Musicians Need Strong Copyright Laws to be as Successful as They Already Are

25. July, 2012

When I read “Britain’s share of the global music market is higher than ever” (source) and “We can only realise this potential if we have a strong domestic copyright”, I can’t help but wonder: Isn’t the industry so successful because they have the today’s laws?

What We Can Learn About Copyright From Archimedes

3. June, 2012

Archimedes is long dead but we know about him because he left books and other people wrote about him. In  William Noel’s TED talk about how a team recovered the Archimedes Palimpsest, William made some very important points (starting at @11:20):

Now, all this data that we collected, all the images, all the raw images, all the transcriptions that we made and that sort of thing, have been put online under a Creative Commons license for anyone to use for any commercial purpose.

Why did the owner of the manuscript do this? He did this because he understands data as well as books. Now, the thing to do with books, if you want to ensure their long term utility, is to hide them away in closets and let very few people look at them. The thing to do with data, if you want it to survive, is to let it out and have everyone have it with as little control  on that data as possible. And that’s what he did.

And institutions can learn from this. Because institutions at the moment confine their data with copyright restrictions and that sort of thing. And if you want to look at Medieval manuscripts on the web, at the moment, you have to go to  National Library of Wise Site[?] or the Universal Library of Access Site[?] which is about the most boring way in which you can deal with digital data.

What you want to do is to aggregate it all together. Because the Web of ancient manuscripts of the future isn’t going to be built by institutions. It’s going to be built by users … people who just want to curate their own glorious selection of beautiful things.

This really explains the dilemma we find ourselves in today. Artists want to share their data (if not, why would they write books, songs, plays in the first place?) But with non-digital media, sharing means wear. Books get damaged by opening them.

Data, on the other hand, gets damaged by not copying it. The NASA almost lost data tapes from the Apollo missions (see Sticky Moondust) – if they hadn’t shared a copy with Australia. Companies around the globe struggle with data stored in legacy formats that no one can read anymore because the software refuses to work on modern PCs.

The old copyright made sense when the media was valuable. Today, the media costs nothing. No company or country in the world would be able to found Wikipedia. Just think of the legal issues they’d have to clear. Struggles over who “owns” what. Power games over control.

The Copyright Failure

27. March, 2012

And another of my long list of copyright posts. Can’t let it rest for some reason.

Copyright failed. As Larry Lessig said in his TED talk: Every view in the digital age is a copy. Watch a DVD and the computer/box/whatever is going to make 5 to 100 (temporary) digital copies of the movie before it is displayed on the screen: In the laser pickup, in the buffer chips that connect the laser to the system, in memory to decode the video stream, in various post processing filters, in the buffer chips that transfer the signal to the TV set, and several copies in the TV set to further improve the picture.

Let me drive this home: In this day and age, you have to break the law to watch movies and listen to music because the law says: You must not make any copies. Not even one.

The message: Standard usage of movies and music (watching, listening) is illegal under today’s copyright law. Which means we’re all serial offenders.

Or the other way around: We’re breaking the law so often, that we have concluded it’s optional. An important lesson that we inherit to our kids.

Maybe we can attack this the other way around: Why is the content industry failing? Because they sell a product in a way nobody wants.

I love to watch movies, read books and listen to music. I just don’t want to too much pay for something that I can get in better quality, faster and for free. Why do I have to wait six months to see US TV series? Why do I have to watch commercials? Why do I have to buy the album when I want a single track? Why do I have to buy the music at all when I just want to listen to it? Why do I have to watch TV at certain times?

Because no one is selling me the service I want. It’s not impossible. The “pirates” have made all this possible and for free, too. It’s just that the content industry has strangled itself too many contracts.

How is their mess our fault?

You want our money? Change.

Not convinced? Watch this: Rob Reid: The $8 billion iPod

Meeting Cory Doctorow in Zurich

7. December, 2011

By pure chance, I learned yesterday that Cory Doctorow is in Zurich for a talk about “The Politics of Copyright and the New Cultural Economy” – a topic that I’m very interested in. Also, since I write like him, I of course had to attend 😉 (see for yourself: Little Brother by him and Haul by me). The event was organised by Digitale Allmend.

Cory introduced his three laws:

  1. Anytime someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and doesn’t give you the key, the lock is not there for your benefit.
  2. Fame doesn’t guarantee fortune, but no one gets rich from being unknown.
  3. Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.


In his talk, he mentioned the sequence which art takes from the creator to the audience: Artist -> investor -> DRM provider -> audience. The interesting part is that the DRM provider controls the process and how much money goes where – despite the fact that they are most remote from the source. Think Apple: Apple controls how much money they get from products sold via iTunes plus they control what gets sold at all. There was a person in the audience who wrote a little unicorn app that was rejected by Apple for “not being funny enough.”

In a nutshell, Apple controls how much money the creators get by granting or denying access to their marketplace plus they control the tax. If you sell eBooks via Amazon, your book is “protected” by DRM even if you don’t want that. As a creator, the copyright gives me extensive rights over my work but that power is taken away from me from people who are not creative at all and for dubious reasons.

That’s like selling books that you can only put in certain shelves. No reader would accept that you can put Amazon books only on IKEA shelves. It also creates in-locking for creators. No consumer is going to buy a different device if you switch the DRM provider. Which means that if you buy eBooks by Amazon, you’ll never buy them from anyone else – simply because that would mean to have to manage two libraries which you can’t mix. If you produce a TV series, there is no way to switch the vendor between episode 7 and 8 – viewers would go ballistic! If you buy from Amazon and Apple, there is no way to see all your books at the same time. See Cory’s first law.

What makes the current DRM-affine laws so insidious is that they make tools illegal that can potentially be used to circumvent DRM. Since that works so well, DRM providers (by using pawns like the MPAA and the RIAA) tries to broaden their grip on all of us by doing the same on the Internet. If SOPA is turned into law in a few days (and it probably will even though everyone with half a brain is strongly opposed to it), any tool that could be used to circumvent the SOPA censorship is illegal.

That would include “hacker” tools like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and any other browser with a location bar. Because all of them allow to type in an IP address in the location bar thus bypassing the DNS filtering that SOPA requires.

Also this blog will be shut down because I write about copyright and that might mean that I potentially could add a link to a “pirate site” in one of my blog posts. At the same time, my PayPal account will be closed – if it wasn’t closed long before that because PayPal will want to close it proactively to prevent them being sued for supporting criminal activities. I’ll know that this has happened when I can’t access my blog/PayPal account anymore – there is no pre-warning, no legal counsel, no way to prevent this from happening. Any big company in the US doesn’t like what I write, I’m done for. Does that sound more like “justice” or more like “censorship” to you?

In the US, two students were sued by the RIAA for developing a search engine for campus LANs because the same search engine could be used to find media files in the LAN, too. Since developing a new Google isn’t illegal, the RIAA tried to blackmail them into stopping. They were pretty sure that they’d find illegal files in the computers of the two students. How did they know? The students were male, 17 and had access to the Internet.

See all this in the light of a prediction that Cory made: Copying bits is only ever going to become more simple.

Think of it: Reading a book on your kindle means copying bits many, many times. First, they are copied from Amazon’s storage into the RAM of some server. Then into various CPU caches, CPU registers, buffers of network drivers, hardware registers of Ethernet chips, switches, routers, mobile phone access points, into the memory of your Kindle. As you open the book, the bits are copied, decoded (= copied many times + manipulated with complex mathematics), copied again into CPU caches and registers, into the frame buffer of a display device.

Between buying a book at Amazon and reading it, the book has been copied several hundred times. And every time you read it, at least four new copies are made. True, most of those copies are quickly deleted but they are made nonetheless.

On top of that, everything that we will do tomorrow will require the Internet. Therefore, the “three strikes” idea, as alluring it might seem, has the potential to destroy a human life. Research shows that having an Internet connection substantially improves the situation of poor families (TODO I’ll post a link as soon as I find one). Of course, anyone with enough money could cut them off any time they like just by suggesting that one of them might be a “pirate” – no proof necessary with the new laws. What is worth more? A human life or the profits of a DRM provider?

Cory brought a great example to drive the point home: Most successful technologies are both simple and general purpose. Think of a wheel. Imagine someone comes along and says: “Well, I like the idea but some villain could attach the wheels to a car and drive away from a crime. Can’t you make a wheel which prevents that?”

No one would take this guy seriously.

Then, we have the PC. It’s also general purpose but at the same time, it’s complex. So it seems like you could create a PC which stops you when you do something naughty. And it’s true. You can try that but as always, there is a price to pay. If want to get an idea of this price, look at China, Yemen or Nazi Germany. It’s always the same psychological pattern.

Human catastrophes started with the urge to “protect your own home country.” As Philip Zimbardo showed in his great book “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil“, all evil starts with someone trying desperately to do good without realizing when they start to do harm. They start with pressure and when that doesn’t work (and it won’t), they try to increase the pressure. Eventually, torture and death seem OK.

The people behind SOPA and similar efforts just want our best. At the same time, they are blind to the damage they cause. On top of that, there are people involved who aren’t responsible for the well being of the general public. Their main concern is (as per their work contract) to make as much profit as possible. Which makes sense for them and their investors.

But not for the 99%.

Legal Insanity: Suing Timezone Database

8. October, 2011

Like many people, I have a strong opinion about justice. In this time and age, it feels like the legal system, invented to give justice to everyone has become part of the problem. Note that I’m not asking to abolish the legal system – but we should pay heed to abuse nonetheless and think how to prevent it.

In this instance, Astrolabe is suing the Olson database (legal files). Olson database? If you’re using Linux, you can find a copy in /usr/share/timezone. The database contains the offsets to UTC/GMT.

WTF? Apparently, the tz database contains record from a book “The American Atlas” for which Astrolabe owns the copyright. So what they’re doing is perfectly legal.

But it smells.

Update: Astrolabe has apologised and withdrawn the complaint.

Related articles:

Another Reason Against Copyright

10. September, 2011

The EU is about to extend the duration of the copyright for music from 50 to 70 years.

That means recordings (not the music, only the original tapes and records) of the Beatles, Elvis, etc. will generate revenue for another 20 years. Who gets that revenue? The “Big Four”: EMI, Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music (72%). Then 24% goes to rich, already established artists like The Rolling Stones, which make up about 20% of all artists. The rest (80%) get 4%.

Revolutions don’t start because people are hungry, they start because there is enough for everyone but most people are starving and they are fed up with a greedy few.


Paid By Stupidity

8. May, 2011

Someone once said: “My knowledge is for free, my time is expensive. If you understand quickly, I’m cheap. If you’re dumb, I’m expensive.”

I think this is true for a lot of professions. We’re paid for the time we spend on something.

But there is an exception: Art. Artists aren’t paid for the time they spend on a work of art but by the greed of the people who want to own it.

This means that a director can spend three years on a movie and get anything between a huge dept and several hundreds of millions of dollars. A painter can die from starvation when his paintings make millions (after his death).

Artists are paid by greed.

Does that make sense? Does it make sense today, when greedy lawyers, publishers, vendors, try to push the limits of their salary envelope? All for the sake of the artist, of course. But wouldn’t it be better that artists are paid by the hour, just like anyone else?

The argument against is laziness: Why pay an artists if they take years to produce a painting when someone else could create a similar painting in a couple of days?

So what?

Art isn’t about productivity. We have to pay these people anyway. In a modern society, you can’t simply allow the unemployed to starve to death anymore. So when we have to pay them, what’s the urge to push them towards being more productive? If they were, why would they be unemployed to begin with? If you’re productive and you want a job, what would be your reason to stay unemployed?

If you’re unemployed, that either means you don’t want to work or that you don’t really fit into todays most(-ly) productive society. The simple solution would be to say “your fault”. But that just makes the speaker sleep more easily, it doesn’t solve anything. Also note that a lot of people become unemployed because factories get more productive. If you raise productivity by 7% each year, that either means you created 7% more output at the same price (= with the same people and by not giving them a raise) or 7% of the costs were cut, for example by reducing the staffing. Whose fault is that? And is the blame the solution?

So we have to pay for all the unemployed. As I argued elsewhere, artists don’t decide to do art; the piece of art beats us into submission. It bothers us until we materialize it for others. There is little in the way of “I wanted”; it’s more “it wanted”. It’s a bit like the scene in the first Alien movie where the disgusting little critter eats its way out: The host has little choice. Curiosity got us, too. And greed.

In the recent discussion in Germany, the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) argued that all art should be free (as in freedom) and that society should pay for what society wants to enjoy. There will be a little addition to the monthly Internet access fee that goes into a big pot, anyone can download anything from the Internet without paying twice and artists get their share from that money. So I thought: “If unemployed artists get paid anyway … why not take the money out of this pot and pay them by the hour?”

So artists A needs ten days for a painting. When the ten days are paid for, the painting goes into the public domain (which isn’t worse than today since artists already have to sell their artwork). The artist gets his/her money and the society gets new art without paying twice. There is also an incentive for the artists: He/she still gets the fame plus the money. A lot more people get to see the art. With the current, greedy model, art is stowed away until someone with enough money accidentally stumbles over it. More people can participate in the art. If someone writes a book, someone else can create an audio book from it or a movie, after the artwork has become public domain.

Artists B is a lazy slob and needs two years for a painting. Same deal. “Are you nuts?”, I hear you cry. Why? We’re paying this guy anyway. So if he has only one painting in himself for two years, what’s the difference? If he has art in himself, he can’t keep it in. The art wants to get out. The feeling you feel is pure greed. Ignore it. It’s not helping.

Artist C wants to live in a huge house with swimming pool, and diamond-laced roof. He doesn’t believe in the paid-by-the-hour model. Not sure that’s realistic but that’s not the point of a mind game. So he does all the usual things: Get some advertising, produces one great painting every day, sells them over any available channel. He might succeed and get insanely rich or he might fail and end up unemployed, forced to live on the model outlined above.

Anything we could lose by trying this approach? Oh, yes, the greedy lawyers, publishers, vendors.

Well, as they always say: Can’t make everyone happy 🙂