June 2002 Archives

they'd rather switch than fight

California Democrat Rep Howard Berman will introduce legislation to allow Big Content the right to hack file-sharing systems that it sees as harmful to its business interests. in Berman's own special Orwellian double-talk, this illegal disruption of the internet isn't actually "hacking" but "technological self-help measures".

I'm OK, you're about to be 0wn3d by47ch! by Dr Howard Berman.

Rep Berman's largest contributors (Big Content's been conspicuously generous to the gentleman from California this election cycle) will receive special immunity from current state and federal laws (such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) against tampering with computers. this will allow them to sabotage file-sharing services (who are, coincidentally, competitors to their own digital music initiatives like pressplay and MusicNet) by flooding networks with bogus requests, hijacking and redirecting users' queries, and injecting corrupted files into the system.

despite standard promises of "narrowly crafted" legislation, the proposed law amounts to government-approved copyright enforcement powers (above and beyond the Copyright Act, the DMCA, and the BPDG) being given to Big Content. there's no real indication that their powers would be limited to peer-to-peer networks or music, but could very well be interpreted, for example, to allow a company like Disney to redirect requests to a site that parodies or satirizes them by using their content fairly.

Berman's fellow Big Content sock-puppets at the RIAA said they were "encouraged" by the Congressman's attempt to elevate the labels' business concerns above the law. RIAA supremo Hilary Rosen's been itching to lead Big Content's copyright vigilantes onto the net since last fall, and now Rep Berman's putting the plan in motion.

a story from the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) quotes former Broadcast.com CEO Mark Cuban as saying that the Yahoo!/Broadcast.com/RIAA streaming royalty rate deal was specifically structured to the disadvantage of small-scale webcasters.

by adopting a per-song/performance rate, rather than a percentage-of-revenue model, only the deep-pocketed could survive. like Microsoft's long-time policy of charging PC makers a Windows royalty on every box sold (regardless of whether or not it shipped with Windows installed), it served to create a huge barrier to entry for competition. according to Cuban:

I...wanted there to be an advantage to aggregators. If there was a charge per song, it's obvious lots of webcasters couldn't afford to stay in business on their own. THEREFORE, they would have to come to Broadcast.com to use our services because with our aggregate audience...we could afford to pay the royalty AND get paid by the webradio stations needing to webcast. [emphasis is Mark's]

so the marketplace deal used by CARP and the Librarian of Congress as the archetype for the new webcasting royalty regime was essentially designed as a scorched-earth policy to starve smaller, less-well-funded webcasters of revenue.

mission accomplished.

"what's up with the infrequent posts? you lost interest?" you may ask. not at all -- i am in fact filled with outrage -- i'm just allocating most of my cycles towards finding a more fulfilling career.

not that writing for you good people isn't fulfilling.

i've also tweaked a thing or two around here. you'll notice that posts are followed by links to related stories elsewhere (or, at least what Google thinks is related, based on keywords in my Movable Type post excerpts). the brilliant functionality is courtesy of Dave Sifry, the feeble implementation here is strictly mine. i'm not a big fan of the look i've got going -- i have to figure out how to better integrate it into the page.

i've also added a link to my station (14th St/Union Square on the N) among by Blog Scout badges (bottom of the sidebar to the right).

it's an extreme example, but a deadly fire in a Beijing cybercafe shows how driving activity underground necessarily makes it more dangerous.

the reaction has been predictably swift, and heavy-handed: thousands of licensed and unlicensed internet cafes have been shut down by the authorities. official China, afraid of the impact of unrestricted media on their citizens, has taken the opportunity to further stigmatize the internet and its users. as one Reuters article noted:

State media tried to justify the measures. "Don't let Internet bars destroy kids," read the front-page headline of a blistering article in the Communist Party organ the People's Daily, quoting a concerned mother from central Henan province.
The paper told how her 12-year-old boy turned from a star student into a strung-out Internet addict paying low prices to stay the night -- usually locked in -- at the crowded parlors, most of which are unlicensed and ignore a ban on minors.

a War on Information -- whether it's prosecuted by the most authoritarian governments in the world, or the richest firms on Wall Street -- has no chance of succeeding, but every chance of hurting the innocent.

Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Congressman who's pressuring the BPDG participants to reach "consensus", seems to be a favorite in the other LA.

in his last election in 2000, Big Content was his number-one fan, forking over some $74,000 (no doubt out of admiration for his spirit of public service). Billy's got another date with the voters this November, and Big Content hasn't forgotten their favorite Cajun. they've fattened his coffers with some $32,000 so far.

Bayou politics can get pretty complicated, though, as Billy's critical role in telecommunication and internet-related policy has also placed him on the receiving end of $42K from IT companies.

"Laissez les bon temps roulez!"

can i just screw their manager?

Sony's and Universal's plans to offer 99-cent single downloads in Liquid Audio format (whyohwhyohwhy not MP3 -- they were so close to getting this right) looks like a half-step in the right direction. but some artist managers aren't seeing much upside:

"One thing this will do is cut through the hypocrisy by giving people the option of whether they want to buy or steal music," said Burnstein, who along with Peter Mench runs Q-Prime, the agency that represents Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"We won't have to listen to anymore of that b.s. like 'I was forced to download the single because the album had only one good track on it,' " he added. "Now that you can buy your favorite single for 99 cents, what's the argument going to be? We'll get down to the truth, which is: 'I want it free. I'm too cheap to pay 99 cents....Screw the artists.'"

is there some kind of School of Entertainment Stupidity where they teach you to call the people who pay the bills thieves? given that Q-Prime owns 50% of the Volcano Records label (sharing the other half with Zomba, which was recently swallowed by BMG), the rhetoric is sadly predictable.

Donna Wentworth writes in Copyfight:

So we have a problem. The issue of protecting fair use in the digital arena isn't even the slightest bit trivial. But in most people's minds, it couldn't be more so. I want to hear from the hard-nosed on this. If tweaking rhetoric doesn't make the case appear legitimate, what's going to do the trick? How do you take a case like this and Betamax it?

along with the MIT's Frank Field and LawMeme's Ernest Miller, i'll throw my hat into the ring.

I think we're getting to the point where the symbolic term "fair use" has to be replaced in conversation with the actual things we will lose if Big Content gets their way: watching/listening to what you want, when you want to. these are things we're used to doing every day, whether or not we realize it's exercising doctrine of "fair use" or "first sale".

I think it's perfectly fair to emphasize that the fact that citizens are being treated like criminals -- presumed guilty, really -- to benefit a half-dozen giant companies (and their richer-than-Croesus CEOs) who are accountable to no one. the list of things that we're putting in the hands of Mike Eisner and Rupert Murdoch is endless. it comes down to the fact that Big Content wants to write the laws on digital rights. when everything is digital, you'll have no rights at all.

the rhetorical problem right now is that we're reactive, and focused on the laws themselves. that's only one part of the effort. we need to separate the legal work from the campaign for public opinion.

the EFF, taking a cue from civil rights victories of the past (what's the civil rights movement without the NAACP's Brown v Board of Ed?), has to see the fight in terms of legal efforts. lawyers like to counter arguments head-on, which is good in a trial but a mistake in a campaign. what happens in the media -- the battle for public opinion -- is a campaign. while the NAACP worked to have civil rights affirmed in the courts, it took men like Rev Martin Luther King, Jr to have civil rights affirmed in society.

it pays to remember that, in particular, Jack Valenti learned the art of political warfare from the master -- Lyndon Johnson. in LBJ's first congressional run in '48, he told his campaign manager that he wanted to hold a press conference where he would accuse his opponent of having had sex with pigs. his campaign manager, appalled, protested that the accusations were false. "It's not true," he said. "Of course it's not," Johnson replied, "but let's make the bastard deny it."

yes, there's a long tradition of politically-minded techno-weinery, but the latest generation of code monkeys is getting mighty sick of crap like the DMCA. as a consequence, more and more of them are starting to get involved in policy, as i note in my latest post to Debunking DMCA.

why no posts? have i been on vacation? kind of -- i've certainly taken an extended holiday from a regular paycheck, but now it's time to come home.

some lucky company is going to have a new secret weapon -- me. before you embark on your quest for total global domination, let me know.