Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at adamfields.com for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or app.net.

3/24/2008

Coming to a Rational First Sale Doctrine for Digital Works

In reference to this Gizmodo piece analyzing the rights granted by the Kindle and Sony e-reader:

http://gizmodo.com/369235/amazon-kindle-and-sony-reader-locked-up-why-your-books-are-no-longer-yours

I think the analysis in that article is flawed. It doesn’t make any sense to be able to resell the reader with the books on it, because the license for the books is assigned to you, not to the reader. For example, if your Kindle breaks, you can move your books to another one. I’ve never heard anything other than the opinion that you can’t resell the digital copy – the assumption has always been that these sorts of transactions break the first sale doctrine. The problem then becomes “what are you buying?”, if there’s nothing you can resell.

The first sale doctrine has to apply to the license, not the bits themselves, because under the scenario in which it applies to the bits, arguably Amazon retains no rights whatsoever. They had no direct hand in arranging the bits of your copy the way they are – they merely sent instructions to your computer about how to arrange them in a certain pattern. The article asserts that you can’t “transfer” the bits, but in the same way, in downloading a copy, Amazon hasn’t actually “transferred” anything to you, either.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to sell your Kindle, and the books don’t necessarily go with it, but if you want to sell the books separately, you can do that too. Legally, if you do that, you’d be obligated to destroy all of the copies you’ve made. Amazon’s inability to police that is as relevant as their inability to police the fact that you haven’t made a photocopy of the physical book you sold when you were done with it. There’s no weight to the argument that this will encourage rampant piracy, given that unencrypted cracked copies of all of these things are available to those who want them anyway, and always will be. People comply with reasonable laws willingly because they’re honest, it’s the “right thing to do”, and they feel that the laws are an acceptable tradeoff for living in a civilized society where sometimes you have to make compromises and not just do whatever you want. People do not comply with one-sided laws where they feel like they’re being ripped off for no reason. A law which turns your sale into a non-sellable license is of the latter kind. It turns normal users into petty criminals who don’t care when they break the law, because the law is stupid. Once they’ve ignored some of the terms, it’s a shorter step to ignore others, or ignore similar terms for other products. People like consistency, especially in legal treatments. I would argue that it’s in Amazon’s interest (and the others) to not niggle on this point, because a reasonable license with terms that look like a sale makes for happier customers who aren’t interested in trodding on the license terms, and that’s better for everyone.

(Yes, I’m arguing that restrictive license “sales” are anti-civilization.)

The Kindle ToS not only prohibits selling the Kindle with your books on it, it prohibits anyone else from even looking at it. If someone reads over your shoulder on the train, you’re in violation.

This is, of course, ridiculous.

The right legal response here seems to me to be to not dicker about with splitting hairs about whether you can sell your digital copies if they’re on a physical device and you can’t if they’re not, but to declare that anything sufficiently close to a “right to view, use, and display [...] an unlimited number of times” de facto consitutes a sale, and with it comes certain buyer’s rights regardless of what kinds of outrageous restrictions the licensor tries to bundle in the ToS. The fact that this also seems to be the right business response reinforces my belief that this is the correct path. This kind of a transaction is different from renting, which is by nature a temporary one.

It is the right thing for society to declare that if you’ve bought something that isn’t time or use limited, you’ve therefore also bought the right to resell it, whether it’s a physical object or a license.

Previously:

http://www.aquick.org/blog/2006/04/30/sony-cant-make-up-its-mind-if-music-is-sold-or-licensed/

http://www.aquick.org/blog/2004/12/30/cory-rants-on-drm-and-rightly-so/

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9/28/2007

The HD format war is lost by existing

[I've posted this as a comment on a few HD DVD vs. Blu-ray blog posts elsewhere, so I thought I'd put it up here as well.]

An HD format war is simply the height of stupidity, given the nice example of how quickly DVD was adopted by… everybody.

This happened for a few reasons, none of which are being replicated by the HD formats/players:

1) One alternative with no difficult competing choices.

2) Fit into existing home theater setups easily.

3) Clear, obvious quality advantages, even if you set it up incorrectly.

4) Significant convenience advantages – pause with no quality loss (anyone here remember VHS tracking?!), random access, extra features, multiple languages, etc…

5) More convenient and durable physical medium.

So – let’s look at what HD formats offer over DVD in these areas:

1) Multiple competing incompatible choices. Not just between HD DVD and Blu-ray, but also between different HD formats. 720p/1080i vs. 1080p, HDMI/HDCP vs. component. People aren’t adopting HD formats because they’re confusing.

2) Does not fit into existing home theater setups easily. If you had a DVD home theater, chances are you’re replacing most, if not all of your components to get to HD – you need a new TV/projector, you probably need some new switches, you need all new cabling, and you need at least three new players to do it right (HD DVD, Blu-ray, and an upscaling DVD player so your old DVDs look good). Not to mention a new programmable remote to control the now 7 or more components in your new setup (receiver, projector/tv, 3 players, HDMI switch, audio/component switch).

3) Clear, obvious quality advantages, but only if properly tuned and all of them work properly together. I can easily tell the difference between even HD movies and upscaled DVD movies. Upscaled DVD movies look fantastic, but HD movies really pop off the screen. But if things aren’t properly configured or you’re using the wrong cabling, these advantages disappear.

4) No significant convenience advantages, with some disadvantages. Pretty much the same extras, but most discs now won’t let you resume playback from the same place if you press stop in the middle, and they make you watch the warnings and splash screens again.

5) Indistinguishable physical medium. Maybe the Blu-ray coating helps, but we’ll see about that.

I’ve gone the HD route, because I really care about very high video quality, and I love tinkering with this stuff. Most people don’t, and find it incredibly confusing and expensive.

Is it really any wonder that people are holding off?

The HD format war is already lost, by existing at all, and every day that both formats are available for sale just makes things worse. The only good way out of it is to erase the distinction between the two formats – dual format players that reach the killer price point and aren’t filled with bugs.

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7/18/2007

Why am I writing about HD home theater frustrations?

Filed under: — adam @ 12:21 pm

The consumer electronics companies really have their collective head so far up their ass they’re wearing their tongue for a hat.

So to speak.

I made the jump to an HD projector, which I have nothing but good things to say about. It’s a Mistubishi HD1000U. At this point, it’s a few years old, but that’s how you get a 720p projector at a sub-$1000 price instead of dropping a few grand. The picture quality is amazing, the contrast is strong, and it’s bright enough for me. We’re projecting onto a plain off-white wall instead of a screen, and the color is brilliant and rich. For the most part, we watch movies at night with the lights off, and I sometimes use it during the day with a computer for web browsing and email. For these purposes, it’s just fine. I’m very sensitive to picture artifacts, particularly the rainbow effect of DLP projectors (which this is), and while they’re still sometimes present, they’re MUCH less noticeable than on any other projector I’ve looked at. Big thumbs up to Mitsubishi here – this is a winner at this price point or cheaper. Two small notes on the setup:

  1. This projector has a weird throw angle which is noted in many reviews, so positioning is limited and they claim you’ll want to ceiling mount it or put it on a table in front of your seating. I put it on top of a high bookshelf behind the seating, angled down at about an 18-degree angle by putting it on top of a Roadtools Podium CoolPad at the maximum height. This is stable, allows plenty of air circulation under the projector, and is well within the 30-degrees of maximum tilt usually recommended for projectors.
  2. The native resolution for the projector is 1280×720, which my Mac Mini couldn’t do by default. It looked terrible at all of the choices, so I dropped a whopping $18.37 on SwitchResX, which let me set a native resolution of 1280×720, and which looks fabulous.

Set aside for the moment the fact that there’s an HD disc format war to begin with, which is the height of idiocy because DVD was the most successful consumer electronics uptake ever solely because there was one single format and everyone looked at DVD compared to VHS and said “oh, yeah, well, I’ll take that”.

It was the cheapest option and I might get a PS3 at some point in the future, so I picked up a Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player to check out some HD content. I got rid of cable a while ago (but would probably go back if I could just buy Discovery HD and maybe cartoon network and scifi), and Netflix, sans tonguehat, kindly offered to send me a bunch of stuff that was already in my queue in HD-DVD instead of crappy old regular DVD.

They’ve reproduced a bunch of the usability problems in the first generation DVD player which I bought ten years ago (which, now that I think about it, may also have been a Toshiba). The machine itself is big (same form factor as my 6-disc DVD changer). The machine takes a long time to boot up. Backward compatibility is weird – regular DVDs play in a tiny portion of the screen unless you manually set the machine to 480p mode before starting. The first round of discs don’t seem to support the “resume from where I stopped when I press stop then play again” feature, so if you press stop for a minute, you have to watch the FBI warning again. Why is there even an FBI warning in the first place?! Isn’t the overly invasive “copy protection” they foisted on me supposed to prevent me from copying it, even if I wanted to? Oh wait, that’s right… it’s just there to irritate me and not prevent anyone from actually copying anything. The warning I have to stare at every time I switch discs does that.

Which brings me to inputs. I’m somewhat of an expert at setting up electronics, and I find this needlessly frustrating. The projector has HDMI and component inputs, but no output. Previously, I’d had everything wired through S-video and optical audio (TOSlink), using my receiver as a switcher. This worked pretty well. However, the receiver is older and has neither component nor HDMI in or out. I have a component switcher with TOSlink support which I’m using for all of the things that I used to use S-video for (DVD player and PS2), and the component video goes to the projector and the TOSlink goes to the receiver on a single input. But this totally breaks down with HDMI. They collapsed the audio and video streams into one cable to “simplfy things”, but that doesn’t change the fact that the two streams need to go to different devices. There seems to be no standard way to deal with this. There are HDMI switchers that will split out the audio portion to a TOSlink audio cable automatically, but they’re prohibitively expensive (hundreds of dollars). The solution seems to be to use separate switchers for HDMI and TOSlink, and program a universal remote to switch them at the same time. Hardly fun for the average person. It’s doable, but what were they thinking?!?. It makes no sense to put audio and video on the same cable unless all of the devices support that (they don’t) and you can freely move the signal around, which of course you can’t because the “copy protection” won’t let you.

On the other hand, the picture quality is quite stunning. DVD looks “really really good”. HD-DVD looks “better than film”.

A big thank you to Mitsubishi, Netflix, and the film crew on that BBC Planet Earth Documentary. The rest of you, please buy another hat.

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5/10/2007

Brilliant DMCA side effect

Crappy DRM company says the DMCA forces you to buy their technology instead of building your own because not buying their technology is a circumvention of an effective copyright tool.

The thing is, I think they’re right. I mean, it’s stupid, but then so is the DMCA.

There are some other provisions (which seem to not apply), but the crux of it is:

“No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that–

`(A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of
circumventing a technological measure that effectively
controls access to a work protected under this title;”

It explicitly does NOT say “copy the work”, it says “circumvent the technology”. “Circumvent” is not the word they were looking for.

In fact, now that I think about it, convincing someone that DRM is bad is also a violation, as that may be interpreted as offering a service that is primarily design for the purpose of circumventing technological protection. Crap.

http://www.forbes.com/business/feeds/afx/2007/05/10/afx3708595.html

(via boingboing.)

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4/2/2007

The end of DRM is nigh

The iTunes store is about to start selling the entire EMI catalog DRM-free. It’s slightly more expensive, but also higher quality.

This completely destroys the rationale behind having any DRM at all. It can’t be because they’re afraid of the higher quality recordings getting out, because those are the ones they’re releasing without DRM. All that remains is shafting the customer, which is of course all that DRM is actually good for.

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/04/02/itunes_store_will_se.html

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1/10/2007

iPhony

Cisco owns the trademark on “iPhone”. Apple was apparently in negotiations to license the term, but had not actually completed doing so prior to the product announcement. Negotations would not seem to be going well, as Cisco has filed a suit against Apple for trademark infringment:

http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2007/corp_011007.html

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9/17/2006

Amazon Unbox is a travesty

I was going to write something about this, but Cory beat me to it.

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/09/15/amazon_unbox_to_cust.html

Amazon Unbox has the worst terms of service I’ve seen in a long time. Like Cory, I’m a longtime Amazon supporter, and I think their customer service is outstanding, and this is a travesty. Way to fuck over the people who won’t actually read the terms because they just want to download a movie.

I only really have one thing to add with respect to the “if it has value then we have a right to charge money for it” proposition. Does the MPAA reserve the right to charge more retroactively if you enjoy a movie more than you expected to? That’s hidden value, right? This madness has to stop.

Mr. Bezos, you should be ashamed of yourself, and also whoever you put in charge of this.

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8/3/2006

This is a great video of the ZDNet Executive Editor explaining what’s wrong with DRM.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKI_w_VBoTQ&search=d.r.m.%20crap

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7/14/2006

Skype protocol reportedly broken

Filed under: — adam @ 3:43 pm

A Chinese company is claiming to have produced software that will seamlessly integrate with Skype.
http://www.voipwiki.com/blog/?p=16

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6/29/2006

Jim Baen died yesterday

Filed under: — adam @ 11:34 am

Not just a luminary in science fiction, but also a guiding light on free ebooks.

http://www.david-drake.com/baen.html

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4/30/2006

Sony can’t make up its mind if music is sold or licensed

Filed under: — adam @ 9:21 am

At issue is whether the music sold through these services is a “license” or a “sale.” Sony pays less to its artists for sales than for licensing (Sony artists reportedly earn $0.045 for each $0.99 song sold on iTunes). Naturally, Sony claims that the songs sold on iTunes are sales and not licensing deals.

This is where it gets interesting. As Brad Templeton and others have pointed out, Sony and others have long maintained that what you get when you buy an iTune is a license, not ownership of a product. That license prohibits you from doing all kinds of otherwise lawful things, like selling your music to a used-record store, loaning it to a friend, or playing it on someone else’s program.

But if Sony says that it’s selling products (and therefore only liable for 4.5 cents in royalties to its artists) and not licenses, then how can it bind us, its customers, to licensing terms?

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/04/28/sony_screwing_artist.html

Good question.

The distinction between sale and license is VERY important. The trend has been towards licensing instead of selling, and the difference has not been a big part of the public dialogue.

I wrote about this a while ago, with respect to DRM, consumer usage rights, and how this pattern might affect other kinds of consumer transactions if they followed the same rules:

http://www.aquick.org/blog/2004/12/30/cory-rants-on-drm-and-rightly-so/

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4/6/2006

MIT student told to drop out of school by the RIAA to pay settlement fines

http://www-tech.mit.edu/V126/N15/RIAA1506.html

Of course, this is nothing compared to the fact that the RIAA says you shouldn’t be allowed to break DRM even if it’s going to kill you if you don’t:

http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=984

I’ve discussed this before:

http://www.aquick.org/blog/2005/08/01/why-i-oppose-drm/

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3/20/2006

Hidden dangers for consumers – Trojan Technologies

I’ve been collecting examples of cases where there are hidden dangers facing consumers, cases where the information necessary to make an informed decision about a product isn’t obvious, or isn’t included in most of the dialogue about that product. Sometimes, this deals with hidden implications under the law, but sometimes it’s about non-obvious capabilities of technology.

We’re increasingly entering situations where most customers simply can’t decide whether a certain product makes sense without lots of background knowledge about copyright law, evidence law, network effects, and so on. Things are complicated.

So far, I have come up with these examples, which would seem to be unrelated, but there’s a common thread – they’re all bad for the end user in non-obvious ways. They all seem safe on the surface, and often, importantly, they seem just like other approaches that are actually better, but they’re carrying hidden payloads – call them “Trojan technologies”.

To put it clearly, what I’m talking about are the cases where there are two different approaches to a technology, where the two are functionally equivalent and indistinguishable to the end user, but with vastly different implications for the various kinds of backend users or uses. Sometimes, the differences may not be evident until much later. In many circumstances, the differences may not ever materialize. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.

  • Remote data storage. I wrote a previous post about this, and Kevin Bankston of the EFF has some great comments on it. Essentially, the problem is this. To the end user, it doesn’t matter where you store your files, and the value proposition looks like a tradeoff between having remote access to your own files or not being able to get at them easily because they’re on your desktop. But to a lawyer asking for those files, it makes a gigantic difference in whether they’re under your direct control or not. On your home computer, a search warrant would be required to obtain them, but on a remote server, only a subpoena is needed.
  • The recent debit card exploit has shed some light on the obvious vulnerabilities in that system, and it’s basically the same case. To a consumer, using a debit card looks exactly the same as using a credit card. But the legal ramifications are very different, and their use is protected by different sets of laws. Credit card liability is typically geared in favor of the consumer – if your card is subject to fraud, there’s a maximum amount you’ll end up being liable for, and your account will be credited immediately, as you simply don’t owe the money you didn’t charge yourself. Using a debit card, the money is deducted from your account immediately, and you have to wait for the investigation to be completed before you get your refund. A lot of people recently discovered this the hard way. There’s a tremendous amount of good coverage of debit card fraud on the Consumerist blog.
  • The Goodmail system, being adopted by Yahoo and AOL, is a bit more innocuous on the surface, but it ties into the same question. On the face of it, it seems like not a terrible idea – charge senders for guaranteed delivery of email. But the very idea carries with it, outside of the normal dialogue, the implications of breaking network neutrality (the concept that all traffic gets equal treatment on the public internet) that extend into a huge debate being raged in the confines of the networking community and the government, over such things as VoIP systems, Google traffic, and all kinds of other issues. I’m not sure if this really qualifies in the same league as my other examples, but I wanted to mention it here anyway. There’s a goodmail/network neutrality overview discussion going on over on Brad Templeton’s blog.
  • DRM is sort of the most obvious. Consumers can’t tell what the hidden implications of DRM are. This is partly because those limitations are subject to change, and that in itself is a big part of the problem. The litany of complaints is long – DRM systems destroy fair use, they’re security risks, they make things complicated for the user. I’ve written a lot about DRM in the past year and a half.
  • 911 service on VoIP is my last big example, and one of the first ones that got me started down this path. This previous post, dealing with the differences between multiple kinds of services called “911 service” on different networks, is actually a good introduction to this whole problem. I ask again ‘Does my grandmother really understand the distinction between a full-service 911 center and a “Public Safety Answering Point”? Should she have to, in order to get a phone where people will come when she dials 911?

I don’t have a good solution to this, beyond more education. This facet must be part of the consumer debate over new technologies and services. These differences are important. We need to start being aware, and asking the right questions. Not “what are we getting out of this new technology?“, but “what are we giving up?“.

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3/15/2006

Claim your settlement from Sony

If you bought an infected CD from Sony, you’re entitled to some benefits under the lawsuit settlement:

http://www.eff.org/sony

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3/1/2006

Conversation about CC licenses

Joe Gratz and I are having an interesting discussion about Creative Commons licenses over in the comments of his blog post about Schmap:

http://www.joegratz.net/archives/2006/02/23/schmap/

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Taking advantage of the Commons

Filed under: — adam @ 10:21 am

I received this email in my flickr inbox this morning:

“I am writing to let you know that one of your photos with a creative commons license has been short-listed for inclusion in our Schmap Rome Guide, to be published late March 2006.”

And a link where I was given an opportunity to remove my photo from the queue or approve it for use in their guide. I responded to this before I had my coffee, so I didn’t capture the text from the page as I should have before clicking no. But it had a short blurb of text with something along the lines of “oh, even though some people may disagree, this isn’t really a commercial use, because it’s free to download and the ads support keeping it free”.

I might buy that if there was any sort of community sharing going on here. I don’t see the content of the site being released under a CC license, I see a big fat “All rights reserved” at the bottom of the homepage, and the terms of use (which also, incidentally, says you’re not allowed to use ad blocking software) contains this choice little gem:

The geographic data, photographs, diagrams, maps, points of interest, plans, aerial imagery, text, information, artwork, graphics, points of interest, video, audio, listings, pictures and other content contained on the Site (collectively, the “Materials”) are protected by copyright laws. You may only access and use the Materials for personal or educational purposes and not for resell or commercial purposes by You or any third parties. You may not modify or use the Materials for any other purpose without express written consent of Schmap (”Schmap”). You may not broadcast, reproduce, republish, post, transmit or distribute any Materials on the Site.

This is a gross perversion of what Creative Commons is about. Ad-supported “free” content is commercial (unless Google is “just trying to organize the world’s information and any money collected from selling ads is just helping keep that goal alive”). Taking CC-licensed media from other sources and roadblocking the license while claiming that the use is non-commercial is possibly deceptive.

[Update: there's more discussion on this Flickr Central thread.]

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2/16/2006

New Beastles mashup album

Filed under: — adam @ 12:50 am

There’s a new Beastles mashup album, and it’s fantastic.

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/02/12/new_album_of_beatles.html

(The direct links seem to be broken, but the torrent link still works.)

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11/14/2005

EFF calls for Sony to fix what they broke

The EFF is calling for Sony to do a number of things to rectify their horrible botched DRM attempt, mostly recall the CDs, work with people to remove the software, and refund the money paid for those CDs.

http://www.eff.org/IP/DRM/Sony-BMG/?f=open-letter-2005-11-14.html

I say that’s not enough. Sony, if you REALLY want to “make it right”, do this. How about you admit you tried really hard to fuck us, got caught with your pants down and both hands in the cookie jar, and do the right thing. Make a statement. Declare that henceforth, our computers are more valuable than your music, and demonstrate that you believe it. Take as a sacrifice of your lamb against the mountain of consumer rights every one of those 20-odd CDs, and donate them to the public domain. Distribute them as unrestricted files. Open them up. Do it. You know you want to.

You may find that with a little generosity, people might want to start being your customer again.

Oh, but do all that other stuff too.


11/11/2005

What’s wrong with the Google Print argument

Does this phrase sound familiar? “You may not send automated queries of any sort to Google’s system without express permission in advance from Google.” It’s from Google’s terms of service, and it’s just one of several aspects of that document that make this leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Larry Lessig makes the point that “Google wants to index content. Never in the history of copyright law would anyone have thought that you needed permission from a publisher to index a book’s content.” But that’s not what Google wants to do. Google wants to index content and put their own for-pay ads next to it. Larry says ” It is the greatest gift to knowledge since, well, Google.”

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.11/posts.html?pg=8

Don’t forget this for a second. Google is not a public service, Google is a business. Google isn’t doing this because it’s good for the world, Google is doing this because it represents a massive expansion in the number of pages they can serve ads next to. In order to do that, the index remains the property of Google, and no one else will be able to touch it except in ways that are sanctioned by Google. It’s not really about money, it’s about control. It’s against the terms of service to make copies of Google pages in order to build an index. Why should it be okay for them to make copies of other people’s pages in order to build their own? It’s not that they’re making money that bothers us, it’s the double standard. The same double standard that says that Disney can take characters and stories from the public domain, copyright them, and then lock them up and prevent other people from using them.

Oh, but you hate that, don’t you, Larry? (And I think a lot of us do.) How is what Google is doing any different? Google is just extending the lockdown one step further, into their own pockets. There’s no share alike clause in the Google terms of service, and that is what’s wrong with it. They want privileges under the law that they’re not willing to grant to others with respect to their own content.

The day Google steps forward and says “we’re building an index, and anyone can access it anonymously in any way they please”, then sure – I’m all with you.

(Found at http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/go_larry_go.html)


11/10/2005

On sharing

Filed under: — adam @ 12:29 pm

There are two competing monetary questions in content ownership: “How can I get the maximum amount for what I’ve already done?” and “How can I get the maximum amount for what I’m going to do next?”.

The former is seemingly answered by maximum control. Tight focused marketing, sell as many copies, wring every last dollar out of existing properties by making sure that people need to buy them more than once and can’t do anything interesting with them. In my opinion, this is a strategy for shooting the latter. It makes enemies, it makes people not care what else you have, and it makes people upset.

Feeding the commons is about ongoing effort. Releasing your work to as many people as possible gets you attention for the next thing you do. It’s so simple. It’s not about selling any one thing anymore, it’s about selling your stream. My previous post, Preaching to the Esquire, is a link that contains the entire text of an article from Esquire. It’s blatantly copied. But if it hadn’t been, only existing subscribers would have read it. As it is, that article is getting forwarded around to lots of people, and it has at the bottom of it this:

Wow. Not something I expected from “Esquire.”

followed by this ringing endoresment:

Esquire is a great magazine. Read it more often: there’s tons of articles on politics, science, current events…it’s, like, Maxim for intelligent people.

Esquire probably had nothing to do with this, but in one stroke, Esquire has certainly grabbed more people for their stream. Many of them will buy an issue. Some of them will subscribe. It’s not about monetizing this article, it’s about getting people to pay attention to what you’re going to do next – the recurring and predictable revenue streams that keep ongoing operations… ongoing.

Put your best work out there, let it speak for itself, and maybe someone will already be paying attention next time you have something interesting to say. Maybe they’ll even pay for the privilege. Locking it up where only people who are already interested can find it is a recipe for obscurity and irrelevance. Yes, TimesSelect, I’m looking at you.


EFF releases list of infected Sony CDs

Filed under: — adam @ 11:33 am

EFF has put together a list of the known CDs infected with Sony’s rootkit:

http://www.eff.org/news/archives/2005_11.php#004146

Also, some pictures of what the labels look like:

http://www.eff.org/IP/DRM/Sony-BMG/


11/4/2005

Using Sony’s rootkit to defeat Blizzard’s spyware

Filed under: — adam @ 3:08 pm

Well that’s just cute. Apparently, Sony’s DRM rootkit process hider can be used to circumvent Blizzard’s cheating spyware.

http://www.securityfocus.com/brief/34

And, yet again, I feel the need to say that everything I said here still applies:

http://www.aquick.org/blog/2004/12/23/the-eff-backs-tor/


Patenting Storylines

Filed under: — adam @ 2:11 pm

“A Plot or Storyline Patent application seeks to patent the underlying
novel and nonobvious storyline of a fictional story.”

http://www.plotpatents.com/applications.htm

Here’s an article about it:

http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2005/11/emw303435.htm

And the actual patent application:

http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=2&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PG01&s1=storyline&OS=storyline&RS=storyline


11/1/2005

Sony copy-protected CDs apparently contain rootkits

This article details the finding of an actual root kit (that is, a program designed to remain hidden from security software by cloaking itself and pretending to be part of the OS), that turned out to have been installed by a Sony copy-protected CD.

“I ran a scan on one of my systems and was shocked to see evidence of a rootkit. Rootkits are cloaking technologies that hide files, Registry keys, and other system objects from diagnostic and security software, and they are usually employed by malware attempting to keep their implementation hidden”

The EULA, also, apparently contained no mention of it.

This is probably illegal. I won’t be surprised in the least if Sony gets royally sued for this.

http://www.sysinternals.com/blog/2005/10/sony-rootkits-and-digital-rights.html


On World of Warcraft’s spyware

World of Warcraft was recently revealed to have a piece of spyware hidden in it called Warden, that tracks a large amount of information about other things running simultaneously on the machine, in order to prevent cheating.

http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/004076.php

There’s been some commentary on Dave Farber’s IP list that Warden was found by someone trying to hack the game, implying that that somehow justifies its existence.

I wrote the following in response to that:

And SO WHAT?

The fact that this piece of spyware was found by someone trying hack the game is totally irrelevant to what it is, and the fact that there are people in an arms race over hacking the game doesn’t justify Blizzard’s raising the bar on that race to trample the privacy of legitimate users who are probably unaware that this is even going on.

As has been previously stated, Blizzard’s assertion that it’s not doing anything with the information is little comfort. What if the next round of arms race escalation is to hack Warden and release all of that information? How long will it be before Blizzard can properly respond? How much data will get out, because of the infrastructure that Blizzard has constructed?

The fact that this is justified by text buried in a long EULA is deplorable. The fact is, few people read EULAs at all, and even fewer read them for >games< . There ought to be full disclosure right up front in large capital letters - "If you want to play this game, you have to agree to let us spy on you, because we assume everyone's a cheater. YOU'VE BEEN ADEQUATELY WARNED. To agree, and be allowed to play the game, type: 'I UNDERSTAND THAT BLIZZARD IS SPYING ON ME TO CATCH CHEATERS'." Let's have no more of this "Press OK to continue" crap.


10/11/2005

Horse, barn door, something.

I got the new Fiona Apple album today. It came with huge labels, both on the box and the disc, reading:

“FBI Anti Piracy Warning: Unauthorized copying is punishable under federal law.”

Bang up job, folks.


Unhappy Birthday

Filed under: — adam @ 12:42 pm

This is a good page describing the legal situation surrounding the copyright of the song “Happy Birthday”.

Via Perry:

http://www.unhappybirthday.com/


8/1/2005

Why I oppose DRM

As some of you know, on September 11, 2001, I lived one block north of Battery Park, at 21 West Street. (Ironic popup tag provided courtesy of Google Maps.) When I was forced to leave for thirteen days while the smoke cleared, I had little time to grab anything. I left without my computers, without my original installation discs, and without all of my Product ID stickers. I found myself suddenly without the mechanism to reinstall a number of legally purchased programs that I needed to use for work, and taking a lot of time that could have been better spent wallowing in my own PTSD calling around to various companies to get them to unlock things for me.

There were stories of rescue workers hampered by license management, and that’s when I knew.

The world is dangerous, and sometimes emergencies happen. While people can say “hey, maybe we should make an exception here, because there are extenuating circumstances”, computers just don’t care about that. We are backing ourselves into a restricted corner, and a dangerous one, where computers call the shots, even in the midst of crisis, even in the midst of rational exceptions. Granted, every case is not this extreme. Hopefully, the future will be without another like it in my immediate vicinity. But the trend to pre-emptively lock down everything by default scares me.

As we evolve towards tighter and tighter controls without any possibility for exception, what happens when those granting agencies stop granting? What happens when companies that issue DRM go bankrupt? What happens if they’re unreachable? What happens if they simply decide to stop supporting their framework?

As my high school calculus teacher used to say – “it’s always easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission”. Security is many tradeoffs, and if you restrict legitimate uses in the name of preventing illegitimate ones, you’ve cut off part of the point of having security in the first place. If you restrict legitimate uses without even preventing the illegitimate ones, you’re wasting your customers’ time, and you’re part of the problem.

See more of my rants on DRM and security.


Blog-a-thon tag:


6/28/2005

Grokster is not like gun companies being sued for crimes committed with guns

I’ve been hearing a lot that the Grokster decision is akin to the court saying that gun manufacturers should be liable for crimes committed with guns.

I think a better analogy is this: if a gun manufacturer sells guns with a sign that says “Bank Robbing Projectile Launchers Here” and then in the middle of a bank robbery they help their customers unjam their guns so they can fire at the cops again, that they might have some liability as an accessory to the bank robbery.


6/27/2005

Grokster is reasonable

I’ve actually had time to read the entire decision, and I find this totally reasonable.

This is the text of the decision, and I’m surprised that this was turned into such a landmark case to begin with. It’s meaninless – all it says is that if you promote a service meant to contribute to copyright infringement, you can’t hide behind the defense that your service also has other uses.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=04-480

Discovery revealed that billions of files are shared across peer-to-peer networks each month. Respondents are aware that users employ their software primarily to download copyrighted files, although the decentralized networks do not reveal which files are copied, and when. Respondents have sometimes learned about the infringement directly when users have e-mailed questions regarding copyrighted works, and respondents have replied with guidance. Respondents are not merely passive recipients of information about infringement. The record is replete with evidence that when they began to distribute their free software, each of them clearly voiced the objective that recipients use the software to download copyrighted works and took active steps to encourage infringement.

This isn’t about freedom of technological expression, unless I’m missing something big here. These guys were running a service encouraging people to trade copyrighted content, giving them tech support on it, and then hiding behind the claim that other people were using the service for legitimate means.

We can argue about whether that should be legal or not, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t a strong case for the argument that it actually is legal. This isn’t about protecting the rights of technologists to develop new ideas – this is about actual copyright infringement. There are two different cases here:

1. You release a tool that enables people to infringe copyright and you have no control over that.
2. You release a tool that enables people to infringe copyright and you advertise it as such, promote it with that goal, and help people out when they can’t download the latest Britney album.

Sounds like #2 to me.


Grokster is lost

The Supreme Court has unanimously decided that filesharing companies should be held liable for copyright infringement performed on their networks.

“One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright … is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties using the device, regardless of the device’s lawful uses,” Justice David Souter wrote in the ruling.

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20050627-5042.html

[Update - I think this is reasonable. Here's why.]


6/20/2005

Open letter to Adobe

Dear Adobe:

Your activation system is a failure.

I have been a loyal customer for more than ten years. I’ve dutifully paid pretty much whatever you’ve asked for upgrades over the years, and I’ve always been happy with your product.

I understand that you don’t want people to steal your software. Never mind that Photoshop is largely the industry leader in image management because it was mercilessly copied by everyone. Your product is good, and I like it.

Let’s be clear about this. I’m not stealing your software.

But you’re treating me like a criminal. Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve had to talk to one of your activation support reps because your online activation system is broken. It has several times just decided that I’d activated enough, and was suspicious. Never mind that I was reinstalling on a brand new replacement computer. Never mind that on the first occasion this happened, there was no grace period, and the software simply would not run until I talked to a representative on the phone, who, by the way, are ONLY AVAILABLE DURING WEST COAST BUSINESS HOURS.

Thanks. You’ve given me reasons to think twice about giving you more money in the future and tarnished your spotless reputation.

Bravo. I hope it was worth it.

[Update: I've spoken to Adobe support after my fourth automated reactivation failure, and apparently, this is an issue with RAID devices, where the activation system sees it as a different computer configuration on subsequent checks. My previous comments stand. This is totally unacceptable. Worse than that. The system is not only broken, it's returning false positives for theft masquerading as valid and accepted disaster prevention techniques. So, my opinion is now this - Adobe has not only foisted misguided copy protection techniques on us, but, to add insult to injury, they're still beta. There is a patch available, so contact Adobe if you have this problem.]

[Update #2: I installed the patch, and activation failed yet again. Holding for support... ]

[Update #3: After activating again via phone, all seems to be working. For now. ]


6/17/2005

A dedicated music buyer spells out what he’s stealing and why

Filed under: — adam @ 8:38 am

“I still buy, but now I also steal. You have forfeited your right to my loyalty. And maybe you’re too lost and beaten to care, and even more likely it’s too late to matter, but for a few minutes I’m going to pretend that neither of those things are so. I’m going to pretend that you’re still capable of awareness and reason, and in a spirit of truth that you long ago stopped deserving, while I’ve still taken little enough to list, I’m going to tell you exactly what I have stolen from you, and why.”

The list is interesting, and includes things that are out of print, artificially available in only one country, or just old, crappy, and overpriced.

http://www.furia.com/twas/twas0503.html

Wake up guys – this is what your best customers think of you.


6/3/2005

Why the BBS documentary was released with a creative commons license and what that means

Filed under: — adam @ 12:08 pm

This is a great piece from the creator of the BBS documentary on why he released it under a fairly unrestricted creative commons license:

http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/000123.html

Now, under copyright law in the United States, I have, as a content creator, an amazing arsenal of statutes and legal decisions at my disposal to make your life, assuming you are playing the part of someone copying my films without my permission, into a bitter fucking hell. I mean, a seriously bad, stinky, horrifying pit of suck. I can threaten you with years of jail. I can sue you in civil court while pursuing a criminal case against you on a state and federal level. If I am feeling somewhat kinky I can try and drag Interpol into the whole mess. And the laws out there, approved, let me attempt to have you put away for YEARS. Absolutely YEARS of your life for videotaping a copy of my film.

In other words, I have an enormous amount of incentive to be a jerk.

And yes, it’s so easy, having now created something that has the potential to cost me a lot of money, to reach out and want to use these tools for my own end. Even though, in my own high school and college years, I made songs that used samples from professional productions, even if I took screengrabs from films and put them on a website to make a funny parody in 1995, I see my own work and the temptation is there to go “No, this is different. This is my stuff and you can’t have my stuff without paying for it.”

But that’s not what I did. Instead, I stayed true to my belief system and licensed it under Creative Commons, giving away a lot of the tools that US copyright law grants me, because they’re are By the Jerks, for the Jerks, and should perish from this Earth.

It was in some ways a tough decision, because you want to “protect” yourself, but then you realize you’re not really “protecting” anything; all you’re doing is being a paranoid twitch-bag. And once you realize this, then it becomes a little easier.

It keeps coming back to these four points:


1. People like to spend money.
2. People dont like to be treated like criminals.
3. People like to spend money on those they consider friendly or part of their community, even if its not true (you know who you are).
4. People share with their friends.

Creative commons is not just sharing, it’s good business sense. It massively produces goodwill and exposure for your products.


5/27/2005

I’m very confused about EliteTorrents

The MPAA shut down EliteTorrents, which was supposed to be “one of the first peer to peer networks to post an illegal copy of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith before the movie officially opened in theaters last Thursday”, according to the MPAA press release.

(Sorry, word format.)
http://mpaa.org/MPAAPress/2005/2005_05_25b.doc

This kind of thing has a limited lifetime, because Bittorrent has gone trackerless. What this means is that once a full copy is out there somewhere, the network becomes very resistant to taking down any particular copy. I’ve written about the MPAA’s problems with this before, but I feel the need to reiterate: this is not something that you can just make go away. It’s not a technology, it’s a technique. The ability to reconstruct a whole from disparate parts, without a central resource means that it doesn’t help to shut down one, or even a few sites to stop the flow – you have to eradicate every last copy out there. Frankly, I don’t see that happening, and even if we did, the means to get there could not possibly be worth the end product.

So, assume that p2p file sharing is here to stay, and can’t be stopped.

Now, this is very interesting, because although I can’t find a reference for it, I’m told that Revenge of the Sith made back its entire investment in merchandising tie-ins before a single ticket was sold. If that’s true, even setting aside the record numbers of ticket revenue on opening weekend, this is hardly a poster child for revenue lost to filesharing, but instead an argument that filesharing is, in fact, great for generating buzz and activating supplemental revenue streams.

I’m not a marketer, I’m a technologist, but even this is obvious to me:

  1. People like to spend money.
  2. People don’t like to be treated like criminals.
  3. People like to spend money on those they consider friendly or part of their community, even if it’s not true (you know who you are).
  4. People share with their friends.

The creative commons folks get it.

I’m also confused about why EliteTorrents was hosting a copy of the movie, if in fact they were. With a trackerless torrent, if someone puts up a movie, and then they take it down, but multiple other people have sucked it down and are sharing it, you’ve got a pretty big whack-a-mole problem. The original sharer has probably complied with a what a C&D would accomplish, but the problem still exists. This is bad, I think – it increases the incentive for copyright owners to try to make the penalties greater for smaller instances of filesharing, and I think that would be counterproductive approach.


4/1/2005

Illegal Tender

If companies can insist on non-negotiable terms for every product sold as a service, why not terms for your money in return?

http://www.moneylicense.com


3/29/2005

Incredibly detailed account of fighting the man

Dude registers a domain to put up a fan site for a local mall, of all things. The lawyers attack, and he defends. Successfully. Bravo.

http://www.taubmansucks.com/


3/10/2005

BitTorrent goes 4.0

Filed under: — adam @ 4:54 pm

http://www.bittorrent.com/


2/13/2005

Marvel characters in City of Heroes (bare feet or no?)

Nice little piece about actually trying to create Marvel characters in City of Heroes.

http://www.gamegirladvance.com/archives/2005/02/01/city_of_copies_marvel_vs_nc_soft.html

But…

Part of this article is the claim that you can’t make bare feet in CoH. Yet, on page 041 of this month’s Wired, there’s a similar article, with an accompanying graphic clearly showing a “Not The Incredible Hulk” mockup claiming to be from CoH, but with big green toes and everything!

What gives? Did Wired fudge the graphic?

[Update: I've been informed that yes, it is possible to create bare feet in CoH. You just have to be a bigger geek.]


2/3/2005

bittorrent cannot download faster than your internet connection

Filed under: — adam @ 8:29 am

Note to everyone:

Bittorrent is a useful protocol for streaming chunks of large downloads from multiple sources (everyone else trying to download the file at the same time) to avoid bottlenecking the source when a lot of people want the same file at once.

It is not “magical pixie downloading”, and your download speed is still limited to your actual maximum download speed from your ISP.


1/19/2005

Copyright is killing culture

In recent history, copyright and First Amendment issues seem to have had a relatively clear professional/amateur line drawn. There has been a lot of discussion lately about how the rise of amateur journalists, content creators, music publishers, producers, etc… are blurring that line, where now everybody wants the privileges that were previously reserved to select few “professionals” in particular fields. This is not that debate. This is about the “professional” documentary filmmakers, and their struggle with increasingly rigid copyright protections for archival footage that, if not arguably in the public domain, is at least of valid historical interest.

This is an interesting post on the growing problem of documentary filmmakers who secure limited-duration rights to archival footage, but then face the problem that they can’t legally reproduce or broadcast their films after the rights expire.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050117/DOCS17/TPEntertainment/Film

The Eyes on the Prize documentary of the American Civil Rights Movement is cited as a classic example:

‘The makers of the series no longer have permission for the archival footage they previously used of such key events as the historic protest marches or the confrontations with Southern police. Given Eyes on the Prize’s tight budget, typical of any documentary, its filmmakers could barely afford the minimum five-year rights for use of the clips. That permission has long since expired, and the $250,000 to $500,000 needed to clear the numerous copyrights involved is proving too expensive.

This is particularly dire now, because VHS copies of the series used in countless school curriculums are deteriorating beyond rehabilitation. With no new copies allowed to go on sale, “the whole thing, for all practical purposes, no longer exists,” says Jon Else, a California-based filmmaker who helped produce and shoot the series and who also teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism of the University of California, Berkeley.’


1/17/2005

The P2P Manifesto

Filed under: — adam @ 11:11 pm

This is an interesting piece on the inevitability of P2P to survive. I’ve discussed this before.

http://montemagno.typepad.com/p2p_manifesto/2005/01/p2p_manifesto.html

Elaborating on the comment I wrote on that page —

“Content” cannot be protected from copying because it’s not a “thing”. Content is a pattern. If you can view it in any meaningful way, you can copy it. As many times as you want to. There is no difference between “usage” and “copying”. Anyone who can “use” content can “copy” it, if they so desire. It may be difficult, but it can’t be made impossible. Because of this relationship, any attempt to restrict copying will only serve to restrict usage instead, if even that.

(Update: A more concise English translation is here.)


1/14/2005

Should the ignorant be deprived of capabilities about which they don’t know enough to demand?

I think this is really important.

Technology has completely pervaded our society, and the complexity of these systems has increased to the point where important, sometimes critical, distinctions are very easily missed by an inexperienced populace. (Maybe this isn’t a new categorization – I’d welcome references for similar observations.)

This concept comes into play with the DRM debate – content companies are pushing for technological restrictions on copying. The tradeoffs in such restrictions are not understood by the majority of the populace. They just want to buy a TV. They don’t care, or don’t realize up front, that they’re being locked into a platform that may prevent them from watching TV the way they want to (timeshifting, recording, etc…), at some unspecified point in the future.

It struck me that this is exactly the same as the debate about whether VOIP service provides “911 service”. The general public has a very specific idea about what “911 service” means – “if I call, someone will show up and help me”, but they don’t necessarily know anything about how it’s implemented. They don’t know anything about how it’s staffed, how calls are routed, what other assumptions go into provding that kind of service on a 24-hour basis. The various VOIP services seem to offer a wide range of things called “911 service”, and not all of them qualify under the definition above. To be a little fair, this distinction is drawn in the fine print, but not necessarily in terms the average person can understand.

Does my grandmother really understand the distinction between a full-service 911 center and a “Public Safety Answering Point”? Should she have to, in order to get a phone where people will come when she dials 911?

Should the ignorant be deprived of capabilities about which they don’t know enough to demand? Should those who understand the tradeoffs stand by and allow it to happen without speaking up?

I’m not sure what the answer is (I’m thinking about it though), but one thing is clear – the nature of the transactions that people are being called upon to engage in, just to get by on a day-to-day basis, has recently changed drastically. I’m seeing more and more evidence that even the very technologically sophisticated are losing the ability to make these tradeoffs in an educated way.


1/8/2005

Music licenses should be cross-platform

Filed under: — adam @ 2:24 am

Assume: The music companies want to make money by selling more music.

Grant: There are a few downloadable music companies, and they’re not going away.

(more…)


1/4/2005

Why copying isn’t the same as shoplifting

DRM doesn’t work to prevent copying. It cannot work to prevent copying (it can only work to prevent legitimate users from using content in the ways they’d like to, and to turn them into criminals when they do it anyway). Therefore, file trading will continue. It can be made illegal, but then, you have to define the illegal behavior. In the case of a store, that’s easy. There’s a physical item you’re not allowed to walk away with. In the case of a piece of content, it’s not so easy.

(more…)


Judge Posner on copyright economics

Filed under: — adam @ 12:24 pm

cdh points me to this article by Federal Judge (and blogger!) Michael Posner on the economics of copyright, and why copying should always qualify as fair use if the copyright holder has not expressed “enough interest” in retaining copyright.

http://www.bepress.com/ev/vol1/iss1/art3/

Or jump straight to the PDF:
http://www.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ev

Also, there’s Judge Posner’s blog, which he shares with Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker:

http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/


1/3/2005

Tivo to Go launches

Filed under: — adam @ 12:58 pm

http://www.tivo.com/4.9.19.asp


12/30/2004

Cory rants on DRM (and rightly so)

Fantastic piece on DRM by Cory Doctorow.

http://www.boingboing.net/2004/12/29/cory_responds_to_wir.html

I think this is a mostly accurate assessment, one that is not worded strongly enough.

But, there’s a distinction between “how things should be” and “how things are currently” that needs to be drawn.

Content owners, however unfortunate that may be, do call most of the shots, by virtue of the fact that they claim to do so. But there’s no reason to think that the public has to let them. In contracts, and more specifically, in policy, the guilty party that yells the loudest and makes the most demands can set the stage up however they want, and everyone who goes along with it gives them only more power to do so. This is the reality of intangible agreements, and the “rules” are whatever the content companies dictate and consumers accept. Or consumers dictate and content companies accept. If you disagree with this, you must speak. Verbally, with your wallet, in print, on the radio, on TV. Change the discourse.

I wholeheartedly agree with the point about using DRM to remove functionality included at the time of purchase, and shrouding it in ongoing rental/license fees as an excuse that you always have the choice to renew or cancel, and so promises they’ve made up to that point are somehow not required to be included in future negotiations. This sort of transaction is very much like a “sale”, but it is not a “sale”, even though most people continue to consider it such (because all they know is “sale”, and no one’s explained the new rules to them well enough). It differs from a “sale” in that it removes any obligation on the part of the producer/supplier to not reverse any of the terms of the transaction after the fact. Think about what that means for a second.. . .

Think about what it would be like if other things worked this way. Say you buy a microwave oven that comes with a “single touch popcorn function”. That’d be a selling point of the microwave, that would maybe encourage you to choose one kind of microwave over another. Now, say it’s a month later, and the popcorn function stops working. You’d expect the company to fix it, right? Now, what if when you ask them to fix it, they say “Sorry, we turned if off from here. If you want to make popcorn, you have to pay us another dollar.”? Do you? Or do you decide that the initial purchase was made on fraudulent terms and demand your money back?

Maybe, the argument goes, they won’t do this because then — who would buy their product in the future? But what if, at the same time, it became impossible to find a microwave with a built-in popcorn feature that was just “included”? That would be stupid, right? Maybe this is stretching the analogy a bit thin. Manufacturers should be adding features to get new customers, not taking them away. Except that you’re not looking at the right value proposition – the fact that you want to make popcorn in your microwave benefits the people who make the microwave in exactly zero ways, once you’ve already made the decision to buy the microwave… Unless, that is, they can get you to buy the ability to make popcorn again. Of course, they’d have to also find ways of getting you to think you still had a good deal, so you wouldn’t tell your friends what happened.

There are three possible outcomes:

1) Your microwave (and everything else digital, and that eventually means “everything”) starts to behave more like your cable box. Welcome to popcorn licensing.

2) Your cable box starts to behave like your microwave does today. Frankly, I just don’t see this happening.

3) We all step away and look at different pricing models for this business of bit pattern creation, and examine what the real value of this industry is, and where the trade-offs are.

Content companies spend millions per year on lobbying the government to change the “rules”.

Where are you in this discussion?

-


12/27/2004

What the bagel man saw (and started)

Filed under: — adam @ 11:50 am

This is a great story about a guy who retired to sell bagels on the honor system. It’s also an interesting glimpse into the sociology of white collar crime.

http://lair.xent.com/pipermail/fork/Week-of-Mon-20040607/030488.html

Update: My friend Mark points out:

“As noted at the very very end of your link, this is actually from the NYTimes Magazine 6/6/2004 (where I first read it). Of course, you can no longer read it at NYTimes.com for free (too long ago), and it’s your choice to circumvent (c) by pointing to the blog entry. But you should at least give the proper credit in your lead-in, methinks.”

While credit is certainly due, I’m not sure I agree that it’s a copyright violation. It certainly is a sticky situation.

I think this may qualify as “copying for personal use” even though it happens to be accessible to the public. It looks like this may have come from the email list. The original ad is included, it links back to the source, and there’s no financial gain involved in distributing it. There’s ostensibly financial loss on the part of the NYT, because people who might have paid to view the full article now don’t have to. I will note that the NYT general terms of service includes no mention of articles sent via email. I will also note that this article does NOT appear in the Google cache, or even appear to be indexed at all by Google (although that may just have fallen into the hole where Google was unable to index new pages because they’d hit the 32-bit limit on their indexes, and not be directly copyright related).

But, let’s try to be fair about this. The NYT is charging $2.95 for back articles. That seems like a lot, although you get a bulk discount, which has never made sense to me for electronic content. Still, let’s call it a market rate of $3. Since they have a monopoly, they can set the price. So, I propose this. If you read this article and liked it, let’s be fair to the NYT, and try to convince them that they’ll do better by asking for money than by demanding it. Clearly, they can’t stop this article from being copied. I’m mostly of the opinion that they shouldn’t try.

So I’ve set up a dropcash donation page to make voluntary donations to the NYTimes for enjoying this fine piece of writing (and others).

http://www.dropcash.com/campaign/caviar/what_the_bagel_man_started/

“The New York Times charges for back articles. We think this is unfair and expensive. This is a voluntary fund to donate money to the New York Times as compensatory payment for viewing articles that have been copied. This is an exercise to convince the New York Times (and the content generation industry in general) that they can get more money by asking for it than by demanding it, and that we acknowledge that copying can’t be controlled.

For more background on how this came about, please see:

http://www.aquick.org/blog/index.php?p=430

This is a voluntary donation, I’m guessing it’s not tax deductible, and I hope it’s not an admission of guilt.

The New York Times, as far as I can tell, has no official channel for receiving paypal donations. I figure that Daniel Okrent, “the readers’ representative” is the right person to deal with this sort of thing, so I have used his address as the paypal recipient.

http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/thepubliceditor/index.html

I have chosen the current market cap of the NYT corporation (5.9B) as the goal for this campaign.”

Another update: It appears that the dropcash page doesn’t update the donated totals until the money has been approved by the recipient. Since the NY Times doesn’t officially accept paypal, they may never approve them, and so the donation page may never rise above zero. Please donate anyway.

(Also, don’t let this stop you from donating money to the Tsunami relief fund. Do both.)


12/23/2004

The EFF backs Tor (and also why digital computing is good)

Filed under: — adam @ 11:58 am

The EFF has backed Tor:

“Tor is a toolset for a wide range of organizations and people that want to improve their safety and security on the Internet. Using Tor can help you anonymize web browsing and publishing, instant messaging, IRC, SSH, and more. Tor also provides a platform on which software developers can build new applications with built-in anonymity, safety, and privacy features.”

http://tor.eff.org/

We get more benefits out of having our legitimate communications encrypted (and protected from criminals) than criminals do by being able to hide. Strong crypto is always available if you want it. Covert channels are possible. Again, here’s an object lesson in Turing-Completeness.

The overall premise is this – Turing described a certain kind of basic computer that’s the baseline for computability. If another computer is “equivalent” to this (or instead, two computers are equivalent to each other), it can perform the same calculations – i.e.: take the same input and give the same output. There’s a principle in there (I’m not sure if it has a name) that says that it doesn’t matter if the alphabets are the same – the computation is still equivalent if the two machines are both Turing-complete, so some alphabets are interchangeable with others. This is how we get from computers processing zeroes and ones to human-readable text, images, and eventually moving images on the screen or other output device – alphabets can be encoded, and they’re still equivalent.

I’ve simplified things a bit.

This is a fundamental difference between digital computers and everything else. Computers are modeling devices capable of emulating a wide range of other things. Because of the interchangeability principles, the underlying restrictions and capabilities remain, regardless of what kind of representation you’re talking about. This has implications for encryption, digital media, and basically everything else we do with computers. More to the point, it has implications for trying to restrict what any given user wants to do by encoding some information as a digital signal, and the fact that pretty much, you can’t – they can always change the alphabet on you.

Examples of this are all over the place –

A lot of my friends work at banks or other large corporations that try to restrict what traffic can flow in and out of their network. They block ports, or they don’t allow certain protocols. Every one of my friends has successfully bypassed these restrictions by tunelling whatever they wanted to do over a different protocol. If you allow ssh, you allow everything to someone who can use ssh and is clever enough to realize that. Bits are fungible – it doesn’t matter to the computer what comes in or goes out, as long as there’s another translation program that can change one alphabet to another.

It’s currently possible to equip your car with a device that will let you open the door by knocking a certain pattern on the window. This is a perfect example of a covert channel – the alphabets are interchangeable, so your car can translate an unadvertised and hidden series of knocks into “open the door”, and it doesn’t fundamentally matter what the series of knocks was, or even that there was a series of knocks at all. It still means “open the door”. Bits are fungible.

The same principle is at work with digital media. When you play a movie, bits are read in, and transformed to a moving image of pixels. Here’s the important part. Unless you’re going to restrict access to the hardware (which is where the dreaded DRM “black box” comes in), even if the source file was encrypted and restricted, the machine on which you’re going to play it back still has to unencrypt it and display it. At that point, it can be captured and transformed into whatever form you want. Bits are fungible.

Bits are fungible. This is why “copy protection” is incompatible with general computing. If you allow general computing, bits can always be exchanged for other bits.

It’s also why encryption is not the same thing as security, why the bad guys will always have encryption, and why the EFF backing strong encryption is important for digital freedom.

Any questions?


12/22/2004

Yeah, it’s a DRM kind of day

Filed under: — adam @ 2:46 pm

One hardware expert’s nightmare with DRM-protected content.

http://www.hardwareanalysis.com/content/article/1765/

This isn’t good for anybody. It’s a poor consumer experience, it’s alienating, it’s difficult to set up, it makes you feel like a criminal.

AND IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY STOP ANYBODY WHO WANTS TO PIRATE THE MOVIE. Software DRM never fully can. This is why we say that copy control is mutually exclusive with open computing.

I think the people who are pushing this terrible technology on us need a lesson in Turing Completeness.

(Update: I wrote a longer piece on this.)


The MPAA has no idea what’s about to hit them

Recently, several large Bittorrent tracker sites were shut down, citing concerns about problems with copyright holders.

The movie studios think this is a good thing. They’re wrong. P2P is the Content Industry’s worst nightmare…. to date. But it just keeps getting worse from there.

Mark Pesce (inventor of VRML, which, despite completely failing to take off in any meaningful way, is still really frickin’ cool) has an extended rant about it, which is worth reading.

http://susanmernit.blogspot.com/2004/12/mark-pesce-on-bittorrent.html

Here’s what I think it boils down to – a simple choice. We, as a society, have to choose one of:

1) Copy protection.
2) General purpose open computing.

They are not compatible. Copy protection (and everything else that goes along with being able to perform copy protection) simply cannot be enforced in a world where the end user has control over their hardware and software. (Update: I wrote a longer piece about this.) Everything else is a thin sugar layer on top of that, disguising the fact that we’re heading for one of two worlds – where all entertainment (and consequently, all other computing) is viewed with industry-mandated black boxes, or the content creation industry (movies, music, games, etc…) learns to live in a world where they can’t force people to pay for their product. Currently, it’s a weird mishmash, but eventually, It’s one or the other.

Fortunately, there’s still a looong way to go before general purpose computing is outlawed, and there’s not a long way to go before technology makes it possible to anonymously copy whatever you want. Two things work in favor of that outcome – 1) storage keeps getting cheaper, and 2) because everything’s digital, a distribution mechanism that works for one kind of media can be easily adapted to work for all kinds of media. Eventually, there will be enough storage out there that the entire music library of the human race will be able to fit on a card or disc that’s small enough and cheap enough that it will be practical to just hand them out with a cup of coffee. Then, eventually, the entire movie library. Then, without the cup of coffee. All radio. Recordings of every live performance. P2P is just a way station on the road to constant on-demand availability of all digital media. It may be over the wire, it may be on cheap storage, it’ll probably be a combination of the two. But how it happens doesn’t matter – it will happen. Eventually, it isn’t about “piracy” vs. “legitimate usage”. It’s about facing a world where copying is not only widespread, it’s simply unavoidable.

What will the music and movie industries do when faced with the prospect of such a world? It’s tricky. They can try to fight it, but, sadly for them, these enabling technologies are also really good, and in some cases necessary, to all kinds of other interesting (and interested) parties, industries, and countries. I think fighting it is doomed to failure, and any attempts to do so only prolong the agony of all concerned, make criminals out of legitimate users, and alienate any goodwill towards actually saving these industries by paying for their product in some other way. They can try to make money off of live performances, but eventually those will all be available as recordings immediately after the fact. It’s already starting to happen. And that doesn’t help the movie industry much – although it’s been longer in coming, the movie industry is going to do much worse than the music industry out of this – they don’t have live performances to fall back on and their main revenue model is built around staggered, restricted distribution.

But here’s the real point – these industries are going to have to find other ways to make money. Many people will pay voluntarily, if they think they’re giving their money to people who are working hard to produce the content they like, and they don’t think they’re being taken advantage of by asshats who don’t respect them. Suing them doesn’t help. Trust me on that one. Maybe we need a voluntary entertainment pool, where people pay in (say, monthly), then they get to vote on media they’ve seen. If you make good content, you get a bigger piece of the pie. Maybe we need to return to a patron model. Maybe it becomes much more difficult to be “a professional creator” (and maybe it becomes MUCH more difficult to be “a professional content distributor”). The argument “if you can’t make money off it, no one will create” is just wrong. People will create because they need to, and the consequential technologies that increase the distribution of content also make it cheaper and easier for everyone else out there to express their creative energies. We need to find a way to pay them (us), and they (we) need to find a way to convince us (them) to do so.


10/15/2004

Copyright law is in danger

Filed under: — adam @ 6:04 pm

A whole host of legislation is pending, to criminalize a lot of the behavior we take for granted.

http://www.publicknowledge.org/


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