Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Censoring the Internet?

A good deal of attention has been paid recently to the promotion and subsequent demise (or at least delay) of SOPA and PIPA.  Collectively, these two bills proposed a fundamental new approach to policing intellectual property rights on the Internet.  The furor over the bills, rightly, focused on the lack of due process involved, the incompatibility between the laws themselves and the technology driving the Internet, and the criminalization by association of ISP’s and content providers built into SOPA/PIPA.
It is frightening how close these bills came to passage with minimal public discourse.  Even more alarming is the strong, bipartisan support each bill enjoyed prior to the major Internet outcry.  Even with much of that support eroded, a significant number of members of congress support SOPA/PIPA.  With SOPA/PIPA more or less dead in the water, focus should be turned to the reason these bills existed in the first place.  Because of these reasons, we will see more of the same in the near future.
Some attention is currently focused on greed as a determinant.  Primarily these charges come from the more extreme SOPA/PIPA opponents, indeed some of these opponents are openly guilty of the piracy and copyright infringement that SOPA/PIPA were designed to combat.  These charges, though, miss the point in the larger debate.
The larger debate is an ongoing battle over the meaning of Intellectual Property in a globalized, digital world.  Virtually every advanced economy offers some form of market protections for inventors and creators in the form of patents and copyright.  Unfortunately, various countries have different standards for IP protection and the Internet exacerbates this problem due to the ease of rapid proliferation of digital works.  Further, our current copyright laws are highly confusing.  So much so that it is quite possible that the author of the SOPA bill himself may have committed copyright violation on his own website.
This fundamental right protects the creator’s ownership of IP, enabling them to leverage supernormal profits during their protected period.  While this seems like an affront to basic free markets, it is an affront commonplace in market-based, capitalist systems.  Further, if it is an affront, it carries some very well defended proof of need.  Lacking such protection of creative IP, market forces actually work to erode IP profitability – so much so that the costs of creativity generally exceed profits in a non-protected market.
In short, we need some form of IP protection.  The questions that emerge are how much, for how long, and in what form?
This is an incredibly important topic for small business, and business in general.  The Internet, in its current form, opens the door to many small businesses.  Whether we are talking about self-publishing e-books, writing apps for mobile devices, selling goods, or any number of other fronts, small business is thriving on the Internet. 
Given that neutral parties assess the overall economic damage from piracy to be rather trivial, we should take great caution before passing an act like SOPA/PIPA.  Effort should be made to protect IP, however that actions should take the form of standardizing IP definitions across countries and working to establish multi-national agreements to protect IP and enforce actions against extreme violators
At the same time, we should engage in a discussion of length of protection for IP.  Our current length of IP protection is based on a print economy wherein travel and publishing time ate into the profit potential period for the creator.  Given advancements in production and distribution technologies – and indeed due to the instant distribution capabilities of the Internet, we probably need to shorten (not lengthen) the window for copyright protection. 
We do need to remember that IP protection has a beneficial purpose.  While there are vested interests on both sides of the current debate, we need to work towards some form of simple, standardized, enforceable IP protection. 
SOPA/PIPA was not what we needed and worse, both bills may still come back. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Publication: Understanding Plagiarism

Iryna Pentina, Leonard Love and myself are proud to announce the release of a study examining backgrounds of academic dishonesty.  In "Plagiarism: what don't they know?" we examine student awareness and understanding about their roles and responsibilities related to plagiarism.  The article is in print in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Education for Business.

Our findings suggest that students are reasonably well informed on the meaning and importance of plagiarism.  However, our findings also suggest that gaps exist in understanding what specifically constitutes plagiarism.  Interestingly, the gaps are different for online-only students and more traditional, face to face students.  Further, there are some specific items which most students generally exhibit misunderstandings.

New publication: Mobile Marketing

David Taylor, Iryna Pentina and myself are happy to announce the pending publication of our mobile apps research.  In "Mobile application adoption by young adults: A social network perspective," we examine the influence close advisers have on young adults in their decision to adopt specific mobile applications.  The article will appear in the winter 2011 issue of the International Journal of Mobile Marketing, scheduled to publish in January 2012.

Our findings suggest that (a) having a friend/family member using a mobile app is a significant predictor of ones adoption of the same app, but that (b) young adults are more likely to turn towards their friends for some types of apps while turning to family for other types of apps.  This is the third project Iryna, David and I have published looking at social influences on consumer preference.

e-Destroying your firm’s reputation

I am a bit late to the party addressing this topic, but the story of Paul Christoforo’s destruction of Ocean Marketing and near destruction of his client N-Control is a cautionary one worthy of repetition.

Ocean Marketing was a one-man operation providing services to, among others, the N-Control company.  N-Control had created the Avenger controller, an add-on to the X-box video game controller.  Ocean Marketing was handling order fulfillment until an unfortunate incident unfolded in December, 2011.

A customer inquiry regarding the delivery of the product, led to an increasingly hostile exchange of emails between Paul Christoforo and the customer.  As the customer dialog deteriorated, Paul resorted to an escalating series of name dropping and used several unprofessional comments such as “you just got told *****,” and the unfortunate typo “I wwebsite as on the internet” which has gone on to become an Internet meme.

The customer forwarded the email exchange to Mike Krahulik, otherwise known as “Gabe” from the web comic Penny Arcade.  Since the Penny Arcade trade show Pax East was included in the places Paul Christoforo indicated he had access, Mike (as the tradeshow director) decided to intervene on behalf of the customer.

Paul (writing as Ocean Marketing) continued to escalate his name dropping up until the point he discovered that Mike (as Gabe) would be including the exchange as part of the Penny-Arcade blog and comic strip.  Once that occurred, the Internet took over with websites like the Consumerist, Reddit and Fark quickly spreading the message.  Before the cycle concluded, Ocean Marketing made it to the major news media, landing a not so conciliatory interview on MSNBC.

As the hubbub grew, N-Control dumped Ocean Marketing as a client and N-Control was themselves forced to issue a press release distancing themselvesfrom Paul Christoforo, Ocean Marketing and the incident itself.

The damage is, as they say, done.  Ocean Marketing has lost a major client and Paul Christoforo has quite a bit of unfortunate baggage attached to his name (go ahead and do the Google search).  N-Control also apparently lost a number of orders due to the actions of an independent business partner.

There are three obvious lessons to be learned here. 

  1. Most importantly, always treat your customers with dignity.  You may not always have the answer they want – you may sometimes have to say “no” to a customer.  But you should always be professional and courteous.
  2. Perhaps the next most important lesson, particularly for the small business, your reputation is affected by everyone who does business in or near your company name.  N-Control didn’t do anything wrong here, but N-Control suffered all the same.  Take time to scrutinize your business partners, particularly those that interface with the public.
  3. Finally, any conversation taking place over the Internet is inherently public.  Even a “private” email exchange can quickly cross the web.  Never hit “send” in the heat of the moment.  Always consider how others might read your words.  Always remember the Paul Christoforo story!