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36 posts from December 2006

Free Culture: The Nature & Future of Creativity, by Lawrence Lessig

Free_cultureYou might think a book about the history and future of copyright law would be painfully boring.  If the book is Free Culture: The Nature & Future of Creativity, by Lawrence Lessig, you'd be wrong.  Lessig does a fantastic job of framing copyright with terms and scenarios everyone can understand.  On top of that, he's a very engaging writer, the type that can probably make just about any topic interesting.

Lessig explains how large media companies like Disney got their start in an era of very relaxed copyright rules and regulations.  In fact, Disney's classic Steamboat Willie was nothing more than a knock-off of Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr.  What would happen if you tried to do the same thing today and based your video on a Disney character?  You'd probably get a nice cease and desist letter from the folks at Disney.

One could argue that the IP policies that existed when Disney got off the ground needed some adjustments to fit today's content world.  Lessig points out where things have probably gone too far though (e.g., the ridiculously high financial penalties associated with peer-to-peer file sharing).  I'm not saying piracy isn't wrong.  Not at all.  As I've said before, stealing is stealing, but Lessig gives plenty of examples to show how the resulting penalties are more than excessive.

A main thrust of the book has to do with how Congress keeps extending copyright terms and that almost nothing is therefore allowed to move into the public domain.  He argued the case at the Supreme Court level but apparently lost because he couldn't show how the situation was hurting anyone.  He makes a good point that there are plenty of works in a state of limbo, not really in distribution but beyond the reach of the public domain because they're still covered by copyright term extensions.  I tend to agree with the Supreme Court though and find it hard to believe there are loads of derivative works opportunities that aren't being leveraged because of this.  That said, Lessig presents an interesting alternative copyright model where owners can opt in to extend the original term.

Lessig is also well-known for his work on the Creative Commons (CCL) initiative.  As I said in this post, I think the CCL is a valuable model and a nice alternative for certain uses.  Given Lessig's advocacy of the CCL though, I find it interesting that he doesn't use that model for this book.  That's a shame since there might be someone out there who wants to use portions of Free Culture to create a derivative work of their own.  (Although the CCL is more often associated with online content, it can also be used for offline works.)

Update: I got an from Lawrence earlier this morning explaining that Free Culture is indeed available under the CCL; there was an oversight and the printed book simply didn't reflect this fact.  You can access the content, including remixed versions, at this website.


outside.in: Yet another Newspaper Threat

OutsideinAs if the newspaper industry needed yet another upstart to threaten its very existence...  While reading the latest issue of Time, the one with "You" as the "Person of the Year", I came across an interesting article about outside.in, a site that describes itself as "a place to see in a single glance all the interesting things that are happening around you."

That sounds a lot like the local community focus most metro newspaper websites have yet to master.  They could learn a bit form outside.in.  The core idea is pretty simple: serve as an aggregator of blogs for cities across the country.  As of today, only 56 cities are represented, but it's pretty easy to add a blog or two for a missing city to get it on the map.  It's disappointing to see there are no entries for the entire state of Indiana, so I had to look up my original hometown, Pittsburgh, to see how outside.in works.

The current outside.in service is pretty useful although I can see plenty of opportunities to add more capabilities down the road.  Their aggregator functionality means you can have one RSS feed for all the blogs in a particular city.  Nice.  Keep an eye on this one as they expand and "come to your home town."  If you know of a blog with a local/community focus go to this link to add them to the outside.in service.
 


Peter Drucker Wisdom

DruckerOne of the handful of books I'm currently reading is Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity.  Great book so far...I'll do a full review when I finish it.

The reason for this post is to point out an excellent Peter Drucker quote that Lessig mentions:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Simple yet brilliant.  And oh, how I feel the pain and reality of this statement far too often in my day-to-day life!


Amazon Fun Times Two

Lifehacker_1 Secondlife_1What a treat it's been the last couple of days as I watch two books from my group climb the Amazon Computers & Internet bestseller list.  (Are they really "bestsellers"?...  Well, they're on the list right now, so I think it's fair to use that phrase!)

The books I'm talking about are Lifehacker, which is just now hitting brick-and-mortar stores, and Second Life: The Official Guide.  Tonight they are #15 and #20 respectively on Amazon's list, outselling books like iWoz and Seth Godin's Small is the New Big.  How fun!

(Btw, yet another book from our over-achieving editorial team, Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, is not too far behind them at #36!  It all feels like an early Christmas gift.)


The Tipping Point for Print on Demand?

Ondemand_1Print on demand (POD) systems are on the verge of revolutionizing the book publishing industry.  Of course lots of people have been saying this for the last 10 years or so, which means it rivals the notion of convergence on the over-hyped scale.  Without getting too excited though, I think we might finally be closing in on a significant event in the world of POD.

According to this story on CNN.com and this blog post, a company called OnDemandBooks is about to release a POD system called Espresso that could radically change the rules.  Imagine your local bookstore suddenly having every book in print in stock.  With a price tag of $50K the Espresso system isn't exactly cheap.  But, like any other type of technology we can probably expect that price to drop as volume/demand increases.  The article notes that the manufacturing costs are around a penny a page -- that's pretty darned good although still more expensive than traditional offset printing costs.

If I'm the head of B&N or Borders I'm anxiously trying to figure out how to economically roll this out across my entire chain.  Why?  If one of these babies is available in all my brick and mortar outlets I magically neutralize one of Amazon's competitive advantages ("the world's largest bookstore").  In fact, I wind up tipping the scales in my favor by combining my local presence (e.g., instant gratification) with as large a virtual inventory as any online reseller.

This has enormous potential.  Now will it finally live up to all the hype?...