Saturday, February 26, 2005

extreme views

In the preface to the Vintage Edition of “The Future of Ideas”, Lawrence Lessig refers to his radio talk show experience that then RIAA president Hilary Rosen phoned into and "argued" -
It's ironic that [Lessig] is on promoting a book when, if he actually went to his overall philosophy, he should essentially be giving it away on the Internet instead of selling it in a bookstore.
More recently, our favorite billionaire/philanthropist Bill Gates said -
"I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist.”
An aspect of computing I appreciate is that at its core, it's discreet and predictable. That is, it's either on or off – 0s and 1s. Life however, is rarely this simple. Right and wrong is often difficult to decipher and we are left with our intuition, reason, and willingness to explore issues in order to reach conclusions upon which to base our actions. However, The Rosens and Gates of this world would love nothing more than to convince us that copyright, trademark, and patent laws can be meaningfully corralled under the “Intellectual Property” umbrella. You either “believe in intellectual property” as Gates says, or you don't. You're either with us or you're a “modern-day sort of communist”.

Will you join the Church of "Intellectual Property"? Will you "believe" that free software and free culture advocates are "communists"?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hope, as Courts Hit the (Lex)mark

It took several years to pan out but we're approaching the end of what appears to be a small blow to the oppressive DMCA. Though enacted under the seemingly benign guise of digital protection, the DMCA is more a weapon of leverage used by companies to create monopolies by "lawfully" warding off potential competition. Whether it be forcing ISPs to turn over personal information or keeping others from reverse-engineering the code embedded in your printers, the DMCA is really designed to make the rich richer - not protect digital rights.

A prime example of this has been Lexmark's case against Static Control Components. As reported a couple of years ago, things looked rather bleak for SCC as Lexmark pursued litigation instead of challenging themselves to create a better business model. And when laws such as the DMCA place a vicious pitbull on the side of proprietary coders, one can only expect the beast to be unleashed.

However, even the most ferocious of canines apparently can't withstand an educated 6th Circuit US Court of Appeals. Yes, the dog was recently sentenced to sleep setting a precedent hopefully curtailing future negligent lawsuits. In this case, the time-honored tradition of reverse-engineering was upheld allowing for innovation and competition to reign.

Perhaps awareness of such DMCA-related issues is actually increasing within the arena of law thanks in part to individuals seemingly more interested in questioning unjust laws whilst pursuing what they love passionately, rather than simply cashing in on their credentials in any way possible. The question still lingers...

What if no one went after the girl?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Protecting Who?

A recent CNET article informs us of yet another technologically stifling lawsuit launched by Hollywood against hardware companies that create innovative products to enhance their business model. Hollywood says...

"Kaleidescape creates expensive consumer electronics networks that upload the full contents of as many as 500 DVDs to a home server, and allow the owner to browse through the movies without later using the DVDs themselves. That's exactly what the copy-protection technology on DVDs, called Content Scramble System (CSS) was meant to prevent, the Hollywood-backed group said."

The DVD Copy Control Association is the "Hollywood-backed group" that doesn't want to allow the owner of legally purchased content to conveniently browse through their collection. Yep, these are the same people who make GNU/Linux users feel like a clandestine mob of pirates for doing similar things with their computers. Welcome to the wonderful world of the DMCA folks.

But who cares if the system ain't perfect. As long as it rakes in more corporate $$$ in the name of "Protection for Artists", it's ethically ok to restrict the freedom of individuals and innovative hardware

The digitally repressive nature of the DMCA kinda reminds me of another, broader Act passed in the name of "Protection for America".

It too takes power from the people.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Opening the FUD Gates

FUD - a fascinating weapon in the technology industry.

The basic idea is - spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt upon the ignorant masses and quickly follow that up with a sermon describing how your company/product will protect people from the said evils. Although the acronym has its roots in the technology industry, the practice of FUD is millenia old and can be observed in all facets of life where division between the powerful and powerless exists.

Every now and then, facets of social FUD intersect and propaganda unites. In the recent SPIEGEL interview with Bill Gates, the mighty billionaire/philanthropist said -

"The terrorist attacks in 2001 just showed people up close where a lack of security can lead."

As the current U.S. Administration would like us to believe - a primary cause of terrorism is a lack of security. Buying into this falsehood justifies the spending of billions on weaponry and security systems to make America "safe". Although the out-of-context mainstream media "soundbyte" of Ward Churchill saying that some killed in the 9/11 attacks were "little Eichmanns" may seem a shocking perspective to some, it appears as though much of the American public choose to ignore the role foreign policy plays in the creation of such violent events.

Security, security, security. This is the mantra, the savior - the solution that will bring peace to homeland America and the world once and for all. "Keep a loaded weapon in your home" some say - to protect you and your loved ones.

Security, security, security. This is of utmost importance says Microsoft. And the way to keep your computer safe from disease such as viruses, adware, or spyware is to shun free code. You should trust our code says Microsoft - even if you can't see it. "Nobody ever knows who built open-source software" says Steve Ballmer - even though lead developers of projects are well known and readily available for contact. And one may ask why knowing who built the code is important when it is already open to public scrutiny in the first place. It is only when we cannot see the code that our only recourse becomes knowing the programmer's identity. If I have the code and there is a problem, then I can fix it and need not worry about finding the author.

Amazingly, some say that funneling money into the military and keeping code from the scrutiny of the public eye is what will protect the populous and spread democratic peanut butter the world around. Fortunately, there are some doing their best to inform the citizenry in an intelligent manner.

Even when free software is developed and implemented with resounding success in an electronic voting arena, few people are aware of such news. If the majority of average citizens took the time to understand what publicly visible source code means to democracy in the electronic age - they would be up in arms over companies like Diebold having the potential to pervert results. But no, it only takes a few proprietary software fast-talkers to convince the ignorant that free software is an insecure approach even when intuition, common sense, and studies say otherwise.

Apparently, democracy is a profitable market for both oil companies in Iraq and software companies in America.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Defending Software Freedom

With so much propaganda around the notion of defending freedom, it's no wonder why many are becoming disenchanted with the concept. For many in the United States, freedom means being able to make as much money as legally possible - even if the law that allows such profiteering is misguided. Going to war against another country for $$$ under the guise of freedom is perverted enough - and this same perversion is happening in the software world.

When freedom is actual as it is with the GNU GPL - and not just propaganda for profit as it is with many traditional copyright licenses - it threatens the status quo to the point where freedom fighters are negligently labeled as "modern-day communists" by corporate software executives.

You know it's a sad software world we live in when organizations like the SFLC have been recently set up in the face of copyright and patent litigation threats. These threats are even worse than the simple analogy of the big fish going after the little ones. At least in that scenario, it's fish eating other fish. But the free and open source software ecosystem is a wholly different approach.

Free software was designed to benefit the entire world. It was not designed for profit though the beauty is that it is still commercial. That is, profit can be had, but it is not the motivating factor nor is it had under the false rhetoric of "Intellectual Property". The motivating factor is to design a product that every computer user can use, adapt, and freely share with others without needing the permission from a company or corporation. The GPL provides these freedoms and because this freedom is the real deal - not propaganda - it makes the traditional proprietary software developers very nervous.