaScript. No AJAX. No CSS. Not even any tables. The image doesn't have ALT tags. Maybe you're not worried about Google indexing this page, or visually impaired people being able to read it, but I hope you realize you are just flushing the last 8 years of the Internet down the toilet. Interestingly, you went with the trailing slash that closes empty elements in XHTML but the DOCTYPE is…nothing. Whatever – this stuff is for nerds.

What we need to focus on is what a colossal missed opportunity this is for you. MegaUpload is down and the notice on the site is getting tons of exposure […]

You must plan these operations, right? I mean, it's not like you just randomly seize private property on a whim. This is a failure of project management. You can't just bring in a designer at the last minute and expect them to polish your design turd. This is your chance to shine. Go wild. […]

[Via Snarkmarket]

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A sense of proportion

January 20th, 2012

Writer/producer John Rogers, retaining a sense of proportion over SOPA:

Any screenwriter who thinks he loses more money to piracy than to Hollywood studio accounting is a child.

[Via jamoche, commenting here.]

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You say 'China-style internet policy' like it's a bad thing.

December 16th, 2011

Get Your Censor On.

Why shouldn't the US government censon the internet?

[Via jwz]

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Copyright isn't forever

October 23rd, 2011

Tom Morris, on behalf of Wikimedia Commons: Ladies and gentleman, we got him.

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Repent, Harlan!

September 16th, 2011

Harlan Ellison is trying to prevent the release of Andrew Niccol's In Time, on the grounds that Niccol's film rips off one one of his better-known short stories:

Ellison says the new film is based on his multiple prize-winning 1965 work, "Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman" which the complaint calls one of the most famous and widely published science fiction short stories of all time.

For years, according to Ellison, he has resisted producer interest in adapting this story into film, but in late 2010, Ellison's company, The Kilimanjaro Corporation, entered into an agreement with a third party to create a screenplay based on the story so that it could be sold or licensed to a Hollywood studio. Now, Ellison says that In Time jeopardizes an official film adaptation of "Repent Harlequin!"

Ellison says the similarity between the two works is "obvious" and quotes critics such as Richard Roeper who have attended advanced screenings and seem to believe that In Time is based on "Repent Harlequin!"

Both works are said to take place in a "dystopian corporate future in which everyone is allotted a specific amount of time to live." In both works, government authorities known as a "Timekeeper" track the precise amount of time each citizen has left.

The complaint goes on to list similarities in the features of the universe as well as the plot surfaces — the manipulation of time an individual can live, the type of death experienced by those whose time runs out, rebellion by story protagonists, and so forth.

For what it's worth, "Repent Harlequin!", Said the Ticktockman is one of my all-time favourite short SF stories; when I saw the trailer for In Time a few weeks ago, it didn't remind me of Ellison's story in any respect – not the storyline1, not the motivation or actions of Justin Timberlake's protagonist, and certainly not the tone and style.2 The central issue in Ellison's story isn't so much that everyone has a strictly regulated amount of time to live, but that everyone is forced to live those lives in a highly regimented manner imposed from above in order that society stays on schedule.

Put it another way: Timberlake's character fights back against a society where a powerful elite tries to control how long he's allowed to live by taking up arms and kidnapping a young woman. Ellison's Harlequin disrupts his society by showering factory workers with thousands of jellybeans to throw off the Ticktockman's production schedule.

[Via The Medium is Not Enough]

  1. Insofar as it's possible to discern the outline of the story from the trailer along.
  2. Again, to the extent that one can tell from a trailer that comes in at a little under two minutes.

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Panoramafreiheit isn't even the worst of it

April 9th, 2011

Tom Morris posted an fine rant demanding non-pathological copyright laws now!

The problem with copyright isn't that it exists. It's that the implementation is completely fucking insane.

I'm especially indebted to him for his lucid explanation of the implications of Panoramafreiheit.

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Emperor Lieberman has dissolved the Council permanently

December 4th, 2010

Translation from PR-speak to Star-Wars-speak of Selected Portions of Amazon's Message Regarding Their Termination of Wikileaks an an AWS Customer:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis.

I ain't in this for your revolution, and I'm not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I'm in it for the money.

AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed.

Let's just say we'd like to avoid any Imperial entanglements.


[FX: Applause]

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Bookmarking books

October 27th, 2010

James Bridle has been thinking about what's missing from the current generation of ebooks:

[While…] traditional books are physical objects, that's not the core of our relationship with them. The truth is that books are essentially not physical objects, but temporal ones.


[The…] real problem with the ebook as it stands is that it denies us many of these temporal aspects, which produces a kind of cognitive dissonance. And there's a social layer that forms around this, another timeline of reading reviews and discussing with friends, that the ebook could actually exploit better than the physical book, if we work on it some more. We really need to look at how we address this temporal mode with ebooks.


Well, the thing I've been thinking about a lot, the thing I keep coming back to, is Bookmarks. Bookmarks in all their forms: as underlining, dogears, annotations, notes and references. User-generated tags and footnotes. A horrible phrase, but. There is something there. […]

All of which, as well as being interesting in its own right, acts as a launchpad for Bridle's Open Bookmarks project:

Open Bookmarks is a project to discuss, develop and design an open framework for saving, storing and sharing bookmarks, annotations and reading data in ebooks. When established, Open Bookmarks will champion the new standard and support widespread adoption.

We want to work with publishers, software developers, hardware manufacturers, merchants, and anyone with an interest in the future of the book.

Here's hoping the publishing houses have learned something from the experience of their friends in the music and film industries. Something other than "wrap your content in as much platform-specific DRM code as you can find and hope for the best", I mean.

[Via Phil Gyford]

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