Our cyberpunk future approaches: monkeys with brain implants can control robotic devices.
I was checking out Tor’s new wallpapers and thinking about the uses of provenance in the art world. Tor is a science fiction publisher, and they’ve been doing one of those Publisher Experiments with the new digital world. (In fact, Tor released this week Farthing by Jo Walton for free — this was an amazing alternate history book. If you can still get the copy, do it! I already had my print-and-ink copy but was delighted to have an electronic one as well.)
Tor’s model is to release something on their website, and then take it off. No DRM on the released wallpapers or the PDF of the book so far as I know (don’t take my word on that: I didn’t test it out or go looking for testimonials; I just took a bare look at the file format & basic ability to do what I wanted, namely, copy-and-paste). But they make a big deal out of “get it this week, because this it’ll be gone”.
Of course, for the desperate or enterprising fan, they will still be able to get it, somewhere, on the Internet, or from some fan or was a bit more on the ball. But it got me thinking (as I often do, anyway) about this kind of model of distribution. Tor is using the carrot approach to bringing traffic to their website and to their writers and artists, as opposed to the stick approach. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the fabulous & tech-savvy Nielsen Hayden’s were responsible in part for this approach.) They Might Be Giants has done this sort of thing for a while, too, and other artists as well.
Signed-and-numbered prints or casts of works of art are a slightly different take on creating scarcity. Rather than time-limited, the works are quantity-limited. FaceBook just happened on this calculus too: my partner and I were recently amused to see FaceBook hawking icons of flowers and chocolates and what-not for a dollar apiece, noting that they are limited! Only a hundred thousand available! I guess in a network of millions a hundred thousand is limited. And there’s no question that FaceBook would be pretty darn happy if a hundred thousand people pony up a buck apiece for an icon of a chocolate. Hell, even if only a tiny fraction do it, it’s spam economics: Practically free for FaceBook to offer it, so any income generated is 99.999% pure profit.
Tor, or any artist or group trying to create scarcity, could easily do this too, and you’d never need DRM: Electronically number each copy, and maintain a provenance database. That’s the simple version. You could also do something fancier, like provide a unique hash of the original download data trail, for instance. Whatever you did, the point is to make the copies unique in some fashion, and to “officially” verify and/or track the unique copies. Sure people would copy the items, but without proving provenance, you wouldn’t have the original. The knock-offs are every bit as good as the original, except to the collectors and fans — who would be driven by the strange economics of fannish obsession to acquire originals. Or maybe even multiple originals.
In theory the general market for commercial software — which is typically licensed with their “unique” serial numbers — could operate this way, but MS Word just doesn’t have collectability. Functionality is ever the enemy of collectability.
While this idea is wholly my derivation and assemblage of the constituent components ™, ©, etc., I’m sure it has probably been independently invented and may even be out there in other publisher or artist or musician experiments somewhere. If any readers know of such a distribution, I’d be delighted to hear about it in comments or email.
1 – Spellcheck suggests that “collectibility” is probably more correct, but that just irks me. Collectibles is fine, but the attraction of collectibles should be collectAbility.
A few days ago, the Village Voice wrote an article about a series of World of Warcraft-inspired porn; their article was duly picked up by BoingBoing.
Strangely, BoingBoing missed the IP angle — that “Whorelore”‘s original name was “Whorecraft” but they ran into an “IP” issue, presumably trademark. You can still see “Whorecraft” on some of the pictures at the Village Voice article. (see caption and photo)
In theory, the article makes it sound promising: Attempts to act, an ongoing storyline, warrior women, etc. But sadly, the photo gallery demonstrates that the porn is about as “inspired” and “imaginative” as Star Trek’s aliens: Heterotastic, male-centered, dominant-paradigm-of-female-beauty, and very white. Ho hum.
A friend just sent me a link to this fan video about the TV series “Supernatural”. What an awesome demonstration of the power of technology to enable media criticism. A thousand feminists could comment about exploitative or graphic visual depictions of violence against women in a series or on TV generally, and it would never have the effect of this video. … And to conclude: this is why DRM and the DMCA suck. Because they prevent (or try to prevent) people from being able to do this.
Regal Entertainment Group has designed a little device so movie-goers can wirelessly complain about things that are affecting their experience, plus, of course, PIRACY!
New York Magazine had a great idea about what to do with the device at Pirates of the Caribbean 3:
First of all, we’re amused by the button marked PIRACY. We know we don’t care whether the person next to us is videotaping the screen. But how great would it be to head into a Regal theater, request one of the devices and a ticket to this past weekend’s No. 1 movie, and then spend two hours pressing the PIRACY button over and over and over, yelling “There it is again!”
(1) Today’s NYT article on “tough questions” for gubernatorial candidates on abortion: all the gubernatorial candidates quoted are men. [NYT 6/5]
(3) I don’t believe I’ve plugged Ann Bartow’s “Fair Use and the Fairer Sex” article on the blog, although I’ve referred many people to it by now — It’s going to be a critical work in the developing scholarship on IP and critical theory. [info & link]
(4) I can’t make Octavia Butler’s memorial in NYC tonight (it was sold out and I’m in Boston anyway) but I snapped some pix from a Barnes & Noble memorial. Yes, it’s Barnes & Noble. I snapped them anyway because it was a lovely memorial. [x-posted w/ pix @ fsfblog 6/5]
(5) I’m setting up a listserv for folks in SF/fandom who are interested in IP issues particularly; and information more generally (telecomm, open distribution, libraries & information industries, media, censorship/First Amendment, etc.). The SF community has been, for years, an exemplar of the fact that consumers are creators are consumers, and that might explain why there’s less polarization among copyleft/copyright than in other genres/creative communities. Also, SF folks are particularly smart at realizing that rules and regulations are choices, and we can make different ones, and that technology can change everything. So I think that by pulling together SF/fandom to talk about IP/media we can have some interesting and hopefully really productive discussions.
I haven’t set up the list yet because I don’t have a snappy name for it — fandomIP? fanip? sfanip? sort of like turnip, isn’t it? pernip? parsnip? anyway – I’m taking suggestions for names, and offline emails if you’re interested in joining.
Yet another instance of boys-read-boys makes the news. This time, Dave Itzkoff’s new “It’s All Geek To Me” column in the NYT. My partner thought I’d be excited — and I was — to see science fiction getting a column in the NYT. Alas, though, it’s only a boy-reads-boys column.
The first column (March 5, “It’s All Geek to Me,” NYT) reviewed a boy and compared the prestige of science fiction boy writers to non-science fiction boy writers (lesser) and compared the reviewed boy to two other boys in one sentence. (“[I]t is entirely possible that Marusek never set out to be the John Updike of the Asimov set.”)
Boys Cited, 7:
- Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
- Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
- David Marusek, Counting Heads & “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy”
- Khaled Hossein, The Kite Runner (self-described as “an epic tale of fathers and sons” — this actually looks potentially interesting even tho the father-son thing is incredibly overexposed)
- A Million Little Pieces (male literary fraud James Frey)
- Isaac Asimov
- John Updike
Women Cited, 1:
- Oprah, I presume, although she doesn’t actually get mentioned by name: “Whether you read books because you have a genuine, lifelong passion for literature or because a feisty woman in Chicago tells you to …” (I’ve never quite understood why some people pooh-pooh Oprah’s book club. A, she promotes reading, so some people read who might otherwise not; B, she does some selection that folks might otherwise not have time to do. If you don’t like her selection of books, don’t read them. But from what I understand, the “book club” is a hell of a lot more informative & engaging to the audience than Jon Stewart’s or similar talk show promotional tour interviews with authors.)
Today, on our way to the Fung Wah bus (we never got there, but that’s another story), my partner & I happened to stop in at a bookstore/teahouse for brunch. Then we realized that they were actually having a booksigning by Margaret Atwood. I’m in the middle of a huge deadline, and have just started a new job to boot, but my spouse was very excited and managed to persuade me that I could work while she listened to the reading & signing.
So, we’re enjoying our very delicious chai when the event begins. My spouse wanders over to the event, and about 10 minutes later comes back laughing & shaking her head.
It turns out that, in fact, Margaret Atwood isn’t here in NYC; she’s in London. No, she didn’t miss her flight; her publisher and a group called Unotchit have jointly planned the first trans-Atlantic book-signing. This miracle of modern technology apparently permits Ms. Atwood to sign a book, in London, and all the way over here in New York City, the “Long-Pen” scribes her autograph on a book here in NYC. And that’s what’s happening: there are monitors set up to show Ms. Atwood signing, and the LongPen device, and people standing around waiting to get their books autographed long-distance. (I asked, btw, and this was a true transAtlantic long-distance call. No Skype!)
Naturally I thought this was hilarious. I mean, first the serendipity: that a cafe we happened into almost randomly is having a signing by Margaret Atwood, an author I tremendously respect and enjoy. But then, o brave new world that hath such [wonders] in’t, it’s not just any ordinary book-signing! It’s an experiment in virtual presence! And it’s trans-Atlantic–what more needs to be said?
The LongPen company, Unotchit, has provided a whole packet of info, with a promotional DVD, a special cartoon by Margaret Atwood, and a photocopy of a hand-written note:
This is my actual handwriting — a sample so you can compare it with what the LongPen™ does–and assure yourself that the spikiness, illegibility, and peculiarity is a property of the actual writing, and has not been added by the LongPen.™.
As it turns out, Ms. Atwood is the President of the company (Unotchit), which explains why she was such an enthusiastic participant in the demonstration, and so respectful of the company’s trademarks. Good for her for coming up with something innovative in response to her own exhaustion from book tours.
Unfortunately the system didn’t actually work for the performance, although we were assured that it had worked in the trials just a few minutes before, and had worked successfully city-to-city. I’m sure it will start working, though, and then we can look forward to some of these listed applications:
- “The signing of their books by authors.” (and lots of other celebrity/fan autographic applications)
- “The signing of legal documents (in most instances).” plus real estate business, banks, government signatures like passports, marriages, divorces.
- Banks, real estate business, and financial applications like cheque-cashing facilities and prevention of credit card fraud.
- And “of special interest for languages that do not use phonic writing but have many characters. For such languages, it is sometimes easier to write than to type.”
I’m not sure I get the language thing, but okay. I’m also a little skeptical as to whether or not autograph-seekers will really be quite satisfied with remote autographs. I think part of the thrill is getting the tiny particles of author/athlete oil & grease along with the signature. Plus actually getting to stammer a few words in the presence of the great one.
But the proposed legal / financial applications raise questions of a somewhat more serious nature. I’ll be going thru that DVD as soon as I get a chance (not till next weekend, for sure), but some questions occurred to me off the top of my head. Among them:
- What is the authentication procedure for making sure that the item signed by the robotic pen has the same content as the item signed in the presence of and by the signer? For instance, if you’re signing a contract on page 4, how are you going to know that page 3-New York is the same as page 3-London?
- How do you prevent the signature transmission from being captured & replicated somewhere else? For instance, A is signing a
chequecheck in New York, and a checkcheque is being signed in London. But I’ve captured the signature transmission and am using it to sign a check in Boston — a check made out to me, perhaps, or to a local pimp or skanky political party.
- For that matter, if the signal is unencrypted, how do you prevent it from being captured & interfered with, so that it becomes less likely to be validated? There’s a visual read-out of it on both sides, but you could capture the video transmission as it comes from London, and mirror it back so it looks like it’s coming from New York, but in the meantime send something slightly different to New York. Or if the signature was only slightly different it might not be apparent over the transmission, but still not pass a handwriting expert signature.
- And, how good *are* these pens, anyway? Can they really replicate the changes in pressure and angle that a real pen does? Even if it can do pressure & angle, what is the original pen that the author holds actually like? Does it feel like a real pen? Or is it held rigidly in place? Which would certainly affect the signature, and I wonder what a handwriting expert would think about it.
The answers to these questions will no doubt become clearer when I go through the materials. Stay tuned for more.
In the meantime, more info available at:
I was deeply saddened early this week to learn that Octavia Butler had died. She exemplified the spirit of inquiry that makes science fiction truly the literature of ideas. Below I collect a number of resources about Octavia Butler.
Obituaries and Remembrances
- SFWA Remembrances
- Memories in the comments on Steven Barnes’ blog
- Memories in the Comments on Nalo Hopkinson’s blog
Octavia’s Words: Interviews & Essays
- Interview, KCRW Bookworm, with Michael Silverblatt, Recorded late 2005, aired March 16, 2006.
- Interview on Democracy Now, just this past November (2005)
- Interviews & Essays @ MIT; posted by Henry Jenkins
- Interview on NPR, Sept 2001
Octavia’s Words: Fiction
- Bibliography at Feminist Science Fiction
Today is a beautifully misty day, perfect for leisurely procrastination from holiday tasks like installing back-up hard drives for the mom-in-law. (Well, “in-law” if we were in Mass.; everywhere else in the US, “mom-in-out-law”.) So naturally I found myself doing a little backlog reading of blogs that I don’t read every day, and was fortunate to see Lauren Weinstein’s post from early November, considering the privacy implications of online digital libraries.:
Our hero Aton (actually, “hero” isn’t really the right word) visits a planet that is basically the known galaxy’s central library. It has almost literally endless stacks of books collected over centuries, still kept (for now, but probably not much longer) for historical reasons, even though nearly all of their contents have long since been available via computers from anywhere in the galaxy.
When Aton shows up, one of the few librarians is very pleased to have a visitor — they’re few and far between — and offers to help Aton with some reference work in the stacks.
The librarian immediately and correctly deduces (in an offhand remark) that since Aton wants to use the stacks, he is probably looking for illicit information, given that all attempts to access “proscribed” data though the computers is automatically logged and reported, even though such information would not be accessible. But the stacks are far too vast to be selectively expunged.
[Discussing Piers Anthony’s Chthon.] Watching all the news coming down the pike about Bush Admin. domestic surveillance, Lauren’s post seems particularly relevant.
San Francisco’s counterPULSE Theater got a cease-and-desist from Fox TV demanding they cancel their sold-out live action performance of “Once More, With Feeling” (the Buffy musical).
According to SFist, Buffy creator Joss Whedon said he had no objection to the staging of the show.
[link from whedonesque]
South African inventor Sonette Ehlers has developed the “rapex”, a barbed female condom aimed at discouraging rapists. A coordinator for Rape Crisis cautions that the device could backfire, and rapists in penile pain might respond with increased violence.
Of course, Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash (1992) was all over this idea: his teenage protagonist wore a similar device cleverly named the ‘vagina dentata’. But rather than just putting a rapist in pain, the v.d. actually disarmed him, by injecting a super-fast-acting tranquilizer directly into his penis.
update 15 minutes later: Wikipedia rocks; there’s simply no other way to say it. See the entry on anti-rape female condom.
HOLLYWOOD, September 12, 2005
Wood Stunned by Gay Photo ‘Revelations’
Elijah Wood is continually stunned by clever cyber pranksters who try to prove he is gay.
The Lord of the Rings star is often caught out by Web sites with far from subtle names, like www.veryverygay.com, when he’s surfing the Internet, but he’s rarely offended.
And, unlike many stars, he isn’t planning any legal action to stop the pranksters–he simply marvels at their creativity.
He says, “There’s one that’s called elijahwoodisveryverygay (sic), which is actually a personal favorite of mine, it’s absolutely hilarious.
“It’s this kind of joke Web site that maintains that they have proof that I am very very gay in various photographs–photographic evidence (of me) holding hands with a male.”
Even fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy want the stars of the film to be homosexual. Wood explains, “(They) want to create moments that they didn’t get to see in the film, of these characters in sexual congress.
“I was actually at a film festival once… and this fan came up with a gift… I open the gift in front of all these people that I’m talking to and it happens to be a photo from one of these Web sites of me and Dominic Monaghan making sweet love. If you didn’t know any better, it kinda looks real.
“These people have a lot of time on their hands and my hat’s off (to them) because it’s very good work.”
The copyright notice in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002):
No part of this book may be used, reproduced, destroyed, tampered with, or eaten without written permission except in the case of brief, possibly coded quotations embodied in critical articles, reviews, and subpoenas. Allegedly printed in the United States of America. For information address HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019, although the people at this publishing house have no idea where the documents enclosed in this book came from. If you recognize yourself in any of the photographs or illustrations in this book you may find yourself in Very Frightening Danger and/or slightly embarrassed but there is nothing you can do about it. Please note that the author has been called a fraud, a criminal, a bestseller, a corpse, a fictional character, an unreliable narrator, an objective flaneur, an embattled gentleman, a magnetic field, an arsonist, and late for dinner by an odd number of dubious authorities. Send help at once. All rights reserved. Wouldn’t you rather read about ponies?
ordinarily i’m interested in quotes from artists & creators that evidence awareness of or interest in non-copyright maximalism. but in today’s NYT article (“King Kong vs. Pirates of the Multiplex”) there was a quote from Peter Jackson:
“Piracy has the very real potential of tipping movies into becoming an unprofitable industry, especially big-event films. If that happens, they will stop being made,” said Mr. Jackson in an e-mail message from New Zealand, where he is putting the final touches on his version of “King Kong.” “No studio is going to finance a film if the point is reached where their possible profit margin goes straight into criminals’ pockets.”
which I thought was interesting compared with an off-the-cuff conversation between Peter Jackson (PJ), Fran Walsh (FW), and Philippa Boyens (PB) on one of the LOTR DVD director commentaries:
PJ [5:42]: It’s unlikely to find a place actually because there’s nowhere to put it now really even in The Return of the King. So maybe in the 50th anniversary box set we can put it in somewhere.
FW [5:54]: Wouldn’t it be fun to do an edit of all 3 films in chronological order?
PJ: Like the, The Godfather box set?
FW: Oh is that what happens there?
PB: Did they? Oh cool.
FW: You could put that scene, you know, right after the, the council meeting.
PJ [6:09]: Well, you could, that’s right. I mean, well, people could do that with their – I shouldn’t suggest this, but people could, could do this with the sort of interesting software available on home computers these days, it’s, um, it’s something that any, any fan could do.
PB: Maybe they could do it for us, and we wouldn’t have to do it ourselves.
posted here 2004/12/5, on The Two Towers, Extended DVD, Directors’ Commentary, Disc 2, 5:42 – 6:24
Terry Pratchett, by a strange coincidence, chose the H*rry P*tter launch day to issue a stern warning about his next Discworld novel: ‘Now that the bound proof copies of _Thud!_ are out, and will no doubt be winging their way to an e-bay near you, I would like to say that ANYONE WHO READS A WORD OF IT before publication day will be MADE TO SIT IN THE CORNER and their ENTIRE COUNTRY will be given DOUBLE DETENTION until every single person SAYS SORRY!!!!!’ So there.
Okay, I’m on some kind of a roll with fictional discussions of IP etc. Here’s another: Lois McMaster Bujold, in Barrayar, chronicled a cross-cultural exchange about the value of information access. Cordelia, from the planet Beta, is shocked that poor people don’t have access to information; Vorkosigan, from the planet Barrayar, is shocked at her definition of poverty:
“[The town is] very poor. It was the town center during the Time of Isolation, and it hasn’t been touched by renovation yet. Minimal water, no electricity, choked with refuse….”
“Mostly human,” added Piotr tartly.
“Poor?” said Cordelia, bewildered. “No electricity? How can it be on the comm network?”
“It’s not, of course,” answered Vorkosigan.
“Then how can anybody get their schooling?”
Cordelia stared. “I don’t understand. How do they get their jobs?”
“A few escape to the Service. The rest prey on each other, mostly.” Vorkosigan regarded her face uneasily. “Have you no poverty on Beta Colony?”
“Poverty? Well, some people have more money than others, of course, but … no comconsoles?”
Vorkosigan was diverted from his interrogation. “Is not owning a comconsole the lowest standard of living you can imagine?” he said in wonder.
“It’s the first article in the constitution. ‘Access to information shall not be abridged.’”
That’s a constitution I’d like to read. The conversation continues:
“Cordelia… these people barely have access to food, clothing, and shelter. They have a few rags and cooking pots, and squat in buildings that aren’t economical to repair or tear down yet, with the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls.”
“No air conditioning?”
“No heat in the winter is a bigger problem, here.”
“I suppose so. You people don’t really have summer… How do they call for help when they’re sick or hurt?”
“What help?” Vorkosigan was growing grim. “If they’re sick, they either get well or die.”
“Die, if we’re lucky,” muttered Piotr. “Vermin.”
“You’re not joking.” She stared back and forth between the pair of them. “That’s horrible… why, think of all the geniuses you must be missing!”
John Varley has made more than a few comments about IP and information politics in his various stories. The Golden Globe (recommended) was centrally concerned with an actor named Sparky Valentine, and Sparky had a few observations about IP:
In the early days, when they were considering various ideas for a corporate logo, Valentine had suggested using a character from the old Popeye cartoons. Since they were all in the public domain, Sparky had settled on Wimpy taking a bite out of a hamburger.
There was another department whose mission in life was to steal. Steal from dead people, it’s true, but steal nonetheless. Sparky had long ago given up coming up with plots and, except for the occasional inspiration, characters. Anything in the public domain was fair game. Old comic books were a fertile source. Almost anyone who had had his or her own comic book in the twentieth or twenty-first century had made a guest appearance on Sparky by now. Sparky had visited locations from Gotham City to Surf City. Old movie and television serials had been plundered for plotlines and cliffhangers. Sparky had entered alternative universes, places where classic private eyes, singing cowboys, half-breed aliens with pointy ears, and giant radioactive ants actually existed.
And also about librarians:
Hal had a UniKnowledge module, which was the nearest thing we’d ever get to summing up all human information collected since the days of the Cro-Magnon. It held all the libraries of Old Earth. All the movies, television shows, photo files. Billions of billions of bits of data so obscure a researcher might visit some of it once in two or three hundred years, and then only long enough to find it no longer had any reasonable excuse for being. But it wasn’t thrown out. Capacity was virtually infinite, so nothing was ever tossed. Who knew? In ten centuries the twenty years of telemetry from Viking I might be of use to somebody. A vanity-press book, published in 1901, all about corn silage in Minnesota, of which no hard copy existed, might be just the reading you were looking for some dark and stormy night. The UniKnowledge held thousands of books printed in Manx, a language no one had spoken in a hundred years. It held Swahili comic books teaching methods of contraception. It contained cutting-room debris saved from a million motion pictures, discarded first drafts of films never made. A copy of every phone book extant at the time we began to record data by laser, and every one printed since. Fully half of the information in the UK had never been cataloged, and much never referenced in the centuries since its inception, and most of it was likely never to be cataloged. That would be taking the pack-rat impulse too far. Librarians had other things to do, such as develop more powerful search engines to sort through the inchoate mass of data when somebody wanted to find out something truly obscure.
Well, in the Barrayaran universe, anyway. Lois McMaster Bujold, in Memory, mentions patent labeling techniques during a briefing on a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”:
“I could read much of its product history off its molecular structure. First of all, whoever made this did not begin from scratch. This is a modification of an existing, patented apoptotic organism originally designed to destroy neural plaque. The galactic patent code for that perfectly legitimate medical application was still readable on some of the molecular fragments. The modified prokaryote, however, bore no identifications of laboratories of origin, licensing, or patent markings. The original patent is about ten years old, by the way, which gives you the first point in your time-window problem.”
“That was going to be my next question,” said Miles. “I hope we can narrow things down more than that.”
“Of course. But you see how much we learn already, just from the codes and their absences. The original medical prokaryote was pirated for the new purpose, and the people who modified it were obviously not concerned with legitimizing it for mass trade. It has all the signs of being a one-off job for a one-time customer.”
— Memory, Chapter 21 (p.307-308)