Photographing the Eiffel Tower is illegal

Please tell me this isn’t true.

The Eiffel Tower’s likeness had long since been part of the public domain, when in 2003, it was abruptly repossessed by the city of Paris. That’s the year that the SNTE, the company charged with maintaining the tower, adorned it with a distinctive lighting display, copyrighted the design, and in one feel swoop, reclaimed the nighttime image and likeness of the most popular monument on earth. In short: they changed the actual likeness of the tower, and then copyrighted that.

As a result, it’s no longer legal to publish current photographs of the Eiffel Tower at night without permission. Technically, this applies even to amateurs.

Full story and comments here.

Update, 7 February

Over at BoingBoing, Cory gets angry about another example: the city of Chicago spent $270 million of public money on a sculpture for its Millennium Park, and now prevents Chicagoans from taking photographs of a public sculpture they paid for. He says:

What kind of jerk sculptor sells the city a piece of public art for a public park and then demands that no one take pictures of it? Christ, they should run this guy out of town on a rail and melt the goddamned sculpture down for scrap. Then they should fire the politician who signed a purchase contract that reserved the photographic rights and run him out of town on the same rail.

Music, to go

The much-hyped Napster To Go service has launched in the UK, with a unique proposition: for a flat fee of £15 per month, you can access as much music as you want – and crucially, you’ll be able to transfer it to your portable player. According to Napster boss Chris Gorog, it will “change the music industry forever”.

He might be right, but any such change won’t be overnight. Initially, Napster To Go supports just five portable players: The Creative Zen Micro, the iRiver H10 and Portable Media Center, the Creative Zen Portable Media Center, and the Samsung YH999 Portable Media Center. You’ll note the absence of a rather well-known player whose name begins with “i”, and that won’t change any time soon: Apple’s iPod dominates the market and to date, the firm has shown zero interest in making the iPod compatible with Windows Media Player 10. Napster expects to support a further 18 devices (four media centers and 14 MP3 players) within three months, but you can be sure the iPod won’t be one of them.

I do think it’s a positive step – the more choice, the better – but I’m inclined to agree with Mark Mulligan of Jupiter Research, who writes:

Napster to Go will significantly enhance value for existing customers and will be the tipping point for many ‘wavering voters’. But it is not about to make Apple twitch nervously. Portable subscriptions will not knock Apple off its throne in the near term future, for a whole host of reasons, not least being the greater mid term receptivity towards a la carte services and the highly fragmented nature of the device market.

In many ways, Napster To Go is likely to appeal to the same sort of people who like online DVD rentals: it’s a fixed price, you can use it as much as you want, and the more you use it the more cost-effective it gets. However, a significant number of people want to own music, or at the very least transfer it to CD so they can listen to it in the car. Napster To Go won’t appeal to either group, which is why the iTunes music store (and Napster’s own a la carte service) won’t be wiped out by this any time soon.

What’s interesting to me is that Napster To Go does two things to the value of music: it makes the cost of an individual track effectively zero, while encouraging people to spend more money on music. I know those two effects sound mutually exclusive, but they aren’t. Think about it this way: spend £15 in iTunes or Napster’s normal service and you get 19 tracks; pay £14.95 for the To Go service and you can have thousands of tracks – so the cost per song is as close to zero as makes no difference. And yet, the average punter buys six CDs per year, largely from supermarkets, so their annual spend on music is less than sixty quid; twelve months of Napster To Go, on the other hand, persuades them to part with £180.

Or to put it another way, by making music cheaper, Napster To Go has found a way to make people spend more money on music.

It’s almost a revolution, but Napster could and should go further – although it’ll be a cold day in hell before the music business goes along with this suggestion. The very thing that enables Napster to offer a To Go service – the Windows Media 10 digital rights management system – is the very thing that makes the service a step in the right direction rather than a revolution that will change the music business forever. While the DRM makes it possible to transfer music to portables, it excludes the world’s most popular range of music players, and it prevents people from burning tracks to CD.

Last year, the UK and US music industries sold 542 million CD albums. Taking the average of six CDs per person per year, that’s just under 100 million people buying music; for simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume each of those CDs was ten quid. So that’s £5.42 billion in sales of albums. If Napster To Go were to charge the same, offer unrestricted MP3s and forget about DRM, it’s reasonable to assume that a significant number of those customers would go for the To Go service.

100 million people buying six CDs a year: £5.42 billion per year.

100 million people paying for Napster To Go: £18 billion per year*.

And that’s before you start the value-add, where there’s a premium version of To Go that offers higher bitrate files or uncompressed WAV files, or a premium version that gives you music videos, or fan-friendly content such as artwork or backstage interviews, or priority ticket booking, or ringtones, or… you get the idea.

Is 100 million subscription customers realistic? Probably not for a while, as I don’t think there are that many broadband customers in the US and UK just yet. However, Kazaa has been downloaded by 382 million people, which suggests that there’s a lot of potential customers out there, and the rise of Media Centers, portable MP3 players and the like will no doubt fuel demand.

As I’ve said once or twice, the average iPod owner has room for 10,000 songs but has only bought 25 tunes from iTunes – which means total revenue of twenty quid per iPod owner. If Apple could persuade just half of iPod owners to sign up for a To Go-style subscription service, sales would go through the roof – and music piracy would all but disappear.

[* the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reports that in 2003, the global music industry was worth $32 billion, which works out as £17.7 billion. That’s not just albums but singles, videos and DVDs.]

Oh come on, say what you really mean

Trusted Reviews has a look at Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) and says:

Put simply, the PSP is the most important thing to happen in the video game industry since the launch of the original PlayStation… When the PSP launches in the UK, the basic version will retail for £180, which, in my mind at least, is an absolute steal for such an advanced device… this is one product that has to be seen to be believed.

Do you think he likes it?

Gor blimey* – eye treatments can be dangerous

As far back as I can remember, my grandfather was always reading or writing. He’d send off letters to Punch magazine back when Punch not only existed, but mattered; he’d get poems published in national newspapers; he’d write articles about homeopathy (one of his great passions, and a subject about which he’s forgotten more than I could ever hope to learn)… and when he wasn’t doing that his head was buried in magazines, newspapers or books.

More than a decade ago, he started to lose his sight – possibly because of a congenital eye problem (my father and I both have to have regular checkups to look for any potential damage) but more likely due to the inevitable damage of decades of heavy smoking. He went for surgery (I think it was laser surgery) to correct the problem; it went wrong and effectively blinded him. There were no more letters. No more poems. No more articles about homeopathy.

As much as I hate relying on glasses – and I do, more than words can articulate – I’ve never been able to take the step of getting surgery on my eyes, even if it’s the relatively non-invasive procedures performed by lasers. That’s partly because of good-old-fashioned male distrust of doctors, partly because of my grandfather’s problems, and partly because of my own experiences with contact lenses. I gave up wearing contacts several years ago because no matter what I tried, they couldn’t completely correct my vision; while on paper they were absolutely perfect and within the various tolerances required by opticians, in my eyes they weren’t effective enough. With contact lenses I can’t really read, I can’t really write, I can’t really watch films – three of my favourite things. With eye surgery, if it wasn’t 100% effective I would have all of those problems without the option of slapping on a pair of specs to correct them.

Occasionally I did manage to put aside my fear of doctors, and I explained my grandfather’s problems to myself as the result of ageing, smoking and of undergoing a relatively new procedure – a kind of optical guinea pig. But the tolerances thing, that was different. I read up on the various eye treatments, the laser this and the microkeratome that; without fail, they couldn’t offer a 100% success rate. The best they could do was offer 90-something-percent success within certain tolerances. The same tolerances that made contact lenses unworkable for me.

Over the years I’ve continued to toy with the idea of corrective eye surgery, because vanity is a powerful and terrible thing. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that it was too risky. There are risks in all procedures, of course, even going to the dentist. But a 99% successful dental operation is still successful; 99% successful eye surgery means your vision is impaired or your eyes are damaged. I read reports of constant haloes, of mistiness, of painful eyes, of people who could no longer drive at night.

According to Surgical Eyes – which, rather ironically, is a bloody eyesore – the problem isn’t the surgery itself; it’s poor patient screening. Some people simply shouldn’t have eye surgery, but the site suggests that greed or perhaps, arrogance leads surgeons to carry out the procedure on people whose eyes are not suitable for the treatment. The site has been created by people for whom the surgery has caused very severe vision problems.

If you’re squeamish, skip the rest of this blog entry.

Sandy Keller had LASIK surgery, and only found out months after the treatment that she should never have been accepted for treatment. If that wasn’t bad enough, the surgery went wrong.

The microkeratome blade jammed in my first eye during my LASIK procedure, and while I can blame nearly everything else that happened to me on my surgeon’s inexperience, the blade jam was an unforeseen equipment failure, which is known to occur in a certain number of cases. My surgeon should have stopped and never performed LASIK on me that day. Instead, I was never told of the malfunction and did not know about it until over a year after my surgery.

Keller has uploaded various photos to her web site that show what her vision’s like now.

Of course, there are plenty of happy eye surgery patients for whom the treatment means a permanent bye-bye to spectacles or contact lenses. But there are plenty of unhappy patients, too. Keller writes:

Happy LASIK patients are ecstatic, noted Dr. Arthur Epstein in the January 2002 issue of Review of Optometry. “But unsuccessful patients exist in a permanently altered waking nightmare from which there is presently no escape,” he wrote. Epstein warned that LASIK is still experimental surgery, and in hindsight could ultimately prove to be a physician-induced health crisis. Despite voices of warning from Epstein and others, the money machine trudges onward.

I think I’ll stick with my specs.

[As ever, there’s an interesting discussion on the subject over at MetaFilter, which is where I found the Surgical Eyes link. The discussion includes posts from people who’ve had various forms of eye surgery and who are delighted with the results.]

* The rather mild epithet is a corruption of “may god blind me”.

How to deal with telemarketers

This is beautiful.

Salesman: Good evening, can I speak to the person who looks after your telephone bills please? I’d like to tell you how we can save you money on what you’re paying now.

Malarkey: I’m sorry, we haven’t got any telephones.

Salesman: What do you mean you’ve got no phones, I’m calling you now aren’t I?

Malarkey: Yes I know, clever isn’t it? We use tin-cans joined together with string. It’s not perfect but we pay nothing for our calls. (Makes string twanging noise) (Twang!)

More here… [via MetaFilter]

[five minutes later]

I’m in pain after reading How to deal with kitchen salesmen from the same blog.

Reinventing the wheel

Michelin’s Tweel – the future of transport? Quite possibly…

In the future, Tweel may reinvent the way that vehicles move. Checking tyre pressure, fixing flats, highway blow-outs and balancing between traction and comfort could all fade into memory.

[Via BoingBoing]

Eels, Eels, Eels, Eels

Eels are gearing up for the release of their new album, and there’s a new biography on the site. As ever, it includes some gems:

Of course, we’re talking about an artist who, when asked to give a quote for the dust jacket to Kurt Cobain’s posthumously published diaries submitted this quote: “Please don’t do this to me after I kill myself.” (The publishers opted not to use the quote.)

Expect constant fanboy slavering from me until the album finally gets released in April :-)

Britain’s most expensive cash machine

And you thought a transaction fee of £1.75 was bad; The Sunday Times has found one machine charging a ridiculous £10 for the privilege of accessing your own money. The article’s worth reading: apparently the cost of transactions is around 31p, so even a £1.75 charge is taking the piss.

The article also demonstrates the scale of the problem:

Tintagel in Cornwall, for example, used to have branches of Lloyds, Barclays, NatWest and a van containing a mobile HSBC cashpoint, which made regular visits. NatWest and Barclays have closed, Lloyds is open just four hours a week and has no cash machine, and the HSBC mobile unit paid its last visit on Friday. All five machines available in Tintagel and the villages of Boscastle and Delabole charge fees.

“I refuse on principle to pay £1.50 to withdraw my own money,” said Myrna Lester, an artist who lives in Boscastle and says she faces a 34-mile round trip to Wadebridge to use a free machine.

Not only remote areas are suffering. In Speke, a poor suburb of south Liverpool, the last bank branch closed in 1998. There are no free cash machines but seven charging ones in and around the shopping parade.

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Has-beens!

Mark at BoingBoing is rapidly becoming my favourite blogger. Fresh from the earlier triumph of shocked curtain-twitchers, he now brings us this little beauty:

Supper with the Stars is a UK-based company that lets you book former celebrities to come to your house and have a little chat… The only other celeb I recognize is Limahl, lead singer from Kajagoogoo (“Too shy”). “Limahl will talk extensively about his experiences in the music industry and perform many of hit hits in a karaoke style. He will also take part in after dinner party games.”

The list of available stars is brilliant: Syd Little, Keith Harris (it’s not clear whether Orville is part of the deal or needs to be negotiated separately), Schnorbitz (he’d eat you!) and even Brotherhood of Man. Best of all, the site tells you which celebrity (their term, not mine) “suffers from a deadly nut allergy” or can’t stand the thought of eating meat.

The terms and conditions state: “Any endeavour to coax a guest into performing when they do not wish to do so will be considered a breach of contract and the guest may leave immediately with full payment.” And my mental image is complete: a pissed-off Limahl in my front room, trying to escape, while I shout “Sing, fat boy! Sing!” and pelt him with raw meat. Money can’t buy that sort of thing – but now, it can!