The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'drm'
So the Apple Event revealed what everybody feared: the headphone socket is dead. The connector is being removed from future iPhones, because “courage”. In its stead, Apple will start shipping wired headphones with their proprietary Lightning connector, and (for the time being, at least) adaptors for your existing headphones (which just became “legacy” headphones). The adapters are as you'd expect: a longish cable with a socket on one end, just cumbersome enough to encourage you to dump yesteryear's technology and get with the programme; they also prevent you from charging your phone whilst using the headphone socket, but there's a $40 double adapter from Belkin you can buy that will let you do this. Meanwhile, William Gibson has noted that, soon, his early cyberpunk novels may sound slightly more anachronistic, with the phrase “jacked in” having a ring of almost Victorian archaism.
It is not clear how long the headphone socket has a future on Apple's other product lines; it'll be interesting to see whether the iPad (which is not as constrained for space) retains it. (They could argue that losing the socket would make it more likely to survive poolside spills, and if that fails, fall back to “because we said so, that's why”.) The MacBook series might retain headphone sockets for longer (even Apple's stripped-down new MacBook has two ports: the headphone port and a USB-C port for everything else), though perhaps its days are numbered even there.
For those with older iPhones missing out on this new development there are Apple Plugs to stop up those unsightly old-fashioned headphone sockets; whereas, if you want a phone that has a proper headphone socket, you can always switch to Android. (Correction: if you want a phone that has a proper headphone socket and don't particularly care about audio performance, you can switch to Android.)
(Another theory about Apple's antipathy to analogue audio connections has to do with DRM; that, in order to do deals with all-powerful record labels, demanding more end-to-end control over their precious intellectual property, Apple are moving to do what the recording industry had failed to achieve before: to close the analogue hole, making possible restricted audio formats which not only cannot be made into perfect digital copies, but can't be played into anything producing a clean analogue audio signal. Tim Cook has dismissed this rumour as a “conspiracy theory”, and said that Apple have no such plans. If there's any truth in such a theory, there would have to be several telltale indicators. For such a system to work, firstly Apple's system would have to distinguish between secure audio devices (presumably the sealed end-to-end digital headphones) and insecure ones (which include Apple's headphone adapter). Secondly, the licensing specification for Apple's Lightning technology when applied to headphones would have to specify that there cannot be a tappable signal path between the Lightning circuitry which decodes (and presumably decrypts) and the speaker drivers that convert it into sound. The headphones would have to be designed to literally fail to decode an audio signal if dismantled or tampered with, so that a pirate couldn't tap the voltages going to the speaker drivers. If the specification goes into such details, then perhaps it's time to worry.
The other announcement was that, as well as the proprietary Lightning wired headphones, Apple are selling a new set of wireless headphones named the AirBuds, which are probably more interesting than what they sound like. They charge by induction in a special container, fit in the ear, and connect to iPhones (or other devices) by Bluetooth, along with a proprietary Apple pairing protocol. They also contain microphones (for voice calling) and accelerometers, and have a few subtle features, like the ability to call up Siri on a connected phone by tapping the earpiece. The technology powering them is a new Apple chip named the W1, whose exact capabilities and specifications are unknown.
At the moment, the AirBuds are superficially uninteresting; they're essentially a nicely-designed, semi-proprietary Bluetooth headset. However, they are a trojan horse for something potentially more interesting. With their array of sensors (microphones and accelerometers) and signal processing and communications capabilities, they are clearly not a simple audio converter (like the chip in the Lightning cable on Apple's new wired headphones) but a small wearable computer running some kind of firmware; sort of like an Apple Watch for the ears. Both the hardware and the firmware are at the very first version, and so are limited in scope, but the potential's there. It's quite likely that a firmware upgrade at some point may add more functions, and a hardware revision may expand its capabilities even further. By version 3, AirBuds may be running something named airOS, with a third-party app store; there will be apps that run entirely on a set of earphones. One can imagine early standalone apps being things from talking clocks and ambient music/sound generators to self-contained versions of Zombies, Run!; if the AirBuds end up getting other capabilities, such as GPS, of course, the possibilities expand considerably. And then there is the possibility that they may eventually have their own mobile data connection, independent of a tethered iPhone; the main bottleneck is the requirement for a SIM card, and Apple have been pushing for the SIM card's replacement with a data-based credential of some sort, something that would allow far smaller devices to connect to phone networks. Perhaps eventually, the pocket-sized iPhone itself could end up going the way of the PalmPilot, replaced by a body-area network of ear- and wrist-based devices, communicating with each other by Bluetooth and sharing a mobile data plan.
Bruce Schneier has an essay about what IT security will look like in 10 years' time:
There’s really no such thing as security in the abstract. Security can only be defined in relation to something else. You’re secure from something or against something. In the next 10 years, the traditional definition of IT security— that it protects you from hackers, criminals, and other bad guys— will undergo a radical shift. Instead of protecting you from the bad guys, it will increasingly protect businesses and their business models from you.
Cory Doctorow rightly pointed out that all complex ecosystems have parasites. Society’s traditional parasites are criminals, but a broader definition makes more sense here. As we users lose control of those systems and IT providers gain control for their own purposes, the definition of “parasite” will shift. Whether they’re criminals trying to drain your bank account, movie watchers trying to bypass whatever copy protection studios are using to protect their profits, or Facebook users trying to use the service without giving up their privacy or being forced to watch ads, parasites will continue to try to take advantage of IT systems. They'll exist, just as they always have existed, and like today security is going to have a hard time keeping up with them.
And for those thinking about buying a 3G iPhone, unlocking it and running it with a prepaid SIM card, some bad news: Apple have closed that loophole, and won't let them out of the store without a contract (at least in the US). Of course, this is all for your own convenience and/or good:
"There is no question that many enjoyed the convenience of at-home activation, but we also found that many others wanted to complete purchase and activation in one step so they could walk out of the AT&T store with their iPhone up and running. We have decided to take the latter approach and we think customers will like it. It will be especially helpful if any questions or issues arise during activation. They can be resolved on the spot and in-person.And, of course, the old unlocking hacks are unlikely to work, given that it's a completely new device, and chances are, Apple have put more work into security. (If their 6th-generation iPods ("iPod Classic"), on which the iPod Linux people have given up because of the hardware-based cryptography used in the boot process, are anything to go by, cracking the iPhone 3G may be a lot harder.)
First came Joy Division
Oven Gloves trainers and now Microsoft are releasing a Joy Division-branded edition of their Zune MP3 player. It will apparently come engraved with the Unknown Pleasures cover artwork, and possibly some tracks or albums locked to the unit in a DRM-encumbered Windows Media format. If you don't use Windows, you may still find it useful as a paperweight.
The Guardian reports that users of Windows Vista are experiencing severe audio performance problems, with choppy, glitchy audio from applications, which is annoying home users and driving professional musicians to old copies of XP or else the Apple store. The Graun article gives the reasons a cursory examination, essentially writing them off as growing pains of a shift to a new, improved driver model, though somehow managing to miss the elephant in the room, i.e., that at any time when there is the possibility that a Windows Vista machine might come into contact with copyrighted audio or video content, a draconian DRM regime kicks in, diverting a large proportion of the machine's resources into ensuring that you, the user, cannot do anything with the content that you're not explicitly permitted to.
As I type this, Steve Jobs is giving his keynote speech at MacWorld. From what I can tell, he has announced a few consumer gadgets (an improved AppleTV with movie rentals (presumably in the US only) and Flickr support, iPhone and iPod Touch firmware upgrades) and a wireless Mac backup appliance named "Time Capsule". Mind you, Engadget's feed doesn't seem to be coping with the load of millions of Maccies across the world constantly hitting reload to see whether any new tidbits have appeared, and Gizmodo's feed, while more reliable, seems a bit lighter on content. It'll be interesting to see what the "one more thing" is, whether it's a solid-state, Asus Eee-sized MacBook named "Air", or whether all the rumours were all off.
The presence of Hollywood heavyweights and mention of Blu-Ray is ominous; given Blu-Ray's strict licensing conditions, any Mac with Blu-Ray would have to have the same onerous internal DRM surveillance infrastructure as Windows Vista, with the same fragility, loss of performance and the actual user generally getting the rough end of the pineapple.
Update: Nothing about Blu-Ray; though the Another Thing was, in fact, the MacBook Air, a ridiculously thin 13" laptop.
Music download/subscription site Napster is to abandon DRM, and will offer only MP3 downloads. Now why does that sound oddly familiar?
If Bruce Schneier (writing in Beyond Fear) is right, Nokia have a rather subtle technique for ensuring that their original mobile phone batteries offer better performance and value than third-party replacements:
Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.
(via Architectures of Control)
Blog of the day: Architectures Of Control. Written by an industrial designer, it looks at how products or systems are designed to control the behaviour of their users, explicitly or implicitly. It has posts covering everything from public seating designed to discourage sleeping or lingering to the way that packaged food portion sizes subliminally influence how much people eat to interactive museum exhibits subtly forcing people to learn things embedded in the context of a game, to deliberately incompatible light sockets which require compact fluorescent bulbs, and of course, the DRM/"trusted computing" debate. For some reason or other, this blog is blocked in China.
(via Boing Boing)
A US broadcasting executive has called for the industry to ditch digital rights management (DRM), because of the bad reputation it has with consumers. From now on, instead of DRM, the industry should use Digital Consumer Enablement (DCE), which does much the same thing, only sounds nicer. You see, instead of restricting what you, the potentially thieving consumer, can do, it enables you to enjoy the content in ways that your benevolent corporate elder siblings want you to:
Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers "to use content in ways they haven't before," such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods. "I don't want to use the term DRM any longer," said Zitter, who added that content-protection technology could enable various new applications for cable operators.Though as someone pointed out in the comments, every time Hollywood come up with a freshly sanitised name, someone will come up with a more honest acronym for it, like, for example, Digital Captivity Enforcement.
The next version of Adobe Flash will include attention rights management, which will enable publishers of Flash content to enforce the viewing of ads. (The version after next will use the viewer's webcam (which will be ubiquitous then) and eye-tracking software to make sure that sneaky ad-dodging freeloaders aren't looking away when an ad's playing.)
Major recording label EMI has confirmed that it will sell its entire music catalogue in high-quality, DRM-free formats. In a joint announcement in London with Apple's Steve Jobs, EMI's CEO announced that the "premium" versions will be available on iTunes from May for 99p a track, with upgrades from previous downloads available for 15p; standard-quality, DRM-encumbered tracks will remain available for 79p. It is anticipated that the DRM-free downloads will become available on other services (presumably in MP3 or FLAC formats). Doing this, EMI becomes the first major label to join a slew of indie labels selling MP3s through services like EMusic.
Apple boss Steve Jobs shared the platform with Mr Nicoli and said: "This is the next big step forward in the digital music revolution - the movement to completely interoperable DRM-free music."
He added: "The right thing to do is to tear down walls that precluded interoperability by going DRM-free and that starts here today."
Other record companies would soon follow EMI's lead, predicted Mr Jobs.Reports of Edgar Bronfman Jr. throwing a chair through the Warner Music boardroom window have not been confirmed.
The next big thing after Digital Rights Management could be Attention Rights Management, or technologies to ensure that users of advertising-supported services not only see the ads but pay attention to them. Already, Microsoft have applied for a patent on a technology for enforcing the payment of attention, using CAPTCHA-style tests and face-recognition cameras. Perhaps we can expect to see this as part of the DRM layer in the version of Windows that follows Vista, opening further opportunities for premium content consumption?
In a dramatic about-turn, Steve Jobs denounces digital rights management (DRM), claiming that Apple only use DRM on their iTunes downloads because labels demand it, and urging everyone to join hands and imagine a DRM-free future:
Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. this is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our itunes store. every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.which probably has a lot to do with the fact that, thanks to the various Cory Doctorows of this world, DRM is definitely not cool, and Apple is all about being (seen to be) cool. Though some critics are skeptical about how deep the conversion really is:
Mr Johansen pointed to a New York Times report that showed that tracks wrapped in DRM from iTunes are also available through other download services without copy protection. The implication being that not all record labels insist on DRM, but Apple uses it anyway.Also, it is a matter of public record that iTunes has refused to sell DRM-free music from copyright holders who didn't want DRM, instead insisting that DRM is a mandatory part of the iTunes infrastructure. I wonder whether they'll put their money where their mouth is and change this policy.
Another thing to watch is Apple's iPhone, whose system is locked down like Fort Knox (software running on it will need to be cryptographically signed by Apple), a state of affairs which has nothing to do with the RIAA holding a gun to Apple's head and seems to have everything to do with Apple wanting to maintain total control.
Britain's Green Party weigh in on the environmental costs of Windows Vista:
"There will be thousands of tonnes of dumped monitors, video cards and whole computers that are perfectly capable of running Vista - except for the fact they lack the paranoid lock down mechanisms Vista forces you to use. That's an offensive cost to the environment.
"Future archaeologists will be able to identify a 'Vista Upgrade Layer' when they go through our landfill sites."
When Windows Vista comes out, it won't just have a Mac-killingly cool user interface; it will also include the most total intellectual-property protection regime ever developed, designed to keep your thieving fingers off Hollywood's precious content. Peter Gutmann has an analysis of the costs of this regime, and it's alarming: it looks like we're all going to be footing the bill (in terms of increased costs, decreased performance, and reduced reliability and interoperability) of Hollywood and the RIAA's demands (and Microsoft's ambitions for control of the content-delivery system).
Beyond the obvious playback-quality implications of deliberately degraded output, this measure can have serious repercussions in applications where high-quality reproduction of content is vital. For example the field of medical imaging either bans outright or strongly frowns on any form of lossy compression because artifacts introduced by the compression process can cause mis-diagnoses and in extreme cases even become life-threatening. Consider a medical IT worker who's using a medical imaging PC while listening to audio/video played back by the computer (the CDROM drives installed in workplace PCs inevitably spend most of their working lives playing music or MP3 CDs to drown out workplace noise). If there's any premium content present in there, the image will be subtly altered by Vista's content protection, potentially creating exactly the life-threatening situation that the medical industry has worked so hard to avoid. The scary thing is that there's no easy way around this - Vista will silently modify displayed content under certain (almost impossible-to-predict in advance) situations discernable only to Vista's built-in content-protection subsystem [Note E].
Once a weakness is found in a particular driver or device, that driver will have its signature revoked by Microsoft, which means that it will cease to function (details on this are a bit vague here, presumably some minimum functionality like generic 640x480 VGA support will still be available in order for the system to boot). This means that a report of a compromise of a particular driver or device will cause all support for that device worldwide to be turned off until a fix can be found. Again, details are sketchy, but if it's a device problem then presumably the device turns into a paperweight once it's revoked. If it's an older device for which the vendor isn't interested in rewriting their drivers (and in the fast-moving hardware market most devices enter "legacy" status within a year of two of their replacement models becoming available), all devices of that type worldwide become permanently unusable.
Vista's content protection requires that devices (hardware and software drivers) set so-called "tilt bits" if they detect anything unusual. For example if there are unusual voltage fluctuations, maybe some jitter on bus signals, a slightly funny return code from a function call, a device register that doesn't contain quite the value that was expected, or anything similar, a tilt bit gets set. Such occurrences aren't too uncommon in a typical computer (for example starting up or plugging in a bus-powered device may cause a small glitch in power supply voltages, or drivers may not quite manage device state as precisely as they think). Previously this was no problem - the system was designed with a bit of resilience, and things will function as normal... With the introduction of tilt bits, all of this designed-in resilience is gone. Every little (normally unnoticeable) glitch is suddenly surfaced because it could be a sign of a hack attack. The effect that this will have on system reliability should require no further explanation.
In order to prevent active attacks, device drivers are required to poll the underlying hardware every 30ms to ensure that everything appears kosher. This means that even with nothing else happening in the system, a mass of assorted drivers has to wake up thirty times a second just to ensure that... nothing continues to happen. In addition to this polling, further device-specific polling is also done, for example Vista polls video devices on each video frame displayed in order to check that all of the grenade pins (tilt bits) are still as they should be [Note H].
As part of the bus-protection scheme, devices are required to implement AES-128 encryption in order to receive content from Vista. This has to be done via a hardware decryption engine on the graphics chip, which would typically be implemented by throwing away a rendering pipeline or two to make room for the AES engine.
I see some impressive class-action suits to follow if this revocation mechanism is ever applied. Perhaps Microsoft or the content providers will buy everyone who owns a device that inadvertently leaks content and is then disabled by the revocation process replacement hardware for their system. Some contributors have commented that they can't see the revocation system ever being used because the consumer backlash would be too enormous, but then the legal backlash from not going ahead could be equally extreme. For anyone who's read "Guns of August", the situation seems a bit like pre-WWI Europe with people sitting on step 1 of enormously complex battle plans that can't be backed out of once triggered, no matter how obvious it is that going ahead with them is a bad idea. Driver revocation is a lose/lose situation for Microsoft, they're in for some serious pain whether they do or they don't. Their lawyers must have been asleep when they let themselves get painted into this particular corner - the first time a revocation takes out a hospital, foreign government department, air traffic control system, or whatever, they've guaranteed themselves first-person involvement in court proceedings for the rest of their natural lives.
In the wake of the consumer backlash against DRM, major label EMI (you know, the ones who made all their CDs "Copy Controlled" a while ago) have started tentatively experimenting with selling unencrypted MP3s. Will wonders never cease?
Don't get too excited yet, though; the only things EMI are selling as easily-copiable MP3s are adult-contemporary and Christian rock, because
nobody'd want to pirate those the audiences for those would be less inclined to copy them. And even so, there was apparently tremendous opposition to this move within the label's management. So don't expect to be able to buy official MP3s of Hot Chip or I'm From Barcelona just yet.
In their latest attempt to buy underground street cred for their Zune music player, Microsoft approached record-store hipster bible Pitchfork to set up a Zune section on their website where hipsters could use the player's proprietary technology to post reviews and content (all under the umbrella of Microsoft's DRM, of course), and hopefully serve as opinion leaders for making the DRM-crippled, ultra-proprietary piece of crapware synonymous with indie cool as much as the spammy wasteland of MySpace has become with cutting-edge unsigned bands. Pitchfork said no.
"Pitchfork's audience looks at that site like it is the Bible," said one high-level music industry executive. "They might not take too kindly to a Microsoft pop-up on the site or a relationship with such a big corporation."
But Schreiber shot down that rationale. "It wasn't anything political, and I don't want to sell Microsoft or the Zune short," Schreiber said. "But the idea just doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us."There is still hope for Microsoft: they have
Today is the Day Against DRM, a global event planned to raise awareness of the threat which digital rights management and technologically-mandated copyright maximalism pose to culture. This page lists numerous protests and activities, from putting a badge on your website to sticker distribution runs, protests against things from severe paracopyright laws to craptacular DRM-"enhanced" products like the Microsoft Zune, and numerous meetups with other copyfighters. In France, they're turning themselves in to the police for decrypting DVDs, whereas in Coffs Harbour, Australia, they're having the Shackled Banana Award.
A new application of genetic engineering: permakittens, or cats which never mature.
Everybody loves kittens. The only thing wrong with them is that they turn into cats. So we'll make genetically modified cats that never get big. I've bounced this off a couple of honest-to-goodness biologists who assured me it is 100% doable and even gave me some tips.The author of the idea, one Dylan Stiles, has worked out the genetics of it (or claims to have; not being a biologist, I can't verify whether what he's saying is plausible). Cleverly enough, his idea includes its own copy-protection mechanisms, in that the permakittens will not produce unlicensed knockoffs. (Which would be the case if they remained actual kittens, which they're not; they do mature, whilst remaining
Having all but wiped out PalmOS and the PlayStation, Microsoft now targets its heavy artillery at Apple's iPod, and unveils its "iPod Killer", the Zune. Which has an iPod-like scroll wheel, a much bigger screen and more nifty-looking user interface, and WiFi-based media-sharing capabilities.
Oh, and it is also a laboratory for a new regime of total, absolute DRM control. Everything stored on a Zune will be DRM-locked, and while you can wirelessly "share" music with friends, you can only share it with each friend once, and the copy they get dies after 3 plays or 3 days. Since we know that only a negligible proportion of music is not owned by the RIAA, this applies to all music: which means that your own home recording is DRM-locked "just in case", as if it belonged to Big Copyright. Furthermore, if you copy that Creative Commons-licensed MP3 you just downloaded by that cool nerdcore rapper all your copyfighter friends are going on about to your Zune, it gets the shackles put on it, violating its Creative Commons license. Furthermore, apparently those PlaysForSure DRM-locked Windows Media files you bought from Napster or SpiralFrog won't work with your shiny new toy at all, because it's the wrong sort of DRM. Oh, and apparently that iPod-killingly nifty WiFi capability will run the battery down like nobody's business.
My prediction: the people who bought Zunes will feel they've been ripped off, and their players will gather dust in drawers. Meanwhile, the Zune will be quietly get dropped from advertising campaigns and catalogues sometime after the Christmas it's released on, shortly before being discontinued — to make room for Microsoft's next "iPod Killer".
If you liked the digital rights management systems built into the DVD standard, wait until you see what Blu-Ray has in store. Under the Blu-Ray standard, not only will discs be protected against you, the potential thief/economic terrorist, piratically shifting content to your iPod for illicit on-the-road viewing, but the studios be able to remotely kill any player whose model key has been compromised; which means that if anyone cracks the scheme, Big Copyright pushes the big red button and all players of that model go up in virtual smoke. Not only that, but the players will refuse to play any format which hasn't been cryptographically signed by the studios, thus giving Big Copyright a monopoly over any content they can play. Forget about making your own Blu-Ray content; since a Blu-Ray player cannot reliably distinguish between your indie machinima masterpiece and an illicit copy of Spiderman 3 taped with a camcorder in a cinema, all user-created content is verboten, and Blu-Ray will merely be a trough for feeding corporate content to passive consumers.
It looks like the new, less-draconian copyright laws in Australia won't be all that much to be happy about. Under the laws, whilst ripping non-copy-protected CDs will be legal (though only to other formats), you will only be allowed to watch a recorded TV programme once, and then obliged to delete it. Taping a TV show for a mate will be a crime. Which means that Australia will once again be a nation of criminals, unless, of course, all personal video recorders sold in Australia are configured to enforce the view-only-once restriction. And before you go off to start your BitTorrent client, keep in mind that, as a concession to Big Copyright in return for allowing you to rip your CDs, your taxes are paying for police officers to monitor internet connections, having access to the surveillance infrastructure mandated after 9/11 and using state-of-the-art automated tools to detect, trace and prosecute file sharing, and that the burden of proof has been shifted to make it harder to evade prosecution. If you break the law, the law will break you.
Bruce Schneier looks at the question of whom your computer's loyalties really belong to, with not only crackers and criminals competing for them but also rightsholders, software vendors and other companies, whose behind-the-scenes deals often mean that the software they sell you serves other masters:
Entertainment software: In October 2005, it emerged that Sony had distributed a rootkit with several music CDs -- the same kind of software that crackers use to own people's computers. This rootkit secretly installed itself when the music CD was played on a computer. Its purpose was to prevent people from doing things with the music that Sony didn't approve of: It was a DRM system. If the exact same piece of software had been installed secretly by a hacker, this would have been an illegal act. But Sony believed that it had legitimate reasons for wanting to own its customers' machines.
Antivirus: You might have expected your antivirus software to detect Sony's rootkit. After all, that's why you bought it. But initially, the security programs sold by Symantec and others did not detect it, because Sony had asked them not to. You might have thought that the software you bought was working for you, but you would have been wrong.
Internet services: Hotmail allows you to blacklist certain e-mail addresses, so that mail from them automatically goes into your spam trap. Have you ever tried blocking all that incessant marketing e-mail from Microsoft? You can't.
Application software: Internet Explorer users might have expected the program to incorporate easy-to-use cookie handling and pop-up blockers. After all, other browsers do, and users have found them useful in defending against Internet annoyances. But Microsoft isn't just selling software to you; it sells Internet advertising as well. It isn't in the company's best interest to offer users features that would adversely affect its business partners.Schneier warns that the present situation could have dire consequences:
If left to grow, these external control systems will fundamentally change your relationship with your computer. They will make your computer much less useful by letting corporations limit what you can do with it. They will make your computer much less reliable because you will no longer have control of what is running on your machine, what it does, and how the various software components interact. At the extreme, they will transform your computer into a glorified boob tube.
You can fight back against this trend by only using software that respects your boundaries. Boycott companies that don't honestly serve their customers, that don't disclose their alliances, that treat users like marketing assets. Use open-source software -- software created and owned by users, with no hidden agendas, no secret alliances and no back-room marketing deals.
In the US, the copyright industry is pushing for a law requiring anything capable of digitising video signals to respond to hidden embedded signals, originally designed for Voltron toys in the 1980s, and to refuse to digitise the content if it is marked as copyrighted.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the same technology is being embedded into plastic dolls of a cricketer, given away with bottles of Victoria Bitter; the signals they respond to will be embedded in broadcasts of the cricket:
Booney dolls went live on Friday the 13th of January with the first match of the VB One Day series, and internet blogs and discussion sites have been debating since then what makes them tick. Booney is activated an hour before each one-day match by an internal timer set to eastern standard time (a glitch for those viewing matches televised on delay in Perth). His first words are "get me a VB, the cricket is about to start", a cross-marketing plug for VB and the cricket that sets the stage for his main performance during the game.
Booney's timer chip is programmed to trigger random comments while the match is in progress, and to announce a codeword for that day's Boonanza competition, in which viewers can win cricket memorabilia prizes (separately, those buying slabs have the chance to win three "Boonanza Utes" and 90 flat-screen TVs).
The major innovation is that Booney's chip responds to four audible triggers broadcast by Nine during matches, to generate targeted comments about bowling, batting, general play and VB advertisements.
Booney's vocabulary ranges from the inane ("Got any nachos? I love nachos") to ones that boost the two key products — the cricket ("He's seeing them like watermelons") and the beer ("Got a beer yet?").
It looks like the next version of Microsoft's Windows OS will require all device drivers and kernel-level code to be digitally signed. This is ostensibly to prevent kernel-level rootkits from installing themselves, though has the bonus feature of adding a ring of steel to the black iron prison the RIAA/MPAA want to build around everything handling their precious intellectual property. Oh, and it will also restrict device-driver development on Windows to those with the resources to pony up for the Verizon digital signature.
(via bOING bOING)
A chilling account of how the future may look if the intellectual-property industry gets its way and gets universal digital rights management on everything capable of handling their precious content:
Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it's not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics, your personal server and peripherals, even your watch, and you had better not be wearing smart spectacles or contacts. As you enter the security zone you're scanned for anything you may have forgotten. Cochlea and optical implants must be capable of responding with a coded RF identification signal to indicate their systems are secure and cannot record. People with older models, or models implanted abroad where such interrogation is illegal, are turned away. Perhaps they would like to see one of the older releases?
These days it seems like every time you turn on one of your gadgets you have to fight with its DRM to get it to do what you want. The home movie of your daughter opening her birthday presents is ruined by a patch of grey fog that shifts with every movement of the camera, tracking sluggishly to keep the TV screen in the background obscured. From the codes embedded in TV's update pattern your camera had decided the show was not licensed for this form of reproduction and blocked it. You wish you had thought to turn it off at the time, but squinting into the camera's tiny screen it hadn't looked so bad.
You just don't see physical media anymore. Too easily duplicated, their security too easily cracked, they've been dropped in favour of heavily encrypted and vendor-locked streaming media. You don't 'own' copies of any music or movies these days, instead your monthly subscriptions grant you only the right to temporarily buffer a few seconds of the distributor's authorised files while you watch or listen. Ultimately, that was the reason ad-hoc networking protocols and mobile PC technologies were pushed so hard, not because the customers wanted them but because the music and movie industries needed them to replace the vulnerable duplication method normally needed for such mobile media.
The only way writers can get their novels read, or musicians have their music heard, is by signing with a content provider who will claim the work as their own and charge people for access. It's nearly impossible for artists to make money anymore. The celebrities you read about, the millionaires who's contribution to the industry was actually rewarded, are a microscopic minority. But wasn't it always that way? There is nothing to stop an author from reading a work aloud in public, or a band from performing to a live audience, but few beyond that space will hear it. Hardly anyone has access to the technology that would let them record what they're hearing, at least not in any permanent form, and even fewer have the means to share it once they have. And god forbid the artists accidentally use a sentence or lyric already claimed by one of the corporations...
(via bOING bOING)
Freedom To Tinker has a tutorial on how to create "copy-protected" CDs, describing how the protection works:
Notice that the tracks are grouped into two sessions -- essentially two independent CDs burned onto the same disc. Unprotected CDs that combine audio and data files contain audio tracks in the first session and a single data track in the second. The only difference in the passive protected CD you just created is that the second session contains two tracks instead of one. ... This simple change makes the audio tracks invisible to most music player applications. It's not clear why this works, but the most likely explanation is that the behavior is a quirk in the way the Windows CD audio driver handles discs with multiple sessions.
For an added layer of protection, the extraneous track you added to the disc is only 31 frames long. (A frame is 1/75 of a second.) The CD standard requires that tracks be at least 150 frames long. This non-compliant track length will cause errors if you attempt to duplicate the disc with many CD drives and copying applications.It says that this only works on Windows. I wonder whether this is the same scheme as used by EMI Australia, circa 2004. Their scheme resulted in errors reading the table of contents under Linux, with tracks having anomalous lengths. Strangely enough, it only worked on some drives: a then-recent Pioneer DVD drive choked on it, but an old 24X CD-ROM (borrowed from a beige G3 Macintosh) had no problems.
Despite these limitations, who wouldn't enjoy finding a homemade copy-protected CD in their stocking? They're a great way to spread holiday cheer while preventing anyone else from spreading it further.
(via bOING bOING)
Never ones to allow reality to get in the way of the Great War on MP3 Terrorism, Sony BMG, the company behind the copy-protected CD rootkit, have announced that they will be adding copy protection to CDs in Australia. Perhaps someone in the Australian office missed the memo about DRM having been thoroughly discredited throughout Sony BMG by the recent rootkit fiasco. Though the company has announced that the CDs will magically prevent users from making copies without causing the problems that affected users of their CDs in the US, so that's alright then.
Jon Lech Johansen, the Norwegian hacker who cracked DVD encryption, iTunes DRM and several other things, has accepted a job in California. How much do you want to bet that the FBI will be waiting for him at the airport?
Reports are coming in about a new Sony Vaio computer with, wait for it, a SACD burner. Which sounds good, except for the facts that the SACD format uses an unusual extremely-high-frequency 1-bit audio encoding system requiring considerable processing to convert to/from the PCM formats used everywhere else, that SACD recordable media seems to be rather rare, and that once you burn a SACD of music (presumably from your Sony Trusted Client ATRAC jukebox application, which does the PCM-to-bizarro-world conversion in the background for you), that disc will be useless for anything other than playback in a few SACD players, and the DRM inherent in the format at every level will prevent such discs from having the positively criminal levels of flexibility and tinkerability that have made recordable CDs (and DVDs) such a hit with users everywhere. Which makes it all seem rather pointless.
I have been thinking about the homebrew-console-games-vs.-manufacturer-DRM issue recently.
New consoles with new capabilities come out, often containing powerful CPUs and graphics chips, and hackers and hobbyists want to have a go at writing code for them and getting them to do things other than consume titles. The manufacturers, of course, design the units so as to prevent unauthorised code running on them, primarily to protect their business model. The video-game console business model typically involves selling the consoles cheaply (often at a loss) and collecting a cut of the price of each game sold. Of course, for this to work, console makers have to strictly control what code will run on their machines, and ensure that they get a cut of every item released for them.
It's a stiflingly regressive reality, though it appears to be stable and is unlikely to go away any time soon. The alternative model (open game machines, sold at above-cost price, with anyone able to develop code for them) has been tried and failed; witness the Tapwave Zodiac PalmOS-based game machine, for example. Customers are more likely to buy cheap consoles and more expensive games for them later, in instalments, than to buy a more expensive console with cheaper software. Of course, this makes game consoles somewhat stagnant platforms (compared to, say, PCs or handhelds), though the game market seems to be able to cope with this well enough for it to be the best current business model for that kind of business.
(This ignores mobile phone J2ME games, which anyone can write and run on any compliant mobile phone without the manufacturer's blessing. Mobile phones are heavily subsidised as well, though they are subsidised by phone companies who make the money back in network usage; besides which, J2ME is a fairly weak gaming platform (for one, the low-power CPUs used in mobile phones often mean sluggish response times for navigating the internal menus, let alone games). Perhaps this will change in future.)
Nonetheless, that does not change the fact that hardware such as the PSP and Nintendo DS is tantalisingly attractive to tinkerers. When it was discovered recently that certain early Japanese PSPs could be made to execute code off a Memory Stick, a hacker community cropped up, with games, demos, utilities and ports of old console emulators popping up like mushrooms after a rain; the more recent firmware has closed off this hole, and anyone running a recent game on an old PSP will find themselves upgraded against their will.
What if, instead of locking out the hacker culture, game companies worked with it, whilst still preserving their business model? Imagine, for example, a device sold by the console manufacturer which costs about the difference between the retail and cost price of a game machine and enables it to run homebrew code. It could be a disc, a hardware dongle, or even a special cable. Unlike homebrew hacks (such as the Nintendo DS passthrough cartridge), it requires no soldering and no fabrication of circuit boards, allowing those who don't have a fetish for that sort of thing to get involved. Perhaps it comes with development tools and documentation (the GNU toolchain would be a start), or even membership of a community web site, where users can share their code. From time to time, publishers could release compilations of the best such titles, perhaps in a magazine format, doing the necessary licensing to make the releases run on standard machines.
Sony once tried something like this with their PlayStation 1; they called it "Net Yaroze", and apparently it wasn't a stellar success. I wonder whether it could be done better.
Of course, if the console makers don't throw a bone to hobbyists, makers of third-party extensions (of various levels of legality) just might; and these would be less concerned with protecting the makers' profit margins.
A pretty funny Clerks/bOING bOING mashup, which has Dante and Randal going through the blog's various obsessions:
Jay: Some fucker from Gizmodo fucking e-mag [link] is outside, and he says digital rights management is the wave of the fucking future that will save fucking intellectual property rights, an' still present a marketable format for files that appeals to the consumer. [link]
Jay: Yeah, he's spouting some happy horseshit about how fucking crucial it is to a capitalist economy that the fucking hermaphrodites keep their fucking videos from being copywrite-violated when pirates hack into their IPs, and the only goddamn solution is a fucking eBook reader with clout, and also convenient DRM to really break open the fucking market, or some shit. [link][link]
Thanks to the technological miracle of Microsoft DRM, Windows Media files can contain adware, viruses and spyware, and it appears that an anti-P2P company named Overpeer have been launching such trojan WMAs into the KaZaA network. More details here:
But since the license dialog box acts just like an Internet Explorer window, it can display whatever is on the page it points to--whether a legitimate call for license information or a series of pop-up ads.
Not only did we get bombarded with unwanted ads, but one of the ad windows in a video file tried to install adware onto our test PC surreptitiously, while another added items to our browser's Favorites list and attempted to change our home page. And a window from the original music file asked to download a file called lyrics.zip, which contained the installer for 180search Assistant, commonly categorized as an adware program.
And if the asphead agencies can do it, so can the Bulgarian Mafia and their ilk. Expect to see spam-zombie-trojan-infected WMAs appearing on a file-sharing network near you. The moral of this story, kids, is
use MP3 don't pirate music.
(via bOING bOING)
The MP3 patentholders are rewriting the standard to include DRM copy-denial. Owning the patents, they are entitled to crack down on encoders using the old unencumbered MP3 format, or even borrow the RIAA's internet-user-suing infrastructure to go after indie bands who unlawfully put non-DRM-enhanced MP3s on their websites. Not that they'd necessarily do something like that; except, perhaps, if the RIAA paid them under the table to do so or something.
The penguinheads, of course, will go to Ogg Vorbis; apparently, there are now hardware devices which play Ogg files. (No word on whether this is done in a DSP chip, as MP3 decoding is, or whether the device's poor little CPU has to decode the OGG files itself, undoubtedly cutting battery life in half; I'd bet the latter.) Though there may be a window of time during which you cannot legally obtain a new device that plays your "old MP3" files (or even a secondhand one, especially if it relies on Flash ROM firmware which deteriorates within 10 years). All because the recording racket is desperate to preserve its precious scarcity from the depredations of the evil pirasites.
A PDF document showing the "EURion constellation"; this is a constellation of five 1mm circles found on European and British banknotes, and recognised by colour photocopiers. (The piece doesn't show exactly which five circles are the constellation, though if it's there, it shouldn't be too hard to find it.) I'm not sure whether the pattern used on US banknotes (and now recognised by commercial image-processing software) is the same or different, or what other anti-copying patterns are used on other currency. Though if each country had its own, it would use a lot of CPU cycles to detect. (via jwz's comments)
Hewlett-Packard declare war on copyright violation, commit to integrated policeware in all HP products. Perhaps they're hoping that this gets them the sort of legal protection from cheap, usable imports that Microsoft has; since MS have embraced "trusted computing", the Microsoft OS monopoly has gone from being a problem to being an essential part of global economic stability (in fact, it's only slightly far-fetched to believe that, if it crashes down and the world goes open-source, the powers that be will declare capitalism to be irrecoverably wounded and bring out the cobalt-tipped fireworks). Could HP be angling for legal restrictions on non-compliant computers to stem the flow of customers to cheaper no-brand Asian imports?
Meanwhile, new versions of Photoshop have filters that detect images of US currency and refuse to load them; this CPU-intensive operation is performed every time image information is imported from outside the application. However, honest, patriotic citizens won't mind their CPU cycles being used in this way, as we all must put in to fight terrorism; don't you agree, Citizen?
Apparently Paint Shop Pro does this too, or so I heard. Mind you, The GIMP doesn't, and even if it did, you could change the source code to bypass this check and compile it yourself. Though, if Adobe and the Paint Shop Pro people put this "feature" in because of government pressure, it's not unlikely that there will be attempts to criminalise the distribution of source code that could be compiled to make a non-compliant image processing application. (There are precedents, in the FCC Broadcast Flag amendment, which effectively outlaws entire classes of software-radio applications that could be used to access copyrighted HDTV content.)
Norwegian prosecutors drop appeal against Jon Johansen, creator of the DVD decryption library DeCSS; thus, unauthorised decryption of DVDs is perfectly legal in Norway, at least until they pass their WTO-mandated copyright-expansion law. Meanwhile, Jon isn't resting on his laurels, and has released code for stripping DRM from iTunes files.
Owen Williams proposes that hardware reviews should add a rating for "openness", or how unrestrictive and flexible the technology used is. At one end, you'd get things that use cryptography to keep the user on a short leash, and that you can do very little with, such as the DivX video player and major-label online music-rental services; at the other end, you get completely hackable devices, like commodity PC hardware. For example, MP3 players which act like USB/FireWire disks (like the iPod or MP3 keyrings) would get a higher Openness score than ones which require special software to "check in" files (like the Dell Jukebox). (I imagine that devices like the Archos Jukebox would get the highest rating, because they not only act as standard USB disks, but allow you to install your own firmware and hack the hardware to your heart's content; which is how things should be.) (via bOING bOING)
Jon Johansen acquitted, again, of copyright violation for writing DVD decryption code. The acquittal came several weeks before it was expected; this will undoubtedly make it harder for the MPAA to get a conviction if the case moves up to Norway's supreme court. (via Slashdot)
Nefarious Malaysian software pirates sell Microsoft's Longhorn, with adventurous consumers snapping it up. Longhorn, the next iteration of the Windows hegemony, will introduce Microsoft's Trusted Computing Platform Architecture, to make sure that you pay for each and every piece of intellectual property you consume, and will come with a new, k3wl-looking interface. I guess there's a good market for shiny, fancy-looking shackles. I wonder whether, if Microsoft started selling home-detention bracelets, like those put on low-risk prisoners, only fashioned out of titanium by a leading industrial-design firm and playing rights-managed Windows Media content from the major entertainment conglomerate of your choice, customers would flock to buy those as well.
I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's intentionally corrupt CDs; and if there's one thing I hate more than intentionally corrupt CDs, it's websites which selectively neglect to tell you that the CD you're about to buy is fux0red, whilst at the same time giving warnings for other dodgy CDs. Case in point: I ordered The Thrills' So Much From The City from amazon.co.uk, after noticing that its page didn't have a "this CD is copy protected" warning (and, by contrast, their page on Radiohead's Hail To The Thief did). Guess what I noticed when I took the CD out of the packaging.
Napster comes along, spreads like wildfire by word of mouth and changes the way people think about recorded music. The RIAA sues them out of existence. Some years later, The Man buys the Napster logo, slaps it onto a sadomasochistically locked-down music-rental library, and engineers a Nike-style pseudo-culture-jamming campaign, with defacement of fake billboards, to give the New Napster some street cred.
For some reason, this makes me think of the JJJ "Enemy of Average" campaign; maybe because both are attempts to market a homogenised corporate turd-in-a-can as somehow "underground" or "subversive".
Does anybody know whether either the US or UK release of The Thrills' So Much For The City is "Copy Controlled" (i.e., intentionally defective)? The Australian one is (as all EMI releases are here); though the US releases of the last Radiohead and Massive Attack were clean. Unfortunately, online record shops don't tell you.
First we had disposable mobile phones (did those ever take off?); and now the latest development in disposable technology is self-destructing DVDs, engineered to become unreadable within 48 hours, thus protecting the integrity of the intellectual property encoded thereon.
Isn't it amazing that so much effort is being put into removing value from objects and making things more fragile and less usable. First there were intentionally broken CDs, sadomasochistic "digital rights management" file formats and software "copy-protection" systems which impede upward compatibility (aside: the main reason why MacOS X software can't run MacOS 9 VST plug-ins is because, with commercial ones being copy-protected (i.e., engineered to depend on low-level quirks of MacOS 9; anywhere else, this would be considered bad programming), they would be unable to run, and there was no point running just the free ones). And now, the wonder of modern technology allows us to have products which turn into garbage within 48 hours, taking up space in landfills and leaching god knows what toxins into the groundwater. But that's just the price we have to pay for protecting the basis of civilized society, the inviolate rule that intellectual property is sacrosanct.
An interview with Richard M. Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation. In it he states his opposition to the Intel/Microsoft "Trusted Computing" system (or "Treacherous Computing", as he calls it), calls for web browsers to automatically send complaints to webmasters about Flash-based web pages (which, when you think about it, is not such a bad idea), and reveals that Debian has fallen out of favour because they tolerate the existence of a ghetto of non-free software. As well as the usual broadside at the Open Source movement (who, in rms's view, have more in common ideologically with Microsoft than with the Free Software movement). (via Slashdot)
A Microsoft PR piece on why Digital Rights Management will make you free: (via Rocknerd)
Documents. Using a simple on-screen dialog prompt built into her word processing application, an advertising copywriter specifies that her document, a draft marketing plan, may be viewed and edited by a selection of the client company's managers for one week. She posts the document to a Web portal to share with them. Based on their feedback, she finalizes the plan and posts it. Managers who downloaded the obsolete draft can no longer open it, which prevents confusion as to which document is current.
And it also has the useful effect of destroying audit trails and suppressing documents which may, in future, come back to haunt their authors. DRM is not a value-neutral technology, as some free-market "libertarian" platygaeans would believe; it's one which reinforces existing power structures, and has more to offer to corporations and authoritarian states than to consumers or whistle-blowers.
Email communications. A senior partner in an accounting firm needs to send email to his partners with a confidential contract proposal attached. Besides specifying who may read the proposal and that they may not copy, paste or edit the information, he specifies that the email itself cannot be forwarded. The recipients' email and word processing applications transparently enforce these policies.
Which also has the nice effect of "de-commodifying" open standards for email. The glorious New Galambosianism of end-to-end total information control would depend on file formats remaining proprietary, a trade secret belonging only to a trusted gatekeeper, i.e., Microsoft. Thus it's hardly surprising that Microsoft, who have built an empire from locking people into proprietary file formats, are advocating such a totalitarian vision as the salvation of Capitalism and Civilisation As We Know It.
Recently, David Bridie released a new album, probably his best solo work. Unfortunately, he's signed to EMI, so it never came out in Red Book format. Bridie doesn't have enough clout with EMI to get them to release a legit Red Book pressing that rips on your Linux box, doesn't kill your iMac and plays on your iPod, so he has taken matters into his own hands.
Here is the word from EMI Australia's projects manager for new media. "The new David Bridie CD has been released on a Copy Controlled CD. It has an embedded player that will allow you to play the CD on the PC so it is not impossible to play the CD on a PC." This obviously doesn't apply to all and so is still a pain. I apologize in this. I'm not a big enough seller to determine policy. If anyone so desires, send me an email, and I'll burn a copy off the master and send out with the artwork in return for a cheque for the cost of the CD in the store so that you can still enjoy listening to music the way to which you are accustomed. Hopefully this will not get too out of hand, and I won't be spending 6 hours a day in the Enormodome burning CDs.
Bravo to David Bridie; it's good to know that there are artists with the courage and integrity to take a stand like this. I'll definitely be sending him a cheque.
Incidentally, having heard the album, I strongly advise people to take him up on the offer. Hotel Radio is a great mix of Not Drowning-esque songwriting and world-class glitchy electronics (from Nick Littlemore). However, the version in the shops is corrupt, and such chicanery should not be encouraged.
(Speaking of EMI releases, I saw a limited edition version of the new Blur in PolyEster; it comes in a red book (like the Amnesiac limited edition, only smaller and with a Banksy stencil on the front), and appears to be, appropriately enough, a perfectly kosher Red Book disc. Chances are the regular version will be fux0red like every other EMI release made in Australia.)
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating complaints against EMI over its crippled CDs. The complaint does not claim that copying CDs is a right, but instead argues that the audio provided for PC users is of inferior quality. Though isn't the ACCC now run by a pro-business figure appointed by Howard? I suspect that it may not be as keen to take on big business as it was during the Fels days.
Apparently that poxy "copy control" thing EMI are putting on all their CDs isn't confined to Australia: they're doing it in Canada too. And
they've made this guy pig-biting mad; so much so that he's starting a campaign against it. He actually went to the EMI offices, threatening to post details of circumvention, and demanding
one hundred billion dollars proper Red Book copies of the CDs he bought which won't play in his car stereo.
Hmmm... there are direct-action possibilities there. Anyone up for a die-in outside the local EMI offices? Or perhaps a Ron Rude-esque hunger strike would be more appropriate? What's your best anti-copy-denial protest idea?
Those "Copy Controlled" CDs EMI have been foisting on the public
aren't proving very popular. Apparently, they don't play in some car stereos, and the top-s3krit Windows software that auto-installs when you try to play the CD may do things to your registry without your consent. EMI, of course, won't tell you what it does because it's a secret and if people find out how it works, then the
terrorists pirates will have won. I've heard of people successfully ripping them on Windows and/or Linux, though they may have been mislabelled clear CDs (given that no software automatically started).
I wonder how long until recorded music comes with a shrink-wrap license prohibiting you from circumventing copy-denial mechanisms or making unencrypted MP3s of it, and indemnifying the company for any changes made to your system software?
(I can't see EMI's security-through-obscurity scheme holding up for very long, especially since it doesn't rely on "trusted client" PCs or anything. Soon enough, some guy without a girlfriend will break it and upload the details to a server somewhere. Yes, he may go to jail for it, but that hasn't stopped virus writers.)
I just got a copy of the US pressing of Massive Attack's 100th Window (thanks, Lisa; I hope you're enjoying the Ninetynine CD). Why the US release? Well, the main thing that distinguishes it from the Australian release is no copy-denial mechanisms; i.e., it's a Red Book CD which plays and rips in any drive.
(Yes, I know that some people have successfully ripped the Australian "Copy Controlled" release. However, it's the principle that's at stake; and I'm sure that if people swallow this imperfect "copy controlled" disc, EMI will attempt to iron the bugs out of future releases (such as, say, the upcoming Morrissey album, and the next Radiohead album). However, if EMI's beancounters (who largely run things at major labels these days) notice that sales are higher in unrestricted territories, that may make them stop treating customers as potential criminals.)
(Does anybody know what the economics of the "copy control" technology are; i.e., how much does EMI pay to cripple a title, and do they pay per CD, per title, or outright? If they pay a percentage of the CD price per disc, then the tide may turn sooner against copy-denial, unless it actually makes people buy more CDs. Of course, the suits in charge would want to hold on despite losses until there are no unencumbered copies available in any territory. Though how long they hold on after people start MP3ing their CDs through the analogue outputs of their CD players is uncertain. Eliminating sound cards without built-in watermark detectors with anything less than a perfectly efficient global police state would be impossible; as far as audio goes, the "analog hole" is here to stay.)
Anyway, back to 100th Window. The album differs from the, umm, prerelease slightly (they've chopped a second or two off the start of Future Proof, and padded the space after the last track with some sort of filtered arpeggio texture). The artwork is also quite nice. Anyway, if you're in Australia and wish to buy an unrestricted copy, places like Amazon will sell you the US release. Or just find a US penpal and offer to trade them something from here. Think of it as globalisation for the people.
I wandered down to PolyEster this afternoon, and saw the new Massive Attack CD. Nice packaging; though pity it's not available on a CD (only on one of those copy-restricted non-Red-Book-compliant CD-like things). Bugger that then.
(The label on the packaging says that it works with Windows, presumably in some "secure" DRM mechanism. I can understand us Linux-using nonpersons being snubbed by the recording racket ("get a copy of Windows, you bum!"), but EMI's big fuck-you to the Macintosh-using audience, especially on a Massive Attack disc, is harder to justify. Let's hope they change their minds before releasing the next Morrissey record.)
(Btw, is 100th Window released in Red Book-compliant, non-"copy controlled" CD format in any other territories?)
I did, however, pick up the new Architecture in Helsinki album, Fingers Crossed. The packaging is very cool, and on first listen (six tracks in), it sounds pretty good, in a garage-indie-pop-meets-electronica vein. Some of the tracks sound a bit unpolished (though that's probably deliberate), though there are some real gems; especially Scissors Paper Rock; expect to hear that in one of my DJ sets, possibly next to some Stereolab or something.
(Btw, what is it about Casio-wielding indie bands naming songs after games? You had Lacto-Ovo's Bingo, Ninetynine's Cluedo and Uno, and now AIH have joined the trend.)
I also picked up Stereolab's Cobra and Phases Group... while I was there. With that, my Stereolab collection has doubled in size over the past week.
The latest group to jump on the DRM bandwagon is the porn industry. Seeing their bottom lines affected by file-sharing of dirty pictures, they are turning to copy-denial mechanisms to make sure that people don't share porn. The basic idea seems to involve wrapping porn in executable programs which require you to enter your credit card number before you see anything; in other words, a pay-per-perve scheme.
Other than the issue about screen grabbing being trivially easy, would anybody in their right mind download and run any executable content from a porn site? The porn industry is rife with unethical and sleazy business practices (from unkillable popup ads and equally immortal auto-renewing memberships to rerouting customers' dial-up modem connections via Moldova or wherever), all held up by a legacy of Puritanical shame. Customers don't want to complain or draw attention to their shameful vices; the cowboys and mafiosi who run a lot of porn sites take advantage of this and screw them royally. What's to say that if you downloaded a "copyright-enabled" porn viewer, it would not hijack your computer and use it for sending out spam or launching DDOS attacks on rival porn sites or something?
(Which is not to say, of course, that there aren't honest, ethical porn/erotica sites. Just that they're probably not a vast majority of the industry.) (via Techdirt)
An international master criminal to rival Jon Johansen, the 15-year-old Lex Luthor of Norway, has cracked the Microsoft Reader "eBook" copy-protection system, and apparently released a program, including source code, for removing copy-denial from books, allowing them to be converted to HTML or other formats. Dan Jackson claims that the software is legal under the Berne Convention, though should probably avoid flights entering US airspace anyway. (via Charlie's Diary)
The recording racket's spokesweasels say that 2002 will be the last year in which most CDs aren't copy-protected. Mind you, that's only for major-label CDs; chances are, unless they somehow coerce pressing plants into stopping making Red Book CDs, the plain old CD will remain the dominant indie medium. (So either (a) the RIAA will see the light and stop pissing off consumers, or (b) the RIAA will move to wipe out alternatives (i.e., by clamping down on distribution of non-RIAA artists and buying lawmakers) and herd consumers into a marketplace where listening to music means renting homogeneous manufactured bands from major labels.) (via Techdirt)
Tim O'Reilly (of the books with animals on their covers fame) has an essay on file sharing, piracy and copy-denial technologies; in it he argues that piracy is progressive taxation, taking from established producers and giving (distribution, recognition, etc.) to the up-and-coming. (Via Slashdot, to whose readers the article was undoubtedly crafted to appeal, right down to the Star Wars reference at the end.)
An article on why mandatory digital restrictions management would be a very bad thing. To wit: (a) to be effective, DRM systems would have to be pervasive, controlling all devices that are connected, and (b) making licensing enforcement a priority is incompatible with making systems mission-critical or fault-tolerant. As you can imagine, all sorts of havoc would ensue if Hollywood and the RIAA succeeded in making DRM a legally-mandated requirement:
The DRMP system is based on the premise that unlicensed use of software or data should make computers stop working. You could also argue that bridges should be designed to fall down if someone is detected crossing without paying the toll.
(via bOING bOING)
The turd in a can again: An article which argues that the recording industry's proposed (and likely to be passed) laws which criminalise bypassing copy-denial system for any reason are intended not so much to stop piracy but to lock out independent artists, giving the major recording labels a technologically-enforced monopoly on music distribution, backed by the full force of U.S. law:
Biden's new bill would make it a federal felony to try and trick certain types of devices into playing your music or running your computer program. Breaking this law--even if it's to share music by your own garage band--could land you in prison for up to five years. And that's not counting the civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense. "Say I've got an MP3 collection and I buy a new nifty player from Microsoft that only plays watermarked content, and I forge the watermark to allow my legal MP3 collection to play," says Jessica Litman, who teaches intellectual property law at Wayne State University. "It is certainly the case that if I pass that around, I could be trafficking (in violation of the law)."
Of course, this thesis assumes that the recording industry are the sort of amoral, greedy scumbags who would do something like that. (via Techdirt)
Here (scroll down) are some technical details on how Microsoft/Intel/AMD's total access control system, Palladium, will work. It's quite ingenious, though still seems like something too draconian. With any luck it'll flop, people will avoid restricted content, and even Microsoft, the RIAA and the MPAA won't be able to get people to pay for software or content which breaks if their system changes. (via bOING bOING)
Boot, human face, forever: Cantabrigian security expert Ross Anderson has a FAQ on Microsoft's Palladium total access control initiative. It looks pretty scary; killing the GPL, neutering Linux and locking down digital music is just the top of a rather sinister iceberg.
Perhaps having realised that going out of one's way to inconvenience customers is not a good business model, Hollywood may be giving up on Macrovision, the copy-denial mechanism that prevents you from connecting a DVD player to a VCR. Warner Home Video have released the Harry Potter DVD without Macrovision encoding in the UK; this means that you can plug your DVD player into your VCR and pirate it for all your friends untrammeled. Or, if you have an older TV without A/V inputs, you can plug your DVD in through your VCR and watch it, full stop. Mind you, Macrovision costs the studios a few cents per disc, and is fairly easy to bypass with (as yet not illegal) "signal enhancers".
A good piece on how CD copy-denial mechanisms work, why they can be easily defeated, and why the "stopping MP3 piracy" argument made for them doesn't make sense, and is a smokescreen for their true purpose: recording companies extending their control to the way customers access their music, with a view to forcing them onto a pay-per-play or rental model. Which would be the holy grail of late-capitalism; driving up profits by giving the customer less and otherwise compelling them to pay more for it, or what K.W. Jeter called the "turd in a can". (via bOING bOING)
Hollywood's next power grab over your computer and digital rights: requiring watermark detectors in all analogue-digital converters; i.e., a gatekeeping mechanism ensuring that the digital domain is securely locked down. Needless to say, if they get this through (and they stand a good chance of doing so), it could mean the end of actually useful general-purpose computers and technologies which can be creatively adapted to new purposes. (They can't have that, you see, in case someone adapts them to a purpose that violates their (new, expanded) copyrights, or otherwise puts them out of pocket.)
Which could be disastrous. The technology of steam power was discovered in ancient Greece, but not developed because it didn't fit with the mores of the time, and remained unknown until the Industrial Revolution. Several hundred years ago, the Chinese came close to sailing to Europe and the New World. They had the technology, but turned back by Imperial decree. And now our corporate emperors want to kill off innovation to protect the valuable conditions of scarcity on which their power and wealth are founded.
In short, such a régime has the potential to impede technological development by decades if not centuries. (And the consequences will be felt all over Earth, especially if backed up with US military power, which is backed up with US economic power, which depends on "global stability". If the New Zealanders or Indonesians or someone develop an unencumbered bit-shuffling device industry, watch the high-energy particle beams from Fort Kissinger, high earth orbit, vapourise the offending facilities as if they were Iraqi penicillin factories.)
Maybe Vivendi Universal aren't entirely evil. They're now offering a song for sale in unprotected MP3 format. No proprietary DRM schemes, spyware-enhanced ad-showing players or Microsoft dependencies. (Sort of like what atomicpop.com did with the 4AD back-catalogue some years ago.)
I suspect this may be part of a power struggle within Vivendi, between the copyright hardliners (i.e., Bronfman's Universal Music Group, who have been pushing copy-restricted pseudo-CDs) and moderates in the new media division (i.e., mp3.com, emusic.com). If this succeeds, the absolutists' position may be weakened, and we may see copy-restricted CDs shelved or even unencumbered MP3 downloads become a regular feature. Whereas if this fails, the hardliners will just say "I told you so", and redouble their zeal.
I don't know much about Meshell N'degeocello (though with EBTG's Ben Watt doing the remix, it could be good), but I'm tempted to buy the MP3 anyway. Though it happens to be for US residents only at the moment. (via Slashdot)
Felt-tip pens and Post-It(tm) notes as copy-prevention circumvention devices. (void where prohibited by law) (via Slashdot)
In the U.S. the FCC plans to ban unserialised streaming audio players, as they don't allow listeners to be tracked enough to satisfy the copyright racket. This means that using open-source streaming audio players (such as xmms), or systems such as Ogg Vorbis, would be illegal in the Land of the Free. (via bOING bOING)
Life on the Net in 2004. Make sure you pay your way.
Fond memories of the days when there were alternatives to Microsoft's OS pass through your mind -- but that was before the government realised that software was like petrol -- a totally essential commodity in the lives of most businesses and individuals. Legislation was passed in 2003 that required all software developers and vendors to be licensed and a 45% tax added to all sales. Of course, much to Microsoft's glee, this killed the Open Source movement since being an unlicensed software supplier risks a stiff fine or even a jail term and those licenses are incredibly expensive.
Another warning appears -- "Your license for this recording has expired, unable to play." Damn -- another $49 if you want to listen to that music for another year. You wonder, if as they claim, these new measures significantly reduce piracy, why music is now so much more expensive?
War on Economic/Copyright Terrorism: Jon Johansen, who published DeCSS, has been charged with computer crime for bypassing DVD access-control mechanisms. The law under which he is charged has been used to prosecute crackers breaking into banks; there is no precedent applying it to copy-control mechanisms, but Hollywood and the US Government are pushing hard for one. (And you don't want to get in the way of the US Government; just ask the Afghans.) If convicted, Johansen faces 2 years in prison. (Though presumably he should be thankful he is not going to be extradited to the US; Norwegian prisons are probably more humane than US federal prisons.) The usual pirasymps are lobbying for the charges to be dropped.
Read: Dan "VisiCalc" Bricklin on why copy protection robs the future:
Copy protection, like poor environment and chemical instability before it for books and works of art, looks to be a major impediment to preserving our cultural heritage. Works that are copy protected are less likely to survive into the future. The formal and informal world of archivists and preservers will be unable to do their job of moving what they keep from one media to another newer one, nor will they be able to ensure survival and appreciation through wide dissemination, even when it is legal to do so.
Ominous tidings: Riot police shoot dead a demonstrator at anti-globalisation protests; the officers will probably be charged, but who gave the orders to shoot to kill? Meanwhile, a Russian programmer is in jail for revealing the secrets of Adobe's access controls (a crime under the DMCA), and hence Alan Cox has resigned from the USENIX committee in protest. Whether this will make a point or marginalise the penguinhead pirasite colony remains to be determined. Meanwhile, the US Government has created a special elite cyber-cop agency of highly-trained aspheads to hunt down intellectual property thieves, crackers, copyright violators and other enemies of capitalism (and that means you, hiding there with the DeCSS source and the eight gig of MP3s on your hard disk; don't think they cannot see you), further escalating the War On Copying.