Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Venus at Sunset

Tonight I thought I'd try going out a little earlier to a place with an unobstructed view of the horizon to see if I could catch Mercury, Venus, and Saturn in one photograph. Unfortunately, Saturn was lost in the haze of the sunset--I couldn't see it except with my binoculars, and then only barely. If Saturn were visible in this photo, it would be above the valley about 1/4 of the way from the right edge of the picture.

The bright dot near the top of the frame is Venus, and Mercury is barely visible to the left.

Conjunction of Mercury and Venus

I took this picture of Mercury and Venus last night with my digital camcorder resting on a music stand. My peach tree leaves are (barely) visible at the bottom of the shot.

If only we'd had a clear sky in the western horizon four nights ago; then I could have got Saturn into the frame too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

DMCA: "Intellectual Property" vs Real Property

Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes a very effective argument against anticircumvention in a July 2004 speech given to Microsoft:

[A]nticirumvention lets rightsholders invent new and exciting copyrights for themselves -- to write private laws without accountability or deliberation -- that expropriate your interest in your physical property to their favor. Region-coded DVDs are an example of this: there's no copyright here or in anywhere I know of that says that an author should be able to control where you enjoy her creative works, once you've paid for them. I can buy a book and throw it in my bag and take it anywhere from Toronto to Timbuktu, and read it wherever I am: I can even buy books in America and bring them to the UK, where the author may have an exclusive distribution deal with a local publisher who sells them for double the US shelf-price. When I'm done with it, I can sell it on or give it away in the UK. Copyright lawyers call this "First Sale," but it may be simpler to think of it as "Capitalism."

The keys to decrypt a DVD are controlled by an org called DVD-CCA, and they have a bunch of licensing requirements for anyone who gets a key from them. Among these is something called region-coding: if you buy a DVD in France, it'll have a flag set that says, "I am a European DVD." Bring that DVD to America and your DVD player will compare the flag to its list of permitted regions, and if they don't match, it will tell you that it's not allowed to play your disc.

Remember: there is no copyright that says that an author gets to do this. When we wrote the copyright statutes and granted authors the right to control display, performance, duplication, derivative works, and so forth, we didn't leave out "geography" by accident. That was on-purpose.

So when your French DVD won't play in America, that's not because it'd be illegal to do so: it's because the studios have invented a business-model and then invented a copyright law to prop it up. The DVD is your property and so is the DVD player, but if you break the region-coding on your disc, you're going to run afoul of anticircumvention.

That's what happened to Jon Johansen, a Norweigan teenager who wanted to watch French DVDs on his Norweigan DVD player. He and some pals wrote some code to break the CSS so that he could do so. He's a wanted man here in America; in Norway the studios put the local fuzz up to bringing him up on charges of *unlawfully trespassing upon a computer system.* When his defense asked, "Which computer has Jon trespassed upon?" the answer was: "His own."

His no-fooling, real and physical property has been expropriated by the weird, notional, metaphorical intellectual property on his DVD.

He also speaks compellingly against DRM:

When MP3 rolled around and Sony's walkman customers were clamoring for a solid-state MP3 player, Sony let its music business-unit run its show: instead of making a high-capacity MP3 walkman, Sony shipped its Music Clips, low-capacity devices that played brain-damaged DRM formats like Real and OpenMG. They spent good money engineering "features" into these devices that kept their customers from freely moving their music back and forth between their devices. Customers stayed away in droves.

Today, Sony is dead in the water when it comes to walkmen. The market leaders are poky Singaporean outfits like Creative Labs -- the kind of company that Sony used to crush like a bug, back before it got borged by its entertainment unit -- and PC companies like Apple.

That's because Sony shipped a product that there was no market demand for. No Sony customer woke up one morning and said, "Damn, I wish Sony would devote some expensive engineering effort in order that I may do less with my music." Presented with an alternative, Sony's customers enthusiastically jumped ship.

The same thing happened to a lot of people I know who used to rip their CDs to WMA. [Microsoft] sold them software that produced smaller, better-sounding rips than the MP3 rippers, but you also fixed it so that the songs you ripped were device-locked to their PCs. What that meant is that when they backed up their music to another hard-drive and reinstalled their OS (something that the spyware and malware wars has made more common than ever), they discovered that after they restored their music that they could no longer play it. The player saw the new OS as a different machine, and locked them out of their own music.

There is no market demand for this "feature." None of your customers want you to make expensive modifications to your products that make backing up and restoring even harder. And there is no moment when your customers will be less forgiving than the moment that they are recovering from catastrophic technology failures.

I highly recommend reading his entire speech.

Apple switches to Intel: Why?

So it's official: Apple is switching to Intel processors in their future Mac models.


The only worthwhile reason I could think of would be to go head-to-head against Microsoft and sell OS X for PC-compatible systems. But they're not going to do that. "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac", they say. But they won't try to stop you from running Windows on your Intel-based Mac. (Why would anyone want to do that anyway?)

I was thinking about buying a Mac, but now I'm not so sure. I might end up with an unsupported processor two years down the road.

Score another victory for government censorship

DVD Decrypter has been taken offline by an unnamed company (probably Sony or Macrovision) for violating the EU equivalent of the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause. That program could help you make a copy of a DVD to take with you in the car to protect your investment (so the original won't get lost, stolen, scratched, or warped)--but then, it could also be used to pirate DVDs, so it must be repressed by law. Of course, the studios would rather sell you a second copy if your disc gets damaged anyway, and I'm sure they had that in mind when they purchased the DMCA.

Why stop here? Crowbars can be used to bash people in the head, so why not ban crowbars? Heck, guns are specifically designed to kill people, and they're (with a few restrictions) legal to own. But anything that is perceived to hurt the entertainment industry--ban it, with government backing.

That's the reason I hate the DMCA (and its European equivalent). Corporations can effectively write law, with no debate and no oversight. In the name of protecting their copyrights, they can dictate exactly what you can and can't do in relation to their product, regardless of whether your behavior would actually infringe their copyrights, effectively killing off fair use doctrine. What's more, the DMCA even makes it illegal to make a tool that can be used to circumvent copyrights, or even to talk about methods of circumventing copyrights, in what I see as an egregious violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.