mfioretti: copyright* + drm*

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  1. If DRM doesn't respect anyone's rights, why does it stick around? The market is broken and can't respond well--because DRM mostly works. When you buy encumbered media, you might only discover its problems long after you've made your purchase. As far as the industry is concerned, you're just another happy customer. When you bought it, you told the market it was what you wanted. When you silently stop buying intentionally broken products, it's obviously because you've discovered "piracy," and the lost sales might be used to justify even more oppressive restrictions.
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  2. Critics view Deere’s assertion that a tractor is fundamentally a software system with machine parts as an example of digital rights management (DRM) and copyright laws run amok. The Globe spoke to one of the leading opponents of DRM, Canadian author and technologist Cory Doctorow. He is co-ordinating the EFF’s Apollo 1201 project, which aims to strike down chunks of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) through the U.S. court system. In Canada, Bill C-11, the 2012 Copyright Modernization Act, updated our existing rules to enshrine many of the same prohibitions against breaking digital locks that make the DMCA a target for reformers.

    What do you make of this John Deere application?

    John Deere’s insistence that you have “licensed” your tractor and can’t really own it neatly demonstrates that anti-circumvention rules are actually anti-property rules.

    Laws like Canada’s Bill C-11 and the U.S. DMCA say that if a manufacturer uses computer code to control what you do with the things you buy, you can’t overrule them. These laws say that it’s a crime to remove DRM even if what you’re doing is otherwise allowed. So, it’s a lock on something that belongs to you, that even for legitimate reasons you can’t remove.

    As the John Deere petition to the U.S. Copyright Office made clear: The presence of a digital lock in a manufactured good means that you don’t own it and can’t decide how to best use it.

    In this world, “property” becomes the exclusive purview of manufacturers. You don’t get to own your computerized devices: You are only and forevermore a tenant of them, and the manufacturers are the landlords and they get to decide how you use the goods they deign to allow you to pay for.

    It used to be that if you bought something and figured out how to get extra value out of it – using an old blender to mix paint; fixing your own car; or ripping your CDs and loading the music in an MP3 player instead of buying it again – that extra value was yours to keep.

    In the world of C-11 and the DMCA, all that value is retained by the manufacturer. So automotive companies can put software locks on the engine computer, then insist that the mechanics they license source all their parts from the manufacturer at full retail, meaning that you can’t choose a mechanic who’ll use cheaper third-party spares.

    If your dishwasher can detect and reject “unauthorized” dishes in it, it can refuse to run its load. It’s the inkjet printer model, metastasized into the Internet of Things where everything we own – cars, houses, hearing aids, phones – is just a computer with a fancy case.

    I had quite a heated argument with James Moore Minister of Industry » on Twitter when he was working on C-11. I asked him “How can you say that you believe in markets and property, and then have a rule that says if I own a device I’m not allowed to choose how it works?” And he said “Well if you don’t like it, you should buy a different device.” And I’m like, “That’s not how property works!” If I don’t like how the decorator paints my house, I get to repaint it.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-05-19)
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  3. From phones to cars to refrigerators to farm equipment, software is helping our stuff work better and smarter. But those features come at a high hidden cost: the rapid erosion of ownership. Why does that matter? Because when it comes to digital products, owners have rights. Renters on the other hand, have only permission.

    The source of the problem is simple: copyright. You may own your device, but your use of the software in it is usually governed by the terms of an End-User License Agreement (or EULA). And that license agreement is likely to restrict your ability to tinker with your stuff. Typical clauses forbid reverse-engineering (e.g., figuring out how the software works so you can adapt it), transfer (e.g., giving it to a friend or selling it on the secondary market), and even using “unauthorized” repair services at all.

    Further complication: the software may be saddled with digital locks (aka Digital Rights Management or DRM) supposedly designed to prevent unauthorized copying. And breaking those locks, even to do something simple and otherwise legal like tinkering with or fixing your own devices, could mean breaking the law, thanks to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

    And then there’s repair-manual lockdown, which happens when manufacturers refuse to publish crucial repair information (including the manuals themselves, but also things like diagnostic codes for cars)—and then threaten to sue anyone else who tries to do so with a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

    The end result: fair uses are impeded, users are disempowered and trained to go hat in hand to the Apple store just to change a battery (rather than doing it themselves).
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  4. Digitalizzare sovraimponendo alle digitalizzazioni nuovi vincoli (riproduzioni a bassa risoluzione, watermark, copyright, la clausola “non per uso commerciale” che il settore pubblico ama adottare senza rendersi conto delle conseguenze**) significa non comprendere il valore generativo della cultura.

    Che cosa ne è dell’attività di mediazione delle biblioteche? Di certo si sta assottigliando molto, moltissimo. Probabilmente, si sta riducendo alla funzione di contrattare coi fornitori condizioni economiche agevolate alle risorse documentarie. Ma forse fissarsi su questo tema non aiuta. Forse è una questione di tempismo e questo potrebbe essere il momento della “restituzione”: possediamo un patrimonio e la conoscenza su come gestirlo per puro accidente storico, è il momento di rispettare la missione che abbiamo da sempre e liberarlo. Solo dopo che avremo fatto questo potremo domandarci se c’è ancora bisogno della nostra intermediazione e in quale forma.
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  5. Sure, they say that Blu-Ray (and HD-DVD) are new and improved media for distributing video -- but that's easily done, and not the focus of development. Where the money is spent is on introducing anti-features: ways to make the "illegitimate" product worse in order to make the legitimate product more attractive. If you want to know more about this sordid situation, here's a short list of these anti-features as they exist in Blu-Ray, with explanations of what they do: AACS (a type of DRM), BD+ (another DRM element which is essentially a legalized rootkit technology), MMC (hobbled copying path), HDCP (encryption over the wire), HDMI (video interface implementing HDCP), ICT (signal used to degrade output), and Region Coding (to divide viewers geographically and sustain market distortions).

    Of course, it's true that none of this actually works to defeat "piracy": all of this encryption has been broken by now, and so anyone serious about circumventing Blu-Ray's DRM will have little trouble in doing so. So it has no effect on real commercial "piracy" or "bootleg" disks. The real impact is to oppress ordinary users of the media.

    And all of this is clearly antithetical to your needs if you are a free culture movie, television, or web video producer. So, you want to opt out. With DVD you could -- you just made an unencrypted "all region" disk. It was unfortunate that this wasn't the norm, but at least we could operate in our own little free-trade zone.

    Not so with Blu-Ray. Blu-ray is locked down by industry collusion and binding contracts. The media moguls have got you on a short leash. As a video producer, I cannot get a non-DRM version of a Blu-Ray disk replicated (this is no myth, I queried a replicator about this directly). It's a contract violation, and it's illegal (due to patent law) to build a competing replication business using the same physical technology.

    For those of us who want to produce free culture high-definition video, this presents a Hobson's choice: either we sacrifice our ethics and ideology and release on the locked down format anyway or we don't release HD video at all.
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  6. Mozilla have decided to implement the HTML5 EME DRM for videos. This sucks.

    I don’t like the EME stuff. It’s contrary to the whole idea of the web. It’s potentially the beginning of a slippery slope of web pages being locked off because that’s what the ebook people want. I wrote about this last year. Jeremy says that it is precisely because other technologies are locked down that it’s important to keep the web open, and he’s right.

    But… that didn’t happen. The web is not open. Google and Microsoft and Apple have already started implementing EME, over the complaints of precisely nobody. The argument that adding DRMed video divides the web into haves and have-nots apparently didn’t cut any ice with those browser vendors. So Mozilla reluctantly fall in line, and are castigated for it in a way that the others weren’t.

    Now, there’s a reasonable argument that Mozilla should be held to a higher standard, because their goal actually embodies the Open Web and the others are primarily about profits and market share. Mozilla should stand on principle, precisely because they have principles. I admire this argument, but unfortunately it’s like perpetual motion machines, the 200mpg carburettor, and the rehydrateable pizza from Back to the Future — it doesn’t work. The world isn’t nice just because you wish real hard. Mozilla have stood on principle in the past, by refusing to implement H.264 format video. It made no difference. They were laughed at for not being “modern”, their users just found that some videos mysteriously wouldn’t play, they were told that standing on principle made them irrelevant, and it made no difference to the market.
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  7. In my long-running discussions with Mozilla’s most senior management over this issue, they’ve been clear in their belief that their userbase – and relevance to the internet – will dwindle unless they add support for viewing Hollywood movies in their browser. Not just Hollywood; the BBC has been one of the major “rights holder” voices calling for the addition of DRM to the web.

    This shift is part of a change in the way that browsers work in general. Since the early days of the Netscape browser, third-party plug-ins have been a common way to extend browser functionality. Users who wanted to watch DRM-restricted video could install proprietary plugins such as Microsoft’s Silverlight or Adobe’s Flash.

    The plug-in architecture is a security nightmare, and a source of numerous breaches through which buggy or malicious code was able to reach into users’ computers and compromise them. Now that browsers run in computers that we carry around in our pockets, connected to microphones and video cameras, and manage everything from our finance to our thermostats, abolishing plug-ins was an inevitable and welcome step.
    Plugged back in

    However, in the absence of plug-ins, the proprietary browser companies have privately negotiated with Netflix to add DRM. This shift to private negotiations – instead of industry-wide standards – spooked the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its founder, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, into a controversial plan to add DRM to HTML5, the next-generation web standard.

    The W3C’s solution is baroque: it is specifying something called “encrypted media extensions” through which the browser creates a “sandbox” within which a “content decryption module” (CDM) operates, receiving scrambled video, descrambling it and passing it out of the sandbox for display.

    The inclusion of Adobe’s DRM in Firefox means that Mozilla will be putting millions of its users in a position where they are running code whose bugs are illegal to report. So it’s very important that this code be as isolated as possible.

    By open-sourcing the sandbox that limits the Adobe software’s access to the system, Mozilla is making it auditable and verifiable. This is a much better deal than users will get out of any of the rival browsers, like Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer, and it is a meaningful and substantial difference.
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  8. It’s official: the last holdout for the open web has fallen. Flanked on all sides by Google, Microsoft, Opera, and (it appears) Safari’s support and promotion of the EME DRM-in-HTML standard, Mozilla is giving in to pressure from Hollywood, Netflix, et al, and will be implementing its own third-party version of DRM. It will be rolled out in Desktop Firefox later this year. Mozilla’s CTO, Andreas Gal, says that Mozilla “has little choice.” Mozilla’s Chair, Mitchell Baker adds, “Mozilla cannot change the industry on DRM at this point.”

    At EFF, we disagree. We’ve had over a decade of watching this ratchet at work, and we know where it can lead. Technologists implement DRM with great reticence, because they can see it’s not a meaningful solution to anything but rather a font of endless problems. It doesn’t prevent infringement, which continues regardless. Instead, it reduces the security of our devices, reduces user trust, makes finding and reporting of bugs legally risky, eliminates fair use rights, undermines competition, promotes secrecy, and circumvents open standards.

    It’s clear from the tone of Gal and Baker’s comments, and our own discussions with Mozilla, that you’ll find no technologist there who is happy with this step. The fact that Mozilla, in opposition to its mission, had to prepare and design this feature in secret without being able to consult the developers and users who make up its community is an indication of how much of a contradiction DRM is in a pro-user open-source browser.

    Unchecked, that contradiction is only going to grow. Mozilla’s DRM code, imported from Adobe as a closed-source binary, will sit in a cordoned sandbox, simultaneously Mozilla’s responsibility but beyond its control. Mozilla will be responsible for updates to the DRM blackbox, which means users will have to navigate browser updates that will either fix security bugs or strip features from their video watching. Mozillians have already been warned of the danger of talking too much about how DRM works (and doesn’t work), lest they trigger the provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that forbid “trafficking” in circumvention knowledge.

    Baker may think that Mozilla cannot change the industry on its own (despite it having done so many years ago). Sadly, it changes the industry by accepting DRM. It is these repeated compromises to the needs of DRM advocates by tech company after tech company that are changing the nature of personal computing, transforming it into a sector that is dominated by established interests and produces locked-down devices, monitored and managed by everyone but their users.

    Past experience has shown that standing up to DRM and calling it out does have an effect. As we have said to the W3C, and Cory Doctorow spells out to Mozilla in this Guardian article, we can do much more to fight the negative consequences of DRM than simply attempt to mitigate the damage of its adoption.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2014-05-16)
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  9. there's a second important point in Doctorow's piece that is equally worth highlighting, and it's that the combination of DRM and anti-circumvention laws make all of our computers less safe.

    The DMCA's injunction against publishing weaknesses in DRM means that its vulnerabilities remain unpatched for longer than in comparable systems that are not covered by the DMCA. That means that any system with DRM will on average be more dangerous for its users than one without DRM.

    And that leads to very real vulnerabilities. The most famous, of course, is the case of the Sony rootkit. As Doctorow notes, multiple security companies were aware of the nefarious nature of that rootkit, which not only hid itself on your computer and was difficult to delete, but also opened up a massive vulnerability for malware to piggyback on -- something malware writers took advantage of. And yet, the security companies did nothing, because explaining how to remove the rootkit would violate the DMCA.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-02-10)
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  10. The technical and commercial forces that gave us phone unlocking and cartridge refilling are the same forces that would make DRM a total non-starter, except for a pesky law.

    Lehman got the US Congress to pass a law to comply with the treaty – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – that snuck much of the stuff that Gore had rejected into US law.

    The DMCA is a long and complex instrument, but what I'm talking about here is section 1201: the notorious "anti-circumvention" provisions. They make it illegal to circumvent an "effective means of access control" that restricts a copyrighted work. The companies that make DRM and the courts have interpreted this very broadly, enjoining people from publishing information about vulnerabilities in DRM, from publishing the secret keys hidden in the DRM, from publishing instructions for getting around the DRM – basically, anything that could conceivably give aid and comfort to someone who wanted to do something that the manufacturer or the copyright holder forbade.

    In the USA, the First Amendment of the Constitution gives broad protection to free expression, and prohibits government from making laws that abridge Americans' free speech rights. Here, the Reimerdes case set another bad precedent: it moved computer code from the realm of protected expression into a kind of grey-zone where it may or may not be protected.

    Significantly, in 2000, a US appeals court found (in Universal City Studios, Inc v Reimerdes) that breaking DRM was illegal, even if you were trying to do something that would otherwise be legal. In other words, if your ebook has a restriction that stops you reading it on Wednesdays, you can't break that restriction, even if it would be otherwise legal to read the book on Wednesdays.

    Ever since Reimerdes, it's been clear that DRM isn't the right to prevent piracy: it's the right to make up your own copyright laws. The right to invent things that people aren't allowed to do – even though the law permits it -- and to embed these prohibitions in code that is illegal to violate. Reimerdes also showed us that DRM is the right to suppress speech: the right to stop people from uttering code or keys or other expressions if there is some chance that these utterances will interfere with your made-up copyright laws.

    there can be no real security in a world where the DMCA and its global cousins are still intact.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-02-10)
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