Pondering points for the day..

 

Scratching my head on these views, and by the way, the picture of this white board was taken using Evernote's document camera mode.isnt she beautiful? ūüôā

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Digital Rights Management and its impact in the Current ‘CopyRight-Piracy’ Conflict..

The first half of the decade, the years 2000-2006 were the years where the legitimate industry bore the brunt of the Piracy onslaught. The legitimate industry simply was too confused as changes were happening at such a rapid level and ordinary users were getting sucked into Piracy, at a growth rate, possibly never seen much, before by mankind.

At that point in time, The industry itself was internally faced by several dilemmas, themselves. It could never bring itself to the fact that things (or media) could be sold entirely in a digital format and believed that users must and should consume legitimate physical products and it was much more legal and ethical. But it failed to realize that content entirely digital had a certain convenience that physical did not provide.

Another possible reason was that physical sales, in the short term were still not being impacted, and switching entirely to digital could hurt physical sales. This dilemma continues even today, and exists in various forms, when one sees the over all ‘Copyright-Piracy’ conflict. This particular issue, i like to refer to as a ‘Seesaw Conundrum’ ( when you try to raise one end for a benefit, you end up losing something on another side). The ‘SeeSaw conundrum‘ in itself, i see as part of a larger ‘External Variable conundrum‘, a phenomenon that is beyond control of an individual or an organization and happens due to the totally diverse and potentially overlapping regions of the Internet.

Another problem faced by the Industry was that if it even decided to move towards a ‘Digital’ only model, as most of them have today, there were no proper digital payment infrastructure in the banking and Economic transaction system, as stable and relatively secure as we see today. Following 2006, Piracy continued to grow even faster, especially when Internet Piracy began to outclass traditional Disc based piracy, but by then the Industry had overcome the early shock and had produced several limited counter attacks and potential ‘Revenue generative’ attempts to fight Piracy on price. While most of them may have produced ‘short term results’, several of them have sunk and are slowly being lost to obscurity.

But amidst all this, one move seems to be clearly one of the tools that the ‘Copyright Industry’ will use as a weapon which is already in contemporary use and which is out to stay in the long term. Although DRM can be used for multiple applications including Audio* and Video**, it is primarily associated with Books.

So, this blog post will focus primarily on how DRM is applied to Books, and try to dissect its role in the phenomenon. Back then, even in the Analog world, Books were duplicated, some through Xerox and some through cheap copies. But the economics of that time meant that only ‘Best sellers’ were likely sold through such counterfeit books. This phenomenon even continues to this day, and one can find cheap copies of such books in M.G.Road or majestic circle. They cost typically around Rs.50-100 and are quite cheap when compared to an original book. The quality of print and paper is typically very poor, and is virtually uncomparable to an original.

But the rate and scale of copying offered by Digital Technology and the sharing infrastructure that the Internet enabled made this a much more serious issue. In all fairness, Book Piracy was relatively low in the ‘2000-06′ era and the brunt was borne by the Movie and the Music Industry. This could be explained by a simple logic that the hardware form factors – be it a Desktop or a Laptop were not suited to reading Books, unlike today’s Ereaders or Tablets.

If one looks at most of the research done over the Internet after spending possibly millions of dollars – inevitably, most of them draw one of these two conclusions – “Piracy boosts Legal sales’, or ‘Piracy destroys Legal sales and costs millions of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes to the Government”. This loop goes on with each new research trying to outprove, its counterpart’s conclusions.

But in an era of 2000-06, it may have made some sense, for the ‘Pro Piracy’ advocates, who said that Pirating book users go on and buy legitimate physical books, because the Pirated copy allowed them to read a sample. The logic may have held water back then. There were also links¬†that this famous author advocated Piracy and said that it boosted his sales. ( I believe it is his official blog).

But today, in a world of EReaders, Tablets and Kindles, it is that much more likely that a pirating Ebook user would pay to buy physical content, because in many ways, the digital experience is much more convenient than the physical one, and how many would want to buy a physical one, which is less convenient, when they get the more convenient digital version for free?

So, this is where DRM comes in. It relies on a logic that a pirated copy will originate from a unencrypted legal Ebook copy, and that is why it needs to have some measures to avoid copy. The logic is good at one level, but fails, because unlike its other cousins, which have almost long since and almost are on the fringe of abandoning physical products, physical books still hold ground. Maybe, there is really is something about Paper.

So, DRM technically stops or makes it difficult for a legal Ebook to be duplicated and pirated, but there is no proven theory that it helps boosts book sales. It is just a ‘Piracy Stopper’, but in no way, unlike say ‘Saavn’ or ‘Moser Baer’ , a revenue generator, which by themselves, become ‘Piracy Stoppers’.

While DRM has to protect the rights of the Copyright Holder by preventing duplication of digital copies, it also has to protect the rights of the buyer, many of whom want the freedoms and flexibility that physical books offer them. So, DRM has to balance the needs of both users. So, let us see, how this works out in today’s Digital ECommerce, App Ecosystem and the Cloud.

 

#1

Depending on the case, a user may have permanent or temporary access to a Ebook. A user may choose to permanently purchase a copy of a book via Amazon Kindle or Google Play. This entitles them to access the book through their own various stock clients across multiple Operating Systems that ‘sync’ information about the book’s position and gives the user a seamless experience. Another alternative application that DRM offers is similar to renting a physical book from a library. While I am unaware if this feature is available through traditional Ebook stores, it is available if you are a member of the British Library.

Once you pay for an online membership( The Library has several schemes that allow users to rent Physical Books, Optical Media like DVDs, Magazines, Children’s comics etc), the British Library gives the user, the availability of Ebooks that can be rented. The user can choose the book, and click download and which leads to a temporary file that contain metadata like the Date Of Download. This Temporary file can be opened in an ‘Adobe Digital Editions’ Application ( the normal Adobe Reader won’t work), which reads the details in the file and starts the download process of the file. The user will also need to have a registered ‘Adobe Account’. The file is downloaded and can be seen and viewed in the Adobe Digital Editions Application like a normal PDF. The only difference is that after the period ( typically 14 days), the file will stop working, and the user will have to repeat the original process and get a new rental key from the British Library server.

#2

Once the book is purchased, the user can download the book offline on the client. In most cases, a copy of the most updated version of the book rests on the Service’s server. The user has the option to add Annotations, while some services offer a ‘One Touch’ integration to share select ‘quotes’ directly on Twitter and Facebook. The Kindle Edition also offers a direct integration with the Book Review and Dedicated Book Social Media website – Good Reads (?)

#3

once the book is downloaded and authenticated, users can add their notes, bookmarks and highlights. Although, the device gives the appearance of over the top, imprints, it is a digital mirage. The device handles both these info seperately, and only momentarily places the annotations at specific co-ordinates over the book. This is the reason, why an Annotation made in 1 client, when sync’d over the cloud, can be deleted over the other. Users who use the ‘Image Annotation’ Feature in Evernote/Skitch across multiple devices can also understand this concept better.

Citing from the book, Multimedia Systems Design by Prabhat.K.Andleigh & Kiran Thakrar ¬†– “Image Annotation can be performed in one of the two ways ; as a text file stored along with the image or as a small image stored within the original image. The annotation is over layed over the original image for display purposes. While this may sound simple enough, it is not without complication. It requires tracking multiple image components associated with a single page, decompressing all of them, and ensuring correct spatial alignment as they are overlayed.”¬†

Once this process is done, the annotated book is sync’d across the cloud. The details of the book can be download on another client via the same process. So, now having described a simple technically on how DRM works, let us consider a Socio-Ethical Debate on where DRM lies today. As with almost every technical development over the Internet, there are Pros and Cons.

#4

 

As you can see from the graph, the first function that any paying user wishes to have is that all his rights of an Analog book should be translatable in a digital version. The advantages that Digital Technology provides over Analog should be fully available, without any hassles.

  1. For instance, Digital Technology easily allows the ‘Copying of Text’ for citation purposes much more easily rather than Physical Text.
  2. Digital Technology allows the possibility of ‘Text to Speech’ which can particularly be useful for people with special ‘Attention, Viewing and Reading Difficulties”.

On the other side, DRM’s main function is to Stop a legal copy being Pirated. Although, there are other ways how Pirated copies will come out, as explained below, and which is way beyond the scope for DRM to help.

So, in addressing both these world’s, where does DRM fail or where does it Win? Let us consider a small example, of a book that i purchased?

1. Copying of Text – “The need to resort to a song in a given situation is perhaps a continuation of a literature-oriented aesthetic where versification or poetry…” This is a citation from one of the books that i am currently reading. ‘The Eye of the Serpent – An Introduction to Tamil Cinema by Theodore Baskaran”. While the app allows me, a paid user to copy a citation ( which is about 1-2 paragraphs into Evernote, which i index with other data), the app limits the copy to a mere 140 characters. The larger irony is that not even a complete sentence could be copied, and I am not using it for Twitter, for me to limit my text to 140 characters.

So, in the absurd logic that a pirating user may copy away reams of pages, using ‘Copy&Paste’ logic, DRM has put a fix of 140 characters, in the hope that it will be too big for a pirating user to copy a book. Since, it isn’t helping a legally purchased user anyway, i suggest making the copy limit to 14 characters, which will make it 10 times even more tougher for the pirate to copy. It isn’t helping a legal user much, anyways.

2. Intercompatibility of Playback Clients – The beauty of the PDF format was that one need not necessarily use the Adobe Reader to read it. The Foxit reader is faster, consumes less Resources, has more features and is also free like the Adobe. This gives the user the freedom of choice. A similar logic can be applied for movies. Play a movie in VLC, or any other player, which you like.

But DRM sadly is not. In most cases, the DRM implementation is proprietary and not compatible. For instance, if i Purchased a book via Amazon Kindle, and i like the IBooks reader better in the Ipad, i cannot play it. I have to only use the stock Kindle App. Big Nuisance, this is. It gets worse, in other conditions. I like to use the ‘Voice Dream App***’ which is a dedicated player, customized for individuals with ‘Attention and Reading difficulties like i do”. Its ‘TextToSpeech’ is seriously out of the world, and it plays non DRM documents really really well, as if a real Human was reading out to you. But sadly, these DRM books won’t allow you to open in such players.

3. The Monopoly – There have been allegations that when a famous Ebook services company purchased an ‘Audio Book’ company, it purposefully killed its automated ‘TextToSpeech’ app, since now users would be forced to pay for the much higher priced Audio Books, if they wanted to simultaneously access Reading the book, while parallely listening to a Voice reading the book in the background.

So, my conclusion is that while DRM has achieved some of the attributes of a physical book in the digital domain, it has failed strongly when it tries to balance the needs of legitimate Paying users and trying to stop Pirating users. This was an example of the ‘Seesaw Conundrum‘ that i was referring to earlier.

And the larger absurdity of the equation is that as long as Physical Books are in Sale, there are much easier ways to convert a pirated Ebook than to break a DRM code, or manually copy data from a licensed DRM encrypted Ebook. See below.

Potential_SourceFeeds_For_Pirated_Content

 

Audio* – You can locally download a song from a Saavn Server on an Ipad, if you are a Pro user, but cannot offload, like a non DRM’d music single .mp3 file.

Video** – Several YouTube and Google Play files can be cached locally on a device and played, but cannot be removed offline easily.

Voice Dream Reader*** – Under the ‘Book Share’ program, individuals like me are entitled to get limited access to Copyrighted books for a subsidized fee which can be read via the Voice Dream Reader app. I had sent them a link that i would prefer to register under my pseudonym and linked them to my Virtual world accounts, but i got no response. If i have to register my real name to get access, thank you very much. I get enough of Spam already and i have no frickin idea how my personal data will be used.

So, what do we have for Dinner today?

In many ways, the Internet gives you the knowledge and the willpower to move on, when you feel that an invisible force is pushing you through and guiding you. I have felt this for the past three years. I am really feeling hurt today, and i feel like ranting, but more than the will to rant, brood and point fingers, there is a stronger urge to complete, possibly what i was destined for. And everyday, this feeling gets clearer and clearer, atleast to me.

Looking up at some recent videos on Youtube, on Piracy happenings in recent Tamil cinema, led me to the name ‘QUBE’. The information potential that i see is huge… really really huge.. It gives me more data and stats to prove my view points, or debated, dissected and over thrown. I am perfectly fine with that..

And here, is just a sample.. I just glanced through the QUBE website and it has enough data to write a mini-work in itself.. ¬†Subsequently, more stats about QUBE will come out, as i go through more about it, in its website.. ¬†I have also discussed with a colleague the possible ways in which QUBE’s Antipiracy solution ( developed from Civolution?) works in this blog.¬†QUBE_Movie_Release_2013_2014_Statistical_Analysis

God Bless the Internet..

Understanding ‘Music Content Discovery’ and the future of Music consumption through Shazam..

As I have already said in several of my previous posts, one of the very basic aspects of building a business of any form over the Internet can be more successful through sharing of information, rather than hoarding it exclusively, because as we can see in this example, even the big Music Players like Itunes need the services of smaller music discovery Apps like SoundCloud SoundHound and Shazam to drive user traffic to their website.

Shazam is an app that allows users to record to any music playing in the surrounding and it maps the sound with its own database and provides the user with the details of the album/track and also links the user to places, where the music can be consumed/purchased legally. In a previous post which i had spoken about the HTC/SoundCloud¬†SoundHound Integration ( see the Video), i had said that the audio data which was being received real time via the FM broadcast was pushed into a parallel pipe of the SoundCloud’s servers. I think that is not true, after i explored the Shazam app.

It is quite likely that like Shazam, Sound Cloud¬†SoundHound too converts the real time music into a digital fingerprint and that fingerprint is sent to its servers, where it is mapped and the compared results of the album are provided. For this to happen successfully, it is only possible for an original reference copy of the album which should have been transformed into a reference Fingerprint, stored originally in Shazam’s servers. Only then can these apps match the finger prints and provide the user with the details of the album.

#1

So, what role is an app like Shazam playing in the current Indian legitimate music consumption Environment? As I have already said that currently, there are 2 types of legitimate music consumption. One is the Revenue Enhancer mode, where there are very few players left, and Itunes inevitably seems to be the king. ( Flyte is out.). The other one is the Piracy beater, Streaming model, where there is a whole lot of competition. There are several players in this segment – Saregama, Saavn, Dhingana(Rdio), Gaana, Wynk, Guvera etc. The latter environment is a largely competitive environment.

Last year, On April 3, 2013, Saavn and Shazam announced a partnership. The details can be seen here, and i quote from the website.

Music identification service Shazam today announced an exclusive new partnership with Saavn, the popular Indian music streaming service. The new partnership is supposed to give music fans a fun new way to discover the latest tracks from their favourite South Asian artistes in Bollywood and regional cinema. 

Shazam has already started mapping out Saavn’s library onto its music database. This could take a while since the announcement, given Saavn’s large library of not just Hindi but also regional music. 

The partnership between the two music-based apps will help Indian music fans figure out the name of songs and its artistes easily. Moreover, arrangement to purchase the music legally off iTunes is also being made by Saavn and Shazam. Listeners will also be able to share their finds with their friends on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ via Shazam. According to the announcement, more tracks from the inexhaustible collection of Indian music will be added every week to the partnered database.

The app partnership will widely cover popular genres such as bhangra, devotional, ghazals, Carnatic, Indipop and more.¬†It will also encompass music in regional languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada and Bhojpuri.”

So, over a year later, I have tested the Shazam app and seem to be reasonably happy with the results, and i present them to you, in an entirely Tamil context. So, let us see the potential of this app. Again, I did the same test, by testing a few songs that were playing live from an Fm station and a song that i had purchased from the now defunct ‘Flyte’.

#2Merged

Real time song discovery via FM or played in the background – As you can see that the App was able to bring out results, but its predictions don’t seem to work very well, always. Maybe, one reason is that, it has a larger database where it can push more Albums from music directors like Ilaiyaraja or Harris Jayaraj rather than a lyricist Vairamuthu. The only thing that was strange from that list was Ghajini, something, that i will come back to later. But, even in these 3 pictures, you can observe one thing. On discovering the album, the Shazam app is guiding users to Itunes and Saavn, which logically seems to be based on the agreement/partnership that was mentioned earlier, thereby providing Saavn an edge over its competitors, in this case.

Discovery of Rare songs – Most of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s must have heard hundreds of Ilaiyaraja’s tracks, without even knowing the name of the movie or having seen its visual. For e.g It is easy to associate ‘Maariyamma Maariyamma’ with Karakatakaaran, but how of us know which movie does the song ‘Raasathi Manasule” come from? It is Ramarajan’s movie, but how many of us know the name of the movie? What about ‘Amudhe Thamizhae?”, “Paaramal Paartha Nenjam?”, “Devadhai Ilam Dhevi Unnai Sutrum Aavi”.. Sure, we have heard these songs and know them, but do we know the names of the movies? So, this was a test, and here were the results.

#3-Ilaiyaraja_Vintage_Songs_Discovery

So, the app isn’t doing bad. However, when i fed the song ‘Katti Vechuko Endhan Anbu Manasa’, the App was not able to detect the song.

BGM – BGM is Ilaiyaraja and Ilaiyaraja is BGM. I fed the app a few BGM samples taken at Random. The app was not able to detect mid piece BGMs from Dharma Durai and Guru Sishyan, although some of them were very famous Motif’s, but it was able to detect the Title tracks of ‘Gopura Vaasalile’ && ‘Varusham 16’.

#4-BGM_Tracks

The Ghajini Mystery – This seemed like a bit of a mystery to me. Ghajini was taken as a Random sample, from the Fm Radio, and i found that the Shazam App was able to detect the album, initially. Much later, i observed strangely that there was No Itunes link in the Album, considering that almost all other detections had an Itunes link. This led me to check out Itunes directly to see if the Album was available. Surprisingly, I could find out only the Telugu Version of the same movie, again composed by Harris Jayaraj himself. The Tamil version of the same movie was not available in Itunes. Surprising.!

So, i played the Telugu version of the same Rangola Song from Youtube and started the Shazam App. Surprisingly, as the song unfolded, Shazam detected the Tamil version of the movie, initially. This, I could attribute to maybe, because both the Preludes and initial lyrics of both Tamil and Telugu versions were same. As the song continued to play in Youtube in its Telugu Lyrics, I ran the Shazam app again, and this time, it detectedly correctly, the Telugu Version of the Ghajini App, but even in that detection, it does not show the Itunes link for the telugu version of Ghajini, although the Telugu version of Ghajini is available in Itunes, which leaves me baffling?

The_Curious_Case_Of_Ghajini

To Summarize, an App like this provides two major benefits to the Copyright Ecosystem.

1. It helps fans detect and find music, legally.

2. Unlike other physical media like Text or Video, where Copyright information can be embedded via MetaData, In Audio, this can be lost easily. This phenomenon is called as ‘Attribution Erosion‘, and at times, can even lead to accidental plaigiarism. Apps like these can help fans or remixers trace original copyright holders for additional rights or permissions like Remixing their original works, for example.

How Free Flow of Copyrighted Information via API culture, brings Positivity and increased benefits in a Globalized World?

In an earlier post, I had spoken about how ‘Free Flow of Text information’ via various pipes in the Internet, through API based Authentication was extremely beneficial to all players in the Ecosystem. Most of the information in that example was Text, and although a large portion of the Text was Copyrighted ( others were licensed under Creative Commons), Piracy related abuse of Copyrighted Text published over the Internet from websites ( not from Published Books), are far too few. If at all there is piracy of text sourced from a website, it could be more of a case of Plaigiarism rather than Piracy.¬†

Now, let us extend that logic further, and see how the benefits of Free flow of Information, even if it copyrightable (Music in this case) and has a larger potential of Piracy, yet by allowing the same information to flow freely via sharing, can create a contradicting Positivity in the Ecosystem. I have localized the context here to a simple example of Tamil cinema, since it is an underlying motif of this blog.

I have consciously written this post here for several reasons.

The understanding of the ‘Free and Share’ culture via API, or otherwise, forms an important portion in the yet to be released book – “Kill The Pirate – The Quest for John Doe”, which will soon be released under a Creative Commons license via this blog, that deals with the challenges that Tamil cinema faces as a Microcosm of overall Global Internet Piracy.

This blog allows me the freedom to share media under a ‘Fair Usage Policy’, even if it is copyrighted, so, readers who read and understand this simple video example will easily understand the context at the relevant portion in the book, and that i may not have the same freedom to publish the media file along with the book, as I have here.

Another important reason is that the Internet has been strongly accused of increasing the quantum and scale of Piracy, compared to the earlier days of Disc Based Piracy. This is very much true, but represents only one side of the picture. But what is seldom spoken about is, that the Internet has also opened up both localized and International markets, which were not accessible in the older Analog and Nascent Digital years, and that possibly explains why some of the 100, 200 crore+ movies made in India, are economically viable, today.

A short understanding of this video helps understand that while Technology over the Internet can also spread piracy, at the same time, it can also bring lots of positivity, and boost sales of the legitimate ecosystem, via sharing of Information Flow.

[ Apologies for the low quality Video File, as I had to downsize the larger HQ video and upload a low Quality File as i did not have enough Bandwidth].

In this video, You can initially see that the FM radio App is turned on and a live Broadcast of a Tamil song is playing from somewhere in the middle. A user who hears this song for the first time, and who likes it and wants to listen to again, may not find it possible, in the old era. This can also be true of users who are listening to music of other cultures and languages for the first time.

The FM radio App has already a built-in API integration with SoundCloud¬† SoundHound. So, as the song plays, I press the App button, which diverts the live feed into a parallel pipe ( while the original pipe continues playing the song), which takes the feed into SoundCloud’s servers which process the information, this parallel sound is converted into a digital fingerprint which is transmitted into SoundHound’s servers. On processing the information, SoundHound matches the information with its reference files and returns to the user the Meta Data details of the playing song. In this case, it was a song sung by Janaki, composed by Ilaiyaraja and starred KamalHassan.

SoundCloud SoundHound also provides links to YouTube and other places, where the song can be purchased legitimately. The Copyright holder still continues to own the copyright, but the Free Flow of (Copyrighted) information has in this case, made the possibility of converting an unknown user into a fan, and a possibility of diverting him towards purchasing legitimate consumption of Music.

You can also see YouTube’s automated Content ID system in action here –

YouTube's_ContentID_System