Freaking filesharing

During the flight back from Canada I read Freakonomics. Nothing freaky to literates. Anyhow, the book’s simple approach to deterrence somehow struck me. Accordingly, deterrence is a trade-off between three incentives: economic, moral and social. Start giving penalties (economic incentive) and people might think it is no longer unethical to commit unwanted behavior (moral incentive). The example in the book was the introduction of a $3 penalty for parents who picked up their child late from the kinderkarten. The result was more late pickings as the parents didn’t feel guilty anymore and the price of late picking was neglible.

Apply this to file sharing on the Internet. Statistics show that file sharing has been increasing the last five years save for the first half of 2004. In late 2003, the recording industry started to push through penalties to individuals and managed to get one of the most popular network at the time (FastTrack) practically down.

But that victory was short-lived. Users switched to more robust and secure networks. By attacking technically weak networks, the recording industry makes sure the sharing technology keeps on advancing and new technology gets adopted quickly. File-sharers unite!

The fact that there are now penalties hasn’t helped. The risk of getting penalized is next to nothing. Moreover, with an arrogant policy the recording industry has arguably lost moral ground. Why should I deter from sharing some widely-available Madonna or Rolling Stones hit with other users? I don’t think those artist will lose anything from sharing and besides, they seem to be both arrogant and too-rich. Sharing brings friends!

Thus, I’d argue that the social incentives encouraging sharing outweigh the moral and economic incentives to deter from sharing. The penalty-policy has perhaps added a marginal economic deterrent but, at the same time, it has weakened the moral deterrent and strengthened the social incentives. The outcome of this equation can be read from the statistics.

PSP and fair use

Tried PlayStation Portable yesterday. Sounds like it rocks MAME and the most popular home computers from the 1980s. I probably get one and start hacking when I visit Canada in the next week.

Which brings me into the fucking DRM. It is the ultimate threat to PSP’s success. Sony has been historically so full of that big brother crap. Now PSP seems to have region-lock for movies (distributed on proprietary non-standard “UMD” discs – remember minidisc?) and forced updates (anti-hack of course) with new games. There must be more. Besides, they aren’t going to release the system in Europe until September and I’ve read they already haunt gray market sellers.

I’ve heard the same story too many times before. The potential of this system is its great hardware, great looks – and maybe most importantly – the capability of users to innovate, install their MAMEs, web browsers etc, extend the functionality, and start to experience. Will they ever get it?

(Note: I changed my blogging software from Typepad to WordPress and and had to transfer all entries from the summer 2004 until this date through two hours of copy-paste.)

A solution to Internet music

Ok, let’s have a sensible solution to the Internet music distribution controversy. A sensible approach is not to want music to be free. A sensible approach is not to use DRM either. A sensible approach is to focus on the quality of the listening experience, wide availability of the material, and happy users & artists.

First, there are different kinds of music. At least the following can be separated: (1) new MTV/radio feed, (2) back catalogue in stores, (3) non-published but protected stuff (4) download-free music (copyright expired, creative commons etc). The last is not a problem, others are.

So let’s take (1) first: new feed. I turn on my MTV, it’s U2. Apple’s website, the same guys. I turn on my car stereo, it’s again the same U2 and Vertigo. Streaming on and on. I don’t feel quilty downloading the same stuff online. I don’t think I should pay for it. MTV, Apple and radio do already, millions of times. Singles, big hits. It’s the demo stuff. I think that what they put in the big feed should be consequently free to rip and distribute. By an implied license or whatever. The same as you publish a homepage; it’s implied that anyone can download the stuff and forward it (as a link) to friends.

Then (2), back catalogue, which I think is the main problem. I don’t think P2P is ok for that stuff. There won’t be a choice for artists if Kazaa, Grokster et al and any Torrent community would be “legal”. Consequently music would be free. 90% on the albums that are not frequently played on the radio are not producing anything unless sold in a bundle. I’d keep that possibility with the artists. However, I’d require that labels can’t mandate DRM, can’t mandate quality and can’t mandate format. It’d be instead of iTunes. CD-quality with cd-price, mp3 192 kbs quality with 1/5th of the price or so. And no DRM whatsoever. Basically CD-model to Internet mode, mutatis mutandis.

Finally (3), bootlegs of favourites and any stuff from nonames. This is not a straightforward case. I’d like to see any bootleg of Jimi or Stones to be free out there for anyone to download. For the sake of culture. However, I’d keep artistic control definitely with the nonames. So this one boils down to a privacy analogy. If you are a public person, any yellow paper can write about you, take pics and publish them on cover. However, if you are a noname, there’d be a privacy violation.

Open source – open spectrum?

I haven’t blogged much lately. This entry is a cross-post from my work’s blog.

There was recently an interesting opinion to open up Wifi specs at BusinessWeek. Those ideas come close to what some call as Open Spectrum. Technically the idea is to open up more frequencies out of state control and give users more control for what they can do with their communication devices (through configuring their own software radio to alter the signal strength, frequency etc.).

At first sight this sounds like a straightforward application of the principles of open source: create a wireless commons and let the users innovate us the needed technical infrastructure. Only if it would work that way.

First, there are technical hurdles (such as interferences, unreliability, misuse possibilities). Second, there is the great wall of regulation: if my little iTrip is illegal in Europe at the moment, I’d be sceptical to see something like WiMax as free as Wifi anytime soon… Third, there is the problem of business propositions… which actually isn’t a problem but the main driver, which may make open spectrum a reality sooner than we think. Just think of all the start-ups once again challenging industry giants such as handset manufacturers and telecom operators. Would it be any different from the dot-com era? I really don’t know, but I’d sure like to see it happen!

When open source went dot-com

Just came back from Joi Ito’s talk in Helsinki. He talked about the future of music business largely based on a recent Wired article.

Don’t get me wrong. The talk was great and thought-provoking. I did enjoy it. I just happen to have second thoughts of most of the stuff he said. His talk was like a troll-post to me and I’ll post my second thoughts here as I’d post them to any troll. Keep this in my mind if you go on to read my harsh critique in what follows.

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The main message as I got it was that the music business is going open source. You’ll have the commercial “head” which is shrinking and is doomed. You’ll also have the long “tail”, which has all the future talent, and the real creative force. Folk, karaoke, Garageband, the stuff you really want to do. CDs are history. Big labels who do physical distribution and search artists at the moment will suffer and need to fundamentally change their “business models”. Mass media made us believe they had a role but in reality what they produce us is just crap (in terms of quality). We won’t have new Michael Jacksons’ anytime soon…

And the business in this new world of music? Mr. Ito claimed “prosumers”, for the lack of a better word, at the tail’s end will pay to get more attention. So one idea is to make some platform stuff (obviously software) for them. What else? Niche groups around folk bands and artists will be the center of action – so you can for example sell T-shirts to your audience. Great! Moreover, if you release just some of your stuff free you might later get bought by the big Hollywood-guys!! This is getting better and better – still more ideas!? The real bomb: DVDs!! They won’t disappear, there is a lot of development potential in music DVDs.

What a mess of “ideas”. Let’s refute them quickly:

1. Platforms won’t be business to anyone. If it’s going to be popular, it’ll be open source and free for all. Read IT doesn’t matter.
2. T-shirts… remember dot-com?
3. Get attention to get bought by the big labels – what is exactly new in this? And doesn’t this go against the very idea of p2p, open source and amateur revolution?
4. DVDs… again, what’s new? Ironically, to refute his earlier arguments, mr. Ito went on to show enthusiastically a new Rolling Stones DVD (which has camera angles to exite the audience and make them not to connect this to the earlier bs about marginal-artist revolution and the death of CDs)

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The main impression I’m starting to get is that all this open source, open content, free/open whatever Internet-related stuff is at the moment the worst kind of hype available. The problem is people are getting interested, they want gurus to speak and the cycle starts to feed more and more belief in us. Success story here, success story there. Somebody makes a business proposal and mass psychology takes care of the rest. Open is the answer! Freedom or death!

I don’t doubt that this hype reflects the cultural and social impact of the Internet. Obviously people will share more, and it is indeed possible to cooperate and get “creative” in some ways unthinkable a few years back. Richard Stallman is the real guru of creativity and freedom in this sense.

However, mr. Stallman has nothing to say about business. Guys like mr. Ito make that mistake. Further, they go on to generalize open source to open whatever without much reality checks. We should not believe that the open/free/power-to-the-people trend has any business impact in the first place. Money is conservative. Money doesn’t follow the free. Money loves control and hierarchies, it wants to be in a safe place.

I bet Gekko would said to freaks like mr. Ito something like this: “You’re walking around blind without a cane, pal. A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place.”