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.