Old Media Dips Into New Media Waters

November 10, 2008

In Ars Technica today: film studio MGM has partnered with video-sharing site YouTube to deliver full-length movies online. In the NYTimes: book publishers have signed a deal with e-giant Google (which also owns YouTube) to sell electronic versions of out-of-print, copyrighted works.

Both are obviously landmark deals that test possible unions between old and new media — parties that have been wary of each other, but whose business futures are hugely co-dependent.

Both also highlight a persistent (historically-pressing) need to redefine/rethink the role of the media creator (authors, musicians, visual artists, etc.). And her rights to her own produced, reproduced, and distributed works.

The 2007-8 Writers’ Strike is just one vivid illustration that the increasingly digital and transnational mediascape has far outgrown already-deficient intellectual property protections.

As more and more of old media creeps into the internet, the challenge will be to keep new media from morphing into the closed institutions and lopsided relationships it sought to tear down. The more things change the more they stay the same?

Let’s hope greater reach translates into greater financial support for media creators, not just middlemen. Information wants to be free! Yes, indeed. But artists need to be protected and compensated as well.

Note: Larry Lessig (Stanford University/Creative Commons) talked about copyrights and creative freedoms at this enlightening TedTalk back in March 2007.
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70 Years Ago: Orson Welles Broadcasts “The War of the Worlds”

October 30, 2008

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast a radio play based on H. G. Wells’ science-fictional work, “The War of the Worlds“. The hyperrealistic play about an invasion of Earth by Martians created mass hysteria among thousands of radio listeners who had tuned into WABC and CBS’ radio network from 8 to 9 that evening.

The next day, the New York Times reported on the historic event:

Despite prior announcements and an introduction about the play’s imaginary content, thousands of listeners believed an alien invasion had indeed begun. Police stations and newspapers nationwide, but particularly in New York and New Jersey (non-fictional site of the fictional alien attacks), were swamped with frantic calls for help and rescue.

After the event, CBS, Mercury Theater, and Welles expressed their profound regrets at having stirred up so much fear, anger, and panic. Ironically, Welles disclosed that he had hesitated about presenting the play because he thought that “perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable”.

70 years ago today, the great Orson Welles tapped into the power of mass media and the lure of dramatic narrative — and unexpectedly, revealed how much we want to believe.


Kings and Kingmakers at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

NYT’s top cultural chronicler Bill Cunningham ran the lead photo above for his “Evening Hours” page this Sunday. From left: Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Alfred E. Smith IV (great grandson of Smith), Nan Smith, and Senator Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held on October 16th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The dinner reportedly raised $4 million for underprivileged children. Which is (undeniably) well and good. It also brought together — in royal white tie — the city’s (arguably, the nation’s) political, cultural, and media elite: both presidential hopefuls, both state senators, the city’s 3rd-term-seeking mayor, a Catholic archbishop, news anchors, and so on and so forth.

Power. With a capital-P. I can’t help but think how much of our futures were shaped that night.

No surprise to anyone that politicians must pal around with the ruling dynasties of wealth and religion in order to get work done. But I am curious about whether and how Obama’s promise of change will weather these dominant regimes with which he is ostensibly at odds.

Certainly, there is no choice. Obama MUST/WILL become the next American president. There is much at stake. One hopes his presidency radically alters photographs such as this.


Life For Sale On eBay Posts New Sequel: Do We Care?

July 3, 2008

The eBay auction for Ian Usher’s entire life is officially over. The winning bid: AU$399,300 (US$380,286). Unfortunately for Usher, it’s about $100,000 less than what he’d expected. (I suppose everyone’s got recession worries.)

The question is, What’s Next? For starters: a sequel-website. Usher’s original website, http://www.alife4sale.com, now has a link to Part 2: http://www.100goals100weeks.com.

AAARRRGGGGHuhhh.

This move, of course, is part of a not-so-new trend of living one’s life in a collective time and space. We’re way beyond tv culture, and now wading deep into YouTube waters. Life no longer mimics tv content. It IS content — and it’s being documented and broadcasted (or slivercasted) in realtime.

I can’t help thinking about Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show“, a movie released in 1999. From the moment of birth, Truman Burbank’s life is broadcast 24/7 on live tv — without his knowledge or consent. Less than a decade later, we hear of thousands willingly auditioning for the chance to get on reality tv. A chance to live and tell all in public.

As technology allows us to record and archive ever-increasing hordes of data with minimal material costs, we’re seeing more and more of these representations. The itch to document one’s self, one’s loves, one’s property — every moment from every angle — is now getting scratched all the time.

The question becomes: what’s the point of so much information? Really, who cares?

There’s a difference between a photograph, a film, and a video. A photo captures a single frame. Film captures 24 frames per second. HD is at 60 frames per second. Not everything has to be recorded on HD! My point on this tangent being: Edit! Much ado about nothing is, well, boring.

Move on, Usher. Move on.


eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Supreme Court Justice Blames Al Gore for 2000 Election Mess

June 27, 2008

Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia led a 5 – 4 vote to lift a ban on handguns in D.C. — a decision welcomed by many Republicans but criticized by many law enforcement officials around the country. Today, the conservative, originalist judge is spouting nonsense again.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that Scalia blames Al Gore for the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections. Apparently, Gore should have conceded without resorting to the courts, without pushing it up to the Supreme Court. Just like the honorable Republican president Richard Nixon.

In an interview about his book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges”, Scalia told the Telegraph:

Richard Nixon, when he lost to [John F.] Kennedy thought that the election had been stolen in Chicago, which was very likely true with the system at the time…

But he did not even think about bringing a court challenge. That was his prerogative. So you know if you don’t like it, don’t blame it on me.

I didn’t bring it into the courts. Mr Gore brought it into the courts.

So if you don’t like the courts getting involved talk to Mr Gore.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is one of the leading conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He insists that the controversial 5 – 4 decision to stop the Florida recount was “absolutely right”. Because of these 5 justices, Bush prevailed in Florida by just 537 votes.

I can’t help thinking where we might be today had just one justice changed his or her mind. I guess Scalia’s new book on how to speak and write persuasive arguments will come in handy next time.

(Here’s an interesting video interview with Scalia on CBS News back in April 2008.)