Archive for October, 2009

Thoughts from a Twitter User

October 31st, 2009 7 comments

Recently I noticed that one of the people I follow on Twitter had been having what I thought of as interesting twitter followersconversations with someone that they follow.  Since I was interested and could only see half of the discussion I decided to follow that individual as well. I didn’t think that there was anything unusual or surprising about that decision. The following day I received a message on my Facebook account from that individual stating that they had noticed that I was following them and asking if I knew them.  I am paraphrasing their words which were said in what I perceived to be a slightly more harsh and accusatory tone.   I was a little surprised and I did not know exactly how to answer the question.  I had not thought that a face to face meeting was a necessary prerequisite to following someone via Twitter.  I did not think that was so for friending someone on Facebook either but I can see where the term “friend” and the idea of calling someone a “friend” might imply that your social spheres have crossed or that there was some level of cordial communication involved.  I did not see it that way at all for Twitter.

I was under the impression that the site promoted following based on the ideas and interests that the individual is tweeting about, among other things of course. Lisa Brookes Kift stated about social networks that they are “a great way to network and foster relationships with like minded people and those interested in learning more about topics that I know something about.” Twitter itself explains that this is a way for individuals to “stay hyper-connected to your friends and always know what they’re doing. Or, you can stop following them at any time. You can even set up quiet times on Twitter so you’re not interrupted. Twitter puts you in control and becomes a modern antidote to information overload.”  Dr.John M Grohol PsyD states that Twitter “is a unique form of online socializing. Twitter offers no real beginning, middle or end to a conversation. As a result, the open universe of non-stop, rolling chatter makes people feel like they don’t want to miss anything.”

Twitter is also not just for individuals and small businesses.  More and more twitter activity has become a corporate endeavor.  The suggestions for a successful corporate twitter presence differs somewhat from the common sense etiquette that individuals should follow but not all too much.   According to “Corporate Twitter” by Chris Miller these guidelines include listen to followers, add value and provide useful content, only follow others when followed or mentioned so to not to annoy or appear as spam, respond to every tweet directed at you, and use replies rather than direct messages so to appear more transparent.

Despite recent news hype warning of Twitter’s ability to destroy your non-internet related relationships by making you “less available to your children, friends and partners in your real-life world,” states Soren Gordhamer, an expert on the over-stressed and over-connected, as a new vehicle to “bruise our digital egos”, as a means to lower productivity through distraction,  etc. this is in my opinion an excellent tool for anyone interested in staying informed.

A Little Context

October 31st, 2009 No comments

This tern our Writing for Electronic Communities class has been working on a collaborative essay.  We have each analyzed a text that relates to literacy and/or New Media and added about five pages.  Those texts have included; Selber’s Multiliteracies for the digital age, Kress’s Literacy in the new media age, Brooke’s Lingua fracta: Toward a rhetoric of new media, Hayles’s Electronic literature: New horizons for the literary, Jenkins’s Confronting the challenges of participatory culture, Rettberg’s Blogging, Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and copywrongs: The rise of intellectual property and how it threatens creativity, Tryon’s Reinventing cinema: Movies in the age of media convergence, Wasik’s And then there’s this: How stories live and die in viral culture, and several articles related to web 2.0. The results have been a little bit of chaotic (which is to be expected with any project such as this) but a very rewarding experience.  We are now prepared to set aside our work and begin a new to create a more cohesive, focused text.

One of the challenges that we must tackle is to decide on the goal of the article.  What is it that we wish to accomplish? What is the purpose of the text? What is it doing? What is it saying? These questions are somewhat complicated because there are several of us working on the project and our interests and ideas for it may be different. We will also need to discuss how that article is broken up, what to include in the literature review, which case sources to explore, what contextual information we need, etc.

This is a collaborative project so we are adding to, changing, and deleting each other’s work.  ThCollaborative essayere is an excellent chance that what you had written initially will not find its way into a later draft.  Such concepts challenge the definition of authorship which has been addressed by several of the texts we have read this semester but most recently in Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and Copywrongs; The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity.

It will be interesting seeing how the collaborative essay, Toward an Understanding of New Media Literacy changes and develops.  And it will be equally interesting to see which challenges provide difficulty in the upcoming weeks.

Web 2.0 packet themes

October 30th, 2009 No comments

I know I tweeted a link to this via Twitpic, but I just installed the wordpress iPhone app so I thought I’d try it out. Below are the themes that emerged from the web 2.0 packet we discussed.

What’s in a NAYME?

October 27th, 2009 No comments

Before offering my thoughts on name and title copyrights, I’ll first apologize to Anthony Bakowa for using the title of an earlier Godzilla blog post that he had written. “What’s in a Name?” is a post reflecting Bakowa’s reading of Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. Though I may have used the same title, our posts address very different subjects and do not compete for readership. My intent is to support some of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s arguments for “thinner” copyright protection in his book Copyrights and Copywrongs. Plus, my spelling of “name,” while incorrect, is different from Bakowa’s. Doesn’t this make our titles different? Is an apology even necessary?

My intentional misspelling of “name” helps me introduce lawsuits filed by the widely famous Metal band, Metallica. Apparently, the band has sued several times over the use of its name. My blog title addresses Metallica’s suit against furniture store owner, Kim Hodges in late 1999 for calling his store “Metallika.” An online ABC blurb does state that the owner was a fan of the band, but clearly wasn’t marketing any music or products that would hurt the sale of records.

Earlier the same year, the band pursued a lawsuit against lingerie-giant, Victoria’s Secret for creating a line of “Metallica” lip pencils and cosmetics without the band’s permission. Victoria’s Secret, according to MTV article, Metallica Tell Wheel Company: Don’t Tread on Me, later settled out of court.

The MTV article first addresses a settlement proposal at the time of its publication on August 22,2001. A California wheel manufacturer was asked to discontinue and recall its “Metallica” wheel, named for its metal composition. The sales manager assured interviewers that his employer knew little of the rock band when chosing the product’s name.

The band’s lawyer, Jill Pietrini, explains “it’s just a matter of a company having the right to protect its name. I couldn’t start up a Coca-Cola record company.”

I suppose both the wheels and cosmetics could have been titled differently and simply used the adjective “metallic” to describe the metal-like appearance of the products without risking copyright/trademark infringement. I’m not sure I agree that the sound of the word “Metallica” should be protected, though. Vaidhyanathan discusses “derivative works” the copyright of “The Death Disk,” first published as a short story by Mark Twain. He asks if D. W. Griffith infringed on the copyrights of Mark Twain in his creation of the film “The Death Disc,” although he had changed elements of the story and the spelling (85-100). The same spelling of “Disk” is later used by Biograph and STILL falls into a gray area of copyright protection.

Vaidhyanathan offers justification in the use of “Disk” and “Disc” for the use of different elements in each of the works. Attempting to apply some of his thoughts and arguments, I wonder why a furniture, cosmetic, or wheel company couldn’t then use “Metallica” if not selling anything musically-related.

The Needs of the Many?

October 26th, 2009 3 comments

This weekend, I downloaded “District 9”, “Bubba Ho-Tep”, and “Zombieland” with the bit torrent application, uTorrent.  It’s a handy little tool that I’ve been using regularly since 2003 to download large files such as movies, games, and music albums.

To handle the smaller files, such as individual songs or various essential component files (to properly run programs), I’ll use Limewire.  The file-sharing program, DC++, was helpful in the past, but only on the campus network.

Back when I used to play computer games with a near-fanaticism, I searched high and low for CD cracks, passwords, DVD image rippers, and various what-have-you.

So suffice to say, I am a pirate.  If you ask me why I do this, I’d have a hard time casting myself in a positive light.  However, let me say that I try to find the best deals on goods.  If I’m able to get a product for free without leaving home, I’m not going to spend fuel and money just for the box it comes in.  I’m not a bad person, I swear, but if the opportunity arises for a free copy of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, I’ll take it without question.

My theft was largely a result of the band wagon mentality – everyone else was doing it, so I might as well have hopped on – but I won’t discount my own conscious decisions to violate copyright laws.  I knew what I was doing.  When Napster was being hit hard with copyright infringement lawsuits in 2000, I was temporarily hesitant when downloading mp3s, but that fear was short lived and I thieved under the idea that I was very unlikely to be “discovered” by the “authorities”.  This all doesn’t mean that I didn’t eventually go out and buy the albums I was downloading – there is always some validity in holding the official copy.

Siva Vaidhyanathan mentions this post-download buying on page 179 in Copyrights and Copywrongs, “…it’s not so clear that people will stop buying CDs just because they can get free MP3s one song at a time.”  I’m not at all alone in my justifications.  I may very well be just another follower in the Grateful Dead business model he discusses – “…give away free music to build a following, establish a brand name, and charge handsomely for the total entertainment package.”  Indeed, I often do buy after downloading, and I often buy  obsessively.  Upon downloading Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” in 2000, I bought the album, then the performance in Berlin, then “Dark Side of the Moon”, and soon after simultaneously buying and downloading every single Pink Floyd album I could find.

I can’t say I act the same way with movies, unless the film was particularly good.  I’m more likely to download, watch, and delete.  There can be raised an issue of theft-for-profit, if I had a desire to make a profit, but I see this more often done elsewhere and usually unnoticed (or even accepted).  For instance, I was in Iraq last year and on base there was a small shop ran by a couple foreign contractors.  They sold copies and bootlegs of movies on DVD and movies still in theaters for $3 or two for $5.  Their primary customers were U.S. soldiers.  It felt almost disturbing to see such blatant violation of copyright, that our own Constitution protects, being violated on a U.S. military post.  Why did we let this happen?  Convenience, mostly, but we were a captive audience – I doubt that selling DVDs at a standard state-side market price would have seen any less buyers.

Whether or not it was lawful, the residents of the post were grateful to have such a service provided and I’ll admit that having such cheap movies made the quality of life a little better.

The same can be said of much of the copyright infringements we see today.  Although perhaps I assume humanity to be more generous than it is, much of the copied content I see on the Internet has no real aspirations other than entertainment.  The YouTube site for The Gregory Brothers is a good example of an amalgamation of material for such entertainment.  Known for “Auto-Tune the News”, The Gregory Brothers use a tuning program on the voices of political figures, as well as other musical effects, to create music where there previously wasn’t.  Here is their latest video:

Though the group does accept donations and have t-shirts for sale, they do not sell any of the audio of video they have mixed.  There is simply no need.  The remixes they create are for laughs and to add a little enjoyment into what would ordinarily be a drab speech in Congress.

Similarly, the site Garfield Minus Garfield author Dan Walsh crafted his art for the public for months before the comic strip author, Jim Davis, took notice.  Davis, however, was actually intrigued by Dan’s creativity:

“I think it’s an inspired thing to do,” Davis said. “I want to thank Dan for enabling me to see another side of Garfield. Some of the strips he chose were slappers: ‘Oh, I could have left that out.’ It would have been funnier.”


Another popular site that twists copyrighted material is YTMND (You’re the Man Now Dog), which mashes together picture, text, and sound in often humorous ways (i.e.: Lord of the Rings’ ‘potato’ scene).  While this site falls largely under the protection of parody and the creators of the “ytmnds” are required to cite their sources, it regularly falls into lawsuits with Ebaumsworld and Sega (over the use of Sonic the Hedgehog’s image), their position of parodizing is repeatedly held and the public continue to thrive on and contribute to the content.

On page 155 Vaidhyanathan quotes Richard Stallman as saying:

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it.  Software sellers wants to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others.  I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way.  I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.

While it’s completely impractical to apply this theory to all of media, it should be important to consider it.  Linux and its dozens of sister operating systems adhere to Stallman’s idea of copyleft, which requires anyone who alters Free Software publicly release all changes to the text.  Since its creation, Linux certainly has become a huge force among the programming elite and techno-savy, and it’s curious to see how they develop it into platforms that can compete with Mac OS and Windows with graphics and user-friendliness.

I dual-boot with Windows and Linux (the Ubuntu release).  I enjoy the idea of not paying for an operating system, though I don’t know enough of programming to use Linux to even 50% of its potential.  Why bother?  Perhaps it’s that band wagon mentality again.  How can so many experts be wrong?  It’s the same utopian ideal we’ve been seeing since this whole “internet” thing took flight, the same concept we see Wikipedia developing, the same principle Napster had publicized, and the same goal early webrings had sought to accomplish.

But perhaps I assume humanity to be more generous than it is.

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Textbook cost and author royalties

October 25th, 2009 3 comments

A classmate claimed that the reason that textbooks are so expensive is because of the royalties paid to authors. That classmate further stated that maybe if there was no copyright and authors weren’t being paid royalties, that textbook prices would be much lower. I knew immediately that this was faulty reasoning. So, I left class planning to do some research on the subject. Here is some of what I found:

According to Cyndi Allison in her article Sticker Shock, “Texts today include color, illustrations, photos, and other reference materials such as page tabs, which make textbooks more expensive to produce than straight words on paper.” She also states that “Manufacturing costs top out as the biggest portion of your text receipt at around 30 percent with marketing running second at over 15 percent.” That is 45 percent total – that does not include the cost of shipping the heavy textbooks or the cut by the store that sells the book.

In Where Your Money Goes by Ryne Dittmer of Iowa State, the author breaks down the percentages of the total book cost of and who gets what. Dittmer says the highest percentage, 39.2 percent, goes to Publishers and their cost of production where only 7 percent of the total serves as income for the publisher. Dittmer further points out the author’s income – likely split among several authors – at just 11.7 percent.

Still not convinced? Here is a graphic by the NACS Foundation that appeared on the BYU website in a section titled Why Are Textbooks So Expensive – it shows a clear breakdown of where all the money goes:

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NCAS can only be accessed by registered members

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NACS web site can only be accessed by registered members

…. and here is a sometimes humorous discourse on textbook prices found on YouTube  – it has some good, solid insight from a textbook author as well


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Where do you draw the line?

October 25th, 2009 No comments

Still pondering Siva Vaidhyanathan’s points in Copyrights and Copywrongs

Consider the following statement by Vaidhyanathan, “… copyrights used to expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material.” (p. 125)  I am quite honestly a little perplexed here. Is Vaidhyanathan saying that only items that are no longer protected by copyright are in the public domain? Having read the entire book, this quote may be a bit out of context. It also brings up another question: What if copyright periods were shorter?

Where exactly do you draw the line?

Isn’t it true that each new creation enriches the public domain regardless of copyright? The creation of Copyrights and Copywrongs certainly enriched the public domain. I am able to read the work and quote passages of it in my own writing, as long as I credit Vaidhyanathan words. Vaidhyanathan drew information from the work of others – works available in the public domain – and he credits those works in the Notes section that begins on page 191.

So, if copyrights expired in, just for theoretical discussion, five years. After five years passed, would an academic writer no longer credit the originator of a work and present the words and ideas as his or her own? Any worthy academic writer would never consider such a thing.

So perhaps we should look at this from the standpoint of  a fiction writer or musician. If the copyright on a work of fiction or music expired in five years – there would be pirated copies of both fiction and musical works everywhere. Note Vaidhyanathan’s statement, “American printers … pirate[d] others’ works … American authors had less incentive to produce original works …” (pg 43) Do we want to return to a time like that? I think not. Not only would works be pirated, but other authors would claim the work as their own creation. There would be no reason, other than moral clarity, to stop a person from pirating work. Creation on either end would decrease just as it did in Colonial times. Recall specifically Vaidhyanathan’s quote regarding the U.S. Constitution: “Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution … power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries.” (pg 44-45) The fact that the creators of our Constitution felt it was necessary to insert copyright protection is evidence of the decline of creativity due to pirated works. Also, given the short life span of people in colonial times, the original 14 years noted in Viadhyanathan’s book may have covered the majority of an author’s adult life.

So, where would you draw the line?

History of copyright

October 25th, 2009 No comments

I noted that more than a few of us were fascinated by the historical aspect of copyright presented in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s  Copyrights and Copywrongs.

Vaidhyanathan says in his introduction, “The chief goal of this work is to explain how essential the original foundations of American copyright law are our educational, political, artistic, and literary culture.” (p. 5) Vaidhyanathan, proceeds to not only explain the history of copyright, but also proceeds to give us concrete examples through the entire text. This enhances our understanding of copyright as well as helping us to question our understanding of what fair use is and how long a copyright should be in place.

In never knew, or even thought about, what the roots of copyright are. According to Vaidhyanathan, “American copyright emanates from the U.S. Constitution, which directs Congress to create a federal law that provides an incentive to create and distribute new works.” (p. 20) Motivation to create was brought up by me during the discussion in class regarding copyright. While some in class discussed abolishing copyright or shortening, drastically, the term of copyright, I brought up the fact that creative people may have no desire to create if they are unable to protect their creations from pirating. The framers of the Constitution, according to Vaidhyanathan, saw mass production of existing works that were pirated from works by British authors. There was little incentive to create something new in the United States as pirating works was so common. The following should be noted: “Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution … power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries.” (Vaidhyanathan, 2001, p. 44-45) Copyright does give authors the incentive to create without fear of pirating. Note also, in this post, I use quotes and credit the author for his work. This is done, not only because Vaidhyanathan holds the copyright to his words, but also out of respect for the author and his creation.

It is also important to remember that the United States was not necessarily the originator of copyright. Copyright law was changed multiple times over the course of history. According to Vaidhyanathan, “…the U.S. Congress in 1998 extended U.S. copyright to match the European term [life plus 70 years]…” (p. 25) Earlier in history, the U.S. made the effort to join the international community with regard to copyright protection. Vaidhyanathan states, “… the United States agreed in 1891 to share copyright protection with the British Empire…” (p. 160) and “European countries in general have afforded broader and deeper protection to authors and publishers than the United States has.” (p. 160-161)

Vaidhyanathan has opened our eyes to how copyright came to be as well as to considerations and debate regarding length and protection. I would not consider for a moment that Vaidhyanathan should not be protected for his creation of any written work, including Copyrights and Copywrongs. Though Vaidhyanathan seems to advocate shorter copyright protection as created by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, I would consider it unfare for Vaidhyanathan to have to continuously reapply for copyright of his works. Though some of my classmates may disagree with me, respect for this author, and any other who creates an original work, should give us some foundation for understanding of the need for copyright.

The Ethics of Influence

October 25th, 2009 1 comment

I have often wondered where the line between being influenced or inspired by someone and stealing from them is drawn.  Obviously copying someone’s work, passing if off as your own, and receiving some sort of credit for it be it momentary, prestige, course credit, or otherwise is wrong and unethical.  But what if the influence is less obvious.  If I write in the style of another author is that plagiarism.  As an aspiring writer I tend to read a great deal and it is natural to try to emulate far better writer’s work, particularly if you are prone to reading most of an author’s collection in a short time.  But when does that influence become plagiarism.  I think of the different movements in art.  I am most familiar with the impressionists so I will use them for this example.  In 1881 Claude Monet painted “Sunflowers”. This painting used many of the traditional impressionistic techniques; large and visible brushstrokes, calm subjects, open composition, attention to lighting, movement, and angle, etc.  In 1888  Vincent Van Gogh, a post impressionist, painted “Sunflowers”.  The paintings, both having a vase of sunflowers as their subject, look somewhat similar.  Of course there are many distinctions in style but it is known that Van Gogh was inspired by the impressionists and he probably saw the earlier painting. Obviously you cannot copy right an image of an object or a title but I wonder how something like that would be viewed in today’s copyright climate?  Whether it would be frowned upon.  If I admire greatly and attempt to write in the style of award winning author, Cormac McCarthy is that plagiarism?  What if I write a story about a man and his son going south in a post apocalyptic United States in that same style, which is a far too brief description of McCarthy’s The Road?  I think that Siva Vaidhyanathan in Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity might advocate that those things are not plagiarism. Vaidhyanathan supports a loose and balanced copyright system.  A system that “does not prevent artists from taking from the ‘commons’, supports the idea that new artists build upon the works of others, and rewards improvisation within a tradition” (p. 125).   To reach this the author suggests that the protection should “expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material” (p. 125).   Vaidhyanathan has given me a great deal to think about and I am anxious to continue looking at this controversial debate.

Thinking about Plagiarism

October 24th, 2009 3 comments

I have been thinking about plagiarism recently, and even more so in light of reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Copyrights and  Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity. Vaidhyanathan’s book is a smartly-written, seemingly well-researched work that does exactly what its title says it does. While much of our class’ discussion centered on the author’s somewhat controversial discussion of copyright law and music, I was more smitten by his discussion of Mark Twain, and Vaidyanathan’s influence on American copyright law. According to Vaidhyanathan, Twain had a view of authorship that was somewhat contradictory. On one hand, Twain was a borrower, even once admitting to a friend in 1888, that “[t]hen, we were all thieves” (p.63). However, Twain fought tirelessly for credit over his finished works, despite admitting plainly (at least privately) that he frequently borrowed and adapted stories, characters, and even speech patterns for this own work.

And that brings us to today, where many of us who have put any thought whatsoever into our educations have been careful not to “plagiarize” — to steal away — the ideas of others. This is a necessary goal, to be sure, and one that will be met with severe punishment if we fail to meet it. But I do have a problem with a policy that believes in the increasingly laughable idea of the “romantic” writer, the author who sits, alone, uninfluenced, and writes, ex nihilo (out of nothing) like some kind of omniscient deity. This isn’t accurate or possible, and worse, it is disingenuous. When we write, it is impossible to remember every book, article, saying, person, movie, or song that has influenced some aspect of our writing styles, diction, or delivery. Try as we may, we can only remember so much of what I write.

While I hope to never knowingly plagiarize, and I endeavor to cite all my sources, this cannot, by definition, ensure that I have never plagiarized. This is a frightful thought, as I plan on pursuing a doctorate starting next year, and plan on teaching at the university level.

I suppose, then, that the lesson to be learned from Vaidhyanathan and his report of Mark Twain is that the relationship between authors, texts, and audiences is far from simple. Twain took stories he heard before, and put a special twist on them that made his finished works original, at least in part. When we read books or articles for papers in school, we are doing the same thing. Hopefully, we are a little more honest than he was when we do our writing. That should be the main difference.

I have looked for an interesting video that explains intertextuality, but was unhappy with what I found. What’s worse, influential articles by James Porter and Danielle DeVoss dont’ seem to be available right now. I doubt those authors would be happy about that, considering their importance in articulating the theory of intertextuality.

Rebecca Moore Howard argues  in “Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty” that “plagiarisim” is not as simple as it first appears (p. 788). Whereas most teachers believe that plagiarism is a result of either ignorance of citation conventions or a lack of ethics, Howard points to the act of “patchwriting,” the practice of taking a quote, and changing its wording slightly, as being a practice that doesn’t fit in this binary distincition. This practice, commonly considered to fall under the plagiarism umbrella, is really a valuable step in learning to write (p. 788) .

I’m not really sure what the point of this post was. Though it didn’t have much to do with Copyrights and Copywrongs, I think plagiarism is an important topic, and Vaidhyanathan’s book provides us with a look at this complex issue in a way we may not have had before.

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