Tag Archives: copyright

The Internet as Surveillance Tool

There is a deliciously ironic, pathetically sad and deeply frightening story coming out of France this week.

On January 1st France’s new (and controversial law) Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet otherwise known by its abbreviation – Hadopi – came into effect. The law makes it illegal to download copyright protected works and uses a “three-strikes” system of enforcement. The first two times an individual illegally downloads copyrighted content (knowingly or unknowingly) they receive a warning. Upon the third infraction the entire household has its internet access permanently cut off and is added to a blacklist. To restore internet access the households’ computers must be outfitted with special monitoring software which tracks everything the computer does and every website it visits.

Over at FontFeed, Yves Peters chronicles how the French Agency designated with enforcing the legislation, also named Hadopi, illegally used a copyrighted font, without the permission of its owner, in their logo design. Worse, once caught the organization tried to cover up this fact by lying to the public. I can imagine that fonts and internet law are probably not your thing, but the story really is worth reading (and is beautifully told).

But as sad, funny and ironic as the story is, it is deeply scary. Hadopi, which is intended to prevent the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, couldn’t even launch without (innocently or not) breaking the law. They however, are above the law. There will be no repercussions for the organization and no threat that its internet access will be cut off.

The story for French internet users will, however, be quite different. Over the next few months I wouldn’t be surprised if tens, or even hundreds of thousands of French citizens (or their children, or someone else in their home) inadvertently download copyrighted material illegally and, in order to continue to have access to the internet, will be forced to acquiesce to allowing the French Government to monitor everything they do on their computer. In short, Hadopi will functionally become a system of mass surveillance – a tool to enable the French government to monitor the online activities of more and more of its citizens. Indeed, it is conceivable that after a few years a significant number and possibly even a majority of French computers could be monitored. Forget Google. In France, the government is the Big Brother you need to worry about.

Internet users in other countries should also be concerned. “Three Strikes” provisions likes those adopted by France have allegedly been discussed during the negotiations of ACTA, an international anti-counterfeiting treaty that is being secretly negotiated between a number of developed countries.

Suddenly copyright becomes a vehicle to justify the governments right to know everything you do online. To ensure some of your online activities don’t violate copyright online, all online activities will need to be monitored. France, and possibly your country soon too, will thus transform the internet, the greatest single vehicle for free thought and expression, into a giant wiretap.

(Oh, and just in case you thought the French already didn’t understand the internet, it gets worse. Read this story from the economist. How one country can be so backward is hard to imagine).

New Policy Journal: The Public Policy and Governance Review

Last week saw the launch of a new biannual online journal called The Public Policy and Governance Review. Started by students and faculty from universities across Canada the journal seeks to inject some new ideas and thoughts into the public policy sphere.

I would argue that it already has.

Check out this paragraph from its “About Us” page.

The Public Policy and Governance Review is in the business of promoting ideas and is not interested in proprietary rights. We believe that authors deserve credit for their work and that using any intellectual material warrants referencing, but other than that, we hope that the ideas published in the PPGR disseminate well beyond the confines of this website. As such and as a matter of principle, the Public Policy and Governance Review uses a less-restrictive licensing agreement for publication than traditional copyright. We publish as much of the PPGR as possible under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative Works license. This is a licensing agreement that relaxes some of the restrictions associated with traditional copyright and allows our readers to distribute material more easily. It allows authors’ works to be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as the work is not modified and attribution is maintained.

Take note – these are Masters of Public Policy and Governance students and they have chosen to use a Creative Commons license – not copyright – for their journal. Note that they WANT others to re-post and comment on the material on blogs and other sites. This is a journal interested in using the most modern technology and legal tools to do what all journals start off wanting to do: initiating interesting conversation and spreading ideas.

This alone should make senior public servants take notice. If you are a senior public servant and you think debates over copyright don’t matter to you… your next hire (and ultimately, your successor) thinks differently.

Two additional asides:

First, for real copyright geeks that are wondering, yes I actually think they should have allowed attributed derivative works… since, well, all works are derivative works of something – nothing is completely original – but, well, one step at a time I suppose.

Second, before the launch of the first edition of the Public Policy and Governance Review the editors sat down and interviewed me on the future of the public service. You can read the interview here (pdf).

Education: where copyrighters and publishers are the pirates

There has been a lot of buzz around both the guilty verdict and now the judge’s alleged conflict of interest in the trial of the Pirate’s Bay operators.

For those not in the now The Pirate’s Bay is a search engine – like Google – that specialized in indexing “BitTorrents,” a file format often used to download movies, tv shows and large quantities of music. Since many of these files contained copyrighted material like Hollywood movies, there was significant interest in shutting down the site.

What is interesting to me is that the music recording industry – which was the first to fight against online file sharing – has always claimed it was working on behalf of starving artists. Fair enough – I too want to ensure that artists are fed and fairly rewarded for their work.

But this is in part what makes a new challenge to the publishing industry so interesting. Now a group of Swedes are enabling students to use file sharing to share educational materials. According to The Local, The Student Bay makes use of software from Rapid Share and encourages students to scan in and upload pages of course literature into an archive that they can then browse and download from.

I suspect that it is here – in the field of education – where file sharers will find the most fertile ground to transforming how media and copyright works. The movie and recording industries have deep pockets and a strong interest in fighting file sharing. Moreover, they will, for a while at least, be able to claim to speak for artists, even as this is less and less the case.

But the educational book industry? They pay professors virtually nothing for their works. Consequently, since most professors make their money from their salary they don’t rely on books as a revenue stream. Their core interest isn’t to make an extra $300-$4000 from a book that took them months to research and write, it is to know that students everywhere are reading and engaging their ideas.

Moreover, here is an industry that gouges its clients. Physics textbooks hardly need to change from year to year (how much has an intro Physics course really changed over the last 5 years? 10 years?). And yet new books, with new page numbers are created to force students to pay outrageous amounts for work that is – essentially – public domain. Even when educational publishers are trying to serve the greater good and introduce a new textbooks, the cost structure is prohibitive. Because of the short print runs of most textbooks, they tend to be expensive simply because margins have to be that much thicker to justify the investment.

In short, try to imagine the awareness campaign against copyright infringement in the educational sector? What % of the $85 for that physics text book we’ve been printing for 25 years really goes to the author or editor? Movies and music can somewhat justify their prices and copyright protection on the basis of fashion and trends. Educational book publishers don’t have that luxury. This is a mode of production that is broken: it is slow, expensive and primarily serves the interests of publishers, not the authors nor the readers. While the public remains uncertain about how to respond to copyright infringement in the entertainment industry I don’t think they are about to rise up and say: Yes! Let’s protect educational book publishers who pay authors nothing, overcharge students for textbooks and increase the cost of education.

And just in case you think the educational publishing industry won’t try to defend its business model, take a look at this story from Finland. Here, the industry is using legal threats to shut down an attempt to facilitate students lending each other books – in essence, creating a perfectly legal and truly “public” library.

Bookabooka doesn’t host any e-books on its site, but instead allows students to rent their textbooks to their peers. Renting is conducted via traditional “snailmail” (i.e. postal service) and it is mandatory that the textbooks are originals (not xeroxed copies). Bookabooka acts only as an intermediate, connecting the students together and doesn’t handle the shipping or returns of the textbooks.

Maybe file sharers will be forced to temporarily retreat, but here in lies fertile ground for the next battle. A battle where file sharing and the use of creative commons license (or no licenses at all) make the most economic and social sense.

My “top 10″ 2007 blogging moments: #1

This is, quite possibly, my best moment of 2007. I’ve been promising some friends that I’d blog about it for quite some time – so here we go.


Khale v GonzalesBack in January, Lawrence Lessig – a man whose speeches and books: changed the way I see the world; got me excited about and engaged in open source; inspired me to start fighting for the internet; helped instigate my blog; pulls me (at times) towards law school; and regularly makes me want to move to San Francisco a be part of what is one of the most exciting community in the world – wrote this post.

The post essentially discusses two things. The first half reviews and assesses the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (or the Ninth Circuit for those who know their courts) decision on a copyright case called Kahle vs. Gonzales (broadly themed around the issue of Free Culture that Lessig has championed). The court ruled against Lessig and his team so he dissects their response. In the post’s second part Lessig diagnoses that his argument might have been better expressed visually. He then outlines a model, and a graph, he developed to do just this. Most importantly, he posts the basic spreadsheet on his blog and states:

Again, this is a beta model. I’d be very grateful for any errors identified, or for a better specification of the same. After a review by a couple friends, I will post any corrections to this. At that time, I’ll also include any corrections noted in the comments.

I would do virtually anything to help Lessig and the important work he, and others like him, are doing. Sadly, lacking a legal background I’m not sure how much help I would be in drafting an improved Supreme Court petition (I would probably just waste his time and actually do the cause more damage than good). Designing a better graph however, that is something I can do.

Consequently, I posted a comment on Lessig’s blog where I re-graphed his results but displayed them in a visual manner that I thought made it easier to convey his argument. You can see my comment, along with the reasoning and the new model, here. I of course also shared the model so that others could improve on it.

The best part was Lessig wrote me an email me and thanked me for the help. Words can’t convey how much I’ve wanted to help with this movement/cause. So getting a thank you email meant the world to me. In this space (and virtually every space) I’m a nobody – some guy on the other end of a wire – but I love living in a world where even I can spend a few hours (a lot of hours actually) working on something and do well enough that I can help an expert and leader of a movement I feel so much passion for. I still feel ill-equipped to help out, but that thank you email made me feel like that my small contribution was genuinely helpful. For both those who know me, and those who don’t, it may sound pathetic, but I really couldn’t stop smiling for days.

And then it got better.

Part 2:

One of the nicest people in the world – Virginia Law School professor Chris Sprigman emailed me out of the blue with a note that said:

Hello David.  Larry sent me the message you sent to him, and I’ve been puzzling through your graph.  I’m drafting a petition for rehearing in Kahle, and I’d like to speak with you and understand your methodology, in the hope that we might use your graph in the brief.  Do you have any time to speak later today?

We chatted and I went through a couple of iterations of my graph. And then at some point he asked: Would you be willing to do all the graphs for our Supreme Court petition?

Obviously, I agreed.

So you can see the petition here. Sadly, my original graph that got me involved didn’t make the cut. I don’t make any claims that my work was at all intellectual – I was making graphs. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier then the hours I spent tweaking things here and there to see if there was something – anything – I could do to help make this small part of a Supreme Court petition better.

So there it is, number one – for the simple reason that blogs and the internet can allow anyone, anywhere, to contribute to something they believe in. I’ve never met Chris or Larry and they didn’t know me from anyone, but the internet’s meritocratic culture meant that if they thought I could contribute – it didn’t matter – they’d bring me on. And for that I’m eternally gratefully, and will also be eternally willing to work my butt off for them and for the cause of free culture.

Tools of Creation vs. Tools of Destruction

Larry Lessig put this cartoon in Free Culture to illustrate how Americans are (and Canadians are contemplating) regulating these two tools differently.

I love the image because of the clarity it brings to the debate… in ths US. What I’d love though is to find an image that might reasonate with us Canadians – if you have any suggestions please pass it along!


[tags]opensource, lessig, copyright[/tags]

If you only read one book – make it Free Culture

If you haven’t read Free Culture… do. In summary, it outlines the already raging battle being fought over who controls the infrastructure that sustains creativity. Sound unimportant? Think again.

If we are moving from an information society to a creativity society (as argued by the likes of Max Wyman in Defiant Imagination and Richard Florida in Rise of the Creative Class) then determining who is allowed to be creative, and how they are allowed to be creative, is possible the most important question confronting us. It’s answer will determine not only the rules of our economy, but the shape and nature of our culture and communities.

Moreover, because this battle will shape our capacity to think about, and respond to, every other issue, it may be the most important fight of our day.

So to celebrate this book (and its author, Lawrence Lessig), I’ve written this review, and have planned for a week of “Free Culture, not Permission Culture” posts!

[tags] Lessig, Free Culture, Copyright[/tags]

Does Jobs really want to set my iPod free?

Will your music be set free? Will you be able to share your songs from iTunes, move them from machine to machine with impunity? Steve Jobs claims “he’d like nothing more.”

Yes, some of you may have read this note from Steve Jobs about the current and possible futures of digital rights management (DRM) in the music industry. For those, like me, who don’t dabble in acronyms like DRM on a regular basis, this basically refers to how online resellers like iTunes encode their music so that a) you are limited to copying it 5 times; and b) you can only play it on their proprietary system (like an iPod – ever tried playing a song from iTunes on something else… it won’t work).

Taken on its own Jobs’ note makes it look like he’s taking on the music industry unprompted, fighting for the little guy – the consumer (that’s me and you!). The truth is a little more complicated. Even this Herald Tribune piece, which has all the pieces to the puzzle, reverses cause and effect and buries the important parts at the back of the piece. The important fact is that Norway’s consumer ombudsman, Bjoern Erik Thon, told Reuters that Apple “must make iTunes music compatible with other players than the iPod by the end of September, or we will take them to court.”

Apparently, several European countries are proposing similar rulings. What makes this interesting (and my understanding of EU law could be flawed here – so please send me clarifications) are the EU’s rules around mutual recognition. Consequently, a ruling that found Apple violating consumers rights in one EU country could be quickly adopted across all the member states. If that happened, the theoretical future scenarios Jobs mentions in his memo would very quickly become the here and now options he would have to implement in a manner of weeks.

I have little doubt that Jobs would prefer to maintain the status quo. He’s got the dominant online music vendor that forces people to use his proprietary hardware. Do you really think he wants to give up this virtual monopoly? No way. Let’s be clear, this memo is the opening salvo in an effort to renegotiate iTunes agreement with the record labels in case the European regulatory environment changes (which is beginning to look very possible). Like any savvy negotiator he’d prefer to negotiate today, when he’s got options, as opposed to 7 months from now, when he’s got a gun to his head and the music labels are threatening to pull the plug unless he shares Apple’s proprietary licensing system – FairPlay – with everyone. Such an agreement would allow anyone to sell music that can play on an iPod effectively destroying his monopoly distribution arrangement.

Jobs isn’t a champion of the little guy – he just likes to look like he is. The change of heart outlined in this memo was not prompted by his concern for consumers but out of concern for the future of iTunes.

Thank you Nicolas T. for the HT link and the prompting email.

[tags]itunes, steve jobs, copyright, copyright law, music, negotiation, apple, ipod, DRM[/tags]