02 October 2008

Intellectual Property & Some Politics

Update: A reader named Jude just sent me an email showing that apparently the House passed PRO-IP by roll-call vote two days after the Senate unanimously passed it. About that transparency thing…yes they're public records, but what about telling everyone what's going on beforehand?

In my Information Policy class today, the topic was Intellectual Property with two lawyers, one of which is from the CDT. I found the statement that copyright supporters believe copyleft supporters are totally anti-copyright funny. Mostly because copyright is the only basis on which copyleft works. Just this summer, a US court upheld copyleft, creating the precedent that copyleft infringement and copyright infringement are the same thing. Afterward, we chatted about UMG v Lindor (a case where a woman who had never used a computer was sued for making-available on a filesharing network—she's now trying to question the $750/song rate the RIAA sues for), Elektra v Barker (settled, $750 total instead of per-song), and Atlantic v Anderson (RIAA loses, pays $107,951). I also showed him a slide show of "If the DMCA applied in real life. I think he was amused.

Part of the discussion there was about DRM which we know is defective by design. Don't you love how we can't legally & freely watch DVDs with Linux? Yeah, me too. So this led me to dent on Identi.ca the idea that maybe we could influence the market somehow. What if a very large number of people stopped buying movies on DRM'd DVDs (BluRay and HD-DVD included)? I was thinking 1,000,000 people pledge to not buy any DRM'd DVDs in 2009 and send a letter to the MPAA saying that the reason you weren't buying their stuff is because of DRM. If you just can't stand a lack of movies, well, first, you need to recognize that books are generally better than movies. Second, how about some indie films? Of course, friends were quick to point out that 1,000,000 people are not enough. If one assumes the average person buys 4 DVDs/yr, that's 4,000,000 DVDs, or about $80,000,000. With $16,000,000,000 in consumer sales last year (yes, 3 more 0's), that's a drop in the bucket. Getting more than 1,000,000 in on it seems like a bit far-stretched of a goal though. There's got to be some market dynamic that can force their hand though, hasn't there? The possibility that the MPAA would just whine more about how declining sales are proof of piracy and obviously means we need more DRM is also an issue. Oh, supporting Creative Commons was also mentioned. We need an alternative to MPAA DRM'd DVDs. The rise of DRM-free music sales (such as from Amazon or iTunes Plus) has led some DRM'd music services to shut down, for example Walmart's. I'm sure we have plenty of Creative Commons supporters

In case you hadn't heard, the US Senate unanimously passed a RIAA-backed PRO-IP Act. All the articles I've seen say that it's now going to the House (of course), and some say as soon as Friday or Saturday, but they don't give a Bill number for the House, which is a problem. Mentioning this to Jordan Mantha, he pointed out that Congress is hardly transparent because they make it too hard to get information. Having written Python scripts to parse government websites, I have to say, they are seriously lacking on the tech-savvy front. He says (and I agree) that Congress needs RSS feeds. He also said that probably the reason they don't have them is that then we'd know what they were really doing with their time. He's probably not too far off. The bill is available to download (PDF), but the scariest part is the part where they want an "IP Czar" in the Executive branch. They also want to double the fines, and there was something about seizing any equipment used or intended to be used for copyright infringement. One can assume that's for big piracy-for-profit situations, but when it comes to the letter of the law, bye-bye laptop if you illegally download a movie. They got rid of the part where the DoJ could bring civil suit. I don't know if the take-away-your-stuff part went with the DoJ stuff or not. I don't think it did. I think they just got rid of the DoJ stuff so that they wouldn't be tied up acting as lawyers for the RIAA when they have much more important things to do. Well, anyway, the point of mentioning that was to say that if you're a US voter, you might want to give your Congress Critter a message regarding this bill.

And now for a bit more serious politics. Feel free to tune out now. There's US economics coming up. K, that was your warning. Found some interesting charts regarding the US economy. The charts were based on information provided by the US Senate and were to be used in a presentation to the US Senate. If you'd like a better breakdown of it, try these charts. They let you see where George HW Bush, Clinton, and George W Bush each started and finished, broken down by year. The more interesting thing, in my opinion, is the effect 9/11 and the War of on Terror had on the economy. While 9/11 was a big shock to the economy, history would tell us that the war should have helped the economic situation. History had a different situation, though. With the Great Depression and World War II, we had an economy based on production, so the wartime economy meant increased production. In our current economy, where probably half of it is middle-men and we produce much much less than we import, it had the opposite effect. It just meant needing to buy more from overseas, and we were already buying quite a lot. I hope those in charge note the difference between war's effect on a productive economy and war's effect on a non-productive economy. Please, this is not meant to provoke debate regarding the US's current overseas involvement, just meant to demonstrate that the real issue with our economy is that we simply do not produce enough, and when we do, we don't do it sustainably. Using up all of our resources so that we need to buy from overseas again when we run out is not a long-term solution. We need efficient production. I would think that would be true of any economy though. It's simple common sense. C+I+G+NX is basic macro-economics. The "Net Exports" (the "NX") is pretty important. I'm pretty sure our NX is a negative number.

Again, I have to ask that you please not turn the comments into a debate about the war. This is about intellectual property and production (and hey, how about someone's intellect invent some property that can help make production more efficient?).


Anonymous said...

It was my understanding that you can legally watch DVDs on Linux as long as buy a DVD software player including a license.

The Mandriva premium version offers legal codecs and DVD capabilities.

Canonical offers both codecs and a DVD player in their shop.


Mackenzie said...

I said "legally and freely." Note the free part. And I mean both free of cost and free of evil licenses. PowerDVD is not Free & Open Source Software.

Anonymous said...

It's true that copyleft couldn't exist without copyright. It's also true, though, that without copyright (or at least with a much fairer system of copyright), copyleft wouldn't need to exist.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I see the point trying to get them to open their product, we (as in foss community) should just make our own films.

There is so much proprietary software and non-free stuff involved in making this Hollywood crap I could literally puke. But then again, It's their product and they're not a public entity so I don't demand them to use free alternatives instead. It's about choice.

Books aren't especially better while there are Open Books, most books are non-free, proprietary piles of paper.

Just because you can view something without proprietary tools but with free ones (your eyes) doesn't mean the item itself is free.

In the late 90s I had a phase of extreme zealousness and I avoided as much of everything non-free as I could. Hell, I made my own soap and toothpaste ;D

It basically changed drastically when I got married and I realised that some things just aren't free, my wife for instance. I don't mean I'm locking her in, it's more that I can't tell her what to do, so she's basically proprietary to me but allows me to view and execute but not to share. That's the license agreement.

We have to respect the freedom of others not to use open their property. Which I don't like but I've can't force them to be free as this than would be no freedom at all.

Anonymous said...

I came to the conclusion that buying content from people who will use the money to sue me or mine is stupid behavior on my part. So I stopped.


My fledgling list of no-cost content might be of interest: http://liw.fi/gratis-content/

iampriteshdesai said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rolandixor said...

Hi Mackenzie... love reading your blog (it's in Liferea as part of planet ubuntu :-)

I never realized till now that copyleft was real in a legal sense. I ought to bring that up in business law :-). That ought to keep us awake during class :P

http://www.ceattingal.ac.in said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jake said...

I never understood having to buy DVD codecs/software after buying DVD hardware for your computer. It's like having to buy an application for your set top DVD player. Maybe they've gotten the set top DVD manufacturers to pay up front?

Anyways, I agree with Lars (liw.fi) - I'm starting to think that we should stick to totally free content instead of trying to influence the DVD system. Although, that does leave a lot of people behind: what if you want to watch mainstream movies?

Maybe we need someone to start a new way of distributing movies (maybe something akin to Amazon's DRM-free MP3s)?

Gurubie said...

"I came to the conclusion that buying content from people who will use the money to sue me or mine is stupid behavior on my part. So I stopped."

On these matters, that's the smartest commentary and action I ever heard.