Pirates in the House

I think someone in the House needs to have a Crucial Conversation with the IT department.

Today I learned via BoingBoing that Torrent Freak had done some research into what the good folks over at the U.S. House of Representatives have been downloading on BitTorrent.  Yes, that’s right.  While drafting legislation to prevent piracy on the internet, some folks who work there were downloading books, movies, and porn.  Yes, porn.

But I’m not going to talk about the porn.  Much as I would love to get into that.  I want to focus instead on the books again.

The first one that TorrentFreak posted was Crucial Conversations. For those unfamiliar this is a popular business/management book that teaches people how to hold conversations when the stakes are high and they probably need to explain why something is happening that people don’t like.  You could imagine why people in Congress would need this book.

As I mentioned the other day, there are numerous publishers who are backing SOPA.  One of those publishers is McGraw-Hill, the publisher of Crucial Conversations.

Similarly, Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Best Kept Secrets and the How Things Work Encyclopedia were downloaded in the House.  Both of these titles are published by DK Press, a division of Penguin.  Penguin, is also backing SOPA.

Now, I’m not going to spend time going combing through the all the IP addresses of the House of Representatives on YouHaveDownloaded.com, but if anyone else does, and they find more pirated books please let me know.  Especially if those books are from publishing companies that are supporting SOPA.

Who’s Supporting SOPA? Publishers.

Loads of people have published the list of organizations and businesses who are supporting SOPA.  But not everyone knows what these companies are or what they do.  And looking at that four page list is kind of overwhelming to say the least.  So I’ve put together a little pie chart to help you wrap your brain around where this is coming from.  Take a look.

This chart shows the raw number of supporters per industry type who are listed on the House Judiciary Committee list supporting SOPA*.  I’ve removed all the law firms because damn near every one of them bailed for being misrepresented as supporting the bill.  There were 19 of them in this list. I’ve also removed the Graphic Artists Guild who also dropped the bill.  But everyone else I’ve left in here.

It’s no surprise really that Music is the largest industry represented here.  Music was the first battleground in internet change in the early 2000’s (see Napster).  Similarly the Movies and Television categories are no surprise either.  Of course Law Enforcement advocacy groups are in favor, because increases in enforcement mean expanding budgets.  And it’s definitely a sign of the times that the second largest group in favor right now are publishing companies.  Further down the chain you start to get into some quirky political action committees and luxury brands who are probably looking to crack down on counterfeiting.

But as I’m a librarian, I’m going to focus on the publishers for now.  Here’s the list as I see it.

Association of American Publishers (AAP)
Cengage Learning
Disney Publishing Worldwide, Inc.
Elsevier
Hachette Book Group
HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide
Hyperion
Macmillan
Marvel Entertainment
McGraw-Hill Education
MPA – The Association of Magazine Media
News Corporation
Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Random House
Scholastic, Inc.
The Perseus Books Groups
W.W. Norton & Company
Wolters Kluewer Health

A couple of things jump out at me looking at this list.

Academic Publishing

The first being the academic publishing powerhouses that are Elsevier, Gale (via Cengage), W.W. Norton and Wolters Kluewer.  Elsevier owns nearly every academic journal that is published in the world, and they charge a bloody fortune for access to those journals.  Gale/Cengage provide a number of research databases, as does Wolters Kluewer.  And Norton is a publisher of many things, but primarily academic textbooks, as is McGraw Hill.

Publishers with eBook Axes to Grind

Harper Collins was noted earlier this year for changing their eBook access privileges to library eBook vendor Overdrive, where their eBooks will self destruct after 26 checkouts.  Penguin also got into some drama with Overdrive access privileges this November, when, during a dispute with Amazon.com, they chose to pull all of their eBooks from Overdrive.  Access was restored fairly swiftly as negotiations resumed, but that spectre of loss is still kind of looming. Similarly, Hachette Book Group pulled all of its titles from all of the eBook distribution channels in 2009 and even up to August of this year was still trying to sort out what to do with library access.

Hot Properties

Marvel and Disney (though Disney owns Marvel) own a lot of tradmarked characters, and they enforce the shit out of those trademarks.  I remember going to the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at New York Comic Con a few years ago.  There was a panel discussion on fan fiction and they had folks from Dark Horse, Marvel and Nickelodeon.  I remember vividly that the folks from Dark Horse were all about fan fiction, and that they mine sites like Deviant Art to scout new talent.  Similarly the guy who produces Avatar: the Last Airbender was really supportive of fan fiction as a way of encouraging children to be creative and tell new stories.  The guy from Marvel, sue the shit out of those fan fiction people (paraphrasing).  The look of aghast horror on the faces of the other panel members was priceless.  But it definitely made the point, and its the point that comic book companies and the Disney corporation have been making for decades.  These properties belong to us, and you can not use them for any reason.  As for Scholastic, I’m sure you’ve heard of Harry Potter.

Now, all of the groups that I’ve listed here are pretty strictly print/ebook publishers or advocacy groups that focus on publishing rights.  There are plenty of other crossover companies like Time Warner, which I classed as a television company, but also produces books and films.  So if you want to quibble with my numbers you can find them here.  Sorry that this is kind of sucky looking, but Scribd kind of breaks the formatting a LOT.


* In my original analysis I had tagged Pearson Education as a publisher, and its identified as such in the Scribd document, but looking closer into them they are more of a web education portal developer, kind of like Blackboard. I’ve removed them from the table on this article, but the number is still in the pie chart. So the pie chart number of publishers should be reduced to 17. Which is still the second largest industry involved in this piece of legislation.

Signal to Noise

Far From Home by user Robert82 on sxc.hu

One of these days, we'll figure out where we're going.

I’m just going to free associate on some ideas that have been bumping around in my head lately.

I had a conversation with my husband the other day about the increasing irrelevance of the Recording Industry to the lives of artists*.  It used to be that the big labels were the ones who had access to the incredibly expensive recording equipment that made the manufacture of albums, then casettes, then CDs.  Studio time was expensive and the labels could afford to front the costs for studios to lay down hours and hours of tracks to produce an album.

However, over time, that recording equipment became less expensive and professionals and hobbyists alike would be able to acquire multi-channel mixers and multi-track recording equipment.  My dad had a four-track tape recording system in the barn where his band practiced. It was one of the most awesome things I had seen with four tapes rolling in sync with each other.  Nowadays, with a few thousand dollars you could have a studio rig to rival the semi-professional studio spaces you can find in droves in every major city.

Pressing records is another thing that has also turned into a boutique niche for record companies.  In 2008 digital downloads surpassed record sales, and it never turned back.  And I’m using “record” here loosely to mean a physical object that you put into a listening device.  More people download their music through iTunes or AmazonMP3 than go to record stores.

But now we have people who through the use of their home recording studios and the ubiquity of digital download services are increasing the volume of music that’s being produced and the volume of music that end user sees just increases and increases.

So, the one valuable thing that the Recording Industry has a hold of is the Filter that says “This is hot. This is not.”  But even that is changing.  Spotify this week announced that they were opening their API to allow for app development.  Now, some people, like myself, said “an app for your app?”  But think about this for a moment.  By opening their API to outside development, individual users, like you and I, could create our own filter for the music that we appreciate and like and want to share with our friends, and the world.

And that’s a valuable development, that kind of mirrors where the internet is taking society, moving content curation out of the hands of “experts” and people who have a financial interest in the product, and putting it in the hands of users who enjoy that content.

But what does this mean for the library?

As an institution we have always been a place that has had a certain level of cache that we have maintained for centuries: the place to find what you’re looking for.  While the library has never been a place that has been able to hold the entire spectrum of human knowledge, it has always been a place that one could expect a level of expertise in selecting works that would be of value to a community.  Whether that be a community of scholars or a village of farmers.  Out of all of the mass of human literature, the library has selected, cataloged and made available a particular collection.  Every library is unique, and their collection policies help develop that vision of each unique place.

So, as we move into a digital future, where printed books become luxury items (like vinyl is for music afficionados today), and eBooks explode into stratospheric proportions (which we’re already seeing via Amazon and Barnes & Noble circumventing traditional publishing models), the question of what becomes of the library still stands.  And I believe that content curation is going to remain extremely valuable.  However, as we see with Spotify, user driven filters to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio will also start to arise.

Then the primary concern becomes one of access to resources.  If the eBook market still prices works at an inaccessible rate for the average consumer, and especially the poor consumer, then providing access to users via a shared system, such as the library is the only way to make that happen.

Among the people on the Digital Public Library of America initiative there has been a lot of back and forth about being able to acquire current works and make them available via DPLA.  In our current state of publishing, this is extremely challenging.  Publishers barely want to provide access to their works to libraries at all.  Many of the major publishers have been pulling out of consortium vendors like Overdrive, even though there are very rigid DRM practices in place.  However, if through a service like DPLA, libraries would be able to provide access to a very broad body of freely available contemporary works, or at least eBook editions of works that are available via their physical collections, then we’re talking about a future for digital libraries.  By participating in a national level consortium effort for eBooks libraries could reap an extremely high benefit. The library then becomes an API, enhancing user experiences in navigating the world’s aggregated content.  The Library as a space becomes useful in other ways, as a collaboration zone, content creation space, a place to explore new technologies in a hands-on way, and a place to read when you don’t have access to read on your own, or get a physical copy on demand if you need one.

I guess the road that I’ve been walking down here is one that we cover as librarians all the time, i.e. what is the difference between a collection and an aggregation.  If you think about The Internet, all of it, it’s incomprehensible to imagine that anyone would ever be able to cull out of its vastness an island of reliable sources and valuable sites.  But search engines have developed massive algorithms to analyze this major body of work and help items float to the top.  The Internet is an aggregation of content.  The top 10 hits you get from a search engine (provided you phrased your query well) are the collection that the algorithm has selected for you.  Out of all of the body of literature in the world, the aggregate body of human works, a Library makes a careful selection based on a number of factors, to craft a collection.  The recording industry is in the business of boosting the signal against the noise, promoting those artists who they believed to be a cut above the rest to give them national or global exposure.  The Library is also in the business of boosting signal against the noise, promoting those books that they believe to be more relevant to a community than others.  As we think about the future of the library we’re going to have to ask bigger questions about content curation, participation across cities, states and national boundaries, and about what libraries as physical spaces mean to local communities in the context of these much bigger endeavors.

Edited to Add:

I’m just going to go ahead and update this as I woke up thinking about it.  Nearly the entirety of the piece above ignores the entire lesson learned from the Recording Industry.  That innovations that respect the consumers and the creators will continue to flatten out the hierarchical systems that we’ve built over time.  If we’ve learned anything from Wikipedia it’s that with a few simple rules everyone in the world can create an up-to-date, encyclopedia.  Though experts participate, this product is one that is curated by everyone collectively.  Different people, with different bodies of knowledge contribute collectively and it all gets sorted out by everyone together.

I’ve been drinking my own Kool-Aid.

In continuing this exploration though I want to consider the possibility that not everyone is as web savvy as everyone else.  That children who grow up in poverty, may not be versed in the ways of the Internet.  That educators and intercessors to help people will always be necessary.  Innovations keep coming rapidly and we should be able to respond to them in the moment of need.  Adults, who are no longer in school, may need a venue to explore and learn new things from other human beings.  Exploration space, as I mentioned in the preceding article, is more than likely what we’ll need to be.  Attempting to boost signal against noise is a noble goal, but may not be our primary selling point.  Service and human interaction may be the rule of tomorrow.

 

 


* Yes, this is the kind of conversation that I have with my husband.  We didn’t get married for nothing!  Okay, it was the insurance, but excellent conversations are really high up there in the reasons.

Copy Pasters Saved My Bibliography

It’s no big secret that I’m Pagan.  I talk to people about it all the time, and there was a period in my life when I was much more actively writing articles for Pagan websites.  I kind of got out of the habit of it around 2005/2006 when I began doing some occasional work for White Crane, a Journal of Gay Men’s Spirituality.  Those occasional pieces eventually winnowed down as well and now I just write for my own blogs.

But I had taken for granted that the sites to which I’d originally submitted my work would maintain those articles.  Boy was I wrong!

In the early 2000’s I had contributed a couple of articles to The Witch’s Voice website.  This is a long running site that has been providing a platform for Pagan voices who wish to share their own discoveries within their faith traditions.  Three of the articles I had written there were linked on my web resume as part of my personal bibliography.

For whatever reason, I wanted to share the article I wrote on the ecstatic, spiritual experience in dance music with someone recently.  However, when I went to pull that link I was greeted with this page.

Sorry, we only keep your work as long as you keep chatting.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on WitchVox. They’re a great site, and they do a lot of good things.  And sure, they probably had to dump some content.  I can understand that.  Well, maybe not, given that you can just go to BestBuy and get a terabyte server or that you can pay for unlimited bandwidth for next to nothing a month.  But whatever.  They had to make a decision, and they chose to bump articles from people who didn’t have active profiles.

So, how was I going to get my articles back?  My first shot was to check the Internet Archive.  Sadly, they didn’t index the entire site, and the caches that they had for my articles only turned up one of them.  Incidentally it was my favorite article I wrote on WitchVox, about how the Passion of the Christ can be viewed through the lens of Roman ritual sacrifice.  That piece got more hits than anything I’ve ever written, mostly because it got picked up by MetaFilter and reblogged hundreds of times, with ALL kinds of back and forth about it.  I even remember getting some feedback from Fritz at WV that it was one of the most hit articles that they had ever hosted.  I was shocked and proud.  And now it lives on via the WayBack machine.  But the other two I had to go elsewhere.

Both of the articles found homes on other sites that had similar interests to mine.  My article Holy Rave: Sacred Ecstatic Dance Music was picked up four years after it had originally been published and republished on the Gay Witch Network, buried somewhere in their blog pages.  I don’t even know who reshared it.  But they faithfully copied the entire article word for word.  Similarly Rin Daemoko at OccultForum.org copied and pasted my article Secrecy as Power/Proclamation as Power within days of my having written it.  Now, I don’t remember ever giving Rin permission, but without his having copied that article over I would have lost it to the ether.

If it hadn’t been for these two people who copied and repasted my article on their forums, and the Internet Archive caching my page I would have lost these pieces of my bibliography forever.  I’ve reblogged all my articles over at my LiveJournal just to have another backup of the text.  But its original home is gone.

A lot of people I know get bent out of shape over people “stealing their content” by reblogging it somewhere else.  But let this be a cautionary tale.  If you’ve got your content in one place, you’re at risk.  There’s no guarantee that your publisher will keep your work alive.  But fans, people who love your work and want to share it with their circles of friends will want to keep it alive.  They will do what they can to keep copies of your work in the hands of the people who need it.

Consider that.