Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reblog: YouTube vs. Fair Use

This is a disaster for fair use practices. If clips are to be used for teaching, of blogging, or referencing the draconian misuse of copyright by many copyright holders will cripple it.
Article by Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror.
YouTube vs. Fair Use:
"In YouTube: The Big Copyright Lie, I described my love-hate relationship with YouTube, at least as it existed in way back in the dark ages of 2007.
Now think back through all the videos you've watched on YouTube. How many of them contained any original content?
It's perhaps the ultimate case of cognitive dissonance: by YouTube's own rules [which prohibit copyrighted content], YouTube cannot exist. And yet it does.
How do we reconcile YouTube's official hard-line position on copyright with the reality that 90% of the content on their site is clearly copyrighted and clearly used without permission? It seems YouTube has an awfully convenient 'don't ask, don't tell' policy-- they make no effort to verify that the uploaded content is either original content or fair use. The copyrighted content stays up until the copyright owner complains. Then, and only then, is it removed.
Today's lesson, then, is be careful what you ask for.
At the time, I just assumed that YouTube would never be able to resolve this problem through technology. The idea that you could somehow fingerprint every user-created uploaded video against every piece of copyrighted video ever created was so laughable to me that I wrote it off as impossible.
A few days ago I uploaded a small clip from the movie Better Off Dead to YouTube, in order to use it in the Go That Way, Really Fast blog entry. This is quintessential fair use: a tiny excerpt of the movie, presented in the context of a larger blog entry. So far, so good.
But then I uploaded a small clip from a different movie that I'm planning to use in another, future blog entry. Within an hour of uploading it, I received this email:
Dear {username},
Your video, {title}, may have content that is owned or licensed by {company}.
No action is required on your part; however, if you are interested in learning how this affects your video, please visit the Content ID Matches section of your account for more information.
Sincerely, - The YouTube Team
This 90 second clip is from a recent movie. Not a hugely popular movie, mind you, but a movie you've probably heard of. This email both fascinated and horrified me. How did they match a random, weirdly cropped (thanks, Windows Movie Maker) clip from the middle of a non-blockbuster movie within an hour of me uploading it? This had to be some kind of automated process that checks uploaded user content against every piece of copyrighted content ever created (or the top n subset thereof), exactly the kind that I thought was impossible.
Uh oh.
I began to do some research. I quickly found Fun with YouTube's Audio Content ID System, which doesn't cover video, but it's definitely related:
I was caught by surprise one day when I received an automated email from YouTube informing me that my video had a music rights issue and it was removed from the site. I didn't really care.
Then a car commercial parody I made (arguably one of my better videos) was taken down because I used an unlicensed song. That pissed me off. I couldn't easily go back and re-edit the video to remove the song, as the source media had long since been archived in a shoebox somewhere. And I couldn't simply re-upload the video, as it got identified and taken down every time. I needed to find a way to outsmart the fingerprinter. I was angry and I had a lot of free time. Not a good combination.
I racked my brain trying to think of every possible audio manipulation that might get by the fingerprinter. I came up with an almost-scientific method for testing each modification, and I got to work.
Further research led me to this brief TED talk, How YouTube Thinks About Copyright.
We compare each upload against all the reference files in our database. This heat map is going to show you how the brain of this system works.

Here we can see the reference file being compared to the user generated content. The system compares every moment of one to the other to see if there's a match. This means we can identify a match even if the copy uses just a portion of the original file, plays it in slow motion, and has degraded audio or video.
The scale and speed of this system is truly breathtaking -- we're not just talking about a few videos, we're talking about over 100 years of video every day between new uploads and the legacy scans we regularly do across all of the content on the site. And when we compare those 100 years of video, we're comparing it against millions of reference files in our database. It'd be like 36,000 people staring at 36,000 monitors each and every day without as much as a coffee break.
I have to admit that I'm astounded by the scope, scale, and sheer effectiveness of YouTube's new copyright detection system that I thought was impossible! Seriously, watch the TED talk. It's not long. The more I researched YouTube's video identification tool, the more I realized that resistance is futile. It's so good that the only way to defeat it is by degrading your audio and video so much that you have effectively ruined it. And when it comes to copyright violations, if you can achieve mutually assured destruction, then you have won. Absolutely and unconditionally.
This is an outcome so incredible I am still having trouble believing it. But I have the automatically blocked uploads to prove it.
Now, I am in no way proposing that copyright is something we should be trying to defeat or work around. I suppose I was just used to the laissez faire status quo on YouTube, and the idea of a video copyright detection system this effective was completely beyond the pale. My hat is off to the engineers at Google who came up with this system. They aren't the bad guys here; they offer some rather sane alternatives when copyright matches are found:
If Content ID identifies a match between a user upload and material in the reference library, it applies the usage policy designated by the content owner. The usage policy tells the system what to do with the video. Matches can be to only the audio portion of an upload, the video portion only, or both.
There are three usage policies -- Block, Track or Monetize. If a rights owner specifies a Block policy, the video will not be viewable on YouTube. If the rights owner specifies a Track policy, the video will continue to be made available on YouTube and the rights owner will receive information about the video, such as how many views it receives. For a Monetize policy, the video will continue to be available on YouTube and ads will appear in conjunction with the video. The policies can be region-specific, so a content owner can allow a particular piece of material in one country and block the material in another.
The particular content provider whose copyright I matched chose the draconian block policy. That's certainly not Google's fault, but I guess you could say I'm Feeling Unlucky.
Although the 90 second clip I uploaded is clearly copyrighted content -- I would never dispute that -- my intent is not to facilitate illegal use, but to 'quote' the movie scene as part of a larger blog entry. YouTube does provide recourse for uploaders; they make it easy to file a dispute once the content is flagged as copyrighted. So I dutifully filled out the dispute form, indicating that I felt I had a reasonable claim of fair use.
Unfortunately, my fair use claim was denied without explanation by the copyright holder.
Let's consider the four guidelines for fair use I outlined in my original 2007 blog entry:
  1. Is the use transformative?
  2. Is the source material intended for the public good?
  3. How much was taken?
  4. What's the market effect?
While we're clear on 3 and 4, items 1 and 2 are hazy in a mashup. This would definitely be transformative, and I like to think that I'm writing for the erudition of myself and others, not merely to entertain people. I uploaded with the intent of the video being viewed through a blog entry, with YouTube as the content host only. But it was still 90 seconds of the movie viewable on YouTube by anyone, context free.
So I'm torn.
On one hand, this is an insanely impressive technological coup. The idea that YouTube can (with the assistance of the copyright holders) really validate every minute of uploaded video against every minute of every major copyrighted work is unfathomable to me. When YouTube promised to do this to placate copyright owners, I was sure they were delaying for time. But much to my fair-use-loving dismay, they've actually gone and built the damn thing -- and it works.
Just, maybe, it works a little too well. I'm still looking for video sharing services that offer some kind of fair use protection. "

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reblog: Escaping the fridge

This is an excellent, if brief, discussion of the use of 'women in refrigerator's' in Dragon Age Origins. 'Women in refrigerators' is a term used in comics to describe the all to common use of a female characters trauma to add emotional drive to the hero's quest. In this piece Kateri looks at how this trope is subverted in a single moment in 'Dragon Age - Origins'

Original article by Kateri at falling awkwardly

Escaping the fridge:
"A quick break from srs metaphysical bsns to talk about ladies and kitchen appliances.

When is a woman in a refrigerator not in a refrigerator?

Dragon Age: Origins offers the player several ways of beginning the game, several “origins”. Each one provides your character with a home, a history, and a reason for joining the elite fighting force of the Grey Wardens, thus setting up the rest of the game’s story. This about one of them. Trigger warning for rape and violence; spoiler warning for the City Elf origin.

I have to say, when I first played through the City Elf origin story, I wasn’t wildly impressed. The lowdown: after a series of unfortunate events, the cousin of the PC, a young female elf named Shianni, is raped and beaten, and you, the protagonist, arrive too late to prevent it. This leads into a revenge opportunity against the men responsible and other assorted chaos that culminates in the PC being recruited into the Grey Wardens to avoid the long arm of the law.
While I didn’t think the (offscreen) rape was handled tastelessly or implausibly, I considered the whole situation rather a cheap narrative device. Specifically, I suspected they were falling into the “Women in Refrigerators” trope. For the uninitiated, this is a narrative device common to all media, but especially prevalent in comics (from where the name originates) and video games. It can be identified when a supporting character is killed, raped or otherwise traumatized horribly for the sole purpose of providing the main character with an ‘I WILL AVENGE YOOOU’ emotional motivation and related Dramatic Angst.
It’s not the presence of death/rape/trauma that is problematic, so much as the fact that the victim of this trauma seems to exist solely as a vehicle for said trauma rather than as an actual character. Once the desired Angst has been shovelled onto the – usually male – main character, the – usually female – victim, having served their purpose, is often forgotten about entirely. Surviving victims, in the unlikely event that the plot still bothers to involve them, will generally show no memory or ill-effects of their experience. The trope is cheap, frequently sexist and an insult to people with experience of actual trauma. Hence my lack of enthusiasm when I seemed to recognise it. Oh lovely, I thought, this Shianni character’s getting fridged in an attempt to provoke an emotional reaction in the player. Whatever. I left the starter area, got into the game proper, and didn’t think much more about it.
Then later, much later, I met Shianni* again. This was after my PC had been adventuring it up across the land, exploring new places, meeting new people and killing them. Shianni congratulated him on his accomplishments, in tones laced with sarcasm. Then she turned it around on him, accusing him of having forgotten, in his glorious crusade, where he had come from, and why it all started: “You don’t even feel much anymore when you remember it, do you?” she said, bitterly. “You’ve moved on, past the horror of that night. I envy you. You’ve gone on to other things, things I can only dream of.”**
I felt it like a punch in the stomach. It helped that the voice acting was a masterpiece of subtle emotion, but more than that – it was all true. She had been a plot device, her pain mere emotional leverage to set my protagonist on his journey. I had barely given her a second thought since the game proper began, focusing on my “important” quests, my “real” party members. But in that moment, she refused to let me do that. Screw you, hero boy, she seemed to be saying to my PC, you were the lucky one. I was raped, and you got to use it to your own advantage and then forget about it. I have never had the luxury of forgetting about it. Every day that you were triumphing over evil and hunting for treasure, I had to remember it, and live with it, and carry on anyway.

Judged and found wanting.
Shianni subverts the “women in refrigerators” trope not just because she survives, but because she, and her trauma, do not suddenly stop mattering once their narrative usefulness is spent. She carries on – we later find her pouring her considerable energies into activism and the defense of her people – but her experiences remain part of her. She insists on being a character, not just a plot device, and she doesn’t let the player get away with treating her like one.
When is a woman in a refrigerator not in a refrigerator? When she kicks open the door and breaks it over your head.

*OK, so technically, it’s a spirit, and it’s unclear if it’s actually representing Shianni, or (more probably) a manifestation of the protagonist’s unconscious mind. For the purposes of Shianni’s character development and role from the player’s point of view, however, it doesn’t actually matter which she is!
**It’s worth noting that Shianni doesn’t have this conversation with all City Elf PCs, as I later discovered, just the ones who deserve it. A friend roleplayed a city elf plagued by guilt about what happened, and met with a Shianni who, while still haunted by the memory of what happened, gently tried to assuage the PC’s self-blame. File this under “BioWare are Impressively Sneaky”."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Reblog: the truth is in the back and forth

An interesting experiment by James Bridle.  Article as posted by Bob Stein on IF:book:

the truth is in the back and forth: "
James Bridle (designer and programmer of the Institute's Golden Notebook project in 2008) just published the complete history of the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War.
bridle wikipedia.png
James writes on his blog: This particular book--or rather, set of books--is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article's inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages. It amounts to twelve volumes: the size of a single old-style encyclopaedia. It contains arguments over numbers, differences of opinion on relevance and political standpoints, and frequent moments when someone erases the whole thing and just writes 'Saddam Hussein was a dickhead'.
As early as 2006, i wrote in if:book that the truth in Wikipedia articles lay in the edits, rather than the surface article:
In a traditional encyclopedia, experts write articles that are permanently encased in authoritative editions. The writing and editing goes on behind the scenes, effectively hiding the process that produces the published article. The standalone nature of print encyclopedias also means that any discussion about articles is essentially private and hidden from collective view. The Wikipedia is a quite different sort of publication, which frankly needs to be read in a new way. Jaron focuses on the 'finished piece', ie. the latest version of a Wikipedia article. In fact what is most illuminative is the back-and-forth that occurs between a topic's many author/editors. I think there is a lot to be learned by studying the points of dissent; indeed the 'truth' is likely to be found in the interstices, where different points of view collide. Network-authored works need to be read in a new way that allows one to focus on the process as well as the end product.
Four years later, we don't yet have the tools that would let people read Wikipedia articles in 'a new way' but hopefully Bridle's very impressive experiment with this one article will spur efforts to develop new tools for reading online works which are constantly being changed and edited.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Reblog: Gamer Dreams

Interesting if contentious research highlighted by Jamie Madigan at psychology of games:

Gamer Dreams: "
Do hardcore gamers have more bizarre but less threatening dreams than non-gamers? One of the things I love about academics is that if you chain a million of them to a million graduate students, then one of them –by pure chance alone– will study a question like that. For example, I’ve been reading about a research program by psychologists Jayne Gackenbach and Beena Kuruvilla about the ways in which the dreams of hardcore gamers differ from non-gamers.
Curious as this is, it’s actually not that off the wall if you do some digging. Research suggests that people, especially adolescents, use violent and/or scary media as a way to practice dealing with life’s comparatively mundane but nonetheless stressful situations. The theory goes that games (and other media like comics, movies, or books) give us a safe place to either become a little desensitized to anxiety-provoking ideas, or to develop cognitive strategies for coping with them. It’s like play fighting, but for your brain.
In fact, this is exactly the kind of thing that one of the studies by Gakenbach and Kuruvilla1 looked at, except that they examined how our mind may do this mental preparation for real-world threats during our dreams. Termed “threat simulation theory” the idea is that our minds create dreams to simulate aspects of those threats so that we can practice dealing with them and be better prepared for the real deal in real life. So if we’re worried about crime, we may dream about our house getting broken into.
A typical gamer at rest.
Gakenbach and Kuruvilla figured that like dreams, video games, are fake realities into which we project ourselves. This is particularly true with highly immersive games where players start to feel like they are spatially present in the game world. The researchers hypothesized that intense gaming sessions can fill the role traditionally handled by scary and threatening dreams, and with lowered needs to practice dealing with real-life anxiety, there will be fewer threat simulation dreams.
And, lo and behold, when they studied the data from surveys asking participants to recount their dreams and game playing habits, Gackenback and Kuruvilla found that this was generally true. With regards to people’s dreams, the survey measured whether or not there was a threatening event, what it was like, who the target of the threat was, how severe it was, whether or not the dreamer was participating in the threat, and the dreamer’s reaction. In short, hardcore gamers2 still had violent and threatening dreams –no surprise, since we often dream about what we encounter while waking, and for hardcore gamers that often includes video game violence– but they reported being less frightened by the dreams and were much less likely to characterize them as “nightmares.” Even more interestingly, this was especially true of those who played lots of first-person shooters.
But is that the only way that gamers dream differently? Nope. In a subsequent study,3 the same researchers also looked at how likely hardcore gamers were to have really bizarre dreams. And honestly, what I found most fascinating about this study was how they conceptualized bizarreness as consisting of three factors:
  • Incongruity or mismatching features of dream images
  • Uncertain or explicit vagueness of dream images
  • Discontinuity or sudden appearance, disappearance, or transformation of dream images
Anyway, the researchers figured that since we see so many really weird things in our video games during our waking hours, that weirdness must seep through into our dreams. Turns out they were right. Upon analyzing more data from surveys asking participants to describe their dreams and gaming habits, the Gackenback et al. found that gamers tended to have dreams with more vague and incongruent content, especially as it related to people and places.
Again, maybe not surprising, but the authors have some interesting theories as to why this is the case, beyond the obvious explanation that we tend to dream about what we see while awake the day before. For example, the more bizarre dreams may happen because gamers’ minds may be conditioned to be open to and even expect unorthodox relationships between concepts and things. This jives with other research showing that playing video games may enhance nonverbal problem solving, especially as it relates to spatial reasoning. Additionally, greater creativity (which also requires one to “get” unorthodox relationships among different things) has been shown to greater dream bizarreness. So hardcore gamers, as a group, may be conditioned to be more creative and better at certain types of problem solving relative to casual gamers or non-gamers. Because …we have really weird dreams. Or rather, we have the weird dreams because of those other things.
At any rate, it’s an interesting line of research, if a little niche.4 Now, go to bed –you’ve got some really weird but strangely non-threatening dreams to get to.
  1. Gackenbach, J. & Kuruvilla, B. (2008). The Relationship Between Video Game Play and Threat Simulation Dreams. Dreaming, 18 (4), 236-256.
  2. The researchers actually called them “High End Gamers” but that label seems weird to me, like we’re luxury goods.
  3. Gackenback, J., Kuruvilla, B. & Dopko, R. (2009). Video Game Play and Dream Bizarreness. Dreaming, 19 (4), 218-231.
  4. Says the guy who has a blog about the psychology of video games.

Reblog: New Journal Primes You for ppg256

Over at Post Position Nick Montfort writes:

New Journal Primes You for ppg256
"Emerging Langauge Practices is a new journal based at SUNY Buffalo (poetic hotbed and host of the next E-Poetry) and founded by Loss Pequeño Glazier, Sarah JM Kolberg, and A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz. Issue one is a real accomplishment.
There are eye-catching creative projects by mIEKAL aND & Liaizon Wakest and by Lawrence Upton and John Levack Drever. There are also pieces by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and Molleindustria. (We can only hope for further industrialization of this sort and more of these compelling productions in future issues.) The issue also includes a piece by Abraham Parangi, Giselle Beiguelman’s mobile tagging, Sandy Baldwin’s plaintive piece “** PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED **,” and Jorge Luis Antonio’s wide-ranging article on digital poetry.
The item that particularly caught my eye, though, was this article by Mark Marino: “The ppg256 Perl Primer: The Poetry of Techneculture.” Marino is an officer of the Electronic Literature Organization with me and a current collaborator of mine, although he completed this article before joining me on our current project. The discussion he developed for the first issue of ELP is really in-depth. Marino not only considers the workings and connotations of my ppg256 series of poetry generators, and considers related code and literary traditions from Perl Golf to the Oulipo – he also considers other programs that interest me and that I’ve discussed publicly in various contexts, sometimes with collaborators. And, he connects the coding traditions relevant to ppg256 to technical practices in boy culture and (via needlework) girl culture.
In one section near the beginning of the article, Mark relates a line of BASIC that I posted on his Critical Code Studies forum and notes (partly in jest, I think) the following:
I cannot include the full discussion here (over 5000 words) because as Montfort told me over the phone (in jest, I think), he is planning a book-length anthology of readings about the program.
Well, that’s more or less the project Mark and I, along with several others, are now embarked upon. However, we’re writing this book in a single voice rather than collecting articles about the program. More on that before too long; for now, go and enjoy the new Emerging Language Practices.