Steve Jobs Calls For an End to DRM

Following up on the few comments in class on DRM (Digital Rights Management)-protected files, Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote a lil essay today titled “Thoughts on Music.” Web users and digital media companies have been calling for an end to DRM for some months now as has nearly everyone short of the RIAA, which represents the big 4 labels comprising the recording industry oligarchy.

There has been a flood of blog posts today that try to decipher exactly what Jobs is getting at. Is this a mea culpa? Chest-beating? A cryptic call to direct negotiations with the majors?

The biggest nugget in the essay is Jobs’ claim that, should the labels agree to drop current DRM, the iTunes store “switch to selling only DRM-free music,” which means it would be compatible with all music players, among other things. Personally, I’d be shocked if the labels and the RIAA agreed to anything close to this. On the other hand, after the success of the iPod, Apple really has the consumer in it’s core — does Jobs have the entire entertainment industry up his sleeve as well? We shall see. He’s already down with Disney, and a copyright/content deal with the majors (like Google/YouTube recently did) is not an impossibility.

Other reasons Jobs is making what appears to be his first ever blog post could relate to a digital music antitrust lawsuit alledging that Apple “locks” consumers into its platform. Jobs lays out these three scenarios:

1) stick with DRM. Apple keeps winning.

2) Apple licenses its FairPlay DRM system (which was devised at the behest of the labels).

3) The music industry agrees to license their music to online stores without DRM.

Below is a bit more from Jobs’ essay:

…Some have called for Apple to “open” the digital rights management (DRM) system that Apple uses to protect its music against theft […] Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats.

Cory Doctorow and others are optimistic about this “big news.”

U.S. Copyright Office Cuts Into DMCA

The much-vaunted Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF, Wikipedia), passed in 1998, was designed to criminalize the circumvention of copyrighted material, while taking the load off ISP’s and redirecting liability to the “incriminating” individual.

Last week, on Thanksgiving Day!, the AP released this article outlining 6 exemptions written into the DMCA (EFF posted this the day before). Brief summaries of these exemptions can be read at http://www.copyright.gov/1201/. The Copyright Office meets to review the DMCA every three years, and previously approved exemptions in 2000 and in 2003, not all of which have been renewed.

Some of these exemptions reflect a loosening of some of the more constricting titles of the DMCA and most notably, fair-use and accessibility are provided with broader, less limiting definitions.

— Breaking CSS encryption to make excerpts and compilations from DVDs, especially for educational purposes, is now more likely to pass the test for fair use.

— The sight- and hearing-impaired are now allowed to break DRM-locks on eBooks to access reading tools and software.

— It is now legal to unlock cell phones!

— Circumvention is now officially permitted for the testing, researching, or correcting of security flaws from “rootkits” or other access control measures.

Ed Felten goes further into detail on the 6 exemptions in this commentary. Cory also goes more in-depth on the 6 exemptions at BoingBoing as does Karen at KSL News and Bill at PublicKnowledge.

More background: The Evil That is DMCA.

Universal Goes After Bank of America for U2 “One” Parody

How broke-ass will UMG and their copyright hounds get? Maria Aspan @ The New York Times tackles this hilarity:

A video of two Bank of America employees singing a version of U2’s “One” to commemorate their company’s acquisition of MBNA recently made the rounds of the blogs, prompting amusement and some ridicule from online viewers.

But the intended comic effect of their performance and the retooled lyrics (“One spirit, we get to share it/Leading us all to higher standards”) seemed lost on lawyers on the lookout for copyright violations.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the Universal Music Publishing Group, a catalog owner and administrator, posted the text of a cease-and-desist letter in the comments section of Stereogum.com, a Web site carrying the video. It contended that Bank of America had violated Universal’s copyright of the U2 song.

The two employees featured in the video were the guitarist, Jim Debois, a consumer market executive for Manhattan, and the singer, Ethan Chandler, a Manhattan banking center manager, who provoked much of the ridicule with his earnest interpretation and also for straying a bit far from U2’s lyrics with lines like “Integration has never had us feeling so good/and we’ll make lots of money.”

Mr. Chandler, who has independently released an album and is working on another, said he was asked to write and perform the song for an August meeting of credit card division executives at MBNA headquarters in Wilmington, Del.

He said he was surprised to learn about the cease-and-desist letter, stressing that his performance was meant for an internal audience. “There was an approved list of songs to use,” he said, “and as far I knew, that was an approved song.”

Universal said on Stereogum that it had sent the letter by fax and registered mail to Bank of America last Monday. On Friday, a bank spokeswoman, Betsy Weinberger, said the legal department had not yet received it.

The letter was signed by Raul R. Gonzalez, a lawyer for Universal Music. Reached at his office, Mr. Gonzalez said, “No comment” and hung up.

Online commentators accustomed to viral marketing said they suspected that the video was the latest corporate attempt to co-opt Internet video for promotional purposes. But Ms. Weinberger said it was “absolutely not” leaked by Bank of America as a marketing ploy.

Mr. Chandler also denied any involvement in leaking the video, although he admitted that, despite the cutting online criticism, the incident had an upside. “A lot of people thought it was fake, but I really do sing,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Continue reading “Universal Goes After Bank of America for U2 “One” Parody”

Day Against DRM

Defective by Design has designated today (Oct. 3) Day Against DRM Day.

Digital Rights Management licenses, watermarks, and sabotaged appliances should be avoided at all costs today as a general statement against DRM. DRM and its growing acceptance as a “protection” for copyright holders and corporations alike, creates fear and levels creativity. The fact that Sony was allowed, last year, to get away with their rootkit, is one example of how DRM enables surreptitious corporate crime, while strangling and discouraging the freedom to express and create.

DBD notes 10 Things you can do in recognition of Day Against DRM Day here (one of which is to include this link wherever you can). Also, watch videos highlighting the problems with DRM. Check out the Day Against DRM Flickr photo pool slideshow:

Siva Vaidhyanathan on Journalists, Google, and the Future of Copyright

“As the most pervasive regulation of speech and culture, the copyright system will help determine the richness and strength of democracy in the twenty-first century,” Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in today’s Columbia Journalism Review. In “Copyright Jungle,” Vaidhyanathan examines the borderline legal/illegal copyright issues in the present day and how copyright law is currently being reshaped before our eyes — and most reporters are missing the point and risking the access and freedom that they (and most everybody) have grown so dependent on in the digital age.

In recent years, large multinational media companies have captured the global copyright system and twisted it toward their own short-term interests. The people who are supposed to benefit most from a system that makes ideas available — readers, students, and citizens — have been excluded. No one in Congress wants to hear from college students or librarians.

What begins as a critique of Kevin Kelly’s “Scan This Book!” feature in a May ’06 NYTimes Magazine (which mentions Google’s Library project at least 50 times), continues as a timely updated supplement for those of us thumbing through The Anarchist in the Library for the first time.

Google’s project, if it survives court challenges, would probably have modest effects on writing, reading, and publishing. For one thing, Kelly’s predictions depend on a part of the system he slights in his article: the copyright system.

Tim O’Reilly, who once argued that fewer than 4% of all books ever published continue to be commercially exploited, supported Google’s Book Search initiative posting research after Kelly’s article indicating the “long tail” effect of online indexing of as many books as possible (or in Google’s proposal, all of the titles in five major U.S. libraries). [link is to UC Berkeley research paper PDF, Google’s documentation on the library project is here].

But with corporations and media conglomerates hankering to lock up digital rights and ignore/shun the concept andn value of CC-style copyrights, the mainstream is missing the point by focusing on Google’s ambition to slightly alter or circumvent U.S. copyright law in an effort to add only a little to society — and “snippets” at that, writes Vaidhyanathan:

Google is exploiting the instability of the copyright system in a digital age. The company’s struggle with publishers over its legal ability to pursue its project is the most interesting and perhaps most transformative conflict in the copyright wars. But there are many other battles — and many other significant stories — out in the copyright jungle. Yet reporters seem lost.

The essay as a whole serves as a great heads-up to journalists and Free Culture-ite copyright activists alike, alluding to distortions in the media and confusion regarding ethics and legality (Da Vinci Code case), technology and it’s effect on consumer culture (p2p scare pieces) and one-dimensional dichotomies (hackers v. movie studios). (In fact the piece concludes with a “primer” for journalists).

It’s only natural for journalists to report stories with characters andn consequences regular people can relate to, but:

Reporters often fail to see the big picture in copyright stories: that what is at stake is the long-term health of our culture. If the copyright system fails, huge industries could crumble. If it gets too strong, it could strangle future creativity and research.

The modern journalist depends on Google’s system of copying (or caching) practically every pixel of information on the Web — be it for research, fact-checking or even publishing. Understanding media/copyright law in the digital age is crucial, but to report on the controversies of the day as if the sky were falling could only precipitate further restrictions on fair use and information sharing.

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