September 16, 2006

Free trade agreement redux - I don't like to say "I told you so" but

Nigh on two years ago I wrote, at the time of Australia's entering into a so called free so called trade, so called agreement with the US

I believe the recent US/Australian "free trade agreement" (which is not about free trade, and is no more an agreement than the schoolyard bully and the wimpy nerdy guy "agreeing" that the wimpy guy give all his pocket money to the bully) undermines Australia's ability to adapt to the profoundly changing legal, technical and business landscape created by the current revolutions in intellectual property (IP) thrown up by the increasing digitization of the processes of creation, distribution and use of IP, from software to music to cinema and beyond.

Well, it has come to pass. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that

"The Australia United States Free Trade Agreement requires Australia to prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs. Currently Australia does not prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs but does prohibit activities in relation to circumvention devices (such as manufacture or sale)," Minter Ellison said in a recent statement.

These would include digital rights management (DRM) systems used by the film, gaming and music industries as well as any applied to the recent generation of gaming consoles.

So there you have it. Entirely, and tediously as predicted, Australia now is required to incorporate US law as our own without debate, in this case the highly controversial Digital Copyright Millenium Act (DCMA) (and any other amendments the U.S congress may seem fir to incorporate in the interests of their corporate paymasters). Why the f#&k do we even have a parliament anymore? Could this possibly be constitutional? We may, as our Prime Minister said "decide who comes to our shores and under what conditions" but apparently we don't decide which laws affect Australians. We've signed a treaty which undermines that. Why is there no outrage? We get worked up about "migrants" and "Australian values". But this represents Australian values I guess.

I sound angry? I'll repeat this bit from Minter Ellison's legal advice "The Australia United States Free Trade Agreement requires Australia" to pass U.S. laws as Australian law without debate.
Why doesn't the free trade agreement oblige the U.S. to repeal the DCMA? Why is that not "harmonisation" of the IP laws of the two countries? That's why I refer to it as a so called free so called trade so called agreement. It was entered into at an executive level without parliamentary vote, it is not about trade, it's about U.S. laws and interests, and and it is not even remotely an agreemment, It's a Fiat from the U.S. to Australia.

If you are not angry you are an idiot.
Where on earth is our opposition in all this? Oh, pandering to nonsensical political non issues like making new Australian citizens take language tests.

BTW, some people argue it's worth this cost, as it helps trade, which helps the country. Trade between Australia and the U.S. fell 3% in the year after we signed this agreement.

Shame on our country. What's next? We'll be forced to adopt U.S. sentencing laws, including the death penalty?

It is a mighty slippery slope when you hand over your sovereignty to another country - and this is precisely what we have done here.

September 16, 2006 in Rants | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

Robber Barons

In the 13th Century, one of Europe's great channels of commerce was the Rhine river. Along it flowed the bits of its day - wood, coal, iron, wheat, wool. The raw stuff of commerce, just as bits are ours today.

Along the Rhine lived powerful, wealthy Barons - you can see their footprints still 800 or more years later - those fairy tale castles we've seen in films and Lufthanser posters. And these Barons got their money to build their castles by taxing the flow of commerce past their shores. They didn't cut the wood, or grow the wheat, smelt iron. But the wheat and wool and iron passed through their channels, and if you wanted it to flow, you paid their tax. They were the original "Robber Barons".

Since then the term has been applied to others, most famously in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century, but never more fittingly to a new breed. The Rhine is now the internet, and the barons are the recording industry, the film industry, increasingly telecommunications companies, publishers, all of whom would tax the flow of commerce, and more significantly, restrain it, simply because they can. The world they are comfortable with is changing, and they'll do all they can to stop it happening. The chief weapon in their arsenal is getting governments, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to pass laws protecting their interests. "Cry baby capitalists" some have called them, who need the "nanny state" (I'm sure conservatives hate it when you use their own language against them, hey maybe I'm in breach of copyright for using the term in an unauthorized fashion) to protect their outmoded business practices, all the while happily using the web to grow their businesses. You know, that unpatented, unencumbered invention someone gave to the world, which they seem to have no qualms using when it suits them.

I'll suggest than when history reflects on this period, say 1990 to 2020, it won't see terrorism, or Iraq, or oil as the primary themes. It won't see the so called "clash of civilizations" of Islam and Christianity. It will see openness versus control. It will see DRM, versus the remix culture. It will see open standards versus "industry standards".

If we cast our minds back hundreds or thousand of years, what do we, as a civilization, recall? We recall Homer, and Dante, we recall Bach and Pythagorus, not corporations and governments and lawyers (we only know of that lot as characters in literature, they are creations of culture). Because all we really have is "culture". Music, and literature, film, television, games, software, and whatever else we might dream up a year or a decade, or a century hence. And it's these which the new robber barons fear, unless published on their own terms, for their own benefit,

Imagine paying a license fee to use certain words or phrases - to say, or write "to be or not to be", or "hasta la vista, baby". Yet this is precisely what the recording industry, and hollywood, and rest assured others want to come to pass. Imagine paying more to your telco to use certain web applications, or perhaps even google, because that's what some of them want. Actually, they want Google and others to pay them more to use their networks to deliver information and services. They are like the robber barons of the Rhine 800 years ago, taxing the flow of commerce because they can.

And only in the last few days have we seen major news organizations wanting to stop Google (and others, no doubt) aggregating news, like the fantastic Google News despite that making it easier for us to access their sites, which is surely what they want us all to do? Again, they want complete control.

A decade ago, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Compuserve and others all sort to provide their own walled off mini webs. All failed, despite their wealth, their partnerships with huge powerful content producers, despite seemingly holding all the cards.
A decade from now, will these last ditch efforts of incumbents in so many industries to seek protection through legislation, or the abuse of their monopolies succeed where earlier attempts to co-opt the openness and universality of the web and the internet failed?

February 6, 2006 in Rants | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

Stop whining about DRM, *IAA, and so forth - do something about it yourself right now

The rumbling about "Digital Rights Management" (DRM) increasingly built into digital media (music and video from the iTunes store, DVD Region encoding (deemed an illegal restraint of trade in Australia) and much more) long found at the "geek end" of the web user spectrum is about to tip, I suspect, into the wider community. It was only a matter of time before the stupid greed of the film, and particular music industries went too far, (as if the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2000 wasn't too far, in part criminalizing what has traditionally been considered "fair use" of copyright material - by the way, Australians, don't think you are safe, as our now year old "free trade agreement" (which has seen trade with the U.S. fall by 3% since implemented, requires copyright laws to be "harmonized" between the two countries)).

But SONY's recent arrogant, bone headed attempt to stop you using music your have purchased a license for in ways which may well be legal (in Australia, unlike many other places, we have few use rights when we purchase music, even ripping a CD to play on your computer or iPod is not permitted. Not sure what happens with portable CD players which cache your music to RAM to provide an anti skip buffer (you know, from companies like, um, SONY) - probably an illegal device in Australia) is hopefully the thing that will bring just how greedy, arrogant, contemptuous and stupid the mainstream recording industry is into widespread public cognizance.

A number of SONY music CDs, when played on your computer will install a rootkit. purportedly as a form of DRM. Rootkits are really bad things - processes which are intended to conceal running processes and files or system data, which helps an intruder maintain access to a system for malicious purposes.

Already EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) is looking to bring legal action against SONY, and the state of California appears to be bringing an action against them, alleging

Sony's software violates at least three California statutes, including the "Consumer Legal Remedies Act," which governs unfair and/or deceptive trade acts; and the "Consumer Protection against Computer Spyware Act," which prohibits -- among other things -- software that takes control over the user's computer or misrepresents the user's ability or right to uninstall the program. The suit also alleges that Sony's actions violate the California Unfair Competition law, which allows public prosecutors and private citizens to file lawsuits to protect businesses and consumers from unfair business practices

On one level, SONY's action has so far overstepped the mark that it doubtless will rebound on them, and they will wish they had never even thought about doing this. But it underscores just what the music industry thinks of you. Very very little indeed. Not content with suing children for downloading music, they now want to install malicious software on your computer, without your knowledge, from CDs which you have purchased from them.

But what to do? I think the legal actions are fine - if you break the law, you should suffer the consequences. We are fine and dandy with that for 12 year old kids who download music, so we should be double plus good with that for the industry that wants to bring those kinds of actions. I hope (but doubt) they are fined into the stone age for this.

But you know, in essence there is a single action, that you as an individual can take, that will have an effect on the music industry. It's not whining. Its not suing, it's not writing to your congress person/representative/local member.

Don't buy their music. Don't buy music from any mainstream music publishing company. Don't buy music from anyone associated with the RIAA (or similar organization in your country).
Sure, you will miss out on the fine offerings of popular culture, and doubtless will feel less culturally enriched than if you could get access to Celine Dion, Ricky Martin and the rest of today's equivalents to Monteverdi, Bach and the like. But geez it's not like that is the only music available. Go looking for independents. Start with someone like emusic, broaden your horizons, "try something new Homer".

But above all, just stop whining how bad the music industry is then running out to buy more of their DRM laden crap. If you are going to drink the Kool Aid, go ahead, but don't complain about how bad it tastes.
The only thing that is going to change the behavior of this lot is a swift kick right where it hurts. Their bottom line.

So start kicking.

An update - must be something in the water

All of a sudden, articles about how to live without the music industry are springing up all over the place. Here is one you might like to check out.

More updates

So SONY has pulled the CDs featuring their rootkit on it. Well, that ought to cost them a few bucks, but hopefully they'll bear a higher burden than that. Hot on the heels of this announcement we find that software SONY released to get rid of the rootkit leaves your system highly vulnerable.

And, in the ultimate show of contempt (actually a demonstration that this is not even remotely about copyright or intellectual property at all, rather a strategy for maximising revenue from their paying customers, by limiting in software fair use rights that you may have under your countries copyright law (except in australia where you have little if any) their rootkit contains pieces of code that are identical to LAME, an open source mp3-encoder, and thereby breach the license).

And now with the US Attorney General proposing harsh criminalization and jail time for even trivial copyright infringement, I expect we'll be seeing SONY execs in orange jumpsuits and manacles some time soon? Not.

If this whole episode leaves you with any doubt about what SONY thinks of their customers, and intellectual property law (little and even less) then by all means keep giving them money.

November 11, 2005 in Rants | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack