The Hugo Awards – and the two-edged sword of technology

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Picture of the Hugo winners on stage at Chicon 7

Hugo Winners at Chicon 7!

Congratulations to all the 2012 Hugo Award winners!  You can find a complete list of the winners at the Hugo Awards website –

The venue at Chicon 7 was completely packed, with people standing all along the sides and rear of the ballroom for the entire two & a quarter hour ceremony.  Those of us in the room enjoyed a (mostly) entertaining and glitch-free evening.  Unfortunately, this was not true for people watching the live video stream of the event – including those folks watching at Dragoncon.   The very technology that allowed for worldwide streaming of the ceremony went wrong part-way through.  During Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, Ustream cut off the web feed for “copyright violations”.  This was apparently caused by ‘bots noticing the video clips of the Best Dramatic Presentation nominees.  Though these clips pretty clearly fit a fair use description, the Ustream channel was terminated and not reestablished.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of copyright and intellectual property when an organization trying to recognize media programs for excellence is shut down by overzealous technology claiming to “protect” copyright owners.

Several times at this convention I have been involved in discussions addressing the issue of technology outstripping our ability as a society to manage it.  In the midst of the greatest Information Age humanity has ever known, information is in danger of actually becoming more constrained – simply for the sake of commerce.  Despite the technological “democratization” of information, small numbers of powerful gatekeepers continue to dictate what we see and how we see it (don’t even get me started on HDCP).

I’m sure the Hugo streaming shutdown scenario can be avoided in the future by choosing a different (and probably more expensive) streaming provider.  And I doubt that anyone suffered life-threatening injury because he or she was unable to watch the Hugo awards ceremony live.  But this serves as one more example of how we raise barriers of cost and/or extra negotiation to engage in perfectly legal dissemination of information.

Saying “no” is easy.  Letting powerful gatekeepers dictate terms to society is easy.  Ceding control of policing the internet to draconian “zero tolerance” ‘bots is easy.  I hope that someday society will recognize that easy is not always the right way to go.  Surely there must be a few SF stories lurking somewhere in this mess?



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