Category: Technology and Regulation

This from the official Google blog: “We’ve always recognized the importance of copyright, because we believe that authors and publishers deserve to be rewarded for their creative endeavors. And we specifically designed Google Book Search to respect copyright law – never showing more than two or three snippets around a search term without the publisher’s prior permission, which they can give through our Partner Program.”

The world’s largest prize for technological innovation was awarded this year to Professor Shuji Nakamura, curently at the University of California Santa Barbara, for his development of bright-blue, green and white LEDs and a blue laser. According to the prize website, “The world’s largest technology prize, now being awarded by Finland’s Millennium Prize Foundation for the second time, has a value of one million euros.” Prof. Nakamura’s advances “were things that other researchers in the semiconductor field had spent decades trying to do.”

Says Pekka Tarjanne, Chairman of the International Selection committee: “The lighting applications now made possible by his achievement can be compared with Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. In the course of time, energy-efficient light sources based on Shuji Nakamura’s innovation will undoubtedly become predominant.”

HT: Future Tense (RealAudio)

Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.’”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.

Rodney Dangerfield is famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect!” This complaint is shared in the laments that I often hear from academics, that electronic journals are not afforded the same respect as print journals. I explored some of the reasons for this as well as some of the results that have implications for journal publishers in an article published last year, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005).

The basic argument in favor of affording electronic journals the same prestige and status as print journals is that they both are based on the same fundamental quality-control process: peer review. In reality, however, all peer review is not created equal. There are practical differences in what various journals call peer review, how they exercise it, and the self-imposed rigor and depth of external reviews. But even if all peer review were qualitatively equal, there are other factors that contribute to the perception that electronic journals deserve less respect.

The fact is that there are very few, if any, practical constraints on the number and length of articles that could be published by an electronic journal. A print journal has a definite maximum number of pages per issue and volume that can be printed. This creates scarcity, and thus a perception if not the reality of increased value, since only a select number of articles can be printed. No such limits exist in the digital medium, so that such constraints must be voluntarily and rigorously enforced by electronic journal publishers if they are to mimic the dynamics of this aspect of traditional journal publishing.

One other observation I’d like to make is that the advent of e-journals has really sparked the proliferation and diversification of journal publishing. This mirrors and catalyzes the increasing specialization of academic disciplines. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 90 titles under the subject heading “History”. Some journals are focused on narrow geographical areas and historical periods, such as The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.

To be sure, some academic disciplines, such as literature and gender studies, lend themselves to greater fracturing and diversification, so that Cervantes or Flaubert have their own dedicated e-journals. It’s entirely likely, for example, that the typical tenure review board member is going to value an article published in Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality somewhat less than one appearing in the American Journal of Sociology. In addition, peer review takes on a different shape if there are very few scholars who are true specialists in a particular area of research.

Certainly many scholars will argue that this embodies the democratization of education and academics, in that fields are no longer monopolized by a few traditional and academically conservative journals. But at the same time scholars must realize that the obscurity and extreme specialization of some of e-journals contributes greatly to their lack of prestige.

One concrete way for electronic journals as a medium to gain respect, especially in the humanistic fields, would be for major, established, respected journals to make the move from print to digital. Otherwise, electronic journals that are almost always less than a decade-old will struggle to get respect.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 30, 2006

According to published reports, market mechanisms, and specifically competition, are accomplishing what many decriers of the “digital divide” have long contended only big government could do. The AP, via LiveScience.com, reports, “Middle- and working-class Americans signed up for high-speed Internet access in record numbers in the past year, apparently lured by a price war among phone companies.”

The study, provided by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that broadband subscription “increased 40 percent in households making less than $30,000 a year. Among blacks, it increased 121 percent.” The “digital divide” is beginning to close, as market forces help divergences in broadband access to collide: “Among the $30,000-$50,000 households, 43 percent now have broadband, compared to 68 percent for those making more than $75,000.”

This has been accomplished despite the barriers to competition that have traditionally existed. In many areas, including my own, only one cable company offers its services in a particular area. This means that the competition is coming not only from within a single form of telecom service, but also from among various methods of delivery, such as DSL, cable internet, and satellite/wireless.

The innovation of new delivery methods has raised the prospect of even greater competition, as broadband delivery over power lines (BPL) and increased wireless access become available.

The Pew study also references the dominance of higher wage earners, particularly among whites, who are responsible for the majority of user uploaded content to the Web. This points to a fundamental truth about the creation of wealth and technological innovation: it allows for leisure and productive activity that otherwise would be spent simply laboring. Filming, editing, and uploading digital videos, for instance, is a time and labor-intensive activity, and one that can only be undertaken by someone with the time away from work and luxury to afford both the necessary time and equipment.

But these recent developments point to the potential for a digital collide, in which internet access and the leisure time necessary to take advantage of the Web become a reality for more and more Americans. And these trends point to a measure of this already becoming manifest, as people who don’t have time or energy to surf the Web, for example, are unlikely to voluntarily pay for broadband access. In this way, the digital collide is the result of increasing wealth and prosperity across the economic classes of American society.

As a brief follow-up to my post last week about the state of scholarly publishing, I want to highlight this recent article in The New York Times, “Scan This Book!” by Kevin Kelly, who is on the staff at Wired magazine.

He conjures up the same image as Janet H. Murray, of “the great library at Alexandria,” and laments that “for 2,000 years, the universal library, together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks, antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream that kept receding further into the infinite future.”

But when Murray predicted the inevitable advent of the universal library nearly a decade ago, she acknowledged some complicating factors, such as consumer taste and market forces. Kelly makes similar predictions about the inevitability of absolute digitization: “The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology. All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story.”

But he won’t admit the validity of any real barriers, be they economic, social, or even legal. He writes, “The great continent of orphan works, the 25 million older books born analog and caught between the law and users, will be scanned. Whether this vast mountain of dark books is scanned by Google, the Library of Congress, the Chinese or by readers themselves, it will be scanned well before its legal status is resolved simply because technology makes it so easy to do and so valuable when done. In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.”

Thus, he concludes, “On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.” I think Kelly is correct about the power of search and its implications for new depth and complexity with respect to learning. I don’t think he’s right that such a digital “Tower of Babel” project is inevitable, at least in the sense that all books will be digital and they will also be completely open access.

Intellectual property laws are created to protect the economic incentive for people to create things. New technology isn’t going to suddenly replace the need for people to be paid for what they make. Kelly points to the paradigm in the sciences as an alternative, but as I noted earlier, the strange economics of scientific publishing is created in large part because of the widespread dependence on subsidization by the government. The same publishing paradigm simply won’t work for commercial and popular publications.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

Quick quiz: What’s the most obvious difference between the Ansari X Prize and the newly announced “H-Prize”?

HT: Slashdot

Next stop…

Last week, it was reported that NASA’s budget is so thin that it puts “America’s leadership in scientific research is at risk.” (Last year’s NASA budget was around $16 billion, give or take a few hundred million.)

The National Research Council says the space agency is “being asked to accomplish too much with too little.” The group points to the competing demands of building the international space station and returning astronauts to the moon.

So what should a large government agency do when budgets run high and credibility runs low?

NASA is calling on private industry to build next-generation spacecraft that can land on the moon, and it’s got $2 million to back up the bid.

The PowerBlog has often covered the X-Prize folk (here and here) as good examples of the power of private entrepreneurship. Now, these folks’ good old fashioned DIY attitude may provide the answer to returning to the moon.

NASA’s exploration vision calls for putting humans back on the moon in the next decade. The vehicles to land on the moon no longer exist,” X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis said in a statement. “We believe that entrepreneurial companies can build these lunar spaceships, and a Lunar Lander Challenge can stimulate the required technology in an efficient and rapid fashion.”

For NASA, the $2 million prize money is a small price to pay for the promise of technical innovation from private industry or untapped genius. The contest does not grant NASA intellectual property rights to winners’ inventions, but the space agency asks contestants to be willing to negotiate licensing rights in good faith if it shows interest in a particular technology or design.

I look forward to seeing how well this works (and I suspect it will work quite well). And when it does, I hope someone (perhaps the PowerBlog) will create a pretty cost/result chart comparing the private company that gets us back to the moon and the government agency whose budget is “too thin.”

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, March 29, 2006
An apple a day…

Here’s an interesting story–Apple Corps is suing Apple Computer for breach of contract. You probably recognize the first Apple as the company owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the widows of the other two Beatles. Since 1991, Apple Corps has had a deal with Apple Computer: in essence, the music company agrees to stay out of the computer and telecommunications business, and the computer company agrees to stay out of the music business–technically, each has agreed to keep its trademark out of the others “field of use.” All was fine and dandy until innovation reared its head: iTunes. Through its iTunes Music Store, Apple Computer now sells over three million songs a day–a success driven largely by the invention of the iPod. Apple Corps claims that Apple Computer has now elbowed in to the former’s “field of use.”

So this brings up an interesting dilemma: when a company like Apple creates something new–in this case, a new distribution system for music–unimaginable in the time when the terms of a particular agreement were set, how does this change the agreement itself? When the two Apples agreed to stay out of one another’s field of use, what happens when one Apple creates a new field that is similar in some ways to the one it promised to stay out of?

…won’t keep the lawyers away.

Of course, I am no lawyer, and cannot say how things ought to play out (any thoughts on this from those who know?). But it is worth noting that the creativity of entrepreneurs–in this case, the creative minds at Apple–can easily disrupt common ways of thinking about particular industries. Markets are not static entites, but we often don’t think that innovation can also change our terms of understanding. This is not a negative. Rather, it shows the multiple powers of human creativity: the thing created also demands the creation of new ways of understanding our world and language.