December 8, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
December 08, 2006
*Opening Note: William Uricchio Responds to Jason Mittell's Piece Last Week with "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning," Part I.
*Response: Stefan Werning Thinks Further About Improving C3 Communication
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Stefan Werning on Implied Interactivity, Part I.
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Thanks to Ted Hovet, Stefan Werning, and Jason Mittell for their activity on the blog this week (and, as usual, my colleague Alec Austin as well), and the door is certainly open for anyone else on the C3 team, both corporate and academic partners, to use the blog as a forum of communication with not just the team but a larger audience as well, as several of you have in the past.
Also, the site now features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.
This week's update features an opening note from C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio, co-director of the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, who is responding to Jason Mittell's call for dialogue last week regarding fair use and media education, with his piece, "An Act for the Encouragement of Learning...or the raison d'etre for copyright." This is the first of a two part piece, with the concluding piece featured in next week's update.
Also, be sure to check out C3 affiliated faculty member Ted Hovet's public response to Jason Mittell's piece last week on the C3 blog and the response to Mittell's call for greater conversation within C3 by Stefan Werning elsewhere in this week's edition of the update.
The closing note this week is from C3 affiliated faculty member Stefan Werning, who includes thoughts from his doctoral dissertation in his piece "Implied Interactivity--Rediscovering (and Utilizing) the Roots of Interactive Media." This is also the first of a two-part piece, with the second part appearing in next week's Weekly Update.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
An Act for the Encouragement of Learning...or the raison d'etre for copyright, Part I
By: William Uricchio
I'd like to underscore Jason Mittell's comments from last week's C3 Weekly Update and blog. Jason wants to initiate a dialogue with our corporate partners regarding their perceptions of fair use, and he more generally raises questions about the current regime of intellectual property protection in an increasingly participatory culture. The challenges facing the educational sector, as Jason points out, are every bit as dramatic as those facing the corporate sector, not the least because educators are charged with preparing those who will both share in and lead the new cultural processes where the old distinctions between producers and consumers are giving way to new forms of collaboration. Our performance as a culture - the vitality of our creative industries, the wisdom of our political leadership, and our ability to cohere as a progressive society -- all rest to a large extent upon the skills, values and perspectives that we teach the next generation. And since media serve as our portal to the world, our competencies as critical readers and creative co-producers are fundamental to our sense of community as well as knowledge and power. This, in a nutshell, is the reason that we have to make media available in the classroom, and meanwhile redouble our efforts to push the frontiers of media education.
Jason's argument may seem a contemporary one, bound up with the media age and made all the more urgent by the digital turn. But it is not. The motives behind the document generally considered to be the cornerstone of our notion of copyright, England's 1710 Statute of Anne, appear in its title: An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned. The encouragement of learning ... such high-mindedness was not the exclusive prevue of the British. Some 80 years later, America's first federal copyright regulation, the Copyright Act of 1790, also pointed to "the encouragement of learning" as its stated goal. Given the centrality of learning to the very existence of copyright, it seems strange that we have today reached a situation where copyright is an active barrier to the educational mission, and more than ironic that media education in particular is hamstrung by legal complexities and media producers' fears.
Both the originating British and American legislation also share another characteristic: term of copyright protection. In an era when it would take a Boston-based author more than a week to get a manuscript to a New York-based publisher, and when book circulation was accordingly slow, the Copyright Act of 1790 limited the term of protection to fourteen years (most of it, one assumes travel time), renewable for an additional fourteen (the 1710 British statute afforded slightly more protection with an original twenty one years of coverage, renewable for fourteen). Not altogether logically, now that the physical trip can be done in a few hours or less, and information transfer can take place instantly, we have dramatically expanded, not reduced as one might expect, the term of protection. There's something about a name, and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 says it all. This act, otherwise known as the Copyright Extension Act, stretched the steadily accruing copyright term to the life of the author plus 70 years for post-1978 works. In the case of a work for hire, the term can be as long as120 years from the date of creation. And the pressure is on for continued extension. Referring to the constitutional prohibition of perpetual copyright, Jack Valenti famously stated his goal as 'forever less one day.'
The extension of the classical notion of copyright -- from at best a small portion of the author's life to ever-longer periods of afterlife coverage -- runs roughly in tandem with the growing political and economic strength of the media industry. And it falls in tandem as well with a more general mid-19th century shift in media application from predominantly informational (scholarly and fictional literature, charts, maps) to entertainment (popular literature, photography, music, film). Lurking in this change as well is the shift from the printed word, which seems to have a fairly well established set of citation and reprinting protocols, to image and sound, which seem still to have eluded our conceptual grasp. Copyright precedent is clear enough when using citations or verbatim sections of books for our classes and scholarly writing, but try to include a film clip or even a frame enlargement from a film, and the threat of litigation is immediate. When it comes to media beyond the printed word, conformance with the four point "fair use" defense seems to make little difference. Digital media have added further twists, with legal battles over the ownership of programming languages (unthinkable with ordinary language), sound sampling, and even once legally allowed provisions for home copies. And they complicate our notions of what's really being protected (in moving from a 35mm film to an ultra-low resolution copy on Second Life, should information degradation play a role in what is actually being copyrighted?).
The conclusion to this piece will be featured as the opening note in next week's Weekly Update.
William Uricchio is a faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is also Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, in addition to professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Uricchio studies comparative national constructions of media, trans-national content flows, the way the media are drawn upon for identity purposes, and the transfirmation of media technologies into cultural practices.
---------- RESPONSE TO LAST WEEK'S CLOSING NOTE ----------
Some Thoughts on Jason Mittell's Piece
By: Stefan Werning
Following Jason Mittell's call for organizational introspection, I would just like to share a few thoughts on the topic, though not specifically about copyright which I'm not very much adept in.
Although I profit from and enjoy reading the blog very much, there might be a few downsides that could be compensated by adding other technological or organizational forms of communication. Most importantly, I think a blog inherently creates a kind of 'implied public' which prestructures the exchange of ideas.
For example, for discussing experimental or still rather undeveloped ideas, another platform is probably better suited. Furthermore, the 'addressee' of a blog post is rather diffuse which calls for a specific text (and thought) structure. I certainly think the blog is a valuable repository and platform but could be complemented by other means.
The newsletter is one such way to allow for the publishing of more developed contribution; from my reading experience, these contributions oscillate quite a bit in terms of applicability for academic vs. economic/strategic purposes. I usually copy a 'digest' of articles that are of particular interest for me into my own CMS. A 'members-only notebook' already installed could certainly be another helpful tool.
Maybe, complementary to the one-to-many mode of communication, it could be useful to define concrete 'projects' or at least 'thematic construction sites' dedicated to upcoming hot topics that more or less clearly defined subgroups could keep contributing to. Personally, I'm mostly writing on topics related to digital games and interactive media technologies without knowing, except from personal contacts, where overlaps with other people's interests exist.
Although it's regularly being overused these days, a wiki-style application or modular CMS like Drupal might be an easy-to-install/use platform for more project-based collaboration. The Game Innovation Database (http://gameinnovation.org/index.php), collecting 'first occurrences' of game elements, technologies, story-types etc., might be a good illustration of this principle. It could be immensely interesting, for instance, to add sales figures and other quantifiable information to this data structure, e.g. as a tool to determine in which contexts innovation in digital games can make sense economically.
One potential issue with this form of collaboration might be the 'copyright' aspect Jason Mittell already hinted at, i.e. it might be advantageous to be able to indicate clearly who contributed which parts of the material. This probably depends a lot on whether you look at it from an industry or academia point of view, too; since I myself have much more academic than industry experience, it would be interesting for me whether these thoughts make sense outside of the 'ivory tower'.
To conclude, technological platforms to enable collaboration among geographically dispersed participants undoubtedly have their limitations. Despite technologies like Writerly, for example, co-authoring academic as well as any other texts without constant face-to-face communication can be an enormous waste of energy; I'm speaking from my own experience. The sensible selection (and maybe small-scale testing) of tools therefore appears to be an important short-term objective.
Stefan, an affiliated researcher with the consortium, also wrote this week's closing note.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Nielsen Meeting Solidifies Plans About Commercial Ratings; Consensus on DVR Viewers? Raw data will be made available for commercial average ratings or minute-by-minute data streams as increased measurement capabilities may provide resolution for DVR controversies. Meanwhile, a second-by-second system is being proposed from Starcom-TNS.
Mobile Content Expected to Gain Major Ground in Next Five Years, Juniper Says. Predictions are that video will increase dramatically over the next few years, with an estimated spike from $17.3 billion in 2006 to $76.9 billion in 2011 and massive growth in North America.
What Is a Media Educator? Ted Hovet poses this question to faculty and corporate partners alike, in response to Jason Mittell's recent piece about fair use in an academic setting.
Building Soaps as Long-Term Brands: A Diatribe on Laura's Return on General Hospital. Shows that are expected to be a continued television presence should be invested in for the long-run, not spiking ratings from one week to the next. Think of these shows like you think of a brand.
The Viral Marketing That Doesn't Build Goodwill: Spam. Brad Stone with The New York Times recently wrote about the resistant strains of spam that have been cultivated with various spam filters over the past couple of years.
People Might Not Hate All Advertising...Just Bad Advertising. Mike at Techdirt has written a commentary that has sparked a debate about why people skip advertising, asking instead about ads that people want to see.
Studio 60 and Product Placement. The Nov. 27 episode featured a complex discussion about interweaving product placement into the set of the fictional sketch comedy show, with the discussion echoing many of the sentiments of various positions within the industry over the past couple of years.
Gil Thelen on Journalism, Profit Margins, and the Language of Convergence. The former Tampa Tribune publisher has written a piece about multiplatform journalism and the future of newspapers based on a recent lecture at the University of South Carolina.
Ninja Tune Launches Music Video Channel in Second Life. The UK-based record label will feature multiple hours' worth of content from a variety of UK artists, and the channel will link to the online store for the label.
PullBox: The Theory Behind a New Online Distribution System for Comics Content. The site is one of many alternative distribution systems for comic books that makes issues available for download as PDF and CBR files.
Name That DAYS Baby: A Low-Investment Stab at Interactivity. The NBC soap is offering viewers a chance to choose the name of a child being born to a prominent character, thus making a limited but long-term impact on the show.
Seeking Common Ground Between Media Educators & Industry on Fair Use. Jason Mittell cross-posted his comments in last week's newsletter onto the blog, generating discussion from a subsequent post by Ted Hovet, as well as media technology educator Vanessa Vartabedian.
Convergence & Privacy, Redux. Alec Austin writes about Nike shoes that can be transformed into a pedometer also being used as a tracking device, according to a recent experiment.
Replacing Touchdowns and Field Goals with Amnesia and Love Affairs: The Fantasy Soap League. Cable network SOAPnet has started a Fantasy Soaps League modeled after fantasy sports games for online soaps fans to compete in, based on the nine current American daytime dramas.
LCD Selling Power Continues Growing as Flat Panel TVs Become the Top Seller. LCD technology is becoming dominant in the war with plasma, and flat panel televisions are now the top selling TV models.
Two Recent Examples of Interactive Advertising in Germany. Stefan Werning writes about the Hugo Boss theme song and Beck's brewery's promotion encouraging customers to design bottle labels online.
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Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Implied Interactivity--Rediscovering (and Utilizing) the Roots of Interactive Media, Part I
By: Stefan Werning
The following short article presents a set of thoughts and observations I am elaborating on as part of my PhD thesis on the aesthetic and technological convergence of interactive media in commercial and military contexts. The text is deliberately reduced to a set of controversial theses and gives only a handful of bibliographical references.
Interactivity as a concept has regularly been shrugged off as a buzzword in recent studies; (e.g. Cover, 2006) the multiplicity of (conflicting) definitions either created an urge to downplay the issue for its apparent lack of explicatory potential or lead to meta-studies (e.g. Kiousis, 2002) attemping to unify the various implications of the term, including psychological, computer science or communication studies aspects. Alternative or complementing terms like 'ergodicity' (Espen Aarseth) or 'interpassivity' (e.g. Laetitia Wilson, referring to Žižek) have been proposed, mostly with reference to a specific subdiscipline or phenomenon.
In this article I would like to elaborate on an idea of „implied interactivity" as a kind of 'object-based' extension of the 'collective intelligence' model and derivative approaches popular in the study of participatory audiences. Departing from observations like the large amount of fan activity and social organization created by particular linear media formats, in my case e.g. military promotional video clips, I propose to complement these theories of participatory fan behavior by examining the actual artifacts, typologizing the forms of 'implied interactivity' and identifying structural means by which it can be generated or directed.
Current biological models of explanation used in e.g. 'viral marketing' approaches (e.g. the supposition that insufficiently scalable models will "kill the host before spreading"; http://dis.shef.ac.uk/sheila/marketing/wilson.htm) are generally useful but occasionally blank out rather media-specific, structural properties by focusing more on the process of 'infection' than on the biological makeup of the virus.
Similarly, the concept of memetics, i.e. the study of memes as discrete units of cultural communication with a capacity for self-replication and -modification like genes, recently found its way into marketing studies. Although the 'meme', regardless of its biological role model, bears resemblance to the sphere of information technologies (e.g. object-oriented programming), it might be useful to strengthen this latter perspective and take a closer look at the technological level of 'meme' interaction.
Historical Instances of Implicit Media Transcendence
The recourse to (assumed) historical preforms of current media phenomena is a popular topos in science history but should be regarded critically as to its theoretical profitableness. 'Implied Interactivity' as I understand it is different from explicit structural provisions in linear media to enable and stimulate multi-perspective 'readings' as e.g. in the Talmud which is often conceived of as a 'hyper-textual' collage of text fragments, differentiated e.g. by font styles and sizes.
Interestingly, later instances of 'implied media transcendence' in pre-digital media which are often not noticed as such any longer tended to pertain rather to avant-garde aesthetics than commercial strategies. Most importantly, none of these attempts at non-linearity challenge or go beyond the delimitation of the original 'work'.
For instance, the Game Pieces by John Zorn, (http://www.omnology.com/zorn05.html) consisting mainly of rule systems for collective musical improvisation, even providing interrelated rules similar to 'event listener' code structures used to program 'triggers' in scripting languages, perpetuate the boundaries of the art work.
The perhaps most widely recognized form of implicit interactivity in media history is the strategic overstraining of the viewers' visual streaming capacities found in films like Prospero's Books by Peter Greenaway. (e.g. Gras, V. and M. Peter Greenaway. Interviews Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2000: 182)
Contrary to these forms of 'designated' implied interactivity, I want to focus on how linear media, for instance by virtue of their inherent syntagms, patterns of distribution or documentation, can instigate desirable forms of 'interactive' usage.
Some Examples of Implied Interactivity in Military Contexts
Interactivity in digital media at the moment is largely conceptualized following the model of computer- and videogames similar to how the (largely unexplored) formal repertoire of feature films in the early years of the 20th century was modeled after experiences with theatre and opera. (cf. e.g. Kittler in his „Opera in the Light of Technology")
Instead of considering real, mostly 'alternate reality' game models used in advertising such as Our Colony, designed to promote the XBOX360, I want to focus on implied interactive, among them also ludic, forms of linear media usage. For the purpose of this article, the examples are mostly military-related which, however, bears additional complications since, although the US military complex can be (and has been) adequately described as a commercial enterprise, the 'product' in question is rather diffuse.
With digital games like America's Army (AA), developed by the MOVES institute at the Naval Postgraduate School, or the proprietary Asymmetric Warfare Environment (AWE) MMOG, developed by Forterra Systems Inc., prominently featured in the media, other forms of familiarization with military rhetoric and logic currently receive little attention.
One such 'overlooked' example to illustrate this narrowing of critical reflection are military tribute videos shared on youtube.com (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=military+tribute&search=Search) and other video hosting sites. The bulk of these videos consists of collages of photos or video stills and concatenated clips taken from news programs or official promotional videos, often underlaid with music. Many of these videos display a thorough acquaintance with the rhetoric of music videos, e.g. in the characteristic use of fast match cuts and lyrics-image relations, despite their often crude workmanship. The music is mostly chosen for its associative richness, confounding the semantics of contemporary warfare with generic martial slogans as in Manowar's "Call to Arms". Parodies and other critical 'commentaries' are much less common than in footage produced using other MMOGs such as the Star Wars Galaxies "Cantina Crawl" movies. Some videos even utilize the Virtual Battlesystem 1 (VBS1), a modification of Bohemia Interactive's Operation Flashpoint designed for military training purposes. (http://youtube.com/watch?v=stS7OTNxnRo)
Another video, a tribute to the US Army Rangers, (http://youtube.com/watch?v=K737kqz7ktg) is commented on as follows: "Thank you. This is so tastefuly [sic!] done. The Ranger Creed combined with the pictures, tributes and excellent choice of background soundtrack all add to the quiet professionalism that is symbolic of a Ranger". The comments for the same video also include advertisements for purchasable German Wochenschau footage, obviously offered for use as 'raw material' in mind, and a clarification of the background song used in the video, "Leave No Man Behind" from the Black Hawk Down OST. Intercutting personal footage with official promotional material (http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZNbNoRzacN4) is another common way of 'inscribing' oneself into the emblematic military imaginary. Although it goes beyond the scope of this article to typologize and compare recurring themes found in this form of implied interactive usage, such a project might be worthwhile.
Another, again entirely different case is the archiving of military-related documents and material (e.g. official combat textbooks, military encyclopedia, non-confidental reports, scanned boardgame pieces/plans etc.) using file-sharing tools like Emule. For instance, searching for VBS1-related files, a user can re-trace their subjective 'history' of how players exchange strategies to hack the software, share allegedly hacked files and source code or discuss whether the modifications made to the original game justify the efforts in the first place by browsing through downloadable text descriptions, reading the files against their popularity as expressed by the number of users currently sharing etc. In this cases, Emule itself becomes a quasi-communicative medium that implements many elements of the 'database logic' sketched by Lev Manovich. The particular, often quasi-ludic patterns of sharing will be briefly touched upon in the final paragraph.
One experimental model of implied interactivity could be the 'remix'. Mostly, 'remixing' in new media research is used with reference to the cultural intermingling occurring through transmedia storytelling as Mizuko Ito exemplifies taking Yu-Gi Oh! as an example. (Ito, 2003/04)
As a remixer cognitively dissects a piece of music into 'sampleable' and recombinable bits and pieces for the purpose of re-mixing, this process naturalizes the understanding of media products as 'source material' rather than 'closed texts' according to Umberto Eco. However, while a remixer is often interpreted as a metonymical indicator of the liberating impetus of independent media production, subverting yet openly maintaining this narrative can be read as part of the rather 'indirect strategies' of shaping public opinion, currently pursued by institutions with military affiliations like the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), i.e. the ideal of truly 'independent' media re-combination and the "struggle" between authorial and reader's control over a text (Cover, 2006: 140) must be outwardly kept in order to be able to implicitly set the 'rules of engagement'.
The conclusion to this piece will appear as the closing note in next week's Weekly Update.
Stefan Werning is a doctoral candidate and works as an associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn, Germany. He is a member of the working group ‚computer games' at the German Association for Media Studies and writes on topics including e-learning solutions based on digital games and modeling terrorism in recent military policies to interactive media analysis.
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