No, not Winnie-the-Pooh's friend, but that computer I mentioned last week. Do you feel cheated? Maybe you were expecting a murder mystery instead? Although doesn't Eeyore the donkey seem more like the died-of-natural-causes type? Let me briefly eulogize Eeyore the computer before wandering erratically to a new subject: copyright control.
Eeyore-the-computer is dead
My plan to install Ubuntu on an old computer named Eeyore didn't go so well. I finally sat down Friday night (I know: life in the fast lane) to give it a go and it turns out the machine is totally dead now. Disconnected all the drives and still couldn't get to the BIOS. As is fitting for the worst fears of Eeyores everywhere, I just don't think he's worth the trouble of reviving at this point. Good-bye, my old friend.
Now I'll have to promote an old P2 named Wintermute. I already have Fedore Core 5 on this one so I just need to get the FTP server running to let me transfer spreadsheets to and from another machine. (Or is there a better way to transfer files to my main Windows computer? I know about Samba but am imagining it will be more work than FTP and I'm aiming for a quick fix here.)
In the absence of progress on the move, what is there to talk about? Copyrights. Along with my practical goal of moving to GNU/Linux, I worry a lot about copyrights and patents and their effect on free software and free culture.
I don't think copyrights are as direct a threat to free software as patents are, but it's disturbing to read about the zeal with which companies are trying to control their copyrighted works through mechanisms like Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It bothers me that the copyright for Eeyore, Mickey Mouse, and thousands of other cultural artifacts were extended by the U.S. Congress a few years ago, but much worse than old works being kept out of the public domain is the control that many copyright holders would like to exercise over our machines and our lives in the pursuit of maximizing their monopoly profits.
Many people have written about the dangers of DRM to free software. In a world controlled more strictly by DRM, free software won't be tolerated since it could be used to circumvent the restrictions. Or more likely, it won't even work because the DRM will be baked in at the hardware level and specifications kept secret. Even if the control could be circumvented, it would be illegal according to the DMCA or some other god-awful law.
Lawrence Lessig brought up the idea of control in his OSCON 2002 keynote:
- 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.
There is nothing new under the sun. It would be extremely stifling if we attempted to establish provenance over every idea and work and control their use. In the past this was impractical and we had more creative reuse and a liberal definition of fair use as a result, but as computers become more and more central to our society it will become more practical to restrict use of copyrighted material, and greed will cause people to seek that control. Fair use is not an idea that the MPAA vice-president described by Cory Doctorow in a recent Boing Boing article would approve of; not when the VP says things like, "Watching a show that's being received in one room while you're sitting in another room has value, and if it has value, we should be able to charge money for it."
Taken further, what happens when we start augmenting our intellects with hardware and software? If it is accepted that copyright holders should have perfect control over their work, are we going to have to pay extra to keep the memory of a book or a performance in our head?
You may dismiss that as a silly and unrealistic extrapolation, but the path to that world seems all too clear. Consider that grasping MPAA VP mentioned above. I think we need to counter the very idea that it's ok to control how other people use intellectual "property." Many people more qualified than me are doing this, but it won't stop me from returning to the topic in a future post.
Please visit my Moving to Freedom web site at http://www.movingtofreedom.org/ for further meandering discourse, both on and off-topic.
Reusable with this attribution, and please note if modifications are made: Copyright © Scott Carpenter, 2006. Originally published in Free Software Magazine. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC-BY-SA-2.5).