Perhaps it’s heresy, but I am not a huge fan of the free EPUB reader Calibre. Doubtless, this has just as much to do with the not-so-well-formatted ebooks I read as it does sloppy coding, but – I admit – looks go a long way. I do work on a Mac after all.
So I naturally came upon Adobe Digital Editions eventually, which reads EPUB and other ebook formats, looks pretty sharp, and it’s free. Free from financial cost, at least. Since this is Adobe we’re talking about, I figured there might be a string or two attached, and rightly so.
Foremost Adobe makes you “activate” Digital Editions in some form. One way is to register with them, which restricts access to titles with Digital Rights Management (DRM), but lauds this as a good thing. The DRM system is called ADEPT, similar to what many ebook readers use. You can choose not to register (but still “activate”), and it gives the toothless warning that you won’t be able to see your books from PC to PC.
The rhetoric here is clear: That DRM is good and the absence of DRM somehow magically restricts your access. Thus, DRM = Greater Access. Of course, this isn’t true. DRM is ONLY for rights management; it has nothing to do with enabling sharing – just the opposite. But it could be perceived as such if companies such as Adobe bind customers when they refuse DRM and free them when they acquiesce.
Of course, if DRM is so snazzy, then why are there third-party programs out there with the sole object of removing ebook DRM? Are there consumer apps that embed DRM?
Even for the lay person unwilling to find a sharing solution, the ability to see one’s collections on other machines pales in comparison to the inevitable lack of freedom inherent in most DRM. You can’t share it, copy it, print it, change it. You can only consume it. And only you.
This is wholly different from the way traditional books operate, of course. You can transfer ownership of a traditional book an infinite number of times, even if only the first person pays for it. You can resell a used book. You can copy it at work or at the library, and though this is not likely legal (unless it fits snugly into a fair use exemption), but no one’s going to stop you, either.
So what is the difference in choosing NOT to register with an Adobe ID and thus forbid DRM from entering your life? How does this differ so far as access is concerned? Not much, it turns out. If you have Digital Editions installed on, say, your work PC and your home PC, you can access the same ebooks (even at the same time) so long as they’re stored in some shared space, such as in a mutual DropBox folder. This degree of freedom – just as with most any freedoms worth having – simply takes a little research and creative thinking. But this is preferable for a few reasons.
For one, while I don’t think any government spook is going to come knocking on my door because I’m reading Marx and Rand at the same time (just creepy!), I’m not crazy about the idea of my reading habits being logged, either. Mostly because I don’t want Adobe making a few bucks selling that data in the creation of some targeted advertisement scheme. Would they? I don’t know, but with every business on earth trying to get people to log in via their Facebook accounts nowadays, this is obviously a booming business.
Second, Adobe has a long history of loving DRM, so perhaps registering with them would forbid me from reading a random copy of an ebook instead of one bought from a traceable, legal channel (no doubt from which they would receive kickbacks). Akin to my vehement dislike of Windows Media Player, if a media player cares about the source, I’m simply not interested. Let ME worry about the source. A media player’s job is to play media – that’s it. If it cannot do this, there are usually about a zillion free apps out there unwilling or uninterested in playing Copyright Cops.
Indeed, not using an Adobe ID means Editions cares nothing about the source of my ebooks, which is a fine start. Alas, it’s likely most anyone installing Editions is going to buy into Adobe scare tactics and opt for DRM-laden literature only. Good luck sharing that $15 copy of “Hunger Games” with your best bud. You’ll be lucky to be able to open it five years down the road.
Oft times, conventional wisdom errs far on the side of caution, and this has been the case when it comes to recording the police – video or audio. In some states, this is illegal (and only then in some cases) because it falls under wiretap laws. The unfortunate by-product is that many police officers believe that there is simply no excuse for filming them, which isn’t so. The real trouble is, many citizens believe this as well.
In 2007, a Bostonian named Simon Glik was arrested for recording another man’s arrest on his cell phone. Just in last few days, courts determined that the man was well within his rights to record it, despite wiretap laws. Because of this case and ostensibly the egg on the face of the police department, the Boston police now watch a training video on how best to handle similar situations.
This is what’s known as a “win”.
Alas, in order for this to happen, Glik had to win a suit against the City of Boston to the tune of $170,000 in damages (and who knows how much in court and lawyer fees). I’m not suggesting that Glik doesn’t deserve to be compensated for his loss of liberty, time, suffering, and even inconvenience. I am, however, sorry that the only way to incite changes in legal policies is for the lawyers to step in and for money to change hands.
Ideally, I would love to see Glik donate every penny to organizations educating people about their rights. This would speak even more loudly about the wrongness of his arrest and about how money needn’t be the only incentive to see policies change.
While this isn’t exactly germane to copyright, it’s ballpark. That is, we’re encouraged every day to consume, consume, consume all of these electronics that facilitate sharing, media creation, and expression, and then we’re consistently beat back and stuffed into hegemonic containers that insist we should only use such media in specific, passive, and ultimately vapid ways. And yet, what Glik did wasn’t subversive to law; it was endemic to our times.
I’m just waiting for their to come some semblance of victory without the cachet of the glacial and inefficient courts, or having to pass through the sticky fingers of lawyers.
But while I’m no citizen of Boston, I would still claim that $170,000 is a low price to pay for this sort of victory; I only hope that – like the electronics that make such cases inevitable – such wins will drop in price.
It seems Facebook has amended their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to forbid use of the term “book” in pretty much any form. That’s not to say that they have trademarked the term, and even lawsuits they’ve already filed against businesses, Web sites, and individuals supposedly violating their IP rights, are not proving very successful.
In a way, this presupposes that every person on the planet who might use the word “book” in a way that might conjure images or ideas of Facebook must have an account and therefore – at some time – agreed passively to the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
So, the question need be asked whether Facebook is enduring any sort of loss through others using “book” in some way redolent of Facebook. This is not something that FB’s lawyers will care to ask; they just want to bill some hours. But it’s not just a valid question, it’s really the ONLY question.
Let’s take a similar example. The “Got Milk?” campaign encouraging consumers that hormone-laden cow’s milk is better than oxygen, quickly seeped into our cultural literacy. Despite the campaign beginning in 1993, it’s still going, and since its inception, there have come a plethora of “Got Milk?” semi-clever spinoffs. “Got Weed?” stickers grace head shops. “Got Christ?” adorn the bumpers of conspicuous Christians. “Got Democracy?” became a political slogan during the Iraq War.
Did any of these harm the “Got Milk?” campaign? Of course not. Will “Teachbook” – the bulletin board site for teachers – have any harm on Facebook? How about reposts of silly FB posts of “Lamebook”? Not bloody likely. But, point of fact, are such sites cashing in on FB’s fame? Sure. But there has to be a point when we accept that something has become a part of our culture, and is larger than just a slogan or business or social networking site.
We are steeped in pop-culture references – all day, every day. And yet apparently so long as rights-holders can conjure hordes of blood-sucking lawyers at whim, the only entities capable of referring to our pop-culture are those that license. IE – other rights-holders and mainstream entertainment outlets. Not individuals. Not small business. Not just some guy trying to launch a Web site that people will like.
This is – as you may have noticed – not far from the recent BS surrounding the take down of all things Hobbit-related, despite having such references for decades. It’s only when The Hobbit is about to make a billion dollars at the box office that anyone cares. That anyone suddenly claims harm, as if a pub named “The Hobbit” might – what? – spend money on Hobbit Ale they might have otherwise spent on movie tickets or action figures? Get real.
At some point, we have to claim culture as a part of the commons, and I ain’t talkin’ about after 100 years.
While the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its evil twin PIPA have been defeated for now (thanks very largely to consumer efforts to show vehement disapproval to elected officials that will otherwise just vote with the money), it seems now Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have become ready bedfellows of entertainment trade organizations. What could this mean?
In sum, it would mean ISPs using code – which I’ve stated before has ZERO accountability or judgment – to flag customers using their Internet connection in any violation of copyright. This could mean downloading, uploading, posting copyrighted content to YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. It could mean a lot of things, since copyright violation has developed a broad enough set of actions in its definition to include everyday activities such as forwarding a funny email, reposting a cute pic, or even singing out loud.
The agreed-upon model will allow for six violations before termination of the customer’s account, but in the mean time, it could mean putting bandwidth restrictions on them, or re-directing their homepage. If this sounds EXACTLY like what spyware does, you’re getting the picture.
There are two things to take away from this. First, punishment at the customer level has led to nothing but EPIC failure. Look at the music industry suing fans. They lost tons of cred, causing even more people to file-share, and they LOST MONEY on the suits, despite getting the occasional hefty settlement. (Lawyers don’t come cheap, mon ami). And punishing this was might scare off the johnny-come-lately violator who will then be more cautious when posting to Facebook or refrain from putting anything on YouTube (way to squash little Billy’s dream of becoming a filmmaker), but it will do NOTHING to even hamper the majority of file-sharing. There are simply too many channels for allowing file-sharing to continue.
You punish me for using Frostwire, I’ll move to BitTorrent. You shakedown my speed for upping torrents, and I’ll just move to newsgroups or Direct Download (DDL). Take away my connection altogether, and I’ll just hop onto public wifi to get my media. The point is, this simply will not work. All it will do is wash out any consumer spending that might come from not file-sharing based on the cost of enforcement and lobbying. Of course, no RIAA or MPAA lobbyist is going there. They have to keep pretending that their presence is the last bastion between lawful consumption and absolutely free media. Rights-holders, alas, keep employing these tools perhaps more out of habit than good business sense.
Secondly, the ISPs are not bound by law to enforce this graduated response. Thus, some will enforce it, and some will not. That will mean that the moment one ISP is tightening the belt too much, customers will drop them like a hot potato and go with an ISP that doesn’t kowtow to trade organizations’ ever wish. Sure, the more loosely-enforcing ISPs will become the target of more rights-holder and trade organization pressure, but so long as they have a slew of loyal customers to whom they show loyalty in turn, it’s business as usual.
My advice: find out if your ISP is planning on implementing a graduated response, and tell them you think it’s a bad idea. And let’s be clear: there is NO WAY that this benefits the consumer. This is completely and wholly bad for you. So putting some pressure on your ISP is not only apropos, but could have a real positive effect on whether they pull a stunt like graduated response.
After a brief outage for maintenance, the administrators of the notorious torrent tracker site The Pirate Bay announced their intention to launch aerial drones to house their proxy servers to all but eliminate the possibility of being taken down.
While likely tongue-in-cheek, by using cheap Linux machines to run such an infrastructure, this model is not impossible, some say. Will the future of file-sharing buzz about above our heads, protected – much like wifi hotspots – by the multitude of packets representing undoubtedly legal traffic? How exactly would rights-holders take down a dirigible anyway? Have the air police pull it over?
The point here is that file-sharing is here to stay. I wouldn’t be surprised if – before I die – servers are either sunk to the bottom of the ocean or launched into space: anything to keep the information flowing. This is not a reality that rights-holders will accept, like, ever, and I’m not claiming it is wholly beneficial to the future of media (more like 99% beneficial). But reality doesn’t ask permission to exist, and as much as old models strive to retain their supposed golden age power, nothing lasts forever.
It’s poignant that this recalcitrant disobedience to copyright is not taking place in the US. I’m not suggesting that some of our more imperialistic tendencies aren’t a mirror image of how rights-holders demand worldwide respect, obedience, and control of their IP…but I ain’t NOT saying, either.
Every once in a while, it’s a great day in the copyfight. And now that pay-up-or-else law firm Righthaven, LLC is going belly up, this is one such day.
You might remember Righthaven as the scheming ne’er-do-wells I wrote about before. They’re the ones who scour the Web for reposts of news stories, and then they would contact the news organization, buy the content, and then sue for infringement. What’s a daily pub care if someone pirates their week-old content? Not much, so they naturally were keen on selling content to Righthaven.
Righthaven had no intention of fighting the supposed good fight: that is, STOPPING copyright infringement. They wanted sites to infringe so they could sue them. Nowadays that means sending a pay-up-or-else notice rife with legalese and crossing their fingers that the suit never made it to court.
Well, some did, and it seems that there are still some judges out there with sense enough to not only laugh at such antics, but also to hold Righthaven to their threats. As it turned out, Righthaven often DIDN’T EVEN OWN THE COPYRIGHT, but simply claimed they did to extort a settlement. This happened enough times to result in a few losses, and build up quite a bill for Righthaven. Here’s where it gets fun.
A Las Vegas judge ordered that Righthaven surrender its interest in the more than 200 copyrights they owed. The irony is that Righthaven insisted they had no assets to cover the almost $200,000 in court costs they racked up over four losses in court, and yet this assertion flies in the face of the supposed value of intellectual property. How indeed can vampires like Righthaven file million-dollar lawsuits for infringement when the practical value of their own copyright holdings can’t even cover their court fees?
In a lovely twist, Righthaven doesn’t even have its trademark anymore, so I suppose I should more accurately refer to them as “the lichen formerly known as Righthaven” though that’s not terribly catchy.
The important take-away here is that it is worthwhile and vital that more people stand up to these predatory legal practices, because it’s obvious that few indeed have a legal leg to stand on. They buckle under the slightest scrutiny, and while it may seem easier and cheaper to acquiesce and simply pay the few thousand dollars to make such filth go away (regardless of guilt or innocence, harm or complete lack of harm), the more people and businesses stand up to these schemes, the less effective they become.
The scumbags at ArrivalStar have made a business out of waiting for people to use their clients’ patents and then suing for infringement. As I’ve stated many times, resolving IP issues in court is an enormously costly process, and when legal precedent is about to sway in favor of the defense, accusers can simply cut their losses and drop the suit, ensuring that they can file the exact same type of suit again.
ArrivalStar’s client Martin Jones has been extorting five-figure settlements from small business and large corporations alike, since both hold the same pragmatic attitude: easier to shut the troll up with a few bucks than to fight this thing in court and risk losing millions.
Now it seems Jones is going after cities using his patented technology that says when a bus is going to arrive. Patents are supposed to be non-obvious, so Christ knows how this humdinger made it through the patent office, but we are talking about an office that receives hundreds of thousands of applications per year, because trolling is the hot new job for losers who can’t make money actually doing something.
Cities in particular aren’t looking for a long, legal battle, and just cough up the few tens of thousands of dollars to Jones and his ignoble lawyers. Anthony Dowell, an ArrivalStar slime-ball attorney (redundant, I suppose; I did say “attorney”), spews the usual drivel colluding the unauthorized use of IP with larceny, saying: ”The government can’t just take property from someone, and if they do, they have to pay for it.”
Forget that to “take property” implies that someone is both less that property and is ostensibly aware of the “theft” – neither of which apply in this case. No, it takes research and investigation (seemingly the only real work ArrivalStar does) to find these cases of “infringement”.
And why? Because ignorance of patent infringement is not only excusable, it occurs organically. The steam engine was divined by several people all over the world at virtually the same time, but Watts was the guy who happened to patent it first (to everyone’s detriment, it should be noted – even his own).
Thus, the problem is quite obviously with the patent system itself. For one, patents are given to those without any intention of producing anything. Secondly, for patents on computer code, the patent is on the outcome, not what it took to get there (the code itself).
Think for a moment what that would mean in another media, such as in literature. I could transcribe to any tangible medium of expression a slew of outcomes: hero marries princess; hero kills villain by throwing him off building; hero kills evil zombie horde by becoming a zombie, etc. Then I just sit back and wait for someone to write a novel that uses the same or even similar outcome. I then sue (or – more likely – settle out of court) and we’ve effectively taxed literature as we have computer code and most other patentable technology.
If you’ll excuse the digression, let’s delve into a little troll history. In Middle-Earth, while the orcs were a corrupt off-shoot of attempted elf breeding, the trolls were the chaff when trying to propagate ents – largely peaceful, mind-their-business anthropomorphic trees. Perhaps Tolkien could not have predicted the suitable appellation applied to the vampires who wait for other people to build things and then sue them for patent infringement, but you have to admit that the name fits like a glove. We don’t need them or want them. They are implicitly negative and benefit no one but themselves.
So why are we still convinced that the patent system is working? Why do courts even entertain the idea of such suits? Perhaps the answer is that if we admit that the patent system is broken, we’d have to take a closer look at other intellectual property issues.
And no one is keen on that.
We’ve long been sold re-packaged media as something novel and worthwhile. How many copies of the original Star Wars trilogy have fans been coerced into buying over the years? (I have two myself – both VHS).
The same holds true with music, where – despite the move from tapes that wear out to CDs that hold their integrity much longer and can be easily converted – we still buy the same music over and over. What’s the latest selling point? HD.
Well, when it comes to HD music, we’re talking about moving away from the industry standard for CDs and legal digital downloads – 16-bit depth, 44k sample rate – and into 24-bit depth, 192k sample rate. The only problem? According to a very detailed article on xiph.org, we simply aren’t going to hear the difference…at least not physically.
As the article details, based on the way we listen to music, we won’t be able to tell the difference in the old standard and the new, re-package format. That’s not to say customers won’t CLAIM to hear the difference – a little behavioral economics trick called value attribution. Is my new coat warmer than the old one I threw away? You betcha. Is my discount tablet as good as the iPad? Of course! Just let me reboot it really quick.
The logistical consequence will be much larger files, though I’m not so sure that matters nowadays. Our iPods and the like are quite capable of holding more music than we’re able to listen to in a decade. One could argue that – because of the overwhelming evidence that HD music is currently a waste of time and money – that it’s also a waste of bandwidth and storage space. Point taken, though when compared with other media, video in particular, it’s still peanuts.
So what could a consumer do to enjoy better sound quality? Well, the article spells out the big elephant in the room quite clearly: better headphones. I can attest to this after switching from “noise canceling” cans from JVC (still great) to a set of Shure studio monitors.
But there’s something else at work here, and that’s where piracy comes in. You see, pirates aren’t just trolling p2p networks downloading 32kbs copies of “Harry Potter” and shrugging their shoulders at the crappy quality. They’re also not looking to mainstream platforms such as iTunes and accepting the potentially crappy encoding and – much, much worse – the inherent DRM. No, they’re sharing lossless FLAC files with one another, and have been for some time.
Thus, I sincerely hope that iTunes and their ilk aren’t claiming that this new “HD” quality isn’t also an attempt to pull people from piracy and file-sharing, since anyone who’s spent more than half an hour on a pirate network can find music much higher quality than one could rip from a store-bought CD.
That said, offering higher quality tracks could also deflate the piratical argument that they don’t buy music because there’s no mainstream alternative. While these HD tracks will bear some inevitable shortcomings compared to pirate tracks, it’s unlikely quality alone can stand as one’s justification for file-sharing instead of buying music.
But let’s get real: why are HD tracks being put in motion? To re-sell the same media to the same consumers, regardless of need or value. After all, both are wholly subjective ideas anyway. Just ask the guy who’s still playing his 60-min long Laser Discs like it’s the ne plus ultra of home entertainment.
In case you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of months, the latest social media buzz app is Pinterest. Largely because of a lucrative and very wise affiliation with Facebook, Pinterest went from no name to household name in just a few days. Now many sites sport the red push-pin icon that allows users to “pin” images of “interest” (get it?) to their profile, which is then shared with the world.
The problem, or shall I say, the obstacle? You guessed it: our friendly, dated copyright law. Despite sites such as Google getting by with posting thumbnails of images thanks to a 9th Supreme Court decision (someone was finally awake to make a good call that day), that doesn’t mean that rights-holders are bananas about users posting copyrighted images to their Pinterest profiles.
How is this any different from Facebook? One photog who decided to scrap her Pinterest account thereafter, noted that the EULA for Pinterest puts more liability on the users than Facebook. So what does this ACTUALLY mean?
Nothing at all.
Let’s be honest. No one (not even Supreme Court justices) read EULAs, which leaves them legally binding, but realistically toothless. In other words – sure, a photog whose images are posted on someone’s Pinterest profile without permission might have a greater legal leg to stand on to take action against the infringer than he would were the photo on some other social media platform such as Facebook. But in reality, there’s no difference.
Here in the land OUTSIDE the courtroom, we share because we are tribal animals. Sharing is hardwired into our DNA. The ways in which we shared are dictated by the means readily available to us, not legalese pasting into some banal EULA. Can’t say as I’ve ever read an EULA unless I was searching for all the legal loopholes the company (here’s lookin’ at you, Apple) likes to sneak in there.
Can rights-holders still file suit? Of course. But once again, people need to understand the enormous rift between FILING a suit and WINNING a suit. While anyone who’s ever had to rely on legal proceedings well knows, thelaw is a costly avenue for resolution. So the idea that a photographer can merely wave a magic rights-holder wand and the infringer’s account is depleted of a hefty settlement is complete crap at best and a dangerous but popular misconception at worst.
The best rights-holders can hope for is the opt-out of allowing Pinterest users to snag the photo for their page. While the tradition for intellectual property has been either to decry all unauthorized usage while doing nothing or making prevention of infringement criminalize all (even legit) users, it might be time for rights-holders to take a few minutes and PREVENT infringement instead of criminalizing and finger-pointing.
And that’s only if they think that Pinterest will somehow hurt them. (SPOILER: It won’t). Since when is exposure bad for photographers? I know I’d sure hate to see one of my blogs cut and pasted all over the Web for millions to read. I’d much rather waste hours each week trying to pull in and maintain the measly readership I currently enjoy. That’s much more effective.
Just as rights-holders of other media, photographers (and rights-holders who just own the copyright on images) need to ask themselves some important questions in regards to sharing and exposure.
1. Is it hurting you (or anyone)?
2. Are you losing money because of it?
3. Do you honestly think, after the music industry not only ruined their already shady rep by filing pay-up-or-else lawsuits, and STILL ended up taking huge losses in legal fees, that the sue-happy model is the way to make a living as a content creator?
No? Well, perhaps it’s time to let Pinterest do its thing, and – god forbid - actually enjoy the kind of prodigious and harmless sharing it represents.
Late last week, a man selling illegal access to the Internet got twenty years and about a zillion dollars in fines. This presents a grey area in my opinion, despite rights-holders and many courts considering it quite black and white. When it comes to downloading songs, only the music industry vehemently calls sharing “stealing”. And they do so as if this simple appellation answers all questions of right and wrong – guilt or innocence.
Of course, this guy made a good bit of money from selling devices and information that allowed end users to make cable modems access the Net without the monthly fee. But does the punishment fit the crime? Sure, you could find murder cases all day long where the accused was sentenced with seven or ten years, and this makes twenty years for hacking modems seem horrid. But there’s little that passes for reliability with court sentencing. Just read the daily paper to find a menagerie of seemingly random sentences doled out for any number of crimes.
However, we should not confuse what this man – Ryan Harris – did with outright theft. He tapped into a service, not lifted a product. No one was less anything because of what he did except the few customers the cable company would have had if not for Harris’ inevitably cheaper hack. And this service he tapped into was unsolicited. That is: no one forced or coerced the cable company into laying fiber or coaxial cable. Is this not, then, similar to someone drinking from a stream that was re-routed (even at great cost) when he didn’t pay for access to that stream? Or someone selling discounted tickets to the local drive-in because his roof overlooks the screens?
But let’s not forget: there is a large difference between someone who makes use of unsolicited services illegally and one who profits from it. Were he blogging or podcasting about how to hack your cable modem to get free Internet, I would defend him to my dying day. But in this case, I cannot condemn either the cable company for filing charges or the courts for passing judgment.
However, the sentence still rings a little steep for someone who did not deprive anyone of anything. Did not trample on anyone’s rights. Did not cause anyone to suffer. No, he messed with corporate profits, and that is clearly a no-no in America – I get it. But let’s not confuse Harris with a hardened criminal, nor collude his crimes with the sorts of violent actions that normally warrant twenty years of jail time.