Tor founder Tom Doherty on publishing without DRM


Two years ago, Tor Books, the largest sf publisher in the world (and publisher of my own books) went DRM-free; yesterday, Tor's founder and publisher Tom Doherty took to the stage to explain why he dropped DRM from his books. Doherty spent some time talking about the business outcomes of life without DRM (in short, there's no new piracy of Tor books as a result of publishing without it), but really focused his talk on the community of readers and writers, and their conversation, and the role Tor plays there. Doherty's philosophy is that books get sold by being part of a wider context in readers' lives -- being something they talk and think about and share, and that DRM just gets in the way of that.

Meanwhile, Hachette -- publishing's most ardent DRM advocate -- and Amazon continue to duke it out in a ghastly and abusive public spat in which Amazon is attempting to extort deeper discounts from Hachette by de-listing, delaying and obfuscating its titles. If Hachette books were DRM free, the company could announce an "Amazon-refugee discount" of 10% of all its ebook titles at Google Play, Ibooks, and Barnes and Noble, and offer a tool to convert your Kindle library to work on one of those other players. But because Hachette allowed -- insisted! -- that Amazon put its own DRM on Hachette books, the only company that can authorize converting Amazon Kindle titles to work with other readers is Amazon.

Good luck with that.

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Podcast: Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Firefox's adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart, a close analysis of the terrible news that Mozilla has opted to add closed source DRM to its flagship Firefox browser:

The decision to produce systems that treat internet users as untrusted adversaries to be controlled by their computers was clearly taken out of a sense of desperation and inevitability.

It’s clear that Mozilla plans to do everything it can to mitigate the harms from its DRM strategy and to attempt to reverse the trend that brought it to this pass.

Like many of Mozilla’s longtime supporters, I hold it to a high standard. It is not a for-profit. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to empower and free its users.

I understand that Apple, Microsoft and Google are for-profit entities that have demonstrated repeatedly that their profitability trumps their customers’ rights, and I fault them for this. But it’s not unreasonable to hold mission-driven nonprofits to a higher standard than their commercial counterparts.

Mozilla says it’s doing everything it can to reduce the harm from what it sees as an inevitable decision. As a Mozilla supporter, contributor and user, I want it to do more.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Mozilla CAN change the industry: by adding DRM, they change it for the worse

Following on from yesterday's brutal, awful news that Mozilla is going to add DRM to its Firefox browser, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Danny O'Brien has published an important editorial explaining how Mozilla's decision sets back the whole cause of fighting for a free and open Internet.

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Mozilla breaks our hearts, adds DRM to Firefox


For months, I've been following the story that the Mozilla project was set to add closed source Digital Rights Management technology to its free/open browser Firefox, and today they've made the announcement, which I've covered in depth for The Guardian. Mozilla made the decision out of fear that the organization would haemorrhage users and become irrelevant if it couldn't support Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video, and other services that only work in browsers that treat their users as untrustable adversaries.

They've gone to great -- even unprecedented -- lengths to minimize the ways in which this DRM can attack Firefox users. But I think there's more that they can, and should, do. I also am skeptical of their claim that it was DRM or irrelevance, though I think they were sincere in making it. I think they hate that it's come to this and that no one there is happy about it.

I could not be more heartsick at this turn of events.

We need to turn the tide on DRM, because there is no place in post-Snowden, post-Heartbleed world for technology that tries to hide things from its owners. DRM has special protection under the law that makes it a crime to tell people if there are flaws in their DRM-locked systems -- so every DRM system is potentially a reservoir of long-lived vulnerabilities that can be exploited by identity thieves, spies, and voyeurs.

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Hugo-nominated authors blame Orbit for withholding their books from voters' package

Charles Stross, Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) and Ann Leckie -- all nominees for this year's Hugo Awards -- have issued a joint statement blaming their publisher Orbit (a division of French giant Hachette) to withhold their nominated novels from a packet of ebooks sent to Hugo Award voters. This packet was originated by former Science Fiction Writers of America president John Scalzi, and for years, it has afforded all Hugo voters the opportunity to review the full slate of nominated works prior to voting. Hachette -- long known in the industry as the most reactionary and technophobic of the major publishers when it came to electronic publishing and DRM -- has taken the unprecedented step of undermining their own authors' chances at winning the most prestigious award in the field in order to conform to its business-wide doctrinal terror of piracy and ebooks substituting for print books.

Hachette has insisted that it took this step because it believes that authors should have control over their copyrights, but it's clear that these Hachette authors' wish is for their copyrights to be exercised in this specific way.

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Podcast: Why it is not possible to regulate robots

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my recent Guardian column, Why it is not possible to regulate robots, which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."

One thing that is glaringly absent from both the Heinleinian and Asimovian brain is the idea of software as an immaterial, infinitely reproducible nugget at the core of the system. Here, in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems to me that the most important fact about a robot – whether it is self-aware or merely autonomous – is the operating system, configuration, and code running on it.

If you accept that robots are just machines – no different in principle from sewing machines, cars, or shotguns – and that the thing that makes them "robot" is the software that runs on a general-purpose computer that controls them, then all the legislative and regulatory and normative problems of robots start to become a subset of the problems of networks and computers.

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I believe two things about computers: first, that they are the most significant functional element of most modern artifacts, from cars to houses to hearing aids; and second, that we have dramatically failed to come to grips with this fact. We keep talking about whether 3D printers should be "allowed" to print guns, or whether computers should be "allowed" to make infringing copies, or whether your iPhone should be "allowed" to run software that Apple hasn't approved and put in its App Store.

Practically speaking, though, these all amount to the same question: how do we keep computers from executing certain instructions, even if the people who own those computers want to execute them? And the practical answer is, we can't.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Celebrate the Day Against DRM with 50% off O'Reilly ebooks and videos


Sara from O'Reilly writes, "Can we stop DRM here, 'fight tooth and nail to keep DRM out of web browsers '[as] a quarantine measure?' as Jeremy Keith suggests? Can we hit the pause button on efforts to lock down everything that might ever be for sale? Or will we find out just how toxic DRM can be when it's far too late? While we continue to remind folks of the ineffectiveness of DRM, it's ultimately up to you to take a stand. Together, we can take back those keys. In celebration of DRM free day save 50% on all 8000+ ebooks & videos from oreilly.com."

In Celebration of *Day Against DRM* (Thanks, Sara!)

Humble Image Bundle: name your price for Walking Dead, Saga, Chew and more; benefit CBLDF too!

The latest Humble Bundle teams up with DRM-free indie comics leader Image Comics, offering nine digital titles from Image on a name-your-price basis. You can also divert some or all of your payment to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a vital free speech organization that helps comics publishers, creators and sellers who face censorship and even jail for daring to create cutting-edge media.

The bundle includes some of my favorite comics, including the comics version of The Walking Dead (even better than the TV show); the spectacular Saga (a delightfully unhinged effort from Brian Vaughan, who also created Y: The Last Man); and the genuinely demented Chew.

As with all the Humble Bundles, the Image Bundle is an object lesson in the trustworthiness of audiences, and the value of giving people what they want at an unarguably fair price (since you get to name your own) with a creator-friendly deal that lets readers and creators connect more directly than ever before in publishing history. I just bought in!

Humble Image Comics Bundle (pay what you want and help charity)

Podcast: What happens with digital rights management in the real world?

Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world where I attempt to explain the technological realpolitik of DRM, which has nothing much to do with copyright, and everything to do with Internet security.

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Publishers Weekly on Humble Ebook Bundle

As noted, the new Humble Ebook Bundle is live, and Publishers Weekly has a great writeup on it, including my decision to independently produce an audiobook of my novel Homeland. Cory 1

HOMELAND audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton, DRM-free, in the new Humble Bundle!

For the past two months, I've been working on a secret project to produce an independent audiobook adaptation of my bestselling novel Homeland, read by Wil Wheaton, one of my favorite audiobook voice-actors (and a hell of a great guy, besides!). The audiobook is out as of today, and I'm proud to say that for the next two weeks, it is exclusively available through the new Humble Ebook Bundle, which kicks off today, featuring an amazing collection of name-your-price DRM-free ebooks by authors like Holly Black and Scott Westerfeld, as well as Wil Wheaton. As always, there are some surprise bonus titles that will be added in week two, and so long as you pay more than the average at the time of purchase, you'll get these automatically.

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How to unDRM old iTunes songs

If you have anything in iTunes bought prior to 2009, chances are it's got DRM on it. Here's how to take it off. [Wired]

Studio gives Kickstarter Veronica Mars movie backers substandard, DRM-crippled "rewards"


Ryan writes, "I was a backer of the Veronica Mars movie, one level of backer got you a digital download of the movie. They ended up going with Warner Bros owned/backed Flixster. So for me I have an apple TV and a Roku. Flixster doesn't support appleTV or airplay, the Flixster channel for the Roku will crash anytime you try to watch anything. Flixster also will not allow you to watch the movie on a computer that has dual monitors."

The studio will allow you to buy a better experience on a non-Flixster service, send them the bill, and get a refund (but only if you complain first).

There's a copy of the movie on The Pirate Bay with more than 11,000 seeders, which means that this Flixster business is doing precisely nothing to deter piracy, and is only serving to alienate megafans who voluntarily donated money to see this movie made, and to subject the studio itself to potential millions in administrative costs and refunds to investors who were forced into the retail channels.

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Coffee DRM and the wider world of state spying and corporate control

Dan Gillmor's got more to say about the news that K-cups are getting coffee DRM and what it means in the wider world: "Just as the police and security agencies are racing deploy all new technologies to spy on everyone – whether the law permits it or not – private industry is racing to retain as much control as possible over the products and services it sells, and thereby control over us." Cory 15

Netflix disables Chrome's developer console

When you watch Netflix videos in the Chrome browser, the service disables Chrome's developer console, a debugging and programming tool that gives you transparency and control over what your browser is doing. The Hacker News thread explains that this is sometimes done in order to stop an attack called "Self-XSS" that primarily arises on social media sites, where it can cause a browser to leak nominally private information to third parties. But in this case, the "Self-XSS" attack Netflix is worried about is very different: they want to prevent browser owners from consciously choosing to run scripts in the Netflix window that subvert Netflix's restrictions on video.

This is the natural outflow of the pretense that "streaming" exists as a thing that is distinct from "downloading" -- the idea that you can send a stream of bytes to someone else's computer without the computer being able to store those bytes. "Streaming" is at the heart of "rental" business models like Netflix's, and there's nothing wrong with the idea of rental per se. But the only way to attain "rental" with computers is to design computers so that their owners can't give them orders that the landlords disagree with. You have to change the computer and its software so that you can't see what it's doing and can't change what it's doing.

Your browser is a portal to your whole social life, your financial life and your work life, entrusted with the most potentially compromising secrets of your life. Anything that allows third parties to make it harder for you to figure out what the browser is doing, or to prevent it from doing something you don't want, should be a non-starter. As soon as a powerful entity like Netflix comes to depend on -- and insist on -- computers that owners can't control, that company is doing something wrong. Not because rentals are bad, but because taking away owner control from computers is bad.

This is why it's such a big deal that Netflix has convinced Microsoft, Apple, and Google to build user-controlling technology into their browsers, and why it's such a big deal that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have convinced the W3C to standardize this for all devices with HTML5 interfaces. Any time we allow the discussion to be sidetracked into "How can Netflix maximize its revenue by enforcing rental terms?" we're missing the real point, which is, "How can people be sure that their browsers aren't betraying them?"

Netflix disables use of the Chrome developer console (pastebin.com)