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Saturday
Mar292008

Does the intangible have value?

Like most posts having to do with the ethical use of information, last Tuesday's "If I can't get it legally is it OK to steal it?" drew a number of comments. Among them were those by Peter Rock, a teacher in Taiwan, who often weighs in on these issues. More often than not, we disagree on issues. Our conversation this week, in part, went like this:

Me: [Intellectual Property is] not a legal term but a common means of describing a general category of property

Peter: It doesn't describe property at all. Copyright, trademarks, and patents are not property. While there is an entire industry devoted to making the public think in terms of "property", this does not make it so. This does not make the intangible tangible.

Me: Ah, but the intangible can have even greater value than the tangible. You think I have a future as a Zen master?

Peter: No, but the RIAA or MPAA might be interested in your services. But seriously, how does the fact that an intangible can (depending on the particular comparison) have more value than a tangible back up the "property" view? I'm not following. Can you explain this? 

I'll do my best. I am no economist, but some of this seems to be common sense. This is how I would look at the components that give a thing economic "value" and justify its price:

Price = Materials + Production Costs + Intangible Value

For example, if I were to buy a book for $10 and the materials and production costs were $4, its intangible value would be $6. (I am including things like transportation, marketing, editing, etc under production.)

So it seems to me we could have some fun putting things on a scale of low to high intangible value:

Low intangible value: gold bullion, gasoline, raw meat -> -> -> High intangible value: jewelry, DisneyWorld tickets, gourmet meal.

You can do this within a product category such as cars, too. Assuming all cars have a (relatively) similar cost in materials and production then:

Low intangible value: Toyota Corolla -> -> -> High intangible value: Lamborgini

Information or entertainment packages are interesting here. But I think you could place these on a scale as well:

Low(er) intangible value: physical books, CDs, DVDS -> -> -> High intangible value: mp3 files, live concerts, e-books.

(But I would argue that even on the low side, the bulk of the value in information and entertainment is intangible.)

Peter, it seems to me (and I am happy to stand corrected), that you are arguing that if you can bring the cost of material and production of something to near zero, one is also obligated to bring the intangible value of that thing to zero as well. Personally, I don't believe that.

Pink in A Whole New Mind uses the Michael Graves designed toilet brush as an example of how real value can be added to something through design, and that this value-added, intangible component is growing as the amount of disposable income in the world grows as well. It's an idea I hope my own children internalize - especially my son who hopes to earn a living doing production and design work.

Anyway, this is how I would explain how something intangible can have even more value than the tangible. I appreciate the challenge. As always, Peter, you make me think harder about things than I really care to do!

Now I am trying to put "experience" on a low to high tangibility scale.

Low intangible value: visit to the chiropractor-> -> -> High intangible value: attending a Broadway play.

Sort of works. 

Saturday
Mar292008

Qualities of relevant libraries

"The Internet is like a librarian without the bad attitude or breath." - student, in The Digital Disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools,” 2002.

For most of my career, I have been interested in how libraries can remain vital and relevant. So whenever I hear or read of successful programs and especially student-centered attitudes, I get pretty exited. Three things came across my radar this week and they are worth a second (or third look).

_________________________________________________

Ann Krembs, Head Librarian at American School of Bombay, asked some time ago if she could cite an article I wrote some time ago in a presentation she was giving ASB UnPlugged conference held in Mumbai and was nice enough to share with me how that talk went (shared here with permission):

Hi Doug,
 
I thought I’d share with you what I ended up presenting.  I spoke about virtual libraries and basically gave ways of incorporating the old stereotype of a library while transitioning into the new mold of a library.  Here’s the link: http://www.asbunplugged.org/drupal/ASB_Un-plugged/files/VLT%20III.pdf (or here.)
 
Our conference was very successful!  I learned tons from the experience and also received motivation.  The newsletter I usually send by email is now a blog.  Feel free to check it out if you like.  http://dearlibrarian.edublogs.org/ and http://bookoftheweek.edublogs.org/
 
Thanks again for your help.  
 
Ann

oldvsnewlib.jpg
Slide from Ann's presentation.

Ann's slideshow is one of the best summaries of how the school library media field is changing I've seen for some time. Take a look - outstanding. Student-centered - you bet!

 _________________________________________________

This LM_Net post caught my eye last week. It was posted by Debra Evers a media specialist Cushing High School in
Cushing, Oklahoma (reposted here with permission):

... I came across Tony Doyle's VENT: "This is a library; be quiet!" I can't resist sharing with the group. I love for our H.S. library to be a "student-friendly" place. I always play light jazz over our speaker system and encourage all sorts of activities (we had a Guitar Heroes tournament during lunch period a few months ago). I realize that some of you are shaking your heads and "tsk-ing" --but it works for me.

I absolutely HATE to have the library "hijacked" by classroom teachers who require absolute silence. Don't get me wrong! I LOVE to have classes in the library! I encourage teachers of all content areas to use the library, and we've had great response. I love to brag to other librarians about our collaboration (some minimal collaboration, but I have to get my toe in the door somewhere) with teachers of English, Math, History, Foreign Languages, Humanities, Science, Speech, Consumer Living, Chorus, and even Band! But when teachers schedule library time, I always remind them that the library will remain open (if at all possible) and other students will be using our computers, browsing, and checking out books while their classes are here.

Right before Spring Break, a scheduling glitch caused us to schedule two classes into our little 50' × 50' library at the same time. I checked with each teacher and the consensus was that both classes were small and we should have no conflict. Of course, one of the teachers is one of the "Shushing Library Dragons" while the other is pretty laid back. Nevertheless, the overlap seemed to be going well when one of our most innovative English teachers happened in with 8 or so students in tow. She wanted to know if they could use the library for completing some creative components for a class project. I told them that I felt that we might be pushing our limit, but I deferred to the other two teachers, who graciously said "the more the merrier". I overheard this non-scheduled teacher telling a student, "That might be a demonstration that you'll want to keep for our classroom.Mrs. E. might not like it here in the library." I inquired and discovered that the student wanted to do some "Performance art" that demonstrated his biography of a famous athlete. I considered this and gave the go ahead-how crazy could it get? It turned out that his "Performance Art" was doing three consecutive standing back flips!

Everyone gave him a standing ovation and I was the one left shaking my head, tsk-ing, and counting the minutes to Spring Break! I only hope our Principal happened to be watching through our fish-bowl windows at the time! He thinks I'm pretty unconventional and I love to affirm his opinion. Who wants to be predictable?

Why do I get the feeling kids come into Debra's library because she there, not despite the fact she's there?

_________________________________________________

Last Wednesday, I do believe I heard something I'd never before heard in my 30 year library career. A Fulton County (GA) HS librarian stood up during the workshop and said:

I just want to tell you elementary and middle school librarians that I think you are doing a terrific job! Every year, the entering freshmen in my high school come better prepared to do research and use technology. I just want to say thank you.

Wow!

_________________________________________________

I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that the quote that began this post didn't come from a student in Cushing, Bombay or Fulton County.

Tuesday
Mar252008

If I can't get it legally is it OK to steal it?

I love getting these sorts of e-mails:

I have a 9-year-old who is utterly hell-bent on defining himself as a "Super Mega Nerd," and naturally, I am attempting to integrate digital rights and ethics into his brain now, rather than in a few years when the FBI comes knocking at the door.

Here's my problem --

Music.

Specifically video game music, and various niche-market televisions themes.ringtones.jpg

Some video game studios release accompanying soundtracks, but usually for very high budget games, such as the
Halo trilogy, Gears of War, etc.  Some TV shows release soundtracks, or the occasional single MP3 or ringtone.

What do you do about the games/shows that do not?

Case in point:  Microsoft's
MechAssault 2.  He owns the Papa Roach album with the theme song, "Getting Away with Murder," but wants additional music from the game.

Second case:  He wants the
Torchwood theme as a ringtone on his phone, but it is available only in the UK as a 3£ download, as a direct download to your phone to prove you are only in the UK.

My issue isn't in cost -- it is in availability.  He is having trouble with the idea that he cannot simply rip the files because it isn't ethical despite the fact that an "official" version is not available.

This is an interesting question. First, let me tell you that I am not a lawyer so any advice I give should be verified. Maybe twice.

I posed this question to my 22-year-old son who is not a lawyer either, but who is a video game fan and works in a large video game retail store. This was his reply:

As for the game music, if you already own the game you already own the game soundtrack. Therefore if you download ripped files on your computer it's just fine. This is the legal loophole a lot of websites use to get away with emulators, roms, and other files. Like this one called Kingdom Hearts Insider. http://downloads.khinsider.com/ They have virtually every game soundtrack known to man.

As for the TV shows and foreign music, they sell imported albums on Amazon and Ebay. I'm not sure of any other sites or the legal/ethical issues behind downloading these.

OK, that’s a Net Genner's view (who is thoughtful and knowledgeable). Here is my take:

In general, when it comes to intellectual property, a difficult concept for most people, especially younger ones, is that the creator does have the right to control the use of his product. He does not have an obligation to sell it or make it available for use if he chooses not to. If I make a chair and even let you look at my chair, there is nothing that requires me sell you my chair, a copy of my chair or the design plans for my chair. I can legally stop you from making a copy of my chair if the design has been copyright/trademark protected, I believe.

As far as I am concerned, if the music is not on the owned game disk itself or available commercially, acquiring and using it would be illegal and certainly unethical. And we can’t always get what we want. (Hey, that would make a great song lyric!) Not a bad lesson to learn at an early age.

I have no idea if converting a legally owned mp3 file to a ringtone is legal or not. But I am guess not, since it is changing format. I hope there are other Blue Skunk readers more knowledgeable than I about this issue.

Having said that, we need some perspective here as well. As a boy, on more than one occasion I stole apples and watermelons from neighboring farmers. Obviously illegal, but in the view of most rational people, more in the realm of mischief and youthful indiscretion than a grand theft punishable by a stint in juvie. Now had I stolen cars or television sets, the nature of the crime would have different – at least in my view. Where one draws the line as to what is serious and what is mischievous varies by individual. Dollar amounts do figure in, I believe, when it comes to determining legally the degree of a crime.

As a parent, I tended to turn a blind eye to the personal use of music of dubious provenance by my son. I did draw the line at having any computer in my house used as site whereby others could obtain illegal music via a peer-to-peer network.

Readers? A better response for this conscientious mom?