Tag Archives: intellectual property

copyright data portability digital cameras entropy file sharing Flickr Google search information-retrieval internet linkrot mass media media law MP3 Napster web search

Obsolescence and obscurity in digital cameras

University Hall Tower at OWU I’m planning on buying a new DSLR, and as I looked through old photos from college today I started to think about my first digital camera, a Philips ESP50.  Here’s a page with some specs, translated from German.

I remember buying the camera, logged in to eBay from my parents’ house late at night the day after Christmas.  I think I ended up paying something like $250 for it.

This was before the megapixel war, when 640 by 480 was considered a viable resolution.  This camera applied tortuous levels of JPG compression to fit images on the 4MB disk.  At the time, though, it seemed like a good deal.  Film cost money, and developing film cost money, and most of the year I was a ramen-noodle-eating college student.  Probably the biggest reason to go digital was the tiny little screen on the back – you could actually tell if you got the shot, instead of waiting to get back a bunch of blurry prints.

The camera is painfully obsolete now, and even then it was somewhat obscure.  The thing is, the Web was a pretty amazing place even back in 1998 – there were lots of web pages about this camera.  I remember reading at least a couple reviews, and searches for it on WebCrawler or Alta Vista or whatever I used back then came up with retailers, other auction sites, etc.  Look for information about this camera now, and it seems that it has been largely forgotten:

And that’s about it.

I wonder, is this the destiny of all cameras?  Will I do a search for my Nikon Coolpix 5700 in 2014 and come up with just as little, or has the Web expanded so quickly that the copious product reviews, blog posts, and technical discussions on photography forums outweigh the force of entropy?  I wonder if the Internet has gained any stability as it has matured – do pages tend to stick around longer, or is linkrot a constant of the universe?

Future generations will hardly feel deprived if they miss out on information about some crappy old digicam.  Still, you never know what kind of information will end up being useful to someone at some point, and this same problem extends to all the information on the Web – from reviews of obsolete products to the human genome.  If a website goes under and deletes a thousand blogs, it won’t exactly make the news.  But our great-grandchildren might look at that stuff the way we look at letters from the Civil War.

The only solutions I have are more effort behind projects like archive.org, increased data portability, and rational intellectually property laws that don’t make saving 70-year-old content from deletion into a federal crime.

For discussion, how do you deal with ancient equipment, keeping around old web content, or even archiving old email?

The Internet and the free trade of information after Napster

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 15

This chapter’s debate is over the internet as a free trade of information (specifically via Napster).  Writing for the affirmative, Andrew Sullivan argues that file trading over the net is not stealing and might just make communism possible.  The lawyers for the recording industry, on the other had, argue that those who own the rights to the files traded need protection and deserve damages.

Sullivan is almost entirely optimistic about the ability of the net to act as a public space open to everyone.  Even the few sites which required payment are now becoming free, and people can copy the pay site’s content and send it outside anyway.  This, for him is a way to get around Marx’s dislike of the way capitalism values people only by monetary worth.  It also abolishes property in some ways, which Sullivan sees as helping to eliminate greed and profit motive in human interaction.  Soon musicians, journalists and others will remember their love for their professions and not mind going without a paycheck.

The recording industry lawyers, however, are not so cheery.  They point out that Napster facilitates music copying without paying copyright holders, that sales in Napster-saturated markets are down, and that Napster does so knowingly and at an enormous scale.  They argue that Napster was designed for the sole purpose of piracy and that it is their current business model as well.  Although Napster has yet to make any revenues, the lawyers argue they have gotten a financial benefit through piracy via venture capital, stock price and audience acquisition.

Sullivan, I think, has missed the point almost entirely.  I could go on for pages (and will in my paper), but basically his notion that the web is divorced from money is ridiculous.  Newspapers don’t charge because they make money off advertising-so they, along with the rest of the net, try to track you, market to you, sell data about you, etc., and if they don’t they fold.  Web traffic is going increasingly to those with money and power.  Also, so long as food and rent cost money, no writer or musician will forgo paychecks.  Sullivan seems to think you can live off MP3s alone.  My paper is about the internet’s function as a public space, it has more limitations than he recognizes-for example, not everyone can afford a computer or a net connection, which leaves a lot of people out of the public debate.

The Napster lawyers are also full of crap in a lot of ways.  These two essays really are at opposite ends of the spectrum-Sullivan is a naïve Marxist and the lawyers are cunning corporate-capitalists.  Note that in their public statements and in much of the press coverage, the recording industry represented this as a case of taking money from Metallica or the Rolling Stones or whoever, but in the brief copyright ownership is the key concept.  Most musicians get pennies for each CD sold, and some get nothing-with giant corporations, who control the entire distribution network, fixing prices at $17 each.  Napster, in fact, does little to nothing to hurt the average musician, but it’s possible (the lawyers’ proof is not rock solid) it hurts the corporate music oligarchy.  So it hurts non-human entities which create nothing but take all the wealth by dominating and controlling the market-excuse me if I’m not crying.  When the lawyers mention that Napster intends to make CD stores and the RIAA obsolete, it becomes pretty clear-since when has it been illegal to make an outdated system obsolete through technological innovation?

If the court is really interested in serving the public interest, it would pursue antitrust action against the RIAA and rewrite the copyright laws.  It is becoming harder and harder for a person who actually creates something, whether it’s an album, photograph, novel or article, to retain ownership to it.  Corporations, via concentration of ownership and agreements, are now demanding perpetual copyright ownership even from freelance workers who are traditionally protected.  Copyright law was intended to encourage creative and inventive people by giving them ownership of their work, but that rarely happens anymore.