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The future of Ideas

The future of Ideas

In the book The Future of Ideas –The fate of the commons in a connected world professor Lawrence Lessig at the Standford Law School introduces us to some issues of contemporary law and its implication on the Internet and creativity. Lessig, who is the chairman of Creative Commons, brings forward the restrictions imposed on the creativity by a hinge for more control on the physical, the code and the content layer. This division of layers he borrows from Yochai Benkler (23), and these three layers are used to explain the different aspects of the Internet culture, and its features.

One of the fundamental elements of the Internet is the end to end principle (e2e). Behind this lies a premise that simplicity in the architecture will make the transmission easier, more cost-efficient and more reliable, as well as more equal between the users. This idea is incorporated into the architecture of the Internet and the IP protocol which is responsible for finding the receiver and transmitting the packages to her. Since the intelligence is located at the ends the code operating at the core of the network is not enabled to ask about the content of the package or making any handling differences between the different users. Other principles of the Internet norms include that each client is a potential server, and vice versa. The equality is ensured in the code, and this code is open to all to apply since it is donated to the public domain. As we will see, the commercialization of the Internet is, according to Lessig, threatening these principles as more control is being pursued.

On the physical layer Lessig discusses the right the owners of infrastructure have to impose control over their customers. He draws attention to the cable companies, which have been restricting the freedom of their Internet users through their monopoly. The problem is that those larger corporations are using their monopolistic advantage on the platform to gain advantages over competitors on the content level. This is exemplified in how some cable companies are blocking online video, in the name of capacity, which is competing against the channels broadcasted on the network, other examples on limitations includes server restrictions, fixed backbone choice, filtering and no possibility to create a  home network (156-157). The ownership structure is also changing towards that of more horizontal ownership, meaning that the same corporations that own the infrastructure also are content producers, and they are using their control over several layers to discriminate competitors.

On the content layer the interest organization of the movie and music industry (MPAA and RIAA) are using the new technology to strike down on possible infringements, and the US Congress and courts have in many ways let them do this, also outside the domain of copyright laws. They are increasing their control over the new services which are made possible by the Internet. perceive the consequences of this control oriented direction in copyright law as harmful. He points out that the argument behind the copyright law is, besides being an economic incentive through a limited monopoly on published work, to ensure the realization of fair use and to ensure the access to the work by the public. The latter has been overruled perpetually as the years a work is under the exclusive right of the author has increased. From initially 14 year to the lifetime of the copyright holder plus 70 years (107). Not only has there been an expansion in the law when it comes to duration, also the scope has been increased. From the first Copyright Act which gave authors of maps, charts and books an exclusive right, has the protection been expanded to also protect derivate work, and computer code among others. This means that the source code of programs made by organizations today will be protected for 95 years, in a world where major updates are shipped annually if not more frequent.

Lessig is pursuing greater attention paid to the commons, as they are an important repository to enhance creativity and other aspects beneficial to society such as education and the creation of opinions. Ideas, throughout history, have been built on other ideas. The Internet and digital technology has reduced the production cost of being creative, and to distribute the works. It contains a great potential, as it was originally created, but this potential has been regulated and diminished by the skepticism of the old regime which has been executing its power in the three layers to keep their advantages.  Therefor Lessig asks for a weight decision between the market power of some companies on one hand and the value contributed to the society on the other. Can the strong rights of the copyright holder, the control exercised on the physical layer and the threats of private users, and impediment of new technology by the old players be justified, or do we need to change the laws and practices to enhance creativity again? (Lessig’s last words in the book are arguing that the initial values of the Internet are lost.)

Lessig suggest several changes which can be made. The government could regulate that no major player on the Internet could empower its own strategic behavior, it could also allocate a sector on each band of the radio waves to the commons. He further suggests that time of the exclusive copy right should be limited, but expandable upon request, and that rights are granted after application and not universally as they are today. Incentives should be made for computer companies to release the code they are not using to the public, and to be granted copyright they would have to escrow their source code with the government, and the time frame should be shortened to 5 years, renewable once. On the content layer could the file sharing of music not be treated as property right, but rather through compulsory licensing with a fee set to strike balance. This system is today used by the cable networks, where they pay a licence to the broadcaster as compensation, but they are not required an explicit permission to distribute signals. Lessig does also mention that there should be limits on contract rights distributed with software so fair use can be upheld.

The Future of Ideas –The fate of the commons in a connected world was written ten years ago, in 2001, and it is interesting how the examples, and the contemporary technology he mentions are historical today. Especially for the parts concerning the commons of the airwaves which he foresees have been actively introduced today with the wireless technology in local networks, RFID and Bluetooth. Despite the fact that there has been changes technically since the book was written are his ideas as important today as they were 10 years ago. Many of the problems Lessig mentions are still with us today, and they  can remind us that the future of the Internet as well as the directions this may take, is not only dependent on new technology, but also on legislation regulating the layers in which the Internet operates.

As an alternative to copyright Lessig has worked on an alternative juridical licencing framework which creators can use with their works: Creative Commons. This framework is being adjusted to local law throughout the world, and make it possible to share work under alternative licences: Attribute, share-alike, Non Commercial and No Derivatives.

Literature

Creative Commons, About the Licences. Retrieved from: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/>
Lessig, Lawrence.(2001) The future of Ideas. New York: Vintage Books

If you don’t want to buy the book it is also available under CC from Lawrence Lessig’s homepage

The picture is borrowed from Darren Tunnicliff on Flickr and the picture is licenced under…..you guessed it…..Creative Commons

Book 2.0?

Book 2.0?

I’ve been trying out the new Kindle from Amazon for the last two weeks, and I have to admit that I like it. It is interesting that the last “mass” medium to be remediated is also the oldest; the book. Many have raised concern about the transition from paper to e-ink screens, since these screens different from the medium on which we are used to experience the older version. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter, and also a short review of the new Kindle.

E-ink

Just think about this: the possibility of presenting text in the computer has been around for a long time – one of the first interfaces with the computer was in fact text. The mobile phones has, ever since they got displays, also been able to display text,  so why do we need ebooks if all computers and mobile phones that we have today can present text? The answer is the screen. It does not matter if you have a 40 inch flat Liquid Crystal Display, a 15 inch Catode Ray Tube, or an iPad or iPhone since they all are using additive light to display the picture on the screen. this is tiring, and very energy inefficient if the sole objective is to show you some letters. Hence, we need a new gadget with a new type of screen to remediate the text in the proper style of the book. The ebook uses e-ink to display the text or graphics on the screen, now this technology is just able to display grey scales, but a new version coined Trition is also able to show pages in colours. The e-ink use almost no power, since the screen is only using power when a transition is made, this makes it excellent for e-books since the only times you have to refresh the whole screen is when you flip to another page.

A transparent experience

When the device is started for the first time, it shows a text telling the reader not to think of it as a device, but to enjoy the experience of the content. To me, this sounds like a wish for the Kindle to do its remediation transparent, this means that you should not think about the technical aspect of the media. Another example illustrating this is how cinemas have digitalised their theatres, but this is in many ways transparent to the user who just sees the screen, without being aware that the projector is an 8K digital running a digital copy of the movie, and not  an older one running 24 still pictures per second through a light beam. The Kindle however is not transparent. Even though the screen is brilliant and the visual experience of reading is almost the same of reading a ‘proper’ book there are differences. One is that you can’t feel how far you are out in a book, this is stated in a progress bar instead. Another is that the Kindle does not smell anything (maybe a bit plastic), and for us who like the smell of print this is a disadvantage, but make sure to brew fresh coffee every morning and you get through it. Another thing is that you can’t put every book you have on the bookshelf since they are stored in digital format on a drive, not being physical. This is also a great thing; do you like to travel, and your book collection, now you can bring it with you without paying for any extra flight luggage. You can make citation directly on the screen using the pad, and write comment on them or post them via social network pages such as Twitter and Facebook. You can also search trough your collection after words. The two biggest arguments are however that included in the Kindle you find two dictionaries – Oxford Dictionary of English and The New Oxford American Dictionary -, and the way these are integrated into the system is nothing short of awesome. Let’s say you find a word, and want to make a search for it in one of the dictionaries, all you have to do is to move the cursor down in front of the word and the device show you what it means in a little window. The other arguments is all the free books you can get. Free book, yes you read right. Due to the Bern convention and a cool part of copyright legislature, literary works where the author has been dead for over 60 years (is different in some countries) are considered public domain. This means that you can download for free all the books that your grandfather had to use his last Farthings to afford. Oh, and the delivery system – Whispersync – is also pretty cool.

The Book store

The whole design of the unit is centred around the content, and this is a good thing. If you want a portable device with a screen and no keyboard then you should buy a iPad or any of its equivalents. The content is downloadable from many sources, but you will probably finding yourself using the Amazon store most frequently. This store contains many books, but many books are not available in a digital format. For example if I want to find some books in Norwegian or anything specific listen in my curriculum I have to use both printed and digital versions. What is very popular on the Kindle is in fact popular science, and old scientific (where nobody longer possess the copyright). This can be downloaded and in many cases the digital copies are cheaper than the printed ones. On the other hand, too many books are available for a lower price as paperbacks than as digital copies. I find this strange, as paper has a physical value in itself, but since the electronic format doesn’t fit in according to the economic models of today (how do you place a unlimited commodity in a Smithonian diagram), and because the governmental decision on inequality between digital and analogue books (ebooks are subject to VAT). Hopefully we are going to see more books in a digital format as the sales of ebook-readers increase.

Is a book just a book?

What is a book? Some paper within bindings? Text on a page multiplied? Books can be many things. Hence, I want to suggest the Kindle to be the new paperback travel novel in penguin format. The screen has approximately the same size, the novels consist of few to none pictures or illustrations. I do not think the Kindle replace the coffee-table book, or books where the visual layout plays an important part.  The great idea with the e-book format is that the content is separated from the  visual appearance. This enables the reader to change the font or the size of the text, and the kindle to read the text for you with an highly artificial voice. What is a medium, and how does it work is a continuous debate, but to use a McLuhan example would a coffee-table book on Kindle be as a movie from the cinema on your telly (and not the new fancy flat big ones).

Do I like it?

Yes, I do. I almost love it. Why? Its great and portable, and its not tiring or hypnotic to read from as a beam screen. Do I think it will change the book? No, not the content, maybe in which form we store the information, and just some book formats. Do I recommend it? Yes, I do.

The picture is borrowed from Mike McCune and is licenced under Creative Commons, see here for more information.

A good night of good music

A good night of good music

When I was in the army there was one band which I was introduced to, five years later I can still find them in my playlists and I still get suprised over how good they actually are. Now, with their new album Trespassers in their luggage they hosted John Dee, Oslo and did a very good consert.

Our expectations are high said Kasper Eistrup, vocal and lead guitar. He wanted the audience to dance and sing along with the music, or as he explained it: the audience have expectations to the band, but during the consert the band also have expectations to the audience. The audience obeyed and the band delivered. At one moment one from the audience gave Eistrup, which had a DK roadsign on his guitar, a N sign which the artist greatfully took and put on one of the guitars. This among many other guestures made the band seem like a joyful group playing more serious music.

And it is because of the music we went, and we were satisfied. Not only did the band choose some of their best song from their already extensive collection of songs, they also did some modifications and they proved that they are musicians with a long career and an enormous number of gigs behind them. With their records, their conserts and all of their joy and seriousness I really hope that Kashmir is a band, from which I can hear more. Thank for a really good consert.