April 26, 2019

White House Statement on Cell Phone Unlocking: A First Step Toward DMCA Reform?

Yesterday, the White House officially responded to the online petition to “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal,” which garnered more than 100,000 signatures in under 30 days. The Administration’s headline was emphatic: “It’s Time to Legalize Cell Phone Unlocking.” The tech press heralded this significant but symbolic first step in addressing some of the most egregious shortcomings of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I hope the White House’s response signals a new chapter in the struggle to regain the freedom to innovate, research, create, and tinker. Last week, I discussed the petition and its context with Derek Khanna, who has been a champion of the cause. You can watch the video here:

As Derek pointed out, this battle is connected to a much larger policy problem: the DMCA bans many practices that are good for society–and without clear counterbalancing benefits. Reading the White House statement, it is hard to tell whether the Administration appreciates this fact.
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Where Are the Legal Lossless Downloads?

I must have been very nice last year, because Santa brought me a Sonos Connect Wireless HiFi System and Network Attached Storage (NAS) with Wake-on-LAN for Christmas. This particular combination of hardware can mean only one thing: I will spend the waning days of 2012 and the beginning days of 2013 ripping my entire CD collection (which is not small) into lossless files. After poring over audiophile blogs and lurking on discussion forums, I chose FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) as the format for my ripping binge. FLAC has the great virtue of combining openness with losslessness, and it seems to be the coin of the realm for the digital audiophile set. I’ve been using dbPoweramp as my ripper, and it’s all been going very well. Albeit not perfectly. There is the occasional track that for whatever reason—some physical defect in the disc or some blip in the ripping or the encoding—I cannot get FLAC-ed. Last night’s file, as it happens, was Fine Young Cannibals’ “Couldn’t Care More.”  No matter how much I tweaked the ripping and encoding settings, I couldn’t get a proper lossless copy. So I decided to do what any law-abiding music consumer would do in my situation: I searched the Internet far and wide for a paid (i.e., legal) lossless download of the song. I would have bought FLAC or ALAC or anything else lossless. Reader, I searched in vain. I don’t know why this surprised me, knowing what I do about the supply-side causes of digital piracy. But it did. I found more than one adware-bloated torrent for the FLAC version, but I couldn’t find the authorized article in anything but lossy format from Amazon or iTunes. I could, I suppose, just buy a new CD and try my luck again, but that seems a little perverse, given that the whole beauty of the digital download model is track-by-track purchasing. And I already bought the whole CD once.
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Facebook Copyright Statement: Not Entirely Silly

There’s a meme going around on Facebook, saying that you should post a certain legal incantation on your Facebook wall, to reclaim certain rights that Facebook would otherwise be taking from you. There’s an interesting counter-meme in the press now, saying that all of this is pointless and of course you can’t change your rights just by posting a statement on a website. Both memes have something to teach us about perceptions of rights and responsibilities online.
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