Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wikipedia and Antipiracy Laws

So, if you have noticed, we've had a Wikipedia blackout. I normally use Wikipedia to look up dozens of articles daily, so I'd be pissed if their protest wasn't really valid.

As innocent they sound, the "Intellectual Property" laws are a big threat, really. They are somehow understandable, which is the reason why they exist, but at the same time, they may be a big threat to modern civilization.

You might think that they are not a problem to you, as they only prevent criminals from making crimes. You might even think that you want your intellectual properties be protected.

Their aim is to prevent illegal copying. Artists and others work so that they would get paid, and illegal copying is kind-of stealing from them. So, forbidding illegal copying is rather understandable.

So what's the fuzz about?

Let's consider the problem with DVDs. They use the "CSS" encryption mechanism to prevent unauthorized copying. Fine, excellent, evil pirates suffer, right?

Unfortunately, watching CSS-encrypted movies requires special software that holds a special decryption key. The software is usually free-of-charge, but it's only for Windows, and perhaps for Mac as well. For Linux, which I use, there is no such authorized software for watching DVDs.

Fortunately, some Norwegian guy cracked the CSS key and wrote a decryption algorithm some 10 years ago and now there's "DeCSS", an algorithm to play (and copy) any DVDs.

So, over the years I've bought some 200 DVD movies and I've always watched them with Linux and nothing else. I've never copied a DVD that I've bought, only watched them.

However, using the DeCSS algorithm for any purpose is illegal in Finland. It's been tried in court.

The fact is that, once cracked, CSS became totally obsolete forever. The laws will never have any effect on unauthorized copying. But they will continue to prevent morally right use of your property.

So, pirates who operate illegally of course use the DeCSS decryption to make one copy which they then copy to millions. But people like myself, who buy DVD movies legally, are criminals. Trying to stop a few criminals, they incriminate perhaps millions of Linux-users around the world.

So why should you care? Linux users are somewhat rare, and you're probably not one of them (except if you use any of the 60% of the web or 55% of smartphones or a TV).

Oh, but it also affects Windows users. There's free DVD watching software for Windows as well, such as VLC, which is actually quite popular as it's very good. But it's illegal, as it has to use DeCSS. The laws prevent writing and distributing any free software that you could use to watch DVDs.

Obviously, preventing the use of free software to watch legal DVDs was not the purpose of the laws. It's just a consequence.

It's a good example of a case where somewhat understandable reasons lead to absurd results. Even so, the vast majority of the Finnish parliament supported the law. And there is a lot more IP legistlation on the way.

Oh, did I mention that Finnish consumers can legally copy movies and music for their own use and to friends. We even pay a tax for that when we buy DVD-Rs. But copying by circumventing CSS is illegal.

Given the absurd criminalization and heavy anti-"piracy" lobbying to take away your rights, you should have no sympathy for the movie industry. O'hoy pirates! Go and board them!

So, to SOPA or PIPA...

I'm not personally familiar with the new legistlation initiatives in the USA. As far as I've understood, it's something similar as the recent Finnish laws that allow blocking child porn and peer-to-peer download sites. The laws already have a sad history of abuse. For example, the laws do not allow blocking websites inside Finland, but they've nevertheless done so as there's no possibility to legally challenge the decisions.

The pattern is that "reasonable requirements" can have devastating effects. The current laws are largely based on the assumption that you are responsible for your own publications. The suggested laws place the responsibility on the owners of web servers and internet providers. So, if me or you were to publish the DeCSS code here in the blog, the Blogspot would be considered the "publisher" that is responsible for our writings. To protect itself, Blogspot would need to have editorial review for everything any one of the millions of bloggers write.

This would quickly kill almost all blogs, discussion forums, and websites in the Internet. Also Youtube and such. It would kill the basic freedoms that we take for granted, and most of the Internet.

Part of the Finnish goverment already has plans to expand the blocking further. Some want to block information about drugs and weapons. Then racism of course, blasphemy, information about bombs, porn, denying the Holocaust, undemocratic thought, ... anything to protect the children, leaders, gods, and corporate owners.

Even though basic IP laws may be necessary, the recent development upholds corporate ownership rights over consumer ownership rights. They are used to buttress dentrimental monopolies and force you to pay vastly overcharged prices, even for basic necessities. They distinguish diversity and freedom, which are the life forces of the modern technological and scientific ecosystem.

So when you see the blackout screen at Wikipedia, just imagine the day when it could be blacked out by your government.