When the coffee machine refuses you

Digital RIghts Management. It’s a term designed to put you to sleep and make you ignore what is happening around you. Wikipedia says: Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a class of technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to control the use of digital content and devices after sale. It’s most common on digital products but things are getting more interesting and we should be paying more attention.

The DRM chair was a fun way of demonstrating the destructive elements involved in applying DRM – especially outside the world of software. The chair would self destruct after being used 8 times. This was a perfect illustration of the way in which technology can be used to hobble the things we surround ourselves with. It was a thoughtful, illustrative mix of art, design and political commentary. It wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual…

DRM CHAIR from Thibault Brevet on Vimeo.
In Why Copyrighted Coffee May Cripple the Internet of Things Marcus Wohlsen explains how Green Mountain Coffee is adding DRM to its Keurig machines

…CEO Brian Kelley says its new coffee makers will include technology that prevents people from using pods from other companies. The approach has been compared to DRM restrictions that limit the sharing of digital music and video online. But more than just curbing your coffee choices, Green Mountain’s protections portend the kind of closed system that could gut the early promise of the Internet of Things — a promise that hinges on a broad network of digital, connected devices remaking the everyday world.

Cory Doctorow comments

I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company. The reason they’re adding “DRM” to their coffee pods is that they don’t think that they make the obviously best product at the best price, but want to be able to force their customers to buy from them anyway. So when, inevitably, their system is cracked by a competitor who puts better coffee at a lower price into the pods, Keurig strikes me as the kind of company that might just sue.

This is just coffee. Not even particularly interesting coffee but what’s interesting is where we are heading. It is now easy and affordable enough for a seller of coffee to think about DRM. To limit consumers ability to change products, to buy a more affordable or better tasting brand. If it’s cheap enough to do this stupidity with coffee? Why would we imagine a world where this does not happen with everything else? Image a future where the spices you have will not blend with your lunch because they are sold by different corporations.

The three hurdles in the path of free culture

Social advances (albeit unequally distributed) have granted people the leisure time to focus on the production of non-essential products and services. Advances in technology have radically reduced the costs for preserving and communicating these cultural artifacts beyond the boundaries of time and space. However it was not until the last 150 years where we have seen the technical and social advances necessary to enable widespread dispersion of the tools of cultural creation and communication to a wider group of users – the amateurs.
The oldest of these technologies is the art of reading and writing which challenged the status of memory. Plato was aware of the conflict and wrote about the art of writing in Phaedrus:

“…for this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

This criticism tends to repeat itself with each new technology that redresses the shift of power among those who create culture and those who create culture with the aid of new technology. Arguments similar to those presented by Plato were used in the discussions of the relationships between photography and copyright. Mediating culture with technology brings about discussions on which of the forms of culture are more valuable and deserve protection.

In USA, after Congress amended the Copyright Act to include photography in 1865 the case of Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony discussed whether the photographer Sarony could have sole rights to his portrait of Oscar Wilde. The United States Supreme Court ruled that photographs could be “representatives of original intellectual conceptions of an author.” While in the UK the courts stated in the Graves’ Case (1869) LR 4 QB 715 (a case under the Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862 dealing with a photograph of an engraving) that it was “…difficult to say what can be meant by an original photograph. All photographs are copies of some object.”

From these illustrations it is my intention to show that the discussions of culture, technology, value and protection are under constant discussion and movement and therefore are neither fixed nor moving in a linear development from one stage to the next. With the widespread dissemination of a cheap and simple (both terms to be take relatively) technology of digitalization coupled with an open communications infrastructure further barriers to amateur production of culture were removed.

This leads us up until today when the hurdles facing the individual wishing to become a cultural producer are no longer issues of time, economy or technical know-how. What are left are the two major barriers of creativity and copyright. Since it is beyond my ability to discuss the creativity of others I shall limit myself to developing what is meant by the limiting factor of copyright on the creativity of individuals by presenting the three main copyright related hurdles to free culture. The three hurdles are FUD, DRM & copyfraud. The common factor for these three hurdles is that they prevent the free use of cultural material in the development of new cultural artifacts and since our common cultural heritage provides the “raw material” in cultural production the means to develop new material is seriously curtailed.

Fear Uncertainty & Doubt (FUD)
The complexities of copyright have created a great deal of uncertainty among those actors attempting to create cultural artifacts while remaining within the limits of the law. The results of FUD favor inactivity since the perceived risks of violating copyright are seen as too great to risk. FUD is an important factor in different situations, for example: (1) where the creator intends to expose his/her product in a more formal setting e.g. a young film maker may easily add music or images to his/her film without permission but this will limit his/her ability to display the works to the public. (2) Orphaned works i.e. when the author of a work has been “lost” it becomes impossible to ask permission to reproduce and valuable cultural information is lost to the world. (3) The ability of museum and archives to reproduce or present their material to the world. At present the conflict between the National Gallery and Wikipedia provides an excellent illustration of this point. The latter is a great source of concern to many public cultural heritage institutions.

Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)
In an attempt to ensure control over intellectual property many organizations and individuals are implementing digital protection measures. The goal of these measures is to ensure that the copying and spreading of copyrightable material is prevented. However these digital measures tend to create rights for the owners that often go beyond the fair use rights of those attempting to consume the cultural artifacts. In addition to this, legislation intended to prevent users from circumventing digital protection measures have been enacted in most jurisdictions. The effect of such legislation is to make moot whether or not the user has fair use rights under copyright since he/she is illegally circumventing a digital protection measure.

The general state of confusion surrounding the extent of protection granted by copyright is being used (intentionally and unintentionally) to claim copyright over material which either may not be copyrightable or material for which the period of copyright protection has passed. These illegitimate limitations to the public domain may of course be contested in court but such actions are costly, entail an element of risk and favor the party with better lawyers. Therefore material, which under copyright legislation is available to all, is prevented from becoming part of our common cultural raw material that may be freely used.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts I-IV, a collection of 36 new instrumental tracks that are available to the world under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

The end result is a wildly varied body of music that we’re able to present to the world in ways the confines of a major record label would never have allowed – from a 100% DRM-free, high-quality download, to the most luxurious physical package we’ve ever created.

Trigge Happy Free

Steven Poole’s book Trigger Happy is a pioneering work in the history and aesthetics of computer games. As an experiment (triggered by Amazon Kindle & DRM discussions) Steven is giving away his book for free, with no DRM attached under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Trigger Happy is a book about the aesthetics of videogames — what they share with cinema, the history of painting, or literature; and what makes them different, in terms of form, psychology and semiotics. It was first published in 2000; this is the revised edition with the Afterword written in 2004 2001. (Update: as requested in comments, the 2004 Afterword can now be read here.)

The book will be available online for “a limited period only” and therefore his (and my) advice is to grab it while its hot!

Hopefully we shall also be able to find out more about the results of the experiment. Whether or not it increases or decreases sales, generates interest or has any interesting unexpected consequences. Stay tuned to Steven’s blog.

Librarians Rock

The general image of the librarian is definitely uncool but this image has been changing for a long time. When the New York Times published its article A Hipper Crowd of Shushers last week (8 July) this was a sign of the times.

Librarians? Arenâ??t they supposed to be bespectacled women with a love of classic books and a perpetual annoyance with talkative patrons â?? the ultimate humorless shushers?

Not any more. With so much of the job involving technology and with a focus now on finding and sharing information beyond just what is available in books, a new type of librarian is emerging…

How did such a nerdy profession become cool â?? aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

The upcoming documentary The Hollywood Librarian (release 29 September) will also become part of the way in which the perception of librarians is changing.

Instead of being only the strict formal organizer the librarian is actually on the forefront of several important debates in the information society. The questions of access to knowledge, privacy, free speech, open access and parts of the DRM debate are being lively discussed among librarians.

How DRM Becomes Law

Cory Doctorow has written a short must read article on how DRM becomes law in Information Week. I know that there is a lot of stuff out there which is must-read but DRM is really important. It has already reached a point where the regulation of our access and use of technology is controlled not by a transparent process of law and regulation but by the interests and technology of those who manufacture technology.

Imagine if road traffic where regulated by the groups who made asphalt, air-traffic by airplane manufacturers and what you could say on the phone was controlled by the mobile phone companies! Nobody would agree to that. And yet we accept DRM.

By the way, Cory also has the most decorated laptop I have ever seen. I just had to take a picture of it in Dubrovnik.


Free Aunty Beeb

The BBC is one of those world institutions, a social and cultural backbone which we almost always take for granted. Naturally one does not achieve such status without making wrong turns. Thankfully there are those who are quick to point out the errors and attempt to show the correct path. Much like one may lead an old aunty to the table there are activists who disagree with the BBC’s use of DRM technologies.

The site Free the BBC contains a letter to the BBC with the main arguments (relevant to the BBC) against DRM. Many of the arguments have been heard before but I particularly liked this new one:

The BBC royal charter establishes a number of goals and operating conditions including “promoting education and learning”, “stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”, and “bringing the UK to the world”. DRM runs contrary to all of these purposes. DRM limits education by restricting copying for public educational purposes, and even inhibits private study. It stifles creativity by trying to make even incidental remixing impossible. Finally, it arbitrarily limits the BBC’s reach by forcing viewers to use particular proprietary software applications. DRM advances corporate interests over the public interest, which is in flagrant opposition to the charter.

So what are you waiting for? Go there, read the letter containing the arguments and sign it!

For those of you who found the title slightly cryptic: The BBC is sometimes referred to as Aunty Beeb.

Greener Apples

No need to be cynical or pessimistic about the effect of lobby campaigns or the power of collecting people online. Greenpeace launched an environmental campaign against Appleâ??s lack of environmental policy. On 2nd May Steve Jobs published a second public letter (the first was against DRM) listing environmental hazards connected with Apple computers and the steps Apple was taking to remedy the situation.

It is generally not Appleâ??s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Appleâ??s desires and plans to become greener. Our stakeholders deserve and expect more from us, and theyâ??re right to do so. They want us to be a leader in this area, just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today weâ??re changing our policy.

This is a good first step towards taking Apple to the forefront of environmental concerns as well as its firm position as a design leader. This approach also shows that design and environmentalism are not incompatible.

Greenpeace has responded on their campaign site with the words “We are cheering!”…

It’s not everything we asked for.  Apple has declared a phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008. That beats Dell and other computer manufactures’ pledge to phase them out by 2009. Way to go Steve!

It’s nice to know that the machine of my choice has just made a little less guilty.

Economist Against DRM

Not bad. The Economist is against DRM making bold statements in a recent article:

Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesnâ??t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies.


While most of todayâ??s DRM schemes that come embedded on CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear over the next year or two, the need to protect copyrighted music and video will remain. Fortunately, there are better ways of doing this than treating customers as if they were criminals.

Nice to see that serious media has begun to realise that rhetoric alone is not enough to legitimize DRM. Articles such as this show that media is beginning to practice journalism and report not only what is written in corporate press releases but are looking at what is happening all around them.

(via Boing Boing)

Creative Commons v3

A bit late to blog about the obvious but at the same time it feels wrong not to blog about such a central event in the Creative Commons project. Anyway the news is (if you haven’t heard about it already) that CC now has released its latest versions of the license. Welcome to version 3.0.

The latest version of the Creative Commons licenses â?? Version 3.0 â?? are now available. To briefly recap what is different in this version of the licenses:

Separating the â??genericâ?? from the US license

As part of Version 3.0, we have spun off the â??genericâ?? license to be the CC US license and created a new generic license, now known as the â??unportedâ?? license. For more information about this change, see this more detailed explanation.

Harmonizing the treatment of moral rights & collecting society royalties

In Version 3.0, we are ensuring that all CC jurisdiction licenses and the CC unported license have consistent, express treatment of the issues of moral rights and collecting society royalties (subject to national differences). For more information about these changes, see this explanation of the moral rights harmonization and this explanation of the collecting society harmonization.

No Endorsement Language

That a person may not misuse the attribution requirement of a CC license to improperly assert or imply an association or relationship with the licensor or author, has been implicit in our licenses from the start. We have now decided to make this explicit in both the Legal Code and the Commons Deed to ensure that â?? as our licenses continue to grow and attract a large number of more prominent artists and companies â?? there will be no confusion for either the licensor or licensee about this issue. For a more detailed explanation, see here.

BY-SA â?? Compatibility Structure Now Included

The CC BY-SA 3.0 licenses will now include the ability for derivatives to be relicensed under a â??Creative Commons Compatible License,â?? which will be listed here. This structure realizes CCâ??s long-held objective of ensuring that there are no legal barriers to people being able to remix creativity in the way that flexible licenses are intended to enable. More information about this is provided here.

Clarifications Negotiated With Debian & MIT

Finally, Version 3.0 of the licenses include minor clarifications to the language of the licenses to take account of the concerns of Debian (more details here) and MIT (more details here).

As part of discussions with Debian, it was proposed to allow the release of CC-licensed works under DRM by licensees on certain conditions â?? what was known as the â??parallel distribution languageâ?? but this has not been included as part of Version 3.0 of the CC licenses.

Below is a list of CC blog posts about Version 3.0:

Getting to Version 3.0
Version 3.0 â?? Public Discussion Launched

Version 3.0 â?? Revised License Drafts
Version 3.0 â?? Itâ??s Happening & With BY-SA Compatibility Language Too