May 4, 2004

Cynical or Naïve? [11:13 pm]

Ed Felten raises an important counter-point to the all-to-common perspective that those who act to push content control technologies clearly have a clever hidden agenda to achieve their latent (and nefarious) ends — Dare To Be Naive

Ed’s point is well taken. In fact, I would argue that there is another dimension to the situation that supports his position — the role of ideology. While we’ve all seen movies where the villians revel in their evil, the fact is that there are not a lot of people who can remain functional while consciously pursuing a villianous goal. Granted, their actions might be nefarious, but it is only the true sociopath who can actively pursue destructive ends while declaring the opposite and remain functional.

The fact that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” derives from the fact that, in order to function in an increasingly complex world, everyone is forced to construct simplifying models of the way that the world works. When these models (a) work and (b) are buttressed with rationalizing arguments, we get something more potent — an ideology.

The problem with ideologies is that, even though they work, they rely upon simplifications that will not obtain over time. These simplifications will eventually be the downfall of the ideology, but sometimes it takes a very long time before the failure of the ideology is recognized, meaning that a lot of bad (and potentially quite destructive) decisions get made in the interim.

Examples: the “domino theory,” the “free” market, “the government that governs best, governs least,” the “tragedy of the commons”

The copyright fight is driven by the perception that creativity occurs when there is a guarantee of reward; that the market is the instrument to deliver that reward; and that the institutions that generate that reward in the market should be defended at all costs. Each example that is dredged up to counter that ideology is rationalized away as an exceptional case — but the examples keep coming.

Eventually, the ideology will die, and a new one will replace it. The stakes in the fight are not making sure that the ideology eventually falls; rather it’s all about figuring how to make sure that the damage that derives from the actions based upon the mistaken ideology are not so destructive as to take us all down with it.

Thus, we didn’t win Eldred; but we did get Creative Commons. We didn’t defeat the DMCA; but we got Chilling Effects. Software can be copyrighted, but we also have the GPL. Companies are learning how IP can be the instrument of a new enclosure movement, but groups are learning to leverage community to defend the intellectual commons. We’re stuck with software and business method patents; but we keep showing just how destructive they are.

Ernest is right; our opponents are not (all) stupid people. But they don’t have nefarious ends. Rather, they’re acting within the confines of the ideologies that they believe explain the way the world works. They aren’t evil or stupid; they’re just confused and frustrated. The old methods aren’t working, even though they *know* their methods are “right.” In fact, they’re in exactly the same boat that we are. And we know we aren’t evil.

Ideologies are hard to defeat, because they’re invisible to those who hold them. To us, it’s an ideology; to them, it’s “the way the world works.” Beating it will take time, being honest about what is happening and working really hard to devise a new way of looking at the world that we can collectively agree upon.

We can’t afford to write them off as “evil.” That’s seductive, but dangerous because it simply isn’t true. They’re just doing what they think is right. We have to respect that as we work to show them that they’re mistaken.

To wit: See Siva Viadhynathan’s story over at the Lessig Blog: Free Culture and the Future of Music, Part 1: Ad Hominem, Ad Nauseum [via Copyfight]

(Sorry: this is probably (more than) a little long-winded for this space. I’ll try paring this down in the morning; or at least working to make sure that I haven’t been too pedantic. In the interim, my apologies.)

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Ernest Keeping Up With Jenny [5:29 pm]

Just too many good things out there. Ernest Miller, in Copyfight: Tales of DRM Terror, tracks a couple of postings on the realities of DRM: Jenny Levine’s at I Locked Myself Out Again? and Steven Levy’s at iTunes and Lawsuits [pdf]

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Two From Slashdot [5:10 pm]

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Record Industry Biz [10:33 am]

Recording Companies Agree to Pay $50M

Major recording companies have agreed to return nearly $50 million in unclaimed royalties to Sean Combs, Gloria Estefan (news), Dolly Parton (news) and thousands of lesser known musicians under a settlement being announced Tuesday.

A two-year investigation by New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office found that many artists were not being paid royalties because record companies lost contact with the performers and had stopped making required payments.

“As a result of this agreement, new procedures will be adopted to ensure that the artists and their descendants will receive the compensation to which they are entitled,” Spitzer said in a statement.

The Washington-based Recording Industry Association of America (news - web sites), which represents the companies, planned to comment after the official announcement, said spokesman Jonathan Lamy.

Representatives for Combs and Parton did not immediately return calls for comment. A spokesman for Estefan, reached prior to the announcement, was unaware of the settlement and had no immediate comment.

The participating companies include: SONY Music Entertainment; Sony ATV Music Publishing; Warner Music Group; UMG Recordings; Universal Music; EMI Music Publishing; BMG Songs; Careers-BMG Music Publishing; BMG Music and the Harry Fox Agency.

Under the settlement, the music companies agreed to make good-faith efforts to track down artists to whom royalties are due. If the artists still cannot be located, the money will revert to the state.

Hard to believe that J.Lo wouldn’t have passed along P.Diddy’s address!

Update: Press release from Eliot Spitzer’s office: $50 Million in Royalties Returns to Artists

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Groklaw on Janus [10:15 am]

They really got into it: Protecting Copyrights - Reductio Ad Absurdum - and a Choice: An Independent FOSS Study

They pretend the problem is that people aren’t flocking to subscription models because they couldn’t temporarily take their music on a trip. So they solved that consumer “problem”. However, the article tells the truth. They invented this two-faced, appropriately named DRM product to make it easier for companies. They solved Disney’s problem, or imagine they have. The problem they are trying to solve is: how can you force the world to stick to the old business model of entertainment companies after disruptive technology has been invented?

Nobody wants to rent disappearing music. Period.

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Taking on Military Culture in Video Games [8:52 am]

From Salon: The “Velvet-Strike” underground — an article on Velvet Strike

From their “about” page:

Velvet-Strike is a collection of spray paints to use as graffiti on the walls, ceiling, and floor of the popular network shooter terrorism game “Counter-Strike”. Velvet-Strike was conceptualized during the beginning of Bush’s “War on Terrorism.” We invite others to submit their own “spray-paints” relating to this theme.

From the Salon article

“Velvet-Strike” has been irritating gamers for two years now. But its relevance seems only to be increasing, as casualties continue to mount in Iraq, and the gaming industry continues to jump on the military bandwagon. In the first days of the Iraq war, Sony copyrighted the phrase “shock and awe,” for use in a (now abandoned) future video game. “America’s Army,” the game created as a P.R. and recruiting tool for the real U.S. Army, is now the No. 1 online action game, according to CBS News.

Games like “Counter-Strike” create their own highly militarized, highly political world, and their creators pride themselves on the “realism” of the games. Protesters who deplore that reality — and who go inside the game to deploy “Velvet-Strike’s” graffiti — are not welcome. But while many may not agree with their actions, so-called protest mod makers don’t fit in the pro-censorship camp so often reviled by game enthusiasts. “Velvet-Strikers” rely on the game to make their point. They leverage the existing design and popularity of the game to assist them in bringing their anti-militarism agenda into the game itself.

[...] Mods are extensions or adaptations of an original game, made possible by game makers who allow access to portions of a game’s code. But even though her project is labeled a “protest mod” by the Whitney, Schleiner admits that “we did not program anything ourselves. We used a built-in function in ‘Counter-Strike’ — available to all ‘Half-Life’-based games — the ability to upload your own sprays or graffiti to servers that everyone can see, and spray them wherever you want in the game space.”

[...] When news of “Velvet-Strike” first made the rounds, Schleiner was often lumped in with the anti-gaming-violence crowd. It’s a tricky distinction — to accept blood and guts in games while proposing an anti-military-action agenda. (For the record, she’s not against violent games.)

[...] The point, for Schleiner and others, is to draw a clearer distinction between entertainment and coerced thought. “I enjoy playing violent games and I enjoy watching action movies,” she says. “But I don’t want to play violent games where I am an American killing Arabs in a contemporary Middle East setting. Then there is no difference between entertainment and propaganda. The U.S. government is well aware of the propagandistic potential of games, which is why they have developed free military games like ‘America’s Army’ and ‘Full Spectrum Warrior.’”

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J.D.Lasica’s Wiki Experiment [8:34 am]

Darknet: an experiment in group editing — pointers to a wiki wherein Darknet: Remixing the Future of Movies, Music and Television will undergo internet revision and editing. [via JoHo]

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Video Mashup: The All New Apprentice [8:17 am]

Trump Fires Bush on the Apprentice: See Donald Trump fire George Bush.

As the EFF MiniLinks site points out, with the Broadcast Flag in place, this form of expression might very well be impossible.

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"Freedom," On Our Terms [8:08 am]

U.S. blunders with keyword blacklist — what fool in our government decided this was a good idea?

The U.S. government concocted a brilliant plan a few years ago: Why not give Internet surfers in China and Iran the ability to bypass their nations’ notoriously restrictive blocks on Web sites?

Soon afterward, the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) invented a way to let people in China and Iran easily route around censorship by using a U.S.-based service to view banned sites such as BBC News, MIT and Amnesty International.

But an independent report released Monday reveals that the U.S. government also censors what Chinese and Iranian citizens can see online. Technology used by the IBB, which puts out the Voice of America broadcasts, prevents them from visiting Web addresses that include a peculiar list of verboten keywords. The list includes “ass” (which inadvertently bans, “breast” (, “hot” ( and, “pic” ( and “teen” (

“The minute you try to temper assistance with evading censorship with judgments about how that power should be used by citizens, you start down a path from which there’s no clear endpoint,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard University law professor and co-author of the report prepared by the OpenNet Initiative. The report was financed in part by the MacArthur Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

[...] Ken Berman, who oversees the China and Iran Internet projects at IBB, said Anonymizer came up with the list of dirty words. “We did not,” Berman said. “Basically, we said, ‘Implement a porn filter.’ We were looking for serious, hard-core nasty stuff to block…I couldn’t come up with a list (of off-limits words) if my life depended on it.”

Well, now we know the fool — and he’s also a gutless one. Blaming [fill in anyone but me] seems typical for more and more government officials these days. Heaver forbid someone be willing to take responsibility for her/his actions!

And where does Declan come up with this bit?

In the abstract, the argument is a reasonable one. If the IBB’s service had blocked only hard-core pornographic Web sites, few people would object.

Who’s got time to worry about something as dumb as this? If we believe in freedom, then we have to believe in the ability of the individual to make choices. If there are Chinese who want to exercise their freedom by looking at porn, what business is it of mine??

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Education or Propaganda? What’s the Diff? [7:50 am]

You decide. The Junior Achievement materials on filesharing/copyright developed with the MPAA are pointed to by IPNewsBlog: Programs - Supplements - Digital Citizenship — especially see Introduction and Introductory Activities

A brief history of copyright

The Congress shall have power… to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries

Article I, Section 8, United States Constitution

I don’t know many Americans who tolerate anyone treading on our Constitution. Yet those individuals the recording industry recently sued for wanton copyright violations on the Internet, if found guilty, did exactly that. Every time someone downloads a commercial book, song, film or software program they that they ought to pay for, they’re not just committing a crime, they’re spitting on the Constitution and devaluing the American way of life. The Constitution is the blueprint that defines who and what we are as a country. Electing presidents, collecting taxes, raising armies, establishing courts the Constitution covers the Big Stuff. Neither murder nor massive corporate fraud merited a direct mention in the Constitution. Even free speech had to wait for the amendments. Yet amid creating money and declaring war, there’s this in Article I: To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. This clause, part of a list of powers specifically granted to Congress, is the foundation of copyright law in the United States, the right of authors and artists to control who makes copies of their work. That means each case of copyright crime is a kick in the old “We the People.”

Andrew Burt, Chairman, Electronic Piracy Committee, Science and Fantasy Writers of America

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Total Information Awareness Experiment in Maine [7:11 am]

A chilling glimmer in an engineer’s eye:: Big Brother to Watch Over Island

In coming years, visitors to Ayers Island, the site of an abandoned paper and textile mill in Orono, Maine, will be spied upon by a comprehensive network of video cameras, motion detectors and sensors. Lurking behind all of those sensors will be an artificial intelligence system that will decide who can be trusted and who is deserving of greater scrutiny.

[...] The island’s initial monitoring systems will be rudimentary, made from off-the-shelf parts and store-bought alarm systems.

But eventually, ubiquitous cameras and biometric readers, backed by a central computer, will recognize and record faces and license plates, and make it possible for someone sitting at a computer monitor to track individuals everywhere they go on the island, said George Markowsky, president of Ayers Island LLC.

“This is going to push the envelope on a lot of fronts,” said Markowsky. “The goal is to detect anyone coming onto the island at any point, and to follow them if they exhibit suspicious behavior.”

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Followup on the Bowie/Audi Contest [7:04 am]

Wired News discusses the fallout from the Audi/Bowie Mashup contest (previous post: Bowie Mash-Up Contest): Mashup Artists Face the Music

Nicholas Reville, a co-founder of the music activist project Downhill Battle, says people shouldn’t mistake Bowie’s intentions for the altruism that many mashup artists display in their work.

“One thing to note about David Bowie’s contest is he’s saying, ‘You can use different pieces of my songs,’ which he has the copyrights to,” says Reville. “He’s also saying what you make, he also owns the copyright on, so he’s not really opening his stuff up freely for people to remix. He’s just saying, ‘You can do something for this contest and we’ll own it,’ and that’s a really different approach from DJs and people doing mashups.”

[...] Still, it seems clear that no matter how much attention Bowie brings to mashups — and the technically illegal use of copyrighted music — the art form is probably not going anywhere.

That’s because the growing blog culture of the Internet and cheap remixing software tools are making it easier than ever for DJs to create mashups and share them with the world.

[...] “Mashups are really a product of the Internet, and they’re a product of people having access to this file-sharing library of music that’s larger than any file-sharing library that’s ever been created,” says Reville. But “bloggers are afraid, and rightly so, of getting sued if they put this music on a website. So that’s a really serious problem, and that’s why we need to look at common-sense changes to copyright law that can legalize this art form, because there really is some restrictions placed on it and that’s not good for anybody. It’s sort of a myth that something like the Grey Album is going to be bad for Jay-Z and the Beatles.”

In fact, says DJ N-Wee, he thinks the record labels exercise scare tactics over the control of copyright music because they’re afraid someone is going to come along and use the Internet to subvert the traditional distribution model of records, tapes and CDs.

“I’ve been waiting for years for the very first Internet superstar to emerge,” he says. “That’s what the labels are terrified of…. Somebody’s going to make a huge amount of money making their own music and making it available on the Internet.”

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May 2004
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