Obama personally oversees “kill list”

By way of DemocracyNow.org’s headlines: (link to referenced article added; local copy)

The New York Times is reporting President Obama personally oversees a “kill list” containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the secret U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said, “He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go.” Obama is also said to personally approve every addition to the expanding “kill list.” Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well teenage girls as young as 17 years old. The Times quotes former White House Chief of Staff William Daley about Obama’s decision to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, in Yemen. According to Daley, Obama called the decision to strike the U.S.-born cleric “an easy one.” Since April, the United States has carried out at least 14 drone strikes in Yemen and six in Pakistan. Over the weekend, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed at least five people.

How many more US citizens will Obama assassinate without due process? How many more will he kill because someone related to them said something uncomfortable?

How many more innocents will die in “signature strikes”? Marcy Wheeler of EmptyWheel.net in her recent Democracy Now! interview reminds us that a signature strike “means we’re shooting drones at people whose identity we don’t actually know. We’re shooting at them because they look like terrorists from the sky, because they seem to have certain levels of security. In other words, Brennan was not telling the full truth when he said that these are targeted killings. What they are, in fact, are not targeted. We don’t know who we’re shooting at.”.

Related reading:

How many times must one repeat a lie before it becomes the truth?

Chris Dodd, current spokesperson for the American movie lobbyist organization MPAA, has been caught lying about the American movie industry’s history. This is not the first time an MPAA spokesman tried to cover up an uncomfortable truth.

To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.Voltaire

Some years ago at Roger Ebert’s “Ebertfest” (formerly Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Movie festival) I reminded Dodd’s predecessor Jack Valenti (2 MPAA bosses before Dodd) of this history in the Pine Lounge at the Illini Union in Urbana, Illinois. Valenti lectured us on how horrible “piracy” is (really, copyright infringement, not killing people on boats).

I was first in line at the mic and said why Hollywood is where it is located now. I also pointed out a better way to seek license compliance: do this how the FSF does it — private talks first with reasonable offers aimed at seeking compliance not court dates, and public mentions for the non-compliant. This is an approach that doesn’t include jailing and threats of jailing, namecalling, pushing for laws that forgo civil liberties, or suing children. Others came to the mic and added more challenging points and questions for Valenti, pointing out how his perception of fair use didn’t match that of the courts or US law, and how his organization and its members are basically encouraging that which Valenti decries.

An Ebertfest later, I learned that we made quite an impression on Ebert. Ebert held another lecture in the Pine Lounge with a different lecturer. I knew someone who went to that lecture and he told me that Ebert introduced the speaker that year by warning the audience that some people gave some objectionable feedback to his previous guest. Ebert was reportedly unpleased by the audience response at the Valenti lecture.

Ebert might have merely been expressing that he knows what side his bread is buttered on, but Valenti was lying. The alleged harm unrestricted copying and distribution caused MPAA members was (and is) a myth — while he was giving that talk at any audience that would have him (I later saw Valenti on C-SPAN giving the same spiel to another audience at a California university) MPAA members were collectively making more money year after year. It turns out that MPAA member studios have been collectively setting profit records and the MPAA costs these studios more money than Americans cost them via illicit sharing with BitTorrent. No doubt, the “piracy” cry is merely a foot-in-the-door to help the MPAA pass anti-sharing laws that impinge on our civil liberties without effective debate. Any money spent on MPAA dues is merely the cost of doing business with the US Congress; this is what it takes to get control over the public via international trade agreements and laws like the DMCA, SOPA, and now CISPA.

Valenti would go on to call those who copied Hollywood’s movies terrorists when he said “We’re fighting our own terrorist war“, another inelegant bit of speech trying to conflate 12-year-olds copying a movie with those who kill people. Also, not likely to persuade the “terrorists” parents of his perspective. Not too surprisingly really, as this is the same man who told the US Congress on April 12, 1982, “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”.

Stop playing into their hands

The Copyright Royalty Board (in the US) sets the rates for webcasters playing corporate music in legal regimes that are compatible with US copyright. Webcasting is easy to do, easy enough for an individual with a computer and a modest network connection and many try to do this. But the rates the CRB charges are higher than a hobbyist can afford to pay. What to do? Stop playing into their hands.

Not long ago small webcasters complained about the rates and tried to exert public pressure to lower the rates. Higher rates were proposed and small webcasters complained that they’d have to shut down their webcasts because they couldn’t afford the new higher rates. Now there’s a Constitutional challenge facing the CRB. But there’s a problem with the challenge: even if it succeeds it fails.

TechDirt makes a good point that this challenge is, at best, a distraction over a detail:

At best, the courts will throw out the old rulings, and dismiss the judges… but that almost certainly will lead to the same, or a similar, panel of judges being immediately reappointed under the proper rules. And in the meantime, the more important detailed challenges to the actual webcasting rates or things like the constitutionality of the DMCA get left by the wayside….

But I’d like to take a different tack and consider this issue again from the perspective of why you shouldn’t walk into this problem in the first place.

Ultimately I’m not sympathetic to concerns over CRB prices because the goal is wrongheaded: I don’t value building another corporate music repeater. Collectively we have an opportunity to make sharable works resonate in our memories. But we’ll never get there unless we share those works.

When you choose to webcast major label music, you let the major labels decide your station’s fate. There’s considerable incentive for the labels (or their representative organizations) to control the competition. They don’t need you to publicize their work. Those tracks are heard every day by millions regardless of what you do. You won’t set yourself apart by repeating what is readily available from the major labels.

You could set your webcasting apart by working with the lesser-known artists who license their work to share. Magnatune.com licenses all their work on terms that don’t require any payment. There is lots of music distributed on comparable terms.

I understand that artistic works aren’t like functional works—one can substitute a free software office suite for a proprietary alternative, but one can’t exchange artistic works in the same way. I’ve heard that objection before but I think it’s a red herring because there is a more important principle at stake—what culture do you want: one where the terms of participation are set to keep you at bay, or one where you can share and build as a colleague? At some point you have to come to more practical thinking that gets to the heart of what you can afford to do and what you ought to be doing anyhow: building a culture in which we can all work and play. You can’t afford to do what the major labels do, besides. You should think about building a commons and teaching others to support a commons: work with those who work with you and support a culture built from works that let us treat each other on mutually amenable terms.

Major labels leverage copyright power to restrict their competition. Don’t play into their hands thinking you’ll build the next corporate megastation. You won’t, you’ll just be a corporate repeater until they shut you down for failing to pay their price.

Want honorable promotion through sharing? License your work to share!

TorrentFreak.com writes about Mark Diestler, a filmmaker who doesn’t mind illicit sharing of his latest movie, “The Inner Room”:

I would much rather have 500,000 downloads than 5,000, although our distributor may feel differently. The worst thing that can happen to a small film, any film for that matter, is to fall into obscurity. 500,000 people could download it and hate it, but in my mind that is better than then not seeing or hearing about it all.

Diestler is correct as far as this goes. Setting aside for the moment the poor choice in wording with “piracy“: Tim O’Reilly said, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”. But Diestler doesn’t go far enough—”The Inner Room” is not licensed to share. Or, as TorrentFreak.com puts it, “When the “The Inner Room” was released the people behind the movie even toyed with the idea of pirating the film themselves to gain exposure. But eventually they decided to leave that up to the pros.”.

Without licensing the work to be shared, Diestler could drag any sharer into court on copyright infringement. The poor defendant would have to point to articles like TorrentFreak’s to convince a judge that Diestler doesn’t mind the sharing when it suits him.

A more honest approach is to license the work to be shared and benefit from the publicity that comes from working with your audience as partners rather than holding the legal sword of Damocles over your audience.

We’ve seen this kind of behavior before: the Winans and their movie “Ink” treated the public in the same way: the copyright holder wants the free promotion that comes with illicit sharing and the power to sue anyone who shares the movie illicitly.

If any work could be easily relicensed to allow sharing with no foreseeable reduction in income, it’s works like these. People who pay aren’t paying because they can’t get the work any other way. They’re paying because they were treated properly; part of treating your audience well means your audience does not have to fear losing a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Louis C.K. turns a quick profit treating his customers well

Some years ago I attended a talk at “Ebertfest”, movie reviewer Roger Ebert’s annual movie festival held in Urbana, Illinois. The talk was held in the Illini Union’s Pine Lounge by the now late MPAA chief Jack Valenti. Valenti used a series of half-true emotional arguments to justify increased copyright power, maximal copyright length, and he also took some time to reject the notion of fair use.

After Valenti’s talk, I was first at the mic. I took my time to rebut as many of his distortions as I could recall. I ended on the point that the MPAA and its member companies didn’t have to treat people badly by suing copyright infringers. The Free Software Foundation has shown time and again that copyright infringers can be dealt with another way: seeking compliance not punishment.

Now comedian Louis C.K. seems to be doing well by dealing with infringers another way: ignoring the copyright infringers and treating his customers well.

Four days ago Louis C.K. released “Live at the Beacon Theater”, an hour-long standup comedy show he funded himself and sold online for $5.00 without digital restrictions management (DRM). It’s as simple as you pay $5.00 and you download (or stream) a copy of the video file. If you download the file you can play it anytime you like on any of your devices without subscription, registration, or notification.

Someone posted a copy of the concert recording to The Pirate Bay where apparently thousands of people have been seeding the file, sending copies of the file to others.

In a statement, Louis C.K. said he recouped the cost of production ($250,000) in the first 12 hours. Four days later he earned $200,000 profit.

There is no indication Louis C.K. is going after the copyright infringers. He acknowledges the infringers in interviews (misidentifying the infringement as “stealing”) but never castigates them. I suspect he knows that there’s no way to know how many people in the torrent are actually copyright infringers, how many purchased the recording, and how many never would have purchased the recording regardless of its price (thus no forgone money there). I think he also knows that he only stands to lose by treating the infringers with scorn.

Years ago, author Stephen King tried releasing a novel a chapter at a time where successive chapters would only be written and released if King reached a sales quota with the previous chapter.

Free software activist Richard Stallman gave a talk at MIT on April 19, 2001 where an audience question prompted a discussion what King had said and offered:

STALLMAN: Yes, it’s interesting to know what he [Stephen King] did and what happened. When I first heard about that, I was elated. I thought, maybe he was taking a step towards a world that is not based on trying to maintain an iron grip on the public. Then I saw that he had actually written to ask people to pay. To explain what he did, he was publishing a novel as a serial, by installments, and he said, “If I get enough money, I’ll release more.” But the request he wrote was hardly a request. It brow-beat the reader. It said, “If you don’t pay, then you’re evil. And if there are too many of you who are evil, then I’m just going to stop writing this.”

Well, clearly, that’s not the way to make the public feel like sending you money. You’ve got to make them love you, not fear you.

SPEAKER: The details were that he required a certain percentage — I don’t know the exact percentage, around 90% sounds correct — of people to send a certain amount of money, which, I believe, was a dollar or two dollars, or somewhere in that order of magnitude. You had to type in your name and your e-mail address and some other information to get to download it and if that percentage of people was not reached after the first chapter, he said that he would not release another chapter. It was very antagonistic to the public downloading it.

Louis C.K. and Stephen King are both famous artists. Both are willing to work to satisfy an audience hungry for new material. King’s approach didn’t go over well with his audience and that experiment quickly died. Louis C.K.’s approach was so successful he concluded, “I’m really glad I put this out here this way and I’ll certainly do it again.”.

Update 2011-12-28: On December 21, 2011 Louis C.K. wrote that he broke $1M 12 days after he released his show.
Louis C.K.'s PayPal account screenshot.

Another reason why all your software must be free software: Carrier IQ

Freedom is participation in power.Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wikipedia’s summary of Carrier IQ rootkit events to date:

In November 2011, researcher Trevor Eckhart claimed that Carrier IQ was logging information such as location without notifying users or allowing them to opt out, and that the information tracked included detailed keystroke logs, potentially violating US Federal law.

Carrier IQ did what proprietors usually do—bully the investigator. But Eckhart was smart, got in touch with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and defended himself. Now Carrier IQ is backing down.

CNN has an article on this scandal in which they bury the lede. What’s the real solution here? Simple: all your software must be free software, software that respects your freedom to run, share, and modify the program. Freedom (by any reasonable definition, such as Cicero’s above) is denied to you by design under proprietary software.

Why?

  • Because free software is the only way to keep programmers, resellers, and anyone else who can program a computer honest and since it’s likely you don’t program (most computer users don’t program) you’ll need to become accustomed to hiring an expert to look out for your interests in the same way you hire a plumber, electrician, doctor, or lawyer to do their expert work. Face it, the computer is a part of your everyday life now. This means you need permission to make all of your computers do what you want them to do, not what some proprietor like Apple, Nokia, or Carrier IQ says they should do.
  • Because apparently you can’t trust proprietors. Consider what Apple told CNN in the aforementioned article: [Apple] says it stopped supporting it in the latest version of iOS and will completely eliminate Carrier IQ from all iPhones and iPads in an upcoming software update. Apple’s claim is entirely unverifiable. Without software freedom nobody has any idea if any Apple update will remove Carrier IQ or replace Carrier IQ with some other program that does the same job. The only way to figure that out is doing the kind of work Eckhart did—reverse engineering—which is time-consuming and runs the risk of facing Apple’s hyper-litigiousness. Apple is no stranger to bullying people who want to take control of their computers (1, 2, 3 to name a few that happen to involve the EFF). Your trust has already been betrayed, so there’s no reason to believe a proprietor is on your side. There’s no reason to believe any proprietor will become as trustworthy as an expert who competes by revealing as much to you as you want to know. If you learn to program, you can become your own expert and diagnose and fix your computers anytime you wish. Deciding for yourself which jobs are too big or just right for you should be your decision to make. Therefore you need software freedom.

This is an ethical and social issue, not really a technological issue. The heart of this issue is not how to increase software development efficiency, it’s how to build a society where all computer users live in freedom. The pursuit of software freedom is what the free software movement is all about.

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“Lending” e-books is a DRM scam: More control for publishers means less freedom for readers

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon.com is starting a digital book lending service; readers will be able to download a copy of a book and keep it on their reading device for as long as they want before “returning” it (which really means making it unavailable to the reading device, and thus the reader) by “borrowing” another book. How could this possibly hurt you?

  • You lose rights compared to physical books—a physical book may be read at any time in any place, lent again and again. E-books with DRM (digital restrictions management, also called “digital rights management” by those using the publisher’s propaganda) are under someone else’s control (publisher, reseller, etc.). No matter where the control originates it is not you, the reader. Amazon.com demonstrated this quite effectively in 2009 when Amazon took back legally obtained copies of George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” from Amazon Kindle readers. While this is certainly good enough reason to never do business with amazon.com, it’s also good enough reason to never deal with DRM-restricted media.
  • You lose publishing and reading opportunities at the whim of a monopolist—businesses frequently change their terms of acceptable behavior. Today one thing is acceptable and tomorrow that same behavior is objectionable. In 2010 amazon.com’s change in behavior meant that Selena Kitt’s erotic novels went from being publishable to no longer published so for her readers, Kitt’s novels became less available and when would-be customers inquired about the missing novels they were chastised about their reading choices. You should not let others choose what you are allowed to read and you should not have to run an acceptability gauntlet to read what you want. When you take on DRM-encumbered works, only the DRM publisher can set that work as free as its non-DRM equivalent, hence the DRM publisher becomes a monopoly for anyone seeking to do business with publishers/resellers yet not suffer the ill effects of DRM.
  • You could be monitored by the reading device—a device that has as little as a GPS unit and a wireless network device could easily figure out where you are and report your coordinates plus information on what you’re doing via the network to someone else (say, a publisher or reseller). That is enough to effectively track your movements and convey some sense of what is on your e-book reader. By contrast, paper books have no inherent means to report information back to anyone else.
  • DRM only works with proprietary software—if users had the freedom to share and modify DRM software, some users could easily delete the privacy-busting code and keep the privacy-respecting code, then share the upgraded software with everyone else. Proprietary software doesn’t respect your freedom to share and modify, so DRM is a virtual guarantee that you’re working with software you cannot trust to do only what you want. Since you don’t need computers or software to read a book, you shouldn’t use proprietary software.
  • Commercial substitutes for libraries do you no good—if “borrowing” books from commercial interests in this way becomes seen as normal, there will be greater ground to ignore benefits from the local public library system. Public libraries, subsidized by taxes, often buy many copies of books and lend them to patrons (thus putting to rest the notion that DRM is a publisher’s way of making more money; DRM is often about the control publishers/resellers can impose on readers). Our libraries can be run locally by local citizens for collective benefit and libraries treat their patrons with respect, in part by destroying lending records after patrons return borrowed items. None of this need be the case for businesses. Profit-seeking businesses will run their organizations anywhere in the world hiring the cheapest labor available which leads to exploitation and abuse. Records of who copied which book will not be deleted. These records will be leaked long after a customer has finished dealing with them, needlessly bringing disastrously embarrassing results for those who do business with them. Public libraries shouldn’t do business with e-book vendors lest they become a bulwark for privacy-busting themselves.

Related Links

  • The Right to Read—Richard Stallman’s famous dystopic short story on where we’re headed with DRM.
  • Defective by Design—learn more about digital restrictions in a variety of devices and take direct political action.

Free software still creating more pressure to release more free software

In or around October 26, 2011, Apple released source code to their software (called “ALAC”) for compressing and decompressing audio without any loss of audio quality. Apple chose the Apache License version 2.0 for this code which includes a patent license. This was a good thing to do because it helps users with ALAC files use free software to maintain those files. But FLOSS users already had this functionality because on March 5, 2005 David Hammerton published a simple decoder written in C under a very permissive FLOSS license based on the reverse engineering Hammerton and Cody Brocious had completed without any documentation of how the codec worked.

Hammerton and Brocious’ decoder has long been incorporated into a widely-used audio/video library (libavcodec). This code has also helped to make an Apple Lossless encoder to make Apple Lossless files. So for years popular audio/video programs based on libavcodec could handle Apple Lossless files; standalone hardware devices one could purchase at electronic shops (like Plex, XBMC, and Boxee) and popular software players like VideoLAN Client and MPlayer all take advantage of libavcodec.

The FLOSS community had achieved a high degree of interoperability without sacrificing software freedom, and done so on its own terms years before Apple contributed anything. I don’t know why Apple chose to release its code as FLOSS but I believe this is another instance where free software created pressure to release proprietary software as free software.
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Wealthy, powerful celebrities who get inadequate levels of bad press for their misdeeds

I’m certain this list is incomplete.