The plight of Numerama and the future of copyright

Torrentfreak reports on a story involving the French P2P news site Numerama and the French courts. The courts have ordered Numerama to publish extracts of convictions of 27 copyright violators.

Although the court is compensating Numerama to the tune of €10,000 (about US$14,000), it is not surprising that Numerana is a bit worried about taking money from the pro-copyright lobby, even if it is indirectly. Some creative uses for the money have been proposed, and they run the gamut from buying servers for a file-sharing network to a donation to the (unfortunately named) Swedish Pirate Party.

This order comes even though Numerama is not involved in any of the cases. Such appears to be the quirkiness of French law. I question the wisdom of the move, and would still question it even if I believed the draconian copyright enforcement we face today is justified (which I don’t). For one, Numerama’s readers will probably see these people as martyrs or even heroes. With this in mind it is not clear at all just what the copyright holders, through their trade organizations, intend to accomplish.

We live in an age where the previous scarcity of recorded media no longer exists because of the advance of technology. Records, tapes, even CDs in the early years cost what they did because it was expensive and difficult to make copies. Now, all one has to do to make a copy is frequently no more than dragging icons from one window to another, or even typing in a command like cp -a music /media/travel5. That’s still a lot easier and faster than hooking up a tape deck to a record player ever was.

What has been the response of trade organizations like the MPAA and RIAA? Higher prices, and vicious attempts to restrict the freedom of the users. Everything is bits, and bits can be copied over and over again with no loss of quality; rather than embrace this, the companies which make up the MPAA and RIAA have tried to layer scarcity on top of it via Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). This is doomed to failure (already, the RIAA has admitted this by allowing Apple and Amazon to sell MP3 files without DRM).

Let’s define what copying, recording, and playback are, fundamentally (this is really as simple as it gets):

  • Copying is reading bits from a storage device (CD, DVD, hard drive, SD card) and writing the same bits again to another storage device.
  • Recording is reading bits from an input device (camera or microphone) and writing those bits to a storage device.
  • Playback is reading bits from a storage device and writing those same bits to an output device (video monitor or speakers).

All three are fundamentally the same operation. The only differences are where the bits come from and where they go.

The RIAA (and similar music/audio recording trade organizations) may finally be realizing this; when will the MPAA and television producers follow suit?

Bad cop: officer wrote something he shouldn’t on ticket

A 17-year old New Zealender who got a ticket for unauthorized passengers that could cost her NZ$400–but the profane insult that came with it is free.

Stuff.co.nz has the original report (warning: profanity) on the experience of Taliah Butters who claims she told the officer she was a “kitchen hand and part-time chef.” The cop, however, wrote a profane and insulting version on the ticket–think a nastier version of “kitchen dog.”

My take? As the bumper sticker says: “Bad cop–no donut.”

China gives Google the boot

The Financial Times reports on China’s latest censorship move: telling Google to shutdown its google.cn site for Chinese residents.

With the rise of technologies like Tor, Freenet, GNUnet, Mixmaster, and OpenPGP (including GNU Privacy Guard), censorship as a whole is unsustainable in the personal computing realm.

China is trying to hang onto a fasicst-communist regime similar to the USSR’s. The USSR broke up 20 years ago. How dumb can you be to not know this, unless you are intentionally ignoring all references to it?

Censorship, the way China is doing it, is doomed, and in fact, has already been circumvented. As John Gilmore said: “The Net interpets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

The Internet is about a lot more than the physical wires and the computers across the world. The Internet is about the people that use it. The Internet is about freedom of speech. More importantly, not just free speech for those in Western countries, not just free speech in the US where we damn near take the First Amendment right of free speech for granted–the Internet is about free speech everywhere.

The sooner they figure that out in China, the better.

Rescuing the unpublishable

Sometimes, I have to stand back and just admire a writer’s creativity. A recent article in Boston.com’s romance section could well be the pinnacle of Meredith Goldstein’s writing career in the creativity department. Meredith took an otherwise unpublishable letter and turned it into something which has, so far, received 344 comments (and will probably top 400 by the time it’s all done).

I’m trying to keep this blog at least PG-13-rated, so kids, if you can’t figure it out, you’re on your own.

Apple rejects iPhone apps with no reason given

Ars Technica reports on Apple rejecting iPhone applications without offering an explanation. Of particular note:

Marco Arment, lead developer of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, chronicled the situation on his blog. On the last day of WWDC ’09, Apple had a session dedicated to the process of publishing an iPhone app to its App Store. The session ended early, and lines of developers formed at the microphones to ask questions—ostensibly concerning App Store rejections and how best to resolve issues identified in the review process. However, at the end of the presentation, the presenter and other engineers quickly exited the room, leaving the assembled developers scratching their heads.

“It was a giant middle finger to iPhone developers,” wrote Arment. “Clearly, they had absolutely no interest in fielding even a single question from the topic that we have the most questions about.”

And later, [as reported on tuaw.com][3], one unlucky developer got this in their e-mail:

“As you know, Apple reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to reject any application for any reason.”

So if you plan to develop for the iPhone, this is what you’re getting into. You’re at the mercy of Apple, and they may not even tell you why you can’t sell the application you just spent hours or days working on.

No other computing platform, anywhere, has one company deciding what can and can’t run on it. (And yes, I realize it may seem odd to call the iPhone a computing platform, but that is in effect what it is: a computer that can also make telephone calls.)

I believe the developers, at minimum, have the right to know why Apple rejects an application. However, I also believe a far wiser choice, one that might just get Apple’s attention, is for developers to stay away in droves until Apple takes a more hands-off approach with regards to the iPhone platform.

Personally, I believe the only valid reason for rejection of an iPhone application is if it has the potential to cause harm to the mobile networks that the iPhone connects to. I should note here, “harm” does not include the following:

  • letting the user make phone calls over a VoIP network like Skype or Gizmo;
  • content that Apple finds objectionable or that in Apple’s judgment does not belong on a mobile phone;
  • parodying Apple, AT&T, O2, or other carriers which Apple partners with;
  • any of the other reasons Apple has for rejecting applications for the iPhone.

It’ll probably be a cold day in hell before that actually becomes reality, however. I’m not going to wait.