Congratulations to the gNewSense GNU/Linux hackers for putting out another release!
If you’re looking for a fully-free software GNU/Linux distribution for your Intel-compatible personal computer (most are such computers), download this disc image and give gNewSense a try. gNewSense is a complete operating system based on the GNU OS and the Linux kernel. gNewSense most closely resembles the Ubuntu GNU/Linux system but gNewSense is fully free software out of the box, no special install needed so you are free to inspect, run, share, and modify the software should you wish to.
You can download the software here or from the gNewSense website. The complete source code is available as well (locally or from the gNewSense website).
First time burning a CD? No problem, here’s some help on how to do it and verify the results.
If you wish to verify your download, here’s the relevant MD5SUM data:
If you’ve already got gNewSense and you want to update to this release, you should be able to use the normal update mechanism.
I’m glad to be a financial contributor to a number of these projects precisely for the reason Webber mentions. If you have the means, I too urge you to help free software projects financially.
Recently Amazon Kindle users who purchased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm lost those novels when the publisher changed their mind about publishing electronic copies via Amazon’s portable reading device known as the “Kindle” (more deservedly known as the Amazon Swindle). These works are in the public domain in Australia but that doesn’t address the real issue at hand—the power DRM gives publishers and what that means in your life.
The publishers and DRM controllers inadvertently did us all a great favor: they gave us a low-cost wake-up call to the reality of DRM. Some of us were wise enough to never get involved with DRM in the first place, so we get an opportunity to educate others about what DRM really means. If you were raised on valuing technical glitz over valuing freedom and community, you may have acquired some DRM-encumbered media or device. You get a chance to think about issues of freedom and power. You can learn what the shift from traditional media really means and how digital media doesn’t have to deny users their freedom.
The underlying theme
What made this possible? How could one’s purchases simply vanish? This never happens with books, so why should it happen with e-Books?
DRM (more appropriately known as “Digital Restrictions Management”) is the key to understanding the loss of freedom and transfer of power. DRM is the technical means whereby a publisher can control what media a computing device has on it, or when a user is permitted to view/read/hear (experience, for short) that media.
This control is permanent for the lifetime of the device. So even after the device and the media are sold to the user, even if the device and media are sold again to another user (at a garage sale, for example), the publisher remains in control. Whatever the computing device is capable of doing, DRM can curtail the reader’s freedom to do that activity.
Obama recently announced his intention to appoint David Kappos, IBM VP and general counsel, to head the US Patent and Trademark Office. While some press highlights his changes to US patent policy, even a quick glance at the changes reveals them to be no serious challenge to US patent policy or IBM’s power to avoid the trouble US patent policy causes everyone else.
A little background on software patents
To put this into context, consider the problem of software patents. Software patents are government granted 20-year monopolies on a set of ideas expressible in a computer program. The reason you don’t see MP3 software in free software operating systems coming out of the US is because the algorithms you’d need to use to make or play an MP3 are covered by patents. The Fraunhofer corporation, which holds patents that read on MP3, licenses their patented algorithms in ways that are incompatible with the freedoms of free software. Therefore distributing (or even using) MP3 software without the suitable patent licenses makes the distributor run the risk of losing a patent infringement lawsuit.
To avoid that risk but supply the ability to play high-quality audio, free software developers use other formats like Ogg Vorbis and FLAC instead. Ogg Vorbis is not compatible with MP3 but it gets the same job done: making and playing digital recordings.
So what does this have to do with President Obama?
Software patents hurt all developers except those at IBM because IBM holds the most patents. Holding the most patents means IBM can cross-license far more easily than any other patent holder. In fact, we know how valuable cross-licensing is to IBM because IBM has told us. IBM has told us cross-licensing outweighs the value of collecting patent license fees by an order of magnitude. IBM got ten times the value of using patents held by others than licensing its own patents. This means IBM alone can skirt the trouble the patent system causes everyone else. IBM can completely undo the alleged advantage the patent system is supposed to give smaller organizations trying to commercially launch their work. You really should read Richard Stallman’s examination of the US patent system as it applies to software development for a fuller description of the details on how IBM’s statement in 1990 reveals the harm done to all software developers under the USPTO’s thumb.
What should be done about this?
The solution is to completely deny anyone software patents so software developers can go back to relying on trademark and copyright law which is sufficient to avoid defrauding consumers and enforcing licenses, respectively. But I doubt the world’s largest patent holder is in favor of disempowerment, and now that they have a man running the USPTO I doubt we’ll see that office seeking to make software algorithms unpatentable.
This appointment will follow sending two RIAA lawyers to fill the number two and three positions in the Department of Justice. I think what we’re seeing here is just another instance of how corporate-friendly President Obama is. The Left widely denounced appointing industry insiders to shape federal policy to benefit the corporations they came from when it happened under President George W. Bush. Many on the Left were rightfully livid about Vice President Cheney’s benefiting Halliburton and took every opportunity to remind us of that relationship. But now, with Obama, these appointments to powerful federal positions get little criticism. How much a corporatist does Obama have to be to get those who reflexively supported him see how bad his choices are?
President Obama is the latest beneficiary of corporate stenographers to power known as the American mainstream press. The range of allowable debate makes room for NBC’s recent puff pieces on Obama’s White House while excluding issues of substance such as questioning the war in Afghanistan, examining the implications of fighting wars with mercenaries instead of troops, examining the ethical implications of robot warfare, examining the role of media, and critiquing our loss of civil liberties.
Jeremy Scahill on Bill Moyers’ Journal (transcript) from 2009-06-05.
Scahill explains how Obama gets so little critique about the mercenary increase in Iraq and Afghanistan resulting in killing more civilians indiscriminately and increasing the chances of another 9/11 attack—”[I]t’s time to take off the Obama t-shirts. This is a man who’s in charge of the most powerful country on earth. The media in this country, we have an obligation to treat him the way we treated Bush in terms of being critical of him. And, yet, I feel like many Democrats have had their spines surgically removed these days, as have a lot of journalists. The fact is that this man is governing over a policy that is killing a tremendous number of civilians.”
This is a far cry from the almost blinders-on Obama’s Egypt speech analysis I saw on Rachel Maddow’s 2009-06-04 MSNBC show. She identified 8 points where she was obviously quite excited about how much Obama was willing to “grab the third rail” and mention things politicians don’t typically discuss. But she did not discuss the difference between Obama’s words and the reality on the ground, nor did she bother to talk to some civilians affected by American foreign policy. When America gives uncounted billions to Israel which is used to help kill and oppress Palestinians, when the Obama plan has long been to ramp up the occupation of Afghanistan including killing civilians with robot drones (which is underway now), when the US puts in unaccountable mercenaries to do its killing (as now outnumber US troops in each of Iraq and Afghanistan), it’s cold comfort for civilian living friends and family to hear Pres. Obama go on about condemning Israeli settlements, how “resistance through violence does not succeed”, or that “moral authority is not claimed” by blowing people up. Sure, Obama is willing to acknowledge the torture we all knew was going on from day 1, but when will the torture end? Moving prisoners from Guantanamo to another prison doesn’t necessarily mean ending torture. The news about America’s disrespect of democratically elected leaders is how few of America’s coups Obama is willing to publicly cop to. It takes too little to get in some people’s good graces. Matters of life and death should not be so easily brushed away or forgotten.
I’ll come back to this and add more as time permits.
gNewSense GNU/Linux, a free software operating system based on a variant of the GNU operating system with the Linux kernel, is out with a new CD which contains all security updates made to the system through April 14, 2009.
Why would I want a free operating system?
You deserve software freedom, the freedom to share and modify your computer software. Even if you never alter any of the software’s source code it’s good to know that others improve the software and inspect it for problems. It’s good to know that you can distribute copies of free software to anyone you want without fear of being called a “pirate” or sneaking around. You can help your community by sharing software. If you’re more technical, you can help yourself by more fully understanding the software you depend on.
What kind of computer do I need to try this?
You need an Intel or AMD compatible system. Most typical home computers should work with this.
Where can I get gNewSense GNU/Linux
You can download it
You can download the ISO file, burn it to a CD, and try it on your computer (reboot your computer with the burned disc in the drive) to see if it works with your hardware. Running the system from CD will make the system run slower than it would installed but you’ll get to see what works using your computer without losing any of the data installed on your computer.
In case you’re unfamiliar with ISO files and burning bootable discs read some CD/DVD burning instructions.ref=
Senator Obama flip-flopped on civil liberties and privacy during his presidential campaign landing on supporting telco immunity. Now President Obama continues the assault on our civil liberties by siding with former President Bush and going beyond: Obama extends immunity to protect government officials, something not surprising but exactly what Democrats said was the saving grace of Bush telco policy. Glenn Greenwald has more with plenty of details you should read for yourself.
[...T]he Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and — even if what they’re doing is blatantly illegal and they know it’s illegal — you are barred from suing them unless they “willfully disclose” to the public what they have learned.
This is the Obama DOJ’s work and only its work, and it is equal to, and in some senses surpasses, the radical secrecy and immunity claims of the Bush administration.
If you ever made the mistake of believing that your civil liberties are better off under Republicans or Democrats, please stop believing that. Corporations don’t care which of these parties wins because they fund both of them. I know it’s asking a lot, but try to remember this when voting time comes around again and don’t fall for the lame scare tactics aimed at supporting the least-worst. Least-worst politics means, unlike corporations, you’ll always lose.
Cory Doctorow is an award-winning author of many books. He simultaneously distributes his work online at no charge and commercially through traditional book vendors. He also knows what DRM means for the reader/listener. Now he’s up for two Hugo awards, perhaps the most prestigious science fiction award.
What does this have to do with Apple and DRM freedom? Read this excerpt from the introduction to one of his recent books, Little Brother: (emphasis mine)
My agent, Russell Galen (and his sub-agent Danny Baror) did an amazing job of pre-selling rights to Little Brother in many languages and formats. Here’s the list as of today (May 4, 2008). I’ll be updating it as more editions are sold, so feel free to grab another copy of this file (http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download) if there’s an edition you’re hoping to see, or see http://craphound.com/littlebrother/buy/ for links to buy all the currently shipping editions.
A condition of my deal with Random House is that they’re not allowed to release this on services that use “DRM” (Digital Rights Management) systems intended to control use and copying. That means that you won’t find this book on Audible or iTunes, because Audible refuses to sell books without DRM (even if the author and publisher don’t want DRM), and iTunes only carries Audible audiobooks. However, you can buy the MP3 file direct from RandomHouse or many other fine etailers, or through this link.
Keep that in mind next time Apple tries to snow you into believing they care about your rights of first-sale, your right to read your books or listen to your audio whenever you want, or any of your rights as they intersect with digital restrictions management.
I bought an unlimited download account with Magnatune in part because they never had a DRM problem to overcome.
James Boyle, law professor and author of “The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind“, recently wrote about his mixed feelings concerning the release of his book for the Amazon Kindle, a portable proprietary electronic device for reading texts.
His points concerning DRM (which I prefer to call “digital restrictions management” because that acronym expansion clearly states what DRM is all about for the user) and the subsequent posts thereafter are interesting reading and I recommend reading them. I’d like to put a finer point on the issues that compel me to arrive at exactly the opposite conclusion: DRM is always dangerous for the reader, the tradeoffs are uniformly disadvantageous, and DRM should be avoided.
- Anything you want to do with an e-book happens because the publisher allows it—sharing, copying passages, even reading all happen because the publisher allows it not because you paid for the privilege of reading the book. In the case of the Major League Baseball digital restrictions management (DRM), subscribers had already paid for access to the game recordings and had their access taken away from them. Warning or not, the only reason you get to do anything with DRM-encumbered media is because the DRM controller allows you to do that. Publishers, who often control the DRM, like this arrangement and this is the major reason why they pursue devices like the Amazon Kindle at all.
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits useful backups of media you can’t crack—Boyle points out in a follow-up response that the DMCA would probably prohibit reverse-engineering the Kindle book files even if Amazon was out of business and all you wanted to do was preserve your investment in Kindle files so you could continue to read the e-books you paid for. This should be a showstopper for anyone considering DRM-encumbered media of any kind. If you can’t make useful backups (media you can read anywhere at any time) then you are trapped to live by the publisher’s rules.
- DRM limitations can be imposed on you for any reason—if the device you use to read/play DRM-encumbered media has a communication device on it (a wireless Internet radio, a GPS unit, a Bluetooth radio for short-distance communication) the device can be tracked. Tracking information could be a means of restricting access to the media: this book can only be read inside of these global coordinates, or a movie that can only be played when the player is in the vicinity of a particular Bluetooth device, for instance. Even a clock can be used to restrict: the book can only be read during certain times. The point is that unlike traditional media where you have full control when and where you can enjoy the media, DRM means you don’t have that control. The particular restrictions for DRM-encumbered media can vary as per the whim of the publisher, so there need not be any consistency or system to the restrictions. Only the regularity the publisher chooses by its technical choices.
- DRM means those rules can change at any time—DRM means that the publisher can set the terms of control. If your media is played/viewed with a device that can be updated (such as most computers can), the DRM can behave differently any time the publisher chooses. If the publisher wants to give or take features, there’s nothing you can do to stop the change except not getting the DRM-encumbered media in the first place. For instance, Apple’s iTunes program has been updated many times and some of the updates were downgrades in functionality: in 2005 the number of times you can burn a playlist to a disc was reduced from 10 to 7. You can work around this particular restriction but the point is should you have to? What if you can’t work around a DRM limitation? Publishers can even condition use of new media on your acceptance of the new software which restricts you in new ways. No doubt, publishers would do this as an enticement to get reluctant users to take on new limitations.
Ostensibly publishers would have you lose your fair use rights, forgo treating friends like friends by loaning them your stuff, in exchange for a little technological convenience like being able to read an electronic screen in direct sunlight. A portable connection to the Internet using a clear screen is convenient and valuable, but it’s not worth trading away your rights.
On BoingBoing, there’s a thread talking about “the alarming number of lawyers being appointed by the Obama administration to the Department of Justice” and how this means “Bad news for people who believe in copyright reform, and greater freedom to share, remix, and reuse content online.”.
One of the quotes cited in support of the argument reads:
First off, there’s the #3 man at Justice, Thomas Perrelli, accurately described by CNET as “beloved by the RIAA“. Not only has this guy been on the wrong side in the courtroom, he’s fingered as instrumental in convincing the Copyright Board to strangle Web radio in its crib by imposing impossible fee structures.
I don’t agree with “strangl[ing] Web radio in its crib”. Web radio can go on so long as you share copies of tracks from the publishers/artists that let you share. Magnatune has an impressive catalog of tracks you can share under one of the Creative Commons licenses. They treat their artists well, licensing from them non-exclusively and giving them a bigger cut of the take per track than any RIAA label. Magnatune doesn’t play favorites amongst their artists (whereas RIAA labels give superstars like Britney Spears and The Rolling Stones far better deals than just-signed artists). Magnatune’s feeds won’t go away if the big corporate publishers’ tracks become unaffordable to rebroadcast. You and I can rebroadcast Magnatune’s stuff in our own feeds and radio stations. I’m guessing that Magnatune isn’t the only place doing this kind of thing either, they just happen to be an organization I have learned about.
We don’t benefit from identifying “web radio” solely with the RIAA label tracks that aren’t licensed for us to share. It would be a minor unfortunate outcome to not be able to afford to rebroadcast the most popular tracks; hardly the end of web radio. This might end up turning out to be a way to push people into getting interested in media that treats them better—media licensed to share and build upon.