To Rent or Own? SpiralFrog Closes; Customers Lose Access to Music

CNET reports that SpiralFrog, a company that was, yes was, in the online music game is closing its doors. If one was a customer, music covered by SprialFrog’s DRM software will be unusable 60 days from the closing date which seems to have been on March 20, 2009. This problem looks a little like Zittrain’s concern about tethered devices and perfect enforcement. For me Spiral Frog’s shut down and resulting denial of access is part of the problem with cloud computing and what I call technological mediation in my paper Property, Persona, and Preservation. As more and more material is mediated or put at a distance, the more one must navigate second and third party software, hardware, and contracts just to access and use information and material that one ought to be able to reach directly.

SpiralFrog highlights the problems of the DMCA and DRM approaches to protecting information. The access to knowledge movement and commentary on the DMCA specifically examine these questions. I suggest that online storage poses additional issues. Material that was once on one’s computer is now stored elsewhere. So even if one had the key for the software, one cannot get to it. In SpiralFrog’s case, the material seems to be on one’s computer but inaccessible unless some new company buys SpiralFrog’s assets and unlocks the RM once more.

In addition, as this article points out, the company’s demise does not necessarily show that ad-supported music is a dead business model. Spiral Frog had management, funding, and deal problems. Now, it may also be that it was pursuing DRM solutions when others were moving away from that model for music. Nonetheless, as the FTC notes DRM “is expected to become increasingly prevalent in the U.S. marketplace in the coming years” and it must address “the need to improve disclosures to consumers about DRM limitations.”

Ah understatement, the lifeblood of press releases.

Did You Clean Out Your Locker?: Yahoo Shuts Its Online Storage Service

Yahoo! is closing its online storage service Briefcase. According to CNET the service started about ten years ago. Now Yahoo! is telling customers that they have until March 30 to “to retrieve or delete their documents.” As some of you know, I have been writing about who owns material stored online. My piece, Property, Persona, and Preservation, argues that the creator of such material owns the work and that storage services do not. That being said, an online storage company should be able to provide a healthy amount of notice and then close its service as Yahoo! is doing here. The one thing that makes me wonder what Yahoo! is thinking is the word “delete.” Would Yahoo! claim that failure to retrieve or delete material means that Yahoo! owns the work? It might. Would the work stay around forever at Yahoo!? I doubt that. I think the best practice for Yahoo! is to encourage people to retrieve and delete their material and then state that after X date, all material will be deleted.

On a business note, Briefcase offered 30MB and Yahoo!’s statement about the closing–“usage has been significantly declining over the years, as users outgrew the need for Yahoo Briefcase and turned to offerings with much more storage and enhanced sharing capabilities,”–seems to support the move. Yet, the article also stated that Microsoft’s SkyDrive offers 25GB and the Google (yes the Google) is close to offering a similar product called GDrive regarding which the file text claims “provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music and documents [and] allows you to access your files from anywhere, any time and from any device – be it from your desktop, web browser or mobile phone.” So why hasn’t Yahoo! offered a free upgrade? Is the Briefcase brand that weak (or non-existent)?

Put differently, if cloud computing, or as I call it, technologically mediated and stored creation persists as the way we create, why is Yahoo! moving away from this area? In addition, regardless of Yahoo!’s change, Microsoft and Google are pushing for this approach. That is part of why I wrote Property, Persona, and Preservation. A huge amount of our work continues to be outside our control. There are some great benefits to that change, but some serious problems with it too. The paper tries to look at how these changes affect access to knowledge and how we understand ownership of creations. If we don’t pay attention, we may find we lost our work because we forgot to clean out our locker or that someone cleaned it out for us.