Streams copyright symposium available

The streams of the recently held copyright symposium at the Berlage Exchange are now available, unfortunately only in Windows Media format. The videos are distributed using the Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial Creative Commons license, which may mean that subtitles are Verboten!

Phone blues

Called up a company that wanted to sell me something. Got a message: “Het nummer is bezet. U kunt gratis de vijf toetsen.” (This number is busy. You can press the five for free.)

I did not dare press any of the other keys on my phone.

Symposium on alternatives to copyright

I managed to acquire a ticket for the Bits of Freedom/XS4All organized symposium on Alternatives to Copyright after all.

The two main alternatives named were levies, which already exist in the Netherlands, and DRM, which is more or less the road the E.U. wants to take.

The day was closed with a debate among four parliamentarians. They started their debate in true political style, by using a lot of words to say exactly nothing.

However, Erik Huizer, part-time professor of Internet Applications and director of many things at NOB, lead the debate skillfully, and whether it was because of him or because the politicians were willing to speak out, the more remarkable statements of the day came from this part of the symposium:

– State Secretary Piet Hein Donner does not much feel like discussing the future of copyright. According to a letter published two days before the symposium, he feels things can stay pretty much the same as they are now. The debaters unanimously disagreed with him, and especially Donner’s fellow party member Nicolien Vroonhoven was adamant that the government and parliament should go ahead as agreed before, and study what changes need to be made to copyright in the digital era.

– The two members of right wing parties felt that less weight should be given to privacy in light of DRM systems: “Consumers are not defenseless; they are capable of making their own choices.” The left, however, was doubtful; in reality, Kees Vendrik of the Green Party posited, the consumer’s freedom to engage in a DRM enforced contract with huge corporations is a lopsided affair.

It was of course the opening speaker of the day, Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, who succesfully invoked a consumer’s right to privacy when winning court cases for Kazaa and Zoekmp3.

– Finally, surprisingly all four parliamentarians present felt that television programmes that have been paid for out of public funds should be more or less copyright free. The members of parliament promised to ask the government to make this happen.

Links and sources: Dutch parliamentarians favour releasing public broadcast images into public domain (Digital Media Europe, English), Privacy belangrijk? Dan maar geen internet (Webwereld, Dutch), Symposium ‘Alternatieve modellen voor auteursrecht’ (Tweakers.net, Dutch).

Is DRM bad?

First let me point you to a very thoughtful essay by Cory Doctorow on the evils of DRM. (It’s called “Microsoft Research DRM talk”; in case the link is broken, you can probably find it elsewhere.)

When copyfighters hear about DRM, they are supposed to start foaming at the mouth, as a sort of pavlovian reaction to the evils of Big Copyright. At least, I started to foam at the mouth whenever I heard the word DRM.

Then, I was asked to join an effort to protest DRM with the European Commission, and to help write a piece from the point of view of Project Gutenberg on DRM. Perhaps if I had remembered Cory’s talk, I would have had enough amunition to crank out a good text. Problem is, I had forgotten all about it, and had to come up with my own arguments.

What I found out is that I do not have any real arguments against DRM. Sure, it will enable others to write their own private copyright laws, but nobody is forced to buy their works in the first place. As a matter of fact, works that aren’t encumbered by DRM are likely to do better in the market, because they are more usable. Would you buy a car that refuses to drive into certain streets? Would you buy bread that you are only permitted to eat between 12 and 14 o’clock?

But the thing that struck me the most, is that DRM is both the result of what we asked of Big Copyright, and the result of what we presented as the right way.

What we asked of Big Copyright: that they take technological instead of legal measures to lock up their content. Hence, DRM.

What we showed Big Copyright as the Right Way: that if an application has sufficient non-evil purposes (cp. the Betamax case), that application by itself cannot be deemed evil. Hence, DRM.

(And so the truly evil thing is laws that prevent one from breaking or circumventing DRM locks. Laws that make that illegal should be struck down as soon as possible.)

Fly away, little blog entries, fly away!

The volatile nature of blog entries makes me cringe. I am someone who gets physically ill if he has to throw stuff out. “But it is still useful!”, I cry, while friends pry useless crap from my hands.

Because most bloggers live for the day, their archives (one wonders why they even have such things) are marvels of bad usability. And not just their archives. Seriously, I have seen web usability experts wander into blogs with a lamp on their helmet, and supplies worth two weeks of food and water, only never again to come out.

Still, the mere existence of blog archives (and the fact that some blogs allow for categorizing, which is only really handy if you want to look for older entries and limit your search) would seem to suggest that I am not the only one who has trouble to let go.

(Yes, I know the software behind the page that you are currently reading is crap too; there is little I can do about it do, as I am using a free blog hosting service.)

Update (7-1-2006): when I refer to “this blog”, I refer to my old web-log.nl blog. In the meantime I have moved to a self-hosted WordPress blog, which naturally has its own set of usability problems, different from web-log.nl’s.

Plug-pulling

Leon Krijnen of daily BN/De Stem gets all grandfatherly and talks about the good old days (Dutch), when the internet was young, the air was clean and sex was dirty. (Well, perhaps not the two latter things but … ah well, you get the point.)

He recounts how “Every Saturday morning, round about 9 A.M., the web server went down. Only after about five weeks the cause of this was discovered. The hardware had been put in the cellar of a media castle in Sittard, where the cleaning lady pulled the plug every weekend to be able to put in the plug of the vacuum cleaner. When she had finished vacuuming, she would neatly put the web server’s power plug back in, and by the time the alarmed system administrator had arrived, she had long left the premises. The logs of the server would fail to reveal any hint as to the cause of these mysterious outages, because even Linux is incapable of doing much logging when all electricity is gone.”

(Via R-Win.)

A house for 2000 euros

Sears, what I presume to be the Bijenkorf of the US, used to sell pre-fab houses for around two-thousand dollar from the 1900s through the 1940s. You would get your IKEA-type catalog, pick a house, order it, and all the materials would be delivered to what would at one point in time become your door.

With the inflated prices for building or buying a house in the Netherlands, such a scheme would probably work here too.

To evil!

“They say that all that’s required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. If only it were that easy. I spent October eating nachos and playing Kingdom Of Loathing in my duvet, yet still no sign of several-headed whores of Babylon waving triumphantly from Buckingham Palace’s balcony. Evil must try harder.”

Thus begins Dany o’Brian’s column To Evil! of September. To Evil! is a monthly column in which the author tries to find the evilest IT personality of the past month. Foony Stoof!

A richer world

Today, I am proud to be one of the Distributed Proofreaders. We just posted a bumper crop of unique etexts to Project Gutenberg. Everything from “The Psychology of Sex” to “Slave Narratives”, from the “Poems” of Jonathan Swift to “Historie de la Révolution française”, from “Punch” to “Scientific American”. Most of these are hard texts, that really show the strenght of DP. By distributing the workload, we make difficult projects manageable. And by making projects manageable, we are creating a rich soil for them. Fifty public domain texts have become available, accessible, rippable, burnable, searchable, mixable, quotable, learnable, giveable, malleable, tellable, et ceterable.

You can find a list of links to the fifty books at http://www.gutenberg.nl/press/dp-5000-pr.

Untitled tragedy

Coltan is probably something you have never heard of, but it would change your daily life if it got taken away from you. It is a mineral used in many electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptops. Eighty percent of the world’s supply comes from Congo, although apparently you do not want to know how. If you do, Bill Hammack wrote a small column about it. (via the Project Gutenberg newsletter).