How to Lose Customers

Bruce Everiss who is famous for being threatened with legal action by Evony has been writing about the supposed losses from game piracy, in his latest missive he copies the text from a number of blog comments without citing the original authors [1]. He copied my text without citing me as the author (which is at best shoddy journalism and by a fundamentalist attitude such as his could be considered as piracy). He also copied my text in with a bunch of other comments which he attributes to “The thieves“.

It’s unfortunate that Bruce doesn’t seem capable of understanding irony, he wrote “There is no doubt whatsoever that downloading and playing a game that should have been paid for is theft” and then copied part of the text of my comment where I provided a dictionary definition of theft that directly contradicts his claim. If he was at all interested in quality writing he would cite his references and then when a dictionary is cited which disagrees with his opinion he would at least try to find a dictionary with a more agreeable definition. It shouldn’t be THAT difficult to find a dictionary that has multiple definitions of theft of which one is agreeable to the MAFIAA [2].

Now if Bruce had properly read my comment he would have seen “I’ve started watching content from sites such as (in the little time I have for such things) and I only play games that are part of the Debian distribution of Linux (free software)” which makes it very clear to any reasonable interpretation that I am not a game pirate and probably not even a movie pirate.

I did mention in a comment on Bruce’s blog that the DVD experience of being forced to sit through a whinge about piracy was a factor that made buying a DVD a worse experience than downloading it, a concept that I expanded into a blog post on the relative technical merits of DVDs and pirate MP4 files [3]. That post received a number of interesting comments including one from Josselin Mouette which had some useful technical detail about subtitles and audio track storage. I had believed that there were some real technical advantages of DVDs but Josselin corrected me on this matter.

Also one thing that is noteworthy is that Bruce seems to use a copyright picture in almost every post but he doesn’t attribute any of them. It does seem unusual for someone to use commercial artwork without any copyright or trademark notices attached. This usually isn’t a big deal for a blogger, a liberal interpretation of copyright and trademark law is usually expected in terms of blogging – corporations will tend to be hesitant to invoke the Streisand effect by suing a blogger (EG Bruce’ blog came to fame when he was sued by Evony). But when a blogger is writing about the importance of not pirating anything it would seem sensible to go to the effort of citing trademark and copyright references and also mentioning the licence agreements under which the IP was used.

I believe that any loss of customers and revenue by the MAFIAA and the gaming industry is due to the actions of the companies involved. They should just try to make their customers happy, otherwise they lose the customers.

The same goes for bloggers. I read blogs written by people who disagree with me, and sometimes by people who offend me on occasion. But Bruce is making baseless claims while deliberately ignoring evidence. He is calling for strong anti-piracy measures while doing what could be considered as pirating my work. He uses words in ways that conflict with dictionary definitions, and he calls for an end to our current legal system by demanding punishment based on three accusations rather than any legal process. I even pointed out to Bruce that if there was a “three strikes” law regarding accusations of copyright infringement then his blog would be offline after three accusations by Evony.

Sorry Bruce, if I was looking for irrational rants about copyright then I would look at what the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) are doing [4]. The SFWA people demonstrate as much knowledge of computers and the Internet as Bruce does, but they are at least really good writers. If it was just me unsubscribing from Bruce’s RSS feed then it wouldn’t matter (I’m one of tens of thousands of readers). But I expect that a large portion of the new readers Bruce acquired after being attacked by Evony will disappear when they see Bruce as the attacker and everyone who uses the Internet as a potential victim of the “Three Strikes” law.

Three Monopolists


This afternoon I tried to unlock my old Three mobile phones for the purpose of getting cheap net access as described in my previous post [1]. I wanted to use Dodo 3G Internet (via the Optus network) for my parents which would cost them $139 per year and I wanted to use my old Three phone tethered to their PC as the 3G modem (cheaper than buying a new 3G modem). I took in 3 Three phones to the Three store to get unlocked, I actually have 4 old Three phones (my wife and I are each on our third Three phone) but I seem to have misplaced one. It turned out that the two newer phones (LG U890) can’t be unlocked as they are permanently locked to the Three network. The older LG U8110 can be unlocked, doing this took 30 minutes of the Three employee speaking to other Three employees on the phone and I will now have to wait 4 days to receive an SMS with the unlock code.

So the Three anti-competitive behavior of making it unreasonably difficult to get a phone unlocked and of selling phones that (supposedly) can never be unlocked wasted them 30 minutes of store employee time when other potential customers were queuing up as well as 30 minutes of employee time in their call center. If the call-center employee was based in Australia then as the minimum wage is $14.31 per hour [2] that would have cost them at least $14.31 for 2*30min of work, as a rule of thumb it’s generally regarded that the costs of employing people are twice the salary (including costs of maintaining office/shop space, paying managers, doing paperwork, etc). So it probably cost Three about $29 to unlock one of my phones and tell me that the others can’t be unlocked, when I find phone 4 it will cost them another $29. As $29 is my typical monthly bill this has got to make an impact on the profitability of Three. If they were smart they would have sent me an SMS when I got a new phone telling me whether the old phone can be unlocked and if so giving me the code to do so. For phones that can be unlocked I doubt that would make anyone unlock their phone who wouldn’t do so anyway, and for phones that can’t be unlocked they could encourage the owner to give the phone to someone who wants a phone for pre-paid use (thus locking in a new customer).

It probably won’t be worth the effort of cracking an LG U890 phone to save my parents $10 per annum. As I couldn’t get the LG U8110 to talk to my laptop I guess that forces my parents to eventually use Three for 3G net access. But they could have just matched the Dodo price and got the same result without having me spend half an hour in their store.

Update: I just enquired about ending my Three contract for 3G net access ($15 per month for 1G of data) in favor of the yearly prepaid option of $149 per annum for 12G. The prepaid option would save me $31 per annum and allow me to use more than 1G in the busy months. But it seems that I subscribed to a two year contract for that one and I have 6 months to go. Over those 6 months they will make about $15 extra in revenue from me while annoying me in the process, this probably isn’t a good deal. As my 3G modem is locked to the Three network even if I didn’t have a contract I would still be unable to use a different provider.


My mother phoned Optus about her Internet connection and discovered that she had supposedly renewed her Optus cable Internet contract in September last year. Presumably someone from Optus phoned my parents and asked what seemed like a routine “do you want to keep using the Internet?” question but was really a “do you agree to a 2 year contract with a $250 penalty clause for exiting early?”. This isn’t the first time that Oprus has scammed my parents (previously they charged them rental for a phone that they never supplied), I guess that they have a practice of pulling such stunts on pensioners. I guess I’ll have to call the TIO, which will end up costing them more than the $250 penalty clause.

The irony here is that as Dodo uses the Optus network I would have used Optus by choice for my parents, but now that they are being scum I will willingly pay the extra $10 per annum to use Three (which while annoying aren’t actually hostile).


Finally while Google is admirably living up to their “don’t be evil” motto in regards to China [3] their conduct regarding Google Talk leaves a lot to be desired. Two employees of a company I work for use Google Talk for their instant messaging, this has a Windows client but also allows general access via the Jabber protocol. So these two guys wanted to talk to me via Jabber but Google would just send me email saying “X has invited you to sign up for Google Talk so you can talk to each other for free over your computers“, I received 5 such messages from a colleague who was particularly persistent. It seems impossible for the Google Talk server to send a chat request to my personal Jabber server (which works well with a variety of other Jabber servers).

So I have now started using my Gmail address to talk via the Jabber protocol to other Gmail users. This means that I have a TCP connection to the Google servers open most of the time and Google can boast of having one more active Gmail user. But it doesn’t seem to really provide them a benefit. I am going to keep using my main email address as my primary Jabber ID and only use my Gmail address for talking to Google Talk users – and only when paid to do so.

But as a result of this I recommend that everyone avoid Google Talk as much as possible. Use open Jabber servers such as the ones run by

It seems to me that none of these companies are really gaining anything from trying to lock customers in. They would be better off spending their efforts on being friendly to people and making them want to be repeat users/customers.

Which is Better, Original DVD or Pirate MP4?

For a long time it has been obvious that in all cases anti-piracy technologies discourage purchases and in many cases encourage piracy. I first discovered the significance of this in about 1991 when I attended a public lecture by a senior employee of Borland and a member of the audience claimed that the Borland product he bought didn’t function correctly due to anti-piracy measures. The Borland employee firmly stated that Borland did not use anti-copying technology on any of it’s products, didn’t have any plans to do so, and the problem in question must have been caused by something else. Of all the hostile questions that were asked, this was the only one that caused the speaker to appear agitated so it was obviously an issue that was considered to be important within Borland.

In the late 80’s anti-piracy measures were mostly based around creating floppy disks that couldn’t be easily copied (violations of various aspects of the disk formatting standards). This meant that you couldn’t make a backup copy of the data, so it wasn’t uncommon for people to seek pirate copies of their commercial software for daily use to avoid wearing out their valuable original floppy disks. Then the dongle was invented and people who bought software sometimes sought pirate copies so that they could use their printer and their commercial software without having to change plugs on their PC. But in those cases the benefits to uncrippled software to the users were small.

Now a large part of the battle on copy protection concerns DVDs. If you had a DVD of a recent movie and an MP4 which would you rather watch? Would you prefer to be forced to watch some anti-piracy rubbish for a couple of minutes at the start of the movie (with fast-forward disabled) or would you prefer to just start watching it? Would you prefer to be able to pre-program the sections of the movie that you watch (as some parents desire to skip the sex and/or violence in movies for their teenagers) or would you prefer to be forced to watch the movie straight-through with only a manual fast-forward to skip sections? Would you prefer to have a DVD that can’t be played properly on many (most?) computers because of the CSS encoding or an MP4 that plays on everything from PCs to mobile phones without an issue? Would you rather have 100 movies in the spare space on your laptop hard drive when you travel and 1000 movies on your desktop system or the much smaller number of boxed DVDs that you can store? I think that in most cases a pirate MP4 will give a better experience than a DVD.

So the question is, why pay for a DVD when in most cases you get a lesser experience than you will get from a MP4 file downloaded by bittorrent?

One reason for buying the DVD is to support the film industry. But I doubt that such a profitable industry will get much sympathy in today’s economy. Another reason is the morality, some people consider piracy to be theft (it isn’t – by definition theft requires that for at least a moment the property be completely in the possession of the thief) and therefore avoid it.

One technical reason for buying a DVD is the fact that it may have multiple languages supported, it will have subtitles, it may have an audio track with the creators giving a commentary, and it may have extra scenes that were cut from the main release. I believe that work on adding subtitles to the video file formats is a work in progress, so it’s only a matter of time before the DVD rips include all this extra data.

Really the content creators should focus on making a product that meets the needs of users and that they want to pay for. Pirating books is technically possible, but almost no-one does it. Some successful authors such as Charles Stross freely publish significant parts of their work and Cory Doctorow freely publishes all his work in electronic form. Books just work well, they meet the needs of users and people want to buy them. Sure they can sell them second hand, lend them to other people, and it’s technically possible to pirate them, but they remain profitable. On my documents blog I have a page of links to free short stories that I liked [1] and a page of links to free books [2]. It seems to me that creators of other copyright content should consider how they can be of service to their customers.

We are all familiar with corporations and misguided individuals who get whiny about the supposed losses due to piracy. Bruce Everiss has unfortunately joined this trend and demanded the disconnection of Internet users based on unproven accusations of game piracy [3]. I don’t know whether the game buying experience sucks as badly as the DVD buying experience, but based on the reports of locked-down consoles that have to be cracked before they run Linux I expect that the modern game industry is doing at least as badly as the movie industry. They need to provide things that users want!

One thing to note is that a Windows or console game player who uses pirate games will probably buy some games at some future time, while someone like me who uses free software both by principle and because it gives a better user experience will probably never pay for a game (I haven’t got time to play all the free games so I probably wouldn’t even buy a Linux game).

US Border Security

Making Light has a post about the Canadian sci-fi author Peter Watts who was beaten and jailed overnight without access to a lawyer by US border guards because he asked what they were doing [1]. Apparently one is supposed to cringe in fear whenever questioned by authority in the US, so much for “land of the free“.

In 12 hours time I will hopefully have got past the security police and be boarding a flight out of the US and it will be a great relief.

On a practical note, if al Quaeda was a serious threat, if anyone really cared to stop the importation of drugs, of if any of the other reasons for having security on borders were taken seriously then this sort of thing really wouldn’t help to achieve such goals.

One of the purposes of a justice system is to encourage cooperation from the population. If a suspect will be treated fairly and considered to be innocent until proven guilty then there is no reason not to report suspicious people to the police. If however a suspect will be summarily beaten and denied access to a lawyer then no decent person can make a police report unless they are certain of the suspect’s guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.

When Barack Obama was elected the majority of the world’s population was greatly relieved, we expected some significant changes in the way things are run. It doesn’t seem that he is living up to our expectations.

New RFID Passport

RFID tag in UK passport
Above is the picture of the RFID device in my new UK passport. The outer wire loop is 72mm * 42mm which is by far the largest RFID device I’ve seen. It appears that they want the passport to be RFID readable from distances that are significantly greater than those which are typically used for store security RFID devices. I couldn’t properly capture the text on the page which says “THIS PAGE IS RESERVED FOR OFFICIAL OBSERVATIONS, IF ANY“. The plastic layer that protects the RFID device leaves a 3mm margin that could potentially be used for official observations. Assuming that they don’t write in really small letters I guess this means that either they don’t make official observations on the passports nowadays or that any such observations are stored electronically where the subject has no good way of discovering them and objecting.

RFID logo on UK passport cover

Above is a picture of the front cover of my passport which shows the RFID logo. Both images have links to the full resolution pictures.

On Sunday I leave for a two week business trip to San Francisco, this will be my first trip with my new passport. I’m thinking of taking some aluminium foil to wrap around my passport when it’s not being used. I don’t expect to really gain any benefit from doing so, it’s a matter of principle.

Who Should Edit Wikipedia and Where Should they Do It?

Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting little column for Make magazine about Wikipedia and the way that it “contains facts about facts” [1]. One of the issues with this is that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) make corrections based on your own knowledge of a subject, you need to cite references. Cory gives a hypothetical example where a world renowned expert couldn’t simply fix an error in Wikipedia, but they could give an interview with the New York Times decrying the quality of Wikipedia and citing the correct data – then once the NYT article was published it could be referenced as an authoritative source and the page updated.

Mako wrote about the Wikireader (an offline reader for Wikipedia) and advocated a facility for writing changes while offline and uploading them [2]. From the perspective of improving the state of the art in computer science and making new features available for more users this sounds like a great idea. But in terms of fitting in with the way Wikipedia works it doesn’t seem viable to me.

Any time that you need to use an offline Wikipedia reader it seems that it will either be impossible or unreasonably difficult to gain the net access necessary to find the reference that Wikipedia requires. Sure you could fix spelling errors, reformat paragraphs, etc but not do anything serious. I wonder how many people actually put any serious effort into Wikipedia with the sole purpose of making it more readable. In terms of my own editing I have made a number of changes that improve readability, but all of them were due to reviewing pages for technical accuracy.

One of the comments on Mako’s post suggested that instead of having an option to directly edit pages there be an option to take notes on pages which could then be used for later editing. Maybe something like a two button combination to flag a particular paragraph as being of dubious accuracy so that the user could later do some Google searches for references.

Of course another problem with this is the delay in updating a Wikireader. For most reading of Wikipedia it doesn’t matter if the content is 6 months old, so we should expect that most users of the Wikireader don’t have the latest data. The Wikireader company offers an update service of posting a new memory card twice a year [3]. Given postage delays etc we should expect that the average age of the content is about 4 months for people who subscribe to the update service, and probably a lot greater for people who download the updates. The popular pages of Wikipedia change fast, in the space of 4 months a page can change significantly.

In terms of general Wikipedia operation I wonder if it would be beneficial to have a button to flag content as possibly not meeting the Wikipedia guidelines. It seems that the number of people who can recognise low quality pages is going to be significantly higher than the number of people who have the skill and time to fix them. I’m sure that there are many people who would just love to be able to choose from a list of Wikipedia pages that have received many negative votes. Such votes could be stored offline and uploaded later, but again that would rely on having recent content on the reader (it would be annoying for a recently fixed page to keep getting voted down).

One area where offline editing of a Wiki would work well is that of niche Wikis. For example if I downloaded a copy of the Debian Wiki (which would only take a tiny fraction of the space in a Wikireader) then I could easily update it every week and the incidence of other people editing a page in the mean time would often be low. I could write long updates that make significant changes to SE Linux related pages while offline without needing any references and in many cases without much risk of conflicts. Implementing a distributed version control system to manage such updates shouldn’t be difficult in principle, although the VCS might have to run on a laptop or desktop system after taking raw data from the Wikireader (tools like GIT seem memory hungry and might not fit on a small device).

Also Mako refers to the “already indefensibly large gap between the number of readers and editors on Wikipedia“. Like Mako I don’t have a TV watching personality. I agree that it is desirable to facilitate read-write access for everyone, but that doesn’t have to involve write access to Wikipedia. I am not convinced that there is a difference between the number of readers and editors of Wikipedia that indicates a problem here. As something becomes more popular the number of people who use it without being committed to it increases, and it also becomes more integrated into society. I don’t think it’s a problem that many people use their writing time for other tasks such as blogging rather than editing Wikipedia. Wikipedia makes a great reference for blog posts and blog posts drive readers (and thus potential editors) to Wikipedia.

Finally I think we should consider the fact that different people have different skill sets. Maybe the Wikipedia reader base gained a significant portion of the people who have the skills to make good editors a long time ago and now the majority of new users just don’t have the skills. If that is the case then having the ratio of readers to editors change in favor of readers while the number of readers expands would be a good thing. I don’t think that I am being elitist in acknowledging that different people have different skill sets, and that some portion of the population will lack the skills necessary to make good contributions to Wikipedia (good enough to outweigh the mistakes that they make). I think that valuing the contributions of all people in society does not require that we value all contributions to Wikipedia.

Computer Security and Political Censorship

I’ve just been disappointed to read about the DNI (Defence in the National Interest) web site closing down [1]. The final blog post says “In the meantime, I’ll leave everything up unless we start having more security problems“, but unfortunately they have had a number of security problems in the past. I doubt the ability of a WordPress installation to remain unscathed on the Internet if it’s not upgraded regularly. So I think it’s only a matter of time before a new bad WordPress bug is discovered and DNI goes offline for good.

In the past I did idly consider volunteering to help them run their site, but apart from a lack of spare time there is the issue that a number of their policy positions are things that I strongly disagree with. I can agree with paleo-cons on a number of issues, but there are also significant areas of disagreement.

So it seems that the combination of a lack of skilled system administrators and a lack of good security in their software is reducing their ability to spread their message. While the site content is going to be mirrored on other sites the URLs will break and Google will give it a lower rank. In many ways losing Google ranking is a way of being silenced.

I wonder whether the apparent lack of moderate-right political expression on the Internet is partly due to that demographic having less IT skills than the groups who have centrist to left-wing political views and those who have extreme-right views. Naturally anyone can pay to have someone run their web site, but having to pay raises the barrier to entry and eliminates some of the potential contributors. I think it’s a bad thing for democracy if the only people who get their voices heard are those who have significant amounts of money or technical skill.

One of my hopes for the SE Linux project was that it would increase the longevity of servers while also decreasing the amount of money required to run them. But of course if you have buggy PHP code then there’s not much SE Linux can do to help you.

Mobile Phones Are Computers

One thing I noticed when I got my new LG U990 Viewty [1] mobile phone is the way the core telephony functionality has suffered while features for web browsing etc have been added. It seems that the core phone functionality (making and receiving calls and maintaining a list of names and phone numbers) has generally decreased since about 2004 when I got my first camera-phone. The Nokia GSM phones that I used prior to getting a 3G phone seemed to have a combination of signal reception, voice quality, and basic telephony features that beat all the 3G phones I’ve used. The only way the 3G phones were better for core telephony features is in managing the list of recently called numbers. In my past two LG phones I’ve been able to easily call an alternate number of the person I last called – this feature was dropped in the Viewty.

Some of my relatives have camera-phones that have an extremely poor ability to get a signal, they can’t get a GSM signal in places where my Viewty can get 3G! Obviously making a usable phone was not a design priority for those devices!

Then there’s the issue of battery life. Early mobile phones had NiCd batteries that lasted a week, later mobile phones had Li batteries that lasted a week as a standard feature. Nokia sold phones with replacement batteries, so if you wanted to make lots of phone calls while on the move you could have a second battery charged and ready for use. Now the latest BlackBerry [5] apparently has batteries that only last for one day – I haven’t investigated the options for storing a second battery but a casual glance indicates that changing a battery will be a lot more difficult than on an old Nokia phone.

I’ve been wondering, why don’t they just sell some mobile phones that don’t support making phone calls? Smart phones that aren’t very good at telephony is really only going half way, do it properly and just rip out the phone functionality! Or they could use the word “phone” to apply to devices that already exist to do mobile stuff. You could have an Amazon Kindle phone [2] that allows you to read documents, and a Nokia N800 tablet phone [3] for general Internet access including web browsing and email – really the only “smart-phone” feature that is missing from the Nokia is a camera. For that matter my EeePC 701 [4] is probably about twice as heavy as my first mobile phone, maybe it could be called a phone too. If you have two phones, one for making phone calls and the other for doing smart-phone stuff then it won’t matter so much if the smart-phone (which can’t make phone calls) has it’s battery run out.

One likely objection to the idea of selling phones that can’t be used for making phone calls is that it might confuse the users. However the current situation is that there are significant differences in the signal reception ability of mobile phones, the people who sell them don’t know what the difference is, and the rare reviews that analyse signal strength (as done by Choice [6]) are become outdated rapidly and never cover all phones on the market. So I think it would be a great improvement if the phone sales people could say “don’t buy phone A if you want to make phone calls because it can’t do that” because currently anyone who just wants to make phone calls has a matter of luck to determine whether they get a phone that works well.

The really sad thing however, is that some people apparently have usage patterns that are similar to my satire above. I have heard of people having two phones, one for smart-phone functionality and another for making calls.

What we need is to have manufacturers put more effort into making hardware that can receive week signals, from now on I will consult the Choice review of this before making any mobile phone purchase or recommendation. If only a few million other people would do the same then the manufacturers would improve their products.

The next thing we need is to have better software to run the phones. The deficiencies in the software on my Viewty could easily be fixed if everyone had source code access. Benjamin Mako Hill writes about some of the problems with closed-source on mobile phones [7]. He mentions security (in terms of our trust in the phone manufacturers), and the general ideal of having control over your own device. One specific problem he doesn’t mention are the ways that mobile phones are deliberately crippled by the manufacturers, 3G phones have precious main menu space occupied by the services that are most profitable to the telephone company without regard to what the users desire. Another problem for people who desire free software is file format support. Camera-phones that save video to AVI format instead of OGG reduce our ability to use free software in other places – as a general rule every time you transcode a video you either lose some quality or increase the file size so the format that the phone uses will be carried through many other computers and devices. Smart-phones generally have the ability to view a range of data types, the ability to view MS file formats is common (which excludes free competitors). My Viewty has an entire menu section dedicated to Google services (Gmail, blogger, youtube, etc). That’s nice for Google who presumably paid well for that, but not so good for me as I don’t use any of the Google features on my phone. Now a menu that had a caching IMAP client, an RSS feed reader, a WordPress API client, a Jabber client, and a caching Wikipedia client would be really useful.

My current phone is just under a year old, so I won’t be buying a new phone until January 2011 (unless I break or lose my Viewty). Hopefully then there will be some better options. Before anyone suggests that I buy another phone to help with the coding, my current free software coding projects are all behind schedule…

Gnash and use of Free Software

There is currently a discussion on a private mailing list about whether some money from a community organisation should be used to assist the development of Gnash (the free software Flash player) [1]. The main reason for this is that there are apparently some schools that depend on flash web sites to such a degree that they won’t consider using a free OS that lacks Flash support.

It has been shown that there are a number of issues related to contributing financially to free projects, the people who advocate financial contributions in this case assure us that such problems have been addressed but it will remain controversial to some extent. One thing that is not controversial is the fact that testing and debugging is universally a good thing. So I advocate doing such testing as a way to contribute to Flash development and therefore free software use in education.

The Debian-Edu project has a web page with a link to flash sites that can be used for testing [2]. So I plan to now install Gnash on all Linux desktop systems that I run and get bug reports to help development. I encourage others to do the same.

Also there is the Ming library for developing Flash files which could apparently do with some help in the development process [3].

While a non-free format such as Flash is not ideal, it’s certainly a lot better than Silverlight!

Note that I don’t have strong feelings about the issues of financial support for Gnash (which is why I didn’t contribute to the private discussion in question). But I am convinced that more people using and testing Gnash is a good thing.

Bad but Appealing Copyright Arguments

Some people seem to believe that the problem with copyright law is the inability of people on the free culture side of the debate to compete with the large amounts of money that are being spent but the RIAA et al.

I think that a significant part of the problem is that many intelligent and well-meaning people are simply unaware of or unconvinced by the arguments. For example the Reid Report post titled “Paul Porter speaks truth to Black radio” [1] includes the quote “Only the United States, North Korea and Iran don’t pay royalties for performers on free AM/FM radio“. This point actually sounds quite reasonable and will convince many intelligent and well-meaning people who have an interest in politics – such as Ms Reid.

Cory Doctorow has written an interesting article titled “Internet ©rapshoot: How Internet Gatekeepers Stifle Progress”[2]. He describes how the big “entertainment” companies are failing to properly represent their customers or the artists who produce the content, and in the process creating monopolies out of companies such as Apple and Google.

Cory starts by raising the issue of cultural discourse, monopolies in the distribution of popular art will lead to control over the political process. Ironically the article that Ms Reid cited [3] mentions the issue of “pay for play” which led to “a steady diet of misogyny, violence and drug culture” on the airwaves.

Brendan Scott has written about a similar issue in Australia where the music copyright holders are trying to get massive increases in license fees from restaurants and other small businesses [4]. The expected result of this is greater use of classical music (which is out of copyright) and more interest in purchasing licenses from small musicians who aren’t affiliated with the music cartels. One of his main points is that playing music in public places (including public radio frequencies) is the major form of advertising for musicians.

Michael Tiemann writes about a Brazilian band that has been quite profitable by skipping the recording industry, providing the fans what they want, and selling CDs direct to fans [5]. This is one of many examples to illustrate the fact that the current music factory system is not required for musicians to make a profit.

Amanda Palmer has written an interesting blog post about how the Warner music group wasn’t getting as much money from Youtube as they wanted so they demanded that HER music videos be removed [6] (among many others). So we have a music studio that doesn’t even pay the artist (below a certain number of sales the artist gets no payment, selling 30,000 albums is not enough to get a cent) demanding that the music videos be made unavailable to fans when the artist wants them published. This is a travesty and if similar licensing schemes are implemented for radio stations then we can expect that some radio stations will be financially discouraged from playing music even when the artist would be happy to have it played for free!

In Australia we have an organisation that secretly taxes all viewing of material that they think is under copyright with a suitable license (they give no detailed information on how they determine the copyright and license status – they probably violate my license by taxing universities for copying posts from my blog). Educational institutions and other organisations that sign up get to pay them some money based on what they are deemed to have used. The money is then distributed to the creators in proportion to the amount of use their material received. The distribution rules state that any amount less than $50 per year for an Australian resident or $200 per year for a non-resident will be instead redistributed to other people [7]. Usually analysis of The Long Tail [8] comprises the majority of the sales if users are given enough opportunities to search for a product that is a good match for their requirements. This is the entire basis of businesses such as The Australian Copyright Agency (Copyright Agency Limited – CAL) seems to have a business model of taking all the revenue that might be “earned” by the creative people in the “long tail” and give it all to the top performers. If a similar system was implemented for the US music industry then it would be great for Michael Jackson’s estate, but bad for the vast majority of musicians.

It seems likely to me that the current situation with the music industry is fairly optimal for making a few very popular musicians very rich. The proposed changes for the US will make things even better/worse (depending if you are among the rich few or the majority of the population). One thing we need to ask ourselves is whether we want laws that will make a few people rich or laws that will give many people an adequate income for work they enjoy and which also enriches our culture. This correct decision seems obvious to me.

Can anyone think of other good points that should be raised when discussing such issues with people who don’t consider copyright to be a big issue?