Wal-Mart closes their DRM-riddled music store: paying for temporary music?

Ars Technica reports that on August 28, 2011 Wal-Mart will close its online music store where Wal-Mart sold many DRM-encumbered music tracks.

DRM is properly defined as “Digital Restrictions Management” because of its effect on the user, as you’ll see. Publishers like to defend the notion of restricting how users use digital media so they define the acronym as “Digital Rights Management” emphasizing their power over the user as their right.

In 2004 Wal-Mart started selling music tracks encumbered with DRM. Thus any of these tracks are unplayable without using a special proprietary player program that communicates with a Wal-Mart DRM server; the player program essentially asks the DRM server ‘is it okay for this user to play this track now?’ and the server either responds ‘yes’ (and the player plays the media) or ‘no’ (and the player doesn’t play the media). Ostensibly if there is no response at all, that is treated as a ‘no’. This keeps the user dependent on Wal-Mart for playing the tracks they purchased and allows Wal-Mart to closely track who plays what when.

So one might wonder what will happen when Wal-Mart shuts down its DRM servers? Unless Wal-Mart publishes a means to free the music from the DRM, their earliest music customers will have purchased something they can no longer play; music purchases were effectively highly-supervised rentals.

It’s reasonable to expect a CD to play years after purchase. Many people have CDs older than 2004 which still work. One should expect no different from any other digital media. But thanks to a freedom-robbing scheme designed to track and restrict the user’s activity, this won’t be true for Wal-Mart’s earliest digital music shoppers.


There should be consumer protection legislation making it illegal to publish DRM-encumbered media without providing a means for everyone to break the DRM. It should not matter if you were the original purchaser or not.

Wal-Mart’s DRM story is just another in a long and growing line of stories about DRM where the general public are harmed in the end (1, 2, 3, and more).

Your investment and use of in the media is more important than any DRM-supporting publisher will tell you. DRM schemes rely on proprietary software: if DRM enforcement programs were instead written to respect your freedoms to share and modify the program, thus revealing to programmers how the DRM scheme worked, programmers could figure out how to break the scheme and release a program that all users could use to free their encumbered media. Then the DRM scheme wouldn’t restrict the users. Your privacy and computer security are at risk when you use proprietary software because you can’t determine everything that the program will do (even if you get a skilled programmer to work on your behalf). This means you can’t tell if the program is monitoring your keystrokes and mouse clicks, or sending a image of what’s on your screen to another computer over the network thus allowing someone to monitor what’s on your screen.

Your first sale right, which allows you to resell the tracks, is at risk because DRM restricts your ability to exercise first sale right. DRM schemes require the DRM owner to release the track to someone else, therefore you cannot effectively resell the tracks without DRM owner cooperation. What if the DRM owner doesn’t want you to resell the tracks at all? What if resale is only allowed to a particular person or at a particular time?

Never get involved with DRMed media. To protect your own interests, you should avoid any media with copy-prevention schemes you personally cannot crack.

Why didn’t Obama’s strike team bring Osama bin Laden to justice?

As Democracy Now! headlines described today: A trial is underway in Cambodia for the four most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge. The former officials face charges that include crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture. The Khmer Rouge is believed to have killed at least 1.7 million Cambodians during the late 1970s. All four of the accused have plead “not guilty” to the charges against them. Stephen Rapp is the U.S. ambassador at large for war crime.

This is such a traumatic event in the history of this country that touched every single person here, a quarter of the population murdered and a country that was turned back to the year zero. An understanding of why it happened and how it happened is really critical to going forward, and that is why there is such an outpouring of interest here and why it is so important that the international community support this trial to the end.Stephen Rapp, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crime Issues

There is “an outpouring of interest” in the crime of 9/11 as well and “it is so important that the international community support [a] trial to the end” for what happened then too. But instead of a trial for Osama bin Ladin, who we’re told is one of the masterminds of 9/11, President Obama had bin Ladin killed. One must wonder why murder is a preferable outcome to bringing him in alive and trying him in open court with evidence presented against him.

Update 2011-10-02: President Obama’s CIA claims to have 52 separate photos and videos of Osama bin Laden’s body, the U.S. raid that killed him, and his burial at sea, but refuses to release them because publication might inspire terror attacks on U.S. targets according to ABC news.

Always give credit where credit is due!

Nina Paley, author of Sita Sings the Blues, just released another animation called “Credit is Due (The Attribution Song)”; another in a series of Minute Memes. She’s released a few of these shorter animations and they’re all informative and fun.

According to the page for this video on archive.org, this video is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. According to the footer on QuestionCopyright.org our content is released to the public and can be considered to be in the public domain: you may copy, share, excerpt, modify, and distribute modified versions of this and other pages from QuestionCopyright.org.. It’s unclear precisely how this work is licensed to you or if this work is under copyright at all. I can only guess that you are free to share unaltered copies of the work, transcode the work in its entirety to make it playable for yourself and others, and distribute copies of the work in its entirety with some reasonable amount of attribution (the more restrictive of the two sets of permissions). Until the two pages above are in sync I cannot be sure.

Update (2011-06-30): User “camille” (whom I believe is QuestionCopyright.org’s own Camille E. Acey) replied to my post about the confusing licensing on QuestionCopyright.org’s blog post about this video. Ms. Acey said that there is no licensing confusion because it is impossible to actually *put* anything directly into the public domain unless it originates from a government agency. I believe that is untrue: I believe all American copyright holders may choose to place a copyrighted work into the Public Domain thereby forgoing all copyright power for that work. I also believe if this were not the case the many lawyers at the Creative Commons would not have worked on their public domain dedication (deprecated since 2010-10-11) and then later reworked their public domain dedication into CC0 in order to broaden the usefulness of the dedication. Given Ms. Acey’s belief about placing works into the PD, she continued our statement that everything on our site is public domain is just a stance, not a legal reality which I believe only further confuses the issue. In the interest of correcting my own misunderstanding, I asked for Ms. Acey to cite sources for her belief. She cited How can I put a work into the public domain? which says exactly nothing to defend the errant notion that it is impossible to actually *put* anything directly into the public domain unless it originates from a government agency. My latest contribution to the QuestionCopyright.org thread awaits moderation. Until corrected I maintain the licensing confusion I list above remains. A copyright reform organization should not be unclear about licensing.

Also see:

Civil liberties require software freedom

FreePress.net, a media reform organization, occasionally sends out emails and hosts feedback campaigns where they ask people to contact someone in an organization which is doing something wrong. In many situations their publicity efforts are right-minded and centered on drawing attention to policy changes that can be corrected by publicizing the wrongdoing—in 2003 the FCC said they’d listen to Americans give their views on media concentration but then FCC Chairman Michael Powell said he’d attend only one hearing in Richmond, Virginia (in order to save money on hotel rooms and airline tickets), the American public was outraged. The public understood that this issue had the potential to adversely affect most citizens (regardless of political position). A series of well-attended town hall style hearings followed but Chairman Powell was absent for most of these hearings, clearly displaying his disrespect for the public’s views. FreePress.net (which started in late 2002) had begun and helped formulate a principled message illustrating why media concentration is bad news for everyone but the media conglomerates consolidating their power.

FreePress.net’s most recent campaign targets Apple Computers’ Steve Jobs, calling him out for Apple’s control over iPhone cameras and a related process Apple seeks to patent. FreePress.net’s campaign letter begins “Apple wants to control the camera on your phone.” and goes on:

The maker of the iPhone wants to patent a sensor that would detect when people are using their phone cameras to do things like film concerts — and give corporations the power to shut them down.

This is a compound statement and therefore less than clear; there are two issues bundled together here, both of which a tech-savvy organization should oppose.
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Obama-Bush profits again: U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion but it was probably stolen, wars continue apace

Remember when $6.6 billion went “missing” after huge quantities of $100 bills were shipped to Iraq in 2003-2004?
Now President Barack Obama’s government are, according to Sydney Morning Herald author Paul Richter, “finally closing the books on the program that handled funding for reconstruction in postwar Iraq” and it’s a doozy: President “no looking back”‘s council tells us the money was probably stolen. I know, incredibly obvious, right?

Twenty-one giant C-130 Hercules cargo planes each carrying $2.4 billion cash went to Iraq and somehow the cargo went unaccounted afterwards. Stuart Bowen, special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, said the missing $US6.6 billion might be ”the largest theft of funds in national history”. While the Pentagon said they could track down the money given enough time, six years later it seems the money is still not able to be tracked. Isn’t that what a thief would say?

As bad as a $6.6 billion theft is, keep in mind that trillions of dollars are spent on all the occupations, invasions, and bombings the US heads up today: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, saber-rattling against Iran, …all while Americans are suffering from an illegal and unchallenged foreclosure wave, a larger gulf between the rich and poor than ever before, and no clear indication the American government cares about its citizens woes.

Is any of this really a surprise? How bad do things have to be before millions of Americans find the time to protest in all the major cities at the same time (so as to clearly show solidarity)?

Blender Institute videos are well worth paying for

I have been an avid supporter of the Blender Institute videos for a long time (as you can see from many posts to this blog). One reason is they treat their users well: works are licensed to share (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). I encourage you to purchase the videos, share, and enjoy!

For all of the videos: Everything else (video tutorials, HTML, and so on) Blender Foundation | www.blender.org

Magnatune partners with library, patrons win sharable music

Magnatune, a music label where you can download and share all of the tracks in their entire catalog, has struck a deal with the Library system of Ann Arbor, Michigan so that library system’s 107,801 registered cardholding patrons can login to a library-made web-based system and easily download Magnatune tracks.

Unlike loaning physical media many patrons can get the music without a trip to the library, many patrons can get tracks simultaneously, and unlike the typical corporate label music these tracks can be legally shared because Magnatune licenses tracks to its members under the Creative Commons by-nc-sa v1.0 license.

Screenshots of the web interface and links to relevant statistics about their library system are available on Magnatune’s blog.

The library paid a $10,000 flat fee in a licensing agreement that runs through June 30, 2012.Ann Arbor Chronicle

Are more libraries doing deals like this? I figured librarians are the vanguard of caring about non-DRM works, so striking deals like this with media organizations that care about their listeners and artists should be a no-brainer.

Some good causes undermine their own efforts with bad substitutes for real action

I was recently asked to consider signing onto an electronic protest against the US’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) recent suspension of a blogger who linked to websites that allegedly distributed copyrighted movies without license. A group called “Demand Progress” rightly complained:

Brian McCarthy ran a website, channelsurfing.net, that linked to various sites where you could watch online streams of TV shows and sports networks. A couple months ago, the government seized his domain name and on Friday they arrested him and charged him with criminal copyright infringement — punishable by five years in prison.

We just obtained a copy of the complaint (below) that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made against him — and they don’t even allege that he made a copy of anything! Just that he ran what they call a “linking website” which linked to various sites with copyrighted material. Under that sort of thinking, everyone who’s sent around a link to a copyrighted YouTube video is a criminal.

This is another shocking overreach by DHS and ICE — a steamship-era department that’s proving once again that it doesn’t understand the Internet. We need to push back — and fast — before they try to lock up more Americans.

Demand Progress

Demand Progress raises good points and I think that linking to anything ought not be a crime, no matter what one links to. However:

  • the way Demand Progress collects petition signatures undermines their effort. Anyone may put in any name, email address, and zipcode into their website’s form and that address is sent feedback as if they were a signatory to Demand Progress’ petition. No verification is done to make sure the person who uses that email address wasn’t the victim of someone else signing them up for Demand Progress’ feedback (which. if unsolicited, could rightfully called spam). As a result of this any claim DemandProgress.com’s claims of petition popularity are suspect and dismissable. Nobody knows how many of the alleged signatures are actually people interested in supporting the complaint.
  • email is cheap. Handwritten letters, phone calls, and in-person support are all more meaningful. It’s easy to manufacture a large set of email addresses and make it look like a large group of people support your cause. It’s not easy to get people to send handwritten letters or postcards to their Congressional representatives, or phone into a Congressional representative’s office complaining about something and demanding specific action. In-person action is far more convincing than names in a spreadsheet. Marching in the street is, therefore, more convincing than a group of names, email addresses, and zipcodes.

As long as people think clicking a button is a good approximation for political organizing, the status quo wins. Political organizing is more about identifying and doing the legwork that needs to be done, not caving into someone’s objection that it’s too hard to catch someone else’s attention and settling for a self-selected poll.

Corporate parties love torture: WikiLeaks reveals innocents held at Guantánamo

From today’s Democracy Now! headlines a WikiLeaks leak that is making mainstream news as well:

WikiLeaks Documents Reveal Over 150 Innocent Men Knowingly Held at Guantánamo

The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun releasing thousands of secret documents from the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The documents reveal the Bush and Obama administrations knowingly imprisoned more than 150 innocent men for years without charge. In dozens of cases, senior U.S. commanders were said to have concluded that there was no reason for the men to have been transferred to Guantánamo. Among the innocent prisoners were an 89-year-old Afghan villager and a 14-year-old boy who had been kidnapped. Some men were imprisoned at Guantánamo simply because they wore a certain model of Casio watches, which had been used as timers by al-Qaeda. The documents also reveal that the journalist Sami al-Hajj was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about his employer, the Al Jazeera news network. Al-Hajj’s file said he was sent to Guantánamo in order to “provide information on…the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and news gathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan.”

Democracy Now! 2011-04-25

More on this from The Guardian/UK (1, 2).

If you like torture, vote for a Democrat or a Republican for US Congress or President. It won’t matter which candidate or party you pick because apparently you’ll get state-sanctioned torture either way. The illegal, unethical, and ongoing occupations (and commensurate torture) are the preeminent moral and fiscal issues of our day. Virtually all other issues the US faces pale in significance to American occupation. Virtually all other issues the US faces can be remedied if not fixed outright by ending American occupation. That’s because of how much the US spends on occupation (1, 2, and later Stiglitz would say his early estimates were lowballs).

Not only was Obama’s promise to end the prison at Guantánamo a weak promise, the promise was never made good. Guantánamo’s prisoners can be easily moved to Bagram or one of a number of secret prisons the US maintains around the world.

Update 2011-04-26: