Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Monday, January 05, 2009

RIAA lose Jammie Thomas mistrial appeal

The RIAA has reportedly lost its appeal on the declaration of a mistrial by the judge in the Jammie Thomas peer to peer copyright infringement case. A jury had originally ordered Ms Thomas to pay $222,000 in damages but the judge later agreed that he had inadvertently misled the jury in his final directions to them relating to the consideration of their verdict.

Analysis of Google Book settlement

James Grimmelmann has done a comprehensive analysis of the proposed settlement agreement in the Google Book case. He concludes with the following recommendations:
"Summary of principles and recommendations (hyperlinks take you back to the section of the document that discusses them)
  • P0: The settlement should be approved
    • R0: Approve the settlement.
  • P1: The Registry poses an antitrust problem
    • R1: Put library and reader representatives on the Registry’s board.
    • R2: Require the Registry to sign an antitrust consent decree.
    • R3: Give future authors and publishers the same deal as current ones.
  • P2 If it didn’t already, Google poses an antitrust problem
    • R4: Strike the most-favored-nations clause.
    • R5: Allow Google’s competitors to offer the same services the settlement allows Google to offer, with the same obligations.
    • R6: Authorize the Registry to negotiate on copyright owners’ behalf with Google’s competitors.
  • P3: Enforce reasonable consumer-protection standards
    • R7: Prohibit Google from price discriminating in individual book sales.
    • R8: Insert strict guarantees of reader privacy.
    • R9: Protect readers from being asked to waive their rights as a condition of access.
  • P4: Make the public goods generated by the project truly public
    • R10: Require that Google’s database of in-print/out-of-print information be made public.
    • R11: Require that the Registry’s database of copyright owner information be made public.
    • R12: Require the use of standard APIs, open data formats, and (for metadata) unrestricted access.
  • P5: Require accountability and transparency
    • R13: Require that Google inform the public when it excludes a book for editorial reasons.
    • R14: Tighten up the definition of “non-editorial reasons” for excluding a book.
    • R15: Allow any institution ready, willing, and able to participate in scanning books to do so."

Shirky on 2009, including iPlayer drm

The Guardian has interviewed Clay Shirky to get his perspectives on the coming year in technology.

Given my Christmas drm woes with the iPlayer I had a wry grin at his comments about the BBC.
"And the BBC iPlayer? That's a debacle. The digital rights management thing ...let's just pretend that it was a dream like on Dallas and start from scratch. The iPlayer is a back-to-the-future business model. It's a total subversion of Reithian values in favour of trying to create what had been an accidental monopoly as a kind of robust business model. The idea that the old geographical segmenting of terrestrial broadcasts is recreatable is a fantasy and a waste of time."
In the wake of my irritation with the iPlayer Glyn at ORG kindly pointed me at a terrific little linuxcentre tool, get_iplayer, which lets you download any BBC programme available via the iPlayer in Quicktime or MP4 format.

It has a command line interface which may be off-putting for the geekily challenged but it is genuinely easy to use. I'm not kidding. In less than 20 minutes I had downloaded and installed get_iPlayer and pulled down a pristine Quicktime version of an iPlayer programme (enabling me to catch up on a part of the programme I had missed on Christmas day due to another tech malfunction which I won't bore you with now). Thanks Glyn!

With my son still periodically muttering darkly about "stupid drm digital locks" as he mucks about with his new Walkman, I'm tempted to launch into one of my drm rants but instead I'll refer you to the words of the self confessed 'pretty unlikely early adopter' above again (Shirky) and Cory Doctorow's honest user story from his Microsoft DRM talk in 2004:
"Here's the social reason that DRM fails: keeping an honest user
honest is like keeping a tall user tall. DRM vendors tell us that
their technology is meant to be proof against average users, not
organized criminal gangs like the Ukranian pirates who stamp out
millions of high-quality counterfeits. It's not meant to be proof
against sophisticated college kids. It's not meant to be proof
against anyone who knows how to edit her registry, or hold down
the shift key at the right moment, or use a search engine. At the
end of the day, the user DRM is meant to defend against is the
most unsophisticated and least capable among us.

Here's a true story about a user I know who was stopped by DRM.
She's smart, college educated, and knows nothing about
electronics. She has three kids. She has a DVD in the living room
and an old VHS deck in the kids' playroom. One day, she brought
home the Toy Story DVD for the kids. That's a substantial
investment, and given the generally jam-smeared character of
everything the kids get their paws on, she decided to tape the
DVD off to VHS and give that to the kids -- that way she could
make a fresh VHS copy when the first one went south. She cabled
her DVD into her VHS and pressed play on the DVD and record on
the VCR and waited.

Before I go farther, I want us all to stop a moment and marvel at
this. Here is someone who is practically technophobic, but who
was able to construct a mental model of sufficient accuracy that
she figured out that she could connect her cables in the right
order and dub her digital disc off to analog tape. I imagine that
everyone in this room is the front-line tech support for someone
in her or his family: wouldn't it be great if all our non-geek
friends and relatives were this clever and imaginative?

I also want to point out that this is the proverbial honest user.
She's not making a copy for the next door neighbors. She's not
making a copy and selling it on a blanket on Canal Street. She's
not ripping it to her hard-drive, DivX encoding it and putting it
in her Kazaa sharepoint. She's doing something *honest* -- moving
it from one format to another. She's home taping.

Except she fails. There's a DRM system called Macrovision
embedded -- by law -- in every VHS that messes with the vertical
blanking interval in the signal and causes any tape made in this
fashion to fail. Macrovision can be defeated for about $10 with a
gadget readily available on eBay. But our infringer doesn't know
that. She's "honest." Technically unsophisticated. Not stupid,
mind you -- just naive.

The Darknet paper addresses this possibility: it even predicts
what this person will do in the long run: she'll find out about
Kazaa and the next time she wants to get a movie for the kids,
she'll download it from the net and burn it for them."

"The Darknet paper he refers to at the end is The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman at Microsoft. Abstract:
We investigate the darknet – a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content. The darknet is not a separate physical network but an application and protocol layer riding on existing networks. Examples of darknets are peer-to-peer file sharing, CD and DVD copying, and key or password sharing on email and newsgroups. The last few years have seen vast increases in the darknet’s aggregate bandwidth, reliability, usability, size of shared library, and availability of search engines. In this paper we categorize and analyze existing and future darknets, from both the technical and legal perspectives. We speculate that there will be short-term impediments to the effectiveness of the darknet as a distribution mechanism, but ultimately the darknet-genie will not be put back into the bottle. In view of this hypothesis, we examine the relevance of content protection and content distribution architectures."
The Darknet paper remains essential reading on drm. Even though it was nothing new when released in 2002 - all the main security gurus from Felten to Anderson to Schneier et al had been pointing out the flaws in drm for several years by then - it got a lot of attention, probably because it was written by Microsoft insiders when Microsoft was very much in favour of drm. The label "darknet" helped with the media too.

Which all goes to show that when the likes of Shirky, Felten, Dcotorow, Anderson, Schneier and my 10-year old have been denouncing drm for such a long time now who needs another rant from me on the subject?