You, Wonderful You

Investment bubbles are fueled by suspension of skepticism. In his Forward to a 1932 edition Charles MacKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Bernard Baruch wrote “I have always thought that if, in the lamentable era of the “New Economics,” culminating in 1929, even in the very presence of dizzily spiraling prices, we had all continuously repeated, “two and two still make four,” much of the evil might have been averted.” (Emphasis original) One can bring Baruch’s words into the new millennium by substitute “‘Dot.com Economics,’ culminating in 2000.” For a few years commentators picked through the wreckage of the dot.com era’s burst bubble in rueful reflection on the latest episode of crowd madness, but self-chastisement gets old. What better pick-me-up than a heady new combination of technology, sassy start-ups, soaring business valuations, and a new buzzword? Goodbye, Toysmart. (Was it Toy Smart or Toys Mart?) Hello, Web 2.0.

Investment folks often speak (not publicly, of course) about “smart money” and “stupid money.” Smart money monitors markets and invests early in growth opportunities. Stupid money reads about these opportunities in USA Today a few years after smart money got in, when 99% of the growth has been achieved. When stupid money shows up, smart money knows it is time to leave.

All of which brings us to Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: You, You Wikipedia-knowledge-sharing, blog-writing, YouTube-video-posting, MySpace-meandering vanguard of the digital-democracy-revolution. Stand up. Take a bow. Ask Starbucks for a free mocha venti half-caf no-fat extra-hot double-cup latte. The percs and perks will be pouring in because You are Time’s Person of the Year.

I’m reaching for an extra-large helping of skepticism: Seth Finkelstein’s prescient October 10 entry Google Buys YouTube – the structure of Bubble 2.0 ends with the words “That feast is starting now, and the main dish is YOU.” [Imagine Seth’s dismay at seeing his Web 2.0 epitaph transformed into Time’s Web 2.0 cheer. Seth Finkelstein is the Internet’s Cassandra, “a prophet[ess] whom no one ever believed and yet whose prophecies were always proved true by the event,” per Edith Hamilton’s Mythology] Seth’s brief and sardonic response to the Time story links to his other writings on the topic. If Seth Finkelstein is the Net’s Cassandra, Andrew Orlowksi is the sand in Web 2.0’s oyster. Orlowski here offers his typically barbed take on Time’s celebration of Web, also giving Seth his props.

Smart money, meanwhile, is quietly packing its bags. One investment possibility: decrying Web 2.0 hype.

Like Coals to Newcastle

“Fair play for musicians” sounds like something all fair-minded people should endorse. Like any marketing slogan one, it deserves critical examination. As used in a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times reported on by the Associated Press that I viewed here, “fair play” means extending British copyright protection for sound recordings beyond its current 50-year limit, over the objections of a government-commissioned report recommending maintenance of the status quo. I posted about this topic here. The musicians behind the full page ad urging extension of sound recording copyrights, the musicians not getting a fair shake, include Paul McCartney, U2, and Eric Clapton. Said Andrew Gowers, the author of the report, extending the copyright on sound recordings benefits only “an exceptional few stars, who are already fabulously rich.” The next project for these put-upon souls: a benefit concert for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Is That a Manatee in Your Pocket?

What do you get when you combine a Conan O’Brien skit about sports mascots, an ad-lib about “www.hornymanatee.com,” the pervasive threat of FCC sanctions for sponsoring inappropriate material, digital technology, and cheap domain names? You get an actual Horny Manatee website with 3 million hits in one week, an outpouring of fan-created horny-manatee themed art, what O’Brien called a “weird comedy dialogue with the audience,” a New York Times article titled So This Manatee Walks Into the Internet, and this week’s (or today’s, anyway) Internet phenomenon.


iTunes iNtrouble?

The Register’s Andrew Orlowski reports here that iTunes “has experienced a collapse in sales revenues this year.” Forrester Research’s analysis of credit card transactions shows that since January 2006 iTunes’ average transaction size and monthly revenue have declined respectively by 17% and 65%. Orlowski also reports that revenue is flat across the entire digital download sector. Orlowski attributes much of the blame to low consumer interest in music encrypted with digital rights management when pirated music is freely available. As an alternative to DRM music he points to discussions in the UK about blanket licenses under which consumers might pay a flat fee, perhaps as part of a broadband subscription service. Under such a scheme consumers would obtain the right to download and share music free of restrictive digital rights management and copyright infringement liability, and the collected fees would be allocated among artists and the recording industry.

The issues raised go beyond iTunes’ fate. If the iTunes business model does not work then the recording, television, and motion picture industries must adopt another. I cannot imagine these industries embracing a model in the U.S. that does not include digital rights management as a security blanket. Fighting piracy by allowing users to download and share freely, even after paying to do so, would require a seismic transformation in industry attitudes. It would be similar to the transformation required to fight the drug trade by legalizing drugs and selling them through state-regulated-and-taxed channels. The question is, how badly broken must the business models become for these industries to make the U-turn from “sharing copyrighted material equals theft” to “pay the man and share as much as you like!”?

Look in the Mirror

If “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client” can he claim ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal? According to this report that is the question Thomas Budnick raised before the Massachusetts Appeals Court on appeal of his conviction for assault with a dangerous weapon. His court-appointed lawyer argued that the trial judge should not have allowed Budnick to represent himself on charges of trying to poison his friend with nitric acid because of his demonstrated mental health problems. Among other things Budnick has asserted mining claims on Mars and Jupiter. (Thanks Jesse)

Imprisoned Journalists

It is sobering, but not surprising, to acknowledge the truth of this equation:

increase in the Internet’s pervasiveness = increase in the number of Internet journalists = increase in the number of journalists imprisoned for their reporting

The Committee to Protect Journalists‘ (CPJ) annual census reported that “the number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work increased for the second consecutive year, and one in three is now an Internet blogger, online editor, or Web-based reporter . . .” Of the 134 journalists CPJ lists as imprisoned on December 1, 67 are print reporters, editors, and photographers and 49 are Internet journalists. CPJ’s chart links to detailed information on each jailed journalist and shows that China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are the worst offenders, with China’s 31 incarcerations leading the list. These conclusions are consistent with the more comprehensive Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index discussed in this post. The U.S. accounts for two jailed journalists on the CPJ list: Joshua Wolf, jailed in San Francisco for refusing to turn over a videotape to a federal grand jury, and Sami Muhyideen al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman held in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

By June the Tunes Will Grace One Million Zunes

Microsoft’s Zune is not flying off the shelves–it was the fifth-best-selling MP3 player during Thanksgiving week–but Microsoft expects to sell one million of the little music-beaming critters in the first half of 2007. Is Steve Jobs losing sleep over Zune’s competition with iPod? 199,000 Google hits for the words suggest the answer is “no.”

Do-It-Yourself Lawyering

CNNMoney.com has an engaging article about resolving disputes in small claims court. Josh Hyatt spent about two weeks attending small-claims hearings in the Boston area, reports on his experience, and offers suggestions for prospective small-claims litigants including “be realistic” and “stay calm.” One revelation shared by many participants is that the party contesting them is not, in fact, dedicated to making their life miserable. “When you are forced to listen to the other side . . . you may find that you are dealing not with someone trying to hurt you but with an honest mistake.” (Thanks to WSHustler for the article)

More: Smoking and Employment

Others have picked up the story about Scott Co.’s termination of Scott Rodrigues for smoking. Legal Blog Watch mentions the story here. Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer has a post about the story and links to Do No Evil and its 200-plus comments on the suit, to Out of the Jungle’s topical links and articles, and to Worker’s Comp Insider, which has followed this issue since 2005.