Copyright, Corporations, People, and the Concept of Ownership, The Concept of Things

NOTE: This got a little rambley and random at times but whatever, I don’t care.

So, when a person goes out and buys, say, a desk, they bring it home, maybe they assemble it, they put their computer on it, they sit at it, they use it as a desk.  Other people can come over and use this desk if the need to for all of these activities as well.  There is only one desk here, and when the person is done with the desk, they can do whatever they want with it.  They can throw it out, or give it to a family member or sell it to a stranger.  If they want they can disassemble it and cut up the parts and make a bookcase out of it, or a table, or even a different desk.

If you buy a CD, or a book, you can do many of these things as well (good luck building a book case out of a CD, you may have better luck doing it with the book.)  The thing is, as far as the companies are concerned, when it comes to media, many or all of these activities should be or are illegal.

For example, did you know it is illegal to listen to music publicly in your workplace?  This includes the radio, which, by the way, is broadcast freely to anyone.

The media industry has also tried many times to make it illegal to but used music and games.  This hasn’t worked out very well for them with physical media but these days everything is moving towards digital anyway, which makes the problem moot.  These digital files are often licensed and tied to a particular account and are not transferable anyway.

Which brings up the next side of this.  Digital Content and Copyright.  When something becomes digital, that is, a file on a computer, it immediately becomes infinitely copyable.  There is no way to prevent a file from being copied.  There are ways to make it inconvenient.  There are encryption methods and proprietary formats, that can be used but even with some encrypted capsule of data that can only be opened using a special program to prevent copying, you can still copy the capsule itself even if it meant doing a one to one ghost image of the drive’s data.

The problem is, that history has shown that the more encapsulation, or DRM (Digital rights management) a file has, the more difficulties it creates for normal users to use their files.  Your DRM music file may only work in a specific player on your PC, and only play on an specific brand of music player.  Then that player starts bundling ad banners or toolbars so it becomes a pain to use or maybe the brand of music player is more expensive than the others on the market or possibly just poorly made.  The DRM means you’re locked in to that system so it doesn’t matter how good the software or player is.

Well, it doesn’t matter until you say “screw it” and go to another brand but that’s a story for another day.

And despite all of the DRM a media file may have, the people who want to pirate it, will.  They will crack the encryption and extract the important data.  For movies and music, to enjoy them they have to be played out into the real world, which can always be routed and looped back in to be re-encoded.  This is known as “The Analog Hole”.  Until they start implanting chips in our heads or something, you can’t encrypt natural real world acoustics and visuals.

But this isn’t supposed to be a piracy rant.  I’m not advocating piracy or suggesting that all content should be pirated.  I’m just pointing out that the lengths companies have gone to in the past make it inconvenient for normal people and the pirates will do it anyway.  The music industry learned this and most music you can buy, easily, is DRM free these days.  The movie industry is still learning this as is the ebook industry to some extent, and it’s going to still bite them until they learn.

The point is, why do people pirate this stuff in the first place.  the obvious answer is cost.  Some people simply can’t afford it.  Some people don’t want to afford it.  A lot of people CAN afford it and choose not to.  There is an excellent book on this subject called Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig,  that puts people into four categories and explains it very well.  The book is freely available via Creative Commons Liscence and you can find a copy of the applicable chapter here.  The relevant part is here:

File sharers share different kinds of content. We can divide these different kinds into four types.

A. There are some who use sharing networks as substitutes for purchasing content. Thus, when a new Madonna CD is released, rather than buying the CD, these users simply take it. We might quibble about whether everyone who takes it would actually have bought it if sharing didn’t make it available for free. Most probably wouldn’t have, but clearly there are some who would. The latter are the target of category A: users who download instead of purchasing. B. There are some who use sharing networks to sample music before purchasing it. Thus, a friend sends another friend an MP3 of an artist he’s not heard of. The other friend then buys CDs by that artist. This is a kind of targeted advertising, quite likely to succeed. If the friend recommending the album gains nothing from a bad recommendation, then one could expect that the recommendations will actually be quite good. The net effect of this sharing could increase the quantity of music purchased. C. There are many who use sharing networks to get access to copyrighted content that is no longer sold or that they would not have purchased because the transaction costs off the Net are too high. This use of sharing networks is among the most rewarding for many. Songs that were part of your childhood but have long vanished from the marketplace magically appear again on the network. (One friend told me that when she discovered Napster, she spent a solid weekend “recalling” old songs. She was astonished at the range and mix of content that was available.) For content not sold, this is still technically a violation of copyright, though because the copyright owner is not selling the content anymore, the economic harm is zero—the same harm that occurs when I sell my collection of 1960s 45-rpm records to a local collector. D. Finally, there are many who use sharing networks to get access to content that is not copyrighted or that the copyright owner wants to give away.

The book goes on to explain the pluses and minuses of each of these types of people and really, only the first tier, people who blatant pirate because they want to” are the only ones who are truly being criminals and the only ones truly causing hard to companies.  These are also, for the most part, the minority.

Most people, given an easy, appropriately priced option, will pay for media.


I’m starting to fly off the track again…

The point i want to make is, as far as the industry is concerned, you don’t own the media you buy.  When you pay for a CD or an eBook or a BluRay disc, you are paying for the license, to consume that media, in the format you’re buying.  If you want to listen to that CD on your media player, legally, you must buy digital copies of that music and can’t legally rip that CD to your computer yourself.  You paid to listen to the music in CD format.  The same applies to movies as well.  It technically applies to books but digitizing a book is a bit more of a pain than it’s worth doing.

Consumers, people, normal folks, do not “think in legalese” and do not see it this way.  They only see that they already own this music, why do they need to buy it again?  Some of them may even see that they already own the Vinyl and the Cassette and the CD, why do they need to pay, again, to listen to this music?

This is where some of our piracy comes in.  It’s easy to rip a CD, not so much a cassette.  It can be done and it requires the use of the Analog Hole but it’s not convenient.  So people will just download their cassette collection illegally.

Also, on the radio at work point made earlier.  You also pay for this music, so that YOU can listen to it.  The license you buy applies only to you, and letting your friends or coworkers listen to the music is not legal either.  As far as the media industry is concerned, when you buy something, you are paying to listen to it alone, in a silo and you may never share this experience with anyone.  Make them buy their own damn media.

Some Thoughts on SOPA and PIPA

The whole internet is abuzz with SOPA and, to a lesser extent, PIPA talk.  Basically, these two bills in congress, one for the House, one for the Senate.  You can get plenty of information through Google or if you’d like, try the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The gist of this bill, is that it would allow media companies, through the government, to block websites with “pirated content” through manipulation of the Internet DNS system.  Without proper due process of law.  DNS, is essentially the phone book of the internet.  You could also compare it to a road map.  It’s what computers use to know how to find the websites you look for online.  All websites are in fact a series of numbers called an IP address, however remembering is tricky.  Remembering “” is not.

Feel free to use that link, it leads to Google.  Which brings up one major flaw with this bill.  Pirates will easily circumvent these blocked DNS entries by using IP addresses.  If say, the Pirate Bay is blocked, people will just use it’s IP address instead.

Also likely there will simply be “rogue DNS” servers.

I am not endorsing piracy, I am saying the bill will not do anything to stop it.  People also may suggest the idea of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of”.

The problem with this logic, in every situation, is that the question of “what is wrong” is extremely subjective and often changes.  Guess what, in a world where SOPA passes and becomes law, it starts off simply as it’s told.  Places which host “pirate content” are effectively removed from the internet.  Nevermind that there will also be legal content taken off as well when sites like Megaupload are taken offline.  The block is not single file or even single subsite specific. 

But hey we’re all happier now without The pirate Bay and Megaupload right?

Until people start hosting their content through loopholes on blogger or WordPress.  Sure, it’s against the TOS and both companies work to remove them as they are found but hey, guess what, now they need to be blocked.  Thousands, probably millions, of independent bloggers are now silenced.

Or perhaps the definition of “piracy” and “copyright infringement” gets pushed out even more.  Universal studios puts out a big blockbuster movie, it cost them a shitload of money top make and it gets totally panned by the internet.  Nobody wants to see this movie, all this negative press floating around, well hey look, Blogger Bob used the movie poster in his review.  Nevermind that this may fall under the fare use clause, that’s infringement, let’s close down because his negative reviews may be hurting ticket sales.

Just remember, governments generally don’t start off deciding to become repressive totalitarian regimes.  (NOTE: Link will not work 1/18/2012)

I mean hey, we have a precedent now, plus, once a site is “gone” people won’t notice right?  Universal killed BloggerBob, why not suppress a few of those “anti government kooks” out there spreading bad spirits through the country while we’re at it.  We have the mechanism in place after all.  John Q Public doesn’t know what DNS is, he thinks it’s a new sandwich at Subway.

It’s not even that it’s a terribly BAD idea, it’s more that, in an effort to make things “move more quickly” it rejects the idea of due process, and facts, and evidence.

Which also brings up what really is a whole different rant.  The world is changing.  The world is not the US, or Europe, or China, or the Northern Hemisphere.  It’s an entire globe.  The internet is even more-so, and it’s the driving force of the world these days.  Which is the real problem here.  Because despite the best effort to push more crap on what used to be a pretty ignorant and docile public, it’s not working anymore.  Any sort of exaggeration or lie in favor of “marketing” is almost instantly debunked.  People who used to be made to feel better or pushed aside as isolated cases of problems realize that they are not alone.  The internet is the ultimate engine for real democracy.  look at the whole election system, when it took days and months to ride a horse across the country, then things like congress or the electoral college etc were a great idea.  is it even necessary anymore when people can express their opinion and desires to the world instantly?

Copyright, SOPA, Why You Should Care

So yesterday was “American Censorship Day”.  This was to… commemorate really REALLY is not the right word, maybe acknowledge or point out that yesterday Congress had a hearing about SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”.  There are plenty of sites out there talking about this better than I probably can explain but the general gist of the bill is that it would give the movie and music industry, the MPAA and the RIAA, the ability to have a website blocked by DNS servers if it contains infringing or protected copyrighted works.

Now, this is all feel good and great on paper.  If it passes we can block sites like the PirateBay or MegaUpload which are often used to distribute infringing materials.  But then, people often use Bittorrent to download infringing materials, it should probably get clocked too.  Then you have folks uploading TV shows and clips to Youtube, it should probably be blocked too, besides, that gives the secondary benefit of removing all of those entertaining cat videos people seem to prefer to watch instead of crappy sitcoms.  There is also that Facebook thing, where people like to post those videos, which infringe on IP, let’s block it too.

Granted, this is the whole “worst case scenario” mindset and I really doubt Facebook would be blocked.

At least not initially.

Before we get too off track, let’s point out that many people use ThePirateBay and MegaUpload and similar sites to distribute legitimate content.  Even if that’s pushing it, Bittorrent is definitely used for legitimate content.  Download bandwidth is relatively cheap but upload bandwidth is not.  Being able to distribute the file hosting system across hundreds and thousands of hosts with Bittorrent is excellent technology.

Back to the “major players” of Google (with Youtube) and Facebook, yeah, it is probably unlikely they would get blocked.  However, there is a greed mindset that comes in with unchecked power where Youtube could easily be a candidate to be blocked.  As I mentioned, people are increasingly growing interested in independently produced media, be it heavily produced independent films, video bloggers in their bedrooms and offices or even just some guy who filmed his cat for 8 hours and cut together a 30 second string of the best moments.

The movement towards disintermediated user generated content away from the big business models of expensive shows and movies and music is the true “enemy” of the music and record industry.  It’s just not real Politically Correct for the big bad media industry to blame the obvious because there isn’t anything they can really do about it in the end.  The internet revolution for lack of a better term is quickly killing the middleman economy of the past.  I’m not going to get too far off on this tangent though because it would make this even longer than it already is and it’s a topic I’d like to touch on in a separate post.

The point is… the big media giants can use SOPA to essentially close Youtube preventing a lot of independents from even getting exposure in the first place.  The desired and expected outcome would be that everyone comes crawling back to buying albums at $17 each that have 2 almost decent songs on them so they can make money hand over fist ripping off their customers like they did up until 10 years or so ago.

I should point out that I’m using Youtube pretty generically here as it’s interchangeable with pretty much any website centered around user generated content.

Now you might ask, “why would they shut down Youtube, why not just shut down the infringing channel/person?”  This is an excellent point, why can’t they do that?  Doesn’t shutting down a whole website seem a little extreme?  Here’s the punch line for ya, they ALREADY HAVE THIS ABILITY.  It’s called the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act”.  Under the DMCA, if someone starts posting a bunch of episodes of Glee to Youtube, Fox can issue a DMCA takedown notice to Youtube and have those videos removed.  Simple, easy, somewhat effective.  The problem of course is that there is more Youtube content uploaded every minute (maybe it’s second) than there are hours in the day.  Policing all of the content for infringing videos is essentially impossible.  Youtube already has several systems scanners and algorithms in place that scan new uploads as they arrive but they aren’t 100% effective.

They can’t be.  People are clever.  They’ll slow the music down slightly so it doesn’t get caught.  They’ll flip the video of a scene so it doesn’t match.

Which brings up another point.  SOPA will do nothing to stop Internet piracy.  People will find a way if they want to pirate copyrighted materials.  DNS can be blocked but people will just start using the IP address of the websites being blocked.  People will use TOR Networks, people will use proxies that are out of the country (like they do in China which firewalls itself out of the rest of the world).  People will find a way.  PC games started getting ridiculous with their DRM yet there is always a crack available, often before the game is released.  Music on iTunes and other MP3 stores used to have DRM preventing unauthorized play and people figured out how to use the “analogue hole” or just burned them to CD then re-ripped them.  People will find a way.

The people who suffer from all of this tend to be the honest folks.  The guy who didn’t realize he could only authorize iTunes on 5 computers or devices or whatever and now he’s got a new machine and can’t play his songs.  Or the person who wants to play their new PC game on their laptop without having to carry the CD around but the game requires the CD for authorization.  Or worse, the game requires an internet connection to be played at all, which BTW, there are still many people WITHOUT regular internet access who still like to use PCs and play games and use software.

To stop what?  Pirates?  They downloaded an ISO that included a hacked EXE that breaks the encryption or DRM or need for the disc a week before the game was in stores.

The other side of this bill which is quite sinister is the lack of due process involved.  DMCA takedowns are bad enough as they don’t always require proof.  They also get issued against websites which use copyright materials under the Fair Use clause.  Fair use most often involves a copyrighted work being less than a certain length and used for parody or criticism purposes.  Like if a person has a music blog where they review songs, under fair use (I think, I’m not a lawyer) they would be allowed to embed 30 second clips of the tracks into the review.  This takes down entire websites without any due process and barely requires any actual proof of infringement.  Essentially if they say “take it down”, it goes.

The really terrible angle here, as they say, power corrupts and this bill gives too much power to people that don’t deserve it, is, for example, that hypothetical music review blog I mentioned.  Let’s say they are fairly harsh and don’t give too many positive reviews.  We can’t have this negativity floating around getting readers now, negative reviews affect our bottom line.  So the site gets a SOPA notice and disappears.

Criticism out of site, out of mind.