Tuesday, September 28, 2004

What P2P Developers Need to Know About Copyright Law

Fred von Lohmann, Senior IP Attorney at the EFF, posted an interesting article on the current state of IP law in the US, which he has recently updated in the light of his victory in the Grokster case.

The MGM v. Grokster ruling suggests that, with careful attention to the relevant legal principles, indirect liability can be avoided by P2P developers. Because this case may still be appealed to the Supreme Court, however, developers should exercise caution in relying on the ruling.

You can read it here.

Monday, September 27, 2004

DRM will fail

DRM will fail but it will take a lot of corporate resources with it. We need to hook into these resources and content and recycle them into something useful. Read this article to find out why DRM will fail.

BEyONdTV - Why plug-in’s are important – the philosophy of technology

The idea of plug-ins is really important, as the idea is to mix “open source” and “closed source” applications in a single product. The copy-left nature of the core code means that we cannot sell/restrict/control the content that people consume. This is on the one hand a problem, and on the other a virtue – I think the problem comes first and the virtue only follows if we manage to overcome the problem. In this a little guile is needed to sidestep the problem and slide into the virtue.

The user/developer experiences will be one of “open development” and “open content” with the option of accepting restrictions if they want closed development/content. There then follows a market (and technological) battle to see which is the more attractive from a user/developer point of view. It is a “free market” of development/production/consumption in the sense of level to access/distribute rather than free as in free beer (money/resources).

If we are “pure” in our openness we face too major and connected problems, firstly the “tragedy of the commons” that is any space that is open will be trashed. An example of this is the current problem we are having with the ecological balances of our environment. Secondly, and connectedly, is the issue of quality; communication by audio/visual means is both a long tradition and a creative art in this sense, as there needs to be a basic level of training and skill used in the production of content that is both watchable and communicates. In alt-media the is a huge amount of content – but probably less that 5% will keep some ones attention and communicate what it sets out to in a meaningful and engaging way to an audience outside the people apearing on the screen. For a medium that sets out to start a dialog with the world, it is key to talk in a common language and in an engaging and attention keeping form.

This project attempts solutions to both of these problems by implementing “plug-ins” which both restrict and shape the media broadcast. This would in no way affect “free speech” - you can install a plugin that is “open publishing” with no quality control or direction if you wish, or you can install a plug-in that is Hollywood movies and Disney cartoons – if one is available - and you can pay for it. The revolution, and it is a subtle one, is that the Disney channel and the alt-media news will have equality of transmission, and thus it is up to the user to choose which one they want. This is a key and fundamental change from the current state of media transmission, which gives deafening voices to global corporations who have no responsibility to there audience but there submission to consuming meaning draining basest materialist and emotional messages, repeated and repeated and repeated till they become real enough to bind our disintegrating communities to keep consuming. In comparison the tiny voices of the ghetto transmissions of the alternative are unheard, and even if people could hear them, mostly incomprehensible.

This subtle process of levelling the hierarchy of transmission will challenge our world views, leaving some to take different paths than the current one. The media will become a “true” debating/agitating/questioning/joining force in our lives, rather than the banging of the background drum of advertising creating inadequacy that consumes us and our planet. We can hear “positive”, “creative”, real voices and negatively we can see and more importantly “feel” the social/environmental devastation surrounding us.

The plugins have a subtle but important role of allowing every side to have a say, especially theirs. It is then up to the producers/consumers to make their informed/inspired choices. Without the “closed” plugins this project cannot reach out to the mainstream in media/society; it will simply become another tool for the circling which is the progressive/revolutionary ghetto. As Russo said at the start of the mass media revolution “man is born free but everywhere he in chains”. Let us wake up the freedom by rattling the chains so that they are visible. It will take a bigger collective will, which is beyond the horizon of this project, to remove them.

Technology of plugins
Plugins from a technical point of view – the project is “stupidly simple” TM because it is made up of mature separate applications. In this it is key to development that each has many developing capabilities which can be imagined into future versions. In this each is already a plugin. The torrent backend could be replace by a different P2P application, the media player replaced to accommodate new codecs and subtitling technology, a streaming media plugin could be added to bring in real-time news segments. A radio metaphor is an obvious addition, combining P2P downloads and streaming segments. A online “newspaper” news aggregator is a less obvious but perhaps interesting addition; so you have 3 icons on your desktop – a TV, radio and a newspaper, all sharing a common “channel” metaphor and robust P2P delivery.

Medium metaphors are a key party of the project
Thus the user/producer can consume in the “old familiar way” a TV, a radio channel or a morning newspaper, or in new way: watch video on demand, mix and match radio, RSS news feeds etc. Both are built into the project, widening possibilities of production/consumption to “established habits” and the creation of new web ways of working/creating and most importantly interacting.

INTERACTING IS THE KEY - BEyONdTV – DIY media is part of the solution.

Using a browser

The existing VB app (which I promise to fix soon!) has a 2Mb installer, which you have to download, unzip and, well, install. It takes up space in the start menu, and it only works in Windows.
Everything that app does can be done equally easily in Javascript. If we adopt this approach, then:

  • Users will only need to download and install Azureus, not the viewer as well.

  • The viewer can be made to look just like the VB app, but the code can be altered by just hacking the HTML - no need to rebuild and re-distribute the application, changes and bug-fixes will affect all users immediately.

  • The Javascript viewer could (probably) be written to figure out that the Windows Media Player isn't available, and use something like MPlayer instead - thus making the Javascript player platform-independent.

    If you aren't convinced, I suppose I'll have to write it and show you!

RSS 2.0

Blogger.com offers feeds using the Atom syndication format only. You can now get an RSS 2.0 version of the feed for this blog at the following URL:


FeedBurder translates it on the fly. Neato!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Business Plans

So, I don't personally care for this "business plan" business. I see this project as a neat thing to do - like, something that someone is going to do anyway. I've argued (ever so politely) with Hamish about this, and it's clear we're not going to agree.

Doesn't matter - because it's open source and creative commons, the control thing is out of the window from the start.

Good luck, Hamish!

Money and Sustainability – Business Plan

The project is launched on enthusiasm and archive work. This will take us through version 1-2.

  • in version 3 NGO’s can each have a “channel”; they would pay for consultation/setup and training to do this. There would be no charge for the actual channel itself.

  • In version 4 we have ethical advertising, corporate advertising and pay per-view.
    - This would work at different users levels tied to program content. The levels would be based on ethics and ability to pay.

  • At the core of advertising would be an independent relationship between the program producer and the advertiser. The channel would take a small cut for facilitating the relationship.

  • Users can exercise choices about what level of advertising they except, from no adverts to ethical adverts to the full corporate onslaught – as content will be tied to adverts some, content will be not be available to people. Thus users who choose no adverts will not receive the more commercial Hollywood content. This advertising revenue will only work if we implement Digital Rights Management. This outreach to the mainstream will allow much wider distribution of the channel outside the activist and NGO ghettos.
  • It is quite likely that in practices the Digital Rights Management software will fail leading to a melt-down in mainstream media production and distribution. With the possibility of new ways of supporting the production and distribution of audio-visual media, news, documentary and comedy being developed.

It'll market itself.

Specifically, it'll market itself because it's a kewl blog; the 'A-list' bloggers just love to link to other blogs. For example, Indymedia (a blog, in effect) gets frequent mentions in blogs. And rather a lot of bloggers are politically left-of-centre, if not exactly anarchist. And tech-bloggers will blog it mercilessly - BoingBoing would go for it hook, line and sinker.

So you do it like this:

  1. Set up a proper blog using a free blog-server, like Blogger.com (Google). Do this now. I can set it up, if you like. In fact I will, and with your permission, it's called "BeyondTV". I'm not a very fluent writer; send me copy, I'll fix it up for spelling, and post it. I'll also post my own stuff, which will mainly be be of a
    technical nature. At least initially. I'm talking about a prose blog - not a video blog, not yet.

  2. Start blogging quietly away - just a mainly-private journal for the alpha-testers. We need at least one article per day - doesn't matter if it's "What I had for breakfast". This is important, because pages that change frequently get more attention from the Google spider.

  3. Post links to other blog-articles that mention related technology - the bloggers that write those articles *will* notice that you've done this, because when you blog someone else's blog using proper blogging software, they get a notification - and usually that results in a trackback link being added automatically to the article. This is good - that trackback link is a link that Google uses to increase your page-ranking. And since the original blogger is manifestly interested in the subject, he will probably start monitoring the BeyondTV blog.

  4. When you're ready to fire on all cylinders (and not before!), add a link to the video-feed on the blog's home-page, and announce the product on the blog.

  5. Post an announcement of the release (with link) to Indymedia global, and send an email to BoingBoing, Slashdot, and any other tech blog with a history of blogging cool technology developments, with a link to the Indymedia announcement *and* to the feed. And email influential RSS lists, like RSS-DEV (I'm a subscriber). Also email tech journals such as Wired, and internet freedom advocates such as EFF, Larry Lessig etc. Be prepared to be heavily slashdotted.

We won't need to do any more than this - if we keep our powder dry until it can be mass-released safely, the powder will just explode. And it won't just be a "puff" of market-droid hot air.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

BeyondTV - Version 4

An Electronic Programming Guide would be made up of what is on your machine, which can be viewed by subject and date; individual videos could be locked, that is moved out of the download cache (and quota). Download on demand would be available for all old content on the web, thus building up a huge archive of alt-media and keeping it available for posterity.

Plugin’s for digital rights management

  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Hollywood
  • Premium TV channels
  • And other 3rd parties

These would allow revenue from advertising and pay per-view, for distribution this would also open up the project to a much more mainstream audience. The mainstream media and software producers will have problems catching up with the P2P technology we are using as they have not invested and do not have expertise in this area, thus if we take a good lead they will have no choice but to play catch up and follow with technically inferior products. The quality of content will probably be low as well, as the better producers will be slow to accept the “open distribution models” that P2P embodies. So the production values of commercial video will be low for the growth period of the project.

Together with the continuing endemic widespread piracy of “high quality commercial video”, conventional media producers will find it very hard to operate in a market where they have little or no control of the scarsity which is at the base of their model for profit in their production and distribution.

We technically outreach them, and commercially undermine them; in this way we attempt to break the current media monopolies.

BeyondTV – “an offline internet revolution”

"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats." Howard Aiken, American computer pioneer.
Projected users:

  • 100,000 thousand users with in 6 months of launch

  • 1 million users within a year

  • First scaleable, broadcast quality internet TV channel.

  • Legal P2P champion; P2P is huge world wide with tens of millions of users, most of its popularity is down to the free distribution of copy-right material. This would be a “legal” use of P2P technology. The US government is trying to make P2P technology illegal, so there would be good publicity in making a widely used “legit” use of P2P.

  • Works at many levels – it will also be the first video Blog, thus riding the wave of the other fashionable tech phenomenon.

  • Use tech publicity to start up chattering classes publicity to build mainstream publicity.

  • It is inherently a global project; users and producers can access and add content from any corner of the world. Simple subtitling technology can make this global media accessible to all. The subtitling technology is working already for the ENR project, so there is an example website of co-operative translation that works now.

  • The project uses the “creative commons” licence and “open source” code. In this it becomes a practical example of copy-left knowledge industry.

  • Every part of the project is using mature technology which works now – the is no technological barrier to having a P2P TV channel serving millions of users. the content could then also be re-broadcast on progressive satellite and cable channels around the world. We could charge a "small administration fee" to clear the rights and help fund the project.

  • The start up could be funded by NGO’s paying to setup NGO TV channels, Amnesty, Greenpeace, friends of the Earth etc. This would also add much reasonable quality content if users subscribed (for free) to all channels.

  • Funding could come from progressive foundations and audiences funding drives.

  • The cost of starting the channel are minimal, and the continuing costs small; P2P allows huge distribution at minimal cost.

We spend all our time complaining about how difficult it is to distribute our films…

This is the outcome of 3 years of work, with networking, video codec's, subtitling, P2P networks and stupidly simple philosophising in the face of "overly complex solutions". All the bits work and the project is thought-through; do we have the cohesiveness to be the ones to make it happen? Many other people are working on the same project - the corporations in a "closed way", the open-source geeks in a "incomprehensible way". Do we have the foresight and desire to slip through the middle and define the standard of future audio video transmission in a "undercurrents way"? (;

Hamish Campbell

Ps. If anyone has any ideas for marketing or contacts please e-mail me them.

BitTorrent is a huge global phenomenon

SuprNova is the best BitTorrent site out there, with nearly 1.5 million page views per day and a popular IRC channel. It also has multiple trackers and forums. Torrents of all types are available from the site. You can search SuprNova, and get torrents from a known working mirror, courtesy of SuprNova Search.