Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

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.

Read the rest

Cross a border, lose your ebooks

Jim O'Donnell was at a library conference in Singapore when his Ipad's Google Play app asked him to update it. This was the app through which he had bought 30 to 40 ebooks, and after the app had updated, it started to re-download them. However, Singapore is not one of the countries where the Google Play bookstore is active, so it stopped downloading and told him he was no longer entitled to his books.

It's an odd confluence of travel, updates, and location-checking, but it points out just how totally, irretrievably broken the idea of DRM and region-controls for ebooks is.

Read the rest

Pig and the Box goes Public Domain


MCM sez, "It's been 7 years since I released The Pig and the Box, a CC-licensed anti-DRM fable for kids. It was a fun experiment back then, and the experiment continues today: the whole book (and source files that went into making it) are now public domain. Lolipop Jones for all!"

Teaching computers teaches us how little we understand about ourselves

My latest Locus column is Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves, an essay about how ideas we think of as simple and well-understood -- names, families, fairness in games -- turn out to be transcendentally complicated when we try to define them in rule-based terms for computers. I'm especially happy with how this came out.

Systems like Netflix and Amazon Kindle try to encode formal definitions of "family" based on assumptions about where you live -- someone is in your immediate family if you share a roof -- how you're genetically related -- someone is immediate family if you have a close blood-tie -- how you're legally related -- someone is in your family if the government recognizes your relationship -- or how many of you there are -- families have no more than X people in them. All of these limitations are materially incorrect in innumerable situations.

What's worse, by encoding errors about the true shape of family in software, companies and their programmers often further victimize the already-victimized -- for example, by not recognizing the familial relationship between people who have been separated by war, or people whose marriage is discriminated against by the state on the basis of religion or sexual orientation, or people whose families have been torn apart by violence.

The ambiguity that is inherent in our human lives continues to rub up against our computerized need for rigid categories in ways small and large. Facebook wants to collapse our relationships between one another according to categories that conform more closely to its corporate strategy than reality -- there's no way to define your relationship with your boss as "Not a friend, but I have to pretend he is."

Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves

Image Comics launches a DRM-free online comic store


The amazing and iconoclastic Image Comics (already famous for its creator-friendly, author-owned posture) is launching a DRM-free online comics store to challenge Marvel's super-DRMed, you-don't-really-own-your-comics Comixology. I'm so glad to about this, especially as it's coming from Image, who publish some of my favorite comics (including The Walking Dead). And just listen to how they talk about it:

“My stance on piracy is that piracy is bad for bad entertainment,” Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson told Wired in an exclusive interview. “There’s a pretty strong correlation with things that suck not being greatly pirated, while things that are successful have a higher piracy rate. If you put out a good comic book, even if somebody does download it illegally, if they enjoy it then the likelihood of them purchasing the book is pretty high. Obviously we don’t want everybody giving a copy to a hundred friends, but this argument has been around since home taping was supposedly killing music back in the ’70s, and that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it’s happening now.”

And while Image comic books will still be offered for sale on ComiXology, iBooks, and every other platform where it was previously available, Image’s Director of Business Development Ron Richards says that offering the direct-to-consumer downloads is important. “There’s something to be said for the ownership factor. If readers purchase a book on ComiXology, that may be their library [on the service] but from what I understand that could be revoked. And God forbid, if ComiXology goes under or their data center has an earthquake all their hard drives go away — then you’ve got nothing.”

For the First Time, You Can Actually Own the Digital Comics You Buy [Laura Hudson/Wired]

Games, at some length

Edge Magazine's Jason Killingsworth interviewed me at some length about my history with videogames, from Apple ][+ to Atari to arcades, with notes on Zynga, DRM, piracy and the Humble Bundles. Cory 6

Having your account frozen at Amazon means losing ongoing access to your ebooks

A woman who placed a big computer order at Amazon had her account frozen while they tried to verify her credit-card, a process that went horribly awry (they demanded that she fax them her bank-statement, which she did, eight times, but they never got it, and who knows where those eight copies ended up). As a result, she is no longer able to access her Amazon account, including her Kindle ebooks. She can still presumably read them on her existing devices (assuming they don't remotely wipe them), but can't activate any new devices and until and unless she resolves this bizarre situation, her books will disappear forever when her Kindle breaks or its battery wears out.

That's right: if you order too many computers from Amazon, they might take away your books.

Amazon Cancels My $6,000 Order Because It Doesn’t Know How To Use A Fax Machine

Xbox One will divide EU into different markets

Microsoft's new XBox One will ship with region-locks that divide the world; yours will only work if it connects to the DRM server from one of 21 selected countries. The countries include some, but not all, EU nations, which is almost certainly illegal under the EU's strict common market rules. Here's hoping that Redmond gets a punitive fine big enough to clobber the program and scare the shit out of any other company contemplating similar idiocy.

Notably this "region coding" splits up the EU - most countries are in but some are out - and it also excludes Poland, the development home of The Witcher game series, a title Microsoft touted in its E3 launch presentation. Yes, that's right, the developers of this Xbox launch title will not be able to play the game they developed. I generally find it wise to assume that Microsoft are not stupid, but whatever their plan is, it's eluding me here. Sony was quick to announce that its competitive product, the PS4, would not be region-locked.

MSFT to Region-Lock Xbox One on Launch [Alan Wexelblat/Copyfight]

W3C insider explains what's wrong with cramming DRM into HTML5 - and what you can do about it

I've written before here about the move to get the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) to cram digital rights management (DRM) into the next version of HTML, called HTML5. This week, EFF filed a formal objection with the group, setting out some of the risks to the open Web from standardizing DRM in the Web's core technical specs. Now, writing in the Guardian, W3C staffer Dr Harry Halpin makes an important, well-thought-through case for keeping DRM out of the HTML5 standard. Haplin's got an invaluable insider view of the "crisis of representation" that let a few giant companies shift the most open, most vital standards body involved with the Web into the position of standardizing ways to have your computer and browser take control away from you, and to set the stage for a ban on free and open source software in Web browsers and computers.

The most important part is what you can do to help shift the direction of the W3C back towards the open Web:

The Advisory Committee of the W3C is composed of companies as well as universities and non-profits. If your employer is a W3C member, now is the time to open the discussion internally with your management. Questions over whether DRM should be part of the HTML Working Group or part of another Working Group - or outside of W3C entirely! - are dealt with in the review of charters by Advisory Committee representatives. It's at this level that the EFF objected to EME in HTML. If your organisation is not a member, your organisation can join the W3C. W3C membership fees have been adapted to organisations large and small, for-profit and non-profit, start-ups, and for organisations in developing countries.

If you work for a W3C member, now is the time to join the HTML Working Group. The HTML Working Group are working through the technical details of Encrypted Media Extensions in the HTML Working Group Media Task Force. Also, the HTML WG has a very liberal Invited Expert policy to allow participation by those domain experts who don't work for W3C member organisations. Questions and objections that go beyond the technical content and charter are generally considered out of scope.

Questions that go beyond technically working on EME should be aimed at the Restricted Media Community Group, which anyone can join. Unlike Working Groups, W3C Community Groups provide a forum for discussion but do not themselves publish standards. Disappointingly, so far the discussion has been pretty weak, but this Community Group is monitored by many people deeply involved in the DRM debates.

Also, W3C Working Groups such as the HTML Working Group take technical comments from anyone on the entire web. Public comments can be made by ordinary users; the Working Group must formally address these comments if the comment is within the scope of the charter and done before the standard is complete. That means you can in public comment on EME or any other standard like the cryptographic primitives as pursued by the Web Cryptography Working Group, which can be used to exchange private messages between human rights activists as well as be part of Netflix's plan to switch to HTML5.

DRM and HTML5: it's now or never for the Open Web

EFF files formal objection against DRM's inclusion in HTML5

Regular readers will know that there's a hard press to put DRM in the next version of HTML, which is being standardized at the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), and that this has really grave potential consequences for the open Web that the WC3 has historically fought to build.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has joined the WC3 and filed a formal objection to this work item; EFF's Danny O'Brien has written an excellent explanation of what's at stake:

EFF is not the only group concerned here. When EME was finally ultimately declared in-scope for the HTML working group, the decision was made by W3C’s executive team, despite discontent among key standards developers and the subsequent protest of more than twenty thousand technologists and groups, including EFF. While disappointment at that decision outside the W3C has been widespread, the debate on the problems of DRM for that the web platform within the consortium has been muted. Its strategic advisory committee of W3C members has until now not spoken on the decision, despite many of that community having privately expressed concern.

EFF has a lot of experience working within these kinds of standards processes in an attempt to combat the effects of DRM. In 2002, we joined the activities of Broadcast Protection Discussion Group to highlight the dangers of its proposed digital TV DRM standard, which briefly became the government-mandated Broadcast Flag before being struck down in the courts. Subsequently we participated in Europe’s Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) project, as they considered implementing imposing similar controls on European consumers. This new W3C standard comes from exactly same roots: Hollywood's desire to supress innovation and quash othe wishes of individual computer owners.

The entertainment industry's threats to impose control remain the same: if you don’t do as we say, you won’t get our premium content, and your technology will be rendered irrelevant. As we’ve seen with both music, and digital TV, the threat is empty. Commercial content goes where the users are. And users go where their rights and desires are best respected. We think that the guardian of those rights on the Web should be the W3C, and we’re happy to be help it ensure that remains the case.

Cory's Sense About Science lecture

I gave the annual Sense About Science lecture last week in London, and The Guardian recorded and podcasted it (MP3). It's based on the Waffle Iron Connected to a Fax Machine talk I gave at Re:publica in Berlin the week before. Cory

Associated Press quietly nukes its dumber-than-dumb DRM-for-news system


Do you remember the Associated Press's 2009 announcement that they had discovered a magic-beans technology that would let them stop people from quoting the news unless they paid for license fees (for quotes as short as 12 words, yet!)?

Didn't work.

Since the launch... we heard absolutely nothing about NewsRight. There was a launch, with its newspaper backers claiming it was some huge moment for newspapers, and then nothing.

Well, until now, when we find out that NewsRight quietly shut down. Apparently, among its many problems, many of the big name news organization that owned NewsRight wouldn't even include their own works as part of the "license" because they feared cannibalizing revenue from other sources. So, take legacy companies that are backwards looking, combine it with a licensing scheme based on no legal right, a lack of any actual added value and (finally) mix in players who are scared of cannibalizing some cash cow... and it adds up to an easy failure.

AP's Attempt At DRM'ing The News Shuts Down [Mike Masnick/Techdirt]

(Image: AP: Protect, Point, Pay)

New law will fix the DMCA, make jailbreaking, unlocking and interoperability legal - your help needed!

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) have introduced a landmark technology bill called The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 [PDF] that reforms the way our devices our regulated. It fixes a glaring hole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), changing the rules so that you are allowed to remove restrictions and locks from your devices provided that you don't violate other laws (as it stands, removing a lock, even to do something legal, like installing unapproved software on your iPhone or change carriers, is banned by the DMCA). The bill clarifies that security researchers don't violate the law by publishing information about flaws in the devices we trust and depend upon, and makes it legal to break "lock-out codes" that stop mechanics from fixing cars.

This is a watershed moment in 21st century technology law, and it's desperately needed. Every day that goes by sees us more dependent on devices that are increasingly designed to be as opaque as possible -- devices made by companies whose business-model treats customers as adversaries who undermine profits when they turn to third parties for software, repairs and services. It is only the presence of the terrible rules in the DMCA that makes this business attractive -- without these rules, technology locks would be quickly broken in the marketplace and competition -- as well as transparency -- would thrive. If you want to be sure that the devices that fill your rooms, your pockets -- and increasingly, your body -- are well-behaved and trustworthy, please support this bill.

FixTheDMCA.org and a broad coalition of groups are calling on Americans to write to their representatives in support of this bill. Until now, almost all technology activism has been reactive, fighting against bad rules. We finally have the chance to make some good rules, to establish a positive agenda for freedom, trustworthiness and transparency in the devices that form the nervous system of the 21st century.


"The Unlocking Technology Act of 2013" has 3 parts:

- It amends Section 1201 to make it clear that it is completely legal to "circumvent" if there is no copyright infringement.

- It legalizes tools and services that enable circumvention as long as they are intended for non-infringing uses.

- It changes Copyright Law to specify that unlocking cell phones is not copyright infringement.


You can read the full text of the bill here.

Finally, there's a bill in Congress that legalizes cell phone unlocking and fixes the DMCA.

Will Wright criticizes Sim City DRM, feels "bad for the team"

Ta-Nahesi Coates on Sim City's DRM fiasco: "Even the game's creator agrees I shouldn't have to play with others in order to play at all." He's riffing on Steve Peterson's interview with the legendary designer , where Wright has few good words for the medium: "No game designer ever went wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players." Rob

Humble Double-Fine Bundle: name your price for an amazing Double Fine games bundle

The Humble Indie Bundle is back again, with the The Humble Double Fine Bundle: name your price for three DoubleFine games, pay more than the average and get a fourth, pay $35 or more and get backer access to the Broken Age Kickstarter, and at $70, you get a t-shirt, too! It's all DRM-free and cross platform (Win/Lin/Mac); as always, you can earmark some or all of your money to EFF and/or Child's Play, the bundle's two nominated charities.

The Humble Double Fine Bundle (pay what you want and help charity) (via Waxy)