Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pirate Party Founder Rick Falkvinge on Political Activism

Pirate leader Rick Falkvinge gives a TED talk on how a person can start and nurture a growing political movement. He also mentions many of the inconvenient truths about copyright enforcement on the Internet. Excellent talk.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mimi and Eunice

This is a very funny comic series by Nina Paley of Sita Sings the Blues fame.

Obviously, I especially like the cartoons that poke fun on the idea of "intellectual property" (or more correctly "intellectual poopery").

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Long Copyright Terms Kill Culture to Benefit Glorious Creative Industry

Some people focus on the fact that long copyright terms help artists make more money from their work. But I don't see that as the real effect of long copyright terms. See this article on The Atlantic that shows the effect of long copyright terms. It's really profound what a small graph can tell you.

The effect of long copyright terms is a kind of artificial scarcity, I should call it artificial extinction. When an author or publisher is no longer interested in a book, yet it is still under copyright, it becomes very increasingly hard to find. This makes older works entirely unavailable for many. This is really bad for our culture, but it's good for the culture industry. Because the culture industry doesn't want to compete with the public domain. A healthy collection of public domain works which are de jure free will hurt the creation of new works because people can just tap into the public domain for content.

When you see pro-copyright people complaining about Creative Commons, they are actually channeling this idea. Creative Commons is an artifact of copyright itself, how could someone who is pro-copyright be against it?

The problem is Creative Commons is competition. You'll see some copyright crusaders promoting Britannica these days. Really? Why? I read and contribute to the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. I'm sure you've heard of it. I like most others have no need for Britannica, which contains a tiny fraction of the content available on Wikipedia. So really, why have they suddenly become Britannica fans? It's quite obvious because Britannica's business model is based on the typical artificial scarcity concept and it costs money (pre-Wikipedia it used to cost a lot of money). Attributes they like in their cultural works. Wikipedia has neither, it's actually a free culture project. Likewise, I don't see why I need to buy music from iTunes at 99 cents a track when I can download thousands of tracks from Jamendo for free. When you tell pro-copyright people this sort of thing, they get extremely uncomfortable. Because they have no easy way to react. Suddenly their usual rhetoric feels cheap.

Public domain is a threat for the same reason. And how do you kill public domain? Extend copyright durations of course. The public domain is essentially frozen in time, just the way they like it. But is that really good for society? Hell no.

And this sort of thing encourages piracy. Now if someone wants this content, they can't even pay for it. Suddenly file sharing looks less like "evil pirate activity" and more like the most effective systems for ensuring the preservation of human knowledge and culture.

Monday, April 2, 2012

You Can't Ignore Engineering and Mathematical Facts When Discussing Copyright

Unfortunately a lot of the pro-copyright crowd is totally tone deaf to the concerns of engineers. Some of them, especially the lawyer types, think there is some magical Internet fairy that can sniff websites for copyright infringement. If only Google knew about this, they could stop piracy overnight!

Devlin Hartline points out some sites Google blocked. Over 11 million domains blocked by Google! That's a HUGE number. Huge numbers conclusively prove that the Google censors can stop piracy, if they wanted to. Somehow.

It is only people who know nothing about Computer Science who would make such absurd claims. Those 11 million sites could be matched by a single trivial regular expression. Go ahead, write Google the regular expression needed to block piracy. I'm sure they'd put it into production right away.

In our debates about copyright, let us not ignore protocols which implement a peer-to-peer topology. This is where a lot of filesharing happens. P2P is the idea that various peers (filesharers in this case) connect to each other directly. There is no intermediary involved. P2P filesharing has been going on for 10 years unabated though networks like Gnutella and the copyright crusaders can do squat about it, Gnutella can't be shut down because there is nothing to shut down. It's a protocol, not an infrastructure.

TPB has engineered itself to be based on P2P technology, using the new BitTorrent DHT system based on the concept of magnet links. A $10 flash drive can carry the entire TPB website in your pocket. If they shut it down, anyone can just put it back up. That's why TPB hasn't been shut down despite being declared illegal in over 9000 jurisdictions.

Here is an example of the dreaded copyright-killing magnet link. With this information, you can download something via P2P BitTorrent:


There is nothing hidden, no secret link to TPB or some random cyber locker. That string of text you see in your face would work just as well tattooed on your butt.

First of all, how do you know what this gets you? It's a hex string that doesn't encode the contents it describes. It could be the latest Hollywood movie, it could be something even worse.

Remember, there is no magical way to know if something is copyright infringement. In fact, without telling you what that magnet link is, there is no way for you to even know what is until you actually try to download it. Copyright is not a natural trait of data, no matter how many laws you force down the legal system this will always be so.

In this case, this magnet link points to a popular open source Linux distro. Non-copyright infringing uses for P2P, who would have known?

Don't even get me started on DRM, the whole concept is built on mathematically unsound foundations. How the hell are you suppose to protect a decryption key when that key is needed to play the media?

When you are fighting against piracy, you aren't just fighting against an increasingly politically connected foe, you are fighting against a foe that has the technology and quite frankly the laws of nature and mathematics on their side. I'm glad I'm not in that camp, it must be frustrating as hell.