Logic’s Last Stand

June 24, 2009

I Didn’t Pay to See a Commercial

Filed under: Computers, Gaming, Life, Movies, Music, Philosophy, Politics — Tags: , , , — Zurahn @ 12:50 am

An often ignored aspect of the “piracy” issue, at least on the side of strict intellectual copyright laws, is the matter of quality. The traditional concept of “pirated” media is that they’re cheap, low-quality versions. Poor quality and a hassle. Well, perhaps once true, this hardly the case anymore, and the shared versions over the Internet are a significant problem for traditional media because the quality is in fact better.

When you have a better product, it’s easier to charge more. If you have the same product, you can still get the sale based out of guilt and implicit morality. When your product is worse than what’s free, you’re a lost cause.

Put in a DVD and you are treated to a series of advertisements showing off the publisher of the content. Choose to play the content, and you then get the honour of sitting through the warning reminding you that you can get a free version without all this crap, except you shouldn’t. Try and play it in your DVD drive, hopefully the CSS decryption software can manage to work its way past that anti-copying DRM that clearly works so well.

This extends to videogames as well. How long does it take just to get to the title screen? Is it entirely necessary to tell me everytime I put in the game to whom the developer outsourced the cinematics? You’ve already gotten my money for this product; don’t make me less likely to do the same in the future.

The FBI warning is ironically an advertisement unto itself for why it’s beneficial to act against it.


July 24, 2008

Business Before Customers

Filed under: Computers, Gaming, Life, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 2:48 pm

While I’ve never agreed with the mantra of “the customer’s always right,” there’s an underlying principle there that states that the focus of the business should be to serve the customer; they aren’t customers, they’re clients. But if you evaluate the Canadian and presumably American corporate landscape, the understanding isn’t that customers are clients, it’s that customers are criminals.

To the discerning eye, it’ll be noticed that the number-one priority in all big stores is preventing theft, particularly in the case of media. Wal-Mart and Zellers lock their games behind glass cases, EB/GameStop removes the boxed contents of every game, new or used, and we all know and hate the impenetrable plastic cases of doom of any product that hangs on a shelf.

Also, don’t forget about the stickers. In some cases it’s for security, some for cost-benefit, but in every case, it’s the customer who pays for a policy that benefits only the business. Every DVD now comes with a sticker seal on the top of the case, Blockbuster video places a barcode sticker on the back and price sticker on the front of every DVD and game, and there’s not a gamer in the world who doesn’t despise the EB/GameStop price and barcode stickers on all games, again new or used.

Oh, but we’re not done. Digital media is arguably worse. While the above mentioned are annoyances, they aren’t hinderances; in the digital market, the prevention techniques are not only limiting to your enjoyment and use of the product you bought, but sometimes damaging to your computer. End-User License Agreements (EULA) are only prevented from making every customer a pirate by the fair-use laws, which are heavily lobbied to be removed entirely. Digital Rights Management (DRM) software in games, music and DVDs prevent playing without the disc, making back-ups, moving to alternate mediums or editing for the previously mentioned fair use; worse yet, DRM has occasionally installed monitoring programs that are both an invasion of privacy and a strain on computer systems.

If you ran your own business, would your focus be on locking down your products, or pleasing you, the customer? I think the customer would choose the latter; is he right?

March 25, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 5

Filed under: Computers, Movies, Philosophy, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 4:15 am

“If we don’t get a chance to ask the question, then we really haven’t taken the opportunity that I think the Internet offers. And I think you risk closing off some new possibilities by holding onto an old rule, and the old rule was: Any copy other than the one delivered by the producer is illegitimate–it is pirate. And, in fact, the practice has often been that culture is shared, that we make mixed tapes and we show movies to each other and we make it part of our own lives. That’s in fact been the vitality of pop culture. And so we’d be denying the fact that pop culture, while in some way is owned by its producers, the very reason why it matters is it’s owned by the people who consume it.”
-Tarleton Gillespie, assistant professor, Department of Communication, Cornell University

This is a quote from a recent BBC podcast series about piracy. This is a fundamental reason why, perhaps not why it has begun, but why it will never stop, and why it is so hard to convince people of it being so wrong. The rules aren’t clear because you can’t make them clear, and if you can’t make them clear, you can’t get people to agree with enforcing them. Another issue brought up in the podcast was in reference to books, which is an excellent case-study. How often are books pirated? People sell used books for pennies, people share books, there are public libraries, and nobody seems to read anymore. And yet, through all of that, there is a seemingly endless stream of literature. Why? That’s up to interpretation. The podcast mentioned a drop in price wiping out pirated copies, but I would suggest the product is properly placed in the market. Packaging, quality control and pricing meet the place where it is more reasonable to purchase books you want than to get lesser copies through lesser means for lesser cost. But the option exists, and in fact, helps the market.

What exists now is an environment where everything is free. The Internet is the theory of communism as yet uncorrupted by power, and in a communist society, you can accept that you are all equal, or you can leave. You can’t keep hording things to yourself, and you most certainly will not be tolerated taking things away from everyone else.

When we look at piracy from a logical perception, there are instances where things can certainly get negative, and in a general sense, wrong. Someone did make this, and through their only means, released it as a commercial product. Without their effort, this product would not exist, yet someone is using it without permission.

The problem is the rarity of these instances among the vague strokes of licensing, a culture of sharing, and simple fair usage. Yet my evaluation means nothing. If there’s something to learn from the example of books, it’s that the issue forces change, regardless of authority. If your product is digital, you’re going to have to meet the public, which is on the whole rejecting that very market to which you appeal. So you can be like these digital pioneers,

CBC released it’s television series, “Canada’s Next Prime Minister” for free on bitTorrent

Radiohead released its latest album ahead of time, online, for free. Oh, and it released as the #1 album.

And of course, The Revolution Movie, which released in theatres asking the audience to pay afterwards, whatever they thought it was worth, if even nothing. Did I mention the average viewer paid more than the standard ticket fee?

I’ve given you the information, and some opinions in there, too, so you can make a fairly well informed decision. My last judgment? Well, while there are some dark spots, and you may want to avoid downloading music if you’re a college student, I wouldn’t worry too much about the morality of it all, because, in time, you simply won’t have to.

March 16, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 4

Filed under: Computers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 3:46 am

Having covered multimedia, it’s time to focus on an area of digital piracy that is strangely overlooked, which is software. Let’s look at the reasons for piracy, and see how software works out:

Obviously, if you download something without paying, it’s cheaper than if you paid. The problem here is that there’s a free version of practically everything, so if you download Nero 7 without a license instead of DeepBurner, well, you’re just not being efficient.

Actually obtaining software without a license is going to most likely be harder that going out and getting it yourself. It’s just not as big of a market, and the market is more splintered, so getting an unlicensed copy of a program can be quite difficult in most cases.

Reliability is most significant issue. If you’re going to spend money on a product, you want to be assured of its compatibility, which is almost impossible to do. This is where games factor in quite prominently, as they can be the most picky due to being among the most hardware intensive. Testing beforehand is more important on software than anywhere. If you can get a shareware version, that can be of benefit, but that’s not always available. Ultimately, pirated software is typically less reliable, but it’s also common enough that commercial software for whatever reason will completely fail to run.

Games are also most significant when it comes to DRM. Valve games, for example, require Steam in order to play your games, regardless of whether they were downloaded. Steam requires an Internet connection, and needs the Steam servers functional. All of things are pushing things much too far.

Software is difficult because of how expansive it is, and the case-by-case basis of the implications of downloading unlicensed versions. Typically, in all practicality, there should be a free version. Whether it’s OpenOffice for Microsoft Office, Paint.NET for Adobe Photoshop, IZArc for WinRAR, or even Ubuntu for Windows. While it’s not always perfect, there’s usually a good substitute.

Judgment: Medium-High objectionability. There may be the occasional instance that you need a license product to do something specific, or you can’t find something to buy anywhere, or whatever the issue. But for the most part, you should be able to find software for free. Games are a different beast, and I find the acts of Valve with Steam, and 2K Games with Bioshock utterly dispicable, there are cases of beautiful lack of intrusion, such as Ubisoft with my new copy of Chessmaster 11 (although there’s no demo available for it :(). I’d suggest console or boycott, but just use your best judgment here.

Part 5 will bring general conclusions to the issue of piracy.

March 7, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 3

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 8:58 am

Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 1
Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 2

In Part 2, I detailed the ambiguity regarding the licensing of digital media, citing the user’s difficulty in discerning what is legal. As per that vein, last week, Nine Inch Nails released its newest album on bitTorrent as well as available to listen on their site.

This is a particularly central tennet to the debate regarding music downloads, as their are more outlets to capture and distribute music than any other medium.

There are five key points to address when determining the ethical ramifications of downloading music on the Internet:
-Who released it, and what license
-Honus of knowledge
-Internet amnesty
-The industry
-The representatives

Who released it is very important, perhaps on an ethical level, more than with what license. The licenses are not written by the artists and are not really with the intent of protecting the artist, but rather the recording label. If the album is released freely by the artist, it is irrelevant ethically whether the “license” permits listening on an MP3 playing or using it in a personal video. Perhaps I’m speaking out of line, but I’d find it hard to imagine that anyone releasing their music would be the ones to impose those restrictions.

But in terms of license, the transferrence of license must be permitted in some way with all possessions, or else it’s not a possession at all, and you’re no longer buying, but leasing. Assuming that you are not leasing music, but purchasing, someone then must have purchased the song that is available on peer-to-peer, and must thereby by transferrable. It is the user’s right to give away HIS license to that song. This leads into the next section…

The honus of knowledge. Is the user then the one who should be required to determine whether a download available for free from wherever is in fact licensed as such? In terms of the analogy of someone giving away a song, would the user downloading be required then to assure that the user on the other end, who has just released his license, no longer listen to the song? Is it up to the user, if he does not know who a band is, to find out whether he would, would not or has released an album for free? If he is unable, is it then unethical to download? For most independents, this would be severely limiting, from a theoretical absolute position if everyone followed this rule.

The most convincing argument against the freedom of users to download based on the conception of presumed licensing is that the initiation of a download has the user copying the material, and not the licensee, as well as it being a copy, and not a transfer. However, this may become irrelevant once we address the question of whose law is it that one must follow? The residence of the user or that of the artist, if any at all? While one would naturally lean toward that of the user, it then must be asked how this protects the artist? If copyright protection is provided to protect the rights of the original creator, who then does it serve to ignore the laws by which that creator lives?

Even further on the law of the Internet, let’s try an example: An American artist records an album (and doesn’t release it freely on the Internet), then moves to Canada. A person in Canada and a different person in the United States downloads the same album. Do we apply the American law to both, Canadian to the Canadian, US to the US? American law cannot be applied to a Canadian if the act was perpetrated on Canadian soil (and vice-versa). Canadian law does not protect the artist in this case. Applying American law would be irreverent when the person in the same country as the artist is not subject to the same law. The only reasonable conclusion on the application of the law is that attempting to do so can only be considered an act of a party without the artist himself in mind, well intentioned or not.

The industry is created as a means of generating revenue, but offering a service to the public. The artists provide the service, the public pays for it, all is good. If either the customer doesn’t pay, or the service isn’t as advertised, then the system is broken. Also central to the entire idea of paying for a service is competition, and if there’s no competition, the reason to pay dissipates. We are seeing all three signs of a broken industry with music today. Your options for music (aside from our subject of downloads) if you do not own an iPod are CDs. This is a monopoly. Also referenced in Part 2 is the incredible limitations of modern license agreements, which is arguably not as advertised. This is no clearer than the Sony rootkit fiasco in which Sony music CDs automatically installed anti-piracy software without the user’s consent, and resulted in significant performance issues on the system — in lamens terms, it installed malware.

One last issue I’ll touch on is US specific — the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). They’ve been on a massive anti-piracy legal crusade, primarily against college dorm students (which is a moronic idea legally given dorm students are on a SHARED network meaning it’s impossible to win if it makes it to court). While there’s a lot of rhetoric in the incessent web-flaming on the RIAA, there are unseemly practices, including one that single-handedly undermines their entire cause: They didn’t pay the artists.

Ok, that was the second-to-last thing. I’d be remisce not to mention that as a listener to a lot of Japanese music, it’s awfully difficult for me to acquire music through traditional means, and I most certainly would not have even heard any of it as such. I have actually looked on iTunes for the sake of seeing if I could find Hitomi Yaida or Younha, and did not have such luck. Importing costs $40 + shipping.

So my judgment? Well, when you have such significant international legal inconsistencies, tonnes of ways to get music that may or may not be properly licensed, and you’ve got companies pulling crap like this this and this, it’s a little hard to feeling as if you’re hurting the little guy by downloading some songs.

Judgment: No objectionability. That’s right, none. Do it, and may your conscience be clear. The industry’s a mess, and it’s not your job to clean it up — wait, sorry, it is. By not buying overpriced, malware infested, CDs that the record label gets 88% of the profits.

Part 4 investigates the seediness of downloading pirated software.

March 3, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 2

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 3:26 pm

A pretense that was not addressed in Part 1 of this series was that of the simple ambiguity of licensing. That is, what one is legally entitled to do with something for which he has paid. Most simply do not know, and presume it’s simply a matter of “If I bought it, I do what I want, but can’t give it to someone else.” In reality, things are extraordinarily complicated. I’ll also note that I am addressing simply downloading, and not distribution, which is murkier territory.

Firstly, legality depends on your country. A simple contrast is between the United States and Canada on the downloading of copywritten music. In the United States, it is in fact illegal to downloading copywritten materials (though prosecution and burden of proof is incredibly difficult), while in Canada downloading is permitted, as well as copying CDs (http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/copy_gd_protect-e.html).

But morality is not legality, and this only covers you insofar as you ethically agree with the law. So where do we draw that line? This is the second point: There is no line. Follow the example, even in the United States, whether something even qualifies as protected by copywrite. Keeping with the music trend, it is not uncommon for some or all of an album to now be released with full distribution rights for free on the Internet, as seen by Weird Al Yankovich (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5482774).

Where things really get confusing is with regard to streaming public video sites such as Youtube. It is even more common for record labels to release music videos on Youtube. In less time than it would take to search out the song on a peer-to-peer client, I could rip the audio from that Youtube video and have the music in MP3 form. Would that be copyright infringement? Should the downloader even have to be the one to figure it out?

The same concepts pertain to television, as seen by the many NBC clips released by NBC itself. Would a video uploaded by NBC be legal and moral, but if someone downloaded the NBC clip itself and uploaded it, would it be illegal and immoral? What if it’s the same clip, but TiVO’d?

The last item, most mind twisting, is that once downloaded, if presumed entirely legal to have been distributed, what license then is given? Personal viewing? Personal and public viewing? Distribution rights? Selling rights? There are no license agreements for most digital media. In the case of Youtube, the site itself attempts to dictate licensing, but its own Terms of Service remain ambiguous at best. For example, “You agree not to alter or modify any part of the website”. What does this mean? Technically I’m modifying their site by increasing or decreasing my browser text size or applying a custom stylesheet.

Ultimately, Terms of Service, licensing agreements and the like are anti-social means of dismissing all liability with complete disregard for consumer rights. On an ethical level, the entire premisce of 10 pages of legal jargon as a means for determining what you can or cannot do, which in the case of CDs, can restrict even listening to it on your iPod (

Trying to define ethics by the definition of the law and licensing agreements is clearly in poor judgment. Part 3 will address the music issue further.

February 24, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 1

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 8:08 am

Piracy is a big issue with the advent of the much clich├ęd Web 2.0. While there was for the longest time piracy related to computers, it seemed limited at first to computer software itself. Then it spread to music and videogames, then onto pretty much anything that could be digital.

Is it simply a matter of something being free? Is it convenience? A statement? More importantly, is it patently right or wrong? If I may be a little less than humble, I’d say in a description, you can summarize me into logical and ethical. Combine that with a serious dedication to computers, and I feel as though I’m in a good position to evaluate the ethical complications of piracy.

I’ll start with DVDs, that being, movie and television content sold as DVDs. Most are easily accessible off of bitTorrent. Let’s address the issues that lead to one choosing to download versus buy:
-It’s free
-There are no advertisements
-Can be done from home
-Easily transferrable

Saying it’s free is more complex than the notion of not paying. No price means no risk — is there something you want to see, but aren’t sure if it’s worth a purchase? Suddenly, you can see it without purchasing it. There’s also no risk of damaging the disc, or receiving a faulty disc. While this option theoretically exists on television, timing is frustrating unless you have one of those expensive and controversial TiVO recorders, and leads into the next section,

Similarly, we’ve been dragged through this idiotic HD format wars endlessly, and for what will cost the consumer approximately twice the cost of a normal DVD for slightly improved quality, the option is to those who download, immediately available the upgrade should the viewer wish.

There are no advertisements. Even in DVD movies, where you have paid to own the content, you still must endure several previews that the DVD really doesn’t want you skipping, along with the nice extended 3D animation of the producer’s logo, and obnoxious, spoiler-filled video footage that leads into and plays in the background of the main menu. DVDs have become obnoxious as a delivery system.

Nothing more than a computer, Internet connection and time is required to watch. No movie stores, no rental returns or late fees. Download-watch-delete. You could even stream in some cases, with no delay.

And related to computers, there’s little difficulty in transferring the contents of the DVD. What do I mean? Backups, alternative viewing means, portable players, making clips, whatever. You have full access to do as you wish.

There are means to get some of these things, such as NetFlix, but that may be limited by bandwidth, area, and simply what is offered. And still, does not provide full versatility.

If you’re under the age of 18 (varies by location), there is little to argue on the matter. In Ontario, at least, you cannot rent without a credit card. You cannot rent or buy movies in which you do not meet the age restriction. If you are, for example, 17, you would by the law that in the US so scorns upon downloading copywritten movies, you would not be allowed to buy or rent a movie rated R.

What is ultimately striking about the concept of downloads of DVDs is that there is a genuine advantage in all areas for the method that does not cost the consumer. Yes, the creator should retain rights to his content and be compensated; however, the means of distribution is clearly flawed and is hurting the ones who actually pay.

So far this will have come off as rather slanted. There are more methods for viewing what is available on DVD that simply the DVDs themselves, but evaluate those means, and there are complications. Telvision does not provide many methods for being selective in channels. You need to get a giant load of channels, which in the case of modern television, is a giant load of crap. It’s the equivalent of the obnoxious console bundles that require you to buy all the games the retailers know nobody wants, just to get the system. Nobody should support that kind of methodology. Remove that and suddenly you’re into PC options, which I will address in another part.

When one desires change, it must be shown in purchasing habits — however, there is little choice for the consumer in this regard. There are DVDs, and in that, DVDs are the same. DRM’s that prevent back-ups, and barring that, user-agreements that forebode viewing for anyone other than yourself, and certainly not on anything other than a DVD player, advertisements that cannot be skipped, and so forth. For most, it’s DVDs or torrents, and it seems as though torrents are making a serious claim.

Judgment: Low objectionability until the movie industry (and western governments) get their act together.

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