June 27, 2010

New research shows that weaker copyright benefits society

Posted in Digital Freedom, Intellectual Property, Internet Piracy at 22:41 by frifan

In today’s turmoil where the men in power discuss how to strengthen copyright and push it through as legislation across the world without any democratic insight into the proceedings, or any discussion of benefits. It is more important than ever to put the facts on the table and look at them objectively. Something researchers have been trying to do, for quite some time, and here is the latest result:
New research about the impact of weaker copyright enforcement on society has been released by Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard and Koleman Strumpf of the University of Kansas. It shows how weaker copyright has benefited society. Summaries can be found at Ars Technica and TechDirt.
At the same time, in related news: New Research Suggests Digital Economy Act & ACTA Will Stifle Creativity

March 6, 2010

Innovation and Creativity

Posted in Digital Freedom, Intellectual Property at 11:59 by frifan

Most, if not all, innovative and creative works builds upon other works. They make use of prior knowledge and adapt or extend it to suite a new purpose. That is the way it has always been. It is an evolution of ideas. Take Mozart or Shakespeare or Michaelangelo as examples of people were highly creative and innovative, but borrowed a lot from their peers. Nina Palin even claims that all artwork is derivative.

"Nothing is original. For a work to have meaning, it must use language – it must “make sense.” It needs to work with memes already living in the host mind: language, images, melodies, patterns. It can’t be wholly original. It can hardly be original at all." — Nina Palin

Lately some companies and lobby organizations has taken it upon themselves to stop this from happening and thereby trying to eliminate the normal process of creativity and innovation. If they succeed, it may hinder the progress and evolution in the society. To innovate without building upon the vast knowledge that has been accumulated over the years is hard, but also not as interesting, because that makes it less suitable to incorporate into our lives.

It is not in the public interest to delay progress or to hold the evolution back. Yet we allow ourselves to be bullied by media lobby and high tech companies, who try to impose stricter rights on intellectual "property" both through copyright legislation and through patents. This was never the intention of either system and goes contrary to the discussions held at their inception. They were supposed to promote innovation and creativity, not stifle nor kill it. There is plenty of evidence that enforcing stricter copyright and patent protection will cost more than it is worth.

Some satiric and funny analogies:

References:

Do Patents Work? Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig

February 21, 2010

Open Source and the end of the EULA

Posted in Digital Freedom at 16:13 by frifan

The End User License Agreement

EULA is the pop-up windows that you accept when you install a piece of proprietary software. The text is a legal agreement between the user of a piece of software and its author/publisher. It is praxis, in the Software Industry, to give users very limited rights with no liability whatsoever for the manufacturer. This is in stark contrast to any other industries where the manufacturers can be held liable for the products they sell. Another difference is that users normally don’t buy a software product, they buy only a license that permits them to use the product, in certain ways and under certain conditions. Most of these EULA’s may not even be legal, depending on which country you are in. There has, of course, been many lawsuits concerning software licenses. More up to date information can be had from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Free/Libre Open Source Software

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the award-winning free software foundation and free/libre open source software (FLOSS). This is software that is free, as in speech. You have complete rights to use, modify and distribute the software. There are many such FLOSS projects and most of them are multi-platform, meaning they run on all the popular operating systems. Ranging from GNU/Linux to Apple Macintosh to Microsoft Windows. I’ve compiled a short list below of my favorites, as a few examples. The FLOSS projects provide their software free of charge and they can be downloaded and installed directly from the Internet. There is even free training available. Another benefit of FLOSS is that the source code is published along with the applications.

"The results came to an estimated total value for the Linux kernel version 2.6.30 (released in December 2009) of 1,025,553,430 euros. About 985 developers would be needed over a span of just under 14 years, the researchers claim." — the register, according to research.

Some FLOSS alternatives (mostly multi-platform):

What is source code?

Source code is the blue-prints for how a piece of software works, it contains the instructions, written in a specialized human-readable programming language, designed for describing actions performed by the computer. These specifications are then interpreted by a translator, called a compiler, which will convert the programming language into machine code that can be executed by the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer. Normally a proprietary application is distributed only in its binary machine code state, but with FLOSS the user also gets a copy of the source code. This enables those persons who understand the computer language to inspect, modify, enhance and build their own machine code binary.

FLOSS license and community

There are two main competing licenses, called BSD and GPL. The main difference between the two is the GPL requirement to redistribute any modifications made to the software. Although FLOSS authors cannot be held liable for software defects, just like their proprietary counterpart, they distribute the source code of the software, which means that anyone with the proper knowledge of the programming language can inspect and review what it does. Because of this freedom, the authors of the software do care about the source code quality, as they know others will scrutinize their work. Other people will also help to correct faults and incorporate features that they want or need. Around any successful FLOSS project there is a vibrant community which will help with support and development of the code. This is the main reason why FLOSS software have better quality than proprietary software.

FLOSS and the future

It is my belief that FLOSS software will defer proprietary software to niche markets, because it is inherently better quality and at an unbeatable price, namely free. Just because the software is free, doesn’t mean that no one will develop, support or sell it. There is already a big and healthy market around FLOSS software where authors sell services. In my view Linux has already surpassed Microsoft Windows in usability. Just check out the latest KDE version, for instance.

Further reading

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

January 31, 2010

Another four letter word: ACTA

Posted in Digital Freedom, Intellectual Property at 14:48 by frifan

One of the scariest political events of late is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations being held between the EU, US, Japan and more. These negotiations are kept secret from the people[9][1.3][13]. Luckily the Internet is difficult to silence and much of the discussions has been leaked [1][8][17].
They are claiming that the trade agreement won’t change any local laws, and I certainly hope that is true, but then what are they discussing, really, and why behind closed doors?[10]

The ACTA negotiations are said to be strengthening the intellectual protection already present in the TRIPS agreement [2][3][4], which was called "murder" [5] by Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics. He also says ACTA stifles science and innovation in the world [6][7].

I wish they would take the agreement public and let people debate the proposals. Especially as the ramifications of this agreement may be felt by everybody. It has the potential to kill the Internet as we know it[11][12][1.4][14].

“IP is often compared to physical property rights but knowledge is fundamentally different.”IP Watch on Professor Joseph Stiglitz

“Patent monopolies are believed to drive innovation but they actually impede the pace of science and innovation, Stiglitz said. The current “patent thicket,” in which anyone who writes a successful software programme is sued for alleged patent infringement, highlights the current IP system’s failure to encourage innovation, he said.”IP Watch on Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Update February 8, 2010
Even though the negotiations in Mexico are concluded, we’re still left wondering what is really going on[18][19][20][21][22].

Update February 21, 2010
There is still some hope for a more balanced ACTA proposal[23][24], as the worst proposals seem be off the table.

Update March 21, 2010
Fortunately opposition is rising in the EU and other countries. New facts are leaking out about circumvention of WTO/WIPO, DMCA-style proposals and DRM. Despite the fact that any DRM scheme is fatally flawed and can never work. Even people in the gaming industry thinks it is bad. Still US President Obama praises ACTA, while Europe trashes it.

Funny remark: In Swedish the word "akta" means beware, note the similarity to ACTA.

References:
[1.1] The ACTA Guide, Part One: The Talks To-Date,
[1.2] The ACTA Guide, Part Two: The Documents (Official and Leaked),
[1.3] ACTA Guide, Part Three: Transparency and ACTA Secrecy,
[1.4] ACTA Guide: Part Four: What Will ACTA Mean To My Domestic Law?,
[1.5] ACTA Guide, Part Five: Speaking Out?
[2] Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
[3] Overview: the TRIPS Agreement
[4] Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
[5] Joseph Stiglitz on Why TRIPS (Patents) is Like Murder
[6] Intellectual Property Regime Stifles Science and Innovation, Nobel Laureates Say
[7] ACTA Murders
[8] Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
[9] ACTA One Step Closer To Being Done; Concerns About Transparency Ignored
[10] Blogging ACTA Across The Globe: FFII’s Ante Wessels on Exporting Europe’s Flaws
[11] The Similarity Between ACTA And Chinese Internet Censorship
[12] But, Wait, Didn’t The Entertainment Industry Insist ACTA Wouldn’t Change US Law?
[13] USTR: A Lot Of Misperception Over ACTA, But We Won’t Clear It Up Or Anything
[14] News.com Prevents Falsely Accused Grandmother Of Getting Kicked Off The Internet By The MPAA
[15] Blogging ACTA Across The Globe: FFII’s Ante Wessels on Exporting Europe’s Flaws
[16] Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure e.V. (FFII ACTA WG) presents an analysis of the planned Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)
[17] The ACTA Internet Chapter: Putting Pieces Together
[18] What Really Happened At the ACTA Talks in Mexico?
[19] ACTA Negotiators Report No Breakthroughs On Transparency
[20] ACTA absurdity continues, may only get worse
[21] ACTA goes on charm offensive sans charm
[22] EU Official caught in ACTA
[23] ACTA Negotiators: Maximal Protection Proposals Unlikely In Final Text
[24] Contradictory Court Rulings, Continuing Tension On Internet Liability In EU

January 30, 2010

The broken promise of Android

Posted in Digital Freedom, Digital Lifestyle at 00:22 by frifan

Google Android is a free and open source operating system for mobile Internet devices. The promise of Android is freedom over your device, which allows you to use the software and services you want. No longer can the operators, service providers or anyone else decide what you do with your device. Nor can they dictate which services to allow and charge extra for them. You can install the applications you want, even if you made them yourself. The operators only provide the data communication service, which brings me to the subject of net neutrality, but that I leave for another post.

By the end of summer last year I was in the process of buying an Android phone. I call it a process as I try to make a market survey to make the best possible choice for me. All I had heard and read about the Android platform made me believe that it held the most promise for the future. It was already then very flexible and offered a lot of functionality, but the icing on the cake was, for me, that it was open. I believe very strongly in open source, or FOSS, and think it will push proprietary software into niche markets. Since I had already decided on the android operating system, the main focus was on the hardware. It basically boiled down to two choices. Samsung Galaxy or HTC Hero. The former has better hardware specifications, but the latter had a more smooth user interface. As I believed in the future of Android I wanted to see its evolution unmodified. I don’t want anyone to disguise the true Android experience and put a layer on top of it, which would only serve to delay upgrades to newer versions. Therefore I went with the Samsung Galaxy and bought it from Germany where it was a full €150 cheaper than in Sweden.

I really like the phone. Sure there are some quirks and it’s not the fastest. The user interface sometimes lags terribly, but for the most part it works wonderfully. By the end of the year the next version (1.6) of Android appeared, then another just before Christmas (2.0) and now we’re seeing version 2.1 arrive. In the meantime Samsung decided to not upgrade the phone! I refused to believe it for a while, but more and more rumors suggested that Samsung had chosen to not to upgrade their first models and instead bring new ones to the market [1].

I did think of this as a possibility, but as it was open source I feared not. Because open source means that you always have access to the software free of charge. Then I discovered that the promise, that was Android, was a broken one. Sure, the Android operating system was still open, but the problem is the device drivers. The operating system relies on device drivers to talk to the hardware. These are not part of Android itself, but required to access the hardware capabilities of the underlying hardware. Samsung has chosen to use another WiFi chip than other manufacturers and, also, another camera (5 Mega pixel). While most of the other hardware was the same as other manufacturers were using, these two examples were exclusive to the Samsung Galaxy. If you cannot upgrade the operating system, then you cannot use the new features and the new class of applications that use them. Because if the open source nature of Android, it didn’t take long before someone created an upgrade for the cellphone [2][3]. Unfortunately you had to crack the phone to install it. An operation which voids your warranty. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the manufacturers releasing any device drivers under open source and the newer version of Android requires updates to the device drivers. Much of the hardware is the same as in other phones that have received an upgrade and those updated device drivers can be used by Samsung Galaxy too, but the device drivers for hardware that is exclusive to the phone doesn’t have any updates. It is, in my experience, usually a simple task to update the device drivers, but writing new ones is a huge task. As Samsung won’t release the device drivers as open source, then no-one can help them do the update, and believe me people would help them for free. This all leaves the exclusive parts of your phone inaccessible after the upgrade and that is where the promise of Android breaks down. Also, the bits and pieces of Android that made it into the Linux kernel have now fallen out again[4] and without a good reason to why Google needs a fork[5].

H Online has a nice summary of the issue[6], so far. There are some differences to how Google and the main Linux kernel handle some things[8][9], but I believe most reasons to be historic and that it will work itself out if only Google wishes it to[7].

My advice to you: Buy an Android cellphone! Just NOT from Samsung, because they aren’t serious about Android and won’t upgrade the software. Hey, I’m talking from experience here.

References:
[1] Samsung’s Galaxy stuck in history
[2] Utvecklare tar saken i egna händer – Android 2.0 till Galaxy i7500 (Swedish only)
[3] Samsung I7500 mustymod ROM (Android 2.0), Android 2.0 (Eclair) for Samsung Galaxy
[4] Android code removed from Linux kernel
[5] Android and the Linux Kernel Community
[6] Android versus Linux?
[7] KS2009: How Google uses Linux
[8] Wakelocks and the embedded problem
[9] See, NOW it makes sense…