Creative Commons debuts new copyright tool

When all you’ve got is copyright, everything looks like a copyright violation. For example, according to copyright law, I have to be asked for permission everytime anybody wants to use something from this site. Unfortunately, copyright can only express ALL RIGHTS RESERVED — I can’t use copyright to express which rights I want to reserve and, maybe more importanly, which I don’t.

As of this week, the new and non-profit Creative Commons has an interesting solution. The Licensing Project provides a copyright-complementary tool to build and attach human-readable, lawyer-readable and machine-readable descriptions of the rights reserved and not reserved for a work. Watch the “Get Creative” presentation, and use it for your own works if you think it’s a good idea. | Creative Commons | The Licensing Project | “Get Creative” presentation | L.A. Times: Group is launching new types of licenses (free registration required) | Dan Gillmor: Copyright verdict, new technology are reasons to hope

DMCA vs. ElcomSoft: Not guilty

ElcomSoft employee Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested in July 2001 for simply talking about his company’s software, which could be used to remove the copy protection from Adobe eBooks. Today, a thankfully-sane jury found ElcomSoft not guilty. Here’s the one of more interesting parts of the News.com article (emphasis mine):

After much wrangling among attorneys over the definition of the word “willful”, the judge told jurors that in order to find the company guilty, they must agree that company representatives knew their actions were illegal and intended to violate the law. Merely offering a product that could violate copyrights was not enough to warrant a conviction, the jury instructions said.

Hopefully this provide a small amount of momentum against the draconian aspects of the DMCA. Shame on Adobe for forcing customers to have to crack their digital media just so they can make a backup or take it on a plane with them. News.com story | News.com: DMCA critics say reform still needed | Boing Boing | Dan Gillmor: Copyright verdict, new technology are reasons to hope

Get your hands off my content, you damn dirty apes!

The entertainment industry wants consumer electronics and PC companies to secure their product for them by encrypting it when they detect a “broadcast flag” in the content. They’re using the FCC in an effort to get their way.

Not surprisingly, consumer electronics and PC companies want the entertainment industry to encrypt their own damn signals. They’ve appealed to the FCC.

Since most content is cracked — converted from the original broadcast-quality source format to an unencrypted, unflagged, highly-compressed distribution format — long before it hits consumers, neither option will be significantly more effective at preventing content piracy than the other.

They know this, so what are they really arguing about? (1) Who’s going to pay to protect the entertainment industry’s precious content?, and (2) In which direction are fingers going to be pointing when content in inevitably cracked? The entertainment industry doesn’t want to pay or be blamed, and the consumer electronics and PC companies don’t want to either. | News.com story

MPAA sends flying monkeys after Dorothy

(Well, okay — the MPAA doesn’t control over an army of evil flying monkeys. Yet.)

Jon Lech Johansen, a Norwegian 15 year old, wanted to watch a DVD on his Linux box. He put together some CSS-cracking code that others had developed to create DeCSS. Three years later, the MPAA — the last “A” is for “America”, I thought — has insisted that Norwegian prosecutors file charges. And they are. | Wired story

Computers don't steal content, people steal content II

A couple weeks ago I posted an article about Peter Chermin’s silly Yawndex Comdex keynote. A couple days after, Jonathan Peterson wrote a comprehensive (and occasionally laugh-out-loud) breakdown of that keynote that I only just got a chance to read this weekend.

If we give Peter Chernin the benefit of the doubt and assume that (1) he’s not an idiot and (2) he’s not outright lying, then then the only possible explanation for his keynote is that he’s spectacularly uninformed. But either way, how sad for him, and Fox, and News Corp. | Jonathan Peterson’s Peter Chernin keynote breakdown

Sony bets big on XrML digital rights markup language

Sony is definitely getting all of its DRM ducks in order. First there was the recent co-purchase (with Philips) of InterTrust. Now, Sony has licensed all current and future patents of ContentGuard.

ContentGuard is a subsidiary of Xerox, with Microsoft as a minority stakeholder. They have several key patents covering DRM systems and digital rights languages, and a DRML (my obvious shorthand for Digital Rights Markup Language) called XrML.

DRMLs allow you to specifiy digital rights for content and services, and are generally implemented in XML. There are lots of DRMLs, including XMCL (eXtensible Media Commerce Language, currently used by RealNetworks), MPEG REL (Rights Expression Language) and RDD (Rights Data Dictionary), 2RDD (Rights Data Dictionary, backed by the MPAA and RIAA) and ODRL (Open Digital Rights Language).

This development supports the prediction I made during my DV Expo presentation at a year ago — that XrML is going to be the most popular DRML by far, and possibly the only one that will matter by 2005. I think that the most interesting thing I realized while preparing that presentation was that DRMLs make the DRM irrelevant, as long as the DRM supports the rights specified in the DRML. | InformationWeek story | ContentGuard press release | XrML

Universal unveils misguided 99¢ music download effort

Today Universal Music Group (UMG) accounced 99¢ music downloads for more than 43,000 tracks. In Liquid Audio and Windows Media formats.

I could go get those tracks, right now, and without UMG getting a cent if that whole “stealing is bad” thing wasn’t ingrained in me as deeply as it is. But I’d gladly give them 99¢s a track if they provided them in the obvious, standards-based and universal format for doing so — MP3. Why won’t they let me? Because they don’t get it. They don’t understand their customers.

Either showing off his ignorance of the marketplace or his capacity for spin, UMG ELabs President Larry Kenswil declared:

This is a watershed moment. Universal is committed to making every recording it controls available for Internet distribution.

Yeah, but in formats that early adopters won’t buy because they don’t work with anything. Larry is counting his watershed before it’s hatched. PC World story

Hilary Rosen says pirated music to blame for Mexican Supreme Court move

The chairman and CEO of the RIAA is claiming that pirated music is to blame for the Mexican Supreme Court’s move to quieter locale. Says Ms. Rosen:

This would be almost laughable if it were not true.

Almost laughable? As Wired notes:

…few federal officials saw it as anything more than a sensible relocation. After all, the court is located smack in the middle of Mexico City, surrounded by traffic, street vendors and crowds of tourists and commuters.

I believe this will be seen as the point at which her credibiltiy, even among her colleagues, started to erode. We all know that Ms. Rosen is power-mad and paranoid beyond reason, but — like Michael Jackson — she’s getting worse. | Wired story

Computers don't steal content, people steal content

Peter Chernin, CEO of Fox and COO of News Corp. (Fox’s parent), preached to an audience of techies at Yawndex on Tuesday. He said that Big Media and Big Tech must work together to protect content. To paraphrase:

Big Tech must stop the production of general purpose computers, and instead start making consumer-proof entertainment purchasing devices. Big Media will then take it from there, handling all of the profit, etc.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t exactly his message, but he actually did say this:

If hundreds of thousands of dresses were stolen from Wal-Mart, the police would assemble a task force that would have Winona Ryder shaking in her boots.

Sheesh. (a) It’s not nice to pick people when they’re down, especially when they’re obviously sick. (b) Winona Ryder would never shop at Wal-Mart. (c) Wal-Mart does lose hundreds of thousands of dresses each year due to “shrinkage”, a retail industry ephemism for “internal and external theft, administrative screw-ups, and vendor fraud”.

According to the 2001 National Retail Security Survey, U.S. retailers lost 1.75% of their total annual sales — over $32 million in the U.S. alone — to shrinkage. The music industry has, of course, lost $0 million since they’ve only been denied potential CD sales.

So, if the retail industry accepts shrinkage (i.e. the stealing of real goods that cost the industry real money) as a part of doing business, and the computer software industry accepts piracy (i.e. the loss of potential software sales by people that you probably don’t want as customers anyway) as a part of doing business, maybe it’s time that the media industry wakes up, smells the coffee, and starts treating consumers like an opportunity instead of a threat.

George Lucas piped at the end with comment about illegal downloading potentially impacting movie quality, at which point I swear I heard someone cough “Jar Jar!” even though I was alone. His right-on quote, however, was “Corporations are like cockroaches. They’ll survive everything”. | CNNmoney story

DCMA: Evil for all, even worse for Mac/Linux users

TidBITS (a venerable Mac-focused weekly newsletter) is running a wonderful summary of the issues around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

…it’s been used to jail programmers, threaten professors, and censor publications, and because of it, foreign scientists have avoided traveling to the U.S. and prominent researchers have withheld their work. […] …the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that the DMCA chills free expression and scientific research, jeopardizes fair use, and impedes competition and innovation. In short, this is a law that only the companies who paid for it could love. […] However, the DMCA is merely one link in a chain that’s being used by the Content Cartel and many others to restrict access to the shared cultural heritage of the world, and in the process, extract money from our pockets, stifle innovation and competition, and protect entrenched interests.

The article is also filled with great links, which everybody involved in digital media should read and understand before content distribution becomes a closed system that you may not be allowed to participate in (especially if you’re using a “rebel” OS). | “The Evil That Is The DCMA”