Insert motto here

March 26, 2002

While some Linux advocates praise the open-source aspects of Mac OS X, it turns out that actually contributing to Darwin (the open-source foundation of OX X) involves some legal hurdles. In particular, minors can’t commit changes to the development tree. I haven’t heard Apple’s side of this, but it seems consistent with Apple’s occasionally-overzealous legal department. (via Doc Searls) #

A fee for all

Our last installment about the copyright struggles mentioned the high cost of Internet radio. For more information on what fees are involved and who gets paid, see Jamie Zawinski’s explanation of the laws and logistics involved. For example, there are two copyrights on any given recorded song, but while only one needs to be licensed for radio broadcasts, both licenses are needed for Internet broadcasts.

Mr Zawinski’s points are well taken, although I have a slight quibble with one of his arguments. In order to keep the paperwork from becoming entirely unmanageable, the composer fees are sent to the various agencies as a single fee based on the number of songs played. The agencies then distribute the fees to the artists:

They do this statistically, by looking at the popular music charts: rather than paying the particular artists you’ve played, they just assume that almost all of your money should go to the most popular stars.

For the most part, that is a fair system. For example, if ninety-nine radio stations play N’sync while one plays Radiohead, it’s true that 99% of the Radiohead-playing station’s fees go to N’sync, it’s also true that 1% of the ninety-nine N’sync-playing stations’s fees go to Radiohead. That works out to one fee for Radiohead and ninety-nine for N’sync, which reflects their relative airplay in that hypothetical example.

Unfortunately, the distributions are apparently based on the Billboard charts, which presumably don’t list every band being played. That means the obscure bands probably get nothing, and their fees are going to the bands that are listed (and, proportionally, the top bands are getting the most). (via Doc Searls) #

Not quite the invisible hand

Elsewhere, Doc Searls argues against the CBDTPA, a new bill intended to promote adoption of broadband. The assumption is that people aren’t signing up for broadband because there aren’t any compelling uses such as streaming video, and there isn’t streaming video because of the threat of copyright violation. The solution is an SSSCA-style rule whereby all digital equipment has to have copy-protection at the hardware level.

The implicit assumptions are that the Internet needs to be like television in order to be successful, but everyone will distribute the video for free should it become available.

I can’t say I agree with either assumption. In a real sense, Internet has already “succeeded”. Granted, people aren’t making huge piles of money off it, but it’s become ubiquitous to the point where states put their domain names on their license plates. While it is true that people aren’t leaping to get high-speed connections (I certainly haven’t), I think that’s because the increase in speed isn’t perceived to be worth the increase in price. But people are still using Internet services at lower speeds.

The question arises: why does broadband deserve government support? If you provide a service but no-one wants it, why should the government try to monkey with a huge industry to help speed adoption? (The information technology industry is an order of magnitude larger than the entertainment industry.)

Mr Searls also mentions the threat the CBDTPA poses to Linux and other open-source projects. However, as with the SSSCA, we shouldn’t exclusively focus on the threat to free software.

This is a huge topic (even to the point where I don’t feel like picking out prior ZedneWeb references; there’s too many), but it’s not one that the average person is necessarily aware of. It’s also one of confusing stances: I support copyright in principle while opposing its abuse and extension and what seems to be the only sort of technological enforcement method with any hope of succeeding (and it’s a slim hope at that; people outside the U.S. (remember them?) are unlikely to go along with our regulations just because we say so, and there’s nothing at all that can be done to stop people from re-recording music or video while they’re being played).

As I said last year, when an industry finds itself at war with its own customers, it’s time to rethink things. #