Last Post

It’s been a wild ride but this is my last post on the NetComm blog. I came into the subject expecting it to be mainly about writing for rather than about online publications but have still got a lot out of the insights others have to offer into the vast differences between successful and unsuccessful websites.

All the best to anyone doing this subject years from now, reading this post on their Ipad 9 while chowing down on some intergalactic space cream.

– Eric

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The changing face of Digital Rights Management

The Witcher 2 - some rights reserved by raziel.lizak

I thought I’d write an informal post on the differences in DRM (Digital Rights Management) between two major video game releases for PC – Assassin’s Creed 2 from Ubisoft and The Witcher 2, from Projekt Red.

The use of DRM to protect video game software gives an interesting insight into the evolving ways companies protect various content online. Because modern video games produced by large companies such as Ubisoft require large production resources, a lot of effort goes into minimizing piracy. However there is no industry standard for the various kinds of protection which can be employed, and a comparison of AC 2 and the Witcher 2’s releases demonstrates the way that the industry is changing online.

Assassin’s Creed 2 was released with a DRM for the PC which meant that any time you wanted to play the game you would have to have an active internet connection making contact with the Ubisoft servers. What’s more, your saved games would be stored on these servers, rather than on your hard drive. The DRM was widely criticised for a variety of reasons, mainly that if your internet connection cut out for even a short period of time the game would close and you would lose any progress since your last save. The severe backlash prompted the company to remove this kind of DRM from future releases, as it affected sales adversely by turning off gamers who wanted to play the game offline, and actually drove more people towards pirated copies of the game which had the DRM removed.

Assassin's Creed II - some rights reserved by balkanno

A much more successful example of practical DRM is the more recent release of The Witcher 2. The game was released for a limited time with a DRM, and then after the official release this was removed and additional content was added. This meant that the pirated copy of the game which appeared online first and gathered the most downloads would appear much more unattractive than the legal copy.

As time goes by it will be interesting to see how DRM evolves further, and whether companies learn from their own mistakes and those of others when developing new means of managing their content in an online environment.

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Disabling comments

After revisiting the post on Deerhunter and the comments from White about disabling comments I’ve chosen to disable them on mine – this is a more symbolic gesture than anything else as I haven’t really had all that many up until now but I think it’s an important step. There are blogs which aim to engage specifically through the comments section (although the only website I’ve seen this work is Alison Croggon’s) but I think that in general online content needs to move away from a position where the facility for comments is the norm.

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Week 11 Question: Functional piracy?

B) Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318).

Discuss ONE of these arguments while giving an example online.

The fact that Medosch wrote in 2008 can’t excuse him from his blinkered definition of piracy; lacking in both imagination and invention. If by the late 20th century the definition of piracy had managed to evolve from it’s swashbuckling beginnings on the Caribbean and develop into an all-encompassing term for most acts of copyright infringement, surely Medosch could accept a definition which doesn’t deal with purely physical property? All of his examples centre on the sale of pirated DVDs and software, rather than the far more commercially damaging distribution that occurs through file-sharing networks and platforms. Although pirate markets in Hong Kong may provide a commercial benefit to their shopkeepers, the vast majority of commercial losses, especially in entertainment, occurs in a non-physical fashion through the Internet.

There is a marked but problematic difference between physical and online piracy which makes moral decisions about “stealing” items such as music problematic. Whenever you “steal” the latest album from your favourite band by downloading it on Bittorrent, you are not actually taking a physical copy from anywhere, or preventing anyone else listening to it. It’s this kind of argument which means that many people who have grown up in the online paradigm and not known a world that is any different fail to see any legal or moral implications for these actions. However it’s clear that the definition of theft needs to change alongside new definitions of piracy.

At the very least, people need to understand that the overall effect is the same. When you download that album you might not actually be physically depriving anyone of listening pleasure, but by not paying for it you are not helping to offset the costs which went towards its production. Many bands often go into debt to record an album before trying to recoup their losses on its release.

The Pirate Bay - picture from The Telegraph

 

However, when examining the example of high-profile torrent distribution website The Pirate Bay, it becomes clear that online piracy, while appearing to lack commercial motivation, actually has the potential to generate vast amounts of money. The reason this is misunderstood is because the individual “pirates” – each person who uploads a torrent of a copyrighted game or piece of music – do not gain any commercial benefit from doing so, as opposed to the vendors selling hard copies of software on disks. However the owners of the website itself where the searchable index and database of torrent files are hosted make substantial profits through advertising. Estimates range widely but following the court case investigating their operations the general scale is accepted to be between 1 (Sundberg, 2009) and 10 million (Swartz, 2009).

Bibliography

Sundberg, S., 2009, “”TPB har tjänat tio miljoner om året”” , Svenska Dagbladet.

Swartz, O., 2009, “”Var är mina tio miljoner?””

(both articles are in Swedish and were translated using Google Translate)

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Piracy in Canada

thepeak.ca

I came across this information while researching one of the blog questions and thought it deserved a separate, informal post of its own. Apparently in certain countries, such as Canada, it is completely legal to share (i.e. download) copyrighted files as long as you aren’t making any profit from them. This seems to undercut my suggestions for a re-evaluation of the concept of theft in an online environment (namely, that it’s still stealing by not offsetting the cost of production, even if not physically depriving anyone of a product).

However, it’s measures such as this and the massive tax breaks they give to gaming companies which mean that Canada is positioning itself at the frontier of technology distribution, and in a few years from now they could be dictating this kind of definition.

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Week 10 Question: Creative Commons

Following week 10 tutorial’s exercise, explain why you chose the Creative Commons license that you added to your blog and discuss the relevance (or not) of adding the license.

Michael Porter - some rights reserved

I have chosen to add an Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) Creative Commons license to my blog.

As defined by the Creative Commons website:

“This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.”

Because this blog is intended to be read but deals mainly with the ideas and work of others rather than constituting what I’d consider my own creative product, I haven’t got an issue with others using it for their own ends. It’s worth looking at some of the other licenses and considering various other approaches I could take.

If I was a photographer or a DJ, starting out and looking to disseminate my work quickly and freely to get myself into a position where I could turn it into an income, I would probably use the Attribution license, which allows others to do virtually anything with your work as long as you are attributed.

The Attribution-ShareAlike license is interesting; basically it is the same as the one above except that all new works derived from yours carry the same license, allowing any derivatives to be used commercially. While Creative Commons certainly have good intentions, the amount of remixing of major artists’ music which occurs without such licenses is testament to the fact that it is incredibly difficult to police copyright online. However, Creative Commons does cater to those with an online conscience (a niche market!), who otherwise wouldn’t have similar opportunities.

Furthermore, CC should be commended simply for making copyright licenses readable and accessible for the online public. For example, the page of the license I have chosen is incredibly easy to understand for anyone seeking to use my work.

In conclusion, while Creative Commons is certainly a worthwhile project, it is hardly a hindrance to anyone with the real intention of stealing or reworking your idea or work online.

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Week 7 Question: Blogs managing the self

B) Lovink (Reader, page 222) also argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Discuss ONE of these arguments giving an example of a blog. Specify chosen argument in your answer.

Lovink’s argument is attractive because it takes into account the wide array of options available to bloggers and the underlying motivations that their writers hold. There’s certainly a lot of dross out there on the Internet, purely because – like any tool or medium – it can be used just as badly as it can be used effectively. I’m going to use the example of the blog run by Bradford Cox, the frontman of the band Deerhunter as well as his own solo project Atlas Sound, to analyse aspects of Lovink’s argument and how they might apply.

Some rights reserved by starbright31

Cox is certainly not the first musician or artist to use a blog to communicate with his fans. Many artists use dedicated websites, Twitter, or profiles on Myspace or Facebook to try and gain an effective online foothold. However what sets Cox and others apart is that he manages his blog personally, allowing him to communicate directly with his fans.

Although it appears to be a kind of band blog it really operates as a very effective tool to manage the self; or rather, to manage the way in which Cox is perceived by others. Plagued by a host of well-documented health issues, Cox is given the medium to communicate his issues with fans, accompanied by a vast array of his own music which he releases for free on the blog, as well as Youtube videos.

The success of this approach, relative to that used by the majority of bloggers, is demonstrated by Cox’s use of the website to respond to controversy in 2008 (the original post is now deleted but the text can be read at Pitchfork.com). Essentially, Cox had uploaded demos of his latest album to what he had thought was a secure profile on Mediafire, unaware that they could be accessed by the public – the files were subsequently leaked. Through the blog, Cox was able to directly address the issue.

Lovink quotes Claire E. Write’s dictum to aspiring bloggers:

“The essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the medium: it is the sharing of the opinions and thoughts of the blogger”.

Here Write is arguing against the comment facility on blogs and other online platforms, saying that it should be disabled to minimize distractions from the content of the site. This philosophy would be a welcome if belated approach to many aspects of online information and entertainment. A trip to almost any single video on Youtube will reveal a vast array of comments which are either completely irrelevant or often simply abusive. The same holds true for online news services: what real purpose is being achieved by the comments section on a news story?

Returning to Cox’s blog, he has disabled the comments section, and in the controversial post mentioned above directed readers who wished to vent their spleens to the separate message board maintained by the band.

Lovink’s argument demonstrates that blogs can be extremely effective tools, but that they have to be used correctly in order to achieve this outcome. This can be done by disabling comments and engaging in direct communication in order to manage the self.

Bibliography: 

Lovink, G., 2008, ‘Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse’ in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, pp. 1-38.

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