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Perfect [Feb. 4th, 2010|02:25 pm]
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Judge Cowdroy presiding over AFACT vs. iiNet in the Federal Court of Australia delivered this perfect moment of legal clarity:

The law recognises no positive obligation on any person to protect the copyright of another.

Beautiful. We just need an Irish court to use the same reasoning and put IRMA out of our misery here.
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Attempt no Landing There [Dec. 31st, 2009|05:35 pm]
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This is something I'm leaving in 2009: the (very roughly) chronologically ordered contents of a bookmark folder I generously named "Research". Starting in February 2006 these links chart the rapid decline of so-called Intellectual Property from the meniscus of eccentric financial precedent to the depths of authoritarian insanity. You may also find a few bright moments of hope in there too, but these should be considered a statistical anomaly...

I'd actually typed a few hundred words of ranting here before deciding that, maybe, I should leave some of that behind too.

Instead, let's just hope the next ten years sees the tables turned.

Have a Happy New Year.
Here"s to 2009, and to reducing my bookmarks by 233 links...Collapse )
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Customer or Adversary, Pick One, Not Both [Oct. 15th, 2009|07:59 pm]
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Back in January 2006 I made this prediction:

Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics...

Turns out I was wrong; it's already getting worse:

I was refused access to a Cineworld cinema tonight because I had a laptop in my bag.

I was told it was a new policy to stop people recording the films. I pointed out that my laptop does not have the capability of recording a film. It does not have a camera on it for a start.

So why had I brought it to the cinema I was asked.

I pointed out that like many other people on their way home from work I had a laptop in my bag. That didn’t mean I planned to use it in the cinema. It was just in my bag as that seemed a more sensible option than leaving it in my car.

I was told that they would let me into the film, but I would have to hand my laptop over first and collect it at the end. It turned out that they didn’t have any kind of receipt system in place, so I declined the kind offer to look after my £1500 Sony Vaio that contains all my current work projects, plus some half baked book ideas.

These measures are a part of guidelines for cinemas drawn up by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT). Perhaps their desire to control private citizens has overtaken their ability to plan any implementation of their schemes. It's as though they are so used to getting their way through lobbying and the purchase of laws that they have forgotten that something like this entails more than simple yelling, hand waving and the dropping of large bundles of cash at the feet of easy politicians.

Three years ago I considered the possibility that I might never visit the cinema again, a pledge based on the principal that I could not, in good conscience, continue to fund the activities of these people. Three years later and I have kept that pledge. Strangely, in that time, I have had absolutely no qualms about my continued boycotting of this toxic industry, no regrets at passing up three years worth of blockbusters. I can say, in all honesty, that I have not missed the experience at all.

Their continued struggle to introduce this private police state encompassing anyone found in front of a glowing screen only strengthens the resolve to never assist them again. The irony is that, at this rate, tens or even hundreds of thousands may join me unknowingly out of simple irritation and exasperation at being asked to pay for the privilege of being treated like criminals. But it is a certainty that any further drop in revenue that the industry causes for itself will only be used as evidence for the necessity of their tactics.

Here's another prediction, one I'm sure you are all quite capable of making yourselves: It will get worse, and it will not get better until the studios as we know them are long gone.

Via BoingBoing: Brit copyright group says, "No laptops allowed in cinemas"
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TripeFi [Jul. 8th, 2009|09:46 pm]
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For some reason (masochism, or perhaps atonement for unspecified sins) I sat and watched the greater part of SciFi's Polar Storm, staring Jack Coleman of Heroes fame.

I think I can accurately communicate the amount of sense this made-for-TV tripe made by quoting a single line of dialogue:

"I saw an EM wave in the sky!"


A rapid google suggests that there is no one who was pleased with this sorry offering.

Examples from the upper echelons of the literary SF genre would tend to suggest that the convergence of writing ability and scientific understanding in a single author is not unreasonable. So why is it that we get so few science and science fiction movies and series that even make an attempt at some level of cogency?
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The First Rule of CSS Club... [Apr. 25th, 2009|01:13 am]
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In the case brought by the DVD Copy Control Association against Real over their RealDVD movie copying software, the MPAA are seeking to seal the courtroom from the public. Their argument is that the details of the Content Scrambling System at the heart of the case are super secret and their entire business model would crumble before our eyes were a single syllable of it to reach the ears of pirates!

Excuse me, I have something in my throat...

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
# 531-byte qrpff-fast, Keith Winstein and Marc Horowitz <sipb-iap-dvd@mit.edu>
# MPEG 2 PS VOB file on stdin -> descrambled output on stdout
# arguments: title key bytes in least to most-significant order

That's better.

I wonder, is the secret they are trying to keep the fact that everyone with even a passing interest in the field already knows everything single little thing about it? Is it a secret that this pitiful attempt to dress the shadow of obscurity as effective security was blown wide open at least ten years ago? Is it a secret that their throne is at the shore?

Would that they hang their crowns when this tide wets their robes.
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UK Government Under the Control of Hollywood [Feb. 22nd, 2008|10:18 pm]
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You may have noticed that the UK government, with the kind assistance of Andrew Burnham MP of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is bowing to Hollywood and the record labels' various enforcement groups, essentially handing them the power to control the uses that UK citizens may make of their internet connections. ISPs have been given until April 2009 to comply with new regulations that will force them to inspect all data transferred through their systems and magically deduce whether or not it involves the sharing of copyrighted material. In the event that sharing is suspected (nothing more is required) the ISP subscriber will receive a strike against them, if they receive three strikes their internet service will be terminated.

No allowances have been made for the technological requirements for deep packet inspection of all traffic that passes through a service providers system. It may safely be presumed that the customers will end up paying extra to have their private data transmissions intercepted and analysed. I have yet to find any comment form Burnham on the morality of cutting off an innocent user when someone else who makes use of the same connection is suspected of sharing - if one family member breaks the rules then everyone in that household loses access this increasingly essential communications service. Nor have I seen any indication from those involved that they have any understanding of the encryption arms race they are about to enter and immediately lose - that will be an awful lot of money spent and trouble caused for a system that will be worked around before it is even put in place. Naturally there is no hint of how the ISP's are to identify copyrighted works from any other shared files. And what are the procedures for proving one's innocence? How does someone with a strike based on a suspicion show that they are not guilty of sharing (baring in mind the technical hurdles already involved in proving positive proof of sharing).

The most sensible response I have heard comes from a Slashdot commenter:

"if all ISPs in the UK staged a strike by cutting Internet access everywhere for two or three days and claim that would be the only possible way to ensure their customers aren't pirating anything, I am sure that the outrage would force another look at the law. And if they did this 2 different times, like once on Thursday Friday and Saturday, it could cause direct deposit information and payroll services to be interrupted. If they did this on again a week later on lets say Monday and Tuesday, there would be so much upset and confusion that those who think they wasn't effected will be."

Personally I will be happy to lose access for a few days if it will do anything to prevent this travesty from going any further. Frankly, the harm done to individual users will not even register compared to the harm done to UK financial sector, not least the content industry. They must learn that the environment has changed and all the legislation in the world cannot change it back. Technology has moved forward and they have failed to follow. Their demise is inevitable, and is only hastened by making enemies of us all.
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Glitch [Dec. 5th, 2007|10:49 pm]
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Listen, Glick, the movie industry is already doing the one thing that guarantees I will never illegally download their 'products', namely they are now making such deficient, low-brow, half-assed, worthless, over-hyped, over-funded, overwritten, sub intellectual, inadequate, substandard, ridiculous, inferior, scoff-worthy, malodorous, cringe-making, mismanaged, shoddy, insufferable, incompetent and defective low-com-dom crap, that I would never ever even consider wasting one single byte of my precious bandwidth on any of it. I would be perfectly happy to see every last bit of your meritless trash forever erased from the internet were it not for the fact that you are trying to do it by introducing a radically disproportionate mechanism: ending Network Neutrality!

Don't cover your ears Glickster, you need to hear this: Shrek 3 is not important enough to bring an end to our freedom. The only reason the movie industry can say it's losing money now is because they spent way too much on producing something that nobody actually needs and nobody really wants. The Western World will not crumble because they can't turn a profit, but it might if we lose the integrity and security of the single most important communications tool in history.

One way or another the IP delusional industries are one the way out. It's only a matter of time before the average consumer figures out that their 'entertainment' just isn't worth it any more, that the busker on the street outside the cinema is a hell of lot more creative, interesting and memorable than the claptrap movie they just walked out of. How long do you think they'll watch their technology subverted, their personal data ransacked, their legally purchased media disintegrating, and their communications tapped and blocked before they think: "But I didn't even like the Bourne Appendectomy!"

Anyone invested in the movie or recording industries with even an iota of common sense should be selling up now, while their stock is still worth the ferromagnetic material it's stored on. You know it can't go on like this. It just isn't reasonable in consider this a survivable scenario for anyone involved. I mean it. Get out now. This is going to end badly, and you know it.

Glicky, you are not adding to our culture in any positive way beyond uniting the rest of us against you. You are not curing any horrible diseases. You are not on a crusade of righteousness. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are not welcome here.
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The Blanket License: A Modest Proposal [Oct. 25th, 2007|05:11 pm]
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According to a report from ArsTechnica the fabled Blanket License has once again reared its head, this time in Denmark:

Andy Oram over at O'Reilly Radar noted the recent moves in Denmark to create a system where every ISP user might pay a monthly fee in order to access unlimited P2P music legally.

The proposal has drawn positive feedback from an unlikely source—the local "Piratgruppen."

"It's good that they admit that they cannot solve the problem of falling CD sales by suing their own fans," said Sebastian Gjerding from the Piratgruppen. "It looks like they have understood that they should offer something that is competitive compared to other, free music sources. It is an entirely new admission that hasn't spread internationally yet. IFPI Denmark is on the forefront in this matter. But it is annoying that no action has been taken so far to save many teenagers million-krone fines."


The article notes some obstacles to the proposal. For instance, will this cover just 'local' bands or include international sources? The former would simply prove unenforceable - they'd have less luck detecting where they were downloading from than they currently have detecting if they have downloaded anything at all - while the latter would be a logistical zombie movie complete with everyone dying at the end! Another question is whether this will be a voluntary payment or amount to a tax on all users regardless of whether they ever download music or not?

Despite these sorts of issues, I consider the Blanket License to be the most equitable and, more importantly, most moral alternative to the current media distribution model. Fundamentally it is a concept that makes the most of current technology and encourages further development, while at the same time protecting our right to make use of our own hardware and data.

The problems mentioned in the article are trivial. Yes, the BL should cover artists worldwide but it should be stipulated that they make the claim to receive anything. Yes, the BL should be a mandatory payment, including for businesses - they don't want to make use of it, that's up to them, but since it's there why not let their employees share media on their network without a legal care in the world?

My main problem with the Danish plan is its hopelessly narrow vision, covering only music and only one country. It is comically ineffectual.

Here's the real plan:

The Blanket License should cover all media, it should, in fact, cover anything that can be encoded, uploaded, downloaded or otherwise redistributed, music, movies, TV shows, books, newspapers, 3d printer files, essentially any media that can be rendered as data. It should be run as an opt-in for content creators alone and strictly prohibit music cartels, charities and other non-root content providers. It should also provide a means for those artists who build on the work of others to indicate and reward their contributors.

But there is one element that is by far the most important: the Blanket License must be directly democratic. By this I mean that the distribution of the revenue derived from the BL should be based on what the users are listening to, watching and using, not on some even division or some educated guess informed by random polling. We should literally be voting for our choices and the results of these votes used to calculate the creators' share.s Of course one vote a week is hardly going to be a fair measure, instead we would need at least a hundred votes a week which we could distribute as we see fit (say a maximum of five votes per voter for any one creator). This voting could allow for a mix of voluntary voting (specific choices regardless of what a user has actually downloaded) and user-controlled automated voting (a system that allows vote assignments based on the usage statistics from a media player). No one would be forced to vote, but it would be in their interests to encourage their favourite bands, actors photographers, writers and so on, and automatic voting could allow users to contribute without any real effort.

There will still be a place for record labels as marketing brokers, contracting artists for flat fees or a percentage of their earnings in return for their expertise in development and marketing their creations.

This real Blanket License would be no small undertaking, requiring the development of an international infrastructure and region-by-region legislation to remove the existing legal hurdles faced by users. But the result would be a totally egalitarian forum, the likes of which has not been seen since some mug took a handful of loose change and sang to a wax cylinder. All that would be required for an artist to make money would be to make music and find people who like it enough to vote for it, no contracts, no physical distribution, and most significantly, no risk.

It's ambitious, and naturally it glosses over some real problems. Technically, there are issues with the security involved in electronic voting, ensuring that the votes are genuine rather than the result of malicious software running on client systems, and preventing any third party from accessing usage data and putting user privacy at risk (a premise I call Regime Proofing - designing the system so that should it fall under someone else's control there will not be enough information recorded to identify individual users, though there should still be enough to identify tampering and vandalism [a paradox, I know]). And naturally the entire system would need to be totally transparent if it is to be trusted by artists and consumers.

The environment that this Blanket License could create is an exciting one. It would encourage a far greater range of cultural experience for users, exposing them to a vast library of content without restriction and without the increasingly hegemonic filtering of the incumbent distribution businesses. Since each user has already paid for all their downloading there can be none of this quibbling over the rights involved in time- and format-shifting. Download once and the data is yours to do with as you please., you will be free to invent new ways of accessing your culture that have yet to be even dreamed of, and without fear of the shadow of monetisation.

Radiohead's independent venture into alternative digital distribution model was laudable, a worthy experiment, but one dependant on the duality of our current attitude to online media, both legal and illicit. What they received for their effort was charity: not a long term solution, but a round of applause for a worthy effort. In the end we cannot expect to support artists through benevolence alone. How many 'micro-patrons' can we expect to find and persuade to keep giving? Radiohead simply walked out into a new and forbidding wilderness, if anyone is going to follow, we're going to need to build them some roads.

I've previously discussed the impact of unlimited digital distribution on the existing content industry, namely the rapid and near total destruction of physical production interests. Other commentators have suggested that such a vision is unnecessarily apocalyptic, that, for instance, paper books will never disappear, and to an extent I agree. But consider a world in which you can access any book, at any time, for free; can we really expect already struggling publishers to survive that? There will always be a market for dead tree, just as there is still a market for vinyl, but there will also be a reckoning in the market that will see it reduced to little more than a niche. Now consider this situation extended to cover not only book sellers, but music stores, tv stations, cinemas and all the services that depend on them. A whole set of industries is at stake, countless jobs, and a huge chunk of the Western economy.

The Blanket License promises an almost unimaginable upheaval in the 'business of culture', a vision that the entrenched business interests will likely do anything to escape. But consider also that the openness it could bring will foster new technologies and new businesses to exploit those technologies and even new ways of doing business - the economic environment might then be changed rather than destroyed.

I am convinced that, if we are to avoid handing over control of our lives to big business, then this is the way it must be. It is the Blanket License or (without exaggeration) cultural totalitarianism.
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Linking a Crime - It are a FACT [Oct. 19th, 2007|10:42 pm]
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The Guardian is gleefully frothing over the arrest of a web site owner for allowing visitors to download infringing content [they even trot out that old Lost Sales gag, I expect then to start discussing internet tubes any moment now]. But as with almost all of these cases things are not so clearly defined:

"One of the world's most-used pirate film websites has been closed after providing links to illegal versions of major Hollywood hits and TV shows.

The first closure of a major UK-based pirate site was also accompanied by raids and an arrest, the anti-piracy group Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) said today.

A 26-year-old man from Cheltenham was arrested on Thursday in connection with offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the internet, Fact said.

Fact claims that tv-links.co.uk was providing links to illegal film content that had been camcorder recorded from cinemas and then uploaded to the internet. The site also provided links to TV shows that were being illegally distributed."

- guardian.co.uk

Yes, you read that correctly, the site was "providing links" to "illegal film content". This site itself contained nothing illegal, there was no copyrighted content available there, it was not possible to upload or download such content to its server. If there's nothing illegal then there is no crime, if there is no crime then the "26-year-old man from Cheltenham" is innocent. I hope 26yomfC has a a decent, IT-savvy lawyer because this could not only put him in enough cash to keep him comfy for a long time but also protect www.tv-links.co.uk from any future prosecutions.

The issue here is the difference between performing an illegal act and describing one. The TV Links site merely described the locations and methods of acquisition for infringing content, it did not actually perform the infringement. By that same token, any author of a novel that describes a murder should be arrested for murder. Anyone who shows a policeman the location of a stolen car should be arrested for stealing it [yeah, I know, 'car analogy'].

Let's run with that last one: if anything this site was a useful tool for IP delusionals, showing them exactly where to find the actual infringing sites and torrents, happily revealed to them by the very people that so plague them. As a resource you would think it far more valuable than a single highly questionable arrest.

Once again these people have succeeded in pissing me off. Remember to use the Bad Guy Sticker greasemonkey tool while browsing Amazon to help you avoid purchasing products from members of FACT. Give these idiots your money and it will be used to harm your rights, prevent you from using your own tools and content, and to restrict your access to your own culture.
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Forever Less One Day [Apr. 27th, 2007|03:02 pm]
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"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone."
- Jack Valenti (1921 - 2007), President of the MPAA, in his testimony to the House of Representatives, 1982.

Lest we forget.
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