26 July 2010

Link Sausages Slouch Toward Bethlehem (PA)

Just slouching out of the weekend, here...

  • FOREIGN POLICY, Jul/Aug 2010 (cover)Given that ComiCon was this past weekend, one might think that there would be jokey magazine covers with pictures of supervillains on them, and that superheroes would be ready to respond. Unfortunately, the cover to the right is no joke; and those aren't fictional or comic supervillains... they're all too real. And Foreign Policy doesn't have a sense of humor to start with.

    Conversely, ComiCon didn't cover Darth Vader's second career, probably because it was on the opposite coast.

  • At the Sun-Times, a rather shortsighted piece by Andy Ihnatko extols a forthcoming effort to impose "reasonable" digital rights management. Even if it works, it will be a bad thing... because it will establish a hackable/crackable/subpoeanable/purposefully accessible central registry of what content one owns. I shudder to think about what that means in terms of "targeted advertising opportunities," even if it doesn't contain printed matter (and, eventually, it will — the economics of the situation basically demands it). The less thought about being labelled a subversive due to the contents of one's library, the better; do you really believe that registering a copy of the (hypothetical) Anarchist's Cookbook Video Companion won't result in a van parked up the street filled with surveillance gear (and that's just the semilegitimate version... in East Central Redneckistan, The Last Temptation of Christ might trigger scrutiny from some of the nutcases we've got)?

    Then, too, it will positively kill the used-media/books marketplace — a "benefit" that I'm sure the proprietors have thought about, but that completely escaped Mr Ihnatko. Unless, of course, the DRM itself is so pathetically easy to crack that a teenager can do it in 48 hours, including creating the stripping code... just like DeCSS, or for that matter the Kindle "encryption" system. This is a consequence of the availability of the known-plaintext attack on multiple versions of the coded message; today's laptops have more computing power in their operating systems than it required to break Enigma, and if they can play that media, they've also got enough power to attack it.

    The real problem, as usual with counterfeiting and piracy, is an economic one, not a technological one. If you make it unprofitable to engage in piracy by keeping quality of products/services high, useability unrestricted, and prices low, piracy/counterfeiting becomes an occasional nuisance. Only when your ego — and the purported value of your brand, whether it be Members Only or Viagra — gets out of control does DRM (etc.) begin to look attractive. It's an offshoot of the mercantilism versus comparative advantage problem, but that's too theoretical for even this blawg.

    Mr Ihnatko's headline indirectly assumes that "reasonable DRM management" exists. It doesn't (and Members Only's experience in the 1980s is more than adequate proof). Get over it.

  • Extending from the preceding sausage, the Copyright Office insulted Hollywood today. Schade. Chapter 12 of the Copyright Act prohibits circumventing anticopying technology; that's why it's unlawful, for example, to circumvent the anticopying code on DVDs, even for legitimate academic and fair-use purposes. The Copyright Office, however, may exempt some categories of content from the anticircumvention provisions, and has done so this morning, ruling that the following uses do not violate Chapter 12:
    • making small extracts from DVDs for educational purposes, documentaries, comment and criticism, or noncommercial use
    • hacking phones and phone applications so they'll work on other phones and networks
    • reverse-engineering video games for security and testing
    • computer programs with dongle-based security when the dongle is damaged
    • eBook editions that block read-aloud functions

    I expect to hear the screams from Hollywood in about 45 seconds, and for a lawsuit to be filed by Friday.

  • Just when you thought it was safe to improperly classify documents because they would cause political embarassment, not serious or grave and forseeable damage to national security: Ellsberg II. And further than that, my excessively harsh and inclusive NDA will not allow me to say what I want to about this (arguably, I've already violated it once on this platter)... except that I would remind everyone that the oath of office is to protect the Constitution (not the presidency, not any political grouping, not any ideology, not any specific cause) against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
  • Paul Krugman tastefully understates the reason that there hasn't been, and probably won't be, effective action on climate change: greed and cowardice. Not to mention ignorance, but since the ignorant won't even read his column...