2010: the year when fandom becomes serious business


Around  about the end of last year,  all the big shit web 2.0 blogs started to pull together their prediction list for 2010. I was very close to pulling up such a list myself until I concluded that there was absolutely nothing that I wanted to put out there as a sure-fire prediction? Everything in this online world changes way to quickly for anyone to have a real handle on what the next big thing is, and it’s all subjective anyway.

But yesterday, i started thinking about many of the online trends in fandom, and specifically many of the topics we’ve covered here at The Learned Fangirl,  and they all seem to point to a particular trend that may come to a head in coming year.  So, here’s my one prediction for 2010:

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Book Review: David Bollier’s Viral Spiral: how the commoners built a digital republic of their own

David Bollier’s Viral spiral : how the commoners built a digital republic of their own is a very good book with a horrible title. While there are many books about various elements of free/open-source software (like GNU/Linux), Creative Commons licenses, peer production (remix and mashups), and open models for success (Wikipedia, open science, open education, and open business), I think this is the first book to discuss these within the context of a social history.

So why is a social history so important? There are other books that discuss what the commons is or what it could be, but this is the first book to truly try to capture the process of creating the framework for the commons by theorists and practitioners. In reading several sections, especially on Creative Commons, I felt like I understood better how the process evolved. Where we are now doesn’t just happen, people create it, and there are missteps and corrections made. Viral Spiral helps to see the warts-n-all process, rather than just showing things as they are now.

So what are the issues with the book?

First, the term, viral spiral. Just no. Bollier does make a good argument for his term — but it just doesn’t have the right sound to it — or capture the holisticness of the idea. My suggestion would be participatory meme (but even that doesn’t quite get there). Maybe Henry Jenkins’ term, convergence culture?

Viral spiral is apt … because it suggests a process of change that is anything but clean, direct, and mechanical. …  Life on the Internet does not take place on a stable Cartesian grid—orderly, timeless, universal—but on a constantly pulsating, dynamic, and labyrinthine web of finely interconnected threads radiating through countless nodes. … Viral spiral calls attention to the holistic and historical dynamics of life on the Web, which has a very different metaphysical feel than the world of twentieth-century media.

Second, considering my interest in fans and fandom, it is interesting how few mentions of fandom there are in the book — excepting musical fandoms. There is the requisite Nine Inch Nails Ghosts mention and a discussion of the Grateful Dead bootleg policy (but no mention of the subsequent changes in policy).

Relatedly, there is nary a mention of pre-internetz created remix / fanworks forms such as vidding and fanfic — and therefore, this social history is incomplete, especially as related to (often-gendered-as) girl or women commoning activities. Additionally, since the book focuses on the names that made this possible (important for a social history), it ironically glosses over many of the small contributions of the commoners.

The gaps in the social history exist, but everything that is in this book is valuable, and likely would be lost but for this book. And this is the win quote from the book:

Individuals working with one another via social networks are a growing force in our economy and society. The phenomenon has many manifestations, and goes by many names—”peer production,” “social production,” “smart mobs,” the “wisdom of crowds,” “crowdsourcing,” and “the commons.” The basic point is that socially created value is increasingly competing with conventional markets, as GNU/Linux has famously shown. Through an open, accessible commons, one can efficiently tap into the “wisdom of the crowd,” nurture experimentation, accelerate innovation, and foster new forms of democratic practice.

This is why so many ordinary people—without necessarily having degrees, institutional affiliations or wealth—are embarking upon projects that, in big and small ways, are building a new order of culture and commerce.

The book has a Creative Commons license and is available as a free e-book; however, it is only available as a whole — rather than also as individual chapters. I understand this way makes statistical analysis of downloads easier — but sometimes one only wants to look at one chapter — or references!

TLF at the Chicago’s Journalism Town Hall Meeting


K’s note: TLF is neither a journalism blog or a Chicago placeblog, but the issues of the online content and media economics are relevant here, so I crossposted this from my other blog.

Forget the Oscars, for media folks in Chicago last Sunday’s big event was Ken Davis’ (former public radio dude) Chicago Journalism Town Hall meeting.

There was an air of exclusivity around this event at the start, even though the word is it was due to space issues (the room at the Hotel Allegro was pretty small) rather than wanting to keep certain people out of the dialogue. Apparently if you didn’t get a personal invite, you had to e-mail the organizers and give then a short “justify your existence” professional bio. How egalitarian. I don’t think anyone was turned away, but I also don’t think “town hall” and “invitation-only” are words that should be used together.

When I first heard of the event, I must admit I was expecting a hot mess of epic proportions. With both the Tribune and the Sun Times spiraling towards bankruptcy and the media industry in Chicago becoming a daily bloodbath of lost jobs, people are understandably on edge. The fundamentals of print(and broadcast) media economics have changed, so I don’t think it’s “doom mongering” to talk about the future of news media in Chicago as a no-newspaper town. It may happen, possibly by the end of this year.

So the event itself, at least the first couple of hours, was a much needed and long overdue dialogue that include many top players in Chicago news media, and I think a big dose of reality for some folks, especially from veteran John Callaway, who broke it down: “Let’s assume that the newspaper industry as we know it is dead, and let’s figure out what to do from there.” he said at one point early in the discussion, which I know was probably heretical speech for some in the audience, but it needed to be said, and by someone like him, a print junkie who “wants to die of ink poisoning.” I think it freaked people out, and it was kinda of awesome, because the print agnostics probably wouldn’t take anyone else seriously.

There were some interesting ideas about alternatives: an investigative journalism co-op model, where groups of journalists would pool their resources, while not being bound to one particular publication. There was talk about micropayment models, a non-profit funding model, that presumably would be spearheaded by the foundation world, until some foundation dude rolled up (I didn’t catch where he was from, unfortunately) and basically said, “we may willing to fund something like this in the short term, but don’t look to us forever.” which honestly, I appreciated. I don’t think many media folks realize how foundations work. Foundations are not leprechauns. They do not have a giant pot of money to throw around ad infinitum.

There was discussion of bringing back the old news bureau model and a discussion of just how much it would cost to run a start up news room. Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News said somewhere in the ballpark of $2-4 million, but then mentioned that he didn’t have a City Hall desk and then people seemed to brush him off.(Actually I think they brushed him off when he mentioned journalists making an average of $30k a year, which honestly, I don’t seem to know many journalists who make more than $35k, so I don’t know where the scoffing is coming from.)

The second half of the event seemed to turn into a WWE Smackdown style set up with bloggers and journalists smack talking (“Screw the Tribune! I don’t have any sympathy for anyone on this panel” said the dude from the Windy Citizen), laid-off and freelance writers spewing bilious rants (including two people I recognized from AWJ, hee.)Carol Marin tried to bring back some civility to the exchange, saying that we all have something to learn from each other, but to be honest with you, the same old “the Internet is killing journalism/print media deserves to die” debate still seems to rule the day with a lot of folks, and both of those perspectives are short-sided.

I’m actually pretty ambivalent about it all. I have been forecasting the slow death of print for several years now, after watching so many indie mags go under, and there’s some bitterness, I admit on may part, as I believe there was a lot of hubris and self-importance on the part of some old-school traditional print journalists who thought their jobs were untouchable and that media economy issues had nothing to do with them. At the same time, the new media profit model is not much of a model at all. I don’t really care that Obama called on the Huffington Post during his first press conference; Huffington Post doesn’t pay their writers, and people need to eat.

There’s no one solution for this problem, and certainly one meeting of 300 or so media professionals won’t do anything. This is a complicated, weighty issue, and also the major players in this game, the Sam Zells of the world who have print media by the balls (pardon my indelicacy) were not at this event so one wonders how much could even be accomplished in this situation.

But it’s the start of a dialogue — the old newsroom stalwarts and the Twitterati were actually in one room, in real life, hashing things out, and it was a refreshing (and entertaining) thing to see. Could go for more women included as experts next time, but what else is new!

The discussion continues on Michael Miner’s Hot Type blog at the Chicago Reader website, and you can listen to the Town Hall meeting at the Chicago Public Radio website.

Book Review: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, is the highly recommended third book by Laurence Lessig, focusing on why and how copyright laws need to be changed to allow for greater innovation. If you’ve read the two previous books The future of ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world and Free culture: the nature and future of creativity — or heard one of Lessig’s exciting lectures, much of Remix will seem familiar, remixed with new examples of copyright owners pushing their rights beyond culturally acceptable bounds and why the time frame for copyright should be shortened, allowing works to enter the public domain.

But this book demonstrates the value of remixing, adding a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. He does use the examples of Harry Potter fandom (relying heavily on Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture) and Second Life.

We’ll be using this section extensively in our future writings, so our readers will be seeing much more of the ideas in Remix.

MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Conference — Futures of Entertainment 3

While we can’t make it to every great conference held at MIT by the cutting-edge Comparative Media Studies program, they have put on another great Futures of Entertainment 3 conference (discussion of Futures of Entertainment 2). And upcoming this year is Media in Transition 6, which we are planning to attend.

Interestingly, the Conferenceis first is being released on video through MIT’s homegrown TechTV site and then will be released through other means — but you can add it to your ipod. Surprisingly, the podcasts are listed as having the copyright status of “all rights reserved” — yet embedding is not only allowed, but listed as an option, Therefore, it seems as if the conference is being released more like a Creative Commons attribution-sharealike license. An unanswered question — if the conference is copyrighted, who owns the copyright? The speakers? MIT — of the whole or only of the compilation? If you would rather read about the conference, the liveblogging summaries are also available.

Tulane Works in Progress Intellectual Property Conference: My Presentation on Political Economy and Intellectual Property of User-Created Content

I was going to post information about my presentation at WIPIP, but Rebecca Tushnet’s liveblogging summary has beat me to it. So read her summary, and thanks to her and others for their useful comments.

“Social Networks and the Good Society” presented at Northwestern University by Cass Sunstein, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Eszter Hargittai

I attended a very interesting lecture “Social Networks and the Good Society” presented at Northwestern University by Cass Sunstein, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Eszter Hargittai. While I planned on liveblogging, I brought only a notepad. (grr!) Since my notes don’t include many direct quotes, but instead I summarize, all errors in my lecture notes are my own, and the bracketed materials are my comments. If you want an actual news report, here is an article from the Daily Northwestern.

My notes:

In her introductions, Eszter Hargittai asks how well known does someone need to be before you don’t have give their bio or be linked? [This issue is also mentioned in her post about this event on Crooked Timber]

Cass Sunstein [for a published version of these ideas in Cass Sunstein’s own words, read this Chronicle of Higher Education article]:

He is concerned about extremism on social networks. MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte created the term “daily me,” a utopian vision of receiving communications based on one’s own interests. More recently, in the Long Tail, Chris Anderson writes about a new niche society. This is also what social networks do.

Are these social networks dangerous or based around serendipity? Empirical studies [detailed in the Chronicle story] show how social networks help people switch their opinions to greater extremes, whether they are discussing political viewpoints, potential jurors, or judges on U.S. Court of Appeals in three judge panels. These three empirical studies show groups polarization due to the impact of a social network. Groups that have a starting viewpoint will move more towards that viewpoint.

People want to be different, but to the right degree — in the right direction. This causes group polarization. Also, some arguments have a built-in rhetorical advantage (regardless of actual facts, it is much easier to imagine reasons to give a large jury verdict than it is to imagine reasons to give low jury verdicts).

Whether in person or online, social networks can promote problems of errors and mutual incomprehension. Alternatively, the value of enclave deliberation benefits individuals and the group, allowing for diversity of viewpoints. He fears that social networks don’t allow for bubbling up of information — once the group has a set viewpoint, it is difficult to challenge.

Siva Vaidhyanathan:

During the Napster era, repeated often was the phrase, “kids today don’t care about copyright.” However, there wasn’t really a change in how people behaved; instead there was an amplification.

Now he is interested in privacy and personal information, like the information held by Amazon, MySpace, Facebook, Ebay, and his new project on Google. And now what is being said is that “kids today don’t care about privacy.”

People use social networking online as management tools; privacy is not really what the focus is for users. Instead, people are trying to hit the marketing of “self” for the right market, for the right audience at the right time. Different people or networks know different things about different people.

Kids may not manage their information as well as they will when they are older. He hates how kids are called “born digital.” Terminology based on generation is imprecise , when we envoke generations be are being sloppy — similar to astrology. Focusing on generations puts increased emphasis on those with weath, means, and access, focusing on those who are consumers of stuff. However, it excludes those not in the U.S., and even for those in the U.S., immigrants and those who cannot buy all the stuff.

He mentions Eszter Hargittai’s study on the digital divide [study here: Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use], that the digital experience of kids varies greatly. Most students tell him that they use social networks for their usefullness. Students enter college with a variety of life experiences and not everyone likes using the latest thing (or can). Kids are still interested in reading books when there is a payoff; students just don’t like the cost of books.

He then cites to Henry Jenkins’ thoughts about “digital natives” [quoting the quotes from the blog post]:

talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

…Talking about digital natives and digital immigrants tends to exagerate the gaps between adults, seen as fumbling and hopelessly out of touch, and youth, seen as masterful. It invites us to see contemporary youth as feral, cut off from all adult influences, inhabiting a world where adults sound like the parents in the old Peanuts cartoons — whah, whah, whah, whah — rather than having anything meaningful to say to their offspring. In the process, it disempowers adults, encouraging them to feel helpless, and thus justifying their decision not to know and not to care what happens to young people as they move into the on-line world.

He then says that the conversation continued with comments from Leslie Johnson:

I often take part in discussions about services for faculty and students, and sometimes hear ageist comments about how older faculty are completely non-digital and all students are automatically all digital. Hah! Just like some folks have an interest or skill in languages or math or art and some folks don’t, it’s the same with whatever “digital” is.

[Then there was more about the back and forth conversation on blogs about “digital natives”, including input from Print is Dead author, Jeff Gomez, but it seems ridiculous to include my notes when you can just read the conversation of the quoted blog posts yourself here. I would have linked to Gomez’s blog directly but the archives are down — I guess at this point I could make an overarching statement about generation blog archive.]

Thinking about digital natives has serious policy implications, such as for universities. This term limits us to design systems that might not fit the needs of all, by requiring one-size-fits-all ways of thinking. Google Books is not focused on the need for quality and stability; instead the project is interested in putting things out there. He quotes John Wilkin of University of Michigan libraries, as saying that kids today are only interested in looking at digital books — and we should move in that direction. [I didn’t find a quote saying exactly that but Wilkin is a strong booster of Google Books.]

Educators are guides to learning and research, and should not pander to what is easiest. Only the needs of privileged are being considered, similar to pop culture, the focus is on those that are white and rich.

He says that Danah Boyd says what really matters is that digital platforms meet some needs and desires but not all. [I must have written down the quote incorrectly, but you can read what she thinks here.]. Social networking only amplifies what was already present in the real word (such as stalking). These are human problems, while they can be amplified online, they aren’t new.

The first fish that was on land wasn’t called part of “generation land,” but there was a great deal of change over time, gradually moving. Our everyday ways of engaging in social interaction haven’t changed.

Fandom mentions: Cass Sunstein loves Lost and Lostpedia, Siva Vaidhyanathan is a Yankees fan.

Happy Birthday Belongs To You and Me?: A possible copyfraud in action?

There is no better example of the political economy of the present copyright system than a recent detailed analysis of the very-likely public domain status of Happy Birthday. If not copyrighted, than why the copyright claim?

Because it is

a revenue-generating juggernaut, producing more than $2-million a year in fees for Warner Music and the offspring of Mildred and Patty Hill, the sisters who composed [the original lyrics] in 1893

The article by Robert Brauneis analyzing the copyright status of Happy Birthday isn’t just interesting to intellectual property scholars, but has been written about in the Globe and Mail, Defamer, and in a series of posts on the Volokh Conspiracy.

But the idea of copyright law being used as a sword of Damocles over the public is not new; in a New York University Law Review article, Brooklyn Law School Professor Jason Mazzone coined the term “copyfraud” to describe claims of copyright in public domain materials.

As Mazzone states,
“copyfraud’s ultimate result is to weaken legitimate intellectual property rights. … If large publishing houses with their teams of lawyers cannot distinguish between what is protected and what is free for public use, it is unreasonable to expect teen-agers with their laptops to play by the rules.”

So our present system scares people into not using public domain materials — and to pay claimants to ownership regardless of actual ownership. And yet copyright owners wonder why downloading / pirating is seen as a reasonable option for some consumers.

During the Eldred case, Lawrence Lessig argued about the inefficiency of a copyright system that locks all works up for generations so that a tiny number of works can continue to be moneymakers. A copyright system that allows for public domain works to be “copyfraud”ed is even worse, making our cultural heritage appear to not even belong to us.

Superman — not faster than a not-so-speeding reversion of copyright ownership

On Notice

On Notice

The ownership issues involving Superman have always been contentious but not factually disputed — two teenagers created Superman and then sold their rights for a miniscule amount. Litigation ensued in bursts for decades, with the original creators dying and their heirs taking up their cause, and the owner/licensor of Superman, Warner Bros/ Time Warner, making millions of dollars from the character. But a recent ruling allowing for the heirs to retroactively retain copyright back to 1999 has riled up many fans. (For analysis of this case check out these links and the opinion.)

While the idea of the individual creator is a frequent meme within comics culture; after all, Stan Lee (co-creator of Spiderman, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four among others) has his own action figure, the idea of returning copyright ownership to the original creators has upset fans. While fans are not monolithic, overall the negative reactions can be summarized as: 1. The original contract is binding; 2. the time to resolve this issue is long past; and 3. the heirs are greedy.

Unfortunately for fans, the return of the copyright is not an example of “activist judges”, but a termination exception (17 USC 304(c)) built into to copyright law similar to the Jubilee (no, not the glittery X-girl) Biblical return of land to its original owner after fifty years. And Time Warner/ Warner Brothers has been “on notice” about this possibility and its potential economic impact all along — I’m quite sure they have tons of highly competent attorneys.

And by having this lawsuit moving much slower than an an avenging alien at the speed of a train or a bullet has allowed Time Warner to exploit their Superman intellectual property during the almost twenty years of litigation in this case, including the backstory of Superman in the Smallville television show, the ongoing story of Superman in Superman Returns movie sequel/remake of Superman III, and the teamwork of Superman in the various Justice League cartoons, just for starters.

Overall, though not directly stated by fans, it seems like the largest concern is the issue of continuity — fans want the story of Superman to continue to be told. And they are concerned that the problem of ownership will prevent more officially sanctioned products. I doubt that will happen here because the property is too valuable for all concerned to lock that down.

Of course, this would be a non-issue if the U.S. had a more reasonable copyright term of perhaps 50 years (like the biblical Jubilee period). Then instead of worrying about who owns the man of Steel, we would all be beneficiaries of having the man of Steel as part of the public domain.

Dan Gillmor breaks down the exploitative side of participatory culture

Dan Gillmor on the Center for Citizen Media blog writes about the good and bad about online group-based participation.

The good happens when community is created and supported:

People do things for many reasons, but it’s always about getting something of value back. The value may be a psychic reward of doing something good for someone else. It may be ego. It may be money, or the ability to save money. In community-driven websites it may be contributing a tiny bit of effort to something that gives the overall community, and thereby individuals, great value. Usually it’s a combination.

The bad happens when the work of some is exploited by others, such as :

the tendency of site owners to rely on free labor. The method goes roughly this way: “You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.” …

You are invited to translate the site into another language, because you are such a generous person. If you are a badass programmer, however, you are invited to apply for a job and make some actual money.

… If you are generous enough to do this kind of work for free, please consider doing instead it for a nonprofit site of some sort. Please don’t be giving away your time to mega-wealthy media barons.

Even when our intent is to make things better for ourselves and our online community, mega-wealthy media barons are often making money from our labor (see MySpace). Giving away our labor is what we (those who use the internetz tubes) do everyday when we rank items on Amazon or Netflix, and participate in MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites, improving their services. But at least in these cases, participants get something positive out of it, even if they don’t get paid for their efforts.

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