Today is Software Freedom Day

Graphic sun rises over a green hill

What is Software Freedom Day About?

In a time when our lives are increasingly dependent on technologies,
it is important we take the time to consider the impact of technology on our lives,
and the importance of ensuring technology isn’t used to limit us,
but rather to take us further along a path of
opportunity, innovation and freedom for all people.”

“Proprietary software keeps the source code locked away from public scrutiny
which means that there is no way to know exactly what the software actually does,
and no way to trust it to safeguard your human rights.

“Software Freedom Day is a global celebration and education of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever.”
from Freedom by Pia Waugh

Software freedom, Trademark, Patent and Copyright reform all overlap. My mind has boggled over the years as individual letters of the alphabet have been Trade Marked:

The madness has been escalating as corporations and organizations seek to take ownership of things that they have no real right to. Years ago I remember thinking how absurd it was that Toys “Я” Us laid claim to the letter “R”. Apparently they made a case for their creative use of their backward letter “R” to represent the word “are”. It seems incredible that any court would foolishly allow any corporation exclusive rights to a letter of the alphabet in current use, let alone as a symbol for a common word in our language.

Whether or not that was the intent, Toys “Я” Us has ever after aimed their legal juggernaut at any company daring to use the letter “R” — pointing in any direction– as a word ever since. “Right” doesn’t come into it. Without deep pockets and a crack legal team, no one can stand up to an onslaught by Toys “Я” Us.

The Eleventh Minute, the Eleventh Hour, the Eleventh Day

Mathematical equations have been patented (that’s what software is: equations) and copyright law is preventing performers from putting their own music on the Internet.

RMS GNU/Linux-libre: your portable libre operating system small enough to fit on a flash drive (aka thumb drive, pen drive, memory stick) or a live CD. Not recommended for new users unless they are very tech savvy.

You can find out more about Software Freedom on StopUBB:Celebrate Software Freedom Day

i was just asked “How has using free software changed your outlook”.

Having to discard perfectly good software that works well and satisfies the need simply because the corporation either:

  1. went out of business
  2. decided to stop supporting it

is a bad thing. Forcing consumers to buy new software is expensive in both monetary cost as well as the necessary time spent to learn the new stuff. Another consideration that almost ever considered is the cost to the environment. Discarding tech equipment before it should be thrown out is becoming an environmental nightmare made worse by the hazardous elements contained in many components.

I can hand crank my gramophone and play music pressed on 78’s without electricity. It’s a piece of equipment that is likely more than 50 years old but it still works and plays analog media that is much older still. Yet electronics don’t have that kind of staying power. How many computer components are in our landfills?

Other things that encourage both my use and support of free software are the heavy handed application of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Technical Protection Measures (TPM). These are methods employed in hardware and software to force your tech stuff to be subservient to the manufacturer. In many if not most cases DRM/TPM result in degrading the hardware or software, sometimes making it difficult to use, sometimes just crippling it so that things that should work don’t, and sometimes breaking it so that it doesn’t work at all. It used to be inadvertent “bugs” were the biggest problem in running software. Today it’s deliberate DRM. I suppose you could put DRM on free software but people would know what it was and correct it out. As far as I’m concerned, DRM is as much malware as spyware or viruses. If it is going to be allowed at all, it needs to be clearly labelled. The fact that it is not and consumers only know about it after they’ve purchased it is a huge government #fail

The biggest thing free software has done to change my outlook is that it has changed my way of thinking. Because the principals behind free software can be applied in many more things. For me, it’s made me rethink the idea of copyright, and then rethink it again. It has in fact encouraged me to join what Cory Doctorow calls the copyfight. As a writer, I’m embracing the concept of self publishing, and I will be releasing my debut novel under a Creative Commons License.

Balloons atop a Software Freedom Day badge

Because Canada has been under a great deal of pressure to “update” or strengthen” our copyright laws, three succeeding governments have tabled Copyright legislation. Fortunately for Canada, all three attempts have been by minority governments. “Fortunately” because the legislation would not serve Canadians, rather these draft bills could have been written by the largely foreign Media Copyright lobby. Minority governments are the only time Canadian citizens have any chance of being able to stop bad laws. The first two dreadful attempts at copyright reform went up in smoke as elections were called.

Currently we are faced with Bill C-32, which was introduced following the 2009 Canadian Copyright Consultation. More than 8,000 Canadian submissions emphatically said “no” to a Canadian DMCA, in particular “digital locks” or DRM/TPM. Yet the current government has tabled Bill C-32 in which DRM/TPM are set above all other considerations, in fact making it illegal to circumvent DRM/TPM for non-copyright infringing purposes.

I’ll be compiling a blog post of copyright links in my personal blog as my own personal initiative for creative freedom today.

It’s safe to say using Free Software has changed my outlook rather a lot. 😀

Happy Software Freedom Day!

For more information:
The website:                     The concept:
Software Freedom Day              SFD: An open letter
The philosophy:
here be dragons: It’s the ability to learn tools, not the tools themselves


artists and record companies

our story so far…

Flora records The Hummingbirds album

If you’re new to music industry news, you should be aware that the Canadian “Big Four” which makes up the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) is pretty much the same as the American “Big Four” or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The Canadian corporations are all branch plants of the American mother companies.

Before the rise of the Internet these corporations pretty much controlled most music recording and distribution. The Internet has changed things quite a bit. In Canada one very big change has been that 30% of the Canadian recordings are Independent of the CRIA big Four.

This is a serious threat to these industries. In the United States the massive media conglomerates including the RIAA and the film Industry equivalent, the Motion Picture Association of America MPAA have successfully lobbied the American Government to make laws beneficial to their business interests in the form of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, as well as prosecuting the secret trade negotiations called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)

Canadian DMCA

How does this affect Canada?

The Canadian government has introduced new copyright legislation called Bill C-32 The Copyright Modernization Act into our federal legislature. The same way that the Canadian CRIA branch plants mirror the American mother companies, the American DMCA is mirrored in the proposed Bill C-32.

The so-called copyright reforms are beneficial to the corporations but not to consumers. In order to justify this the corporations attempt to occupy the high moral ground by using the argument that the labels are pushing this copyright legislation in order to benefit the artists. They claim that piracy — a word that is used to lump together activities from personal format shifting to commercial bootlegging– takes money away from the artists.

There is a wide spectrum of recording artists. At the one extreme there are the entry level acts, in the middle you have struggling artists and at the far end you’ll find the tiny percentage of stars.

Stars may have the opportunity to renegotiate their contract, or even to dictate terms. None of the other artists are able to do this because the record companies have traditionally held a disproportionate amount of power by virtue of controlling recording and distribution channels.

Eminem is a star. How does Universal Music treat him?

Giant screens project Eminem's image above the distant stage

Last week the music industry was shaken by court decision on a lawsuit. Universal Music, one of the big four record companies. has been ordered to distribute more of the money collected in royalties to the rap star Eminem.
The Star: Court ruling in Eminem case may raise pay for digital downloads
This article reveals some really interesting things.

Universal argued that Eminem should be paid a standard 18 per cent royalty rate for those sales, as he is for physical copies

are you kidding me?
18% for digital downloads?

FBT contended that providing a song to iTunes was actually a third-party licensing situation, similar to film and TV deals, which calls for a 50 per cent royalty rate.

The thing about digital distribution is that it costs next to nothing.

Once the initial costs are paid — recording, promotion — the actual distribution costs is free. The income is pure profit.

Universal said it will petition for a rehearing.

Universal is unwilling to give creator Eminem 50% of the profits.

This record company is going to go back to court and fight this.
I have to wonder how the mid range recording artists make out. Or the little guys.

Though the suit centered on details in Eminem’s contract, the basic principles involved could be relevant for other acts, especially those with deals made before the advent of digital downloading. Stiffelman and other experts said most newer artists have contracts that specify compensation for downloads.

Do these newer artists get 50% of the profit from downloads?

Or 18%?

or less?

I don’t know, but if 18% is the most a star like Eminem was able to negotiate, 18% is probably the high end.

The Motown Alumni Association, whose membership includes Martha Reeves and the Four Tops, had filed an amicus brief on FBT’s behalf.

“All the Motown artists who now receive a penny (per download) may be in a position to negotiate a new royalty because of this decision,” Martin said.

Motown artists have been enjoying a royalty of one penny a download.

1¢ per download → Artist     68¢ per download → Record Company

The Artist wrote and performed the songs.
The Record Company fronted the money for studio time, promotion and distribution (most probably all recouped from the artist portion of royalty over time).

After recording is done, digital distribution costs next to nothing.

Which is why personal copying and online music and movie sharing is so nearly universal. It costs next to nothing.
Yet a record company like Universal would rather fight their own artists tooth and nail than share the proceeds of sales with the artists in anything like an equitable fashion.

And of course I also wonder what the record company contributes that justifies a cut as high as 50% on a download.

Is it any wonder musicians are choosing to go Independent?

maple leaf leaning right

All the so called copyright “reforms” — the DMCA, the DEAct, ACTA and our very own Canadian DMCA, Bill C-32 — exist to legislate anti progress. They want to protect the imbalance of power recording companies had over creators in the latter part of the 20th century.

They want to change the laws to take away the freedom of choice that technological progress has brought creators.

Canada needs copyright law that will help creators, not corporations.

[Thanks to Jason Koblovsky for the heads up]

Image credit:
Eminem in Concert photo by Andy Sternberg under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License