Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Modern Propaganda Promoting the Idea of Copyright

It's interesting how copyright propaganda changed over time. Historically, copyright propaganda made a moral argument: it's simply wrong to copy. Why? People depend on creative works for their livelihood. If you copy, you harm the industry's continued existence and its ability to create. You can see this in the famous "Home Taping Is Killing Music!" campaign or the original "Don't Copy That Floppy".

This approach was largely abandoned in propaganda produced after the mainstream rise of computer networks and the widespread copyright infringement that followed. Perhaps because the actual moral qualms come about over restrictive copyright? Perhaps because more music is being made then ever despite this "industry's" virtual existence on life support? Hrmm? I'm not sure really, but it's interesting.

The new copyright propaganda is based on fear. They try to scare people into submission. You can see the moral viewpoint shown in the new "Don't Copy That Floppy", and other propaganda videos such as "Downloading Movies Is Stealing" or FACT videos on copyright. The point of these propaganda videos is to show the legal consequences of copyright, like for instance showing like a mass infringer making hundreds of thousands of dollars and that he's in jail. Great. The problem is, the vast majority of copyright infringers aren't like that. So they are using hyperbole to attempt to scare people. Maybe it's wishful thinking.

They also have made arguments that copyright infringement is equivalent to supporting terrorism. This almost feels like it belongs in a parody of copyright propaganda, but it's the real deal (see: "FACT Anti-Piracy PSA"). I almost feel like this kind of thing goes down with something like "Fuck it. Terrorism is bad, lets go with that. Film the stupid video and lets go the pub already." I feel like I could be a good propagandist for them. Imagine a plane crashing into a skyscraper, dramatic music, people screaming in the background, followed by a narrator saying "this happened because you downloaded The Hunger Games yesterday. I hope you are happy." Instant success!

Also interesting of course is the always present cultural references, for instance, Star Trek characters in the new "Don't Copy That Copy". It's possible that they utilized them with permission, but it's not out of the ordinary for copyright propagandists to regularly violate copyright themselves often in their efforts of promoting it.

It will be interesting to see how copyright propaganda evolves in the future, but one thing I feel is certain: they aren't getting their message across.

Is copyright simply not compelling?

On Google Books

It's an easily derived opinion from my philosophy on copyright and the information age, but here's something I posted on a blog in response to the idea that the Google Books case is not over yet. I'm very excited about the potential of Google Books, but indeed, it's not out of the woods yet. I summarize my opinion on the situation (keeping it here, with some fixed grammar for posterity):

The Author’s Guild could also appeal as well. But it limits the plaintiffs’ options, so it is a pretty significant win for Google at this point.

I don’t view this as David vs Goliath, since there are huge financial interests on both sides.
What I see though, is Google made a service that could literally give access to entirety of human knowledge to anyone with Internet access, and the ability to search through tens of millions of books no different then any other search query. It’s not a pipe dream. They made it already.

And I see a bunch of plaintiffs that just don’t want this. I see them defending business models built in a world where a service like Google Books is a pipe dream, not a reality. I see them defending business models that are based fundamentally on developing and maintaining a scarcity of knowledge, business models that intentionally make knowledge more difficult to access, and where knowledge is less accessible to lower economic classes.

To not allow a service like Google Books is to put a damper on the progression of humanity. All to serve no other purpose but to maintain business models that can no longer, and do no longer benefit the public interest.

Unfortunately, due entirely to these interests, Google Books is not as useful as it could be. In fact, this has entirely everything to do with the sorry state of copyright law and nothing to do with the technology itself.

Google had to spend significant engineering efforts, efforts that could be used to improve the service instead, to serve no other ends except to literally make their service less useful. They do this by randomly introducing defects into the service, such as removing pages from books and other shenanigans so that researchers can’t use the service to get a complete context. These are not features, they are anti-features. They exist for no other purpose but to disallow the service to function in its true potential. By literally introducing defects into the service, they are working to make it defective by design. All because of a legal regime that demands defects in products such as Google Books.

But removing all those legally-imposed defects will be a trivial change (perhaps just setting a configuration variable) and I think one day we’ll see a books service that is not hampered by the current limitations imposed by copyright law. That’s my hope. I want to see a world where the entirety of knowledge and culture is made available to the whole world.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Isohunt shut down.. and back up a few days later

In recent news, we find out that IsoHunt was shut down by the legal system.. and it's back up a few days later (under new management of course).
This blog post talked about the inevitability of this kind of thing. Raiding and shutting down a website is not like raiding a factory or physical space, where the damage of shutting it down is real - where it takes time to build a new factory. Unlike physical stuff, websites can be copied and reproduced much like anything else on the Internet - nearly instantly.

Did I predict this would happen? Yes. But it's not like I'm kind of oracle, this stuff is almost completely fucking obvious. It's bound to happen.

How the hell are you suppose to combat this? I can answer that actually: it's impossible!

Tell me, why do we still pretend that we can have a functioning copyright system today?

Instead of working on a new kind of system that could reward creative effort today, we continue to promote this BROKEN system of copyright almost everyone agrees no longer works. By pretending that copyright can work, you keep creative industries chasing an impossible dream that produces diminishing returns. Don't chase copyright to your grave.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Selected events on modern copyright

Pretty long time since my last blog post, mostly because there really hasn't been anything interesting to say about current events, nothing worthy of a blog post. I feel that I've said what I need to say philosophically about copyright, so current events is all that is left.
  • France's "3 strikes" system (Hadopi) falls apart after studies showed it did little to improve content industry revenues. Nobody saw that coming (that's sarcasm).
  • USA is going through some really long winded profound reform of its copyright system. My guess from what has been said so far in the debates is it's going to be just a tad different from previous attempts at copyright reform (in that, it will actually weaken copyright in important areas). But it's too early to tell, so nothing really to write a big blog post about. If they want someone to help them write copyright bills, I'm available. :)
  • On the free culture front, we are now up to 17.6 million freely available content media files available on Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia also continues to grow, and companies are producing derivative works from this stuff already. Far cry from the sum of human knowledge and culture being freely available, but the Commons (content free of distribution restrictions) continue to grow even though the public domain remains frozen in place.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I figure I should make a post about this because it's been annoying me for awhile. Streaming is something I generally support as "information age friendly", because it doesn't rely on artificial scarcity to create revenue for content creators. I probably have some blog posts that go on why artificial scarcity doesn't work too well these days, so I am not going to go into too much detail on that.

What is annoying is the raw, unadulterated hypocrisy of many people who are opposed to streaming. Faza of The Cynical Musician is a shining example of this. He spends inordinate amounts of time and effort (seriously, like hundreds of pages of arguments) for years trying to show how streaming is a bad business model for musicians. Yet to this day, you can find his music on streaming sites without issue. This is true for a lot of musicians who spoke against streaming like The Black Keys.

I wonder if streaming really is so bad for you(tm) as a musician, why are the same people who spending hours and hours arguing this finding it so fucking hard to spend 10 seconds to press the button that withdraws their music from streaming sites? Well it's obvious actually, because they don't believe their own "business advice". And if they don't believe it, why do they expect others to?

I have an idea. Remove your music from streaming sites, Faza. What are you waiting for?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Why non-technologists shouldn't be in the business of dreaming up technical solutions

So recently I had one of my regular Internet comment wars in the copyright debate with a fella named "Zoran" at the The Cynical Musician. Zoran had a foolproof idea for copyright enforcement that involved "searching for metadata" [in packets], this metadata would prove that the data in question is copyrighted or being used in copyright infringement. Metadata is one of those words that in my professional experience, non-technical people like to throw around a lot but have no real idea what it means or how it can be used.

This reminded of a similar Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Internet protocol proposal, RFC 3514. This proposal procribes adding a field to an unused area of the IPv4 packet header (ie. "metadata") to signal that the packet contains evil content; that is something that is in some way harmful, malicious or otherwise undesirable. Since copyright infringement is obviously malicious and undesirable, Zoran's idea would fit nicely to this standard. It felt to me that Zoran was indeed reinventing RFC 3514, which I suppose could be quite brilliant. Perhaps he has a great future as an Internet Engineer.

Or not. You see, the people of the IETF have a wicked sense of humor, and every now and again, they create a joke RFC (usually on April 1st, ie. April Fools Day). To the most most basic trained Computer Scientists, these proposals are usually immediately noticeable for what they are, because they contain impossibilities or very obvious flaws. In the case of the evil bit, since headers are created at the sending endpoint, the sender has to decide to set or unset the evil bit. The standard has the obvious implication that a hacker or copyright infringer would simply "play nice" and mark their bad deeds as "evil", so that receivers and intermediaries can take appropriate action (some of their suggestions on what actions to take are themselves amusing, like immediately crash).

The problem should be obvious. Maybe this scheme would work in a world like in the hit Hollywood movie "The Invention of Lying", but not in the real world.

Yet when I asked Zoran to look at this RFC, he took it really seriously, and even criticized the authors for having a limited vision; obviously they forgot to address the nefarious case of copyright infringement in their proposal.

I can't make this up. Go here and read the thread.

So what did I learn from the expirence? Something that I didn't realize. A lot of these people have no utter clue what they are talking about when it comes to technology. They might be a nice people and cool to hang with. Maybe they know how to put together a song. But that does not them Internet Engineers.

It doesn't even make them the Geek Squad at Best Buy. They are simply totally unqualified to talk about these things at all. Taking technological countermeasure ideas from ordinary musicians is batshit insane. It's like having a waitress piloting your jumbo jet. Do you want that? Why the fuck is it acceptable for people who have no clue what they are talking about to dictate technological regulations?

While a lot of technology and Computer Science is obvious to me, I forgot to realize that because I'm a fucking trained Computer Scientist with a specialization in networking. I spent lots and lots of nights with no sleep at all, huddled in front of a computer screen to get where I am today. So this should be obvious to me, but I forget it's like gibberish to most people. And that's important to remember.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard

I thought this was an interesting film. One thing about it is it exposes the kind of asymmetric warfare copyright holders deal with. On one hand, you have the Pirate Bay, a site that literally is the largest filesharing site for years. And it is run by a total of three young gentlemen, who don't even really like each other so much.

How is this possible? Well obviously TPB people are quite smart. But, Pirate Bay builds on decades of technological development. From TCP/IP to BitTorrent, all they had to do was put it all together. And BitTorrent is largely P2P - so you don't need massive amounts of hardware to run a BitTorrent tracker, even a large one like The Pirate Bay. This is even more true since the website moved to using magnet links, which wasn't the case when this documentary was produced.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Copyright enforcement and crickets

Can you point to proponents of copyright on the Internet mentioning copyright enforcement other than "it should be enforced better"? Because I can't*.

The question, "how to enforce it better" is largely missing from the conversation surrounding copyright. Yet the issue surrounding copyright is entirely about copyright enforcement.

But anytime copyright enforcement comes up, it's like the crickets just come right out. Why is this? Is it because they can't figure out a copyright enforcement strategy that doesn't cause them scorn throughout the Internet (hello SOPA/PIPA)? Is it because there isn't any workable copyright enforcement strategy that doesn't have scary implications, and they are afraid their ideas will get picked apart? Is it because they just like patting themselves on the back about how great copyright is without tackling the hard issues surrounding it?

I've been waiting a year for someone to please try and prove me wrong. Is there any copyright blogger out there brave enough to talk about copyright enforcement?

I'll tell you, as rare as it is I've seen some copyright enforcement talk out there. The closest thing I found was Faza and "David" from his blog basically arguing that anyone publishing content on the Internet needs to file for a permit with some sort of yet to exist copyright police agency and put down some cold hard cash (or a credit card number, as I recall Faza mentioning), I assume this permit requirement would have to apply for comments, e-mails, IMs, etc. that is, anything that could be used to violate copyright. Or there will be holes that pirates will exploit. I'm not sure how to even technically implement a legal mandate like this, it would require some kind of level of governmental control that is beyond most government's law enforcement infrastructures. Of course, that could be changed.

This sort of suggestion was hilarious and scary at the same time and give me some insight to their goals and understanding of the issue, but at least they tried. It proves to me that they realize that the core nature of the Internet as a unrestricted communications medium is the problem, and for copyright to work, the Internet communications need to be heavily restricted. Which is what I've been saying all along. Now this sort of thing is crazy unpopular even with the mainstream, which is probably why it's all hush hush silence most of the time. Maybe when they are behind closed doors they are more open about their intentions to dig a grave for the Internet. Who knows?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Imaginary Property on Imaginary Infrastructure; also known as the Internet

Enforcing copyright on the Internet is quite weird, for lack of a better term. How do you shut down a website? Well a website is "intellectual property". It might exist in any physical location at any given time, but it doesn't need to. You can easily copy this website and produce your own copy, if you wanted to.

If I want someone to stop using a factory, I can just have the authorities shut it down (maybe, if they agree to). It's not going to mysteriously pop back up again 5 seconds later. But if I want to shut down a website, how do I do that? Do I go to the website factory and tell them to stop operating?

The very thing that makes copyright hard to enforce, also makes it even harder to enforce (yes, you read that right). I can't use meatspace solutions to enforce my non-meatspace property.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aaron Swartz commits suicide, dies at 26 years

Aaron Swartz will be missed. Aaron Swartz was a prolific computer scientist, in his short life he invented RSS, now used in millions of sites including this one, and cofounded Reddit, among many other accomplishments. With the money he made from Reddit, he retired early and worked full time to protect civil liberties on the Internet, and started a very effective activist organization DemandProgress towards this goal. Here is Reddit's blog post on the topic with more information.

He was a staunch opponent of SOPA and PIPA. In this video "How We Stopped SOPA", he discusses his work in this matter.