Quotulatiousness

October 10, 2014

Cory Doctorow – “Information doesn’t want to be free, people want to be free”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Cory Doctorow’s latest book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, briefly reviewed by Ian Steadman in New Statesman:

“Information wants to be free” is a rallying cry for many of those who fight against legal restrictions on the internet. The phrase was coined by the tech writer Stewart Brand in 1984 and referred to the way the web reduces many of the costs of producing and disseminating data to near zero. “Free” in this phrase has also come to mean “freedom”, because the internet makes it easy to avoid censorship.

Doctorow is challenging both interpretations – not because he doesn’t agree with them but because he thinks a crucial premise has been lost. “Information doesn’t want to be free,” he writes, “people want to be free.”

The first two-thirds of the book discusses ways in which artists are penalised by the internet’s present regulatory system. He criticises digital rights management (DRM) technology, which limits the platforms digital files can play on; not only does it mean we don’t “own” the files we pay for, but when a company that supports a file goes bust, the culture locked up in their DRM can be lost for ever. Doctorow describes this as “a library burning in slow motion”.

Many companies such as Apple sell devices that block you from downloading non-approved apps. “That is sold to creators as an anti-piracy measure,” Doctorow tells me when we speak on the phone. “But the most practical application has been to allow Apple to exert market power that it would never have had in any other world.”

This links to the final third of the book, which explores how systems for protecting copyrighted material can also be used for censorship.

November 14, 2013

If you like DRM in your computer, you’ll love it in your car

Filed under: Law, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks that extending the DRM regime to cars (as in the latest vehicle from Renault) will drive consumers crazy:

Forget extra cupholders or power windows: the new Renault Zoe comes with a “feature” that absolutely nobody wants. Instead of selling consumers a complete car that they can use, repair, and upgrade as they see fit, Renault has opted to lock purchasers into a rental contract with a battery manufacturer and enforce that contract with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that can remotely prevent the battery from charging at all.

We’ve long joined makers and tinkerers in warning that, as software becomes a part of more and more everyday devices, DRM and the legal restrictions on circumventing it will create hurdles to standard repairs and even operation. In the U.S., a car manufacturer who had wrapped its onboard software in technical restrictions could argue that attempts to get around those are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — specifically section 1201, the notorious “anti-circumvention” provisions. These provisions make it illegal for users to circumvent DRM or help others do so, even if the purpose is perfectly legal otherwise. Similar laws exist around the world, and are even written into some international trade agreements — including, according to a recently leaked draft, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Since the DMCA became law in 1998, Section 1201 has resulted in countless unintended consequences. It has chilled innovation, stifled the speech of legitimate security researchers, and interfered with consumer rights. Section 1201 came under particular fire this year because it may prevent consumers from unlocking their own phones to use with different carriers. After a broadly popular petition raised the issue, the White House acknowledged that the restriction is out of line with common sense.

August 20, 2013

Another reason to stick with printed books – “undownloading”

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody has another word you need to know about those convenient ebooks you’ve been adding to your reader:

So, it seems that ebook users need to add a new word to their vocabulary: “undownloading” — what happens when you leave the authorized zone in which you may read the ebooks you paid for, and cross into the digital badlands where they are taken away like illicit items at customs. If you are lucky, you will get them back when you return to your home patch — by un-undownloading them.

What makes this tale particularly noteworthy is the way it brings together a host of really bad ideas that the publishing and distribution industries insist on deploying. There’s DRM that means you can’t make backups; there’s the country-specific usage that tries to impose physical geography on your digital ebooks; and there’s the update that spies on you and your system before deciding unilaterally to take away functionality by “undownloading” your ebooks. And copyright maximalists wonder why people turn to unauthorized downloads….

I have dozens of books stashed away on my iPhone … but they’re all public domain works. I doubt I’ll be adding any DRM-afflicted items to my library any time soon.

June 18, 2013

Console game industry model is broken – must be patched with huge wads of customer money

Filed under: Business, Gaming, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:23

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing explains why the console gaming industry’s problems should not be “fixed” by taking away the customer’s rights:

If the current business model is unsustainable, why is that the consumer’s fault? More specifically, why are customers being pushed into giving up their “first sale” rights, along with being asked to plug the holes in the leaky business model with wads of hard-earned cash?

On top of this imposition is the assumption the current model is the only model [$200m movie, anyone?] and that mankind greatly benefits from “thousands of developers” crafting AAA titles. This is completely backward. The industry exists because of its customers, not despite them. AAA studios are not benevolent deities. They’re companies that exist because there’s a market for their products. If this market dies, so do they. If the prices are too high, customers buy elsewhere. Or not at all.

[. . .]

It’s beginning to look like a few members of the industry have been cribbing pages from the disastrous playbook of the recording industry. Raise prices. Blame customers. Bend the world to your business model. Is it only a matter of time before the gaming industry begins lobbying Congress to shut down secondhand sales?

Oh, and if the above twitrant weren’t galling enough, Cliff B. throws in a little something for those who find the online requirements of the Crossbone to be dealbreaker.

    “If you can afford high speed internet and you can’t get it where you live direct your rage at who is responsible for pipe blocking you,” he said.

Really? Maybe I’ll direct my rage at the entitled jackass who’s supporting a company’s decision to effectively limit its own market simply because it can’t live without some sort of DRM infection. And what if you can’t afford high speed internet? Well, you must be one of those people who live in the area marked “Whogivesashitland” in Cliffy’s mental map. And trust me, plenty of rage has been directed at the “pipe blockers,” but they care even less about their customer base than the area of the gaming industry Bleszinski represents.

Those interested in gutting the resale market to protect their margins are turning potential customers into enemies. If you can’t adapt, you can’t succeed. These moves being made by Microsoft (and supported by industry mouthpieces) are nothing more than attempts to subsidize an unsustainable business model by forcibly extracting the maximum toll from as many transactions as possible. The industry is not a necessity or a public good. If it’s going to make the changes it needs to survive, it needs to give up this delusion.

March 11, 2013

Chris Kluwe on the PR disaster that was the SimCity 5 launch

Filed under: Business, Gaming — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

In addition to his “day job” as the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, and his public advocacy role in pushing for same-sex marriage, Chris Kluwe is also a gamer. In this latter persona, he was invited to review the new SimCity 5 release from EA games on behalf of PC Gamer. Business Insider had to bleep out a fair bit of raw Kluwe-ism in the aftermath:

Hi. I’m Chris. I’ve been playing SimCity ever since the Super Nintendo version, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the franchise (SimCity 3000 is my favorite). Thus, when PC Gamer came to me and said “Hey Chris! We want you to play the new SimCity 5 with us in our Celebrity SimCity region,” I wasted no time in responding with a resounding “Hell yeah!”

I mean, what could go wrong?

(Other than the inevitable giant lizards, meteor showers, and poor sewage planning that happen in every SimCity game)

[. . .]

At the time of writing this piece, SimCity 5 has been active for almost 62 hours. Of those 62 hours, I’ve been able to log in for around ten. Of those ten, four consisted of massive latency issues and corrupted games, so (quick calculation here), I’ve had access to the actual game for maybe 10 percent of the time I’ve had it. EA’s servers are, to put it bluntly, utterly bug[redacted], and there’s no option to play the game offline.

Therein lies the heart of my problem. SimCity is, at its heart, a single player game. Having access to other players’ cities is cool, but I want to build MY city, and I don’t want some [redacted], totally unnecessary “always on” DRM to keep me from playing the game (full disclosure: PC Gamer was kind enough to provide me with a download code for the game, so you can only imagine my rage levels if I had actually put money into EA’s pockets for this “experience”).

And now the math:

Sadly, EA seems to have failed to do some very simple math. Let’s look at an example. We’ll assume that for an amazingly successful game like SimCity, about 20,000 people will end up pirating it (those who have the technical knowhow and Internet savvy to find a working crack). I have 160,000 Twitter followers, of whom around 50,000 follow me for gaming. I just told those 50,000 people NOT to buy SimCity because EA cannot handle its s***, and the game is unplayable. We’ll say half those people listen to me and haven’t bought the game already. Soooo, carrying the pi, we see that EA is already out 5,000 more sales than if they had just created a normal, single player offline capable game with multiplayer components.

(Don’t forget, “always on” DRM also screws over people who don’t have access to Internet for large periods of time, like rural areas and travelers. More lost sales!)

In addition to the bad PR of a terrible launch experience, EA is also reportedly refusing to process refunds to purchasers despite having made this an explicit promise in their pre-release information package.

March 9, 2013

What if physical objects had DRM?

Filed under: Humour, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:58

From TechHive:

In many cases, DRM can be get kind of silly, and it can completely shape the way you use the digital media you purchase. DRM might make you think twice about how many devices you can still add your iTunes Library to, or which computer will get a shiny new version of image editing software.

Luckily there’s no DRM on any physical objects like a cup paired to one person’s mouth. That is, there wasn’t until a group of hackers put together a chair that self-destructs after eight uses.

February 7, 2013

Canadian companies lobby the government for the right to install rootkits on your electronic devices

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Michael Geist reports on a recent lobbying attempt that should be thrown out with contempt if we lived in a just world:

The deadline for comments on Industry Canada’s draft anti-spam regulations passed earlier this week with a group of 13 industry associations — including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Marketing Association, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada — submitting a lengthy document that, if adopted, would gut much of the law. The groups adopt radical interpretations of the law to argue for massive new loopholes or for the indefinite delay of several provisions. I will focus on some of the submissions shortly, but this post focuses on the return of an issue that was seemingly killed years ago: demands to permit surreptitious surveillance by the copyright owners and other groups for private enforcement purposes.

During the anti-spam law debates in 2009, copyright lobby groups promoted amendments that would have allowed for expansive surveillance of user computers. Coming on the heels of the Sony rootkit scandal, the government ultimately rejected those proposals (the Liberals had plans to propose such amendments but backed down), leaving in place an important provision that requires express consent prior to the installation of computer software.

[. . .]

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other business groups want to ensure that the anti-spam law does not block their ability to secretly install spyware on personal computers for a wide range of purposes. In doing so, these groups are proposing to turn the law upside down by shifting from protecting consumers to protecting businesses. The comment period on the draft regulations may have closed, but it is not too late to tell Industry Minister Christian Paradis or your local Member of Parliament to reject demands that would gut the anti-spam bill and legalize spyware for private enforcement purposes.

January 30, 2013

“The only people [DRM] annoys are the ones who have [acquired] legal copies”

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody explains why the attempt to add DRM to the HTML5 standard is doomed to failure:

You would have thought by now that people would understand that DRM is not only a bad idea, but totally unnecessary: Apple dropped DRM from music downloads in 2009 and seems to be making ends meet. Despite these obvious truths, the stupidity that is DRM continues to spread. Here, for example, is a particularly stupid example of DRM stupidity, as revealed by Manu Sporny:

    A few days ago, a new proposal was put forward in the HTML Working Group (HTML WG) by Microsoft, Netflix, and Google to take DRM in HTML5 to the next stage of standardization at W3C.

After all, this is exactly what Web users have been crying out for: “just give us DRM for the Web, and our lives will be complete….”

[. . .]

That clearly implies that when people are not sharing their own content with family and friends, then they are indeed adversaries:

    This “user is not an adversary” text can be found in the first question about use cases. It insinuates that people that listen to radio and watch movies online are potential adversaries. As a business owner, I think that’s a terrible way to frame your customers.

    Thinking of the people that are using the technology that you’re specifying as “adversaries” is also largely wrong. 99.999% of people using DRM-based systems to view content are doing it legally. The folks that are pirating content are not sitting down and viewing the DRM stream, they have acquired a non-DRM stream from somewhere else, like Mega or The Pirate Bay, and are watching that.

This is the fundamental reason why DRM is doomed and should be discarded: the only people it annoys are the ones who have tried to support creators by acquiring legal copies. How stupid is that?

Pirates_vs_Paying_Customers_full

October 30, 2010

Another way to exasperate your customers

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:12

Clive sent me a snippet from Thom Hogan’s Nikon Field Guide (no direct linking to the article, apparently):

I’ve never been a big fan of complicated DRM systems, and I’m not sure that they actually work to prevent real theft of software any better than loose or no systems do. This argument started back in the 70’s. I remember having a conversation with Seymour Rubenstein about DRM vis-a-vis WordStar (Seymour was the founder and owner of MicroPro, the producers of WordStar). Seymour’s take was that you couldn’t prevent illegal copying and that some of that illegal copying eventually led to sales that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten (usually at an update cycle back then, as we didn’t have the Internet to provide instant access). My own experience with DRM in Silicon Valley was similar. Indeed, I’d say that all heavy-handed DRM does is increase your Customer Support costs. But all this just masks the real problem: Nikon’s software costs too much, does too little, and is poorly updated and maintained. So adding tight DRM to the product just pisses the customer off even more when they get hit with it incorrectly.

September 19, 2010

The end of “ownership”?

Filed under: Economics, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:30

Cory Doctorow finds Intel adopting a Hollywood-style “crippleware”/license model in new hardware. As he correctly points out, this is an attempt to move us away from the ownership model, where you buy full control of the object you pay for, to a licensing model, where you only get certain rights of use:

This idea, which Siva Vaidhyanathan calls “If value, then right,” sounds reasonable on its face. But it’s a principle that flies in the face of the entire human history of innovation. By this reasoning, the company that makes big tins of juice should be able to charge you extra for the right to use the empty cans to store lugnuts; the company that makes your living room TV should be able to charge more when you retire it to the cottage; the company that makes your coat-hanger should be able to charge more when you unbend it to fish something out from under the dryer.

Moreover, it’s an idea that is fundamentally anti-private-property. Under the “If value, then right” theory, you don’t own anything you buy. You are a mere licensor, entitled to extract only the value that your vendor has deigned to provide you with. The matchbook is to light birthday candles, not to fix a wobbly table. The toilet roll is to hold the paper, not to use in a craft project. “If value, then right,” is a business model that relies on all the innovation taking place in large corporate labs, with none of it happening at the lab in your kitchen, or in your skull. It’s a business model that says only companies can have the absolute right of property, and the rest of us are mere tenants.

November 23, 2009

Digital Economy Bill should be called Digital Disenfranchisement Bill

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:16

The proposed British legislation called the “Digital Economy Bill” is going to be very bad news, says Charles Stross:

I’m a self-employed media professional working in the entertainment industry, who earns his living by creating intellectual property and licensing it to publishers. You might think I’d be one of the beneficiaries of this proposed law: but you’d be dead wrong. This is going to cripple the long tail of the creative sector — it plays entirely to the interests of large corporate media organizations and shits on the plate of us ordinary working artists.

Want to write a casual game for the iPhone and sell it for 99 pence? Good luck with that — first you’ll have to cough up £50,000 to get it certified as child-friendly by the BBFC. (It’s not clear whether this applies to Open Source games projects, but I’m not optimistic that it doesn’t.)

Want to publish a piece of shareware over BitTorrent? You’re fucked, mate: all it takes is a malicious accusation and your ISP (who are required to snitch on p2p users on pain of heavy fines) will be ordered to cut off the internet connection to you and everyone else in your household. (A really draconian punishment in an age where it’s increasingly normal to conduct business correspondence via email and to manage bank accounts and gas or electricity bills or tax returns via the web.) Oh, you don’t get the right to confront your accuser in court, either: this is merely an administrative process, no lawyers involved. It’s unlikely that p2p access will survive this bill in any form — even for innocent purposes (distributing Linux .iso images, for example).

As I’ve said before, we’re rapidly moving to a world where it will be difficult to have a normal life without network access . . . this bill will create a new underclass of non-persons, all to benefit the dinosaurs of the media conglomerates. And introduced by a _Labour_ government, no less.

We are already at the point where it is a reasonable and sensible thing to say that access to the internet is a human right (at least in the west). Mandelson’s three strikes provision will deny innocent people access to the internet (for all it will take is accusations that do not need to have proof), which for more and more people will be the practical equivalent of being exiled from the country. No internet access would mean children can’t get access to school work, parents can’t get access to their bank accounts, and everyone will be cut off from large parts of their social circle (more and more people depend on email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to stay in touch).

Due process? That seems to have been lost in the rush. Proportionality? That’s been gone for years.

October 30, 2009

Cory Doctorow on Britain’s ill-advised ‘3 strikes’ move

Filed under: Britain, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:39

Cory Doctorow would have the British government do something other than their idiotic ill-advised move to enforce the “three strikes” rule:

Peter Mandelson’s proposal to disconnect the families of internet users who have been accused of file sharing will do great violence to British justice without delivering any reduction in copyright infringement. We’ve had 15 years of dotty entertainment industry proposals designed to make computers worse at copying. It’s time that we stopped listening to big content and started listening to reason.

Since 1995 — the year of the WIPO copyright treaties — the entertainment industry has won extrajudicial powers to enforce its rights without the need to prove a case in court. “Notice and takedown”, as the system was called, was supposed to stop copyright infringement on the web. It gave rights holders the power to compel internet service providers to take down material simply by stating that it infringed their rights, and obliged those providers to act or face liability.

A decade and a half later there is no indication that this has reduced copyright infringement online (certainly there is more today than there was in 1995). And, predictably, a system that allows for legalised censorship without penalties for abuse has itself been abused.

We are already at the point where it is a reasonable and sensible thing to say that access to the internet is a human right (at least in the west). Mandelson’s three strikes provision will deny innocent people access to the internet (for all it will take is accusations that do not need to have proof), which for more and more people will be the practical equivalent of being exiled from the country. No internet access would mean children can’t get access to school work, parents can’t get access to their bank accounts, and everyone will be cut off from large parts of their social circle (more and more people depend on email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to stay in touch).

Due process? That seems to have been lost in the rush. Proportionality? That’s been gone for years.

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