Copyright and broken grand bargains

Courtesy of MG Siegler, I came across this Oatmeal comic and resonates. I too am incredibly disappointed that Hollywood doesn’t give it’s customers legal ways to watch the TV shows and movies it creates when I want to watch them, how I want to watch them.

The media industry and at least one tech columnist, who I really respect disagrees. In his blog, Andy Inhatko writes that I don’t have the right to watch the media, when I want it, where I want for what price I want it.

The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

But, he is wrong. 

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution authorizes the following right:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for LIMITED Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

LIMITED. During the course of the 20th Century, the definition of limited has become practically speaking, unlimited. Hollywood has continued to press Congress to extend Copyrights right as they expire. Currently, for an individual, the copyright expires 70 years AFTER the individual dies. For a corporation, it is 95 years from creation of 120 years from publication. And, this law will be amended again, specifically each time Mickey Mouse is about to slide into the public domain. So, limited became UNLIMITED.

The grand bargain is a quid pro quo. We the people agree to protect copyright IF AND ONLY IF the copyright holder releases their content into the public domain. As the bargain has been broken, why are we, the taxpayers of the United States putting our dwindling resources to protecting copyright? Let’s say copyright had truly limited protection, say for one year. Do you think Game of Thrones wouldn’t available for me to purchase on the day it was released? 

Hollywood, the world does NOT OWE you unlimited copyright protection for your creations. Distribute your work in the way your customers are demanding, make money and start working on the next project. And stop whining when the deck is stacked in your favor.

UPDATE: To learn more about why public domain content is so important to our society, watch the Everything is a Remix video series. Hollywood copies relentlessly from itself and we are all enriched because of it. Imagine if anyone could do that.

UPDATE 2: Speaking of Hollywood violating copyright, Vevo violated the Super Bowl terms when they broadcast the event at their Sundance party. I haven’t seen anyone go to jail yet.

UPDATE 3: My argument is NOT a rational for piracy. I feel the focus of the current debate on IP infringement has completely missed the big picture - we citizens have given away rights because art enriches OUR lives. Hollywood is abusing that.

Looking Past the Screen

The best part of my job is spending the day with two people who are smarter than I. Amongst our gourmet sandwich lunches and brainstorming mobile CRM we get into fascinating discussions. 

Yesterday, we had a conversation about the user experience of Craigslist. Our very talented designer, Brian makes the case on his blog that they desperately need a redesign and is ripe for disruption. He’s always right. I’m sure it will happen. 

But, it made me think, do I like Craigslist? Do they provide a good user experience? 

In the past few months, I’ve used CL as both a buyer and seller. 

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to go watch Cirque du Soleil Totem (outstanding, don’t miss it) at the last minute. Of course, tickets were sold out. Checking on Craigslist, I found someone holding two tickets, who couldn’t attend and was selling them for under face value. After exchanging contact details, he emailed me two tickets as PDF files. He instructed, “Go to the show, enter the tent, find your seats. When you are settled, send me the payment.” That’s exactly what we did and had a great evening.

A few days later, I needed to sell my iPhone 4. I posted an ad and it only took 5 minutes to get my first response! (Pro tip: List your old iPhone in Fremont. That city has as unlimited thirst for used iPhones.) In the next 8 hours, I was swimming in people who wanted my phone. I met up with the first one and walked away with a pile of cash.

I loved my experiences! Getting last minute tickets to Cirque on a random Wednesday was awesome. Listing my iPhone took 5 minutes. It felt great to walk away with a pile of cash a few hours later! 

Craigslist is simple. Craigslist is free. I don’t have to create an account. I don’t have to login. I don’t have to share the transaction. I don’t have to make any commitments. Could it be better? Yes, of course - everything can be better. But regardless of how it looks, it enables experiences that make me feel great.

Technology is just a tool. User experience should be measured in how a person feels about the activity they are completing, not strictly about the tool.

We will miss the magic. Steve, RIP.

When Steve revealed the iPad to us in January 2010, he described it as magical. While widely derided for that remark, those of us using iPhones couldn’t agree more.

When a magician waves his hands and tricks us, we are thrilled. The “magic” of the iPhone is precisely that, an illusion. We believe our fingertips are physically manipulating the digital bits under the glass… and we are thrilled.

Manipulating real world objects with our fingers is natural. It is in our DNA. It thrills us.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life. NYTimes, 9/30/2011

Now go back and look carefully at your iPhone. Can you see why Apple made the decisions they did? (I’ve listed a few below.)

My first memories involve technology. I’ve used, taken apart, repaired, broken or programmed in one shape or another practically ever computing platform since the advent of the Commodore PET. I have owned and used almost every major touch screen/tablet computing platform that I could afford. In 2007, when the iPhone was revealed, I was knee deep in the European mobile industry. I had many opportunities to play with the iPhone before I finally owned one in late 2008 upon my return to California. I was not a novice to this game.

Yet, I’m embarrased to admit that until the iPhone became part of my daily routine, I didn’t grasp the emotional connection created by the user when physically manipulating objects under the glass screen.

I can imagine there was a moment, sometime in the last decade, somewhere in Cupertino where this realization came to Steve. I suspect it was before he put his finger on a screen. It was certainly before an iPhone became part of his daily routine. This was his gift. He shared it with us not by writing a blog post or re-inventing the smartphone. Rather, he inspired his company to weave this illusion for us… and we continue to be thrilled.

Steve, you were the great magician of our time. We will miss you.
Rest in Peace.

  • The iPhone was the first mobile phone with a dedicated graphics processor unit (GPU). Unless the bits on the screen moved in perfect concert to your finger, the illusion would be broken. For example, scrolling momentum (swiping the screen quickly and rapidly, causes the content on the screen to move rapidly) would not be possible without a GPU.
  • The iPhone 4 brought a new LCD screen. The high resolution of the screen allows the content to appear printed, not pixelated. More importantly, the screen is mounted high in the glass and can be read at any angle, just like a printed page.
  • Apple uses real world metaphors across the iOS user interface. One specifically comes to mind, turning pages in iBooks. I’m certain the graphical representation of the turning page was incredibly difficult to program and adds no real world value, other than maintaining the illusion.
  • Go stare at your iPhone. What do you see?

It took 37 years to learn this??

I just came across this website and realized I have been playing Monopoly (the board game) wrong my entire life! 

Following this simple rule would both make the game go faster (I definitely don’t have the time that I used to) … and more importantly, make the game more fun.

From the rules:

BUYING PROPERTY…Whenever you land on an unowned property you may buy that property from the Bank at its printed price. You receive the Title Deed card showing ownership; place it face up in front of you. (This part, I knew. The next part, not so much.)

If you do not wish to buy the property, the Banker sells it at auction to the highest bidder. The buyer pays the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option to buy it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price.

Read the rules. Genius. 

Judging a stock bubble via IPO jumps

After watching LinkedIn and Pandora go public, I’ve been amazed at the press coverage.

To recap, LinkedIn’s stock took off like a rocket - opening at $45/share and immediately jumped to the $90s. Meanwhile, Pandora opened at $16/share and “only” jumped about 10%. 

It was the NY Times article that caught my eye, I.P.O. Fever Calms Down for Pandora. I saw this headline repeated over and over in many papers and news websites.

It implies that because the stock didn’t jump in price, investors are wary of technology IPOs. Why is the press simply focusing on the stock price increase and decrease?

Let’s take an analogy. If you sell me your used car for $1000 and minutes later (milliseconds for the stock market) I sell it to someone else for $2000, what does that have to say about the market for cars, new or old? Nothing.

Is there market demand for Pandora? Of course! At its IPO, the company is valued at $2.8 billion without any profits. Even though the price has slid since the IPO, its valuation continues to be very rich, primarily because it doesn’t have any profits.

As for my analogy above, what does it imply? If you asked for advice to determine the value of your car, the advice was terrible. In the case of LinkedIn, that advice came from Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

This article is the beginning of a series about the financial industry. I’ll post an article every couple weeks; stay tuned.

NYTimes Paywall

Back in March, the NY Times put up a paywall. And… suddenly what was free, wasn’t. It didn’t bother me… I read the NY Times religiously and figure it was about time I pay for it. After all, I believe the NY Times is the best newspaper in America.

Then, they released their ridiculously expensive pricing. $35 / month is a punch in the stomach! I can’t afford to read the NY Times and that sucks. 

So, I stopped reading the Times on my iPad each morning and stopped visiting their website at that time of day when I need a news fix. Each morning I continue to receive their daily email and am reminded of the punch in the stomach.

But, over the past few months I’ve made a discovery. Their paywall is so porous, it basically doesn’t exist. Looking back over the last three months, when I’ve encountered a story that I really want to read, I visit the website and I can read the story. I’m not offered a subscription nor do I see any reason to pay for one. Perhaps they lost a lot of traffic and throttled back on all their limits? Perhaps the paywall wasn’t that strict before? I’m not sure… but unless I try to access content on the iPad or iPhone, I’m not restricted in any way and I can appreciate.

So… why implement digital subscriptions in the first place? I suppose all they wanted was to punch me in the stomach.

Fraud. It’s not always crystal clear

I am reminded twice a week how much I love NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Folks - these are some seriously smart reporters. And they are telling stories that desperately need to be told so Americans wake up. Subscribe, it’s free.

That said, their last show was outstanding. The crafty Planet Money team chased down Roberta, a lawyer hired by big banks to write credit card agreements and the other “legalese” that banks send us periodically. You know, the stuff you never read? The stuff lining your trash cans?

Roberta believes everyone should read credit card disclosures. She thinks they are perfectly clear… and to make them more clear would make them longer. Not shocking. That said, I wonder if she reads all the documents that come with the software she types in? Probably not. Microsoft creates Word, an intuitive product for non-software engineers to use, so people like Roberta can create documents that only lawyers can to understand. (!!)

Chana asks Roberta if a bank has ever asked her to bury something deceiving in a disclosure. Roberta says no; I believe her. However, what Roberta clearly doesn’t understand… simply by employing her, the banks can bury something. Everything that comes off her keyboard is stuff that they want buried.

Banks have lots of channels to communicate with their customers. For example, they don’t call Roberta when they want to make a TV commercial. She isn’t responsible for the brochures that waxes so poetically about home equity line benefits. Clearly, she isn’t employed to instruct customers how to make their monthly payments, either. 

Rather, someone at the bank decides what Roberta communicates based on her oblique communication skills. I will be seriously impressed with the Planet Money team when they interview that someone.

* To be fair - Microsoft has a software license agreement too. But, when you can’t figure out how to bold something, they don’t expect you to have read the SLA.

Diplomacy is getting someone to do something they do not want to do, without shooting them. — Mark Penn