All games illegal

Suppose there is a website out there that hosts demos and shareware computer games. Some of them are made by amateurs, others are made by teams at the top of their profession. Some games are accompagnied by a fifty page license, others have no license at all, and some are inbetween.

You want to download one of those games.

What is your legal position?

1. You can download any game off that site; the copyright holders obviously intended them to be distributed that way.

2. You can download only those games whose license allows you to do so; only problem is that you cannot look at the license before you have downloaded the game, ergo: you are not allowed to download anything.

3. You can download any of the games, but if the copyright holder decides to sue you later on, that’s his right.

4. Technically and legally speaking, the copyright holder should license you to download and play the game first, but in the real world we can all just get along and no such draconian measures are needed; among gentlemen, you download the game first; should it turn out later on that you got something you weren’t intended to have, you just delete the file and no harm done.

I don’t know.

Are there legally valid ways for you to know whether you were allowed to use a work? Why has usage of works suddenly become a copyright?

It used to be that if you did no harm, they wouldn’t come after you. In the digital age, that is no longer true. Did our morals change? I doubt it. Does copying in the digital age have vastly different effects from, say, home-taping in the analog age? I sure hope so! But to my knowledge, no-one has ever much measured these differences, let alone tried to find out how they affected the authors.

The effect on the middle-men however, has been amazing. Their most vocal representatives always did seem a bit shady, but at least kept somewhat to the background. The stories of thousands of filesharers sued in the US are well-known. Now, this plague is moving to the Netherlands: Brein foundation has managed to get the DA to lock up a few people (who were released after a weekend–a well-known scare tactic that may yet backfire).

What has this to do with downloadsites? Well, downloadsites seem like a great idea; copyright holders distribute their games among a wider audience, the audience either likes the games or not, everybody happy. Except, of course, that the legal tigers of the middle-men are still roaming the internet, looking for anything that looks even remotely illegal.

I own an Amiga, but nowadays it is firmly lodged in a box. Luckily, there are legal freeware emulators out there, and a site called Back 2 the Roots, which publishes old commercial Amiga games, after of course obtaining a license from the copyright holders that permits them to do so.

Back to the Roots has been shut down on several occassions, after DMCA take-down notices from IDSA (now ESA), the organisation that claims to represent exactly the copyright holders that enable Back to the Roots to do what it does. Is that just ‘colateral’ damage in a world in which ‘piracy’ must be fought, or did we let the dogs out of the pen, and now they must be fed at all costs?

Back to the Roots, in the meantime, has moved to Norway, where DMCA take-down notices undoubtedly still reach them. But there, after the government burnt itself with Jon Johansen, the DA should be slightly more cautious about doing the dirty work of foreign companies.

First batch of Dutch spammers fined

Dutch telecommunications watch-dog Opta has fined its first batch of spammers since the introduction of the anti-spam ammendements to the telecom law late last year that granted this power to Opta. (Links lead to Dutch pages.)

Fourteen other small-scale spammers received warnings. According to Opta, the amount of complaints received about this group was too small to justify fines. Repeat-offenders will be fined.

Staple prices

I am getting a bit out of touch with what real things cost in real stores. Which is surprising, considering I could use being more price-conscious.

The past few months, I decided to save up the receipts I get at supermarkets, in order to be able to compare prices.

My expectation was that Albert Heijn would turn out to be significantly more expensive than other supermarkets. This did not turn out to be the case.

Things I noticed:

– A single store brand item could make up for the difference in prices of all other (inter)national brand items;

– Less than half of the things I buy are staples across supermarkets; of each supermarket, I seem to have an internal list of favourite things to buy there (as you can see further on, my staples over at least three months of shopping consist of 9 items, most of which have to do with drinking drugs, or feeding the cat).

– Receipts are not specific enough to make a complete comparisson. For instance, if I buy a liter of store brand milk to put in my coffee at store A, and a liter of a known brand, different type of milk, but with the same purpose, at store B, I should be able to compare these. For a better test it is therefore better to take notes, rather than save receipts.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the type of store determines the kind of shopping you do there. Writing a shopping list beforehand would probably save me a lot more money than choosing a particular store. On every receipt there were one or two impulse buys; cutting these out would probably save me more money than switching stores.

Especially the Aldi is an impulse-buy trap for me. Usually I have one or two items I want to buy there, yet end up going home with five or six. I do use these items, though, and they partly replace items I would have bought later.

Here’s my list of 9 items:

– 1 ltr. sterilized milk, creamy, Friese Vlag: 0,81 euro (C1000), 0,86 (Albert Heijn).

– Dubbelfris (fruit juice mix): 0,59 (C1000), 0,65 (Albert Heijn).

– 1 ltr. chocolate milk (Nutricia): 0,89 (De Deen, C1000, Albert Heijn).

– 1.5 ltr. coca Cola: 0,91 (C1000), 0,95 (De Deen, Albert Heijn).

– 0,5 ltr. skimmed yoghurt (different brands): 0,47 (Albert Heijn), 0,54 (C1000)

– 1 ltr. sterilized milk, somewhat creamy: 0,72 (C1000), 0,79 (Albert Heijn)

– Tortellini: 1,99 (C1000, Albert Heijn)

– Max Havelaar coffee (250 gr.): 1,95 (Albert Heijn), 1,97 (C1000).

– Whiskas catfood, tin, may be different types: 0,69 (De Deen), 0,75 (Albert Heijn)

Another comparison: can of beer, Hertog Jan: 0,72 euro; can of beer, Grolsch: 0,69 euro; can of beer, store brand (Euroshopper): 0,37 euro. Although the former two taste better, the store brand is not so much worse that I would never drink it. It is better than some other brands I could mention, like Amstel. Oops!

As for why tortellini is a staple (in case you wondered): it is fairly easy to make a complete meal using tortellini, tinned or jarred vegatables with sauce, and a salad. So it is the sort of meal I fall back on when I am in a hurry, or when I don’t feel like cooking.

Further replies to E.U. copyright consultation

In an earlier post I mentioned the five contributions to the EU Copyright Consultation that I knew about. In the meantime, the EU Commission staff has not sat still, and has now published a full list of all submitted documents (most in English). 134 stakeholders have sent in their opinions on the matter; 126 of these are authorised for publication.

I have yet to leaf through this stack; one notable private person is Sir Cliff Richard, who has recently been lobbying for a US like extension of so-called “recording rights”. Sir Cliff’s first recordings (Living Doll among them) will become public domain in a few years. Tic-tac, tic-tac. (Unlike what the press usually reports, this does not mean you can publish those songs for free–regular copyrights on lyrics and melody will still be in full force.)

As an aside, I must say I find the US copyfighters, whose vocal and well-spoken members number in the dozens, have been remarkably quiet in this respect. I wonder if some misplaced shyness has prevented them from speaking up. Misplaced, because one of the most devastating changes in US copyright law, the Mickey Mouse-extension of 1998, was passed under the guise of harmonization with international copyright laws. To help prevent a seasaw of harmonizations (proponents of the recording rights extension are explicitely citing the overextended US recording rights–though of course they do not mention the fact that these rights were overextended), US copyfighters could have been a little bit more vocal in the E.U. copyright debate; as authors who have some protection in the E.U., they are stakeholders too.

So far, I only know of two North-American copyfighters who have entered the debate; both of them Canadian, and both drawn to the debate after I had told them about it.

Man fails Turing test

Hm, I wonder why this wasn’t on the news. Anyway, Reinder at Waffle caught it: man fails Turing test.

Letters on copyright

“Fourteen years ago, at the first publication of these letters, the important case of authors versus readers–makers of books versus consumers of facts and ideas–had for several years been again on trial in the high court of the people.”

(Letters on International Copyright, by Henry Carey, 1868, available at Project Gutenberg.)

Digital Durability

My part-time boss asked me to look into archival solutions. Quite soon I stumbled upon a Dutch government plan to make sure all its branches posses the knowledge of how to archive digital documents.

The people behind the plan have even set up a website, called Digitale Duurzaamheid (“Digital Durability”), which has all kinds of links to handy digital documents about durability.

Being in a bit of a hurry, I decided to click the link to “best practices”, and follow further links to digital documents about best practices of several departments. Unfortunately, those links all ended with 404s.

EU Copyright Consultation replies

Over a month ago the deadline expired for the Consultation on the review of EU legislation on copyright and related rights, an initiative to consult “interested parties” about further harmonization in the European Union.

The site promised to publish the replies, but has remained silent since.

I know of the following public replies (and a private one that I won’t publish):

EDR/FIPR/VOSN

FFII

Jeroen Hellingman/Project Gutenberg (PDF)

Branko Collin (PDF)

Do you know any more? Post them in the comments.

Silent Majority

Read on Usenet: “I wish the silent majority would shut up for once.”

Steve Ballmer’s $100 PC

Steve Ballmer, the Monkey Man from Microsoft, proposed a while ago that PC makers should make computers that cost no more than 100 US$.

Now Slashdot reports that an outfit called SolarPC has taken up the gauntlet and produced Steve Ballmer’s $100 PC.

Of course, due to the prohibitive costs of popular operating systems, which shall remain nameless, because Steve Ballmer produces them, the pc is shipped with GNU/Linux.