Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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This is amusing

A translation of macrovision's letter to Steve Jobs. (Strictly speaking, I think this is called a "fisking".)

The DRM police are coming?

Borys Musielak writes a long piece on DRM (link here). He calls for boycotting the hardware and software that impose DRM, most notably Vista currently, and for political action. He points us to ways to get around the controls where they have been broken but then notes that may not be legal. "For instance, if you have the misfortune of being located in the United States or France, you are prohibited by law to play your legally purchased music or films (sic!) that are secured by DRM if you don't buy an approved operating system (like MS Windows or MacOS) with an approved media player (like PowerDVD or iTunes). In the US this has been enforced by the DMCA act. In France, a similar act called DADVSI."

Are these great countries or what?

Are They Complete Idiots Department?

At the risk of being somewhat off topic: over on slashdot they are claiming that you won't be able to upgrade (or reinstall) windows Vista unless you already have some other version of windows installed...Vista already seems to be deep in the colossal blunders department. Have to wonder at this point how many people are going to try upgrading to this. The price is right - and you don't need to have old windows installation disks lying around to try it out.

Colossal Blunders Department

I previously posted on an article by security researcher Peter Gutmann about DRM in Windows Vista in which he argues that Microsoft has chosen to degrade in important and significant ways the performance and capability of their operating system to protect "premium content." Microsoft has posted a response denying all charges. Unfortunately, reading the details of the denial, it appears that everything Gutmann said is true.

Colossal Blunders Department

Slashdot draws our attention to an an article by security researcher Peter Gutmann about DRM in Windows Vista. The gist of the article: Microsoft has chosen to degrade in important and significant ways the performance and capability of their operating system to protect "premium content." He is of the view that it probably won't work as far as protecting premium content, but will significantly raise the cost and lower the performance of such things as video cards - as well as making them difficult to reverse engineer for open source operating systems such as Linux and FreeBSD. It may well be that the latter is the intention of Microsoft - certainly the evidence is that Apple's music DRM doesn't do much for protecting content - but protects Apple from competition in the music business.

That said - the demand for degraded computers that can play "premium content" is limited. People just don't buy computers to play movies on them. Michele and I previously dug out some numbers on the size of the "premium content" industry versus the IT industry. According to the RIAA, the value of all CD's, live presentations, music videos, dvds in 1998 was 13.72 billion US$. According to the SOI, in 1998 the business receipts of the computer and electronic product manufacturing including both hardware and software was 560.27 billion US$. I looked up at the census 1997 revenue in the telecommunications industry: 260.50 billion US$. So: are people going to give up their general purpose computers they spend $560 billion on to access less than $14 billion in content? Predictions are dangerous, but I will venture one: Microsoft's decision to build heavy DRM into the core of Vista will go down as one of the colossal business blunders of all time.

Amazon Movie Downloading Service

For a brief primer on how not to run a successful business see the business week article on the new Amazon downloading service. The short version: going out of your way to sell a not very good product at a high price is not a proven formula for business success.

Finally, there's the problem of how to watch these videos on the television, which remains the preferred place to watch for most people. Amazon's service, like others, allows a backup DVD of the digital files to be made, but that backup won't play in regular DVD players thanks to digital rights restrictions. A Windows Media Center PC can be cabled to a TV, but only through a relatively low-resolution S-video line.

Hmmm...a special DVD player or a "Windows Media Center PC" cabled to a TV. Sounds like a winner to me.

Jim Baen

Jim Baen died two days ago. There is a moving obituary by David Drake. In case you are wondering what this might have to do with copyright and DRM, here is the relevant part

For example, the traditional model of electronic publishing required that the works be encrypted. Jim thought that just made it hard for people to read books, the worst mistake a publisher could make. His e-texts were clear and in a variety of common formats.

While e-publishing has been a costly waste of effort for others, Baen Books quickly began earning more from electronic sales than it did from Canada. By the time of Jim's death, the figure had risen to ten times that.

This is real entrepreneurship - making available a superior product at a good price. I expect it put more money in the pockets of authors than the other kind.

I owe my own personal gratitude to Jim Baen. He published the kind of science fiction I love to read - I was reading books he published long before electronic publishing was a gleam in his eye. I read fast, and I like to read on airplanes: while reading off of a palm pilot or tablet pc isn't quite as satisfying as a real book, the fact that I can bring a 1000 volume library with me wherever I am is worth a lot. For me Baen's electronic publication was a godsend. I went to his website to see how many Baen electronic books I own: 171 is the count. That means I've (happily) paid him over $600 for electronic books over the years - probably more than I've spent on traditional dead-tree fiction from all publishers during that time. I imagine quite a bit of that was well-earned money for the authors, as well as well-earned money for Baen himself. My only regret is that I will never have the opportunity to meet the man.

Making Money Without DRM

There is an article over on Ars Technica about emusic. After Apple they are the biggest vendor of online music. The interesting feature is that they sell MP3 tracks without DRM - which has the advantage that their music runs on anything, the iPod, for example.
The majors are terrified of piracy and so insist on strict DRM controls to safeguard their music. The indie labels that eMusic works with generally don't have that fear. "The indies have always viewed the world differently," says Pakman [the CEO of emusic]. "You know, the indies struggle for attention, for customers, so the notion of someone actually digging a track and e-mailing it to 10 of their best friends doing self-promotion that's music to the ears of the indie record labels. Whereas an RIAA member says, 'We've got to sue that guy.'"
In other words: the marginal musicians - the ones who might stop producing music if they made less money - aren't getting much benefit of copyright. It is the star musicians - the ones who would keep right on making music for a fraction of what they are paid now - who benefit from copyright. But the purpose of copyright is not to enrich the star musician at the expense of everyone else.

A new DRM business model

From DRM Watch we find
The South Korean P2P file-sharing service Soribada revealed more details of its plans to convert to a paid service after losing a legal appeal against the Korean music industry last November. In an agreement with the Korea Music Producers' Association (KMPA), Soribada will charge users KRW 500 (US $0.51) for DRM-protected music tracks and KRW 700 ($0.72) for non-DRM-protected tracks. Soribada, one of several Korean P2P networks in discussions with KMPA, will use acoustic fingerprinting technology to control usage of some files on the network.
DRM Watch then reaches the conclusion that this means the seller expects a 40% piracy rate. Ed Felten provides a clear explanation of why this conclusion is silly.


The Sony-BMG fiasco has demolished one argument for obtaining music legally rather than illegally over P2P networks. The RIAA advises against using file sharing networks because "file-sharers' computers are vulnerable to the viruses infecting other machines on the P2P networks." Leaving aside just how great this vulnerability is - F-Secure reports that there are no viruses to infect MP3 audio files - Sony-BMG has handily demolished this argument by planting its own malware on users computers.

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