call to libraries to boycott DRM

Following an action at my own BPL, the anti-DRM organization Defective by Design is calling for libraries to boycott products that use DRM.

The Open Letter to Libraries is posted @ DBD’s website, and they have also made a sample letter / template available for us to send our own letters.

Link via cory @ boingboing

DRM litigation bait

Surely some enterprising plaintiff-side attorney can generate a lawsuit from the reasonable expectations of consumers to continue to have access to the music they paid for:

Customers who have purchased music from Microsoft’s now-defunct MSN Music store are now facing a decision they never anticipated making: commit to which computers (and OS) they want to authorize forever, or give up access to the music they paid for. Why? Because Microsoft has decided that it’s done supporting the service and will be turning off the MSN Music license servers by the end of this summer.

MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett sent out an e-mail this afternoon to customers, advising them to make any and all authorizations or deauthorizations before August 31. “As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers,” reads the e-mail seen by Ars. “You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play.” …

Bennett insists that MSN Music keys are, in fact, not yet expiring. Technically speaking, that’s true—if I authorize one of my PCs, never get rid of it for the rest of my life, and never upgrade its OS, I will be able to play my tracks forever. But as some of our readers note, this technicality is not rooted in reality—the authorizations will now expire when the computer does, for whatever reason.

quoted from DRM sucks redux: Microsoft to nuke MSN Music DRM keys, Jacquie Cheng, 2008/4/22, Ars Technica; connecting link from somewhere i forget

electronic provenance

I was checking out Tor’s new wallpapers and thinking about the uses of provenance in the art world. Tor is a science fiction publisher, and they’ve been doing one of those Publisher Experiments with the new digital world. (In fact, Tor released this week Farthing by Jo Walton for free — this was an amazing alternate history book. If you can still get the copy, do it! I already had my print-and-ink copy but was delighted to have an electronic one as well.)

Tor’s model is to release something on their website, and then take it off. No DRM on the released wallpapers or the PDF of the book so far as I know (don’t take my word on that: I didn’t test it out or go looking for testimonials; I just took a bare look at the file format & basic ability to do what I wanted, namely, copy-and-paste). But they make a big deal out of “get it this week, because this it’ll be gone”.

Of course, for the desperate or enterprising fan, they will still be able to get it, somewhere, on the Internet, or from some fan or was a bit more on the ball. But it got me thinking (as I often do, anyway) about this kind of model of distribution. Tor is using the carrot approach to bringing traffic to their website and to their writers and artists, as opposed to the stick approach. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the fabulous & tech-savvy Nielsen Hayden’s were responsible in part for this approach.) They Might Be Giants has done this sort of thing for a while, too, and other artists as well.

Signed-and-numbered prints or casts of works of art are a slightly different take on creating scarcity. Rather than time-limited, the works are quantity-limited. FaceBook just happened on this calculus too: my partner and I were recently amused to see FaceBook hawking icons of flowers and chocolates and what-not for a dollar apiece, noting that they are limited! Only a hundred thousand available! I guess in a network of millions a hundred thousand is limited. And there’s no question that FaceBook would be pretty darn happy if a hundred thousand people pony up a buck apiece for an icon of a chocolate. Hell, even if only a tiny fraction do it, it’s spam economics: Practically free for FaceBook to offer it, so any income generated is 99.999% pure profit.

Tor, or any artist or group trying to create scarcity, could easily do this too, and you’d never need DRM: Electronically number each copy, and maintain a provenance database. That’s the simple version. You could also do something fancier, like provide a unique hash of the original download data trail, for instance. Whatever you did, the point is to make the copies unique in some fashion, and to “officially” verify and/or track the unique copies. Sure people would copy the items, but without proving provenance, you wouldn’t have the original. The knock-offs are every bit as good as the original, except to the collectors and fans — who would be driven by the strange economics of fannish obsession to acquire originals. Or maybe even multiple originals.

In theory the general market for commercial software — which is typically licensed with their “unique” serial numbers — could operate this way, but MS Word just doesn’t have collectability. Functionality is ever the enemy of collectability.1 Or in the case of MS Word, semi-functionality. Games could build this in, I imagine. Maybe they have!

While this idea is wholly my derivation and assemblage of the constituent components ™, ©, etc., I’m sure it has probably been independently invented and may even be out there in other publisher or artist or musician experiments somewhere. If any readers know of such a distribution, I’d be delighted to hear about it in comments or email.


1 – Spellcheck suggests that “collectibility” is probably more correct, but that just irks me. Collectibles is fine, but the attraction of collectibles should be collectAbility.

The awesomeness of Miro

The awesomeness of Miro

Miro is the awesome successor to the Democracy TV player. It’s open source and supports open content. It’s being developed by the Participatory Culture Foundation, whose president, NAME, was recently interviewed at Groklaw.

Reville had this to say about DRM:

[Miro is] not [compatible with DRM], and we don’t support DRM. We think it’s a terrible technology for consumers. We think it’s terrible for the public. It restricts people’s free speech and copyright rights in a whole number of ways. And what’s really going to turn the tide … is that major media companies, like the major record labels, are realizing that when they put DRM on the media that they’re trying to sell, they sell less of it. … I think the television, movie and other video companies … will eventually realize that they’re limiting their own sales, and they’re not preventing any kind of unauthorized distribution by putting DRM onto their media.

… and followed it up with these comments on net neutrality and the impact on lawful activities of ISPs being pushed into network filtering or other non-neutral practices:

We think that net neutrality is vital to the health of the Internet and our hope is that, in the United States and globally, that that will become part of the law for ISPs, and there’s candidates like Barack Obama that have come out really clearly supporting that neutrality. As soon as you get into things like filtering, restricting what type of technologies people can use to share information, you’re going to start locking out speech, and you’re going to start shutting down important ways that people are talking to each other.

Miro, for instance, supports BitTorrent, which is known I think among most people as an unauthorized file sharing platform. But the way Miro uses it is people connect to channels in the Miro guide that are video offered by the publisher in BitTorrent format because it lets them deliver very high [quality] video at very, very low cost. And so you have channels like Democracy Now, for instance, that uses BitTorrent to distribute multi hundreds of megabyte video files every day, and instead of incurring massive bandwidth costs, they’re able to use BitTorrent to keep that price way down. Once you start restricting BitTorrent at the ISP level, that means that organizations like Democracy Now are no longer able to get that message out. It’s just that simple. …

(linked from Thomas Gideon at Open Media Review, 2/26)

more artist innovation in music distribution

A NYT blog is reporting that Radiohead is making digital copies of its next album available for pick-your-own-price amount — and the best part is they’re DRM-free.

Commenters on the post were almost all positive. A few salient points pulled out of comments:
* This will generate fans for and interest in its nice physical artifact versions of the albums — which are for sale for a fixed price, offering a solid profit point;
* This offers would-be downloaders an opportunity to get authorized DRM-free music at a reasonable price — a sort of come-in-from-the-cold attitude that, however small, will generate more revenue from these downloaders than they otherwise would have had;
* 100% of the proceeds — however small — are going to Radiohead, rather than 5-10% of the cost of a $15-$20 CD.

reading today: imprecatory prayer & native iphone apps

I’ve been following the news about Wiley Drake and if you haven’t, you should too. Drake endorsed a Republican candidate (Huckabee, whose campaign has distanced itself from Drake) using church stationery and resources, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State did what it does in such situations — call for an investigation of the church’s tax-exempt status. When Wiley found out he called for his followers to engage in “imprecatory prayer”, calling for the death of various Americans United officials. Sweet. Of course, AU officials might not take it so lightly, since AU is comprised not so much of the godless like myself, as of the god-ridden (albeit of the liberal or classically US founding fathers variety). I doubt AU folks are very worried that God(s) will take Drake seriously, but it’s gotta feel a little unnerving and upsetting. Like when you complain to your boss about a coworker and then the coworker one-ups you and complains to the boss’s boss about you, and asks that you be cursed, smited, and fired, and that your kids be cursed, too.

And, Eli Jacobwitz posted about native apps for the iphone. I confess that when I first clicked-through I thought it was going to be, I don’t know, a rolodex of tribal council members, or maybe a Cherokee-language something, or a — well, you get the idea. I surrender my geek creds for that but I haven’t been reading much geek news lately. Of course, the article was about an little-n native app, but it has some good links & opinion about the wisdom of Apple’s keeping the iPhone closed.

fannish media studies

A friend just sent me a link to this fan video about the TV series “Supernatural”. What an awesome demonstration of the power of technology to enable media criticism. A thousand feminists could comment about exploitative or graphic visual depictions of violence against women in a series or on TV generally, and it would never have the effect of this video. … And to conclude: this is why DRM and the DMCA suck. Because they prevent (or try to prevent) people from being able to do this.

technological mandates

I’ve written before about the ways in which criminalizing specific medical procedures — e.g., the “partial birth abortion act” — is a technological mandate. As a technological mandate, bans on specific abortion procedures are subject to all the same flaws, overreaches, underreaches, definitional problems, and obsolescence problems that mandates involving technological protection measures for copyrighted works are. As with people’s experiences with DRM, the best way to see the problems with these kinds of rules is to hear the stories of women who have had “partial birth abortions”. I encourage geek liberators to think about technological mandates more broadly.

DRM-less online music sales and other good news

Well, Steve Jobs certainly looks prescient, what with EMI dropping DRM for its iTunes sales. Why do I suppose they were already in negotiations when Steve Jobs wrote his editorial?

Never mind, it’s still good news. (As is the decision from the Supreme Court on EPA’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases, a case that worried me. Yes, Virginia, if masses of scientific evidence show that human emissions are harming the environment, then the Environmental Protection Agency needs to deal with it.)

france ipod/DRM legislation passed

(edited & corrected as I learn more)

According to MacObserver, the French legislation opening DRM (like that on apple’s ipod) has now passed into law. Presumably, this was supposed to open up Apple’s scheme to competitors so music purchased at iTunes store will play on other devices. According to consumer groups this portion was quite weakened; however, Forbes still seems critical so presumably there must be some consumer-friendly benefit left?

A few months ago, amendments had been introduced that would have made this the the first national law, so far as I’m aware, to aggressively target the anti-competitive / anti-consumer aspects of DRM. Unfortunately those were significantly watered down from the original proposal. The *rest* of the bill is pretty bad, largely anti-P2P and anti-circumvention provisions. The “fair use” pieces are interesting: France added in recognition of educational uses, disability, web caching, etc.; but then weakened all these, plus preexisting “fair use” type exceptions by importing the Berne three step test which says exceptions “cannot hamper the normal exploitation of the work … [nor] cause an undue loss to the legitimate interests of the author.”

In the meantime, Wikipedia has the most current info (Eng). Also see commentary on the bill at Ars Technica (Eng), BoingBoing (Eng), Stop DRM (Fr). I’m laboriously reading thru it the bill at http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/12/ta/ta0596.asp (PDF) (Fr, of course).

potential evidence for intelligent design

questionable authority reviews a pro-’intelligent design theory’ entry that describes a future history of the fabulous medical and scientific breakthroughs generated by ‘intelligent design theory’ and the abandonment of ‘Darwinism’. While the whole post is highly recommended, it was one of the commentors who really tickled my fancy. Responding to the future history’s assertion that ‘Darwinist’ scientists ignore ‘junk DNA’*, commentator Stephen Stralka adds:

It also occurs to me that no matter how much functionality we ultimately discover in junk DNA, none of it will be any better evidence for ID than what we currently know about DNA.

The kind of thing that would be evidence of design would be if the junk DNA turned out to contain stuff like copyright notices and license agreements.

Or copy protection. DRM-protected genomes that prevent unauthorized replications, derivative works, jumping genes & species hopping diseases? Or maybe when you have a baby, a rootkit installs itself on the parents’ reproductive organs, preventing them from further replications. I do indeed see a great future for ‘intelligent design theory’.

(Another commenter followed up:

Oh, man. “If you agree to the terms of this pregnancy, click Agree. Otherwise, click Abort.”

Except that he’s missing about 5 screens’ worth of finely printed legal verbiage about restrictions on the pregnancy and abortion process. Luckily Frontline has got it covered.)


* According to the ‘future history of intelligent design’, ‘Darwinian’ scientists don’t do research on ‘junk DNA’. really? in this future history, will my partner’s dissertation & ongoing postdoc work on various aspects of gene regulation turn out to have all just been a terrible and poorly-compensated decade-long dream?

interesting reading, early saturday morning

Up early for my spouse who caught a red-eye. Now she’s resting peacefully and I of course can’t get back to sleep. But that’s okay, because there’s the Internet!

  • Positive outcomes of BlogHer: Mary Hodder at Napsterization is establishing a Speakers’ Wiki.

  • In response to publisher anxieties & thinly-veiled threats of litigation, Google is implementing an opt-out provision in its scan-copyrighted-library-books program, and delaying scans of copyrighted books until November. [google blog] This has been widely reported as Google backing down. See, e.g., “Chilled by Publishers” (BoingBoing), “Google Sells Out Users” (Copyfight). I agree, sell-out, chill, yes, yes, but am taking a moment to appreciate the sweetness of the opt-out option as default.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan had a different take, predicated largely (it seems to me) on the fact that Google is a for-profit corporation. For once, I disagree with Siva, and on two grounds: both with library exceptionalism in this instance and the take on American Geophysical Union.

  • Ed Felten on Freedom to Tinker [8/9] talked about the DRM in Microsoft’s Longhorn-cum-Vista. Copyfight (8/9) summed it up and added this pithy observation: “[T]his isn’t about stopping mass copyright infringement or pleasing Hollywood. It’s about keeping “consumers” locked in and people who develop potentially competing products locked out.” See also Derek Slater at EFF Deeplinks (8/9).

  • On Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha ponders intelligent design, reminding us that the whole kerfluffle is not about debates between religion and science, but about debates between a few modern religious leaders who are picking issues:

    Darwin’s 1859 publication of The Origin of Species incited a wicked backlash from religious quarters in the United States, pitting science directly against religion. But within three decades an accommodation had been achieved, as Richard Hofstadter described in Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944):

    Science, [Le Conte] urged, should be looked upon not as the foe of religion, but rather as a complementary study of the ways in which the First Cause operated in the natural world. Whatever science might learn, the existence of God as First Cause could always be assumed.

    This raises the question: why has a sensible way to reconcile faith and science that has worked for so long become unacceptable to many religious leaders in this country? This is not like the other ongoing battles over religion in the public sphere and the separation between state and church (school prayer, Decalogue displays, funding for parochial schools), all of which raise debatable issues of public and private values.

    Putting it this way helps keep the focus on the small set of religious leaders who are sowing all this unnecessary discord.

    I feel I must document the provenance of this observation: I’m quoting Brian Tamanaha who’s quoting Richard Hofstadter who’s citing Joseph Le Conte who “followed” Asa Gray. I’m just tickled by the lengthy chain, but the observation stands on its own regardless of sources.

  • fafblog has been brilliant recently: two on intelligent design: creation science, creation technology! [fafnir 8/10] and overwhelming scientific proof [giblets 8/2]. Then more on torture: claustrophobic techniques [medium lobster 8/4] … in the kingdom of the one-eyed man, the best wars are blind [medium lobster, 7/28]. Segueing nicely from torture, the democrats: the great divorce [fafnir 8/3] . Last but not least, response to some recent efforts by the American Family Assn to provide gay checklists for childrearing: how to tell how gay your gay son is [giblets 8/9]. How despicable is this fear-mongering checklist in the light of this fearful Christian response? [See queerday 7/18, Tampa Bay Online 7/13] Too much anger. That’s why I read fafblog. I could just do a blog indexing fafblog. And still keep the title, ‘derivative work’.

  • A wretched decision out of the NLRB, restricting employees’ off-duty fraternization. Guardsmark, LLC, 334 NLRB No. 97 (2005) (decision in pdf); more info at american rights at work; linked from tom tomorrow. A bit more from me on this case.

Of course, two hours later, the spouse is still sleeping like a baby, and now “Adelaide’s Lament” is going through my head. It’s my own fault for putting iTunes on random shuffle through my entire 80+G music library last week, but still, I last heard that song over a week ago. Probably at some point this morning I had a low-level meditation on my own minor cold and it triggered a “Guys & Dolls” flashback. Unlike LSD, perhaps “Guys & Dolls” really does hang out in your fat cells waiting to be re-triggered.

cory doctorow & john scalzi & others discuss SFWA & ‘piracy’

cory doctorow writes about SFWA’s ongoing campaign against copyright infringement (Why writers should stop worrying about “ebook piracy”– boingboing 5/14)

cory also cited from & linked to john scalzi writing about the same thing (The Stupidity of Worrying About Piracy 5/13).

personally, i much appreciated john’s description of how he feels about readers who can’t pay — borrowers rather than thieves:

Who are pirates? They are people who won’t pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they’re people who can’t pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others). …

As for the people who can’t pay for things, well, look. I grew up poor and made music tapes off the radio; my entire music collection from ages 11 to 14 consisted of tapes that had songs missing their first ten seconds and whose final ten seconds had DJ chatter on them; from 14 to 18, I taped off my friends; from 18 to 22 I reviewed music so I could get it for free. And then after that, once I had money, I bought my music. Because I could. As for books, I bought secondhand paperbacks through my teen and college years. Now I buy hardbacks. Again, because I can. Now, being a writer, you can argue that I’m more self-interested in paying for creative work than others, but I have to honestly say that I don’t know anyone who can pay for a book or a CD or a DVD or whatever who doesn’t, far more often than not.

I don’t see the people who can’t pay as pirates. I see them as people who will pay, once they can. Until then, I think of it as I’m floating them a loan. Nor is it an entirely selfless act. I’m cultivating a reader — someone who thinks of books as a legitimate form of entertainment — and since I want to be a writer until I croak, that’s a good investment for me. More specifically, I’m cultivating a reader of me, someone who will at some point in the future see a book of mine of the shelf, go “Scalzi! I love that dude!” and then take the book off the shelf and take it to the register.

i haven’t read his books but i love that dude!

and then john’s posting was followed by many comments from other writers … among them, scott westerfeld … which led me to scott westerfeld’s new blog. scott posted (without worrying about copyright violations!) on his blog a copy of a letter from a reader who sent him a “token of appreciation” after reading his novel in a bookstore. then scott discussed his feelings on sharing (okay) and mass for-profit reproduction (not okay) and reminded us all that writers are not the whole industry, that publishers and editors and libraries need love too.

… and it all led me to hilary rosen (!) complaining about DRM! consumer unfriendly, she says. user unfriendly. irony is not dead, after all.

Computer Industry Lied to Entertainment Industry !!!

chortle. ButtUgly: Main_blogentry_210904_1:

We lied to you

(Inspired by Cory Doctorow’s DRM speech.)

Dear Content Producers and Owners:

We lied to you. In the golden 80s and 90s we told you micropayments and content protection would work; that you would be able to charge minuscule amounts of money whenever someone listened to your music or watched your movie. We told you untruths which we well knew would never work – after all, we would’ve never used them ourselves. Instead, we wrote things like Kazaa and Gnutella, and all other evil P2P applications to get the stuff free.

We told you these things so that you would finance the things we really wanted to build, not the things that you wanted to be built. We knew all along that DRM schemes do not work, and we knew that whatever we create can be broken by us. We don’t care anymore, because your money made us bigger than you.

Look at us: every year, we churn out more computer games than your entire industry is worth. You know how we do it? We like our customers. We don’t treat them like potential criminals, and try to make our products do less. We invent new things like online role-playing -games, where the money does not come from duplication of bits (which cannot be stopped, regardless of your DRM scheme) but from providing experiences that the people want.

We saw that you were old and weak. So we took advantage of it: told you things that you wanted to hear so we could kick you in the head in twenty years. Some of us told you that the future is going to be interactive – what did you do? You started to think how to make interactive movies (CD-I, anyone?), which is not what it really means, while we wrote games and tried to understand the new mediums, not how to bolt it on onto old things.

We lied to you. And we apologize for that, but it was for the greater good. So we’re not the least bit sorry.

Signed: The Computer Industry

(linked from boingboing)