Archive for the ‘Copyright’ Category

Finding a copyright middle ground

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Go read this post at Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought weblog.

Yes, I know that’s two traditional/metablog entries in a row–but both are deserved. Jenny (see previous post) offers a fascinating situation with troubling implications. Seth offers a thoughtful essay on an aspect of copyright that I, for one, find enormously troubling: The tendency of both “sides” to deny the possibility of a balanced middle ground.

EFF says it’s for balanced copyright but behaves as though it’s for people doing anything they can get away with, with no consequences. Big Media says it’s for respecting rights, but really wants to lock down all media-related technology and maintain absolute control over the stuff that it owns (not “created,” since apart from movies, Big Media creates very little of what it controls). Larry Lessig–whose stance is, I think, quite different from mine but still within the great middle–gets assailed as some kind of commie anti-property radical.

Finkelstein also reminds us of something I’ve known for a long time, certainly since Berkeley days, something that Phil Ochs spelled out in his song “Love me, I’m a liberal”:

As a rule, liberals and radicals hate each other. They’re often more destructive to each other than the nominal common enemy, in a way ordinarily misattributed to “personal” or “ego” (which means stop thinking about it). Rather, they’re competing for the same resources, and attacking a competitor is viewed as a good strategic move.

I would promise that the next post won’t be metablogging–but I think it’s going to continue a conversation in a previous post’s comments, so that’s a faulty promise.

Broadcast Flag: This time, sanity reigned

Friday, May 6th, 2005

Just a quick note, because I have yet to read the decision itself or the apparently-voluminous commentary: ALA and its allies won their suit against the FCC, halting implementation of the Broadcast Flag.

Full credit to Jessamyn West for the first post I saw on the topic–mostly because Copyfight, which is also on my Bloglines list, is in the “second group.”

I’m sure I’ll have something to say in a future C&I if not here. I’ve certainly blathered on about it enough before now, possibly because it’s such an important topic.

The celestial jukebox: Be careful what you wish for

Thursday, May 5th, 2005

Jenny Levine has a poignant post on the perils of DRM for downloaded digital data (four Ds!), in this case MovieLink (and also Rhapsody).

You really should read the whole thing. Here’s a portion, coming after she decided to try MovieLink’s “the first one’s almost free” offer (the old dope peddler taught us well!) to watch a movie on her notebook during recent travel:

Cut to the airport, I’m on the plane and approved portable electronic devices can now be used. I whip out the laptop and bring up MovieLink to watch my movie. Except that I get an error message that my software has not been authorized for the proper security rights and needs to be upgraded. It will now connect to the internet, and this may take a few moments. But of course, I’m 30,000 feet up in the air with no internet, so now I can’t watch my movie. Bah humbug. So I figure that for whatever reason, the software didn’t authorize properly last night, even though it said it did. It lied. I’ll just have to authorize it when I’m online before the presentation, and then I’ll watch it on the flight home.

Yeah, right.

I tried to authorize it during the day, but it kept trying to connect to their server for authorization and ending with an error message that it couldn’t authorize my software. Double bah humbug. So now I don’t get to watch the movie on the way home, either. And with MovieLink, you only get 30 days to watch the movie, and once you start watching it, you only have 24 hours to finish it. Then it goes bye-bye.

So I get home and the next day I use their online chat to talk to technical support. The rep was incredibly nice and empathetic, but no matter what we tried we couldn’t get it working. Mainly because we couldn’t find a folder called “DRM” that was supposed to be on my hard drive. My contact information was taken, and it was promised a rep would get back to me for more detailed support.

There’s more, and it gets worse–when she uses the new Rhapsody, she ends up with her notebook half-crippled.

I think there’s a specific lesson here, although I’m tempted to lard it up with secondary issues.

The specific lesson, at least for those who’ve been enthusiastic about “the celestial jukebox”–the idea that you rent your media and have instant access to everything, and that this is a wonderful idea:

Be careful what you wish for. The celestial jukebox implies DRM, absent socialism or some offensive universal payment system that forces everyone who’s not using the celestial jukebox to pay for it anyway. DRM tends, frequently, to interfere with your computer. (After all, that’s what it’s really all about: Locking down your system so you can’t misuse copyright content.)

I believe that the celestial jukebox can only work “properly” if Big Media gets their way and open PC platforms are done away with, with locked-down systems in their place.

Other issues?

Mostly this one: Why would you pay MovieLink $1.99 to $4.99 (after the first hit to get you hooked) for a 24-hour viewing slot of a degraded version of a movie (I’m just assuming here that the downloaded movie is an overcompressed MPEG4 version–that they’re not downloading 4.7GB of data for a movie), when you could rent the movie from NetFlix (or, if you must, Blockbuster or–no, I can’t even say the W-word) for what should turn out to be no more than $2 if you watch 8-9 movies a month, and keep it as long as you want, with all the extras on a typical DVD and full DVD-quality video and sound? Don’t most newish notebooks have DVD slots?

I guess I just don’t get it. I see the benefit of track-by-track downloading for music, when you may only want one or two tracks from an album–but then you’re buying the music (if still in degraded form). If someone was offering an “all the movies you want, watch them as often as you want, as long as you’re paying us $20/month” service (like the new for music), I guess I could see the point.

I’m sure some of my wonderful readers will tell me why inferior video and no extras is worth paying more for because it’s downloaded rather than mailed. And why that’s worth screwing up your computing environment for. Or, maybe, how DRM is suddenly going to become sweetness & light–but, you know, I’m not going to believe those comments.

The Family Movie Act: Felten gets it right

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Ed Felten has a typically-thoughtful post on the newly-passed Family Movie Act (one section of the mini-omnibus copyright bill just approved) and why it’s not a pro-censorship measure.

I was just finishing the initial draft of a “(C)3” essay for the next C&I, which includes a discussion of the copyright bill of which FMA is part. While I didn’t go as far as Felten (who calls FMA a pro-free-speech act, since it explicitly allows a form of speech that might otherwise be prohibited), I did conclude that FMA is a good thing–except that I don’t believe it should have been necessary. Note that FMA allows companies to market devices that let people explicitly choose to watch a modified version of a DVD they legally possess, without permanently altering the DVD and with an explicit “This motion picture has been modified…” screen.

Charles W. Bailey Jr. also discusses FMA at his (scoop?) brand-new weblog. Read the comments as well as the post: I take a favorable view of FMA, and Charles responds with a typically-thoughtful commentary (there’s that typically-thoughtful again!).

I have to say that the comments on Ed Felten’s posting are a strangely mixed lot, most of which have in common that they couldn’t be bothered to read the very-short FMA and understand that it’s pretty narrow.

Anyway, I don’t think the discussion will end here. Ed Felten provides thoughtful pro-FMA commentary. Charles provides thoughtful nervous-about-FMA commentary. And I’ll try to synthesize some of this early commentary in the final version of my essay, no thoughtfulness claimed. Watch for it in, oh, 7 to 12 days.

So I guess I am doing some traditional blogging–although I hope to avoid “Neat post here: Read it” echo-chamber posts. (“Heck, Walt, you’re so verbose that would never occur to you anyway.”)

Orphan Works

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

An orphan work is a work protected by copyright “whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate,” to use the wording of the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry on Orphan Works, issued January 26, 2005. Here’s a little more from the summary of the notice:

Concerns have been raised that the uncertainty surrounding ownership of such works might needlessly discourage subsequent creators and users from incorporating such works in new creative efforts or making such works available to the public. This notice requests written comments from all interested parties. Specifically, the Office is seeking comments on whether there are compelling concerns raised by orphan works that merit a legislative, regulatory or other solution, and what type of solution could effectively address these concerns without conflicting with the legitimate interests of authors and right holders.

It’s a real problem–but it’s a lot worse problem now than it was decades ago. Back then (at various stages):

  • You had to register a work with the Copyright Office for it to be protected by copyright at all.
  • Copyright expired after 28 years or, with explicit renewal, after 56 years. Thus, it was impossible for a work to be orphaned by more than 28 years
  • Even after the term was extended, you still had the registration requirement, which at least provided a starting point for finding the copyright holder. That requirement no longer stands.

The Copyright Act of 1976, which eliminated registration and even the requirement for a (c) mark, made orphans far more likely–after all, there’s no longer even a starting point to track down the copyright holder. This has made it nearly impossible to republish older books, movies, sound recordings, whatever–stuff where the owner has disappeared, but might reappear and sue once the republication happens.

The comment period ended March 25. It was well publicized by Mary Minow and others in the library and copyright communities–so well publicized that 700 comments were received by the deadline.

This is an important issue for libraries and the creative arts. A combination of factors meant that I didn’t include a heads-up during the comment period–and the sheer bulk of comments assure that I won’t even attempt anything like a coherent review of the comments. When (if) the Copyright Office issues a statement, I expect to comment on it (and may comment on a few of the written comments and proposed bills relating to orphan works).

Meanwhile, if you recognize how important this really is, you might want to do some of your own reading. Mary Minow recently posted a link to (and summary of) ALA’s draft proposal for orphan works, and previously posted her own written comment.

Other starting points include Orphan Works (thanks, Mary, for that link as well) and Public Knowledge, but there’s a host of others as well.