02 April 2013

Vanity, Thy Name Is Media (Medea?)

Shoe, 02 Apr 2013

Not just California; if you're a media owner, you probably think this platter of internet link sausages is about you. You might be right.

  • If anyone really needs any proof that the "25% of net" royalty for e-books imposed by the Big Six conglomerates is an uncompetitive and unfair rate, take a look at Random House US's results for 2012 and think through the numbers. Revenue was up 22.5%... and profits were up 75%. Digging in a little deeper (unfortunately, there isn't a good link to the actual report that is not behind a paywall), print trade revenue and print trade profit were both up in the 6-9% range; it's in e-books that things proved favorable. Of course, this all assumes that one can trust the publicly stated accounting summaries for a closely held company and that there's no spillover between forms... but it's still food for thought about authors' shares of e-book revenue.
  • An interesting piece tries to characterize readers' reactions to "monsters" as "science" and — as in virtually everything else in The Telegraph claiming a scientific basis for nonreplicable phenomena — falls rather flat in the end. The book review itself is so indistinct on its own authorship that I cannot tell whether the failure is in the review... or the book under review... or a publisher's mistitling of a perfectly cogent book. Remember, kids, calling it "science" doesn't make it scientific. Using some tools from the scientific toolbox doesn't, either.
  • That, however, is probably more cogent than the "case for revenge", which omits a crucial consideration. Professor Rosenbaum's piece fails to distinguish between plot and character. Put another way, revenge/vengeance is not something that can be justified (or denigrated) in the abstract; any rationale must consider events in the context of the actual and perceived power relationships between the victim seeking revenge and the object of his/her vengeance. Put another way, vengeance is properly a domain for the powerless... and that's why George III was forced to recast his vengefulness improperly in the language of "seeking justice," to almost universal disdain, while we're willing to accept (if not always validate) the desire for vengeance on the part of a teenager who lost her firefighter father on 9/11. George III was not powerless, and is not powerless; that teenager was and almost certainly remains powerless. The scary bit about vengeance is what happens when power relationships change.
  • So AMPAS is considering some unspecified changes to the Oscars. My unsolicited main advice is to decide whether the Oscars are supposed to be primarily marketing tools or primarily awards. If they're to be primarily marketing tools, there isn't a whole helluva lot that can be done for them... except, in a rare instance of intellectual honesty, naming them accurating as "favorite" rather than "outstanding achievement." If they're to be awards, virtually everything about them needs to be changed, starting with moving them at least four months into the future and denying eligibility to pre-wide-release works in the major categories.
  • From the world of IP neepery, consider the implications of India denying patent protection to a new variant cancer medication. On one hand, the patent-is-everything, nothing-happens-without-protected-monopoly crowd that dominates Western pharmaceutical industries is going to scream that this will discourage creation of new drugs. (It won't if they're going to be profitable anyway... especially if it takes considerable expertise, not just knowledge, to safely manufacture them.) On the other hand, a corresponding crowd is going to claim that this is a blow struck for patients everywhere against the tyranny of BigMed, etc.

    I'm more interested in a side issue, and it's one that is not foreclosed by existing law. US copyright law is unusually specific — as a result of a two-decade-old Supreme Court decision — in restricting copyright protection to original expression. Consider, for the moment, a national declaration that a retelling of that nation's own folklore does not qualify as original expression, and therefore falls outside of both national copyright law and the Berne Convention. (I'm afraid that this is a defensible position, due to the poor writing and arrogance behind the Convention itself; it's not the best interpretation, but neither is it the worst.) Let's now hypothesize, in a marginal Berne nation like, say, Indonesia, that a major blockbuster film is treated the same way as Novartis's drug, on the basis that the blockbuster is merely a retelling of an Indonesian folktale...

  • OK, perhaps that's crazy talk. There's a lot of other crazy talk about IP that arises from improper extension of closely defined, niche circumstances to broad assertions and systems... like the dominance of the current discussion over orphan works on the internet by people who can see only one enemy at a time, like the EFF and Big Media. This is one type of inductive fallacy, and it's endemic in law (it's the entire basis, for example, of stare decisis) and in discussions about copyright. When all of the evidence of copyright problems is drawn from instances involving a transferee's rights and reactions, that doesn't really tell one much about the creator's interests!
  • ... which is, ultimately, the problem with the ReDigi decision. On one hand, this decision means a great deal less than it seems to mean, if only because it's yet another instance of the license-or-sale problem for distributed copies of copyrighted works. Although it's not apparent from the face of the opinion, it is apparent from the pleadings... and the identities of the parties and their default commercial positions. Further, either the parties screwed up in the briefing, or the judge didn't understand from the briefing, the interplay among technology, the Home Audio Recording Act of 1992, and the transient nature of a "copy" of digital goods; this all led to an overbroad opinion that is (seemingly) founded in stare decisis, particularly in light of the necessary implications of Kirtsaeng. I'll have much, much more to say about that in another forum later, but the critical implication of Kirtsaeng for this purpose is that lawful initial transfer of a copy always at least implicates the first-sale doctrine — and I'm afraid that Judge Sullivan's decision simply does not grapple with this implication, particularly since the very nature of digital music files means that consumers inherently get at least a limited license to copy those files, even under the most-restricted license terms imposed anywhere. This rather seriously undermines the "literal copying" theory underlying Judge Sullivan's reasoning.

That's all for now — back to the baby-seal mines for this shark...