Pottering about on copyright and Calcutta

I had to read this a second time, just to make sure somebody wasn’t pulling my leg:

The group is accused of erecting a massive structure in the shape of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the Hindu festival of the Goddess Durga, which celebrates her killing a demon and the victory of good over evil.

A statue of the 10-armed goddess sitting on a lion, stabbing a demon emerging from a buffalo, dominates the set, and organizers are planning to also include lifesized models of the bespectacled Potter and his companions.

“We had no clue that we had to seek permission from the author,” Santanu Biswas, secretary of FD Block Puja Committee of Salt Lake, the community group which designed and paid for artists to make the tent.

“Our lawyer in Delhi will appear before the court tomorrow to explain our stand.”

[Mr Biswas, there will always be a house for you wherever I live.]

That was yesterday. Today I see that reason has prevailed:

The community group building the model is said to be delighted with the ruling.

The wood and papier mache model, based on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, can now be used until 26 October when the Hindu festival celebrating the goddess Durga ends.

Whatever next? Descendants of Guy Fawkes claiming their dues on 5th November? Puh-leeze.

Fraunhofer Lines

Wikipedia defines Fraunhofer lines thus:

In physics and optics, the Fraunhofer lines are a set of spectral lines named for the German physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787–1826). The lines were originally observed as dark features (absorption lines) in the optical spectrum of the Sun.

The English chemist William Hyde Wollaston was in 1802 the first person to note the appearance of a number of dark features in the solar spectrum. In 1814, Fraunhofer independently rediscovered the lines and began a systematic study and careful measurement of the wavelength of these features. In all, he mapped over 570 lines, and designated the principal features with the letters A through K, and weaker lines with other letters.

A set of dark features in the optical spectrum of the Sun.


A set of 574 dark features identified by Joseph von Fraunhofer.

The same Fraunhofer after whom a certain Fraunhofer Society was named.

The same Fraunhofer Society who invented MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, commonly referred to as MP3.

The same MP3 patents at the heart of the Microsoft/Alcatel-Lucent patent lawsuit.

The same Microsoft whose Chairman, Bill Gates, presciently said in 1991:

“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today…A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose.”

The same patent system that allows patents like this one:

United States Patent Application 20060259306
Kind Code A1
Roberts; Timothy Wace November 16, 2006

Business method protecting jokes


The specification describes a method of protecting jokes by filing patent applications therefor, and gives examples of novel jokes to be thus protected. Specific jokes to be protected by the process of the invention include stories about animals playing ball-games, in which alliteration is used in the punch-line; a scheme for raising money for charity by providing dogs for carriage by Underground passengers; and the joke that consists in filing a patent application to protect jokes. A novel type of patent application, one that claims itself, and hence is termed `homoproprietary`, is disclosed.

Sean asked me what I thought of the Microsoft versus Alcatel-Lucent spat. Something I’ve been thinking about for a while. So what’s my answer?

Sean, I feel sad. I think we’re heading for a period of more and more intense patent lawsuits as the system crumbles under its own weight. I think we’re already at a stage where companies genuinely believe they have to have a bunch of patents in their armoury, in order to do battle with other companies with other patents in other armouries. I think we’ve already gone past the offensive/defensive/frivolous stage, we now have creatures like cross-patents and even self-referential ones.

I think there are people around who would prefer to employ patents rather than people.

And I think creativity will suffer as a result of all this. For a while.

As long as we have sets of dark features obscuring the Sun of our creativity, dark features that make up our broken patent system.

Look what they’ve done to my song, ma

[With thanks to Ms Safka, and to Malcolm for alerting me to this story via his post here.]

[An aside: Would you believe Melanie turned 60 earlier this week? Happy belated birthday.]

In a HotNews post earlier today, Steve Jobs opened up (pun intended) with his views on DRM. Well worth a read. For me, the most telling quote was this:

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

I am aware that there have been attempts to develop DRM systems for CDs, as discussed here. But they were (thankfully!) catastrophic failures.

This whole DRM thing, when put in the context of what Steve says, now reminds me of something else tangentially Apple-related.
Soon after iPods came out, we had this flurry of activity from some information security professionals saying things like “iPods should be banned from trading floors”. My natural counter at the time was “OK, provided we check every person in and out of the building, look into their briefcases or whatever passed for briefcases, scan and analyse their cellphones and PDAs, and so on.”

I likened it then to being asked to shut the attic window while the front door was not just wide open but barn-sized. I would not ban the iPods unless they “shut the barn door”.

And I guess that’s the way DRM now feels in the context of music. Shutting attic windows while barn doors  flap forlornly open.
Critics of Jobs may argue that CD sales are eroding fast and being replaced by digital downloads, and that stopping the illegal reproduction of digital tracks was therefore imperative. My answer?  No cigar. Not even close.

The damage done by poorly implemented DRM is damage that is being done to all and sundry. Damage that affects everyday people carrying out everyday activities. Damage that affects business and leisure, creativity and pleasure. Damage that extends way beyond music. Legitimate software doesn’t run. Legitimate subscribers can’t get access to digital things they’ve paid for. There are too many examples for me to continue to cite them here.

It’s been no secret that the drive for DRM has come from “content owners”. Even Bill Gates, someone who doesn’t automatically conjure up images of being the Godfather of Open, said so here a couple of months ago.

Take a look at Steve’s penultimate paragraph:

If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

It’s a classic Because Effect situation. We have numerous examples of publishers saying they’ve sold more books once they opened up to Google Search or Amazon Look Inside This Book or similar; numerous examples of musicians and bands being successful selling DRM-free downloads; I could go on but won’t.

The whole concept of an e-book failed, as far as I am concerned, for three reasons:

  • The hardware was too heavy.
  • The process was too unwieldy.
  • Reading a book was no longer a pleasure.

We appear to live in very strange times. Times when people in the hardware, software, media and entertainment industries spend enormous sums of money on making their products and services more “user-friendly”, more user-centred, simpler to use, more convenient. They know all the buzzphrases, so do their consultants. And vast sums get spent.

And then what do they do? They put poorly thought out DRM all over the place. Go figure.

Folks, this is not sustainable. We need new ways of paying for creative value. So go read Terry Fisher, go watch Larry Lessig, go surf Cory Doctorow, go pore over Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, go study the opensource movement. Go write to your local DJ. Go burn a disk.
Go do something.

Because the walls are coming down. They’re coming down.

Musing about Digital McCarthyism and Digital Nonviolence

While researching aspects of the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, I was reminded of the works of Richard B Gregg. While I had come across Gregg while reading Economics, I hadn’t appreciated quite how influential he’d been on King, or for that matter just how dedicated he’d been in seeking to understand Gandhi. If you don’t know about Gregg, do take a look at his Wikipedia entry.

I’m currently reading a 1938 Gregg pamphlet titled What is The Matter With Money? It’s a reprint from the Modern Review for May and June 1938. In it, Gregg spends a lot of time looking at trust, and some of the things he says jell with me.
I quote from Gregg:

…A money economy makes security depend on individual selfish acquisitiveness instead of on trust. Trust grows when men serve first and foremost the community and the common purpose. There has sometimes been an element of service and community purpose in the making of private fortunes, but it has not often been predominant. Money splits up community security and plays upon men’s fears, — fears of the future and of each other’s motives, fears that compel them to compete with one another to a harmful degree.

Gregg concludes the paragraph with an interesting assertion:

Money has worked on us so long that it is now hampering the further development of science, art and technology.

At reboot last year I spoke about the things that had to die before we can regain some of the things we’ve lost, in keeping with the conference theme of renaissance and rebirth. [Hey Thomas, what’s happening with reboot this year?]
Gregg’s words have served to remind me that concepts like identity and trust are fundamental parts of community and not individuality; culture too is a community concept, be it about arts or sciences or even forms of expression; community itself is a construct of relationships at multiple levels. Maybe the reason why much of what is now termed IPR (and its cater-cousin DRM) is abhorrent to me is that these things focus on the individual and not the community.

I am all for making sure that creativity is rewarded, in fact I believe that any form of real value generation should be rewarded; but not at the price of stifling the growth of culture and of community. This, I believe, is at the heart of what Larry Lessig speaks of, what Rishab Aiyer Ghosh speaks of, what Jerry Garcia believed in, what opensource communities believe in, what democratised innovation is about.

Culture and community before cash.

I recently bought a book by Gregg called The Power Of Nonviolence. When describing the book, the bookseller noted that it [the particular copy I was buying] was signed by Gregg; unusually, the recipient’s name had been erased and carefully at that; the bookseller surmised that it may have had to do with fears about McCarthyism.

You know something? At the rate we’re going, the battles about IPR and DRM are going to get uglier, to a point where we’re going to see something none of us wants. Digital McCarthyism. What we’re seeing in the software and music and film spaces already begins to feel like that.

We need to find a better way to work it out. And it makes me wonder. What’s the digital equivalent of Gandhian Nonviolence?


Rollie Cole pointed this out to me; we’re part of a Cook Report conversation that only Gordon can pull off. Thanks Rollie.

eJamming. I love it. Just possible that we will start seeing some real problems with today’s IPR law when things like this start happening. Rishab Aiyer Ghosh had better start dusting off his Cooking Pot Markets theory.