Losing a Technical Argument

by Robert Nagle on 9/7/2005

in General

Mr. Bad on Things to say when you’re losing a technical argument. (Thanks, Lars).

Tess Gerritsen on visiting bookstores stocking her book:

That’s how it is for authors on the road. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re already a NYT bestselling writer, any delusions of grandeur you may harbor will quickly be squashed by a few sobering bookstore visits. Some people imagine that the happiest time in a writer’s life is when he first sees his book in the stores.

That’s not true.

The happiest time in an author’s life is during the weeks BEFORE the book goes on sale. Those are the weeks when all good things are still possible, when we’re allowed to entertain our most deeply held dreams. Before the nasty reviews appear, before the disappointing sales figures. Before we’re reminded, yet again, just how insignificant we are.

Mary Anne Mohanraj is contributing to a new grouplitblog. Deslit. More announcements than posts, but we’re hopeful.

2 Great Developments in the Open Source World. The State of Massachusetts is moving away from proprietary formats like .doc. GNU Releases a New License Intended to Combat DRM:

The draft version may contain a proposal to penalize those companies which use digital rights management (DRM) software which protects songs and films against piracy, and which is seen as an anomaly by the free software association.

“We’re fundamentally opposed to DRM. We think it’s a dead end for society,” Greve said, adding all software should be free to use and that artists could be paid for their films and music by a general ’taxation’ on Internet connections.

Horray for the first part; it will further cleave the open source world from the DRM world, which is good. But I frequently here this sort of “socialism solution” for artistic compensation. That is a typical technocratic solution to the compensation issue and overlooks the fact that artists simply won’t stand for it. I plan to write about this at length at some point, but here’s my thumbnail critique of blanket licensing arrangements in 2003:

Compulsory licenses seems to be the “cleanest” solution, and it appears to have implemented in Canada with moderate success, but the approach has fundamental problems. First, it seems rather easy to game the system to make some songs appear more popular in popularity statistics. It seems to offer a lot of advantages to incumbents at the expense of emerging artists. Second, frequency of sharing may not correlate well with user’s perception of value (although it may turn out to correlate well with what would have been actual sales figures). Regardless of whether we love the Spice Girls, their files are going to be shared more often than that of Simulacra. Second, a flat fee imposes a cap on potential profits and creates a reason for music businesses to seek “tax increases” on a regular basis. This is more of a “user fee” than a tax, but still establishing a “just rate” would probably result in prolonged battles in public. Just look for example at the ugly negotiations that Internet radio had with the music industry. Third, it’s unclear how to measure user statistics when mp3’s can be played or downloaded in many different contexts. Should we measure radio plays? What about music scraping applications? What about IRC? What about Internet radio (which plays to multiple listeners)? What about venues in which multiple people are listening? What about foreign listeners? What about car radio? What about PC makers who include freebies like a DVD with free music? I fear that any measuring system will lock us into one specific method of sharing, and it will reveal the folly of trying to micromanage an economy. That said, in lieu of any other payment system, even a “compulsory licensing” system seems preferable

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