Category Archives: free software

copyright don’t ask don’t tell

The other day I emailed a netlabel to ask if I could rehost their album art. They didn’t have a version of it online for me to include using a direct link, and it wasn’t under a permissive license that would permit me to redistribute it.

Then yesterday I emailed a fellow who had put up a sound sample under a license I can’t use to ask if I could have permission to use the sample anyway.

Neither of these people have gotten back to me. That’s not a coincidence – rights holders have an incentive to be cagey. They benefit from saying nothing. I doubt that either of the people I emailed would object to my use. But compare what they get for saying nothing to what they get for saying something:

– If they say no, I don’t help market their works. I represent viral spread to them, and they want it.

– If they say yes, they give up the opportunity to charge me.

– If they say nothing and I do it anyway, they gain both viral marketing and the ability to sue me.

Not giving permission but not saying no is all upside for rights holders.

They don’t even want to be *asked*. Let’s say a rights holder had a web app for infringers to tell on themselves, so that a user of the app would be submitting a statement to tell the rights holder that they were infringing. Wouldn’t this create an obligation for the rights holder to complain? Oh noes! If they didn’t complain they might lose their ability to sue. If they did complain they might lose viral marketing.

So that’s copyright don’t ask don’t tell. Rights holders want you to infringe without either asking them or telling them.

pure AJAX audio formats now a reality

The best hack I’ve seen since Brad Neuberg did AMASS in 2005: Arek Korbik implements Vorbis in Flash, with no dedicated Vorbis support provided by Adobe as part of Flash. It’s a god-level piece of hacking.

What Arek’s hack means is that new sound formats can now be implemented in pure AJAX and deployed with browser-borne technology. This breaks the logjam at MP3, where new audio formats could never reach wide deployment because the only one that Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe could agree on was MP3. The result of the logjam was that innovation related to audio file formats was over in about 1998.

That innovation can now start up again. We can expect growth of patent-free codecs like Vorbis and FLAC. I’ll bet there will be a JSON-based audio format based on Vorbis. And in the long term, freaky Big Daddy Roth audio files with chromed metadata, embedded blenders, etc.


Upate: I’m getting a little pushback from people who feel that (1) there’s nothing new here because it has been possible to do Vorbis using Java applets for a while and (2) this method doesn’t support video.

Java is not a viable option. Most people don’t have Java installed, and the people who do have it installed won’t tolerate the slow and ugly startup. About the need for video, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One thing at a time.

what is the point of the right to redistribute?

Something I’ve never understood about Creative Commons is the emphasis on redistribution rights.

For the most part, CC licenses focus on who can upload a copy of a file. A song under any CC license can by uploaded by anybody whose activity fits within the terms of the license. For example, the Attribution-Sharealike license allows third parties to upload copies without asking permission as long as they give attribution and use the same license on their uploads.

Who needs the right to upload? It’s not something that anybody making work under a CC license even needs to grant, since virtually of them host freely accessible copies on the web. All anybody needs to access these works is to know the URL of the original file.

With files that are already on the web it doesn’t make sense to do filesharing, so there’s no need to permit redistribution. Filesharing is purely a pain in the ass for users, who have to leave the normal browser experience and launch a dedicated piece of software. You could maybe make a case for BitTorrent as a way to spread the bandwidth load, but that relies on a level of popularity which almost no CC works attain. And anyhow, there’s no need for an explicit license to permit BitTorrent as long as the rights holder hosts the seed file, since that would very much imply that BitTorrenting was fine.

The only thing that you really need a Creative Commons license for is the ability to make derivative works, which gives you the ability to do remixes. This is genuinely useful because there is no other way to do it. Without a license to make a derivative work you are up a creek, and making derivative works is a fundamental operation for participation in culture.