Archive | October, 2014

Open Content (a disruptive concept)

Music, film, games, e-books… In default mode that piece of entertainment or culture you just bought comes with built in copy protection, DRM (Digital Rights Management).

DRM takes away your control and actual ownership. (You know, those Amazon e-books that your Kindle app wrongfully claims “is not licensed for this unit”.) It prevents fair use. Normally DRM comes with special software for your gadget, out of your control. Sometimes such software has been proven harmful–and it is likely that it will spy on you and your habits.

In most places it is illegal to break DRM or even to provide information on how to get round it. (This puts some information about consumer electronics, software and content outside the realm of free speech.)

DRM is a menace. And it seems like we are stuck with it. (It is not only protected by national laws. Often it’s included in new trade agreements like the TPP and the TTIP.)

But DRM can also present a possibility–for startups, self publishers, independent filmmakers, new artists, disruptive ventures and brave entrepreneurs.

The possibility it opens up is not to have it. To use open formats and standards instead.

This is marketing judo. Making a point of not harassing fans and customers. Not demanding special software to play or read something. Not to tamper with peoples gadgets and not to spy on them.

The main sales points would be usability and being friendly to fans and customers. I also believe that most people would catch the “moral” aspect of supporting artists, publishers, record labels and film producers who trust them.

Providing Open Content could become some sort of coveted “moral quality label”. (This is, to some extent, already the case with content under Creative Commons licenses.)

OK, but… Will such content not be pirated? To some extent, yes it will be.

But for most content producers, being unknown is a worse problem than file sharing. There are lots and lots of examples of content taking off just because it has found a loyal following on the file sharing scene. Today, there are even bands and artists promoting their work by putting it on The Pirate Bay.

(To dig deeper into all of this, read Chris Andersons well known and easily digestible book Free: The future of a radical price.)

My point is that Big Business (with help from lawmakers and Big Government) is trying to strengthen its grip over the content industry by beefing up copyright / IP-law–and by technical means, such as DRM.

These dinosaurs are so totally focused on saving their outdated business models that they don’t manage to see, understand or adopt to the ever changing market. That will make them vulnerable to disruptive ideas–to concepts that are more in line with an online society, with the market and with popular demand.

Open Content can be such a disruptive business model.



Study: Mass surveillance makes us less safe

Mass surveillance does not only violate peoples right to privacy. It is not very effective, when it comes to keeping us all safe.

And–old fashioned police work, that don’t infringe on privacy in the same way seems to be more usable and effective.

This is the conclusion from a European Union-funded multidisciplinary research study. »

That seems reasonable. And if this is the case, moving resources from traditional police and intelligence missions to computerized mass surveillance will make us all less safe.

As in so many other areas of society, the authorities in question (and their staff) attempt to avoid real, hard work. It is much more comfortable to sit behind a computer screen, speculating about sociograms and illusive patterns.

But this might not really be about national security and counter-terrorism. It may be about surveillance of the general population. In that case, mass surveillance makes more sense. And in that case it is much worse, from a civil rights point of view.



Mass surveillance is bad for business

The quote of the day comes from Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith at the Silicon Valley panel discussion on NSA surveillance, organized by Senator Ron Wyden (D – Oregon).

“If you’re a consumer or a company, you own your email, your text messages, your photos and all the content that you create. Even when you put your content in our data centers or on devices that we make, you still own it and you are entitled to the legal protection under our Constitution and our laws. We will not rebuild trust until our government recognizes that fundamental principle.”

Money talks. Mass surveillance erodes customers confidence in the tech industry. Business is lost when customers shy away from US Internet based services.

And it’s not just about business. Google’s Eric Schmidt warned about a fragmented, balkanized Internet. Wired sums it up…

“The cost will be huge in terms of shared knowledge, discoveries, and science. It will also be expensive, since the cost of running data centers in every country where they have customers may be too much for some firms to handle.”

The Civil Rights movement, Internet activists and the tech industry–now they all seems to stand together against US Government, its’ security bureaucracy and the security industry.

This might be the tipping point in our fight for a free and open Internet.

Some links: Wired » | CNet » | WP » | PC World » | The Register »



Twitter vs. US Government

Good and interesting news…

“Twitter just sued the federal government over restrictions the government places on how much the company can disclose about surveillance requests it receives.”

“Twitter’s ability to respond to government statements about national security surveillance activities and to discuss the actual surveillance of Twitter users is being unconstitutionally restricted by statutes that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider’s disclosure of the number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and court orders issued pursuant to FISA that it has received, if any.”

Wired: Twitter Sues the Government for Violating Its First Amendment Rights »


TTIP might kill EU copyright reform

There is an obvious need for copyright reform. It is necessary in order to keep culture alive, dynamic and vigorous. And it is necessary if we want to keep the Internet free and open. (Read more about these specific issues here. »)

The EU is trying to get to grips with copyright in order to have a single, up to date set of rules for the entire European market. At the same time copyright holders, like the music- and film industry, would like to hold on to present rules–created to protect an old, pre-digital business model.

At the moment, the copyright industry puts its hope to the EU-US trade agreement (TTIP), being negotiated right now. The negotiations are secret. But we know that TTIP will contain a chapter on “intellectual property”. This might be yet another attempt to curb the freedom of the internet, in order to clamp down on illegal file sharing and other digital IP infringements. But if it is, chances are that TTIP will meet the same fate as the fallen ACTA agreement.

But it doesn’t have to be that obvious.

TTIP can also build on present copyright legislation in such a way that it will be more or less impossible to change these laws in the future, without breaking this binding trade agreement.

In fact, there is a highly controversial instrument in TTIP that might be used to kill all attempts to reform copyright legislation in the future. This is the article on investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

The idea behind ISDS is that a company in the US can take the EU or e.g. Denmark to court–if there are to be any new laws that might reduce that companys present (or future) profits. Well not take to court, actually. It’s more like a semi-private settlement institute, that can fine countries for billions of dollars in damages.

Now, imagine if the EU would like to reform copyright. European politicians might want to shorten the absurdly long protection time to, let’s say, 50 years. (If they could extend it, they should also be able to shorten it. Especially as copyright is an “asset” not found in nature, but a brainchild of politicians.) They might want to make exceptions for non-commercial sampling. They might want to make out of print classical literature or orphan works available to the public in digital form. They might want to step down the hunt for non-commercial file sharing. Or they might require that to receive copyright protection, the works in question must be registered.

This is the kind of things that ISDS is designed to stop. Either the EU would have to drop the reforms–or pay billions in damage.

(To add to the absurdity of this: In the example above only American companies would receive damage, not domestic European ones.)

So, yes: The TTIP might be used to kill an EU copyright reform. And Europe urgently need such a reform.

I might repeat myself, but I suggest that if the EU and the US would like to have this trade agreement approved–they should drop the IP chapter and ISDS. It might also be a good idea to open up the negotiations to democratic oversight, as these agreements have more or less the same effect as law.


Also read: EFF–EU-US Trade Negotiations Continue Shutting out the Public—When Will They Learn? »


The “right to be forgotten” is the lesser problem

Google has received tens of thousands of requests to remove links, after the European Court of Justices ruling on “the right to be forgotten”.

This is rightfully a much debated problem, as it is used to censor information and rewrite history.

But we should remember that Google also has been asked to remove half a billion links due to copyright claims.

This also ought to give rise to public debate–as it is a much more wide-ranging form of censorship. (And in some cases copyright claims are used to suppress free speech in the same way as the right to be forgotten.)