Cory Doctorow was a keynote speaker at SIGGRAPH 2011, the annual conference on computer graphics, and one I’d like to attend someday. As you might expect, he talked about copyright, because hey, that’s his thing. And as he says, the stakes have never been higher.
We copy as often as we breathe; whenever we talk about moving digital information about, we’re actually copying it. In his presentation, he tries to answer these questions: What do we want make copyright do? How do we make copyright do that?
In the presentation, he lists what he calls “Doctorow’s Laws” of copyright:
Doctorow’s First Law: Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and they won’t give you the key, they didn’t put the lock there for your benefit.
Doctorow’s Second Law: Fame won’t guarantee fortune, but no one got rich by being obscure. (Cory cites Tim O’Reilly for this one)
Doctorow’s Third Law: Information doesn’t want to be free; people do.
It’s a worthwhile watch, especially if you’re a frequent user of digital devices and media (which I suspect most readers of this blog are).
Here are three things that suck about being Canadian right now:
Last week the CRTC sided with Bell against a group of small Internet Service Providers who want to offer their customers unthrottled connections where what they download is their own business and not subject to interference.
In last week’s throne speech the Conservative government renewed their intention to “modernize” Canadian copyright law. Their effort to do so last session was Bill C-61, a woefully unbalanced and retrograde piece of legislation that led to the greatest citizen backlash to any proposed bill in recent memory. Yet there has been no indication from new Industry Minister Tony Clement that a much-needed public consultation will take place. The best he has offered is the possibility of a “slightly different” version of the bill.
Twitter has just announced that they are killing outbound SMS messaging in Canada due to exorbitant and constant rate hikes from Canadian cell providers (former Industry Minister Jim Prentice vowed to get tough on SMS price gouging, then backpedalled). Cell phone rates in Canada are among the highest in the world, and the result is that mobile penetration is pathetically low and that emerging new cultural platforms like Twitter are being hobbled.
This growing list of backwards policies is already creating a sense of digital isolation: Canadians can’t stream the videos Americans stream, download the files Americans download, remix the media Americans remix, or tweet the way Americans tweet.
With the election of Barack Obama, digital culture in the U.S. hit a tipping point, where a robust online public sphere proved itself capable of changing the world. Meanwhile, here in Canada we’re approaching our own tipping point, where a series of ignorances and capitulations threaten to turn our country into a digital ghetto.
[Thanks to Mark Relph for pointing me to this article.]
Here’s the story: Patricia Neri, the Director General of Copyright Policy at Canadian Heritage has been removed from her position for a conflict of interest — inappropriate involvement with Doug Frith, President of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association (and one of Canada’s biggest copyright lobbyists). We knew from Sam Bulte’s campaign disaster from the 2006 elections (where yours truly is proud to have played a part) that the government was in bed with big content, but we had no idea it was literally.
While Neri’s personal life is no one’s business but her own, this does raise troubling questions about the quick passage of Bill C-59, the anti-camcording legislation, since Neri appeared as a witness before a Senate hearing on [an unusually speedily-passed bill on camcording in theatres] with [Doug Frith] in the room. The Privy Council Office places particular responsibility on public servants that appear before a Parliamentary committee since they do so on behalf of the Minister.
Well, the RIAA wanted to be able to distribute ringtones of its artists without having to pay them big money to do so (surprised?), and it won a decision last year before the Copyright Office saying that ringtones weren’t “derivative works,” meaning they didn’t infringe on the copyright of the songwriter. It’s a little more complicated than that, but essentially, if the RIAA hadn’t won, ringtones would cost even more, since no one would be able to make them without a license from the songwriter.
Everything has a catch, and ringtones are no exception:
If you’re making a ringtone from an MP3 file that you’ve ripped from a CD you’ve purchased, you’re in the clear. Just don’t sell or distribute it.
If you’re making a ringtone from a file you purchased from the iTunes Music Store, you’re breaking the law! Here’s Engadget’s explanation:
Judging from the fact that the iTMS EULA prohibits the use of downloaded files as ringtones, we’d say it’s more than likely because Apple’s contracts with the various labels represented in the iTMS specifically forbid it. We haven’t seen them, but we’d bet that ringtones — and the licenses for using songs as ringtones — have their own lengthy section in Apple’s contracts, and that Apple isn’t allowed to sell files for use as ringtones without coughing up more dough. Steve has said as much, after all. Otherwise the selection would include more than just the 500,000 songs you can get right now.
While we at Global Nerdy stress that you should obey all local laws, who’s going to know if that ringtone you made came from a ripped CD or an iTunes purchased tune?
One issue that I have not seen addressed in the RIAA vs. P2P front relates to the potential for an unsupecting home PC user who just happens to have an open WiFi router being used by a neighbor to share files to get sued by the RIAA when their IP address shows up on the RIAA’s list. From the surveys I’ve done, there are a lot of open WiFi routers a file swapper could easily use to both serve and download files. So, is the RIAA going to have to shut down open WiFi to get its way?
I’ve already composed my reply in case I receive one of these letters someday. “Dear Comcast, I am so sorry. I had no idea that copyrighted works were being downloaded via my IP address; I have a wireless router at home and it’s possible that someone may have been using my connection at the time. I will do my best to secure this notoriously vulnerable technology, but I can make no guarantee that hackers will not exploit my network in the future.” If it ever comes down to a lawsuit, who can be certain that I was the offender? And can the victim of hacking be held responsible for the hacker’s crimes? If that were the case, we’d all be liable for the Blaster worm’s denial of service attacks against Microsoft last year.
Well, we’re now a few years and two generations of 802.11 down the road, and the RIAA has finally done it. Cory writes:
The RIAA is asking a judge to rule that anyone who provides bandwidth should be responsible for all the activities of his users. This would doom open WiFi — and all other public networking efforts. But who needs anonymous speech, anyway? After all anonymity fuels irresponsible behavior, like founding the United States.
Record companies are quick to cite the First Amendment when someone suggests banning music with “suggestive” lyrics, but they’re not so big on free presses and anonymous speech. It’s like they love free speech, but not enough to share it with the rest of us.
It’s all part of their “rabbit hunting with Howitzers” legal strategy. It stems from the case of Debbie Foster, who was being sued by Capitol Records, a part of the RIAA cartel, for allegedly sharing copyrighted material on a P2P network. It turned out that she wasn’t the culprit; it was someone else using her account. The case was dismissed last year with a filing that gets pretty damned close to calling out the RIAA as extortionists — or at least as close as you can get outside of a TV or movie courtroom drama. Foster didn’t stop there; she filed a motion asking the court to make the RIAA compensate her for her legal fees and got that compensation in the form of a $50,000 award earlier this month.
This award creates a legal headache for the RIAA. As Listening Post puts it: “If the ruling stands, the RIAA will have to be much more careful about who it sues going forward, adjusting its scatter-shot approach to filing such lawsuits in order to avoid suing the wrong people”.
Hence the RIAA’s latest move: filing a motion for reconsideration that forces them to pay Foster’s legal fees, a key point of which is that they’d like a ruling that the owner of an ISP account is responsible for all activity on that account.
He points to an Ars Technica story that says that the RIAA, in their motion, “lay out their disagreement with the judge’s reasoning while taking time to point out that the fees awarded far exceed any damages they could have recovered should their suit have been successful”, to which he quips “What, you mean there are risks in this strategy?”
He points out that it’s not just the individual running an open node at home or the small cafe running an open node to get customers who are in trouble:
…any entity that offered a net connection – Starbucks, a hotel, a municipality (etc) – would have a huge potential liability on their hands. They might well decide to just discontinue in order to not expose themselves. Yeah, there’s a world I want to live in.