The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

“Going, Going, Gone”: The Kindle, disappearing digital content and the ever-enduring Bob Dylan

I’m closin’ the book

On the pages and the text

And I don’t really care

What happens next.

Iran was back in the news again last week when a court ruled that Mohsen Namjoo, an Iranian singer-songwriter who has been likened to “an Iranian Bob Dylan,” was sentenced to five years in prison for recording music that “dishonors” passages from the Qur’an.

And while the prosecution of Persia’s own “poet of a generation” is just another glaring example of Iran’s tyrannical theocracy run amok, it turns out the sentencing of Namjoo wasn’t the most flagrant suppression of free through to have occurred last week.

That distinction goes to Jeff Bezos, founder of online book behemoth,

Last Friday, as Namjoo was learning he had been sentenced to five years in prison for “his unconventional singing” of the Muslim holy book, hundreds of Kindle owners woke up to discover that two books they thought they had bought and paid for had, in fact, only been paid for.

It seems that what Amazon selleth, apparently Amazon can taketh away. And that’s precisely what happened.

Jeff Bezos has long been a proponent of the dissemination of digital content. For Bezos, the notion of delivering content (read: the millions of books Amazon sells) to anyone, anywhere, anytime has been more than a catchy mantra—it’s been a personal mission of sorts. And with the launch of the Amazon Kindle this past March that mission was by-and-large realized. But at what cost?

Those who anted up to buy the popular e-book reader, apparently. And while Amazon’s decision to surreptitiously remove content from the Kindle was hardly the best move from a public relations perspective, Amazon did nothing illegal.

It turns out that when you “buy” an electronic copy of anything—a song, a book, a movie, it doesn’t matter—you don’t actually own that copy free and clear. It is encumbered by something called digital rights management software, or DRM.

Most of us have never heard the term, DRM, and nine times out of ten it doesn’t matter.

The new Britney Spears single, Dan Brown’s latest literary endeavor, the most recent episode of “The Office” shuffled off to our iPods— we paid for it, which presumably gives us the right to listen or watch it when we like, where we like, and with whom we like. Sort of.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, you don’t actually own digital content encrypted with DRM. You are for all intent and purposes renting it.

Again, nine times out of ten not a problem. But it can cause some serious issues when the person who truly owns that content (in this case the publisher) decides to renege on the rental agreement.

It turns out this is precisely what happened last Friday with Penguin, the publisher of the titles in question, forcing Amazon to recall the books without insomuch as a warning.

There’s no question Jeff Bezos is a visionary. But in looking to the future, even he is tethered to the fact that he must keep his content providers—aka the publishers—happy. And so when the Penguin Group decided not to offer an electronic editions of the books, Bezos caved.

Amazon’s Communications Director, Drew Herdener, issued a statement claiming that the books were added by an outfit that didn’t have the rights to the material in the first place. Plausible enough, I suppose. But the fact that Amazon can remove content at their sole discretion, effectively assuming the role of a modern-day, Orwellian Big Brother is the real looming danger. And herein enters the irony.

The two titles that Amazon effectively ‘banned’ by removing them from the Kindle with a simple flick of the switch?

1984 and Animal Farm—perhaps two of the 20th century’s most harrowing examples of the totalitarian suppression of free thought.

Kudos to you, Jeff Bezos. Your prophetic vision of a digital utopia has been fully realized. Thanks to devices like the Kindle, content flows freely to anyone, anywhere, anytime. And now we know who will be the guardian of that content. It seems 2009 will be like nineteen eight-four, after all.

Fortunately, there are people like Mohsen Namjoo and Bob Dylan—iconoclasts of change with prophetic messages of their own—who will continue to fight to make sure that whoever controls the message can never control the messenger, no matter how it may be delivered…

I been hangin’ on threads,
I been playin’ it straight,
Now, I’ve just got to cut loose

Before it gets late.

So I’m going,

I’m going,

I’m gone.


July 21, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Whole World Is Watching”: The revolution will be Twittered

Oh the time will come up

When the winds will stop

And the breeze will cease to be breathin’.

Like the stillness in the wind
‘Fore the hurricane begins

It’s often said history repeats itself. And while that old adage may be true, an underlying objective of this blog was not to repeat a lyric once it’s been used.

But in the aftermath of the violence that’s erupted in response to last week’s Iranian Presidential election, the lyrical refrain used to herald the wave of optimism that swept across this country last November is now an ominous, and all too fitting harbinger for one of the greatest unchecked affronts to political expression in recent memory.

The tide of history is turning once again. And while “the whole world is watching” the unfolding events in Iran, it’s what they’re saying that is most alarming.

From tepidly noncommittal:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “I’m closely following how this investigation into this election result will come out.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “The elections are a matter for the Iranian people.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “I’m not sure if the results reflect the real will of the Iranian people.”

To outright congratulatory:

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas: “The results of the elections in Iran show the wide public support for Iran’s policy of challenge.”

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari: “This is indeed testimony of the confidence of the people of Iran in [Ahmadinejad’s] leadership qualities.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “[A] great and important victory for people fighting for a better world.”

There’s no question what’s going on in Iran is unconscionable. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the posturing politicians who seem more concerned with appeasement than appealing to the people who are putting their lives on the line.

And while President Obama has begun to take a more defiant view now that the protests have turned deadly, his initial response–claiming the difference between Ahmadinejad and reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi “may not be as great as has been advertised”–was hardly an indictment of the injustices being perpetrated in the streets of Tehran.

But thanks to the ubiquity of social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we no longer need to rely on the “powers that be” to tell us which way the wind blows.

We can, and have, assessed the situation for ourselves:

From Serbia: “We from Serbia know best what it me[a]nt to live under dictatorship of few man. Just be brave, IRANIANS, brave and dont give up. Serbian people are with U!!!
Posted by Ivan June 20, 09 08:52 AM

From the US: “from Texas…please please please dont give up… You are all brave men and women of Iran and must continue on the path started last week. Be focused in a common goal…. our prayers are with you all….”
Posted by behzad June 20, 09 12:05 PM

From Australia: “I might be far away in Australia… but I will be praying for The Iranian people. I pray that they will be free. There is nothing more powerful than an Idea thats time has come!”
Posted by Nicholas June 21, 09 02:58 AM

From Greece: “I hope you will gain your freedom and Iranians will live out fascism.. KEEP ON FIGHTING, YOU ARE THE FUTURE OF IRAN!!we are with you,from greece..”
Posted by vangoff June 21, 09 01:04 PM

From Venezuela: “Lo mismo que pasa allá en IRAN es lo que ya pasó y continúa pasando en VENEZUELA. Por favor ayúdennos a salir de estos dictadores que se creen los dueños de todo. Dios bendiga al pueblo IRANI, sigan luchando por su libertad!!!!!”
Posted by Pedro June 20, 09 06:39 PM

But perhaps the most emotional appeal has come from the Iranian people themselves.

From Iran: “I will take part in the rally tomorrow. Maybe they will turn tomorrow’s rally to violence. Maybe I’m one of those who are meant to get killed… Now I’m listening to all of those beautiful songs I’ve heard in my life once again.”
Posted by freedom fighter June 20, 09 08:28 PM

Back in 1963, when Bob Dylan penned the prescient, “When the Ship Comes In,” the consensus was that television would document the great injustices of the world.

But now that the major news organizations sent to Iran have either been kicked out or under house arrest, it seems the revolution won’t be televised, after all. Instead, it will be Twittered, FaceBooked, and YouTubed.

Which, of course, means the whole world won’t just be watching, they’ll be participating, too…

Then they’ll raise their hands,
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands,

But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered.

And like Pharaoh’s tribe,

They’ll be drownded in the tide,

And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment