Saturday, 1 December 2012

Chills for Our Brave New 1984


In 1932, Aldous Huxley published the novel Brave New World. Set far into the future (2540) it describes a dystopian society shaped and controlled by reproductive technology and mind control (1).

Later, 1949, George Orwell published his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, set not so very far into the then future. It describes a society where the tyrannical and totalitarian 'Party' employs government surveillance, persecution, censorship, harsh treatment of 'thoughtcrimes', and a layered, elitist structure, acting out its ideology (2).

Both books are masterpieces.

Orwell sent a copy of Nineteen Eighty Four to Huxley who responded by letter a few months later, with thanks, and some comments. The letter can be seen on the website Letters of Note (3)

Huxley admired the book, and also commented about comparisons between the two different 'futures'. He mused that he believed his own predictions in Brave New World would be the more realistic and more likely to materialise than those in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four. His reasons were that the Brave New World methods of manipulation, selection, and mind control would be easier in practice, 'more efficient', than the Nineteen Eighty Four approach of massive surveillance, prisons, cudgel and boot. 'The ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing' he said (3).

What sends shivers down my spine is the realisation that Huxley was probably wrong.

After I was watching television and surfing the world wide web for what seemed like only a short while, I turn around and realise that communications technology has morphed into the technological equivalent of a sharp kitchen knife. Dangerous if used wrongly. 

Facilities now exist which are so powerful, cheap, and plentiful that the tide of massive surveillance has arrived, and shows no 'arduous' nor even 'wasteful' aspect.

Not only is high tech surveillance widespread, it has come to be imposed, against my wishes, at my home, 'Castle Mon Abri'. Deep packet inspection by my ISP of all my internet activity. Not only is this total surveillance now in operation, but its consequences include active censorship, again against my will, of some web sites that, apparently, I am not supposed to see.

Huxley did not expect the technology of science fiction to be available so quickly, and so cheaply. Neither did I.

The facility of Speaker's Corner in UK's Hyde Park is a lovely novelty, where tradition has it that you can stand on your wooden soap box and shout your message to the world (4).

Modern free speech is the internet. When, for any reason, my use of the internet is subject to constant surveillance, censorship (and other threats), as it is now, then my freedom of speech, my world view as an individual, my informed function as a citizen, is already at risk.

The availability of amazingly powerful, amazingly cheap technology for mass surveillance and control, and its widespread use in UK, means that 'freedom' as I knew it probably no longer exists.

Huxley would be shocked and surprised, I think, and Orwell might think his satire was justified, but not at all amusing.

(2016 typo correction)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Cory Doctorow on copyright, debate in Denmark 2012

Extract of debate, transcription (by Alan Cocks, unauthorised), from Copyright debate in Denmark, 2012. Headings added by Alan Cocks

Fair compensation
We often have these debates about what the purpose of copyright is, what's it there for and there are all these different perspectives we bring to it. Some people say, copyright exists to - enrich the public domain or to serve some cultural policy goal, to incentivise creativity or some other purpose. You know, I'm a creator, a writer, I'm a publisher, and I earn my living from copyright and so for me the part that I want to talk about today and the part that I often attend to is the idea that copyright, whatever else its doing, should be ensuring equitable remuneration to all the different pieces of the value chain. It should be setting a policy framework that ensures that the different people involved in creating works are compensated fairly through the way that those works go.

Now, the problem is, I think that for the last - twenty years - the entire digital era - we've been getting this wrong. So much so, that I've actually structured a kind of - three laws - about how wrong it gets. So its Doctorow's three laws. Originally I only had one law, but my literary agent who is Arthur C Clarke's agent - I told him I'd made up a law. He said "You need three laws!" I've made up two more. So I'll talk about these three laws, and that's how I'll structure the talk.

Doctorow's First Law: Digital Locks
So the first law is about digital locks, or digital rights management technology. This has been a subject of very heated debate in technological circles, and it keeps coming up whenever we think were done with it it keeps coming back.

Digital locks are software that is installed on mobile devices, devices like this tablet, computers, set top boxes or other devices, and these check to see if you are about to do something that the copyright holder has not permitted and tries to interdict you from doing those things. So for example - say you buy a movie or an audio book or a tv show on iTunes, all those movies, audio books and tv shows on iTunes come with Apple's digital lock on them.

Now Apple would prefer that you only used their hardware to play it back. That's the whole idea - right - its that you're buying into the Apple ecosystem. They want to make sure that when you buy things, that you continue to buy their hardware to use it. So, what that means is that - every time you spend money on an Apple product you increase the cost of switching to a competitor's product, because you can't take your media with you when you switch to the competing products.

The prototype for all the digital lock laws and the template that many other places in the world have followed is the US digital lock law the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which came about in 1998 and the DMCA says that digital locks are so protected that its always illegal to remove them even if you are not violating copyright. Even if you are the copyright owner - right - you can't even remove a digital lock from a work that you created and hold the copyright to. Only the company that made the lock can authorise the removal of the lock.

So let's see how that works out in practice? Lets see how that plays out in the creative market place where we're concerned about creators being equitably compensated? So, say you're my audio book publisher, Random House Audio, division of Bertelsmann largest publisher in the world, and you go off and you sell a million dollars worth of audio books through the iTunes store. Which does sell 90 % of the Audio books in the market, through the iTunes store - 90 % of the audio books sold, are sold by Apple, through the iTunes store. And Apple gets 30% of that money.

Now one day Apple might turn around to Random House as various retailers have done in the past and say "We'd like to renegotiate this deal. Instead of giving you a 30/70 split, we'd like to change it to a 50 /50 split. We want 20 % more. Now I think Random House would probably be able to find someone else who'd be their preferred vendor at a 30/70 split or even a better one obviously Google is happy to compete with Apple in the mobile market place front. And that would be a great advantage for them to have - to get Random Houses audio books. But - there is one problem here - which is that the million dollar investment that Random House's customers have made in Random House's audio books means that for Random House to switch to a competitor they have to trust that their customers will abandon their libraries or maintain two separate parallel libraries in order to switch. Because only Apple, not Random House, and not the authors Random House has adapted for audio, only Apple, can authorise Apple's customers to remove the digital lock in order to move their audio books to a competing platform.

Now there's an easy policy answer to this - if you want to make a digital lock law that - respects copyright - that is in fact about ensuring equitable remuneration for all the parties here, you could just say digital locks only have the protection of law to the extent that they stop you from violating copyright. If you remove the digital lock but you don't in any other way violate copyright you're not breaking the law. That seems like a very simple answer and its so simple that its remarkable that none of the governments of the world seem to have hit on it.
The OECD, the Canadian copyright bill that's just been brought in, bill C11 - all the various national implementations, the UK copyright act, and so on, all of these acts have followed the American example of adding a special protection for digital locks. And at each turn what this has done is taken away market power from investors in the creative works and given it to a mere intermediary.

You'd think that, you know, if you've got his triangle of value added to the work, you've got the author - me - I wrote the book, you've got Random House - they invested a lot of money in recording the book, you've got Apple - who assemble the piece of skinny electronics in south east asia and loaded it onto it - that copyright's major protection should accrue to either me or the publisher and certainly not to the intermediary. We can see where this goes - right - we can see where it goes when the government says that if you buy a book from Apple you have to buy the book case and the light bulb and the easy chair from Apple too. 
What it does is it creates this increasing amount of control for the companies that serve as mere intermediaries, over the overall destiny of art. So Apple now totally controls the App Store and you're not allowed to install apps on your iOS device without Apple's permission. You have to break the break the digital lock to install an app on your iOS device. And they want a 30 % cut of any apps that are sold through the App Store and they also want a veto over the apps sold in the app store. So Mark Fiore who is a Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist made an app of political cartoons which they rejected on the grounds that he ridiculed public figures. Subsequently they rejected an app that was made buy some anti drone activists that gave you an update every time a drone killed someone in Pakistan - a US military drone - and they rejected that for the store too.

Now I was a book seller for a long time and I worked in a book store and I only stocked the books that I liked - and I think that's fair and I don't think Apple should have to stock the titles they don't like, but I never said the Government should arrange things so that its illegal to buy books from anyone's store except mine, once you have installed the book case that can handle my books.

And I think that we can see what a good digital lock policy would do and we can see that we've arrived at the wrong digital lock policy, and that brings me to my first law - 'Doctorows first law', which is that any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to *you* and won't give you the key, that lock hasn't been put there for your benefit.
If really those locks were there to protect copyright, copyright holders, and not intermediaries, would get the right to control them.

Doctorow's Second Law: Intermediaries, Fame and Fortune
Now the next law relates to intermediaries, this group of people who sit between creators and investors, and audiences. Intermediaries are anyone - companies, services, tools, that sit between creators and audiences - web hosting companies that host your web site, payment processors that handle your money, services like YouTube or Blogger or Twitter or Facebook, where like, creators and audiences connect - services like Google's search or Microsoft Bing - that let members of the audience find creative works. These are all contemporary intermediaries.

Now it used to be that there was a lot smaller pool of intermediaries. There were just things like distributors and retail chains and a few credit card processors, a couple of major printing houses a few theatrical exhibitor chains, just a couple of tv networks.

And at one time or another, every one of those intermediaries was captured by a cartel. You know, at one point in America if you wanted to be an actor in the films, you had to signup to one of the big studios because the big studios had taken over the theatrical exhibitors and the only way that you could be in a movie that would be shown anywhere would be to sign with one of the big studios and the big studios used that advantage to extract incredibly bad terms out of their actors.

This also happened with publishers at various times, with labels at various times, at different times we've seen that when there's a smaller number of intermediaries, they are liable to being captured by the investors the publishers the labels the studios. And that that control over the market place end up resulting in worse terms for the creators. It becomes a buyer's market for the creativity.

Now the internet has made it infinitely cheaper to be an intermediary - the 1990's you may remember that in 1990 there was a lot of loose talk that someday we would have a 500 channel universe. Someday cable tv would deliver as many as 500 channels of entertainment at one time in someone's sitting room. At the time that seemed like an unimaginably vast pool of entertainment. Well, its been put paid by the trillion channel web. I mean, we live now in a world where 500 channels seems remarkably impoverished. And when that world - when you live in a world where you have lots of lots of different channels, lots and lots of different ways where creators' work can reach an audience, it becomes exponentially harder for one of those intermediaries to work with the investors to corner the market and pay the creators worse. And give lower sums and give them worse terms.

But there is one way that that can be reversed there's one way that we can go back to those - to that era before where cartels of investors and distributors controlled the livelihoods of creators and that is by increasing the liability on intermediaries, we make it harder to be an intermediary.

If we make it more expensive to be an intermediary, we'll get fewer intermediaries and the one's that remain will be more liable to capture by the investors. So for example, In the US its a 150,000 dollars per active infringement. For hosting copyrighted material. Now, clearly there's no way that any company could make sure they don't host copy righted material - YouTube getting 72 hours of video every minute.

There aren't enough copyright lawyers remaining between now and the heat death of the universe to make even a small dent in the amount of copyrighted material YouTube gets, so instead, we try to limit that liability through things like notice and take down, where YouTube can host every thing that arrives but they're required to speedily react to notices of copyright infringement. But as you'll hear later, notice and take down is something that's under attack all over the world. It is actually impossible to keep infringement off of the network. Its impossible to stop infringement from arriving because you can't pay the lawyers to do it.

There is no business that would be able to stay afloat if all the material that everyone produced - every tweet, every blog post every video had to be reviewed a priori. The only way to make that work would be to go back to that cable universe, to that 500 channel universe where there's a limited number of channels and every channel works for publishers and distributors to make sure that all the material was vetted before its seen.

Now what would be a disaster for creators because it means that you can't make any money at all in the system until you're signed up with one of the major publishers, that has the deal that can pay the lawyers to make sure that your material doesn't infringe, create the certification, and get you into the channel. Its the world that we lived in before the internet. There's never been a time when smaller better organised more controlled marketplaces for music or books or creativity or news or any other field of creative endeavour resulted in better terms for creators - those smaller markets always resulted in worse terms for creators.

Now, its not that creators will go out on their own and usually or very often do well. Most creators who try to go out on their own do very poorly. And that is a fact of life. There are millions of would be YouTube stars for every actual YouTube star. And even being a YouTube star doesn't mean that you make any money - as many stars can tell you you can't eat "fame". Two million YouTube views and 3 pounds will get you a ride on the tube.

Converting fame into money is very hard alchemy. Most people fail but the ones that do succeed succeed in using one of about a half dozen ways that are the only ways that creative people have ever made money off of their creativity. They sell things, they come up with a product that people want to buy and price it at a price they want to pay. They ask people for donations, they perform their works, they wrap their works in advertisements they licence their works to someone else who has figured out how to make money. They take commissions, those are basically it - right - you look, you break down every creative business model since the beginning and they all look like some variation on that.

And none of that stuff works if you haven't been heard of. Nobody can give you money unless they've heard of your works, unless you can deliver your works to them. Now, right now, European governments are enthusiastic participants in American led efforts to increase intermediary liability. And that will just herd creators into the major publishers' studios' and labels' stables.

Through secretive closed door and unprecedented negotiations like the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA, and its progeny the Trans Pacific Partnership, there are stakeholder groups and governments meeting to figure out ways to make intermediary liability more punitive.

Doctorow's Third Law: Information doesn't want to be free, people do
Which brings me to my final law. And its I think the most important one its the one that relates to the slide show we saw before - which is about information. I don't think information wants anything, and I think if it does its interests should be of no particular import to us. Information is a noun not a person and its desires are irrelevant. Information doesn't want to be free, but people *do* want to be free and the policy that we create around information and around creative livelihoods has a direct impact on the freedom of people.

Nobody wants digital locks on their works. No one woke up this morning and said "You know, I want to buy some music but maybe some one out there is selling music that does less than my CDs, maybe I'll go and find those market places". And since nobody *wants* a digital lock, digital locks can only succeed if users can't remove them. If they can force users to do things. A digital lock's job, fundamentally, is to swim up out of the depths of your computer and say "I can't let you do that Dave" and that program will only work so long as there isn't an icon on your desktop labelled "hal9000.exe" if you can drag that program into the trash and the "I can't let you do that Dave" program stops running, the digital lock is neutralised.

So digital locks have to hide their existence from their owners. They have deceptive file names, they're buried in the filesystem, they're integrated with the operating system, by means of deep hooks so that they can't be readily uninstalled, you can't even find out what they are or if there running, they don't show up in the process monitor, they are indistinguishable from spyware. Because they do exactly the same thing as spyware does, they run programs that users don't want.

And its not just that they are like spyware, they create the opportunity *for* spyware. So when Sony BMG shipped 6 million audio CDs with their own drm on them, what those CDs did was they secretly updated your operating system so that there were certain programs and files that would no longer be visible if you listed out all of the programs and files running, or in a directory. And what that meant was that any virus that was hidden using the same means would be not visible to your computer. And after the Sony root kit shipped in 2005, immediately virus writers started writing their own viruses to take advantage of this scheme because once you design a facility into a computer so that it can't know or accurately report on what its doing, other people will take advantage of that facility and make it so that your computer does things that you don't want them to do.

Now that's bad enough today, its bad enough today when its just our laptops and our phones. These are, after all devices that we carry with us all the time that have cameras and microphones that know our secret thoughts that hear our little pep talks that we give to ourselves when we are driving to work that know who our friends are and know everything that we do.

Its bad enough when we start to design them that way, and to give you a sense of how bad it can get, in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, an affluent school district outside of Philadelphia, they gave the students MacBooks and they put in software that could run without the user knowing it. And the software activated the webcam without lighting up the little green light that told you the app, the webcam, was there, and it was nominally there to stop theft. But the Administration used it to spy on students that they thought of as discipline cases.

And it was discovered when a student was brought in to his principal's office and his principal handed him a photo of the student in his own bedroom the night before and said "What are you doing in this photo, you are taking drugs" and the student said "No I'm eating a candy. And how did you get a photo of me in my bedroom?"

And this principal had taken thousands of photos of this student and thousands of photos of other students awake and asleep dressed and undressed, and so on. This is not an aberration, this is the beginning. That was two years ago.

This year the Federal Trade Commission slapped down a "rent to own" company - several "rent to own" companies and a software vendor in the united states because these "rent to own" companies which lease equipment to poor people who can't afford to buy them outright over long periods during which the total lease price ends up being several times the cost of the device, installed the same kind of software and because its more modern it could also record video and audio and plunder their keystrokes, the files on their hard drive, and so on. The FTC, in the settlement, these companies stipulated that they had recorded, secretly recorded their customers having sex, that they'd recorded their children naked and dressed that they'd intercepted confidential communications with lawyers, and with doctors, and captured their banking log and credentials, and again this gives you a sense of the risk that you're at when your computers are designed to be so you can't know what there doing. But this is just the beginning of the risk. Because we live in a world today that is made out of computers.

Your car is a computer you put your body into, the aeroplane I flew over in, is a flying solaris box in a fancy aluminium case, with a bunch of scada controllers. We put our bodies in computers all day long. Take the computers out of this building and it will be uninhabitable inside of 6 months. Not only that, but we put computers in our body. The hearing aids that I will have when I get older because I'm a member of the Walkman generation won't be bits of analogue ten plastic with a transistor in them, they will be computers that I insert into my body. And when I insert a computer into my body, and when I insert my body into a computer, I want to make sure that both of those things are designed to faithfully report what they are doing, and to let me shut down whatever they are doing that I don't want them to do. And it is never to our advantage as creators, as journalists, as people, who care about the future, to be demanding the computers be re designed so that their users *can't* know what they do.

Now that's on the computer side. On the network side its even worse.

(I'm almost done, I think I've got about 2 minutes (watching the clock)) On the network side its even worse. Viacom is of course the giant American company that is quite worried that YouTube has got a bunch of its copyrighted clips on it. And of course YouTube does have a bunch of copyrighted clips on it. They've applied to the US Supreme Court for satori to hear their case. One of their claims is that YouTube facilitates infringement by allowing people to have "private flag" videos. So YouTube - if you upload a video to YouTube you can either make it public, or you can say "only let my friends and family watch this", I use that. I live in the United Kingdom, as you heard I'm actually now technically a British citizen, although I haven't been issued my accent yet, this is why I sound Canadian, and the way that I send videos of my small daughter in the bathtub home to Canada, is not by email, because as you know, you can't attach a giant video file to an email, I put them on YouTube. I flag them "friends and family only". Now, YouTube knows, or Viacom knows, that that's one of the ways that is used, and they say that even though its used, the loss of that feature, the loss of our ability to conduct our lives in private, is a small price to pay for their being able to look at all the videos that are online to see if any of them infringe their copyrights.

When we create monitoring systems to monitor for copyright infringement - what we do first of all - is we end up intercepting everyone's communications. Because you can't stop someone from visiting unless you're looking at all the links that they enter or click, and throw away the ones that you think they shouldn't be seeing. So on the one hand we surveil 100 % of people's network traffic in order to stop them from infringing, and when that doesn't work we roll out even more draconian procedures like 3 strikes.

So 3 strikes has been rolled out in France, the UK and in New Zealand, and it says, if you're accused of 3 or more acts of copyright infringement, you and every one you live with loose your internet access. In the UK Martha Lane Fox's - Price Waterhouse Cooper study of access to the internet showed that the most vulnerable families in the UK, when they were given access to the internet for even a short time, that everything we used to measure their quality of life, improved. They had better nutrition, better education, more access to post-secondary education, more social mobility, more money. They were better informed, more likely to vote, they were more active in civic politics, and so on. All of those benefits - if you get them from the internet, you loose them when you take away the internet.

And whatever else we think about the rights of creators - and I am a creator - but I'm also a citizen of the wider world - its really important not to loose sight of things. Watching television the wrong way shouldn't be grounds for having your access to the political system, to civic engagement, to nutrition, to education, and so on, taken away from you. Let alone being *accused* of watching television the wrong way.

Now I believe Viacom can certainly make more money if they can eliminate our ability to have private discourse, I think if they enclose our whole public sphere it would be better for their business, if they have more surveillance control and censorship, I think that Viacom's bottom line will improve.

There are a lot of ways to make money in the fields of arts and news and that's one of them, but if your business model starts with censorship if it starts with surveillance, if it starts with criminalising culture you're doing "copyright" wrong.

Information doesn't want to be free, but people do, and people involved in the news media have an especial responsibility to ensure that that freedom is preserved in the information laws.

Thank you.

Transcript (by Alan Cocks, unauthorised) of Cory Doctorow's keynote speech only, from Copyright debate in Denmark, 2012.
[Section transcribed: 2 minutes 30 sec to 26 minutes]

For original information, please see
Event: Copyright debate in Denmark. Posted on November 15, 2012, Denmark's Fagfestival 2012, the largest gathering of journalists in the country. Debate with Cory Doctorow and Peter Schønning, a prominent Danish copyright lawyer, in an event hosted by Henrik Føhns.
MP3 link:

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Loosing My Culture

I have just heard a BBC radio item about how wonderful it is that somebody pirate recorded, and kept, a bunch of Alistair Cook's broadcasts 'Letter from America' back in the day. 

The radio program I heard was 'Broadcasting House' with Paddy O'Connell, Radio 4 (FM) Sunday 18 November 2012 (1). Apparently the BBC did not retain that many of their early broadcasts. 

Alistair Cook's broadcasts have been a part of my life, my heritage, my culture. I am grateful to the person who infringed copyright restrictions. 

Another part of my personal culture is the humour of Kenneth Horne and his colleagues. It is wonderful to be able to hear examples of this again now, in some cases similarly, only because an individual made their own recordings off-air, for which the BBC now thanks them (2).

These are not isolated cases, and I am horrified at how easily my culture, the source of many personal and treasured memories, would so easily have been lost not only to me, but also to the wider world, for ever.

In 'BBC RADIO BLOG Behind the scenes' (3) the BBC elevates copyright infringement by listeners to 'archive' status: 'The Listeners' Archive'. Says the blog: 'Do you remember all those warnings about home taping? Did you ignore them and furtively record some of your favourite radio shows anyway?'
'Well the good news is you got away with it!'

And from the same blog the BBC is 'declaring a radio amnesty'. I take it from the context that this is a limited, somewhat arbitrary, amnesty, and that other infringement is not included.... 

The institutional duplicity here is astounding. 

The copyright industry is storming around, attempting to preserve its ageing business model when the technology of the internet provides one gigantic copying machine (4). In its desperate convulsions, the industry inflicts massive collateral damage by its restrictions on personal freedom and cultural history.

As the BBC celebrates its birthday of 90 years, will we hear a population of listeners singing 'Happy Birthday to you?' Rather unlikely because this is restricted by copyright, even though it is sung countless times daily at birthdays.

Copyright has a long history, it is worth a look (5), particularly in its modern context. Many informed opinions hold that it is no longer appropriate, even that it does damage. Repeated surveys indicate that high spending music customers are the very people who infringe most. Still, the restrictions persist, and get worse. I am minded of the saying 'The beatings will continue until morale improves'. 

Richard O'Dwyer, a young British web developer, is currently in the process of appealing against an order of UK courts that he is to be extradited to USA to face copyright infringement allegations (6). 

Material published on the internet, say in YouTube, is routinely pulled after only allegation. Justification is apparently not required, just the allegation (7).

Political moves are afoot. The copyright industry's pejorative use of the word 'Pirate' has been turned against it by the formation of the Pirate Party movement whose objectives for civil rights, include copyright reform (8). There is some way yet to go. 

Meanwhile, anyone with hooky recordings hidden away might find it useful to become informed about the lengths the copyright industry goes to, to prolong its existence, before they decide what action to take.
And - to the BBC - Happy Birthday!
To others - join the Pirate Party!

5) [multi-part]

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Requested Red Flag For The Internet

A Requested Red Flag For The Internet
By Rick Falkvinge. Founder of the first Pirate Party.
(posted here with permission)
If I had a penny for every time the entertainment distribution industries went to politicians and asked them to regulate the internet in order to "save jobs", I would already have a lifetime of activism paid for. Yet, this is one of the most stupid and counterproductive policy any government could follow.

I like to look at historic patterns. We can observe that all of this has happened before - and all of this will most likely happen again. Every time, it feels just as unique as last time. When incumbent industries are threatened by a new and disruptive technology, they will use any justification imaginable to kill it in its infancy, trying to convince legislators that their particular special interest is a public interest. It always ends badly.

You have all heard the cries of the entertainment distribution industries (which are not "creative industries" in any sense of the word, with the notable exception of accounting practices) about how vital they are to the entire economy, and how it would be reasonable that they be compensated with an amount of money exceeding the world's entire GDP for the mere existence of LimeWire, to mention but one example.

Looking at history, as industries become threatened by new technology, they typically embrace it in public and talk passionately about its potential, but only in terms of how the new technology can support the existing and incumbent industries. Under absolutely no circumstances must the new technology be allowed to come into a position to replace the currently dominant industries.

A famous example of this is the Locomotives Act of 1865 in the United Kingdom, better known as the Red Flag Act. It was a law that limited the speed of the new so-called automobile to 2 miles per hour in urban areas, and required them to always have a crew of three: a driver, a stoker (engine operator), and a man who would walk before the automobile waving a red flag. This effectively limited the speed of the automobile to walking speed, negating any possible inherent speed advantage of the new mode of transportation.

The car was fantastic, people would say in public, but only as long as it didn't threaten the railroad or stagecoach industries. These very industries, it turned out much later, were behind the lobbying that led to the Red Flag Act. The fledgling automobile industry stood to make the older industries obsolete, or at least significantly smaller, which could not be permitted. Therefore, they went to Parliament and argued how tremendously important their industries were to the public good and the economy as a whole, and claimed that their special interest was a public interest. Just like the entertainment distribution industry lobby does today.

Essentially, the stagecoach and railroad industries tried to limit the permissible use of the automobile to carry people and goods the last mile to and from the stagecoach and railroad stations, and only at walking speed. That wouldn't threaten the existing dominant industries, and they could pretend in public to embrace its usefulness.

Today, the entertainment distribution industries - perhaps more accurately described as the copyright industry - pretends to embrace the Internet, but only inasmuch as they can keep operating as they always have. Any other use needs to be outlawed and criminalized, and such laws harshly enforced.

And sure enough, British Parliament agreed in its time that the stagecoach and railroad industries were important. But the Parliament made the mistake of seeing yesterday as the present time and eternal: those industries were only important before the technology shift that the car brought, a shift which was already underway. The special laws that these industries pushed through - with emphasis on the Red Flag Act - caused the inevitable technology shift to delay in United Kingdom, and therefore, the car industry of the United Kingdom lost considerable competitive edge against its foreign competition, being ten to fifteen years late into the game.

The moral of the story that keeps repeating itself is that an industry troubled by technological advances should neither be allowed special laws nor be confused with the public interest, but instead be permitted to die as swiftly as possible, so that new industries and new jobs can take its place. If you do the opposite and keep that industry alive with artificial respiration and repressive legislation, you not only hurt respect for the law, but also the future economy and competitive

"Saving jobs" means that politicians take resources by force from vital, innovative, and competitive industries, and give those resources to ailing, failing, and obsolete industries. It's not very good policy. We shouldn't have to fight to keep the red flag mentality off the internet, but we do.

Rick Falkvinge                                                   @Falkvinge

Version first seen in GoTo Magazine: 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

I write below the response from my MP re my contact to him regarding ACTA,(and SOPA and PIPA):
Dear Mr Cocks
Thank you for contacting me about the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

Counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property rights (IPRs) are recognised as a problem that requires effective action on a global scale. This is why the UK, along with 21 other member states, had no choice but to sign ACTA on the 26th January 2012. The only five member states who have yet to sign the agreement are Cyprus, Germany, Estonia, Netherlands and Slovakia. They are expected to sign it soon though.

ACTA will work against organised crime, helping to persue those who steal intellectual property. It is clear that this kind of behaviour needs to be tackled; not only does it stifle innovation and prevent fair competition, it also costs the EU an estimated 8 billion euros annually through the saturation of our markets with counterfeit goods.

I would like to clarify that ACTA is a lot different to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). While SOPA and PIPA are draft US laws that would change US legislation, ACTA does not require any EU law changes. Anything you can do legally today will still be legal after ratification of ACTA.

I do hope this information helps, and thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue.

Kindest regards
Yours sincerely
Dr Phillip Lee
Member of Parliament for Bracknell

My comment: I find this response unsatisfactory and ill informed to say the least.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Rose by any other name . . . . .

I spent many years reading about that thing called 'Linux'. When I actually got round to trying that 'Linux' I was shocked - in a nice way - at how wonderful it was. How well it worked! I was amazed. My expectations had not prepared me for that reality. I was happy because I wanted to move away from my traditional Windows although this did take some effort. However, since then, I have never had a wish to go back.

With time, my eyes saw different things. The reason why 'Linux' existed was not just technical excellence, but was a lot to do with the social, political, ethical principles of freedom. Mmm, heavy stuff.

I also became aware of 'GNU/Linux'. And a person called Richard M Stallman.

The time-line was a surprise. Stallman invented the concept of free software in 1983, calling his intended operating system 'GNU' after the animal. Years later, Linus Torvalds invented his Linux kernel, in 1991, and it was used tohelp make the GNU operating system complete.

Stallman had, and still has, a flair for great clarity of principle. 'Free' software means freedoms, and Stallman defined these. However, he is not strong on marketing or diplomatic skills, nor being political, nor even always very tactful. Prophets often rest uneasily into the world, and Stallman is a prophet.

What I had followed over the years was the word 'Linux'. Where did 'GNU/Linux' come in? Any number of usages and public definitions exist which call the complete operating system 'Linux'. Even IBM used this term alone when it marketed its early products as far as I have seen.

Anyway, who cares what the operating system is called? It is not just a matter of semantics, otherwise I would not bother to mention it at all. I could not usually care less what the name is.

Marketing in the free software world is *so* poor that even as an avid user it took me five years to bump into the *real* issue. 'Free' software means freedoms. Torvalds is not such an ethical, political idealist creature as is Stallman. Torvalds takes an altogether more easy going view of licencing.

The free software world got more complicated when Microsoft made its move on Novell, and licensing for free software was tightened up with the introduction of the licence GNU General Public Licence 3 (GPL3). It had been realised that the earlier GPL2 was not strong enough to preserve freedoms in all cases.

However, Torvalds was ok with keeping his kernel, Linux, as GPL2.

There is a lot going on which threatens the 'freedoms' but unfortunately the free software movement is no good at marketing. And having no money does not help much against the powerful well funded opposition.

I have looked carefully at Stallman's views, and I can not fault them. Although I find I can not personally follow them to the letter. That does not make the objectives wrong, just difficult to follow in today's world.

I am a pragmatic GNU Linux user, I use Ubuntu which is free software, but which also contains plenty of very non free stuff.

But I think Stallman has a good point when he says that a system called just 'Linux' risks people thinking that the principles of 'Linux' are the same as those principles of 'Free' software.

Ok, that poses a problem, and Stallman's answer - GNU/Linux - sounds geeky. Why is 'GNU' any more geeky than 'Linux'? Gnu is a real animal, not a made up word with an X in it.

One consequence of the ongoing double use of the word 'Linux' to mean either the kernel or the complete operating system, is that it is easy for the idea of complexity of kernel level skills to be visited onto people's thoughts about the many Linux based complete operating systems, which are incredibly easy to use, even for novices.

When I have asked independent computer shops about - say - Ubuntu? I get the retort that "Linux is not for ordinary users, only geeks".

It is unfortunate that the word 'Linux' is so firmly associated with 'geek', and not with 'ordinary' people. Relating to the many easy to use operating systems the belief is mistaken, but it is easily kept rolling along, with only minimal encouragement from competing business interests.

Whatever the name is, it is worth keeping in mind that the principles and ethics behind the Stallman 'GNU' and the Torvalds 'Linux' have significant differences, with Stallman focussing on Freedom, not pragmatism.

Long live GNU/Linux and all Linux based operating systems.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

General Computing in the Firing Line

After being bowled over by the talk by Cory Doctorow: ' The coming war on general computation', I wanted to help make the subject a bit more accessable for less technically minded readers. This is my summary take on his excellent talk.

Unendorsed summary of a speech by Cory Doctorow
( by Alan Cocks

Computers are everywhere. The world we live in now is made of computers, even when we do not realise it. We don't have cars any more, we have computers we ride in. We don't have airplanes any more, we have flying control systems with a big bunch of controller units. A radio is no longer a crystal, it's a general-purpose computer with some software.

Think of the radio for a minute. The entire basis for radio regulation up until today was based on the idea that the properties of a radio are fixed at the time of manufacture, and can't be easily altered. You can't just flip a switch on your wireless baby monitor, and turn it into something that interferes with air traffic control signals. But, powerful software-defined radios can change function from baby monitor to emergency services dispatcher, to air traffic controller, just by loading and running different software.

It is easy to understand why regulators might be nervous about you changing the firmware in your automatic 'self-driving' car, or them wanting to limit the operability for aviation controllers, or somehow limit the kind of thing you could do with the upcoming bio-nano-technology. Special printers, (perhaps 3D printers) and other devices (perhaps bio technology) which are available now, or are feasible for the future for DIY fun in your shed will soon spread around the world.

Just as easy digital copying using your PC has destabilised the gigantic media industry, forcing it however reluctantly, and largely without success, to seek a different business model, so it is likely that the PC power of your general purpose computer, running programs with the new printers or other future devices, will be likely to cause rumblings elsewhere.

Judging from the past and present behaviour of the media industry when they think their business is threatened, then in future the responses from rich well funded businesses to perceived (or real) threats to their business model, are likely to be similar, and along a well trodden path. This path leads to restrictions. Basically restrictions to personal freedom, usually, laws. If we are fortunate the laws are good ones and we see a sensible balance between our loss of freedom and the benefits to us as citizens.

The trouble comes when the responses, legislation whatever, are for some reason ineffective! For media - music, films, etc., surveys repeatedly show that the people downloading music and videos for free, flouting copyright, are the very same people who go and spend the MOST money on also buying music and videos! This is - at first - counter intuitive. However, it arises from the new behaviours of customers when new technology is used.

Yet, still the massive industry of the media has moved mountains to create restrictive laws and practices to try to prevent their best customers from doing what they obviously want to do, even when they also pay for content. Strangely enough though, the media industries are not getting more profitable.

The industry response to failure has been, not altogether unreasonably, albeit short sighted, to obtain yet more restrictions. Interestingly, stand up artist 'Louis CK' did an experiment. In December 2011 he put the video of his special show on the web for a low price purchase ($5), with no copy protection, no restrictions, and said so. You might expect that the DVD would get mercilessly copied free? Well, you would be correct. But it was so easy and low priced to buy the download, that Louis CK made one million dollars in just 12 days! Maybe there is something that can be learned from this?

So what we see over the years is increasingly restrictive practices and legislation, escalating in almost desperation, and at the same time still not being very effective in results. Unfortunately though, as the escalation proceeds, unintended consequences become more apparent.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and on the journey we will probably find both the bath water and baby too, by the roadside.

Modern computers are close to magical, and there are plenty of skilful wizards around in the world who can understand the magic, and enjoy it, use it, and make more magic too. Some of the kids in your street maybe? The point to be made here is that the genie, the mythical and independent spirit, is already out of the bottle, and that even if we tried, we would find it practically impossible to restrict what computers can do. However, this does not stop legislators etc., from trying, creating more and more restrictions, monitoring, whatever, in their apparently reasonable attempts to control the genie.

A story of similar magic can be had from the internet itself, rather than the computers which we use on it. The internet was designed to be almost indestructible, and is fairly robust. The world wide web (the web sites we use) was never designed with future restrictive practices in mind. It is difficult to create a method of restriction and control, say, of certain offensive web sites, or download facilities, which is more than half effective, without using a proverbial sledge hammer. In other words, without massive loss of freedom for the citizen.

Fast rewind, back to - today. In some countries, well meaning restrictive practices have been introduced against some internet content which causes offence. These restrictive practices often have legal backing, although some do not. However, they are all intended to remove content before you can see it, or to prevent you from seeing something, or from doing something. There are any number of possible reasons why someone might think it is a good idea to restrict your access to information or restrict your actions.

With conventional hard copy publishing, books are withdrawn, banned, burned etc., hopefully with due legal process from a trusted legislature. With the new 'online' technology, things are very different. It is no longer just one book with a few hundred copies. It is websites, too numerous to control. Too numerous for trusted legal processes. It is also key utilities such as file sharing, peer to peer torrenting for example, which are as general purpose as good kitchen knives, which come under the sledge hammer.

Like a sharp kitchen knife these facilities can be used for good or ill, but against modern technology, traditional methods of restriction and control cause large collateral damage. One consequence of the restrictions turning out to be less effective than desired, is an increasing willingness to impose yet more controls, to censor, monitor and eavesdrop, etc., and also to position new infrastructure to suit.

I use the term 'censor' because when a central authority causes selective information to be with held from its audience, censorship is what it is. This situation is not the same as being in a cinema, or inside a planning meeting at the BBC. Those are situations we have lived with and understand, and there are non-secret checks and balances too.

Something which imposes outside controls into your computer is commonly called 'spyware' or 'malware'. If a Company, or Government imposes this it might be called by a different name.

I wish I could offer good answers!

Unfortunately, however reasonable it may seem to introduce more and yet more restrictions - in how you may use your computer, or in how you are allowed to access or use the internet - it all moves in the direction of restriction - censorship - and lack of freedom.

I myself want to avoid seeing offensive websites. I do want deserving artists to be rewarded. I also do really want to live with freedom of access to information, even though the new technology which surrounds us has ephemeral brake pedals.

The technology is not amenable to centralised control. At least, not without massive loss of freedom. The bathwater may be distasteful but hopefully the world will find a way of keeping baby safe. 'Centralised control' has an Orwellian tone. Repressive regimes exist. What you consider to be 'oppressive' will depend on which regime you live in and who you are.

At the time of writing this summary, there is an energetic debate in the USA at least, about new legislation which intends to impose controls. When the technical practicability of the strategy was assessed, it was deemed to be quite practicable. In fact, the explicit reasons given were that this worked ok in the following countries: China, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Burma, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan.

All this is in the name of well meaning and good things - as seen by the various agencies of course. There are already in place, some restrictions in UK, Australia, Canada, Europe, with currently significant further movements in USA.

If you want the chance to be informed, perhaps even to influence the future of your world, then now is certainly a good time to get more curious!

Original event: 28c3: The coming war on general computation, Cory Doctorow

Original transcript by Joshua Wise of the event:

creative commons licence cc-by non commercial