Archive for the ‘drm’ Category

EconTalk: Digital Barbarism

June 29, 2009

Author Mark Helprin is this week’s guest on Russ Roberts’ excellent EconTalk Podcast. Helprin discusses ideas from his new book Digital Barbarism, a defense of traditional copyright law.

Helprin’s thesis is that the anti-copyright movement is an extension of the broader trend towards collectivization rather than an embrace of individual rights. Copyrights are about protecting the rights of individuals over and against the collective.

I’ve always shared the pro-copyright view and am not swayed by the vapid arguments that technology makes copyrights antiquated. As Helprin notes, it’s because of technology that copyrights were ever devised in the first place to protect the individual.

My own view has been formed around the concept that the choice of the rights-holder (whether an artist, writer, publishing house, or music company) to defend his own rights is paramount and should be respected and protected by any means necessary — including DRM, encryption measures, and civil penalties. When copyrights are viewed as traditional contract law, there are two parties rather than just the consumer. If a consumer doesn’t like the terms under which works are released, he or she can just walk away and find an alternative source under mutually consensual terms.

If you don’t like Metallica’s vocal opposition to P2P, listen to a band releasing works under liceses that allow free redistribution. If you don’t like movies being released on DVD with encryption, watch only unencrypted movies. If you don’t like proprietary software or software that costs money, use only open source software available at no charge.

Those who want to “share alike” — and I’ve licensed some of my own works under such a license, but I would never release everything under it — are always free to do so with their own content. They can do that for whatever reason they want, whether to expand an audience or because they don’t want the hassles of traditional copyright in a digital age; practical reasons often make such licenses more tenable than traditional copyrights.

Likewise, traditional copyrights and patents serve a valid need in our society. Those who choose other means to protect  their property — no matter how strict and archaic — should be respected by those who disagree with those measures. Unfortunately, such mutual respect is difficult in the digital age given the number of and doctrinaire views of Internet scofflaws.

RIAA 2, Jammie Thomas 0

June 19, 2009

In yet another blow to the mindless, thieving scofflaws who think copyrights are antiquated or unenforceable, a jury has awarded the RIAA $1.92 million after finding that Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully and illegally redistributed music via P2P. This was the second time a jury came down hard against Thomas; the first verdict was set aside after the judge declared a mistrial over a technicality (the judge believed he’d given faulty instructions to the jury).

The RIAA remains open to settling with Thomas, though she continues to feel defiant. About the jury’s punishment of $80,000 per song (the case revolved around 24 songs, but she had illegally swapped 1700), she said,”There’s no way they’re ever going to get that. I’m a mom, limited means, so I’m not going to worry about it now.”

During the retrial, the defense raised — for the first time since this ordeal started nearly five years ago — the possibility that one of her children or an ex-boyfriend had made the songs available via P2P. The jury apparently didn’t buy that, answering that Thomas had engaged in willful infringement. The first jury hadn’t found that.

Thomas has been made a focal point of the copyright war by the activists who think technology changes everything and that theft is now acceptable. She’d been given ample opportunity by RIAA to work out an agreement and likely still will. She’s fought two cases and lost resoundingly in each one. She’s also seen jury awards to RIAA increase from $220,000 to $1.92 million.

Game over. Or it should be. Unfortunately, the activists still don’t get it.

Technology doesn’t change anything about who owns what under the law. All technology does is make it easier to steal from the owner(s) of the copyright. A recording that’s been digitized retains all the rights of the original. You do not own the bytes of a digitized rip of a CD you purchase and you’re not free to redistribute those bytes.

Unless there’s some landmark change via the courts (unlikely) or legislation (also unlikely) that overturns centuries of common law principles, copyright infringement will continue to be a punishable crime. And that’s what it should be — we punish thieves who deprive others of the value of their work and property. Doesn’t matter if you shoplift an article of clothing from a store, break into a home and steal a computer, or deprive an artist of his livelihood by giving away his recordings. Theft is theft.

Until the law is changed, it’s not  the right of anyone to choose for others how their works are redistributed. If you disagree with copyright law and you think the existing business model chosen by artists and their record labels or by recording studios is obsolete, it’s not your right to put their works into the public domain via P2P. It should be the right of the artist and the labels how they do their business. You’re free to do commerce with them under their terms or reject their terms outright, but you cannot force them to give their rights and property away under your own terms. Especially when your terms don’t compensate others for anything. The free ride is over and you’re still going to have to pay.

Markey’s Bill Won’t Fix Comcast/BitTorrent

December 3, 2007

Net neutrality may not resolve Comcast vs. BitTorrent:

…[E]ven some supporters of new laws–which would enact antidiscrimination regulations aimed at broadband providers–are now reluctantly conceding that the proposals that have been circulating in Congress for more than a year may not do much to stop Comcast…. When asked whether Comcast’s conduct toward BitTorrent would be prohibited under [Congressman Ed Markey’s] original bill, the [unnamed staff] aide said the clearest answer is “maybe.” In any case, the bill’s authors want to leave it up to an “expert agency,” presumably the FCC, to decide whether a company’s conduct in a particular situation was both “reasonable” and “nondiscriminatory,” the aide said.

The FCC presently allows providers to manage their networks with “reasonable and non-discriminatory measures,” which is what Comcast says they’re doing. “Comcast does not, has not, and will not block any Web sites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services, and no one has demonstrated otherwise,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice told CNET “We engage in reasonable network management to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience, and we do so consistently with FCC policy.”

French Adopt Tougher Anti-Piracy Measures

November 26, 2007

France set to cut Web access for music, film pirates:

Under the agreement–drawn up by a commission headed by the chief executive of FNAC, one of France’s biggest music and film retailers–service providers will issue warning messages to customers downloading files illegally. If users ignore those messages, their accounts could be suspended or closed altogether.

The French get this one right and other countries should — and probably eventually will — follow suit.

President Sarkozy: “The Internet must not become a high-tech Far West, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon or, worse, trade in them in total impunity. And on whose backs? On artists’ backs.

Exactly. Support creativity and productivity. Fight piracy.

Transition to BSD: Why It Matters

September 2, 2007

I’ve been using OpenBSD for servers for several years, and I’ve flirted around with it, FreeBSD, and NetBSD on desktops. I settled instead on Linux for desktop use because Linux development was (and still is) much more dynamic. What mattered when I settled on Linux applies less to me now because I’m not living on the bleeding edge and the dynamism of Linux distros and what they include appeals less and less to me.

Most Linux distros compete without regard for hardware requirements: they presume users will treat hardware as disposable commodities (the frequent argument made against tech-dinosaurs at this point is Moore’s Law, which addresses costs as they relate to rates of technological change but not the issue of continued utility of older technologies). Accordingly, they pile on features that are beautiful to the eye but impossible to run without the latest hardware or major upgrades. That’s why I took exception to the FSF’s anti-Vista campaign this past week. They’re sanctimonious hypocrites for not blasting Linux distros like Mepis and Ubuntu for their system requirements right along with Microsoft’s requirements for Vista. The FSF’s silence over distros like Mint and PCLOS that include proprietary code (drivers, Flash, etc.) by default is also pretty suspect. Maybe they should clean their own house first and let the market decide if Vista is acceptable.

The way so many distros required me to upgrade my hardware to upgrade their releases led me to use two Linux distros: Slackware and Damn Small Linux. You don’t need certain video cards or massive amounts of RAM to run DSL: it will run on a 486 with 16 MB RAM. Each new release of DSL hasn’t rendered older hardware obsolete, it’s made it more useful. Slackware’s base install (which probably isn’t what most Linux advocates recommend to Windows converts) is also very lean and doesn’t require system upgrades; it’s the full install or what you add on top of a base install that affects Slackware’s hardware requirements.

Three things caused me to reassess my choice of operating systems. Individually, they weren’t enough to move me to do anything (especially anything that requires me to burn more ISOs, back up all my data, etc.). Taken together, though, I decided it was time to change.

First, I find the BSD-unit concept more appealing than the cowboy bits-and-pieces approach of Linux. In a nutshell, Linux is just a kernel and not an operating system. The distros pile an ad hoc assembly of tools (usually GNU utilities) on top of it to make a useful OS out of it. From there, it’s a battle between the distros with respect to application versions, system configurations, and package management systems.

In fairness, it usually works and works quite well. But there can be serious problems if one piece of the system doesn’t work right with the rest. This has affected me to various degrees with different distros, from living with little quirks to not being able to upgrade things or even to install certain software because it would break a system. Or actually breaking a system and having to reinstall.

In comparison, a BSD is a complete OS: kernel plus utilities. That’s a unit, one thing. It’s not ad hoc, it’s planned so that it’s integrated and (in theory!) less likely to break. It can recompile itself as a unit. Everything on top of the unit is optional and doesn’t affect the unit. This is why some people (I’m one of them) think BSDs are ultimately more stable than Linux-based systems. You can look up the benchmarking studies and accounts of uptime to satisfy whichever side you’re on.

Second, I want continued legacy hardware support. I’m not going to stop using, much less throw out, a working computer. I practice what FSF preaches (see above). I have functional computers over 12 years old, including some old Macs and early Pentiums. My “newest” computer is a 1300mhz Athlon-based XP box I use mostly for work. I found out last night I may have a new computer in my possession shortly, but it’ll be a donation and not something I’d ever rush out to buy (certainly not so I could run Vista or something that uses Beryl).

Naturally, I’ve had some issues getting certain bloated distros to work on my older hardware. Ironically, that includes ones usually lauded for their auto-detection and ease of use. I’ve been content, as noted above, with Slackware and DSL. Both are relatively user-friendly for users who bother to read the documentation.

I think the BSDs are better for older hardware than Linux — and that they will be better going forward. The Linux kernel has gotten bigger while deprecating support for certain older hardware. I’m unaware of any similar compromises in the BSDs to reduce legacy support; BSD shortcomings seem to be related to supporting bleeding edge hardware even though their wireless support is better than that in Linux (see below for Atheros relicensing issue controversy). Moreover, I know there are ports of all three BSDs available for all my hardware.

Third, and the straw that broke the camel’s back, I have very serious concerns about the restrictions imposed in GPLv3. I have major philosophical differences with FSF zealots over the changes — new restrictions — in the GPL. I’ve addressed those elsewhere in this blog (see category FSF Sucks). In a nutshell, GPLv3 moves the FSF’s goalposts from software to hardware (“anti-tivoization”) and data (DRM).

I think the “free as in speech” kind of freedom shouldn’t be restricted; free should mean “free.” Period. FSF disagrees with me and they’ve changed their license so that free means “less and less free.” They haven’t addressed new areas of technology (as they claim), they’ve only moved their goalposts to places Linus Torvalds isn’t prepared to go because he doesn’t share their peculiar ideological extremism.

The GPL activists also appear to think everyone else’s rules don’t apply to them. The debate over the licensing of the Atheros driver has me wondering if the GPL side thinks they’re above the law. It’s not about whether the code is still open, it’s whether it’s still free.

I’m sure Torvalds isn’t likely to change the kernel’s licensing to GPLv3. I also acknowledge much of the software I use, and will continue to use, is licensed under GPL. I use it because it’s good software and suits my needs, but I use it DESPITE its restrictive licensing.

It would be easier to be complacent and not make changes. Then again, it would’ve been even easier to use Windows or get a new Mac. At least I have options and I’m free to choose between them. That’s the best part of any decision.

No to GPLv3

June 25, 2007

I wrote a couple months ago about why I was reluctant to support GPLv3. Now that the final draft is out, I’m more firmly against it.

OBJECTION 1: The “anti-Tivoization” clauses deal with hardware issues, not software issues. Tivo has released back code changes per the requirements of GPLv2. They haven’t done anything to violate the spirit or letter of GPLv2. All they’ve done is set signatures in their players that allow their software to run. This is no different from what other hardware vendors — including Apple — do. The new restrictions in GPLv3 would prevent other Linux vendors from releasing anything with digital signatures. There are beneficial uses of digital signatures. Instead of fighting for more freedoms, the FSF is fighting against both freedom and against security.

OBJECTION 2: GPLv3’s attack on DRM is completely wrong. DRM’s goal is to protect data, not to prevent users from having access to the software code. Rather than find ways to work with groups like RIAA to protect copyrighted material, FSF has set itself up as the arbiter of what is and isn’t worthy of copyright protection. In a perfect world, people would respect copyrights rather than find new ways to violate them.

A digital audio tune is data, not software. So is a movie that’s been converted from DVD. The copyright protections afforded the contents of the tune or the movie don’t change because someone has digitized them.

The focus of FSF is no longer software, they’re taking on hardware and data. That’s a shame. All they have to do is make a public case for hardware vendors to release specs so open source drivers can be written so everyone has access to new hardware. And instead of taking on manufacturers of video cards, they’re taking shots at Tivo — a user and big supporter of open source. Just goes to show that what’s successful gets attacked by certain quarters.

Also a shame is the fact that many software projects have chosen language like “GPLv2 or greater” in their licenses and have locked themselves in to GPLv3 whether it suits their software and their politics. At least the Linux kernel is GPLv2, period. I don’t know how many people would have to give Linus permission, but I know he’s not inclined to change licenses himself.

My philosophical preference has always been the BSD license. BSD licensing allows full freedom for the developer and the user. It respects that some people may want to lock up certain code for certain reasons (this has benefited Linux and nearly every other OS that has functional TCP/IP, including NT). It doesn’t make demands of the user (e.g., submitting changes back, as Tivo has done to the satisfaction of Linus and even the FSF). It doesn’t make demands of hardware manufacturers. It doesn’t make demands of people who have copyrights on software, books, music, or movies. It just respects that everyone is different and entitled to rights to use, change, etc., code as they see fit rather than as FSF sees fit.

New category: FSF sucks.

Digg Digs In After Backlash

May 2, 2007

Digg has given in to a crippling volume of user demand (as in site crash) that the popular site stop removing content. Digg had intended to comply with a cease and desist letter from AACS asking the site’s operators to remove information related to a DVD encryption key. Then the floods started: Diggs against censorship, Diggs against DRM, Diggs for the key.

After crashing, Digg founder Kevin Rose blogged:

After seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company.

The question is, how does AACS seek to put the toothpaste back in the tube? Google has thousands of hits for said key.

How MS Can (And Will) Shake Up iTunes

April 17, 2007

Disclaimer: I loathe Apple.

Here are few things about how Apple may possibly be reconsidering offering media content subscriptions. The first two feature Intent MediaWorks, who claim to be the world’s leading DRM technology provider. First, Intent claims that Apple’s anti-DRM deal may hurt its efforts to continue making traditional deals (which means “DRM”) with music companies. Second, Carl Howe writes that Intent has probably ruined any chance of getting a deal with Apple for its CEO’s prediction that Apple would sell subscriptions within six months.

This appears to have some legs despite Steve Jobs’ protests. Music companies are reportedly interested in Apple adding a subscription service. And if Jobs won’t give them their subscription service, perhaps Microsoft will. Redmond is reportedly considering offering a “free” Zune to subscribers in much the same way cellular companies offer “free” phones.

If Apple continues to decline subscriptions, would such a strategy turn Zune into an iPod killer? I think it could. Apple would continue selling songs from 99-cents to $1.29 each (and let’s be serious — most people aren’t going to pay a thirty-cent per song premium for DRM-free content that takes up twice the space on their players) to put on their $100-$400 iPods while people with “free” Zunes pay $15-30 a month for presumably unlimited downloads. The subscription price point will very likely determine its success, but the music companies are savvy enough to know they don’t have to be as “greedy” in a subscription market — they’ll have a set income and they’ll get to control redistribution of their protected content.

Apple, EMI, DRM… Microsoft

April 5, 2007

Microsoft is now getting in on the action with DRM-free music subscriptions. Seattle Times reports that Microsoft is negotiating with EMI for a similar deal that Apple struck.

The price of “freedom”? Thirty-cents a song (note the article is wrong, it’s $1.29):

EMI’s songs will be sold on iTunes, the online store that complements Apple’s market dominating iPod, for $1.39 each without DRM. Songs with DRM cost 99 cents.

What does 30-cents buy? Doubled bit rate and certain rights that many argue are yours to begin with. It could also mean that music CDs will soon cost us more. More likely, though, will be a resurgence of some degree in P2P sharing. Why pay 25-30% more for something someone will “give” you freely? (I’m not condoning copyright violation, just stating the economic reason why any black market exists.)

The real meaning of the deal, though, isn’t what it means to consumers. It’s what it means to Apple and the music companies.

And that’s why I think Apple sucks, and why Steve Jobs shouldn’t be hailed as some conquering hero (beyond Apple shareholders anyway) for covering his ass and making money doing it. Apple’s recent anti-DRM position just doesn’t match up with their historical position of making these exclusive deals (which are anti-competitive), of implementing their proprietary “Fair Play” DRM measures, or of lining their pockets from the sale of DRM — and soon to be premium-priced non-DRM — content.

Anti-Mac Rant #2

March 22, 2007

I addressed something the other day about Mac users. In the last few days, I’ve come across some anti-Microsoft stuff from Mac users.

I’ve never understood why Mac fanboys would give love to Apple in the same breath with which they excoriate Microsoft in general and Bill Gates in particular. The two companies are two sides of the same coin. Consider these points.

1. Both companies are in the same industry. This goes without saying. The only significant difference in this respect is that Apple is much more hardware-centered than Microsoft, but Apple is no less software- or content-centered than Microsoft. Indeed, Apple’s ass has been saved from the dustbin of history by iTunes and the iPod.

2. Both companies are very profitable. I have no problem with this for either of them. Neither company would be as large as it is without being innovative or having the foresight to be leaders in a very competitive field. Why is it okay to lampoon Bill Gates for making his wealth from a legitimate enterprise? Why does Steve Jobs get a pass for making his wealth similarly — nevermind the ongoing SEC investigation into Apple’s backdating of options? I think the backdating of options is at least as serious as, and certainly sleazier than, the anti-competitive charges leveled against Microsoft (I wish the bureaucrats who charge Microsoft with that would look at their own little fiefdoms). And I don’t trust any company’s internal investigation — corpulent former VP Al Gore, Junior, sits on Apple’s board so he’s hardly a disinterested, objective party — to clear itself.

3. Both companies lock up their code from users. Both companies are even in this measure until you consider one major difference: Microsoft’s EULA doesn’t restrict you from running it on whatever hardware you own, and Apple forbids you from running OSX on anything but their proprietary (crappy) hardware. Given that Apple finally switched to the same Intel chips other OEMs use, I wonder where the fanboys get off on paying premium prices for it. It’s even funnier when you look and see what they’re actually running on OSX: KDE, GNUStep/WindowMaker, etc.

4. Both companies have embraced DRM. Microsoft has caught holy hell from nearly every quarter for Vista’s default policy requiring signed drivers. How dare they embrace DRM like that. So where are the Mac fanboys when it comes to Apple’s DRM profits from sales of songs on iTunes? Yeah, they have their iPods turned up too loud to hear the echoes of their Microsoft-bashing coming back to them.

5. Both operating systems have problems. Macs don’t always “just work.” I had a couple that got sad, pouty faces in the 80s and 90s. People still have issues with OSX (see my other entry linked above). One big difference goes back to why I find Apple’s EULA more objectionable than Microsoft’s: Microsoft would “just work” like Macs do if Microsoft controlled the base hardware their users choose to use. So Microsoft wins on that “freedom” count, even if it means a little more effort at setting certain things up. Apple’s control over requiring people who want to use OSX to use Apple hardware ensures full compliance and true plug and play. I know there are other systemic differences — Microsoft’s registry, for example — but Apple’s operating systems are no less glitchy overall. The popularity (or prevalence) of Windows has made it a target. Does anyone believe Apple would be this relatively unscathed if they’d ever achieved the market share — or anything approaching any sense of parity — of the i386 platform? And would Apple have more issues if OSX had retained the kind of legacy support Windows users have come to expect with every new release of Windows?

Mac fans aren’t any better or smarter or different. They’re just hypocrites who think they are.