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Protecting Copyrights - Reductio Ad Absurdum - and a Choice: An Independent FOSS Study
Monday, May 03 2004 @ 04:40 PM EDT

Here's a hopeless scheme. Microsoft has revealed its DRM Janus software to the world, named after the Roman god of gates and doors. An inside joke, a little double entendre, I gather. It's designed to make your music go poof after a time, no matter where you put it. That's appropriate. Whenever I've bought Gates' software, my money went poof.

That way you can rent music instead of owning it, and they can make sure you don't get to keep it past a few days. I'm not making this up:

"The company's latest 'digital rights management' software, code-named Janus, was released Monday. It will give songs and videos purchased through subscription services a sort of digital expiration date that works even when the data is transferred from a computer. The technology also protects the content against piracy.

"The goal is to make it easier for companies who want customers to rent songs or videos, rather than own them, to also let those users play back the content on portable players.

"For example, with the new technology a user could rent several movies for a long trip, download them onto a portable player and then watch the movies until the rental expires a month later. A user also could rent songs for a set period and play them back on a portable player.

"'At the moment the current subscription models that are out there are so hobbled by the fact that they cannot be taken away from the computer,' Microsoft spokesman Jason Reindorp said."

They pretend the problem is that people aren't flocking to subscription models because they couldn't temporarily take their music on a trip. So they solved that consumer "problem". However, the article tells the truth. They invented this two-faced, appropriately named DRM product to make it easier for companies. They solved Disney's problem, or imagine they have. The problem they are trying to solve is: how can you force the world to stick to the old business model of entertainment companies after disruptive technology has been invented?

Nobody wants to rent disappearing music. Period.

Can you be more hostile to consumers than this? You could make an argument about movies, I suppose, and heaven knows, as a paralegal, I believe in law. But renting music? Not to mention this stuff only works if you buy a newly developed portable player, which you can buy, in order to hobble yourself, in about two or three months. I'm sure you are salivating.

What's next? Laws that forbid any other type of portable player? That is surely the only way anyone will ever use such a system. That's not even talking about that 12-year-old somewhere who will figure out a workaround using magic markers, a paper clip and chewing gum or something in about five minutes from now. (Cf. a funny and revealing interview with the very old Jack Valenti, with a warning that he uses some bad language. He didn't know that you can't play his DVDs on Linux. Well, he learns there is one way, and when you get there, that's when the language gets bad. I'm letting you know so that if you, like me, prefer not to read such things, you won't be ambushed.) These schemes can't solve this problem. When the only way you can stay in business is to jail your customers or compel them in the name of the law to use products they hate and would never freely choose, there may be something wrong with your business model, not to mention the world.

There is a Janus software project for Linux, as you may have noticed in the above link about the Roman god. The page says it's "a security tool for sandboxing untrusted applications within a restricted execution environment. This can be used to limit the harm that can be caused by any successful compromise of the application." Now that sounds actually useful. I think Windows could use some of that, instead spending R & D money to come up with ways to sell customers products they don't want and won't use even if you gave them to them for free.

If you think that story is absurd, how about this one? Some politician in Germany thinks Microsoft can solve some of its security problems and has signed an agreement with the company:

"The agreement, signed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Interior Minister Otto Schily, commits Microsoft to working with several security-related bodies and supporting a German standard for secure legal transactions.

"As part of the deal, Germany will license extensible markup language (XML) dialects used by Office 2003, the latest version of Microsoft's market-leading productivity package.

"Microsoft agreed late last year to provide royalty-free licenses for the XML schemas used by the main applications in Office, following an experiment with the Danish government.

"Office uses XML to ensure that data in documents can be read by other computing systems. While XML itself is an open standard, Office builds on the standard with proprietary schemas some feared could be used to lock out competing applications."

So. Laugh? Cry? Microsoft has a plan, all right. And Sun says open standards are better than open source. Duh. Standards bodies are top-down. You can control them or trick them to do a large corporation's bidding. Open source keeps you honest, as Linus pointed out. For one thing, there is nobody to bribe. Here is a snip from a Canadian study of Open Source, that Groklaw reader Peter Zoeller sent me. On page 50, it discusses that very subject:

"Open Standards and Open Source – Déjà vu

"The principle of open standards has been broadly accepted as key to effective development and use of ICT solutions. The concept of open standards is increasingly mentioned in the context of open source. What is not clear is how the 'top down' development and governance processes of the 'traditional' standards bodies will interact with the “bottom up” standards evolution model of the open source community.

"Steinreich in his review of legislation aimed at anti-trust protection (Steinreich, 2001) exposes how open-standards processes can be manipulated . These cautions underscore the tendency for proprietary interests to subvert public interest, and reinforce conclusions of Wichmann et al (2002) in their specific review of open standards."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why open standards are *not* better than open source. Patents, they say, are another nasty weapon proprietary companies use against standards:

"Legal Minefields and Confusion

"Software was protected primarily by copyright until 1979, when the US Patent and Trademarks started using the more liberal interpretation that it applies to any invention that 'uses' software. Software patents represent 15% of all 20,000 patents granted each year; they account for 25% of the annual growth. Nefarious use of software patents by dominant IT players, such as their hoarding and the use of 'continuation tactics' for submarine attacks on open standards, is detrimental for software innovation in general, and OSS developments. The SCO lawsuit against IBM for $3 billion is but the latest incident in a long saga of intellectual property lawsuits."

The Canadian study is interesting, if only because it actually is an independent study, with no Microsoft hovering behind the curtain. And they surveyed people already using GNU/Linux in business, not Windows users contemplating such a move. First, they note that FOSS is growing by leaps and bounds in business. Second, the GPL is the most widely chosen license. Third, here are the top two reasons people choose GNU/Linux systems: cost reduction and vendor independence. Ah, vendor independence. I wonder why they feel they'd like to have that? Independence from whom?

What else? "[T]he majority of respondents were of the opinion that open source applications were sufficiently mature for business use. Very few (1%) felt that open source applications were immature and not suitable for business." "Business drivers not listed on the questionnaire which were frequently identified in the written comments included innovation, reliability, determined interactions, code independence, response time to bug-fixes, and compliance with open standards. These were accompanied by comments such as '... for a government agency, reducing licensing costs makes long term sense, considering limited budgets and the source of revenue'. There were a few comments expressing an anti-proprietary software sentiment, in reaction to what is perceived [as] abusive marketing tactic[s]..."

Like music that goes poof? No. The study was done in September of 2003, prior to Janus' unveiling, and anyway, the study was about business use. Actually, here is what they mean:

"Overall, public sector interest in OSS is intensifying for a number of reasons, which include:
  • Significantly increased costs imposed by new licensing schemes
  • The need to mitigate the risk of domination by a single software platform
  • The realization that technology expenditures have not benefited domestic ICT industries
  • Lowering the cost of e-government
  • Choosing open source products is increasingly 'good enough' to address requirements"

They actually studied the total cost of ownership issue, and here is what they found:

"Empirical data on the cost benefit impact experienced by organizations implementing open source ICT strategy is beginning to surface. In Canada, School Board in Kamloops BC was able to reduce its IT budget by 66% and reduce the number of staff required to manage servers from six to two. In addition, this staff is also actively engaged in developing new applications. By using a software-based thin client strategy they were also able to greatly expand the number of computers in the classroom by recycling older computers donated by local government and industry. It should be noted that recruitment of more technically competent staff was crucial in achieving these savings and the positive outcomes.

"Fitzgerald and Kenny (2003) described a particularly illuminating case study of the Beaumont Hospital in Ireland. In the Beaumont study, OSS is extensively deployed vertically, onto the desktop, as well as horizontally on servers. Although the cost of implementing specific OSS applications was typically € 10,000, the 5-year total cost of ownership (TCO) was estimated to be 20 times less with OSS than closed source."

Security was mentioned as another plus. I guess the guy in Germany didn't get the memo:

"The reported benefits emphasized quality and customizability. '[We] can create well-fitting solutions quickly and then are able to support them after-the-fact', and, '[OSS provides] access to high quality developers, and [the] ability to share development strategies, insights, and best practices'. The importance of vendor independence was stressed, with comments such as, 'Only with Open Source can organizations build on mutual success and cooperation. Everyone wins; nobody is held hostage.' Costs were also mentioned, 'OSS can reduce costs, improve security and provide a more stable environment than proprietary solutions'. Security, too: 'Security problems are rare and are fixed quickly'."

They cite on page 40 numerous other recent government studies similar to theirs and here is the overview of what the studies concluded:

"Common recommendations in government studies include:

  • Legitimizing existing internal use of OSS
  • Establishing infrastructure to facilitate OSS industry development
  • Ensuring that OSS is given fair treatment in government procurement

"The benefits attributed to OSS in these reports include:

  • Cost savings
  • User responsive application development and customization
  • Maximization of return on taxpayer dollars
  • Open systems, interoperability and vendor independence

"The Mitre study conducted for the US Department of Defense (Bollinger, 2003) suggests three additional aspects of OSS in large public sector institutions that need to be considered when assessing the value of OSS projects:

  • OSS adds diversity and therefore robustness in response to threat
  • Unfounded fears of security issues prevent optimum use of existing OSS resources
  • Cost savings are substantial and often unrecognized, particularly in research facilities"

There is this warning not to mess with the open source methodology:

"There are cautionary notes however. According to Maher (2000), complexity as a characteristic of complex adaptive systems, has been a major factor in OSS success. 'The only way to ensure that this highly technical achievement continues is to ensure the continued complexity of the open source model ... while this may provide a general guideline for others to attempt to replicate this incentive structure in similar contexts, it also highlights the fact that specific activities can pose a threat to the beneficial complexity'. Maher warns that natural attempts to control process and remove uncertainty might result in a significant reduction of product quality and adaptability."
In short, it's vital that Linux *not* "grow up", as SCO put it, and that the apparent chaos of the process not be tampered with -- it's the secret sauce that makes it better than proprietary software.

And what does the study conclude? -- "All in all, governments are being advised take action to exploit the potential of OSS." Some old-fashioned businesses might start thinking along the same lines, or they might end up going the way of the do-do bird. You know, that really heavy bird that couldn't fly that is now extinct?


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