"A path to scarcity and amnesia"
Read to the end for a conversation with author Isaac Fitzgerald
The Battle To Save The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive, the immense online repository of historical and cultural information, filed last week to have a lawsuit against it dismissed. If the lawsuit proceeds, it threatens not only the Archive and their important work but any and all libraries in the US that lend books digitally.
To summarize quickly: the Internet Archive owns a lot of books, like a library does. It has scanned those books and people can check them out digitally, one at a time, in a process known as Controlled Digital Lending. During the early part of the pandemic, when people physically couldn’t access their local libraries, the IA lifted their CDL restrictions so more than one person at a time could borrow a book. They called this the “National Emergency Library” and, to be clear, the (admittedly) slightly illegal move was only ever meant to be temporary. This “unlimited” emergency check-out system was only ever meant to last 16 weeks, and only ended up lasting 14 because of the lawsuit which was filed to stop it.
You can’t take out unlimited copies now, not since 2020, but possibly thanks to book publishers’ successful propagandizing, people don’t really seem to realize this, and think the IA is still lending willy-nilly. Quite a few authors and creators have accused the IA of piracy and of damaging writers’ careers and earning potential.
Understanding, first of all, that, of course, even one book sale can make a difference in an author’s career, in an industry where the vast majority of books never sell more than a few hundred copies, I think it’s ridiculous to support a suit which threatens one of the internet’s most vital resources.
After all, the Internet Archive is more than just the Wayback Machine, which is how many people are most familiar with it: its actual archive contains everything from the Prelinger Archives of historical education films to hours and hours of Grateful Dead concert records to the millions upon millions of scans of out-of-print and public-domain books from which the Flickr Commons drew their collection of images, and which it’s completely legal to host. But the tussle over the lending of a few hundred copyrighted books (the lawsuit names only 127) has put the entire Archive in jeopardy, not to mention the whole concept of CDL.
The Authors Guild, the organization behind the lawsuits against HathiTrust and Google Books (which both failed, btw), is not party to this particular suit but has declared its support for the cause against CDL (in all cases, not just the IA’s “emergency” case). The main flaw in their argument is, I think, the declaration that “authors need to be able to earn from their writing in order to keep writing.” I mean, yes it would be nice, but just like in all creative industries, that’s literally never going to happen for every single person who wants to make a living through their art. It’s a cutesy way to couch the fact that it is, in fact, the publishers who are desperate to eke out a couple extra dollars here: even though they’re already maximizing profits via the exploitative programs that libraries have to pay for in order to lend ebooks digitally through apps like Hoopla and LIbby.
And plenty of people on Twitter are scapegoating authors, but to be honest I’m fairly sympathetic to individual creators — not sympathetic to the extent that I support the lawsuit, of course, but I guess I get that it can be frustrating to see your work accessed in a manner that you feel is unfair and does not benefit you. It’s very personal and understandably upsetting. But that doesn’t change the fact that the publishers are soulless money-grubbers who, by all accounts, want this lawsuit to form a precedent that will allow them to go after other actual libraries making use of CDL to benefit their readers.
Writer Tom Scocca, in his speech at the press conference announcing the IA’s move to dismiss the suit, commented on the subject of the DRM-heavy culture the publishers are dreaming of, “[t]hat sort of dissolving culture isn’t a renewable revenue source, it’s a path to scarcity and amnesia.” And in fact there is a thriving online subculture devoted to tracking down and preserving “lost media” — the flotsam and jetsam of culture, emotionally important to consumers, but not commercially important enough to corporations enough to be preserved in the long term. Sometimes noncommercial “piracy” [heavy air quotes] on the part of a scant handful of enthusiastic downloaders and uploaders is literally the only thing standing in between something of cultural importance and the black abyss of digital annihilation. It’s not these ephemeral artifacts which are being legally tussled over, but it is their continued preservation which is also at stake along with the IA’s library program.
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John Fetterman, the extremely tall man who looks like the audience members of a Madball concert combined a la Voltron and decided to run for a Pennsylvania senate seat, bought a Cameo from the Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to dunk on Mehmet “Dr. Oz” Oz, who is currently running against Fetterman.
You see, though Oz is running for senate in Pennsylvania, he has lived in New Jersey for the last few years. And Fetterman’s campaign has, shrewdly, been attacking Oz about his Pennsylvania bonafides. In the Cameo above, Snooki congratulates Oz on his recent move to Pennsylvania, but assures him he’ll be back in Jersey soon enough. Devastating. Anyways, this whole thing has dangerous amounts of tri-state area energy radiating out of it. I look forward to Fetterman clinching the election by shotgunning a six pack of Yuengling in the parking lot of a Sheetz.
The Crypto Winter Is Getting Worse
This week, Celsius, one of the largest and most well-known crypto lending platforms, filed for bankruptcy this week. It owes users almost $5 billion and still won’t let people take their money out. If you’ve been sort of scratching your head at what companies like Celsius are and how they got so big and why they’re imploding so badly, here’s the broad strokes. Because cryptocurrencies, from a financial perspective, are weird hybrids of stocks, currencies, and assets, a lot of investors figured out that there’s a lot of theoretical money to be made in lending them out. A lot of “swap” sites offer investors outrageously high interest rates in exchange for buying their token.
For instance, say I launched a service called Garbage Swap. I create a $TRSH token and you can buy it with Bitcoin or Ethereum. I then take your Bitcoin or Ethereum and I lend it out. It’s a bit of a gamble in a few ways. Investors up until this year believed that Bitcoin and Ethereum, in particular, were destined to go to the moon. So if you buy my $TRSH token, you might miss out on the appreciating value in the Bitcoin or Ethereum markets. Which is why, to sweeten the deal, Garbage Swap would offer an outrageous interest rate. I’ve seen some as high as 20% APY. Celsius was offering 18% earlier this year. The crazy shell game that crypto investors started doing with these lending platforms and flash loans made a lot of people very wealthily (temporarily). But it all quickly falls apart if the market is crashing. Which it absolutely is right now.
Speaking of which, OpenSea, the largest and most well-known NFT trading platform, laid off over 100 employees this week, or about 20% of their staff. Also, Logan Paul, who bought an NFT for over half a million dollars last year — which is now worthless — is currently trying to recoup the losses on it by making NFTs out of pictures of him cosplaying as his worthless JPG. Grim.
Playing “Running Up That Hill” While Running Up A Hill
Excellent content. No notes.
CIA Twitter Man Is Having A Bad Week
One of the weirder things about the Trump era was the sudden appearance of a lot of “serious” people on Twitter. Before Trump used the social network to dismantle American democracy, there were definitely politicians and academics on there, but suddenly there were a lot more guys like John Sipher, a self-described “former CIA Clandestine Service” member. Sipher really stepped in it this week, when he slammed former national security advisor John Bolton who admitted on CNN that he has orchestrated coups in foreign countries??? Sipher was immediately dogpiled by leftists and seemed to think he could post through it. It didn’t go well!
There’s a bunch of different offshoots for discourse about Sipher’s tweets happening right now, which is pretty hard to follow, so let me point you in the right direction:
Have a good Friday!
Bayonetta 3’s New Less Sexy Mode Is Literally 1984
I’ve never played it, but from what I understand Bayonetta is a real horny video game franchise about sexy witch with a gun that a lot of people want to be stepped on by. Bayonetta 3 is coming to the Switch in the fall and it features a mode that makes the game slightly less horny. Instead of the main character being nude for the magical girl transformations she does in the game, she wears clothes. It’s called “naive angel mode” and I think it’s very clever. But it has made A LOT of men very angry in all the usual subreddits. There’s a good discussion over in Subreddit Drama about it if you don’t feel like venturing into the Bad Place yourself.
I feel like the obvious point to make here is that the Switch is portable! Don’t be the weirdo playing a naked lady video game at the airport!
I Unlocked A New Pocket Of YouTube
I’ve played music most of my life, but during the pandemic I finally decided to learn how to produce it. I threw myself into Ableton and have cultivated an unhealthy obsession with buy new plugins and MIDI devices. This also means that my YouTube algorithm is full of music stuff, which is actually kind of great. The other day while poking around, I stumbled across a corner of music YouTube I had never seen before and it’s fascinating. Japanese YouTube users are posting videos of “kawaii future bass” songs they’re producing on the iPad version of Garageband.
Future bass is basically dubstep with trap drums in a major key. And the kawaii version features chopped up anime dialogue, high-pitched nightcore vocal samples, chiptune synth, and usually little bubble sounds, for some reason.
Anyways, what’s interesting about this pocket of kawaii future bass iOS Garbageband screen recordings is that it’s a really neat look at how a couple different technological quirks can create a musical trend. Garageband for iOS has a bunch of stock virtual instruments and effects that are weirdly perfect for future bass and the iPad’s screen recording feature records local audio, unlike on a Macbook, so it’s really easy to share Garageband songs straight from the app. Also, most of the songs I’ve come across are about 45 seconds long, which is the perfect amount of time for a build up and a fun drop. And I’m going to bet they’re being boosted in YouTube’s algorithm over the last year or so because of YouTube shorts. So the whole thing has created the perfect ecosystem for this weird little music genre to spread. Neat!
BONUS: Here’s Isaac Fitzgerald’s Biggest Pop Culture Blindspot
Everyone loves to ask the internet’s most-plugged in writers and creators questions like “what are you reading,” or “what’s in your bag,” or “what’s your money diary,” etc. So I decided to do something different: What aren’t you paying attention to?
This week, I talked to a dear friend and fantastic writer and fellow Masshole, Isaac Fitzgerald. He has a new book out this month called Dirtbag, Massachusetts that I highly recommend picking up. Isaac is also just, across the board, very very cool, so I was super curious what he would say he’s not paying attention to. Turns out it’s a super popular short-form video app. You can check that out after the paywall jump!
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