Friday, September 22, 2006


I finished this book a few weeks ago, but wanted to let it percolate a bit in my brain before writing about this.

Ever since I can remember, I've been interested in what might be called sampling in some contexts, hacking in others, or remixing or mashups. Ever since the first time I heard some rap in the 80's as a youngster, I wanted to hear more. Living in the sticks, I bought a few soundtrack albums from movies like Beat Street and Breakin' in order to hear more. Almost everyone I knew hated to hear old songs sampled or used as the bass line, but I thought it was a neat way to make something new again and subvert it into a new thing...flash forward a few years, and the first time I heard Skinny Puppy & Ministry with their multiple movie samples and very unique sound, and I was hooked on that for quite some time. Then I heard some electronica from Orb in the early days and thought it pretty cool - until I actually heard some "rave" mixes - the DJ culture had me hooked, and still does. Much of these sort of things are paralleled in my interest in things like mp3 and FreeBSD and Linux and open source in general and magazines like O'Reilly's Make magazine and 2600 which both champion hardware hacking, while 2600 also champions software hacking. The first time I heard about Greasemonkey fired off the same sort of interest - it seems like you get to remix others' websites and bend them to your will.

All this sort of stuff is the theme in the book. It also talks a great deal about copyright, and the impediments to creativity it can cause, since it's been hijacked by companies like Disney. Also addressed: DMCA vs. fair use. For instance, it is your right to make copies of movies for your own use (fair use), but illegal to circumvent the copy protection according to the DMCA. So, even ministers using clips of movies to make a point in their presentations and are making no profit from that use are breaking the law. Companies that want to provide filters for people by using DVD technology to block out offensive material are being sued and shut down.

Obviously there is a push and pull between what content owners want people to do with their material, but increasingly, Hollywood and RIAA are butting heads with their own customers. They want to be able to dictate when and where people can play things, how often, on what hardware, at what resolution, etc. Obviously, there will have to be some sort of compromise on this, regardless of what a person like Valenti might want. I found it very funny that one executive had actually proposed putting a GPS in DVD players, and it was only shot down because of the added cost.

Now comes the part where I'm dreaming. :) I take the extreme freedom position on this - I hate the idea of DRM and think it should be illegal, I think the DMCA is ridiculous and should be struck down and the right to fair use made clear to everyone, but I also don't think that unfettered copying is the way to go either. Content providers should get compensated for their work, but once it's out there, they should have no say over whether a third party can, say, help make movies family-friendly. People should be able to rip a DVD, and then re-burn it with their own commentary track if they are doing it for their own purposes. And most importantly, I think copyright law should be rolled back to its original form - after 14 years, it can get renewed once and only once for another 14, and then after that, it's in the public domain. Now I KNOW I'm really dreaming. :) As long as companies like Disney are around, and corrupt congresscritters exist, that will never happen. Plus, the perversion of copyright law has been going on so long and for so many generations that people are so poorly educated on this that they think this is "communism" or something.

Some of the greatest things have come out of this remix culture - I loved Danger Mouse's Grey Album. I love the Beatles, and thought it was pretty cool - especially the 99 Problems mix with the Helter Skelter looping. The video for Encore was quite creative, too. Nice re-use of old Beatles footage with a modern hip hop twist. That recent weird video with NIN's "Closer" over top of sepia toned footage of Star Trek was creepy but well-done. If it was up to the content owners, this would be impossible with the next-gen technology - DRM would lock anyone (but "criminals" who would circumvent it somehow, I imagine) out of doing this.

I'd ignore the one star reviews on Amazon - this book is not advocating piracy, or that content owners and creators don't get paid...some people are clearly misreading the book - or outright skimming, or are just ringers. I don't remember the book advocating that copyright be taken away as some of these reviews claim.

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