Post DRM

[e]Book escrow

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I had no intention of writing yet another post about DRM today. But a new post on Boing Boing, Libraries set out to own their ebooks, has some of the same flavor as some of the posts I quoted yesterday and is a good departure (for making a few more points, and not writing any more about the topic for some time).

Today’s Boing Boing post (note their Day Against DRM post from last week) says a library in Colorado is:

buying eBooks directly from publishers and hosting them on its own platform. That platform is based on the purchase of content at discount; owning—not leasing—a copy of the file; the application of industry-standard DRM on the library’s files; multiple purchases based on demand; and a “click to buy” feature.

I think that’s exactly what Open Library is doing (maybe excepting “click to buy”; not sure what happened to “vending” mentioned when BookServer was announced). A letter to publishers from the library is fairly similar to the Internet Archive’s plea of a few days ago. Exceprt:

  • We will attach DRM when you want it. Again, the Adobe Content Server requires us to receive the file in the ePub format. If the file is “Creative Commons” and you do not require DRM, then we can offer it as a free download to as many people as want it. DRM is the default.
  • We will promote the title. Over 80% of our adult checkouts (and we checked out over 8.2 million items last year) are driven by displays. We will present e-content data (covers and descriptions) on large touch screens, computer catalogs, and a mobile application. These displays may be “built” by staff for special promotions (Westerns, Romances, Travel, etc.), automatically on the basis of use (highlighting popular titles), and automatically through a recommendation engine based on customer use and community reviews.
  • We will promote your company. See a sample press release, attached.

I did not realize libraries were so much like retail (see “driven by displays”). Disturbing, but mostly off-topic.

The letter lists two concerns, both financial. Now: give libraries discounts. Future: allow them to sell used copies. DRM is not a concern now, nor for the future. As I said a couple days ago, I appreciate the rationale for making such a deal. Librarian (and Wikimedian, etc) Phoebe Ayers explained it well almost exactly two years ago: benefit patrons (now). Ok. But this seems to me to fit what ought to be a canonical definition of non-visionary action: choosing to climb a local maximum which will be hard to climb down from, with higher peaks in full view. Sure, the trails are not known, but must exist. This “vision” aspect is one reason Internet Archive’s use of DRM is more puzzling than local libraries’ use.

Regarding “owning—not leasing—a copy of the file”, I now appreciate more a small part of the Internet Archive’s recent plea:

re-format for enduring access, and long term preservation

Are libraries actually getting books from publishers in formats ideal for these tasks? I doubt it, but if they are, that’s a very significant plus.

I dimly recall source code escrow being a hot topic in software around 25 years ago. (At which time I was reading industry rags…at my local library.) I don’t think it has been a hot topic for a long time, and I’d guess because the ability to run the software without a license manager, and to inspect, fix, and share the software right now, on demand, rather than as a failsafe mechanism, is a much, much better solution. Good thing lots of people and institutions over the last decades demanded the better solution.

DRM and BookServer/Internet Archive/Open Library commentary review

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

After posting DRM and the Churches of Universal Access to All Knowledge’s strategic plans I noticed some other mentions of DRM and BookServer/Internet Archive/Open Library. I’m dropping them here with a little bit of added commentary.

First there’s my microcarping at the launch event (2009-10-29, over 2.5 years ago). Fran Toolan blogged about the event and had a very different reaction:

The last demonstration was not a new one to me, but Raj came back on and he and Brewster demonstrated how using the Adobe ACS4 server technology, digital books can be borrowed, and protected from being over borrowed from libraries everywhere. First Brewster demonstrated the borrowing process, and then Raj tried to borrow the same book but found he couldn’t because it was already checked out. In a tip of the hat to Sony, Brewster then downloaded his borrowed text to his Sony Reader. This model protects the practice of libraries buying copies of books from publishers, and only loaning out what they have to loan. (Contrary to many publishers fears that it’s too easy to “loan” unlimited copies of e-Books from libraries).

As you’ll see (and saw in the screenshot last post) a common approach is to state that some Adobe “technology” or “software” is involved, but not say DRM.

A CNET story covering the announcement doesn’t even hint at DRM, but it does have a quote from Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle that gives some insight into why they’re taking the approach they have (in line with what I said previous post, and see accompanying picture there):

“We’ve now gotten universal access to free (content),” Kahle added. “Now it’s time to get universal access to all knowledge, and not all of this will be free.”

A report from David Rothman missed the DRM entirely, but understands it lurks at least as an issue:

There’s also the pesky DRM question. Will the master searcher provide detailed rights information, and what if publishers insist on DRM, which is anathema to Brewster? How to handle server-dependent DRM, or will such file be hosted on publisher sites?

Apparently it isn’t, and Adobe technology to the rescue!

Nancy Herther noted DRM:

Kahle and his associates are approaching this from the perspective of creating standards and processes acceptable to all stakeholders-and that includes fair attention to digital rights management issues (DRM). […] IA’s focus is more on developing a neutral platform acceptable to all key parties and less on mapping out the digitization of the world’s books and hoping the DRM issues resolve themselves.

The first chagrined mention of DRM that I could find came over 8 months later from Petter Næss:

Quotable: “I figure libraries are one of the major pillars of civilization, and in almost every case what librarians want is what they should get” (Stewart Brand)

Bit strange to hear Brand waxing so charitable about about a system that uses DRM, given his EFF credentials, but so it goes.

2011-01-09 maiki wrote that a book page on the Open Library site claimed that “Adobe ePUB Book Rights” do not permit “reading aloud” (conjure a DRM helmet with full mask to make that literally true). I can’t replicate that screen (capture at the link). Did Open Library provide more up-front information then than it does now?

2011-03-18 waltguy posted the most critical piece I’ve seen, but closes granting the possibility of good strategy:

It looks very much like the very controlled lending model imposed by publishers on libraries. Not only does the DRM software guard against unauthorized duplication. But the one user at a time restriction means that libraries have to spend more money for additional licences to serve multiple patrons simultaneously. Just like they would have to buy more print copies if they wanted to do that.


But then why would the Open Library want to adopt such a backward-looking model for their foray into facilitating library lending of ebooks ? They do mention some advantages of scale that may benefit the nostly public libraries that have joined.


However, even give the restrictions, it may be a very smart attempt to create an open-source motivated presence in the commercial-publisher-dominated field of copyrighted ebooks distribution. Better to be part of the game to be able to influence it’s future direction, even if you look stodgy.

2011-04-15 Nate Hoffelder noted concerning a recent addition to OpenLibrary:

eBooks can be checked out from The Open Library for a period of 2 weeks. Unfortunately, this means that Smashwords eBooks now have DRM. It’s built into the system that the Open Library licensed from Overdrive, the digital library service.

In a comment, George Oates from Open Library clarified:

Hello. We thought it might be worth correcting this statement. We haven’t licensed anything from Overdrive. When you borrow a book from the Open Library lending library, there are 3 ways you can consume the book:

1) Using our BookReader software, right in the browser, nothing to download,
2) As a PDF, which does require installing the Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) software, to manage the loan (and yes, DRM), or
3) As an ePub, which also requires consumption of the book within ADE.

Just wanted to clarify that there is no licensing relationship with Overdrive, though Overdrive also manages loans using ADE. (And, if we don’t have the book available to borrow through Open Library, we link through to the Overdrive system where we know an Overdrive identifier, and so can construct a link into

This is the first use of the term “DRM” by an Internet Archive/Open Library person in connection with the service that I’ve seen (though I’d be very surprised if it was actually the first).

2011-05-04 and again 2012-02-05 Sarah Houghton mentions Open Library very favorably in posts lambasting DRM. I agree that DRM is negative and Open Library positive, but find it just a bit odd in such a post to promote a “better model” that…also uses DRM. (Granted, not every post needs to state all relevant caveats.)

2011-06-25 the Internet Archive made an announcement about expanding OpenLibrary book lending:

Any account holder can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time, for up to 2 weeks. Books can only be borrowed by one person at a time. People can choose to borrow either an in-browser version (viewed using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or a PDF or ePub version, managed by the free Adobe Digital Editions software. This new technology follows the lead of the Google eBookstore, which sells books from many publishers to be read using Google’s books-in-browsers technology. Readers can use laptops, library computers and tablet devices, including the iPad.

blogged about the announcement, using the three characters:

The open Library functions in much the same way as OverDrive. Library patrons can check out up to 5 titles at a time for a period of 2 weeks. The ebooks can be read online or on any Device or app that supports Adobe DE DRM.

2011-07-05 a public library in Kentucky posted:

The Open Library is a digital library with an enormous ammount of DRM free digital books. The books are multiple formats, ranging from PDF to plain text for the Dial-up users out there. We hope you check them out!

That’s all true, Open Library does have an enormous amount of DRM-free digital books. And a number of restricted ones.

2011-08-13 Vic Richardson posted an as far as I can tell accurate description for general readers.

Yesterday (2012-05-08) Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive answered a question about how library ebook purchases differ from individual purchases. I’ll just quote the whole thing:

Karen, this is a good question. Because ebooks are digital files, they need to be hosted somewhere in order to be made available to individuals. When you buy from Amazon, they are hosting the file for the publisher, and permit its download when you purchase it. For a library to support borrowing, it has to have the ebook file hosted on its behalf, as most libraries lack deep technical expertise; traditionally this is done by a service provider such as Overdrive. What the Internet Archive, Califa (California public library consortium), and Douglas County, Colorado are trying to do is host those files directly for their patrons. To do that, we need to get the files direct from the publisher or their intermediary distributor — in essence, we are playing the role of Amazon or Barnes & Noble, except that as a library we want people to be able to borrow for free. This sounds complicated, and it is, but then we have to introduce DRM, which is a technical protection measure that a library ebook provider has to implement in order to assure publishers that they are not risking an unacceptable loss of sales. DRM complicates the user experience considerably.

My closing comment-or-so: Keep in mind that it is difficult for libraries to purchase restricted copies when digesting good news about a publisher planning to drop DRM. The death of DRM would be good news indeed, but inevitable (for books)? I doubt it. My sense is that each step forward against DRM has been matched by two (often silent) steps back.

DRM and the Churches of Universal Access to All Knowledge’s strategic plans

Friday, May 4th, 2012


Over 2.5 years ago (2009-10-19) the Internet Archive celebrated its move into a former church (I know it’s a cheap shot, but my immediate reaction was “yay, monument to ignorance made into a monument to knowledge; more like that please (if we must have monuments)!”) and to launch BookServer. The latter was described as “like the web, but for books” illustrated with a slide featuring a cloud in the middle surrounded by icons representing various devices and actors (see the same or similar image at the previous link). I was somewhat perplexed — if a less credible entity had described their project as “like the web, but for Foo” as illustrated by a picture of a cloud labeled “FooServer”, by bullshit alarm would’ve been going crazy.

For the remainder of the event a parade of people associated in some way with books endorsed the project on stage. I only remember a few of them. One was Adam Hyde, who recently drafted a book called A Webpage is a Book. Somewhere in the middle of this parade someone stood out — tall and slick, salesperson slick — and gave a spiel about how Adobe was excited about BookServer and using technology to maximize getting content to consumers. In any case, it was obvious from what the Adobe person said that BookServer, whatever it was, would be using DRM. I nearly fell out of my seat, but I don’t think anyone else noticed — everyone just clapped, same as for all other endorsers — and the crowd was filled with people who ought to have understood and been alarmed.

Over the past couple years I occasionally wondered what became of BookServer and its use of DRM, but was reminded to look by Mako Hill’s post in March concerning how it often isn’t made clear whether a particular offer is made with DRM. I didn’t see anything on the Internet Archive site, but a few days ago Peter Brantley’s writeup of a Digital Public Library of America meeting included:

Kahle announced his desire to broaden access to 20th Century literature, much of it still in copyright, by digitizing library collections and making them available for a 1-copy/1-user borrowing system, such as that provided by the Internet Archive’s Open Library, in concert with State libraries.

Right, OpenLibrary in addition to book metadata (“one web page for every book”; do we obtain recursion if we take Hyde literally? a mere curiosity, as we probably shouldn’t) now offers downloading, reading, and borrowing in various combinations for some books. Downloading includes the obvious formats. Reading is via the excellent web-based Internet Archive BookReader, and is available for books that may be downloaded as well as a borrowing option. In the borrowing case, only one person at a time may read a particular book on the OpenLibrary site. The other digital borrowing option is where DRM comes in — Adobe Digital Editions is required. (This is for books that can be borrowed via OpenLibrary; some may be borrowed digitally from traditional libraries via OverDrive, which probably also uses DRM.)

This and screens leading up to this are clear to me, but I don’t know about most people. That there’s DRM involved is just not deemed to be pertinent; some particular software is needed, that’s all. For myself, the biggest improvement not involving a big policy change would be to split up the current “Show only eBooks” search option. Maybe “Show only downloadable eBooks”.


OpenLibrary is looking to expand its ebook “lending” offerings according to a post made just two days ago, We want to buy your books! Internet Archive Letter to Publishers:

We currently buy, lend, and preserve eBooks from publishers and booksellers, but we have not found many eBooks for sale at any price. The Internet Archive is running standard protection systems to lend eBooks from our servers through our websites, and In this way, we strive to provide a seamless experience for our library patrons that replicates a traditional library check-out model, but now with eReaders and searching.

By buying eBooks from you, we hope to continue the productive relationship between libraries and publishers. By respecting the rights and responsibilities that have evolved in the physical era, we believe we will all know how to act: one patron at a time, restrictions on copying, re-format for enduring access, and long term preservation.

Rather than begging to buy books with restrictions, I’d prefer the Internet Archive, and indeed everyone, to demand books without restrictions, software or legal (of course they’re mixed given current malgovernance — anticircumvention laws). But that’s a different strategy, possibly requiring a lower discount rate. I can appreciate the Internet Archive’s dedication to being a library, and getting its patrons — everyone — access to knowledge, right now.

Still, it would be nice if libraries were to participate (even more, I know many librarians do) in anti-DRM activism, such as a Day Against DRM, which is today. Also see my Day Against DRM post from last year.

Speaking of different strategies, Creative Commons licenses so far include a regulatory clause prohibiting distribution with DRM. Some people have been dissatisfied with this clause since the beginning, and it is again being debated for version 4.0 of the licenses. I still don’t think the effectiveness (in promoting the desired outcome, a more free world; enforcement, enforceability, etc, all ought be subsidiary) of the options has really been discussed, though I did try:

I suspect that anyone who has or will bother to participate in discussions about CC and DRM is a bitter opponent of DRM (I can say this with certainty about most of the participants so far). My guess is that the disagreement comes from not one or other set of people hating or misunderstanding freedom or accepting DRM, but from different estimations of the outcomes of different strategies.

Keeping or strengthening the DRM prohibition fights DRM by putting DRM-using platforms at a disadvantage (probably not significant now, but could become substantial if more CC-licensed works become culturally central and significant enforcement efforts commence) and by putting CC’s reputation unambiguously against DRM, making the license an expression of the world we aspire to live in, and giving policy advocates a talking point against mandating DRM anywhere (“it breaks this massive pool of content”).

Weakening through parallel distribution or removing altogether the DRM prohibition fights DRM indirectly, by removing a barrier (probably small now, given widespread non-compliance) to CC-licensed works becoming culturally central (ie popular) and thus putting DRM-using platforms at a disadvantage – the defect being useless to gain access to content, thus being merely a defect.

Personally, I find the second more compelling, but I admit it is simply the sort of story that usually appeals to me. Also, I find it congruent with the conventional wisdom a broad “we” tell to people who just don’t get it, supposedly: obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy. But I don’t expect anyone to change their minds as a result. Especially since this is in concept more or less what Evan Prodromou was saying in 2006 :-)

I do think that expression is important, and whatever gets baked into 4.0, CC could do more in a couple ways:

1. Communicate the DRM prohibition especially on license deeds (where applicable, at least in < =3.0); suggested by Luis Villa in 2. Make anti-DRM advocacy a bigger part of CC's overall message; a bit at but IIRC something like Day Against DRM has never been featured on the home page.

Day Against DRM is featured on the CC home page today.

Copyleft regulates

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Copyleft as a pro-software-freedom regulatory mechanism, of which more are needed.

Existing copyleft licenses include conditions that would not exist (unless otherwise implemented) if copyright were abolished. In other words, copyleft does not merely neutralize copyright. But I occasionally1 see claims that copyleft merely neutralizes copyright.

A copyleft license which only neutralized copyright would remove all copyright restrictions on only one condition: that works building upon a copyleft licensed work (usually as “adaptations” or “derivative works”, though other scopes are possible) be released under terms granting the same freedoms. Existing copyleft licenses have additional conditions. Here is a summary of some of those added by the most important (and some not so important) copyleft licenses:

License Provide modifiable form2 Limit DRM Attribution Notify upstream3
BY-SA y y
FDL y y y
EPL y y
EUPL y y
GPL (including LGPL and AGPL) y y
MPL (and derivatives) y y
ODbL y y y
OSL y y
OHL y y y

I’ve read each of the above licenses at some point, but could easily misremember or misunderstand; please correct me.

There’s a lot more variation among them than is captured above, including how each condition is implemented. But my point is just that these coarse conditions would not be present in a purely copyright neutralizing license. To answer two obvious objections: “attribution”4 in each license above goes beyond the bare minimum license notice that would be required to satisfy the condition of releasing under sufficient terms, and “limit DRM” refers only to conditions prohibiting DRM or requiring parallel distribution (which all of those requiring modifiable form do in a way, indirectly; I’ve only called out those that explicitly mention DRM), not permissions5 granted to circumvent.

I’m not sure there’s a source for the idea that copyleft only neutralizes copyright. Probably it is just an intuitive reading of the term that has been arrived at independently many times. The English Wikipedia article on copyleft doesn’t mention it, and probably more to the point, none of the main FSF articles on copyleft do either. The last includes the following:

Proprietary software developers use copyright to take away the users’ freedom; we use copyright to guarantee their freedom. That’s why we reverse the name, changing “copyright” into “copyleft.”

Copyleft is a way of using of the copyright on the program. It doesn’t mean abandoning the copyright; in fact, doing so would make copyleft impossible. The “left” in “copyleft” is not a reference to the verb “to leave”—only to the direction which is the inverse of “right”.

Copyleft is a general concept, and you can’t use a general concept directly; you can only use a specific implementation of the concept.

This is very clear — the point of copyleft is to promote and protect (“guarantee” is an exaggeration) users’ freedom, and that includes their access to source. The major reason I like to frame copyleft as regulation6 is that if access to source is important to software freedom (or otherwise socially valuable), it probably makes sense to look for additional regulatory mechanisms which might (and appreciate ones that do) contribute to promoting and protecting access to source, as well as other aspects of software freedom. Such mechanisms mostly aren’t/wouldn’t be “copyleft” (though at this point, some of them would simply mandate a copyleft license), but the point is not a relationship with copyright, but promoting and protecting software freedom.

If software freedom is important, surely it makes sense to look for additional mechanisms to promote and protect it. As others have said, licenses are difficult to enforce and/or few people are interested in doing it, and copyleft can be made irrelevant through independent non-copyleft implementation, given enough desire and resources (which the largest corporations have), not to mention the vast universe of cases in which there is no free software alternative, copyleft or not. I leave description and speculation about such mechanisms for a future post.

1For example, yesterday Rob Myers wrote:

Copyleft is a general neutralization of copyright (rather than a local neutralization, like permissive licences). Nothing more.

Only slightly more ambiguously, late last year Jason Self wrote:

Copyright gives power to restrict what other people can do with their own copies of things. Copyleft is about restoring those rights: It takes this oppressive law, which normally restricts people and takes their rights away, and make those rights inalienable.

Well said…but not exactly. I point these out merely as examples, not to make fun of Myers, who is one of the sharpest libre thinkers there is, or Self, who as far as I can tell is an excellent free software advocate.

2Note it is possible to have copyleft that doesn’t require source. As far as I know, such only exists in licenses not intended for software. But I think source for non-software is very interesting. The other obvious permutations — a copyleft license for software that does not include a source requirement, and a non-copyleft license that does include a source requirement, are curiosities that do not seem to exist at all — probably for the better, although one can imagine questionable use cases (e.g., self-modifying object code and transparency as only objective).

3As I’ve mentioned previously, requiring upstream notification likely makes the TAPR OHL non-free/open. But I list the license and condition here because it is an interesting regulation.

4One could further object that one ought to consider so-called “economic” and “moral” aspects of copyright separately, and only neutralize the former; attribution perhaps being the best known and least problematic of the former.

5Although existing copyleft licenses don’t only neutralize restrictions (one that did would be another curiosity; perhaps the License Art Libre/Free Art License currently comes closest), it is important that copyright and other restrictions are adequately neutralized — in particular modern public software licenses include patent grants, and GPLv3 permits DRM circumvention (made illegal by some copyright-related legislation such as the DMCA), while version 4.0 of CC licenses will probably grant permissions around “sui generis” restrictions on databases. Such neutralization is only counter-regulatory (if one sees copyright as a regulation), not pro-regulatory, as are source and other conditions discussed above.

6Regulation in the broadest sense, including at a minimum typical “government” and “market” regulation, as I’ve said before. By the way, it could be said that those who advocate only permissive licenses are anti-regulatory, and I imagine that if lots of people thought about copyleft as regulation, this claim would be made — but it would be a problematic claim, as permissive licenses don’t do much (or only do so “locally”, as Myers obliquely put it in the quote above) against the background regulation of copyright restrictions.

DRM as a competitive threat to free software?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

A Day Against DRM post. I posted another at Creative Commons.

Critiques of Digital Restrictions Management fall into about 10 categories:

  1. DRM causes various product defects
  2. DRM usurps people’s control of devices they own
  3. DRM discourages tinkering and understanding technology
  4. DRM discourages sharing
  5. DRM curtails various freedoms people would otherwise enjoy
  6. DRM encourages hostile behavior toward consumers
  7. DRM encourages monopoly
  8. DRM is technical voodoo
  9. DRM is business voodoo
  10. DRM presages more forms of attempted control, each with additional properties similar to those above, increasing the probability of a dystopian future.

Eventually I may link the above bullets to the relevant posts on DRM I’ve made over the years.

Defective By Design, a project of the Free Software Foundation, coordinates the Day Against DRM and various other anti-DRM actions. It is pretty clear that several of the problems with DRM listed above, particularly 2-5, are inimical to the FSF’s values. I sometimes think the linkage to core values of software freedom could be made stronger in anti-DRM campaigns, but these are not easily packaged messages. I also think there’s usually a missed opportunity in anti-DRM campaigns to present free software (and maybe free culture) as the only systemic alternative to creeping anti-freedom technologies such as DRM.

I began writing a post for Day Against DRM because I wanted to pose a question concerning DRM’s competitive threat to free software: how significant is it in today’s circumstances, and how significant in theory?

In today’s circumstances, the use of DRM that does not support free software platforms by popular media services (currently Netflix is probably most significant; DVDs with DRM have always been a problem) seems like a major barrier to more people using free software.

In theory, it isn’t clear to me that DRM must be a competitive threat to free software adoption (though it would remain a threat to software freedom and nearby). If a mostly free software platform were popular enough, DRM implementations will follow — most obviously Android.

However, I would also hope the dominance of free software would create conditions in which DRM is less pertinent. I would love to see enumerated and explored the current and in-theory competitive threats to free software posed by DRM, and vice versa.

Fooled by common interest

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Lew McCreary, writing on the Harvard Business Review Editors’ Blog, covers two of my favorite topics (prediction markets and nipping stupidity in the bud) with How to Kill Bad Projects:

Project owners creatively spun results for political reasons—mainly to prevent funding from being yanked. Consequently, there was a gaping disconnect between the project people down at ground level and the business leaders farther up the food chain when it came to understanding how projects were actually progressing. The leaders tended to think things were going much better than they actually were.

The problem of corrupted information flows stayed with Siegel and ultimately led him to found his current company, Inkling Markets, a software-as-service venture aimed at helping companies conduct successful prediction markets. What does a prediction market have to do with eliminating spin? Siegel sees an opportunity to produce higher quality decision support in businesses by tapping anonymous input “from people who aren’t normally asked their opinions, in samples large enough to filter out individual agendas.”

In the case of an internal prediction market, employees might be asked to weigh in anonymously (wagering a sum of token currency) on a statement like this: “The Voldemort Project will meet all of its defined performance targets by the end of 2008.”

Unfortunately, the post includes just a bit of its own stupidity (emphasis added):

While many are naturally captivated by the black-swan-finding potential of prediction markets, another sweet spot may be their use as a form of institutional lie detection—guaranteeing the integrity of internal reporting and keeping the progress of business initiatives transparent.

What the heck is he talking about? I have never heard of anyone claiming that a prediction market could find — to the contrary, a black swan is almost by definition something a prediction market will fail to signal — the knowledge does not exist to be aggregated. Chris Masse quoting Nassim Taleb:

If, as Niall Ferguson showed, war bonds did not forecast the great war, it was a Black Swan

Now prediction markets and black swans both have something to do with prediction and probability, but they’re otherwise ships passing not in the night, but on opposite sides of the globe — with one in the night.

DRM strikes me as another example of people fooled by common interest, in this case of cryptography and censorshipcopyright enforcement. Both have something to do with preventing someone from getting access to information. That doesn’t make one a tool for the other (in either direction). Of course that knowledge was distributed, but apparently not visibly in the right places, resulting in lots of bad projects.

Via Inkling.

DRM: the good bullshit story that got past Doug Morris

Monday, November 26th, 2007

New York Magazine cites an interview with CEO Doug Morris from the WIRED December issue (not yet online) that supposedly shows that Morris and his industry are utterly clueless. The excerpt from NYMag, emphasis added:

“There’s no one in the record industry that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.”

Actually, knowing your limitations is pretty smart. Too bad the industry did not stick to the strategy of not hiring technology people. Music startups would’ve flourished, and the industry could have snapped up the obvious winners. Instead, Morris and friends eventually fell for a complete bullshit story — — that killed nascent startups and paved the way for Apple’s much-hated dominance.

Copyright turns even really smart technologists into disingenuous and even dangerous technology idiots (including me on occasion — the claims I dismissed in that last link, while overblown, may have some substance), so non-technologists should be really wary, and consistently so.

Update 20071128: The WIRED article is now online. Despite its sneering tone, I think comes off as a shrewd businessperson.

The future of “music technology” and the “music industry”

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

A few weeks ago I moderated a panel on DRM at a “music technology” conference. I wrote it up on the Creative Commons blog. Short version is a consensus from non-activists that music DRM is on its way out.

But what I want to complain about here is the use of “music industry” understood to mean the recording distribution industry and “music technology” understood to refer to use of the net by the same industry. Similarly, “future of music” understood to refer to the development or protection of recording distribution industry business models in the face of digital networks. Each of these gets under my skin.

My contention is that the future of music is determined by changes in music making technology and culture. The recording distribution industry has just about nothing to do with it. It seems that every new genre from ancient history to present has sprung from the latest in music making technology and cultural antecedents, and developed its essential forms before the recording distribution industry got a clue (or recently, started to sue).

I may be overstating my case, especially with regards to rock, but fuck rock stars.

If you’re interested in the actual future of music and want to look for it in an industry more narrow than “information technology”, it’s the musical instruments industry that you want.

Gratis unencumbered MP3 download is not news

Monday, February 26th, 2007

, a moderately successful band with one top 40 hit in 1997, has released their latest (2005) album as an unencumbered MP3 download with an essay explaining “why we’re releasing our latest album for free on the Internet,” covered by Cory Doctorow, Tim O’Reilly and many others.

Big deal. In 2007 re-releasing an old album as a DRM-free gratis download with no explicit rights granted to share or remix, should not be news, unless a major label is involved.

Jamendo is my current favorite example of 2,500 reasons (albums) why this is not news, but there are thousands of others.

If you need an essay to go with your music, teleport back to 1998 or earlier (I recall reading a version of Ram Samudrala’s essay in 1995).

Update 20070227: The Harvey Danger album has been available for download since September 2005 (when Doctorow wrote about it in Boing Boing, link above). It shouldn’t have been newsworthy then either, but I’m a fool for not noticing that now it is old non-news. A commenter at Techdirt pointed this out.

Disingenuous Rhetorical Manipulation

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

Copyright (DRM in particular) turns us into technology idots and makes us disingenuous too. Consider Leonardo Chiariglione’s reply (“A simple way to skin the DRM cat”) to Steve Jobs’ DRM bashing.

Chiariglione goes out of his way to muddy the waters by

  • Including rights expression or rights description (including Creative Commons) under the rubric of DRM. This is not what anyone, including Jobs, is talking about when they dismiss DRM.
  • Conflating standards generally and standards with security components in particular, with DRM.
  • Pretending there is a non-zero chance of any “interoperable DRM” (where we’re talking about , not mere description or expression) scheme gaining any traction.

Clue: a skinned cat is dead.

Via Slashdot.

Addendum: Some never learn, see Chiariglione’s , spawned late 1998, dead since early 2001.