March 25, 2011

Baidu and Intellectual Property

Posted in Books and movies, China at 11:29 am by changisme

Today, I read a blog post by Han Han regarding intellectual property rights in China, specifically attacking Baidu‘s free sharing of published books. The gist of the argument is that Baidu is profiting on the free sharing among other people’s products and authors’ income is substandard already, we shouldn’t be so cruel to our fellow man (as Zhangfei puts it). This made me think of several things.

I remember the first time I saw the Chinese translation of Wikipedia, the subtitle caught my eye. In English subtitle is “The Free Encyclopedia”. Presumably, it means both free as in free of cost and free flow of information. The Chinese translation only capitalize on the free flow of information part but not the free of cost part. It’s not to say Wikipedia costs anything in China, but it points out the possible distinction between free of cost and free of other barriers, which in the Chinese language are two different words. Han Han says that free flow of information on the internet should be advocated, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t cost the consumer anything.

When Google was being squeezed out of the Chinese market, the public harped on the fact that Google scanned Chinese books and showed online the tables of contents without authors’ permission even though they paid a small sum of money up front. Somehow, either by the manipulation of Baidu or nationalism, the public ignored the fact that Baidu showed entire books without paying anything. Baidu claims that this is the information age, free information flow should be available to everyone. On the other hand, they are making the big bucks on it. All this reminds me of the recent controversy over Huffington’s Post being sold to AOL, on which the founder Arianna Huffington gained $315 Million while insisting the journalist bloggers should not be paid. Are these two events similar in nature?

To a certain extent, they both exhibit the symptom that I would like to think of as the Edison Symptom. Thomas Edison profited greatly on the creative endeavors of many other scientists who worked for him. In our case, the corporation takes matters to a further extreme, they don’t pay anything due to the sheer willingness of the creators of information.

It is to be said, however, Baidu, Huffington Post and Edison’s leadership effort are results of creativity themselves, so it may be hard to claim that they don’t deserve some compensation for their work and opportunism. However, since we all agree creativity is to be propagated rather than simply protected, how we craft policies should depend more on the consequences than fairness. In this particular case, by allowing free access to all creative contents, do we protect the rights of people and encourage more creative work?

From a theoretical point of view, I have trouble deciding either way, but simply observing what has happened during the information age, I incline to say that free flow of information encourages more creative work. In China, what really hurt artistic expression was, and still is, censorship, not mainlythe fact that artists don’t get paid enough. (They probably don’t, but that’s besides the point.) As the internet flourished, which I personally observed since the early ’90′s, online literature filled in a lot of the gaps published literature cannot imagine to step in.

This is not to say, however, the rights of creators are protected. The result of which, is people do not write professionally, in turn hinders the quality of their work. In other words, Chinese literature is two steps forward, one step back. Is that really the best we could do? I think not. I did not mention the difference between the Huffington Post and Baidu: Baidu is a monopoly and HP not. If Baidu doesn’t want to pay anything to its creative slaves, it doesn’t have to. This is further aggregated by the owner Li’s power over the judiciary system. One may argue that Huffington Post doesn’t seem to have any incentive to pay its original journalists either, but recent events show that some bloggers have left, like Mayhill Fowler, and occasionally Huffington Post does bankroll some journalism. In other words, it’s more worried than a tycoon like Baidu.

The internet and aggregate website has the illusion of all create and all consume, with everyone on the level playing field. In fact, small number of individuals do gain disproportionally more than others, but in most cases, everyone does gain due to the increase in overall production. This is just like any other capitalist structure.

I don’t pretend to have a clear understanding of the whole mechanism, and I still debates in my own mind, whether an anti-trust case against Baidu could improve the problem.

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I haven’t been blogging since I graduated last week because I feel I should talk about my feeling towards it. The fact of the matter is, I’m still in vacation mode and really don’t have a lot of feeling about it other than “Gosh, I finally don’t need to plug in that crooked little thumb drive anymore.” I will write more about it later when anything does come to me.

March 3, 2011

long line up at the Paramont

Posted in Life at 3:41 pm by changisme

In the past 24 hours, I must have seen every single weather phenomenon, clouds rolling in and out, torn asunder into pieces of water and ice; beams of sunlight got an occasional breath of air but mostly drowning in the chaos of celestial warfare. There were rainbows, though I didn’t see a double rainbow from the window I was near. Maybe I wasn’t on enough cannabis. Then there was thunder gurgling on the 1-minute storms. Beneath all these heavenly childishness, I saw half a mile of people shivering stubbornly in front of the Paramont Theater. Yesterday and today, America’s got talent was shooting live there.

Many of my friends and relatives used to complain to me, all those American friends you have, born in milk and butter, know nothing of suffering and fighting for basic livelihood, and all they know is complain, just like their government, tons of discussions and no action, etc etc. Well, I guess they should really see these Joe and Janes, who certainly are willing to suffer and fight for their cause. It was still hours still they could get in the door and there was no good coffee in the vicinity. It all comes down to what you want. If you want something desperately enough, there are many things you can suffer through for it. Obviously, this is not to say you will necessarily succeed, but just the sparkle of possibility keeps the fire glowing.