Author Archives: Dima

My thoughts after attending Trump rally at UIC

Today I went to the Trump rally and I lived to tell you want to jot down some quick notes.

After spending a little over an hour in line, surrounded mostly by cheerful Bernie supporters, I spent quite a while inside watching the events unfold and saw the Forum erupting with cheers when they announced that Trump was canceling the event. By the looks of it, at least half of the attendants (if not more) were there to protest Trump and support Bernie. Then, I watched the festivities continuing outside and spilling over to the highway. Finally, when I got home, I read some news coverage of what has happened.

Here are some preliminary thoughts and observations [my own pictures and video will follow in due time]:

  1. Media and violence – It is amazing to see how political spectacle is hyperbolized in the media. To me, this was particularly visible today, because of the short span in which I could observe the event and then read about it. I think I had a pretty good view of what was happening in the pavilion and I think things were pretty civil for the most part. Well, as civil as it gets in political rallies. Yes, there was a lot of shouting, “Trumping,” and also “Berning,” but it didn’t seem particularly violent. The skirmishes actually erupted after the event got cancelled, but even then those were exceptions – most people were busy just shouting at each other and waving posters. To me this was far from what I later read in the media about this being “an outbreak of political violence unprecedented, in Chicago at least, since 1968 Democratic National Convention”. But then what do I know? I wasn’t there in 1968. Kudos to the US democracy for typically holding much more civil rallies than what I observed today.
  2. Protest as fun – What I think there was in abundance today was humor and actually festive atmosphere among the protesters. It was actually refreshing to see people using humor to protests, both with signs and actions. Funny slogans, people dressed up as Trump (among other characters), and of course some Drumpfiness. Many of the young people I saw, came there to have fun while mocking Trump and his followers. Coupled with being outnumbered, I believe this youthful cheerfulness must have been particularly frustrating for Trump supporters. In many ways it is disarming.
  3. The spectacle of protest – This was, of course, first and foremost a show, and a lot of people came just to watch. Having it held in a sports arena was kind of symbolic in this context. No outside food drink or food was allowed, so people lined up to get fries and soda. I wish they were selling pop-corn – that would be even more fitting. People came to see fights. And so did the media. As a side note, I also encountered at least three people who smelled of alcohol. That part I don’t really understand, but it does connect with the idea of this being a carnival.
  4. Phones – And if we are talking about this being a spectacle, what draw my attention was the ocean of phone screens practically anywhere you looked. This is not new at all. But I am just stunned every time I see it. And there was excellent reception throughout the event, which is another fact does not size to amaze me and I do not take for granted. There must be a startup somewhere out there that works on technology that can take all this distributed footage and bake it into a single crowdsourced story. If there is none, here an idea…
  5. Dynamics of crowds – I wonder if there is ever a situation where the majority in the crowd does not seem bullish and violent. Yes, there was a fair share of “Trumping” as people were waiting in the pavilion, this is when this still was a Trump event. But at the end of the day the outnumbered Trump supporters seemed somewhat helpless. It became particularly evident after the announcement of cancellation, when it became clear that the protesters were actually the majority in the pavilion and it pretty much became a festival of support for Bernie Sanders. After that, every time Trump supporters tried to chant anything, their attempts were overtaken by the chants of the protesters; the occasional attempts of Trump supporters to engage in an argument were squatted by numbers; and those from the Trump camp, who were trying to start a commotion by cruising through protesters while wearing provocative t-shirts, were circled and booed. And the louder the majority became, the less humor and cheerfulness there was in the air.
  6. Winners and losers – Now I will go out on a limb with a quick analysis. I think that Trump is still the winner of tonight. Trump won, not just because he got hours and hours of air time (again), but because he managed to spin the entire event as driven by violence of others (and him claiming that he consulted with law enforcement was a nice touch, whether or not this has actually happened). The way this event will go down, at least in our short-term, mediated memory, will be a story of protester violence that did not let Trump speak. We will remember it like this, partially because that what the media came to report even before the events unfolded – they came to report a fight and they got it. And each camp will now spin this framing either into victimhood or a win. The victimhood spin plays in Trump’s favor among the Republicans trying to decide whom they should support in the upcoming primaries. To them, they were right all along – they are losing their country and here is another piece of evidence to prove it.
    The win spin of the protestors, who, at least on the surface, managed to silence Trump, creates a loser in tonight’s spectacle and this loser is Hillary Clinton. The protest were led by and large by Sanders’ supporters, who countered Trump supporters’ “We want Trump” with “We want Bernie.” As such, the win colors Chicago as feeling the Bern. To those, who view it as a win, this is a victory of the Bernie’s camp. It puts him prominently on the map in Hillary’s “home” state. I believe it can hurt her in the primaries, especially among the younger demographics where she is already struggling. Well, I guess we’ll see next week whether I was right or wrong. But if I am right, pragmatically, Clinton’s loss is Trump’s win.

CFP: ICA pre-conference on power, communication, and technology in Internet governance

On behalf of GigaNet, I am helping to organize an ICA 2016 pre-conference on Internet governance. I think this is a really exciting opportunity to reflect on how much this area of research has developed in the past ten years. In fact, the area has grown so much that there will be two ICA pre-conference dedicated to Internet governance (the one we are organizing will be held in Tokyo, the other one will be held in Hong Kong).

If you are reading this, I encourage you to submit your work to the pre-conference. The deadline for extended abstracts is January 15, 2016, full papers are due on April 15, 2016, and the event itself will take place on June 8, 2016.

You can find the full call on the GigaNet website. You can contact me if you have any questions.

InfoNation #2: The psychology of sharing economy

In this series of posts I will be sharing podcasts produced by students in my senior seminar on information technology governance. This podcasting series is called InfoNation, and I explain more about it here.

This episode was produced by UIC communication students Ashley Thinnes (15) and Madeline Miller (15). In it, Ashley and Madeline discuss ride-sharing as an example of the sharing economy and interrogate the question of why we partake in it.

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[MUSIC: InfoNation theme music and outro]

[ASHLEY THINNES] The Sharing Economy. Ever heard about it? Let’s talk about it.

[MADELINE MILLER] So, Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, TaskRabbit…all these companies were born and exist only within the sharing economy. Most of us use them daily, glad to escape the days of having to hail expensive cabs or rent overpriced hotel rooms.

[THINNES]: But what are these companies, really?…More than just an app, that’s for sure.

[MILLER] Yeah, I mean industries participating in this thing called “the sharing economy”, are advocating a different approach to consumerism….Basically that the access to resources is more important than the ownership of resources.

[THINNES] Sounds like a fancy way of saying, “sharing is caring”.

[MILLER] Haha, I guess so.

[THINNES] So when did this become “a thing,” though? I mean I learned it in Kindergarten, and I use Uber all the time, but it seemed to just like spring up like an magical angel releasing us from the hell that is having to hail a cab.

[MILLER] Well, the sharing economy’s ideology isn’t necessarily a recent concept. People have been sharing resources a long time before Uber and Airbnb allowed us to do so in a large format.

What you’re seeing is more a surge in accessibility. Radical technological advances and the growth of web 2.0 allowed us to have more accessible technology. Then more people got connected. Once we got connected, opportunities for collaboration increased. And with collaboration comes sharing…so bam! Mass amounts of people were able to share mass amounts of resources.

[THINNES] So basically these businesses exist on a digital platform and function primarily through user’s distribution of resource contributions?

[MILLER] You got it. So, register for Uber as a driver, and you share your car with a consumer in need. Register for Uber as a consumer, and you share your money with a driver in need. All Uber does is facilitate these transactions.

[THINNES] How many companies are there like that though? I mean, you named a few, but certainly not enough to validate being called a whole “economy”.

[MILLER] Actually it’s quite the booming business… In 2013, Forbes estimated that the revenue flowing through the sharing economy and into people’s pockets would exceed $3.5 billion, holding a total value of $26 billion.

[THINNES] Going past that current revenue, “investors regard the sharing economy as the new ‘mega-trend’, with researchers citing predicted profits will double within the next 12 months. That means this economy can potentially grow to over $110 billion in profit revenue in the coming years.

But let’s stop and let’s get a little more specific than just the whole sharing economy in general. Let’s talk about what we know. In our experience, ride-sharing is one of the most popular industries within this untraditional economy. So we went out and talked to a few people about their personal motivations behind using companies like Uber and Sidecar, and we found out what they had to say.

[ANONYMOUS PERSON 1] I use Uber the same way I advocate the CTA, because it promotes environmental stability because, I mean, it’s car-sharing–I mean, it helps out the environment just a little bit.

[THINNES] So, there’s the sustainability factor.

[MILLER] What do you mean sustainability factor?

[THINNES] Well, if we’re still looking at the ridesharing industry, with companies like Uber and Sidecar, the environment is benefiting quite a bit from these companies. A big majority of users split rides, making the service double up as a carpooling agent.

[MILLER] The University of California recently reported carpoolers can lower CO2 and hydrocarbons by up to 220,000 tons each year.

[THINNES] Oh geez and with The Union of Concerned Scientists recently reporting that “Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming…cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all emissions in the U.S., emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas.” This service is starting to sound pretty beneficial to mother earth.

[MILLER] I mean, us millennials especially must be loving the “green” aspect of companies like Uber…Researchers at University of Indiana recently reported our generation is emerging as core supporters of green products and services, and I guess the sharing economy is helping us to “go green”.

[THINNES] Hmm..Yeah but I recently read in the Journal of Information Science and Technology that sustainability might only be an important factor for those people whom ecological consumption was already important to… I mean, I’m no poster child for the recycling company, and I certainly don’t think about all the gas that’s being saved by my excessive Uber habit.

[MILLER] True. The University of Zurich, recently reported how the “crowding-out” phenomenon might be at play within the sharing economy, advocating extrinsic motivations start overshadowing the initial intrinsic motivations.

[THINNES] Speak english. What do you mean by these intrinsic/extrinsic motivations?

[MILLER] Well, when researchers have studied motivation behind specific behaviors, they found that behavior is influenced by two dimensions: intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic basically meaning natural and essential, and extrinsic meaning the opposite… unnatural or unessential.

[THINNES] Ok, I’m listening.

[MILLER] An intrinsic motivation would be like what we just talked about…performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself. Like taking Uber to save gas. Or as some believe…

[ANONYMOUS PERSON 2] I like Uber because it provides me such a great experience and you get to meet great people and it provides a new opportunity.

[THINNES] So, as you just heard, apparently people like the enjoyment or social gain. I mean, so like the interactionist aspect of businesses like Uber? You get to meet strangers and have random conversations!

[MILLER] That journal I mentioned earlier did find that enjoyment of participation is the strongest determinant of participation. This “enjoyment” is experienced simply because the process is fun and provides a meaningful way to interact with other members of the community. Researchers and robots also call these benefits “social capital”, which differs from other forms of capital which are based on assets or individuals. Social capital exists in relationships between individuals and in individuals’ connections with their communities .

[THINNES] Can we just refer to that as “emotional money” from now on?

[MILLER] haha, okay.

[THINNES] In my experience, cab drivers offer little to no emotional money. Most have an angry disposition…and if you use a credit card to pay…oh my god.

Speaking of money….I’m assuming behavior influenced by physical assets would then be named extrinsic motivation?

[MILLER] Yep! And within the Sharing Economy, researchers relate this concept to the industry’s convenience factor and also the economic gain that is received in the sharing economy’s transactions.

[THINNES] We talking about saving me money?

[MILLER] Yep. Here’s what some of the people we interviewed said about ridesharing economic benefits…

[THINNES] So, what do you think about the sharing economy?

[ANONYMOUS PERSON 3]: It’s a lot more affordable, as opposed to either a taxi or a regular hotel room.

[ANONYMOUS PERSON 4]: Uber is real cheap and I really like Uber.

[THINNES] You know, it’s interesting, after hearing everything that everyone had to say about economic motivations, I read something by Eckhardt that said consumers in the sharing economy consumers are more interested in cost-effectiveness and convenience more than they are in forming relationships with the company or other consumers.

[MILLER] Haha that’s true. I’m usually too drunk to talk when I’m Ubering. Just want to save that money so I can blow it on a burrito instead. Chipotle is my life!

[THINNES] Yeah but even if it’s working for the wrong reasons, I guess it’s still working, right? These companies offer deals and specials that are difficult to pass up, encouraging people to try and continue using their services.

[MILLER] Difficult to pass up, indeed. Business Insider did a study comparing Uber and Taxi rates in 30 major US studies…Want to know how much ridesharing is really saving? A bunch. Research showed a taxi is often two times the cost of an Uber. So if you took a taxi and the ride cost you $20, the Uber would most likely cost you $10.

[THINNES] That’s interesting, I also read that Chicago is the lowest costing rideshare city in America, too.

[MILLER] Oh, really?

[THINNES] So, Hey, Us! Chicago, cheapest Uber city in America.

[MILLER] That’s amazing.

[THINNES] But, besides that, Uber’s rates include a tip so I’m sure the price difference is even larger.

[MILLER] That tip policy is also just so much easier. I don’t want to have to deal with judging someone’s behavior and using that judgement to reward them with an undisclosed amount of money. And it’s always really abstract–like if they open my door, or if they help me get my luggage from the trunk, then I’m expected to pay an extra tip, or anything else that happens I’m expected to pay…it’s really confusing sometimes.

[THINNES] Plus, because it’s through an app or digital platform, money transactions are easily recorded. So you can see where your money’s going.

In general, ride sharing’s convenience factor is like simply out of control… Technology allowed this easily installable app to deliver a car anywhere you happen to be. It’s not even just like limited to Uber, the same applies to Airbnb, like crowdfunding and everything.

[MILLER] True. When you vacation, Uber’s there. When you get lost, Uber’s there. When you get drunk and can’t find a cab, Uber is there. Basically anywhere your phone is…Uber’s THERE.

[THINNES] Not just Uber, like all of these sharing economy industries are wherever you want to be and that’s amazing and I think that’s a huge part of why people are doing this. And just going back specifically to Uber, their company specifically advertises that 56 countries are now providing their services.

[MILLER] That’s crazy…56 countries of convenience and awesome.

[THINNES] And if the first encounter goes well, between the consumer and their like first experience within the sharing economy, they are more likely to try more services and continue using that same service. So really the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations go hand in hand.

Speaking of psychology jargon, we knew that there had to be more psychological motivations behind this. The growth we talked about earlier didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen for a reason. We wanted to have a more holistic reasoning and a better grasp and understand why it’s happening. Well, we talked to an expert on psychology to get a more academic grasp of consumerist motivation behind participating in the sharing economy. Here’s what Paula Pohlhammer had to say about possible psychological influences and factors that are propelling the growth of the sharing economy.

[MILLER] Alright, so the first question is, what is your name and educational background?

[POHLHAMMER] My name is Paula Pohlhammer and my educational background is I got a Bachelors of Arts in Theatre Art, with an emphasis on costume design. In 1996 I went back to school and got a Master’s in marital and family therapy at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. I obtained that degree in 1998.

[MILLER] Perfect. So, I know Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have done a lot of research on the influence and rationale of decision making, can you explain to us a few of them?

[POHLHAMMER] They took some former theories that were able to predict how people make decisions using mathematical equations. But, what these mathematical equations didn’t take into consideration was that people’s minds work differently and people are influenced by the way the brain works. I was thinking about a lot of my work is about the effect of anxiety on cognition. So, what they’re really saying is that these are certain concepts, like availability, representativeness, loss-aversion, and framing that are all mechanisms in the brain that change the way you interpret information or data. So, I think what’s interesting is that when you’re talking about making a decision when there’s uncertainty and risk, you’re going to be anxious. You’re going to be influenced by the way information is presented to you. Information can be presented as two sides of the same point–positive, negative–you stand to gain, you stand to lose–which are you going to choose? Framing, availability, what’s the most recent information that you have, the thing you most remember, most of us will think about, you know, what did I just hear about an Uber doing? Or, what did I just hear a friend telling me about using Uber? So, I think that they identify that people make decisions not just based on probability, but also based on the way the emotional structure of the brain affects how they think. Does that make sense?

[MILLER] Yes it does, perfect. So then when thinking about the dynamic and influence of choice, what do you think is propelling the sharing economy’s success?

[POHLHAMMER] I was identifying that all three of them do.

[MILLER] Availability, representativeness, and framing? Yeah.

[POHLHAMMER] Yeah, all three. So, people see potential gains, and then they see their opportunity to minimize loss, the losses would be money, so they see that okay they can save money if they do an Airbnb or if they use Uber. They see some intangible gains like supporting an economy that isn’t about putting money in corporate pockets or municipality pockets. The fees that cab drivers charge are mostly related to the licensing fees that they have to pay to the city in order to be able to rent a cab. Unfortunately that’s not going in their pocket, but I think that consumers now are thinking about the end game–who’s going to ultimately get this money? So they see that as an intangible gain, not just for themselves, but for society. I also think that people like the idea of getting something a little closer to what they actually need rather than just here’s what we’re presenting–we’re presenting a big building with hotel rooms and they’re all the same. They think about well, I don’t need a pool, but I would like a kitchen, or I would like several bedrooms, or really I just need to sleep on someone’s couch. Or, you know, what do I need for this trip? That can be really empowering. I think information technology presents the framing for which they see it, and you know, a little familiar and safer because think about, like, Uber drivers, young people use information technology and so you have Uber drivers carrying around a smartphone with an app. You’re more likely to think about that relates to the representativeness–that sort of like this person is like me, I’m young, I have my smartphone here, all I have to do is get an app, and someone else who is young who has their smartphone with them, so it feels a little safer. People are connecting on the same kind of format. The way they see the risk involved is lower because everyone is sort of checked out–there still is this entity out there evaluating do you get good reviews? are you worthy of being an Uber driver? are you worthy of being listed on Airbnb? or a lift driver? or those kinds of things.

[MILLER] Perfect, so when speaking of the dynamic and influence of choice, what do you think is derailing participation within competing industries? So, like, cabs or hotels that are in the traditional economy?

[POHLHAMMER] The traditional economy, so you’re saying, what is derailing the traditional economy from participating the way the sharing economy is? Is that what your question is?

[MILLER] Yes, so, what do you think is otherwise causing people to move to these kinds of economies rather than the traditional economy?

[POHLHAMMER] I think there’s still going to be a market for people who want everything to be the same and very predictable. For instance, a business traveler and major corporations that are getting hotel rooms for business travelers are going to want the sameness, the homogeneity, the predictability. They will pay for that. They will pay extra for that. I think cabs, unfortunately, aren’t positioned well to handle the competition from places like Uber and Lyft–they’re kind of stuck because they’re pretty restricted, they don’t have the freedom to maybe just get a call directly from somebody, they have to stick to certain neighborhoods, like they have to stick to downtown or to the airport because they aren’t going to make any money if they vary that pretty rigid route too much. I think for them, a lot of it is just the licensing fees. I think they’re still heavily regulated. Does that answer your question?

[MILLER] Yes. So, are you a consumer in the sharing economy? Why or why not do you use these?

[POHLHAMMER] Yeah! That’s a really good question. I have really given it serious consideration–one, I have a pretty decent guest suite in my apartment and I have thought about listing it on Airbnb, and I haven’t made the move just because I’m not sure I want to take on the work that would be involved. So for being a provider in the sharing economy that’s where I’m at. I do like the idea of resources that are idle being put into the use in the community in general. I looked into Airbnb for my own personal travel and it didn’t work out–I think I would have been fine with it, but it didn’t work out for my travel companions, so we ended up staying at hotels. I haven’t really needed any car transportation or anything like that, I’m pretty well situated there. So, I haven’t really–I think it’s exciting and it’s really nice to see consumers empowering themselves, deciding that they don’t have to go through big name companies–we can do this ourselves and start it up.

[MILLER] Perfect, well that’s it, so thank you for being here today.

[THINNES] So, listeners, we’re interested in your opinion. Are you a consumer in this budding economy? What is your opinion of its provided benefits? Tweet us your answer or any questions @shareiscareUIC.

[MILLER] Until next time, listeners–keep calm and learn on.

[MUSIC: InfoNation theme music and outro]

 

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This podcast is a class exercise and it does not represent the opinions of the University of Illinois at Chicago or any of its departments.

InfoNation #1: Copyright and creativity

In this series of posts I will be sharing podcasts produced by students in my senior seminar on information technology governance. This podcasting series is called InfoNation, and I explain more about it here.

This episode was produced by UIC communication students Clarissa Shaw (15), Shelby Mrazek (15), Joseph Balich (15), Nick Isasi (15), and Alyssa Szarabajka (15). It takes an expansive look at copyright and creativity touching on law, technology, music, remix, and millennials.

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[MUSIC: InfoNation theme music]

[NICK ISASI] Welcome to InfoNation, UIC’s very own podcast created by students, for students. At info-nation we discover how media, information and communication are created, governed, and used. Produced by upper level students in the department of Communication, info-nation brings academic research to help make sense of our increasingly mediated society. We go to the library so you don’t have to!

Welcome, welcome, welcome! Thank you so much for tuning in. We’ve got a great show planned for you guys today, about a topic that I think affects everyone even though we might not think about it every day: copyright. We have a few amazing guests for you today that were gracious enough to sit down with us- Thomas Leavens, a law partner at Leavens, Strand & Glover who specializes in media, intellectual, and entertainment law. We also will hear from Dr. Alexander Cummings, a professor at Georgia State University and author of The Democracy Of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyrighting in the Twentieth Century. We will also hear from Bruneaux, an Atlanta-based mash up deejay and producer. We will get to them later on.

I guess I’ll get the cheesy line out of the way. Is copyright actually copyWRONG?

Now that that is out of the way, we can get started on the matter at hand. Before I get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of copyright, I want to preface by saying how important it is to shift our thinking away from ‘arguing in favor of stealing’ and more towards the attitude of ‘arguing in favor of creativity.’ Just keep that thought in the back of your head.

In Kerri Eble’s This Is a Remix: Remixing Music Copyright to Better Protect Mashup Artists she says, “The purpose of copyright law is to promote creativity and the desire to balance the interests of primary artists and secondary artists and to consider advances in technology.” Consider advances in technology… so essentially, copyright law needs to keep up with the technology surrounding art, music, paintings, whatever it’s trying to protect at the time. So what happens with the technology in music, or whatever media you’re creating in, starts outdating the copyright law?

Thomas Leavens, the lawyer I spoke about earlier, gave us his insight on it.

[LEAVENS]: With the change of music recording and distribution and consumption in the digital era, essentially what you had is that there was a shift in control of music from the creators to consumers. Because consumers can do anything with music today that a record company can’t- they can duplicate it, they can remix it, they can compile it, they can do any number of things. And that’s what had a big significance in determining what kind of values are going to be important with respect to approaching copyright law.

Thank you to Thomas Leavens for that sound byte.

Now going off of that, let’s take a look at the obvious…a big picture per say – we all have access to the Internet. What started off as a military project has blossomed into an almost never-ending library of knowledge, data and art at our fingertips. We can share information in quite literally…seconds. If I want to text a picture of my cat to Joe, I can and I will. Isn’t it awesome that we can do that? We can use it to send stupid pictures, or use it to heighten our knowledge, or use it to collaborate with another artists on the other side of the world, or use it to find inspiration, or you can even use it when you’re a scared parent when you find out your son is diagnosed with Asperger’s. The options are literally endless.

The internet as we know it today is called by many, ‘Web 2.0,’ Web 2.0 is the idea that we can configure our internet. Think of how you listen to music today… streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, or LastFM all have different ways of giving YOU, the listener, the ability to choose what you want to listen to and how you want to listen to it. You can create your own playlist, you can choose exactly what artist you want to listen to, and event when you want to listen to it. The idea of customizing, repurposing, and recreating is something that we have seen in human nature. Today, musicians call that remix and it has birthed a sort of ‘remix culture.’ Where many feel they are entitled to create pieces of work that are birthed from other pieces of work. This entitlement reaches much more than people who want to create music- it’s an entitlement that reaches consumerism and people who are actually buying music, not just creating it.

[LEAVENS]: One of the big challenges is that one of the important consumer values that are preeminent is comprehension of the content. People want to have everything.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back and look at history, because copyright was not always a bad guy, at first it was put in as an incentive to get people to create more.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press it opened the doors to the first way off distributing something on a massive level. One idea, one piece of work could literally be spread around the world and be looked at by other people, word for word. Naturally, some of the people whose work was being spread wanted their credit. Enter the Statute of Anne in 1710 what we now know today as the first true copyright law. It gave authors and creators exclusive rights to their work for up to fourteen years before it went back to the ‘public domain.’ The public domain is still very alive today, albeit a shrinking idea. It is a collection of works, art and ideas that anyone is available to use without any fear of violating copyright. Basically, they can use it without permission or looking up laws regarding it.

Now, why is this such a big issue today, as opposed to twenty years ago? Well for a couple reasons that I think are extremely interlinked. Let’s look at music. Now, bear with me. What I am talking about right now is the idea of ‘popular music’ or to put it simply…whatever is making the most money at the time. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, but right now this is the rule. It is important to note that a huge chunk of recording artists’ income is coming from touring and performing live around the world. Record sales have almost taken a backseat. The days of being able to get rich off of a number 1 record are dead now.

Now let’s look at live music and music festivals. Rethink Music – a study from Berklee College of Music is quoted saying that, “Total Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival capacity in the United States has grown by a whopping 45% since 2007, while analog performers space has stayed the same. 45%. Let’s try to give you guys a picture of that. The walk from one main stage to the other at Lollapalooza is about a mile apart from each other. Adding another 45% in size adds almost another half mile of space. In walking, that’s about ten more minutes walking, and that’s just space for audience members. Get my point? What is drawing money is EDM, whether you like it or not. World famous DJs are being thrust into ‘rockstar’ status almost overnight. Simply put, that means music is changing, I’ve seen it firsthand working in the music industry.

Traveling musicians don’t need a huge van for all their gear…they need a backpack for their laptop. Seriously. Look at how many DJ showcases there are at South by Southwest this year as opposed to four or five years ago. At a glance in 2015, that number is at 94 DJ Showcases. And that is only the official ones. The difference will be staggering between the years.

I’m not saying ‘instruments are dead’ absolutely not, I’m just trying to highlight the monumental shift in what kind of music is selling now days. With the shift in what is bringing money brings another huge shift of things such as selling and buying instruments. A turntable or sampler in many cases can be cheaper than an array of guitars. Sonny Moore, which most people know as Skrillex, admitted that he made a Grammy winning song with nothing but a laptop and a mouse in the back of a tour bus. It’s shifting. It’s a shifting, ever changing world. So why hasn’t copyright law evolved with it?

Dr. Alexander Cummings was able to give his insight regarding copyright law and the changing in music technology and culture.

[CUMMINGS]: The law has been trying to lock down these evolvements in tech and culture. And I would say, from my point of view anyway, is that the law has been too restrictive and too limited.

This has been one of the biggest problems we are faced with- a shift in popular music and technology, but no shift in the copyright laws that control this flow of information. Dr. Alexander Cummings, who we just heard from, gives his opinion in the lack of evolution regarding the copyright law and the technology around it.

[AC]: The industry doesn’t want to adapt- they don’t want to. They want things to be the way they were in 1985, and they want to promote an idea that I have to copyright and I should get the maximum money for this. But we are in a different environment now.

So the question I constantly want to make you ask yourselves is, “Why (and maybe even more importantly, HOW) do we suddenly get a stoppage in the evolution of copyright laws when the world and our culture is constantly evolving?” What I mean to say is how is it possible that the last major copyright revision was done in 1998, when we have almost completely changed how music is listened to, created, distributed and remixed? Please keep asking yourself that, if you come up with an answer please enlighten me via email at nickisasi@gmail.com.

To tie it in to a very current event – If you turned on any pop-music radio station in 2013, it was almost impossible not to hear the smash hit ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke ft. Pharell and T.I. Robin Thicke and Pharell were in the news as of late because they are being forced to pay 7.2 MILLION dollars in ‘damages’ to the estate of Marvin Gaye because they state that ‘Blurred Lines’ sounds too similar to the song ‘Gotta Give It Up’ by Marvin Gaye. And that is terrifying. The idea that artists can be fined after creating a song that may have a bit of a likeness..spoiler, it barely does. No melodies or lyrics are taken. Pharell, Thicke and T.I. said in a joint statement, “”While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward.”

The case is currently expected to go to an appeal. Thomas Leavens – The entertainment lawyer you heard from earlier expects the verdict to be over ruled during the appeal. He explains why.

[LEAVENS]: A lot of the elements that were identified as being similar in a way that created liability…those things are not copyrightable themselves. They are not a part of the composition. This was not a case that was brought on the basis of a claim that a particular recording was infringed; they are saying that a particular composition was infringed. And to say that some of the sounds in the sound recording constituted elements of the composition that were infringed is a pretty big leap.

Dr. Alexander Cummings from Georgia State University tends to agree on the ridiculousness of the lawsuit.

[CUMMINGS]: This lawsuit is ludicrous. There is no precedent and copyright law for Robin Thicke or Pharell to be held accountable for infringing Marvin Gaye. This is just a style, it’s a sound, it’s a certain groove…but none of that stuff has been pressed in a copyright law. Copyright law protects the lyrics and melody of the song.

Thomas Leavens was able to comment on what he thinks would happen if the court case was not overturned.

[LEAVENS]: If this was something that holds off in appeal, then it’s going to create, I think, a lot of reexamination of what kind of advice attorneys give to people as to what is permissible and what is not.

Now that, I hope, I have illustrated why this is a problem I hope to shed some more information on why and how these copyright laws have overextended their reach, and why it is so hard to be able to tell artists what they can and cannot touch or draw inspiration from.

Aram Sinnreich, a professor at Rutgers American University and author of Mashed up: Music, technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture he says, “Sampling should be called respiration because it is the absorption, alteration, and exhalation of something external and ubiquitous.” Think about this quote for a second. Really think about it. I’m going to try and simplify it with one sentence, are you listening? Nothing, absolutely nothing is created in a vacuum. Aram Sinnreich is saying that the art of sampling is akin to respiration because it is something EVERYONE does, conscious or not. You absorb oxygen, alter it within your body and exhale it as carbon dioxide and it is everywhere. This, simply put is the same as sampling. When any idea is put forward by a creator, the idea will have pieces or sometimes chunks of prior experiences, memories and culturally processed memories. It’s an idea that not only everyone participates in but should accept with open arms! Think about it as a broader idea… why are you the person you are today? Were you born like this, or during the course of your life certain experiences and teachings shift the way you learn different things? I argue that that is true.

Personally, I do not have any skill at creating the music I feel so adamantly about, but I was able to sit down with Breneaux, Atlanta based mash up DJ and producer to shed some light on his thoughts. Breaneaux is a mashup artist, similar to Girl Talk, in which he cuts up and pastes different songs together to create a brand new song. It’s like an extremely intricate collage made of different songs

[ISASI] Bruneaux, thank you so much for talking with us. First, to kick us off, will you tell me how long have you been doing the Bruneaux project for?

[BRUNEAUX]: I started off back in 2007…I made just an album after listening to Girl Talk and gave it to my friends. Then I think it was 2010, or 2009 maybe, I decided to make another one and then that’s when I kind of went public with it and came up with the Bruneaux moniker.

[ISASI]: When you’re creating your mashup songs, or compositions, or albums, do you ever see yourself as breaking any laws doing anything wrong?

[BRUNEAUX]: Um, no…I mean, there is a law that says that we can essentially do this as long as we don’t, like, profit from in monetarily, so I don’t see it as doing anything wrong.

[ISASI]: What drew you to creating these mash up songs instead of creating your own compositions?

[BRUNEAUX]: There’s just something about this. I mean, it’s fun. It’s like a giant puzzle and I gotta put stuff together and figure out little tricky things that I like to do.

[ISASI]: To tie this all into current events, I’ve been asking all of my guests this, just because I want to see where their minds are at, and especially I want to hear from you, a musician who is constantly creating music, especially sampled based music. What do you think about the recent court case regarding Robin Thicke, Pharell, and T.I. having to pay 7.2 million dollars to the Marvin estate?

[BRUNEAUX]: I mean, it’s different. I don’t think it’s copyright…I feel like ‘Blurred Lines’ is inspired by that song. The songs are similar but they’re not the same. Marvin Gaye is trying to take Pharell to court for ‘Happy’ and that song sounds nothing like it besides that it is upbeat. I mean, it’s ridiculous to me. There’s a difference between sampled, ripped off, and inspired by. There’s three completely different things.

[ISASI]: Do you have any parting words you would like to say about your music, your performing, and your producing, in regards to the copyright law as it stands today? Is it affecting you, is it going to hinder you at all, do you even think about it at all?

[BRUNEAUX]: No man, I just do it because I enjoy to do it. I mean, I’ve had a lot of people who want me to go into original stuff. It’s not a matter of creativity or anything, it’s a matter of I just like doing this. It’s intriguing to me and it’s fun. And, just, if everything stays the way it is with copyright then I should be fine.

A huge thank you to Bruneaux for sitting down with us. I wanted to bring someone like Bruneaux on the show with us to give you guys an idea of what the thought process of someone who is constantly creating these mashups, especially when you have artists like Girl Talk being called, “A lawsuit waiting to happen” by The New York Times – especially because I know not all of us are musicians.

These mashup artists are popping up everywhere. People hear a few songs and because they have a different upbringing, or a different view of the song as the original artist take it upon themselves to ‘mash them up.’ For example, a subreddit by the name of ‘/r/mashups’ has almost 70 thousand subscribers. If you are not familiar with reddit, it’s a website that can aggregate all different things from different websites, and their can be different niche subreddits (ex: /r/mashups). The subreddit is filled with posts with requests for mashups, requests for assistance and requests for reviews on their creations. These communities are slowly sprouting everywhere online. It’s going to be hard when the copyrightists are in the minority. When peer-to-peer users are no longer seen as ‘pirates’ or ‘robbers’ is when we can begin to see a difference.

These communities sprouting and becoming together as one create a constant battle for lawmakers. In Nancy Baym’s Rethinking The Music Industry she says, “Music audiences use online tools to pool affect, create social identities, collect intelligence, share interpretations, and create for each other. The real challenge for the industry, recession or boom, is to work with rather than against these dynamics. ”

We need an alternative; we need a major overhaul in copyright law as we see it. Or at least people seeing it in different light. Lawrence Lessig, an extremely prominent man, has been extremely busy implementing and promoting the use of creative commons in all pieces of art published online. Although this wouldn’t be an overhaul, it would just be a certain change in the licensing between creative arts.

The vision behind creative commons is simple, and I quote: “Realizing the full potential of the Internet – universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.” That’s a quote from the Creative Commons website.

Doesn’t that sound appealing to you? By using Creative Commons you can choose to give up the Copyright: All Rights Reserved that is automatically placed on anything you create and open it up to use from anyone! As long as they credit you of course and don’t make money from it. You aren’t hoarding these ideas, or creations for yourself but rather sending them out into the world in hopes that other creators do something with it. Maybe something you never thought of. I think this is the future.

Here is an excerpt from Creative Commons regarding how exactly creative commons helps. Here is a video produced Creative Commons that explains exactly how Creative Commons can be used by creators to make sure that their works are protected, but also open to be used by other artists.

Creative Commons Video: When something is created, say a photo or a document, or a music track, it’s automatically protected by copyright. Copyright enables people to say who can share and use their creations. You must always obtain someone’s permission before sharing or reusing their work, even if it’s posted online. But what if a creator wants everyone to use their work, without the hassle of granting permission over and over? This is where Creative Commons can help. Creative Commons provides licensing tools that are free to use. You can apply a license to your work, which refines your copyright and streamlines how you give permission.

I hope they were able to explain Creative Commons more eloquently than I would ever be able to. I was lucky enough to have asked Dr. Alexander Cummings his opinion on the Creative Commons and the things Creative Commons can bring to creators.

[CUMMINGS]: I think the Creative Commons is actually a really good adaptation, I think, of the system, because there are people who don’t mind their work being reproduced, and they don’t want other people to feel inhibited by copyright law from, in terms of reproducing it. I think this is a really powerful business. I think that we have seen in the past fifteen years, or in the past ten years, people actually speak up and say ‘we want to counter the pro-copyright, pro-music industry, pro-movie industry, sort of legacy-position’. I think it’s been really healthy.

So there you have it, folks. Is Creative Commons finally the huge step in the right direction we need to push policy makers and copyrightists toward a different path? Toward a path that can be able to create a more free-flowing culture? Only time will tell.

Thank you so much for listening, everybody. We hope we were able to shed a light on a subject that otherwise may have been dark to you. We want you to be able to look at copyright, or any social matter, and create a social discourse that everyone can be involved in. How and why do the lawmakers get to decide what artists get to create and how they create it? And more importantly, why are we using outdated copyright laws in an age where technology is thriving?

Again- we want to give a shout out and a huge thank you to our guests- Thomas Leavens, Dr. Alexander Cummings and Bruneaux. And another huge thank you to Lawrence Lessig and all of the work that he has been doing with the Creative Commons.

Have a great day everybody, and we hope you learned something today!

[MUSIC: InfoNation theme music and outro]

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This podcast is a class exercise and it does not represent the opinions of the University of Illinois at Chicago or any of its departments.

My slides on the digital divide and online civic engagement (#ica14, attn @kegill)

Following a prompt from @kegill, here my materials from a recent talk at ICA pre-conference on digital divide.

Digital divide in context: A case study in complex policymaking through online civic engagement

Dmitry Epstein, Mary J. Newhart, Cynthia R. Farina, and Cheryl L. Blake
CeRI Cornell eRulemaking Initiative

When examining the digital divide through the lens of online civic engagement, research tends to focus on the agency of citizens as they participate (with varying degrees of effectiveness) in mass political activities such as voting, petitioning, or mobilization for physical demonstrations (Norris, 2001). Earlier scholarship focused mainly on citizens’ material access to technology, whereas contemporary research is more concerned with their (primarily technical) skills (e.g. Min, 2010). Overall, few researchers have looked in depth at the contextual factors of the digital divide, and even then it is done in relation to citizens as primary actors and with context drawn from factors exogenous to the participatory situation itself, such as socioeconomic status, culture, etc. (e.g. van Dijk, 2005). Drawing on our experience with RegRoom – a platform for online civic engagement in complex policymaking – we want to call attention to additional factors, some of which can be viewed as contextual to citizens’ individual experiences or endogenous when examining the system as a whole. First, we will expand the notion of online civic engagement by discussing public participation in complex policymaking processes. Second, we will unpack the “digital dividedness” among policymakers and the limitations imposed on the use of technology by existing administrative processes. Finally, we will address potential implications of technology design for enabling effective civic engagement that goes beyond petition signing and sentiment expression.

References

Min, S.-J. (2010). From the digital divide to the democratic divide: Internet skills, political interest, and the second-level digital divide in political Internet use. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 7(1), 22–35. doi:10.1080/19331680903109402

Norris, P. (2001). Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and internet worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Van Dijk, J. A. G. M. (2005). The deepening divide: Inequality in the information society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

You can find my slides here, but I am afraid they will not be particularly informative on their own. @kegill, please let me know what you think.

Draft thoughts about regional and national IGFs (Attn #IGF2013)

Following my dissertation work on the global Internet Governance Forum, I got really fascinated by the growing phenomenon of regional and national IGF initiatives. Particularly, thinking about the possible impacts of the IGF project, this phenomenon to me is the most tangible outcome. I’ve been talking about conducting a review of the regional and national IGFs with a number of people active in the Internet governance space and actually started interviewing some of the organizers of the regional and national IGFs. Recently I learned that Brandie Martin Nonnecke wrote an excellent dissertation looking at some of the African initiatives, which suggests that there is “meat” to this subject.

Thanks to a grant from the Freedom House, I was able to put together a brief draft thought document with initial observations about the regional and national IGFs as a phenomenon. I think it is timely to offer it now, as the global IGF meets in Bali.

This is indeed a draft, so feedback is most welcome.

Can we account for politicization of data?

I am currently at TPRC, where I presented a paper Merrill Roth, Eric Baumer, and I are still working on. This post is not about that (though I think we did well and overall it was a good session).

The best exchanges at conferences, as we know, happen in the corridors. And I just had one of those with Jeff Gulati and Brandie Martin. Jeff is known for his work on cross-national comparisons and Brandie did some work around indexes of telecom adoption and development. We got into talking about how politicized the self-reported data that is used in various global indexes can be. After all, a corrupt bureaucrat has no motivation criticizing his or her own performance or that of an office he or she is running. So, we wondered if it is possible to correct for corruption. Perhaps by using, surprise, surprise, an index of corruption (such as Corruption Perception Index). I wonder whether anyone has done that and whether such correction would change anything in how these indexes correlate with other factors. Only today, I heard at least a couple of talks that rely on global indexes. Someone must have looked into that.

 

Call for papers for the annual GigaNet symposium

It is that time of the year again when GigaNet is soliciting proposals for presentations at its 8th annual symposium. This time it will take place in Bali, Indonesia and the main focus of the event will be on cyber-security and state control of the Internet. But don’t get discourage if you are not working in one of these areas, the program committee welcomes submissions on other topics as well.

More details here: http://giga-net.org/page/2013-annual-symposium

Important dates:

  • Abstract submission – July 1
  • Initial decisions – July 29
  • Full papers due – September 30
  • Symposium – October 21

Making social media work for you – notes from a workshop

About a week and a half ago I was part of a panel on social media for Cornell graduate students. The goal of the panel was to respond to inquiries from students about how to use blogging, tweeting and other means of social media to talk about their research and how to use it to their advantage in creating an online professional identity. The panel was organized by Natalie Bazarova (also @nataliebazarova) for the Graduate School Office of Professional Development. There were just three panelists – Natalie, Dan Cosley (also @cosleydr), and me – and I found the panel to be pretty interactive and conversational. Since it was about social media, I thought it could actually be nice to post a brief summary of what was said. Maybe someone will find it useful.

We spoke mostly about our personal experiences and practices we have noticed by observing our colleagues. Dan made a point that using social media shouldn’t be thought of merely in terms of self promotion, but as another way of finding and engaging with your community. Natalie, focusing on opportunities offered by social media, emphasized them as another way to network and do outreach. I talked about the costs of participating and not participating.

It is worthwhile to note that we all agreed that today it may not be practical to distinguish between social media and other kinds of online presence. Everything is linked. So, we all talked more generally about online presence, rather than specifically about social media. The main takeaway points from my point of view were:

Below the fold you will find more detailed accounts of each point. You can also use the links above to navigate to the section that interests you.

The bottom line is that there are benefits and costs associated with maintaining your online presence, particularly through social media. It is important to be thoughtful about what you do and why you do it. There are many tools out there and it takes time and effort to figure out what works for you and how to integrate it in your mundane professional activities.

Hope some people will find this useful.

As always, you are welcome to add your thoughts and suggestions.

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Hacked and relaunched

ThinkMacro got hacked. On the face of it, you wouldn’t see anything. But in Google search results the site appeared with weird meta-data that promoted some sort of medicine and if you were to access the site on a mobile device, you would get redirected to a variety of adult entertainment sites.

As it turns out, whoever hacked the site has edited .htaccess, so that it would perform the redirect only on mobile devices. Veronica and I removed the infected files, which did resolve the redirect issue. But we couldn’t figure out how to clean the meta data infection. So, at the end, there is now a relaunched ThinkMacro. Luckily, WordPress is really great with making export/import of your content easy.

Fresh start actually feels rather nice.