MonthJune 2008

My review: the Mad Men series on DVD

If you didn’t catch Mad Men while it was on TV, then it’s now out on DVD. Through my relationship with Stuart, the brains behind the film/DVD/games review site Screenjabber (he’s production editor on the Tech section..) I got to review Mad Men, the DVD set.

Me likee. A lot:

instead of wilfully confusing us (thanks, Lost), losing us in wonk-speak (that’s you, West Wing) or featuring superhumans whose origins are imponderable (hello, Heroes), Mad Men — the self-named advertising kings of Madison Avenue at the start of the 1960s— deals with a time that we already know about. Or think we do.

Unlike the people of Lost and Heroes, where we’re as confused as them, and the Sopranos, who are far more ruthless than any of us could ever be, we think we have power over the Mad Men: we know what will happen to them. But as Matt Weiner — a former writer with the Sopranos, who had the pilot episode sitting around for five years waiting to get it greenlighted — shows, though we know generality (Kennedy will win!) we don’t know what happens to individuals.

Some men, it’s reported, don’t understand Mad Men (no guns, no killing, no car chases); but take the time to immerse yourself in its subtleties — [Don] Draper, who creates the aspirations and slightly false realities of advertising is himself the product of aspiration and a false reality he has created; and our picture of him as the hero is shattered by his obvious infidelity. Nothing is what it seems.

That’s not to say there aren’t some things for the guys. Most of all, as we move through the series, the clothes that the office’s queen bee secretary Joan (Christina Hendricks) wear go from a iridiscent green dress that says “Kindly notice my bosom” to one with orange spirals that lead to her nipples — which could be subtitled “HAVE YOU SEEN MY BREASTS YET?” It is the most extraordinary outfit you’ll see on TV — until the next series, I guess.

The other thing that will be very interesting in the next series (does anyone have a date when it will start airing) is how they’ll play the Kennedy thing – given that some time around then, you’ll know the result of the new presidential election. Obama = Kennedy? Or will our modern “Nixon” triumph instead?

Fabulous series, though.

Bad form, BBC, re the bloggers

The ShinyShiny Media (ta, Katherine) team are justifiably annoyed at the BBC Panorama team using them and then ignoring their existence in creating their programme about child exploitation in the production of Primark clothes:

Yet while the programme highlighted low pay and child labour the programme makers seemed to have no ethical qualms about screwing British journalists.

Researchers from Panorama contacted the Catwalk Queen team (btw Catwalk Queen is the UK’s most-read pure fashion website – compare it with Vogue, Cosmo and the others etc on Google Trends) and asked if they could film the team talking about why and how Primark had become so popular in the UK. The Panorama team then spent three hours filming at shiny offices, which basically cost Shiny nine hours worth of blogging.

The team’s opinions were widely used throughout the show and in many ways their views held the piece together. However while every other single person on the show received a credit along with their work title (Mary Portas got a plug for her business, Yellowdoor, twice), the Catwalk team were not credited in any way. Instead only their names were used and they were billed as fashionistas or Primark fans.

Even worse, while the SS team’s videos of the opening of a Primark store were opened, they were credited to “YouTube”. Oooh yes, YouTube. It creates lots of stuff.

Certainly this tendency to think that because people blog they’re (a) happy to get any exposure (b) not that important except as a source of opinion is one that’s taking some time to permeate through the many, many layers of conventional news organisations.

Then again, the instinct in many news organisations is not to give anyone credit for any piece of information if you can make the pretence that you somehow got it yourself. I think that one will take a long time to die. And it’s also news organisation tradition not to acknowledge people who might be your competition – or are your competition – unless you really have to. Which may go some way to explaining it.

Update: Neil doesn’t like the Beeb on it much either. Though I’d point out: the BBC is emphatically not taxpayer-funded. (It’s one of the reasons we haven’t drawn it in to the Free Our Data campaign. You can choose not to have a TV, in which case you’ll pay no licence fee, yet get the radio and internet stuff for free. Which is very different from, say, getting data out of Ordnance Survey.

Oh, I see Scott Adams got there much more first on copyright

My post about photographs, photographers and copyright stirred up a few people, but I hadn’t realised that Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had posted on precisely this topic, but (naturally) far more wittily, back in April of last year.

Take it away, Scott:

When you violate a copyright, you take something valuable from the copyright owner that he can’t get back. You take his right to control where his creation is viewed and how. It might be your opinion that the “free publicity” you provide outweighs the loss – and you might be right – but you’ve taken from the creator the right to make the publicity-versus-overexposure decision himself. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but it feels that way to the person who lost control of his art.

Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say your neighbor sneaks into your house while you are gone and borrows your underpants. After wearing your underpants all day, the neighbor launders them, folds them neatly, and returns them to your house in perfect condition, all while you are gone. He tells himself that he will say good things to people about your business – whatever business that is – so this arrangement is good publicity for you. The next time he sees you, he tells you about the underpants because he figures you’ll thank him for saying nice things about his business. He informs you that it’s a win-win scenario.

And (after some more exposition, all worth reading) he invites people to show up their daft rationalisations for stealing stuff (well, you know, violating copyright) in the comments. Which they duly do. Which he then spoofs to the heavens in his next post.

Worth reading in its entirety. Found via the Virtual Economics blog, which if you aren’t reading you should be. (It’s only a pity he’s working for DMGT, but, well, folks got to earn a living. Probably quite a good one, if this is his surplus output.)

I agree with Jeff Jarvis: let bloggers link to AP, and let AP link to journalism

Something of a disturbance in the force, with AP (Associated Press) putting out DMCA takedown notices against the Drudge Retort (that’s Retort, not Report) and Rogers Cadenhead.

Jarvis makes the point very well that what’s needed is an understanding of how bloggers want to work, and how news organisations need to work.

The trouble with the AP, as Jarvis points out, is that it takes original journalism – and then cuts it loose from the original, local source and reuses it, without any acknowledgement. This, as Jarvis points out, denigrates the hardworking local journalists who come up with the stories in the first place. Sure, all the local papers in the US contribute to and draw from the AP; but they need to understand where their mutual interests lie. These days, it’s in letting people know where the story came from. (Hell, it might have been written by someone like Meranda.)

Note though that Jarvis says

Bloggers should not quote excessively from others’ content and when they quote it should be for a reason — to agree, disagree, comment on, recommend, correct (there can be many reasons). This is fair use and fair comment. There can be no word-count limit because it depends on the use. If I want to fisk a story, I may well quote the whole thing because I am commenting on it all. The test is reasonableness: a fuzzy test, but life is fuzzy.

(Sally Whittle describes it as a one-man fight on copyright theft. Hey, you mean one-person..)

Jarvis adds:

he AP, for its part, should recognize that they and their members now live in a new media ecology constructed of links, one they do not and cannot control any longer. To be good citizens in this new economy, the AP should respect the rights of readers who write and recognize the benefits of receiving links and credit, as the bloggers give it. They should further extend this ethic to their own work. And if there is conflict or questions, their reflex should not be to send their lawyers to write letters. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, not corporations. This was a hostile act and that is why it was met in return with hostility, deservedly so.

Yup, I think we’re all very aware (at least we are at the Gdn) that this is a world of links now. As I keep pointing out to people, we’re happy for the links. We give them back when we print the letters, and we do reprint the letters and blog pingbacks on the Technology blog every week, which means people get the linkjuice from us, just for linking to us. That’s got to be good. Except when they take the whole damn thing. That’s not right. As Sally says,

I don’t agree that the Internet has somehow magically made copyright theft legal. It’s just made it easier.

Dear Coldplay, if you act like twunts people will dislike you (more than they do)

On Thursday night I heard Coldplay being interviewed on Radio 4’s arts programme Front Row. (I was making the school lunches.) The interview was conducted by John Wilson, one of the three presenters, and the two Coldplayers present – “frontman Chris Martin” (as we must know him) and drummer Will Champion.

They got the drummer along to do an interview about the music. Says it all really.

But the thing was that they acted like complete and utter twunts. From start to finish. Champion sounded like a sixth-former who thinks he’s funny. Martin made Andy Murray, the tennis player being lampooned on ITV’s Headcases as the misery phone line (“I saw a cat being run over.. it was horrible” delivered in a gloomy Scots voice), sound like a shaft of bright, helpful sunlight.

Let’s remember: this is an interview to publicise their new album, the one which has been called “the most important of the year”. By Guy Hands of EMI. Not by anyone else. Because listening to the single, it sounds like more of the boring same that they slipped into with their third album.

Now, Wilson may not be the most penetrating interviewer, but he can get people to talk when they’re prepared to talk. Compare and contrast his interview with Kate Bush, who was prepared to talk about things, even through Wilson’s puppyish enthusiasms, and engage.

Instead, it seems that Martin walked out of the interview after nine minutes.

Why? Because Wilson had the temerity to ask him some questions.

When asked about a speech he made at a music awards ceremony in 2005 where he said the band would be away “for a very long time”, Martin said: “I always say stupid things and I think Radio 4 is the place that will most remind me of that.”

Seems a reasonable enough question. But no, what does Martin want?

Presenter Wilson questioned whether the new album – full title, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends – was a morbid reflection of the band’s lyrical obsession with death.

“I wouldn’t agree with you there at all, no,” said Martin.

“I’d say you’re journalistically twisting me into saying something I don’t really mean.”

No he’s not, you self-important git. He’s asking you a question about something you said very publicly. You’re free to disagree. It’s called conversation.

A few minutes later, Martin said he was “not really enjoying this” and that he did not really like “having to talk about things”.

That’s kind of a problem if you’re publicising your album. So tempting to ask “Well, by this stage – the fourth album – Radiohead was making OK Computer Kid A (thanks Paul Waite), Led Zeppelin made Led Zeppelin IV, Muse made Black Holes and Revelations, all pretty strong albums. (Well, you could quibble about the Muse one. Actually, point out that the Muse one is weaker than the two that preceded it.) Do you think this measures up?” (OK, that might be a touch provocative. Feel free to add stonking fourth albums in the comments!)

Or even “Did you go about the writing process in a different way? Were you trying to write a different kind of music? [Because you completely failed – CA]” But no, Wilson didn’t get the chance.

Hearing this, though, one has to think: there’s no chance I’d ever buy another Coldplay anything. I bought their first album (after sampling it on the original Napster – ah, memories) and thought Rush Of Blood to the Head was great. The next one, though, complete aural stodge. And I’m sure this one is too. But after hearing their unperformance when they should be trying to inform, if not please, their (potential) listeners, I’m certain: even if they were giving £5 notes away with every track, I wouldn’t have it in the house. Sod off and FAIL. Maybe it’ll teach you humility.

You’ll notice the interview isn’t in the Editor’s Pick at the Front Row page. Colour me unsurprised.

At the Guardian, Elizabeth Mahoney weighs in:

First, how much I’d like to see Martin – if a weird mingling of existential realms were possible – in Surallun’s boardroom, telling him instead of Front Row presenter John Wilson, that he really doesn’t like “having to talk about things”. Second, how none of us is ever going to love a fragile celebrity buckling under the pressure of nothing more than a pre-recorded interview, especially one as mild as the Front Row encounter. Third, how much I’ve always winced, listening to Martin in interviews, thanks to his lame attempts at kooky humour, and that it was a relief in some ways that he’d walked out. And fourth, more positively, what a fine show Front Row is.

And on John Wilson… Ian Shuttleworth comments on that blog post:

Back in the days of Kaleidoscope, John Wilson once mistook me for Athol Fugard. More precisely, he called Fugard “Ian” and spoke to him about my segment, and since we were the only two guests in the studio, then by implication surely I *must* have been the legendary South African playwright… I cherish that moment.

Other comments? “Phew – Coldplay are rock and roll after all,” says Mark Mulligan of Jupiter (ironically, methinks).

Oh, and do feel free to tell me about great fourth albums of our time. (Update: durr – how remiss of me to forget Queens Of The Stone Age, whose amazing Era Vulgaris is still them but expands what they do in all sorts of sonic, tonis and rhythmic areas. Josh Homme = genius in my book: listen to any of the songs and then imagine yourself sitting down with a blank sheet and coming up with any of those riffs (particularly I’m Designer). Compare and contrast with Coldplay. End of.)

Update: John Harris reviewing it on Newsnight. He really, really hates it.

Want a desktop picture? You could do worse than a Mars sunset

If you’re ever in the market for stunning pictures, you could do worse than this one, which is sunset. On Mars. Get it from the page, or just click the image.

(Via Ed Bott)

The irony. The idiocy. Photographers ripping off Guardian content..

Every week I run a Technorati and Icerocket search against the links of the stories from the Guardian’s Technology supplement to see what people have been saying about our articles. And pretty much every week I find at least one blog where they’ve taken all the content, lock stock and barrel, and simply reposted it on their blog.

This never fails to annoy me, I’m afraid. The point I make is that by doing this they’re contributing to a spiral which goes thusly: people read the content away from the Guardian; people don’t come to the Guardian pages to read it; Guardian reading figures fall; advertisers pay less and less to be on Guardian site; Guardian has less money to pay contributors; less is on site; nothing to rip off from Guardian site. So by nicking our content, these folk are cutting off their own source of stuff. (Sure, they’ll just move on to the next paper, but the idea that they’ve liked the stuff enough to take it from us is an indication that they think we’re worth something, surely.)

When I point out that this is theft and that they could be done for copyright infringement, most react by taking it down fast. Some apologise and say they weren’t aware. (This is I guess excusable; most people don’t get schooled in copyright law for everyday use.)

Some sites keep doing this; generally they’re in the US and use forum software.

But what’s remarkable is when you have a group of people who I’d always thought were very protective of copyright – photographers – who then go and do the same to not only the text but also the picture from a story.

Thus it was with Bruce Schneier’s latest piece, about the imagined threat that people taking photos of buildings poses to our safety. Because we’ve seen dastardly tururists taking photos of their intended target in films and TV, we assume that’s how it works in real life. Not so: it’s there for dramatic effect, so we’ll know what the target is and feel the unease at the people not knowing that they’re a target. When in fact all the terrorist attacks of the last however long haven’t had photographic reconnaissance.

Lots of people linked to this piece (unsurprising: it’s a very good piece, like his previous one about how border guards may take a copy of your hard drive; Schneier has had a galvanic effect on readers). Including photographers. Who in some cases copied the photo from our site and stuck it on theirs – no credit, no nothing. What is with these people? (One was here, another here, another here, another here.)

Update: the last of those four sites, who didn’t take all the copy but did (in the first version) copy the photo, belongs to a professional photographer from Manchester who in his comments is insisting “Good god do you people not know how the internet is changing and raising all kinds of questions about ownership etc. Wake Up”. Obviously, he’ll want you all to use his photos for free without crediting him if this chain of logic is followed through…

One person (not the Manchester photographer) wrote back and said:

Thanks for your note. Stealing is a harsh word when it could just be a misunderstanding first and foremost. (Also, we’re not a site about copyrights, it’s a site about photographers’ rights. There’s a difference.) Every picture we link to we will credit that site. We’re not in the business of stealing images. It’s a simple personal blog, so there’s really no need to get so hostile.

I did use the photo from the Guardian, with a link. There was no photo credit on the Guardian’s site. It looks to us like a still from the movie. Check out the post again. What more would you like?

A photographers’ rights site that doesn’t understand copyright. My irony meter just exploded. What would I like? Well, for you not to have copied the image and stuck it on your site, and left the credit to the very end of the blog post.

I know one thing: I could never work in the music or film industries. I’d simply spontaneously combust at all the expectations of people that because you’ve made something, they can get it absolutely gratis. Some people have the attitude that they’re being forced to acquire the music industry’s output, and that it puts Evil Price Barriers in their way. Uh-uh. Nobody’s forcing you to buy these things. people.

Bonus link: Wendy Grossman’s story from the Technology section from last year: A picture paints a thousand invoices:

Copyright owners are cracking down on the unlicensed use of images. A sample case: Geoff Cox runs Quest Cars, a small cab company in Taunton. In 2001, he hired a small local web developer (since gone bust) who decorated the resulting website with a few small photographs. Then in July, Cox received a letter from the legal firm Baker and Mackenzie saying that one of those photographs used on the website was copyright to the large picture agency Corbis and asking for £1,300 for a one-year licence to use that photograph (to expire a month later) plus administrative fees. The letter quoted copyright law and stated that there would be no negotiations.