Thursday, May 31, 2012

Every song ever recorded on a thumbdrive

Just a little thought experiment, today.

According to a totally random page on the internet, there have been 623 million songs ever recorded.

I suspect this is somewhat high, but let's just run with it.

A typical song mp3 file is 5 megabytes in size.  5 x 623 million = 3115 million megabytes.  That's then call it 3.115 million gigabytes, or 3115 terabytes.

That's a lot of data.  But already, single terabyte drives are cheap at Wal-Mart, and if you've been awake for the last ten years you know that a 3115 terabyte thumb drive is something that will happen within our lifetimes...and probably not too far away.  I give it ten years.

So in ten years, you could have a USB type thumb drive with all recorded music ever made on it.

I'm pretty sure this being legal would necessitate the expansion of fair use to cover all non-commercial use.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another moral quandry with YouTube and torrents

So one argument goes along these lines: "if I already own an album on CD, I have the right to torrent it because I have a right to the music."

Now this is an interesting argument because it assumes that when you purchase a CD what you are purchasing is a license to listen to the music.  As opposed to purchasing a plastic disk with music engraved upon it.

The license argument, however, is the purview of the music industry, with their DRM and licenses for music via the various "legal" music services, such as iTunes.

So tonight I wanted to listen to "Somebody That I used to know" by Gotye.  It's a very catchy tone poem.

So I pulls up the YouTubes and do the search I linked to above and found one and started playing it--but first I switched my receiver to "AV4" instead of "AV1" so that it would play the feed from my computer.

I'm jamming out and the sound cuts out for a second.  Crap.  I remember now that I've got some kind of issue with my sound box and the SPDIF connection to my receiver...whatever I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say I'm on vacation and have no desire even to be thinking about summoning the wherewithal to actually attempt the fix right now.  And besides, I'm pretty sure I'd need a new cable.

So I torrented it and listened to it on my WDTV box (switching "AV4" back to "AV1").  Took about a minute.

So, it sure looks to me like I have some right of access, since it's out there on the internet.  Or is there a moral issue with where and how the bytes are streamed from?  Even if they are exact same bytes (which they weren't in this case, I'm just suggesting).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If everyone is a criminal....

According to a biased industry trade group, half of all PC users have pirated software.  I think this number is either way too high, or way too low, but if it's true, then do we really want to criminalize half the people in the world?

I daresay the rate is much, much higher in the third world, where the idea of spending $100+ on some computer code is preposterous.  Interestingly, in my experience, to this point, pirated Windows software is what people use in these places--as opposed to free and legal alternatives like Ubuntu Linux (what I use on my PC).  I suspect it has something to do with Linux really just getting truly user friendly in the last few years.  It's certainly "ready" now, though.

It does bring up an interesting question about fair use though.  My own position is that the usage is non-commercial, it should be considered fair use and therefore legal.  But some software packages make this potentially tricky.  For example, how about software that helps you make greeting cards?

There is not conceivably way it would ever be used commercially (let's just say), so how is that supposed to work?  Well, the short answer is "not my problem".  But the longer answer I think is to look at the new rage for "apps", which are simply programs for smartphones.

Apps are changing the way we think about the value of software in some positive ways.  Personally, I have yet to find any app that made me want to spend even one or two dollars on it.  If it's not free, I don't mess with it.  I am prepared to endure little advertisements and such in the free apps.

And yet they continue to exist.

But lots of people are obviously buying lots of inexpensive apps, and frankly for most of them I think this is a settling of the prices into a much more appropriate level.  Greeting card apps used to be 30-50 bucks, which I always thought was nuts, but whatever.  With this notion of "apps" comes the idea of an application as a "small thing".  Which I think is a step in the right direction.

Don't get me wrong--I know exactly how hard it is to make a good app, but that's not the point.  It's crazy to spend real money on something that just does one thing, and does it well.  That is the unix philosophy, and that comes with tons of good, free software.

So my answer?  Pirate away, but if it only costs a buck, man, don't be such a douche, just pay for it.

Or tolerate the ads.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Your computer is your information machine

Sometimes I'm finding that even I am questioning the validity of certain subjects I've talked about here, vis-a-vis the ostensible topic of this blog--the expansion of fair use in copyright to cover all non-commercial use.  I talk a lot about Digital Restrictions Management software, for example.

Well, DRM is a thing which restricts fair use, and is therefore antithetical to my philosophy.

Point being, this blog is about a philosophy, ultimately, and the topic is merely a very sharp entrée into those philosophical and practical notions which, I think, are the real point of this exercise.

I like to talk a lot about how important it is that the internet should be free.  I try not to assume that this is important and good, but also to justify the idea with examples of how the opposite will be bad.

So today I want to talk about another way of looking at your computer.  It is not just a very fancy calculator.  It is an information machine.  In fact, it is your information machine.

The notion of possession is important.  A computer is your information machine not because you own it or possess it physically, but because it is you who controls it.

For example, if you purchase an iPhone (or most Android phones too) you possess an iPhone, but you do not control it.  Apple controls it, and your phone company controls it.  Your information machine is controlled by others.

That's why lots of people root, or "jailbreak" it.  Usually this is done because the owner of the machine wants to do something with it that the stock configuration doesn't allow you to know...controlling you.

Funny thing is, people blithely accept this, when they would totally freak out if their home PC came this way.  Interesting, isn't it?  I think it's just because people don't yet think of their smartphones as computers, but that is fortunately changing rapidly.

But consider this--what do you do with your computer and smartphone?  What is the only thing you do?

You obtain and trade information.

So the next time some website wants you to install their "app" in order to listen or view or read their content, know what you are doing--handing over control of your information machine to another.  When you buy a smartphone, know that by default and without your knowledge it may be gathering lots of information about you.  Who owns who?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What a decent solution means

When I say that the only "decent" solution to the current copyright mess on the internet is the expansion of fair use to cover all non-commercial copying, I mean "decent" in the sense of "conforming to standards of propriety, good taste, or morality <decent behavior>", or "conforming to the recognized standard of propriety, good taste, modesty, etc., as in behavior or speech."  This is as opposed to "suitable; appropriate: She did not have a decent coat for the cold winter" .

So that's what I meant, but in fact I think the "suitable; appropriate" definition is almost as good for my purpose.  As a technician, a part of my personal philosophy on this is that these changes are necessary in order to keep the internet--the ultimate free speech tool--functioning correctly.  Censorship is a malfunction of the internet, and keeps it from working correctly.

The only decent coat for the cold winters of our future is a fully functioning internet.  The greatest communication device ever devised by man will route around damage, in some ways--note how hard it is to actually censor something from the internet.  It's one thing to take down a site, hack it's DNS name, put in firewall blocks--but everyone knows that people can still get the information that is being hidden if they really want to, because it is so easy to copy.

The thing is, it is humiliating to have to go to surreptitious lengths to get censored information.  Imagine you are a Chinese business person in a teleconference with your peers in the U.S.  One of your American friends says, "check out this link so we can talk about it", but it is blocked by the Great Firewall of China.

How would this make you feel?

We cannot be trusted with this information.

It is incredibly undignified, at best.  And certainly not decent.

Any mass censorship regime, for whatever reason, must be destroyed for the future health, happiness, and dignity of our people.  And if there were some theoretical "good reason" to do this, protecting entertainments would not be it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Is skipping commercials copyright infringement?

Fox and other media companies have sued Dish network over their new commercial skipping technology.

How is that relevant to this blog?  Because it is what you are doing in your own home with the media.  It's none of their damned business.

What's next, will they sue you for getting up to get a can of beer during the commercial break?  And that's why this is relevant to this blog.

It's not anyone's responsibility to make sure that any media company can make a living.  If they can't figure out how to make a living in the real world, they should just fold up the business.

(I don't think there's any chance whatsoever of that happening, but it is my ultimate stand--no one is owed anything in this life, and definitely not this country).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our current copyright laws are already censoring the internet like mad

We already have the terrible Digital Millenium Copyright Act which to a large extent allows copyright owners to demand that sites remove data which is unacceptable to a copyright holder.  An interesting article apeared today tells us about how Google is attempting to be transparent about this issue and has stats about who is doing the most requesting--at least to Google.  Turns out it's Microsoft, a software company.

I've talked before about the issue of copyrights and software, and frankly I find it fairly interesting that this should be the case.  One interesting quote from Google--

"These days it’s not unusual for us to receive more than 250,000 requests each week, which is more than what copyright owners asked us to remove in all of 2009"

So the self-serving censorship is accelerating.   I don't think that this is good.

But one thing I think it plain--we don't need more laws allowing copyright holders to censor the internet.  We're already censoring it plenty right now.

I did rather enjoy the observation of one slashdot poster--this link which shows all the domains that Google has been asked to censor via the DMCA.  So if you're wondering where you can go to get pirated media and software--there's a nice directory for you.

The internet is a wonderful thing, and it's obvious it can withstand these assaults.  But what will we lose in the meantime, while we allow it to continue?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let's debunk

The entity which will shortly be monitoring your internet use for acceptable behavior is  If they decide that you are sharing data they claim the rights to, they will get your internet service provider to send you a nasty letter.  And after some number of nasty letters, you may lose your service.

Mind you, ultimately this means they don't like what you're "saying" on the internet, because you're repeating what they said.

That's what copying is, and copying is a fundamental part of human nature--monkey see monkey do.  It's how we learn, and it is generally a good thing.

In any case, let's just do a little unemotional (sociopathic?) analysis on some of their claims.  From their front page (copied without permission):

"Content Theft Costs America:
More than 373,000 Jobs
Some $16 Billion in Lost Wages
$2.6 Billion in Lost Taxes"

Never mind that there's no way they can back this up, but let's stipulate it as true and look at the upside:

$16 billion is not spent on entertainment, but people saved their money and fed their own families instead.
$2.6 billion less for the government to spend on pointless wars.
373,000 jobs?  That must be why there are no movies or TV shows to watch any more.

Glad we could sort that out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hopefully our ISP's are dragging their feet

The much ballyhooe'd U.S. system for ISP's to lose all their customers in support of the MPAA has been slowed down a bit in implementation, for hand waving reasons.  I like to think that the likes of Comcast and Time Warner have only been pretending to play along with the "content industry" and their attempts to control the internet.

They must and will be stopped, but I'm hopeful these businesses, to whom we pay money for our internet access, realize which side their bread is buttered on.  Of course, this is confused by things like the Comcast/NBC merger, but we can stay optimistic (it doesn't cost anything to be optimistic).

In any case, it is this "copyright information center" which will be deciding whether or not what you are doing online is acceptable.  If they don't like what is coming from your IP address, they will get your ISP to voluntarily (somehow) send you warning letters.  And after six of these, your ISP may take vague actions to annoy you, including stopping your service (and billing  you).

God knows why they've even talked to these people.  When a business has problems taking money in, that's what I call the Panda Mating Complex.  PMC is so named because of the famous difficulty in getting Panda's to mate in captivity.

This is not exactly a survival characteristic.

So here's to hoping our Internet Service Providers can manager to remember who pays their bills, and in the process do the right thing by ignoring the ravings of these copyright lunatics.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Apple censors the word "jailbreak"

Apple was censoring the word "jailbreak" from their app store.  This is amusing on a few different levels.

First, they're censoring a common word in their app store.  They're already known to exercise strict control over many aspects of apps which can be sold there, but this is a different kettle of fish.

"Jailbreaking" is the common parlance for breaking another party's control over a device which you have bought and paid for.  It's as if, your device, it is in the jail.  And you are breaking it out.

There is a very common notion among contemporary American corporations that they should extend their control over the things which they sell to you.  Apple is famous for this.  The most positive way it is described is as a "walled garden", where Apple controls what you can do, and in return they theoretically protect you from the dangers of the internet.  In my opinion, the notion is not completely without merit, but really the better solution is simply to design your product so that it is much harder to compromise it.

Obviously it is a big problem with computers today that they get compromised/hacked/pwned, whatever you want to call it.  Nobody wants their computer/phone/other device hacked.  Windows machines get hacked all the time, because Microsoft really, truly, does not understand security.  There is a canard that this  happens because Windows machines are so common, but then again so are Android phones now (and iPhones and Macs) and they don't get hacked so easily.  And those of us who do understand security understand that it's really about design--security has to be built in from the beginning--it cannot, ever, be slapped on at the end of development.

Point being, I'm skeptical that the walled garden is necessary.  I really think it's more to do with the 30% Apple gets from all app sales--that is, it's about control.

In any case, there's no good reason for Apple to censor the word "jailbreak" from their app store, and really the reason I bring it up is just to show that censorship is censorship--no matter the rationale.  It is someone else trying to distort your reality for their own ends.  How can you even know about a thing which may be important to you, if you never see the information?

In the end, censorship is a direct threat to you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

30 mp3's are worth $675,000

Unfortunately the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from an internet user who was accused of sharing 30 mp3's.  Turns out he was sharing songs by "Green Day, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and others", and obviously these struggling bands were financially devastated by his file sharing.

So we're living in a world where this is somehow sane, and will not harm freedom of thought on the internet.  Basically, it's "you better hope your computer doesn't get compromised and used to share music, or this could happen to you".  Which in the end for a lot of folks is "better just to stay off the internet".

It's a "chilling effect", in other words.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Charting my badness with e-Dune

"Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free.  But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."

--Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

How serendipitous, I thought, as I started re-reading Dune the other day.  I've been documenting the saga of checking out the e-book Dune from my local library.  And by the way, wow, it's a really good book.  I was right that I didn't appreciate Herbert's writing sufficiently when I was a kid.  Dude could write.

So I've got this DRM'd e-book on my Kindle and I'm reading it and everything is fine. I'd been contemplating whether or not to strip the DRM out of it using Caliber, which is a terrific tool that does all kinds of cool things, including that (with a third party plugin).  The main reason I was considering it was that I am simply too lazy to re-check out the book if I haven't finished in in two weeks.  That would involve re-downloading a new file, losing my bookmarks, along with just being an asinine exercise.  I don't even really want to keep it around for ever--I can always download it again if I want to, but how often do you want to re-read a book like Dune?  It's been at least twenty-five years since I read it the first time, after all.

As I was contemplating that, it occurred to me that perhaps I could make a chart of my evilness.  Since I'm stripping out the DRM, I'm violating the un-American Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to remove a lock even when you have the key for it.  That's how DRM works, you know--they have to give you the key to the lock so you can see/play the media.  They are just depending on your being to dumb to understand it.  And the DMCA makes it a crime to understand.

So at what point am I an evil pirate?  I checked the e-book out of the library on X date, and it's due 14 days after (it will delete itself from the Kindle--and what could be more American than deleting unlicensed books?).  Am I evil even if I delete it myself before 14 days is up?  Or am I evil for "mis-using" the file?

As I was contemplating this in the back of my mind, I ran across a very practical problem--the glossary.  If you've read Dune, you know that Herbert has envisioned a very detailed distant future, complete with its own terminology, and he uses it quite freely.  The book is chock full of opaque lines like:

"The planet sheltered people who lived at the desert edge without caid or bashar to command them: will-o'-the-sand people called Fremen, marked down on no census of the Imperial Regate."

So you want to make good use of the glossary in the back of the book.  Problem is, it is very awkward and slow to do this on the Kindle--just getting to the glossary takes several seconds, and then "thumbing" through it is limited by the e-ink's slow draw time.  Also there's no way to just search through the glossary.  (Note to self--see if you can convert the glossary into a Kindle compatible dictionary--that would be awesome).  So it's one of those areas where the current Kindle falls down a little compared to paper books.  It really destroys the flow of reading.

So I decided I wanted to print the glossary.  I don't think I'm evil for wanting to do this.  I promise not to print a million copies and sell them on the street corner.

Of course, Amazon provides no way of printing from the Kindle, because that would be copyright infringement and therefore evil.  This is true even with the Kindle app for the PC, so you know it's not an oversight.

So I used Caliber to convert it to PDF, and printed the glossary.  Yaaay!

This is a small thing, I know.  But I hope you can see how this "anti-copying technology" is, straight up, other people trying to control you.  You may even agree that they have the right to do this, and agree with their motivation, but I do hope you don't cozen yourself into believing that it's not a method of control.

Is it really so hard to think of a way it could be much, much worse?  If we allow corporations to build out proprietary infrastructure that we come to depend on, what else could we be denied?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to Pirate Movies and TV shows

Today I'm going to teach you the easiest ways to pirate movies and TV shows.  Ultimately this is a followup to my post the other day about the evil Oatmeal comic where, it must be said, it is the devil which shows our hero how to pirate Game of Thrones.

Here's what you do:  go download Couch Potato and/or Sick Beard, and tell them what you want.


I think the ultimate comment is made by the image on Couch Potato's homepage (and by the way, you gotta admit, their domain name is très chic).  For posterity, I'll copy it here:

It actually took a while for this to sink in for me, but then I can be a little dense sometimes.  You see the arrow?  It's pointing at the couch.  As in, the imperative, you sit down here.  Just sit down.  You don't even have to do anything.  Just sit on the couch.

Sit.  On the couch.  Tell me what you want, and I'll go get it.

Personally, I just use the standard Bittorrent client (or Deluge on Linux) and go to the Pirate Bay, or one of the  hundred other torrent sites.  TVTorrents is nice if you're after TV shows, but requires registration (a "private" torrent site).  I'm kinda picky and I'll spend time choosing exactly which pirated version I want.  But from what I understand, these apps do a pretty darn good job.

You can even tell it what you'll be wanting in the future, and it will patiently wait for it, and download it for you when it arrives.

I have friends with almost petabytes of downloaded data, erm, movies and TV shows.  I really don't understand why they do that, but on the other hand I  kinda do.  It's a hoarders mentality, to be sure.  I always say to them, "you know you can download this stuff whenever you want.  Why maintain an industrial strength SAN storage network in order to accumulate all these bytes?  But I guess in the end it's just the lure of the thought of having all this vast quantity of entertainment or art at one's fingertips, that is the lure.

You do realize that you can download far, far more than you could possibly ever watch?

Free. Gratis.  And with only the most astronomical chance of legal trouble.   Even then, first time you'll probably just get a warning from your ISP--at which time you can take simple measures to avoid being caught again.  The internet routes around damage.

It's kinda like speeding, and approximately as evil.  The kind of evil that means survival and success, mind you.  Sometimes you just have to stand up on the side of sanity to keep the herd healthy.

Sometimes that means hurting some people's feelings.

Yes.  It's a little mean.  But I think you know from experience that sometimes even perfectly nice people can get us all killed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cinavia: interesting and profoundly trashy DRM

Today I was reading Slashdot and learned for the first time of Cinavia.  I have to admit--it's a really technically interesting form of DRM, and they have finally rendered Blu-ray discs completely worthless with this stunning innovation.

What they basically do is encode information about the media into the soundtrack.  The interesting thing about it is that it is encoded as actual sound--it's just done in such a way that, theoretically, a human cannot perceive it.

So for example, when the soundtrack is played in a movie theater, it has a Cinavia "watermark" in it that indicates that "this is the version for movie theaters".  Or, the Blu-ray version will have this subtle watermark indicating "this is the version for Blu-ray discs".

To work, of course, the DRM has to be embedded in every part of the tool chain--including players.  All new Blu-ray players (and updated PlayStation 3's, for example), have the Cinavia software in them.

So, for example, if someone brings a camera into a movie theater and records a movie, it won't play on a Cinavia "enabled" player because it will detect it as the "movie theater version".

Or, if a user legitimately rip's a Blu-ray disc that they own for backup purposes, the file won't play on one of these trashed out devices.

Of course, it will play just fine on a non-crippled device, such as a PC.

The tedium of even typing this is just mind numbing.  Obviously, you don't want to buy a device with Cinavia in it, if you don't want to deal with media you've legitimately purchased not working as advertised.  Trust me, they do fuck this up--a lot.  For example, if you were insane enough to purchase a Microsoft Zune after buying their "Plays for Sure" content--well, it won't work on it.  And it's their own damn format.  Or of you've ever tried stringing HDMI cables together, there's a good chance that one of them won't pass muster according to one of the other ones, and the chain will fail.  And you can take it from me--Sony devices are only compatible with each other in name only, and Blu-ray is a Sony product.  They are mind numbingly incompetent these days, technically.

So this is a another good example of why piracy is a better product.  Why on earth would you want to pay for this?

But I have to admit--kinda clever, in its own suicidal sort of way.

The Oatmeal controversy

The Oatmeal is a very funny web comic.  I'll admit, it took me a while to warm to it, but I love it, now.

This particular one has caused somewhat of an uproar in the tech community.  In it, our hero can't find a way to watch Game of Thrones legally (other than subscribing to HBO, of course), and so he ends up pirating it.

The arguments fall into two predictable camps. First, pirating is wrong, because, you know, it's wrong.  The second, which I reiterate here, is, "so what"?

I don't say "so what" because I don't care about right and wrong.  I say "so what" because "what are you going to do about it".  Sitting around saying something is wrong (especially without fact-based explanation) is useless.  The poster I linked to above suggests that HBO will simply stop making Game of Thrones.  But what the Oatmeal is saying is "people are going to pirate it if you don't make it easy enough for them to get it".  This is a fact, and HBO would do very well to accept that reality if they think it's hitting their bottom line.

Personally, the existence of a second season rather makes me think this is not a real problem for them.  But that would be a fact, and it would get in the way of a moral argument.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the MPAA is the enemy of the people

The hardest argument in favor of piracy is surely the movies.  There is probably little question that it can cost movie makers money.  I don't think there can be any serious doubt that it in no way resembles the ridiculous claims of the industry, but I'm willing to concede a greater than zero number, personally.

I don't think that is any kind of excuse, however, ultimately, as the freedom of the internet is much more important than any particular group of people making money.  I am also completely confident that the movie industry will find ways to cope, as every other industry has done.

Hell, I went and saw the Avengers this weekend (and no, I didn't sneak into the movie theater).  I wanted to get the big screen experience, and also I'd heard that it actually had decent writing, which made it more worth the money in my eyes.   I really don't understand why Hollywood spends $150 million on a feature, but skimps on the writing so much (John Carter).  But whatever.

The point is that it takes a lot to get me to give them money these days.  I always feel a little guilty about it, because I know that they are using my money to try to censor the internet.  And that's one of the interesting things about any moral position right now--it is inherently good to pirate movies, because you're not helping to fund the destruction of the human race's intellectual potential.

I hate giving them my money, because I hate them.  They are the classic mindless evil--they have no conception of the true nature of what it is they want to wreak, and how it would ultimately even be used against them, if they were to succeed.

Can anyone think that an industrial censorship regime won't effect absolutely everybody?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why do we create shit?

When you put DRM onto your book, your song, your movie, by definition you are saying, "I don't want you to read/listen/see what I've done."

Who you're saying that to is the person who would have gotten an "illegal copy" because the DRM wasn't in there (or the poor fool who paid for it and it no longer works).

In other words, it is an inherent limiter of access, as opposed to an enabler.

I don't think anyone would really argue against that, except in that DRM might "enable" more "content" to be made.

Which is the stupidest fucking argument in the world.

We create because we burn to create.

I write because I have something to say.  I sing because I feel good.  I make a video game because I want to share with you what is within my head, because I, at least, think it's really cool.  If I make money from it, Hallelujah, but even that would only be a symbol of validation from the players of my game.

A producer may finance a movie to make money.  But the people who make it--if they are any good--do it because they have an innate, intrinsic desire to do it well.  Sure, they want to make money, but it is not the money motive that makes them good.

Art that is made solely for profit motive always sucks.  People can tell.  If there's no love in there, it can only ever be a house decoration, never art.  Witness every song Britney Spears has ever "made".

American Idol is a crass manipulation, but the singers who sing on there  have much bigger dreams.

People who make, make,  Creators create.  The any idea that any God Damned Fool can make art because of the lure of the almighty dollar is the idea of someone who has never created anything, or tried.

For if you've tried and failed, then you know better.  And all who try, fail-- generally more than they succeed.  It's the nature of the beast, and part of the pain that must be endured by anyone who is serious about doing this kind of stuff.  So to say it requires dollars to get people to create is stupid in the extreme.

There no place in any art for DRM--it just makes it harder to share it.  And sharing it is the best thing that can possibly be done with it.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So I got e-Dune from my library...

I got an email saying that the Dune e-book was "checked back in" and ready for me to "check out".

My local public library uses a service called Overdrive, which apparently a number of other library systems use.

One thing I noticed that was interesting was that Overdrive prompted me for my library card number.

But they did not prompt me for the password.

Now, I'm a computer geek, and I tend to observe who is asking me for information.  I noticed that it was Overdrive, not Houston Public Library, prompting me for my library card number.  I was wondering if they would also prompt me for the password, such as it is.  If they did, that would tell me an awful lot about how they are connected with my local library system.

As it happens, there is no password, per se, but a user name and library card number.  Libraries, you see, are not designed to be Fort Knox.  In fact, they are designed to maximize the ease of spread of information (with the exception of e-books, where they participate in locking down information).

But just the same, all you need is a valid library card number and you get get an e-book from Overdrive.

What is this madness, you ask?  How can they loan me an e-book without fully authenticating my identity?

I asked the same question, which was immediately followed by my next thought which is the obvious answer:

It doesn't fucking matter.

Think about it.  Let's say we get together and hack out someone's libary card number and "illegitimately" "borrow" an e-book from Overdrive.

What are the consequences?  None.

It's not like Overdrive doesn't have the book while you have it checked out.  It's not like they'll lose their copy.

Hell, in this case they didn't even "loan" it to me--I was redirected to Amazon, who generated a DRM "protected" copy of the e-book that expires in two weeks.

It just goes to show that even Overdrive and the Houston Public Library, and even Amazon, understand in their hearts how inane it is to create a vast artificial construct to force the concept of "loan" onto a digital file.  It also goes to show that libraries have no business participating in such nonsense, since it makes no sense--and libraries should be a bastion of sense, not stupidity.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Secret negotiations to regulate the Internet

So I get an email in my Inbox from the EFF titled:

Secret negotiations to regulate the Internet

And so I read it and it's talking about intellectual property in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The thing about it, is they are exactly right. This is par for the course for America in the 21st. century.  When you get an email about secret negotiations to regulate the internet--it is literally about secret negotiations to regulate the internet.

The people are not up in arms because they barely understand the issues.  At party's I've made myself mildly unpopular by declaiming on the evils of the copyright lobby, when they are most worried about feeding their families.

Fair point.  Except it's going to be much harder to feed your family in a police state, which is what an internet censorship regime is, by definition.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

So what is an API, anyway? And why is Google so evil for copying one?

(Woops, I missed a day.  I was travelling over the weekend to see Mom and I guess I lost track.

I'll die before it happens again.)

In the news lately, Oracle has been suing Google for copying "its" Java API's in Android.  For 99.9% of people, this raises the question, "what the hell is an API?"  That's a good question, and I'm going to show you, because you can't really think about something if you don't know what it is.

API stands for Application Programming Interface.  Here is the first paragraph from that Wikipedia page, which won't mean anything to you:

An application programming interface (API) is a specification intended to be used as an interface by software components to communicate with each other. An API may include specifications for routines, data structures, object classes, and variables. An API specification can take many forms, including an International Standard such as POSIX or vendor documentation such as the Microsoft Windows API, or the libraries of a programming language, e.g. Standard Template Library in C++ or Java API.

Now, I'm going to show you what that really means, and hopefully that will give you some vague idea of what the above is all about.

Have you heard of "RSS" or "Atom feeds"?  It stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is a kind of API.  This blog (along with all Blogger blogs) has an "RSS feed", which is simply another version of this website delivered API.

If you want to look at it for this blog, just go to:

You may note the "rss" as the end of the URL.  This is Google's way of saying "give me the RSS version of this blog (Google owns Blogger, the service I use to host this blog).

If you go to that page, it will be rendered in various different ways, depending on your browser.  Unless you are using Chrome, it will look like a greatly simplified version of this blog.

View the source of the page.  If you did it yesterday, you will see something that looks like this:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?><rss xmlns:atom='' xmlns:openSearch='' xmlns:georss='' xmlns:gd='' xmlns:thr='' version='2.0'><channel><atom:id>,1999:blog-4061227211666562229</atom:id><lastBuildDate>Fri, 11 May 2012 03:13:37 +0000</lastBuildDate><title>Expand Fair Use</title><description>The only decent solution to the current copyright mess on the internet is the dramatic expansion of fair use rights to include all non-commercial use.</description>

etc. etc. etc.  Here, let me format this in a friendly way for you, and get rid of some of the cruft:

<title>Expand Fair Use</title>

<description>The only decent solution to the current copyright mess on the internet is the dramatic expansion of fair use rights to include all non-commercial use.</description>


<managingEditor> (Lee Latham)</managingEditor>


<title>Pirate the Avengers</title>

<description>Torrentfreak has an interesting analysis of the effect of movie piracy on the new Avengers movie. Their conclusion, unsurprisingly, is...

Can you dig it?  Trust me, if you view the source on this page, you'll find some dramatically more complicated stuff.  This is a simplified version done to an existing standard called RSS.  What you see there is a kind of API.  It is a very simple, well defined way of delivering information, so that programmers can easily "read" or "parse" the information in meaningful way.

Everything is carefully tagged--for example the <managingEditor> tag is followed by some information (my name and email (kinda..that's not a real address, obviously)) followed by the closing tag with the "/" in it: </managingEditor>.

These are XML tags, which are a superset of HTML tags, if you are familiar with those.

So, for example, if I want to write a program that reads blogs and prints them out, I could have code like:

print "This blog was generated by $platform";

where I just have to look at what is between the <generator> tags before hand and $platform will be populated with that information.

If that blows your mind, please think about it for a while and you will suddenly understand the essence of programming.

So the standard says, "If you want to know what program generated the blog, just look in the <generator> tag.  If you want to know the title, check the <title> tags.  You will find the description in the <description> tag.  A document describing the API might look like this:

<title>title of the blog here</title>

<description>generalized description</description>

<link>direct URL to the blog</link>

<managingEditor>email address and name of the blog editor</managingEditor>

<generator>software that generated the blog</generator>

<title>title of the particular article here</title>

<description>generalized description of the post...

Complicated?  Not really.

The whole entire 100% point of an API is to be easy to use!  The programmer (or standards group) should go out of its way to use meaningful tag names, and do other logical things in the design to make it as easy as possible to use.

You see, programming is hard, so it's important to make everything as simple as possible.  It really is the Thing To Do.

So you don't ever make an API rule that says, "If you want to know who wrote the blog, check the <zSSDTE232SSSS--332k322> tag."

You don' that.


If you think about it, you'll realize that ultimately, an API is a vastly simpler thing that a human usable user interface.

Much, much simpler.

What I've shown you, of course, is a fairly simple API.  Really, "complex" in an API usually just means "large", and one fairly large API is the Java API, which is a bit more complex than an RSS feed--but the same principles apply.

Java was a product made open source by Sun Microsystems an amazingly long time ago, now.  Oracle bought Sun, and now they've started suing people.  To Ellison's credit, he didn't go after the small fry who can't afford lawyers, like most of the punk ass bitches out there like Apple and Microsoft and the MPAA and RIAA.

You know, now that I think about it, in the end, I think my biggest problem in general is with punk ass bitches.

Anyway.  As I sit here and write about it for the first time, I wonder if the Larry's Ellison and Page didn't just decide to do a test case and get the damn thing settled once and for all.

Just so you understand the significance, a version of Java is one of the key components of the Android phone operating system for smartphones.

Take you're time, I'm in no hurry.

Anyway, even though Java was an open source project, Oracle is claiming both its copyrights and patents were infringed.  The copyright claim has proven spurious at best, but the patent side of life is still to come.

However, if Microsoft (and Borland, first) can clone Lotus-1-2-3's user interface legally, I can't imaging why Google can't clone Java's API's, especially when it was open sourced in the first place.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Article 1, Section 8

And in the first chapter, eighth verse of the U.S. Constitution, it sayeth:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Much is made among those enraged about the current state of Intellectual Property (that's an excellent essay, btw) in the United States about the difference between copyright and patents.  And indeed, that's true, but they both have their birth in this sentence.

In both cases, the problem is clear--they are being in many ways profoundly abused.  The important part is the purpose of the rule--"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts".

I put it to you, the reader: is suing people over what they've downloaded or uploaded to the internet promoting the progress of Art?  How about censoring websites that share Art with wild abandon with the whole world?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pirate the Avengers

Torrentfreak has an interesting analysis of the effect of movie piracy on the new Avengers movie.  Their conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that it has minimal effect.

In case you want to be skeptical, it is still worth noting that the movie is raking in  hundreds of millions of dollars its opening weekend.

None of this is here nor there when discussing the ethics or morality of piracy, of course.  Well, maybe the ethics.  After all, I'm constantly hearing people bemoaning the imminent death of the movie industry because of piracy.  But it is still doing very well.  All I mean to say is that if it is unethical to pirate because it hurts the producers, shouldn't we be seeing a real world effect?  And I don't mean the nonsensical drivel that the MPAA utters about it, losing billions and all.  The  historical trend I linked to above should show that that is impossible.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The United Kingdom forgets itself

The world's first modern democracy, the United Kingdom, has started ordering Internet Service Providers (ISP's) to block The Pirate Bay.  The way to read this is "the UK's internet censorship regime has begun".

Mind you, the good old U.S.A's censorship regime began last year.

There are a number of disturbing and queasily amusing angles to this.

First, one of the great Western powers is acting like a third world country in censoring the internet, whatever the "reason".  I mean, it's not even about kiddie porn, but protecting media cartels.  Really?

Secondly, of course, is how trivially it can be bypassed.  Among many other methods:  The UK Pirate Party has set up a proxy (note the URL).

Also, sometimes websites cache other websites, such as the famous Wayback Machine.  Choose a date in the Pirate Bay's history and pull up a full archive--with working search and torrents.

Or, you can just check Google's cache.  Yes, Google is a censorship evading service.  And a HUUUUGE copyright infringement service.  Just search for "torrent" in your search terms, for example.

And this is as it should be.

What is not as it should be is that citizens of Western democracies have to resort to the exact same tactics as Chinese citizens, when they have to bypass their regime's censorship.

It's unforgivable.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

You have just infringed my copyright by reading this.

By looking at this page, your web browser has made a copy of my copyrighted content.  It most likely has a copy on your hard drive in your Documents directory.
How do you expect me to eat and feed my family when you keep pirating my screeds?  I should be paid for this work, by you, every time you look at it.  Isn't that fair?

It's pirates like you who are destroying the internet.

Or, is copying somehow inherent to how the internet operates?  I'm not being asinine, am I?

Am I?

Monday, May 7, 2012

How bittorrent works

I guess one reason I wanted to write this blog was to give some folks the chance to step inside my universe for a minute.  This especially applies to anyone who is not someone who has a deep and abiding interest in technology, is technically inclined, and loves computers.  The non-geeks, if you will.  Also, geeks who have come up in this world and, I think, lack the perspective of a slightly older generation on the technology that is shaping our new world.

In other words, young geeks who's minds have been poisoned growing to maturity listening to self-serving corporate media propaganda.  But I'm not a radical blogger, so I won't say that.

Today I want to talk about torrents. In order to talk about torrents in the way I want to do, it is essential that you understand what they are.  Surprisingly, I have been unable to find a really tidy explanation on the internet (for example the incomprehensible diagram on the Wikipedia page I linked to), so I'm going to do it myself.

Bittorrent is a method for sharing files over the internet.  It has some pretty amazing strengths and weaknesses.  First, let's understand what a "file" is.  A file is a string of bytes, or "letters".  The letters represent information, such as text, audio, movies, ebooks, etc.  As such, you can accurately think of a file as a sequence of "chunks" of data, each of which is unique:

Sorry for the rough quality--it's surprisingly hard to find good drawing tools.  After after all, I'm not getting paid for this sh*t.

For traditional file transfers, such as when you download something from the web (indeed, when you look at a web page), you have a "server" with multiple "clients which all download the entire file directly from the "server":
Bytes streaming in order from a traditional server to its clients.

This has the advantage, for example, of quick response time--assuming the server has adequate bandwidth and internal resources to answer all requests.  This also means that the server is vulnerable when overloaded with requests, for example.  It also does require server providers to purchase hardware resources to handle lots of load, if that is what they want/need to do.

Unfortunately, this is necessary for things that require responsiveness, such as web sites, video game servers, media center pc's, file servers...anything you're likely to call a "server".

However, some things do not require instantaneous response.  They also, for example, do not require that you send and receive the bytes in the correct order.  The only thing that matters is that you have a way of accounting for all the bytes or letters, so that in the end, you have 100% of them and they are in the correct order at that time.

With bittorrent, the server doesn't actually store the files themselves, but merely mathematical representations of each of their pieces, and who is in possession which pieces.  Thus the bittorrent server is called a "tracker", because it keeps track of things.
Remember, the files themsevles are never on the bittorrent tracker.  It only contains information about the files:

Here you can see what I mean.  The tracker just keeps a database of who has which pieces of the file in question.  So what happens is that you request from the tracker, "what ip address has the sections of the file that I need?"

And once you have that information, you can request that chunk of the file from me, and I will send it to you directly--completely bypassing the server's bandwidth altogether:

You can see a few core truths, here.  First, all the file trading is done between the clients.  The server itself cannot infringe anybody's copyright--it is merely enabling others (probably) to do so.  However, in the U.S.A. we made "enabling" copyright infringement a crime, sorta.

The second is that these are private transactions between strangers.

It also uses bandwidth very efficiently.

But there are some other effects, which will make sense if you think about it.  First, if you want to download something, somebody else has got to be sharing it.  This means that the more people have it, the faster and easier it is to get.  Or, the more popular something is, the easier it is to download it.

So the latest episode of Game of Thrones is the easiest thing in the world to lay your hands on.

But an obscure reggae band from the 70's can be difficult to impossible to find (even leading to the horrible consequence of actually buying mp3's off Amazon!)

The interesting thing to me about this is that it sets classical economics on its head.  Usually, the more demand for something there is, the higher the price.  In the case of data via bittorrent, the opposite is true.

In other words, data is the opposite of real stuff in the economic sense, and therefore trying to treat it as stuff is misguided, at best.

Another issue is that if you want to shut bittorrent down, you have to go after the trackers.  But all the trackers do is talk to people.  True, all they talk about is where certain pieces of various files can be found.  But some folks don't like what it is they have to say.

Because basically all a tracker does is link to information.  And thus, when you start blocking access to a torrent site, what you are really blocking access to is a site that links to information you don't want people to have.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pondering Libraries and their Enemy Within

So I went by my public library this morning to check out a copy of Frank Herbert's Dune, which I read a long time ago and loved, and I wanted to give it another read with a (slightly) more mature perspective.  As I wandered in after my morning walk around the block I noticed for the first time that the children's section takes up almost half the volume of my local library branch.

It's interesting to me how obvious it is to all of us how desireable it is to encourage kids to read.  We'll even go to considerable effort to dress up that part of the library to make it kid friendly:

Taken from this blog which has some other interesting images of children's libraries.
And this is even true when there is absolutely no money to be made directly from this process.  We understand that there is a long term benefit to everyone when we get kids reading books.  This is true even though children's books are big business.

I'm sure you share my outrage that we just let these children waltz on in to a custom tailored environment for their convenience and read books for free, all day long if they want to.  Obviously, this can't go on.  How are we to motivate children's book writers to keep making books?  What about the author's rights?  These kids need to earn their education just like we did.   Well, not like we did, because we didn't earn jack, but let's not get bogged down with details.

Back to my story:  I purchased the book Dune many years ago, and who knows where it is by now.  Naturally I went to get a torrent of it (here it is--but don't blame me when Frank Herbert rolls over in his grave because you got it for free)  but when I downloaded it it was just a really crappy rendering of the book.  Double spaced.  Who wants to read that?  Somebody didn't convert it to mobi format for the Kindle very well.

So I decided to see if maybe my library had it as an e-book and they do--but it's checked out right now.  So I put in a "hold" on the electronic book so that I might be able to "check it out" in a few weeks, even though it is possible to make a million copies of an ebook in under a second, at no cost, and I can even get the torrent right now.

As you can see, adults are not like children--not only do we not need to go to any extra effort to support them reading, but we should stymie it as much as possible with arbitrary software solutions.  Indeed, I see a great future for humans in this scenario, when we let software control them.

What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Australian TV networks also don't like free help

Here's a kindof follow up on the story about Aereo, the company in New York that wants to record over the air TV broadcasts and send them over the internet.  It's a slightly different context, and a different continent, though.  Also a different scale of player, as Optus, an Australian mobile phone company, offered to stream over the air TV broadcasts to their customer's phones.

The court's ruling in this case is that Optus is doing the recording, not their customers.  So you can see the important moral point here--splitting hairs about the nature of data is somehow meaningful and useful.  More like one entrenched interest has staggered the legal playing field to their advantage, but whatever.

Point being--you can buy a f*cking phone with a TV tuner in it.  By offering to stream the over the air broadcasts--put out there for anyone to see capture for free--Optus is doing their level best to help the broadcasters reach their audience, and make it bigger.

The only reason broadcasters should fight this is to fight some idiotic notion that they need to "defend their prerogatives".  Which, if you've ever tried that in a bar, is a great way to get killed.

Keepin' it real.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The different situations of different media, as referenced to their desire for DRM

Science fiction publisher Tor has announced that they will be removing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) software from all their e-books this year.  This is certainly good news, and should help show the way for other publishers.

It took a long time for the music publishers to allow Apple to sell straight-up unencumbered mp3 music files in iTunes, and it's taken a while for e-book publishers to get the picture as well.  Even non-geeks develop an instant hate for this stuff the first time it keeps them doing something with their purchase that they feel like it is their legitimate right to do, such as moving the file to another device.

Interestingly, people still buy the "unprotected" mp3's and books.   I think they pay too much, but that's a different argument altogether.

The point, I think, is that people use different media differently, and each one has its own issues.

For example, music.  Music is something people listen to over and over again.  How many times do you read the same book?  See the same movie?  I've listened to and enjoyed Hotel California many more times than I've read the Lord of the Rings, or re-watched David Lynch's Dune, one of my favorite movies.

From this vantage, it's easy to see that music is the least amenable to DRM, since I'm extremely likely to want to move a song file to a different device, probably multiple times.  It's probably the media that is least "threatened" by mass copying, for the same reason--it's re-use factor is much higher, and therefore demand for any particular song is higher.

But really the only thing you own there, when you purchase an mp3, I think, is some notion that you own it.  How much should you pay for a notion?

But that notion is undermined when the file is encoded with some iTunes specific code that only let's it work on iTunes and iPods and whatever.  So the customers eventually rebelled and, as I like to think, Steve got his way in the end.  Yes I actually think Steve probably was not a fan of DRM, but just went along with it because it was necessary at the time.  I wonder if I'm wrong.

Anyway.  Books are also something that you may want to move around a lot, at least while you're reading it.  But really, purchasing an e-book is effectively exactly the same as "checking it out from the library", in that the exact same sequence of events occurs: you download it, you read it, you never look at it again.  So where is the sense in purchasing an e-book, in 99% of the cases?  And how about that other 1%, either--what do you "get" by "owning" it?  What is the significance of this particular sequence of bytes existing, in order, on your hard drive?

Just fyi, I'd cheerfully pay, say, a dollar to get a "legitimate" copy of a book I want to read.  Just knowing is hasn't been altered somehow is worth something to me.  But since I will delete it from my Kindle when I am done reading it, I'm hardly going to pay very much for a string of bits.

See, from a computer geek's perspective, an unused string of bytes in memory might as well be an empty string of bytes.  It doesn't matter what value the bytes are set to--if they are ignored, they can have any value they like, it just doesn't matter.  It's a concept known as "buffering".  There is no sense in actually deleting data that isn't being used, as you'll simply overwrite it with the new data as soon as that space is needed.  Actually changing the bytes to zeroes in memory doesn't accomplish anything, so you just leave the old data there until you need the space.  It's called "being efficient with computer resources".

So you see, the presence or absence of data in a computer memory (RAM, hard drive, flash, etc.) has no actual significance whatsoever.  Does that blow your mind?  It blows mine, and I think about this sort of thing a lot.

Once you get used to the ephemeral nature of information, maybe you can understand why it has baffled me for a long time why anybody purchases "electronic media".  I call it a "long string of bytes".  What is it you get for your money?

I'll admit I'm running on intuition, here, and one reason I started this blog was so I would be forced to think things out more explicitly.  I welcome anyone's well intentioned comments, especially if you disagree.

Anyway.  From my perspective, music isn't that hard to make, nor books hard to write.  I really think rather more is made out of these activities--making music or books--than is truly warranted.

Look, I wrote a science fiction novel when I was 19.  It was trash.  But it was a novel-length trash.  And I enjoyed the shit out of writing it.  Every night I sat down with a 40-ounce malt liquor and some dip to write a little more of it--because I wanted to find out what happened next.

The only person who ever read it in its entirety--as far as I know for sure--was my college roommate Brent.  Brent read it, and he said it was the most exciting thing he'd ever read, and it was sheer garbage.  He also said all the characters were me.

I can't argue with that, on any front.  Point being, as much as my book sucked, it was better than a lot of the other trash out there (perhaps not much), and it no more deserves 150 years of harassing innocent users on the internet than does the empty solo cup before me.

Now, to be fair, the movies are a different story, and in some ways the ultimate test of the idea that all non-commercial copying of data should be protected under fair use (and therefore as free speech).  Making even a crappy movie requires many, many man-hours of labor.  It's not just one person mooning in front of his computer for six months or a few years, it's not a band, you're talking hundreds of people and millions of dollars.

Ultimately, it's just a matter of scale.  I think we can all agree that the fundamental morality of copying a book, a song, or a movie, must needs be exactly the same.  If it's theft, it does not matter how much we are stealing.

But I think the logic in favor of copying of music and books "must needs" also be the same for movies.

Nothing I have said in this post has invoked the Final Argument, which is this: "Yes, if Hollywood burns to the ground because of lack of money, if every publisher and author and musician goes bankrupt and no art of any sort was made by anyone, I still consider that it would be better to allow free copying for personal reasons of any and all copyrighted material, in order that the greatest communications tool every made by man should remain forever free."

Yes, really.  It's more important that we can speak.  We can't have people disconnecting each other from the internet for such a small reason as saving Hollywood.

(But do you really think that would happen?)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Definitely not ok

I spend a lot of time here talking about what is conventionally thought of as not ok, is actually ok, from my point of view.  It really is the central theme, in many ways.  But today I just wanted to point something out that is not ok, along with why I think so.

Down under, the New South Wales police department apparently went crazy making copies of a proprietary piece of software they use called "COPS (Computerised Operational Police System) " (hardee har har that's cleever).   But apparently this is an important and useful piece of software that the NSW police licensed years ago, and apparently "forgot" that it was a limited license, and spread it all over the department.

Now, I've worked for a software company (in fact, all my professional work has been in software companies).  I know a thing or two about the subject of licensing and licenses and the practical issues that arise.  For example, I had one customer call me on a weekend because a license of our company's software wasn't working on his laptop at home.  Believe it or not, he wanted to use our sophisticated graphics software to make a birthday banner for his kid.

What did I do?  Did I explain to him that it wasn't working because he wasn't connected to his corporate LAN, and thus could not reach the license server for that app?  I did.  And then I generated him a temporary local key so he could make the banner for his kid's birthday party.

Now I won't claim that it was 100% the goodness of my heart at play, here.  In fact, it was very much Ayn Rand-ian self-interest, along with a knowledge of what that really means.  First, there was no way I was going to spoil a personal relationship with a customer over some licensing quibble.  That is just business suicide.

But also I knew that it cost our company literally nothing.  First, there is no chance whatsoever that this individual is going to purchase a multi thousand dollar license for our software just to print his kid a birthday banner.  Obviously, this was not the purpose we sold it for (it was for creating big, high resolution presentations of scientific data for the oil and gas industry).  It's just as a byproduct of it's functionality, it just so happened to be a super easy way of making a big birthday banner.  I knew this, too, as I'd used it at work many times for just such personal purposes.

But the core point is that there was no sale to lose, and indeed only customer goodwill to be lost, and a little to be gained by being difficult to work with.

And this just happens to fit in with my larger theme of non-commercial copyright infringement being okay (haHA! bet you didn't see that coming).

That is exactly what our customer was doing, and it was, indeed, okay.

Now this nonsense down under is a bit different story.  The police use of the software was definitely in a commercial capacity (as opposed to individual/consumer capacity), and probably violated an explicit contract.

From experience I can also tell you that software vendors do sometimes engage in shady practices (not my company, but I've seen it done to be sure) including turning a blind eye to extra copies and installations floating around a customer's company, only to come charging in and threaten a lawsuit when the app is extremely broadly entrenched and main production is dependent on it.  I'm not saying that's what happened here, I'm just saying I'm not crying my eyes out for the poor software company.  There are ways to prevent this sort of thing, and they didn't use them.  I'm not even talking about DRM type technologies (which are only slightly more natural on software than on media), but simply asking the customer to do an audit on a regular basis, which is a very common and civil way of keeping these things under control and avoiding nasty surprises.

But anyway--definitely not okay to abuse software licenses in a commercial environment.  But just fine when it's personal.

Please, pirate my game.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If you don't behave we'll kick you off the internet

Speaking of Communism, I incompetently failed to post this yesterday, May 1.  But I kinda like the theme so I'm sticking to it!

Hmm May 1, May Day, what suitably Communistic topic could I come up with for today?  Oh, that's right, the whole reason for the existence of this blog!

But actually no, that's not right, because I do not advocate that commercial usage of creative works should be encompassed within fair use.  Or, maybe it would under Communism, I don't know.  I am not a Communist, though, and I don't think expanding fair use to cover all non-commercial usage is a Communist idea.  In fact, I have actually read and liked Ayn Rand, but I don't think she was 100% correct in all things.  I mean, this chick would have every road be a privately owned toll road.  No, thank you.

It's hard to say how Rand would have viewed the current copyright kerfuffle on the internet.  I know she would have supported free speech very strongly.  But I think she would have been flummoxed on the property rights aspect of it, eventually.  No doubt she would take a dim view of infringement at first, as many of our elders do, since that's what they grew up knowing.  But lots of people defended segregation for the same reason--Because It's The Right Thing To Do.  Which is wasn't.  What you have thought in the past is not in any way a defense for a wrong opinion now, though.

Which is not to say I would not love someone to prove me wrong.  The more Quality Assurance we can do on this idea, the better.

Speaking of Communists, in Europe there are a number of laws in the books, especially in France, where you can have your internet connection severed if you share too many files that are on the "unapproved" list (copyrighted by a conglomerate).

So it seems to me as I write this that my biggest challenge is to make the case that the current copyright regime is a dire threat to free speech on the internet.  I think this is a good example.

Someone accuses your IP address (they have no way of knowing you yourself are on your computer, of course) shared files that they claim body and soul ownership of.  You cannot share those bits!  Disconnect them, Mr. ISP!

And they do, with the force of law.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here in the U.S., the copyright industry has chosen a new extra-legal way of trying to enforce their will by enlisting Internet Service Providers (ISP's) on their behalf.  So far it's all very vague.  The ISP's have agreed to send warning letters, and threaten unspecified damages against the people who pay their bills (us, the customers).  ISP's participating include "AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon".  So just avoid those and you're fine.

Good luck with that, right?  We desperately need more competition in the broadband industry.

Anyway, those are the ISP's who care more for jerks who don't even pay them than their paying customers.  Something to think about.

This is also a simple example of why Comcast should never have been allowed to purchase NBC, a content provider.  The conflict of interest between internet access provider and content provider is obvious.

Information is data.  Media is data.  All data must be equal on the internet, or it (and we) will not be free.  Actions to restrict use of copyrighted material restrict all data indiscriminately, by their very nature (after all, they don't know what person at the IP address did the pirating).

And that is not a good thing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Pirate Bay promotes bands

If you look on the Pirate Bay's front page anytime soon you will see a musical band featured on the front page.  Odds are, it won't be one you've ever heard of.

Apparently, the satanic devils that run the Pirate Bay (TPB) have hoodwinked several hundred indie bands into promoting themselves on the torrent site, including putting their own music up there.  What kind of madness must infect these foolish bands into career suicide?

That last link is to an anonymous user on Slashdot I was debating with about this point.  Note he/she starts with "Not paying someone the amount they ask to be compensated for their work sounds silly to me."  To which my only response should have been, "so, you get paid what you ask for the work you do?"  Welcome to the real world.

The fact that so many indie bands are absolutely thrilled to promote themselves on the most famous torrent site in the world should, perhaps, tell you something.  Heck, I even regularly point out how I uploaded my own video game onto TPB, and beg you to pirate it.  Beg you.

You have to either think we all have a huge deathwish, or perhaps the intrinsic value of media is not contained solely within the idea of purchasing access to it.

Access is very cheap, with the advent of the 21st century.  It is, effectively, free.  Nothing is ever going to change this new reality.  It's here, it's the internet, get used to it.

But there are plenty of ways to make it work for you.  Fighting it is a battle you cannot hope to win.

The only people who are hurt by piracy are the people who are already the big winners.  Yes, Britney Spears may not make quite as much money on her next album due to piracy--but that is OK.  She'll still make 100% more than her art is worth.  Why are you so worried about her?  I'm pretty sure more money won't solve the problems she has.

Thus, the movements to control the internet with arbitrary censorship over copyright concerns is simply the will of those with money and power seeking to cement their position, and prevent upward mobility.

We can get by with them making a little less money.