Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hong Kong Phooey

In the last few days, scout leaders in Hong Kong have qualified as Scout "Respect for Intellectual Property Rights" Instructors, according to he Information Services Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. A nice title, but what does it mean? Its not easy to find out, but it appears to be about how the best way to use something, is to pay fees to someone to rent it.

To this end, the special administration has organised a fun fair, titled the “Respect for Intellectual Property Rights Fun Fair” (catchy, eh). Singing performances were held at this fair, and local creative people shared creativity experiences. There was even a competition, where 10 scout teams fight it out for "Best Intellectual Property Game Booth Design. My word, I've been to seminar's less topic-focused than this.

The highlight has to be the statement by the Intellectual Property Department of Hong Kong's Director, Mr. Stephen Selby.
Ideas are unique, and creative work takes tremendous time and effort. Creativity will disappear if we continue to plagiarise and "steal" the creative works of others. The public must stop any illegal uploading or downloading of music, movies or other copyright works from the Internet," Mr Selby said.

Ideas maybe be unique, although ideas are also cheap. I've had 30 ideas since I started this paragraph. Some of them are VERY unique, but I doubt any will come to anything. Well respected author Neil Gaimen wrote a childrens book in an afternoon, and Andy Kim says “ I also wrote I Forgot To Mention with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies. Writing with Ed was a magical moment. We wrote it in an afternoon and as with most things that are meant to be, it went really smoothly." Time is a substitute, in many cases, for creativity.

You also have to love the line about 'stealing the creative works of others' – thing is, if you ask almost any musician about that, they'll point to the record labels as the thieves. Courtney Love's speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference, given in New York on May 16 2000 is a real eye-opener if you've had no experience with the music business (transcript) It may be almost 6 years old, but nothing has changed. Indeed, if anything, things have gotten worse.

If I take a song, say, ooh, “give peace a chance” (got to take a local boy's song, even though I can't stand this song), how exactly is any form of plagiarism, or even stealing of this song going to affect creativity? Is it like the fabled butterfly's wings, where my copying a single here, stops a creativiton from striking John Smith's brain in Podunk, Idaho. Maybe it'll stop the artist from being creative – oops, Mark Chapman beat me to that 25 years ago. The only one it could possibly hurt would be EMI, and that's hardly affecting creativity.

Indeed, stifling creativity has been the name of the game for years. Ask Angie Aparo how hard it was to get his songs distributed. Go to any technological news site and see the wrangling between companies over this patent, that trademark, so-and-so's copyright.

Is the answer training scout masters to be copyright enforcers in Hong Kong? Phooey!

Ben Jones

External link
Hong Kong government press release

Monday, April 24, 2006

Southern Hospitality

Whilst the Us is hell-bent on making everyone a criminal to their copyright lobby (possibly looking for a large enough captive market for Tom Cruise and Britney Spears), over in Australia, common sense seems to be prevailing. The Australian Attorney-General is reportedly considering codifying what should be considered basic fair-rights usage, into Aussie law.

It comes about after a 12 month inquiry made by AG Ruddock's department. The main topics are Time Shifting (legal in the US under the Sony Betamax ruling) where you can record something to watch/listen later, and 'format shifting' where you turn something from one format to another (such as a VHS tape into a DVD to play on your laptop when travelling, or a CD, into an MP3 to play on an mp3 player.

Naturally, copyright owners are not happy about such things – two TV networks claiming it will 'lead to an increase in piracy” - the underground market for Neighbours episodes is a lucrative one – although if they mean copyright infringement, or some form of criminal action by that statement is unclear.

Regardless of the outcome, its nice to see some government officials are not sitting in the pockets of 'Big Media' and are instead looking out for the consumers that are, at the end of the day, their electorate. Shame it seems to only happen south of the equator.

Ben Jones

External link
The Age news report

Land of the free? Sorry that's copyrighted.

America, The nation that's about freedom. Where people are innocent until proven guilty, politicians are held responsible to their constituents, and innovation is not just praised but sought. Oh, sorry, Brain-fart there, was reading one of Harry Turtledove's alternate history books (American Empire : blood and iron to be exact) and mistook the present regime for the one there.

No, its no glib remark. When it comes to copyright infringement, the united States is falling back to the middle of the last century. Indeed, the united states has taken a HUGE step backwards in general. I wondered in a piece I wrote a year ago, if time travel had been invented, if so, the Bush Administration has gone back and gotten Felix Dzerzhinsky to write the laws, and Joe McCarthy, snatched from Bethesda, to translate them, and 'congress-them-up'. Of course, it could be much simpler – Laura Bush might be a secret voodoo priestess.

Regardless, the ideals that the American founding fathers made their stand against the crown for (sidenote, George Washington, amongst others, fit the current US definition of a terrorist) are being eroded in the name of capitalist expedience. If people want to know why America is not looked upon with great favour in recent years, an example came out just last night.

Cnet, based in San Francisco (A city I love by the way, and where I have many fond memories) reported yesterday that it caught a look at a new proposed bill, created by the bush administration, and backed by Lamar Smith, a Texas congressman (and incidentally Chairman of the Subcommittee on
Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property). Rep. Smith was also honoured recently, by the lobby group “Defenders of Property Rights” - a group with a major interest in making IP rights as profitable as possible. I may well talk about the various lobby groups around the world at some point in the future, but for now, if you want more info on them, look em up.

"The bill as a whole does a lot of good things," said Keith Kupferschmid, mouthpiece for one of the groups representing the one percent or so of the US population for which this law benefits, and yet again, everyone else gets the shaft. The DMCA was bad enough, but seems tame in comparison to this new behemoths. Who can forget the lexmark case, where the DMCA was used against a company making cheaper cartridges. Imagine the uproar in the Us if consumables for their cars could ONLY be bought from the dealers, at whatever prices they decided, and no other manufacturers was allowed. Such a law, such a court case wouldn't last 5 minutes. No-one would stand paying $50 for an air filter for a ford focus, yet its ok for a printer because 'its computers'. The recent Sony rootkit fiasco would have been announced sooner as well, but it was delayed over fears the DMCA would be used against the researchers. Now this new law wants to make it a crime to even TRY, EVEN IF THEY FAIL to circumvent any copy protection. With many CDs and DVDs, its as simple as using a marker on a part of the disc, or even holding down shift to prevent autoplay in windows. Now, even if you press shift around the time you insert a CD, for any length of time, or use a marker anywhere on the CD, you'll apparently be in violation of this new law – 10 years in jail for you. The new laws say nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" such anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else. This piece is now in violation of that law, as is any store in America selling a sharpie.

There are many other draconian measures on the boards, such as civil asset forfeiture (ie they get to take your stuff, and sell it) and criminal charges can be filed in the US for copyright infringement on a work not even registered in the US.

Land of the free? No, they hate the word free. If its free, then someone's not making any money. So, Americans who read this, please, contact your ELECTED representatives. Remind them that its the people that elect them, not the corporations, not a plutocrat handing over a campaign contribution but everyday ordinary citizens, and when you're in jail, for having used a marker on a CD, you'll no longer be able to vote for them.

Ben Jones

External link
cnet's story on this law

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Internet Hash

Have you ever read an Internet copyright infringement raid press release, and noticed how often they try and link into other, actual, crimes? (as opposed to the civil law infringements they purport to be crimes). The usual three are drugs, terrorism, and paedophilia. They're not chosen by accident – two tend to target young people, and all target the innocent. Well, I read this morning about two press releases from the RIAA, and a third from the MPAA. All crowed about actions against people. In the background, my kids were watching Clear and Present Danger on the DVD player (a good film, since they took out Clancy's rampant xenophobia, excessive stereotyping, and bovine fetishes) and it struck some resonance in my mind between the two, helped, I'm sure, by an episodes of cops I saw recently, featuring a customs/narc unit drugs bust at some docks.

The resonance is that of the Hydra. Its references to the drugs industry are many and varied*. In Greek folklaw, the hydra was a creature that had three heads. Whenever Heraclies chopped off one of its heads, two more grew in its place. Such is the drugs industry (regardless of the number of drug busts that goes on, product still comes through, still widely available) and such is the copyright infringement field. There are thousands of dedicated personnel, millions of dollars, and huge public support for anti-drug operations, and it hasn't stopped the industry. It is, as its basis, criminal, and is a one-time-only product (in that for each one unit that reaches the end user, one unit has to come down the chain) and still its unabated. End users are prosecuted, incarcerated, fined, confiscated from, and otherwise punished, and it carries on still. Why does the copyright lobbies think that the same tactics will be effective against copyright infringement. There are so many more drawbacks – for a start, distribution is not one-to-one, its one-to-many (a single upload can spawn an infinite number of copies), its not at its basis, entirely criminal (copyright infringement is a civil matter for many end users, and many places have significant fair-use protections, similar to certain 'personal use' laws for narcotics), and international distribution of data is not subject to any border inspection, nor does it have a distinctive detectable signature for the electronic equivalent of sniffer dogs.

I will also point out something else. These lawsuits that target people tend to be settled for somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000. That's end users. How many end users of crack, or heroin do you see getting punished to that financial amount? Places which deal with end users , the equivalent of a dealer, get hit with lawsuits for $150million in many cases. If it were drugs, you'd have to be at, or very near the initial bulk production to be looking at monetary penalties of anywhere near that amount.

In short, if we can't win the war on drugs with these methods, what hope has anyone for stopping copyright infringement with those same methods? Why also are copyright infringers, and their dealers treated to heavier penalties than their illegal narcotic equivalents? Unlike drugs, where the users and the general populace is hurt by the 'product', the main casualties are the large record media companies. Of course, which has the ear of the politicians who make the laws giving these punishments. Looks clear to me that what's in the interests of the general populace is less important that the interests of the cartels.

Why these methods? Its misdirection. These associations would be otherwise unable to put out press releases, saying how much money they feel they're not getting, and stick to only saying how much they are. They won't be able to say how much people are stealing from 'the artists' and instead admit its them keeping the money. As usual, its down to greed, and publicity.

Ben Jones.

* For a great example of the hydra phenomenon when it comes to drugs, I would suggest http://www.cato.org/dailys/6-30-98.html

DVDr-core hacked

Somedays, you feel like you're being hit from all sides. As well as Alex hanff being the target of a huge lawsuit, He, or at least his site, dvdr-core.org, is being targeted by the other end of the spectrum, "hackers". The text of the defacement is
"By Thehacker

Ownz Your System

{Turkish hackers}"

( http://i49.photobucket.com/albums/f300/neuron2neuron/dvdrch.png for a screengrab)

Lovely. Makes you wonder who's going to kick him next, eh.

Ben jones

Bootnote - according to zone-h.org, the defacement took place March 28th (http://www.zone-h.org/en/defacements/filter/filter_domain=dvdr-core.org/) . Still, thanks to 'alien5' for pointing it out to me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Royalty deadlines told to "move it"

A little something I picked up on in the last few days, is that many artists of increasing longevity are calling, nay, demanding, longer copyright measures. They feel that 50 years isn't enough for the work they've done. They'd much rather find that 95 years (for instance) is a much more appropriate term for music copyright. Is it people just being greedy?

Kenny Ball says "My wife is 15 years younger than me, so it is terrible to cut off the source. Midnight in Moscow alone pulls in a few thousand a year."His complaint is that he is going to lose out when it loses copyright in 2012. Humphrey Littleton finds it galling that his song, bad penny blues, falls out of copyright at the end of this year, and Sir cliff is coming close to losing royalties incomes for 'move it"

The problem is this, they're artists, they create. They want to earn money from their work, but their production is low. At he root of their argument is the fact that making music that's popular is hard (or was, now its a question of throwing money at it to make it popular and thus recoup the money) and so they wanted to be recompensed for it. Most of them no longer work. They still want their income. Ian Anderson, who was a member of Jethro Ttull, says "the unsung heroes of the 1950s depend on royalties to pay heating and nursing home bills." This is all very well and good. pensioners need an income, to pay their bills, keep the gas on, buy the years new cardigans, tartan zipup bootie slippers, and beige/mushroom ensembles. in short, money - you can't live without it.

the flip side is, of course, all those OTHER pensioners. my grandparents weren't in the music business, but didn't starve or freeze. Of them, we had an orthopaedic bootmaker, a matron at a world-famous childrens hospital, a painter and a housewife. Three houses between them, one car (only one could drive) and no real money worries. What did they do that these struggling artists didn't? Two things
1) not blow their money when they had some
2) plan ahead to their old age

I'll bet that those royalties over the years added up to a lot more than my grandparents ever saw. More than most of our grandparents ever saw, and yet they're still claiming poverty? let me give you another example. I've a friend who's been retired almost 20 years now. He's not old, far from it, only in his mid-50s now. he made a lot of money in the mid-80s, and saved his money, invested it, and now lives pretty much off the interest. he's a huge house, with an extensive workshop for his hobbies in the basement (an electronics shop better equipped than the undergrad lab at the electrical engineering dept. at Liverpool University). He wasn't alone in making the money, but his business partner, like these rock stars, lives in a 3-room flat, living from cheque to cheque. He'd sure love to be getting lots of royalties for his work for another 30 years, since it was a technological product that quite literally revolutionised the world. Can't say the same about a song, can you.

Finally, a word to what extending the royalties time limit means. in the US, the song "happy birthday" is copyrighted until 2030. Anyone who's ever been in an American restaurant where someone's been embarrassed by the chain-specific clapping chant being yelled throughout the room, should understand why that's not a good thing. Incidentally, the composer, Mildred hill, was born in 1859. The tune and original lyrics were written in 1893, and finally copyrighted in 1934, by the sister of the creators. Mildred, however, had died in 1916. under UK laws, it would fall into the public domain in 1985, not bad, considering its 69 years after the composer died. Who's getting the income? Well, its owned by Summy-Birchard music (formerly Warner-Chappell), and in 2002 was still bringing in over $2Million/year. half goes to the company and half to the Hill foundation. Hmmm...

Can someone please send me $1Million/year for a few days work one of my great-grandparents did in the 1890's? I'm sure you can pick any one of them that died 90 years ago to attribute it to. Mr Anderson claims a song disappearing into the public domain "becomes instantly devalued" - but the only way it does is fiscally, to him. We're supposed to envy them the rock-and-roll lifestyle when they're young, and then feel sorry for them that they blew all their money living that lifestyle, and give them more money. Logical, fair? I don't think so. Its clearly time people started living in the Real World.

Ben Jones

Article in the Daily Telegraph

Monday, April 17, 2006

A change is better than a rest, but a rest is nice too.

Many of you will have noticed that for the last 6 weeks or so, I've been rather quiet. They've not seen me around, and that's because I've not been around. We all have work to do, oh how i wish this paid any bills, as it is, i make no money at all from this, it's a labour of love. Instead, i have been busy working my backside off earning a crust. Alas, the nature of my work means that for periods, I work 18-20 hours a day, with no respite except to sleep, and have no access to computers, or at least to those connected to a network. As it is, I sit now in business class, flying over the Atlantic, a Gin+tonic at my side, as I reflect on the last 5 weeks without any thought on copyright rules, or protection, except for a brief talk with my lawyer about a defamation suit against bluetack. I don't have much to say on that, my lawyer will say what's needed to be said in court right enough, except for one thing. I am one person, one without large resources, no powers, and a simple enquiring desire. In the course of a simple set of enquiries, I 'menaced' them. For such a pro-copyright infringement company (although I use it in the loosest sense, since they're not registered with companies house) it doesn't bode well that then consider themselves intimidated by such a small fish as myself. In the grand scale of things, I'm maybe an Angel fish. I can bite on tiny fish, but anything of a respectable size or strength shouldn't worry. If I menace you, how badly will the big fish that are multinational corporation legal departments, industry lobby-groups and pressure groups maul them, and they claim to be protecting you from them. I'll let you draw your own conclusions on their ability to stand up to that.

Anyway, I'm digressing a little. I've been away all of March, and half of April. One thing I've noticed, is that stopping, taking a step back, and looking anew can help give a fresh angle or perspective on a situation. I don't have the preconceptions that come from getting incremental reports, and building on each in turn. I get the ability to read them all at once, to compare one to another, considering their source. A lot of people could do with taking some sort of time out. Sitting back, working on something else, and then looking on situations afresh, with no sneaking bits of news. That's where I've been lucky, since sitting out in the desert for the last few weeks has prevented that. The only copyright related piece I've heard from the world at large, has been the ruling about the film “The DaVinci code” (based on the atrocious 1-dimensional book of the same name) and the and its copyright clashes with the pseudo-factual book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”. Some of my companions with me had suffered through the book too, trying to see the 'big deal' about it, and predict the movie to be a big flop (nothing short of an entire re-write, giving characters some depth, facts some basis, and removing all references to long-established hoaxes being fact would be needed)

In short, sometimes taking a step back, can lead to taking few steps forward. Its a lesson many could take heed of. A fresh look at a problem, as anyone will tell you, is often the best solution. A perfect example is World War 1. It was a stalemate on both sides, with occasional small gains in either direction, until a new technology – a new idea, TANKS, broke the deadlock. Its a new idea now that's needed. A change of opinions, and more importantly, breaking the participants minds from the rutted tracks they've gotten stuck in. Trying to monopolise content distribution isn't working, get out of that rut. IP filtering doesn't work, get out of that rut. Suing the consumers you want to then sell to isn't working, get out of that rut. These ruts have become trenches, with the depth and frequency they've been travelled, When and where will the tank come from, who can say, but it did come from someone taking a step back from the battle being fought then, taking a look at what exactly was going on, and working a way to breach thee problems of both sides. Can this be done here, Yes, it must for all our sakes. Maybe not by me, but by someone. And what's more, it much take into account ALL sides.

6 weeks or so might not seem like much. It certainly feels like a long time. It's a school summer holiday, its about an eighth of a year. Its half the most you can visit the USA for, for instance. Its enough to break habits, trains of thought and so on. I'm betting that when I go to retrieve my car from Manchester Airport's long-term parking, I'm going to drive on the right at least once, or turn right on red, or similar automotive slips. I've done it before. If my preconceptions change when it comes to driving, something I've been doing every day (at least) for years (I've still got one of the paper EU driving licenses, obtained when I had to clear a speeding ticket) Its happened after just two weeks before now. Time away does change things. We're over Ireland right now, and I'm shuddering how cold I'll be feeling 9during the day at least, deserts are cold at night) I was warm before I left. Maybe I'm babbling, the jet-lag, the 18-hour days, and the gin are probably all helping with that, but as soon as I get through customs, I'll be transmitting it, eating breakfast and driving home to go to bed. After a good sleep. I might even edit this, cut out the babble, but maybe not. After all, babbling is what a lot of other people do on this whole area; babble to promote their ideas, their own agenda's. Babble to pad their sparse or twisted facts in order to make them seem bigger, bolder, more purposeful. If I get my babbling done here, and out of the way, perhaps I can reduce it – as much as I may wish, I can't remove it entirely – from my future writings and ponderings. However, the stew's are coming for the glasses, and the seat-belt sign's about to come on. So i must finally swallow this G+T which has been sitting here for nearly 2 hours now. Relax as it numbs the earache pain of landing, and save this, ready for transmitting. It will, of course, be several days before I will write again, as I catch up on what I've missed, and of course, there's that lawsuit against bluetack I have to have filed (such a shame too, I don't like tieing up money in lawsuits, but cowboy outfits like that give a bad name to everyone, luckily I did pretty well in Vegas just before I left which should cover it). Until next time....

Ben Jones