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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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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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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."
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*
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)
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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, the new Humble Ebook Bundle
is live, and Publishers Weekly has a
on it, including my decision to independently produce an audiobook of my novel Homeland
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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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.
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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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."
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)
I've been thinking about the news that Keurig has added "DRM" to its pod coffee-makers since the story first started doing the rounds a couple of days ago. I've come to the conclusion that while the errand is a foolish one, and the company deserves nothing but contempt for such an anti-competitive move, that there might be a silver lining to this cloud. As I've written recently, there's not a lot of case-law on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that prohibits "circumventing...effective means of access control" to copyrighted works. In the past, we've seen printer companies and garage door opener manufacturers claim that the software in their devices was a "copyrighted work" and that anyone who made a spare part for their products was thus violating 1201. But that was 10 years ago, and it's been a while since there was someone stupid and greedy enough to try that defense.
I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company.
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Top Shelf Comix, an extraordinary and daring independent press, has announced a DRM-free comics store
the classic Moore/Campbell collaboration "From Hell"
and the bestselling Nate Powell comics "The March" and "Swallow Me Whole." (Update:
apparently only some of the company's digital releases are DRM free; From Hell is not among them).
I see that the schedule of upcoming digital titles includes some of my favorite Top Shelf titles, including
The Homeland Directive (this will have DRM), Too Cool to be Forgotten (this will have DRM) and The Underwater Welder. I hope they do Lost Girls soon.
Kirsten From Edri writes, "European Digital Rights (EDRi) has launched WePromise.EU to put digital civil rights on the agenda of the European election. The platform is based on a two-sided promise: On the one hand, parliamentary candidates will be able to endorse a ten point 'Charter of Digital Rights' that supports an open digital environment. On the other, citizens across Europe can in turn sign the petition and promise to vote for candidates that have endorsed the Charter."
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In my latest Guardian column, What happens with digital rights management in the real world?, I explain why the most important fact about DRM is how it relates to security and disclosure, and not how it relates to fair use and copyright. Most importantly, I propose a shortcut through DRM reform, through a carefully designed legal test-case.
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You've only got two days left to take advantage of The Humble Audiobook Bundle, which lets you name your price for a stellar lineup of DRM-free audiobooks (this is practically the only way to get DRM-free audiobooks these days, since Audible, the company that controls 90% of the market, requires that publishers use DRM even if they object to it). The Humble Audibook Bundle selection includes Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses;" William S Burroughs's "Junky;" Meg Cabot's "Abandon;" Dave Eggers's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius;" Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," Charles Portis's "True Grit," and many more.
The Humble Audiobook Bundle
Ben writes, "Overdrive, which is one of the main suppliers of downloadable audiobooks to public libraries, announced that it is retiring its DRM-encrusted .WMA formats and pushing everything to DRM-free .mp3s."
This is a big deal. Audiobooks are the last holdouts for DRM in audio, and one company, Audible, controls the vast majority of the market and insists upon DRM in all of its catalog (even when authors and publishers object). Itunes, Audible's major sales channel, also insists on DRM in audiobooks (even where Audible can be convinced to drop it). Audiobooks can cost a lot of money, and are very cumbersome to convert to free/open formats without using illegal circumvention tools. To stay on the right side of the law, you have to burn your audiobooks to many discs (sometimes dozens), then re-rip them, enduring breaks that come mid-word; or you have to play the audio out of your computer's analog audio outputs and redigitize them, which can take days (literally) and results in sound-quality loss.
Overdrive going DRM-free for libraries is a massive shift in this market, and marks a turning point in the relationship between the publishers/creators and the technology companies that act as conduits and retail channels for their work. It's especially great that libraries are getting a break, as they have been royally screwed on electronic books and audiobooks up until now.
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There's a funny paradox in rooting your Android phone. Once you take total control over your phone, some apps refuse to run, because they're trying to do something that treats you as untrusted. Now there's a utility
that lets you tell your rooted phone to lie to apps about whether it is rooted. It's both long overdue and a neat demonstration of what it means to be root on a computer.
In the latest Electronic Frontier Foundation post for Copyright Week, Corynne McSherry tackles one of the most troubling aspects of modern copyright law: the idea that even though you've bought a device or a copyrighted work to play on it, they're not really your property. Because of the anti-circumvention rules (which are supposed to backstop "copy protection"), it's illegal to discover how your technology works, to tell other people how their technology works, to add otherwise lawful features to your technology, and to make otherwise lawful uses of your media.
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My latest Guardian column, "Digital failures are inevitable, but we need them to be graceful," talks about evaluating technology based on more than its features -- rather, on how you relate to it, and how it relates to you. In particular, I try to make the case for giving especial care to what happens when your technology fails:
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The work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on adding DRM to HTML5 is one of the most disturbing developments in the recent history of technology. The W3C's mailing lists have been full of controversy about this ever since the decision was announced.
Most recently, a thread in the restricted media list asked about the requirements for DRM from the studios -- who have pushed for DRM, largely through their partner Netflix -- and discoverd that these requirements are secret.
It's hard to overstate how weird this is.
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The rise of
Marvel's Comixology has meant that DRM -- Digital Rights Management -- has become the norm for comics, meaning that your collection is forever locked to Comixology's platform, and it is illegal for anyone except Comixology (and not the artists and writers who created the comics!) to unlock them so that they can be viewed on non-Comixology players.
It's as though Comixology had come up with a scheme to get us to buy our comics in a form that could only be put into special longboxes that they alone can sell -- longboxes that can only be stacked on the shelves they choose, and comics that can only be read under the lightbulbs they authorize, in the chair they approve. Every penny you spend on Comixology increases the cost of your switching away from it -- and increases the extent to which a single company
(now owned by Disney) controls and sets the rules for making, publishing, retailing and reading comics.
Some comics creators are pushing back. Image Comics, publishers of The Walking Dead, announced its DRM-free comics store in July (Image is also noteworthy for its creator-friendly contracts, which are among the best in the industry). Last week, Image put on a one-day comics expo in San Francisco where it featured the new DRM-free titles coming to its store, and Wired rounded up seven amazing-looking stories that you'll be able to buy without selling your soul.
Image's creator-friendly policies have attracted some pretty amazing talent, like Grant Morrison, Jamie McKelvie, Michael Chabon, and many others. But the one I'm most intrigued by is Bitch Planet, from Kelly Sue Deconnick:
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On Practical Machinst, there's a fascinating thread about the manufacturer's lockdown on a high-priced, high-end Mori Seiki NV5000 A/40 CNC mill. The person who started the thread owns the machine outright, but has discovered that if he moves it at all, a GPS and gyro sensor package in the machine automatically shuts it down and will not allow it to restart until they receive a manufacturer's unlock code.
Effectively, this means that machinists' shops can't rearrange their very expensive, very large tools to improve their workflow from job to job without getting permission from the manufacturer (which can take a month!), even if their own the gear.
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Catriona tumbled these enraging statistics about gender and representation in games and films for 2013:
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Bill sez, Last "December I bought some favorite Christmas specials for my kids with the idea they could watch them every year. Went tonight to watch one ('Disney Prep and Landing 2' if you're curious) and it was gone from our library and couldn't be found on the site at all.
Amazon has explained to me that Disney can pull their content at any time and 'at this time they've pulled that show for exclusivity on their own channel.'
In other words, Amazon sold me a Christmas special my kids can't watch during the run up to Christmas. It'll be available in July though!"
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Elizabeth Stark writes, "We're pleased to announce the Device Freedom Prize: a crowdfunded reward for the first developer(s) who release an open source iOS 7 jailbreak. Providing users the ability to control their devices is crucial in an age where we're increasingly dependent on our mobile phones. An open source jailbreak provides users the capability to install what they want on their own devices, the ability to audit the code they're using to do so, and enables disabled users to more easily use their devices."
"We've assembled a judging panel of awesome folks that care a lot about these issues, including Boing Boing's own Cory Doctorow; Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit; Biella Coleman, Professor and Author of Coding Freedom, and Chris Maury, Accessibility Advocate. Contribute to the prize to help make an open source iOS jailbreak a reality."
Is iOS7 jailbroken yet?
Intellectual Property Strategy and the Long Tail:
Evidence from the Recorded Music Industry [PDF], a new working paper from University of Toronto Strategic Management PhD candidate Laurina Zhang documents the rise in sales experienced by the music industry following the abandonment of DRM in digital music offerings.
The paper compares sales of 5,864 albums from 634 artists from before and after the music industry eliminated DRM, and finds an average rise of 10 percent in overall sales (though back-catalog experienced more of a lift compared to front-list titles). As TorrentFreak reports, "This effect holds up after controlling for factors such as album release dates, music genre and regular sales variations over time."
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You can't buy a battery for the new Renault Zoe. Instead, you have to rent it. And if you stop making payments, the battery's DRM will prevent you from recharging it. It's part of a larger product strategy through which the Zoe collects huge amounts of data on your driving and ships it all back to the manufacturer.
Just what the world needed: a car you're not allowed to own, and which you can't use anymore if you lose your job and can't pay the monthly battery rental fee. And if Renault's battery provider goes out of business, your Renault is bricked.
DRM in Cars Will Drive Consumers Crazy