More deep wisdom from Eben Moglen

Some years ago, I went to the Free Software Foundation’s annual member meeting. It was well worth the trip, but Eben Moglen’s talk was worth the price of admission.

I have become interested in his talks over the years, and I intend to bring them to a wider audience. Here’s one recent talk from the HOPE 2012 conference (and the transcript is available as welllocal copy). This recording is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Undercut the CRB, broadcast liberated music instead

One area of copyright licensing I’ve found a lot of copyright reports get wrong is music licensing. Consider this quote from’s “Senator Wyden Introduces Bill To Bring Some Sanity To Webcasting Royalty Rates“:

We were just talking about how incredibly broken the system is for establishing webcasting rates, in part because the law itself explicitly says that the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) Judges should look to prevent disruptive innovation and preserve “prevailing industry practices.” In practice this has meant that basic webcasting rates, established by CRB judges, are usually somewhat insane and impossibly out of touch with reality. It’s only gotten worse over time — and the last round ended up being so crazy that everyone basically agreed to ignore those rates and set their own. And while those rates were lower than what the judges wanted to set, they’re still ridiculously high, significantly limiting the amount of webcasting available today. Even the leaders in the field, like Pandora, admit that with current rates, it’s basically impossible for the company to ever make a profit.

You’d think that this statement covers all webcasting of all music; one just can’t set up their own broadcasting station and avoid paying for major label tracks.’s reportage doesn’t explain organizations like Magnatune, a label which licenses all of their tracks to share, or Musopen which describes itself as “a non-profit dedicated to providing copyright free music content” (such as the Musopen lossless DVD). Every year there are more labels providing music in a variety of genres, all licensed to share in any medium.

The wealth of viable alternatives to major label tracks make me lose sympathy with those who want to become another corporate repeater station and complain about Copyright Royalty Board rates shutting them out. The time is now to establish something better that helps more artists struggling to be heard, artists who offer their work to you under amenable terms.

We know that this model works in the marketplace—Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) started in a comparable way, providing a repertoire of music for American radio stations to play under better terms than the competition from ASCAP, a competing royalty/licensing organization which had been around for 20 years. BMI undercut the competition from ASCAP at a time when ASCAP demanded “a fixed percentage of each station’s revenue, regardless of how much music the station played from ASCAP’s repertoire”.

Opus is RFC 6716!

Congratulations to the Opus team for their promising open audio codec and making a new Internet Engineering Task Force standard—RFC 6716!

Opus promises to provide a functional replacement for Speex and Vorbis because Opus can handle the jobs of both Speex (a voice codec) and Vorbis (a general-purpose audio codec). Of course, Opus support is already appearing in the free software world: GStreamer plugins, Firefox, and FFMpeg are already out with more on the way (VLC and Rockbox look particularly interesting to me).

Opus in Firefox should make it more likely to do voice over IP (VOIP) so you can chat with your friends in real-time using only a web browser you probably already have. In turn this means less need for VOIP apps and interesting integration with websites ahead.

Labor issues at Apple and Apple’s suppliers

This list was originally featured on another post.

If you needed a complete list of reasons why you shouldn’t do business with Apple, Richard Stallman tracks such reasons.

  • Apple’s Rotten Core mistreated workers from Apple’s own employees to the workers of upstream suppliers with “aggressive anti-union strategy”.
  • Blood on the Trackpads discusses Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” wherein Daisey poses as an investor, travels to the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen, China, and gains access to Foxconn workers who are eager to share their stories. One story was about an “employee [who] mangled his hand in a factory accident and was fired instead of compensated” and another where “[s]everal workers speak of an employee who died after working a 32-hour shift”. Daisey had exaggerated some of the points in his stories. Sadly for human rights sake, not everything Daisey said was an exaggeration. It is telling that many Westerners are so concerned with Daisey’s exaggerations than with the suffering of Chinese laborers.
  • Three Strikes Against Apple about Apple’s response circa the time of the multiple Foxconn suicides of 2011.
  • On 2012-06-29, Democracy Now! reported

    A labor rights group says it has uncovered “deplorable” conditions at plants in China that supply products to tech company Apple. The New York-based group China Labor Watch says a four-month investigation of 10 Apple suppliers revealed widespread abuses, including harmful working conditions and excessive overtime. The report found conditions in factories that produce cases for Apple products appeared particularly bad, with workers being exposed to loud noise and toxic chemicals. While the uproar over Apple’s suppliers has focused largely on factories owned by the manufacturer Foxconn, the group said it found violations in virtually all of Apple’s suppliers and said some companies mistreated workers more severely than Foxconn.
    Democracy Now! 2012-06-29

    China Labor Watch‘s report is available in English in HTML or as a PDF (local copy), and in Chinese as a PDF (local copy). The press release for the report is also online. There is coverage of China Labor Watch’s report in the mainstream news (1, 2, 3).

  • Apple’s American Workforce and the Service Economy by Matt Vidal

    Last year [2011], the article (Local copy) reports, “each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.” Yet, many of these employees are paid just $25,000 per year.
    Matt Vidal
    link to referenced article added

  • Richard Stallman’s reasons not to do business with Apple
  • Transcript of Democracy Now! episode where some of the discussion had to do with the human cost of Apple’s computers

    AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to talk about specifics and also go general. Jim Steele, the story of corporations tell a very major story about the United States, corporations like Apple and Boeing. Apple doesn’t manufacture one product in the United States?

    JAMES STEELE: That’s correct. That’s correct. I think some of the parts—some of the parts are made here, but basically the essential products aren’t. And we made the point in the book [The Betrayal of the American Dream]—we actually wrote about this before a lot of the news surfaced this year—that what was significant about what Apple has done is not just their working conditions in China, which were horrendous by the subcontractors over there, but what they did, they completely closed down manufacturing in this country after really less than a generation. The historic pattern in this country was a product would be invented here, a company would go into business, they would start making it. Up and down the line, you had a broad-based workforce for that product, from folks on the factory floor to the designers, to the salesmen, so on, to the stockholders who might be part of that company. But ultimately, you had this broad-based situation. Apple originally had some manufacturing in this country but very quickly, in less than a generation, just closed that down and shipped most things to China and other countries. And it’s just part of that pattern where jobs that once middle-class people had in this country are now gone.

Another reason not to do business with any proprietor—you don’t really control your computer. On September 11, 2012 TorrentFreak reported that Apple called Craig Donnelly, developer of a program that lets users more conveniently control a proprietary file-sharing application, to tell him that Apple accidentally approved his program for distribution on their app store. This wasn’t surprising because Apple has a history of rejecting file-sharing programs for distribution from their app store. Apple told Donnelly that they would later pull Donnelly’s application. TorrentFreak predicts users who bought the application, “will soon have it wiped from their iOS devices.”.

The lack of control over which programs you can keep on your computer is one reason why I don’t recommend using proprietary programs at all: Apple’s mistaken approval of a program for their app store should have no effect on users who installed the application from that app store. Computer owners should control their computers and decide which apps stay installed.

Obama personally oversees “kill list”

By way of’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 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. 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! 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 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.