November 21, 2006  ·  Lessig

(But first, yes, I am so sorry about the aol-crap player. I posted the last post as I was rushing out, and didn’t realize the proprietary junk till I got home to show my wife on her computer. It is one of the very great things about the real video services out there — YouTube, etc. — that they embarrass the creaking 20th century giants (AOL, e.g.) by showing them that you can run a video service that any computer can run, without the insanely badly-coded platform specific proprietary stuff that marked video 1.0. )

Yesterday was a real transparent society day in my house.

My kid’s been sick, and was really wound up. So as a deal to get him to take his medicine, I promised him we’d look for Donald Duck on the web (yea, I know, but he loves Disney. And anyway, have you watched Bambi recently? No major media company could release content like that today. It’s brilliant: the single evil element in the film? Man. It would be FOX-ed out of existence were it released today.)

I had just shown my wife the Michael Richards clip. And my son and I then tripped on a Donald Duck video. It was 7 minutes of Donald Duck as a Nazi. Someone had uploaded to YouTube (god bless that company) an off the air recording of this war time Donald Duck cartoon that of course you could never buy today from the current copyright owners. Update: I was totally wrong (and unfairly so) about this. As pointed out in the comments, this cartoon is available here.

Then, before bed, I wandered a bit more through the Michael Richards story, and found this insane thread at CNN of comments by people about the Richards event. Unvarnished America, teaching me more about my country in 5 minutes than 40 hours of TV would ever teach anyone.

And then finally, the announcement by FOX that it was pulling the OJ Simpson book/show.

So add it up:

Elements of the 21st Century/Transparent Society: Richards tape, Donald Duck revealed, CNN thread — in each case, access to something that the 20th Century would have filtered out for appropriateness. My evidence for that?

Elements of the 20th Century/proprietary (in two senses of the word) society: FOX pulls the inappropriate OJ stuff.

I’m not pushing to one side or the other here. Just notice how these fit together.

  • http://lucychili.blogspot.com lucychili

    unvarnished, shiny astroturf, random response, planned response, bad, good, correct, bollox, its all out there at the moment.
    but I was watching the emails from the wipo broadcast treaty process where they were lobbying for rights to control media they had webcasted and wondered how long it would be before they would deem that broadcasters need to save us from p0rn, and terrorist information on the web, and so therefore they reclaim control of the dialogue. laws defining that isp’s need to harvest information on their subscribers for law agencies, phone tapping, dmca take down etc, i think we will have to keep working at it to stop it being a series of franchised fish bowls rather than a transparent sea.

  • http://abstractioneer.org John Panzer

    Apropos: The taser-ing of the UCLA student is now up on YouTube as well tonight — apparently captured by a video cell phone.

    On a technical note, AOL Video doesn’t require ActiveX; the video plays fine on my Powerbook. And YouTube uses a proprietary format as well (Flash video). But I’m sure AOL Video would like to hear about ways to improve things. Disclosure: I work for AOL.

  • http://lucychili.blogspot.com lucychili

    Yup that tasering thing was shocking. =(

  • Lessig

    My criticism was not of “proprietary code,” but of “insanely badly-coded platform specific proprietary stuff.” Flash is proprietary for sure, though there are free players (Gnash, OS Flash). But the part I am emphasizing is the “platform specific” part. WMV seems built to make life outside of the non-MS world awful. It is a hack to get it to work anywhere except within Windows. Flash is built with a different ethic: to run everywhere seemlessly. That makes sense. Macromedia/Adobe aren’t selling OSes. But that’s the sense the Internet needs.

    Some insist everything be in a free codec. I want that wherever possible. But I do insist that we’re at a stage when if you’re not building platform-neutral apps, you’re not building apps for this network.

  • http://mt.middlebury.edu/middblogs/jmittell/JustTV Jason Mittell

    Nice cultural montage, but one wrinkle: the Donald Duck cartoon is “Der Fuhrer’s Face,” one of Disney’s best. Just to give credit for the few things they do well, Disney has been good at releasing their archives – this cartoon is on the DVD set The Chronological Donald vol 2.

    Warner Bros. has been far more proprietary with their WWII propaganda & racist past – search for Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips or Coal Black & de Sebben Dwarves for questionable treasures WB doesn’t want us to see…

  • Lessig

    That’s great! Bravo, Disney. (And this explains the correction in the original post.)

  • rodander

    Sorry, but I’m not getting this.

    Prof., are you saying that Bambi is brilliant because it shows Man as the “single evil element in the film? If so, I’m sorry about that.

    And are we complaining about WB not permitting access to “Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarves” because if they did permit access then they could be made fun of? IOW, we are complaining that companies are not handing us sharp sticks to poke them in the eye with?

    And we are complaining about Fox pulling the OJ stuff because we want to hear from OJ (as if there are no other publishing outlets)? Or because, had they run the OJ stuff, then you could have poked fun at Fox for their hypocrisy, money-grubbing, etc.?

    Sorry, but I’m missing the point here somehow.

  • http://slashhome.org/ Michael Leuchtenburg

    Can gnash or gplflash actually run YouTube or Google Video? Gnash supports “many SWF v7 features” – Flash 7 is 3 years old.

    I typically download the .flv file and play it with mplayer. The fact that I can work around their proprietary format doesn’t make it open, though.

    Also, on the supposed “run everywhere seamlessly” ethic, I’ll note that there is still no Flash 8 or Flash 9 for Linux (Yes, I’m aware of the beta; I’m also aware of how unstable it is). And Flash 7 is anything but seamless on Linux, with terrible audio/video synchronization, making playing video on YouTube a painful proposition at best. Nor is there any Flash at all for my Treo.

    I’d say it’s built to run on as many platforms as well as is needed to maintain their monopoly control over that type of platform so that they can continue selling development environments for it.

  • http://mt.middlebury.edu/middblogs/jmittell/JustTV Jason Mittell

    I’m complaining that WB isn’t releasing things like “Coal Black” not because I want to see such cartoons playing after-school for the kiddies, but because it’s a brilliant piece of animation & important cultural document which its “owners” have deemed too embarassing to share with the world. In the best of all possible worlds, it would be in the public domain (as it should be by now, based on its original copyright) so it could be legally sold, seen & shared, provoking discussion as to how we study art that expresses uncomfortable ideas & beliefs (just as films like Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will are studied & debated). But since our permission culture allows copyright owners to restrict access to works through infinite extensions, WB can choose to refashion its own legacy and cultural history.

  • http://www.jessewarden.com JesterXL

    Yo Michael, they just released an updated Linux Beta player on the labs, specifically working on the audio & stability issues. Hopefully this’ll help bring yaz in the fold!

    http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flashplayer9/

  • rodander

    Jason, I’m with you on the infinite extensions point. I wish Eldred had come out the other way on that issue (without adding holes like “traditional contours” through which trucks may be driven).

    And while I am sure that you would love to see the cartoons for their technical merit and their cultural importance, you are more than a bit naive to assume that WB wouldn’t take tons of flak were they to release those cartoons. They’d be painted as profiting from racism now, and as profiting from racism then, and they’d become the Klan of the Week right after Michael Richards’ 15 minutes are up. It is a proper decision, from the standpoint of their shareholders, to not release those works. It is their toy, and their corporate goodwill, that they are protecting and ought to be permitted to protect.

  • Fer

    Here’s another example of the transparent society (again, brought to you by YouTube):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9A_vxIOB-I
    “Iraqi Kid Runs For Water”

  • http://conceptjunkie.blogspot.com Rick Gutleber

    Jason, before you give too many kudos to Disney, perhaps you should inquire where you can buy a copy of that wonderful movie from the 40′s, “Song of the South”.

    As to Warner Brothers, I was thoroughly offended that their last cartoon release featured a 5 minute homily by Whoopie Goldberg about how these cartoons are so racist and we should look with pity upon those poor unenlightened bigots from the early 20th century. Personally, I didn’t find anything potentially offensive in Volume 3 of the Golden Collection except for that foul-mouthed shill for liberal politics preaching to me. What’s next? Rush Limbaugh hawking orange juice? Oh wait, that really happened.

    Anyhow, it seems the media companies have this really odd double-standard about continuing to spew immense quantities of ever-worsening filth while being embarrassed at supposedly offensive works they were associated with in the past, that more often than not, were done in innocent fun with no ill-intent.

    The AOL video worked seemlessly for me on a Mac with Firefox. I’ll try it on Linux tonight to see what happens there. I agree that ActiveX is evil, bit it’s clear AOLVideo does not require it.

    I’m very curious to see where this trend of self-censorship will lead: Perhaps one day the Fox network will be showing hard-core porn but “The Simpsons” will still be forced to censor a naked butt (which is a new requirement they didn’t used to have). Perhaps Disney will be selling snuff films or kiddie porn (not too far off from some of the garbage from some-Disney owned companies), but you won’t be able to see Br’er Rabbit without buying a gray market VHS tape from Japan for 3 figures.

    They say “All in the Family” couldn’t be made today in the current climate of political correctness, but I let my kids see “All in the Family” (usually) because they can understand what it’s really about (e.g., “Racism is wrong”, “Not everything old-fashioned is wrong, nor is everything new-fashioned right”, “Don’t let your daughter marry a meathead.”, etc), but there’s a ton of network TV now I would never let them watch.

    With respect to copyright, it’s obvious the trend is that anything since about the time of WW1 will remain in copyright forever. Every time Steamboat Willie is in danger of going public domain, Disney will buy another Congress who will kick it out another 50 years. For the most part that’s not even so bad, but what is bad is all the “orphan” material that will never see the light of day and may be lost forever. As an avid music collector, I’ve spent years tracking down releases which the record company has decided to sit on for some capricious reason and the artist hasn’t got the wherewithal to purchase the rights to re-release his own works. Since music distribution has become all but free, there is no economic reason to do this.

    Exactly how does behavior like that promote the common good?

    I can see it now, I’ll be blogging in the year 2020:

    I hope my MPAA-approved ocular implants show up in the mail soon. My Audience License Fee expired and none of my TVs will work. Whats even worse is that I’ve been wanting to go see a movie for months, but my old implants don’t support the latest DRM features, and I’ve already used up my alloted 3 firmware flashes, plus the HD-DVD region redistricting changed me from Region 45-b-7G, which means I’m in a region known for high levels of piracy in the early 2010′s so I need to pay about $500 retro-active fees to relicense the dozen or so movies in my collection. That’s not even counting the 6 I lost the week after backup software made illegal (the Piracy Capability Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Hatch (Utah-Viacom) and in the House by Rep. Chastity Bono (Calif.-Disney)).

    Man, I miss the days when it was legal to watch DVD’s.

  • http://video.aol.com Fred McIntyre

    I’m sorry if you (and some of your readers) have had a bad experience with playback on AOL Video. We work really hard to provide an experience that works on the widest range of browsers and platforms.

    Unfortunately, as you and others have experienced making Microsoft’s WMV work in places that aren’t Windows OS or Internet Explorer can be particularly tricky. Because of our focus on reaching the broadest audience, we are working hard behind the scenes to migrate to Flash as our default format. 80% of AOL Video usage will be in Flash in early February, and users should be able to watch AOL Video regardless of whether they are on a mac or running windows or linux.

    It’s important for you and your readership to know that we are working very hard to make everything we do with AOL open and publicly available as broadly as possible. In Video, for example, we have made our Video Search APIs open to developers on very liberal terms – please see http://developer.aolvideo.com and let me know what you think about what we’re doing.

    In the meantime, know that we are working very hard to make sure that you (or any other user) never has an experience where they don’t get the video that they are looking for. I hope you’ll come back to http://video.aol.com.

    I run AOL Video -

  • mattl

    (apologies if there are any glaring errors here — just switched to dvorak)

    gnash = no to flv. it is coming

    and non-free Flash is a bad idea (x86 only + proprietary!)

  • http://human lucychili
  • http://lucychili.blogspot.com Janet Hawtin

    the participatory culture link has a range of free video apps from a content chooser to a bitstream interfacing player.

  • http://petersmagnusson.com Peter S Magnusson

    WB seems not to have tried to censor this, either. They issued this as various releases, until Japanese anti-defamation groups protested and they yanked it from future reissues.

    It’s a nice thought that companies like Disney and WB actually have a conscience and regret past actions, but I fear some of you are being too anthropomorphic. :-)

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