Free Ride: Disney, Fela Kuti and Google’s war on copyright

Wars over creators’ rights are pretty old – much older than copyright law. In one of the first “copyfights”, in 561AD, about 3,000 people died, writes Robert Levine in his new book Free Ride. St Colmcille and St Finnian clashed over the right to make copies of the Bible, with the King castigating Colmcille for his “fancy new ideas about people’s property”.

Levine’s book is a story of the digital copyright wars.

“I tried to write in an analytical way about something people get very emotional about. I don’t really believe the entertainment industry is good and the technology industry is bad; I just don’t see it as a morality issue. Businesses are in business to make money,” Levine says.

The book details the calamitous decisions made by the music business, particularly in its suing of end users for infringement. “In a few years,” he writes, “the major labels managed to destroy the cultural cachet they had spent decades building.”

The book also follows in detail Google’s “war on copyright” and the academics and activists who benefit from it. It comprehensively demolishes the arguments put by Lawrence Lessig, who helped create the cyberlaw industry. This is a book with masses of solid, meticulously researched detail.

I caught up with Levine in Berlin.

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What’s next for nuclear?

This year, Imperial College graduated its first nuclear scientists for a very long time. After years in the doldrums, other universities are also increasing their activity. Is this a sign of a Nuclear Renaissance?

Perhaps it is. Even deep Greens are dropping long-standing objections [1] to nuclear power generation. I got in touch with Imperial’s Professor Robin Grimes, who recently co-authored a Science paper with William Nuttall indicating how the nuclear industry could re-emerge. Here’s an interview that encompasses the current state of play, and some ideas about how the next 40 years could take shape.
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Tim Kring

The audience are the actors in writer Tim Kring’s latest adventure. In his famous creation, the TV show Heroes, people discover they have superhero powers, and go off and battle Evil. In his latest, people go and battle Evil, and discover they have been given Nokia smartphones.

The ambitious, Nokia-sponsored interactive extravaganza began this weekend, and it’s an interesting experiment. In Kring’s own words, this series of events, called Conspiracy For Good, is “not quite a drama, not quite a flashmob, not quite an ARG [alternate reality game]”.

What is it, then, and how did it come about?

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A Martin Mills interview

The Beggars Group office in a suburban street in Wandsworth doesn’t look much like a media corporation. There’s no chocolate ice sculpture in reception, and no giant video screens or inspirational slogans. It does look a lot like you’d expect a real independent record company to look, though: behind the receptionist’s desk is the kitchen sink. Boxes of records are strewn everywhere. Chairman and founder Martin Mills sits in the cramped, buzzing open-plan office, along with everyone else.

And there’s something else unusual. Here’s a group of record companies that are doing well, both critically and commercially, which think the internet has helped them to this success, and can’t wait for the future to get here.

Beggars’ four labels XL, Rough Trade, 4AD and US stalwart Matador Records scooped up a fifth of the Times Top 100 records of the decade. The company recently scored the first indie number one for twenty years (Vampire Weekend), looks to have the critics choice for 2010 sewn up (Gil Scott Heron), and with The Xx has a band whose music suddenly seems ubiquitous, sprouting from every trailer and advert, as well as the BBC’s Election coverage.

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Web 2.0 and feedback loops: a conversation with James Harkin


Don’t judge a book by the title. Especially if the title is something like Cyburbia. James Harkin, who worked with Adam Curtis on The Trap, has produced the first proper full-length critique of Web 2.0 – tracing the daftness back to the cybernetics pioneers of the 1940s.

It’s odd that something with so much hype as Web 2.0 has received so little intelligent criticism. Half of Nick Carr’s The Big Switch, looked at the social and psychological implications, and he’s following up at length in The Shallows.

But Cyburbia takes a different approach. By looking at the mania for feedback in a historical context, Harkin finds a common thread in subjects as diverse as military strategy, TV shows like Lost, as well as the interwebs.

Q. We’re used to cyber-everything but can you define cybernetics for us?

Harkin: There are a lot of definitions but the simple idea I use is this idea that what distinguishes human beings, or what’ smost important about humans, is that they exist on a continuous information loop defined by a constant stream of messages we’re sending or receiving.

Now you can interpret the world in that way – me picking up a glass, say – but it is just a metaphor. The story of my book is how this metaphor, created by Norbert Wiener, because of its beauty, became the inspiration for a new medium and influencing how we live. It’s given rise to all this incredible technology, but the idea of fitting ourselves into that mould will mean we’re the losers.

The central image of the book is Cyburbia, this strange alternate world where we watch each other and the minutiae of each others’ lives.

You might have stared out of your window in suburbia in the 1950s and seen a few people across the street, but now you can stare at millions of other people. The danger is that when you spend all your time deciphering what other people are up to, you never get around to doing something original on your own, because you’re so swamped by opportunities to go onto other people’s lives on blogs, social networks and Twitter.
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"We're going to be last to market": Chris Castle's battle stories

bullient lawyer Chris Castle has a unique perspective on the Music Wars. A former Sony and A&M executive who “switched sides” to Silicon Valley, then found himself defending the original Napster, which he called one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. His clients range from technology companies to major recording artists.

So to introduce the first of some regular specials from Chris, here are his views on the music business’ biggest errors – and whether there’s any cause for optimism. He’s never dull, it’s mostly Chris in his own words…

Read more at The Register.