Author: Deven Desai

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Goliath aka Google aka No Surprises in Hollywood versus Silicon Valley

This just in: Hollywood hates/fears/plots against Google! The Sony security breach and following leaks have yielded many insights, sort of. If anyone thought Hollywood executives were discrete, that was naive and now debunked. If anyone thought most people knew not to use work email for personal business, that too is shown false. (I am continually amazed at how many law professors have thought it “odd” or “paranoid” that I use different emails for work and non-work communication). And yes, Hollywood aka the copyright industry is quite savvy and plots ways to go after its competitors and/or threats. The revealed emails do show the details of the plans and that there was a code word, Goliath, for Google (which I take as a place holder for Silicon Valley). All of which seems very Dr. Evil. But let’s be clear. Strategies to go after state attorneys general or legislators and to push negative news stories are endemic. They are endemic to Hollywood, telecoms, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, and really any major industry. I am not saying that these practices are great or that policy is well-made from them. But they are real and should be understood. And, for those interested in the open Internet debates there are some other lessons. If you thought SOPA was the end, think again.

Vigilance and support for many companies and groups that support your issue (regardless of what it is) matters. The game is afoot. It will not end. Disclosure moment: Yes, I worked at Google in the policy group, and I have also worked on a political campaign. And one thing that I know from my experience and research (check Jessica Litman’s work on the copyright industry for a great lesson in this industry’s ability to play the game) is that if ideas come from only one entity, they seem weak. For better or worse, trade groups, NGOs, etc. matter. I prefer those that are independent and offer some nuances, but overall the concerted voices of many can be powerful. No matter what issue you wish to see succeed, backing only one entity dilutes the power of the idea or makes it seem like one company or group is crying over its lot in life. Some other post may get into the public choice issues here. But for now, the Sony leaks show that nothing much has changed. “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” Ecclesiastes, 1:5-6.

Hollywood will always lobby for its interests and so will everyone else. “So it goes.”

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Let the Games Begin! Lightsabers, 3D Printing, and Jedi Skills

Toys are a big area for 3D printing, and now someone is printing prototype lightsabers from a fleeting image in a trailer for the new Star Wars movie. As Gerard and I argue in Patents, Meet Napster: 3D Printing and the Digitization of Things, “Advances in 3D printing technology are launching an Industrial Counter-Revolution, and the laws governing the way things are made will need to make peace with the reality of digitized objects and on-demand fabrication.” These Hollywood-inspired designs may end up a case study for the ideas and issues we raise in the article. After all, Lucasfilm had a history of strong IP enforcement as does Disney, the new owner of the Star Wars franchise. And George Lucas is famous for having negotiated the merchandising rights to Star Wars and making a fortune from that revenue stream. There is, arguably, much at stake.

So will Disney try to stop this fun? If so, who will the target be? Thingiverse, a repository for 3D printing files? FDM, the company that makes the printer hardware? The source of the PLA filament (the materials for the object)? What about the tinkering that has come from just a brief view of the new lightsaber (it has a crossguard which has caused online debates about that design)? The designers at le FabShop offer:

As Makers, we couldn’t help but try to find out by ourselves if this “crossguard” design was a good configuration or not… So we decided to build one, with our army of 3D printers. Of course, the “darkness” of the movie sequence and the lack of details on the weapon itself left a lot of place for imagination and interpretation.

A dozen of 3D printable lightsabers being already available for download on internet, we decided to make one that would be completely customizable. The modular system we invented makes hundreds of configurations possible. From Yoda’s lightsaber to Darth Maul’s.

To me that sounds like some creative work and cool ways to let people play with designs to come up with a range of lightsabers. Of course, others might disagree (as I might if I were the corporation trying to make money selling the merchandise).

Then again, as we say in the article, “Advances in 3D printing technology are launching an Industrial Counter-Revolution, and the laws governing the way things are made will need to make peace with the reality of digitized objects and on-demand fabrication.” So maybe the Disney/Lucasfilms folks will work with these tinkerers and fans. Streamed official lightsabers might be possible. Or a customized lightsaber shop at Disney stores or even in licensed partnership with le FabShop would be great. If so, someone like me is more likely to order that specialized toy for me and for others as a gift and thus rely on expertise and safe materials a bit more than designing my own lightsaber.

Wait, designing my own lightsaber? That was evidence that Luke’s Jedi skills were complete. Maybe I need to get to work on that. Thank you le FabShop!

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Mark Weiner, author of The Rule of the Clan, Wins Grawemeyer Award

I am thrilled to share that Mark Weiner has won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for the ideas in his book, The Rule of Clan. As some of you know, Concurring Opinions hosted a symposium on Mark Weiner’s book, The Rule of the Clan. It was a heady exchange and much fun too. Mark is a dear friend and colleague. To see his work recognized in this way is most gratifying. The history of the award is rather interesting too. H. Charles Grawemeyer trained as a chemical engineer, had success as an industrialist, and endowed the award “to honor powerful ideas in five fields in performing arts, the humanities, and the social sciences.Winners in the World Order category include Mikhail Gorbachev, Samuel Huntington, John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos, and Erica Chenoweth among many others. So again, congratulations to Mark who is continuing his slacker ways with new work while at the University of Salzburg, Austria, this spring as a Fulbright Scholar. I expect another great set of ideas and work is in Mark’s and our future.

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The Creativity Cliff: Another Reason Extended Copyright Terms Are Not About Authors

Quality of life and creative capacity at the end of life are other reasons to doubt that long copyright terms are important for authors. Ezekiel Emanuel’s “Why I Hope To Die at 75” caused a stir for his views on graceful death and quality of life. Part of his argument is that creativity, on average, diminishes late in life. Those who pursue prolonging life as if they are “immortals” “operate on the assumption that they will be … outliers” such as one of Emanuel’s colleagues who still publishes papers that change policy at 90. “But the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” (Emanuel picks 75 because that is his trigger age for not fighting death). The article has a graph that indicates truly creative, novel ideas and work decline after the early to mid 60s for most people. Emanuel is quick to point out that there are many other ways to be productive and contribute to society after creativity slows down or goes away. Nonetheless, if he is correct that “This age-creativity relationship is a statistical association, the product of averages; … [and] The age-creativity curve—especially the decline—endures across cultures and throughout history, suggesting some deep underlying biological determinism probably related to brain plasticity”, it suggests that there is what I would call a creativity cliff.

If the creativity cliff is real, it suggests that giving more incentives to create late in life is unwise. As I argue in The Life and Death of Copyright, the idea that authors need copyright after death to provide for heirs is absurd and unsupported. When I presented the paper, many asked but what if I am old and want to leave something to my children, isn’t copyright an incentive? It may be an incentive, but it is not sound, in part because of the creativity cliff. In general, as Hal Varian has noted, very few works ever generate a steady income stream. That is true regardless of when one creates. Copyrighted works are part of winner-take-all markets and “Such markets end up fostering over-entry into the field because too many people believe they will be the one to sit at the top of the market when only a few or arguably one can do so.” As Emanuel points out, many of us hope to be outliers and “immortals” who have excellent quality of life and tremendous creativity late in life, but by definition that can’t be true. Thus those who say they need copyright as an incentive to write as they see death approaching labor under the illusion that they are the outliers. I laud the effort and probably will write until I die, but that is not a sound basis for policy.

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Data, A/B Testing, and Sales

A company called Adore Me that was founded in 2010 now has sales ($5.6 million) to rival La Perla has done well in part because they use data and A/B testing. Rather than rely on the intuition of photographers and designers, the company takes versions of an offering and shows them to consumers to see what works. Here are the surprising claims. Blonds don’t sell well. A picture of a model with her hand on her hip will sell less than if she places her hand on her head. According to Fast Company:

Through its research, Adore Me has found that the right model matters even more than price. If customers see a lacy pushup on a model they like, they’ll buy it. Put the same thing on a model they don’t, and even a $10 price cut won’t compel them. Pose matters as well: the same product shot on the same model in a different posture can nudge sales a few percentage points in either direction. Another test found that a popular model can sell a more expensive version of the same garment.

Adore Me also has a plus sized model (although I am sure that others can tell me best whether the company’s definition of size 12 and above is a good one) and presumably will see whether folks may buy more lingerie from someone with a body other than a Barbie-esque one. Of course they may find that the image machine controls how we shop, but I am curious to see whwther they will find ways to challenge and tweak what resonates with consumers. Now that may be unlikely as the author of the article, Rebecca Greenfield, wrote “Scrolling through the site, the models could all be related—long legs, olive skin, dark hair, insanely hot.” Yet when it came to race, the article suggests that pose, styling, and the emotional connection with the photo mattered more than race for selling a given item.

As with all data, the practice raises some difficult questions. Seeing how people behave can help sell. Assuming that one’s offering does not influence how people behave is a mistake. The ethics of what one does with data about buying habits and current preferences is a topic for another post and many papers are being written on the topic. For now, be aware of the practices. For Facebook thought it was cool to run thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of tests on users. As Ian Ayres noted, people can use Google Ads to see what titles work best for a book. So maybe we care more about emotional manipulation than the variation in ad content. Maybe we care more about whether we see ads for the same item and same price as others than whether that ad is highlighted in red, blue, or green. Maybe we should know that poses and lighting can influence our desires and buying habits. Although business experiments are not new, how they are done and for what purpose forces us to re-examine practices. Along the way, we will re-visit markets versus manipulation versus power versus nudging versus culture versus shaping as we better see what is happening and then ask why and whether about those outcomes.

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Will The Nobel Committee Follow Oscar and Restrict Selling Medals?

Apparently Watson, of DNA discovery fame, is selling his Nobel Medal. Christie’s estimates the price at $2.2 million. I will go into the reasons for the sale below. But first, I wonder whether the Nobel Committee will put in a restriction on selling the medals. The Oscar folks, (aka the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) placed a restriction on awards granted after 1950: the recipient or heirs had to offer it the the Academy for $1 before selling to anyone else. Unrestricted Oscars have been sold for $510,000 (1993, Vivien Leigh’s Oscar for “Gone with the Wind”) and $1,540,000 (1999 David O. Selznick’s Oscar for “Gone with the Wind”) among other prices. Whether the Nobel folks see the award as their key asset (as AMPAS does) or they have other objections to its sale will determine what they do.

For those wondering why sell the medal, Watson made some comments about race in 2007. According to Irish Central, in an interview with the Financial Times, Watson said he was “‘inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa’ because ‘all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.'” That statement resulted in boards and other groups choosing not to work with him. In short, he needs the money.

Given that Watson has said he will give some of the money to science charities, I wonder whether he might set up fund in honor of Rosalind Franklin, the woman who took the picture that allowed the structure of DNA to be seen and died four years before the Nobel for DNA’s discovery was made. (The Nobel prize is awarded only when one is alive). Nonetheless, her credit has been lost. Then again if Ms. Franklin were alive, she might not be happy to have a fund created in her name by someone who has Watson’s current reputation, let alone the DNA discovery problem.

Correction: Earlier version mistakenly listed Crick as the Nobel medal seller.

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Pew’s “Web IQ” Test Is Flawed

Pew Research does good work, but of late the surveys and claims give a “factoid” feeling. The latest report “What Internet Users Know about Technology and the Web” asks some rather silly questions. Why knowing the character limit on Twitter (140), which university was the first on Facebook (Harvard), or the year that the iPhone came out (2007) is indicative of useful knowledge is unclear. To me these points of trivia may matter as one tries to write about technology history and maybe policy. But the idea of Web IQ is murky. Heck, many of the questions are about the Internet, not the Web. Identifying the faces of tech leaders such as Gates or Sandberg is a curious feat but is this quiz in fact a game of tech Jeopardy!? (Yes, few knew Ms. Sandberg, but that is a different issue than Web IQ for me). The questions about tech policy seem to reveal more about problem areas. Guess what, net neutrality and privacy fared poorly. Knowing how wikis work might enable folks to think about the authority of content. Despite the irony of the quiz name, knowing the difference between the Web and the Internet also helps sort issues about many evolving technologies. Yet the overall thrust of the report reminds me of political, navel gazing junkies who, like Trekkers, thrill to their did you know who did what on some exact, obscure date knowledge and then act as if those who don’t know the answer somehow are stupid or “don’t get it.”

Raw knowledge and history are great and fun, but unless you can tie them together they are quite dead. Maybe if Pew had just called it a general tech knowledge test, it would have made more sense, but then maybe no one would read the report. Ah there it is. Pew’s IQ may be rather high after all.

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She Blinded Me With Science – Redux

Scientists/musicians at Cambridge have made a cover of Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me With Science (video below). As Cambridge News explains, the “video features a number of young women scientists including a material scientist, laser physicists and an epidemiologist. All proceeds from the song will go to ScienceGrrl, an organisation dedicated to celebrating and supporting women in science.” Seems like a cool project. The video could be a start to featuring more women in science (By my count there are five women in the video, which may be a function of how many can be highlighted in a short format). I hope so. My reason is simple. Some of my favorite people at Google were super-smart, fun to work with, visionary, and taught me huge amounts about science and professionalism and oh yeah, they happened to be women. That they are not known for their excellence beyond a small group and that women think science and math options are not open for them saddens and baffles me. Maybe the fact that my mom is a doctor colors my world. Or maybe it is the fact that I studied with female peers in grade and high school on math and science (including Calc I and II) and they were as good as any male I studied with. Or maybe it’s because so many women in law school and academia impressed and continue to impress me by pushing me to think and speak better as well as teaching me about law, science, technology, and so much more. To me the idea that women are somehow less able to work in certain fields is just nutty, or better said, insane. So in the Thanksgiving spirit, I am thankful that some science folks with some musical skills have offered their update to Mr. Dolby.

Side note: Dolby is one of my favorite musicians . His Golden Age of Wireless has some great tracks (check One of Our Submarines if you want a haunting ode to technology and lost empire). That said, The Flat Earth is brilliant. I think of it as an album that I can listen to start to finish and enjoy each song. The title track is great. I prefer the studio version to this one, but you can get a feel for the song and the lyrics perhaps the best part:
“please remember…
the Earth can be any shape you want it
any shape at all
dark and cold or bright and warm
long or thin or small
but it’s home and all I ever had
and maybe why for me the Earth is flat”

In other words, we can make the world we want.

Plus the idea of the Flat Earth Society amuses me.

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Oh Barbie, Not Again! Mattel’s View of Women and Science

Apparently, Barbie again thinks that women are limited when it comes to science. Mattel seems to be trying to get on board with with STEM and women. They commissioned a book Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. Unfortunately, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, the book has Barbie as only able to design and not code, and she seems not to have a sense of computer security. The online outrage has prompted a recall of the book. The writer claims that Mattel required Barbie to be “more polite.” Mattel has claimed the book, which came out in 2010, does not reflect current Barbie views. Nonetheless, The Herald points out that The book came out last year and there is evidence that the book was commissioned in 2011. Furthermore, the real point is that Mattel should be able to do better here. As the Herald points out that other offerings such as Rosie Revere Engineer and the Hello Ruby project manage to show females doing well with technology and gaining skills such as coding. So will Mattel and Barbie ever catch up to more modern ideas? After all, critical views of Barbie and Mattel’s views on women in math and science have been going on since at least the late 1990s.

Maybe the Internets and buying power will force a shift. As I argue in Speech, Citizenry, and the Market: A Corporate Public Figure Doctrine, people should take on Mattel and Barbie with online protests, boycotts, reworking of the brand image (which apparently happened with a remix app that lets “people [] make their own wry comments by rewriting the book”), and more. That might signal competitors that a market exists while also telling Mattel that they are losing the next generation of consumers. Plus The Herald notes that Barbie sales are down. That may present and opportunity for this sort of action to have force. As STEM grows in attention, and moms start to buy more toys that foster new views of femininity, maybe other toy and doll makers will take off and challenge Barbie. Given Mattel’s power, it may alter course and swamp those new entrants, or it may buy them. A more likely outcome is that a few new offerings emerge, but Barbie stays the course. Still, if some criticism spurs even niche options, today’s world of Internet sales and bespoke toys can support that niche until it maybe becomes more.

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I Am Thankful for Antitrust? Yep.

So you are settling in thinking about food, those who have it, those who don’t, and of course a distraction, antitrust, pops into your head. OK that is unlikely unless you are a nerdy professor, which I am. In all seriousness, I am thankful that friends and colleagues indulge my ideas as I develop them, and that they read work other than what I read. It allows me to pose odd questions, hear what I may be missing, share views that my friends may not have seen, and all are better for it.

The specific, recent example happens to be in antitrust. I was catching up with Spencer Waller and mentioned that I had dusted off early Bork. The man writes quite well. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, his style and clarity is to be admired. That also poses a danger that Peter Swire alluded to and Spencer helped me overcome. Bork, of course, has critics and some of that criticism is about substance. That is some argue Bork was inaccurate about history and more. So if one wishes to cite Bork, it helps to know where that may lead. Thankfully, Spencer pointed me to an excellent symposium on Bork.

So I am also grateful to the Antitrust Law Journal and Barak Orbach, George Priest, Danny Sokol, and Adam J. Di Vincenzo for organizing and editing the Symposium on Robert Bork and Antitrust Policy. (Volume 79, Issue 3). The range of views and explanations are exceptional. Each essay explores specific ideas or contentions. The authors I have read so far provide a view of Bork and antitrust in general that educates and excites. I look forward to reading the rest.