REPORT: ACTA – The OpenBytes view

So that everyone understands whats being talked about ACTA stands for Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.  It is a trade agreement being set up between America, Europe, Japan and pretty much anywhere in the world where piracy appears to be a problem.

The Free Software Foundation has run an article on this outlining some of the areas that will be affected if this goes into action.

So where do I stand on this?  I actually dont see a problem.  I will start with the DRM issue.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and basically prevents people from sharing commercial music/video (check out the Wikipedia link for a more detailed description).  Software freedom for me, means exactly that.  Its freedom for the user to choose which software is best for them, be it free or commercial, but that freedom has to go both ways and be fair for developers or people who own the intellectual property.

Let me give an example.  I write an application, which I release as a binary as freeware.   I dont want people to modify my source code and I dont want people to have it.  Isnt that my right as a developer?  The end user is still getting free software, and I get to distribute my software in the way I want.  Everyones a winner.  If people dont like the fact that my software is not open source, then they can find a similar package that is.  That to me is real software freedom.

So lets say the copyright owner of a TV show that is being streamed on the net, doesnt want people recording it, maybe because it can be resold to other TV companies later or maybe because they are planning to sell a DVD of it, isnt that their right as the owners?  Just as I, in the above example didnt want to release my source code, a TV show producer may not want people to record a copy.  Isnt that real freedom?  If people dont like the policy then Id suggest that they dont watch/listen to that particular product.  At the end of the day, the owner has a right to distribute/display THEIR material in any way they see fit.

I agree with the fundamental ethos of sites like Free Software Foundation, however I think there are some individuals who take the software freedom issue to far, and forget that true software freedom, should be freedom for the individual AND for the developer.  Its that freedom, which if the user doesnt like a particular developer/owners way of distributing they can boycott the product.

Unfortunately people who speak out against this type of agreement try to make the problem sound worse than it is.  Heres a qoute from the FSF article:

“It will make it harder for users of free operating systems to play media: Consumers will no longer be able to buy media without DRM — and DRMed media cannot be played with free software.”

Are they saying that the tallented people behind all the free software we enjoy, wont be able to find a solution?  are they saying that a possible market of Linux customers will be ignored, just because Linux is free?  Id suggest if they feel that strongly against DRM, simply boycott any product that utilises it.  There simple.

I say again, software freedom is for both developer and end user, If I wrote a piece of software and only wanted people who liked to wear red hats to have it, that would be my right as the owner/creator of that work, if you dont want to wear a red hat, go and download an alternative.

Commercial software is good for Open Source or Free software and vice versa.  Free/Open Source forces commercial products to offer better value and functionality/support for its users and Commercial software sets benchmarks for the level at which open source is judged.

I have in the past, after looking at all alternatives found that a commercial package is better suited for me.  The argument that you buy something only to find it useless is very rare these days.  Most commercial packages offer a trial period so that you can ensure that its what you want.  Ive been very happy with the commercial purchases I have made, they have been made as a result of an informed decision.  Again, isnt this true software freedom?  the freedom of choice?

The whole argument starts to slip into the debate about Piracy, which is something that wont be discussed fully, however I would give you the following example:  Imagine you were selling your own oil paintings from your house, your nextdoor nieghbour decides to sell copies of your work, either cheaper or giving them away for free.  Would you be able to make a living?  Wouldnt you consider doing something else?  The same is for companies.  If they dont make money, they wont do it.  Its not rocket science.  If a company wants to release its material in a certain way, it can, thats their right.  Thats true software freedom, afterall you dont have to buy it.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Harris says:

    The big problem with DRM is that it breaks. No-one has yet come up with a solution that works across all platforms or hardware. The recent screw-up by EA Games with Spore is a classic example. There, the DRM actually encouraged piracy because people who had legitimately purchased the game couldn’t get it to authenticate due to poor management by EA, so they downloaded a pirated version so that they could play the game they had paid good money for.

    You argue for choice, but the RIAA and MPAA, who are pushing this treaty, want you to have no choice at all.

  2. openbytes says:

    Thanks for posting.

    Fair points, however if DRM is pushed onto people and it is fundamentally flawed, then demand will drop and DRM will be forced a rethink/redevelopment.

    Putting the DRM issues aside, the main debate on on the net in regards to it (and the main problem that people have with it) is that it prevents copying, and Im quite sure that the complaints would still be there even if it worked 100% cross platform.

    I do argue for choice, but choice for all. I look at it like this, you dont have to purchase the product. Thats the choice, and to be honest I can understand why DRM is a necessary step.

    I am quite sure the majority of users can be trusted, that if they make a copy of their original purchase, it is to be a backup for personal use. Unfortunately there are those that want it for nothing, and thats not fair if the owner of the media wants to make money from it. Just like we have speed cameras because some people cannot be trusted to keep to the speed limit, we have DRM for similar reasons.

    Ive read the argument about Spore issues, however if thats the case, under your consumer rights you can get a refund “Not fit for purpose” If people did that instead of helping spread it with piracy, it might force the companies responsible to make sure that their releases actually do authenticate and solve the problem.

    Is the game Spore so important to people, that they absolutely have to download it, because they cant play it any other way? I would hope not, its only a game and theres more to life.

  3. Mark Harris says:

    With the hype EA built up over this, they wound the kids up to fever pitch with their downloadable creature creator software. What parent wants disappointed kids?

    My point was not whether the consumers should have waited, but whether EA’s DRM caused the opposite effect. Why is it always the consumer that has to do the right thing? Why not the supplier?

    iTunes and other music sites are now offering (some of) their tracks without DRM. Most of the major music labels are doing the same, as they recognize they’re hurting their business.

    DRM *has* failed because it prevents usage. Digital systems work by making copies of bits, however transient – that’s their nature. Once you put blockage in the way of that process, you make the systems less useful.

  4. openbytes says:

    You said “With the hype EA built up over this, they wound the kids up to fever pitch with their downloadable creature creator software. What parent wants disappointed kids?”

    – I agree that a parent doesnt want to disappoint, but come on this is computer software. Are we saying that our kids are able to dictate when and what we buy for them purely because advertising has already sold the product to them? What happens if your child is only young and has seen a GTA3 advert? To we give in to them? Of course not. As parents we set rules, and I would hope nobody runs a family where a child can demand a product and always get it. These are computer games.

    Q. Why is it always the consumer that has to do the right thing? Why not the supplier?

    A. Because it is the supplier offering the product, you dont have to buy it. If the new Audi does not appeal to me, I wouldnt moan at the company to change it, Id simply buy a different car. Thats because we have freedom of choice.

    You said “iTunes and other music sites are now offering (some of) their tracks without DRM. Most of the major music labels are doing the same, as they recognize they’re hurting their business.”

    – Thats great then, and its as I said, freedom of software should give rights to both developer and end user alike. If the company has decided to change its distribution method then thats great.

    You said “DRM *has* failed because it prevents usage. Digital systems work by making copies of bits, however transient – that’s their nature. Once you put blockage in the way of that process, you make the systems less useful.”

    I never said it had worked, however its up to the company who owns the material to make a decision on how its released.

    Great debating with you, however there can never be an argument against measures like DRM until piracy has been removed.

    Companies will always seek ways to prevent piracy and in turn make more profit from a product. You cant blame them, and the minute they stop making money is the minute they stop releasing products.

    I think the difficulty we face now is that with the current financial crisis, people are looking for more ways to save money. Piracy will appeal to alot who think “its a big firm, they wont loose out”
    Its funny though, shoplifters use the same analogy.

    Im not trying to flame, and I know that some people dont consider software is “property you can steal” but just imagine this, if I came over to your house and phoned a premium rate number without your permission, and you got a bill for £100 would you consider I had stolen from you?

  5. Mark Harris says:

    If you don’t give in to your kids, that’s great. They need discipline. Many do, however. If kids weren’t a driving force in many commercial decisions, there would be no advertising on children’s television.

    “but just imagine this, if I came over to your house and phoned a premium rate number without your permission, and you got a bill for £100 would you consider I had stolen from you?”

    Of course I would. That is theft under the law. But that’s not what DRM is about. DRM is about controlling your use of something you have paid for, to the point where it may become unusable. It’s about limiting your choices. Yeah, you don’t have to buy the product, as long as there’s a competing product, but what if there’s not?

    Look a little more closely at what ACTA may do (difficult, because they’re doing it in secret so we don’t really know). They’re talking about criminalising activities that aren’t currently illegal, about shutting down P2P, which many companies use to shift legitimate patches.

  6. openbytes says:

    “DRM is about controlling your use of something you have paid for, to the point where it may become unusable”

    Firstly great debate by the way!

    Completely agree with your point about DRM. But then the reason the control is needed is due to piracy in the first place. If there was no piracy there would be no DRM, there would be no need.

    Youre point of view strikes me more as an anti-piracy argument rather than an anti DRM. For me lets take for example the ZX Spectrum. To prevent piracy a game brought in a lens lock (a sort of magnifying glass that allowed you to read a jumbled mass on the screen as a password. This was introduced as twin tape drives were able to copy spectrum games.

    Move on a few years to the SNES. The only device for copying was the Magicom, it hardly got any exposure in the UK and hence Snes cartridges did not need any extra copy protection.

    Now look at today, DRM is needed because piracy is a problem. The companies wouldnt need to control the use of their products if everyone who wanted it was purchasing it legally.

    Youre right about us not knowing the ins and outs of ACTA, because of secrecy, however people constantly rant about the closure of P2P, would that be such a bad thing. Yes, legitimate software can be downloaded from it, although ive had faster results downloading the same software from the website.
    Take a look at the new version of firefox and how many millions downloaded that in the first day alone. I dont think P2P is the be all and end all, and certainly not really an issue for a company who has to release patches.

    In regards to criminalising things that are not, we should be all used to that by now. Certainly in the UK laws are being modified and changed all the time, to respond to whatever is the latest “hot potato”

    Im normally very guilty of unintentionally coming over rude in my posts, I hope this is not the case because this is a really interesting debate for me and the first time Ive managed to chat to someone about this topic without obscene language being thrown about.

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