How to have a healthy relationship with technology

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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Requirements for DRM in HTML5 are a secret


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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DRM-free comics of excellence from Image Comics

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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High-end CNC machines can't be moved without manufacturers' permission


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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Representation of women in games and movies: the awful numbers


Catriona tumbled these enraging statistics about gender and representation in games and films for 2013:

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Amazon takes away access to purchased Christmas movie during Christmas

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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Crowfunded prize for first open jailbreak of Ios 7


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? (Thanks, Elizabeth!)

Study shows removing DRM increased music sales


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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Renault ships a brickable car with battery DRM that you're not allowed to own


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

Pirate MEP hosting discussion on DRM in HTML5, Tues Oct 15

Swedish Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament Amelia Andersdotter sez, "I'm organising a panel in the European parliament on the topic of DRM in the HTML5 standards because it's clearly a politically contentious issue. I see no way in which DRM in HTML5 will not worsen the lives of individuals and technology users in the EU: we are already in an extremely bad place with respect to cross-border access to culture, licensing, libraries, services and individuals. So that is a political mess that I think it is our political and democratic prerogative to be sorting out in the law, and through politics, before some technical people with, granted, strong financial backing, start mucking about with the users' primary tool to reach the internet. There are some discussions political people should be taking, and other decisions that technical people should be taking."

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W3C's DRM for HTML5 sets the stage for jailing programmers, gets nothing in return

An excellent editorial by Simon St. Laurent on O'Reilly Programming asks what the open Web has gained from the World Wide Web Consortium's terrible decision to add DRM to Web-standards. As St Laurent points out, the decision means that programmers are now under threat of fines or imprisonment for making and improving Web-browsers in ways that displease Hollywood -- and in return, the W3C has extracted exactly zero promises of a better Web for users or programmers.

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Amazon requires publishers to use Kindle DRM


A leaked Amazon ebook contract [PDF] shows that Amazon's default terms for ebook publishers is that they must use DRM, unless they can convince Amazon to leave it off.

Like most DRM vendors -- Apple and Google, for example -- Amazon spends a lot of time implying and flat-out stating that it only uses DRM because the big dumb media companies require it of them. The reality is that DRM's primary beneficiary is the DRM vendor. Once your book is sold with Amazon's DRM on it, only Amazon can give your readers permission to move them out of the Kindle jail and onto another device of your choosing. Of course Amazon wants to force copyright holders and creators to use its DRM -- it's a one-stop way of converting the writer's customer into Amazon's customer. Forever.

Remember: Any time someone puts a lock on something of yours and won't give you the key, that lock is not there for your benefit.

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DRM standards, the harmonica version


As the Internet comes to grips with the news that the World Wide Web Consortium has decided to press ahead with DRM in HTML5, here's a timely strip from the Flea Snobbery webcomic (excerpted above).

Harmonica (Thanks, Guido!)

Firefox bug: "Pledge never to implement HTML5 DRM"

Chris Sherlock has filed a bug against Firefox in Mozilla's bugzilla bug-tracker, entitled "Pledge never to implement HTML5 DRM." It's an interesting way of using the open/transparent development protest to allow Web developers to voice their opinion on the World Wide Web's terrible, awful decision to standardize DRM for browsers. As the W3C's overseer for HTML5 has written, the only reason for DRM in HTML5 is to prevent legal innovation, not to stop piracy.

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Lego robot that strips DRM off Kindle books

Peter Purgathofer, an associate professor at Vienna University of Technology, built a Lego Mindstorms robot that presses "next page" on his Kindle repeatedly while it faces his laptop's webcam. The cam snaps a picture of each screen and saves it to a folder that is automatically processed through an online optical character recognition program. The result is an automated means of redigitizing DRM-crippled ebooks in a clear digital format. It's clunky compared to simply removing the DRM using common software, but unlike those DRM-circumvention tools, this setup does not violate the law.

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