End of week exam


(I originally wrote this two years ago after a week of watching dreary arguments about copyright, digital rights management (DRM) and failing advertising models on the BBC Backstage mailing list. Sadly, it still seems fairly relevant. Here’s the original post in context.)

Cynical University

“Where all your ideas are derivative works of ours”

Attempt all questions.

Part A

(50 marks)


Mr A enjoys model railways so much, he wants to tell everyone about them, so he decides to publish a free newsletter for all called The Story of O-Gauge. Learning the lessons of the other free newsletters lying near telephone booths, he sets up an automated printer/dispenser in Old Compton Street, which prints and dispenses a copy of his newsletter each time its shiny red button is pressed by anyone at all.

Quickly, he discovers that his newsletter is popular, for many copies are dispensed to anyone that comes within arm’s length; but this popularity comes at a cost. So Mr A decides to defray his dispensing expenses by asking Mr B, the owner of a local trinket emporium, to pay him to give away their brochure, Astounding Trinkets!, with his newsletter. They agree, but only on the grounds that Mr B will pay one red cent for each brochure given away with a copy of Mr A’s newsletter.

Time passes, and Mr A is enraged to discover that he has been giving away many more copies of his newsletter than the Astounding Trinkets! brochure, which, in his mind, is an integral part of the whole newsletter experience, and not something the public is at liberty to ignore, throw away or clean their ears with.


1) On a scale of nowhere near long enough to way too long, how long has Mr A’s brain been cooking on the Wishful Thinking grill?

2) On a scale of not at all to exceedingly, how stitched up has Mr A been by Mr B’s transfer of business risk?

3) Using any international Laughing Policeman scale, how helpless with mirth will Police Constable C become when Mr A accuses members of the general public Messrs D through Z of stealing his newsletter that he chooses to dispense freely to all and sundry? Will Mr A’s case be strengthened if he also stamps his little foot indignantly during these accusations?

4) Mr A decides to use DRM to restore economic sanity to the surly public’s enjoyment of his total content experience, but he wants to keep them involved in the process for some reason. So he asks his newsletter’s readers which DRM model they prefer; the overwhelming answer is: “the one with the biggest tits“. List at least three dubious, yet profitable business opportunities that Mr A sadly overlooks at this point.

5) Assume that Mr A started his dispenser at midnight on Jan 1 2007, that he dispensed one hundred copies on that day, that his newsletter dispensing grows at 375% per month, and that his pent-up frustration grows exponentially with dispensing figures. At what time will Mr A die from an aneurysm if he never realizes that most potential advertising impressions generate no response, and you couldn’t make some people read them if you put a gun to their head?

6) How will the date of his demise change if, when he dispenses his 50,000th copy, he discovers that two thirds of his newsletters are being eaten by a local circus horse called Googlebot that loves the taste of toner in the morning?

Your exam continues after this important message

Is your advertising revenue plummeting because your God-given right to demand attention is being denied to you by computer freedom blighters?

Are you worried that your family will spit their last breath at thee because of rampant ad-blocking mayhem?

Are you hoping for a miracle cure that will unblock your ads?

Well, hope no more!

Just add mod_senokot to your web server, and your bits will be flowing freely again, as when the web was new!

Unblock your ads with mod_senokot today!

And now, back to the exam.

Part B

(50 marks)

On a graph with Wastefulness along the X axis and Obnoxiousness up the Y axis, plot the size and position of all the advertising-supported business models you know of.

Keep the graph within the bounds of good taste by calibrating it in mega-Saatchis, and by using the colour scheme that you think will be most attractive to avocado-eating ABC1 18-34-year-olds.

Include a statistically significant sample of their names, phone numbers and tasteful photographs so that your answer can be verified by an independent panel of lonely experts.

The remainder of the exam is sponsored by
Sony Playstation 3

Exam Raider X – the Final Challenge

(2,000 marks)

Compare and contrast the relative speed, fidelity and legal vulnerability of the following copying machines:

  • the Gestetner Automatic Cyclostyle
  • the British Parliamentary rumour mill
  • EMI Records
  • Shawn Fanning’s original Napster

Explain, in sufficient detail to prevail at appeal, how these legal vulnerabilities can be avoided by any media player that Sony might bring to market in the future.

Exam Raider XX – the Ultimate Hurdle

(20,000 marks)

Show how a rigorous, yet fair, system of intellectual property governance, applied at the outset of rampant DNA copying by multicellular organisms, would have sped up the process of biological evolution to the point where we would all be walking on sunshine by now.

Exam Raider XXX – the Desperate Gambit

(200,000 marks)

Perform a market-impact assessment of a machine that could make perfect, free, unlimited copies of itself and Angelina Jolie, paying particular attention to the international trades in lip gloss, little brown babies and grainy photographs of Jennifer Aniston.

Using any system of logic that is legally permissable, show how hacking such a machine to make copies of Steve Ballmer would lead directly to the end of the world, as well as causing a widespread loss of confidence in Blu-Ray technology.

End of the exam.

or is it?

Exam Raider Anniversary Edition
coming for Christmas 2010

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