Thursday, 30 September 2010

ACS:Law pwnd by anonymous/4Chan

Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles

Image by Vincent Diamante, 2008, Flickr

Over the past week ACS:Law, a legal firm named and shamed in the House of Lords due to the number of complaints made about it to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, suffered a DDoS attack orchestrated by 'anonymous' users of the popular image board 4chan as part of Operation Payback.  This was one in a number of attacks which sought to target organisations and groups who many have thought to have been rather heavy handed in their dealings with the enforcement of supposed copyright infringements. I use the term 'supposed' here purposefully as several of the accused in this case deny any involvement in downloading illicit material at all (see the comments at the bottom of this BBC story)

For background to the story it's worth visiting TorrentFreak and the Guardian coverage for a decent overview.  Suffice to say, following the attack ACS:Law jeopardised the privacy of its intended targets by exposing its entire email database which has since been downloaded, archived and distributed across the web via sites like The Pirate Bay.  Data about 8000 internet customers solicited by ACS:Law on behalf of the copyright owners from internet providers like BT and Sky and several others firms (Plusnet) was passed to the legal firm in an encrypted form (passwords to the data were issued via telephone), only for this data to emerge unprotected when the website was restored.  This is something the Information Commissioner might take an interest in.  They have the power to levy a fine of up to £500,000 on the law firm.  Yesterday they posted a statement (.pdf)  claiming:
The ICO takes all breaches of the Data Protection Act very seriously. Any organisation processing personal data must ensure that it is kept safe and secure. This is an important principle of the Act. The ICO will be contacting ACS:Law to establish further facts of the case and to identify what action, if any, needs to be taken.
Reporting on yesterday evening, Josh Halliday noted that BT have serious doubts regarding the integrity of the process being used by rights holders to enforce copyright infringement claims.  They join TalkTalk and Virgin Media in expressing in their lack of cooperation with ACS:Law. When the ill-considered processes brought about by the Digital Economy Act start to be implemented next year, in which IP addresses accused of copyright infringement are issues gradated warning letters, these service providers may have very little choice but to comply with firms like ACS:Law, despite the problems associated with the veracity of the methodologies employed for data gathering (never mind establishing who is individually responsible for each supposed infringement).

Punitive threats at a national level to the identity of internet users accused of sharing copyright controlled content aside, the identity of the anonymous group of 4chan remains difficult to pin down. They did however include the following message bundled with the archive of emails:

Homepage of Operation Payback:
(Valid as of 24/09/10, things may have changed from then.)


To whom it concerns,

Over the past years we have seen an technological revolution. One where you are free, in the most extreme anarchistic sense, to share ideas. Some of these ideas are shared behind proxies, darknets, or similar "closed doors", but the ideas are out there. This kind of revolution is of the mind, and its effects on respective societies is all but surprising. While the people embrace this revolution, this new "anarchy" of freedom to share, leaders have crushed and seek to crush it before it even begins in earnest. 

These "anarchists", who are only anarchists in the minds of leaders seeking to destroy this freedom, have succeeded en-mass in distributing content to the poor, the underpriveleged, the restricted. The most popular pirates are the chinese, whose content filters restrict a vast amount of content from them. The second most popular, the poor, who cannot afford things like college books or entertainment. Indeed, while mostly ignored, a vast amount of educational literature is available to the everyday pirate. Enough that saw me through college, even, when I otherwise could not have afforded it.

It is no different, though, than when these powers that be tried to silence the record player, the cassette, the CD. The same claims were made then, and they were ignored, so why now are they listened to? This flawed application of extremist capitalism upon what is considered sacred by any culture - knowledge - is treason upon every human. All should have the right to listen to that beat, experience that twist in a plot, or learn from the mass volumes of literature now made available.

You already know this, however. You know it when you freely give your unused software, illegally I might add (remember: You don't own the software you buy [1]), to a friend or acquaintence. You know it when you give that old college book to a persin in need. You know it when little girls are basically raped in the name of "justice" [2]. You know it when thousands of bullshit legal letters are sent to SCARE money out of people [3]. You know it when such organizations lie through their teeth, produce false documents, and spread misinformation about its opponents [4]. You know that this is not right when your leaders inexplicably support massive capitalist enterprises over the majority opinion of their own people [5]. You know they are wrong when they use illegal means to get what they want, while simultaneously bashing us for doing the same [6].

If you were to assume the propaganda of various community-reputable organisations such as...

    The Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA]
    The Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA]
    The British Phonographic Industry [BPI]
    The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft [AFACT]
    Stichting Bescherming Rechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland [BREIN] would have heard many a story that if you say, 'pirate' a film or an album, you are depriving a simple artist, actor or crewmember from their rightful wage. They won't be able to break even for their next lot of groceries - and YOU robbed them of THEIR money. Money that they only see a small percentage of, they carefully omit. Do they ever tell you how small of a percentage most script writers, novelists, etc, actually make? No, and there is a reason why. Do they tell you how much THEY, the anti-piracy organizations, make? No, and there is a reason why.

In the end, our DDoS efforts have been compared to waiting for a train [7]. What do we have to do to be heard? To be taken seriously? Do we have to take to the streets, throwing molitovs, raiding offices of those we oppose? Realize, you are forcing our hand by ignoring us. You forced us to DDoS when you ignored the people, ATTACKED the people, LIED TO THE PEOPLE! You are forcing us to take more drastic action as you ignore us, THE PEOPLE, now.

We will not stop.

We will not forget.

We will prevail.

We are anonymous.

[4] We DID NOT attack the pirate party, we ARE NOT affiliated with anti-scientology activism, and The Pirate Bay has not organized this.

I await future developments in this story with baited breath

remedial thoughts: Discuss the future of music (in Newcastle)

remedial thoughts: Discuss the future of music (in Newcastle)

Post mirrored over on MySunderland

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Discuss the future of music (in Newcastle)

One of my interests is the music industry especially the impact of digitisation and digital distribution, and this frequently spills over into the modules I teach at the University of Sunderland.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover a series of events being hosted by the popular music development agency Generator in Newcastle from November 15th-18th. These free seminars will feature a number of industry professionals, writers, journalists and entrepreneurs discussing various aspects of the music industry, and should appeal to anyone with an interest in the future of music distribution.  Spaces are limited so check the details of each daily session and get signed up ASAP

15th November Will technology revive the industry?

This free seminar looks at new technology and delivery models and what they mean for distribution and retail in the music industry. Chaired by Paul Brindley from Music Ally, the panel will look at whether mobile applications or cloud based delivery offer new business models or revenue streams and whether digital distribution is strictly relevant for all markets.
In particular the panel will look at how different markets are reached by differing media and whether the means of delivery is as important as the product itself.

Panelists will include:

16th November Digital Platforms: Broadcast or distribute?

This free seminar looks at the range of platforms for music online whether streamed or sold. The range of services available vary between those who look to get music heard and those who purely use online as a retail base but are these two mutually exclusive, how can music plays be monetised and do these platforms provide a good service for artists and labels?
The panel is made up of representatives of some of the largest platforms whose products have different applications for businesses and artists from sharing your favourite tracks to streaming original music.
Panelists will include:

17th November New markets for licensing and brands

This free seminar looks at how music can be partnered with brands and sponsors in mutually beneficial agreements. Associations between products and music are growing, with endorsements now requiring more than a soundtrack for an advert. These partnerships can mirror 360 publishing deals with tie ins for live performance and physical releases and can go beyond synchronisation deals.
The panel is led by Rachel Wood from Woodwork Music and will look at real life examples and new tie ins to explore how artists and labels can work with brands and what the benefits are for all parties. Panelists will also look at the value of these partnerships to the industry.
Panelists will include:

18th November Is online media the industry's gatekeeper

This free seminar looks at how the music industry engages with online media. Do bloggers now fulfill a tastemaking role which was once undertaken in traditional A&R roles or are artists filling the gaps themselves with streaming, videos, podcasts and updates?
Is this a means of keeping fans updated and building a fanbase or can it provide something more? If this is the case are labels paying online media the respect it deserves?
Panelists will include:
This promises to be an interesting set of seminars.  They run from 6pm-8pm.  Click on the session titles above to book tickets for each daily event.

The venue for the seminars is:
Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RH

View Larger Map

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Tracking musical expenditure: August

A year ago I was inspired to embark on a year long project to monitor by monthly expenditure on music and music-related activities after hearing about a report which suggested that, instead of being the scourge of the music industry, file sharers were the customers most likely to spend more money on music than non-filesharers.  This claim was nothing to new to me - it was one I'd seen iterated time and again in various online file-sharing communities, but I was intrigued to see exactly how such a claim might be borne out when compared to my own spending habits.

This post is an attempt to tie up some loose ends and reflect upon my findings as I add up the expenditure for the final month of the year long tracking project.  Hopefully, I'll be able to offer some broader analysis of the full year in a later post.

If this is the first time you stumbled across this series of posts then there are a few baseline claims that might be worth pointing out:
  • The typical file-sharer spends £77 a year on music
  • Those who claim not to use file-sharing technology spend £44 per year on music
  • Source: BBC

So, how did August measure up?

The total monthly spend on music and music-related activities (ie music games, musical equipment, concerts, etc) came in at a relatively high sum of £226.98 mainly due to some hardware required for a DJ gig.  Music games accounted for another lump sum of £77.32.  A much more modest total of £19.12 was spent on buying music, of which only £5.94 would have been classified as tradiational album/single content.

Overall, that brings the total spend for the last 12 months in at £1770.57 of which £206.87 was spend on albums and singles.  That's £129.87 more than the typical file-sharer spends on music in a year, and a whopping £162.87 more than is spent by those who denied they participated in file-sharing.  What does that tell us?  Well, I'm going to take a more detailed look at these figures in a future post.

Some great free software and tools for students

There are lots of great free tools for helping student with their studies.  Here are a few I recommend.  These all work on PC and Mac unless explicitly stated


Dropbox is like having a magic pocket for computer files.  It's like a spare USB stick in the cloud. Never lose a file again. It's great for backing up essays!  Check out the video below:

You get 2GB of free space. Get it here now.



Like Dropbox, Evernote is a tool that works across multiple devices like laptops, desktops, PDAs and Smartphones.  It helps you grab material (like text, images, webpages, etc) from the web and organise it effectively.  It's an excellent tool for researching.  It even works on popular smart phones (eg iPhone, Android, etc) helping you make audio, photo and text notes.  Here's an example:

Get it here.



Twitter is a micro-blogging site which lets uses post and share short messages via its website, third party software, smartphone apps and even SMS text messages. Twitter can be integrated into lots of other sites and tools. Students can use it follow interesting people and network with others.  Depending on how you use it, it can be a terrible distraction or an excellent way of meeting new people and making useful contacts.

Click this link to find a few university feeds that you might find useful:

Create a free account here.



Delicious is a great tool for keeping track of all those websites and pages you visit and want to bookmark for later. It builds social media features in too (eg sharing and networking with others).  You can tag posts by keywords and bundled them together and assign them a web address.  If you own your own computer, you can install some plug-ins to your browser for fast bookmarking.  Check out the video below for more info:

Get Delicious here.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The cost of free? Not this again.

(image courtesy of Gisela Giardorno, 2006, Flickr, CC)

Over on the Guardian's PDA blog professional songwriter and musician Helienne Lindvall (who previously published for BMG) has written a post in which she seems to find it "ironic" that authors like Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson charge upwards of $25,000 for professional speaking appearances when they are proponents of "giving away content for free as a business model".  Lindvall points to a number of speakers who seem to be advocates of this approach, such as Seth Godin, Peter Sunde and Gerd Leonhard, who all seem to offer advice on what the music industry needs to do in order to adapt to the digitally distributed economy of bits and bytes.

Somewhat strangely, she bundles the Stanford law professer Lawrence Lessig in with these speakers, despite his interests being more aligned with reforming the punitive restrictions brought about by blanket copyright that prevents material that is no longer commercially viable from entering into the public domain.  After all, he, Hal Alberson and Eric Eldred established the non-profit Creative Commons sets of licences to accommodate this problem.

I've blogged on these topics before (for my MAC309 students) and it's worth watching the short video below if you aren't familiar with the 'free' thesis

I responded to Lindvall's original post highlighting the problem with the "irony" that only she seems to see.  Is it ironic that Doctorow and Anderson charge what Lindvall seems to think are disproportionate fees for live (or video-linked) appearances? No, not really given the arguments put forwards by these writers.

One of the core arguments around the 'free' thesis and its derivatives is that value traditionally associated with content that used to make money in a physical format (ie books, CDs, film, etc) is that content producers have to be more dynamic in how and where they solicit their economic recompense. If that means charging for their expertise and presence then so be it. This also seems to ignore recent data that suggests the creative industries are alive and kicking in Norway and the UK at least.

There seems to be a parallel with the live versus recorded experience with regards to musical performance. It's one of the reasons why the TED conferences are so expensive - if you want to be in the presence of 'celebrity' you pay a premium. Presence is what pays and what people seem to currently value.

Anderson's argument may have its flaws but one thing rings true, the enemy of the creative artist is obscurity. Artists can survive in a digital economy with the right foundations - they need to be able to justify their output is worth paying for and leverage the relationships and opportunities presented by the internet. They need to (re)connect with their fans and give them a reason to buy. This is why you'll find Doctorow making limited edition bespoke editions of his novels that retail at over $300 whilst Amazon bulk sell his hardbacks at a discounted rate (this was one of the themes of his novel, Makers).

Note: I'm not claiming that piracy is a legitimate way for consumers to interact with artists and their content, but I'd be disingenuous to claim that it doesn't take place.   If Doctorow and others can incentivise people to pay for their content in the guise of appearance fees then so be it. They are most likely leveraging the current economic climate and their present celebrity cache to their advantage.

In some respects these speakers are making the new economic conditions work for them.  Several of the commentators on the original blog piece have made the clumsy parallel that these appearance fees are the equivalent to the live music performance.  However, this isn't quite an easy equivalent to make, especially for a band where the fees are spilt.  It might work for solo artists...  It has been suggest that these authors are writing the books with the intention being they will make the real money by touring.

So, is it really that ironic?

[EDIT] It seems like Cory Doctorow has actually responded to the blog post pointing out that he seldom charges for public appearance at all. He does them mostly for, you guessed it, free.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Cineclub is back

A new term is fast upon us. With it brings a new diet of films for the University of Sunderland's Cineclub.  Starting this Wednesday, we'll be screening a different film each week at 5pm in the purpose-built cinema hosted in the David Puttnam Media Centre (see the map below).  All are welcome and admission is free.

The format is informal - each week someone will introduce the chosen film, set the context, make some observations.  This is a chance for students and staff to speak candidly about what they've seen.  Afterwards a healthy discussion of the film ensures.  There may even be a little analysis!

You can stay abreast of future screenings and events by 'liking' the Facebook page

Cineclub | Promote your Page too

The first film will be Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson 2008).

The full programme can be found below:

  • 29th September: Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson 2008)
  • 6th October: The Laughing Policeman (Stuart Rosenberg 1973)
  • 13th October: In Bruges (Martin McDonagh 2008)
  • 20th October: Le Jour se lève/ Daybreak (Marcel Carné 1939)*
  • 27th October: Pontypool (Bruce McDonald 2008)*
  • 3rd November: Convoy (Sam Peckinpah 1978)
  • 10th November: Matinee (Joe Dante 1993)*
  • 17th November: Under Construction/En Construcción (José Luis Guerín 2001)
  • 24th November: Law & Order (G.F Newman 1978)
  • 1st December: Farewell my Concubine (Kaige Chen 1993)
  • 8th December: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon 2007)
  • 15th December: Dogtooth (Giorgos Lathimos 2009)

We look forward to seeing you there!

View David Puttnam Media Centre in a larger map

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

What's the point of using the internet for studies?


I've just been in a rather heated team meeting during which a colleague and I presented on this new My Sunderland space, in which we highlighted the potential benefits of engaging with students in forms like online blogs.  We suggested that they are great for posting information, files, starting discussions, pointing to related links, etc.  Also, strong students tend to appreciate the capacity for engaging in online discussions that pique their interest, and past experience has proven that they can often assist their peers (by working through complex issues of by pointing to relevant online resources).

We pointed out that student lifestyles and the ways they engage with academic content have changed, and that we can adapt to these changes without having to change our current practices too much.  Data form our Virtual Learning Environment shows that students are accessing online notes at rather unusual hours and on unexpected days (including Christmas Day!).

Currently, as the module leader for a module (MAC201) with a large cohort I find myself dealing with multiple student questions on the same topic, and that I encounter an awful lot of repetition in my workload as I attempt to fend these off.  This was one of the reasons why I have, in the past, created student help files and provided annotated student essays as example resources.  Student feedback on my modules have been quite positive about providing these kinds of tools/resources.  One problem though is that the VLE is rather stilted and clunky place for hosting discussions.


There was quiet a bit of resistance to the idea that staff can create blogs or communities around the material they teach.  Some of the concerns that were vocalised coalesced around the following points


  • Additional workload burden for staff - who polices the space or ensures that students are on the right track?  How much extra time will this take staff to get familiar with posting content?
  • No evidence that students benefit from online discussion space
  • Fear of technology - Not all staff are technologically au fait so this might require staff development
  • Anxiety that online replaces physical - staff were fearful that students would abandon physical sessions for 'inane' online 'status updates' that were poor replacements for engagement with staff
The argument was a little heated and rigidly entrenched. The majority of staff seemed to reject the idea that online blog or communities are adequate tools for academic engagement.  Do staff and/or students benefit from using these tools?  I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter




Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The future of music videos?

I've just spent the last 4 minutes watching interacting with a music video by the Arcade Fire for their current single 'We Used To Wait' (taken from The Suburbs) after having heard about their new experimental project on the Guardian's music blog.  Instead of creating the typical music video that fans can watch on MTV or via YouTube, the band have had a dedicated website coded in HTML5 by Chris Milk which mashes up data from Google Maps and Street View, together with user written content to create a unique interactive music video experience.  Whether you are a fan of the band or not, I urge you to visit the site and try it out for yourself to grasp what some have called the 'future of music videos'

The link is 
NB: the site is processor intensive and involves browser-based pop-ups so be prepared to kill background applications etc in order to get the best experience.  Google Chrome is the recommended browser of choice although some people have had luck with Firefox and Safari 

This is a music video in which you get to interact with the content rather than sit back and watch/listen - it might just be the beginning of a new way of 'doing' music videos for a generation of people brought up with the expectation that they can manipulate and interact with their media - the so-called 'digital natives' (how I hate that term!).

The site asks you to input the address of your childhood home before depicting hooded youth running through an anonymous urban environment. A pop-up opens with a flock of birds circling - your mouse movement seems to alter their motion (edit: no it doesn't). Another series of pop-ups open at various positions on the screen, similar to music video edits which often tear the screen in videos creating multiple story windows.  Sepia-tinged aerial shots of your childhood street begin to appear, together with some panoramic shots of your neighbourhood before the video asks you to write a postcard to your younger self.

Arcade Fire postcard

Before long the music video reaches its peak and you get the option to save your postcard and have it feature in the band's forthcoming tour material.

Some people have been critical of the way in which the vide employs pop-up windows as a means of creating a new kind of video edit but I'm agnostic about this given that there seems to be some kind of artistic intent behind their deployment.  A few people have also had their experience ruined by a message stating that Google doesn't have enough map data to display their childhood home.

What do you think of the video? Innovation or gimmick?