The End of Innovation?

Corante makes some excellent comments about the proposed Inducing Infringement of Copyright Act (formerly INDUCE Act), and points to a mock complaint prepared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Mr. Miller also provides The Obsessively Annotated Introduction to the INDUCE Act, which is occasionally humorous but scary reading. It is nice to know, as is pointed out frequently in the introduction, that we are doing this to protect the children.

If this passes it will be possible to tie up new technologies in litigation at tremendous cost in time and money with little recourse, virtually eliminating the advancement of anything that might possibly infringe (or induce infringement of) copyright. The most frightening thing is that if this act had existed 30 years ago there would be no VCR, no CD-ROM burners, and no Tivo, regardless of the efficiency and time savings that products like this have provided. And anyone who wants to create this kind of technology in the future faces a potentially costly legal fight – a cost they have to bear regardless of the outcome. So that means that while the rest of the world continues to progress, innovation in the United States will grind to a halt. So if you were thinking about just turning on the TV to watch a good movie and forget all about this just remember – there would be no Cable TV either.

DRM: Just another virus?

According to The Register, the new Beastie Boys CD installs a DRM tool on to your PC (except in the US and UK) to prevent the CD from being ripped. Interestingly enough, The Register contends that since the software is installed without the user’s explicit permission then it is no different than spyware, malware, or a virus. This would essentially mean that it violates most anti-hacking and anti-spyware laws.

Vigilante software justice.

New software won’t just protect you from hackers. It will fight back, though it isn’t clear exactly what form that will take.

This concept isn’t new. Years ago, failure to respect web-spidering etiquette by not paying attention to the robots.txt file of some educational institutions might get your site spammed by several megabytes of data.

The idea of fighting back via software is certainly not as harsh as killing the perpetrators, which has been suggested somewhat wryly by some. Based simply on the time I have personally spent to rid my own computers of these kind of problems something needs to be done, and soon.

Just pick one.

The number one album this week is Contraband by Velvet Revolver, and it is copy protected. The CD includes technology that blocks direct copying or ripping of the tracks to MP3 format. It does come preloaded with songs in Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (WMA) format.

My sons have Sony ATRAC CD player and an Apple iPod. The Sony uses the ATRAC or MP3 formats. The iPod uses AAC, encoded known as MPEG-4. Neither are compatible with WMA. My son wanted to put a number of songs from his iTunes library onto an ATRAC CD. He has purchased all of the CDs so this should be perfectly legal.

iTunes keeps all of the files in M4A format. It can’t burn an ATRAC CD. The Sony SonicStage software looks only for MP3 files, and can’t see the M4A files. Neither tool could deal with WMA files. So he has no simple way to move these songs from one device to the other.

Now I know that the record companies don’t want him to be able to use the music that he has paid for any way he wants. They want him to pay for it over and over. I don’t want to argue that point right now. I just wonder, would it be too much to ask to have everyone get together and pick one compatible format?

Criminalizing technology.

A new bill before the U.S. Senate, the Induce Act, will make it a crime to “intentionally induce any violation” of copyright. Induce stands for “Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act” based on the belief that file-sharing networks are a source of unlawful pornography, although it is clearly much more beneficial for groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

This bill will criminalize any current and future technology that could possibly be used to infringe copyright. Formerly, technology that had dual uses, on of which did not infringe, was acceptable. This means that products such as Tivo, CD burners, and VCRs would be illegal. Software download services that offer file-sharing software would be in violation of the law. Even photocopiers would technically be endangered.

It seems that we are turning the clock back on decades of invention to protect the revenue stream for a few companies, while everyone else pays the price.

Global Warming: Fact of Fiction?

I realize that is is an act of heresy to suggest that Global Warming is anything less than completely obvious. However there does seem to be an occasional piece of information to the contrary. And raises some similar interesting points. About 30 years ago scientists were predicting another ice age. Now they are predicting that the polar ice caps will melt.

I’m just astounded that we can correctly predict global warming 30 years in the future, but we can’t get the weekend weather right.

Trading information for information.

Newspapers online are increasingly requiring users to register before they can read articles. Many users see this as an invasion of privacy, but I disagree. I value the information these papers provide – both timely news and entertaining editorial content – and will therefore exchange some general demographic information for that value. I’ve written previously about my local newspaper, which charges the same $14.95 for either online, or online and delivered paper. Now that is unreasonable.

This could be an interesting parallel to music downloading. Could we download free music if we provided some demographic information?

Privacy groups have a concern with the newspaper approach, and many people merely provide false information. This seems miniscule compared to the increasing number of companies that want detailed personal information before I can read their literature such as case studies or white papers – things that used to be free, and should still be. After all, they do want to sell me something. In many cases they also insist on validating my email address before they let me see anything, and certainly before I have determined if the information they provide has any value. This is clearly so that they can market to me. Why does nobody make an issue of this practice?

Double standard?

For five days the Royal Bank of Canada hasn’t been able to properly post transactions to their customer accounts, meaning that customer paycheques have not been deposited, the result of a problem with software update. According to the Globe and Mail, a bank spokesperson does not expect the processing delays will trigger service fees or overdraft interest charges due to late mortgage or bill payments. However,

Leave my computer alone.

Pop up ads are out of control. The other day my son used one of my laptops for the first time since it had been repaired and Windows XP installed. Upon going to a site using Internet Explorer, the page preceeded to open 64 pop up ads. When he tried to go to a new page he could not, and he had to reboot the computer. He then went to Google to download the Google Toolbar with pop up blocker. He thought he had, but instead an adware/spyware toolbar called 180 Solutions installed itself. It looked a lot like the Google Toolbar, and even had a pop up blocker, though it didn’t block anything.

I immediately ran Lavasoft Adaware, and 195 pieces of adware, spyware, and malware. I had to clean the PC separately for each user in XP. Then when I logged in, a window popped up saying that someone had uninstalled 180 Solutions without my knowledge, and presented very poorly worded choices, the default being to reinstall it. I selected the Uninstall option. When it was complete it presented the same dialog box with the same choices. I actually had to manually kill a process called ZIB, and remove it from the registry manually. The cost to me was hours of my time lost because of their stupidity.

In my opinion, government should spend a lot less time worrying about copyright and record company profits, and instead concentrate on how the Justice Department can prosecute companies like 180 Solutions that assume the my computer is theirs to do with as they please. At no time was I asked if I wanted to install anything. Doesn’t this in some way constitute criminal trespass? It certainly should. From my point of view that really is theft.