Archive for copyright

Fixing some things about copyright.

Posted in copyright, freedom, ifpi, riaa with tags , , , , , on May 22, 2008 by qplqyer

As I was strolling on the net today, I came across a news article that described how the Dutch minister of culture wanted to regulate the taxes that are levied on blank media on an European scale.

This got me thinking about some intellectual monopolies again, hence this post.

First of all, I would like to start by saying that these taxes should of course be abolished. Whilst I do not know how the situation in other countries is, in my country this tax is only possible because there is a clause in the law that states that artists can be renumerated when someone makes a copy for personal use. Now, this is a completely idiotic clause since this has nothing to do with downloading music illegally, or copying music illegally, but only with copying a CD that you have legitimately bought. Now, I honestly can not come up with any good reason as to why you should have to pay an artist when you just want to make sure that the CD you bought does not get scratched, does not get stolen from your car, etc. If I buy a CD, well then I want to be able to do with this CD whatever I want, as long as the copies I make or the music I play is only meant for use in a circle of close friends (maybe excluding copies there) and relatives. If such a tax is meant to compensate for illegal copying and downloading, well then since everyone is paying a tax for it, the copying and downloading should be made legal. Hence, this section of the law obviously needs to be redrafted to either remove this tax immediately and let people copy their legally obtained CDs and other works freely, or the law should be made into a real tax for illegal downloading and copying and this downloading and copying should be made legal. You cannot write in the law that it is meant to compensate for one thing (which does not need compensation) and then support the law by saying that it is used to compensate for another!

Still, there is another problem with these taxes. No one knows exactly what is being copied. So what is being done? The taxes get transferred to an obscure organisation of which no one knows exactly who they represent and based on some magic calculation they determine how much of the copying shares you get. That is truly outrageous, as it is a system that makes the richer just richer and the poorer just poorer. Wouldn’t it be better to use this tax to subsidize younger artists by building rehearsal rooms, by subsidizing theater and all those other art forms that really need to be subsidized as they cannot survive otherwise?

Then I have a last proposal that should fix some of the problems in copyright (especially for music). In Europe, most countries have some private organisation that “protects” the rights of the artist. However, these are all based on the idea that an artist should pay them money and transfer their copyrights to them. Now, copyrights are obviously worth money, so it seems silly to have to pay a fee as an artist to such an organisation. Furthermore, the fact that the copyright gets fully transferred is very bad for fans and “consumers” (ugly word, it seems to establish that people are sheep that should do nothing than consume whatever happens to grow on the plains).

A better system would be one in which it is prohibited that such exclusive deals can happen. In a world with such a legislation, many different companies could “sell” licenses for doing something with a certain copyright. This reflects how most trading is done nowadays anyhow. Consider for example shops. Shops have deals with producers for selling some of their products, e.g. many different companies sell products of the coca-cola company. The shops then compete with each other by offering lower prices for products, or by giving extra’s to their shoppers and so on and so on. This competition benefits “consumers” as it makes sure that the prices are not being kept virtually high.

This system would work for music as well. If one wants to organise a party, now, in my country at least, he has to pay a huge fine, based on all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the music such as the price of a beer etc., to the only corporation (technically it is a not-for-profit organisation, but that is hardly the true case) that has the right to exploit intellectual monopolies. If however there could be many different companies that can buy the same rights to license music for all kinds of uses, then there could be competition and such absurd calculations could not exist as one would soon be priced out of the market by a smarter competitor.

Hence, such a system would benefit the ordinary person, but also the artists, as they can sell licenses (and set their prices) to as many organisations as they please and hence can probably generate more income.

Artists have traditionally always been screwed over when rights were involved, which is what has led to the problems we face today (if artists would just have refused to give up all their rights to record companies or to corporations like SABAM,BUMA/STEMRA instead of rolling over on their backs and giving them money and their rights, which are also worth a lot of money, it would not be such a big mess). A change as proposed here, where it is disallowed to sell the full rights to a work will obviously be strongly opposed by many, but as the arguments I have laid out have shown, it is only beneficial for both the artist and the “consumer”. And in my opinion these are the persons that matter most.

Thank you for your attention. I hope that anyone reading this will agree and start promoting this idea on his own, so that it one day will be caught up upon by politicians and hopefully a change for the better can be implemented.

IFPI wants content-filtering

Posted in audiblemagic, censorship, copyright, eff, freedom, ifpi, mpaa, riaa with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2007 by qplqyer

Today I read that the IFPI, once again, is pressing the EU to make internet service providers (ISPs) block websites, protocols and content that infringes their copyrights. They propose three possible solutions, described in detail at

I present to you the following breakdown which shows how each and every one of the so called “solutions that are not overly burdensome, nor expensive and that do not cause problems for regular service of ISPs” in fact only do those three things and do not solve the copyright-infringement problem in any way. It goes even further than that, in that these measures would actually block users from exercising the fair-use rights they were given in copyright law. Here are the details:

    Content filtering:

Content filtering, such as proposed by the IFPI, would be implemented by placing a device in the network of the ISP that checks all traffic for infringing content.

First, I would like to make some technical objections. The backbone of an ISP obviously has a bandwidth that has to be much bigger than those provided to their customers. They can generate these speeds through the way the internet (and networks in general) work: when deciding where some piece of information on the network (a packet) has to go, only a small part of this packet (the header) has to be looked at. What lies deeper in this packet is not necessary for sending the packet to the right computer, but is of use to the receiving computer (this contains the real data and is much bigger than the header). What the IFPI proposes is to insert a device in this network that also looks at the data contained in the packet, instead of only looking at the header. It is important to note that looking at the data in the packet takes up a lot more time than only looking at the header of a packet (which is what a switch and a router does). This does not impact network speed, since these devices will not be responsible for sending the packets to their destination. These devices do however insert data into the network, which might have an impact on the speed of the network.

Furthermore, data is split up in different packets, which means that only a small part of a song will be contained in one packet. If any device would reliably want to conclude that a certain song is being downloaded, it would have to keep track of a number of packets that all come from a certain server and go to a certain computer (this is called a stream). This would mean keeping track of every connection of every client of the ISP, something which is impossible to store in memory due to the amount of connections at any given time, and thus storing parts of these connections on a disk to compare with the previously captured traffic. Due to disks being very slow, and especially much slower than network traffic, it does not seem possible that any device might reliably inspect the traffic, since the slow disk will always hinder the speed of the copyright check. This is not the only problem with speed: searching a database can take a lot of time, especially if it as big as a database with all copyrighted works that exist. After a full stream with enough data is captured, this device would still have to search this database (again this operation is also limited to the speed of a disk!) to see if it matches any fingerprint.

What is even more so surprising is that current “solutions” for this problem, such as “Audible Magic”, come in small boxes, the same size as a server, without a large disk full of fingerprints, or a large disk for saving streams. This comes as a surprise because one would expect that, if a device really only blocks copyrighted content, the database of copyrighted works would be saved in the device. If this was not the case, and the database server would be on the internet, this means that every check the device has to make would generate traffic, causing the ISPs network to slow down.

So is it not possible at all? It might be possible, but it would mean setting up one of these devices at a lot of switches to make sure that the device can check all traffic. With a wet finger approach I would say these devices are capable of managing 1000 users at most (especially if these users regularly watch streaming content such as youtube movies), so an ISP with 1.000.000 customers would need something in the size of 1000 of these devices. At a cost of probably something in the areas of 2500$ (which is probably even an approximation on the low side) this would mean 2.500.000$ in installation costs. Costs that the users of this ISP will pay in the end. So we get to pay for being able to do less on the internet and to protect the interests of big media companies with enough money to lobby, sounds great, doesn’t it?

So we can conclude that technologically, there are a lot of questions that can be raised as to whether content filtering is possible without introducing a lot of costs. It can also be easily defeated by using encryption.

But there are even more objections, this time juridical in nature. We are given the rights in copyright law to do certain things with copyrighted works without needing the permission of the author, these are “fair-use” rights and include, among other things, the right to make parodies of protected works. Now, content-filtering devices do not see a difference between lawful use of a certain work and unlawful use. Therefore, by blocking everything that just checks out as sounding the same (it is acoustic fingerprinting after all), it does not seem impossible that these fair uses of works are blocked too. Especially if we do not know how the fingerprinting works (and if it does not flag too many false positives).

Furthermore, there is the issue of web-commerce and the downloading of legal songs, such as from itunes. If a webstore would want to distribute the songs one can legally purchase through torrent-files to reduce bandwidth-costs (and by this, reducing the price of songs), these solutions would block these legal downloads.

For the record: I know that solutions such as Audible Magic are mainly targeted against P2P networks, but this does not mean that in the future the IFPI will not start proposing to block these downloads from websites as well. Of course, by limiting the protocols that must be checked for downloaded content, it becomes more technically feasible, but it would still introduce quite soms costs for any big internet service provider.

Protocol blocking:

Every protocol can be used legally. BitTorrent, one of the most contested protocols by the movie (and probably recording) industry, for example, is being used to save bandwidth costs for projects that do not have much money. The most cited example of this are linux distributions, which use the BitTorrent protocol to distribute 4.7GiB files, which would cost them lots if every person that wanted the distribution would download these files from their servers.

The question is one about freedom though, should we allow companies, with commercial motives, to determine what protocals are deemed appropriate and which ones are not, just because they lose revenue because of them? If even one legal use of a protocol is hindered by a block, imposed by commercial companies, we have lost freedom. The freedom to choose which technology we would like to use for a certain (legal) task. I do not think this is a price we have to pay.

URL Blocking:

The same arguments as above apply to this proposition. But Url blocking goes even further than protocol blocking since if we allow this, it means commercial companies get control over what information we can read. Press freedom is one of the most important things we have and we should never consider to give this up for the commercial interests of the same companies. We win nothing out of it and they gain everything. The examples they give are a clear example of this: thepiratebay only hosts torrent files, which are files that do not infringe copyright themselves, they just give directions on where you can find files that are shared. The illegality of torrenthosting is still being disputed, but these companies want to block these sites already because they think it should be illegal (even if no legislation exists in a country that they would want to impose this block upon). Furthermore, the site also contains texts with critical comments against the music and movie industry. By blocking this website, we lose access to these texts as well.

Allofmp3 is a russian site, which operated under the russian law and did not breach russian law. Blocking a website when it does not breach the law of the country where it is hosted, because these companies consider it illegal, is once again an example of how these companies would restrict our perfectly legal use of the internet.

What is most important, however, is that, such as with all censorship, these companies would be playing the judge and noone would be able to verify if their decision was correct, because the website would be blocked.

Blocking URLs is always censorship and censorship should never be taken lightly. If a censorship is proposed to protect the commercial incentives of companies, we should strongly oppose this and suggest that these companies take the regular route to try the persons that they consider are doing illegal things, instead of trying to play judges themselves.

Don’t let this happen. Write to your EU-representative or whomever you know that might have an influence.