links for 2006-08-30

Debian, DRM, And Misunderstanding Freedom

Some years before the DMCA became law, Debian filed the serial number off the Free Software Definition, added some confusion, and produced the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). Over the years the DFSG have suffered bitrot as copyright law and the strategies used to attack freedom have evolved. In particular, the DFSG predate the laws used to support DRM. With the emergence of the Creative Commons licenses, the DFSG have started to cause problems for free licensing, not surprisingly around the issue of DRM.

Debian (or rather Debian Legal) believe that the ability for DRM vendors to impose DRM on users is an important freedom that should not be limited by licenses. This is based on a misunderstanding of clause 3 of the FSD/DFSG and a romanticisation of the nature of DRM.

The misunderstanding of clause 3 (no restriction of where or how work can be used) is a simple one. Taken literally clause 3 means that the GPL is not free because you cannot “use” the code to produce proprietary works. This is the line that BSD apologists take. It is a simple category error. DRM can make copyleft content effectively proprietary and undo the freedoms given by the license if the license on the work does not recognise the existence of DRM. It is illogical to argue that licenses that recognise this possible removal of freedom are restrictive. A society that forbids people from owning slaves is not less free than a society that allows slavery. Restrictions on restrictions on freedom are protections of freedom, not impositions of unfreedom in any meaningful sense.

The romanticisation of DRM comes because Debian Legal are mistakenly viewing DRM as a technology rather than as a strategy of copyright law extension. Computers are a technology, so is the printing press. Their use can be regulated, and indeed this is where we get copyright from. But copyright is hundreds of years old, whereas DRM law, which is an extension of copyright, is recent. Had Debian Legal and the FSF been around in the time of Queen Anne, Debian would have argued against copyleft on the basis that it restricted printing press owners’ right to use their technology as they see fit. DRM is an extension of copyright in law assisted by technological measures. This seems to make it a dog whistle for Debian Legal, who are unable to consider DRM as anything other than software or data, which freedom demands that users be able to modify as they wish. But writing “All Rights Reserved” in a GPL licensed program is simply a modification to a file. It is the legal impact of this act that removes freedom, and so users are disallowed from changing a few bytes of data in a few files in this particular way in order to protect freedom.

DRM is a way of removing users freedom. It is a way of making work proprietary. It is part of the extension of copyright law, but can remove the freedom to use even public domain works. If all it takes to circumvent the DFSG is a code element, I can easily write a shell script to remove the copyright headers from BSD-licensed code. I can even modify the files themselves to do so. Or I could were it not for the fact that BSD-licensed code forbids me from doing so. Which is a restriction on my freedom and so a breach of DFSG 3 which makes the BSD license unfree.

There will be better and worse ways of tackling DRM. Free culture licenses may well not be the place to attempt it. The way CC have done it may well not be the right way. But Debian Legal’s confused and dogmatic argument against the current CC license measures based on a misunderstanding of their own guidelines and of the issue at hand, or confused and emotive pleas to “pragmatism” in favour of pro-DRM zealotry, are not sufficient cause for CC to simply abandon their current measures, or to hastily adopt a dual distribution clause.

The GNU FDL Revision

Some details on the FDL revision from the second audio file linked from:

• 95% done.

• 3 licenses, Russian-doll style.

• A “simple fdl”, for example for wikis.

• BY-SA interoperability a goal. CC have been working with them on this.

• No invariant clauses. This removes my only practical objection to compatibility!

• Some ominous rumblings about flexible copyleft.

Indie Comic Publishers Not Respecting Fair Use

What does the title of this post call to mind? An indie publisher publishing a Mickey Mouse mash-up perhaps. That marxist version of Tintin possibly. You’d be wrong.

Nowdays indie publishers are more likely to be slapping an excessive copyright claim inside their books than treading on anyone else’s copyright. The “Bear” graphic novels I have claim, quite incorrectly, that you can only copy them for the purpose of review. This ignores private study in the UK and Fair Use in the US.

The most shocking example I’ve seen, shocking both for its severity and how cool the publisher doing it used to be, is Fantagraphics discalimer in the back of the new “Castle Waiting” graphic novel. Fantagraphics claim that if you want to reproduce anything from the book for review, you have to contact them for permission.

This is just wrong. Review is explicitly covered by Fair Dealing in the UK, and a standard feature of Fair Use in the US. Fantagraphics should know better, and if they do know better their attempt to reduce the scope of fair use in this way really doesn’t do them any favours. I’ve been reading Fantagraphics books for twenty years. I don’t expect this sort of thing from them.

Every indie publisher should place a notice saying “[Publisher X] respects Fair Use, including at least the right to reproduce this work for review and personal study” on their copyright page or in their copyright block. Any who refuse (possibly out of fear of offending Disney or UPS) suck like a vampire bat undr a cow. 


One of the things that always makes me feel very proud is supporting people in little ways to help them achieve big things.

Today was one such day. 



Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Serpentes on a Shippe! (spoylerez)

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Serpentes on a Shippe! (spoylerez)

And thus cam aftir vespers Sir Stuntman Number Oon and Sir Stuntman Number Two, son of Expendable Extra who had done manye deedes in the dayes of Uther Pendragon, and wyth hem Sir Stuntman Number Thre.

Yup. Snakes on a Plane given the Chaucerblog treatment.

The Madonna Code Revealed: Pointing to the Uplifted Blossom

The Madonna Code Revealed: Pointing to the Uplifted Blossom

In my research, I have noticed the affinity between the artists’ rendering of the various apparitions of female saints and the vulva.

Via Happy Famous Artists. Surprisingly convincing, but not safe for work.

PooterGeek » Blog Archive » Running Rings

PooterGeek » Blog Archive » Running RingsI'd ascribe one other quality to crop circles that is lacking in most contemporary British art: they are (or were) genuinely subversive. Their delicious Englishness shows up graffiti artist Banksy for what he is: the art business equivalent of a rich white pop singer acting out a fantasy of being a poor black man.Amen.

Flickr photos with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Flickr photos with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Get an RSS feed of the latest BY-SA photos on Flickr. I have one set up for images of drawings as well.

Sokref: Paul Laffoley

Paul Laffoley on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

Piece I saw at Kohler Art Center in a show called Utopia. It immediately reminded me of the Army DARPA posters I’ve seen, which are of course dystopic since they are for planning war and the aftermath.