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.