... in business

© Piet Mondrian, 85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

15 Oct 2018 | 863 words | copyright art united states business travel

On the 16th of July 2015, a couple of hours before flying back to Amsterdam i rented a car in downtown Washington D.C and drove for a about an hour to Warrenton, VA to take a photo of a residential property located on one of the main thouroughfares of the small town:

85 Waterloo Street Warrenton VA 20186, USA

So what triggered my interest in this rather unremarkable building in an unremarkable town? The house on Waterloo Street was home to HCR international, a company that since 1998 has been managing the copyright in the works of the Dutch born artist Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944). As a result the name of the company featured prominently in the copyright notices alongside reproductions of the works of Mondrian on Museum websites and exhibition catalogues all over the world.

I had developed an interest in HCR international when we were working on the “Wiki loves Art/NLpublication in 2010. During the work on the book i became aware of the somewhat dubious reputation that a certain Hillary Richardson (presumably the H and the R in HCR international) had among museum curators who dealt with works by Piet Mondriaan. Apparently Ms Richardson was rather demanding when it came to providing permission for preproductions of Mondrian’s works. Not only was she known for asking high royalty rates (see this 2015 NY Times article for examples), she was also known to be very specific with regards to the copyright notices. According to a 2011 art magazine article, HCR generally demanded that copyright notices are placed vertically alongside any reproductions, that Mondriaan name must be written with one ‘a’ (the original Dutch spelling is with ‘aa’). Evidence from around the web also seems to indicate that she insisted that HCR international is named in all copyright notices.

So how did the copyrights of the most famous 20th century artist from the Netherlands end up in a residential house in Warrenton, Virginia? Like many other artists from continental Europe, Mondriaan had to flee from the Nazis. During a short stay in Paris in 1934 he became friends with the American artist Henry Holtzman. In 1940 Holtzman arranged for Mondrian’s passage from London to New York City, where he rented an apartment-studio for Mondrian. During the next three and a half years he was one of Mondrian’s most intimate associates.

When Mondriaan died of pneumonia in 1944 he willed his estate (including the copyrights) to Holtzman. Holtzman continued to live for a considerable period but eventually died in 1987. His estate, including the Mondriaan copyrights, fell into the hands of his three children, who set up the Mondrian/Holtzman trust. In 1999 they hired the art historian Hillary Richardson to manage the copyrights on behalf of the trust and, as a result, from 1999 onwards HCR international managed Mondriaan copyrights from the House in Warrenton, VA.According to its website (2015 version), the Mondrian trust…

… aims to promote awareness of Mondrian’s artwork and to ensure the integrety of his work. We intend to carry forward his legacy and influence a new generation of artists by managing and encouraging copyright use for Mondrian’s artwork. The trust grants licenses and copyright permissions to those whishing to reproduce Mondrian’s images.

In reality, as evidenced by the way that Ms Richardson operated, it is fairly clear that HCR international was not primarily concerned with Mondrian’s artistic legacy and integrity but rather interested in bringing in licensing revenue. In an email exchange between Ms Richardson and me in 2010 she declined an to contribute to our publication because “Mondrian is keeping me very busy!”.

Things changed when the Mondriaan copyrights expired on the 1st of January 2015. When i contacted Ms. Richardson again in early 2015 to see if she would be willing to talk about how  the fact that Mondriaan’s work was now in the Public Domain, she declined pointing out that because of the expiration of the Mondriaan copyrights, she was no longer working for the trust:  

Dear Paul Keller, Thank you for your inquiry. Due to the expiration of Mondrian’s copyrights worldwide–except for many in the US and in Spain, I decided not to renew my contract with the Mondrian Trust for the limited rights. That has given me the opportunity to consult for a producer of educational art apps and to use myart historical background researching works in private collections here in Washington, many of which span several centuries and cultures. They are new and rewarding challenges after 16 years working withMondrian’s incredible images …

That email was singend off with a new adress for HCR international:

HCR International 4100 Cathedral Avenue Washington DC

So when i visited the house on 85 Waterloo street in July 2015 both the Mondriaan copyrights and HCR international were no longer residing there. Still, looking at the house on that hot summer day, I could not stop but wondering how Mondrian, the 20th century icon of modernist abstract art, would had felt knowing that more that half a century after his death his copyright would be administered from a small residential property in rural Virginia.

More pictures of the house and Warrenton, VA in this flickr album

An unlikely group of social innovators: The Amish

16 Mar 2013 | 433 words | business copyright economy religion

Planet Money has a gem of a story on ‘the Business Secrets Of The Amish‘. The story zooms in on how the Amish, who have made their living through small plot farming for centuries, have adapted to an environment that does not allow for this lifestyle anymore:

What you see in this hall is the transformation of Amish culture. Up until certainly the 1970s the vast vast majority of amish men were farmers. They lived at home, typical plot size would have been about a 130 acres, which is enough for a family, you know a dad and a few boys to farm using horse-powered machinery. But they lived in places like Lancaster county and Holmes county, Ohio where land prices have gotten bigger and bigger, the Amish have doubled in the last 40 years because the have so many children and what has happend is more and more kids can’t afford to buy farms and the fathers can only divide the farms so many ways. If you have 7 boys your 130 acres pretty quickly becomes too small to even be worth farming and then what happens to their boys? So for the first time ever a majority of Amish men in America are not farming, they are finding other ways to make a living.

So right trough the 1960s into the 1970s all of these guys’ fathers or grandfathers would have been farmers and there might have been in any community one or two guys who farmed but also did a little carpentry on the side or a little blacksmithing on the side. But now you have tens of thousands of amish businesses, tens of thousands of people who have industry, this convention center here in a few months this is going to be the Amish furniture show and it is not for the general public, it is not ‘oh lets go down to Amish country and get a nice dressoir’, this is serious business: Walmart, Sears, JC Penny come here to buy, to place orders with huge amish factories, this is serious business. […]

The flexibility that the amish have shown in adapting to this new social reality is quite remarkable (especially if you compare this to the way the entertainment and publishing industry react to the change in economic fundamentals in their business environments). Who would have thought that a 320 year old religion that is known for it’s adherence to a strict set of behavioural rules (referred to with the delightful Germanism ‘Die Ordnung’) would turn to what is currently hyped as ‘Social Innovation’ to ensure their survival?

Flying dutchman

09 Dec 2012 | 417 words | capitalism food mexico travel business

On a recent trip to Mexico city (to attend a Creative Commons LatAm meeting) while we were waiting to be cleared for take-off, i overheard my neighbour in seat 21C (one of the best economy class seats on this type of plane, that is usually occupied by frequent flyers) talking on the phone to his family at home. Somewhat surprisingly he expressed astonishment about the size of the plane (‘there is a staircase next to me’) and curiosity about how he would handle a flight this long (12.5 hrs). While i usually avoid talking to seat neighbours like the pest, this tickled my curiosity and after we were on the way i found myself inquiring where he was headed and about the purpose of his trip.

Turns out my seat neighbour was in the tomato business (given the fact that Mexico and the Netherlands are the two biggest tomato exporting countries in the world, sitting next to someone in the tomato business on this flight should not really be a surprise).

More specifically, he mentioned, he used to run a family farm, growing tomatoes and other vegetables in a small number of green-houses but about five years ago he had to sell the business because he could not scale up to remain competitive. Nowadays, he told me he was working for one of the large tomato conglomerates as a quality inspector.

This company had been hit pretty hard by the EHEC crisis two years ago when pretty much their entire European market (read: Germany) had collapsed. This had led them to decide that they needed to diversify there and become active in other markets outside of Europe.

As a result the company started to explore the possibility of licensing the production of snack tomatoes to US companies that would operate greenhouses in Mexico producing snack tomatoes for the North American market. They has recently completed the first such deal and given that his manager who would usually oversee these kind of operations had just gotten a baby and prefers not to travel that far, here he finds himself in an aeroplane, the size of a greenhouse flying across an ocean for the first time in his life in order to spend a week in Mexican greenhouses to ensure that the Mexicans do not mess up the carefully controlled Dutch formula that is supposed to produce thousands of thousands of identical small red snack tomatoes. Makes me wonder what i will be doing in five years from now…

Using Creative Commons as a fig leaf

05 Jul 2009 | 2119 words | creative commons copyright business music

I have always had an unspecified strange feeling about Tribe of Noise. Tribe of Noise is an Amsterdam-based online music platform that allows musicians to upload and share their work as long as they agree to make it available under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA). Simply put this license allows everybody to redistribute the songs on the platform, make remixes of them and redistribute these remixes under the same licensing terms. In all cases credit needs to be given to the original artist(s). It explicitly allows for commercial (re)use of the licensed works and it is one of the least restrictive Creative Commons licenses (and the license that has recently been chosen by a huge majority of wikipedia editors to apply to all text on wikipedia). I like this license.

I am writing this (rather long) text because I have come to the conclusion that the way Tribe of Noise uses this license is confusing to people contributing to the platform and can in the end be harmfull for the reputation of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license and the Creative Commons licensing model as a whole.

Even though i have endorsed Tribe of Noise back when it was launched (something i should have never done and which i am obviously retracting by writing this) the exclusive choice for the CC-BY-SA license made by Tribe of Noise never felt in line with the way the Tribe of Noise (TON) chooses to present itself: It is an aggressive start-up and the founder (and selfdeclared ‘Chief of Noise’) Hessel van Oorschot aggressively markets it as such. They have been quite successful in getting media attention and have known to attract a substantial number of artists to their platform (at the time of writing there are 5878 members). The platform is promoted to artists as a way to get in contact with commercial users of music.

I have met with Hessel on a number of times in the past and among others i have invited him to the ‘Filesharing: Up or Down?‘ discussion that i organized at de Balie in Amsterdam in the wake of the Pirate Bay trail and the publication of the Ups and Downs study on the economic impacts of file sharing. That evening Hessel explained that one of the components of the Tribe of Noise business model is to license (for a fee one assumes) the music repertoire posted to Tribe of Noise to video hosting services so that they can use it in services like youtube’s audio-swap or offer the music to video makers that are looking for copyright un-encumbered music tracks to use in their videos.

However, such a business model is rather difficult to carry out based on the rights granted by the CC-BY-SA license. One of the key features of this license is that it requires derivative works of the original works to be licensed under the CC-BY-SA license as well (the share alike mechanism). This means, that every time a work licensed under a BY-SA license is integrated into another work (or the other way around) the resulting work needs to be distributed under a the CC-BY-SA license as well. If a video maker uses a short snippet of CC-BY-SA licensed music in a (long) video that is otherwise completely made by herself she needs to release the entire video under the CC-BY-SA license or she is in breach of the license (and thus infringing on the copyright of the musician in question)1. This means that CC-BY-SA licensed music is pretty much useless for purposes like sound-swap unless the provider of the service intends to force the video makers to use a CC-BY-SA license themselves.

Given this Tribe of Noise probably has a hard time selling the repertoire uploaded to the platform to video hosting services (at least as as long as you assume that they would base these transactions on the CC-BY-SA licenses granted by their uploaders2.

Back in April i did not really notice this contradiction. Tribe of Noise came back to my attention two weeks ago when i read about a Creative Amsterdam Award they had won at the ‘Creative Company Conference‘ in Amsterdam:

[…] The runner up, Tribe of Noise, was also given an honorary mention for their brilliant concept of music library in which creative commons licence (sic!) could be used for commercial purposes.

The fluffy language in the conference summary triggered my interest. What exactly is so brilliant about Tribe of Noise’s concept? Given the characteristics of the CC-BY-SA license explained above i failed to see how there could be a ‘brilliant concept of music library in which Creative Commons license could be used for commercial licenses’. Sure there are three CC licenses that allow for commercial use of the licensed works but it is hardly brilliant to allow people to upload content to your platform under one of them.

Given the limitations of the Attribution Share Alike license outlined above, one is inclined to assume that there are other parts to the business model that allow it to function and looking at the terms of use of Tribe of Noise it quickly becomes apparent that the business model of Tribe of Noise is not based on the rights granted by the uploaders via the Creative Commons licenses. Instead it relies on a much broader (and much less advertised) non-exclusive license granted to Tribe of Noise. Section 9 of the ToN terms of use, that you have to accept when you open a tribe of noise account contains these two sub-clauses:

  1. Licenses Granted by the User

9.1 If you upload any content to Tribe of Noise or post any content on the Website, you grant:

  1. a worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free, transferable license (with the right to sublicense) to Tribe of Noise for the use, reproduction, distribution, demonstration, making available to the public and performance of, and creation of derivative works from, that content in relation to the provision of the Services, and otherwise in relation to providing the Website and in relation to Tribe of Noise’s business operations, including the promotion and further distribution of all or part of the Website (and works derived from the Website or part thereof), in whatever media-format and through whichever media channel, now known or hereinafter invented;
  2. andto every user of your work on the Website the following Creative Commons license: CC 3.0 By – Share Alike.

What is of interest here is the first of these two clauses. It essentially grants Tribe of Noise the (non-exclusive) right to do whatever they want with the uploaded music. For example they can sell (non-exclusive) licenses to third parties without having to pass on parts of the revenues generated to the musicians that have uploaded the music. Also Tribe of Noise can allow third parties to do whatever they please with the music that has been uploaded to the platform (without having to require them to give attribution or redistribute derivative works under a CC license). In short, by uploading a work to Tribe of Noise the artist grants Tribe of Noise a very broad license that allows them to commercially exploit the work while not getting any right of compensation in return3. In the same section of the terms of use the uploaders also grant all users of the Tribe of Noise platform the right to use the uploaded works under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license.

This dual license grant is nothing that is specific to Tribe of Noise. Almost all web platforms ask more rights in the content uploaded by their users than what uploaders are willing to grant to the general public (see for example the terms of use of youtube which are very similar to those of ToN). Some services (jamendo, blip.tv) specifically ask for the right to grant commercial licenses to third parties or run ads in connection with the content but in return they promise to share the revenues generated through such transactions with the uploaders, which Tribe of Noise does not do.

Having users agree with terms of service that include such an unbalanced license grant can hardly be called a ‘brilliant business concept’ and definitely has noting to do with ‘using a Creative Commons use for commercial use’: Looking at the Terms of Use of Tribe of Noise one has to conclude that using a Creative Commons license has nothing to do with subsequent commercial exploitation of the uploaded works by Tribe of Noise as the commercial exploitation is enabled by the parallel license grant to Tribe of Noise.

Even worse, i get the impression that Tribe of Noise uses the Creative Commons licenses in order to hide the fact that they are indeed trying to obtain a much wider license grant from the members of the platform. Apart from the above quoted section of the Terms of Use there is no mention of the additional license grant to Tribe of Noise on their website. Certainly not in the FAQ or the more info movie aimed at musicians (the two places where one would expect to find information about what rights are granted by simply uploading a work). Instead, in the video with more information for artists, Hessel van Oorschot states that they have solved a ‘legal challenge of sharing music with companies’ by using the CC-BY-SA license4:

[…] sharing music with other musicians and companies around the globe and getting more attention that is a legal challenge. But we came up with a solution so let me know how it is done on tribe of noise: Sharing music online even for commercial purposes is legal!! with help from legal advisors laywers (sic!) and creative commons!! Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported5.

Of course Tribe of Noise is free to ask their users for whatever license grants they want (and one could imagine that some artists do not object to give away the right to commercial use in exchange for exposure of their work on Tribe of Noise). However one would assume that a site that states ‘Tribe of Noise means music and respect!‘ openly informs its uploaders what rights they are granting to the platform in exchange for being allowed to upload a work to the platform. Hiding such information in the legalese of the Terms of Service does not really show respect for the musicians using the platform.

First of all this is objectionable because it relies on the lame old trick of hiding stuff in the Terms of Use that one has to click though during a registration process and then using a CC licenses in order to imply that the site does respect everybody’s rights. However, the conduct of Tribe of Noise is also objectionable on a more profound level as it shows that the team behind Tribe of Noise apparently thinks that it is ok for them to make commercial deals with works authored and performed by other people without reimbursing them for such uses. While writing this i have asked Hessel van Oorschot if Tribe of Noise has a revenue sharing model in place and he has responded that they will certainly start working on a honest sharing mechanism. If such a revenue sharing mechanism gets introduced to the platform in the future that is certainly a step in the right direction but it does not aliveate my other point that Tribe of Noise is far from transparent when it comes to dealing with the copyrights of the members of the platform.

  1. The cc licenses are quite specific about the use of music in combination with moving images. in section one of the licenses syncing of sound to moving image is explicitly defined to constitute a derivative work (and thus a trigger for the ShareAlike condition): ‘[…] For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image (“synching”) will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.’ ↩︎

  2. Note that Tribe of Noise cannot sell licenses based on the CC-BY-SA license grant as none of the CC licenses allows for sublicensing. In theory ToN could be paid for curating, providing or making searchable of the content on the site but not for the CC license itself. ↩︎

  3. This license grant ceases to exist once an uploader terminates the relationship with Tribe of Noise (by cancelling his account). However section 12 of the Terms of use ensure that licenses granted by Tribe of Noise to third parties remain valid after the termination. ↩︎

  4. Transcription of the video at www.tribeofnoise.com/popup-make.php from 00:54 to 01:16 ↩︎

  5. And apparently that is how they pitch their service to clueless juries at Creative Company Conferences and similar events. ↩︎

Pirates vs ship-owners

24 May 2009 | 237 words | piracy africa business

Last friday’s edition (‘three baby camels‘) of the NPR planet money podcast contains a wonderful nugget about the economical aspects of how to determine the amount of ransom money that is to be paid to somalian pirates in order to get a hijacked ship back.

The story is based on the negotiations a Danish shipping executive (Per Gullestrup) conducted with someone representing a gang of Somalian pirates (Mr. Ali). The problem both parties are facing is that there are no other buyers or sellers for the merchandise (the hijacked ship) who would provide them with clues about the market price in markets with more sellers or buyers (in economics this situation is called a monopolist monopsonist bargaining problem).

In this situation exchanging information (with fellow pirates or fellow ship-owners) about prices paid for the release of other ships is one of the very few ways of speeding up the often time-consuming process of finding a price that is acceptable to both the seller and the buyer. According to Per Gullestrup the pirates are fairly good at that while the ship-owners are not (emphasis mine):

The owners are escalating the ransom payments because they are not really coordinating how they deal with pirates. The pirates on the other hand are extremely good at sharing information. And we know for a fact […] that they so have piracy workshops, that the pirates are actually meetings ashore and exchanging information.

Ups and Downs in english

The English translation of the Ups and Downs report on the Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, film and games is out [thanks Natali!]. You can download the 130 page report written by a research consortium formed by TNO, SEO & IvIRon the IVIR website [pdf].

I have mentioned the report (commissioned by the ministry of Economic Affairs, the Justice Department and the ministry of Education Culture and Science here before [first thoughts, popular science edition] and as far as i am concerned it is well worth the read… [thanks Natali!]

The socio-economic impact of file sharing [popular science edition]

I just finished reading ‘Ups and Downs – the economic and cultural impact of file sharing for music, film and games’ (see my earlier post for context). All in all the full version does not contain a lot of surprises when compared to the executive summary (which my first post was based on): It is a well written report that, although it makes a lot of sense to someone familiar with the subject, does not really come up with much new insights either. The strength of the report is that it places file-sharing within the wider social and economic context (as opposed to placing it solely within the economic logic of the entertainment industry). While they sometimes appear naive (it does not seem to occur to them that buying CDs or renting DVDs from the video-rental-shop is rapidly becoming obsolete from a technicals point of view) the researchers do seem to have a fairly good understanding of what is going on.

The core of their argument (to be found in sections 5 & 6) is that there is no direct causal relationship between file-sharing and the decline in revenues in the music industry. On top of this the researchers argue that even tough it is likely that there is a substantial decline in revenues for the recording industry as a result of file sharing, this is offset by an even more substantial increase in welfare for the general public (or at least that proportion of the general public that downloads musical works). This finding is based on an economic model that is summarized in figure 6.1:

Figure 6.1 from ‘Ups and downs’ – blue boxes and grey arrows and labels mine (personally i am a bit surprised by the relative amounts of lazy and smart peple implied by this figure. life experience tells me to expect the opposite distribution).

  1. The orange block represents the revenue generated by selling recoded music in the absence of file sharing, which equals the maximum possible revenue for the recording industry. In this situation the rich people(a.k.a stupid people) profit (save money) because they would have been willing to pay more than the market price. All the people to the right of the orange colored block simply could not afford to buy recorded music.
  2. With the possibility of file sharing available to consumers we see a shift: a certain amount of people who used to buy recorded music now download it for free (‘cheap people‘). In addition the smart people (a.k.a poor people) now have the same access to recorded music as all the others and finally there also is a group of lazy people who simply cannot be bothered to download because they perceive the process as too burdensome.

When comparing the changes between (1.) and (2.) in economic terms the researchers conclude that while there is a negative impact on the recording industry (caused by the cheap people) the fact that the smart people now also have access to recorded music represents a much bigger increase in economic welfare (and does not hurt the recording industry as it is ‘demand without purchasing power’ that is being met)1. As mentioned in my earlier post the researchers value the damage to the recording industry at a maximum €100 million p.a while they value the socio-economic gain caused by the increased access to recorded music at at least €200 million p.a.

Personally i am not sure if this will be of any consolation to the recording industry, but as far as i can see it is a fairly adequate description of the current transformation process: A business model anchored in an outdated means of distribution is (partially) being replaced by a social practices that are (a) more in line with the technological state of the art and (b) provide greater socio-economic benefits to society at large.

For the rest the report does not contain much news: Chapter 3 (‘the legal framework’) gives a solid and up to date (it even includes last years legislative battle around the EU’s telecom review) overview of the legal implications of file sharing (in the Netherlands) and Chapter 5 gives an overview of recent studies on the economic impact of file sharing2. Apart from the economic model described above chapter 6 also lists a number of ‘dynamic and indirect’ effects of file sharing that are fairly obvious but nevertheless worthwhile to repeat: The researchers argue (p.123) that while it is likely that file sharing hurts big successful artists (as cheap people will buy less CDs from them) it has a positive impact on smaller artists (as it allows more people to sample their works, which will turn some of these people into buyers of their CDs or make them attend concerts). More interestingly the researchers also argue (p.125) that acceptance by consumers of the substantial increases in ticket prices for live-concerts has to be seen in the context of file-sharing: The increased willingness to pay high prices for concert tickets may be due to the fact that consumers are aware that they are spending less on recorded music (or the other way around: as they have to pay more for concert-tickets consumers are less willing top pay for recorded music and resort to file sharing).

When it comes to their conclusions the researchers note that file-sharing is here to stay and that we (the recording industry) are beyond the point of no return: It is impossible to build a successful business that is solely based on trading recorded music. According to the researchers is is also highly unlikely that there will be a point in the future where all music will be obtained from authorized sources (p.136). Given this they argue (inter alia, their official recommendation comes down to a pathetic paragraph where they make a plea against criminalization of end users and for more awareness building among file sharers) for a model where internet service provides offer internet subscriptions that include a fee for the access to copyright protected content (a.k.a the content flatrate).

  1. Note how the rich people profit in both scenarios: they always pay less then they could (or should). this is probably why the distribution model the Nine Inch Nails used for Ghosts I-V worked so well↩︎

  2. Chapter 4 ‘Downloading in the Netherlands’ is a bit of a disappointment. If presents the results of a representative survey that was conduced (by an external research-firm) among Dutch internet users. While the researchers repeatedly mention that the survey shows that file sharers have no clear understanding of what they are doing the data presented by them also underlines that the researchers (or the company contracted to carry out the survey) lack a clear understanding of their research object: see table 4-9 (usenet and newsgroups are two synonyms for the same source of files) or table 4-13 (most sites listed as sources for paid-for downloads do not offer downloads to users based in the Netherlands). Given this Chapter 4 casts a shadow on the otherwise high methodological standards claimed by the research team. ↩︎

Why trying to become a guitar hero is bad for the music industry but good for the economy

Early last year the Dutch government (the ministry for Economic Affairs, the Justice Department and the ministry for Education Culture and Science to be precise) commissioned a research report on the socio economical aspects of (peer 2 peer) file sharing. Last week the research consortium formed by TNO, SEO & IvIR published the final version of the report titled ‘Ups and Downs – the economic and cultural impact of file sharing for music, film and games’. This 141 page report looks into the economic and cultural consequences of file-sharing for the music, movie and games industries. The central conclusion of the report is that:

The research shows that the economic impact of file sharing on the Dutch economy is strongly positive when viewed from both short term and long term perspectives. As a result of file sharing consumers get access to a wide range of cultural products. This has a positive impact on the economy […] According to estimates the positive economic effects for consumers amount to 200 million euro per year. On the other side the maximum decrease in revenues for producers and publishers of sound recordings is 100 million euro per year. [page 3 of the report, translation mine, an official english translation hereof the entire report is forthcoming]

It is refreshing to see a government sponsored report that recognizes that while one part of the entertainment industry (music) suffers some losses, these don’t necessarily outweigh other – positive – effects of file-sharing: According to the researchers, file-sharing gives access to a wide range of cultural goods and is often used to sample works that are bought later. Most file-sharers would have never bought all the content they downloaded, and having access to such a large media library has positive effects on the social well and economic position of downloaders and the society as a whole.

One of the most interesting observations in the report is that while revenues related to the sale of music are steadily declining, the overall amount of money spend by consumers on media for entertainment (ie music, videos and games) is relatively steady. It appears that money that is not spend on music is instead spend on video games. This can be seen as an indication that the real cause of the decline of revenues in the music industry is not primarily caused by file-sharing consumers, but by intra-industry competition: people simply spend their entertainment euros differently.

Instead of music CDs consumers buy Guitar Hero or Rock Band (plus extension) packs these days. This is one more reason why the recording industries’ push for stricter IP enforcement will probably not do them much good: It gives consumers little reason to not spend money on games and go back to spending it on music CDs. From the consuer perspective a €50 game is much better value for money than a CD that contains one or two really good tracks.

After the presentation of the report on Saturday in Groningen a Buma/Stemra representative called the report ‘scary’ [‘greizelig’ in Dutch]. One can only hope that his fear will transform itself into the insight that the industry will need to change if it wants to ensure it’s survival. But if the past is any indication the most likely reaction to this fear will be a counter study that comes to the conclusion that downloading is extremely bad for the economy and that we need much stricter IP-enformcement. In the meanwhile one third of the Dutch citizens will continue to download and go to concerts and buy CDs and buy DVD and go to the movies and fail at becoming Guitar Heros…

Yay! a new bookstore....

01 Sep 2008 | 173 words | books amsterdam business

I had a bit of a bad feeling when opening a package from amazon.co.uk on the day when i saw a sign in the window of my corner bookstore that announced that they would close within a month. The place has been empty for a while but since this summer there has been some activity inside which today has culminated in the opening of a new book store: INKT & OLIE

Lets hope that i and others will value this place more than amazon. so far it looks like they are doing everything they can to make this happen: long opening hours (till 20:00h), good quality tea (no tea bags but real loose leaf tea) and they will take orders for books by email. Good-bye amazon and congratulations to the owners: with the too-complicated-to-remember first names Nadezjda and Anouk (thanks, daan!) …

Update (2018): Of course that place did not last, closed some time before we moved out of our appartment in the summer of 2018 and was replaced by a coffee bar.

From the comments (i am not a audio equipment salesperson)

25 Jul 2008 | 232 words | africa lebanon beirut business

Apparently there is a number of confused people reading this blog and checking my flicker account (or it some clever new form of comment spam that i am failing to understand). in any case these people seem to be (a) interested in audio equipment and (b) confusing me with the persons pictured in photos i have taken:

Two weeks ago a certain Williams Robert from ‘Ghana West African’ left the following comment on a post containing this picture:


Please let us know if you have any of these models of Bus campaign, we will like to have, our some parties need us to supply the campaign Bus soonest, please confirm as we hope to hear from you soonest.

Thanks and remain bless

and about a week ago samia_begum1997 left the following comment on this photo from the shatila refugee camp on my flickr stream:

i have been since i was 10 years old trying to get hold of hitachi TRK8190E ghetto blaster and i havn’t had much joy i have seen in your photo file that you have two of those ghetto’s sitting on a chair “doing nothing” please would you let me know if you would sell one urgently please leave contact deatails thanks…………………

I really love the part about ‘sitting on a chair “doing nothing”‘ although i certainly fail to discern even a single TRK8190E in this guys inventory…

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: