09 January 2007

Two for One Sale

A number of news items (and home thingies) have prompted a two-for-one sale on some items at der Rechtsanwalthaifischschloß — use a good dictionary, it stumps Babelfish — and this week only, free shipping!

  • I've got two mint-condition teenagers available. Both are fully testosterone-loaded, low mileage, low labor models with custom-sharpened vanadium-steel tongues. Buyer must provide own private refrigerator and freezer.
  • The Sobol Literary Contest has been cancelled. Schade. The really sad thing about the contest is that it was even viewed as necessary. This sort of bullshit is an inevitable result of the publishing industry's decision to allow agents to act as not just assistants to authors, but as a gatekeeper for the industry. Then, too, I'm amused by this assertion (and Mr Italie should certainly know better, as we've discussed this problem before):

    First announced last September, the Sobol prize was immediately attacked by agents, bloggers and other critics for the entry fee and for requiring that Sobol officials serve as the winners' literary representative. Industry policy prohibits agents from charging money to read manuscripts.

    No, it doesn't. The Association of Authors' Representatives — a voluntary trade group of literary agents with significant track records of licensing books to commercial publishers — prohibits anything labelled a "reading fee" in its Canon of Ethics. This leaves two battleship-sized holes to float through. First, not all literary agents belong to the AAR. There are even some successful agents with substantial track records who don't, so one cannot say that nonmembership = crook. (One can say that nonmembership, with rare exceptions — such as an agent with a track record at an agency striking out on his/her own, or an agent who doesn't quite have the 10 licenses in 18 months record required to join — means that inexperienced authors should avoid for their own protection, sort of like not buying a used car at Honest Sam's Used Cars.) Second, the Canon of Ethics does allow for other kinds of "fees," such as "contract fees," "administration fees," and the like that are tied not to reading the manuscript, but to representation. Those fees are still inappropriate. That's right, folks — two gaping loopholes for the price of one!

  • From the Hypocrisy in Technology Department, we have this story on employer monitoring of employee communications. Once again, the law has failed to keep up with practice, and employers are repeating the same mistakes they made when telephones started appearing on workers' desks. In the long run, smart employees will simply find a way to install industrial-strength encryption on their computers, such as keeping a copy on an inexpensive USB flash device. That, in turn, will lead to employers installing keystroke monitors. And then somebody will figure out that that's the equivalent of bugging every office, there will be outrage, and our "two for one" sale will kick in. One doesn't just get employee outrage — one invites system vandalism!
  • Last for the moment, Wired (as usual) manages to draw two grossly incorrect conclusions about future trends in technology usage in this one article on the pending "demise" of music DRM. The most obvious is that Mr Van Buskirk doesn't recognize that

    The labels' switch to the MP3 format wouldn't necessarily mean losing the ability to track unprotected files sold by online music stores. The Digital Watermarking Alliance (including Thomson Multimedia, which owns the right to license the MP3 codec), recently made a statement in support of the idea of major labels selling watermarked MP3s. This would let labels sell non-DRMed music without losing the ability to track the files. Ideally, these serial, unique watermarks would be used not to sue people who release a purchased MP3 into file sharing networks (sophisticated users would probably figure out a way to strip the watermark before doing this anyway). Instead, the watermarks could be used to monitor playback in order to determine how to pay artists out of a shared revenue pool, tracking not only what was bought, but how much it was played. Such a shift would automate accounting in the recording industry to an unprecedented degree — another bitter pill it may have to swallow. They're suspected of using dodgy accounting to rip off artists (many of whom can't pay for prohibitively expensive accounting audits) for a long time.

    (fake paragraphing removed for clarity) describes a DRM. "DRM" stands for "digital rights management" — and that means far, far more than just "copy protection."

    But that's just the first trip down non sequitur lane in this article. Consider this whopper:

    There's already a case study of what an MP3 store could look like: the Russian site AllofMP3.com, which people are still reporting access to, despite attempts to starve it of U.S. credit cards. Its popularity also indicates that digital music pricing should drop (a 10-cent to 25-cent per unprotected MP3 sounds about right to me). Since increased sales of a digital good can't affect inventory, the labels would more than make up for the price drop by selling far more songs — especially considering the endless targeting capabilities online music stores could eventually offer.

    (fake paragraphing removed for clarity) Notice the four inept, inaccurate assumptions of causality in there?

    1. Popularity of a known pirate site indicates a specific target optimal price for digital recordings
    2. "Starving" the pirate site of US credit cards is directly related to anything other than the site's ownership (the best information available to me indicates that it's a Russian Family business)
    3. "Increased sales of a digital [sic] good can't affect inventory" — what he means is that increased sales do not actually decrease current inventory from that vendor; they will certainly affect availability of both physical-media goods and non-physical-media goods. That is, in fact, the point of item 1!
    4. Increased item sales will necessarily increase income to the labels above the cost of providing for the increased item sales, and impliedly will do the same for the copyright holders.

    So this is a four-for-one sale inside a two-for-one sale.

Perhaps later today, we'll pick up either the hypothetical on the author's estate I began last month or discuss a disagreement with Professor Patry on a fine point of civil procedure.