Monthly Archives: June, 2008

The Irish Times goes free – as in beer!

The Irish Times - now free (as in beer)!

The Irish Times – long held out as a way of “monetizing the web” with it’s insistence of sticking to a subscription only model – has gone the free route.

Can we move on now?

Crude Oil

Crude Oil

Bansky meets Vettriano.

All my postings on Jack Vettriano

All my postings on Banksy

The weekly Antony Gormley homage

Still Falling

Photo: Joe Dunckley. Used under licence.

Antony Gormley’s Still Falling.

All my postings on Antony Gormley

The weekly Antony Gormley homage

Angel of the North

Photo: Conor Lawless. Used under licence.

Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North.

All my postings on Antony Gormley


Penny Arcade SecuROM

Penny Arcade:

The one topic upon which there is any consensus at all is that SecuROM copy protection barely deters piracy, and makes life more difficult specifically for paying customers.

So true.

I say, I say, I say. Any of this “loot” yours?


Independent article.

A spectacular collection of jewellery, Renaissance paintings and millions of pounds in cash were seized from the locations in Park Lane, Hampstead and Edgware. The ill-gotten gains – believed to be the proceeds of major organised crime – had been kept hidden in 7,000 deposit boxes for some of the country’s wealthiest individuals.

Whilst admitting:

Yesterday, armed police remained outside the safe depositories in the capital as officers continued to remove a treasure trove of valuables. It will take days to remove every box and prise it open, using specialist equipment, before its contents can be taken to a secret, secure, storage facility. Working day and night, officers have been logging each item, examining the goods found within every container – which range in size from shoe-box holders to walk-in vaults – to recover forensic evidence. Meanwhile, experts were yesterday trying to establish the authenticity of the works of art and whether some of the jewels may be legitimately owned.

They go on to say:

The Met Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who led the investigation into the “cash for peerages” affair, has said the centres could be linked to criminal activities from paedophilia to drug trafficking.

With the kicker in italics at the end:

Those wishing to collect their items should contact the police call centre on 0800 030 4613

Magnificent 🙂

The BBC – a Digital Commons.

1908 Berlin Balloon Race from the Bain Collection
Photo: Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Confirmed this morning – I’m off to the BBC/TechCrunch debate next week.

Mike Butcher has focused the discussion on the BBC as a common platform – i.e.:

Steve Bowbrick, who is chairing the debate, and I have subtitled the debate ‘a common platform’ which is a phrase that seems to suggest the potential for the Corporation (and other players like 4ip) to build a shared space for citizens, organisations, institutions and businesses to use.

Steve Bowbrick has a blog post which deals with this in more detail:

So what I’m talking about is building a big, generous, accommodating public platform that runs code and community and content – making life easier for creators and communities in Britain. A kind of giant shared computer that exposes useful assets like public data, educational content, archives and library catalogues, health data and democratic and community tools… The whole range of useful and enabling content and services that comes from state providers like the BBC, the Ordnance Survey and the Public Records Office and also the good stuff that comes from the commercial and third sectors.

On the panel is Azeem Azahar who wrote previously about a BBC Public License – which would:

* Use BBC content, build on it, add value, build audiences and personal relationships with it;

* Use BBC code, improve on it, make a business from it, give spin-offs from it away or sell them;

* Use BBC services to develop digital society, because the BBC can provide things that the market can’t;

A digital commons concept
Photo: Philippa Willitts. Used under licence.

These ideas are along the lines of the digital commons concept I was proposing:


I floated a few ideas (in the New Ideas Symposium and the Innovation Forum) in my days at the BBC.

Their essence lay in the fact that the BBC, historically, had been given a slice of scarce spectrum and in return provided a public service, but that in the digital era where spectrum was plentiful the BBC needed to focus and seek to act like a “commons” and provide an area where people could gather and share ideas and thoughts openly and creatively, with the BBC adding to the discussion (not seeking to lead). Part of this required a re-imagining of what the licence fee funded/was for.

As it stands people equate the licence fee with paying for the BBC, whereas I was agitating for a digital licence to fund content creation and for the BBC to offer a commons area where this content could be shared freely. The main intent was to move away from the idea being of funding access to an individual playout device – the television – and to be seen to be an organisation that simply made its content available to the nation, who could creatively use it after that.

I don’t think the licence fee is a bad way to fund the BBC (as long as the BBC keeps to it’s public service remit!) but I do think that it has got conflated with simply funding television viewing and as such it needs to be “replaced” and a new digital licence introduced with a new mission statement of what the BBC does.

I’m looking forward to this debate as it may be the birthplace for some interesting ideas!
Birthplace of the stars
Image: NASA. Public Domain.

The weekly Antony Gormley homage

Another Place

Photo: Joe Dunckley. Used under licence.

Antony Gormley’s Another Place.

All my postings on Antony Gormley

The weekly Antony Gormley homage

Antony Gormley's Blind Light

Photo: red betty black. Used under licence.

Antony Gormley’s Blind Light.

All my postings on Antony Gormley

The Nazi Monkeys ©

Nazi Monkey

Photo: sindicato de la imagen. Used under licence.

Paul Carr recently did a blog post entitled Mentioning the Arctic Monkeys to prove a copyright point is the new Godwin’s law which states:

Seriously – can anybody send me a link to a single decent argument for reforming copyright law in favour of thieves? Just one. Or better still, does anyone who argrees with Arrington/Welsh want to write a guest post on the subject for this blog?


First convincing economic argument wins. Closing date – I dunno, whenever. I suspect it might take a while for someone to prove Arrington right on this particular subject. Those pigs aren’t going to teach themself to fly.

I’m sure Mike Arrington can stick up for himself and I’m equally aware of the link bait/book promoting aspect of Paul’s post – but needs must.

To look at the economic argument, you must first understand how the rules of the game have changed and why, therefore, existing norms now need to be updated to these new circumstances.

So what has changed?

0. The network is the computer
It’s become a precondition of technological devices to have computer and/or Internet connectivity.

1. The production chain has gone digital.
Audio, video and text production is now possible to produce in an end-to-end digital chain.

2. The distribution chain has gone digital.
Moving digital voice, video or text is only a matter of how fast you can do it.

3. The means of production and distribution have been decentralised.
The rise of the PC and the Internet to connect them.

4. The cost of digital storage has fallen.
Cost per MB now makes storage of vast quantities of data seem reasonable.

5. The speed of broadband has risen.
Moving vast quantities of data now seems reasonable.

6. The open source model has given developers an open platform.
If no one owns the platform then no one controls it.

7. The open standards model has given innovative companies a level playing field.
Open standards allows new ecosystems to develop and grow unhindered by incumbent players.

8. The increase in instant communication and social networking tools.
We now live in a world where the mobile phone, instant messaging and sharing links to data is the norm.

9. The use of digital content as cultural shorthand.
YouTube, Dailymotion, Flickr, Photobucket, WordPress, Blogger, etc.

Combined these have lowered barriers to entry, encouraged innovation and allowed data to be shared freely.

How have these changes affected the cultural environment?

What do you see as the digital future?

5 years out – Explosion in cheap consumer products that theoretically allows you to have digital content “anytime, any place anywhere”. Network architecture that doesn’t. Spectrum sale warms up. Computer gaming continues to grow as the pastime for teenagers. Convergence of electronic products is the norm. Fracturing of channels accelerates with growth in “online only” broad/pod/vod/IPcasters. Sky and BT merge. IPTV starts to be seen as a viable distribution model. Mainstream broadcasters content struggles to compete with online user generated content and consumers find access to content not an issue but finding the time to watch it the constraint. Branding imperative to “tag” your content, as people may well consume it without ever using your delivery vehicle. Standards and DRM come to the fore as delivery companies try to tie you into their preferred platform. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it!)

10 years out – Network architecture catches up. Sky/BT have their 21st Century Network in place, the BBC is delivering digital-only content (Except for FM still!) and shooting everything in HD – so is everyone else – network architecture falls behind again. Those who bought the freed up spectrum try to sweat every bit of content for as much revenue as possible to get a return on investment. Online archive of past week’s linear broadcast available on-demand and can be streamed as live. Channels fracture some more as IPTV allows for thousands of channels. Spectrum no longer the scarce resource, so BBC’s Unique Selling Point is primarily it’s quality. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it! No, really we do!)

20 years out – Network architecture catches up. Online archive of past year’s linear broadcast available on-demand and can be streamed as live. Ultra High Definition on the horizon – network architecture falls behind again. Mobile delivery considered to be the next big thing (and this time we mean it! No really we do! You just watch!)

What is really happening with the convergence of electronic appliances is not necessarily the shifting of all content to one platform but the freedom to substitute one digital good for another, both of which are in competition for the scarce resource – time.

The marginal cost of production – where a digital reproduction is claimed to have a zero marginal cost, as you still have the original but I have a perfect copy for free, as the cost of storage heads to zero, – is missing the point as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t wish to consume something only because it is free.

When the substitutable alternatives available to me are free of cost but require my investment of time then I have no incentive to add a monetary cost to the equation.

If what you have to offer costs me in monetary terms and time then you need to add value in a way that turns the substitute good into a complementary one.

The trick is to recognise who in the market are playing by the economic rules (mostly the consumers on the Internet) and who are seeking protectionist measures (mostly the rights holders – DRM etc.) and to show those seeking protection from the market how rational the market actually is behaving and that if they innovate, they can reposition themselves from being protectionists in a declining business model to being on the growth curve in a new business model.

Once your stuff goes digital you have to compete with free.

Free is not a bad/good thing in itself but it is important that you recognise it as your starting point.

Adding value to the experience is where the sweet spot is in terms of being on the upward growth curve.

I won’t jump into the straw man argument of arguing for reforming copyright in favour of thieves but I will make the case that any law which states that format shifting is illegal – thus making everyone with an MP3 player guilty – is one which is being infringed on such a scale as to make it meaningless.