December 06, 2005

Digital Rights Management Software: Everyone Gets Screwed

The New York Times (see also slashdot) is running an Op-Ed by the lead singer of the band OK Go (which I have never heard of) explaining why Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, like the stuff Sony BMG got itself in trouble with recently (see Freedom to Tinker, the blog of Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten, for all the technical details. Professor Felten first discussed the security flaws that got Sony in trouble here.) isn't good for anyone. In particular, the author argues, bands who have DRM forced upon them by their record labels end up being heard by fewer people, and ultimately sales of CDs and concert tickets decrease. We knew this, but it's good to see someone in the mainstream media printing it, and it's good to see recording artists, the people hurt most by the record companies' greed, finally understanding the situation.

Posted by kpearce at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

Recording Industry Counter-Sued for ... Well, Pretty Much Everything

From Recording Industry vs. The People via the Electronic Frontier Foundation newsletter: "Tanya Andersen, a 41 year old disabled single mother living in Oregon, has countersued the RIAA for Oregon RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] violations, fraud, invasion of privacy, abuse of process, electronic trespass, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, negligent misrepresentation, the tort of 'outrage', and deceptive business practices." The suit charges, among other things, that Ms. Anderson was contacted by legal council for the RIAA in regard to music downloading (which she has never done) and offered to allow them to inspect her computer to prove her innocence, only to discover that they already had, by employing a company known as MediaSentry to illegally "spy" on private individuals' computers. An employee of Settlement Support Center, a front for the RIAA responsible for their racketeering activities (that is, for threatening people with baseless lawsuits in order to exact "settlement" money from them), acknowledged that they were aware of Ms. Anderson's innocence but could not drop the suit because that would encourage others to resist the RIAA's "enforcement" attempts. In case you read legalese, the actual court filing is here.

This seems like a big deal. Perhaps the RIAA will finally get it through their head that if they don't stop suing their most loyal customers (and accidentally suing random other people), they will have no more business. Increasingly, people are fed up with them, fed up with the system, fed up with the way they exploit both artists and fans to fill their pockets, when the "services" they supposedly provide, of music recording and distribution, have been rendered all but obsolete by technology. I like having CDs, in nice cases, with album covers, and the whole bit. I'm willing to pay for them. But very few of them are worth $18! Lately, actually, I haven't been downloading music, I've been buying used CDs from When I have a choice between a brand new CD at $18, and a used CD in great condition at $4, what do you think I'm going to do? It costs a few thousand dollars to record a CD. I suppose it can be more in some cases, and they spend money on the album covers, etc., but independent bands who pay for their own recording fees pay a few thousand dollars. CDs then cost about three cents each to mass produce. So you produce 10,000 CDs for a total cost of, say, $3,300, and wholesale them at the modest price of $10 each. That's a $100,000 return on a $3,300 investment and, guess what, the profit goes to record executives, not artists! This is for a relatively small record. As you go up in production and sales, the profit margin gets even bigger. Meanwhile, the artists make their money almost exclusively through concert tickets. Now, true, the record companies invested in the CD production plants, but imagine how much more money an artist could make by distributing directly to the Internet! Unfortunately, most recording artists don't seem to be that smart, and still think they are getting a great deal by getting signed to a record label. Maybe this was the case back when Lynyrd Skynyrd released "Workin' For MCA," but it is certainly no longer true. Artists and fans get nothing but ripped off by the record labels.

I would really like to see this case get some publicity. I think that the actions of the RIAA are both stupid and reprehensible. Perhaps the case will be sufficient to soil their image so that Congress will stop listening to their crap... Although this is probably wishful thinking, since the RIAA and MPAA own Senators Hatch and Leahy, and for reasons I completely fail to understand Utah and Vermont continue to re-elect them.

Posted by kpearce at 03:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Badnarik Finally Comments on IP

On Slashdot today, Michael Badnarik finally comments on intellectual property law (see my earlier post on this here). The issue came up in the seventh question of the slashdot interview. While he doesn't give quite the answer I'd like, he does say that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was a mistake, and he seems to think that the market should sort things out, rather than corporations lobbying the government to preserve artificial monopolies. He also seems to come out in support of file-sharing. Good stuff, overall.

Posted by kpearce at 06:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Download Music and ... the Government Will Steal Your Computer?

Also on slashdot today, a pointer to a Reuters story about a justice department raid on the homes of peope accused of the vicious crime of ... file sharing? Four raids took place, computers were confiscated but not arrests were made. John Ashcroft reportedly made idiotic and generally fascist statements to the affect that it would be "inappropriate" for the justice department to "stand by while such theft is taking place." Give me a break! Allow me to let you in on a little secret: If I can take it from you, without depriving you of it ... It's NOT STEALING! Don't believe me? Let's ask Mr. Webster:

Theft \Theft\, n. [OE. thefte, AS. [thorn]i['e]f[eth]e,
[thorn][=y]f[eth]e, [thorn]e['o]f[eth]e. See Thief.]
1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious
taking and removing of personal property, with an intent
to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Note: To constitute theft there must be a taking without the
owner's consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious;
every part of the property stolen must be removed,
however slightly, from its former position; and it must
be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of
the thief. See Larceny, and the Note under Robbery.

Note that in order to qualify as "theft", according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) I have to physically remove something with intent to deprive it's owner of it!

Calling file sharing "theft" or "piracy" is utterly ridiculous - as is treating it as a criminal offense! To whatever degree copyright infringement (which is what we are dealing with here - not theft, or piracy, but copyright infringement) is a real crime which is actually to the detriment of society as a whole, and not just big record execs and movie distributors (which is not to a very large degree), it is definitely the place of a civil suit to resolve the disagreement. There is no reason why tax payers should be paying to prosecute what really amounts to breech of contract (read the Constitution - Article I Section 8 Clause 8 clearly indicates that intellectual property law is a contract Congress creates between content creators and the people at large).

John Ashcroft is a fascist. Under his eye, we have had the Dimitry Sklyarov affair, the Patriot Act, all kinds of ridiculous "war on filesharing" crap, and now this. Any president who would appoint John Ashcroft as attorney general is not fit to govern - whether it be through idiocy or actual evil (and who knows which it is with our friend George W.). Vote Ashcroft out! Vote Michael Badnarik and tell the establishment politicians you won't take any more of their crap.

PS if you think John Kerry will be any better on this stuff you are either among the most optimistic people living in this country, or else you are on crack.

Posted by kpearce at 10:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

JibJab Wins

I had previously mentioned the lawsuit threat regarding the hilarious JibJab parody of the old patriotic song "This Land". Well, Slashdot is reporting
that the case has been resolved and, as it turns out, the song was actually in the public domain to begin with, and the company doesn't control the rights after all. You mean there's still a public domain?

Posted by kpearce at 03:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 09, 2004

Rights for Authors - Not Publishers

Tim Wu, guest blogging forLawrence Lessig, notes that the JibJab parody of "This Land is Your Land" is actually supported by the family and estate of Woody Guthrie, the now deceased author of the song. Asked about the parody, granddaughter Cathy Guthrie reportedly responded "this parody was made for you and me."

The rights are controlled by a company known as The Richmond Organization, and they are threatening to sue JibJab. The parody is hilariously funny and highly reccomended. The family's decision ought to stand, and the rights of individuals ought to triumph over the rights of huge corporations. After all, it was an individual who wrote this song, not a corporation. Copyright law and publishing contracts as they presently exist favor these corporations at huge expense to both authors and consumers. Something must be done.

Posted by kpearce at 08:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 31, 2004

Anti-Plagiarism Legislation as an (Almost) Adequate Replacement for Intellectual Property Law

I spend a lot of time here railing against the RIAA, et al., and it may sound as though I am opposed to intellectual property law altogether. This is pretty much the case.

How, you may ask, can someone who is such a big fan of books, and plays, and science, and movies, and music think this way? The truth is that intellectual property law does help encourage production in these fields. I believe that people who create really outstanding works in these fields have a drive to create, and would do so even if they received no compensation whatsoever, but if they received no compensation, they would have to get "real jobs," and this would be bad, because it would diminish their output. To solve this problem, in the Renaissance "'patronage" was developed. Under this system, an artist was sponsored by a wealthy patron who paid his living expenses so that he could devote himself full-time to the creation of art. The earlier development of the university had provided the same sort of support to the early scientists and various other scholars.

Intellectual property law is essentially a system by which governments manipulates economies in such a way as to create an income for content producers that comes directly from the consumer. This is the type of government intervention that I generally support. The government is using the supply-and-demand system that exists naturally to acheive a desirable end. It's a good idea.

However, with the advent of the Internet, the rise of software patents, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and so forth, today's world has become such that the degree to which intellectual property law is enforced has become excessive, and this enforcement has become so difficult that it cannot be done without an unacceptable amount of government control being exerted over communication and the creation of content. Intellectual property law as it exists today is simply unacceptable and, it turns out, there is a different approach which might have been better all along. This is simply anti-plagiarism legislation.

I am of the belief that the really important element of copyright law is the requirement of attribution, which is to say that what is really necessary is that everyone exposed to a work knows who originally created it. How, one might ask, does this benefit the artist? It's quite simple really. Think of Bob Dylan. Even his greatest fans admit that he was never particularly talented as a singer, but he has sold an unspeakable number of concert tickets over the years, and that is where recording artists make the most money. This is because everyone recognizes that he is a great song writer. Everyone wants to hear the original song writer performing his own songs. Likewise, if a scientist creates a process or a programmer creates an application he then becomes the chief expert on whatever he has created, and any company wanting to use his process or application will want to hire him, and if his process or application is particularly good the companies will begin to compete with each other for his services so that supply and demand will create for him a very high salary. This is clearly evident in several cases related to open source software, for instance Linus Torvalds, MySQL AB, and Ximian (recently purchased by Novell for a lot of money). Also consider the case of a painter. I imagine his primary source of income would be the sale of originals. So, if prints are sold in massive quantities all over the world so that his paintings are easily recognizable, and his name is affixed to them all so that he is widely known, his originals will fetch an extravagant price.

Here ends my little rant about why intellectual property law is unecessary. Goodbye.

Posted by kpearce at 11:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

The Record Labels' Problem: They Are Obsolete

So USA Today is running an article about bands who support filesharing, and the reasons why bands support it and record lables don't. What it comes down to is this: filesharing (allegedly) hurts record labels, but it helps artists (financially). Why? Because the Internet is doing one of the millions of things it's advocates promised it would do back when we first started to get it in our homes: eliminating the middle-man. By distributing their music online, artists can generate audiences for their concerts (which is what they need to get money) without record labels. Furthermore, once they have generated these loyal fans, who will even help them distribute their music online, and become all the more loyal as a result, they can afford to pay for the recording of their own CDs independently of record labels, and sell them at concerts and online and actually make a profit on CDs (which artists signed to record labels rarely, if ever, do).

So what is the record lablels' problem? No one needs them any more, their current business plan has no future, and unless they try something new, come up with some new business model on which people actually need them, they may soon have no source of profit. What are they going to do about it? Sue everyone in sight, and lobby the government to make laws that stifle technological advancement, hurt both consumers and artists, and give them money. Sound like someone else we know? As a matter of fact, a similar fear came upon the movie industry many years ago, and MPAA president Jack Valenti insisted that the VCR would mean the end of the movie industry. This, of course, proved false. Admittedly, filesharing and digital copying represent a much larger threat to traditional business models for music (and movies, and software), as infinite copies can be made with no loss of precision, but the key point is that it is not a threat to the future creation of new music (or movies, or software) but a threat to traditional business models.

What does this mean? Well, first, the RIAA, the MPAA, and the SCO Group need to be told in no uncertain terms that their tactics will not be tolerated, and that we will not allow technology to stagnate in order to fill their bank accounts. Second, after learning this lesson, said organizations need to do one of two things: find a business model that is actually profitable in a world with the technology available today and that doesn't rely on income from lawsuits in order to be so, or die. In the case of the MPAA, this shouldn't be a problem: they make tons of money at the box office. In the case of SCO they might need some more capital to do anything, but they know where to find it (they have been getting plenty of money from Microsoft), and there are plenty of software companies that have been able to make a profit without suing everyone in sight. In the case of the RIAA, record labels simply need to adjust to provide services that artists still need in the digital age. This should be easy enough. For instance, people could easily be persuaded to pay money for downloads if they were fast, reliable, of high quality, and easy to find. This is a service a label could provide. They can also continue to provide the services they do now, as these things still need to be done. What the Internet changes is that it is now possible for artists to perform these tasks themselves. If labels can do them better/cheaper/more efficiently than the artists could themselves, then they will still have a viable business. What has happened then? Competition. Hopefully this will force record labels to come up with an arrangement that is beneficial to both artists and consumers in order to survive. Wouldn't that be something?

Posted by kpearce at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 30, 2004

The Great MP3 Caper

I just found this awesome short film on the EFF web-site. Check it out.

Posted by kpearce at 12:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 24, 2004

RIAA vs. Penn Students

Have you seen this morning's Daily Pennsylvanian? On the heels of my decision to blog (for the first time, I think) about this RIAA crap, it seems, coincidentally, that the RIAA has decided to sue some Penn students! Check out the EFF's Let the Music Play campaign to sign petitions and stuff to stop the madness.

Posted by kpearce at 05:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2004

EFF Proposes Solution for Online Music Downloading

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization which focuses on technological issues, has proposed a very sensible solution to some of the problems related to peer-to-peer filesharing, in hopes of stopping the Recording Industry Association of America from suing more users. Check it out here.

Posted by kpearce at 03:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack