Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Tag: Copyright (page 2 of 8)

Review of Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture

Image courtesy of the MIT PressGillespie argues that we must examine the technical, social-cultural, legal and market approaches to copyright in order to understand the ethical, cultural, and political implications of how copyrights are secured in the digital era. Contemporary measures predominantly rely on encryption to survey and regulate content, which has the effect of intervening before infringement can even occur. This new approach is juxtaposed from how copyright regulation operated previously: individuals were prosecuted after having committing copyright infringement. The shift to pre-regulation treats all users as criminals, makes copyright less open to fair use, renders opposition to copyright law through civil disobedience as challenging, and undermines the sense of moral autonomy required for citizens to recognize copyright law’s legitimacy. In essence, the assertion of control over content, facilitated by digital surveillance and encryption schemes, has profound impacts on what it means to be, and act as, a citizen in the digital era.

This text does an excellent job at working through how laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), accompanied by designs of technologies and the political efforts of lobbyists, have established a kind of ‘paracopyright’ regime. This regime limits uses that were once socially and technically permissible, and thus is seen as undermining long-held (analogue-based) notions of what constitutes acceptable sharing of content and media. In establishing closed trusted systems that are regulated by law and received approval from political actors content industries are forging digitality to be receptive to principles of mass-produced culture.

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Ole, Intellectual Property, and Taxing Canadian ISPs

Ole, a Canadian independent record label, put forward an often-heard and much disputed proposal to enhance record label revenues: Ole wants ISPs to surveil Canada’s digital networks for copywritten works. In the record label’s filing on July 12 for the Digital Economy Consultations, entitled “Building Delivery Systems at the Expense of Content Creators,” Ole asserts that ISPs are functioning as “short circuits” and let music customers avoid purchasing music on the free market. Rather than go to the market, customers are (behaving as rational economic actors…) instead using ISP networks to download music. That music is being downloaded is an unquestionable reality, but the stance that this indicates ISP liability for customers’ actions seems to be an effort to re-frame record industries’ unwillingness to adopt contemporary business models as a matter for ISPs to now deal with. In this post, I want to briefly touch on Ole’s filing and the realities of network surveillance for network-grade content awareness in today market. I’ll be concluding by suggesting that many of the problems presently facing labels are of their own making and that we should, at best, feel pity and at worst fear what they crush in their terror throes induced by disruptive technologies.

Ole asserts that there are two key infotainment revenue streams that content providers, such as ISPs, maintain: the $150 Cable TV stream and the $50 Internet stream. Given that content providers are required to redistribute some of the $150/month to content creators (often between 0.40-0.50 cents of every dollar collected), Ole argues that ISPs should be similarly required to distribute some of the $50/month to content creators that make the Internet worth using for end-users. Unstated, but presumed, is a very 1995 understanding of both copyright and digital networks. In 1995 the American Information Infrastructure Task Force released its Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure report, wherein they wrote;

…the full potential of the NII will not be realized if the education, information and entertainment products protected by intellectual property laws are not protected effectively when disseminated via the NII…the public will not use the services available on the NII and generate the market necessary for its success unless a wide variety of works are available under equitable and reasonable terms and conditions, and the integrity of those works is assured…What will drive the NII is the content moving through it.

Of course, the assertion that if commercial content creators don’t make their works available on the Internet then the Internet will collapse is patently false.

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Kinder DRM Still Undermines Digital Abundance

We live in an era of digital abundance, an era where we can genuinely rethink the underlying economics of information creation and dissemination as the cost of creation, storage, and dissemination infrastructures approach zero. Against fears that this threatens to ‘undermine’ content production we see the rise in the quantity of content that is produced and, correspondingly, a rise in novel approaches to profit from the generation of that content in an abundant bitscape. We should resist efforts to undermine abundance through Digital Rights Management protocols.

As reported by Ars Technica, the IEEE is developing a novel kind of DRM that would see ‘content’ folders encrypted and only accessible after individuals used decryption keys to access that content. For rights holders and some content producers, this is seen as having the merit of securing their ‘goods’ by attempting the replicate the scarcity of atoms in the bitscape. Consumers would ‘benefit’ because they would not longer have to deal with onerous licensing terms: they would own the keys and the keys would have value because of their capacity to ‘open’ content streams. Of course, this would also introduce the pain in the ass of key management, something that few consumers are likely to want to suffer through any more than the already existing consumer ‘protection’ measures they regularly encounter.

The IEEE’s motivations behind this DRM system are to remedy problems caused by non-rivalrous digital content. Paul Sweazey has stated that;

…a truly non-rivalrous system makes commerce too difficult, even impossible, and that we need to create ways for the digital world to mirror the constraints of the physical one.

The creation of this rivalrous system is seen as a ‘middle road’ between advocates of abundance and total DRM lockdown. I would suggest that what we’re really seeing is just another attempt to undermine (arguably) the most significant quality of the bitscape, which is the capacity to replicate information across networks spanning the globe without diminishing the ‘holdings’ of whomever held the original copy. Moreover, it demonstrates a continued unwillingness and/or inability to experiment with novel business models that, while perhaps reducing overall revenue compared to past years/decades, will enable companies to continue delivering profits in the long-term. Value continues to be perceived as existing in the sales of digital things, and instead of seeking out novel ways to extract derivative value from their ubiquitous existence resulting from widespread copying there is an attempt to totally monetize all copies. This is in defiance of demonstrably successful freemium strategies, as well as other related schemes that work to gain widespread brand awareness and capitalize off the sale of rivalrous goods to a small percentage of users. 

I have incredible doubts that any key system will remain secure over the long-haul (and, by long-haul, I mean just 10-20 days of the system being deployed). There are just too many parties that will do everything in their power to break the encryption and key management system, and history has proven that the attackers tend to far outstrip the defenders in the field of content protection algorithms. Central is that technological security systems tend to be incredibly brittle, fail poorly, and enable modes of attack that relatively ineffective against human-based security. Schneier, in his 2006 book Beyond Fear, notes that;

Technology gives attackers leverage because they can do more in an attack. Class breaks give attackers leverage because they can exploit one vulnerability to attack every system within a class. Automation gives attackers leverage because they can exploit vulnerabilities a million times.. Technique propagation gives attackers leverage because now they can try more attacks, including ones they can’t even understand. Action at a distance and aggregation also give attackers leverage because now there are many more potential targets (p. 99).

A DRM scheme that aims to use encryption keys to establish digital bits as rivalrous will fall prey to each of the items noted in that quotation.

Making customers screw around with encryption keys, have adequate key management systems, always requiring connections to the ‘net to access keys, or any other ways that engineers imagine customers dealing with key management is almost destined to fail. Engineers are, in this case, trying to stuff the genie back in a bottle instead of working with progressive MBAs and innovators who are trying to create (and often, though certainly not always, succeeding) novel business models that leverage add-on services, scarce extras, and other things that are genuinely exclusive to monetize digital distribution systems. Focusing on protection, in this case, is the dead wrong way to to and highly unlikely to do much other than waste a lot of people’s time that could otherwise be productively exercised.

Why Mash-up Matters

livemashupdj[Note: this is an early draft of the first section of a paper I’m working on, presently loosely titled “Mash-up Meets Deep Packet Inspection: Culture, solutions, and the demand for transparency”. Other sections will follow as I draft them. I’ve adopted this format based on positive reactions to my similar drafting process last year on ‘Who Gives a Tweet About Privacy?‘ Comments welcome. I’ve excluded full bibliographic information, but retained enough that you can find my sources. Text has been copied and pasted from a word processing document; this may result in some links being broken *cough* footnotes links *cough*]

I’m composing the beginning of this article to the sounds of Girl Talk’s ‘Like This’ from his Feed the Animals album. His artistic technique is to take very short samples from a variety of artists – twenty-nine samples are taken in the three minutes and twenty-one seconds of ‘Like This’ – and remix the work to create entirely new songs.[i] He isn’t a DJ but a self-described musician of the digital era, and when his work was presented to Marybeth Peters of the US Registrar of Copyrights she recognized that his music was amazing. She also recognized it was likely illegal, and the fact that his own creativity clearly imbued his creations offered no defense against copyright infringement: “You can’t argue your creativity when it’s based on other people’s stuff.”[ii] This position is mirrored by Barry Slotnick, head of the intellectual property litigation group at Loeb & Loeb, who has stated that “[w]hat you can’t do is substitute someone else’s creativity for your own.”[iii] Girl Talk’s work is recognized as amazing and creative, even by defenders and advocates of the present copyright regime, but is still questionably legal (at best). Feed the Animals is a popular album that pulls together anthems of pop culture, and its artist has been used as a defender of copyright reform movements,[iv] but it is only one item in a rapidly developing and emerging ‘mash-up’ culture that draws together existing cultural artifacts to in the creation of a recombinant digital culture.

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