Tag Archives: File sharing

The Death of DRM, the Rise of Patrons

Forget being a big old mass music consumer. Become a Patron of the Arts.

The IHT’s Victoria Shannon chronicles the last few gasps of life in Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music, saying that “With the falloff in CD sales persisting and even digital revenue growth now faltering in the face of rampant music sharing by consumers, the major record labels appear to be closer than ever to releasing music on the Internet with no copying restrictions.” This has the inevitability of death about it (this morning I tried again to rip my DRM-crippled Coldplay CD of X&Y, unsuccessfully) which makes me wonder: What will follow?

Most thoughts seem to be on the free music, supported by advertising, and largely distributed as promotion for expensive live concerts:

Jacques Attali, the French economist … who forecast in his newest book that all recorded music would be free in the next several decades — consumers will instead pay for live performances, he predicted — said the business model of digital music should reflect the old radio model: free online music supported by advertising.

“A lot of people will still make money out of it,” he said during an interview at Midem.

I think this shows a lack of imagination and understanding of how music has fractured. My sense is that while Britney Spears will continue to exist in the Celebrity for Celebrity’s Sake World, music has already spread via MySpace etc into much smaller, more diverse niches. I’m not saying anything sparkingly new here, but given that most articles about the majors and DRM and online file sharing focus on the big numbers, I would have thought a much more interesting model to look at is that on places like eMusic, of which I’ve been a subscriber since 2002.

What happens for me is this: I find an artist I like by searching through what neighbors are selecting for me, like this balloon on my login page:

And then I’ll follow my nose until I find something I like. Or I’ll listen to Last.fm until I hear something I really like and then see if it’s up on eMusic. This is all pretty obvious, and I’m sure lots of people do this, and probably more, already. But what I think this leads to is a kind of artistic patronage where we consumers see it in our interests to support those musicians we love.

In my case, for example, if I really like the stuff of one artist I’ll try to contact them and tell them so: No one so far has refused to write back and hasn’t sounded appreciative to hear from a fan. Examples of this are Thom Brennan and Tim Story, whose music I find a suitable accompaniment to anything, from jogging to taking night bus rides to Chiangmai in the rain. I’m summoning up the courage to contact my long time hero, David Sylvian, who doesn’t have a direct email address.

Of course, nowadays one can view their MySpace page, or join an email newletter, and build links up there. But my point is this: My relationship with these musicians is much more along traditional lines of someone who will support their artistic output through financial support — buying their music in their hope that it will help them produce more.

Surely the Internet has taught us one very useful lesson in the past year: That it’s well-suited to help us find what we want, even if can’t define well what it is. First step was Google, which helped us find what we wanted if we knew some keywords about it. Next step: a less specific wander, a browse in the old sense, that helps us stumble upon that which we know we’ll want when we find it.

The World Cup Walls Come Down

The more I see and read about the “sponsorship” behind the World Cup the more appalled I am. Ever since I heard that MasterCard (briefly) exerted a monopoly over buying tickets to the finals with a credit card, and men were told to take off their lederhosen, I realised that although it claims to, sponsorship never works to the benefit of the end user. But until I read this post from the excellent Paul Mason of BBC Newsnight, I hadn’t really linked what was happening to my supposed field of interest, the Internet and new media:

This, therefore is turning out to be the first “user-generated-content” global sports event. Much of the content is pretty scrappy but it shows the potential of the medium and how hard it’s going to be for Sepp Blatter and co to defend their intellectual property (image rights for individual players, no Visacards allowed etc).

Up to now football has managed to ride the big business waves of the 1990s: paid-for content, pay-TV, below the line advertising budgets and sponsorship. How will it cope with a world where all intellectual property rights are under threat? Right now the monopoly on images is easy to defend but the monopoly on sound commentary is effectively broken because you can see numerous people in the crowd giving commentaries to their mates live.

(If you’re an England fan you’ve got to read his other post about what the manager should do, a post that has attracted, at the time of writing. more than 120 comments. Last night when I looked it had about 20.)

Going back to his intellectual property post, it’s a good point. From folk taking video of their TV to others at the game shooting the scene with their camera phone, it’s going to be impossible to ring-fence what is and isn’t seen or heard in the future. (It doesn’t mean they didn’t try.) This isn’t as clear cut as Napster file sharing, where original digital content is copied and shared. It’s about individuals mashing up what they see and heard with their own creativity. It’ll be interesting match to watch, as an increasingly sophisticated (and avaricious) marketing industry faces off against the user-generated anarchy/cooperatives of shared content.

The “Sharing Files Thing” Gets Cheaper

It’s a growing space, as the marketing types call it, and it’s not surprising that Laplink, best known for their linking of laps (shurely “laptops”? – ed), have decided to make the basic edition of their file sharing applications, ShareDirect, free. Previously available online for $40, the program can now be downloaded for nothing. It’s not a bad application — you just invite trusted contacts to view and download them from the folders you designate. “The files never leave the safety of your hard drive until you invite someone to download them from you directly. All files are protected by 128-bit encryption, and can securely travel through existing firewall settings,” as the blurb would have it.

The free version will allow unlimited ordinary transfers and 500 MB per month of what Laplink calls ’Premium Transfers’. These are transfers that pass through Laplink’s own servers without any need for altering your firewall and other connection settings. The Plus version, costing $70, lets you make 5 GB a month worth of Premium Transfers.

It doesn’t surprise me because Microsoft recently bought FolderShare and made that available for nothing. I’m working on a review of these various services so watch this space. Well, actually, this space.

Social Acrobats

You’ve got social bookmark sharing, photo sharing, now you’ve got social Acrobat file sharing: Yummy! Personal PDF Library.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it might have its uses. I just can’t think of any right now.

Oh, and it’s brought to you by the guys behind Print(fu), which will turn a PDF file into printed book.

BBC ‘Is Devaluing Music’ With Free Downloads

Not everyone is happy that the BBC has given away Beethoven’s symphonies: The Independent Online  reports (via TechDirt) :

Managing director of the Naxos label, Anthony Anderson, said: “I think there is a question of whether a publicly funded broadcaster should be doing this and there is the obvious issue that it is devaluing the perceived value of music. You are also leading the public to think that it is fine to download and own these files for nothing.”

I love the idea of devaluing music (sorry, ‘devaluing the perceived value of music’; can you devalue the value of something?) by giving it away. Presumably everybody giving a free lunchtime concert or playing their violin for pleasure in the comfort of their own home is devaluing music and should be discouraged from doing so.

I didn’t really express myself well when I posted on this before (what’s new). I wrote

But why is it that listening to free classical music is seen as a way of encouraging a broader interest in the genre (and, presumably, encouraging the listener to buy classical music) but when the music is pop, it’s seen as dangerous encroachment on the rights and prerogative of the music industry and has to be stamped out?

Some reader replied:

Is it becasue [sic] the classical music is in the public domain?

That gave me pause. Is it? Sort of. But it’s not just that. The copyright of the music itself may be in the public domain, but the performance isn’t. The BBC still has to pay for the recording, for the musicians, for the studio etc. And Mr. Anderson’s ill-conceived comments show that in fact much of this idea of giving music away for free has less to do with the idea of protecting the performers or composers as about protecting the ‘perceived value’ of music itself. The usual argument about preventing MP3 file sharing is that it takes money away from the creators, so they won’t be able to afford to produce new music. But Mr. Anderson’s idea is different: The value of music is not an aesthetic one, but a financial one. Give something away and it won’t be appreciated.

Another argument was offered by Ralph Couzens, managing director of the Chandos label who was quoted by the Independent as saying:

“We have to pay premium prices to record big orchestras and pay full union rates and we have to pass those costs on to the consumer. If the BBC is going to offer recordings for free, that is going to be a major problem.”

Huh? Don’t the BBC have to pay the same fees? I suppose you could argue that as a public funded broadcaster it doesn’t have to make a profit and so therefore those fees are discounted, but if this was a valid argument, wouldn’t every commercial TV and radio station, every record label and studio make it against any publicly funded broadcaster?

Others have pointed out the narrow-mindedness of such arguments: If more people listen to Beethoven for free, the more people will love his music and want more of it, in the form of more recordings or more concerts, or more books, or whatever. With classical music that argument has long been won: That’s why my Dad dragged me along to every concert he could. He knew I would hate most of them, but eventually somehow the music would enter my blood and I would become addicted. But I guess my original post was asking, somewhat incoherently, why the same question is not so readily made of pop music? Surely if I heard Coldplay on the radio — for which I don’t pay — I’m going to be more likely to buy their CD if I see it in a shop? Likewise, if I can download legitimately one song — or even half a CD — of their stuff for free, aren’t I more, rather than less, likely to shell out for the full album (assuming I can’t download the other half for free)? With music, there’s no real end to one’s appetite. Surely any kind of music can only benefit by such gifts as the BBC made in its Beethoven experiment?

Opera Offers Support for BitTorrent

Opera has today launched a ‘technical preview’ version of its browser that includes support for BitTorrent, the protocol for distributing files via peer-to-peer that utilises both downstream and upstream bandwidth and spreads the load among different servers. As far as I know this is the first mainstream program that offers inbuilt support for what could become an increasingly controversial medium (please correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no Firefox plugin for BitTorrent files).

The press release explains as follows:

Oslo, Norway – July 7, 2005: Opera Software today launched a technical preview (TP) of the Opera browser for Windows, Linux and Mac that includes support for BitTorrent. Integrating this popular file-downloading technology in the Opera browser offers the end user a faster download process by utilizing full bandwidth and reducing the chance of in-transfer delay when multiple users download the same file.

Its BitTorrent Resource page explains that Opera treats BitTorrent as just another protocol, like FTP and HTTP. This is not Opera turning browser users into BitTorrent hosts:

By offering BitTorrent in a technical preview of its browser, Opera seeks to broaden the appeal of downloading legal torrent files. Opera does not encourage the use of BitTorrent, FTP and HTTP protocols for downloading illegal, copyright infringing material.

I must confess I haven’t used BitTorrent a lot, but it clearly is popular and has huge potential. Part of the reason I haven’t used it too much is that the software I’ve used, tho simple, isn’t quite as intuitive as one would like, so the idea that the browser might make it as easy as downloading an ordinary file might propel usage into the mainstream.

Spyware? Not My Problem, Says Business

Maybe the problem of Internet security isn’t educating users to be more vigilant, it’s about persuading companies that there is a problem.

A survey (PDF file) released today by California-based Secure Computing Corporation found that that “only 25 percent of businesses recognized spyware as a major problem”. This despite studies that show spyware is a problem: A study by EarthLink, for example, showed that the average PC has 28 spyware programs, while a report by Dell found that spyware accounts for 12 percent of all PC desktop support calls. Today’s survey, meanwhile, reported that 70 percent of respondents saw spyware as either no problem or a minor problem.

The same with file-sharing: 90 percent of businesses saw file-sharing software as not a major problem, and a surprising 40 percent saw it as “no problem.” Same results with instant messaging and personal e-mail accounts 90 percent saw IM as no problem or a minor problem, and 80 percent felt personal e-mail accounts were no problem or a minor problem.

(I tend to see IM and personal email as not so much a security problem as a productivity one, and even then it depends what they’re doing on it. IM can be an excellent way to share information that benefits the user professionally, as can email. But there do need to be security safeguards in place.)

Anyways, it does seem pretty shocking that companies still don’t understand the dangers of spyware. Maybe when more targeted spyware brings a rival company to its knees through massive corporate data loss, espionage or draining its accounts they’ll take more notice.

Heart Embraces File Sharing

Have record companies suddenly changed their minds about file sharing?

A press release from file sharing software company RazorPop and record label Sovereign Artists yesterday trumpeted the release of Heart’s New CD “Jupiter’s Darling” over the TrustyFiles P2P file sharing network as the “first time a major artist has ever released music from a CD to file sharers”.

The release quotes RazorPop CEO Marc Freedman as saying: “When a legendary band like Heart embraces file sharing, you know it’s become mainstream. Don’t be misled by the entertainment terror campaigns designed to instill fear and stunt innovation. The real focus should be on the artists and making music. A wide majority of musicians support P2P file sharing. There’s been an explosion in its use by independent artists.”

So does it mean that big artists and major labels are just going to throw their music out to the unpaying, unwashed masses? Er, no. The press release says the “files are in Windows Media Player format and can be played on most major media player software and portable music player devices.” So far, so good. But while the files look like they’re in the WM format, they are actually what are called Weed files, which as the press release explains, “provide 5 free Heart songs for new users”. So what does that mean, exactly?

A press release from WeedFiles last month explains what actually happens. While Weed files can be freely shared, each user is given three free plays, and then invited to buy the file. If they do, they can then freely share that file with others, each of whom are given three more plays. If they then buy the song, the original buyer will get a 20% commission.

Actually, this is a good idea and it deserves a try. Not least, the original artist makes 50% from the sale of each song, which is a significant step up for most artists. And it turns out that other networks are also releasing the Heart material at the same time, according to p2pnet. It’s just a shame that the original press release is misleading.