June 24, 2024

Archives for January 2003

DVD-Jon Acquitted

A Norwegian court has found Jon “DVD-Jon” Johansen not guilty of criminal charges relating to the creation of the DeCSS program for reading encrypted DVDs. CNN has the story.

Long DRM Article in Today's NYT

Today’s New York Times offers a long article by Amy Harmon on DRM, or “digital armor” on recorded media. It’s mostly a backgrounder for people less up-to-speed on DRM issues than most of my readers (probably) are, but there are a few new nuggets worth noting.

First, Jack Valenti tries yet another analogy: “We need to put in speed bumps to keep people honest.” I have long argued that media companies should view DRM as a speed bump and not a fence, and I would be happy if Mr. Valenti stuck with this analogy. I doubt he will, though.

Speed bumps try to channel behavior by making some routes less convenient than others; but they don’t make anything impossible. Their inability to prevent anything is precisely what makes them useful as a tool – they can be used more liberally because a driver can overrule the speed bump when appropriate.

In my view, DRM is fundamentally weak so it can’t be anything but a speed bump. We might as well embrace its speed-bump nature, and build simpler DRM that doesn’t try to be impregnable. Then we can use DRM more liberally, like speed bumps, to channel behavior, but without trying (in vain) to prevent anything through pure technology.

If you believe the speed bump analogy, then the DMCA anti-circumvention laws clearly need to be repealed. A ban on driving over speed bumps makes speed bumps useless as speed bumps; and a ban on making cars that can drive over bumps is even worse.

Later in the article is another revealing record-company exec quote:

“You’re not buying music, you’re buying a key,” says Larry Kenswil, the president of the eLabs division of the Universal Music Group

Unfortunately for Mr. Kenswil, his customers don’t give a hoot about keys. They want to buy music.

Worse yet, these keys aren’t like the keys on your key ring. Your car key doesn’t expire. It doesn’t refuse to work on weekends, or when it’s humid, or when you’re burning the wrong brand of gas. It just opens the car – every time.

Next, we have this:

“We have zero objection to anyone’s ability to duplicate, to record, to play back and to save any copy- able content whatsoever,” said Peter Chernin, the president of 20th Century Fox. “But we’d be idiots not to be wary of the risks that come with that ability, and of the vulnerability of those of us supplying digitally unprotected films and shows.”

The first sentence is a puzzler. He can’t mean it literally, since Fox clearly does object to widespread copying over the Internet, so let’s read it as meaning that Fox doesn’t object to duplication, recording, playback, and saving for personal use as consumers have come to expect.

Even this is quite a statement. Is he really saying that Fox will not support any regulation that restricts personal use? If so, that’s a significant commitment, and one that will in my view make DRM impossible (since the technology cannot tell whether a use is personal). So he probably doesn’t mean that either.

Probably what he means is that Fox doesn’t object to personal use, but they will try to regulate personal use anyway, because a ban on many personal uses is an unavoidable side-effect of the regulation they seek. If so, then “we have zero objection” is irrelevant at best, and misleading at worst.

Finaally, the article ends with this:

Hollywood executives say they know they may need to adjust to meet consumer demands [for fair use]. James B. Ramo, the chief executive of Movielink, the Internet movie service, said the security software’s flexibility was one of its chief virtues.

“We’re not locked into these rules,” Mr. Ramo said. “We’re just testing them out.”

This is not likely to reassure Movielink’s customers, who are locked into the current rules.

NYT Changes Copyright-Expiration Story

On Thursday I critiqued a New York Times story (which appeared in the print edition on Friday) about the expiration of some European copyrights on recorded music. Joe Liu points out that the Times has changed the story to address one of the issues I raised.

The original story said:

Defenders of the copyright laws, like Mr. Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are totally inadequate.

This was a strange way to put it, since, far from defending the copyright laws, Mr. Turkewitz was offering fairly harsh criticism of them. The Times subsequently changed the story to read

Defenders of extended copyright terms, like Mr. Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are totally inadequate.

It seems clear from the context that the laxity and inadequacy that Mr. Turkewitz sees are in the length of the copyright term. If so, then the modified sentence is accurate but vacuous, akin to saying, “Defenders of tax cuts argue that, if anything, taxes are too high,” or, “Defenders of increased exercise argue that, if anything, people don’t exercise enough.”

The original version, though, more accurately describes the record industry’s self-image. They seem to see themselves as defenders of the copyright laws, as opposed to advocates of a particular version of copyright law. Further, they tend to view people with different views about copyright law – even those who view the current copyright laws as just about right – as opponents of the copyright laws and even of the basic principle of copyright.

The first time I had a private conversation with a record company (not RIAA) executive, he seemed very surprised to learn that I was not totally opposed to copyright. The only public positions I had taken at that time were (a) opposition to the DMCA, and (b) skepticism about the feasibility of DRM. To him, it was just obvious that anyone with those views must oppose copyright altogether. His first question to me, in fact, was whether I could envision any situation where copying was wrong.

So I’m not surprised to see that an RIAA honcho would think that any defender of the copyright laws would necessarily support arbitrary extensions of copyright. I’m glad that the Times ultimately saw the error of that view.

[By the way, does anyone know which version of the story appeared in the paper version of the Times on Friday? I don’t have a copy.]

News Flash: Some Copyrights to Expire

An article by Anthony Tommasini at the New York Times (online) reports that the European copyrights on many musical recordings for the 50’s will be expiring soon. Some paint this as a disaster for the recording industry.

This is one of those articles that just cries out for skeptical analysis. Several points leap to mind.

The tone of the article is that there is a problem that needs to be rectified, but it’s not clear exactly what the problem is. Sometimes it seems that the problem is that U.S. and European copyrights expire at different times. But the article implies at certain points that the problem is that the copyrights will expire at all.

According to the article, anyone will be able to release recordings of a work in Europe once its European copyright has expired, but it will be illegal to import and sell these works in the U.S. Here is the RIAA’s comment (quoted from the article):

“The import [into the U.S.] of those products would be an act of piracy,” said Neil Turkewitz, the executive vice president international for the Recording Industry Association of America, which has strongly advocated for copyright protections. “The industry is regretful that these absolutely piratical products are being released.”

Let’s disassemble this. The first sentence is pretty unobjectionable (leaving aside the use of “piracy” rather than the more accurate “infringement”). But the second sentence is a whopper, implying that a legal-in-Europe recording is an “absolutely piratical product” even if it is released only in Europe.

(By the way, this is a perfect example of how the term “piracy” promotes fuzzy thinking. It would be ridiculous to say that a legal-in-Europe recording, if released only in Europe, was an “absolutely infringing product.” I doubt you could get the New York Times to print such an obviously wrong statement. Say “piracy” and the statement is still wrong, but the error is harder to spot.)

There is another irony here. According to today’s article, because of the disparity in copyright terms, “The [RIAA] is trying to persuade European Union countries to extend terms of copyright.” Recall that U.S. copyright terms are longer, in part, because of the 20-year extension passed a in 1998. And yet, according to a February 19, 2002 article in the New York Times, “Support for the [1998 U.S.] extension also came from those who argued that it was necessary to match the copyright term granted by the European Union.”

Finally, check out this excerpt from today’s article [italics added],

Defenders of the copyright laws, like Mr. Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are totally inadequate.

Shouldn’t that be “Critics of the copyright laws”? Only in the surreal world of copyright rhetoric can you “defend” something by arguing that it is “too lax” or “totally inadequte.” What Mr. Turkewitz is “defending” is not the copyright laws we actually have, but the ones that he wants us to have.

Everything Is Not Possible

Ted Shelton points out the unintended irony in HP’s new “Everything is Possible” ads running alongside articles about abuses of technology.

Something else about the “Everything is Possible” slogan bugs me more. The slogan is, well, wrong. Technology does not make everything possible. Some things are impossible, and some cannot be done without harmful side-effects. Viewing technology as a kind of all-conquering magic is a common but dangerous fallacy, sometimes called “magical thinking.”

Maybe I’m just being a clueless literal-minded techhead here, but I think technology companies shouldn’t promote deeply fallacious ideas about technology. The sad aspect of this is that the traditional reputation of HP was as a straight-talking engineer’s company. If they claimed to do something, you knew they did it, and did it well. Now, their marketing strategy is to promote unrealistic expectations.