Recently in Digital Rights Category

No Sales Are Final

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For the last few months I have been tempted by the Amazon Kindle. First by the Kindle 2, which is a neat, relatively small, portable device that can hold within in it more books than I would ever need to carry around at once, and instantly download, just about anywhere, any books that I might need. The release of that Kindle DX, a larger device with a bigger screen, seemed even more attractive, since I am rapidly going blind in one eye.

All of that ended today when I discovered that Amazon had, at the request of a publisher, went out to all the Kindles in the world and deleted a bunch of books, ironically including George Orwell's 1984, because the publisher decided that they should made a mistake in offering a digital version. So Amazon, using technology they had not fully disclosed to the purchaser, went out and zapped those books, and gave the purchasers a a refund (I assume in store credit) for the purchase. Imagine if Barnes and Noble had decided to break into your house, take a couple of books off your shelves and leave a gift card on the nightstand. Same thing, for all intents and purposes.

It was already bad enough that Amazon was using the DMCA to take away your right of first sale (the ability to sell something that you have purchased to someone else). They have now made it quite, quite clear that you don't own anything even for your own use.

This is, as I have said before, the biggest threat of digital goods. While in their raw, un-administered, un-DRMed form digital goods are generally vastly superior in utility to their physical equivalents (searchable, portable, scalable in resolution, etc) the restrictions that are put in place by the people doing the "selling" are making them useless and unreliable. Music that has DRM generally only works so long as the company that sold it to you is in business - once the DRM servers go off line the music becomes unplayable. Media purchased for one system cannot be used for another. As President Obama learned a DVD purchased in in the US cannot be played in a DVD player purchased somewhere else in the world. Now we find that Amazon can decide to "unsell" you a book without your consent just because they feel like it. Apparently they have said they won't do this again, but there is no reason to take them at their word, since they didn't say they would do it in the first place, and the technology to do so remains in place.

Consumers need to begin resisting this move away from ownership and towards "licensing". "Licensing" is presented to the consumer as a sale, however the terms are always mush less favorable, seldom fully disclosed,and what is disclosed in generally disclosed in a EULA that consists of several pages of dense legalese that the consumer by-passes since the transaction is presented as a sale and they think they know their rights in such a transaction.

Personally, I did not use the iTunes music store until it went DRM free. Instead I purchased CDs and ripped them, or when it came out, used the Amazon MP3 store. While both of these still have ridiculous licensing agreements that attempt to deny me all manner of rights that I have as a consumer, at least since they are not DRMed they do not fall under the DCMA and if I choose to violate the EULA by exercising my rights as a buyer (say by selling a song I purchased and deleting all of my copies, something that the right of First Sale clearly allows) I have a leg to stand on in court. If it was DRMed I would be violating the "no circumvention" clause of the DCMA and would certainly lose, pay fines and maybe go to jail, even though I clearly have the right to re-sell something I have purchased.

While some might call these restrictions, and Amazon's recent intrusion into private citizen's personal devices to remove material they found unsuitable "Orwellian", I have to disagree. "Orwellian" is really tied up in associations with government oppression and control of the population, while what we are experiencing is an attempt by corporations to use the law to take away the rights of consumers.

So, in honor of this latest, and most vulgar attack on the rights of consumers, I would like to propose a new phrase, one to specifically apply to these cases of corporate overreach in an attempt stamp out the rights of consumers - "Bezosian", in honor of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.

Hopefully, having this word coined will casue him to stop and rethink his position, just as Dan Savage's popularization of the new noun "Santorum" caused former Senator Rick Santorum to abandon his homophobic hatred and lead a better life.

Update - An boingboing post with comments I am posting more stuff into.

Sony has cut off access to Columbia Pictures films for XBOX 360 users of Netflix's Streaming Video Service. The videos ar still on the service and available to non-XBOX 360 users, including users of the Roku streaming box, OS/X and some other Microsoft product called "Windows". I can only assume that Sony is doing this to convince users to buy a PS3 (which doesn't support Netflix streaming at all without a PC and third party software).

This is the next big grab for Hollywood - these videos are DRMed, but that isn't enough for Sony. They now want to be able to dictate the specific hardware that you will be allowed to watch your movies on. I predict the next step will be an announcement that Columbia pictures Blu-Ray discs will only play in Sony-branded players. That is really no more ridiculous than this is.

UPDATE - Sony is now claiming that the restrictions have nothing to do with competition between Sony's PS3 and the Xbox 360. This doesn't chagne anything thoguh - they still should have absolutely no say what so ever in which platforms I choose to watch content on. A client is a client is a client.

iTunes & EMI Drop DRM, Jack Up Prices

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Well, it looks like Steve Jobs was not just blowing soke when he ranted about dropping DRM. Sadly, it looks like dropping DRM will be used as an excuse to jack up prices as well, which kind of pisses me off.

I should not need to pay a 30-freaking-percent premium to be able to listen to my music on the device of my choice, even if it is at slightly higher (but still less than CD) quality. Imagine of Sony Music sold two versions of their CDs - a $14 version that only plays on a Sony CD player, and a $18.20 version that would play on any CD player?

At the same time I feel compelled to go ahead and start using iTunes to buy un-DRMed music that I can't obtain from emusic or legal outlets; I want to encourage un-DRMed music downloads. I really hate to encourage the pricing structure though - I am paying extra for them NOT to add DRM that they then have to support, and which does nothing to "protect" their music in the first place.

Ah well, one step at a time. I wonder if, when Apple extends the offer of un-DRMed music to other companies if they will also offer them the option of not increasing the price, or of simply not offering DRMed version at all?


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Over on BoingBoing Cory Doctrow has posted about a talk he gave at the O'Rielly Emerging Tech confernece called "All Complex Ecosystems Have Parasites".

I agree with what he is saying - the more open the ecosystem, the more things that will come to live in it, but I think that he's wrong in characterizing those entities that add value and increase possibility within the CD Ecosystem as parasites. Certainly there are some that are parasitic - a filesharing network that freely distributes Label music while showing ads is parasitic - it lives of it's host (the Label) while providing nothing in return (aside from maybe word of mouth through free distribution to those who might not hear the music otheriwise...that's for another day).

But many of the examples that Cory gives are not parasitic - they are symbiotes. They live with and become part of the organism they attach to, and provide value back to the host in exchange for what they take.

He gives examples of tools that create MP3s, Ringtones, karaoke filters, digital music players etc. These aren't parasites. They are symbiotes that, true, feed off of CDs and could not "live" without them, but they are also increasing the utility of the CD itself. I won't buy a CD that I cannot rip to mp3, for example, so for me the CD/MP3 ripper symbiote is more viable then the copy-protected CD.

It's the one that will survive in my CD ecosystem.

No Strings Attached

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CNet has an article about the new Napster flat fee service, which I have to take issue with.

Now, I could not care less about the Napster service, or really about iTunes either. But I have to disagree with the line in the article that says "Apple's approach is to charge 99 cents for each song downloaded. But you own the music, no strings attached."

Really? Is this some new version of iTunes that doesn't restrict you to only playing the music on a few machines associated with you by their DRM? Is it a new version that sells songs that don't stop working the moment that you decide you don't want to use an iPod anymore? Maybe it's a new version that will let you sell or give a song that you have purchased to someone else?

No? I didn't think so. At least with the Napster service you are getting what you pay for - limited access to all the songs in their library for the duration of your subscription. Apple on the other hand is selling, for an upfront fee of $0.99 the right to use a single specific song, on the hardware of their choice (which you have to buy from them), under whatever limitations they feel like imposing on you - forever. You can't sell your songs to someone else if you decide to get rid of your iPod, you can't even give them away. You own nothing.

Which is fine, since a lot of people seem to be okay with this deal with the devil. Shame on CNet though for claiming there are "No Strings Attached".

Someone to Watch Over Me

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There's a new group working to protect fair use rights and other copy-wrong issues. It's called IPAC and I've joined and donated. You probably should too.

We need to have as many groups like this as possible out there in order to provide some kind of balance to the entertainment industry lobbies who are currently trying to make it illegal for you to fast forward through a commercial with your DVR.

If groups like this don't exist, within ten years there will be retina monitors on TV sets that call the police if your eyes don't remain fixed on the TV during commercials. See if there aren't.

DMCA Update

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Well, it looks like The law suit and prosecution are not going to go forward. While I am glad for the student, I am kind of dissappointed at the same time, it would have been an interesting test case.

DMCA - Dumb Moronic Copy-Protection Asses

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Hopfully this will finally make courts realize how stupid the DCMA is. A student wrote a paper explaining how to get around the copy protection on a recently released Anthony Hamilton CD. In it he gives several methods of getting around the protection, everything from a removing a driver that is auto-installed on your PC when you insert the disk, to simply holding down the shift key when you insert the CD. SunComm, the creator of the protection scheme, is now threatening to sue him, and he could face felony charges for simply pointing out these two rather obvious ways of disabling the protection.

If this case goes forward, it basically means that a record company could put a label on a CD that says "This CD is copy protected! It is impossible to copy! Do not try to copy it!". If you published an article saying "If you put the CD into a PC and use any program to copy the audio tracks it will work just fine", well, you will have commited a felony for detailing how to circumvent a copy protection scheme (the label that told you it could not be copied).

Dumb, huh?

Just a reminder

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That everyone that has ever taped a T.V. show, made a copy of a CD they owned to take along in the car, or made a mix-tape to give to a girl (or boy) they like really needs to join the EFF so there is some possibility they will still be able to do these things 5 years from now.

The EFF is really the best way that you can fight against media companies that are trying to make it illegal for you to copy programs from television, and make MP3s from CDs that you own. They are also the voice of reason in the fight over filesharing.

It's not that expensive to join, and even if you don't feel that you can afford to join, you can certainly take 10 minutes to go to their Action Center, where you can send free faxes to your government representatives letting them know how you feel about the crummy job they are doing protecting your rights. And the crummy job you will do protecting their jobs next election.

It's free, and you have nothing to lose (unless you don't act).

Oh my god. SOmeone gets it!

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Judge: File-swapping tools are legal | CNET

Hopefully this will also speed the end of other stupid restrictions on technologies with significant legal appliactions. This could be the start of something good.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Digital Rights category.

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