GEMA to Preschoolers: Pay Up or Shut Up

GEMA (Germany’s version of the RIAA) is now demanding that preschools pay corporate giants for the right to sing along. They’re not just talking about sharing music files anymore, now they’re policing preschools for making copies of sheet music for sing-along time.

According to Deutsche Welle:

A tightening of copyright rules means kindergartens now have to pay fees to Germany’s music licensing agency, GEMA, to use songs that they reproduce and perform. The organization has begun notifying creches and other daycare facilities that if they reproduce music to be sung or performed, they must pay for a license.

“If a preschool wants to make its own copy of certain music – if the words of a song or the musical score is copied – then they need to buy a license,” GEMA spokesperson Peter Hempel told Deutsche Welle . . .

. . . Fees start at 56 euros ($74) for 500 copies of a song, a rate charged annually, not per child.

If you think this sort of extreme copyright enforcement is unique to Germany, think again. The same sort of thing is happening in the US, in France, and elsewhere.

News Corp is the user – You are the producer

It’s Rupert Murdoch’s Internet, you just live in it – or so Murdoch argues in his World Media Summit speech. has posted a transcript of the speech Murdoch delivered in Beijing on 10/09/09. It’s a three part speech with one message: if you use the Internet, whether you’re the People’s Republic of China or Internet users in the U.S., you’re probably stealing his property (or at least devaluing it). A defense of (his) property rights that concludes with an ironic plea for “our planet” to be as borderless as . . . the Internet (cue the Twilight Zone intro).

To put the speech in some context, the keynote was delivered at the Word Media Summit to an audience of mostly Chinese business people. The Word Media Summit was a two day conference organized by some of the world’s largest news organizations: Xinhua News (China), News Corporation, Associated Press, Reuters, ITAR-TASS (Russia), Kyodo News (Japan), BBC, Turner Broadcasting System, and Google. As Murdoch notes in his introduction, his speech aimed to divide the “digital world” into three parts:

How media is being transformed… how the Chinese media can take advantage of that transformation…and some steps necessary to ensure that the Chinese people are in a position to realize their potential.

I found the section dedicated to attacking “content kleptomaniacs” to be the most interesting. This user-bashing is nothing new, of course, as Murdoch has been a prominent advocate of paid-for Internet content (see Grinch Alert: Rupert Murdoch). What’s interesting is how much this speech reminded me of Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists,” where Gates demanded that computer hobbyists “pay up” for “stealing” his software. This letter was penned back in 1976, when software was widely considered to be free (while hardware, services, and manuals were something you paid for). In his letter, Gates’ argued that software must be proprietary and paid for to qualitatively improve. . . you know, so people could pay gobs of money for “quality” software like Windows Vista.

Back to Murdoch. In his “how media is being transformed” section of the speech, he argues:

Of course there should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time. The sun does not orbit the earth, and yet this was precisely the premise that the press passively accepted, even though there have been obvious signs that readers recognize the reality that they should pay a price.

There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet. That misconception thrived on the silence of inarticulate institutions which were unable to challenge the fallacies and humbug of the e-establishment.

The value of content has been volatile in the past decade but we are entering another decisive phase in which device makers are again courting the creators of content. I have sensed that shift in recent days during my travels in Japan and South Korea where I met some of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers. These companies don’t want their customers to be served a diet of digital dross, and yet that will be the inevitable consequence if the worth of content and creativity are not appreciated.

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph. (emphasis added)

Like Gates’ before him, Murdoch willfully ignores the unwaged labor that he so handsomely profits from. Murdoch sees News Corp, AP, BBC, Xinhua, and the like, as the only rightful (and thus recognized) producers of content – just as Gates sees Microsoft’s hired programmers as the only rightful producers of his software. But what about the millions of MySpace users who freely produce untold volumes of content that News Corp then monetizes for a hefty profit?  What about all the blogs that News Corps’ journalists read and take information from without so much as a citation, never mind compensation. What about all the people that freely participate in beta-testing Microsoft’s software and the millions of software “users” who report problems and freely contribute their time and energy to improving Microsoft’s content? If it’s obvious that “there should be a price paid for quality content” — which I’m willing to support — then how much will News Corp be paying for all the free quality content it uses, and how will it compensate all the unwaged labor it uses?

Kevin Kelly’s “We Are the Web” essay in Wired is instructive here. As Kelly notes, ‘in the beginning’ big corporations were unwilling to invest in the Internet because they felt it would be too expensive to produce the “high production-value content” necessary to make their efforts worthwhile. Now, over a decade later, millions of Internet “users” have produced the overwhelming majority of cyberspace. So who exactly are the “users” here, and who are the “producers”? Murdoch can deem free content as “Philistine,” and he can rail against pirates, plagiarists and aggregators — all of which he characterizes as “content kleptomaniacs” — but such a speech needs to be delivered in front of a mirror.

Corporations like News Corp are the users. We are the producers.

Twitter changes TOS: THEY own YOUR tweets

Twitter recently changed their Terms of Service (i.e. TOS). They (somewhat) address the changes in a blog post, that generally outline each change, most notable their new found ability to advertise and their redefinition of ownership:

Ownership—Twitter is allowed to “use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute” your tweets because that’s what we do. However, they are your tweets and they belong to you.

Essentially, while a copy of your tweets may still “belong to you,” Twitter now claims ownership over a copy too and they are reserving the right to do whatever they want with it. So, how exactly do my tweets still belong to me, if Twitter now owns them?

Grinch Alert: Rupert Murdoch

The GrinchAccording to Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corp:

We intend to charge for our news websites. The Wall Street Journal‘s is the world’s most successful paid news site and we will be using our profitable experience there and the resulting unique skills throughout News Corp to increase our revenues from all our content.

And from Chase Carey, News Corp’s Vice-Chairman and COO:

We believe customers value quality journalism. We need to get paid for our product as it shifts to the digital world.

Whether it’s Diller, Iger, or Murdoch – there is one message here: People need to pay us even more for the privilege of being influenced by our digital content! But, isn’t their influence valuable enough? Rather than discussing how consumers should pay more for the privilege of being influenced by these corporations, we should be discussing the social, political, psychological, and economic costs of giving these corporations the kind of influence they have. We pay a price by allowing corporations like IAC, Disney, and News Corp to wield as much power as they do within our society – something Manuel Castells highlights nicely in his “Communication, power and counter-power in the network society” essay.

Grinch Alert: Robert Iger

The GrinchAccording to, Robert Iger (CEO of Walt Disney Co.) recently stated:

Our product is extremely valuable … and if we are offering it on another platform or in another location for the consumer to access it, I believe that’s more value we are delivering [to a distributor or consumer] and we should get paid appropriately.

If Disney plans to make their content space-time specific, how exactly do they plan to enforce that without violating the privacy of their consumers? Disney would have to track their content over time and across space — even after it’s been purchased. Welcome to the Cyberspace Enclosure Movement (CEM).

Grinch Alert: Barry Diller

The GrinchAccording to, Barry Diller (Chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp) has joined a growing list of corporate executives trying to convince the public that they should pay for the online content that has largely been produced by the public — for free:

“It is not free, and is not going to be,” Diller said today at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Pasadena, California. In addition to IAC, he is chairman of Expedia Inc., the online travel service, and Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc.

Diller, 67, joined a group of media chiefs, from Liberty Media Corp.’s John Malone to Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger, who are challenging the accepted model that consumers pay for Internet access and then content is free. Diller predicted there will be three revenue streams: advertising, subscriptions and transactions.”

Advertising and transactions are one thing – while both are fraught with ethical, moral, and legal concerns, they have nonetheless become established “revenue streams” for many online companies. The advanced targeting capabilities afforded by the Internet delivers consumers to corporations more effectively than print media or television could have ever dreamed (e.g. facebook), and many people — myself included — have demonstrated a willingness to pay (or pay more) for “secure” transactions (e.g. PayPal). But subscriptions? Why should anyone have to pay for online content, the overwhelming majority of which has been freely produced by the public?

Propertizing free information, and charging people to access it, is an awfully Grinch thing to do.

Cookie Monsters published in CYE

Cindi Katz and I just published an article in a special issue of Children, Youth and Environments that focuses on Children and Technological Environments. CYE is an open access journal so you can read our article for free through their website (FYI – they ask you to create an account before providing access to the articles).

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice

This paper examines the benefits and obstacles to young people’s open-ended and unrestricted access to technological environments.  While children and youth are frequently seen as threatened or threatening in this realm, their playful engagements suggest that they are self-possessed social actors, able to negotiate most of its challenges effectively. Whether it is proprietary software, the business practices of some technology providers, or the separation of play, work, and learning in most classrooms, the spatial-temporality of young people’s access to and use of technology is often configured to restrict their freedom of choice and behavior.  We focus on these issues through the lens of technological interactions known as “hacking,” wherein people playfully engage computer technologies for the intrinsic pleasure of seeing what they can do.  We argue for an approach to technology that welcomes rather than constrains young people’s explorations, suggesting that it will not only help them to better understand and manage their technological environments, but also foster their critical capacities and creativity.

Keywords: children, youth, Internet, cyberspace, security, hacking

And here is some background on the Children and Technological Environments special issue:

Children, Youth and Environments has just published a special issue on “Children and Technological Environments.” It features a substantive introduction by the guest editors, Nathan G. Freier and Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and 14 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on such topics as interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, and learning by doing with shareable interfaces. The authors include leading researchers from the U.S., Britain and Japan.

outtake: governing the semantic web

Another outtake from the article Cindi Katz and I have been writing on the relationship between U.S. children and young people and their technological environments in the post-9/11 security state:

In their pursuit of both national and homeland security as well as the creation of new markets, the state and corporations are engaging the free-flowing horizontal communication which takes place in cyberspace, with the aim of reworking its architecture into a Semantic Web. The Semantic Web has been primarily conceptualized and developed by Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web. The Semantic Web can be understood as a sustained indexing of cyberspace, whereby information is semantically coded in order to be processed and interpreted, across various platforms and programs, through “automated” analysis. To semantically code and then circulate this data, Web ontologies are developed and adopted which rationalize and categorically conform information in order to establish relationships. Most prominent of these ontologies is the Web Ontology Language (OWL). As cyberspace is semantically codified, both the state and corporations have moved to develop methodologies to utilize the Semantic Web for more efficient surveillance – often framed as “data mining” or “market research.” Particularly notable has been the Department of Homeland Security’s “Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement” (ADVISE) program, defined as, “a data mining tool under development intended to help the Department of Homeland Security analyze large amounts of information. It is designed to allow an analyst to search for patterns in data—such as relationships among people, organizations, and events—and to produce visual representations of these patterns” (United States Government Accountability Office 2007). In reformatting cyberspace, the Semantic Web makes information more locative, circulatory and integrable. In doing so, this reformatting enhances cyberspatial navigation but also erodes the qualities of cyberspace that have functioned to protect the privacy and anonymity of cyber-surfers.

NOTE This “outtake” and its relation to the larger paper, from which it was eventually cut, were inspired by two earlier posts: “what they want is an automatic feed” and (young) person of interest.

goodbye learning, hello workforce training

Some sad news regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project:

Microsoft has joined forces with the developers of the “$100 laptop” to make Windows available on the machines.

According to Wired, Microsoft has had their sights on emerging markets in developing countries for a while now and have viewed low-cost children’s laptops as ideal vehicles for distribution. Until recently OLPC has resisted integrating Windows into their XO Children’s Machine, insisting that free and open-source software was central to their constructionist learning philosophy and necessary to give “children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms” (for more background see here, here and here). Sugar, the Linux based operating system designed for the XO Children’s Machine, has been described by OLPC as the “core” of their laptop’s interface and to the sharing and learning affordances of the machine.

olpc's blue screen of death

Yet, according to OLPC, it now appears that Windows XP will be bundled with the XO. This decision has apparently been motivated by countries, such as Egypt and Columbia, demanding that the computers carry Windows before they agree to buy in to the program. Their reasoning seems to be that they aren’t interested in machines for learning and sharing, they want machines that will train a generation of children for a future tech-based workforce. Not learning how to think — learning how to USE Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc…

Nicholas Negroponte (founder and chairman of OLPC) claims that a dual-boot option, similar to Apple’s, which allows the child to choose between Windows and Sugar is in the works — yet Ivan Krstić, the former top security architect for OLPC argues otherwise:

The whole “we’re investing into Sugar, it’ll just run on Windows” gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won’t magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP desktops. He’s told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its “availability” as an option to purchasing countries is at best a tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.

Krstić goes on to write that this realization that learning was never part of the OLPC mission (i.e. the mission is about laptop distribution) is precisely what lead him to resign from the project. Krstić concludes his post, in part, by stating:

OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning and not with training children to be office computer drones, while at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to deploy the computers with office drone software.

Although disagreeing with a number of key points made in a recent post by Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement), Krstić and Stallman appear to agree on what is at stake here. As Stallman puts it, this is about “whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.” Indeed, close attention to the built pedagogy of the XO Children’s Machine is needed. As the XO shifts from an entirely free and open-source machine (with the exception of a proprietary firmware program for wifi access) designed for the promotion of open learning and sharing in the social and structural environments of developing countries — to one that increasingly adopts proprietary software for the vocational training of a future workforce — the lessons being taught are of great importance. Lets be clear, its not a mistake that the mesh networking capability of the XO, which allows the computers to talk to one another and share data, is not currently supported by Windows XP. And I don’t expect that problem will be “fixed” anytime soon. If it is ever “fixed,” the sharing component will be tightly controlled and heavily regulated.

In a previous post about the XO, I praised its mesh networking capability as a way to generate autonomous communication networks which might help afford a new media space for citizen power. Of course, such autonomous digital communication poses a threat to intellectual property enforcement and thus a threat to Microsoft’s entire business model. If information and communication flows freely in developing countries (aka “new markets”) it makes it more difficult to start charging one day. Immersing children, early on, in proprietary environments where information circulation is tightly controlled and intellectual property rights are strictly enforced, helps to socialize a generation that will continue to play by the old rules rather than one that will challenge them by imagining new rules. In fact, “play” is exactly what is being co-opted here. Children’s play in technological environments (in this case, the XO) is being shaped to socially reproduce certain behaviors for future work in an informational economy. Of course children are not passive recipients, they are actors in this equation. What they do in these proprietary environments and how they may (or may not) reclaim play for creative and innovative purposes is worth watching.

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