I spent most of last week editing an important chapter of my book "Living on the Internet," this one covering issues like the Copyright Wars. When I finished and picked up my online newspapers, I realized I'd have to go through the whole exercise again - reality had caught up with me.
I closed the draft chapter with a prediction that real people are about to get really hurt by the Copyright Wars. Then on July 17 someone was. Dimitri Skylarov was arrested, thrown in jail and charged with a felony for telling an audience at the DefCon hacking conference how his Russian company, ElcomSoft, easily defeated the encryption in Adobe's e-book format .
Skylarov, a Russian national, was arrested for an act that is not a crime in Russia. He was arrested on the insistence of Adobe Systems, charged under the portion of the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act making it a felony to manufacture products that circumvent copy protection.
The reaction was predictable. Open source programmers rose up in protest. Rallies were planned in 13 cities , organized in part by an e-mail list . Allen Cox proposed that Linux and other open source development be moved totally out of the U.S., resigning from Usenix . (Perhaps it will move to India, where Richard Stallman launched a unit of the Free Software Foundation on July 20. ) The Electronic Frontier Foundation tried to meet with Adobe, defuse the situation, and stop the protests .
But Adobe is not the problem. In fact the U.S. Justice Department has come down hard on behalf of throwing people in jail for copyright violations, establishing 10 new offices to concentrate on the "problem." By that simple act, it made all political disputes concerning the Internet criminal matters.
Scott Rosenberg, who is generally two years behind in his attitudes, predicted the "Napster Diaspora" would become a nightmare for the copyright industries . But it is becoming increasingly clear it's a nightmare for everyone.
The copyright industries have more than the law and the police on their side. They have all sorts of technology, designed to enforce their rights to control what you think you own. Recording companies are quietly installing anti-ripping programs into their CDs (and not telling consumers about them) while an Israeli company promises to treat copyright violators the way Sharon treats Palestinian protestors . Those are just two events that were publicized in the last week.
A lot of us made a lot of money during the Internet boom predicting that technology couldn't be stopped, that this medium would become a force for freedom in the world. But if the Bush campaign on behalf of record companies succeeds, then any Internet action can be stopped. Laws against e-mailing dirty jokes might actually be enforced . China might yet gain the benefits of the online world without paying its costs in liberty for people.
My problem is that the present battle seems to be between anarchy and China-like control. It has become an either-or question of whether the Internet will be lawless or bound by law. Governments behave as though this is a war between law and disorder. But that is only true if the laws being enforced are truly agreed-upon by the people who make up the Internet.
The fact is these laws have been passed and imposed without the consent of the people governed by them. The DMCA was passed in congressional back rooms, and its advocates lied about its impact. The WIPO treaty was negotiated by diplomats - democracy never entered into it.
If the people of the Internet have no way to express their will on how their actions are to be governed, then all laws are tyranny, and all governments are Chinese. Without democracy, the only resort is to lawlessness and revolution. Yet there can be no progress, no freedom, and no real liberty in anarchy - you're only as free then as your strength and technical prowess makes you.
I feared when it came into office that the Bush Administration was naïve, that it would step into crises willy-nilly, ignoring the popular will, the limits of its power, and all questions of principle. Sadly, I've been proven right, and now many will pay. It will start with Dimitry Skylarov. It will not end with him.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
"Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is tentatively due for release around Labor Day. I'm still writing it, but it looks good. I call it the "first book of the 21st century" because it is designed to feature hyperlinks in all formats - PDF, eBook, and print. (How about if we call it an I-Book for short?) Drop me a note to get on the mailing list for more information on this book.
You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, at Boardwatch, ISP Executive, Sitepoint and the new (paid) version of WorkZ. More deals are being sought. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
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Takes on the News
Tough Days for the Gates-Bush Administration
Bill Gates bought himself a government. Now he wants payback. He wants a re-hearing on that inconvenient decision on blending code . While waiting for the government to knuckle-under in negotiations he'll act as though it already has.
He doesn't just want to destroy Java , but any technology Microsoft can't control, like PGP .
Microsoft is planning a grand détente with the Bush Administration, one the Justice Department will impose on states, in which it acts on the government's behalf and the government in turn protects its monopoly.
Since that's the game everything else is a distraction. All that talk about cable is a distraction. E-commerce is a distraction. That's why Microsoft gave away Expedia to Barry Diller . It solidifies a customer relationship, it makes up Microsoft's losses on cable, and the low price will convince many that the dot-com bust has further to go, which is all to the big boys' advantage.
The one group that isn't consulted, that doesn't count, is the user community. If you don't like the Hotmail redesign (it has become one big ad for Microsoft) too bad - beggars can't be choosers.
Whois and Who Isn't
A Clueless Congress held a Clueless committee hearing recently concerning Whois, the database of domain name owners .
The problem is that many companies, starting with Network Solutions itself, are spamming the Whois. Thus "privacy advocates" want access closed . But given the abuse of domain name holders, closing all access will be terribly abusive of First Amendment rights. (I often have to resort to Whois to find out how to reach a business site whose owners don't put basic contact data online.)
The solution is simple, and it is amazing that no one even proposed it at the hearing. That is you can search the database for individual records but no one - not even the database' owners - is allowed to e-mail all domain name owners without the express permission of ICANN. It's the database, not the individual records, which is being abused. But in the name of maintaining some small commercial advantages now held by NSI, Congress seems about to close journalists' best window into the commercial Web. And privacy advocates are the ones pushing the window shut.
Tax Advantages for eBooks?
"Living on the Internet" will be released first as an ebook, so this is good news for me. Congress is looking into giving ebooks, and all other digital content, a big advantage regarding sales tax .
The proposed deal is that the states will be taken out of tax questions regarding digital sales of digital products - like ebooks. This would leave online sellers of physical products - like paper books - the hassle of computing and paying local sales taxes.
In fact the whole bill is a head-fake. Democrat Byron Dorgan and the National Governors Association are pushing a plan based on the majority report of last year's Gilmore Commission - a simplified tax system for e-commerce that all sites will have to follow. The NGA plan, however, destroys the taxing authority of cities and counties that depend on sales tax. That's where the fight is - between local and state governments.
The most likely solution is no solution. The moratorium will end, taxing authorities will be left on their own, and e-commerce sites will take another hit as the piggies line up at their trough.
Clued-in is Ken Rutkowski. His daily e-mail of technology headlines has joined my things-to-do-to-keep-up list. His choices are credible and complete. Credibility is the coin of the realm.
Clueless was CBS Marketwatch's announcement it would stop giving clickthrough numbers . It's not really true (they'll give them on request) and it just shows how idiotic some sites have become for a headline.
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