Over at Sphere of Networks, I published a text that tries to give a simple overview of the workings of information production in the age of the internet, covering everything from free software to free culture. This article is a slightly modified version of a chapter of this text. I will show how peer-to-peer file-sharing networks work and how Big Media tries to prevent this sharing by means of random lawsuits and by using DRM. What does this copyright war mean for consumers and for our culture as a whole?
When we consider the situation Microsoft finds itself in with regard to the GNU General Public License (GPL), it is important to consider how one determines when someone has accepted the GNU GPL and, hence, when someone is actually bound by its terms. Many people receive software that has been licensed under the terms of the GNU GPL all the time. However, simply receiving software licensed under the GNU GPL does not, in itself, mean that one has accepted the terms. Indeed, there is no contract to sign when receiving said software and certainly no “End User License Agreement”.
This post is actually a continuation of the two I posted in December, which left a couple of open questions:
- Is it legal to create MP3 files out of music CDs you legally own, to take them away with you and listen to them more comfortably (e.g.: with an iPod, or an MP3-enabled car stereo)?
- Is it legal to create MP3 files out of music CDs you legally own and then lend the original CDs to someone else?
The answer, of course, depends on the laws of the country you live in.
In early 2006, the European Commission began talking about a "final attempt" to fix the European patent system.
We heard the standard concerns about Europe's innovation gap. "How can we catch up with the Americans?" "How can we prevent the Chinese invasion?" "We need a better system of intellectual property rights." "We need stronger protection for rights holders." These noises came out of the Commission, in meetings, and speeches; we heard echoes from large software companies and the industry clubs they sponsor. SAP, in particular, began calling very loudly for a cheaper, stronger patent system.
And the focus of all these noises has been "EPLA" (the European Patent Litigation Agreement), a new system designed to make it easier to enforce patents. EPLA is not, superficially, about software patents at all. But dig deeper, and it's exactly that: a third major attempt to introduce software patents, by removing all remaining regulation of the patent industry.
A couple of weeks ago, at a very large event in Brussels, I sat and watched several government officials, from the US and EU, debate innovation policy. This sounds very grand, but what they actually said, to paraphrase, was “we want to stimulate innovation by spending money and protecting intellectual property”.
Driving innovation—but which way?
It's unusual to see issues related to copyright law and its reform make much of an impact in the mainstream media here in the UK, but last week's report from the Institute of Public Policy Research, entitled Public Innovation: Intellectual Property in a Digital Age has been a notable exception.
As you may know, Debian 4.0 stable 'Etch' is almost out. As expected from the Debian project, it will be a very stable, feature-ladden if slightly outdated OS.
What you may not know, is that it will come without Firefox. Nope, no fox trailing fire on your Debian desktop, no sir.
Instead you'll get Iceweasel.
Robin Miller recently published a story on Newsforge about "Stan", as an example of a situation that demonstrates proprietary software is a danger to business continuity. I found this story interesting since I think Mr. Miller came close to correctly identifying a core issue, which is that the proprietary software business model as it exists today both facilitates and encourages vendors to act in bad faith. However, it did not need to have been this way, and really comes down to misuse of licensing along with some deliberate abuse and exploitation of existing commercial law.
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
One thing that separates free software enthusiasts from "pirates" is the desire to be the good guys. We may not agree with copyright law, but rather than break them, we've opted to subvert them—to use them against themselves. The result is much more freedom for the user, who's suddenly liberated in ways that she might not even appreciate or even be aware of. But what would happen in a world where every user of proprietary software was forced to obey all those EULA's to their fullest extent?