Monday, October 30, 2006

Righting some copywrongs

A think-tank has called for outdated copyright laws to be rewritten to take account of new ways people listen to music, watch films and read books.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is calling for a "private right to copy".

It would decriminalise millions of Britons who break the law each year by copying their CDs onto music players.

Making copies of CDs and DVDs for personal use would have little impact on copyright holders, the IPPR argues.

Copyright issues have, in the past, been steered too much by the music industry, the report said.

IPPR deputy director Dr Ian Kearns said: [It] is not the music industry's job to decide what rights consumers have; that is the job of government."

Its key recommendation is that any policy regarding Intellectual Property policy should recognise that knowledge is a public resource first and a private asset second.

"The internet offers unprecedented opportunities to share ideas and content," the report says.

"Knowledge must, therefore, perform the roles of both commodity and social glue, both private property and public domain," it adds.

The report looks at how Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies - which restrict the sharing of music or other intellectual property - are affecting attempts to preserve electronic content.

It argues that the British Library should be given a DRM-free copy of any new digital work and that libraries should be able to take more than one copy of digital work.

Ms Withers said: "We charge the British Library as being the collective memory of the nation and increasingly it has to archive digital content.

"More and more academic journals are delivered digitally but copyright laws aren't designed to deal with digital content."

She said there was often a conflict between DRM and accessibility technologies which needs to be addressed.

"Someone with poor sight may use a screen reader technology and may have to change the format of the content to use it but some DRM technology isn't sophisticated enought to take this kind of thing into account," she said.

The report also calls for the government to reject calls from the UK music industry to extend the copyright term for sound recording beyond the current 50 years.

Call to exempt iPod 'rippers' from prosecution
A majority of Britons admit to "ripping" CDs on to their computers for playback on other devices such as iPods and other MP3 players; and a National Consumer Council survey recently found that three-fifths of adults believe it to be perfectly legal to do so.

The IPPR said a upcoming review of intellectual property, set up by Chancellor Gordon Brown and chaired by Andrew Gowers, should update the copyright laws to take account of the changes in the way people listen to music and watch films. Its report, Public Innovation: Intellectual Property in a Digital Age, said the new right would have no significant impact on copyright holders.
Not at all like the approach the weak-kneed and limp-wristed Howard Government approach to the copyright rape the US recording industry did to Australia under the guise of the so-called Free Trade Agreement. We wish the Brits well with this one.

Some people are taking the matter into their own hands.


Geek breaks the iPod code
GROWING UP in a small town in southern Norway, Jon Lech Johansen loved to take things apart to figure out how they worked.

“I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it” — that is, on a PC that ran Linux.

To fix the problem, he and two hackers he met online wrote a program called DeCSS, which removed the encryption that controls what devices can play the discs. That meant the movies could be played on any machine, but also that they could be copied. After the program was posted online, Johansen received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation — and a visit from Norwegian police.

Johansen, now 22 and widely known as “DVD Jon” for his exploits, has also figured out how Apple’s iPod-iTunes system works. And he is using that knowledge to start a business that is going to drive Apple boss Steve Jobs crazy.

To be specific, Johansen has reverse-engineered Fair Play, the encryption technology Apple uses to make the iPod a closed system.

Right now, thanks to Fair Play, the songs that Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. (The iPod will play MP3 files, which do not have any copy protection, but major labels don’t sell music in that format.) Johansen has written programs that get around those restrictions — one that would let other companies sell copy-protected songs that play on the iPod, and another that would let other devices play iTunes songs.

For his role in writing DeCSS, Johansen was charged with breaking the Norwegian law that prohibits gaining unauthorised access to data, but he was acquitted twice when courts ruled the data were his own. The movie studios didn’t like that decision, which almost certainly would have been different in America, where the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits circumventing digital-rights- management technology (DRM) for any reason. The movie studios used that law to sue a hacker magazine called 2600 that linked to DeCSS on its website.

Fair Play is not patented, most likely because the encryption algorithms it uses are in the public domain. And Johansen said he is abiding by the letter of the law — if not, perhaps, its spirit.

To let other sites sell music that plays on the iPod, his program will “wrap” songs with code that functions much like Fair Play. “So we’ll actually add copy protection,” he said.

Helping other devices play iTunes songs could be harder to justify legally, but he cites the DMCA clause that permits users, in some circumstances, to reverse-engineer programs to ensure “inter-operability”. “The law protects copyrights,” he said, “but it doesn’t keep you locked into the iPod.”

Johansen isn’t the only one who feels that way. In 2004, Real Networks released a program called Harmony that would allow songs from its Real Player Music Store to play on the iPod.

Jobs memorably accused the company of using “the ethics and tactics of a hacker” and threatened to sue. Instead, Apple released a software update that made Harmony ineffective — although Real subsequently fixed that.

In America the courts have traditionally allowed inventors to reverse-engineer products to determine how they function. But the DMCA allows programmers to do that only in certain cases.

“What [Johansen] is working on is in the spirit of the reverse-engineering the courts have been most friendly toward,” said Gartner Group’s McGuire, who has informally given Johansen advice. “But the law is untested, and the case is complicated.”

“On the surface, Apple would have a good case, especially when it comes to making iTunes songs play on other devices,” said Robert Becker, a lawyer at Manatt Phelps & Phillips. “Apple would say you’re buying music under certain restrictions.”

Johansen’s legal arguments involve the rights of consumers, but opening the iPod could also be good for the music business.

The big labels worry that compatibility concerns will slow the digital-music market, especially when Microsoft comes out with its own closed system this Christmas. They would love to see more retailers enter the market.

EMI Music CEO says the CD is 'dead'
EMI Music Chairman and Chief Executive Alain Levy Friday told an audience at the London Business School that the CD is dead, saying music companies will no longer be able to sell CDs without offering "value-added" material.

"The CD as it is right now is dead," Levy said, adding that 60% of consumers put CDs into home computers in order to transfer material to digital music players.
EMI Music is part of EMI Group PLC (EMI.LN).

But there remains a place for physical media, Levy said. "You're not going to offer your mother-in-law iTunes downloads for Christmas," he said. "But we have to be much more innovative in the way we sell physical content."

CD sales accounted for more than 70% of total music sales in the first half of 2006, while digital music sales were around 11% of the total, according to music industry trade body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
CD sales were worth $6.45 billion and digital sales $945 million, the IFPI said.

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