Entertainment Weekly has named DJ Dangermouse's Grey Album its favorite of 2004. Pretty good for a record that had no commercial distribution, wasn't played on mainstream radio, never came out on CD, and was the target of numerous cease and desist letters.
For any that missed the Grey Album, and the subsequent Grey Tuesday protest, now is a good time to catch up. The Grey Album phenomenon will be remembered as a watershed moment for the music industry, putting the lie to all the industry wags who defend the old distribution mechanisms with the tired claim that "no artist has ever broken out through P2P."
EFF assisted with the Grey Tuesday protest and posted an explanation of the interesting fair use issues raised by it.
Princeton University professor Edward Felten today gazes into his crystal ball, providing 12 predictions for IT-related developments in 2005. Among them is the prediction that more people will begin to recognize the serious security and privacy risks inherent in digital rights management (DRM) technology. We're crossing our fingers on this one.
Bonus: check out the good professor's 2004 Scorecard -- a quick-yet-satisfying way to review the important developments of the past year.
There are only seven months left before the FCC takes away your right to watch digital television on a device that isn't Hollywood-approved. Under the new "Broadcast Flag" regime, the FCC will mandate that every digital television device include the kind of technology that we see in cable PVRs (that erase your stored episodes of "Six Feet Under" after two weeks so that you'll be forced to pay-per-view your end-of-season marathon) and media center PCs (that won't let you burn "The Sopranos" to DVD because HBO has set a no-record flag in their cablecasts to force you to buy the DVD boxed sets).
Congressional Democrats yesterday forced a floor debate regarding the certification of Ohio's electoral votes. Citing widespread reports of voter suppression, e-voting machine breakdowns, and other examples of election day disenfranchisement, Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio objected to the certification of the Ohio presidential tally. With all of the intrigue and suspense of a Crossfire debate, the House and Senate promptly voted down the challenge, 267-31 and 74-1 respectively.
Macworld starts tomorrow, but Apple has been busy for weeks -- sending legal threats to a number of weblog publishers for posting information about new Apple products. EFF is representing two such publishers, AppleInsider and PowerPage, to defend bloggers' right to keep their sources secret:
"Bloggers break the news, just like journalists do. They must be able to promise confidentiality in order to maintain the free flow of information," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Without legal protection, informants will refuse to talk to reporters, diminishing the power of the open press that is the cornerstone of a free society."
I've found two good analyses of the Skype voice over IP (VoIP) software: "An Analysis of the Skype Peer-to-Peer Internet Telephony Protocol," by Salman A. Baset and Henning Schulzrinne, and "VoIP and Skype Security," by Simson Garfinkel.
Skype is software that allows you to make phone calls over the Internet. The concept is that by encrypting voice traffic, Skype can keep your calls private from eavesdroppers. EFF is interested in Skype because of its potential for helping people safeguard their privacy on the Internet.
We missed this last week, but it's worth noting: the editors of Macworld have given an "Editor's Choice" award to BitTorrent -- despite the fact that it's "championed" by pirates. Why? Editor-in-Chief Jason Snell explains:
[BitTorrent] is one of the most clever technologies we've seen in recent years. ...
Everyone who offers downloads of large files should offer BitTorrent as a file-transfer option. Game companies already use it for distribution of gigantic game files to beta testers; software developers really should look into it as a way to distribute large update files far and wide. Hollywood could even take advantage of the concepts behind BitTorrent to enable legitimate distribution of movies and TV shows on the net.
Not long ago, we were bemoaning the malign use Apple and Real Networks are making of digital rights management (DRM) -- in short, abusing legitimate customers in the service of marking territory. Unfortunately, that's far from the worst of it. As we point out in "Unintended Consequences: Five Years Under the DMCA," others are using DRM backed indiscriminately by copyright law to crush competition, block innovation, and silence critics.
No reason. As the Washington Post reports, you can use pocket-lining tricks like region-coding for all kinds of "content" -- including printer cartridges:
H-P has quietly begun implementing "region coding" for its highly lucrative print cartridges for some of its newest printers sold in Europe. Try putting a printer cartridge bought in the U.S. into a new H-P printer configured to use cartridges purchased in Europe and it won't work. Software in the printer determines the origin of the ink cartridge and whether it will accept it. ...
H-P is taking the same approach Hollywood has used with DVDs -- and one that prompted a huge consumer backlash overseas. Movies sold in the U.S., which generally are cheaper, are designed not to play in European or Asian DVD players.
Civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot, quoted over at Daily Kos: "I would call upon everyone who has access to 'Eyes on the Prize' to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing."
The backstory is chronicled here; also apropos is Daniel Love's Powerful Pictures, the video that won first prize in the recent Arts Project Moving Image Contest sponsored by Duke's Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
Ed Felten woke up this morning to a headline he couldn't to ignore: California Senator Wants to Throw Ed Felten in Jail.
You see, Felten is the primary author of Tiny P2P, a file-sharing program written in 15 lines of code. And the California senator in question, Kevin Murray, has written his own kind of code -- SB 96, or as we've begun to call it, Cal-Induce.
Our own Ren Bucholz makes the case this week in the San Francisco Bay Guardian that 2005 will be the Year of Filesharing Legally. Or rather, the year that drives home the benefit of making it so -- especially in light of the fact despite 7,000 + recording industry lawsuits, P2P traffic numbers are rising.
Now that the dust has settled on the majority of the close elections nationwide, we can see more clearly than ever the most disturbing problem caused by using paperless touchscreen voting machines: the recounts were, to put it bluntly, a charade.
The goal of a recount is to ensure that the voters' intentions were properly recorded and the right person won. That's why we pull out the punch cards and review them for hanging chads, or check optically scanned ballots for stray marks.
EFF today unveiled a new campaign to enlist your help in the fight to protect the environment for innovation:
FCC Chairman Michael Powell calls TiVo "God's machine," and its devotees have been known to declare, "You can take my TiVo when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!" But suppose none of us had ever been given the opportunity to use or own a TiVo -- or, for that matter, an iPod? Suppose instead that Hollywood and the record companies hunted down, hobbled, or killed these innovative gizmos in infancy or adolescence, to ensure that they wouldn't grow up to threaten the status quo?
EFF has represented StreamCast from the beginning of the MGM v. Grokster case. Why? Because from the beginning, this case has been about the entertainment industry's effort to re-fight its war against the Betamax VCR.
The stakes are high: the legal rules laid out in the 1984 Supreme Court ruling in the Betamax case have been the main shield protecting innovative technologies from copyright "strike suits." For the last 20 years, whether you made photocopiers, cassette recorders, personal computers, CD burners, Cisco routers, or the iPod, you've relied on the Betamax precedent.
The brief [PDF] filed by Hollywood and the major labels yesterday makes it clear that MGM v. Grokster could change all that.
James Madison understood that "a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both." Legal protections for media sources and unpublished information are critical means for journalists of all stripes to acquire information and communicate it to the public. Imagine if "Deep Throat," the informant critical to Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of the 1972 Watergate burglary, knew that his identity could be obtained through legal process. His career, and perhaps his life, would have been in serious jeopardy, and a cautious individual would have kept silent.
Among the many briefs supporting Hollywood and the music industry in MGM v. Grokster is one from the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB represents broadcasters (not cable or satellite-casters, just the ones with free FCC licenses, granted in the name of the "public interest").
Its take on the case? P2P must be banned, lest it erode the profits of broadcasters:
Continued deployment of software that facilitates P2P or similar systems that distribute audio and video programming without regard to the rights of copyright owners will consequently impair the ability of broadcast stations to garner the advertising revenue needed for their operations....
CNET Editor Charles Cooper: "In its zeal to put the likes of Grokster and StreamCast Networks out of business, the entertainment industry's challenge might lead to a change in the law that renders potentially important technologies stillborn."
An intrepid group gathered at EFF Saturday to make the most of the window before the broadcast flag mandate by building our own HD PVRs.
Using open source MythTV and the pcHDTV HD-3000, we assembled personal video recorders to rival TiVo -- without the restrictions or dongles. As of July 1, the broadcast flag mandate will outlaw manufacture of the open hardware we used. See the photos and read the cookbook to get started building your own.
EFF's own Seth Schoen has a nice exercise in reductio ad absurdum, pointing out that the only argument the Business Software Alliance (BSA) makes in its recent legislative agenda to refute the notion that copying is beneficial to society is that restricting copying will make the software industry larger and more profitable. Says Seth, "The idea that helping a business sector get larger and richer is a primary duty of legislators or of the public is so peculiar that it bears trying to come up with a few parallel arguments."
For example, BSA asserts:
Ed Felten today asks Hollywood to quit shedding crocodile tears over profits "lost" to Internet-enabled piracy -- at least while it continues to make more money than ever, while denying movie stars (the "artist") a more sizable cut:
[Surging profits] undercut the industry's rent-seeking in Washington, which relies on a narrative in which technology destroys the industry's revenue stream. If the technology problem is really as bad as the industry says, then it ought to show up in the sales numbers. [...]
It may turn out that the net effect of technology on the industry is neutral, or even positive. If so, then no expansion of copyright law is needed, and a mild contraction may even be in order. Remember, the goal of copyright is not to maximize the profits of any one industry, but to foster creativity by regulating just enough to ensure an adequate incentive to create.