Saturday, November 19, 2011

Protecting IT property rights not a short-term calling

I've been asked over the last decade how my activism will change once Canadian legislation that includes Paracopyright passes. Will my activism be finished, and will I admit "defeat" if a bill abrogates the government's responsibility to protect IT property rights?

At one level this could be a question about whether I will honour the law, which isn't really a fair question. Conservative MP Lee Richardson (Calgary Centre) suggests my honouring the law is optional, saying "If a digital lock is broken for personal use, it is not realistic that the creator would choose to file a law suit against the consumer, due to legal fees and time involved." I suspect the fact one of my early submissions to the government in 2001 involved documenting my circumvention of a TPM for an otherwise lawful purpose suggests that I will continue to do the same.

The more important answer is to state that our activism can not discontinue, and any passage of legislation is only one stage in an ongoing process. The United States provides examples where possible legislative wins can turn around in the courts, which suggests we will need to remain active to seek to turn any legislative losses into wins in the courts or later legislative wins.

A twitter/Google+ exchange with Jason J Kee, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the Entertainment Software Alliance of Canada, provides an example of this issue. Mr Kee's association includes game console manufacturers as members, with some game console manufacturers and mobile computer manufacturers being the least respective of IT property rights. Given some of his members want to legalise and legally protect activities which infringe upon the rights of technology owners, our biases in how to look at these policies will be quite different.

He challenged a suggestion I made in a Google+ posting that the USA's technological measures provisions have a tie to infringing purposes. I pointed to my reading of the DMCA which includes the following after defining access control technical measures in Title 17, § 1201, includes the following:

(c) Other Rights, Etc., Not Affected. — (1) Nothing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defenses to copyright infringement, including fair use, under this title.

(2) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish vicarious or contributory liability for copyright infringement in connection with any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof.

(3) Nothing in this section shall require that the design of, or design and selection of parts and components for, a consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing product provide for a response to any particular technological measure, so long as such part or component, or the product in which such part or component is integrated, does not otherwise fall within the prohibitions of subsection (a)(2) or (b)(1).

(4) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish any rights of free speech or the press for activities using consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing products.

This is a pretty plain language suggestion that the legislators intended limits and exceptions to copyright to not be trumped by technological measures.

Mr. Kee suggested that I'm "ignoring 10+ years of jurisprudence under the DMCA which does not support your assertion #C11", "Most recent MDY v Blizzard, where 9th Cir confirmed no nexus b/t circumvention & infringement #C11"

What he pointed to was "MDY INDUSTRIES v. BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT" appeal decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In this case the court ruled that "for a licensee's violation of a contract to constitute copyright infringement, there must be a nexus between the condition and the licensor's exclusive rights of copyright." They then ignored the section of the DMCA I quoted above, and suggested that there should be no nexus between an access control and any rights or limitations in copyright. They went out of their way to ignore or reinterpret other court decisions and statements made by legislators to come to a specific decision.

We could discuss how courts are political entities, and how this Democrat dominated court is interpreting protectionist policies originating in the Clinton/Gore National Information Infrastructure Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights.

The take-away for Canadians should be that after Bill C-11 is passed, the law will continue to change. We should not resign ourselves into believing Canada will follow the USA in increasing the enabling of IT property rights infringement. It is just as likely that things will go the other way.

The MDY INDUSTRIES v. BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT case is in my mind a clear example of a TPM being abused to enforce contractual obligations, where one party to the contract is given excessive control over the other. In Canada there have been a number of law professors who have called attention to this issue, going as far as to suggest that this "poorly veiled attempt by the Government to strengthen the contractual rights available to copyright owners, in the guise of copyright reform" may be unconstitutional. Contract law is provincial jurisdiction, and any Paracopyright provisions that extend beyond activities that are the subject matter of copyright may be struck down by Canadian courts.

In my mind, any abuse of a technology that disables law abiding computer owners to control their computers for lawful purposes is an infringement of IT property rights. It is possible that provincial governments and courts will be called upon to clarify this aspect of tangible property rights, and weigh in favour of technology owners. They may not only strike down any legal protection of these abuses of technology in federal Copyright law, but may create legislation to legally prohibit it. This may allow owners to be able to go after infringers, providing the level of protection to technology owners that Bill C-11 alleges to provide for copyright owners.

Ensuring that these infringers won't get away with their dishonest activities when it comes to our governments, our courts, and our computers will require that we remain active in fighting to protect our rights. Setbacks at one time do not mean we should give up, and laws and interpretation of those laws change all the time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Are paywalls a Copyright issue?

We should answer the question of whether a paywall is a copyright issue, before we dive into the question of the importance of this question for the debate around the Paracopyright provisions in Bill C-11.

I am familiar with paywalls from the perspective of both a user and a provider of such services. I will offer two specific examples of paywalls to illustrate the issues.

I have been a paid subscriber to The Hill Times since 2005. This is an example of a service that offers some access to anonymous browsers on the Internet, but offers advanced services (full access to search through considerable archives, access to all new articles, etc) only to paid subscribers. You use a simple username and password to log in to prove you are a subscribe.

My current job is as a software author and system administrator for We offer anonymous access to some content, while other content is only available to paid subscribers. All the content is in the public domain, so copyright isn't relevant to our service. What is being paid for is access to this content as a method to fund the work we do in digitizing and organizing this information. We have individual and institutional subscribers, with individual users able to subscribe quickly making use of a simple PayPal payment system. While institutional subscribers are given access based on their internet address, individual subscribers use a simple username and password to indicate they are a subscriber.

These two services equally use of a paywall to differentiate between anonymous access and subscribers. While The Hill Time is offering access to copyrighted works, is not. From a legal standpoint these paywalls should be treated the same, with each being offered the same level of legal protection against people who might want to gain unauthorized access to our services.

There has been suggestions from some people that paywalls are inadequately legally protected in Canada. This is often being claimed by proponents of the Paracopyright ("digital locks") provisions in Bill C-11. I don't know for certain whether paywalls are offered adequate legal protection under existing Canadian federal or provincial laws, including whether existing criminal code is sufficient.

I will state that the Copyright act is exactly the wrong law to provide this legal protection. It would make very bad law if legal protection for a paywall was dependent on the specifics of what is offered behind the paywall rather than protecting all paywalls equally and fairly. While I agree with the suggestion that paywalls should be offered legal protection, it must be in the correct law.

While it is true that some copyright holders make use of paywalls in support of their businesses, it is also true that even more copyright holders use electricity in support of their businesses. Suggesting that legal protection for paywalls must be in C-11 makes about as much sense as suggesting that a national energy strategy must also be included in Bill C-11.

The question of whether paywalls are a copyright question came up in a twitter conversation where a proponent of Bill C-11 style Paracopyright was trying to be critical of Postmedia for considering paywalls. He was trying to suggest this conflicted with other articles on the Globe and Mail which were critical of the Paracopyright provisions of Bill C-11.

I hope it is obvious that there is no conflict with supporting, subscribing to or even providing paywall services and being strongly opposed to the Paracopyright provisions of Bill C-11. My primary motivation for my involvement in the copyright revision process is as an opponent to abuses of these provisions to infringe owners rights which Paracopyright provisions may enable.

Trying to conflate different issues like this is a common political tactic of those trying to promote these provisions. They take a non-controvercial technology like paywalls, claim that this is all that is meant by "technological measures" or "digital locks" in C-11, and then try to shove under the rug all the opposition to these highly controversial measures.

What most stakeholders are asking for is that any Paracopyright contained within Canadian copyright law should be tied strongly to otherwise copyright infringing acts. This is what the two 1996 WIPO treaties were calling for, given they are tied to "technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of " copyright related rights "that restrict acts, in respect of their works, which are not authorized by the authors concerned or permitted by law".

The further protection for "technological measures" added to copyright law strays from copyright infringing activities, the easier it is for providers of these technologies (the holders of the keys to these "digital locks") can abuse these provisions to circumvent laws including (but not limited to) contract, e-commerce, property, competition, trade as well as copyright.

One really has to wonder the motivation of those who want legal protection for "technological measures" added to copyright law to have little or no connection to otherwise copyright infringing activities. In some cases it is a lack of understanding of the underlying technology.

In some cases there may be ulterior motives. Some companies may want their circumvention of existing laws protected by beyond-WIPO Paracopyright provisions. There are some popular hardware brands in the game console, cell phone and other mobile computing space which have been outright hostile to the property rights of technology owners. Some of the representatives of these hardware manufacturers, including some representatives of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, have made some of the most extreme claims.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Spectrum from software/computing freedom to imprisonment

I had a heated conversation at GOSLING last evening about just how friendly to FLOSS or "good" that Google is compared to Apple.   I have personally disliked Apple and their products since the 1980's when I was first introduced to the Lisa and Mac, with the closest I ever came to Apple was having an Apple II clone in the mid 1980's.  This Apple II clone came with schematics in the manual, so a very different type of computer than the locked-down devices that people purchase from Apple today.

This conversation is one where different people will have different opinions.  I've seen a lot of Mac's at Linux events over the years, from the same people who scream at Microsoft for their business practises.   I think it would be interesting to others for me to publish my own concept of the spectrum, even knowing there will be (sometimes quite strong) disagreement.

A few select individuals and organisations, ordered from Freedom to imprisonment :

Richard Stallman

If any individual represents what I consider to be the ideal for protecting the rights of technology owners, it is Richard Stallman.   He believes that all software should come with the 4 freedoms.  According to Wikipedia, his only computer at the moment is a  Lemote Yeeloong netbook which he chose because it can run with 100% free software even at the BIOS level, stating "freedom is my priority. I've campaigned for freedom since 1983, and I am not going to surrender that freedom for the sake of a more convenient computer."

There are other people at and associated with the FSF, the Software Freedom Conservancy or other such organisations  which are more willing to surrender freedom for the sake of a more convenient computer.  In general these folks have stayed pretty close to their ideals, and for this I congratulate them!

Russell McOrmond

While I understand the importance of freedom, and the fight to protect the rights of technology owners and all the human rights that are impacted by digital technology, I have made a number of sacrifices and compromises.  I have purchased a Boxee Box, which I consider a lesser evil than the service I am getting from Rogers Cable -- and the impact of the lobbying of Rogers against our technology interests.  I have a Google Nexus 1 and an ASUS transformer, both that run Android which is based on FLOSS (including Copyleft), but where there are proprietary components.  I don't have a FLOSS BIOS in any of my computers (that I am aware of), and even have some pretty ugly application choices such as Adobe Flash and Skype on various computers.

Many of these choices relate to access to multimedia content than about the computer themselves.  I am not willing (and not being single, able :-) to just cut myself from mainstream culture and not access any content not made legally available to me in vendor-neutral and unlocked formats.  I am willing to do this for music and books, where I will only purchase or otherwise access unlocked content.  This choice is quite different for movies/television where there really are no options that aren't politically compromised in some way.

I have become a subscriber to Netflix as a lesser of the evils way to move away from BDU's such as Rogers Cable. Netflix is only available on "authorised" devices, so I have been investigating some of the "lest offensive" of the authorised options such as the Boxee Box and various options running a Google OS (Chrome, Android).

I have uncomfortable choices imposed on me by others.  I can compromise on software freedom, I can compromise on copyright (access more unlocked content, where it wasn't the copyright holder who made that available to me), or I can disengage from mainstream culture.  At least for the moment while I'm actively involved in copyright revision policy, I'm temporarily accepting the first option.


Google has its flaws, and makes some choices I am not comfortable with.  There are various justifications/excuses offered for each of these decisions, and while I may not like them I am still a "customer" partly because I seem them as a lesser of the mainstream evils.

Most Android devices have non-owner locks on them, with the same being true of Chromebooks.  Google doesn't disallow third-party applications not authorized from them from being installed, and there is a thriving third-party community maintaining things like CyanogenMod.   There are problems where Google delays the public release of non-copyleft components of the Android stack: something they aren't obligated to do, but which have raised the eyebrows of nearly every FLOSS supporter watching Google.

On the political front, Google lobbies hard for more sensible technology law (copyright, patent, etc).  They have expressed opposition to technical measures policy in the various countries who have passed it, or are considering passing such as Canada.   They may allow hardware manufacturers to place non-owner locks on devices running their operating system, and even sell anti-interoperability locked content from their marketplace, but they are not expressing support for legally protecting these locks under Copyright law.

Google is a major contributor to many publicly licensed (including copyleft) projects, and even helps fund students direct participation in projects as part of their Google Summer of Code program.  This is a global program which I wish were harnessed by our provincial education ministries (additional funding, better coordination with co-op programs, etc).


When we move down the imprisonment scale to Microsoft, we have passed that magic line where I'm willing to be a customer.   While I have various coasters (CDs/DVDs/Floppies) that came with computers I bought that have a Microsoft logo on them, I am not a customer or user of any of their software.   Well, at least not any software that they haven't released as FLOSS and are incorporated in FLOSS projects I happen to use where their contributions don't affect the overall project.

I have been observing Microsoft since the late 1980's, when Windows 2.x was what they offered.  They were already on the rise, being seen by many as being a "more open" alternative to Apple's MacOS as far as choices offered to hardware and software developers, as well as end users.

I have to admit that I didn't take Microsoft very seriously until Windows for Workgroups and NT back in 1992.  I was an Amiga user about to abandon that platform as I found it to be a little to freedom-restrictive.  I already felt Apple was the most restrictive platform that I figured had long-term viability, and I was looking into NetBSD (running on my Amiga 3000) and this new oddball thing called Linux that ran on cheaper hardware that existed in a more competitive hardware marketplace.

While I was wrong to largely dismiss Microsoft as not being serious, I believe I remained correct in seeing them as a far more open alternative when compared to Apple.  While Microsoft gained massive market share (I believe largely due to that comparative openness), they have abused that market share in more ways than I think appropriate to discuss here.  Because of their monopoly-scale market share size in the legacy desktop marketplace, the costs of their policy blunders are enormous.  They, however, were never really blindly trusted and to think of them as being a harmful corporation is a pretty mainstream viewpoint.

As an individual, I have disagreed with the political philosophy of Bill Gates.  His ideological blinders around thinking of knowledge as equivalent to tangible physical products has caused harm far beyond the information technology sector to global health.   I see the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation as being a tax-deductible lobbying arm for this ideology, working to block the use of live saving generic drugs or non-tangible-property based methods to fund the expansion of human knowledge.


The centralised control that Apple wishes to exert goes far beyond wanting to own and/or control the hardware and software marketplace.  What they do on the lobbying front is what has kept them as being the worst IT/software company in my mind.

More than any other individual corporate member of the Business Software Alliance or the International Intellectual Property Institute (IIPI), they have been lobbying against the otherwise legally protected rights of technology owners.   This is not to say that the non-software members of the IIPI that have been duped by the BSA members have no responsibility.  This is also not a suggestion that other BSA members like Adobe and Microsoft are somehow pawns of Apple, but that as bad as they are I still consider them to be lesser evils.

As an individual, the evil-genius of Steve Jobs somehow made imprisonment sexy and cool.  While there were always people on the fringes of their customer base that complained about the legality of things like jailbreaking/etc, Apple under Jobs had a loyal fan-base that fought any suggestion that they were actively engaged in this attack on a variety of otherwise legally protected rights and freedoms.  I know many people within and outside the FLOSS movement who will gripe about Microsoft, the BSA, and other such organisations, while typing away on their Mac or iOS devices.  They will even argue with you when you point out various anti-rights political activities carried out by Apple, or the fact that Steve Jobs (while at Next) was the first violator of the GNU General Public License.

It wasn't only dismantling the rights of computer owners where the evil-genius of Mr Jobs was applied.  What Apple was able to do to the recording industry was amazing, with the transfer of control of the music industry from major recording labels to Apple ongoing.  While some individuals in the recording industry recognise this threat to their very existance, not everyone in that sector does.  A foe of a political foe is not an ally, but I do have to feel sorry for recording industry executives and lobbiests who continue to fight for policies (such as TPMs in Copyright law) which in reality threaten their very existance.

It is likely that the anti-rights political and economic activism will continue post Steve Jobs.   I do wonder if Richard Stallman's hope will come true, which is that  "his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Will you explain why DRM is bad?

I was asked on twitter to explain why DRM is bad.  Given I have spent more than a decade talking about this topic, you would think there is a simple twitter-length answer: but there isn't.

Whether you believe the acronym expands to Digital Rights Management, Digital Restrictions Management, or Dishonest Relationship Misinformation, it doesn't define a specific technology or technique.  The acronym is used to refer to non-controversial technologies such as databases describing content and eCommerce websites, to highly controversial things such as digital locks which lock out the owners of what is locked.

We can't entirely avoid using confusing terms, as people will immediately say "Aren't you talking about DRM" when you want to speak about specific harmful activities.  It is very useful to be clear whenever the time is available.

When some people are concerned about DRM they are concerned about the inability to loan electronic books, or to exercise their fair dealing rights.  While that is peripherally interesting to me, and I agree with some and disagree with other of these ideas, my main concern is impacts which are entirely outside of copyright.  I am happy to discuss (including in comments below, or on the site) copyright related topics, but for the purpose of this article I am going to talk about things which are unrelated to copyright.

The two techniques I have been fighting against are anti-interoperability locks on content, and non-owner locks on devices.

I believe it should be obvious why having a lock, digital or otherwise, which locks the owner out of what they own is wrong.  In our society most people have at least a minimum of respect for the concept of property rights, and believe that if locks exist it should be the owner that controls them.  Locks should certainly never be allowed to be abused to lock the owner out of what they own, and our laws should protect the owner against such scenarios.  I would be happy to discuss this more if people want, but I am honest in saying that I can't understand why people demonstrate such a lack of respect for or understanding why governments property rights in these discussions.

It shouldn't matter if what is locked is our homes, our cars, or our computers: we should never allow for digital exceptionalism where we ignore basic property rights if the property happens to be digital technology.

The anti-interoperability lock on content ties the ability to access the content to specific brands of devices.   This is harmful in a variety of ways, including being what I consider to be a textbook example of tied selling as described in section 77 of our competition act.   Governments have competition and anti-trust laws for a reason, and again we should not throw away this body of law simply because the tied selling includes something digital.

I don't believe that copyright holders should have the right to decide what brands of technology I use, or what features should exist in the technology that is created and sold.  That said, those who support this policy should recognize that in the vast majority of real-world scenarios it is not the copyright holder that controls the keys to these digital locks.  It is the vendor of the DRM system, a technology company, that controls the keys.  Any digital lock, analog or digital, protects the interests of the key-holder and not necessarily the owner.  I have observed many copyright holders switch their position from being in strong support of technological measures being added to copyright law to being strong opponents once they realized that they as copyright holders would not have the keys or any real-world control over these digital locks.

More important to me, these anti-interoperability locks tie people to non-owner locked devices, something I believe should be prohibited in law.  My primary issue in this debate is the protection of the tangible property rights of technology owners.  Even if it were copyright holders that held the keys to the digital locks on their content, and even if there was a shred of evidence that these locks reduced copyright infringement (most evidence suggests increases), I would still disagree that this justified the legalization of non-owner locks on our devices or anti-competitive behaviour that encouraged the use of non-owner locked devices.

While I believe that these two controversial locks should be prohibited in law,  Bill C-11 (and C-32 and C-61 before them) provide legal protection for them.   While these bills are called "An Act to amend the Copyright Act", the digital locks provisions are not related to the subject matter of copyright law.  In fact, these digital locks have been and will continue to be abused to circumvent the contours of existing laws including contract, e-commerce, property, competition, trade and even copyright.

We have a long way to go in this conversation.  In my mind anyone who respects contract, e-commerce, property, competition, trade, and/or copyright should be opposed to "technological measures" being added to the copyright act.  Legal protection for "technological measures" must be added to the correct law in order for them not to be abused to circumvent the law.

If a technical measure is protecting contracting terms, including a copyright license agreement, then the legal protection should be in provincial contract law.

If a technical measure is protecting electronic commerce, then the legal protection should be in provincial e-commerce law.

And so on...

Hope this helps, and sorry that there isn't a twitter-sized response to this question.  There is a lack of clarity in what the acronym means, which add to the confusion that most of the impacts of adding "technological measures" to copyright law have nothing to do with copyright.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Character assassinations in Ontario election

Last evening I was invited on an episode of Dyscultured, which had a special theme. Anthony Marco, one of the founding co-hosts of the show, put his name into the race to run in Niagara West-Glanbrook for the NDP in the Ontario election.

The Liberal party, or at least some misguided spokespersons, have decided that taking comments out of context to character assassinate political opponents is an appropriate campaign strategy. You can see the type of embarrassing crap coming out of the Liberal Party of Ontario on Liberals Call on NDP to Dump Candidate, The Full Anthony Marco Text - Which Part Does The NDP Believe Is Misrepresented?, and More from NDP's Anthony Marco - Ontarians are "lazy".

The comical aspect of this is that the "Which Part Does The NDP Believe Is Misrepresented" press release contains an exert that makes clear that Anthony did not say what the Liberal party is alleging he said. Unfortunately, there will be many people who won't read even that tiny exert to realize the Liberals are playing dirty pool. This is a sad part of politics: that few spend the time to learn the facts, and shallow immature political rhetoric all too often wins a debate.

Anthony is a complex multi-dimensional person who has been expressing his ideas online for many years. I had been listening to a few of his podcasts for a few years already when he totally blew me away at PAB back in June.

The first thing that came to mind with this smear campaign is how we need to mature politics from what the Liberals are doing in a world where more people are living their lives in public. Words and ideas that may have been quickly forgotten a few hours after people went home from the social event, are archived forever online. Some people like to talk about this as a problem for youth, but for people like Anthony or myself we have been living in a long-term publicly archived space for much of our lives. You can still read some of the silly questions I asked about copyright back in 1992, when I was first joining the Free Software movement. Someone could easily take that question, pretend it was asked recently, and ruin my credibility as someone who has spent much of the last decade dedicated to learning about copyright in order to help with forward-looking policy proposals.

The last thing we want is allow politics to be something that can only be done by stick-figure people with no real history, and who have never spent time thinking about complex issues. Even though Anthony is running for the NDP, I would vote for him if he was in my riding based on him being a real person who has given some real thought to real issues. Many of his podcasts include him thinking out loud about real issues of the day, something that I think should be seen as a requirement of a good politician : not something to avoid.

Reading a few more articles about the issue, it turns out that the smear campaign was largely launched by Liberal candidate Bernie Farber who is running in Thornhill. Mr Farber was previously the CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), which made this smear campaign seem all too familiar.

I have run into the CJC a few times in the past, and always in the context of attempts at censorship. Their general policy seemed to be to use (or abuse) the legal courts and the court of public opinion to try to stop people from talking about anything they didn't like to be said, including people questioning whether censorship is a good public policy. I had some personal experience with this type of campaign in 2001 when a few individuals (with the support of the CJC) were trying to censor the words of David Icke. They alleged his words were anti-Semitic -- and as a result of the Streisand effect I read and found that he was really just a kook that should have been left alone in obscurity. I knew, from asking my Jewish friends what they thought of the policies of the CJC, that these pro-censorship policies were not representative of the views of the wider Canadian Jewish community, but really only of the executive of that specific association. It is very unfortunate that one of this executive has taken his campaign as part of this election.

Like Anthony, I am a strong believer in free speech. A support of free speech doesn't mean supporting speech you like, but fighting to defend the right of people to say things you personally feel are disgusting. When I tried to promote free speech a decade ago I ended up being accused of being anti-Semitic, and separately had people threatening to sue me for defamation for simply documenting what these opponents to free speech were doing. These folks didn't care at all what damage they did by falsely accusing people of being anti-Semitic, or accusing people of being apologists for genocidal activities.

While I strongly disagree with Bernie Farber's long-standing political views, I still support his right to express them. There are, however, appropriate limits to free speech in a free society when it comes to defamation and specific political tactics. Will Mr. Farber's harmful and selfish political campaign damage Anthony's reputation or cause problems at his job? He is a high-school teacher, and I know how the school boards can sometimes not adequately support staff that get caught up in unfounded controversies.

My hope is that more people will read past the bogus headlines to see what is going on. It is not the credibility of Anthony Marco, or his suitability to be a politician, that should be being questioned. We should be questioning whether we want to have people like Bernie Farber elected to represent us in the government, given how little respect he offers to fellow citizens. We also have to question whether the Liberal party of Ontario is still fit to govern, given how willing they have been to stand by and promote this smear campaign. I live in Ottawa South and have asked for some feedback from Liberal candidate Dalton McGuinty about whether he condones this smear campaign. Unless he comes out clearly against what Mr. Farber and supporters have been doing, there is no way I can consider him a credible candidate for my vote.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why it is important to engage on creators' rights discussions

Just over a week ago, the Globe and Mail published an article by Kate Taylor that had the sensationalist headline "It’s writers v. professors in the latest war of words". I don't know if it was an editor that created the headline, but it is very misleading as the debate she wrote was more about the different views between different writers than about anyone else. The body of the article did suggest that, "The knowledge community is divided against itself".

She wrote about successful Canadian-born science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, and how he believes that the radical changes proposed to how communications technology is owned an controlled can not rationally be justified by copyright. As a fellow person with a technical background, he understand how this technology works better than most writers.

When I explain the specific technology under debate I speak about how there are 4 classes of owners (not one), and two digital locks (not one). The 4 classes of owners are content copyright holders, owners of tangible media, software authors and owners of tangible computer hardware.

The most controversial of the two locks is the lock applied to hardware and/or software where the owner of the hardware is specifically denied the keys to what they own. Anyone who has a basic understanding of why we have property rights enshrined not only in domestic law, but the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can see how denying owners the keys to the locks on what they own can have serious implications. Rather than protecting the rights of owners, the proposed laws specifically prohibit owners from changing the keys to the locks on what they own: making the protection of ones own property rights illegal.

From a narrow authors rights perspective, it should be obvious how their ability to use their own communications tools to create and distribute their own works is threatened by these non-owner locks. Even if we had no consideration for all the other rights threatened by these non-owner locks, we should be rejecting them as an attack on authors' rights.

The second lock is a lock on content which makes the content only interoperable with specific brands of non-owner locked hardware and software. This lock will either drive people to non-owner locked hardware, or drive people to accessing infringing material which is unlocked. Both of these alternatives are harmful to the interests of authors, so the legal protection of these anti-interoperability locks should be rejected as a threat to authors' rights.

Ms. Taylor was correct in identifying that there are writers who believe that these two types of locks are a threat to creators' right and other writes, and other writers who believe they will somehow help their interests. It is critical that those of us who understand that "copy control" is only a marketing term, not a real technology, to participate in discussions. Eventually more people will recognise that these types of locks represent a far greater threat to the interests of writers than any amount of copyright infringement.

While it is true that "users'-rights advocates" oppose anti-interoperability locks on content and non-owner locks on our computing hardware, there are also many writers and other creators that share this opposition. There are a few technology companies that might benefit from the anticompetitive impacts of these locks, but the vast majority of proponents are people inadvertently advocating for changes to the law which will harm their own interests.

One of the other issues mentioned by Ms. Taylor related to Access Copyright, which offers one of many options to the educational community to license educational content. This section was corrected by Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, in a later article in the Globe and Mail with the headline "Pirates of academe? We laugh".

This is a case of anticompetitive behaviour by Access Copyright. It would be as if Canadian Tire claimed "theft" if customers bought a product from Walmart instead. This type of behaviour from Access Copyright is unfortunately not new, and I have been exposed to many advocates for Access Copyright over the years who really think their customers (or in some cases colleagues) in the educational sector are immoral in some way. The more heated the rhetoric from Access Copyright devotees, the less interested their customers will become in paying them for the privilege of being insulted.

It isn't correct to suggest this is a matter of "universities playing hardball with textbook publishers and freelance writers." Access Copyright is a middle-man between writers and universities, and it is quite possible that the alternative licensing methods being explored by universities will be more lucrative for writers. Even for authors who are focused on royalties as a method of payment, Access Copyright's policies have become controversial (See the Creators' Access Copyright blog).

This is not to say that the educational sector is without its faults when it comes to educational copyright. While outside the scope of the current abusive debate, the Council of Ministers of Education did propose a carve-out of provincially chartered educational institutions from copyright. This is a very bad policy for a number of reasons I have outlined in the past. This policy mis-educates our children about how copyright works and would inevitably induce them to infringe outside the classroom. I consider education institutional exceptions to copyright to be a government program, paid for on the backs of copyright holders, masquerading as copyright. I consider it dishonest for provincial Ministers of Education to be proposing pick-pocketing authors, rather than ensuring adequate provincial funding for education.

Many of the problems with institution-specific exceptions to copyright also apply to the blanket licensing promoted by Access Copyright. Copyright is very complex, and if we are worried about students and teachers/professors inadvertently infringing copyright then we need to both clarify and simplify copyright (in future bills), as well a provide unbiased education on copyright to students. On both of these proposals Access Copyright has not been helpful, advocating for making copyright more complex in submissions on copyright reform, as well as providing inaccurate information on copyright (Example: Captain Copyright).

The provincial educational funding issues, educational institutional exceptions to copyright, and related controversies weren't mentioned in the article by Ms. Taylor, but did get discussed in the follow-up comments to the articles and on Twitter.

At least one person suggested on twitter a "Mortal Combat Style" fight between John Degen and myself. I don't enjoy the interactions with John which are an example of the heated discussion that Ms. Taylor was discussing. He starts his commentary on Ms. Taylor's article by suggesting that "ideologues have muddled the whole issue with scary half-truths about copyright and the future of culture". Rather than then talking about his own participation in the copyright debate that could easily be characterised that way, he tore into professional author Cory Doctorow. It shouldn't be surprising that conversations get heated when this is the starting point.

I believe Cory to be one of the most outspoken protector of the rights and interests of authors. He doesn't confuse expanding copyright with protecting authors' rights, given he understands that there can be both too much and too little copyright from the perspective of authors. It is unfortunate to see some people attack Cory, claiming they are doing so in the name of authors' rights. When this happens it is not Cory's qualifications as a creators' rights advocate that come into question, but whether the person attacking is either knowingly or inadvertently harming the interests of authors.

The other person that John referenced in his comment, but didn't name, is University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist. The claim was that Mr. Geist has been "attacking Access Copyright at every turn", when in fact it has been devotees of Access Copyright who have been attacking Michael Geist at every turn. I've been at more than one conference where Geist was insultingly referred to as "he who shall not be named", embarrassingly making analogies between Mr. Geist as the villain in the Harry Potter stories.

Both Michael Geist and Cory Doctorow are moderates in the debate. They neither believe in maximising or minimising copyright, but striking the right balance between the interests of existing copyright holders, new creators, audiences of these works, and society as a whole. These moderates are attacked by both of the extremes: by people who disagree with their strong support of copyright as a tool to protect the rights and interests of authors, as well as those who falsely believe that "if some copyright is good, more must be better".

But... this is politics. One of the ways to make ones own more extreme position seem reasonable is to claim that moderates are radicals. The constant attack by some individuals of people like Cory Doctorow and Michael Geist is an unfortunate but understandable political ploy. Not only do we need to correct the record when these people post incorrect information about the impact of various policies, but we need to challenge them on their fictional misrepresentation of fellow rights activists.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

London Trip/Cory Doctorow/Pirate Cinema/Terrorism/Riots

My wife and I went on a vacation to London, leaving Ottawa on July 18th, and returning August 1'st. While we did the traditional tourist things, this is not what has been stuck in my mind since.

I was a Copyfighter in London, so of course I sent an email to Cory Doctorow to see if we could meet in person. We met on the 26'th at Shoreditch House, his club. Among other things he handed me a discussion draft of his latest young adult book: Pirate Cinema (Third manuscript printing from May 18, 2011).

From the beginning there was a familiarity that I loved from when I read Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Someone was set in Toronto, and had fictional characters doing things which were part fiction, part science, that made the line between what was real, what could be real, and what was pure fantasy sometimes a bit of a blur.

Pirate Cinema is set in London, surrounding many of the places I had been which made reading it feel like an extension of my vacation. It was, however, a different London than we saw as tourists. The protagonist was 16 when he ran away from home to live in the streets (and abandoned buildings) of London, eating "garbage", and so-on. Arriving in Victoria Station, the book is written from his eyes as if it were written by him to document the events of his recent past.

My wife and I commented when we were in London that we didn't see the social issues we expected to see. Young people have been disenfranchised, with high youth unemployment. Government policies were only one part of the complex things which were causing people to feel disconnected from society. Everything seemed to be calm, with everyone being polite: the only instance we saw of road-rage was once in Greenwich.

We were back in Ottawa when the fire was lit, and London started to burn.

The flames were lit after a peaceful march on 6 August 2011, that was tied to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by police. That may have been the spark, but what followed for 5 days is far more complex that will take a very long time to understand. Sure, some out-of-touch politicians are trying to point fingers at the immorality of youth, but reality can't be simplified this way.

This is where science fiction can come in to tell a simpler story. The fictional character of Trent McCauly (AKA: Cecil B. DeVil) left for the streets of London because he felt to blame for his family losing their Internet connection. This caused among other things for his father to lose his job, mother to lose access to medical treatments, and sister to no longer have access to the educational materials she needed to keep up her grades in school. In his eyes he had destroyed his family, felt to be a burden on them, so ran away.

Bad Copyright law is a simple story telling tool for a number of reasons. It has been proposed many times to have Internet connections would be cut off based on the mere accusation of de-minimus copyright infringement by one member of a household. In the case of Trent it was for Appropriation Art, an activity which a growing number of people don't think should be illegal, but instead clearly protected as legitimate creativity by Fair Use style exceptions.

Current proposals for Copyright law expansion are examples of laws where the punishment does not fit, and goes many magnitudes beyond the offence. I've made comparisons between how we treat copyright law and election law, clearly suggesting that if we treated election law with a similar level of severity that the currently ruling Canadian Conservative party would have been de-registered and disbanded.

It is a type of law that demonstrates the hypocrisy that many youth (and adults) feel: that they are criminalised for doing relatively harmless things while a few at the top of the political and economic classes of society are barely given a public tongue-lashing for far more seriously harmful activities. A small theft will get you jail time, but a big theft will get you a government bail-out.

There is a truth that these politicians seem to be blind to: once you make relatively harmless activities have excessive punishments, this reduces the social and moral deterrents to someone carrying out harmful activities (violence, vandalism, theft of tangible property) that may even have lesser punishments.

I find the mere suggestion by a politician that cutting off of the Internet based on copyright infringement to be embarrassing and an example of the type of out-of-touch thinking that leads to the break up of social cohesiveness we saw in London. But this is only one tiny example of bad public policy what is clearly a much larger issue, but the complete silliness and realistic feeling of this example made for good fiction in Cory's book.

When I arrived in London the politicians and much of the mainstream media were gripped by the silliness of the phone hacking scandal. I am no fan of Rupert Murdoch's media empire (that's an understatement), but why is it that when the government wants to surveil average citizens (IE: warrant-less wiretaps proposed in Canada under so-called "Lawful Access") that this is considered a necessity, but when the private sector surveils politicians and those connected with politicians it is a big scandal that goes on for weeks. As much as I loathe the fiction that much of the media passes off as news, and the harmful activities they will carry out to collect "evidence" of that fiction, I put far more blame on the hypocrisy of the politicians who always want to point fingers at someone else as being the perpetrator of immoral/illegal activities. Some level of accountability and responsibility must eventually rise to the top.

When I visited speakers corner I was treated to a man trying to clarify that terrorist activities carried out in the name of Islam are not only wrong under the laws of every country, but also against all the teachings of Islam. This is common and necessary education to far too many in the west who seem to equate their religion with good, and other religions being evil.

It was a white woman (only woman speaker there) that threw me: she believed in Brittan for the British, and was opposed to multiculturalism. She was condoning the white Christian terrorist Anders Behring Brevik who had killed so many youth days earlier, based on his political opposition to multiculturalism.

There were real important and divisive issues gripping London, some of which could even be easily seen by a tourist, and the politicians seemed gripped in the theatre of comparatively minor issues -- issues that were largely of their own creation.

There are raves and unlawful movie screenings (content and location :-), but no riots in Cory's book. It is written for youth, and like his other young adult books doesn't have a condescending tone or attempt to be moralistic towards young adults. There are obvious messages in the book about actively participating in society and politics which can only help readers feel empowered rather than disenfranchised. The villains are some politicians and lobbiests: quite the opposite to the villains that some politicians and lobbiests are trying to pass even more drastic "tough on crime" measures against. I say some, as there are politicians written about that are heroic, even if not the most powerful of the politicians.

I don't know when the book will be on the shelves and legally free online as with his other books, but I suspect it is clear that I highly recommend people of all ages read it. While fiction, it would make for good reading by politicians as it may help them get a better grasp of the non-fictional world around them.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


I attended my first PAB last weekend. Even though it is in Ottawa, I hadn't heard of it until the folks at DyscultureD started to mention it. My initial thought was to crash the party a bit to meet with them while they were in Ottawa, but after looking at the schedule I decided to sign up and attend everything. It also turns out in hindsight that people wouldn't have been happy if I had crashed.

I'm not a PODcaster, and that is beyond the fact I think the term is too closely associated with my political opponents at Apple. This is an artist conference, and I'm not really an artist: I've been invited on Netcasts, I take pictures (moving and still), record audio, and I blog (really?), but I do it primarily as a form of political expression rather than artistic expression. I have attended a number of conferences in the last decade that were artist focused, and have learned quite a bit which is helpful in understanding how others see the area of policy and politics I have been focused on the last decade: technology policy, which includes things such as copyright/patent, CRTC/broadcasting, Network Neutrality, technological protection measures.

So, what did I get out of the conference?

Lets get the embarrassing thought out of the way: I would have liked to hang out more with the DyscultureD crew, but felt like I was being a fanboy rather than a friend when following them around. I listen to them every week (Multiple times for Anthony), and have come to know at least one aspect of them. It isn't a mutual interaction. This was their first time being together as a group in person, and it should be expected that they would want to focus their free time on each other. I am just some guy who happens to share some of the same interests as many of the topics discussed each week on their show.

Listening to the beginning of Dyscultured Episode 140, Andrew was suggesting he felt there was a bit of a hierarchy to the conference. I think this should be expected as it wasn't as much a conference, but a community. Some people have been participants for many years, while others (like myself) were there for the first time and were more spectators than participants.

On the boat cruise Andrew asked me if I would come again and possibly suggest a talk. I suspect I would have to wait until next year to answer that. The only thing I might have something to add to a conference is discussion of Copyright and possibly the perspective of a software author/techie, but don't think/know if either would be a fit.

There is nothing wrong with being a spectator, even at a conference that was clearly more of a community. Everyone was inviting and friendly to the new faces, and no matter how shy you were you still felt welcome.

Now if only I were less shy....

The theme of the conference was stories, but one of the most common themes of the stories was family. My favorite presentation was the less formal one Anthony Marco gave as part of Sylvain Grand'maison's "Family Jewels" talk. With some photographs and music as background, he gave an amazingly timed talk on camping with the family. I definitely felt an "Unattended Momement" (theme of his early formal talk) when listening. I grew up camping -- traveling around Canada and parts of the USA, staying in camp grounds. I had to very deliberately remember I was in public to retain composure....

I have been thinking a lot about family, camping and related things in recent years since my dad died. I think he knew how grateful I was for all those trips when we were younger, and being a very participating father.

There were things we didn't see eye-to-eye on: He was an auto-mechanic and after a knee injury he became a auto-mechanics teacher. I, on the other hand, have never had a drivers license and feel personally owned transportation is very harmful to the health of society and our species.

But... as I said when offering a eulogy, we had more in common than we were different as far as the importance we put on doing what we felt was good works for family, friends and society as a whole. His own cars never quite worked right as he spent more time fixing everyone elses (as a friend for free, not just professionally), and my own computers are often inadequately maintained (or just out-of-date) as I spend my techie time helping everyone else.

Another speaker I enjoyed was Ottawa's own Rpbin Browne who spoke about helping people with no voice to tell their stories. While I love the social justice message which is close to my heart and mind, I also like his speaking style. The style reminds me of president Obama, even if I trust Robin's sincerity -- something I can't say about Obama :-) I also liked the more familiar face at a conference where I knew so few others.

So, it is time for me to Just Hit Publish (Nod to Sue Murphy) on this post, and get to all the other writing I have in my TODO list. While I keep getting distracted with ideas for the Digital Copyright Canada blog (Access Copyright is management and not a union, Apple wants a patent monopoly on being a douchebag and remotely-disabling your camera, etc), the next thing I have to finish is my submission to the CRTC for their so-called "Fact-finding" exercise on the over-the-top programming services in the Canadian broadcasting system. Doubt they will get many facts, and don't expect my submission to have much impact, but it is always worth trying to get some new ideas in front of the commission.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why I'm changing my vote for the upcoming Ontario election.

There is an election coming up in Ontario on October 6, 2011.

In the last Ontario election I voted for Dalton McGuinty. I like his brother David, and I thought : why not.

This election the issue that is most on my mind for provincial politics is the HST. I think it is wrong to have added tax to labour in the form of adding HST to services which previously only had GST and not PST.

There are many reasons, some simply relating to job creation and others relating to sustainability, why a tax shift from labour onto other resources such as energy is appropriate. I have been a long-time supporter of the Green Tax Shift, before there was a Canadian political party that also supported it (Greens, and temporarily the federal Liberals).

An increase in the cost of services means that purchasing products that may replace services (replace rather than repair, etc) becomes comparatively cheaper, a policy that heads us in exactly the opposite direction to what we should be doing if we had any thoughts for the future.

After the anti-Green Tax Shift of the HST being added to services I wrote a letter to my MPP in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, saying that I wouldn't be voting for him in the next election largely due to this harmful policy.

As if to remove their candidates from my consideration, both the NDP and PC party leaders have stated that they want to remove HST from gasoline at the pump and other energy. This makes the NDP and PC policies worse than the Liberal policy, since it not only agrees to the shift of taxation onto services, but removed yet more taxes from energy.

It is nonsense to say that removing taxes from energy will "help the poor". A policy aimed at the poor should be focused on the poor -- you don't subsidise everyone for the sake of a few. You also don't subsidise people for wasteful consumption in scenarios where alternatives exist. There may not be a substitute for energy to heat ones home, but there are many alternatives when it comes to transportation.

At one point I thought I would vote for the candidate most able to defeat Dalton McGuinty, but given the PC party is promoting an even worse policy I'm not going that route. I could vote for the lesser of the candidates from these three parties which may turn out to be Dalton McGuinty, or I could return to what I did in the 1990's and simply vote Green.

I haven't met the Ontario Green candidate for Ottawa South yet, but I suspect on this area of policy there won't be any conflict given the green tax shift has been a long-time policy of the domestic and international greens.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Format of pipermail/Mailman database/ files?

I'm wanting to write a tool that looks at some pipermail archives and creates a MessageID to URL table.

If I run `strings /var/lib/mailman/archives/public/discuss/database/2011-March-article` I can see that the information that I want is in these database files. If I look at /usr/lib/mailman/Mailman/Archiver/ it looks like this is a baddb formatted file.

If I try to write a python script to read these files, all I get is:

bsddb._db.DBInvalidArgError: (22, 'Invalid argument -- /var/lib/mailman/archives/public/discuss/database/2011-March-article: unexpected file type or format')

Anyone have any ideas? I'm not a Python programmer, so it is quite possible that I'm just not understanding how to do things in Python. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

Note: This is python-2.4.3-27.el5_5.3 , on a CentOS 5.5 machine. I'm running the following script on the same machine that is writing the files, so there won't be a version mismatch.


import os, sys
import bsddb

path = "/var/lib/mailman/archives/public/discuss/database/2011-March-article"

db = bsddb.btopen(path)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Byron Sonne is Still in Prison

I sent the following as a letter to my federal member of parliament, David McGuinty. I suspect it would be useful for others to send similar letters to their MP if this issue disturbs them as well.

Mr McGuinty, MP for my riding of Ottawa South,

I wanted to make sure you are aware of a citizen from the security/hacker community I am part of that is still in prison from before the G20 summit.

There is an audio story about the issue:

"The strange, suppressed story of Byron Sonne, the G-20 security hacker who has been held, unconvicted, for 6 months and counting. An interview with technology journalist Jesse Hirsh."

I find this very disturbing. There is a media ban on talking about the issue, with this being a case of a security person investigating the security measures being set up for the G20. In our community, security research and transparency are assumed good things and not something that should ever be considered harmful. While I am more aware of what I consider to be counter-productive laws given my policy work, most in the community are entirely unaware. From everything I have heard so far this isn't even a very political person.

As the Liberals question the violations of civil liberties that were part of the G-20 summit, please ensure that this issue comes up as well.

Russell McOrmond
<full contact information removed, but part of letter. Make sure you always include your address with postal code in letters to your MP. >

Separate thought: It is interesting how TVO has been acting as public television, with various TVO journalists bringing forward stories from the perspective of the general public. As I watch CBC reporting it is increasingly hard to differentiate from CTV. This is something that will inevitably come up during debates about CBC funding/etc.