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Journal foobar104's Journal: There they go again. 16

Earlier this week I complained about how it's become popular to throw a political spin on every Slashdot article, no matter how irrelevant the connection. This article illustrates that point perfectly. They took what could be a perfectly good story, and subsequent discussion, about a new audio format and turned it into a free-for-all on the evils of watermarking and how Sony is an enemy of fair use.

(Since when does Fair Use entitle you to a perfect digital copy of the source material, anyway? You can exercise your right of fair use by hooking right up to the analogue audio outputs on your CD player.)

I don't want to write another rant about how Slashdot is depressingly political. I just wanted to point out an example of exactly what's pissing me off this week.

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There they go again.

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  • Always wanted to do that. Somehow it doesn't have the same effect in a journal.

    You have a good point here. The linked articles had some interesting technical information. You do have to keep in mind that most /.ers are upset by any media that can't be played/manipulated on their Linux box. That frustration will take presidence over any technical discussion. It has been a LOOOOOONG time since things were technical here. Years. It had probably gone downhill considerably before I ever showed up. Today the site isn't much for technical discussions. It is much more about politics. That way more people can speak and seem informed. :)

    • You do have to keep in mind that most /.ers are upset by any media that can't be played/manipulated on their Linux box.

      That's true, but it's a shame. I own an iBook. I only watch DVDs on it when I'm traveling. I'd much rather watch DVDs on my 34" widescreen TV at home, using my $100 DVD player that I bought at Best Buy.

      The same applies to audio CDs. Audio CD players are so cheap these days, you can get one for a few bucks at the Stop 'n' Rob on the corner.

      Sure, you can watch movies or listen to CDs or whatever with your computer. But really, isn't that kind of like carving roast beef with a screwdriver?

      I just wish these kids would look at things from the opposite point of view once in a while. Sony's not trying to take your rights away. They're trying to offer a new audio format with enhanced features. Just once I'd like to hear somebody-- not me or you, but some random somebody-- say, "Hey, neat! Sony's got a new audio CD format. How cool!" and save the bitching for someplace else.

      Grr. This topic is making me frustrated. That's enough of that for now.
      • "Sure, you can watch movies or listen to CDs or whatever with your computer. But really, isn't that kind of like carving roast beef with a screwdriver?"

        I really enjoy playing with the computer playing CDs and DVDs. More CDs than DVDs. Although before I had a DVD player I used my DVD-ROM for playing videos on a regular basis.

        It's a nerd thing I guess.

        I've been working on the "perfect solution" for a while now to have all my CDs loaded on my computer and terminals around the house so I can control the playlists and direct the audio to any rooms I want. I'm still a ways off, but I'm kind of afraid that with some of these new formats they're going to take away some of the fun I'm having.

        Not that I have to buy the new formats, the old ones work great for me!
        • I have the same setup, with about 400 CDs worth of music encoded as MP3s on my iMac upstairs. I use wireless, though, so no terminals in my house.

          Sure, it's neat. But do you think I'm going to claim that I had the inalienable right to do it? If the copyright holder of (say) my Norah Jones CD says that he only wants me to listen to it on a CD player and not encoded it in my computer, that's his right. Hell, he can say that I'm only allowed to listen to it on Tuesdays from January to June if he wants to; he owns the copyright. Of course, I don't think I'd pay $12 for a CD that had that sort of license, but that's an economic choice, not a legal or political one.

          I think it all boils down to the culture of entitlement. Just because you can do something, physically, or that you enjoy doing something doesn't mean you have the constitutionally sanctioned right to do it. There are perfectly legal circumstances under which that activity might be prohibited for you. These are not attacks on your liberties. They're not signs of the impending collapse of civilization. They're just little compromises. If you want the CD, you pay the $12. That's a compromise. If you want to watch the DVD, you do it only a licensed player. That's another compromise.

          And, I suppose, if you read Slashdot, you have to be willing to listen to lots and lots of ignorance from people who think they understand the way the world works. That's a compromise, too, I guess.
          • If they want to impose all these non-(currently)-standard licenses on new stuff that's fine and dandy. It's their right and the licenses should be obeyed, but all my existing stuff that I have purchased I am under the impression that I am allowed to encode it onto my computer do about anything I want with it as long as I'm the only person using it.

            I want to enjoy it. I can honestly say I probably wouldn't purchase any music that came with a new license that said it had to be played on a certain player. That would be like buying software that will only run on one OS. hehe.

            I think it's great that they're coming out with better audio formats but as a general rule of thumb I only adopt new technology if it is better in every way than the previous generation.

            If the new stuff takes away things that I can do now, it's not an upgrade, it's a downgrade and I'll avoid it like the plague.

            The CD and DVD are just physical media to transport data. It's what we're allowed to do with the data that matters.

            So what I guess I'm trying to say is... If Norah Jones wants you to only listen to his CD in your CD player that's fine but he had better let you know before you buy it.
  • Its not the legal definition of fair use. Its the hacker definition of fair use.

    The only difference is that the people using this definition aren't hackers. Rather than trying find ways around these technologies, they are complaining about it. Maybe they are doing both.

    But its hard to say what legal fair use is, since I haven't seen a concise definition of it--in fact, I've heard its pretty much up to the courts, on a case-by-case basis.
    • Title 17, section 106 defines Fair Use.
      Sec. 107. - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

      Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include -


      the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;


      the nature of the copyrighted work;


      the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and


      the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

      The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
      That's it. That's the entire statutory definition of fair use. The law doesn't define what fair use is or isn't (except "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research"), but it does provide criteria for deciding whether any given proposed use qualifies as fair use.

      Some activities are clearly not fair use, by the strictest application of the criteria, but have been upheld by the courts as non-infringing anyway. For example, time-shifting is not fair use because it involves reproducing a work in its entirety instead of just a part (point 3, above). But in Sony v. Universal City Studios 464 U.S. 417, 104 S. Ct. 774, 78 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1984) the Supreme Court held that time-shifting is non-infringing because of the private nature of the activity, the fact that the programming is provided for free anyway, and, most interestingly, that it "served the public interest in increasing access to television programming, an interest that 'is consistent with the First Amendment policy of providing the fullest possible access to information through the public airwaves.'"

      Why does the doctrine of fair use not apply to, let's say, the CSS case? Let me tell you why.

      Fair use entitles you to use a part of a copyrighted work for noncommercial purposes such as criticism or teaching. Does CSS prevent you from being able to do that? No, all CSS does is prevent you from being able to play a DVD on an unlicensed device. The owners of the DVD format specification decided they would only let licensed players play DVDs, which is their right under copyright law. (Talking not of the copyright on the contents of the DVD here, but on the DVD format itself. The owners of the copyright on the DVD format are free to license it any way they like.) So if you want to play your DVDs on a Linux box, or whatthehellever, you're out of luck. But you can do the exact same non-infringing things using a licensed player and analog outputs. So CSS has nothing at all to do with the doctrine of fair use. Just like it has nothing to do with common law marriage or the insanity plea. It's an irrelevant aspect of law that simply doesn't apply.

      A couple of months ago I ran across a question or a comment or something from a guy who talked about wanting to use a portion of a DVD in the classroom. I don't know whether he was a student or a teacher, but he said something (details escape me) about putting together a multimedia presentation and wanting to convert a clip from a movie to a QuickTime or something and use it. He was grousing about how CSS infringed on his right to fair use.

      I guess the option of simply hauling the DVD player into the classroom to play the relevant portion of the DVD never occurred to him.

      See, that's the thing about fair use. It doesn't give you the right to do whatever you want, even if you're only trying to do it in the privacy of your own home. It gives you the right to accomplish certain ends-- such as using a part of a movie in the classroom, or even all of the movie if the context justifies it-- but it doesn't give you the right to accomplish that end any way you see fit. If the DVD format authority wants to keep you from playing DVDs on unlicensed players, that's their right, and fair use doesn't come in to it.

      Whew. Okay, end of speech.
      • I guess the option of simply hauling the DVD player into the classroom to play the relevant portion of the DVD never occurred to him.

        I guess the thought that you can't queue a DVD like you can a tape never occured to you. Sure, you can jump to the nearest chapter-- but chapter breaks are about 6-8 min. apart (in an two hour movie there might be 16-20 chapters). I don't know what things were like at the schools you attended, but where I went the teachers didn't appreciate people "wasting time" with rewinding tapes or broken Powerpoint presentations. So having to fast forward or rewind through 3-4 minutes of movie to show a 1 minute clip isn't especially good. Especially if your presentation is supposed to be between 3-5 minutes to start with.

        Now, my take on CSS is that it is evil not because it violates my fair use rights or any such, but that it is "broken"-- it claims to protect against piracy, but obviously doesn't work (as exact bit copies of a DVD will work, CSS or no). Hence, CSS is evil because it is acts as DMCA-related legal obsfuscation and not a use limitation (though it does do that bit too).
        • I guess the thought that you can't queue a DVD like you can a tape never occured to you.

          What? Of course you can. Methods vary from player to player, but on mine (a cheap, old one), you hit a button that reads "time," then you key in the time to which you wish to cue the disc, then it seeks right to that time. Easier than a tape machine, because there's no seek time to speak of. And low-end tape machines don't let you key in a time at all but rather force you to use the FF and REW buttons. Of course you can cue a DVD.

          So having to fast forward or rewind through 3-4 minutes of movie to show a 1 minute clip isn't especially good.

          If that's your concern, cue the disc then put the player in "pause." Problem solved.
          • If [cuing is] your concern, cue the disc then put the player in "pause." Problem solved.

            I was refering to the fact that VHS tapes can be cued at home, where the quality of equipment is known, rather than in the classroom, where quality varies. If my old high school's DVD player is like their VCRs and have a minimal button setup (play / ff, rewind, stop / eject) then how do I cue it to a given time? A DVD player might get away with a select / play, ff / skip, rewind / back, & stop / eject four button interface. Just because it needs a processor to decrypt / decompress the video doesn't mean that they'll also put in all of the nicer features on it-- I'm sure that since the school bought the cheapest player possible, they'd get the $40 model that has no features worth speaking of.
            • First of all, I've never seen a player-- even the cheap ones-- that don't have a cue-to-time button. But if a player didn't have one, you'd skip ahead to the closest chapter stop then lean on rewind or fast-forward until you get where you want to be.

              You're reaching for reasons to justify using an unlicensed player, or decrypting the DVD content. That's pretty lame.
    • Its the hacker definition of fair use.

      What exactly is this "hacker definition" of fair use, anyway? What comes to mind, to me, is something like:

      I'm entitled to use (watch, listen, read) anything I want, at any time I want, at whatever price I wish to pay (which is usually nothing). If I rent a movie from Blockbuster, that $5 allows me to make a copy of it and be able to watch it any time I please, even after I've returned the original. If I want to hear a song, I'm allowed to simply download it, and not go to the store and buy the album. If I want to run a piece of software, I'll just get it from a 0-day site or a friend, and not buy it at the store.

      Perhaps I'm wrong, so maybe you could define the hacker definition properly? Then again, I'm probably not even using the same definition of "hacker" as you are (I'm using the common vernacular definition of a person who breaks into computer systems, what a minority prefers to call a "cracker", but is referred to by "hacker" despite that minority).
  • The reason DRM-related politics are getting inserted into every discussion, is because the world outside is changing. DRM has gone from merely a scary idea to something that is being deployed in consumer products. It's the topic of the day (year, last few years) because it is happening. This kind of crap just wasn't happening ten years ago, except in extremely limited form (e.g. DAT), and it didn't influence many peoples' projects.

    But now it will. In the last few years, storage has increased to sufficient magnitude and codec technology has improved so much, that using PCs as general multimedia playback devices is an idea whose time has come. It is a very natural and obvious thing to do and a lot of people are doing it or want to do it. And they're being fought.

    Microsoft Palladium will be deployed. Probably over half the people here are going to have to deal with it in some way, in their day-to-day jobs. They're going to face to look customers in the eye and tell them that a backup can't be restored or that something will take longer because it will involve a phone call to Microsoft. Or worse. That's the worst part: nobody knows how much worse it will be, and they can extrapolate from what has been attempted and get some pretty scary ideas.

    People don't like how the world changed, and it's only natural to bitch about it. Sorry you don't like it, but it's not really Slashdotters' fault. Ok, it is people's fault when they (I) ignorantly fly off the handle, but still, it's a crime of passion.

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye