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Slidecasts to be (killed) Discontinued

Slideshare

After the turn of the year, on February 7, Slideshare announced through its blog that slidecasts are going to be discontinued. Slidecasts are presentations uploaded to Slideshare that are synched to a MP3 audio file. While it’s relatively easy to create a slidecast, it may be seen as a niche practice, as some preparation and technical expertise is needed to do it, let alone the fact that Slideshare must be a niche social media site. For example, I used to do the presentation either with Powerpoint or Keynote and then record and edit its corresponding audio with Audacity or Soundforge. Hence, I suppose that only a limited number of Slideshare users have actually created this type of resource.

However, any way I see this decision from Slideshare, I call it a mistake similar to that of Google with its Google Reader (RIP), when they attempted to destroy RSS and the blogosphere to favor a lesser service/technology such as Google+. Of course, this decision is theirs to make, as it’s their service and, like me, most users are likely to use a free account. Even so, I can’t help but think that users of social media sites should have some stake in these types of decisions. I think this particular action from Slideshare is wrong because:

  • Slidecasts have way more views than the presentations without audio: although my presentations have a quite low profile compared to those of other users, my normal  presentations use to have hundreds of views while my slidecasts have thousands of them. I believe that is that shows the impact this advanced function may have. I think while static presentations are decentlly viewed, the amount of views slidecasts get show that they were a powerful type of media, not offered by any other social media site. This takes me to my other argument why this is a mistake.
  • Slidecasts are (were) one of the best and unique Slideshare features, if not the most unique. I understand that by killing it they might be killing the service altogether.

For me the most unsettling part of Slideshare’s announcement is that they state they are going to focus their energy instead “on building new and innovative ways for our users to share presentations”. I don’t want to be skeptic about innovating in social media but I wonder, is that even possible from the point of view of Slideshare, or is this just a sad excuse? You can already share presentations with your other social sites and embed any presentation on any site with an html string.

Since February 28 you’re not able to create new slidecasts. You have until April 30 to download yours and not lose them. What options do we have to cover this absence? By now, I’m thinking of downloading the existing slidecasts I have and uploading them to YouTube and doing future ones using Camtasia or Captivate, although as you may be guessing after reading this post, I’m not very comfortable with the idea of giving more of my content to Google. In any case, I would recommend that you check out Slideshare blog and take a look at the post and the comments. Take a stand, if you liked slidecasts.

The Aftermath of an Online Protest… and some links I liked about it…

Happy new year dear readers! In this first post of the year, I’ll take perhaps the most important event of the year so far… at least the one I can report on, hopefully adding my voice to all the noise about it.

Yesterday many sites had a blackout or a protest against SOPA. The Stop Online Piracy Act is a legislation the copyright industry wants the U.S. senate to pass. It has met protest on the Internet, especially yesterday. The problem with these bills is that they give the authority to shut down sites without due process. Which sites? Only pirates? Actually, it can be interpreted that this can go beyond and be an instrument of censorship and control.

I’ll pass along a collection of some links I liked about it with a short comment and at the end some of my comments regarding why SOPA and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are evil. You can look at all I read about it by looking at my tweets @judamasmas

PIPA Support Collapses, and Here’s a Full List of the Senators Who Newly Oppose It via Gizmodo. The way I see it, the online protest was mainly against SOPA, but support for PIPA was affected as well.

SOPA via xkcd. Reasonable content creators are and should be happy that people share their content in social media, with such legislation as SOPA, it would be hard to see what would happen with social media, perhaps in the long term they would like to shut down sites like Facebook.

Surprise! Senators with Huge Campaign Contributions from Media Support SOPA/PIPA via Gizmodo. This is great about the Internet, everything is hardly a secret. You can see the name of the senators and the money they had for supporting SOPA/PIPA. Lists like this one have been posted on many sites from quite some time. Other ones showing even the money they make compared to the ones not supporting these things.

Internet SOPA/PIPA Revolt: Don’t Declare Victory Yet  via Wired. It is a good point that although a good blow was dealt to SOPA and PIPA, these instruments are not completely defeated and they will be revised in these months. We the Internets have to remain on our toes and respond quickly making enough noise to oppose them.

That pipe of trash that someone smoked via The Pirate Bay Blog. Great piece, I highly recommend you read it. From Edisons’ patent of moving pictures, they go to the lawless origin of this copyright industry. Making the point that as they have bad business models, the Pirate Bay is a threat as it is a competitor. “The entertainment industry say they’re creating ‘culture’ but what they really do is stuff like selling overpriced plushy dolls and making 11 year old girls become anorexic. Either from working in the factories that creates the dolls for basically no salary or by watching movies and tv shows that make them think that they’re fat.”

LOLing Our Way to Internet Freedom via Wired. The funny side around it, click it!

The MPAA Says Blackout Protests Are an Abuse of Power via Gizmodo. In this context, I believe it was best for them just to shut up instead of giving themselves more bad publicity. Yes, they say the blackouts were abuse of power. Is it not abuse of power their own lobbying, “sue ‘em all” schemes and manipulation? It was a very hypocritical statement on their side, as this legislation is pro-censorship and about real abuse of power.

Honorable mentions in pictures:

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I am not the only one seeing that the copyright industry manipulates political agencies to achieve their objectives. However I was very glad when I read the position of the White House on this, which is very reasonable. Paraphrasing what I have read some days ago about this is that despite the problem piracy might represent, it is not an excuse to disrupt the Internet and walk the dangerous path of censorship.  The industry is obsessed in claiming that it is losing money. However, there are studies stating that it is doing better than ever. Also, consider the following factors: there is still a financial crisis in the world, media releases don’t offer as much value for money as they should, newly created artists are shitty (you know who they are). And most importantly, think of this: perhaps if the copyright industry stops being so interested in lobbying to make it’s will into law (I think this lobbying is a nice way to say bribing) and “sue ‘em all” legal schemes, they could find that they are not losing money, they are spending it being evil. Anyway, the money resulting from suing infringers is not going to the artists whose rights were violated, right?

Copyright has become something very different than what it should be. Legislations are created to favor just the big companies, not for protecting the artists rights, the later is just an excuse now. For example, how is it possible that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is copyrighted? Or that in Canada nothing else would enter the public domain until 2032? Or that in the U.S. many works published in 1955 are going to enter the public domain in 2051 instead of today? Go copyright the Declaration of Human Rights or the Constitution of the U.S. while you’re at it!

The Internet doesn’t belong to anyone and at the same time, it belongs to everyone; and the Internet is free. I am not supporting piracy, and online criminal activities have to be monitored, reported and shut down. However, legislation written as SOPA and PIPA leaves serious doubts and takes many free thinkers like me to be afraid of censorship. This post is an example. I am criticizing the copyright industry, if SOPA were in place, they could shut down my site without even telling me. That’s the main problem with it.

Finally, there could be a hidden agenda behind all this. The copyright industry might want to turn the Internet into a television channel, and in the most horrible scenario: a big brother of sorts, where all the content you watch is created by the industry and delivered to you with payment schemes, like cable tv. In this scenario, user generated content, which is for me the most wonderful thing about the Internet, would die. I smelled something like this with the “Youtube offering professionally created content” thing. I’ll write about this next time.

Update: operators of Megaupload were detained yesterday, ¿Do they need to approve SOPA to have even more power?

On Piracy, the Industry and Bad Practices (2) [Day Against DRM Edition]

This is a follow up to the almost forgotten post: On the Pirate Bay, its trial and The Industry (1). So, today (May 4th, 2011), on the Day Against DRM (Digital Rights Management), I think it will make a nice contribution to the international initiative. Please share, write and express your opinions on this perversion of the Industry. My opinions further down!

Waiting for a final resolution on the case of the Pirate Bay (TPB) has been a long wait. Who would have thought that after loosing the trial, the website would be still up and running to this date. However, the ex-TPB guys stated in the past that they could spend years with appeals on this case. After trials and appeals nothing has changed much, just some modifications on the amount of money the accused have to pay and jail time. There were some developments leading nowhere like some rumors about the acquisition of TPB by companies like Global Gaming Factory, but it led nowhere. Perhaps the most interesting development was that on the 18th of May 2010, a new host for TPB appeared and it was no other than the Swedish Pirate Party!

Extract of the TorrentFreak article of the day:

“Today, on 18 May [2010], the Swedish Pirate Party took over the delivery of bandwidth to The Pirate Bay,” says the Party’s Rick Falkvinge in a statement. “We got tired of Hollywood’s cat and mouse game with the Pirate Bay so we decided to offer the site bandwidth,” he adds. “It is time to take the bull by the horns and stand up for what we believe is a legitimate activity.” The Pirate Party say they will provide bandwidth to the site’s homepage and search engine. The Party adds the attempts at censoring The Pirate Bay “is an attempt to silence one of today’s most important opinion makers in matters of civil liberties and rights on the web,” adding that it is “nothing less than political censorship, and something that any democratic-minded person must reject.”

The previous part of this post promised some of my views on the Industry and piracy. I am going to talk about the industry being in most of the cases the entertainment industry, mostly based on the US. It sometimes can also include other industries, such as the book and publishing industry that also share some of the same bad business practices. I present below a list of some issues of the industry that I think they have a direct (or at least a big) influence on piracy. I believe these to be very important causes of piracy, it is a shame that after more than a decade of a crusade against Internet based piracy, the industry fails to hear/see these arguments. Of course I am not the first one talking about these things. No matter which side you are on, feel free to leave a comment.

Bad Business Models

In order to illustrate bad business models, I pick as an example the business model of Sony with its Playstation Network (PSN). For example, the PSN is available in X number of countries, not all countries. So, the store is not even region but country locked. In order to buy content from a store you need either a credit card or a prepaid card code. The problem is, first with the credit cards: you need a credit card from the same country as the PSN you are trying to buy content from. For example if you trying to buy from the Finnish PSN you need a Finnish credit card. So then, there is a problem with Estonia that doesn’t have a PSN store and you cannot buy from any PSN stores with an Estonian credit card. So then, we have the business practice of not allowing customers to buy products. Thumbs up! Then, the prepaid cards that Sony released in Europe incredibly late, they only work for the intended country, you can imagine the chaos in Europe with so many different currencies. In that sense, Microsoft and Nintendo got it right with a points system… And then, the infamous Downloadable Content (DLC) is sometimes country locked! Estonia is the perfect example why this is so messed up. For example, here we can receive games from the UK, Germany, Norway and Finland, then if you want DLC for one game you have to work some arcane magic to enjoy the full product. So, it seems Sony doesn’t want money from some nations… There are workarounds for these issues, of course. I won’t beat Sony much more, thanks to the configuration of the PSN business model I will not have any issues because of the leaking of information after the PSN hack and blackout, as they didn’t let me use my credit card.

Distributing Companies

Sometimes bad practices seem to be the fault of only part of the Industry, such as the distributors of media. Let’s say a movie is produced by one company but then the distributing rights belong to other company. Problems arrive when the distributing companies insist on knowing the target they have, most of the times underestimating (or overestimating) their needs and wants. So that’s one view on why records or movie stores are so full of garbage and some things are just not available in your country. Some can argue further and say that the industry is the one determining what media products (or artists) should someone consume, so that’s why we have the Justin Biebers or the boy/girl band of the moment. But then, what would be a natural answer to a market over saturated with bad media?

Region Lock Bullshit

Cannot be called in a different way. We have seen region locks on DVDs, Blurays, etc. For the industry, people will be born, grow, multiply and die in the same part of the planet, and they would never buy anything in any other part if they happen to travel. What about international students or people for whatever reason has to move to another country, the Industry doesn’t seem to know this actually happens. Moreover, people in some parts of the world do not deserve to be able to buy some media products.

This content is not available in your location

Similar somehow to the region lock bullshit. How many times have you seen this on YouTube or even in official websites? Internet is not supposed to be World Wide? And then they talk about internationalization, globalization and all that gibberish that it is said to be the norm in this day but it isn’t because of things like that. Why something that is available freely in the US cannot be available in Estonia? Often the official answer is accepted, sound plausible, but I think this shouldn’t be happening. If someone just wants to see something on the Web just to be sure before running to the store and buy it. Why shouldn’t this person be allowed to?

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

DRM provides limitations of access, lifetime of the digital content, region lock, number of copies (or none), number of installs, determines which devices can run or play something, among many other limitations. comes from the fixation of maximizing (or rather squeezing) profit for some digital product. This is wrongly done by limiting the ways you can access or interact with this piece of digital product, on the grounds to prevent piracy. Actually DRM gives the concept of ownership a different more limited dimension. My example is courtesy of PSN again: Capcom has released two games with DRM in the PSN. These games require authentication with some servers every time you run them, even when they have offline components, you can’t play if you don’t have Internet, or if the service is down. The latter is the case with the PSN blackout. In my (and several others) view, the only thing DRM is good for is for crippling user experience and punish paying customers because of the pirates. By the way, the pirate versions of most goods that originally have DRM often offer a better user experience.

A Pirated Copy is equal to a Lost Sale

I save for the last one argument some strongly contend while the industry take it as dogmatic. For the industry, a pirated copy is equal to a lost sale. I think there are so many factors influencing the downloading of a piece of media that to say it is equal to a lost sale is wrong. I don’t think that in all cases where somebody downloading a pirate copy of some content would have bought it if it wasn’t for the pirate option. At least, this direct proportion between a pirated copy and a lost sale is very difficult to prove, if not impossible.

I gave above some factors influencing the download of some pirated media, such as: awful DRM in the original, lack of availability (or non at all) of the legal copy on the market, region locked content, among others. Are these reasons to approve piracy? Of course not. However, it seems the Industry ignores these facts and is just interested in maximum profit and suing everybody who doesn’t comply with their business models. In a very good talk, Larry Lessig stated that currently it is not artists who are being financially compensated with the triumphs of the war on piracy, only lawyers are. And the Industry itself. Is that really what copyright is it for?

There have been different interesting studies proving the Industry wrong. There is a survey of Dutch artists, where the majority don’t think that piracy is hurting them and the artists who really know what DRM is are against it. A very good study was done by a group of academics under the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), showing that the Industry has been better than ever during the era of the P2P war on piracy. Another study concludes that piracy has boosted Anime sales, one animation genre that is so scarcely available in most countries. The last read I can recommend to you is another study made in Norway that concludes that although the Industry has been hurt by piracy, musicians’ income is rising.

I don’t support piracy. However, the Industry should hear the public and the criticisms against it, adapt their business models to the age we live in and really provide quality content with reasonable pricing and availability. Otherwise they could just fade away and be forgotten or the user generated or indie content will someday become mainstream.

P.S.: In Venezuela, a regular music CD costs around 42 US$

Venezuela bans videogames

As a kid there were two things that encouraged me to explore new worlds and learn English: rock music and videogames. Some days ago in Venezuela, my place of birth, they started to enforce a law to practically ban videogames., with fines from 30.000 to 60.000 US$ and prison time from 3 to 5 years for those who import, sell, distribute and (use?) videogames. That is very sad for me, as Venezuelan and as a gamer. I feel they are closing a way for kids to learn English with games to have more and better opportunities than the ones who don’t develop language skills (it is important to note that before the current generation of game consoles, which are multilingual, we had the same North American releases, in English). The major driving force behind the law is to protect children from violent games, a thing in itself very plausible, but is a total ban we are talking about, ignoring any age rating system that exist or the rights of adults to enjoy these products as well.

The law’s name is Law for the Banning of Videos and War Toys. It is no secret that there’s a huge problem of crime and violence in the country, this is one of the premises supporting the law, as the congress state that “there are scientific studies that prove there is a notorious influence on the future citizen’s conduct and the activities they do in the games”. But how about the incendiary speeches of most of the politicians in the country? And the possession of guns among the civil population and the shootouts in the slums? How about the continuous acquisition of guns, weapons, planes, submarines, etc? The almost declarations of war with neighboring countries?

The politicians at the congress indicate that this law “is not going to solve the problem of the violence, but it opens a space, a positive scenario for the discussion in different areas, nationally and internationally”. These statements only show the shortsighted criteria used by the politicians to make this law, how do you open a space for discussion with a total ban? It’s like in the United States with the prohibition, you only encourage the creation of illegal channels and businesses which is way worse as history has proven. As a gamer, I had to cope up with the problems of distribution of games in Venezuela, there are no GameStops, so there were independent importers who could charge you up to 140 US$ for a game and about 900 for a console (these were numbers I found out between December-February when I went to Venezuela), now with all videogames related economy being illegal, how much should be the price for an original game?

As many of the country’s laws intended to censor something, the solution is to ban, to punish or close,  like they did with the radio stations they closed, with the television channel they had the luxury to close two times, can one be critical? No, the government won’t even try to find a middle ground, to cite a Venezuelan politician: we have a clash of classes.

Some could say that the law is not a total ban, but it’s so vague, so we can be talking about that stomping on goombas or racing a kart while throwing turtle shells is violent and war-like.

So it’s Game Over and no Continues left, it’s a sad, sad day…

On the Pirate Bay, its trial and The Industry (1)

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The verdict of the trial on the Pirate Bay is finally given, despite some opinions and the confidence of the accused party on winning the trial, partly based on current swedish laws regarding torrent files, and a certain believe that the American music and movie industries couldn’t force a decision. Have they did it? I’m not expressing my opinions here, I’ll be just commenting the facts and ideas discussed over the Internet. But first, a little background.

bittorrentThe BitTorrent Protocol

In simple language, its a Peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing protocol, for transferring files, one user has some files or contents and creates a .torrent file, this user and every user who has the full file is called a seed, the more seeds there are, the faster the transfer of files. Some sites on the Internet, like The Pirate Bay are called Torrent Trackers, they are like search engines used to find those .torrent files. The trackers don’t have the content itself on their servers, this is an important thing to take into account. Once a user finds a .torrent file and downloads it, has also to use a Bittorrent client, like Bittorrent, Azureus, BitComet, etc. This client take that file and -in a manner of speaking- “knows” who are the users who have that particular media or documents and start downloading. Because of the seed aspect and also because many torrents are divided into parts, this is a very fast, reliable and efficient transfer protocol, which could be used for any kind of digital content and purposes.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay is a Swedish website established in November 2003 by the Swedish anti-copyright organization -or an independent organization fighting for file sharing rights- Piratbyrån (The Piracy Bureau), in this website, users could search and download .torrent files, and it has operated independently since October 2004. It is stated that this site serves more than 25 million users over the world.

sealand-external-frontSome aspects of its history, development, images and public relations (specially with copyright holders and defendants) are now legendary and even mythical between Internet users and tech geeks, such as the attempt to buy the micronation Sealand to locate their servers without having to bother about legislations, but the Sealand government didn’t wanted to sell it specially to them. Also it is said that the Industry had hired hackers to attack the site and copy the user’s database.

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On 31 May 2006, the swedish police raided the Pirate Bay instalations and confiscated its servers, shutting the website off and they held for questioning some of the people responsible for the website. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was behind this incident, as they stated on a press release just after it. On 2 June 2006, the Pirate Bay was once again up, displaying a new logo, with their pirate ship shooting down the Hollywood sign.

The Trial

On 31 January 2008 Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, and Peter Sunde, who ran the site; and Carl Lundström, a Swedish businessman who through his businesses sold services to the site were charged with “promoting other people’s infringements of copyright laws” but Pirate Bay’s legal advisor, Mikael Viborg, had stated that because torrent files and trackers merely point to content, the site’s activities are legal under Swedish law. On 16 February 2009, the trial (or as some call it the Spectrial = Spectacle + Trial) against the Pirate Bay started, the charges were pushed by a consortium of intellectual rights holders led by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). It was a surprise and an indicator that the Bay could win the case after the second day, where half of the charges were dropped. It is worth to mention the following aspects of the trial:

kingkongdoodle-tpbThe prosecutor was unable to prove the .torrent files brought as evidence were actually using The Pirate Bay’s tracker.

On the third day, defense attorney Per Samuelson presented an argument later dubbed the “King Kong defense”

The fourth day irregularities started: movie industry lawyer Monique Wadsted introduced new evidence without warning.

The fifth day, the prosecution insisted on attempting to introduce new evidence, defense lawyer Peter Althin equating the tactic to something out of the old Perry Mason TV show. “Suddenly, the door opens and in walks an entirely new witness.” The judge stopped the case to deliberate the matter and found in favor of the defense, instructing the prosecution to immediately hand over all material they planned to use.

The prosecution attempted to show the Pirate Bay as an immensely profitable business that made its money helping others violate copyright law. The defense attempted to show the Pirate Bay as nothing more than a search engine, no different from Google and thus subject to the same protections.

On days seven to nine, the court heard expert witnesses called by the prosecution and the defense. They cited contradicting academic research on the effects of file sharing on sales in the music and film industry.

The Verdict

Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking copyright law and were sentenced to a year in jail. They were also ordered to pay $4.5m (£3m) in damages. Record companies welcomed the verdict but the men are to appeal and Sunde said they would refuse to pay the fine.”

Taken from BBC Website http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8003799.stm

mapkkaabbAfter the trial, Sveriges Radio P3 News organised an investigation that found on April 23 that the judge Tomas Norström had several engagements with organisations interested in intellectual property issues. Peter Danowsky, Monique Wadsted and Henrik Pontén from the prosecution side are also members of one of the organisations, the Swedish Copyright Association. Several legal experts have commented that the judge should not have taken the case because of the potential conflict of interest, and that there are grounds for a retrial. As of April 23, Peter Sunde’s lawyer Peter Althin has already put in a request for a retrial. Such requests would normally be handled by the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman, but as the case is under appeal for other reasons, it will be taken up in the Svea Court of Appeal.

Taken from The Local Website http://www.thelocal.se/19028/20090423/

Now a lot of websites, bloggers, supporters and detractors are debating these issues. There have been some manifestations in Sweeden and other parts of the world to support the Bay. On the next post I’ll give some of my comments about the industry, Internet, sharing, and what I think all this means to this moment we are living in and also to some other affected and beloved parties over the Internet.

To be continued… stay tuned to judamasmas’ Weblog

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