Walks, Ministry of Silly

I saw on BoingBoing this morning that Monty Python has placed all their material up on YouTube for free, in their own channel.  Here is the famous “Parrot Sketch.”

They explain their reasoning like this:

For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we’ve figured a better way to get our own back: We’ve launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you’ve been posting. We’re giving you the real thing – HQ videos delivered straight from our vault.

What’s more, we’re taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what’s even more, we’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

But we want something in return.

None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.

According to the Mashable blog, this approach has resulted in a 23,000% increase in sales of their stuff at Amazon.  I hate to say I told you so, but I did.

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WKRP

I just found out something interesting.  The reason it took so long to get WKRP episodes out on DVD has nothing to do with any lack of demand – apparently is was perennially a top request.  But yet it took from the 1982, when the show ended, 25 years to get released last year.  The problem was, that because it was set in a rock radio station, there is always music from popular 70s and 80s bands playing in the background — and Fox didn’t have the rights to sell that music!  Just to get the first season released, they had to track down the owner of every song played in every episode, and buy the rights to redistribute them on DVD.

This seems weird.  Artists want to have their work played on the radio to boost album sales.  They don’t want unauthorized copying of their work because it would hamper album sales.  But no-one is going to NOT BUY your music because they can hear it “for free” on a WKRP DVD.  In fact, they’re more likely to get exposed to it for the first time by watching the DVD, especially if it doesn’t get a lot of airplay any more.

Read more of my ranting about over-protective copyright clutchers here.  Or don’t.  Your call.  Really.

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StephenBrooks™ Wrote This

Over at the Slate site, there is an interesting article about someone who filed for, and was granted, a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  He was actually filing on behalf of his 5-year old son, Steven.  Steven’s invention: how to make a swing go sideways by pulling alternatively on the chains, instead of the more common back-and-forth technique driven by leg pumping.  Sound silly?  Of course it is, but it’s no sillier than some of the mania these days about protecting and extending copyrights for everything from music to e-books to Mickey Mouse.

If you want to delve into the issue deeply, Lawrence Lessig explains the situation fully in this 18-minute TED talk.  It is also touched on in the video about kids doing dangerous things lke breaking the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) that I wrote about a few days ago.  Basically, it’s the debate about how much freedom should people have to enjoy music, words, images and performances without directly compensating the artist.

I personally don’t see why any creative person would favour legally restricting people’s ability to experience their work.  I’m not talking about piracy here – piracy by my definition is someone selling someone else’s creation as if it were their own.  So fake copies of software and knock-off movie DVDs that are sold to people, without the producer getting any money from the sale, are pirated.  I’m talking about sharing or copying the work in order for more people to enjoy it.  Nobody pays me to write this blog (like a journalist is paid, for instance); and nobody pays to read it (like you pay for a magazine or newspaper, for instance).  I would be ecstatic if hundreds or thousands of people “stole” my words and reprinted them in their blogs or newsletters or whatever.  The widespread enjoyment of my product would enhance the value of the producer (me).

But Stephen, you commie pinko hippy socialist, how then will people be enticed to make great things, if they can’t expect to get paid for them?  We’ll never see another Abbey Road  or Casablanca  or To Kill a Mockingbird!

To answer that question, I point to the sold out $175/seat Elton John concert here in Moncton next month, the recent release of The Dark Knight  and its record-breaking box office, and the free ebooks that Seth Godin has written.  I can get Elton, Batman and Seth for free on the Web – why would I ever pay for a concert, theatre ticket, or hardcover book?  Because the proliferation of the product (songs/film/words) has enhanced the value of the producer, to the point where I will pay a premium to experience the producer in a special venue (live show/big screen theatre/physical book).

What has changed to enable this era of self promotion via giving stuff away?  Digital media.  It used to be that when you shared something with someone, you no longer had it.  If you handed your LP to your friend, you could no longer listen to it.  Same with video tapes and books.  But now, you can effortlessly make a copy of it, so you and your friend both have it.  In the old world, before you could sell a million copies, you had to manufacture a million copies.  Now, you can give away a million digital copies for free, and you’re just as popular.