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Technology & Geopolitics

You may have recently read news that Iran is quitening down a bit, hampered as it is with stringent economic sanctions. Or you have noticed things seemed to have quitened down merely by the absence of bombastic headlines foretelling a nuclear Iran.

Nukes are just one of myriad subjects that the power centre of Iran – namely, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad – seeks provocation over. Another is a dispute over three small islands that the UAE also lay claim to.

Mashable picked up the story from where this week’s The Economist left off, saying that Iran is taking umbrage to Google’s proclomation of said area as the Arabian, rather than the Persian, Gulf. The Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Bahman Dorri said such “lies” would cause Google’s users to lose faith in the company.

Maps have always been an intensely political construct. And this isn’t the first time the maps service has run into trouble. Google probably wasn’t intending to step on any toes here, or stir any controversies in an area of the world where there is already enough ire to go around. What is curious is that until a few days ago the map apparently did indeed note the area as the Persian Gulf. Rather than dithering, Google should commit to one as soon as possible and give a good reason for doing so.

Intellectual Property ReBoot

August 19, 2010 5 comments

The British Library corrals some bright sparks and lights some fires over copyright protection.

At the Emmy Awards recently in Los Angeles, emcee Conan O’Brien bemoaned (or rather, celebrated, see above) the demise of old media, in particular his erstwhile host, NBC. While media fragmentation has played a significant role in this, many in the industry also complain of piracy. Intellectual Property Rights [IPR] are not sufficient they say. At the end of last month, the British Library published a paper under the Creative Commons license entitled “Driving UK Research. Is copyright a help or hindrance?”, in which 13 scholars, journalists and artists, all intimately familiar with IPR, advocate for a more relaxed approach to incentivising and regulating.

“There is a growing tension between laws designed to protect the intellectual property of writers and performers and their desire to capitalise on their own copyrighted material.”

The above quotation is from author and journalist Richard Donkin, featured in this report. The original purpose of copyright as set out in the United States is to incentivise people and to encourage innovation. Zeitgeist would argue that these original aims have been lost in a orgy of corporate overindulgence. As discussions continue on lengthening Europe’s current 50-year copyright term to equal the 95-year length in the US, one issue that many of those writing have difficulty with is the issues of ‘fair dealing’, more commonly known by it’s US term, ‘fair use’. According to this paper, it currently allows little scope for sampling for educational or critical purposes. As Professor Lionel Bently comments, “the publisher insists that I and my co-author have the consent of the copyright owner. But identifying and locating the copyright owner is not at all straightforward.” It is often very hard to track down the rights to a work as attributed to a particular person – especially if this person is no longer among the living. One of the contributors to this paper argues that people should be actively encouraged to register their copyright, rather than just assuming it as the work is created. This would not only give some authors the option of immediately making their work rights-free, but would also make the identification process that much simpler. The labyrinthine complications are echoed by Dr. Estelle Derclaye, who calls issues of IP law a “daily dilemma to some researchers”, constantly worried that photocopying this extract or inserting a video into a presentation would bring them (or the institution they work for) a step closer to a lawsuit.

‘Fair dealing’ also states that “[t]he copying of an image to make a presentation [on PowerPoint] is an infringement, as there is no statutory exemptions”. This is quite remarkable, and indicative of an anachronistic copyright structure. The notion is also hampered by issues of semantics. Professor Nick Cook writes that there are “specific problems” with ‘fair dealing’, one of which being that they “do not fully cover sound and film”, allowing only small excerpts to be reproduced. There is, however, no clear definition of ‘small’. This is stunningly inadequate. Until matters like this are cleared up, those creating, using and critiquing content will face confusion as to their rights. Cook continues,

“[P]erhaps the greatest problem… is ignorance of the law on the part of researchers (who frequently ask for permission they don’t need), publishers (whose copyright guidelines are often needlessly restrictive, and rights holders (a number of music publishers, for example, claim that fair dealing does not cover printed music – a claim for which there is no legal foundation.”

The danger of this last example of overprotective rights holders is that content does not find its way into the public domain and hence does not become used. Everyone from Picasso to Dizzee Rascal has used previous works to create their own content. Works “that people cannot access create no revenue for anyone”, comments Cook. This is no mere hypothetical abstraction. There are currently many, many films literally rotting away in the basements of various film studios in Los Angeles, waiting for their copyright limits to expire. Inaccessible, and not making any revenue for anyone. Journalist Mike Holderness argues that an alternative revenue stream could be set up to compensate creators of works for making their works available online and to anyone

The irrelevance or mere disdain people have for IP laws today is abundantly clear. Marshall Mateer, Education Consultant for the National Education Network, writes simply, “[t]oday copyright often becomes a barrier standing in the way of what it should be enabling”. Dr Gabriel Egan points out that the effort to get people to stop pirating content purely by enforcing Digital Rights Management software has failed spectacularly (not least because there are always loopholes in software). Taking an educative stance by trying to convince people of piracy’s moral corruptibility rather over-stated the case, and rather too late as well. Egan points out,

“Trailers in cinemas warning that copying a film is theft, akin to purse-snatching, strike most spectators as manifestly untrue. Stealing deprives someone of the use of their property, while copying something only adds to the number of copies in existence. The supposed loss to a rights holder is notional and dependent upon the untestable hypothesis that a consumer prevented from copying something will buy it instead.”

Richard Donkin, perhaps optimistically, writes that “[w]idespread disregard is often a prelude to legal reform”, arguing among other things that the copyright term needs to be shortened to around 20 years. It would be nice to see Mr. Donkin’s dreams come true.

Location, location, location

Foursquare is to the zeitgeist what Chatroulette was all those days ago. Location-based targeting has been gathering steam for some time, and the potential blossomed with the release of the iPhone 3GS last year. For the user, it allows them to ‘check in’ to a certain place, alerting those who follow them. If said user checks in to a certain place often enough, they become ‘mayor’ of that location. Moreover, with time a map builds up showing definitively where the user tends to go. It is this last point that is of particular interest to advertisers, who are always desperate for more facts and figures to make it appear that the industry they work in is one of cold, hard, calculable facts, with no irrational outliers in order to better know the consumer they are targeting.

An exhibition detailing the evolution of maps is currently on show at London’s British Library; today we seem to rely on maps ever more as they become – with GPS functionality – an important feature on most mobile devices. It was reported earlier today that the Foursquare service has now exceeded forty million check-ins. Not one to miss out on anything that involves the decay of personal privacy, Facebook shortly intends to release its own version where users can check-in through their site, with McDonald’s already on board.

eConsultancy has a list of ten select marketing examples using geo-location, however Zeitgeist are going to focus on two specifically. The first is that of the Financial Times and its walled garden. Borrowing a page from other brands of getting a user while they’re young, the FT may soon begin providing free access to those who check-in in certain areas. Those areas being “select coffee shops located by major financial centers and near business schools including Columbia, Harvard, the London School of Economics, London Business School and London’s Cass Business School”, in other words, superior centres of academia, that Zeitgeist may or may not call an alma mater. According to FT.com, “Only the ‘mayors’ will be granted a free pass, and only for a limited time”. It’s a nice incentive and it will be interesting to see how competitive the race for free content becomes among ostensibly cash-strapped students.

The other example Zeitgeist likes is that of the luxury shoemaker Jimmy Choo, who have decided to organise a shoe hunt. As one blog describes it, “The idea is pretty simple, a pair of Jimmy Choo’s new trainers will check into some of the most exclusive and fashionable places in London, if you can track them down and catch them while still checked in at a venue, then they are yours.” Sounds like a very fun idea and a fantastic excuse to run around town going to lots of great places. Let the games begin.

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