Cory Doctorow: New column about copy-friendly business models


Guardian UnlimitedThe Guardian has started a 5-part column (“Copy Killers”) by Cory Doctorow. In the series, Cory shows what is so bad about Digital Rights Managements (DRM, also dubbed Digital Restrictions Management), and explain copy-friendly business models.

DRMs are often designed by ambitious, well-funded consortia, with top-notch engineers from every corner of the industry. They spend millions. They take years. They are defeated in days, for pennies, by hobbyists. It’s inevitable, because every time you give someone a locked item, you have to give them the key to unlock it too. The industry admits this. The pitchmen will tell you that DRM is a sleeping policeman; a bump in the road that “keeps honest users honest”. This is silly: DRM can’t make an honest person more honest. In fact, once a person has opted to buy – rather than pinch – your movie, all it can do is cause frustration. Why? Because DRM stops people from doing legitimate things – like using a new device (for example, playing a song from the iTunes store on a non-Apple player); like backing up a file; like selling, loaning or giving away a movie.

Interesting twist: Cory indicates that the music industry is not so much guilty of acting against their own customers and fan base, but rather a victim of ruthless DRM peddlers. Good point that. Great stuff, as always, make sure not to miss that one.

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Peer-to-peer networks a threat to national security, or: How to track who pays your Congressman


Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks allegedly threaten America’s national security, according to US Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Pardon me?

Waxman said

… he was troubled by the possibility that foreign governments, terrorists or organized crime could gain access to documents that reveal national secrets.

Like, how? Oh, wait, here it comes. Summarizes ZDNet:

…peer-to-peer networks can pose a “national security threat” because they enable federal employees to share sensitive or classified documents accidentally from their computers.

So federal employees can be trusted to run the government, but they can not be trusted to handle classified documents? That’s not only bullshit, it’s also an insult to all federal employees.

This is, of course, not the first time Congress has tackled P2P with pretty cheaply disguised cover stories. The same ZDNet article goes on to say:

Congressional gripes about P2P networks are hardly new, and in the past, they have reinforced concerns raised by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Four years ago, the same committee held a pair of hearings that condemned pornography sharing on P2P networks and also explored leaks of sensitive information. And throughout 2004, Congress considered multiple proposals that would have restricted–or effectively banned–many popular file-swapping networks.

But what motivated Waxman to pulling the terror card on peer-to-peer? One might easily come to the conclusion that Waxman tries to appease the movie and records guys, namely the RIAA, who’d do anything to ban filesharing, from uploading fake files to P2P networks to suing little girls. In other words, this smells like payroll work, doesn’t it?

Let’s give all those cool watchdog & transparency websites a quick glance and see what comes up!

Sunlight FoundationStarting with the awesome Sunlight Foundation, you’ll quickly notice the “Insanely Useful Websites” link, which offers (surprise!) indeed a bunch of insanely useful websites.

First up, Congresspedia has a neat brief profile of Henry Waxman. CongresspediaHere, we learn that Waxman sponsored a bill to enhance protection for whistleblowers, which sounds like a pretty good thing to me. So let’s keep in mind that Waxman probably isn’t all evil – brownie points for that bill. What else? He has passed the Sunlight Foundation’s transparency survey, if only with a meager 48 out of 100 points. Hm.

OpenCongressOn to OpenCongress, which gives us Waxman’s voting history. But since today I’m not after vote about transportation, global warming or discrimination, let’s keep the site in mind in case we want to have a closer look later on.

Center for Responsive, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, “tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.” Right on the spot! Here you can search financial contributions to the Congressman’s election races and Congress terms, as well as an overall career profile.

So we learn that from 1989 to 2006, Waxman has received $4,136,978 and spent about 3.7 million out of that. Assuming that financial contributions won’t be without an effect to a politician’s vote, let’s see how much he got from the relevant industries: Coming in on third place of his top financially supporting industries (right after Health Professionals and Public Sector Unions) comes TV/Movies/Music with $353,180. Pretty bad, huh? But wait, there’s more.

In his 2004 California Race (District 30) TV/Movies/Music came also in third place with roughly 57 thousand dollars. If we assume that the Printing&Publishing industry has similar goals regarding copyright issues and add their contributions, we get an overall sum of $74,568, which happens to be just about one thousand dollars below the top contributor (Public Sector Unions). In 2006 Waxman ran for office again (obviously) and got even more from TV/Movies/Music, who ponied up $69,350, coming in second. (But Printing&Publishing disappeared, so maybe they just pooled their money?)

And in his ongoing term, Waxman’s top contributor list reads just about the same. Fun fact: The Number One individual contributing company is Time Warner, further down the ladder (No 3) we also find Walt Disney and Viacom (No 20), among others. All these can safely be assumed to fight peer-to-peer with all means, and to push for harder copyright regimes wherever they can – even if it takes playing the terror card as it happened in this case here.

So is Henry Waxman an expert on peer-to-peer networks? Hardly. It looks more like he lacks objectivity on the issue because he has received so much financial support from certain interest groups, namely the recording industry.

(I just picked Waxman here because he happens to be one of the movers and shakers on this initiative, but there’s others too, of course.)

Now, obviously it sucks big time to see that a politician’s decision are based not on his good faith (or knowledge) but on his sponsors’ interests.

But there’s two things that give me hope it’s going to get better over time:

One, Sunlight Foundation and the others are doing a tremendous job. I wish there were similar mechanisms and organizations in place in Germany. Corporate donations don’t play a role quite as big here, but they do play a role, and transparency is essential in looking behind some politicans’ behavior and motivation. (Just recently there was a huge fuss about German members of parliament having to disclose some of their secondary sources of income.)

Two, if politicians base their politics on motivations as one-sided as in this case, then we see a serious flaw in democracy. And it makes me tremendously glad to see that Larry Lessig has decided to try fixing it. Hardly anyone has done as much good for freeing culture from a repressive copyright regime as Lessig, and if there’s one person smart enough to find a way and charismatic enough to gather a massive following, it’s him. It’s great to see him tackle this new field.

So what’s my point here? Apart from running a little test and poking around for fun, it’s a message to legislators and voters, both in Germany and the U.S.: Please don’t buy all the crap your colleagues give you. P2P is neither the source of terrorism, nor a threat to national security. Your colleague just doesn’t want to lose that financial support and goes way beyond what’s rational and legitimate to secure it. Use the transparency tools that are available, and help establishing more if you can. It’s a good first step toward fixing democracy.

Copyright on a Napkin


Copyright on a Napkin, by Erik J. Heels

In this drawing, I attempt to explain the wonderful world of copyright law. As an aside, I think that all intellectual property (i.e. patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret) lawyers like writing about copyright. Because we’re all familiar with stuff that copyright protects – books, movies, CDs, DVDs, radio, TV, and the like. Even if, like me, they don’t practice copyright law.

Erik J. Heels drew up this great simplified graphic that summarizes what copyright is all about. If there were more people who could visualize complex issues like that, the world would be a better place ;-)

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Our Second Life book going into print soon


UOCTogether with Thomas Praus (aka DJ Stylewalker) and Max Senges I’ve recently got the chance to write a summer university school for Barcelona-based university UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), as well as a book to go with it. Both the course and the book are all about virtual worlds, particularly Second Life.

Second Life LogoI’ve always had some issues with Second Life, but I do think there’s great potential there if these issues can be overcome. But for the time being, I’m thrilled to see that our publisher Editorial UOC has sent us the Spanish translation of our book for proof-reading – which means it’s about to go into print. Yay!

Our publisher has also agreed to let us publish the English draft under a non-commercial CC license, which is great. Thanks, UOC! You can find the draft on this page: Virtual Worlds (Book).

Great copyright documentary: Good Copy Bad Copy


Good Copy Bad Copy (Denmark, 2007) is an amazing short documentary about copyright & remixing culture.

(Also, it features Yochai Benkler in a great video interview at Re:Publica 2007 Wizards of OS 4 (Thanks, Thomas!), which is so much less blurry more professionally produced than the snippets (1, 2, 3, 4) I shot with Thomas just the morning after ;)

Trust Cory Doctorow when he says:

The movie has a very light touch, and a lot of humor. This has been a banner year for copyright documentaries, but this is the best looking of the lot, with superb production values. This is a masterclass on the copyright wars crammed into 58 minutes of video — a must-see.

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Update: Henrik points out that the video above is not the documentary but just a trailer. (Thanks, Henrik!) You can get the full documentary here: If you can, consider supporting it with a donation, or talk to your local broadcaster about buying the documentary!

Our UOC Second Life textbook: released under CC license


UOC A few weeks ago, Max Senges, Thomas Praus and I got the chance to draft and write a summer university course about Second Life for the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, or Open University of Catalonia), a Barcelona-based university. Along with the course, of course, a textbook was needed.

Writing the book (“Virtual Worlds – A Beginner’s Guide to Second Life”) with Max and Thomas has been a blast (Thanks, guys!), and it’s been a first for me. Thanks also to the folks over at UOC who have been great: Creative Commons License They agreed to releasing the English version of the textbook under a Creative Commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike). Feel free to remix & be creative! (Also note that it’s a version 1.0, so there might be minor changes if we find any errors. If you spot any, please drop me a line.)

The textbook offers a glimpse into virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular (some more details in this post). Titled “Mundos virtuales. Un paseo por Second Life” (“Virtual worlds. A stroll in Second Life”), the course (and book) covers a range of topics ranging from basic movement and building techniques to some theories on virtual identities.

(It also ranges from quite basic stuff to more advanced theories. Special thanks to Greg Niemeyer, whose Berkeley course “Foundations of American Cyberculture” and personal input during an interview a while back were great inspiration for the chapters on virtual identities and trust!)

It’s written for a compact summer school course, so I hope it proves to be a good read for newbies and advanced users. (If you’re a Second Life veteran, this isn’t really for you.) To give you an idea, the chapters are as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. First steps in Second Life
  3. Building your own world – 3D model creation in Second Life
  4. Who are you? Identities, trust and interaction in virtual environments.
  5. Code is Law – Rules, laws and boundaries of the game
  6. Economy: Business, micro-entrepreneurship, advertising
  7. Second Life as teaching and learning space
  8. Risks and opportunities of in-world engagements
  9. Politics & campaigning
  10. Media in Second Life: In-world media, Reporting about Second Life
  11. Building your own world II
  12. Literature
  13. Shortcuts

You can download it here: Virtual Worlds – A Second Life Beginner’s Guide (PDF, 913KB) Virtual Worlds – A Second Life Beginner’s Guide (DOC, 1.7MB) You can download the current updated version here: Virtual Worlds – A Second Life Beginner’s Guide

Update: I’ll try to collect all things relevant to the book on this page: Virtual Worlds (Book).

IFPI rhetorics imply that file-sharing supports terrorism


A few days ago, IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) put out a press release titled “ten inconvenient truths“, which claims to offer new insights into the dirty world of digital piracy.

Apart from the fact that the titles is a rather weak reference to the movie about Al Gore and global warming (“An Inconvenient Truth”), it’s also rather funny to read. Sadly, facts are a little thinly spread, and no sources are given to verify the claims.

As the arguments given by IFPI here are not just one-sided (which is legit: IFPI is, after all, talking from a pro-copyright, anti-filesharing point of view), they’re also a bit on the radical/irresponsible side, here’s a quick shot at some of the main arguments. Please note that I’m not claiming to be neutral in this particular post.

Without further ado:

1. Pirate Bay, one of the flagships of the anti-copyright movement, makes thousands of euros from advertising on its site, while maintaining its anti-establishment “free music” rhetoric.

Your point being? (Lobbying for non-DRM, maybe even non-copyrighted music isn’t the same as demanding the abolition of capitalsm/the market/cash, now is it?)

2., the well-known Russian website, has not been licensed by a single IFPI member, has been disowned by right holder groups worldwide and is facing criminal proceedings in Russia.

Ok, so a commercial piracy operation was busted. Good news! Congratulations. But what’s the point here? Most people would agree that this is a good thing. (Yes, maybe even the Pirate Bay would say that.)

3. Organised criminal gangs and even terrorist groups use the sale of counterfeit CDs to raise revenue and launder money.

Wow, ok, hold it right there. Now this is getting irresponsible in the extreme. While it’s quite possible that criminal organizations also make money through “the sale of counterfeit CDs”, that has nothing to do with file-sharing as IFPI implies. Quite the contrary: As most file-sharing activities don’t include any kind of financial transaction, file-sharing will neither help those criminal organizations to make money, nor to laundry it. In fact, it’s more likely that this would try out the money channels created by sale of counterfeit CDs: After all, who’d buy a counterfeit CD after downloading the music?

Implying that file-sharing supports terrorism is both rhetorically and morally inacceptable. It also gives me the impression that the IFPI bends the truth where deemed necessary to support their arguments.

4. Illegal file-sharers don’t care whether the copyright infringing work they distribute is from a major or independent label.

That may be so, or not. I can’t tell. And I’d guess, neither can you.

5. Reduced revenues for record companies mean less money available to take a risk on “underground” artists and more inclination to invest in “bankers” like American Idol stars.

Ah, right. Good point: Stop innovating, stick to whatever we’ve had before. Well, that’s a bit like claiming that nobody would invest in regenerative energies ’cause “hey, we have coal & oil, so why change anything? It’s cheaper, too!” Right.

6. ISPs often advertise music as a benefit of signing up to their service, but facilitate the illegal swapping on copyright infringing music on a grand scale.

Apart from the implications given the rather enthusiastic use of shaky legal terminology: Agreed. ISPs advertise file-sharing as a benefit, and deliver. Errr….

7. The anti-copyright movement does not create jobs, exports, tax revenues and economic growth – it largely consists of people pontificating on a commercial world about which they know little.

That one’s part correct, but hilariously arrogant. Correct: The anti-copyright movement does not create jobs. (Well, that’s not quite correct, technically. Think lawyers, EFF etc.. But it doesn’t create exports or tax, probably.) That’s not the aim of a movement against a legal term, though. However, the free culture & Creative Commons “movement” creates art, creative works, promotion for artists and thereby enhanced sales. With sales come jobs, exports, taxes etc.

But what’s that part about “people pontificating…”? Come on, IFPI, you’re not really claiming that it’s just a bunch of tree-huggers, anarchists and communists who are against the copyright you’re promoting, or who download music? You don’t even believe that yourself, do you?

8. Piracy is not caused by poverty. Professor Zhang of Nanjing University found the Chinese citizens who bought pirate products were mainly middle or higher income earners.

Of course not. But CDs aren’t purchased by poor people, either. How much is a commercial CD in Beijing? How much in rural China? Oh, wait, you won’t tell us that the major part of CDs isn’t even commercially available there, will you?

9. Most people know it is wrong to file-share copyright infringing material but won’t stop till the law makes them, according to a recent study by the Australian anti-piracy group MIPI.

Err, technically, the law already made “them” stop the file-sharing of “copyright infringing material”, didn’t it? The commercial distribution of said material, too. Just what is “copyright infringing material” will have to be negotiated over and over a few times.

To give an infamous example: How come that the IFPI’s German partner GEMA requires artists to join them exclusively? According to the GEMA’s rules, artists have to choose between Creative Commons and GEMA membership: If you’re a member, you can’t release even a single song under Creative Commons license.

So what happens in case the Beastie Boys release a song under a Creative Commons license? Well, in the U.S., that’s perfectly fine. But since the Beastie Boys are pretty much by default a GEMA member, GEMA claims that the songs can’t be Creative Commons licensed.

Who said anything about IFPI acting in the artists’ interests?

10. P2P networks are not hotbeds for discovering new music. It is popular music that is illegally file-shared most frequently.

Maybe true, or not. The implication that file-sharing hurts music sales, however, is most likely untrue. A 2004 study by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina found that:

Even high levels of file-swapping seemed to translate into an effect on album sales that was “statistically indistinguishable from zero,” they wrote.

“We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales,” the study’s authors wrote. “While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing.”

The fact that “popular” music is file-shared “most frequently” is rather self-evident, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be shared “most frequently”? Still, this doesn’t say that people don’t hear the music for the first time. Nor does it say anything about the relation between “popular” and less-widely known music: The theory of the Long Tail suggests that (while a very small number of hits are shared very, very often) in absolute figures, the vastly major part of file-sharing activities are those involving non-hits, or less-widely known songs.

Dear IFPI: Why don’t you go back to your desk, re-think the whole thing, and come back with something a bit more substantial? It’ll help us all to get the facts right first, and it’ll spare you the public self-humiliation.


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