Saturday, June 30, 2012

Barry Manilow plagiarized classical music

Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic" is based on Chopin's Prelude in C minor, Op.28, No.20.  But nobody accuses Manilow of plagiarism.

How old does a song have to be before it's "ok" to "rip it off"?  George Harrison got sued for "My Sweet Lord" because of its similarity to "He's So Fine"--probably because they were produced within a few decades of each other.  But if you listen to those songs, do you really think they are the same song?  What nonsense, what drivel--sharing a bar or two is something that composers do.

Could it be...and I hesitate to suggest this revolutionary concept...but could it be that the law of copyright has absolutely nothing to do with art, and its worthiness?  Could it be actually a massive distraction from the creation of human culture?

But how can we make art without lawyers?  

God knows when I sit down to write this blog, my first thought is always that I should consult a lawyer before uttering truths (at least as I see it).

But of course, since I'm not getting paid for this work, there is no way it can possibly exist.

In fact, all the blogs on the internet do not exist, obviously, since they are not created under any kind of contract, have no distribution contracts in place, and anybody can just go download them at any time!

Friday, June 29, 2012

You must do jumping jacks while reading this.

And another thing.  This whole notion that "artists should have control over how their work is used".  Preposterous.

Let me ask you this.  You buy a book.  A real live paper book.  You bring it home, and you happen to look over the copyright page (I often do this to see when something was first published, for example).  And you see a note:

"This book may not be resold."

What do you think of that?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Good Old Kim Dotcom

This story represents a strange new twist--the RIAA managed to get the FBI to get the country of New Zealand to raid the house and servers of Kim Dotcom, owner of the ultra popular Megaupload site---and they are failing in court dramatically.  That doesn't often happen.

Never mind how happy I am that the FB freaking I is going to such lengths to protect me from copyright infringement.  Trust me, I have no beef with federal law enforcement in general.  It's just appalling that the politics of the situation are such that they are even involved.

Megaupload was a unique file sharing site in that many major hip hop artists called it home.  Interestingly, they were about to launch a new service to promote artists without the assistance of the RIAA record labels just before they got raided.  What an amazing coincidence.

It is also a huge example of copyright infringing material being uploaded by users, but making money for the site.  More and more I'm thinking this is something that must be tolerated, one way or another.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why does free copying work for Linux and not for music and movies and books?

You are probably not a Linux user.  I am.  Up until quite recently I was a fervent user of the Ubuntu flavor (or "distribution") of Linux.  If you go to the linked page, you'll find that you can get an entire computer operating system, for free, and use it as much as you like.

How can this be, you ask?  What is the catch?

Well the catch is--there is no catch.  It really is free.  They even give you the source code so you can compile it yourself, and thus you can (at least in theory) change anything you don't like about it exactly the way you wish.

Doesn't that make you feel free?

Ubuntu itself is made from many disparate components which are also free software.  They just kind of bundle them all together in a certain, nice, user friendly way.  It is very convenient.

As a geek, this sort of thing is important to me because I quite frequently find myself needing to set up new machines, and installing operating systems.  I don't want to have to jack with license keys and such, or have to call someone for permission to install the basic computer operating system.  Also, I want a fully functional system out of the box--which neither Windows nor Mac provides.  Linux distributions come with tons and tons of free, open source software right off the bat.  They even generally have "package managers" and "software repositories" built in, which make it easy to install more free software with a couple of mouse clicks.  (These are much like "app stores", except everything is free).

I will not bore you with details about this time.

What I will bore you with is my recent experience changing my desktop operating system to Mint Linux.  Sorry, that's Linux Mint, as they seem determined to call it.  Just as Ubuntu is derivative of other software, Linux Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu.

Basically, I upgraded my Ubuntu system and Ubuntu has changed the basic interface in a way that, frankly, no longer functions correctly (or as designed).  I am a serious computer user, so I haven't got time for these shenanigans. So after getting frustrated I switched to Linux Mint, and now everything works fine.

I noticed when I was installing Linux Mint that even the installation screens were quite obviously copied from the base Ubuntu.  They just copied it and changed it to suit them.  And they left out the changes that I (and many others) didn't like.

And this is how it's supposed to work.

You will not be reading any news articles about how Ubuntu is suing Linux Mint for copyright infringement.  Hell, if they tried it the Linux community would probably literally gather outside their corporate headquarters with torches and pitchforks.  But they wouldn't try it because the software is licensed in such a way as to actually encourage sharing.  It is, in fact, legally enforceable.

See, "licensing" of software is actually a fairly recent innovation.  The natural and original state of software was more or less public domain.  Felllow technicians shared their code because it was useful and, frankly, felt good.  But once companies like Microsoft showed just how much money could be made by selling licenses, that became the dominant mode of software distribution.

But the geek culture of making and sharing code never went away, and in fact the new licensing culture spawned a reaction in that community called the GPL, or Gnu Public License.  There are several variants, but the long and short of it is that it actually enforces openness.  If you download some GPL licensed code, you can do what you like with it, but if you make changes and distribute them you have to include your new source code so that others can benefit.

So what this did is spawn a giant ecosystem of software--you really have no idea how extensive it is if you don't use it regularly--which has been continually refined and improved over the years.  This includes the Linux kernel (the core software of a computer system), as well as lots of software that runs on it and other platforms, such as Firefox, Chrome, OpenOffice, Android, etc.  The GPL license is "viral" in that it "infects" other software with openness.

Mind you, no one is making you use that software.  You are not bound by the terms, basically, unless you alter and distribute GPL software, which you got for free in the first place.

So why can't this work for movies and music and books?  Fucked if I know.  I don't see any reason it shouldn't.

Would it require a massive change in thinking?  Yes, of course--that's why I'm here, trying to encourage that.

The point is, the existence of these many highly polished, professional level computer operating systems and the vast attendant library of software accompanying them--puts paid to any notion that you have to have a money and distribution cartel involved to create worthwhile works.

It's just nonsense.  Lies.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guilty until proven innocent in the UK..for 20 quid

The UK has adopted an actual governmental three strikes policy for copyright infringement, resulting in losing your internet access.

The UN has declared internet access a human right.

But the really funny thing is that it will cost you 20 pounds to try to prove your innocence, or you will lose that human right.

The UK might as well go back to having kings and queens!  Oh wait...

But let's run over how this works:

1. A media company accuses your IP address of pirating their stuff.

2. If somebody at your IP address does it three times, you lose your internet access.

So you've put in place a censorship regime where one private individual can kick another off the internet with no due process--in return for protecting entertainments.

If fair use was expanded to include all non-commercial copying, there would be no reason for this censorship regime.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I didn't really want to talk about patents...

There is some confusion, in general, between patents and copyright, and it's understandable as both systems are being sorely abused.  This blog is all about expanding fair use to all non-commercial use, which is very much a copyright issue, not patents, but there are some things in common.

Both are legal fictions created, originally, to benefit society, and both are being used as cudgels in the form of things like ACTA.

This report has gotten some press, purporting to show, essentially, that innovation increases with the level of a country's intellectual properly laws--as measured by patents, of course.  That this is somewhat circular logic is irrelevant--I bring this up to show an example of the kind of self serving propaganda that large companies are making rather a habit of generating through their shills.

In this case, if you actually research the group making the claims, you can see who is paying their bills, and there should not be much mystery as to their motivation.

A lot of companies have invested a lot of money in crappy imaginary property, and they don't want to see their investments go down the drain.  Unfortunately, that has to happen for the good of all of us--including every individual person who works for each of these companies.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Are they even trying to do the right thing?

There's been lots of press about this, but I think it deserves as much exposure as possible.  Basically a congressional staffer talks about the failed SOPA bill, and is very annoyed that the public protested when they often don't understand the bill any better than they do.

And yes, they really said that.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What does it mean to put something on the web?

One theme I find myself drawn to here is the fact of making something available to the world for free, for example, over the air broadcasts (which I've talked about before), and putting things on the web.

It really seems to me that if you, personally, put something on the internet, there is a certain expectation that this is now public information, public data, and a certain amount of leeway should be expected to be given on its use.

Today's example is Padmapper, an apartment locating website that had a feature linking map locations to Craigslist ads for apartments.  If you've ever tried to look for an apartment via Craigslist, you know it's quite painful, as the listings are just in one long list.  Padmapper simply allowed you to browse by map location, and linked to the Craigslist ad.  They did this in a friendly way, in my opinion, by making it clear that it is an ad on Craigslist and even showed the whole page.

So it's not like they were just scraping the Craigslist ads and pretending they were Padmapper ads, or something.  In internet terms, I believe their actions were wholly ethical.

Apparently Craigslist actually licenses the ability to do this to certain app makers for phones and such.  Honestly, I wonder where they get off.  License?  As in the content is owned by Craigslist?  Like they made it or something?

I realize that the terms of use of many websites (Facebook for example) make any user submitted content the property of the website.  And this, by the way, is wholly unethical to my mind.

But even so, it's not like Craigslist actually made the ads.

And they're just ads.

So.  Craigslist is not famous for douchebag behavior, so I hope they change their minds about this.  In the context of making content as free as possible, as this blog advocates, this is not helpful.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The number of musical notes in the world

So much is made of the the magical value of music, the value of the musicians who create it, and why it should be a locked down property forever.  I believe I made at least a reasonable argument in my very first post for this generally being nonsense.  You may disagree and that's fine, but I'd like to offer some additional reasoning beyond "most music sucks".

I was wondering how many melodies are even possible.   Google brought me to this interesting page, which makes the reasonable argument that there are close to an infinite number of musical melodies possible.  Mind you, that includes the melody of smashing your arm across a piano's keys.

A much more entertaining and useful way of looking at it is this hysterical rant about Pachelbel, or this even better demonstration that the same four chords make up the bulk of all popular music.  Not to demean musicians, but there is literally nothing that has not been done before--you're always sampling something.  I'm reminded of the suit against George Harrison claiming that his "My Sweet Lord" plagiarized "He's So Fine".

Good the interests of saying something useful I went and re-listened to the Chiffon's "He's So Fine" and "My Sweet Lord" again.  What can I say?  These are different songs with similar motifs here and there, but in any reasonable pop music sense they are clearly very different songs.  Hell, I've personally noticed similarities between many pop songs that never made it into a law suit, such as Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and Queen's "We Will Rock You".  Nobody called that out and everybody lived.

I'm personally of the view that art is something that is discovered, rather than created.  That is, it is perfectly true that a million monkeys, given enough time and typewriters, will stamp out Hamlet by pure random chance.  We don't create art any more than we created ourselves or the universe we live in.

Musicians and other artists need to stop acting like such asses.  It does not behoove them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Google tries to make YouTube less useful

So lately Google has been going after sites that allow you to "save" YouTube movies to your PC.

This is more than a bit silly, since you can always use one of many FireFox plugins to do the same job.

See, the problem is, if you can see and hear the media, you already have a copy.

This is why Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) can never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER work!

So, Google knows this, right?  I know that Google knows this.  There is no way that Google doesn't know this.  They are Google, and even though they're starting to slip a bit lately, they aren't stupid.

I mean, the shit is already being given away--why not just put a "download" button there so people can use it non-commercially?  Not having that button will not keep people from using it commercially, anyway.

It all must be part of an essential pander to the entertainment industry.  "Look, we are making an effort to satisfy you."

Personally, I believe Apple did the same thing back in the day when early iTunes music was all DRM'd up in their crappy format, which people promptly converted into actually useful mp3's.

The problem is that the media folks are just really, really dumb when it comes to technology.  You would think they wouldn't be, but quite obviously they are since they are still fighting this ridiculous battle 15+ years on.  They are very slow learners.

The only way Apple could get the music companies to sign on with iTunes was to promise them that they would put DRM on the music, "so nobody could copy it".

And of course, this didn't work, the customers complained, and eventually they started just selling the damned mp3's in the first place.

And it's worth noting that they do, today, make ass loads of money selling non-DRM'd mp3's.  Why they cannot make the connection to other media types is beyond me.

I really wish, though, that someone like Google would have the balls to stop pandering to those fools.  Let them take Google to court.  Google is way bigger than the entire entertainment industry, which is not nearly as big as people tend to think.  I mean, for once the plutocracy that is our U.S.A. court system could actually work to the advantage of all the people, permanently forcing Hollywood to work out how to live in the new world, instead of this long, slow, painful dipping into the cold water.

But no...Google would rather censor websites.

Not good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What does it mean to "own" a song? or a movie?

Reading this article on CNN reminded me of one of the big imponderables of this whole business.  What does it mean to "own" a song or a movie or a book?  Apparently the kids today are not so interested in owning, but simply streaming from various services.

When movies come out on DVD, you always see the commercials on tv exhorting you to "OWN IT TODAY!".  But clearly, if you buy the DVD and rip it and share it on the Pirate Bay, well, that is not okay, you are a criminal.  But I thought "ownership" meant you could do what you want with it?

So apparently there are implied contracts when you buy a DVD or a movie or a song.  Never mind that I didn't sign one.

Whatever.  What does it mean to "own" an mp3?

What does it mean to own anything?  After all, there are no laws of physics which describe ownership.  It is entirely a man-made concept.

What is it that you actually get for your money?  When I buy clothes, I can wear them.  When I buy a car, it is mine to drive.  When I purchase a home, I can live in it.  When I spend 95 cents on an mp3...I can play it whenever I want.  Just like pulling it up on  YouTube.  But only under certain circumstances.  Not in public, that's for sure.

Is it possible that digital media is a tad bit overpriced?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Glad to see this on the front page but...

I'm not the only one interested in Google's transparency report--they are, too.

Although, I'm more than a little disappointed they didn't include copyright violation takedown requests in the article.  Censorship is censorship is censorship--whatever the reason.  Whether you agree with it or not, let's call it what it is.

I do have to say that it is highly desirable that Google has chosen this transparency route.  I know they have to be under a lot of pressure from all quarters.  But I can't help wondering if it wouldn't be better for them to just tell all comers to fuck off--China, the U.S.A., MPAA, everybody.  Even from a shareholder point of view, I think protecting their reputation as honest broker may be a more important long term win for them than complying with even the most reasonable censorship demands.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good censorship and bad censorship

So everybody wants to censor YouTube.  People don't like being criticized in public.

Google gets a lot of interesting requests, it appears.  Some of the requests they agreed to comply with involved threatening videos, for example.

It may be debatable whether even those should be censored by anyone, but shouldn't censorship definitely be rare?  The more we allow censorship for stupid reasons--like violating an entertainment's copyright--the easier it is to allow it for when people's feelings are hurt, or governments are embarrassed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What is the point of copyright, anyway?

This piece in Slate I thought made a good point in observing that we now, in these days of the internet, have vastly more writing, music, and art to appreciate than ever before in the history of man.  If you are interesting in promoting the progress of the useful arts and sciences, then you are for the internet.

And you are not for mass censorship regimes which already exist America due to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act--let alone any future draconian measures Hollywood would like to implement.

To think that our elected representatives understood so well in 1996 the future of human communication that they could label their work "Digital Millenium"... a bunch of old men who barely know how to turn on a calculator...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

That which is done in secret...

News that our MPAA has been secretly lobbying the Canadian government to pass their own version of our awful Digital Millennium Copyright Act reminds me of the basic truism that if you can stand the light of the sun on your doings, you're probably up to no good.

Now that the DMCA is being exercised more fully it is becoming more clear just what an oppressive tool against free speech it really is, without the aid of an exponentially more horrible SOPA like law being enacted.

Added to the secret international negotiations for the ACTA treaty, it is incredibly depressing what these fools are going to do the the greatest communication tool ever devised (the internet), in blithe service to their foolish notions of intellectual proprietorship.

Ie. they really have no idea what the ramifications of their actions will be, but that won't kill free speech on the internet any less dead.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Now people think they can own everything

Part of the problem with the whole current copyright and patent disaster is that people are starting to think they can own anything in the abstract.  For example the schoolgirl in Scotland who started blogging about her school lunches every day.

She took a picture of her lunch every day.  She talked about it.  The school principle made her stop.  Why?

Because the principle obviously felt it was his right to do so, of course.  But why?

I think it is in large part because of the current notions of copyright, in particular, this idea that you can own an idea.  It's a stupid idea, but that's never stopped us before.

Obviously, all representations and thoughts about the school lunch belong to the school, and therefore they can do as they please with them, right?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Capital vs. Thomas

If you're not familiar with the Capital vs. Thomas case, you should be.  Basically it's where someone has been sued and had a judgment against them for  $222,000 for sharing 24 mp3's.

Apparently, her Internet Service Provider, Charter Communications, regularly bends over and gives out their subscriber information without a legal fight to anyone with a subpoena.  I guess they hate their customers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What if a user uploads something to an advertising supported site?

So I was reading the Oatmeal the other day, and ran across this nice blog post.

In it, our hero describes how some random internet site has been "stealing" his comics without credit on their for-profit website.  To be precise, he says they were "stolen, re-hosted, and monetized", which you know is something I'm definitely not in favor of (although I might take issue with the "stolen" characterization).

To add insult to injury, the loser is actually demanding money from our hero, the actual (and often brilliant) creator of the comics, for "defamation" for claiming that the rogue site still has his comics online.

The site operator's defense is that they did not steal the comics, but they were uploaded by users.

Which brings up an interesting question.  How does this fit into my ethos?

It is very much like the Megaupload situation.  Megaupload has been attacked by the U.S. Justice department for the content that its users uploaded.

This is particularly ironic in the case of Megaupload, because it appears to have been a destination site for many Hip Hop and R&B artists whose music was regularly "pirated" there.

Now this says nothing about the obvious asinine drivel which is the request for $20,000 from Matthew Inman, the creator of the Oatmeal.  He's shown quite a bit of restraint, even now, I say.

But what of user submitted content as a matter of principle?  I've talked before about the practical impossibility of creating an automated "content filtering system".  Should not a person be able to create website and allow users to upload content?

Since it's impossible to filter all that content, should a person be allowed to monetize the site, by my fair use lights, even if users are uploading copyrighted content to it?

To be honest, for once I do not have a ready answer.  I suppose it might be practical to say, ok, you can put ads only on pages where you control the content that is there.  For example, the main pages of the site.  But forums or other areas where users can post things must be kept clear?  One could make a case that the content is still being monetized, of course, but I do think you have to draw the line somewhere.

Porgy and Bess does not belong to anyone

The refactored version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess is winning exciting Tony awards or whatever, but the thing that strikes me is that it is the estate of the author/composer who are calling all the shots.

None of these relatives probably ever even met George Gershwin, the composer of the 1935 opera.  Ira Gershwin died in 1983 if Wikipedia is to be believed.  Yet somehow these other folks--and I'm sure they're perfectly nice people--get the final say on anything that is done with the 80 year old opera.  And royalties.

Porgy and Bess should have entered the public domain a long, long time ago.  Sure, someone might make something derivative from it that the estate would not approve of.

But when does great art depend upon anyone's approval?  Especially people that had nothing to do with the original creation.

For example, some of the more dated and racist stereotypes have been removed from the show.  On the face of it, this is a good thing.  But let's say someone wanted to stage the show just as it was, perhaps that's the whole point even, to show up the nonsense of the past in a clear and uncut way so that some audiences could be made to appreciate the issue better.

The estate might never allow that.

I'm reminded of just about any remix created by Girltalk.  The remixes are waaaay better (to my ears) than almost any component 70's funk song that is incorporated in it.  But approval is not required for them to be good.

A quote from the article:

“I do think that, as composers and writers, we should leave pretty specific instructions to our estates about how we want our work to be protected..."

Leave all the instructions you like, but you are dead.  Music and art belong to the living.  You do not deserve to control your art from beyond the grave.

Hell, I don't think you have the right to control it while your alive--only the commercial use of it.  But when you're dead, it belongs to the rest of us.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What is a magnet link?

A bit of a follow up on yesterday's dissertation on the nature of hyperlinks.

First, I wanted to point out that torrent sites do not actually host any copyrighted (or otherwise) data whatsoever, but merely link to where the data can be had.  Censoring these is much like censoring bomb-making data--except even more asinine, as no one ever got blown up by a pirated movie.

A magnet link is basically a new type of torrent file that abstracts this one level further--the torrent site hosts only links to where the torrent files are located, more or less, thus creating an extra level of abstraction.  They are directions to directions, would be one way to think of them.

So the question is, do we censor the directions to the directions?  At what point does this game become obviously absurd to everyone?

I've given out directions on how to pirate stuff on this blog several times already--and I'll be doing it lots more, too.  Should this blog be censored?  Should Google eliminate it from its search results?

What if someone else were to merely talk about this blog?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stare more at Google's censorship information

This page (and the pages linked from it) probably bears regular attention by everybody who is interested in a free internet.  Who is asking Google to do the most censoring?  What are they censoring?  Who are they censoring?

That's it.  I don't think I can add to that.  Check it out.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What is a link?

You probably think you know what a link is.  But even if you go read the explanation in the Wikipedia article I just linked to, I would suggest that you may still not know.

A link is speach.

For example, if I tell give you directions for how to get to the closest Jack in the Box--"go east on Westheimer, then turn south on Chimney Rock and it's there on your right hand side", that is much like a link.  I'm telling you where you can find something.

Note how preposterous it sounds to suggest that the sentence I wrote telling you how to get to the thing is the same same as the thing itself.  It is not a thing, it is a reference to a thing.

An internet hyperlink is much the same way.  For example, let's say you wanted to know how to find the blog entry here that talked about the upcoming  American Internet Service Provider censorship regime:

If you break it down, I'm simply telling you, "go to the web (that's the http:// part), once there, go to, the year 2012, May, to an article titled 'Hopefully our ISP's are dragging their feet'".

They are directions, not the thing itself.

So as I explained in my explanation of bittorrent, bittorrent sites, for example, contain no copyrighted material whatsoever.  They merely link to where you can find it.

The point is, when you censor someone for linking to something, you are censoring speach, directions, thoughts, ideas.  And you're not even stopping the sharing of the copyrighted material which you think you have a right to remove from the internet.

Further, it makes Google's acceptance of hundreds of thousands of Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) requests to remove links to copyrighted content from their search engine even more baffling.   They aren't even fighting it.

I guess it's good that they are disclosing the massive censorship regime going on in America already.  We sure don't need more, new, even worse laws to make "content providers"  more powerfully destroying free speech on the internet than they already are.  As it is, acccording to the article, Google still denies about 2% of the requests, including such things as a tv studio wanting them to remove links to unfavorable television show reviews.

What,  you mean we can't trust Hollywood to censor the internet reliably?  Shocking, I know.  I know I, for one, was counting on them to save me from myself.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Canada Goes South

Another quick shot today about Canada.  Thus far they have resisted some of the lunacy that is anti-piracy legislation, and comprehend the spirit of non-commercial fair use.  But powerful forces are at work from the South to change that.

Please don't change that.

I promise some more substantive material this weekend!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Illegal web sites in America

I was talking with a good friend yesterday about Napster, and how awesome it was.  She remembered it fondly, as did I.  It had cool features like listing the other files being shared by a user who had files you wanted, which was a great way of finding new music.  After all, a user that had one file you wanted might have similar taste.  It turned me on to a number of artists I'd never head of before.

Similar things exist here and there in the P2P world but not so much with Bittorrent, the predominant method of filesharing at the moment.  She was Bittorrent naive and I was explaining to her how it worked.  Then she asked a shocking question--how are the Bittorrent sites still up, when Napster was taken down?

Indeed, how?  Simple answer--they are hosted in other countries than the U.S. of A.

So let's run through the types of content that are illegal to host and share (read "speak") in the U.S.A.:

Child pornography

Government secrets

Copyrighted material

Does that make sense to you?  I understand that there are real and proper limits to free speech, but does entertainment media really need to be censored the way kiddie porn and military secrets do?  In America?

This is also why the FBI is trying their damnedest to arrest and imprison a German national in New Zealand--as opposed to catching terrorists and kiddie porn producers.  I wonder how many FBI agents find their calling fulfilling when doing this stuff?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Australians include customers in piracy talks

Just a quick hit today--the Australian government for some reason has decided to include consumer groups in piracy talks with ISP's and media representatives.

Why would you want to include the victims of policy in the debate?  Weird, huh?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is Steam good DRM?

Closely related to the concept of fair use is the concept of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).  DRM is the stuff they put on digital media to keep you from copying it, or for that matter using it in an unauthorized way--such as fair use.

I've always felt that if DRM was "natural" anywhere it might be in the realm of software, where the media is, itself, executable code.  No need to wrap the data in an artificial wrapper of code when the thing itself is code.

Not to say that I think it's natural or a good idea, just .01% less repulsive.  Ultimately I think software and video games require the same level of freedom of use by its users.

But it is worth a case study of Steam, the online game distribution and DRM system made by Valve Software, the makers of the hit Half Life games.

The reason Steam is popular is because it actually enhances the user's experience.  You can play a game you have a license to anywhere--just log in and play.  You don't have to worry about a CD getting damaged or lost--there is no CD.  Much like Amazon's Kindle setup, it adds almost as much as it subtracts from the user experience.

Netflix is similar--you run their client and you can watch any movie they have for a low monthly fee.

I don't know whether to be disturbed or impressed by these trends.  In the case of the Kindle, users have a natural desire to read their puchased e-books on devices not manufactured by Amazon--requiring them to break the DRM on the ebooks illegally (even if it's a stupid, bad law).  

With Netflix, the relationship is only ever "rental" as opposed to "ownership" of the movies you watch--not that "owning" a movie seems to actually mean anything any more, since you cannot do with it as you please...what does it mean to "own", again?

With Steam, however, we're once again talking about "owning" a "license" to a game, but with Steam one still does have the advantages of convenience going along with the yoke of untrusted, closed source code running on your system.  This is a point of increasing contention for myself and other knowledgeable technicians as this trust is increasingly being abused.

And personally, I'm a fiend about my system resources--although I know that is unusual.  But I really hate to leave some daemon running when I'm not using it, cluttering up my process list.  Call me anal if you want, but my computer always runs really fast.

I think it's only a matter of time before Valve fucks up something bad with Steam--for example gleaning personal information from your hard drive and sending it back to home base, or some other such nonsense, and the whole house of cards will come falling down.  I mean, all they have to do to keep things going well is be perfect forever.

And that's the problem with all DRM schemes--you have to trust the person selling it to you forever.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What does "inevitable" mean?

News from down under from a spokesman for AFACT, the Australian arm of the MPAA which is almost amusing.  It seems that Australians are not content to wait 5 days for the next Game of Thrones episode to show in Australia, so they pirate it.  Some choice quotes from the article:

" According to Gane, AFACT stakeholders thought it unreasonable that pirates were unwilling to wait for the show to be aired in Australia."

"Neil Gane, managing director for the film industry group, argued that piracy was inevitable and needed to be addressed by changes in legislation."

And in case you thought that was a typo:

"The policy justification for legislative action is overwhelming."

So piracy is inevitable, and therefore we must make new laws...of some kind.  No specifics are offered.  But someone needs to do something about this inevitable thing, because we think it's "unreasonable" for our customers to get exactly what they want: Game of Thrones as soon as possible.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weird Chinese censorship

My position on the expansion of fair use to cover all non-commercial copying is premised largely on the need for a censorship-free internet as a vital tool for keeping humanity from self-destructing in the future.

So occasionally I'll be talking about new censorship initiatives (whether labeled as such or not) in order to underscore the its insidious nature, both in its effects and in how subtly it can be done--so that people don't even see it for what it is.

If this ibtimes article is true, the Chinese (second only to the U.S. of fuckin A. in internet censorship technology)(my God, how have we allowed this to happen?) ...have come up with a bizarre new way of censoring their twitter/facebook equivalents.  Basically they are assigning "points" based on how conforming to official policy your statements on the internet are.

And yes, they have armies of censors sitting at computers all day doing these ratings.

The article covers some important and interesting detail and is worth a read.  But one aspect of it startles me--if I'm a Chinese person looking for "bad" information, wouldn't it be simplest to trust users with low "government approved" ratings?

But of course, it is dangerous to associate with those people--which is precisely the intimidation the Chinese government intends.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


It's somewhat amazing that I haven't yet brought up ACTA--Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.  It is a thoroughly undemocratic international treaty in the making which seeks to codify our outdated and insane copyright laws into permanent international law.

That's the thing about international has a way of staying around for a long, long, time.  So it must be stopped.

I voted for Obama, but one of the first things he did which made me start to realize he was going to perform closer to the bottom end of the bell curve I had envisioned, was keeping negotiations on this treaty secret for "national security reasons".

This is obviously a God damned lie.

Or is copyright protection for this really that important?

Friday, June 1, 2012

So I bought an e-book

I'm on vacation this week, and thus I do not have access to the wealth of technological junk normally available in my home.

I finished reading Dune (the copy I checked out from the library and stripped the DRM out of) and I may have deleted it off my Kindle.  Or not. I forget, but I will if I see it there again.

So I decided I wanted to go ahead and re-read the second book in the series, too.  I recall the series dragging the farther along it goes (but don't let that discourage you from reading the first book, a masterpiece by any measure), but I just enjoyed it so much I figured why not.

Problem being, my particular Kindle doesn't have wifi, so to check out an e-book from the library I have to connect it via USB to my computer.  But I am on vacation and don't have access to an extra USB cable.

That's not to say I couldn't get it for free another way.  I could torrent it to my PC, ftp the file to my personal website, telnet to the Kindle--crap!  you need a USB cable to do that.

The Kindle has a simple web browser, but I wasn't sure it could download files or not...and didn't care to experiment to find out.  Because I'm on vacation, and that includes from geekery (other than this blog).

So the easiest solution, by far, was simple to enable the 3G connection on the Kindle and purchase it from Amazon for about eight bucks.

$8 for a 40 year old book, the author long dead.

But I guess that's the price I was willing to pay for convenience.

While I'm on vacation.