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Piracy and culture circulation: #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 10/01/2013 - 15:15

This week's lesson on the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course talks about piracy and the circulation of culture, a topic that over time has been debated over and over. And a topic, yes, that can always lead to interesting discussions.

This time, we are requested to choose one among ten ideas among the media groups' discourse on what piracy is and means for the "cultural industry". There are tons of material written already on several of those ten lines (i.e. piracy disincentivates creativity, or two that can be seen as two faces of the same argument, If a consumer can have free access to cultural products, he will stop spending his money on them and Every time a consumer has access to an illegal copy, the industry loses a sale), and some are quite obvious (i.e. Piracy makes job positions be lost... Just look at the amount of people the unauthorized distribution industry feeds! Or possibly, Piracy is a prosper industry that gives money to people distributing illegal products — Of course, that is true. The problem is, what causes said products to be illegal to begin with? Should they be so?). Some other ideas talk about harsher penalties and ways to punish illegal copying in order to drive actors out of that sector (and into the... void?)

So, I chose item #4: Cultural products have a high cost because their production is complex (and a tag could be made, linking complex with expensive). I think this item can lead to a long discussion as to what does this complexity and cost mean.

Some cultural products do require quite a bit of investment, yes. Others don't. How do content producers make the jump to produce expensive works?

If I am a new programmer/artist/writer/screenplayer/whatever, most likely, my products will be not very complex or expensive. I will start small. And if I excel at my work, somebody will look at me and, in some way, become my patron, my sponsor. Being a sponsor might mean that, based on the results of my good work, I could get hired as a software developer at a large company, or an editorial company would buy the patrimonial rights of my book/music (be it for a fixed fee or for a percentage of sales), or whatever. But the leap is not made quantically — A newcomer to the cultural scene will at first, most likely, have a hard time selling his products.

At first, it takes convincing just getting people to take a shot at looking at your work («Hey, please take a look at my program and tell me what you think about it!», «Would you be interested in listening to my latest song?» — And those two are by far ahead of the first attempts where the interactions would more likely be «Turn off that $#^#!^ computer, it's well past bedtime» or «stop murdering that guitar, I'm having a headache»). Maybe the toughest part is to get people to agree to read/hear your work. And there, you start into a continuum — Selling your CDs while performing on the street, then getting to play to a bar, then getting somebody to want to produce (maybe even "discover"!) you. Publish some short stories in your school magazine, then in a "From our audience" section in a larger magazine, then a collective book, your self-published book, yet-unwritten books by contract... The same story over and over again, in each different field.

Ok, yes, but... This logic succession still leaves space for the Important Producers with the Mighty Big Pockets for the most wanted/largest productions, right? And were unauthorized distribution (piracy) to be the norm (as it currently is, dare I say), wouldn't they stop producing an important portion of cultural works?

I'd be tempted to say so. However, a different actor comes into play. When Mighty Big Pockets comes into play, they no longer worry only about getting money from each cultural creation, but from all derived uses of it. And the cultural creation industry (when seen as an industry) goes very much hand in hand with the advertising, marketing industries — They end up blending with each other.

So, the biggest best sellers will most likely have a hit from illegal copiers. Books are still a great business, but hey — An even better business is (usually) movie making. And when you make a movie out of a great story, you will surely link some advertising into it (or at the very least, push advertising/product pushing campaigns to go after it). And there, illegal distribution actually helps the money circle to grow stronger. In the early 1990s, the link between dinosaurs and carbonated drinks was a top seller (because Pepsi™ was a Jurassic Park® sponsor). Although I have always loathed the madness around the World Cups (and basically anything that involves football of any kind), I can perfectly remember several of the theme songs for most of the world cups played during my lifetime.

So, in short... No. Illegal distribution does marginally little harm to the money income to the cultural business, at any level. And where it does get some direct harm, it increases the money flux given the auxiliary channels.

This week it was an easy one: On picking free licensing schemes #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 09/22/2013 - 22:07

The third lesson of the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course was quite easy, at least for me, as it's one of the topics I've been involved with for a long time: Authors' rights and ways to exercise them.

This lesson starts by talking about the paradoxes created in the reality beneath copyright mostly due to the zero-cost-for-perfect-copy reality we live in today, and then goes on to introduce the most widely spread licensing schemes for cultural works nowadays: The Creative Commons licensing schemes.

What I felt very interesting is that the lesson tackles the most common issues raised by authors choosing CC licensing: The Non-Commercial and Non-Derivatives restrictions. While authors are usually not very hard to convince about the virtues (and their personal benefit) in CC licensing, it's usually hard for authors to accept and relinquish the "locks" on non-derivability and non-commercial-use.

Now, as to the homework: This time, I have to admit it was a no-brainer to me. The homework was to take part of a "Licenciatón": Publish some work under a open or free license (a work of any kind; it can be text, photo, video, etc.; it can be a new or a pre-existing work) and argue as to why did you choose said license.

Even the act of writing this blog post means I'm releasing some work. The bottom of my blog reads, «All the material found at this site is freely available, and you can use it as you wish, except when the document mentions explicitly different conditions.» Yes, this is not a widely known, preexisting licensing scheme, and more or less goes along the lines of CC0 — There are some good things I have posted in this blog, some things I am proud about. This post goes more towards the average quality: Not adding anything of great value to the world, just reiterating/reposting what is already said. But I know this blog is syndicated over several different places, and its content might be copied over to other places. I don't need to know or be notified about it. I just care for people to be able to reach back if they want to do it.

But, of course, if I'm asked to do a homework, I prefer not to have it so self-referential. What else to license?

We are over halfway across the Wiki Loves Monuments contest for 2013. This year I am clearly not as active on it as I was last year, but yesterday I uploaded about 60 photos from our recent trips, from historical monuments in some towns/cities within ~150Km of Mexico City: Puebla, Tlaxcala, Cacaxtla, Toluca, Santiago Tianguistenco. I intend to upload more. Those photos are licensed CC-BY-SA. Why? Mainly, because it is the defaul for the contest. One of the lessons learned working on Debian is that the less the license I choose deviates from what the upstream authors of a larger project prefer, the more useful my work will be. And being Wikimedia a host of many related projects, I prefer to completely abide by their recommendations unless there is a real, strong reason not to do so.

Also, I know that at least most the photos I am uploading are not of contest quality (although some are quite nice, but we don't take that long to take a shot, and our camera is probably too basic to get a quality shot, if not by mere chance). I am using the WLM contest as an excuse to categorize and upload my pictures — Of course, I'm not including personal photos, but... If I found a building, place or landscape interesting enough to take a photo of, why not make said photo available for whoever needs it, in a canonical, easy to reach media repository (as Wikimedia Commons) is)?

And finally, I think it's time to start getting more open and forward-going with a project that I have been giving a lot of work during the past year, a project that has been even eating quite a bit of my Debian time: My upcoming book. While this book is not yet freely licensed (it is freely distributed online, but does not yet have an explicit license, and I mention it on my teaching/project page. Why? Because it still has some figures and data which are not mine, and which I have to re-elaborate to be able to legally license it.

But anyway — I am writing a book on the subject of Operating Systems, and am basing my teaching on it. The first semester was basically hell for me, as I was working almost full time on it, and needed to allocate some time as well to the rest of my formal work. This second semester has been quite smoother. And there is a very important (to me) initiative to which I (or should I now start saying, we) submitted this work: The LATIn Project: An initiative to collaboratively create quality, freely redistributable text books for the university level, natively in Spanish, for their use in Latin American countries.

I was not able to propose this book due to some formalities — Projects have to be proposed by professors in participant universities, and UNAM is not one of them. However, I offered this work to people in the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, and they managed to push the project forward. Together with people from Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (México) and Universidad del Cauca (Colombia), the project was approved by LATIn.

And this LATIn project can also be seen as a why do you agree to license your work this way? candidate: I have already written most of what I'd be happy to call a full book. Of course, I do expect my colleagues to chime in with more content, and I expect us to produce a true collaborative project. But as I am not part of the member universities, they will get paid for their contribution — And not me. What do I have to gain from this?

More than anything else, the circulation of my work. I'm sure that, were I to publish from UNAM, I would have a good projection. I was (am!) thinking of looking for opportunities to present the book to teachers on the subject, as well as to computing engineering/science students, but the most attractive part (for me) for LATIn is that part of the prize will be that the book will be used to base work on for teaching at least during 2014 in the three said universities — And of course, my/our work will only start then, as we will have to further circulate the work.

Anyway... I expected this post to be small. But as you can see, I am happy with important work perspectives :-)

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