April 13, 2004

Filesharing in Iraq [2:02 pm]

G.I.’s in Iraq Tote Their Own Pop Culture [via CopyFight]

Personal CD players, MP3’s, portable DVD movie systems, satellite dishes and laptop computers with Internet access allow soldiers to stay current with American music, movies and television, even inside the concertina wire at bases deep in a foreign society isolated by years of dictatorship, embargo and war.

[...] The new technologies have had a potent impact on the military, ending its monopoly over the supply of news and entertainment for American troops serving in a foreign land whose borders include a language barrier.

[...] At the Kirkush Military Training Base in the eastern Iraqi desert less than 15 miles from the frontier with Iran, an hour’s wait for a helicopter was spent listening to Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Shania Twain before the Black Hawk fired up its turbines and somebody back in the barracks, as if on cue and with a dark sense of irony, cranked up Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

The songs came from a European satellite music channel and a communal computer where 12.8 gigabites of tunes had been downloaded for sharing on MP3’s. The rule was simple: Take some music, add some music.

“Any time anybody on the team gets a new CD, they load it in, so we stay pretty current,” said Sgt. Thomas R. Mena.

I look forward to hearing how the RIAA elects to respond — will they be more forgiving of the US Military than ASCAP was of the Girl Scouts?

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A Radical Strategy [11:52 am]

Hollywood Competes With the Street in Russia

The American film industry is fighting rampant DVD piracy in Russia with a radical new tactic: cutting prices.

To fight piracy here, where 9 out of 10 DVD’s sold are counterfeit copies, Columbia TriStar, a division of Sony, will price DVD’s at no more than 299 rubles, or just over $10, less than half its current price. Warner Home Video, a division of Time Warner, has already cut its DVD prices in Russia to the equivalent of $15.

[...] The low-price idea has long been anathema to industry advocates in the United States. “You can never compete on price with a pirate,” said Jack Valenti in a recent telephone interview. The longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America, he has made stern copyright enforcement his rallying cry.

But Hollywood appears to be running out of options in Russia. Piracy is getting worse, says Konstantin Zemchenkov, director of the Russian Anti-Piracy Organization, a group partly financed by Hollywood studios and the Motion Picture Association of America, which is leading the fight against producers, distributors and retailers of pirated discs and videos in Russia.

A former KGB officer, Mr. Zemchenkov said that piracy in Russia accounted for 9 out of every 10 DVD’s sold and 6 out of every 10 CD’s. [...]

“It’s part of the Soviet legacy,” said Timothy Swanson, with the United States Embassy’s commercial section here, which has been battling piracy on behalf of American film and music companies. “An artist was an artist — he got paid a salary. There weren’t royalties for artists or composers. Everything was owned by the state — for 70 years intellectual property rights never existed.”

This culture helps explain why “it often feels like we are fighting the sea,” said Mr. Zemchenkov, director of the antipiracy group. [...]

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Poetic License [11:13 am]

To Judge, Poetic License Is Only Kind Artists Need

If Edvard Munch were to appear on the streets of New York City selling T-shirts painted with his celebrated work, “The Scream,” would he be arrested for doing it without a license?

Federal judges do not usually indulge such wild thought experiments. But Judge Victor Marrero of Federal District Court in Manhattan has done exactly that, in a 34-page decision that begins with the simple tale of two men who wanted to sell painted hats on the street and quickly becomes a treatise on the meaning and limits of art itself.

In his decision, issued on Friday, Judge Marrero ruled that the hats the two men have been selling - which they paint on the spot with graffiti-style words and forms - are artwork, however nontraditional. They are therefore protected by the First Amendment, he wrote, and not subject to the city’s requirement that vendors of merchandise possess a license.

[...] In his ruling, Judge Marreo indicated that in his view, not all artwork was protected by the Constitution. For instance, he cited approvingly a recent state case in which a judge ruled that a set of playing cards bearing photographs of Iraqi military and political figures and their names and titles was not sufficient to exempt the seller from the city’s license requirement.

An artistic item, Judge Marreo wrote, “must manifest some communication, that is must express some idea conceived and conveyed from the artist, to merit First Amendment protection.” But he went on to say that no “bright line” separates art that is worthy of such protection from art that is not.

[...] Then there is Edvard Munch, who, if he had tried to sell a T-shirt or hat version of his paintings, would have to be arrested under the city’s too-narrow definition of art, the judge concluded.

From the ruling: Christopher Mastrovincenzo, and Kevin Santos v. The City of New York

Altering the hypothetical above slightly more to fit the facts of the instant case, what if Munch, as his signature wares, chose to paint, at the behest of passersby, his wailing form on t-shirts and ties and to sell them from a sidewalk table? Would his crafts be classified as mere unlicensed merchandise and subject him to penalties? As applied in the case before the Court, Defendants theory would compel that the hypothetical Munch creations would not be works of art, but ties, simply goods for sale, and merely because the medium with the message is a t-shirt, tie or hat rather than a fourcornered canvas. To this interpretation Defendants might reply: Ah, but Munch is Munch. And besides, in the example given, anyone could quickly discern the stylized figure in the tie design and readily tell that it must be saying something. This logic, a derivative of the I-know-it-when-I-see-it test, may be easily dispatched. Should it be a prerequisite for art to be art, that the artist express his thoughts through traditional, perceptually accessible means? The long history of ideas, which records infamous instances of persecution of creative expression, would answer compellingly, for any society that values free speech as much as ours, with an emphatic No. Civilization has traveled too far down the road in the evolution of art as embracing the whole spectrum of human imagination for the law to countenance a classification of an artist s design as art only when imparted in conventional shapes and forms sufficiently familiar or acceptable to a government licensor.

Wonder where copyright fits into this judge’s perspective on expression?

Related: A Jumping Fish in the Bronx Lands Its Creator in Criminal Court

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One Trick Ponies [11:01 am]

RIAA Singing the Same Old Song

Online file-sharing and other digital piracy persist, but a gradual turnaround in U.S. music sales that began last fall picked up in the first quarter of this year, resulting in the industry’s best domestic sales in years.

Overall U.S. music sales — CDs, legal downloads, DVDs, etc. — rose 9.1 percent in the first three months of the year over the same period in 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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Movie Production Via "Rip. Mix. Burn." [10:57 am]

From Wired News: Festival Takes Stock of Old Films

A group of amateur filmmakers in Seattle has put together a festival that doesn’t require any filming, sets or actors.

Instead, the Stockstock Film Festival showcases films made from stock footage — those old educational films, forgotten commercials and other random movies freely available in the public domain.

Festival operators pore over films in the online Prelinger Archives and choose a mishmash of films that are then combined and pared down to a 40-minute tape. Entrants must create a short film, limited to three minutes, using the footage provided. They can manipulate the films however they like and add dialogue, titles and music. All that’s required is a computer with video-editing software and the $20 entry fee.

“To me, it’s both a film festival and an artistic experiment,” said Scott Dierdorf, senior producer of Stockstock. “You take a bunch of creative people and give them the same starting materials and see where they go with it.”

[...] “As our information infrastructure grows, the opportunities to re-purpose works and make creative things out of them is just going to grow,” Dierdorf said. “We’re taking our history as represented in this visual medium and then reinterpreting it.”

Fabulous!

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Something More To Worry About [10:54 am]

This News.Com writeup on the Intertrust/Microsoft settlement closes with a supposition that was probably meant to be positive, but can certainly be interpreted otherwise: Microsoft’s eye on data protection

“Microsoft really wants to make sure that Windows is the best platform for secure digital media,” said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. “This allows Microsoft to continue forward with some of its digital rights management initiatives.”

The $440 million settlement, which will give Microsoft a perpetual license to InterTrust’s patents, appears to be part of a larger drive to clear up the software company’s intellectual property landscape in advance of releasing its newest version of Windows, dubbed Longhorn.

[...] [T]hese security technologies are collectively expected to be more deeply integrated with Longhorn, alongside related hardware-based security measures aimed at protecting computers from hackers. Developers and hardware partners will ultimately want assurances that critical security technologies are not still subject to litigation when they release support for these tools, analysts said.

[...] The settlement is a clear sign that Microsoft sees digital data security, whether in the multimedia, business or ordinary computing context, as increasingly fundamental to its future, analysts said. The company also increased its stake last week in ContentGuard, a digital rights management developer. ContentGuard’s technology underpins the way that Office keeps business documents secure, supplementing InterTrust’s techniques.

“Those two technologies might be moving closer together,” Directions on Microsoft’s Rosoff said. “Microsoft might even be working on some kind of unified rights management technology that might be applied more broadly. I think that’s the direction they’re moving in.”

Palladium? Or Darknet? We may have to choose sooner than we thought…..

See also: Microsoft Making Anti - Piracy Inroads

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Gigi Sohn on the FCC’s Directions [10:49 am]

FCC is taking wrong turn on digital media

Who knew that today the Federal Communications Commission would be trying to turn that sci-fi introduction ["The Outer Limits"] into a regulatory reality? Not only is the commission considering rules that would result in the digital television picture from reaching its full, sparkling potential, but the FCC also is considering defining where, when and with what rights consumers can use digital media.

There are two separate, but related, issues that the FCC is considering. What they have in common is that they are generated by the fear, yet again, by the “content community”–principally the movie industry–that consumers will have too much say in how and when and where we can have access to digital TV or cable.

It’s hard to believe, but one issue is whether the broadcasters should be able to make their picture quality more fuzzy as a means of limiting the distribution of programming, say over the Internet. The technical term is “down-resolution,” or “down-rezzing.”

[...] At the same time that the FCC is considering whether to make your TV picture worse, it’s also considering another program–the Personal Digital Network Environment (PDNE), which would set boundaries on where consumers can view and use the digital programming that comes into their homes.

[...] There was one other part to that “Outer Limits” introduction. It started out by saying, “There is nothing wrong with your television set.” If the FCC and the content community get their way, there will be.

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Speaking of Cretinous…. [10:36 am]

Since I’m on the subject, Mr. Bray’s column yesterday wasn’t a whole lot better: Usefulness of RFIDs worth the annoyance

If the thought of an RFID blocker eases your fear of the technology, your name isn’t Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN, Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion.

Albrecht, a nationally known anti-RFID activist, praised RSA for trying to reconcile tagging and personal liberty. “Thank goodness that somebody is paying attention to the privacy issue and taking it seriously,” she said. But merely jamming the tags isn’t good enough for Albrecht. Not only does she worry that many consumers won’t take advantage of the jamming technology.

Albrecht also warns that government agencies could one day require citizens to use RFID tags as a form of identification, and forbid efforts to jam them. “I think the main way we’re going to prevent RFID abuse is to limit its implementation,” she said. “And this RFID blocker tag doesn’t limit its implementation; it actually encourages it.”

Albrecht’s a smart and charming woman, but she might have opposed the invention of the telephone, out of fear that the government would listen in. She’d have been right, too. But we dealt with that problem through laws, not by abandoning the idea of telecommunication.

So let the legal and political debate begin over how best to use RFIDs without being used by them. It’ll get tedious and, yes, annoying. But we humans love our gadgets far too much to give them up entirely, even when they talk about us behind our backs.

Note the way he writes about Ms. Albrecht. I guess the Globe ombudsman made him take out "don’t you worry your pretty little head about this."

Yes, I know that I’m just giving Mr. Bray more exposure. But, just as is happening elsewhere, the rhetoric is getting nastier and nastier, with an accompanying hardening of positions all around. And that’s NOT good. Getting through these disputes depends upon meaningful communication, not screeds, but screeds are what we seem to be getting more and more of — and increasingly noxious ones at that!

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And I’ve Been Fuming About This All Week [10:26 am]

I read this one while flying to Augusta and, due to limitation on Internet access, I’ve only just now gotten to say something about it. The infamous Hiawatha Bray wrote a terrible piece of nonsense last week: Canada judge crosses line on file-sharing [pdf]

The Canadians, who often consign the United States to the status of rogue nation, demonstrated last week that they too can thumb their noses at international law when the fancy takes them.

That’s one way to read the ruling by Canadian judge Konrad von Finckenstein, who declared that citizens of the Great White North can swap copyrighted music over the Internet to their hearts’ content. Canadian representatives of the recording industry had demanded that Internet providers hand over the names of file-swappers. Finckenstein could simply have turned down the demand, but he went further, declaring that the swappers were doing nothing wrong in the first place. Sharing files with others, he declared, was a legitimate personal use of the music, not a copyright violation. Which means that Canadians may legally pass around copies of their favorite music recordings or movies–even if these recordings were produced by US artists or firms.

But wait — isn’t there some sort of treaty covering that? Don’t countries have to enforce each other’s copyright statutes? Well, yes. Sort of. The World Intellectual Property Organization is the global body that’s supposed to see to this sort of thing. It’s supported by a long and grandiose copyright treaty, just the sort of thing that ought to be dear to the hearts of Canadian leaders.

But Canada hasn’t ratified the treaty. The government says it’s going to–just you wait. But till it does, Canada is a sort of digital Sunni Triangle, a place where file swappers roam wild and free and no American musician is safe.

Mr. Bray, who generally just engages in wallowing in his ignorance or bootlicking Microsoft, here decides to take things a step further into the realm of offensiveness, particularly with the “Sunni Triangle” bit, although the whole “blame Canada” thing is cretinous in and of itself.

Maybe he’s just auditioning for Jack Valenti’s position?

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Revising the Economics of eTailing [10:19 am]

I saw this while I was away — and I still can’t quite believe it: Labels seek end to 99c music per song download

The Wall Street Journal reports that the major five labels think that 99 cents per song is too cheap, and are discussing a price hike that would increase the tariff to $1.25 up to $2.99 per song.

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Apple DMCA sends iTunes DRM decryptor offshore [10:15 am]

I recall reading about the start of this before I left town. It will be interesting to see how Apple elects to respond: Apple DMCA sends iTunes DRM decryptor offshorer

PlayFair uses Jon Johansen’s iTunes circumvention to remove fair-use restrictions from iTunes Music Store files. Apple allows buyers to play the files on three authorized Windows or Macintosh computers and an unlimited number of iPods, and to burn up to ten CDs with the same playlist, which many Apple users have no problem with. However the circumvention allows you to play the files on a Linux machine, for example, or a smartphone or any other MP3 player that supports AAC playback. The new location for PlayFair is at Sarovar, a hosting company for software libre projects based in Trivandrum, India.

Note that, once again, a decision not to support the Linux platform leads to reverse-engineering of a standard, with the accompanying loss of the purported DRM benefits of the format — despite the "protections" of the DMCA. So far, firms have decided to ask for even more draconian legislative and enforcement remedies — but what about just supporting the platform, taking away the incentive for the coders to develop in the first place?

Of course, this is what Stallman worries about when he rails against “open source.” So far, few firms have figured this out (nVidia, for example). But they can’t stay dumb forever, can they?

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DRM Interop? [10:04 am]

From The Register: Time Warner invests in ContentGuard

With buddies like Time Warner and Microsoft, the company is politically well positioned to continue to lead in the DRM standards process. Faultline has speculated in the past that DRM interoperability is the best way around the impasse between Consumer Electronics (CE) manufacturers reluctance to pay homage to Microsoft owned technology. Now they can write their own DRM systems to arms length public standards and have no complaint about co-existing in a DRM regime shared with Microsoft technology.

Michael Miron, CEO of ContentGuard said: “Together with Microsoft and Time Warner’s input into our company’s direction, we can accelerate the pace of development for the new standards and technologies that we champion.”

It will be lost on few scholars of digital media that the Microsoft Time Warner axis now has colossal influence over standards in DRM but also in codecs and digital media players. Recently Time Warner was voted a vice-chairmanship seat at the DVD Forum which is driving the future standard for high density Blue Laser DVDs, just as the Forum passed a vote to include the Microsoft codec in the Blue Laser standard.

And, of course, Microsoft squares Intertrust DRM suit for $440m

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