Digital distribution, not SOPA and PIPA, is the best long-term solution for the MPAA declared victory yesterday, saying that SOPA and PIPA have been dropped. Their e-mail said some other important and interesting things, but most importantly, it made some references to China. Communist China. Totalitarian Communist China.

The distinction is important.
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Should journalists hack?

I experienced an interesting collection of contrasts going to journalism school in the mid 1990s. Inside the same building, we had investigative journalists who specialized in advanced use of databases and stodgy editors who missed the days of manual typewriters and wore technological ignorance as a badge of honor.

And yet, there were textbooks that said journalists ought to be learning computer programming, because there was going to be a need for journalists who had the ability to do both. It took a while, but it seems that day has come. Maybe not to sit down and write applications software, but to hack.

But is it ethical for a journalist to hack?
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Your Fair Use rights are in danger (again)

In case you haven’t yet, you really need to read about The INDUCE Act. The potential is for any device that could be used to illegally copy copyrighted material to become illegal, and the manufacturers of said devices liable for their use.

This is wrong for so many reasons. Take the example of the crowbar.I can use a crowbar to break into my neighbor’s house. By this logic, a crowbar should be illegal. Never mind that a crowbar is a useful tool. I own two of them. I bought them so I could pry out the rocks that make up my patio so I can put down a weed control mat under them. I hope I’ll never have to use one to free someone from a car whose doors and windows won’t open, but I can. If I use a crowbar to free my neighbor from a car wreck, I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad I had that tool. Even if I could have used it to break into his house.

The main target is P2P networks. But the bill is too broad. Under some interpretations, an iPod would be illegal because you might load CDs that you borrowed from me into it. I suppose a camcorder would be illegal too, because someone might take it into a movie theater. Never mind that 99.999% of camcorder owners use them to shoot home movies. The risk of someone using a camcorder to make an illegal copy of a movie is too great to allow you to preserve family memories.

Is this really the direction we want to head? Do we want to be a dictatorship run by big media conglomerates?

Mr. Hatch, I suppose you believe that when someone uses a firearm to kill someone, the manufacturer of said device should be held liable? I suppose you believe that the risk of consumers using firearms to kill one another is great enough that firearms should be illegal? Am I following your logic correctly?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pinko Commie who doesn’t want to pay for anything. I’m actually a Republican. But real Republicans believe in balance. I respect intellectual property. I’ve written and published a book. A few people even liked it. I really didn’t make enough money off it to make it worth my while–I could have made more working the late shift at a fast-food restaurant. The biggest things I have to show for it are a published book on my shelf with my name on it, and the thrill of having walked in to Borders and seeing it.

So I didn’t make as much money as I would have liked. That’s my problem. I don’t blame photocopiers and scanners for my book not selling 4 million copies. I can blame my publisher for not promoting it and not getting more copies of it into the niche marketplaces where it sold well, and I can blame myself for not promoting it and not sending out news releases saying I got published, and I can even blame myself for not targetting it properly.

If I write a book that people want to read, and my publisher and I do a good job of getting the word out about it, I’ll make money. If I can make more money fixing computers or mowing lawns than writing books, then the answer isn’t to try to manipulate the legal system. The answer is to either figure out how to make money producing intellectual property, or spend that time doing something else.

If my desire to protect my rights starts infringing on your ability to do things you need to do, then it’s gone too far. As my former journalism professor Don Ranly was fond of saying, my constitutional rights end at the tip of your nose.

Why do Orrin Hatch and his buddies cooperate in the creation of what’s essentially a welfare state for large corporations, at the expense of our liberties?

Would you please ask your Congresspeople these questions?

Don’t bury publishing yet

Ray Ozzie is one of my heroes. He has a rare mix of good programming ability, creativity, and a keen sense of observation. Like it or hate it, Lotus Notes changed the world, and Notes was Ozzie’s baby. Time will tell what impact Groove will have on the computing landscape (I don’t understand what it is yet) but in 1992, who outside of Lotus understood what Notes did either?
But no one uses Notes anymore, you say? Think again. Consider Exchange: It’s just watered-down Notes with a prettier user interface. Strip out a bunch of the power and put it in a sexier dress. Oh yeah. And take away the reliability. That’s all. Microsoft wouldn’t have come up with Exchange without Notes.

Anyway, when Ray Ozzie makes a bold statement, I’m inclined to listen. But on Wednesday, Ray Ozzie declared traditional publishing dead. I disagree. Dying, sure. But paper has 10 years left in it, if not 20. Or a hundred.

You see, radio was supposed to kill off newspapers. It’s much cheaper and much timelier, you know. And it takes a lot less effort. The problem was it wasn’t portable–a radio weighed as much as you did. Well, guess what? Today, radio’s portable (and a cheap portable radio costs less than the Sunday paper) and it still has all of its advantages. But it didn’t kill off paper.

Television was supposed to kill off radio and paper because it had all the advantages of radio, along with moving pictures. It didn’t. Radio’s still here.

In journalism school eight years ago, I watched a video that predicted people’s major news source would be the Internet by the early aughts. I think a majority of my classmates who watched that in 1994 thought it was possible. We watched it again in 1995, in another class. Most people laughed at it.

New media does not kill old media. New media forces old media to adapt. Newspapers increased the depth of their reporting. There’s still news radio today, but the majority of radio stations are dedicated to music, talk, and sports (or talk about sports). Traditional media outlets didn’t know what to do with the Internet. Bloggers did. Blogging will not replace the other media. It will complement it. It will criticize it. It will force it to adapt. Kill it? Certainly not quickly.

I remember sitting in Journalism 200 class at age 19, listening to Don Ranly, a grizzled professor who’s taught virtually every student who’s been through the University of Missouri School of Journalism for the past 30 years. He bellowed a lot of things that semester, including some things targetted at me. But one thing he said that I’ll never forget was this: Freedom of the press is for those who own one!

A press costs millions of dollars. So while freedom of speech is for everyone, freedom of the press is for the elite. At best, in 1994, freedom of the press meant I could read anything I wanted. I certainly couldn’t print anything I wanted.

But my Internet connection costs about the same as my monthly phone bill. This computer cost me $194. Within the limits of my Internet connection, I can print anything I want, whenever I want. I can’t stream video, but I could if I went to colocation. I have true freedom of the press, and anyone who lives in a major metro area can have the same freedom I have.

I also note the majority of blogs don’t do much original reporting. They link and they comment, like I’m doing now. Sometimes the links are on other blogs. Often they are on a Web site originating with a major old media outlet. Or they’re a link to a link to a link that leads to old media. But don’t get me wrong. What the bloggers say sometimes can make or break a traditional media outlet.

Yes, we live in a revolutionary time. Ray Ozzie is dead right about that. We’ll bring about some death. TV and radio didn’t kill all newspapers. But they helped kill a lot of newspapers. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Kansas City Times aren’t around anymore. Realistically, a town has to be the size of Chicago if it’s going to support two newspapers. The once-mighty Computer Shopper, which used to be the size of the Sears catalog every month, is down to less than 200 pages, the victim of the Internet.

But we’ll bring about a lot more change than death. And let’s not be too arrogant here. For all we know, blogging might be the next really big thing. But it’s just as likely that it’s only a passing fad.

The immoral, despicable “journalism” at the Church of the Nativity

Charlie asked what I, as a trained and sometimes-practicing journalist, think of Caroyln Cole’s work at the Church of the Nativity.
Well, the story linked here hits on precisely why I’m not a full-time journalist slogging words for some magazine full-time and climbing the ladder towards editorship. What usually passes for journalism today can at best be considered advocacy; in the case of what Cole sometimes practices, it’s better described as fraud.
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