Art Theft: The Next Generation

17 May

I have been in the online art community a long time, a lot longer than I wish to admit. At my highest I belonged to thirty different online art communities, but at present I only participate in five of the original thirty and one that is new. I will be the first to admit that I am not very active, though my graduate program is most to blame for that, but I still go and check the sites daily to see what my fellow artists and writers are up to.  In the past weeks there have been a slew of journals talking about art theft and the tidal wave of it that was coming. I didn’t think it would be that bad since there have been times like these before, but with this latest up draft in art theft numbers, I’m beginning to notice a startling trend occurring.

The offenders don’t think that anything is wrong with what they’re doing.

If I walk into a store and pick a piece of candy up and walk out with it, that’s clearly defined as stealing. In the art community the same rules apply, but there are conditionals applied.

When I first started learning to draw I would sit at the computer for hours and pour through hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures. It was an inspiration breeding ground and the perfect place to let a beginner artist begin. I will be the first to admit that I printed out a great many pictures and copied them (not the direct tracing kind). It helped me learn anatomy and that a person should have a softly curving neck instead of a stiff rectangle. The different between what I did when I was a teen and what is going on currently is drastically different.

Most would agree this is a great way to first start out in addition to sketching from life, but I never broke the cardinal rule. I never claimed the drawings as my own and posted them online as such. It seems that the up and coming generation of artists is having a particularly difficult time grasping this concept, though I’m not sure where it becomes confusing for them.

Did you draw the original? No.

Did you at least give credit to the original artist? No.

Then why did you upload it as your own? Because I drew it.

This would be the point where I silently hit my head against the desk hoping to be smited by a lightning bolt.

Even if the artist understands you are trying to learn, if you don’t give credit you have destroyed one potential friendship and mentor. While most artist might spare thieves who give credit, you should run fast if they catch you without a link back to the original. It’s not the pressure even coming from the artist themselves that make it a deadly mistake. Most of the communities I belong to allow you to add friends and to post to each other’s journals and comment on artworks. If an artist has thousands of followers, which is considered popular on one board, you have now not only angered the artist, but their legion of followers. It’s a deadly position to be in.

The part I find harder to swallow is the absolute lack of caring on behalf of the thief. When they are caught they just shrug it off or try to make excuses. They might not know any better, but they do nothing to try and rectify the situation at hand.  I know it is not a lack of morals, and if not, is it the ready access to technology that is changing the current trend in the art world?

A good 75% of the artworks on only one site I visit are created purely from the computer. In past decades and centuries, artworks were created by hand, away from any sort of technology (unless you are talking about photography).  It was rare that the artwork would be seen by millions of people in the lifetime of the artist. In today’s’ world it’s easy to achieve tens of millions of eyes look at your pieces in only a few days.

There will always be art thievery in the world. I am not denying that, but we need broader education about what is acceptable and what should be avoided at all costs.

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Cyber Warfare: Protecting yourself while everyone is watching

17 May

Picture this scenario: You have just completed your company’s website. It looks perfect and works beautifully. You upload it to your server and marvel at it’s beauty before you retire for the evening. The next thing you know you’re receiving a call at 3am saying that the site has been taken over by hackers and they’ve stolen the database of users and passwords and posted it for all to see. Needless to say your beautifully constructed website was just undone in a matter of hours for sport.
Hackers 1 – You 0

This is becoming more of a reality as the days pass. Internet security has increased, but so has the tenacity of the hacker culture. Normally it’s done just for sport to see who can crack something first, most notable were the site attacks after The Pirate Bay ruling where different hacker groups were all too proud to claim the attacks were there. In these cases, hacking can gain fame and notoriety with their antics with those against such sites, but they are still committing harmful acts then when used in other contexts can lead to disreputable harm.

Instead of a community that only resides in the physical world, we have spread onto the Internet creating a dual society, but this digital world is far more dangerous than the one we wake to see everyday.

We put our lives on the web. We do our online banking through websites, we send money through the use of payment sites, we sign up for numerous accounts to different sites, and we share copious amounts of information we would never share with our best friend. Hackers don’t care about the creed of the person or how good and humble they may be and from personal experience, they definitely do not care what type of site they attack.

Two years ago I was checking on my local Anime Convention for a friend, when suddenly the site went blank. After refreshing numerous times, the site was back, but had been attacked by radical group spouting off ideologist about racism and how we shall all burn for our love of cartoons.  Why on earth would you attack a website devoted to anime? What was the point?

Even though I did not see a point at the time, I definitely do now. If they are practicing with what ordinary people would consider the small fish, what could they accomplish against government agencies that are housed on the web? Imagine in the next few years if we, and we most likely will, see more viruses, worms, and trojans appear. This type of warfare is only to increase with little basis for it to slow down. A physical bomb can take lives and leave destruction, but so can the loss of your identity to hackers.

Tinkering Not Allowed

17 May

Often times I wonder what Jonathon Zittrain would say about the appearance of the Apple vs. The World fight that is gearing up. I have personally never seen the admiration for one company crumble so fast and to such a great degree in all my life. The reason for the whole debacle is two fold, but both parts play an equally big part.

Apple’s “handing “of their prototypes and their love of a closed system.
It seems like this cut off one of Apple’s mighty limbs more than the other, but I’ll save that for later. The way that everything has gone down in the case from the Apple employee leaving the prototype at a bar, to Apple requesting the police arrest those involve, which led to broken down doors and a fan base that quickly backed off. What are we, the consumer, to do when a company that we own products from shows just how anti-intelligence they really are?

They made the next generation of the iPhone and then let one of their engineers out with it, but things are so mixed up that more people believe that Apple engineered this whole debacle as a publicity stunt rather than it having actually happened by accident. Conspiracists love their conspiracies and no company has had quite as many in recent years as Apple. Though I have to wonder if it is only natural to speculate on the things that we are unable to touch.

Apple has such a vice grip on the control of it’s products and what it sells that they make Nurse Ratched look like the Teletubbies…though the latter could be seen as just as evil, but I digress. They don’t want their consumers adding their own parts to their shiny and sleek computers. Are you tired of yours overheating and want to put in a high RPM fan? Sorry, that’s all but impossible.  Even if you were to do it, it would completely void your warranty and any Apple Care you purchased on your machine. Well if not the computers, surely you can modify your iPod? Try again. It is impossible to get music from your iPod to your computer, but of course you can put it on there. At least they allow you the small concession of being able to play music that is not bought from iTunes…

They claim that this forever-closed system helps keep their customers safe. It is true there are fewer viruses on Macs than PCs, but PC owners make up 85% of the computer world, if not more. All this really does is frustrate their users and creators who want to make something for their platform.

Apple blew up at Adobe over their latest tool that would allow users to port Flash games and applications over into a native iPhone browser, but as soon as it was revealed, Apple quickly changed their TOS to say that only apps developed in strict coding language would be allowed. They keep claiming that Flash kills battery life and lead to poor performance, but something I read last week made me truly question the validity of this statement. Yes, flash is a battery drainer, but I never used to notice it as much on my PC as I do now on my Mac. The article I read explained that on PCs Flash is able to access deeper into the machine in order to draw power from alternate sources so as to not tax the battery life.

If that’s the case, why does my Mac only last maybe an hour on a fully charged battery when watching YouTube? Answer: Mac will not allow Adobe access to the core of their machines and their processes.  It is hard to develop a stable player and software that should function properly if you limit the access it can achieve. Flash developers are good at what they do, but they could be better if allowed the ability to at least try, regardless of the hype over the breeches in security that could happen.

I will fully admit that I love my Mac. It’s my best friend, but I would like to be able to modify it to meet my means beyond what Apple says I can. It is in our nature to create and modify and innovate, but that ability is suppressed in many of us today because we are not allowed to think outside of the box. The Internet has helped significantly with allowing us to generate our own content, especially visual artwork and blogs. Common people outside of the news agencies are creating the news and others are reading their words. The Internet created a culture of tinkers and ponderers. We have the right to question and to explore.

Be Careful About What You Do, Say and Post

17 May

We live in an age of information. A whole world of knowledge, visuals and even the occasional YouTube wait for us on the web. We are a connected society, hurtling ever more towards a society that is always on. Is it even possible to go a day without once looking at our phones? I know I can’t because I am actually yell at by my father if my phone is not on and charged at all times, but when I need time to myself I can turn off the phone and throw it into the laundry basket, forgetting for a few blissful hours that it’s my only link to the would outside of my apartment.

But what if you couldn’t turn those images or information off, or how about the most embarrassing or saddening moment of your entire life? Within today’s society our privacy is no longer just ours to guard.  We must hope that the ethics of others hold up and that their better judgment will happen before they decided to hit the “post” button, but in one tragic case, the moral compass on what is acceptable to share went into a tailspin.

For the Nikki Catsouras family, there is no time when they are not reminded of the day their daughter died in a car accident. It’s even harder to forget when images of the aftermath of the crash were splashed all over the Internet. These are the types of photos that no family should ever have to spend the rest of their lives trying to avoid and to have them taken down from sites.  Their privacy was violated as soon as two California High Patrol shared photos of the crash investigation with other officers by email. A normal person would say they had questionable morals, but a judge recently declared that the two officers were guilty of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The court stated: “We rely upon the CHP to protect and serve the public. It is antithetical to that expectation for the CHP to inflict harm upon us by making the ravaged remains of our loved ones the subject of Internet sensationalism. . . . O’Donnell and Reich owed the plaintiffs a duty not to exploit CHP-acquired evidence in such a manner as to place them at foreseeable risk of grave emotional distress.”

These men were in charge of keeping the family’s privacy so they would not become what they have today. Their daughter is the butt of sick jokes and the fantasies of morally questionable individuals.  Even though they are fighting to have the pictures taken down, I do not believe they will ever be rid of them. The Internet is the size of the universe and when things are removed from one location, they inevitably pop up in another. In some ways I admit that this blog post is even a slight against the family’s privacy. People will search for Nikki’s name after reading it here and continue the never-ending cycle.

If our privacy cannot be protected even after our deaths, how can we even hope to think we can remain private in life when we have the ability to speak out?

There might be a small ray of hope in this dark tale of caution. On January 7, 2008, Meredith Emerson’s dismembered and unclothed body was found in the north Georgia mountains six days after she suddenly disappeared. It has taken two years, but the family of Meredith was finally giving the ruling that would spare the anguish felt by the Catsouras family. A Georgia Superior Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Hustler magazine from acquiring the gruesome crime scene photos and not a day later the Georgia House Government Affairs Committee passed “The Meredith Emerson Memorial Privacy Act”. The passage of this law prohibits gruesome crime scene photos from being releases or disseminated.

Now, the bill does allow official members of the press to go to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to view the photos, but under no circumstances are they allowed to make copies. Why Hustler magazine would even want to print the photos is beyond me, but they are adamant that they should have the right to view and copy the images. I guess no one at the magazine has ever been on the receiving end of an Internet meme depicting the decapitated body of a family member.

What we have to look at concerning these two cases is the effects that will carry on after. Journalists that is will cause a chilling effect and no one will even want to cover the stories, which in turn will not provide their readers with adequate information, but do we really need to see such photos to learn that there is a sick individual out there who has already done this to one girl? The press has printed such photos before, most notably of “The Black Dahlia” a.k.a. Elizabeth Short. Short’s naked, dismembered and mutilated body was photographed and printed in papers for the world to see, but there is one key difference: there was no Internet at the time.

While it was still a shameless invasion of privacy on behalf of the press, those photos could not be shared around the world in less than a day and most likely not less than a month if they deemed it necessary to share the story across the country. I will be the first to agree that our society has become overly censored and politically correct, but I draw the line way before the belief that crime scene and autopsy photos should be shared openly in the Sunday paper.

DRM: Digital Restrictions Management

17 May

Those invested in the technology industries know the term very well, but it is rare to find many outside of that field whom can accurately explain was DRM is and how it is implemented. DRM: we have often heard the acronym passed around idly in conversation or heard expressed on the news in relation to a story, but how much of this acronym do we really know or understand? Digital Rights Management, otherwise known as DRM, is a term attributed to numerous and varied access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals in order to impose limitations on the usage of digital content and devices. Upon first glance DRM seems to be the solution to many problems facing certain industries that deem it necessary to protect their content with such a heavy hand, but in reality the use of DRM is the cause of more problems than solutions. In order to understand how a seemingly good-natured technology can be the cause of major problems, it is imperative to look at how DRM works.

DRM works by controlling the access one has to the digital content or item that is was implemented on. There is no solitary way in which DRM is utilized. It can be used to limit the devices digital content can be played on, who can access the information and/or content and even dictate when the consumer can use the product they purchased. In one of the most well known examples, Apple chose to use DRM in their iTunes Music Store and the subsequent Movie, Book, TV Show and App stores. Negating the personal feelings of this author about DRM, this move by Apple was a very intelligent and savvy use of the technology. At a time when there were multiple competing online music stores and competing MP3 devices, Apple needed and edge over the competition.  Their use of DRM only allowed purchased products to be used on their iPods, iPhone and other mobile devices produced by them. This easily defeated the competition because of the sheer size of the iTunes store and the eye-catching technology of their products.

They broke away from the pack and today iTunes the number one online entertainment content downloading platform. Apple kept DRM on their music tracks until the beginning of 2009; it was deemed no longer necessary since competition was nonexistent. Although customers are now free to do whatever they want with their purchased music, they are not allowed to do the same with the other media they purchase from iTunes, such as audiobooks. Author, blogger and columnist Cory Doctorow discovered this first hand in his battle to release a DRM free audio version of his latest book “Makers”. It was the wish of Doctorow, the author, to have DRM removed from the book, but Apple staunchly refused.  In the end, the good deed Apple achieved by releasing iTunes music from DRM has been partially eclipsed by their need to keep it on everything else they offer in their online store.

DRM is constantly in consumers’ lives. If they are unaware of it’s impact, they need only turn over a DVD case and read the region code. DVD region codes are another type of DRM that is rarely thought about in these same terms, but the effect the code has on the playability of the DVD limits consumer access to their merchandise. If an individual in the UK (region 2) buys a movie from the US (region 1), they would be unable to play their purchased DVD due to the difference in codes. Region 2 DVD players can only play their prescribed codes and no other. This is another technique employed by companies to retain control over their content by deciding what countries are able to receive which DVDs and on what dates they will be released.

DRM technologies have been around since the late 1980s and have continuously proven why they are, in most cases, ineffective, yet the controversy still continues. Just recently Ubisoft, a well-known video gaming company, released updated DRM technologies with their game Silent Hunter 5. This newest implementation requires players of the game to maintain a constant connection with the Internet during game play in order for the game to function. Members of a popular Silent Hunter gaming forum Subsim were asked their opinions on Ubisoft’s decision and results were definitely not what Ubisoft would have imagined.

Of the 1,237 users who responded, 84.56% said they would put their planned purchase of the game on hold or cancel their order entirely if the new DRM was not removed. Only 15.44% said this new development would not hinder their purchase of the game. “This will be the second time I have forfeited a game I am passionate about because the DRM system won’t let me own the game after I have paid for it,” one user responded. This statement mirrors countless others on the forum who also proclaimed their dislike for Ubisoft’s newest innovation. While Ubisoft’s might have thought their new DRM would decrease piracy, not a day later the game was cracked and available on the Internet without the intrusive technology. In the end they only served to alienate their customers and drive them further towards piracy instead of steering them away.

Through the decades since DRM technologies were introduced, companies have refused to abandon the wasted time and effort it requires to be developed. Sony Music learned the hard way when they couples popular CDs with their version of DRM software “Sony RootKit”. This decision would become one of the biggest blunders in history in regards to DRM. Upon insertion of a CD from Sony, the software would be installed automatically, and usually without the customers’ knowledge or permission. The Sony RootKit was later found to be an access point that malware and viruses could easily exploit, often harming the customers computer in the process. Sony lost in nearly all of the lawsuits filed as a result, were required to pay damages and had their DRM technology ruled as illegal.

As the examples written here have shown, controversy is no stranger to DRM, but with that said, it is more remarkable that there have only been a limited amount of studies conducted in regards to this topic. Writers and have publicly stated their opinions and there are decades old studies examining the effectiveness of DRM, but with the evolution of technology, it is advisable that new studies be performed and old ones revisited. Due to the recent development of Ubisoft’s DRM, it would be strongly suggested to conduct a formal study on the effectiveness of DRM in the gaming industry. With the informal Subsim poll garnering a heavily one-sided response against the use of DRM, it would be interesting to see how a formal study done on a large scale would conclude. There are companies other and Ubisoft using DRM, but not everything is known about their technologies or how they choose which ones to implement on their games. Yes, a major reason game companies rely on the fossilized remains of DRM is to offer themselves some small protecting against the growing digital piracy culture, but investigations should be made into other reasons as well.

It may seem as though DRM is limited to music and movies, but in the past two years it is has managed to be applied to digital books as well. eReaders were first invented with the idea that they could replace the increasing weight and price of college textbooks. A student would only need to purchase a reader and then could buy a digital format of the book at a much lower cost than a hardcover book. Instead of spreading across college campuses, the technology was adopted and reworked by numerous booksellers in the hopes that regular consumers would find the idea of having the equivalent of a small bookcase in one portable handheld device appealing. Amazon was one of the first with their Kindle, then followed Sony’s eReader, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and now Apple’s iPad. Of the ones mentioned, only the Sony eReader allows the consumer to purchase books from multiple sources for use on the reader. The other devices have a strict coupling with their online stores and do not allow for cross device sharing. If an individual owns a Kindle and wishes to transfer their books onto the iPad, they will find it impossible without hacking both devices and the subsequent book files. Instead, they are forced to buy the same books from Apple’s online bookstore if they are to be read on the iPad.

In regards to the ethical conundrum detailed in the eReader world, research into the fairness of DRM device coupling would be a high priority. We have seen the growth of Apple’s iTunes over the years because it was coupled with only their products and no other. They have virtually no competition now in terms of digital music sales and their only competition at the time was Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player. It is evident their business model in the early days of the iTunes store was a success, because the Zune vanished for nearly five years and is only now seeing a slight resurgence. Is it truly ethical to allow a company to use such techniques to eliminate all opposing competition until none remain? What areas of the law could they possibly be in violation of because of these practices?

In conclusion, it is highly debatable as to whether or not DRM technologies are still needed or relevant in today’s current digital climate. Out of the cases examined in this paper, only one began as a positive outcome and worked in favor of the company, where all the others are only serve to frustrate consumers to a greater degree. It is time to retire DRM and look towards the next evolution; outdated technology deserves to be put to rest.

COM580 Final

15 May

McChesney:
In our current society, it’s journalism vs. the world at large. The systems that have been slow-to-evolve over the past century have now led traditional journalism field to the brink of destruction and financial collapse. But many have asked how we arrived at this critical stage? How did we really let things get this bad? If we look at the proceeding history of journalism, it’s not hard to see all the turns of where it went wrong.

1. Loss of Advertising Revenue
Since the first printing press, we’ve relied on paper to pass information. Pieces of paper could hold stories, articles, drawings, photos, pictures, but most importantly it could hold ads; ads for everything you could imagine. The advertisers paid for those spaces in hopes of generating their own revenue when readers would see and ad and be curious enough to go and find the product or service that was being offered. The reason this form of revenue worked was that it allowed journalism entities to sit back and write stories while the advertisers came to them. Publishing firms and news agencies didn’t need to work to secure other sources of revenue. They had their readers who faithfully ordered newspapers and magazines, but the game has changed. Consumers are no longer paying for the paper forms of news and are now turning to the free sources of the web. Since News agencies first started using the web, their stories have been free and they did not charge the public if they wished to access them, but instead of slowly charging their customer base, they have waited till this last minute, letting their customers grow so used to not paying that it is unlikely that they will begin to pay for the content even if it means the destruction of some of the biggest and most well-known news agencies in the country.

2. Changing and Source of Journalists
We are no longer in the time where journalists need to go to college and receive their degree in journalism. You can be a journalist no matter your background as long as you have the drive and access to the Internet. We have evolved to trust the written word of bloggers whose words are always free. They report on the same subjects that traditional news agencies do and they can have the same weight as well, but can’t this also dilute the news we are receiving? How can we be sure to trust their words when we don’t know of their integrity of having a news agency backing them? How can we really trust their professionalism when we don’t know what is it to begin with.

3. The Bias of News
Journalists are taught to be objective in their reporting. They need to keep their personal bias out of their writings, but as mergers occur and news agencies are looking for new customers bases, it’s hard to remain objective. We can clearly see the biases in the news programs of the television channels. Fox plays to a more conservative base, while NBC writes stories with a liberal customer base in mind. We are now seeing this happen across the country even at smaller news agencies.  They are giving their readers what they want even if it’s more celebrity gossip than news. They want to keep their readers and not lose more revenue than they already have.

Auletta:

Google: it’s become a term we easily use in our everyday lives. Don’t know something? Just Google it. What to know how to do your laundry? Just Google it.  Google is now a verb and only a click away in most cases and in some not even that.  We rely on the search engine to provide us with answers to all of our questions and to provide us with easy access to information, but at what price do we give over all of our searches to them?

Auletta was able to look into the company and knows how they rose to the top and how they operate and instead of coming out feeling relieved, he only grew more concerned with the privacy issues surrounding the company. After all, how can you not be concerned with a company that collects data on billions of its users and can hold onto it for as long as they want? They should be monitored and watched carefully with the ever-expanding growth of the company into multiple sectors including Operating Systems, mobile devices and now a rumored tablet computer.

Solove:
We live in the age of information. We can have access to nearly anything at the click of a mouse or the push of a button on our phones. Should we be surprised when some of our most embarrassing moments wind up on the Internet when nearly every mobile device has a camera capable of taking pictures or video? These hand-held devices have opened up a whole new world of embarrassment and emotional harm than before.

We are dealing with exploding rates of cyber bullying and reputation destruction on the web. It is incredibly easy to destroy your reputation or that of another person, but it nearly impossible to get it back and salvage it once it’s been put in the gutter, especially with the widely disseminating nature of the Internet.

How to we combat this? Employers are already dealing with the brunt of these issues in trying to come up with policy that will help employees better understand what boundaries they cannot and cross when using social media tools and sites. What you put on Facebook or post on Twitter can mean the difference between you maintaining your job or losing it. Users need to be hyper-vigilant with the personal information they share on the Internet because it could potentially lead to their harm.

Zittrain:
Haven’t we all wanted to create at least a little something in our lives? Whether it’s a birthday card for mom or rebuilding and enhancing the engine of a car, we have the power to create or to generate new things. On the Internet today we have the largest tools of generative possibilities in the form of Wikipedia and blog sites such as WordPress. Users drive the creation of the content on these sites and allow for more generativity to continue.

But what happens when you have corporations refusing to allow their users the creativity they are capable of? Apple has shown time and time again they do not want users having access to the core of their devices and keeping control over it.  These types of devices such as the iPad and the iPods don’t allow for creativity to flourish. All the user can do is use the device how the company wants you to and nothing more. There is no creativity in that. Apple has claimed that by keeping the computers they create closed and out of the hands of consumers, they are keeping them safer from viruses and worms, but they’re really not. Just because you allow users to modify their computers is not going to make them more acceptable and those users are not going to blame the company if it happens at all. Some would say that those creators of viruses and worms are contributing to the overall generativity that is so prevalent on the Internet.

Critique 1:

Let’s take on McChesney and his blame-centric ideals:
McChesney talks a big game and loves to blame anyone and everyone under the sun, but what he doesn’t do is tell people how to fix the problem or give them ideas that could possibly work if refined.  It is one thing to claim the sky is falling, but it’s another when you don’t do anything about it. Traditional Journalism is a dying breed and I will be the first to admit that. It’s now time to evolve with the times and learn to reach a new audience who doesn’t care for the physical paper, but want to be convenienced when they go online.  If the news is there and they can purchase a yearly subscription to a paper for the content, they will pay for it if the news is relevant and timely.

Consumers still want the news and they still want to know what is going on in the world, but want it in a way that is convenient for them. With the addition of the iPad, users can subscribe to newspapers and receive all of the content that is on the web, streamed directly to their devices. If these companies would stop mourning the loss of their advertising revenue in the print sector they could see a whole new market to access.

The one thing that many will agree with McChesney on is his thoughts towards Bloggers. I believe that yes, probably about 85% of the bloggers out there aren’t creditable, aren’t providing unbiased news and don’t really care if their work is quality as long as someone reads it and they gain followers. Only time will tell whether consumers will decide on their own to abandon these less than savory sources in return for the good bloggers who are showing professionalism.


Critique 2:

Tackling Solove’s Cyber Bullies
I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to have your life ruined by something that was posted on the Internet, but for the countless cases that Solove points out, they do. One glaring reminder of how terrible an invasion of privacy is happened in the case of Nikki Catsouras and her family. The humiliation and devastation that this family has faced after Nikki’s crash photos were spread on the Internet. They have been unable to have them removed and it’s a disgrace. It doesn’t matter who’s responsibility it is concerning privacy when something of this nature happens. The family of Nikki didn’t ask for this to happen and they protected their privacy, it’s other people who posted her photos without permission or decency.

This is what happens in the online community. It seems as if our morals vanish because there is now this device sitting between us and the person on the other end of our chats or reading our blog posts. We forget that there are people on the Internet and we are not all Anonymous. Words, whether they are said to someone’s face or posted online, they can still do damage.

It’s more important now than ever to protect yourself and what you decide to share online and in public forums. We have access to each other at a greater degree even if we don’t want that access. Sites such as Spokeo gather all of your information and sell it at a low cost. Why would it even be necessary for burglars to canvas the old fashion way? They can find out where you live and where you work and how long you work for without ever needing to try.  If you’re not careful, just let the burglars come to you. It’s much easier that way.

And you thought it couldn’t be done…

11 May

After reading back over the last post I can tell what most people must be thinking. “That’s all well and good, but those things don’t actually work!” I can assure you they do and they are becoming more and more common as the studios and recording companies put a stangle hold on their artists, directors and how their final products are marketed. They’ve said that no one can ever succeed by relying on the generosity of others, but the cases highlighted here in this post, not only prove it is possible, but are sources of inspiration.

Case 1: Steal This Film 2
Download number: Around 2.7million
Viewed: Approximately 4.86 million people

•    -Steal this Film (1 and 2) are documentaries about the past present and future of file-sharing.
•    Instead of charging the viewer money in order to obtain the films, they were distributed solely through Internet distribution and downloads. Steal This Film II is also currently available in its entirety on YouTube.
•    Downloaders were no charged anything to download the movie, but were asked to leave a donation to help fun future projects.
•    Within the first 4 days after its release, there were 150,000 downloads and over $5,000 dollars donated.

Case 2: Independent Filmmakers and Musicians
Movies that have been promoted through BitTorrent:
Nasty Old People : Written and Directed by Hanna Sköld
•    Instead of turning to traditional marketing methods that would have cost her thousands of dollars without the guarantee of a payoff, Hanna Sköld approached The Pirate Bay about forming a partnership to release her debut film. Always caring to help out fellow Swedish artists, The Pirate Bay readily agreed. The title and logo of the film was hosted on the main page of the site and the film was uploaded as a torrent for people to download and view.

Music artists that openly shared their music via BitTorrent:
Radiohead
•    Musical artist Radiohead are leading a coalition of other artists in escaping from underneath their record labels’ control.  They currently belong to FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) along with other notable artists such as Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox, KT Tunstall and others.
•    In early August 2009 a new Radiohead song was leaked. No one knew at the time where the track had come from, until a posting appeared on the band’s Dear Air Space blog. It explained that the band was very proud of their new track and hoped their audience loved it as well. At the bottom of the posting were two download links, one of which linked to the original torrent uploaded to Mininova. Radiohead leaked their own song.

Familjen

•    The Pirate Bay was known to supporting Swedish artists that they liked. This was no different for the Swedish band Familjen. In 2007, the Swedish Grammies changed the voting procedures. Instead of having a panel of judges pick the winners, they allowed the public to vote for the artist they thought deserved to win.
•    The Pirate bay caught wind of this and posted a logo on the front page of their site, suggesting that visitors of the site should vote for the band. Their album was also available for download free of charge.
•    That year, they won a Grammy due to the overwhelming support that came from the BitTorrent community.

More and More artists are turning away from the traditional distribution models that require the direct involvement of major record labels and film studios. Instead, they are turning to a free marketing and distribution plan offered through use of the vast BitTorrent network. By removing the meddling of the labels and studios, artists are having direct access to their profits and are slowly gaining more money than they would using the outdated business model that the industry is still trying to promote.

Promoting Yourself Through Piracy

7 May

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I’ve been able to get some of my artwork out there and how to bring in viewers. I can honestly say it’s a harsh work when marketing your work on the Internet, but the one thing I always remained aware of was what the file-sharing community was doing. I post my work to free art sites and share photos through Flickr. These things are both free so and are deemed acceptable, so why do we condemn the millions of potential viewers because we might not agree with their sharing practices?

The simple answer is: We shouldn’t.

By snubbing the entirety of the file-sharing community you are letting go of millions of possible views and eyeballs looking at your work, and some time the owners of those eyeballs like your work to such a degree that they gift you money. Now, who doesn’t like money?

Here are some of the tools I’ve been telling fellow filmmakers and artists to pursue.

For Filmmakers: The VODO Network
For any independent filmmaker who is working on a tight budget just to complete the movie, it is doubtful there will be anything left over for marketing and distribution. If a filmmaker finds himself or herself in this position they still have two major resources that when utilized can bring their film to a greater audience than multiple showings at film festivals.

“VODO bring you great movies from creators who WANT to share their work!” And that is what VODO’s track record has accomplished. If we looked at how many peers were connected to torrents stemming from The Pirate Bay, on May 6th alone there where over 24 million. That is 24 million viewers who could download and watch your movie and then donate to you. After all, VODO’s name comes from voluntary donation.

With 21 distribution partners, which include the largest torrent sites in the world, VODO can offer filmmakers the opportunity to expand their usual market I hopes for returns that would normally be profited on by movie studios or distribution companies. VODO does not ask for royalties and any donations made to the artist are solely for them.

For Artists of All Kinds: Flattr
Flattr is a new site that has only begun testing the waters of the Internet. It is a social micropayment site that is trying to generate revenue for the artists whom rarely receive credit for their work and who almost never receive money to continue producing works. Flattr aims to change all of this by changing the way we surf the Internet. When users find something they like they will share it through a link on their Facebook pages or tweeting about it. Those options can drive traffic to the page, but they do not drive revenue.  This is where Flattr comes into play.

Users sign up for Flattr and can then place a button on their site or project they wish for people to evaluate and then other Flattr users can choose to “flattr” you by sharing a piece of their balance. At the end of each month you will be able to collect the money that other users wanted to share with you. Accounts are free and you can deposit as little as 2 Euros in your account per month.

*NOTE* Both of these concepts are still very new and it will take time to see if Flattr can catch on to the degree that is projected. A word of caution should be said after reading all of the information listed here. When putting work out there and artist needs to realize that the world and the people out there have their own viewpoints. Some will love your work and others may hate it, but it stands to reason that if you put out a quality product of one of substance that you will see a return in your investment.

The Entertainment Industry’s Propaganda: File-sharing Lies Ahoy!

5 May

We’re used to being lied to by politicians, the weatherman, and even our significant others when we ask if something we’re wearing looks good.  We can now add another group to that list: the entertainment industry.

Better known for bringing us CDs where only one or two out of the thirteen tracks are actually worth listening to and maybe a handful a movies each year that are worth paying $10 dollars a ticket to see, the entertainment industry is taking a memo out of Hitler’s play book. The rhetoric around file-sharing and illegal downloading has been increasing in the eight years since Napster was first shut down. It’s hard to be technologically savvy and not read or hear about another lawsuit being filed or some new government legislation being pushed. How did we get to this point where the music and movie industries have the right to deny people the basic human right of having access to the internet?

1. They decided to criminalize the file-sharers. — There have been multiple instances of this occurring. The two most prominent cases, netting the entertainment industry $1.92 million from Jamie Thomas-Rasset for her 24 songs shared and $675,000 from Joel Tenenbaum for his 30 shared songs. In Joel’s case, he is forced to pay over $22,000 dollars per song. Now the right thing to do would be to distribute that money to the artists/composers for the songs, right? Not according to the IRAA. Instead the money will be going towards a fund for more pro-copyright campaigns. Fair? I think not.

What does the industry hope to gain from his pricey and unproductive lawsuits for amounts that the ordinary file-share couldn’t hope to pay? Fear and Intimidation. They want to instill fear in the public so that they wouldn’t even think of opening a file-sharing or BitTorrent client without massive amounts of dollars signs flashing before their eyes.

Have these tactics worked? Absolutely not. If anything, they have served to bolster the file-sharing community to grow larger and more technologically advanced. The file-sharing community is larger than it’s ever been and they’ve shown they’re fed up with overpriced CDs and DVDs and listening to the fossilized behemoth labels and studios. If the entertainment industry is so hard up for cash, how can they afford to spend millions of dollars on court cases just for the expressed purpose of “setting an example”? Need I also mention that the recording industry’s profits on digital music rose last year by 20%…

2. They refuse to evolve with technology. — This 2009, not 1009. We are in an age of technological innovation with consumers owning more pieces of technology than ever before. Consumers no longer want to pay the high prices for the packaged of CDs and DVDs. Digital music files and MP3 players are the next evolution of the CD. Blue-Ray is not the next evolution of the DVDs, a digital movie on a USB drive is. The newer generations knows the technology is coming and they expect to see prices fall because there will not be a need for packaging. The majority of the money needs to be going to the artists, not into the labels’ and studios’ greedy pockets. It is ridiculous that an artist assigned to a major record label only makes a couple cents per CD sold.

The industry listened, in part, thanks to Apple’s iTunes. They were the first large-scale seller to offer individual tracks for download. Consumers want the tracks they like without the filler tracks that are normally not up to par. After this first leap forward things have sputtered to a stop. Yes, DRM was removed from all iTunes tracks downloaded, but there has been nothing since. This stagnation is breeding contempt on both sides because with file-sharing, consumers have the right to be pickier with the music they buy and the movies they decide to see

Fans vs The Creators

2 May

After warring with myself over whether or not to unlock my characters from the pages of my notebook, I began thinking earnestly about the role that fans play in the success or demise of a series. Three series instantly jumped to mind. Twilight, Lord of the Rings and Kingdom Hearts. Three that are opposites of each other in many ways, but oddly similar.

Case Study Number 1: The Twilight Series
I have never seen a fan base so noxious to a series. I remember when the fist book came out and there quiet murmurings in a few of my online communities. People were honest with how they felt about the series and I never once saw an explosion of anger from one fan against another. By all means, it was nearly pleasant… then the second book came out. There went the sanity of many of the previously contented fans. One of my communities was closed because of the flame wars, that once started, never ended. Hundreds of pages of posts were deleted to try and protect the others of the community and even that wasn’t enough.  With the emergence and growth of free online discussion boards that brought massive amounts of fans together, it created a ticking time bomb. It had to be Twilight that lit the fuse.  I will fully admit that I openly enjoyed the books, but it was the other fans and their obsessive comments and protection of the series that killed any enjoyment I felt towards it.
Verdict: Series Killed

Case Study Number 2: Kingdom Hearts
Instead of words on pages, this series of video games burned through teen and anime communities rivaling the current California wildfires. The anime survives en mass online in everything from personal websites to complete episode guides and wikis. Whereas conventions happen only once a year in a location close to a fan, the Internet is on 24/7 and grants them the ability to talk with friends hours away. There was a great anticipation for the first Kingdom Hearts, which merged the worlds of classic Japanese RPG games with that of Disney. The combination worked perfectly; the graphics were nice; the plot worked seamlessly. Well, at least until Kingdom Hearts 2 (sense a pattern?). There were always the slightly crazed fans with the first game, but the second introduced 13 new characters of Organization XIII, all but one of which were male. There went the series. The young female fans took over and began shipping all the male characters together; dissolving into madness when someone would dare say that didn’t work. Even the harmless wikis became an area where fans boasted about their OTP, while tearing down others.
Verdict: Series half-dead

Case Study Number 3: The Lord of the Rings
The epitome of all classic fantasy series. When asked to name the most influential and well-known series, most would answer Lord of the Rings. As opposed to the other two case studies, this series was around way before the Internet boom. Fans still met and conversed with each other face to face and had newsletter mailings from fan groups. It was quiet, it was friendly, it was, dare I say, normal. When the books were made into movies, it was well into the time when the Internet was growing, but I noticed something with this series that I didn’t with the others. There were no flame wars, no email stalking and ridicule and certainly no physical threats against other fans on any of the chat boards. Is it because LOTR already had a fan base in an older generation that predated the Internet? I think it certainly helped to steer the new fans in the right direction of civility. There was a pre-established online example for fans to follow.
Verdict: Series Survived

I think in looking at these three varied examples, it’s clear to see how the Internet can make or break fandoms. The fans are the ones buying the merchandise, the books and going to see the movies. They keep the Author’s paid and able to continue to write without worrying, but what happens when those same fans, drive others away and keep people from endorsing a series?
Game Over