p2pnet.net News Feature:- DRM is all-but useless. Just about everyone agrees on that – except the people who are trying to get rich on it, of course, and the entertainment industry, which is trying to convince itself that it actually works as a form of product protection, and ….
But you know how it goes.
Sci-fi author Jim Kelly wondered if DRM schemes are hurting his career.
“The way I see it, readers and rep are what really matter to a writer. Dollars should follow from a satisfied readership, although exactly how this happens in these times of technological and economic innovation is not immediately apparent, alas,” he writes in an Asimov’s Science Fiction post, going on:
“I do believe that the net has irretrievably compromised twentieth-century notions of intellectual property and that no amount of DRM shenanigans is going to turn back the copyright clock.”
Switch ‘readers’ with ‘listeners’ and ‘writer’ with ‘musician’.
Read on >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
On the Net: Afraid of the Darknet
By James Patrick Kelly - Asimov’s Science Fiction
Say your kid sister drops by for a visit. She lives on the Left Coast and has driven clear across the country to your place on the Right Coast. To keep herself from falling asleep on the tedious stretches of I-80, she has brought along some of her CD collection. Naturally, you’re interested in what she’s listening to these days and, as you idly flip the pages of her CD binder, you notice that she owns Herbie Hancock’s classic Head Hunters. You yourself bought that album on vinyl back in ‘74, but your ex-girlfriend sat on it during a wild Halloween party in ‘81. You have a CD burner on your computer, and your sister is amenable, so you make yourself a copy.
Is that wrong? What if it actually was your girlfriend’s record? What if you never owned the album yourself, but you’ve just recently discovered Herbie’s funk years?
Say you bought a membership to ConJose , the 2002 World Science Fiction Convention and you wanted to cast an informed vote for the Hugo Award, so of course you read Ted Chiang’s memorable Hell Is The Absence of God. But you couldn’t manage to round up a copy of Starlight 3, where it originally appeared. Not to worry; that summer you learned that Fictionwise was running a promotion that allowed you to download Ted’s story free for a limited time. You did and you loved it so much that you voted for it and – hallelujah! – it won. As a matter of fact, you were so impressed that you went out and bought a copy of Ted’s collection, Stories of Your Life and Others.
Now back to your sister, whose Herbie Hancock album you just copied. She has never read any of Ted’s stuff and naturally you’d like to educate her about the cutting edge of SF and so you offer to lend her your book. She declines because she remembers how snippy you got when she misplaced your autographed first edition copy of Fire Watch by Connie Willis which would be worth well north of two hundred dollars if either of you could put your hands on it. Anyway, you tell her that at the very least she can download the free Fictionwise file of “Hell Is The Absence of God” onto her Palm Tungsten. Except the promotion is long since over and now Fictionwise is charging $1.25 for the story.
Is that wrong? What if you lend her your own Palm Tungsten to read it on? Or if you Xeroxed the story from your own personal copy of the book and gave it to her?
Just for the record, I don’t have a sister.
Some people think that the answer to all of these questions is Digital Rights Management or DRM. Basically DRM seeks to use a technological stick – hardware or software – to enforce copyright. It’s DRM that prevents you from making backup copies of your collection of special extended Lord of the Rings DVDs. But what is convenient for Peter Jackson can be damned inconvenient for you. So be sure to wash your hands before you pick up that fragile optical disc!
In 1998 Congress passed the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA. The intent of this law was to provide new protection for content creators in the face of technologies that are eroding copyright. Content creators? You know, the folk formerly known as artists, like Steven Spielberg and Outkast and me. Among other things, the law makes it illegal to disable DRM encryption: The DMCA mandates “No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” If you think about it, this is like passing a law against using your VCR to tape that episode of Star Trek Enterprise you’re going to miss while you’re away on vacation. Worse, it makes a criminal of anyone who even dares to create the digital equivalent of a VCR, even if it is never used to copy anything.
In case you’re wondering, DRM has long since arrived in ebook publishing. All four of the major ebook formats, Adobe Reader, Palm Reader, Microsoft Reader and Mobipocket have secure formats that use encryption to prevent copying. All of the commercial ebook publishers have recourse to secure formats, at least for some titles. So hack William Gibson at your peril!
You may recall in the last installment I called your attention to a talk about ebooks given by our own Cory Doctorow, a frequent contributor to these pages. Cory’s day job is with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the watchdog organization which advocates on behalf of free expression in the digital age. As an EFF spokesperson, Cory has been a critic of DRMthink for some time now. You can weigh his reasoning by clicking over to a speech he gave to the Microsoft Research Group in June of last year. In it he makes several arguments, i.e.: that DRM systems don’t work; they’re bad for society; they’re bad for business; and they’re bad for artists.
Now since I happen to be an artist . . . er . . . content creator, this last point compels my attention. Are DRM schemes hurting my career? I suppose the answer depends on how one defines a career. Is my career the business model though which I earn the princely sums (not!) that I am paid to commit prose in public? Is my career the collection of all the sentences I have ever typed that have gone on to be published, either in ink or in digits, even if they are now out of print? Is it the size of my readership, even if many of you have just stumbled across my stuff here in the pages of Asimov’s? Or is it my reputation among readers who remember my work and would look for more Kelly stories if they weren’t too hard to acquire?
The way I see it, readers and rep are what really matter to a writer. Dollars should follow from a satisfied readership, although exactly how this happens in these times of technological and economic innovation is not immediately apparent, alas. I do believe that the net has irretrievably compromised twentieth-century notions of intellectual property and that no amount of DRM shenanigans is going to turn back the copyright clock. Or as Cory puts it: “Technology that disrupts copyright does so because it simplifies and cheapens creation, reproduction and distribution. The existing copyright businesses exploit inefficiencies in the old production, reproduction and distribution system, and they’ll be weakened by the new technology. But new technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that’s what tech is for.”
But you don’t just have to take the word of a couple of tech-struck science fiction guys that DRM is doomed and copyright must be reformed. In 2002 four computer scientists working for Microsoft, Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman, published a research paper entitled “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution“. What they call the darknet is the entire “collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content.” That is to say, if you nip over to the Usenet’s alt.binaries.ebook newsgroup, you are in the heart of the darknet. And despite the settlement of the lawsuit between Harlan Ellison and AOL access to copyright-busting newsgroups and websites is still quick and easy. But the darknet extends beyond file-sharing on the World Wide Web. If you and your hypothetical sister exchange Herbie Hancock and Ted Chiang files, you are also part of the darknet. And if you subscribe to Consumer Reports Online and then share your password with your mom so that she can check out the best new laptops, you have both gone over to the darknet.
While this paper can be sometimes thick going for the lay surfer, it is well worth the effort, if only so that you can understand why these particular Microsofties are so pessimistic that anything can be done to halt the spread of the darknet. (Note that this paper presents the opinions of the four authors only, and is not the official position of Microsoft.) In the last section of the paper they consider the challenges of doing business in the very near future:. “. . . in many markets, the darknet will be a competitor to legal commerce. From the point of view of economic theory, this has profound implications for business strategy: for example, increased security (e.g., stronger DRM systems) may act as a disincentive to legal commerce. Consider an MP3 file sold on a web site: this costs money, but the purchased object is as useful as a version acquired from the darknet. However, a securely DRM-wrapped song is strictly less attractive: although the industry is striving for flexible licensing rules, customers will be restricted in their actions if the system is to provide meaningful security. This means that a vendor will probably make more money by selling unprotected objects than protected objects. In short, if you are competing with the darknet, you must compete on the darknet’s own terms: that is convenience and low cost rather than additional security.”
So what happens to copyright if DRM fails? Don’t ask me! Better minds than mine have yet to map out a future that is acceptable to artists, consumers, and business. interests. However, I can point to one route to the future of publishing that I have chosen for at least part of the Kelly oeuvre.
The Creative Commons movement offers a way for artists to make their works freely available to the world without giving up ownership. It seeks a middle path between full copyright – all rights reserved – and the public domain. The files you can download from my site – stories, MP3 files of audiobooks, and the archive of this column, for example – are offered for the free use of anyone under one of the many Creative Commons Licenses. My license imposes just three conditions: you must credit me as author, you must not use the works for commercial purposes, and you must not alter, transform, or build upon the works.
If you curious about the quality of Creative Commons works, here are just a few websites to check out. Common Content should probably be your first stop; it’s a general catalog of works licensed under Creative Commons. Openphoto.net features hundreds of stock photos while MIT OpenCourseWare offers seven hundred courses from thirty-three academic disciplines and all five of MIT’s schools and the Prelinger Archives is a collection of “ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films.
I certainly haven’t offered everything I’ve written under the Creative Commons license and I’m not advocating this path for everyone. But I sleep better at night knowing that anyone, anywhere who wants to can read me.
And I’m not afraid of the darknet.