Content tagged IP Law
I immediately threw up two similar playlists I'd come up with way back in 2006 or so, listened to a playlist or two of a friends and did some work. I visited 8tracks once in a while to look for new music and meant to get around to posting more playlists of my own. I finally got around to working on a playlist over the holidays but had some nasty suprises in store when I tried to upload it. The RIAA (record labels) have forced 8tracks to remove community tracks so I have to upload each song myself AND after the playlist has been listened to once by a given listener the track order is randomized on each future listening.
Now 8tracks is doing their best to appease these foolish companies that think this will somehow help their bottom line by keeping people from listening to or discovering new music. 8tracks is also doing their best to not let this ruin the service and, if you're a Mac user, they have provided a tool that will let you drag and drop playlists from iTunes and automatically do all the song uploading for you. Why would that matter? Because even with decent upload bandwidth you're looking at spending ten minutes looking for files on your filesystem and waiting for them to upload. But I don't use iTunes, or use a Mac...or Windows for that matter.
I was really excited about 8tracks as a service and hoping to use it more in the future. I know the site is working towards rectifying the situation to restore the old functionality and I sincerely hope they find success. There are a number of reasons that this state of affairs is really terrible for them. Here are a few:
- The whole point of a good mixtape involves the sequencing of tracks for coherency, flow, emotional potency and storytelling. Does the music industry really not understand that randomizing a mix at worst fundamentally destroys it or at best turns it into just a selection of songs?
- I'm pretty sure it won't magically force people who otherwise *weren't* buying music (like me) into purchasing albums. Keeping people from being exposed and engaged in music is not the way to market penetration, relevance or consumer interest. Guaranteed.
- One significant reason the site was such a joy was the simplicity of it. You simply searched for songs, dragged them into a list, arranged them and hit save. It was easy to use, attractive and fun. This is one of those "design really counts" moments. Forcing the user to open a file browser constantly and sit around waiting on uploads immediately limits the site to those with fast connections or patience and dedication. You've taken a potentially large market and limited it to a much smaller number of hardcore users.
- Let's not even mention the fact that 8tracks has to worry about an entirely new technical problem. If they're storing each user's songs individually, how do they manage to consolidate the 8,000 uploads of Bad Romance or what have you? I'm sure you could binary diff the files or get a SHA-1 hash of them as they come in and then have duplicate files just point to an entry in a Distributed Hash Table or something. Unless they do the hashing client side (which admittedly isn't hard) they're still going to have to deal with a lot of bandwidth usage for all those identical copies being uploaded. This isn't impossible by any means, it's just unreasonable. Their is no reason this is a problem which they should have to spend their time on. It doesn't do anything to enhance the core values or draw of their site. It does *nothing* for their value proposition to me, the consumer. That said, users had the option of uploading files all along if they weren't in the "community tracks" so hopefully the developers were already doing something like this.
As I understand it, 8tracks is a side project for a number of folks and none of them yet work on it full time. It shows a delightful level of polish if that is indeed the case. A huge part of that polish came from the User Experience which has, at least in my opinion, been severely damaged by the record labels. What's so sad is that this site did nothing but allow users to discover and share new music in a fun and interesting way and it was engaging in large part because the User Experience/Design was just damn good. Given the limitations that were already there I sincerely doubt anyone was trying to avoid buying music by skipping through playlists and listening to music there. Any human over the age of 6 is smart enough to just listen to the radio (or internet radio) or navigate to filestube.com or a torrent site by now. Keep shooting yourself in the foot, recording industry. Maybe one of these days you'll get a whole red cent out of it.
I keep hearing about stupid moves by Microsoft lately. It's very confusing because in many ways my opinion of them has improved over the last few years. Not that I'd ever want to use a Windows-based OS again. I'm just too happy in Linux land. My point though, is that the company clearly has an old culture of anti-competitive wonkiness and a newer culture that seems more focused on creating good products and less on market manipulation. Maybe it's all just weird management stuff though. Hopefully that will change sooner rather than later. On the other hand, Sony seems to be getting their console act together between dropping prices and actually putting out effective advertising for perhaps the first time in history. I'm also quite pleased with Google taking a (more official) stance on Data Portability. It's something I feel pretty strongly about though I won't speak more about it today.
My hatred of AT&T seems to be perpetually growing. The FCC is trying to come up with a more formal definition of broadband and the carriers are, in my view, trying to make that definition demand as little of them as possible. Generally, I've gotten to a point where I hate telecoms. So, I have a message for them: Give me fiber, or whatever wireless connectivity you're pimping this week, and shut the hell up. In other news, IP Law is still completely ridiculous and I can't begin to summarize or explain that here. I can offer an example or two though. The first is a list of seven felonies with less severe penalties than music piracy. It's meant to be humorous. It's sadly surreal. I'll actually let that be enough of an example for today and link to a discussion of what fair use might look like in the 21st century and a curious idea of making digital property "stealable". Last but not least, I'm at least glad that good arguments against software patents are being made to the Supreme Court. Crossing my fingers on that one!
Peter Seibel's Coders at Work has finally come out. I was looking forward to the book for a good while and have been enjoying reading the interviews. LtU recently posted about it also. I've got 7 of 15 knocked out. I've been surprised that the two interviews I think I've enjoyed the most were with Simon Peyton-Jones and Brendan Eich. I was expecting the Lispers or Smalltalkers to be more to my liking. *shrug* I'll likely write a review or at least talk more about it when I'm finished.
I've been following a few pieces of software (as usual). It's nice to see the competitiveness in the browser market of late. The Chrome Linux team was disbanded recently and I take it that work is now part of mainline so hopefully there will be an official Chrome release for Linux "Real Soon Now". I should also note the emerging standard for 3D Graphics on the web. Something good will come of this. Additionally, GHC 6.12 is coming along nicely. Lots of bugfixes the last few days. Looking forward to GHC 6.12.1 RC getting out there even though I won't be using it. Rock on, Haskellers. Pitivi also made another release. Now if only Arch would get an updated pitivi package, I'd be a very happy man. Oh, and there hasn't really been any more news on the N900. I'm keeping my ear to the ground.
Finally, this is the month of Linux conferences between the Atlanta Linux Conference this weekend, the almighty Linux Plumbers Conference next week and the X Developers' Conference after that. Speaking of X, anholt reports continuing progress on the Intel front and I feel warm and fuzzy inside. All for now folks, later!
Let's start with the NSA. There have been three separate arstechnica articles lately about the failures of the NSA spying program. One of the articles discussed the extent to which the program's secrecy made it useless to traditional intelligence workers, another talked about how the warrantless wiretapping that was exposed was just the tip of the iceberg and a third condemned the continuing money being thrown into data centers for the NSA whose output we cannot quantify or evaluate.
That said, it all made me realize just how much arstechnica is an echo chamber for my own views. In Cass Sunstein's book Republic.com and other places he is a bit more alarmist about this than I would be but he's still a smart guy and onto something. With that in mind, I should at least comment that there does seem to be some positive pressure for Obama to live up to his promise, however meager, between angry senators and increased news coverage. In addition, some hold a much more balanced view that promotes waiting and seeing. The NSA position was a major factor in my support of Obama though or at least the belief that he would bolster what are, in my view, weakened civil liberties and constitutional law...and I'm a bit impatient and touchy about it.
As for stupid IP law, the madness just goes on and on. It's hard to know where to begin. I think I blogged about this already but a quick and obvious example is a music industry group that thinks they should be able to charge you each time your phone rings if you have a "musical ringtone". As a matter of fact, they're cleverly suing AT&T over it. At least my enemies are fighting each other. But let's just break their view down for a second. So, you can buy little 10-15 second clips of songs to serve as ringtones when people call you now. And these guys think that whenever someone calls you...and that song, or clip of a song, plays in public, it counts as a public performance of the work and copyright law entitles them to money. What? The same group struggled to get girl scouts to pay royalties for singing copyrighted songs around a campfire, such as "Happy Birthday" and "Row, Row, Row". I don't normally swear on this blog but might I say, Get The Fuck Out. You have no idea what music, or culture for that matter, is good for. Just leave. I get pretty irate about this stuff. Strange conclusions are being reached about what good copyright law is doing.
On the bright side though, Obama has made a USPTO choice which supports patent reform. Patent law, like copyright law, has gotten wildly out of hand in the last two to three decades and I fervently hope Mr. Kappos takes steps to bring some sanity to the system. Above and beyond that, there are still reports coming from academia alleging that piracy is not stopping artists and the pirate party has made it to parliament in Europe. There are also continuing efforts to try new approaches that adapt to modern conditions. Let's just consider IP Law to have two sides and call it a day for now. And I don't mean BSD vs GPL. Sheesh.
Here are a few other things that have been going on:
President Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod loaded with 40 Showtunes. And we don't know if that's legal. Think our Intellectual Property laws are messed up yet?
Apparently there's a pretty nice concrete skatepark near me. With any luck Burke and I will be regulars over the summer while he's here. :)
Unladen Swallow seems to be moving along nicely. I jumped in to check on their progress. Speaking of Python, Mark Pilgrim is working on Dive Into Python 3 and it's online. There are also a few fun articles on Functional Programming in Python. Oh, and Named Tuples kind of rock. You'll need Python 2.6 to use them though.
Arch Linux is planning an April release and they've got a fair amount slated to get done. I'm rather excited about it.
Some Last.fm devs implemented a MapReduce framework in Bash over the weekend. I think it's awesome.
John Cowan has an endearing list of Essentialist Explanations about languages that's fun to peruse.
Last but not least, I've been on a real John Mayer streak lately but here are two other songs that I've really enjoyed. E.Z. L.A. by The Folk Implosion is simply awesome. That whole album is, so get that. No City by Aesop Rock is also quite excellent. I still prefer Labor Days though. In other news, Mayer and the Gorillaz have albums slated to come out in the near future. You're thrilled, right?
There is tons of content out there and it's often difficult to find it all. There are a few sources I've found that help in sorting through everything but my sources tend to lead towards what suits my studies (computer science) best. That would be Peteris Krumins blog and Lecturefox. There are plenty of Google Techtalks and Authors@Google videos that are good as well. Beyond that, I occasionally find one off blog posts that may link to content I wasn't aware of. If anyone knows of any ACM conferences similar to the Reflections conference at UIUC where videos are released please post in the comments.
Unfortunately, most to all of these sources have a curious notion of "sharing" or online distribution. There are one or two problems that all the content they've posted online [under the egalitarian notion of global learning] suffers from. The first problem being that it's streaming content which is difficult to download (generally .flv or .rm format). The second problem being that if there is a download option for the content it's through a non-cross platform or DRM-encumbered client (such as iTunes).
Thankfully, Mplayer exists. Mplayer is my video player/encoder of choice (though VLC is quite good, too). And wouldn't you know it? It provides support for watching, ripping and converting those frustrating rm streams in addition to everything else. Flash videos are easy enough to rip through existing Firefox Extensions.
To make things even more exciting, there's no reason anyone can't mirror all the educational content out there. Except for legality of course, I can't speak to those details and I expect most of this content is under separate licenses. I do wonder if the Creative Commons No Derivative Works clause includes transcoding though. I suspect it doesn't based on the definition of derivative work. But to return to my original point about mirroring, storage is cheap now. Even NAS setups though they still run a good deal more than regular storage. But c'mon, it's a fileserver in a box. You knew that though, right? When you can get a 320GB PS3 or Notebook drive for $100, a 500GB external for $100 and a 1TB internal drive for $140 you know life is good. Not that I'm not excited about the day when the same will be possible with SSDs but don't worry, that day is coming.
Also, to the folks who filmed the Lively Kernel Talk from last night as well as those filming technical talks generally: If most of what the presenter/speaker is discussing concerns what's happening on the computer screen, you should be filming the computer screen. It's a handy rule.
Now, if you're not a Computer nerd or Software Freedom Advocate you may wonder why any of this would bother anyone. After all, you can still stream the videos with RealPlayer or watch them via Youtube in any event, right? Not quite, though I'll admit my problem is mostly with the egalitarian notions of education that I perceived (or imagined) to underpin this whole OpenCourseware initiative. If your stated goal is to make a set of educational resources available to as much of the world as possible via the internet then you're effectively after every demographic. There's not a section of the market you can afford to alienate.
In many parts of the world, I expect it's a real pain to find the time to sit in front of a computer and stream a file. Particularly in places where internet connections are scarce and are not broadband where they are available. Particularly if the file is a one or two hour lecture that you might want to rewind or pause at various points. If a guy can't watch the file in (connected) India, how is it free learning throughout the connected world? Additionally, if someone wants to watch video lectures when it suits their schedule (say at the gym or on the train) why would you prevent them from doing so unless they had a specific brand of portable video player?
If you're trying to promote free educational content then the first step you can take to responsibly pursue your goal is to choose the most widely viewable formats and lend your content to the widest possible types of use (including offline use but perhaps excluding commercial profit). Poor choices have been made in both respects. Flash Player historically wasn't available for x86_64 based Linux platforms though that has been recently remedied and iTunes U isn't available on Linux at all. More seriously, RM and FLV videos are difficult to download and use portably. Conversion to another format tends to be necessary as well.
Somewhat relatedly, I'd like to suggest that the masses of Open Content out there could use a good marketing push. Open Courseware is as underused as music, images and video in the Creative Commons. Someone really needs to create a service which finds Open Content and recommends or reviews it based upon the more familiar proprietary content in Music, Film and TV that consumers are fans of. Just giving it away isn't enough.
That said, I'm trying to push forward. I've gotten in touch with some professors at Northeastern University where I'd very much like to study Computer Science in Fall of 2010, ideally. I also wrote code today for the first time in three weeks. It's hard to find the time, man!
More immediately I'm looking for a new job and have an interview tomorrow morning. For a variety of reasons I'm just not pleased with my current job and I think I can grow more and be happier elsewhere. Cross your fingers for me.
Finally, Jonathan Zittrain was on The Colbert Report tonight talking about his book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. I heard about it in advance and was very excited to see him speak. Unfortunately, I feel that he really botched the interview and I got into a long discussion with Ben about it. I'm pretty disappointed because there are important political issues about technology but they're rarely communicated to the public coherently and concisely and I'm no good at it myself.
I'll probably try to think of a good way to present it and give a fuller update in the next few days though. If I don't get bogged down with the promised education post or the emerging philosophy post or the big easy posts that is. Or hell, SICP 2.1. Yeah, right.
I have a long term plan for a course of study but no hard schedule yet. I have to divide up readings and problem sets and link them with lectures and such. I plan to have such a syllabus done and up for viewing by the end of the week. As for the long term plan of study there are 6 Programming Texts and 3 Math Texts that I'd really like to get through. If I get through the first 3 Programming Texts (or even the first 2) and 1 or 2 of the Math Texts I'd consider it a successful year. They're all fairly rigorous and I'd like to cover them in depth. Of late, I've been debating the order in which to approach the programming texts. Either SICP, CTM, HTDP or HTDP, CTM, SICP. Some of the stuff in SICP is a bit difficult and some of the stuff in HTDP is a bit easy so far. This is another thing I'm hoping to have worked out by the end of the week so that I can get going.
Once I do have a syllabus I'll post it and then post notes on readings and lectures and solutions to exercises as I go along so feel free to follow along and ask questions. You can only help me learn more. So far, I read the first 40 pages of SICP in Montana. That's Chapter 1 (of 5), Section 1.1. I've got notes typed up on the lecture and reading and most of the examples solved. I'll get those posted up by Friday as the first entry whatever my course of study turns out to be. Also, Friday I will be going to that Yeasayer concert. So far Ben Grad and Minor are talking about going too. Any more takers? Have you guys liked Yeasayer as much as I have? Isn't that Red Cave song from yesterday awesome?
Finally, here are some good Lessig quotes my readings in Montana of The Future of Ideas (Pgs. 1 - 99):
"The very idea that nonexclusive rights might be more efficient than exclusive rights rarely enters the debate. The assumption is control, and public policy is dedicated to maximizing control." - Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, Pg. 86
"Where we have little understanding about how a resource will be used, we have more reason to keep that resource in the commons. And where we have a clear vision of how a resource will be used, we have more reason to shift that resource to a system of control." - Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, Pg. 88-89
"The point is more than theoretical. In essence, the changes in the environment of the Internet that we are observing now alter the balance between control and freedom on the Net. The tilt of these changes is pronounced: control is increasing. And while one cannot say in the abstract that increased control is a mistake, it is clear that we are expanding this control with no sense of what is lost. The shift is not occurring with the idea of a balance in mind. Instead, the shift proceeds as if control were the only value." - Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, Pg. 99
A couple of things.
Kristian Hoegsberg is amazing.
I'm starting to think that given time Ubuntu/Linux can out-Mac Mac. More explanation necessary. I'll get to you. Note that this is not the same as saying they can out-Apple Apple.
Web 2.0 is...auhweiruhaudsf. Free data is...oiajdsofiewaofm. People are crazy. Tim O'Reilly finds the words for the stuff I've been thinking. Freedom is complicated. Delicious, and prescient too! But what about open spectrum...
Certain companies actions do make it a legitimate concern...
Carmack is a genius and anything he says is gold. Need to find out what his kool aid is and drink some.
Been thinking about some security with regard to wireless cookies and WEP Cracking.
Still waiting on news of Banshee trunk improvements.
Sun is serious about Open Source. Maybe more so than anybody else. And yet they still act funky with Java. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this.
This looks really useful for next time I encounter data loss. It does happen.
Between academics lining up to help and the German government, I feel like Wikipedia is going to be pretty hard to make ridiculous generalizations regarding quality about "real soon now". It's not just wikipedia tough. Everyone is getting in on the peer production action. Peer production will only become more visible.
There are lots of books that should be written about software. These are some. This is interesting as a look at where things are\might be headed.
I continue to be torn up about the language wars. Are they in some ways just plain silly? Yes. All the same, furthering our tools matters. A lot. Competitors still include Erlang, Haskell, etc.
I tend to think of the web server market as being kind of stagnant. Or at least I did until this summer. Of course, I basically just heard about Apache and IIS until this summer. I'd never actually run/setup/worked with web servers until this summer. I kind of feel like that market is in the midst/outset of a shake up though. Observe.
Amazon's hardware as a service stuff just gets more and more interesting as the days go by. We're going to wake up one morning and this will have changed the world.
There are some real shifts happening. There are different work styles emerging. We'll see what comes of it.
I'm really excited that there is video of Steve Yegge talking online. I can't believe I haven't looked for some before. He's so damn smart I'll listen to anything he says. It links to all the other OSCON 2007 content too which is great because I've been wondering why GUADEC, OSCON, and Ubuntu Live content is all over t3h int4rwebz. Conferences are good because of mindshare but please share your geniuses keynotes with me. Imitate TED.
Keep working at those Online Desktop chestnuts. Even if it doesn't turn out to be the right problem, it sure will help our platform stand out.
I'm really glad this exists. It seems like it could be much more elegant than a reverse proxy or other load balancing solution.
It's always good to know what other people are reading and if anyone is exploring a critical literature then it's Worldchanging. So I'm assuming I'll find something lifechanging on this list.
We really can do just about anything these days. Between this and some 3D printing reports from Siggraph 2007 I have high hopes for what will be possible by 2020.
Lessig is awesome. So is proof of how awesome he is.
If you think the web isn't almost an OS layer itself, you're wrong. Now let's do performance analysis on it!
Social media really does matter. Open Source is naturally on the leading edge of that too. Video and Audio included.
We really are moving away from the desktop. Whether it's the web(Online Desktop), mobile (iPhone, OpenMoko), other embedded or home theater, or some strange new device (OLPC XO, Zonbu, zareason, minis and micro-atx, etc) there are strong currents in this sea.
Gnome and Linux really are doing good things. I'm really excited about watching us surge ahead on so many fronts.
Emerging worlds are cool and it's only going to happen more and more in games and serious apps. Mash up the virtual and the physical. It's all code. What distinction?
Knowing job projections is useful.
Kernels are interesting, you've got Linux, BSDs, Solaris, Darwin\XNU, whatever powers XP and Vista. But they're really just parts of the stack. All the same, they're really important parts of the stack. Infrastructure will always matter. It's just not the focus now. What we're building with it is the focus. The OS is irrelevant in so much as it's just an enabler. This sounds obvious and stupid. I need to think more on what I'm trying to say.
Maybe the processor industry going massively multicore is the only way to force software developers to take advantage of the power that's already there. By forcing them to adopt new programming conventions they force out 30 years of cruft code and development methodology that is bug-prone. Goodbye imperative, hello functional.
Okay, that's it for now. Sorry for the linkflood\social braindump.
Moglen and O'Reilly at OSCON are coming from very different positions. Certainly Moglen is focused on his efforts on the GPLv3 granting Open Source another 10 years of safety with which they can acquire more permanent safety through public policy and patent reform. Moglen's accusations of Tim O'Reilly and the Open Source movement as being Web 2.0 blathering profiteers at this point is perhaps uncalled for but points towards an interesting difference. We might call what Moglen and Stallman are after a right to computation. They think people should be able to compute whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, however they want. This doesn't mean they don't believe in strong encryption on data. This doesn't mean they don't believe in money in software. This means they think there's no reason that the software you use to manipulate your data should be out of your control and that it should be available to you from any computer at any time. O'Reilly et al see no reason that Open Source Software doesn't meet those requirements and are interested in the opportunities that really are inherent in web services. They see that as the next space to really advance the state of computing and user rights. "Your data, your software, anywhere" seems to be the idea.
The difference here is really that Moglen and Stallman are measuring progress in legal terms while the Open Source Movement is measuring progress in market terms. As Lessig said, Law is Code but intellectual property law is different the world over...and is nigh impossible to enforce with the advent of digitization and the web anyway. Thought has broken loose. The Free Software camp is deeply aware of the fact that they have created a new political form based around a new concept of property rights. That new political form has as it's goal empowering communities by lowering the barriers to contribution. This has led to a method of production more efficient than preceding methods which has caught the attention of industry and ascended to the world stage. Open Source is that method of production, that method of organization. But Open Source as a meme was designed to keep politics out of the discussion because the term "Free Software" wasn't selling well to corporations. By eliminating the communist-sounding rhetoric the Open Source meme has done much better in the corporate space. Centrally though we must keep in mind that Open Source succeeds because it lowers the barriers to contribution and fosters community. It increases the benefit for everyone involved. This is what Moglen is trying to remind us. And it is certainly important that we begin cementing some of these norms and protecting some unprotected aspects of the maturing "Free/Open" political model through public policy and reform. The legal codes must be prepared to defend us as well as the establishment they are presently geared toward.
Licenses are only a small part of this. It is thankful that Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has grown important enough that industry leaders such as Google, IBM, Sun, Intel, etc are contributing to it and will defend it (legally and politically) from attack. It is not enough. The Open Source movement is less concerned with how to defend and advance the sociopolitical status of our model than they are with observing it's market effects. It has opened up new avenues in terms of how to work and the software industry is busy doing what it has always done, trying to figure out how to capitalize on improved methods. Though they may be Improved Methods for Achieving Deteriorated Ends. In America though we tend to measure progress through the market and that is not entirely misguided. As in Cass Sunstein's Infotopia the market has historically proven an excellent way to aggregate information. But it is being shown up by more decentralized methodologies that have arisen in the Information Age. Valuing Knowledge is a traditionally hard problem but it grows more important as our assets lean more and more towards intellectual property and further and further from capital invested and factories and so forth.
It may be acceptable for Moglen to serve as a shock to the Open Source ecosystem through venting at OSCON in O'Reilly's general direction, not that I believe his attacks were meant to be personal on anyone in the Open Source community. In fact, if anything I would characterize Moglen's acts as public lament. But while it may be appropriate for him to try to invigorate those at OSCON I am not sure that it makes sense for him to try to invigorate those at IBM. Perhaps Ubuntu or Red Hat but even this I'm not convinced of. At some point, IBM decided the Eclipse code it had invested $40 million dollars into would be more valuable if they gave it away for free. Why? Because that meant they got free additional developers to work on the project. What is our product now? It's not software, it's not knowledge, it's not collaboration. Our product is a community. We finally stepped beyond knowledge and material goods to deliver the asset of the individual. Our product is our people. That's the philosophy. We're just trying to find ways to improve discussion. Communities are the ones producing things and the more knowledgeable, passionate, interested people/parties we can involve in the discussion, the more valuable things said community can produce.
"Most of the great leaps of the computer age have happened despite, rather than because of, intellectual property rights. Before the Internet the proprietary network protocols divided customers, locked them into providers and forced them to exchange much of their data by tape. The power of the network was not unlocked by IPR. It was unlocked by free and open innovation shared amongst all." - Alan Cox
"AT&T's views were once memorably summarized in an exasperated outburst from AT&T's Jack Osterman after a long discussion with Baran. 'First', he said, 'it can't possibly work, and if it did, damned if we are going to allow the creation of a competitor to ourselves." - Lawrence Lessig
"The argument [of this book] is that always and everywhere, free resources have been crucial to innovation and creativity; that without them, creativity is crippled. Thus, and especially in the digital age, the central question becomes not whether the government or the market should control a resource, but whether a resource should be controlled at all. Just because control is possible, it doesn't follow that it is justified. Instead, in a free society, the burden of justification should fall on him who would defend systems of control." - Lawrence Lessig
I feel I should explain a bit about why the events of May 1st were so important, why it was as I called it "a watershed day". Since I wrote that piece this afternoon the events covered have been very much in my thoughts and I've discussed them with a number of friends of mine, some technically inclined, some not. There were two events. The first being Dell's decision to offer Ubuntu preinstalled on select computers of theirs. This is a huge victory for Open Source Software generally and also Linux particularly. It's a larger victory for the Open Source Production Model because it stands as evidence that such a production model can compete with that of proprietary vendors such as Microsoft, Apple, etc. That I consider to be (significantly) less important than the second event of the day. That is, the HD-DVD scandal. Or the cyber riot. Whatever it should be called. Those of you who know how much I trumpet on about Open Source and Linux should understand what a large claim that is for me. It's more important that a ton of people revolted online against a standard than that Dell said they would sell (Ubuntu) Linux computers. And I've been predicting that Linux on the Desktop thing for a good year now. A year's expectations fulfilled but secondary to some arbitrary online screaming fit? Yes. Part of that is because I was expecting the Linux thing to happen sooner or later. I'm glad it was sooner but not shocked. I figured Linux would be about ready by now it would just take a company with the guts to try it. I can say I'm half-surprised (but pleasantly) that the company was Dell. The revolt was much more important though and showed us much much more about the dynamics of online communities and power structures.
First, by way of introduction to the problem space, I'd like to clear up what could be an easy misconception. What essentially happened was a 16 byte code (09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c1) that protects HD-DVDs from being pirated, played on unsupported platforms (such as Linux), being ripped, etc. was leaked onto the internet. A piece of legislation protecting the code called the DMCA was passed in 1998 which extends the protections of copyright and makes it illegal to produce or spread methods of circumventing or infringing copyright. So, the code is not protected speech. My posting it here even is illegal. (It should be noted that some feel the very existence of the code and the resulting inability to play HD-DVDs on Linux or back them up is a consumer rights violation. Legally, this assertion is not ungrounded but until the DMCA is repealed it is irrelevant. The DMCA for its part has faced much derision and opposition since its inception for many reasons, vagueness high among them. If I informed you that you could circumvent copyright and reproduce a book with a copier, paper and ink, I could be in violation of the DMCA, for example.) The Movie Companies whose copyrights are protected by this code are of course upset that the safety of their product is now jeopardized by piracy. The code leaked out onto the web in February and the movie companies began sending out cease and desist letters so that sites would take it down. Then, on May 1st people started noticing. Three sites in particular which all derive their content (information) from their users formed the center of it all. Slashdot, Digg, and Wikipedia. Slashdot and Digg are user-generated technology news sites and Wikipedia is, of course, the online encyclopedia we all know and love. When Wikipedia and Digg started trying to censor the code (Slashdot didn't) from their sites people started noticing and rebelled in extraordinary fashion. Within 48 hours the number of hits when the code was searched for on Google went from under 1,000 to over a million. Digg and Wikipedia were swarmed with people trying to propagate the code in dozens of forms (such as masquerading it as lottery numbers, an IP address, or even a picture of stripes where the colors' hex values spelled out the code). Digg was the center of the controversy and simply could not control the number of users forcing the information onto the site through stories, diggs (votes that increase a story's visibility on the main page), and comments. Wikipedia had more success by locking the entry for HD-DVD and did a number of other things to prevent the spread but still had it's forums inundated with the code.
The important fact wasn't that people spread the code and lashed out\fought back against what they perceive as draconian intellectual property regimes and corporations (that happened for regular old DVDs with DeCSS in 1999) but that these sites, the icons of the Social Web or Web 2.0, were at the mercy of their userbases.
The amazing promise of the Open Source revolution has been the efficiency and power of it's production models. That's what enabled a few thousand volunteers and about a thousand dollars a month to compete with Encyclopedia Britannica through Wikipedia. That's what enabled a rag tag bunch of software developers from round the globe compete with Microsoft and Apple through Linux. While it's clear that the Open Source Model has definite advantages its limitations and drawbacks are somewhat less studied and, perhaps due only to lack of experience and evidence, less clear. We remain uncertain what can benefit from "going open," we remain uncertain about exactly how the power structures work, and we remain uncertain about exactly who is in control. It's the difference between the interactions and activities of hierarchies and bureaucracies (which we understand so well) and those of networks. The importance of such knowledge and it's relevance in the coming century has been demonstrated by our need to understand the dynamics of networked organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. For the most part, our bureaucracies have trouble stopping them even with considerably greater resources due to networks decentralized nature. It's as though there's no point to attack. What is particularly significant about the events of May 1st is that Wikipedia and Digg are not equal in their openness. Specifically, digg was unable to control it's users and Wikipedia was. This seems to imply that digg is more open than Wikipedia. Wikipedia however is promoted as more open than Digg and is designed with openness in mind. Digg's openness was, at least to some extent, accidental. Wikipedia has had to deal with more cyber-vandalism of this sort and so it was better equipped for the task. However, the same tools and methods of control that allowed them to prevent vandalism of entries enabled them to censor as well. Everything on Wikipedia is under an Open Source legal license (the GFDL). Digg's content is protected in no such way but it has fewer restrictions and administrative tools to control submissions and content. This is in part interesting because some people have suggested that Digg took advantage of its userbase to aggregate news content but this implies a control that is completely lacking. The suggestion at face value does seem a bit ridiculous when you consider that Wikipedia is doing precisely the same thing until you consider that Digg is a for-profit venture and grosses about $3 million annually. What's interesting about that suggestion is that it agrees with what we might imagine to be the case. Digg allows people to submit the news which people do because they enjoy it and Digg profits from it. But it's not that simple. Digg provides a platform on which people can author and vote on content and they profit from being an attention center of the web. Attention is becoming economically valuable. When companies use Google's AdSense they are essentially trying to buy attention. The web has made the reproduction of content an exercise in attention economics. All content, all video, audio, images, and text can be reproduced and distributed (effectively) for free. The scarcity has become one of time, one of attention. Hence the attention is the valuable thing. Sites on the web which get the most traffic are directly linked to the highest advertising profits. Digg gets the importance of attention and the users get the platform. That's a very important distinction so I'm going to repeat it once more. The users don't get the content, they get the platform. The essential defining element of any open source media, maybe any open source thing (so far as I can puzzle out) is that the users get the platform. The product, whether it's software, media, or otherwise is not what the users get. The users get the toolset that leads to the product and they (as the community) control the resulting product but that control is coincidental. As Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) said, "The big secret of course is that Wikipedia is not really about an encyclopedia, it's just a big game of nomic." The whole point is having control of the rules of the game. To this extent, I'm skeptical even of the claim that Wikipedia is more or less open than Digg. While Wikipedia locked entries from editing, the forums were still swamped with the Code they were trying to Censor. Moreover, as Jimmy Wales stated the rules could be changed at any time. While the platform has more controls and different power structures than Digg it still belongs to the users.
There have been numerous responses to the Code Frenzy over the last few days. One interesting reaction cited the entire movement as dumb because this sort of mass civil disobedience wasn't legal and wouldn't change the law or the decisions of the Content Corporations to use it and to use encryption. While those are all valid points I think they generally eschew the interesting aspects of this event in terms of hierarchies and networks clashing as social-organizational structures. Another reaction takes on the view of the necessary incentive to get people to spread sensitive information or participate in this sort of viral protest movement. Another still criticized Wikipedia for even trying to censor the number as it's effort would obviously be futile. The most interesting part is still Digg folding to it's user base. Businessweek had a cover story on Digg in August of last year and while Digg may make $3 million annually it's esteemed value is closer to 200 million dollars. Here's a 200 million dollar icon of the web being forced, more or less, to decide to work with or against their user base (which is the source of their power) and deciding to surrender to the whims of that user base even when that stance clearly flies in the face of the law and places them at odds with far more established and wealthy firms (the entire movie industry).
The Conclusion\Why it matters:
So, really, why such a big fuss about a little code and some cyber disobedience? Why the emphasis on new organizational structures? It is largely, for me, personal. I wrote this because these moments remind me of the little subtleties that I forget make Open Source special as an organizational form. I wrote this because I feel like I have a better understanding of makes something, anything, not just software, open than I did before the events of May 1st. But I'm also writing it because there's a direct connection between Economic\Material Progress and Innovation. New goods produce new profits and creativity is, I'm pretty sure, king. Google isn't open source but they've done the next closest thing. They've tried to foster good relations with their userbase and they allow their employees twenty percent time to work on what they want. That twenty percent time is motivating for people to produce. We all want to do what we want. I think that's a huge part of why Google's on top. They've found a way to make work not so worklike and in so doing increased the productivity of their workers. Eric Raymond once wrote that Enjoyment predicts Efficiency and I think that's a much more profound statement than he may have realized when he wrote it. If that's true and if, as I believe, Open Source fosters more enjoyment from it's participants than other methods of organizing production then it is a more efficient method of production than any other in existence. Open Production Models harness this enjoyment through voluntary selection of labor and many other motivating factors which I believe cause it to be potentially the most innovative organizational mode in existence. What's really fantastic is that I think it fixes a lot of the Spiritual Decay (which flies in the face of Material Progress) that Capitalism (depending on your view) has brought about. Finally, I think it's self-empowering and educating which ties into both the enjoyment and spiritual repair bits and also seems to foster a sort of social capital when many sociologists are concerned that our social capital is deteriorating, all the while providing public goods and services and reinvigorating the idea of a commons. Even if it just raises human efficiency in production and creativity, I'd say we can't ask for much better than that.
PS: I've underestimated the excellence of Radiohead's Kid A.
PPS: Sorry this wasn't a short entry like I promised.
First, a link to the official dell announcement: Ubuntu on Dell. Yay.
Second, a nice visualization of the extent of the HD-DVD rioting: 900 thousand google results when I searched regarding the riot.
Third, news stories about the HD-DVD rioting: from Forbes, and the New York Times, twice. I'm sure there are others.
Finally, a few different views and examples of the protest: Youtube, IPv6 addresses, an Image Puzzle, a Song, a flickr search and our new celebrity of course has it's own website. Two, in fact.
While I feel these produce a pretty good pastiche of May 1st's two events and their significance it may not be fully evident. If that's the case, let me know in the comments or contact me and I'll try to explain it in a short but thorough post later. I may just do it anyway...
Update: Added the flickr search link. Very cool. Also wrote that second piece but it didn't end up being so short.
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