Glad To See The Tech Cited At Slashdot

And on a topic close to all our hearts: MIT Student Grills Valenti on Fair Use, discussing Real Dialogue: The Tech interviews Jack Valenti — a look at the dialectic of copyright today

T[he ]T[ech]: Indeed, but are you doing that when you rent a movie from Blockbuster and you watch it at home? … I run Linux on my computer. There’s no product I can buy that’s licensed to watch [DVDs]. If I go to Blockbuster and rent a movie and watch it, am I a bad person? Is that bad?

J[ack ]V[alenti]: No, you’re not a bad person. But you don’t have any right.

TT: But I rented the movie. Why should it be illegal?

JV: Well then, you have to get a machine that’s licensed to show it.

TT: Here’s one of these machines; it’s just not licensed.

[Winstein shows Valenti his six-line “qrpff” DVD descrambler.] [Ed: a description]

TT: If you type that in, it’ll let you watch movies.

JV: You designed this?

TT: Yes.

JV: Un-fucking-believable.

TT: So the question is, if I just want to watch a movie–I rent it from Blockbuster–is that bad?

JV: No, that’s not bad.

TT: Then why should it be illegal?

Rich Taylor, MPAA public affairs: It’s not. … You could put it in a DVD player, you could play it on any computer licensed for it.

JV: There’s lots of machines you can play it on.

TT: None under Linux. There’s no licensed player under Linux.

JV: But you’re trying to set your own standards.

TT: No, you said four years ago that people under Linux should use one of these licensed players that would be available soon. They’re still not available — it’s been four years.

JV: Well why aren’t they available? I don’t know, because I don’t make Linux machines.

Let me put it in my simple terms. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, that’s wrong. Number two, if you design your own machine, you can’t fuss at people, because you’re one of just a few. How many Linux users are there?

TT: About two million.

JV: Well, I can’t believe there’s not any — there must be a reason for… Let me find out about that. You bring up an interesting question — I don’t know the answer to that… Well, you’re telling me a lot of things I don’t know.

And here’s the Slashdot comment that points out that the problem is that copyright control has come to mean access control — and that, as an architecture of control achieved through the exploitation of the fact that we have set up a distribution system that depends upon technologically mediated use, a new kind of copyright power is being asserted, largely on the basis of an argument based on metaphor and a peculiar concept of theft as opportunity cost:

Re:Best. Excerpt. Ever. (Score:5, Insightful)

by RedWizzard (192002) on Wednesday April 28, @04:33PM (#9000541)

Linux users do not have a God or country given right to watch American Wedding on their Linux box.

The point is that they should. A purchaser of a DVD should be able to do whatever they like with the DVD and it’s content provided they don’t break any copyright laws. They should be able to access the content however they like, they should be able to transfer that content between devices and media they own, they should be able to edit it for private viewing, and they should be able to quote small parts of it as fair use permits. You are allowed to do all these things with other media such as books and CDs, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to do the same with DVDs (or TV broadcasts). Prior to the DCMA you could, but the DCMA removes all of these rights in an underhanded way. The DCMA removed the country given right that Linux users used to have to watch American Wedding on their Linux box. That is why we hate it.

Update: Donna at CopyFight – Valenti on the Little (Engineer/Linux User) People, referring to Cory Doctorow – MIT makes Jack Valenti look like an idiot

iTunes Updates

The iTunes updates (already downloaded here) are described here: Apple posts major iTunes upgrade — a subsequent article suggests specific motives for the upgrade — Apple misses iTunes sales target by 30%

CEO Steve Jobs had forecast sales of 100 million songs, but in the end ITMS users acquired only 70 million – still sufficient to put the store at the top of the download service chart.

[…] “iTunes has exceeded our wildest expectations during its first year,” Jobs said in statement, the infamous ‘reality distortion field’ kicking in at this point, presumably.

[…] Among the good news, Apple slipped in a little note to the effect that it is tightening its DRM policy, cutting the number of times a playlist can be burned to CD from ten to seven. The move seems unlikely to be much of hindrance to heavyweight music duplicators, leading us to suspect it’s more to do with keeping the labels happy. By way of compensation, downloaded music can now be shared among five computers rather than three.

Slashdot’s thoughts: Apple Releases Major iTunes Update

Update: Wired News’ ITunes Birthday Gift: More Songs on the pluses and minuses of the new release, and the NYTimes’s article: Apple Sells 70 Million Songs in First Year of ITunes Service

The Register Sees A Method To The RIAA Madness

The Register raises an issue that I’ve been posing for a while: RIAA tax could add millions to education fees

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is ramping up its plan to foist costly music subscription services on universities. The move could cost colleges millions, leading to higher tuition fees.

The music-label lobby group today dropped 477 new lawsuits into an already massive litigation pile. Of this group, 69 individuals were singled out by the RIAA, in a statement, for using university networks to trade music files via peer-to-peer services. The RIAA then went one step further and outed the offensive institutions, pointing to Brown University; Emory University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Gonzaga University; Mansfield University; Michigan State University; Princeton University; Sacred Heart University; Texas A & M University; Trinity College (Conn.); Trinity University (Tex.); University of Kansas; University of Minnesota; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

[…] Last month, the RIAA used a similar tactic, when it sued 532 more people. The lobby group pointed out that 89 of the 532 individuals attended university. The RIAA could just have easily pointed out that X percent of those sued were males/females, children/adults, Virgos or churchgoers, but it took pains to put blinking lights around the students, so the press would pick up on the signal.

That’s because the RIAA can point to schools such as Penn State and the University of Rochester that have agreed to run trials of Napster’s music subscription service. These programs are part of what the RIAA calls its “effort to reach out to the university community on proactive solutions to the problem of illegal file sharing on college campuses.”

(The heads of Penn State and Rochester happen to be close friends with the RIAA’s Sherman.)

As part of the pilot agreements, students at Penn State and Rochester get free music at almost no cost at all to their schools.

Slashdot, more generally on the suits: RIAA Files 477 New Filesharing Lawsuits; Wired News with the AP Wire release: RIAA Sues 477 More People

Alternatives To Pure Prohibition Strategies

More fallout from the SpeedBumps conference: Ed Felten points out that, once one recognizes the essential contradictions in a strategy of chasing prohibition of copying, there are other strategies that can be considered: Freedom to Tinker: Stopgap Security

[M]ost people have poor intuition about how to use stopgap measures in security applications. By “stopgap measures” I mean measures that will fail in the long term, but might do some good in the short term while the adversary figures out how to work around them. For example, copyright owners use simple methods to identify the people who are offering files for upload on P2P networks. It’s only a matter of time before P2P designers deploy better methods for shielding their users’ identities so that today’s methods of identifying P2P users no longer work.

Standard security doctrine says that stopgap measures are a bad idea — that the right approach is to look for a long-term solution that the bad guys can’t defeat simply by changing their tactics. Standard doctrine doesn’t demand an impregnable mechanism, but it does insist that a good mechanism must not become utterly useless once the adversary adapts to it.

Yet sometimes, as in copyright owners’ war on P2P infringement, there is no good solution, and stopgap measures are the only option you have. Typically you’ll have many stopgaps to choose from. How should you decide which ones to adopt? I have three rules of thumb to suggest.

Ernest’s thoughts from Copyfight – The Best Defense is a Good Offense

How Long Will This Last?

Russian site is music to the ears — Slashdot discussion: Russian Music Site Offering Legal Songs By The MB

We weren’t about to spend anything like that, but we also weren’t prepared to do anything conspicuously illegal. We bought all those songs for $US48.65, or $66 in local currency, which works out, according to our arithmetic, to 6.8 cents a track.

That’s the apparently insane price proposition that a Russian site called offers its customers. You buy your music by the megabyte, at the rate of 500 MB for $US5 and you dial in the sort of encoding you want: MP3, MPEG4-AAC, OGG, MPC, WMA etc at various bit rates using different encoders _ say the LAME alt-presets. If we were prepared to pay more for the bandwidth, we could elect to have the music encoded with lossless algorithms, giving us the same quality as the original CD.

[…] There is no indication in our dealings with over several weeks that this is one of those dubious enterprises so much loved by the Russian mafia. Our credit card doesn’t seem to have been abused, and while we have no legal qualifications, we can’t see that it fails to comply with the Berne Convention on copyright. According to the company, “All the materials in the MediaServices projects are available for distribution via internet, according to Licence # LS-3M-02-36 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society.”

It claims it pays licence fees for all material on the site, “subject to the law of the Russian Federation on copyright and related rights”. We hope that this is correct, because under the terms of use, we’ve agreed we won’t use their services “if it is in conflict with legislation of your country”.

See also MP3Search

Update: The Register: Russian ‘legal’ music site offers songs for 5¢

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Office Culture

A Web of Electronic Denial

Spyware is far sneakier than we had ever imagined.

Evidently these cunning applications are now leaping off the Internet and pouncing on peoples’ computers without any assistance from the humans whose office PCs have fallen victim.

The same goes for music files, games and video clips — hardly anyone will admit to downloading, installing or using these things on their work computers, but despite protestations of innocence, somehow these time-, space- and bandwidth-wasting applications and files have infested corporate computers across America, according to the Web@Work 2004 survey of network administrators and corporate employees that was released Wednesday.

[…] “No one installs it, yet this garbage is on so many machines. Obviously the spyware fairy shows up late at night and installs the junk on their systems,” said Keith Hitchens, who maintains networks for several clients, including a Manhattan public relations firm and a magazine-publishing business.

Hitchens’ spyware fairy is evidently one busy little pixie, visiting firms across the country on a regular basis. Forty percent of the systems administrators who responded to the survey said the number of spyware-infected computers at their organizations has significantly increased in the past year.

Music Biz

Neither the Boston Globe nor the NYTimes had been delivered (or put into vending machines) when I left the house this morning, so I was stuck with USA Today over my morning bagel. But I got to read this interesting article — Jackson’s finances are solid, adviser says. The interesting part to me is the sidebar:

Michael Jackson’s net worth is estimated at $350 million. The bulk of his wealth comes from his 50% stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which holds the publishing rights to about 4,000 popular songs and generates an estimated $80 million in annual revenue. Among the catalog’s artists:

  • The Beatles (virtually every song written by the Fab Four)

  • Elvis Presley

  • Willie Nelson

  • Destiny’s Child (acquired under Sony’s purchase of EMI’s catalog)

  • The Pointer Sisters

  • Stevie Nicks

  • Sly and the Family Stone

  • Conway Twitty

  • Pearl Jam

  • Acuff-Rose Music Publishing, a big country catalog that includes songs by Roy Acuff, Fred Rose, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison

The NRC On the Patent System

Wired News writes about a new NRC study, A Patent System for the 21st Century (2004) (online prepublication version), in :New Study Urges Patent Upgrade

The key recommendations:

  • Preserve an open-ended, unitary, flexible patent system

  • Reinvigorate the non-obviousness standard

  • Institute an Open Review procedure

  • Strengthen USPTO capabilities

  • Shield some research uses of patented inventions from liability for infringement (e.g., academic research)

  • Modify or remove the subjective elements of litigation [Ed: good luck on the latter!]

  • Reduce redundancies and inconsistencies among national patent systems

NRC2000: The Digital Dilemma

While hunting up another NRC report, I came across this one from 2000, which I have apparently never cited here – The Digital Dilemma.

From the report’s Executive Summary:

This deceptively simple problem illustrates the combination of promise and peril that make up the digital dilemma. The information infrastructure–by which we mean information in digital form, computer networks, and the World Wide Web–has arrived accompanied by contradictory powers and promises. For intellectual property in particular it promises more–more quantity, quality, and access–while imperiling one means of rewarding those who create and publish. It is at once a remarkably powerful medium for publishing and distributing information, and the world’s largest reproduction facility. It is a technology that can enormously improve access to information, yet can inhibit access in ways that were never before practical. It has the potential to be a vast leveler, bringing access to the world’s information resources to millions who had little or no prior access, and the potential to be a stratifier, deepening the division between the information “haves” and “have-nots.”

The information infrastructure has as well the potential to demolish a careful balancing of public good and private interest that has emerged from the evolution of U.S. intellectual property law over the past 200 years. The public good is the betterment of society that results from the constitutional mandate to promote the “progress of science and the useful arts”; the private interest is served by the time-limited monopoly (a copyright or patent) given to one who has made a contribution to that progress. The challenge is in striking and maintaining the balance, offering enough control to motivate authors, inventors, and publishers, but not so much control as to threaten important public policy goals (e.g., preservation of the cultural heritage of the nation, broad access to information, promotion of education and scholarship). As usual, the devil is in the details, and by and large the past 200 years of intellectual property history have seen a successful, albeit evolving, balancing of those details. But the evolving information infrastructure presents a leap in technology that may well upset the current balance, forcing a rethinking of many of the fundamental premises and practices associated with intellectual property.

[…] The Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and the Emerging Information Infrastructure believes that fundamental change is afoot. As a society we need to ask whether the existing mechanisms still work, and if not, what should be done. What options exist for accomplishing the important goals of intellectual property law and policy in the digital age? Test cases are now the stuff of daily news, as for example the upheaval in music publishing and distribution caused by digital recording and the MP3 format. The committee believes that society needs to look further out than today’s crisis, try to understand the nature of the changes taking place, and determine as best it can what their consequences might be, what it would wish them to be, and how it might steer toward fulfilling the promise and avoiding the perils. Stimulating that longer-range exploration is the purpose of this report.