ASCAP vs. Mobile Phone Users – The money song

It’s a bit out of character for me to take AT&T’s side anywhere. Yet when the
EFF reported on ASCAP’s lawsuit
against the telecom behemoth, this is exactly what I wound up doing.

This is the same ASCAP that tried to extort the Girl Scouts for singing
songs around campfires. Some of you may be less familiar with that story so I’ll post an excerpt of the Web site linked above:

After reportedly opening its negotiations with the American Camping Association with an offer of $1,200 per season per camp, ASCAP eventually settled on an average annual fee of $257. But once ASCAP’s plan went public, and people learned that the Girl Scouts were among the 288 camps being dunned, the group beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat.

This story does not mention the number of camps that would have had to pay this amount. Still, $257 times hundreds or thousands of camps across the US adds up to a huge chunk of change for someone.

Fred von Lehmann, who is credited for writing the EFF’s blog post, takes a no-nonsense approach towards blasting ASCAP for the lawsuit, citing a lesser-known part of the copyright act, 17 USC 110(4), and continuing with an excellent explanation of why ASCAP’s arguments are completely out of tune.

I can understand representing the interests of the composers, who have expenses just like the rest of us. However, there is a line between fair compensation and greed. ASCAP’s proposal crosses way over the line.

A lot of this could be avoided if copyright restrictions were capped to a sensible length of time. The original 28 years of US copyright law is much more reasonable than today’ length which is effectively forever (life of the author plus 75 years, and that’s if it doesn’t get extended yet again, which is always possible given the history of copyright law). Had we stuck with 28-year copyright, here’s a small sampling of what would be public domain today:

  • Any surviving recordings of sporting events held during or before 1980, including Super Bowls I through XIV and the World Series staged in those years
  • Any recordings of the Olympic games up to and including the XXII Summer Olympiad and XIII Winter Olympiad (both in 1980, held in Moscow and Lake Placid, respectively), which would include the original game tape of the 1980 Miracle on Ice
  • Every movie copyrighted in 1980 or earlier, including: Rollerball, The Godfather trilogy, the first two Star Wars movies (episodes IV and V), American Graffiti, and any film which predates these (a very long list indeed)

Of course, the list goes on and on far beyond what I could hope to include here. While I don’t realistically see us going back to 28-year copyrights, I do think the pendulum has swung way too far towards “copyright it now, it’s yours forever” and ASCAP’s greedy grab is only a symptom of the disease.

A closer look at Microsoft’s unethical business practices

A recent reader’s article on boycottnovell.com offers a very insightful look into the unethical side of Microsoft’s business.

The author, Roy Schestowitz, makes a number of very good points. In particular:

  • Microsoft abuses “guerilla” or “viral” advertising more than other companies, disguising recommendations as “impartial” when in reality they are anything but that. An unfortunate choice for a company that really should not need to resort to these tactics.
  • Microsoft combines products into “bundles” solely to squeeze out competing products. Examples abound: perhaps the best known is Windows 95, where MS-DOS was no longer available as a separate product. Another example is the inclusion of Web browser and media player software within Windows.
  • Microsoft abuses standards and in fact the entire standardization process to suit their needs. While this is not really explored in Roy’s article in detail, the most obvious example I can think of are the confusingly named Office Open XML format. Microsoft appears to have chosen this name to confuse on purpose as the first version of the OASIS OpenDocument standard (sometimes called ODF) was finalized about a year before.
  • Microsoft’s “partner” network is a sham, as the “partners” really aren’t partners in the truest sense of the word. In essence, the partnership arrangement is coercive; “partners” are agreeing to support and recommend Microsoft’s products exclusively and are threatened with loss of competitiveness if they want to back out.
  • Microsoft also refers to free software, and particularly the GPL, as “Communist” and “un-American.” This is a transparent smear tactic to anyone who is paying even the smallest amount of attention to Microsoft’s motives.

More insanity about photography

This pair of stories from the UK, plus one from Miami, Florida, US, are enough to make any decent person’s blood boil. While these first two are both UK stories, these are equally likely in the US (and other “free” countries).

The first is a report from the Telegraph about parents not being allowed to photograph their own children at a sports day event. The second is a story from the Mail Online about a policemen deleting a tourist’s photos in the name of security. The third story comes from Carlos Miller who documents an absolute absurdity with regard to his long-running legal action. The courts want Carlos to transcribe the entire trial at his expense, not just the portions he believes are pertinent to the appeal. This will cost Carlos at least US$2,500 at US$5 per page.

I don’t know what the schools are attempting to accomplish by keeping parents from taking pictures of their own children. Have we really reached the point where a camera is more feared than a firearm?

With regard to the second, this story is evidence that security paranoia has gotten way out of hand. At least in the US, police or private security guards almost never have legal basis to delete photos (or video or audio). As a general rule, one should never voluntarily surrender one’s camera or recording media.

Finally, Carlos is already appealing his case pro se mainly due to lack of money for a lawyer. Every lawyer Carlos spoke to wanted upwards of US$10,000 to handle the appeal. It disgusts me that our “justice system” expects people who obviously can’t afford it to spend thousands of dollars to get what is rightfully theirs.

For those unfamiliar with Carlos’ story, he maintains an excellent blog entitled Photography is Not a Crime which has complete archives dating back to the first post on 2007-04-28.

Does this ad campaign go over the line?

Just when you think you’ve seen everything. The Frisky reports on what may be the gutsiest ad campaign ever attempted. It certainly is the most bizarre I have ever seen–and I’ve seen some weird ones.

Procter and Gamble, the company behind Tampax, has launched a campaign for that product that comes straight out of a science fiction movie. The hero is a fictional 16-year-old boy Zack Johnson complete with his own blog and Twitter account.

This wouldn’t be much of a story if Zack led a normal life. No, on Day 1, Zack wakes up to urinate, and notices he all of a sudden has “the aiming ability of a defective garden sprinkler” and “a super important body part of mine had gone missing.” (Apparently P&G told the ad agency “you can’t actually say ‘penis.'”) Day 2 starts with: “Still in possession of girl parts ‘down under.’ No, not Australia.” Hopefully the story line is obvious enough by now.

I hope they paid the poor young actor hired to be Zack some serious dough. Beyond that, I still have no idea what to make of this.

Twitter: dead or alive, dying or growing?

Okay, I was really torn between going ahead with a very belated entry about this, versus just moving on to the next story. (Aside: I actually have a backlog of stories I wanted to blog, and deleted three draft entries about news articles that looked good when I landed on them in StumbleUpon but which turned out to be rather blah for writing a real blog entry about.)

But, given how much time I have spent on Twitter, I can’t very well just up and delete a draft post concerning a news story about it. Especially when the headline of the original is “Who Killed Twitter?” and the article is still relatively fresh.

I almost have to wonder if the question should be rephrased: Is Twitter dying? If so, who is really behind it?

Some very interesting claims are made. Among them:

Harvard Business School says the average Twitter user tweets once and never again.

I have yet to see any Twitter users give up after only one tweet, most maybe after 5-10. Maybe there are a few out there; I wonder if this study weeded out spam accounts, as most of those would appear to “give up” after one tweet, but their purpose is accomplished once they have tweeted once and followed 2,000 people.

TechCrunch says that the ol’ 80-20 rule is in full effect on Twitter: 20% of Twitter users are creating 80% of the activity. Harvard Business School says it’s even more extreme than that: 10% of Twitter users post 90% of the Tweets.

This is not surprising. I don’t think it’s any different for Twitter than it is for Blogger, Livejournal, or any other major online service. There are people who blog once a month, once a week, all the way up to once–or more–per day. There are people who blog for a few days and then say “this isn’t for me” just as much as there are people who have been blogging since the days before people abbreviated “weblog” to just “blog.”

It’s the same with Facebook. And I’m not going to lie, I almost gave up on Facebook. Heck, I almost gave up on Twitter at one point. I still feel like I have not truly mastered either, but then again I was a very late adopter for Facebook and several other services (Digg, StumbleUpon, and FriendFeed being most notable as I signed up for all three in the closing days of 2008).

A survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network found that only 22% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 use Twitter (though nearly all have social networking profiles).

I have to wonder how accurate this is. Maybe it’s too limiting for the under-25 set, though I fail to see how a generation that grew up with text messages can’t wrap their head around something that is, in essence, text messages that can be read by everyone even if they don’t have a phone.

It is entirely possible the non-Twitter users are using one of the other microblogging services such as identi.ca or simply using the status update feature of Facebook as a rather hackish substitute for Twitter. (Several tools exist to populate Twitter updates to Facebook status, and at least one exists that is selective and looks for a “#fb” hashtag.)

Personally, I don’t think Twitter is dying for me. Quite the contrary: I’m now north of 600 followers which is almost where I was a few months ago. I am at the point where I can’t follow everyone back that follows me.

The problem with stories like this, everyone sees them differently. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say almost everyone and their dog is on Twitter–literally.

The important things to remember are:

  • Twitter does not replace your blog. Not everything I say fits neatly in 140 characters.
  • Twitter does not replace Facebook, MySpace, or similar sites.
  • Oprah, Ashton Kutcher, and CNN did not kill Twitter.
  • For that matter, Cracker Barrel did not kill Twitter. (In fact, Cracker Barrel was probably the reason a lot of businesses all of a sudden hopped on Twitter.)