Ben Laurie blathering

14 Dec 2006

Gates on DRM

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 14:38

I don’t have much to add to the blog I read on this so go and read it, except to point out that, once more, the world outside the US doesn’t exist:

His [Bill Gates] short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”

This, of course, is simply not true in the UK and, no doubt, elsewhere. Though, once more, I do invite copyright holders to prosecute me for ripping my entire CD collection. And putting it on more than one machine.

13 Dec 2006

Zombie Musicians

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 10:29

Such is the power of the debate over copyright extensions, it can, apparently, reach beyond the grave. The PPL took out a full page ad in the FT

More than 4,500 British recording artists have banded together to demand “fair play for musicians” over copyright term.

Apparently these artists are so keen on this concept some of them have defied death to make the demand. So far the list of possibly (and definitely) dead people who may have attempted this is

  1. Freddie Garrity
  2. Lonnie Donegan
  3. James Shand
  4. Richard Harris
  5. Richard Berry
  6. Nat Gonella

If you spot any more, let ORG know!

7 Dec 2006

Open Rights Group Impact

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 17:02

I’m pleased to see an article in the Guardian citing ORG

It is clear that it has already become a force to be reckoned with and has had a big influence on making the Gowers review of intellectual property rights, published this week, more consumer-friendly.

Even the business section thinks ORG is worth mentioning

Dave Rowntree, drummer with Blur and a member of the Open Rights Group, said: “The idea of a private copying exception is long overdue and, together with a proposal for orphaned works and the transformative works and parody exceptions, it will make for a more robust copyright law which encourages creativity rather than stifles it.”

9 Nov 2006

Release The Music: Copyright Term Extension

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 9:31

The Open Rights Group has a petition against copyright term extension, and a public debate on it, too, on Monday November 13th, at the Conway Hall in Holborn.

4 Sep 2006

Kim Cameron and DRM

Filed under: Crypto,Digital Rights — Ben @ 9:06

Kim’s got all steamed up over iTunes’ DRM.

Perhaps a better target for his vitriol would be his own company’s DRM, which will not only prevent you from burning stuff to CD, it’ll even remove your right to play it after you’ve purchased it.

21 Jun 2006

Wendy Seltzer Kicks MPAA Arse

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 16:46

My friend Wendy Seltzer recently debated Fritz Attaway of the MPAA on DRM. She argues very coherently against DRM, perhaps best summarised by this quote

Along with the broader doctrine of noninfringing use, fair use also leaves room for unanticipated uses — the “time-shifting” of the VCR, the “pause” button on a TiVo video recorder, the “time-stretch” function of my home-built MythTV. None of those innovators needed to ask permission before offering their products. Under DMCA and proposed legislation, they would need to ask before working with DVDs, digital television, or digital radio broadcasts.

Fritz, on the other hand, demonstrates that he totally doesn’t get it

…the DMCA has been an incredible stimulus to both technology and marketing innovation. Just look at some of the new viewing opportunities that have become available to consumers in the past few months:

• Warner Brothers partners with Free Record Shop using P2P distribution

• Disney offers feature length film on iTunes

• CBS delivers college basketball “March Madness” online

• ABC offers free downloads at

• Google Video beta launched — essentially going with a wholesale reseller model — creating an iTunes-like store.

I might buy marketing innovation (though even that’s a stretch – ooo, innovative, sell stuff online, wow!), but technology? What’s technologically innovative in any of these things?

7 Jun 2006

DRM Is A Crime!

Filed under: Digital Rights,Security — Ben @ 10:24

One of the first things I did for the Open Rights Group was to help write evidence on DRM for the All Party Internet Group (APIG). APIG released their report yesterday. Although I think it doesn’t go far enough, it certainly has taken into account many of the concerns that we, and others, have raised.

I particularly like this bullet point from their summary:

A recommendation that OFCOM publish guidance to make it clear that companies distributing Technical Protection Measures systems in the UK would, if they have features such as those in Sony-BMG’s MediaMax and XCP systems, run a significant risk of being prosecuted for criminal actions.

5 Jun 2006

A Trivial DRM Example

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 18:51

Andrew Hearst writes about oddities with the clock in 24. It occurred to me that if the DRM loonies had their way, he would have had a much harder time illustrating his story with graphics like:

Annotated Clock.

Instead of being able to frame-grab them, he’d have had to have drawn them himself. This is clearly silly, and entirely negates the advantages of using computers to handle media.

28 Mar 2006

Untrusted Computing

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 9:59

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission don’t think that letting China control the manufacture of computers for the State Department is such a great idea.

Somehow this reminds me of the DRM hardware Microsoft, IBM, Disney, the US Government and friends are so keen to impose on us.

(via BoingBoing)

27 Mar 2006

Amazon and Trade Descriptions, Round 4

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 11:10

I spoke to Trading Standards again this morning, and they say they can’t do anything. Their reasoning is that a description is only false if the thing in question cannot be described like that. Since EMI’s shiny silver things (what do you call them? Not CDs, coz they ain’t) play in some players, then they could be audio CDs, in some sense of the word, so it is not an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Anyone out there want to say they’re wrong?

26 Mar 2006

Lie To A Computer, Go To Jail

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 16:48

In a move that I think best described as interesting, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has added a clause to the Fraud Bill making it illegal to “dishonestly make a false representation … to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention) … to make a gain … or … cause a loss” (I wonder how one honestly makes a false representation?).

Since much spam, particularly phishing, involves lying, presumably this makes some spam a criminal offence. I wonder if we’ll have any luck interesting the police in it?

I also wonder if this might prove to be a little too far-reaching, though I’ll admit I can’t currently think of a case where bad things happen.

18 Mar 2006

Amazon and Trade Descriptions, Round 3

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 12:50

I received a refund from Amazon today, including my postage to return the CD.

Presumably this means that they agree it is defective, since it was opened and they don’t refund opened items unless there’s something wrong with them.

Now all I’m waiting for is to hear from the Trading Standards people. Unfortunately, they are supposed to deal with it within 4 working days, which makes Monday, and I’ll be away. I guess I’ll have to check when I get back in a week.

17 Mar 2006

“Trusted” Computing and the MoD

Filed under: Digital Rights,Security — Ben @ 11:17

The Ministry of Defence has realised that letting someone else control your jet fighters isn’t such a great idea.

I wonder how long it’ll be before the rest of the government realise that letting someone else control your PCs isn’t such a great idea, either?

14 Mar 2006

Amazon and Trade Descriptions, Round 2

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 17:48

Well, Consumer Direct (case reference LR121106) spoke to my local trading standards officers, who apparently take the view that “audio CD” means “will play on your stereo” and doesn’t mean “will play on a CD player in your computer”, and so there’s nothing wrong with Amazon’s description.

This is, of course, utterly wrong, so I asked how I could speak to them to persuade them otherwise. I was told that I should do this through Consumer Direct. So I asked how to do that. I was told that he had already given me their response and “err, actually, write them an email, you can find their address on their website”. Sad.

Anyway, I took his advice, almost, and rang Ealing Trading Standards (for that is my local branch) (their number, incidentally is 020 8825 6086) and spoke to a much more reasonable chap called Anthony Wrightson. I explained why audio CDs should work in PCs and that it was a well-known fact that EMI made disks that don’t conform with the standards. He said he would put my case into the system, noted that I wanted to hear the outcome, and said they resolve cases within 4 working days.

I await the resolution with interest.

10 Mar 2006

Amazon and Trade Descriptions

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 15:46

I recently bought Beth Orton’s (alleged) CD, “Comfort of Strangers * Limited Edition” from Amazon. When it arrived, it turned out it didn’t work. Investigation reveals that this is because it isn’t actually a CD, just something that looks rather like one. EMI (for it is they) are attempting to copy protect music by making it not work in CD drives in computers.

If that’s what they want to do, then that’s their right, dumb as I think it is. However, what is not acceptable, in my view, is for vendors to attempt to sell these things to me described as “Audio CD”s. I have, therefore, initiated a return to Amazon on the grounds that the goods are defective. The text of my complaint is:

The product is not an Audio CD.

I have also, as advised by Trading Standards Central, reported Amazon to my local Trading Standards Authority (who actually delegate this to something called Consumer Direct). Here’s the text:

Amazon sell CDs manufactured by EMI described as “Audio CD”. However, EMI “CD”s do not conform to the standards for audio CDs (this is an attempt to prevent illegal copying) and so do not work, for example, in PCs.

It seems to me, therefore, that this is an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

The reference number for this complaint is CDCO1081882, should anyone care.

Now to see what happens next.

2 Mar 2006

The BBC Thinks RC4 is Crackable

Newsnight got a ton of flak over describing file sharing as theft. But, they whine, the real point is that encryption is being used, like, all over the place! And this means that the good folk at GCHQ will have a terrible time decrypting it all. Which they need to do to catch all the paedophiles and terrorists, obviously.

What they’ve totally missed is that the volume is not the issue, the strength of the encryption is. Newsnight’s self-styled “resident ubergeek”, Adam Livingstone, thinks RC4 is weak and could be cracked if only those pesky BitTorrenters wouldn’t clutter up the ‘net with their encrypted copies of broadcast TV (which, of course, they shouldn’t be sharing anyway – just because anyone can watch it, it doesn’t mean anyone can watch it, now does it? That stands to reason).

Mr. Livingstone should try consulting some real geeks before he opens his big mouth again.

Oh, and they also sob:

What we’d really like to hear is a debate on the issue we did raise. If the ISPs can’t now detect torrent data, then how will the security services manage it? And if they do figure it out, won’t RnySmile and company just up the ante again?

If you want a debate on that, dude, then provide somewhere to debate it. Or just read my blog – that’s your kind of debate: unidirectional.

16 Feb 2006

Astonishing Bullshit from the British Video Association

Filed under: Digital Rights,Rants — Ben @ 12:53

I have no idea who the British Video Association are, but the BBC think they are good people to answer questions about DRM, errr, I mean “movies in the digital age”. Their answers are worth a read, if you like a good laugh. Here’s a few selected gems.

Q4. Why do the movie companies still insist on region encoding their DVD offerings?

Lavinia Carey: “…regional coding is still the way the British classification system is implemented to protect children from unsuitable material…”

Yeah, right. You can’t even buy a region-locked DVD player in the UK, as far as I know. Certainly I can’t even remember the last time I saw one. If they are region-locked, do they (somehow?) enforce certificates or is this complete nonsense? I’m genuinely curious.

Q1. Can you envisage a time when there is almost simultaneous release of product in the cinema, through rental outlets, in the high street and online, leaving the customer to choose his preferred way of viewing?

Dan Glickman, MPAA: Maybe.

Lavinia Carey, BVA: Yes.

John Fithian, NATO (I couldn’t resist, but actually its the National Association of Theatre Owners): No.

Gotta work on that messaging, dudes.

Q7. What’s the point of DRM?

Dan Glickman, MPAA: “Without the use of DRMs, honest consumers would have no guidelines and might eventually come to totally disregard copyright and therefore become a pirate”

Right, because honest consumers are incapable of reading and have no sources of information other than that graciously provided by the entertainment industry. I do hope they’re going to figure out how to apply this technology to other laws, or we’ll all become murderers, terrorists and child pornographers. We’ll know no better.

Curt Marvis, CinemaNow: “As far as I know, no CinemaNow movies have appeared on P2P networks … so I would say that DRM is actually working”

I did try to check on this unlikely assertion, but their website is “down for maintenance”. Rocking. I suspect, however, that we can conclude that Curt doesn’t know much.

Here’s my favourite, though:

Q8. Was the video recorder damaging? At the time of its release, it was declared to be the death toll for the movie industry. Would you say that declaration was accurate?

Dan Glickman: No.

Lavinia Carey: No.

John Fithian: No.

OK, so we’re all on-message here, it seems. What a shame they didn’t follow this up with the obvious question. But I can predict the response:

Q9. Given that the VCR actually turned out to be beneficial despite the lack of protection against illegal copying, wouldn’t you agree that DRM is a pointless burden on users?

DG: “I’m not listening”

LC: “La la la la la”

JF: “What’s that over there? Look!”

21 Jan 2006

David Byrne on DRM

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 13:28

At least the entire mainstream music industry isn’t nuts. David Byrne writes:

Happy New Year. Don’t Buy CDs from the Big 5.

CDs from the big five run the risk of damaging your computer, opening you up to security risks, and you can’t rip the music onto your iPod. Stop buying CDs now. At least until they guarantee us that they will never try this shit again.

16 Jan 2006

The Open Rights Group

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Digital Rights — Ben @ 17:27

Towards the end of last year I was approached to serve on the board of the Open Rights Group, an organisation set up to campaign for digital rights and civil liberties in the digital world.

In the face of increasingly draconian laws, both here in the UK and in the rest of Europe, this seems to me to be a very important cause.

Anyway, I haven’t blogged about it before because its taken us a while to get ourselves set up to allow supporters to support us. I’m pleased to say that you can now do so.

30 Dec 2005

Yet More DRM Stupidity

Filed under: Digital Rights — Ben @ 21:44

Boing Boing reports that Coldplay’s X&Y is thoroughly copy protected. I don’t remember seeing the insert, but it ripped fine for me. Of course, this is not only supposedly impossible (says Virgin) but is also technically unlawful.

Do I care? No. I’ve done no harm to anyone by ripping my copy of their CD for my own enjoyment. So, sue me, Virgin. I dare you.

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