Thursday, December 16, 2010 support in Ottawa? ...and the future of LibreOffice.

I just received a call from someone looking for support for OpenOffice in the Ottawa area. They did a search, and my company came up. While I would have had better answers for them in the past, I realize that with all the changes initiated this year that I am not as up to speed on the current situation as I once was. I'm offering what I know, in the hopes that other people will add comments.

In the past the lead developer and primary copyright holder for was Sun. Sun was sold to Oracle in April 2009, and the relationship between Oracle and the various Open Source communities that Sun had participated in have been very strained. In the case of the project, the lead developers within and outside of what was previously Sun have largely left to create the The Document Foundation, which produces a community driven derivative of called LibreOffice.

The second largest participant in was Novell, which was acquired by Attachmate Corporation in November 2010. While the inability of Oracle to play well with others was well known, and the fallout between them and various development communities was predictable, the future plans of Attachmate are not as well known.

In the past both Sun and Novell offered corporate support and training for based office suites. Both offered their own compiled and branded version, with Sun using the name StarOffice and Novell simply calling it Novell OpenOffice. Whenever a larger client came to me asking about support, I could easily let them know about these larger companies offering support. During this transition, I'm not sure what to be recommending.

I believe there is a very bright future for LibreOffice. Having Sun retain copyright through Joint Copyright Assignment agreements scared away many potential corporate and individual participants in the project. This will no longer be an issue, and I expect that once we get past this transition phase that there will be more commercial support for LibreOffice than there ever was for

The question I have for the community is what they would recommend during this interim. If you offer commercial support in Ottawa or elsewhere in Canada, please post a comment with additional information. If you are an employee of Oracle or Attachmate and have something to add about the participation of your company, I would be very interested to hear about that as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Please do NOT remove HST from heating fuel

As someone who disagrees with the HST I have been receiving notices from the Ontario NDP and the federal NDP about their disagreements with the HST. As is often the case, just because someone disagrees with something doesn't mean they disagree for a compatible reason.

Why I disagree with the HST

I consider the HST to be a tax shift from products onto services. Services were previously taxed with the GST, but not PST, and thus services only had the 5% GST applied. Now in Ontario services have to charge 13% (an increase of the 8% from Ontario).

This will mean that products will seem comparatively less expensive than services in those scenarios where one is competing with each other, such as repair/reuse compared to replacement of damaged goods. This will have a net negative impact on our environment.

This is in my mind the opposite of a Green Tax Shift type of initiative which would tend to be removing taxes from services and placing them onto products.

If the HST were to be removed entirely from services, then this would have the desired effect.

Why I disagree with the NDP

The NDP want to do the opposite, which is remove the HST from heating fuel. Not only do I believe that HST should remain on heating fuel, I am a strong believer in there being a carbon tax applied in a government revenue-neutral way. The policy should be for the price of heating fuel to go up, and the costs of labour to go down (No HST on services, lower income taxes for individuals, etc).

In other words, the policy that I think would be good for Canada and Canadians, and the tax policy promoted by the NDP, are the opposite. Disagreeing with the HST doesn't tell you anything.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who needs Fox North when we already have CBC's The Current?

The radio was on this morning with CBC's The Current. The topic was municipalities and the licensing of massage parlours that range up to places that offer body rubs. In the wake of some narrow aspects of prostitution laws being struck down by an Ontario court, it is now in vogue to have talk shows where people express their views on this topic. There was the ludicrous suggestion by some social conservatives that if a municipality made any money from licensing activities of a sexual nature that they are essentially pimps. CBC's The Current decided to expand on and do a show promoting this ludicrous suggestion. Normally a journalist will find a variety of people with a variety of views, and allow them to have a discussion. Unfortunately in this case Anna Maria Tremonti decided to impose her own morality onto every question, essentially having her and her social conservative guest from out east gang up on a Guelph city councillor. I didn't even hear the Guelph councillor express her moral views on the subject, only the practicality of issues that a municipality should be dealing with. She took the high road, when Anna Maria and her other guest took the low road. I found the whole show embarrassing. I find it funny that some social conservatives claim that the CBC is not centrist but left-wing. I think there is a wide variety of political views expressed by persons on the CBC, and I think Anna Maria demonstrated where she stands on this particular issue. So, where do I stand on this question? Each of us has professions we don't agree with, or sometimes even find morally offensive. I am a make love not war person living in a make war not love country. North Americans are very forgiving and even promoting of violence, but can't handle sexuality. Violent professions from the military to some sports are promoted as things we are supposed to be proud of, while anything even remotely sexual is something we are told we should be ashamed of. I don't think that way. I believe that sexuality between consenting adults is a wonderful thing. I am always very clear about the words "consenting", and the related word "adults" given I don't think younger people are mature enough to be considered consenting. In my mind legalising and licensing sex related professions is the only reasonable way forward. It not only legalises activities which should never have been illegal in the first place, but it also allows for necessary monitoring of these professions to verify the "consenting" aspect. The more these things are driven underground, the more dangerous these professions become, and the more instances we will see of non-consensual activities. While I will express my views, I do not try to impose my views on others. It would be nice if other people did the same thing, and stopped attacking anyone who has a different set of professions they disagree with or trying to create laws which impose their own particular morality on society.
Update on Oct 14. Show titled Municipal Pimping is posted to the CBC site. Vicki Beard was the City Councillor in Guelph, Ontario. Gloria McCluskey was the City Councillor in Halifax.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Replying to: words and their power

Replying to: words and their power


You can go ahead and name names in my case. I participate in these forums under my real name as I stand by my comments, and will continue to fight for creators rights and free speech rights against ideas (and sometimes persons) that I feel are harming these rights.

I am the (or one) person who is saying that if filtering is happening by someone that is not an authority, government or otherwise, then that filtering is not censorship. Having your SPAM filters too high, or deleting messages you don't like for any reason from a private forum you administrate, is not censorship.

We are both disturbed by each others comments. I find it disturbing to see someone (ab)use the word censorship in this manner as, in my mind, it belittles victims of actual censorship. I have been fighting for free speech likely as long as you have (given we are about the same age), possibly longer online (just because I'm a geek that got online as early as I could).

My line for free speech is further on the unfiltered side than most, given I think that our current hate speech and defamation laws are a bit too strong. I've been critical of the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its desire to censor (see -- authority, with power of the state) speech. I may find the speech they wish to filter disgusting, and I am not personally interested to be subjected to it, but that doesn't mean I believe it should be censored. In fact, I wish there was a government funded body whose mandate it was to "correct the record" on such hateful speech, rather than giving the speech more power by attempting to censor it.

I don't have the agree with the reasons for the filtering by any given proprietor of a forum. In this case, I don't as I could have guessed you would have used the filtering in your ongoing desire to discredit anyone associated with the Fair Copyright for Canada label. You see, FCFC isn't a group with leadership, but a label used by people who have a relatively compatible philosophy on copyright. While Michael Geist is seen as coining the term (I attribute it to Laura Murray), that's the extent of it -- he is not a "leader" in the management sense, only a thought leader.

It's clear you don't share that philosophy, and label nearly every creator associated with that label as "copy left" (Meaning "Other, not like me"). That’s fine for me, and I'm used to the people who call themselves the "copy right" to be trying to label me as something other than a creators' rights advocate. I may feel constantly insulted by this incorrect labelling, but I'm not going to personally filter based on that.

I think Jason lashed out at Michael because Michael didn't back the decision to use filters in the York Region forum. In my case I did back the decision, not because I thought the specific filtering was something I would have done personally, but because I will fight for the right of forum proprietors to make that decision for themselves. As I indicated, I don't need proof that the decision was justified: I just support the right or proprietors of forums to make that decision.

Unlike you and I who have become used to disagreeing with fellow creators, including ones we consider to be quite insulting at times (we feel that of each other), Jason didn't see the point in continuing to be a target. While the two of us learn about our own positions by having ongoing conversations with people we disagree with, and continue despite family and friends telling us to get out, Jason took a different path.

But lets chat for a moment about the mixed message I keep hearing about Michael Geist from those who self-identify as the "copy right". I hear often that Michael is somehow associated with "pirates" and "thieves" because he allows comments on his blog from people with certain ideas. I suspect the whole "users rights" advocate label doesn't come from things that Michael says, but the fact that people with "users rights" views dominate the unfiltered comments on his blog.

I then hear Michael accused of being a co-censor because some group using the Fair Copyright for Canada meme in their title filtered some comments. Your whole slew of messages on twitter and this blog started with a false accusation against Michael.

So, which is it: Does Michael not filter enough or does he filter too much?

Personally, I think he filters far less than I would be willing to. In the forums I host/administrate I don't allow anonymous postings. At the bare minimum a contributor must sign up and have an email address verified. While my preference is real names and real people, the system allows pseudonymous.

On Blogger I let these pseudonymous postings go up right away, but with an email notification. I allow any registered user to comment (including OpenID).

On I wait until I've seen a few useful comments before I allow messages to be posted right away from a contributor rather than going into a moderation queue. Accounts can be OpenID accounts or accounts created specifically on

I really don't support anonymous comments as it encourages a form of "road rage" on the series of tubes -- err information superhighway. Because of this I tend to ignore the comments on sites like Michael's or most of the mainstream media.

Comments may not always be friendly or agree with a world view I agree with, but I respect comments that are expressed by a real person who is willing to stand behind those comments.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Traditional definitions in the copyright debate.

On social issues I consider myself a pretty liberal parson, and am OK with people being whoever they want to be. My limits come when those activities harm others: your right to swing your cane ends at my nose, and all that.

After being told I represented the "copyleft" so often by folks associated with Access Copyright, I decided to do some thinking (and writing) on that. Far from being a redefinition of an existing term, it is a new term that turns out to be useful for understanding some of the conflicts between creators in the copyright debate.

One thing I get frustrated with, however, is when people abuse language by redefining terms to fit their temporary purposes. There are terms that are very heavily loaded that should be used in their dictionary meaning, or not at all. One of those terms that is all too loosely abused is calling people anti-Semitic, often levelled at people who think the country of Israel should be treated as and critiqued like any other, and who ignore the non-secular nature of that country.

During the G20 protests I ended up hearing another abuse, but not from someone associated with those protests. John Degen discovered after many months he had been barred from the Fair Copyright for Canada (York Region Chapter) by the administrator for that forum, Independent Journalist Jason Koblovsky.

To try to rally the troops for those who support his particular political philosophy (See the "copy left" discussion and you'll see John represents a conservative creators' rights philosophy), John started to make up a fiction that he had been censored.

I'm getting used to disagreeing with John on policy, and we each seem to believe that the policies that the other one is promoting is harmful to the interests of professional creators. I could not, however, abide by his abuse of the term "censorship" to refer to the manager of a forum not allowing him to participate in that managers forum. While free speech demands that people have a right to say what they want to say, within some limits (such as defamation/etc), there is no right to say this wherever you want. The managers of discussions forums are within their right to manage membership in their forums any way they want, and they don't need to have a reason at all to disallow anyone from participating. In this case the manager even offered to let John back in if he wanted, with the request that John behave.

So, rather than behaving, John posts a few articles to his BLOG and tries to draw attention to government officials of his non-censorship.

Frist, he posts how fair is Fair? how balanced is Balanced?.

In this rant he includes some things I have said about him: "a non-techie who doesn’t understand software, a copyright maximalist," ... ", a “creator of the past,”"

These are of course taken out of context, and if put into context it would be hard for John to disagree.

The first is an observation: that while many of us in the debate have decades of technical experience, including as software authors, John is not one of them. That is not an insult, and in this observation he is in the majority of citizens who are not technical people who have spent the time to understand cryptography and other such technologies. Most people who don't understand something will find trusted experts to rely on. While I am clearly not trusted by John, I am an experienced professional in this area.

The second is also an observation, not an insult. I have heard John say many things over the years that essentially amount to: some copyright is good, so more must be better. Making copyright "stronger", meaning tilted more in favour of existing copyright holders, does not automatically help creators. Those who believe that stronger copyright is better copyright are quite accurately called "copyright maximalists". I'll let John decide if he wants to respond and say that he doesn't agree that "stronger copyright is better copyright", given this is the essence of the policies he has promoted over the years I have known him.

The third comment is in the context of Lawrence Lessig's s presentation from 2002 where he said:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

If one looks at the policies that John promotes, it is clear that he's more focused on policies that would benefit existing copyright holders rather than those that would most benefit new copyright holders building on that past creativity. This is tied to the "copyright maximalist" observation, given more copyright favours existing copyright, while more creator-focused limitations and exceptions (fair dealings for follow-on creators) benefit the next generation of creators.

But, he wants to try to turn these observations of the different viewpoints in this political debate into insults: anyone who disagrees with his political philosophy are doing so not because they want to protect the rights of creators, but because they want to insult John.

As he tries to attack the credibility of Fair Copyright for Canada which includes a near full spectrum of creators and non-creators interests in copyright, he is also trying to promote the Balanced Copyright for Canada group that only represents a narrow potion of the conservative side of the copyright debate. (Please read Is there a copy left vs copy right?. I don't mean conservative in the same way as the Conservative party, or social conservative, or fiscal conservative. Conservatism in the copyright debate is a different thing).

So, we have one group that is bottom-up organised and includes the centrists and the left of the political debate, and another group that is top-down organised primarily by the incumbent record labels that represent the remaining minority political philosophy in copyright. And John, who seems to have self-identified himself with that far-right conservative copyright philosophy was removed from a forum because the manager thought he was part of a smear campaign against that larger set of constituencies (and Michael Geist in particular).

In the article John says, "Consumer advocate and occasional law professor, Michael Geist".

Mr Geist is a law professor who has a centrist creators' rights philosophy. He has gone out of his way to expand his educational roll beyond the classroom and into the general public, trying to educate people about current law and interpretations of proposed laws. He has been a great ally for creators in this debate.

While some adherents to conservative copyright views have rejected him as helping creators, I suspect a majority of fellow creators would disagree with that assessment. In fact, I consider John's usage of that language in his blog to be part of the smear campaign that John often claims he is not participating in.

Why was I not surprised that someone had barred John, or that people were concerned with his motives, given the language he uses to describe people who have different ideas than him on how to protect creators' rights?

The beginning started quite typical for our conversations recently: an accusation by John against others (sometimes Geist, sometimes myself, sometimes someone else entirely), and then my snide remark back. In this case it was Fair Copyright for Canada being attacked, a group that I support even if I'm not an active member (I'm not a big Facebook person, and rarely log on).

John: how fair is Fair Copyright? I've been kicked out of a populist copyright discussion group for defending artists 3:46 PM Jun 24th via web.

Me: @jkdegen We will continue to disagree that the policies you are promoting are a defence of the interests of artists.

John: @russellmcormond thanks for your support for my freedom of expression - sheesh

Me: @jkdegen Stating publicly that I disagree with your policies and your smere campaign against Geist doesn't harm your freedoms.

Things turned worse when John tried to claim that his being removed from a chapter forum was somehow censorship. He went further to use @mentions to cabinet ministers Moore and Clement about this fake censorship. Clearly ministers of the government had better things to do that weekend then be distracted by false accusations of censorship, especially since this was during the G8/G20 meetings.

There is no "blame the victim", as John was not a victim of anything. There was no censorship, and John is a very aggressive promoter of his political philosophy who can't claim he is a victim when people respond to his public comments and disagree with his political philosophy.

His interactions with creators' rights activists who have different political philosophies have been dismissive, largely suggesting that his political philosophy helps creators while everyone else is wrong. I've observed him many times partake in the "he who shall not be named" smear campaign against Michael Geist, along with fellow conservative creators.

When someone accused him of being unfriendly towards Fair Copyright for Canada participants, and being part of a smear campaign against Michael Geist, I didn't need to join yet another forum and read new examples of these themes . I had already seen them at Copycamp and other discussion forums for a few years now.

So, John aggressively promotes a political philosophy that creators in Fair Copyright for Canada disagree with, and then he feels he is a victim when people don't just let his views stand idly without comment.


When the above discussed rant didn't go as planned, John then added attack of the tweets - "Fairness" strikes back. I'm not sure what John's intent is here, but I feel the right to respond given he copied some of my tweets into the article.

@jkdegen I am blaming you for belittling the concept of #censorship by abusing the word! @FreeTheInternet @TonyClement_MP @mpjamesmoore

@jkdegen @jkoblovsky @TonyClement_MP @mpjamesmoore And even then you can't tell #censorship from a manager/proprietor asking you to leave?

@jkdegen As you continue to misuse the word #censorship , you only help clarify why you were removed from that forum by its Creator/manager.

Anyone with a dictionary (to look up the word "censorship") and the time to look at the times on the tweet streams will not agree with John's version of events in his blog article. After being as aggressive as he has been, he is now trying to get sympathy. I can only believe it is aimed at fellow conservatives, and is under the hope that they are true conservatives that won't look up the entire discussion and find out what other creators are saying.

I've been asked in private more than once why I still participate in conversations with John given we have so much we disagree with. I believe I learn more by communicating with people I disagree with than those I agree with. I don't want to be stuck in a bubble. Unlike other conservatives in the copyright debate who just like to broadcast their views one-way, John is quite willing to engage in pubic conversation. I have learned from and through him quite a bit about why I believe the things that I do. It is just unfortunate that I often learn what I believe will help Canadian creators by realising that I am disagreeing with John.

My having these conversations in public is also potentially helpful for other creators who hadn't yet thought about what type of political philosophy they subscribe to. They want policies that help creators, and may not have realised that there is not "one true way" to do this. They may also realise that some of the people who conservative creators claim are anti-copyright, "babyish" or "extremists" are in fact centrist or liberal creators' rights advocates who may better represent their views.

Side-note: An irony for those who read this blog. John Degen has been reading and posting quotes from Jaron Lanier's book: You are not a Gadget. Why am I not surprised John and Jaron share ideas? *smile*

Thanks Mike : G-20 on the wrong path.

Mike Nickerson has been one of those friends/acquaintances I've known for a long time, having met fairly early on when I moved to Ottawa in the 1980's. Among other things he runs something called the Sustainability Project - 7th Generation Initiative. While much of my personal policy focus over recent years has been on exclusive rights run amok, something I consider linked to sustainability, I have been a supporter of his project for some time.

It's nice to see some actual policy commentary about the G20, which I read in a message he sent out to his contacts. He suggested sending letters to the editor, but I am just going to reproduce his letter here to what may be a totally different audience in the hopes it will spark others to think about these issues too.

To the Editor:

When the G20 met, there was talk about the need for structural change in the global economy. While this is true, there is little evidence that the world's leaders acknowledge the fundamental change that has rendered the old system obsolete.

Human activity has expanded to the point where the overall size of the global economy is a problem. Supplies of energy, fresh water, soil fertility and rare earth metals, among other resource issues and pollution issues including greenhouse gases, accumulating garbage and toxins trespassing within our bodies are increasingly in the news. These issues are all warnings that humankind is filling our planets capacity to support us.

As economics is presently structured, a 3% growth rate, world wide, is considered healthy, tho not robust. At 3%, human activity would double in 24 years. This means that in the time it takes for a baby to grow up, we could fill another planet, as abundant as Earth, to the point where we were also stretching its limits. This much growth cannot happen on the single planet that we occupy. Is it a wonder that growth falters?

The necessary structural change is like the change that happens when an adolescent reaches physical maturity. Physical growth is replaced by a sense of justice and responsibility. Only when our leaders start talking about structural change that would be fair to all, while respecting our planet's size, can we expect significant improvements in the world's economic outlook and the long-term future of the grandchildren.

Sincerely, Mike Nickerson
Lanark, Ontario

- 30 -

I kinda giggle when I hear someone talking about maturity. I've said for years that our advancement of natural sciences and technology have greatly outstripped our advancement of social sciences, and we are all feeling the costs of this. We have such smart individuals, but as societies we are currently so immature -- and in the social sciences I feel the self-called "developed" nations are the least developed.

Something to think about, the day after the 143'rd Canada Day. We are so young, and have such a long way to go....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

reader & writer & many more chat some more about Copyright

Author John Degen has posted some fictional conversations between a writer and a reader on his blog (June 9, June 10). I say it is fictional as it ignores how the relevant technology works, and thus not only the lack of clarity of the relationships between writers and readers but also the fact that there is a technology company as intermediary that separates there from being much of a relationship at all between writers and readers. It depicts some rare moment where all the parties involved have the same understanding of the relationship, likely because this is really just a case of John having a conversation with himself.

While I offered a serious response on the IT World Canada blog, I thought it might be amusing to offer a silly response here (using the same blogger he uses, so possibly might encourage some conversation here as well).

The scene... It is the year 2010. With any new form of communications technology in the last 30 years there have been people who have claimed that they have a technological measure that can be used to stop people from communicating things which other people don't want them to communicate. Countries like China has adopted these technical measures to target political dissidents, and western copyright holders have tried to use them to stop copyright infringement. We see the spectacle of alleged human rights activist Bono saying that the West should adopt the "great firewall" policies of China in order to keep citizens in check.

While these technologies have never been effective, and have in fact encouraged people to carry out the type of speech that the technologies were intended to reduce, the supporters of these technologies have not backed down. There have always been snake-oil salesmen willing to sell to less scientific public. In this case they are selling a Trojan horse which will (if successful) enrich these specific technology companies at the expense of all their customers (creative industries and audiences alike), their competitors, and the economy/society as a whole.

Entertainment industry: Nothing has changed in the last 20 years except that people are infringing our copyright. That must be enough proof that infringement alone is responsible for any lost sales.

Music and Movie fan: You only make content available for technology which I do not own, or a subset of technology that my friends own. I have other places my money is going such as cell phone plans, etc, etc. This is why I have not purchased your latest movie/music.

Entertainment industry: If you don't buy our stuff, it must mean you are a pirate. Piracy is the only thing that exists. (holding ears) La La La La

Business Software Alliance and Entertainment Software Alliance: Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!

Entertainment Industry to Government: We have proof that copyright infringement is devastating our industry. Nothing has changed in the last 20 years except that people are infringing our copyright, and here is how much we claim we have lost. We must stop this at all costs.

Independent software authors, engineers, cryptographers, and mathematicians: The technologies the entertainment industry is looking for do not exist. You can protect messages such that a third party cannot intercept a decipher the message, but you can't protect a message such that it can both be readable and unreadable to the intended audience at the same time. And wait, didn't you just include brick-and-mortar retail in your alleged losses, something that you yourself are helping along when you offer legal downloads?

Montgomery "Scotty" Scott: You cannot change the laws of physics.

John Degen: Dammit Jim, I'm a sports writer, not a software author, engineer, cryptographer or mathematicisn. You claim that what I want can't exist, but there are these folks over here willing to sell it to me.

Business Software Alliance and Entertainment Software Alliance: Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!

Russell McOrmond: Can you give me an example of online sharing of your work where you believe that these technologies, even if they could ever exist in the real world, could help you?

Folks associated with Access Copyright member organisations: You, all your engineering and math geek friends, and especially MG (who we are so afraid of we won't name), and anyone who doesn't blindly believe that we are being harmed must be pirates. You associate with pirates, thieves.. Oh, sorry, I meant to say you are terrorists -- ya, that's the ticket.

Russell McOrmond: Before copyright can help a software author, we need technology owners to have the right to make their own software choices so that they can choose our software. What you are asking for will, if successful, devistate my business and yet not enrich you at all in return. Why don't you respect the rights of fellow creators?

Access Copyright crowd: You aren't one of us, one of us, one of us. You're a geek not an artist. You go away and have your own copyright, and leave us alone. We don't understand how our abuse of software and technology, and laws which regulate software and technology, has anything to do with software and technology.

Business Software Alliance and Entertainment Software Alliance: Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!

You get the idea...

I believe that misapplied and misunderstood technical measures have been a larger factor responsible for lost sales than non-commercial copyright infringement. The statistics used are largely bogus, and include in their alleged harm ongoing changes to the marketplace such as the transition to legal online retail. Some less technologically literate copyright holders (most non-software copyright holders?) have been more willing to trust the snake-oil Trojan-horse providers from the technology industry, rather than independent software authors, engineers, cryptographers, mathematicians or other people who they should be trusting. And at the end of the day, rather than trying to make money, these copyright holders are whining to the government to change laws in the very ways they are being warned to avoid for their own sake.

It is one thing that these copyright holders aren't interested in learning how to use technology to increase rather than decrease their bottom line, but it is another thing when they insist on taking me down with them.

Do people have anything they would like to add?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Comments to Bill C-32 Clause-by-clause notes

Please reply to this article with any comments you may have about the Bill C-32 Clause-by-clause notes I authored. My intention is to keep that document updated with whatever feedback I receive.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Status of my move away from legacy phone/cable companies

After the legacy phone companies effectively won at the CRTC with the Network Neutrality policy debate, and the nonsense of the Broadcasters vs. Broadcast undertakings in (Stop TV Tax/ Local TV matters), I decided to stop being a customer of any of these companies.

I haven't been a direct customer of the phone or cable companies for Internet access for nearly a decade now. I had an ISDN line from Bell for a few years in the 1990's, and had an early ADSL from Sympatico until DSL service was available from other providers. I have since been a customer of third party ISPs as I have found the service from native Internet companies to always be superior to old-economy phone or cable companies.

I'm still stuck with the connection from my ISP to my home being alleged to be "owned" by Bell. The CRTC has so far given Bell the ability to treat this wire as their property, even though the wires exist because of a right-of-way exception to property rights (to put the cables above and below public and private property).

I asked about Fiber, but it is still not viable for home users. Someone at Atria Networks gave me a ballpark figure of a $10000 build charge, $500/month for the endpoint, plus whatever Internet bandwidth I used. I have been told that third-party ISPs are increasingly being able to offer Internet over cable. If I can get a cable connection that is hands-off to the intermediary, then I'll likely switch from DSL. It would be ideal if Teksavvy were able to offer connections like this in Ottawa.

At the end of last year I switched my home phone service from Bell to Teksavvy. I consider this to be a stop-gap plan, and in this case it is just Teksavvy reselling the Bell service. I already have a cell phone, and my ideal is to switch my wife to also using a cell phone from POTS service. With some of the new competitors in the cellphone marketplace, cell will be cheaper than POTS anyway. We already use portable phones -- and even with an Ottawa-only cell phone plan it will be more portable than our current phones.

I subscribe to Fido just prior to the 2004 federal election as I had many customers who had election related websites, and they wanted to be able to contact me. I wanted a plan that was cheap, focused on the urban areas I worked in, and wasn't from an incumbent phone or cable company. Unfortunately Fido was bought by Rogers later in 2004. With the new entrants, and my new Nexus One smartphone, I switched to WIND mobile and added a data plan earlier this month. I'm now off of the incumbent providers again, and this time with a fully unlocked (network and OS software) mobile device.

Now the last component to come up with a plan for is Television. I am looking for options.

We pay nearly $140/month currently. My first thought a while back was to take 1/3 of this and upgrade my Internet connection, and the other 2/3'rds to paying directly to content copyright holders. The problem is that as much as I look, I don't see a way to pay directly for the "Television" content that I want.

I could wait until the many months after a season is over and the show is available on DVD. There are many problems with this, beyond the fact that I'd be waiting nearly 2 years after everyone else to watch the first episode. DVD sales do not count towards ratings, and it is quite likely that by the time I have the option to watch the first episodes the show has already been cancelled (IE: Defying Gravity, Bionic Woman 2007, The Sarah Connor Chronicles). It seems that DVDs will remain a way to keep at home shows that I already watched elsewhere, and that I know I'm going to want to watch many times again (IE: I just ordered Doctor Who: The Complete 1st Season - DVD Boxed Set, and already have Firefly and the Dollhouse season 1. Still waiting for the Dollhouse season 2 DVD to finally be out).

There are some shows that are available on the websites of various broadcasters. While this is fine for me when watching sitcoms, I don't think my wife will appreciate the much lower quality video that is available on these sites. I also want better screen resolutions for watching my Science Fiction.

So, what am I left with?

I suspect I'm going to slowly cut my cable down regardless of whether I have a replacement. I am looking into a more advanced PVR that will be able to record the new over-the-air digital stations. I suspect if I get access to good scheduling that I will be able to record and watch later enough television to be satisfied. This too is short term, as I expect with advertising going online that over-the-air television won't have the budgets to show very interesting programming.

I know I can find enough video content legally online to keep me happy. Like many families this is a negotiation with other people, so I can't just drop Cable TV based only on my own viewing habits (or desire to change those habits).

Note: I know all the programming I want is available online if I just ignore Copyright. I'm not interested in this model for my home. While I have no problem not paying any money for programming due to "not for sale" problems created by copyright holders themselves, I'm not going to use infringement to bypass the fact that these copyright holders don't want my money. I will leave fixing television such that Canadians involved in the production can get paid to insiders like Denis McGrath who claims to be interested in such issues. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in the anonymous (AKA: generally useless) comments on Michael Geist's blog than on engaging with people who want to help Canadian creators get paid.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Science vs Science fiction

Just tossing some ideas here, as I haven't solidified what I'm wanting to say. Please hit reply and join the discussion.

This morning I am trying to read a paper by Carys J. Craig which Michael Geist referenced on his blog.

Like many articles written by lawyers or journalists about "Digital Locks" or "technical measures" (TMs), it is a hard read as it seems to be talking about some science fiction Star Trek replicator stuff, while I am trying to map what they are talking about to real-world technology.

Whenever talking about communications technology I try to break what is being said into the 4 things (and potentially 4 different owners) from my Protecting property rights in a digital world talk.

I try to do the same thing when speaking with fellow creators-rights activists, such as what I wrote as comments on John Degen's blog on his article "weapons down, please".

Of the four things, they can each have locks put on them. The relevant questions to me are:

  • Who owns the thing that is locked
  • Who has the keys to the locks, and is it the owner or someone else.
  • Are there legitimate limits on the rights of owners.
  • What law protects the rights of the relevant owner, and what laws limit the rights of owners.

In those 4 things I believe Copyright has a legitimate roll when discussing the copyrighted content, and when discussing the software. Copyright clearly has limitations and exceptions which are there to not only benefit society as a whole, but also (and more often) to protect the interests of future creators building on the past.

I believe Copyright has no legitimate roll when discussing the physical media (if any), or when discussing devices. The ownership rights should be both protected and limited by provincial property law. In Canada I believe it should be clearly unconstitutional for the federal Copyright law to seek to limit (or in the case of non-owner locks on devices, effectively abolish) tangible property rights.

The paper by Mr. Craig has some interesting points relating to a reasonable interpretation of Article 11 of the WCT which reads:

Contracting Parties shall provide adequate legal protection and effective legal remedies against the circumvention of effective technological measures that are used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights under this Treaty or the Berne Convention and that restrict acts, in respect of their works, which are not authorized by the authors concerned or permitted by law.

Mr. Craig emphasised the phrase, "used by authors in connection with the exercise of their rights". When I first read the WIPO treaties they didn't concern me. Of the 4 things it would mean that a TM applied by a copyright holder to their copyrighted work to protect the copyright related interests would be protected, and a TM applied by a software author to their software to protect the copyright interests of that software would be protected.

The flip side of that would be that TMs applied by someone other than the owner of the media would not be protected, and TMs applied by someone other than the owner of a device would not be protected. It also suggested that TMs applied by software authors that alleged to protect the interests of some separate copyrighted works would not be protected.

The problem is that it is TMs applied by other than the owners to things not related to copyright that are the source of a vast majority of the controversies we run into.

Technical Measures applied to media

With more and more content moving towards digital downloads and other 'communications by telecommunications', the various TMs applied to physical media will become less of a concern.

We will need to educate people about the loss of property rights that were applied to the physical medium once that physical medium no longer exists. As an example, there are many things you can do as the owner of book that can be denied from you as someone who acquired an e-book. An e-book is more analogous to software (with all its complex licensing agreements, limits, etc) than it is to a physical book. Simple question: How many books do you own that are more than 30 years old, and how much software do you run that is more than 30 years old (Note: software updates or new editions don't count). This is the world people adopting e-books are moving to.

I spent a lot of time in the 1980's helping people whose hardware was being damaged by TMs applied to physical media. In the 80's there wasn't the collusion between copyright holders and device manufacturers, so nearly all "copy control" was accomplished through deliberate media defects. In the case of Commodore games they actually put laser holes into the floppy disks such that when the disk drive read that part of the disk it would get random information. This allowed the software that was previously loaded to detect if the floppy was an original or a copy onto an undamaged floppy.

The key problem was that the 1541 drives would try to reset themselves when it noticed these defects. That reset involved bringing the disk head back to a reset position and literally banging against a piece of metal. That metal constantly needed to be adjusted, and in some cases became hit so often it was beyond repair.

As a service to some of our best customers we would give people a unprotected copy of the software when they bought the box. They were instructed to use the unprotected copy and leave the original as proof of purchase. Technically this unprotected copy was an infringing copy, but most of us in the business considered there to be no moral issue with this. In fact, most of us considered it immoral of the software author to cause physical damage to hardware in their failed attempt to reduce infringement.

I observed nearly 30 years ago what I still observe today: "copy control" or what is now called DRM drives more people to infringe copyright than it discourages from infringement. This type of technical measure reduces sales, not increases.

Technical measures applied to devices

I know it upsets some people, but I consider this to be a simple matter of basic respect for tangible property rights. I believe that if a device is locked it should be the owner that controls the keys. I believe it must be legally protected for an owner to remove a non-owner lock, and to apply their own lock if they so choose.

I don't care if some copyright holders want to experiment with new business models. I don't believe that any business model built upon a form of theft should be legalised or legally protected. We have laws against theft for a good reason, and I see no reason to turn our backs on hundreds of years of legal thought just because some people are confused when you add the word "digital" in front of something.

I believe proponents of non-owner locks fall into one of the following categories:

  • Immoral proponents of legalising theft
  • Amoral apologists who don't see theft as a problem
  • Dangerously inadequately informed people who don't understand the real-world technology enough to realise they are advocating/apologising for a form of theft

It is worth repeating that existing relationships fullfill all the legitimate needs of copyright holders. There are times when they want to offer content via a specific platform which they, or someone under contract with them, control. This can be accomplished simply by renting the relevant hardware, so that any TMs involved are there to protect the owner. I consider it extremely dishonest to claim that non-owner locks are required (and require legal protection) when existing rental arrangements could be used to avoid the conflict.

Technical measures applied to content

There are many legitimate uses of TMs by copyright holders, which we can discuss case by case if people wish.

One thing I don't consider to be legitimate is the use of TMs to encode content such that it is only interoperable with specific brands of end-user devices. Inevitably the only brands of devices these copyright holders "authorise" are those that have non-owner locks applied to them.

I consider those who apply non-owner locks to devices to be theives. I believe those who doesn't involve themself in the theft directly, but put people in a dangerous position, to have unclean hands.

In this case provincial property laws aren't the right place to deal with this conflict. I believe that federal competition law would be appropriate, and should prohibit the condition of a copyright license on the use of non-owner locked devices. If necessary, especially if we ratify the 1996 WIPO treaties, we may need to have clarification of this prohibition in the Copyright act for those who would not be aware of competition law.

Technical measures applied to software

This is similar to the content question, with additional limitations required. What we need to avoid is collusion between specific content copyright holders and specific software copyright holders to circumvent the balance of copyright, property or competition laws.

I believe the best book for understanding the roll of software as a regulatory force is still Lessig's Code: and other laws of cyberspace (v1 or v2). Since software has a regulatory aspect to it, there is a need to put additional limitations on software copyright holders that wouldn't apply to copyright holders of non-software works.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nexus One unfortunately no longer sold directly from Google

I consider it unfortunate that Google won't be selling the phone directly. I can understand other people wanting to go retail, but I didn't. I found using their online store quite convenient.

Official Google Blog: Nexus One changes in availability

I will see what Canadian retailers end up carrying the phone, and what I hope to be future versions of this phone.

Friday, February 26, 2010

How comfortable are you with reading ideas you disagree with?

After posting a comment to the CBC Spark blog about an interview with Jaron Lanier, I looked up his book You are not a Gadget, and added it to my future reading list on eMusic.

I can tell from the CBC and other interviews that I'm not going to agree with this person on some pretty key things. Take what I've written publicly and what I think about the following quote:

Collectivists adore a computer operating system called LINUX, for instance, but it is really only one example of a descendant of a 1970s technology called UNIX. If it weren’t produced by a collective, there would be nothing remarkable about it at all.

Meanwhile, the truly remarkable designs that couldn’t have existed 30 years ago, like the iPhone, all come out of "closed" shops where individuals create something and polish it before it is released to the public. Collectivists confuse ideology with achievement.

In my mind, his first comment is like saying that democracy isn't remarkable because it is just a decision making mechanism just like Feudalism and other governance systems. I'm also entirely uninterested in the iPhone because it is closed, just as I wouldn't want to live in certain countries because of differences in political beliefs with the way it is governed. There are aspects of the structure of these societies that may be remarkably designed, and there is beauty everywhere in this world, but that doesn't mean I'm interested in living or even visiting there.

Wars have been fought against technologically superior people/countries that had incompatible ideologies, and I think far too many technologists confuse technology with achievement.

But that isn't the point for me. The point is that I'm curious to hear what this person has to say (hear in someone elses voice with the Audio Book, but close enough ;-) because I think I'm going to learn more from someone I disagree with than someone I agree with. I know I'll have moments where I'll be yelling at my mp3 player, but that is part of the process.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti and self-censorship.

This morning I started to draft an article where I was going to start talking about how the identical hardware is transformed in whether it would have a positive or negative influence in our lives, and end with a question about our longer-term policies towards Haiti and whether our friendship there has overall been a positive or negative influence. The article was intended to be posted to either the IT World Canada or blogs. I decided against that, given it may cause grief without benefit. Rather than tossing the article I decided to publish on this personal blog what I had as an early draft in case anyone wanted to pursue the line of thinking.

I fundamentally believe that for many of the worlds issues, whether that be poverty, food security, or building of infrastructure better able to withstand natural disasters, that knowledge sharing forms an important part. Trying to work against those who believe that making knowledge artificially scarce is good for society, as opposed to one narrow business model among other, will have some small impact on these problems. See: Sharing: the way to Make Poverty History.


Lets use as a starting point something I suggested in my last blog entry. I have come to believe that the two most important questions to ask about any digital technology are: is the device locked, and who holds the keys. I then went on to suggest that I would see the identical hardware as either something to promote or something to strongly oppose based on the software and who hold the keys to any digital locks.

The important take-away is the message of Lawrence Lessig's book Code and other laws of Cyberspace, which is that software can be seen as a form of regulation -- of policy, and that we need to pay attention to this policy.

(Was intending to insert commentary about the UK digital agenda and how they plan to give away computers to citizens to allow them access to government and other services online, while at the same mandating the technology and network have foreign locks and monitoring/filtering through "copyright" reforms. I was then going to bring up my critique of the One Laptop Per Child project which I am no longer enthusiastic about since they fully support Microsoft's proprietary platform -- upon which a new generation of "pirates" will be deliberately manufactured through policy.)

This brings us to Haiti. While some may be offended by what I have to say, I believe that it is not earthquakes that kill people but buildings falling on people that kill people. We need to ask ourselves if the policy we have had towards Haiti helped or hindered the building of infrastructure that would have protected people from the earthquakes. Many reports have suggested that we knew about the instability of the plates many years ago, but like other science that doesn't give us an exact date (or an exact temperature, or...) the threat was ignored.

I am not going to detail what I think the policy of the Friends of Haiti (Countries such as Canada, France, United States, Venezuela) is, but to suggest that the policy is important. A quick Google search of US policy Haiti will give you a quick glimpse.