Show, Don’t Tell

by on October 25, 2006 · 32 comments

A coalition including the Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge, and EFF have launched a digital freedom campaign. These are good groups and I’m always happy to see them highlighting an important set of issues, but frankly, if I weren’t already well versed on this controversy, I think I’d find their website a little bit confusing.

The campaign talks about innovators, artists, and consumers all having their freedom threatened. And it’s true: all of them can be harmed by aggressive expansions of copyright law. But the only concrete example the digital freedom campaign mentions is recording satellite broadcasts. As important as that issue is, that’s not likely to spark a nationwide backlash.

Oh, now that I’ve looked at the home page again, I see that clicking on the people causes them to tell their story. That’s pretty cool. They ought to make it more obvious that you’re supposed to click on the people, as it took me a good 10 minutes to figure that out, and most people visiting the site aren’t going to spend 10 minutes poking around.

Anyway, my point is that advocates for digital freedom (myself definitely included) need to do a better job of getting down to specifics in a way that’s accessible to ordinary people. I think EFF’s endangered gizmos and DRM guide sites are good examples. When you tell people that Hollywood almost got the VCR outlawed, that immediately gets peoples’ attention. There are now thousands of consumers who’ve discovered that their “plays for sure” music doesn’t play on their iPods. If we can tie those controversies back to the current debates over the PERFORM Act, the broadcast flag, the Boucher bill, etc, we can help voters clearly understand what’s at stake and why they should care.

But without those ties to specific examples, all the rhetoric about freedom and consumer rights in the world won’t get peoples’ attention. Voters have heard all the freedom rhetoric before, and it’s usually hogwash. I thought the middle guy–the aspiring filmmaker with the tape over his mouth–did a good job of offering a specific example of what’s at stake. But the other two, and most of the copy on the rest of the website, is just too vague to get anybody other than me fired up.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    I agree with you that policy discourse should use concrete language and examples. However, lets remember its the information economy we’re talking about, its easy to fall into abstraction given that the very technical basis of innovations reside on 1s and 0s.

    Perhaps the most important abstraction (and its abstract only if you’ve not worked in the industry) to keep in mind is that high fixed costs for producers are not readily tangible while the obvious mediums or modes of distribution they work with are almost at marginal costs. This is an important consideration any time somebody wonders why they don’t get products/services for free, or asks why firms need to leverage various business models. The answer is that producers need means to appropriation in order to create and make a living.

    Hmmm, early in your post you talk about how this new coalition is about “innovators, artists and consumers.” I think you’re more correct later on in the post when you narrow the conversation down to just consumers. EFF, PK are hardly concerned about innovators, and artists; or anyone who creates consumers products.

    The general economic and market failure of companies who follow the policy teachings of EFF and PK leaves these entities with only IP leveraging firms to badger; if their policy agendas were tenable at all, you’d have successful companies that provide alternatives to products like iTunes/iPod without DRM, and that don’t work under perilous legal clouds.

    Not to be nit-picky, but “Plays for Sure” concerns Zune, not the iPod (I’m sure you know that, but some readers might not).

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Not to be nit-picky, but “Plays for Sure” concerns Zune, not the iPod.

    I don’t understand.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    I agree with you that policy discourse should use concrete language and examples. However, lets remember its the information economy we’re talking about, its easy to fall into abstraction given that the very technical basis of innovations reside on 1s and 0s.

    Perhaps the most important abstraction (and its abstract only if you’ve not worked in the industry) to keep in mind is that high fixed costs for producers are not readily tangible while the obvious mediums or modes of distribution they work with are almost at marginal costs. This is an important consideration any time somebody wonders why they don’t get products/services for free, or asks why firms need to leverage various business models. The answer is that producers need means to appropriation in order to create and make a living.

    Hmmm, early in your post you talk about how this new coalition is about “innovators, artists and consumers.” I think you’re more correct later on in the post when you narrow the conversation down to just consumers. EFF, PK are hardly concerned about innovators, and artists; or anyone who creates consumers products.

    The general economic and market failure of companies who follow the policy teachings of EFF and PK leaves these entities with only IP leveraging firms to badger; if their policy agendas were tenable at all, you’d have successful companies that provide alternatives to products like iTunes/iPod without DRM, and that don’t work under perilous legal clouds.

    Not to be nit-picky, but “Plays for Sure” concerns Zune, not the iPod (I’m sure you know that, but some readers might not).

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Oh OK, I see what you were saying. If you’re talking about why songs formatted for MSFT technologies don’t play on the iPod, then your sentence makes sense. I thought you were commenting on why Microsoft’s Plays For Sure DRM system does not play on Zune.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Not to be nit-picky, but “Plays for Sure” concerns Zune, not the iPod.

    I don’t understand.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Obviously, the anti-DRM people are less concerned about “innovators and artists” than about “consumers,” so the campaign is fundamentally dishonest. Given that, it’s more effective if it’s vague than if it’s so clear that everybody can see they’re trying to mislead.

    From my experience, deception of this sort is par for the course for PK and their ilk in the Pirates’ Rights movement.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Richard, are you telling me that there are no innovators among the membership of the CEA?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, of course: the CEA is less about innovation than about the cheap manufacture of me-too products.

    But you raise an interesting point: is the invention of a super-cool piracy machine innovation, and as such should it be protected from piracy? When I go to the Safeway and buy a bag of potato chips, should I get a second one free because I’ve already paid for the recipe?

    Hard questions.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    Oh OK, I see what you were saying. If you’re talking about why songs formatted for MSFT technologies don’t play on the iPod, then your sentence makes sense. I thought you were commenting on why Microsoft’s Plays For Sure DRM system does not play on Zune.

  • Doug Lay

    Anyone inclined to believe Richard’s bloviating should take a look at the CEA’s membership list here:

    http://www.ce.org/Membership/Directory/default.aspx

    Cisco, Intel .. obviously nothing but cheap knock-off manufacturers.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Obviously, the anti-DRM people are less concerned about “innovators and artists” than about “consumers,” so the campaign is fundamentally dishonest. Given that, it’s more effective if it’s vague than if it’s so clear that everybody can see they’re trying to mislead.

    From my experience, deception of this sort is par for the course for PK and their ilk in the Pirates’ Rights movement.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Richard, are you telling me that there are no innovators among the membership of the CEA?

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    The CEA includes many innnovators among its members. Its a guess, but think most of them are hardware and device makers, businesses that rely more on patents than software and service firms. Copyright is not a concern with these kinds of companies.

    I doubt CEA consulted with each of its members before joining this coalition. More likely, several prominent members with interest in peeling back copyright/DMCA policy drove its decision. Thus, nobody should blame CEA’s members, but rather an organizational leadership that either says: we like IP, just not copyright; or, we like IP, depending on who it belongs to.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying, of course: the CEA is less about innovation than about the cheap manufacture of me-too products.

    But you raise an interesting point: is the invention of a super-cool piracy machine innovation, and as such should it be protected from piracy? When I go to the Safeway and buy a bag of potato chips, should I get a second one free because I’ve already paid for the recipe?

    Hard questions.

  • Doug Lay

    If only the CEA had been courageous enough to stand up to Big Content eight or nine years ago, we might not have been stuck with the DMCA anti-circumvention provision.

  • Doug Lay

    Anyone inclined to believe Richard’s bloviating should take a look at the CEA’s membership list here:

    http://www.ce.org/Membership/Directory/default….

    Cisco, Intel .. obviously nothing but cheap knock-off manufacturers.

  • http://weblog.ipcentral.info/ Noel Le

    The CEA includes many innnovators among its members. Its a guess, but think most of them are hardware and device makers, businesses that rely more on patents than software and service firms. Copyright is not a concern with these kinds of companies.

    I doubt CEA consulted with each of its members before joining this coalition. More likely, several prominent members with interest in peeling back copyright/DMCA policy drove its decision. Thus, nobody should blame CEA’s members, but rather an organizational leadership that either says: we like IP, just not copyright; or, we like IP, depending on who it belongs to.

  • Doug Lay

    If only the CEA had been courageous enough to stand up to Big Content eight or nine years ago, we might not have been stuck with the DMCA anti-circumvention provision.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    There’s no doubt that Big Content does a lot of things that are contrary to its own interests, but it’s an illusion to imagine that Big Gadget or Big Regulation are consistently better.

    Big is bad, because there aren’t that many smart people to go around. Sigh.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    There’s no doubt that Big Content does a lot of things that are contrary to its own interests, but it’s an illusion to imagine that Big Gadget or Big Regulation are consistently better.

    Big is bad, because there aren’t that many smart people to go around. Sigh.

  • http://www.digitalfreedom.org Don Goldberg

    As the organizer of today’s press conference, I welcome the comments on the Digital Freedom web site. Consider it a work in progress, and we hope to get far more real examples of individuals facing absurb lawsuits for legal activities. One of the problems is that individuals are forced into legal settlements (who can afford to fight back on their own?) and are then gagged as part of the deal.

    Please check out the members we are signing up for the campaign on the web site. They go far beyond just consumers and manufacturers– to include artists groups, film producers, and other innovators.

  • http://www.digitalfreedom.org Don Goldberg

    As the organizer of today’s press conference, I welcome the comments on the Digital Freedom web site. Consider it a work in progress, and we hope to get far more real examples of individuals facing absurb lawsuits for legal activities. One of the problems is that individuals are forced into legal settlements (who can afford to fight back on their own?) and are then gagged as part of the deal.

    Please check out the members we are signing up for the campaign on the web site. They go far beyond just consumers and manufacturers– to include artists groups, film producers, and other innovators.

  • Doug Lay

    >> There’s no doubt that Big Content does a lot of things that are contrary to its own interests, but it’s an illusion to imagine that Big Gadget or Big Regulation are consistently better.

    In the fight over tighter vs. looser IP regulations, I’ll take Big Gadget over Big Content in a heartbeat. I’ll also largely side with Big Google in this fight, with no apologies whatsoever. As for Big Regulation, they’ve been consistently on the side of Big Content. This should change.

  • Doug Lay

    >> There’s no doubt that Big Content does a lot of things that are contrary to its own interests, but it’s an illusion to imagine that Big Gadget or Big Regulation are consistently better.

    In the fight over tighter vs. looser IP regulations, I’ll take Big Gadget over Big Content in a heartbeat. I’ll also largely side with Big Google in this fight, with no apologies whatsoever. As for Big Regulation, they’ve been consistently on the side of Big Content. This should change.

  • Aranger

    Like net neutrality, the best way to protect our right to use legal technology and content is to get involved. The digital freedom website has a place to join the coalition and the coalition is going to need real people on its side.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    So this movement is like the net neutrality movement? That tells me all I need to know.

  • Aranger

    Like net neutrality, the best way to protect our right to use legal technology and content is to get involved. The digital freedom website has a place to join the coalition and the coalition is going to need real people on its side.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    So this movement is like the net neutrality movement? That tells me all I need to know.

  • http://music-tech-policy.blogspot.com Chris Castle

    The reason Gary Shapiro cares about XM Radio is because XM Radio is paying him to care about XM Radio.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    And the reason Chris Castle constantly kow-tows to the content owners who are trying to deprive me of my First Amendment Rights?

    hmmm I wonder…?

    Chris Castle has devoted most of the last 20 years to practicing traditional music law and technology transactions. He represented artists such as Sheryl Crow and Meredith Brooks and producers such as Tom and Chris Lord Alge in his early years of practice before moving in-house to be Vice President, Business & Legal Affairs at A&M Records in Hollywood and Senior Vice President, Business Affairs at Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. in New York.

  • http://music-tech-policy.blogspot.com Chris Castle

    The reason Gary Shapiro cares about XM Radio is because XM Radio is paying him to care about XM Radio.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    And the reason Chris Castle constantly kow-tows to the content owners who are trying to deprive me of my First Amendment Rights?

    hmmm I wonder…?

    Chris Castle has devoted most of the last 20 years to practicing traditional music law and technology transactions. He represented artists such as Sheryl Crow and Meredith Brooks and producers such as Tom and Chris Lord Alge in his early years of practice before moving in-house to be Vice President, Business & Legal Affairs at A&M; Records in Hollywood and Senior Vice President, Business Affairs at Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. in New York.

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