Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Year Later

It's hard to believe that just a little more then a year ago, the demolition of the 41 buildings that made up the South Side Colborne Street commenced. There were those who cheered and those who were very angry. There were speeches, protest marches, appeals to City Council and even letters to the editors. Facebook had groups cheering on the demolition and groups who were opposed. A number of people in the community thought that it was about time and a number who thought it was totally ridiculous, a waster of money and also was going to have a negative effect upon the housing market in this city. Groups supporting looked at the buildings and considered them eyesores, groups opposing, or supporting the buildings, saw marvellous history and great potential, if only someone would have a vision and the finances to do something with these building that had suffered years of neglect.

All that ended when the first crane starting the assault.

A good crowd was on hand to watch the proceeding, including a few from the sitting Council. I don't know if a lot of people were cheering that day, there was a lot of people on hand to watch and record the goings-on, I mean how many times in a life do you get to witness a whole side of a street demolished?

We could watch building after building destroyed by the cranes, and bulldozers. We saw the material gathered up and then moved to fill landfill sites throughout the region.

To celebrate the anniversary, the Station Coffee House and Gallery is putting on a exhibition of media created during the demolition. There is a lot of pictures taken and video shot of the entire experience. It's taking place on July 2nd. Now likely it would be interesting, but perhaps in the interest of controversy, the people putting on the show have invited former Mayor Mike Hancock and former counsellor Mark Littell to the gala launch. There is a little frothing for this.

I suppose the question is now, what next? There is a plan to build a very nice athletic centre/YMCA complex, that would service both the University and the community at large. The cost has been estimated at $50,000,000. I think it will not happen very soon.

Still, we have a very nice new park in the downtown core:

It is sunnier downtown, and we have a very nice view of the Casino. All of which is worth the $30,000,000 it has cost the city to remove those 'eyesores'.

A recent linked was posted by Lloyd Alter on Facebook considering the potential decaying building can bring to urban revitalization. The writer asked the question: Can decaying buildings lure top talent?

The key paragraph is this one:
It may be overlooked, but one key incentive for creative clusters is older buildings that entrepreneurs can convert. “At a certain point you want to take advantage of something that is decaying or running down, and let new use adapt to opportunity,” says Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, and a former Vancouver city councillor. “And you may not be able to put that into a plan.”

Also, an older stock of rental housing gives young, creative people an affordable place to live. “If you push them too far from places where you’re hoping to generate a creative cluster, it’s neither fair to them nor likely to succeed,” Mr. Price says.

I think that's enough for today. As one member of city government said to me, you can always repair buildings. Shame he wasn't listened to.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

SOCAN, Netflix and Greed

So the Society of Composers, Artists and Music Publishers of Canada has gone to the Copyright Board of Canada and filed a request for something called an interim tariff. The purpose of said tariff is:
to enable it to license the use of music on websites that profit from audiovisual webcasting and user-generated content services. While tariffs applying to the use of music in this manner are currently being considered by the Copyright Board, the interim tariff would accelerate the compensation to music creators and publishers for the use of their work and would give businesses some assessment of the royalty payments necessary to run their operations.

Many believe this is an attempt by SOCAN to get some of the proceeds from services such as Netflix, YouTube and a few other services that stream content which may contain music that was produced by members of said organization. Apparently there is a feeling that this is being done on the back of hard working musicians who again are getting stiffed. Well, let me say they are getting stiffed but its not from Netflix etc, its from the organizations that say they are 'helping' the musicians, such as CRIA. Remember that fun group, its the people who collect the tariffs from blank media and distribute it all to the members, except they are woefully behind on the payments.

I think a few things need to be understood before we proceed; music that is used in soundtracks, be they movies or television programs are licenced by the content holders. If you think for one moment that a movie is going to feature music that is not licensed, you're not paying much attention, if a studio did that, don't you think that the RIAA would go after them with all the lawyers in their fold? Of course they would. The licensing agreements can be quite good. I went to the site "How Stuff Works" and came up with this explanation:
According to the book "All you need to know about the music business" by Donald Passman, "The fees for synchronization licenses are really all over the board, and they vary with the usage and the importance of the song." For example, Passman's book mentions some fee ranges:

* Low-end TV usage (e.g. -- music is playing from a jukebox in a scene, but no one in the scene is paying any attention to the music) -- free (for exposure) to $2,000 for a 5-year license. In a film, the fee would be $10,000 in perpetuity.
* A more popular song is worth more, perhaps $3,000 for TV and $25,000 for film.
* A song used as the theme song for a film might get $50,000 to $75,000.
* Commercials fetch even more money: "a song can command anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000 plus per year. The typical range for a well-known song is $75,000 to $200,000 for a one year national usage in the United States, on television and radio."

This is why artists love to have their works featured on commercials, it can be quite a lucrative adventure for the license holder.

None of this makes it into the press release of SOCAN, they want to go on about the poor starving artist.

So what do they want? Well, another website has this:
It also appears as if SOCAN will not allow the Copyright Board of Canada to determine what constitutes an "acceptable" tax rate. The organization has created an outline that shows what percentage should be taxed, depending on the service and host "sharing" their intellectual property.

SOCAN hopes that streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV and Sony Crackle would be taxed around 1.9 per cent of gross revenues. For user-generated sites like YouTube, however, SOCAN recommends payment from 6.8 per cent of advertising revenue incurred from music videos and 1.9 per cent from all other audiovisual content.

Let's discuss the outcome of said tax, which will probably be a dynamic tax, 1.9% this year, and going up every year from now on; how they plan to go after YouTube is rather interesting, since YouTube does not have a Canadian branch at all. I have a feeling Google could just as easily block access to YouTube with people who are using a Canadian based ISP. Or they will simply ignore it. If people dont want their music used, simply ask Google to take it down.

What about Netflix? I think there is a few possibilities:

1) they pay the tariff and pay on the costs to consumers. This is usually what happens when companies are taxed. So instead of $8.00/month, figure it might be $10.00
2) Pull out of Canada. If the tariff is ridiculous and the paperwork becomes too much, close it all down. There are a lot of services unavailable to Canadians, think of Hulu, so this would be one more.

In both cases the consumer gets it in the neck.

This explains why in a lot of ways, Canada is becoming a digital backwater for these services. As I said, Netflix is legitimate, it is buying the rights to the programming it delivers. Everybody should be winning, then along comes a group that gets greedy and in the end, we lose out.

These people need to be told to butt out and let us enjoy watching what we want on what we want. Or we can wait for BestBuy to commence their service.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Cold War has a new Front

I've been thinking baok to the Cold War. For those of you who are too young, it was a time when the two great political and economic philosophies stood staring at each other, with fingers on the button almost daring the other side to press first. It was conflict through proxy, since a war between the Superpowers would have meant the end of the world. The bad part of nuclear war is the winning side only has month or days to enjoy the victory then they too will get destroyed with the massive cloud of radioactivity that will circle the globe. The Wikipedia definition of the period of time states:
The Cold War (Russian: Холо́дная война́, Kholodnaya voĭna) was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World – primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies – and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States and its allies. Although the chief military forces never engaged in a major battle with each other, they expressed the conflict through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, extensive aid to states deemed vulnerable, proxy wars, espionage, propaganda, conventional and nuclear arms races, appeals to neutral nations, rivalry at sports events, and technological competitions such as the Space Race.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, its easy to say the Cold War is open, the West won and now only the US strides the world as the only Superpower and the rest of the planet better cowtow to them or else. Now, Russia is a partial ally to the US, or if that's a bit much, at least not a full blown opponent.

You would think that and probably be right, then if you turn to RT, the Russian based 24 hours news channel. I have to admit, I am a fan of the channel. Not only does it provide news of what is happening in Russia and that part of the world but it gives me all the information I need on Vladamir Putin. The motto is, after all, "All Putin All Time". Well, not really, it does portray Dmitry Medvedev in a very nice light. He is the President after all and does wield a fair bit of power in the world. He also seems to like wearing wide ties. Of course the big news in Russia, speaking of news, is whether or not Putin will run for President in the next election.

It is also a good network to learn Russian history or the nation of Russia. It's fascinating in that regard, parts of Russia I've never heard about, there's probably a show for it.

Then there is the other aspect and that is,the cold war position of the network. Now I'm not sure how much of the content is controlled by the Kremlin, but it has a number of shows which portray the US in less then flattering light. There are a number of programs, all on during Prime Time that are based in the US and have a rather negative slant on what is happening in the West. One of their chief messages is a complaint that mainstream media tends to concentrate on fluff and forget the real news. Just this evening there was a journalist professor commenting that most of MSM is taking the time to go into great detail over 'Weinergate'. The hostess was complaining that during a time of war, this is what is taking prime time with the various news outlets. Of course RT only concentrates on real news and so you will get their slant on what is happening in Libya. I'm not sure which side RT is on this conflict, they are more complaining over the escalating of the work of NATO from making a 'no-fly' zone to going out of their way to bring about regime change.

What about the comments on MainStream Media? Is is truly that bad? Is it simply a tool of the Military-Security Complex and so it will attempt to distract rather then to instruct? If you go to the site The Aloyna Show, you will notice all the newer programs deal with examinations of what is being missed. Besides this, the network goes out of the way to discuss the growing War State that is the United States. There is also comments about the economic collapse that is happening in the US and Western Europe- almost a continuation of the cold war in a way.

Some have accused the network of becoming a haven and harbinger of conspiracy theories. They also bring in individuals who would be sympathetic to the point of view. This makes sense, after all most networks have their list of experts they count upon to bring some interesting facts.

Then there is Adam vs the Man. He had a brief time in which he took on the law as it pertained to dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. He and a few other people danced and got arrested.

I've was trying to think of the angle of this new front in the "Dance Dance Revolution", but I realized its as much of an attempt for publicity then making a statement. Then again, its a rather stupid law and should be challenged.

So from programs such as these it makes me wonder that Russia still views the US as the Enemy and the weapons is now 24 hour media and web presence. Of course if you saw some of the advertisement on the network the proudly flaunt themselves as Ànti-American Propaganda and declare that it can be the truth.

I still will watch because it is a fascinating point of view. Plus where else can I watch Cory Doctorow interviewed?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Read Geist

A number of years ago I picked up a sticker that I placed on a clipboard, it said simply:

That was the 20th Century, now I believe the saying of the 21st should be to "Read Geist". To read him makes one to understand what is happening in the world of copyright and how Big Media and Big Copyright Holders want to put their own interests way ahead of your interests. To them your only part of the entire thing is to give them more and more money as long as you live.

In the Toronto Star, he wrote an article regarding a new deal Big Pharma wants to enforce in Canada. It is to extend the life of the copyright of drugs. In the day when new medication is being produced which, for the most part, is bringing about enhancement in daily life, Big Pharma wants to ensure its hold on the copyright of the drug is extended.

He described the position of Big Pharma, most of them which are based in Europe and have managed to wrap the EU around their various pudgey fingers:
The intellectual property council (which counts several brand name pharmaceutical companies as members) claims the reforms would lead to increased pharmaceutical research and development in Canada. But last week University of Toronto law professor Edward Iacobucci released a study that thoroughly debunks the CIPC claims, predicting increased consumer costs and noting that there is little evidence the changes would increase employment or research spending.

Of course, they say that such protection will enhance the industry in Canada and make it wonderful place. I am surprised there was no mention about piracy in that situation, knock off drugs. Of course that is what the Canadian Intellectual Property Council would want us to believe.

What Michael Geist is concerned about is the extension of the protection ensures the costs of such medication remains high and stays high. As I thought about what he was writing about, I thought the true danger of excessively long copyright is that it becomes a monopoly. As I thought about drugs, I am reminded of the fact that generic provides both a low cost alternative and choice for the consumer. Have a headache, you are not stuck with one brand name, but a number. With medication becoming more important, I was talking to one person who was complaining they are now a pill popper, it is important to have low costs and choice. If the numbers are to be believed, it is costing the consumer and the health care system 22 Billion a year. He mentions a document written by Dr. Edward M. Iacobucci, "INNOVATION FOR A BETTER TOMORROW: A CRITIQUE". He mentions:
When generics enter, public and private plans obtain competitive drug benefit prices for reimbursement of a particular drug; competition brings pricing benefits that monopoly does not. This is especially the case after recent provincial reform of generic pricing, causing generic prices around the country to fall from 50-75 percent of the brand price to 25-45 percent of the brand price, depending on provincial market characteristics and trade restrictions (see table below). Lower, competitive prices for drugs tend to reduce the cost of private insurance plans, and bring potential social benefits by allowing public plans to reallocate resources to other aspects of the provincial health care systems, including other pharmaceutical products which are not currently reimbursed by provincial or private health care plans.

With health costs only guaranteed to increase, the issue now comes, is there places to save money that do not included restricting or rationing services for people. There is and that is make generic medication available. If it is true the cost can decrease by as much as 45% that is a sizable saving. It is easy to understand why Big Pharma wants to restrict the right of generic drugs to expand, it cuts into their profit. I know there would be those who would say that this companies have a right to a return to their investment. Of course they do, there is nothing to stop them from continuing to produce the same drugs even though there is competition, after all some people only feel comfortable with brand names.

However, it is a matter of cost; to us as consumers and to us as taxpayers. I was reading an interesting article regarding Brazil and copyright. Early in this century, Brazil decided to become a strong open source nation, and probably continues to follow that line. The article mentioned that at one point the government became aggressive in treating HIV by making the medication available. It helped but was very expensive so they decided to approach the patent holders to discover if a deal could be made, at first the pharmaceuticals refused. The the President decided to do something:
His first approach was to go to the key patent holders, the US pharmaceutical giant Merck and the Swiss firm Roche, and ask for a volume discount. When the companies said no, Serra raised the stakes. Under Brazilian law, he informed them, he had the power in cases of national emergency to license local labs to produce patented drugs, royalty free, and he would use it if necessary. Merck immediately caved, but Roche stood its ground until August 2001, when Serra prepared to make good on his threat by drawing up the required paperwork. It was the first time a poor country had even come close to breaking a drug patent - and Roche, stunned, returned to the bargaining table with a newly cooperative attitude. In return for Serra's agreement to play nice, the drugmaker would reduce the price of its drug in Brazil to less than half what it was (and less than Brazil's cost to go it alone).

The question is why does it have to become this? Simple because copyright means royalties and excessive royalties mean huge profits. If you can guarantee no competition then you can decide the costs and make them pay.

Michael Geist wants us to know about this, and this is why you need to read Geist.