Why (and how) will we pay for music?

I was adding links to the roundup of mesh08 coverage that I’ve been keeping both on the mesh blog and also here, and I came across a post by Chris Clarke that mentioned some of his impressions of mesh, and also described how he asked a question during my keynote conversation with Ethan Kaplan of Warner Brothers Records, but didn’t really get an answer. The question was “Why should I ever pay for music again?” Ethan responded in a comment at Chris’s blog, but also posted it on his own blog. Here are a few excerpts:

“You pay for music regardless of whether or not you actively consume it. That’s what sync/performance/publishing licensing is for.

The challenge is not “how will you pay for music again” but more “how do we as a producer produce something worth consuming.”

Anyhow, your question “Why should I ever pay for music again?” is not so simply answered. Why should you? Hopefully because you find something worth paying for.

Our challenge… is to figure out the theories, rationality, psychological reasons and such as to what the transition into a homogenized and representation-dependent, decentered and binary-data media system does to modes of consumption.”

As Ethan points out, these kinds of concerns aren’t solely the province of the music business. Other content-related industries are struggling with the same issues: if content can flow in dozens of different ways, and in many cases is effectively free, how do content producers generate something meaningful that people will be willing to pay for?

Techmeme vs. Hacker News

Fred Wilson posted a Twitter message earlier today, in which he asked people whether they got most of their tech news from Techmeme or Y Combinator’s Hacker News, which is sort of like Reddit. It was actually a Straw Poll, but apparently most people didn’t get that, so they didn’t vote in a way that could be picked up by the poll, which shows only 12 votes (most for Hacker News). Or maybe the vote was skewed by the fact that you still can’t go backwards and see past messages in Twitter. On FriendFeed, the question got about 35 answers.

I took a look at Techmeme.com — which I read multiple times a day — and then I looked at Hacker News, which I only check out from time to time (although I do get its RSS feed in my Google Reader), and compared some of the stories at about 8 p.m. EST. Here they are listed:


— Windows chief talks 7 (44 links)
— Web 2.0 fails to produce cash (13 links)
— AG wins suit against Dell (8 links)
— The fbopen Initiative (14 links)
— Intel’s Centrino 2 delayed (8 links)
— Justice and realtors (3 links)
— Google mini upgrade (7 links)
— Amazon slashes Kindle price (8 links)
— Liberty pulls back from Vongo (8 links)
— Google CEO: Mobile is next (2 links)

Hacker News:

— Cities and ambition (60 points)
— Google App Engine and I/O (13 points)
— Xobni hires engineers (11 points)
— AJAX Libraries and Google (35 points)
— Is anyone using scalr? (11 points)
— Paul Graham (11 points)
— Help Send Us To Startup Camp (5 points)
— TiipJoy’s New API (31 points)
— Freeman Dyson on Global Warming ( 24 points)
— Arrington On Copyright (5 points)

As you can see, they are quite different. Techmeme has a lot about Windows, whereas Hacker News has nothing (since most members are likely Mac or Linux users, I expect). And while Hacker News has some pretty geek-centric stories — such as the Ajax Libraries one or the Scalr story — it also has some interesting ones that Techmeme doesn’t, including the Gates/Yahoo story from All Things D, and one really tremendous and thoughtful read: legendary astrophysicist Freeman Dyson on Global Warming. Then, just for the heck of it, I looked at some of the top stories on Slashdot and Digg.


— Youtube and Viacom
— Realtors and Justice
— Would You Rent a Song?
— Six Degrees of Wikipedia
— TJX Fires Employee
— Scalable Data Structures
— Poor Economy and Innovation
— Consumer Reports on Games
— The Tunguska Impact Crater
— Singapore Firm Claims Patent


— MacBook Air cuts through flesh (337 diggs)
— 40+ Extremely Beautifull Icon Sets (668 diggs)
— Banshee 1.0 beta 2 media player (248 diggs)
— KDE Project Ships First Beta of KDE 4.1 (229 diggs)
— 14 Creative Advertisements [PICS] (1046 diggs)
— IBM Employees Use Social Media (394 diggs)
— Bill Gates, Jobs and Wozniak [PIC] (1003 diggs)
— YouTube: Viacom challenge (839 diggs)
— Google Maps Rolls Out Features (1253 diggs)

Slashdot looks like kind of a combination of Techmeme and Hacker News, with some geeky stories (Scalable Data Structures) and some other general-interest ones (Would You Rent a Song?). Digg has a bunch of image posts — something it is well-known for — including one that misspells the word “beautiful.” Take from that what you will.

Windows 7: I couldn’t care less

So some “top secret” screenshots have been making the rounds of various gadget blogs, purporting to be leaked demos of Windows 7 — except they probably aren’t, according to some. And tonight at the All Things D conference (which I kind of wish I had been able to go to) Bill Gates and Steve “Monkeyboy” Ballmer will be showing some highlights of the new operating system. A writer at Ars Technica says he is “pumped” about this news. Personally, I couldn’t care less. Vista was effectively a non-existent event for me, and Windows 7 isn’t likely to change that.

I’m not one of those Mac fanboys you see around the blogosphere, mind you. I like the Mac interface a lot, and I would happily use a Macbook Pro if someone wanted to donate one, but at the moment I’m using a bog-standard black box that I bought for $350 at a local computer outlet. It doesn’t run Windows though — it’s running Ubuntu with the KDE desktop, which provides all kinds of icons and toolbars and touchy-feely GUI stuff that Windows users (and Mac users) like. I switched to Ubuntu about a year ago and haven’t looked back.

I still have a Windows machine on my desk as well, but I’m running XP. Why? The same reason I suggest to all of my friends that they do the same: there simply isn’t any compelling reason to switch to Vista, period. When I moved to XP it made a lot of sense — there was multi-user switching (great if you have a family) and better networking support. Vista, as far as I can tell, has a bunch of eye-candy interface stuff that does absolutely nothing apart from hogging a lot of RAM. I use the Windows machine for things that I can only do on Windows, and that’s mostly work-related (Outlook, etc.).

But doesn’t Ubuntu take a lot of fiddling? Sometimes. I’ve had to look some things up on the Internet to figure them out. But then, I had to do that with Windows too (and with a Mac, to be honest). And Ubuntu has come a long, long way from the earlier versions of Linux I played around with — it is almost plug-and-play with just about everything, including printers, wireless, cameras and USB devices (although it’s not so good with webcams). And it handles my iPod better than a Windows machine with iTunes ever did. Windows is now like that crazy old uncle I tolerate, but don’t really pay much attention to.

Drop that mouse! It’s the copyright cops

(Note: This is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Are you sure that all of the songs on your iPod were legally acquired? What about the music or movies or other digital content on your laptop? You could be subjected to some nasty questioning next time you cross the border, if a new international trade body has its way — and your ISP might decide to rat you out to the government as well.

According to a leaked document (available at Wikileaks and also at IP Justice), Canada and a number of other countries are planning to create a NAFTA-style body that would police copyright, and would be empowered to seize and/or destroy property without a court order. This agency — whose creation wouldn’t have to be approved by the legislature, according to some reports, because it deals with international trade matters — would also have the power to force Internet service providers to divulge information about their customers without requiring a warrant.

Past attempts by the Canadian record industry to compel ISPs to produce such information failed when the courts ruled that the Canadian Recording Industry Association didn’t have the authority to request that kind of private personal data.

The proposed multi-country agreement (which reportedly involves the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and South Korea) is called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. In addition to the ability to force ISPs to provide customer info, the agreement would also give border guards the right to inspect laptops, cameras, iPods and other devices for any illegal digital content, and would allow them to take action without requiring a complaint from a rights-holder. The agreement would permit guards and others to conduct “ex parte” searches of property or individuals, meaning a lawyer would not have to be present.

Continue reading “Drop that mouse! It’s the copyright cops”

When all else fails, declare victory

Remember that lawsuit the RIAA launched against the Russian file-sharing site AllofMp3 awhile back? And remember how the site shut down, and then started up again under another name (Mp3Sparks) with the same look and all the same millions of music files? And remember how the Russian courts found the company not guilty of all charges (at least according to Russian copyright law)? Well, Torrentfreak says the RIAA has responded to all of that — by declaring victory.

Tip: Don’t pull pin while holding grenade

The truth is stranger than fiction — and in some cases it happens to be stupider as well. For a recent example, check out the TechCrunch post on Mediascrape, a Montreal-based company founded by one Tyler Cavell. The CEO’s training at the London School of Economics apparently convinced him that it would be a good idea to a) threaten to sue TechCrunch for a mildly critical post a month or so ago, and then b) publicly denounce the CEO’s cousin as a delusional former cocaine addict and high-school dropout (Note: I am not making any of this up).

In case you want to follow this particular train wreck back to its point of origin, the first post came from Duncan Riley, and mentioned that the Mediascrape site looked a little cheesy for a company that had just done its second round of financing (although that was somewhat unclear). To make matters even stranger, Mr. Cavell commented on the post but made no mention of any of the things that he criticized in his letter to Mike Arrington a month later (namely, that is was “poorly written” and “ridiculous” and that the company wasn’t contacted).

As for the founder’s comment on TechCrunch’s latest post, it actually wasn’t that bad to begin with — a little self-aggrandizing and turgidly written, but other than that not too bad — right up until Cavell decides to do a little drive-by character assassination on his cousin. As Mike puts it in his update: “Your investors must be so proud.” Jevon has some thoughts over at StartupNorth and so does Heri at Montreal Techwatch.

The Grey Lady gets jiggy with APIs

I don’t know why, but when I saw a post about the New York Times — known for decades as The Grey Lady — working on releasing an open API, I couldn’t help but picture an elderly woman in an evening gown trying to break-dance. That aside, however, I think it’s great that the Times is going to set its data free. Epeus Epigone says it would be better if the paper adopted open standards rather than just releasing an API, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of mashups programmers will be able to come up with using maps, or images, or other services. It reminds me of the experiments that the Washington Post conducted a few years ago as part of a project called Mashington Post (a great name) or what became known as Post Remix. That was mostly aimed at different interfaces to the news, including a tag cloud, but it was still pretty cool — but just as it got going the paper seemed to lose interest and as far as I can tell none of the ideas went anywhere.

Part of me is also eager to see whether the Times can stick to its guns once the data free-for-all begins, or whether it will try to clamp down on what can be done with its API.

Does Robert Scoble “own” his comments?

Last night sometime, a blogosphere/social-media furore erupted (or maybe squabble is a better word) about who “owns” the comments that are made on blogs or on aggregators such as FriendFeed. At the center of the storm, not surprisingly, was Robert Scoble — who is either the John the Baptist or Typhoid Mary of social media, depending on your viewpoint. The unwitting trigger for the backlash was Rob La Gesse, a consultant who also writes a blog. And what did La Gesse do? He decided that he didn’t like the fact that comments about his blog posts were occurring on FriendFeed, so he deleted his account (see Rob’s comment below for clarification).

In doing so, however, La Gesse also removed all of the comments that had been posted — including some from Scoble (La Gesse says he didn’t know that would happen). The uber-blogger didn’t like that much: “@kr8tr you just deleted all MY comments. That was really nasty dude,” the Scobleizer said on Twitter. A heated discussion ensued both on Twitter, as well as on La Gesse’s blog and on FriendFeed. That in itself makes a statement about the fragmentation of comments that many people (including me) have written about in the past.

The big issue for Scoble, however, seemed to be that he felt he owned his comments — even if they appeared on a third-party service attached to a blog post from someone else. Does that make any sense? I’m not sure. It doesn’t feel right to me. I think if you comment on someone’s blog, or on a newspaper site like ours at the Globe and Mail, or on Slashdot or Craigslist or anywhere else for that matter, your comments effectively become public property. Not that the site owns them, but they are to some extent out of your control (although Disqus lets you edit them until someone else responds to them).

Robert says that he’s not mad any more, but the issue he has raised is an interesting one, I think. Who owns your comments on public sites like FriendFeed? Do you? Or are they public property?


I sent an email to FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit to see if he had any comment, and he said that this is the first time the subject has really come up. “In general, we want people to have control over their own feeds,” he said. “That said, it is unfortunate to have lost comments in cases such as this, rare as they may be. We’d like to make these comments available — it’s just a matter of finding the right ui.” Buchheit said that the comments haven’t been deleted, they just aren’t visible because they are no longer attached to anything, but that FriendFeed was working on a way to make them visible again.

Data flow and creating electricity

One of the difficult parts about constantly having about 35 tabs open in Firefox is that I can never remember how I got to a particular page; was it from a Google Reader shared item? From a Twitter post? From email? My regular RSS reader? It’s hard to say. Which explains why I have no idea how I came across this post from Mark Ury, an “experience architect” at Blast Radius. I’m glad I did, however, since Mark does a really nice job of looking at how focusing on data “ownership” in social networks kind of misses the point — the real value is in data flow.

This is a point that Fred Wilson of A VC and others have also made, and one Fred says was originally brought home to him by a comment Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration made. “I don’t think it’s the data that’s so valuable,” he said. “It’s the flow of the data through the service.” In his post, Mark Ury compares this to an electric-power generation system, which uses dams to take advantage of water flow in order to generate power. The water never stops, it’s only momentarily delayed — and while it’s being delayed, you can make use of it. As he puts it:

The real opportunity in flow constraint, though, is putting capacity to use and amplifying the effect. Data is like a river: you can dam it and generate electricity. That’s what Google did with search. They created a machine that, as we pass through it on our way to find something, harnesses our collective energy and turns our data flow into the most powerful asset of this generation.

As Mark notes, services that try to restrict the flow of data too much wind up either having issues with control or ownership debates, and in many cases the data — just like water — routes itself around the obstruction and finds a new path (i.e., a new service that isn’t as restrictive). That’s a balance that a site like Facebook is continually trying to strike: not strict enough to cause people to take their data flow elsewhere, but just restrictive enough to allow Facebook to make use of the data before letting it move on. Tim O’Reilly has described Web 2.0 as any application or service that tends to get better the more people use it.


If you’re like me and have a hard time remembering how you got to a certain page, Gabe “Techmeme” Rivera has posted a comment with a tip: right-click the page and check “page info” and you can see the referring page (unfortunately it doesn’t help me in this case because I’ve already closed the tab).

We live in public — some of the time

Fred Wilson of A VC made the same connection I did when he read the piece by Emily Gould — formerly of Gawker — in this morning’s New York Times magazine. It reminded me a lot of what Josh Harris did with the Pseudo network in the late 1990s, when he scattered video cameras around his loft apartment to track virtually everything (and I mean everything) that he and his girlfriend were doing, as part of an experiment into how much of our lives we can live in public. In many ways, it was the first Web-based reality TV show along the lines of Big Brother.

Emily Gould conducted a similar experiment — except she didn’t see it that way until later. While she was working at Gawker, writing snarky posts about the private lives of celebrities, she was also blogging about her own personal life at a site called Heartbreak Soup, including her ill-fated relationship with fellow Gawker writer Joshua David Stein. He has written his own account of what happened in Page Six magazine, which you can see excerpted in large quantities at This Recording. As I was reading both pieces, it also reminded me of the very public life of Julia Allison, who blogged about her on-again, off-again relationship with troubled geek millionaire Jakob Lodwick of Vimeo and CollegeHumor.com.

Julia broke up very publicly with Jakob, and Emily did the same with Josh; and in both cases, their public sharing of intimate emotions and situations was undoubtedly a big part of the reason. So why did they do it? It almost seems to be a pathological approach to a relationship — or at the very least, a kind of stress-testing approach, as though by subjecting that person to the full glare of the public floodlights, they could ensure that their significant other was good enough to hang onto. And then if it didn’t work out, they would have something to blame. Both also clearly got addicted to the attention of their readers and “fans.” Gould quotes Allison as saying that “Attention is my drug.” And she describes her own relationship with her readers this way:

“They were co-workers, sort of, giving me ideas for posts, rewriting my punch lines. They were creeps hitting on me at a bar. They were fans, sycophantically praising even my lamer efforts. They were enemies, articulating my worst fears about my limitations. They were the voices in my head. They could be ignored sometimes. Or, if I let them, they could become my whole world.”

Emily’s experience seems to be just the latest example of what Gawker calls “oversharing,” and also of what can happen when the lines between blogger/writer and quasi-celebrity get blurred. We had a panel at the mesh 2008 conference this week called Private vs. Public, with U of T philosopher Mark Kingwell, sociologist Nancy Baym from the University of Kansas and Ken Anderson from the Ontario privacy commission (moderated by the always wonderful Rachel Sklar from Huffington Post, who has her own take on the Gould saga), but it didn’t really touch on the deep-seated desire that seems to exist in people like Emily and Julia to compulsively share every detail of their lives. Is this just the latest version of a new, Internet-enabled disorder?


There’s another piece in the NYT mag that makes for an interesting counterpoint to Emily Gould’s article: it’s a column by the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in which he describes research that shows human beings aren’t necessarily smarter than chimpanzees on an individual level, but they are smarter in groups — primarily because they are more social.