The Electronic Frontier Foundation drove three deep wedges into the US prohibition on breaking DRM today. EFF had applied to the Copyright Office to grant exemptions permitting the cracking of DRM in three cases: first, to "jailbreak" a mobile device, such as an iPhone, where DRM is used to prevent phone owners from running software of their own choosing; second, to allow video remix artists to break the DRM on DVDs in order to take short excerpts for mashups posted to YouTube and other sharing sites; finally EFF got the Copyright Office to renew its ruling that made it legal to unlock cellphones so that they can be used with any carrier.
These are major blows against the tradition in US law of protecting DRM, even when DRM wasn't upholding copyright. For example, Apple argued in its Copyright Office filing that it should be illegal under copyright law to install iPhone software unless Apple had approved and supplied it (akin to the principle that you should only be allowed company-approved bread in your toaster, or Folgers-approved milk in your instant coffee).
I'm not clear on whether these rulings now make it legal to traffick in circumvention tools that can accomplish this trick: if so, it would mean that you could sell DRM-ripping software in stores, or open a fix-it shop that jailbroke iPhones so that they could access unapproved software from third-party suppliers (including online stores that competed with Apple's App Store).
In any event, major kudos to EFF for an enormous win. I've always maintained that the biggest problem with DRM is the special status the law affords it: prior to 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a company that wanted to control how you used your purchases had to devote serious, ongoing effort to stopping the companies that sprang up to undo their locks; consequently, the market was able to drive DRM into the dust quickly, as companies abandoned strategies that squandered profits to lock down products. But after DRM got special treatment under the law, companies could merely slap on the thinnest veneer of DRM (the iPad's DRM was broken in less than a day!) and count on a public subsidy to defend it, through the courts and the law.
This was pure moral hazard, an invitation to the world's corporate bullies to invent "business models" based on stopping you from fully enjoying your property unless you paid to "unlock" every feature and morsel of value latent in it. Like a fridge that you have feed quarters into if you want to chill anything except dairy products, or a shower that charges you extra to rinse off the dog. Companies could create these ridiculous businesses and count on the government to police them, externalizing the cost of their extraordinary chutzpah to the very customers they were inflicting it upon!
Ironicially, just as the US government is starting to reconsider this wisdom of this approach, other governments are being arm-twisted by the US trade representative into adopting it -- for example, Canada's pending Bill C32, a copyright law that was practically ghost-written by the American entertainment lobby and delivered after the Prime Minister's office handed down the edict to "Make the Americans happy."
EFF Wins New Legal Protections for Video Artists, Cell Phone Jailbreakers, and Unlockers
Earlier this month, I gave the afternoon keynote at the Internet Archive’s Decentralized Web Summit, and my talk was about how the people who founded the web with the idea of having an open, decentralized system ended up building a system that is increasingly monopolized by a few companies — and how we can prevent the same things from happening next time.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the world’s largest private jailers; it runs prisons and immigration detention centers across the USA (and is diversifying into halfway houses, mental health center, and surveillance for poor neighborhoods). Mother Jones’s Shane Bauer went undercover at CCA’s Winn Prison in Louisiana, the state with the highest incarceration […]
Steven Levy is in characteristic excellent form in a long piece on Medium about the internal vogue for machine learning at Google; drawing on the contacts he made with In the Plex, his must-read 2012 biography of the company, Levy paints a picture of a company that’s being utterly remade around newly ascendant machine learning […]
Some truths are universal. For one, your phone will always run out of power when you most need it. For another, the charging cords that come packaged with your Apple device will fray, split, and rip faster than Usain Bolt in a game of tag.Instead, pick up a charging cord that anyone would have a tough […]
Some people say magic tricks are nerdy and best left to your 12-year-old asthmatic cousin. But others see value in perfecting the slight of hand and showmanship associated with a perfectly executed routine. We’re firmly in the latter camp. And now, we’re giving you the ability to put a few parlor tricks up your sleeve with the Penguin […]
Bluetooth speakers may be convenient to use, but many of them just aren’t that powerful. Sure, it may be fine if you’re seated in front of the speaker. But move across the room, and you may strain to hear what’s coming from those tiny drivers.There’s a reason why the G-BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Boombox (now $79.99 in the Boing […]