• 19Jan
    Social Media Theorist Clay Shirky addresses the broader implicaitons of SOPA and PIPA

     

    Okay, I ripped off this video to share with you here. I am not going to make money sharing this content, but if the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation pass, my sharing this information would become illegal.

    I have some thoughts on what Clay Shirky offers in this particular TED talk. Whether you agree with what Shirky has to say or not, I do know that mainstream media producers are rabid about protecting their intellectual property. As they should be! As a content producer myself, I understand the value of copyright and being able to protect your ideas and your work so someone else doesn’t steal it for their own gain. However, as I understand it, the new SOPA and PIPA legislation now before Congress will do more than just protect IP, but it will eliminate the ability to openly share a lot of the information we exchange today. Social media and the Web as we know it may disappear.

    During my formative years as a trade journalist, I watched the copyright wars play out in the home video business, in the satellite TV business, and elsewhere. Video advocates like Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America were incredibly threatened by new technology such as Betamax, the VHS video recorder, DVDs, and computers. Digitization of entertainment made it easier to disseminate over channels such as the Internet, and led to the birth of whole new sub industries, both legal and illegal, to address content protection. I was part of the rise and fall of the home satellite industry which boomed when home owners miles from the nearest cable link or TV station suddenly discovered they could get TV signals direct from the satellite, until the content owners like HBO and ESPN decided to scramble their signal to prevent theft. That led to the birth of the underground black box industry, as well as new industries like DirecTV. Technological progress has often been the result of the struggle between information dissemination and content protection, but where do you draw the line?

    What constitutes fair use of IP? In my mind it has to do with profit. If you are not stealing content for profit, or maliciously trying to undermine someone’s copyright for illicit purposes, then if you purchased the content, it should be yours to use as you wish. Apple has been progressive in this regard; they figured out a way to sell you music that you can play on your computer, on your portable music player, or burn to a CD for your car and still protect the artist’s copyright. If I buy a movie, I want the license to include the ability to watch on my computer, on my TV, or on my phone if I choose without having to buy the same product multiple times. It would be nice to share parts of that content with family and friends, assuming I am not undermining the artist’s rights to earn a profit from their work. But where do you draw the line?

    I believe in protecting IP, but not at the expense of locking down all freedom of expression. As Shirky notes, consumers like to share as well as consume, and creative sharing will actually increase profit from IP, not limit it. What the “old school” media have failed to grasp is the power of the Internet, especially social media, to sell their product. I buy music, movies, books, and other digital products because I get to sample it; because people send me clips or I found online sound bites that inspire me to purchase the original work.

    If you take away the freedom to share content, then the flow of information will slow to a trickle and we all will suffer, including the media companies behind SOPA and PIPA. If sharing digital content becomes illegal, then we all run the risk of becoming criminals.

    Let’s all work to defeat legislative stupidity and promote a fairer, wiser alternative.

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  • 11May

    When I saw Eli Pariser TED presentation on  has come up with a concept called the “The Filter Bubble,” I was reminded of the old Outer Limits television show and their opening sequence: “We are controlling the transmission… We will control all that you see and hear…”

    What Pariser points out is that your Internet experience is being monitored and, more importantly, managed. Okay, this isn’t really news. If you have a subscription to Netflix or shop on eBay or Amazon you know that they have built algorithms into their systems to offer suggestions based on past shopping patterns and preferences. That actually seems, well, helpful. However, what Pariser points out is that by controlling what is delivered online, we are actually creating islands of Web experience that insulate us from other areas of the Web that may challenge our thinking or desires. Apparently, with the help of search bots and search algorithms, we are all creating our own gated communities of web experience where the online vendors and search providers are serving as the gatekeepers.

    For example, it never occurred to me that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines are tailoring search results based on what they know about me. Apparently the search results are filtered based on IP address (work or home), computer you are using, time of day, and other criteria. Okay, I expect that from advertisers, since microtargeting consumers is not particularly new. However, I am appalled that my search results are being filtered to provide a more personalized and thereby insular experience.

    I was fascinated by the example Pariser offered to prove his point. He had two friends search Google for the term “Egypt,” and one friend retrieved the latest political news while the other retrieved vacation and travel information. Huh? You mean web search is not a neutral playing field? You mean when I look for online information I will get data customized by some robot based on what it “thinks” I am looking for?

    Pariser is correct in his assessment that this kind of controlled experience is dangerous. We need to be challenged regarding our world view and we need to be able to share opposing viewpoints. I know my liberal spouse has spirited debates with her conservative compatriots on Facebook, but everyone appreciates the dialogue. What happens when those conversations get filtered out because those conversing are not “like minded”? Then we all lose. The Web should be used to promote the open exchange of information and understanding – that’s what Tim Berners-Lee envisioned.

    More importantly, Pariser’s observation’s demonstrate that you can’t rely on the web for objectivity. It is not a neutral news source, and the organizations that are promoting the news are for-profit, which means they are tailoring their data to keep you coming back as a user and potential customer. As Pariser notes in his presentation, in the past we have had editors as watchdogs of journalistic standards, to help promote informational integrity and promote fair reporting and access to information. With the free-for-all of the web, bloggers are now being treated like journalists but they are not held to the same standards, and now apparently the webbots are acting as news editors and determining whether we should receive the facts according to the New York Times or Page Six.

    I, for one, like to make my own determinations based on all the available data; not just the information some computer algorithm thinks I might find interesting. How about you?

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