Items tagged "Piracy"

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The RIAA vs. Weird Al Yankovic

August 23, 2006 Blog Posts , Piracy

So yesterday the RIAA released a "scared-straight" film aimed at illegal filing sharing by college students. Download that O.A.R. tune, the RIAA says, and we'll throw you in jail, have you drummed out of school, and generally ruin your life. I swear that I'm reporting this straight; it's hard to convey the sense in which the RIAA's film manages to both patronize and fear-monger, often in the same sentence. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jason Schultz manfully gives it a try.

In a coincidence of cosmic proportions, yesterday Weird Al Yankovic resurfaced with what to me may be his magnum opus, "Don't Download This Song". My favorite line: Cause you start out stealing songs/then you're robbing liquor stores/and selling crack/and running over schoolkids with your car.

Downloading as a gateway drug. Hysterical (in both senses of the word).

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Bob Dylan on music piracy — he’s for it

August 22, 2006 Blog Posts , Piracy

Bob Dylan is a provocateur, a habitual obfuscator, and a bit of a crank. That said, he's also that rare and precious thing, a genuine artistic giant. His music will endure. And that makes his comments on illegal downloading, reported just now, particularly noteworthy. Asked whether he approved of illegal downloading, Dylan cut to the chase: "Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway."

The article I've linked is a selective reporting of Dylan's comments — I would love to see a transcript. But judging from the statements reported, Dylan isn't making some dumb old man argument about the quality of today's music. Rather, he's complaining about the quality of today's recordings — that is, the sound quality, the audio fidelity, of the music laid down on CDs and downloads.

To which all I can reply is thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you for noticing what should be obvious. CDs are an ancient (approx. 25 yrs.) digital technology, and recordings reduced to the CD standard, devised at a time when processing power was expensive, often sound dead, airless, flat. Dylan notes this in his comments, stating that the songs on his latest album "probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded 'em. CDs are small. There's no stature to it."

Well, so much for CDs. So along come downloads and what happens? Sound quality goes down! The bitrate at which most downloads are encoded provides near-CD-quality sound, which is a bit like eating "near-canned-quality peas".

Why does this matter? Because it points to one of the ways in which the music industry is partially responsible for its own piracy problem. I'm sure there is demand out there for higher quality audio. Does the industry scramble to provide it? No. The industry didn't exactly rush to support the DVD-audio and SACD standards by releasing recordings in those higher-fidelity formats, and perhaps that's understandable given the rate at which consumers are moving away from physical media in favor of downloads. But why doesn't the industry get behind higher-quality downloads? In a competitive market, record labels should be competing on both price and product quality — a dimension that includes audio fidelity.

Oh, wait a minute . . .

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Music City Blues

August 21, 2006 Fair Use , Piracy , Policy Blog

Last week I spoke on a panel at the National Conference of State Legislators' conference entitled "Copyright and Theft in a Digital Age." I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the title, since the conference took place in Nashville – ground zero for the music industry blaming digital technology and networks for their woes. But I have to admit I was a bit shocked at the description of the panel, which was this:

New technologies provide the opportunity for new kinds of crimes, especially in the entertainment world. The latest examples include internet pirating of music, movies, software and video, theft of Internet and cable services, and surreptitious use of camcorders to videotape movies and performances. The challenge for state and federal policymakers is to dtermine if current laws are sufficient to protect rights in a fast moving digital age.

I don't think I'd ever read such a negative, backward looking view of technology, so to open my talk, I decided to tell the audience how I might have written the description of the panel, which I would call: "Copyright and Technology: How Best to Balance Creativity, Innovation and Consumer Rights?"

New technologies provide the opportunity for new kinds of civic engagement, access to education, e-comerce, social networking, individual creativity and artistic expression free of big media gatekeepers. The latest examples include e-government, online distance education, MySpace, YouTube, iTunes and the millions of singers and songwriters who produce and sell their music online. The challenge for state and federal policymakers is to determine if current laws are sufficient to protect citizens' rights to engage in free expression and their rights as consumers to enjoy the digital media that they buy and use lawfully.

So what should a state legislator do about copyright and digital technology? Personally, I don't think they have much of a role, if any, but understanding that lawmakers want to legislate, I made two suggestions:

  1. Pass laws that protect consumers against "copyright abuse" by corporate copyright holders, for example, a requirement that copyprotection on digital media be disclosed.

  2. Pass laws that protect artists from anticompetitive practices of record companies, for example, a limitation on the length of personal services contracts (California exempted sound recordings from this 7 year limitation and efforts have been made to repeal that exemption).

My suggestions did not go down very well with Kumar Barve, the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. He insisted that state legislators had to do "something" about the fact that it is easy to make digital copies of music and movies. When I asked him what consituency in Maryland he was trying to serve, he lectured me that the House of Delegates "does not make laws just for the people of Maryland." Hmmm. His constituents might have something to say about that.

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‘The Pirate Kings of Sweden’

August 18, 2006 Piracy , Policy Blog

ON Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Wired News ran a two-part series on Pirate Bay in Sweden, the copyright pirates who have become a kind of cultural cause celebre in their native land and beyond. Part One describes the group's contempt for MPAA, RIAA et al. as well as its evasion tactics — what the writer, Quinn Norton, calls a "game of international copyright Whack-A-Mole" — and its once-hidden money-making operation.

In Part 2, Norton describes the newly minted Piratpartiet, or Pirate Party, that's already raised enough funds to print 3 million ballots for an election next month.

I do not support piracy but neither do I support corporate entitlement, and it does truly, madly, deeply annoy me that the entertainment industry has, for more than a decade, so doggedly refused to deal with the reality of digital technology. As one of the pirates puts it (and I know this is a big 'doh' to anyone who comes to this particular site, but it bears repeating), the pirates' message "isn't so much about fighting the copyfight as explaining to the other side that they've already lost." As one of the pirates said succinctly, "Their business model won't work with digital technology."

Ten years ago, in John Brockman's 1996 book, The Digerati, I said the same thing, albeit more obliquely: "The media moguls are, shall we say, pissing in the wind if they think they're going to make money in this interactive medium just by pouring money into it. … This distributed environment of networking obviates huge media structures. If they don't pay attention, the technology will blow them apart."

My Digerati moniker is "The Idealist," so I hope I can be forgiven for underestimating the lobbying power of a gazillion-dollar industry that does not want to change with the times unless it can profit handsomely. Instead of the technology blowing them apart, they bought their way into passing the DMCA, the heinosity* of which I do not want to discuss this early in the morning. I'd actually like to have a good day.

  • Yes, I made up that word.

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Pogue reviews analog vinyl record recorder

August 17, 2006 Analog Hole , DRM , Fair Use , Piracy , Policy Blog

In today's New York Times is a review[registration required] by David Pogue of the TEAC GF-350. It's a vinyl record player that lets you record from vinyl and tapes to CDs–essentially convert from a few generations old to last generation technology. Unlike computers and some other devices, the TEAC will only burn music to the special audio-only CDs which are supposed to prevent against serial copying, and for which the RIAA received a royalty under the Audio Home Recording Act–and I'd bet that the purchase of a TEAC device gives them a royalty as well.

From there, Pogue suggests that you rip the serial copy-protected CD you've created to your computer and convert the tracks so they'll play on your mp3 player. He used the example of recording his old college a cappella group record onto CD.

Policy wise, the article is interesting for a few reasons:

  1. It illustrates how the record industry is paid for devices and media that consumers use to digitally record audio–whether or not the industry is entitled to that royalty (I don't imagine Pogue's a capella group had a contract).

  2. Why didn't the TEAC device have an analog out? It may have worked nicely as a turn-table, CD player, and radio in a home entertainment system. Who knows, maybe it was a manufacturing / budget constraint (for a $400 turn-table, CD player combo?). Or did the manufacturer go out of its way to cripple its device to clamp-down on "piracy" for fear of liability?

  3. Did David Pogue violate the DMCA by telling his readers a way around the serial copy-protected CD by using iTunes?

There's also a nice video version of the article by the author which can be found here.

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Publisher: 7 Lessons for Online Media

August 4, 2006 Orphan Works , P2P , Piracy , Policy Blog

This post popped up in my RSS reader just now, which refers to an older 2002 article by Tim O'Reilly, entitled Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution).

Here are the bulleted headers–but please read the article for a better discussion.

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  1. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

  2. Piracy is progressive taxation.

  3. Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.

  4. Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.

  5. File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.

  6. "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.

  7. "There's more than one way to do it."

I just thought it was a good read and pertinent to PK's stance on letting the market work things out in copy-wars.

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Remember the AHRA!

July 28, 2006 DRM , Piracy , Policy Blog

In an earlier post, Rashmi provided an excellent overview of music industry's assault on your home recording rights. The war on home taping relies on everyone–in particular Congress–forgetting that this war has already been fought once before. The music industry would like to shove the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) down the memory hole, and with it consumers' legal right to make copies of copyrighted works for private, noncommercial use.

Let's make this very simple:

You may legally make copies of copyrighted audio recordings for private noncommercial use.

This is not some shaky, maybe-on-alternate-Tuesdays-if-the-sun-is-shining kind of right. Unlike private copies of video recordings (which are protected by the much beloved Betamax decision), the right to make home audio recordings of copyrighted works is not sustained solely by the slender and oft-confused reed of fair use.

In 1992, the Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act explicitly giving you this right. It comes in the form of an exemption, 17 USC §1008:

No action may be brought under this title alleging infringement of copyright based on the manufacture, importation, or distribution of a digital audio recording device, a digital audio recording medium, an analog recording device, or an analog recording medium, or based on the noncommercial use by a consumer of such a device or medium for making digital musical recordings or analog musical recordings.

In short, you cannot be sued under copyright law for noncommercial, private copying of an audio recording. The RIAA argues that the statute's definitions limit this protection to copies made with certain devices, but the Committee Reports that accompanied the bill tell a different story:

Senate Report 102-294 from the Committee on the Judiciary, p. 51:

As stated earlier, the key purpose of S. 1263 is to insure the right of consumers to make analog or digital audio recordings of copyrighted music for private, noncommercial use. . . . Thus for purposes of illustration, the making of an audiogram by a consumer for use in his or her home, car, or portable tape player, or for a family member, is protected by the prohibition against copyright infringement actions contained in this legislation.

House of Representatives Report 102-873 (Part 1) from the Committee on the Judiciary, p.:

Section 1008 covers one of the most critical components of the legislation: exemptions from liability for suit under title 17 for home taping of copyrighted musical works and sound recordings . . . In the case of home taping, the exemption protects all noncommercial copying by consumers of digital and analog musical recordings.

Congress specifically intended to remove the legal ambiguity surrounding private noncommercial copying of audio recordings.

There are two caveats to this. First, that for DRM-protected music, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) conflicts with this right, by making it illegal to strip or bypass these measures for any reason–including private, noncommercial copying. Second, copying is not distribution. The AHRA doesn't make filesharing over peer-to-peer networks legal, for example.

In subsequent posts I'll explore the other secrets of the AHRA–the royalties the music industry gets from certain devices and blank digital media, the RIAA's familiar strategy that led to the AHRA, and more generally, why home taping rights matter.

"A long memory is the most radical idea in this country." -Utah Phillips

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The Corruptables Video by EFF

June 14, 2006 Broadcast Flag , DRM , DTV , Fair Use , Piracy

The EFF has just posted their new video that does a great job explaining the consumer gripes about the broadcast flag, the radio flag, and the analog hole "copyright protections" proposed by the MPAA/RIAA. Both educational and entertaining.

To view the video, click on the image above. You can share it on YouTube here as well. I've added the video to our PK's VideoBomb channel|RSS. Bomb it! Share it! And make sure to note the "Publisher Hookup" link to further support for the EFF.

Great work again to the folks at EFF who have done a great job with this!

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New Senate Telecom Bill–Fortified with Broadcast Flags!

June 13, 2006 Broadcast Flag , DRM , Fair Use , Piracy , Policy Blog

So, now that the House passed its version of the telecommunications bill, the focus now turns to the Senate, and more specifically, the Senate Committee on Commerce. The other day, the Chairman of the committee, Senator Stevens, dropped his version of telecom reform. It covers everything but the kitchen sink. It's currently being discussed at a hearing right now.

read more after the break…

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