Response to Janis Nixon re the Hamilton Spectator interview

This is a copy of a Discussion Board post from Facebook, you can view the original here.


I will be echoing this on my site as well.

First we need to handle the stipulations. In a court of law a stipulation is the facts that are not in contention between the parties in the case.

1) I’m a cranky old bastard who says what he likes.

2) I’m arrogant.

I know everyone will agree on the above two. The next one you many not agree with, but it is true. I haven’t done everything, but

3) I have a lot of experience in a wide range of areas.

The problem needs to be defined

1) Recording Industry sales are dropping.

Now I didn’t actually go to the SEC website to look up the numbers, and I really should, but I don’t have time right now. If you are interested you can goto where all of the corporate filings for companies that have operating divisions in the United States are freely available.

Janis said:

“The opportunities presented by what was once a thriving industry have been battered by bitter rains of piracy. In the music business alone, I have witnessed retail chains close, friends lose their jobs, and talented musicians take on ‘day jobs’ to pay the rent…. I have seen albums leaked before their release, devastating the artists, and destroying marketing and promotion plans.”

Let’s address those issues one at a time. Janis says that piracy is to blame. Technically piracy is an act committed on the high seas which involves capturing another ship, often involving the death of the crew. What Janis is actually complaining about is copyright infringement, which is a totally different thing. Copyright infringement is the copying of a work by someone who hasn’t a legal right to copy it, according to the law of the nation that the act takes place in. So piracy isn’t an issue, except that the term is sometimes used incorrectly to mean copyright infringement. If you don’t believe me, ask a lawyer.

And since Janis is mostly interested in the music business, I’ll restrict most of my comments to music, however many of them are also applicable to books and film (video).

Retail Chains Closing – Yes, this happened. The Recording Industry caused this by selling in volume to Walmart and the other big box stores at prices that the corner record shop couldn’t get. The big box stores than proceeded to under price the record stores, and guess what? They died. I had friends working in record stores, and they were pretty damned bitter about this.

Friends lose their jobs – Yes, this happened. Sam the Record Man’s was an institution, until it went bankrupt. I used to love browsing the aisles there, they had a selection that was second only to ITunes. Of course when the record stores went, the sales staff at the record companies were let go. After all, you don’t need sales staff to call on stores that no longer exist. But the blame doesn’t lie with the consumer, it lies with the record companies who thought they could make more money from the big box retailers. In part they were right, in that costs to call on the headquarters of a large national chain were lower than costs to call on 50 independents, or even 10 small chains. To bad that they killed the rest of the industry doing it.

Musicians and Day Jobs – Guess what? Musicians have always had day jobs. Musicians all know the jokes:

Do you know how to streamline a musician’s car? Take the Pizza Pizza sign off the roof.

How do you get the guitarist off your porch? Pay for the pizza.

What do you call a guitarist who breaks up with his girlfriend ? Homeless.

Two guys were walking down the street, one was destitute, the other was a guitar player as well.

What do call a successful musician? A guy whose wife/girlfriend has 2 jobs.

What does an accordianist say when he gets to work? “Would you like fries with that, sir?”

What do you call a drummer in a three-piece suit? “The Defendant”

I heard most of those jokes when we used to drive down to Hamilton on Sunday nights. Creative Arts Hamilton used to run open mike nights. Heard some great music, and as you can see from above, a ton of bad jokes.

Tom was a bank loans officer for years. Thanks to the internet he was able to make enough connections to become a full time musician, and thus missed out on the housing bubble in the United States. Out of the twenty years I’ve known Tom, he had a day job for fifteen of them. This is nothing unusual. Most musicians (and writers for that matter) have to have an alternative method of making a living. There is only a limited number of spots open to play live. Of course anyone can now record (I charge $200.00 per day) and release their own album, so as far as most musicians are concerned, things have improved.

Albums leaked before release – Yes, this happens. Just how do those terrible P2P people get their hands on copies? Through record industry insiders. Seriously. Oh, there are some leaks from the stores too, but all too often the leak happens well before the stores receive the compact discs. To switch to video, when the new Doctor Who was in production, the pilot episode titled ‘Rose’ was leaked a month before it aired on TV. The leak was traced back to an industry insider, who used his/her own personal account to upload it. Pretty stupid of him/her. Word is that the person was fired, however since no names were ever mentioned, there’s no proof. Rumor on the street at the time was that the leak was deliberate, and was part of the marketing and promotion plan.

One thing that Janis doesn’t address is that the recording industry is currently producing shit. There are a few older artists who are still doing great stuff (I love Neil Young). But Justin Bieber? Pardon me while I puke. Which isn’t to say that the kid doesn’t have talent, it’s just that he’s wasting it singing drivel.

OK, so copyright infringement is causing problems for the recording industry. Assuming that we think that the recording industry is worth saving (were the buggy whip manufacturers worth saving?) we have to look at exactly why they are having problems, and the answer is simple. The cost of copying has dropped to nothing. How can they sell copies, when copies cost nothing to make?

This is a serious problem for the industry. Even worse from their point of view is that it is impossible to go back to the good old days of phonographs. Futurist and author Larry Niven was predicting that this would happen in the 1960s. To bad nobody listened too him. Well, you can’t say nobody, because I did. But even those of us who did listen were taken by surprise at how fast things changed.

The entire problem can be defined as the Intel 4004 microprocessor. This was the first inexpensive microprocessor, and was cheap enough that it could be used in pocket calculators. By today’s standards it is a crippled antique, but it is the ancestor either directly or indirectly of every microprocessor in use today.

Microprocessors make copying easy, cheap, and fast. Did you notice how I haven’t talked about computers at all? This is because even if you were to totally destroy every personal computer in Canada, it wouldn’t do you any good. Within days there would be new ones, and they be running on the microprocessors that control your microwave oven, your DVD player, your CD player, your cell phone, your MP3 player, your television, your automobile (which may have up to 40 different processors), your motorcycle, your watch, your game console (there’s one super computer made of PS3 game consoles), your dishwasher, your clothes washer, your clothes dryer, your sewing machine, your guitar amplifier, your digital camera, your digital video recorder, your digital picture frame, your clock radio, your, well, you get the picture. The average house has over a hundred microprocessors, each of which could be used to build a General Purpose Computer. And I know of people who have done this. Anyone with a college education in electronics, or for that matter with a book from the library and a bit of stubbornness can take apart a Microwave oven and make a computer out of the guts.

Ah, but only if we could get rid of the internet, we could stop them from passing around the copies you say. Or we could have computers watch every file that is transmitted! Fine idea. Just fine. But who are you going to trust to do the programming for you? Microsoft? They can’t even keep their own operating system safe from hackers. And most Free Software types have an ethical aversion to this sort of work. Problem is, they are the best programmers…

But even if you could cut off the internet, there are work arounds. Back in the late 1970s a series of networks were developed that used the phone lines. Most of these networks were eventually merged into the internet, but the technology still exists, and if the internet was cut off, they’d be back up and running in no time. Sure, speed was an issue. Back then I was giving talks on software piracy, and why it was impossible to stop it. While doing this I meet some interesting people. Ever hear of Sneakernet? Sneakernet is any network that involves physically moving copies. There were groups running hard drives from city to city, often riding free in the cab of a commercial inter-city truck. There were groups running hard drives via Canada Post and UPS from city to city. Cut off the internet, and all this comes back.

Monitor the internet, and you create another nightmare. Four Microsoft employees sat down to brainstorm about ways around monitoring, and came up with the DarkNet concept. To borrow from Wikipedia:

The idea of the darknet is based upon three assumptions:

  1. Any widely distributed object will be available to a fraction of users in a form that permits copying.
  2. Users will copy objects if it is possible and interesting to do so.
  3. Users are connected by high-bandwidth channels.

The darknet is the distribution network that emerges from the injection of objects according to assumption 1 and the distribution of those objects according to assumptions 2 and 3.

The Microsoft researchers argued that the presence of the darknet was the primary hindrance to the development of workable DRM technologies. The term has since been widely adopted and seen usage in major media sources, including Rolling Stone and Wired, and is also the title of a book by J.D. Lasica.

I’ve run Darknet software. The best widely use Darknet is Freenet – the software is available here.

It works, and works well. But you don’t even need to run a Darknet. Did you know that the CIA tried to get France to dump the Hadopi law? They did. The CIA was concerned that Hadopi would drive the adoption of stong encryption, making it harder for the CIA to spy on everyone. The French pressed forward with Hadopi anyway, and already there are newer and better encryption systems being developed in France. Hadopi made the need abundantly clear. Correction – I was going by memory, when I looked it up, I found out that it was the National Security Agency.

But I haven’t addressed DRM/TPM/whatever. Well, actually, I have. Many times. It doesn’t work. It never has worked, unless you consider pissing off a legitimate customer working. No DRM system has ever been acceptable to the consumer. Ever. This is why Apple doesn’t use DRM on music. And Apple sells a ton of music. I should possibly rephrase this. Consumers will migrate to the product with the least DRM. This is why the Windows Media DRM scheme was a failure, and Apple’s Fairplay system took all of the customers. Windows Media DRM was too restrictive. But Apple’s music sales didn’t really take off until they started selling music without DRM. Then their sales went through the roof.

And DRM is breakable. Often trivially. Any programmer will tell you this. I’m a programmer, I started working with mainframes in high school in 1973. Believe me, DRM not only can, but will be broken. The more popular the content is, the faster it will be broken. Make breaking DRM illegal, and all you do is teach people to disrespect the law, because the law is an ass.

The United States has a law which makes breaking DRM illegal since 1998, and most of the media which has had DRM removed comes form the United States. The problem is that you are making something illegal which can’t be seen, and which there is no evidence of. If I walk into a bank with a gun, and walk out with money, you’ve got evidence. You have witnesses, you have the money, you have the gun, you may have surveillance video. If someone uses Videolan to play a DVD on their home computer, or Handbrake to rip a DVD, there are no witnesses, no evidence, and no surveillance video. You can’t stop it. Hell, even if you took the Videolan and Handbrake sites down, you couldn’t stop it. There are copies of the source code for both of them all over the world.

Because breaking DRM is that trivial. All you need is a general purpose computer.

And you can’t get rid of computers. If you do so, you’ll destroy the economy of the country. Oh, you could try and do a Soviet, license every computer. Remember the Billions of dollars wasted on the Long Gun Registry? There are a hell of a lot more computers than there are Long Guns. A Computer Registry would be a nightmare above and beyond anything you could ever imagine to implement. Many people keep guns for decades (when my father died in 2006, he still had his first gun, a 22 caliber single shot Sears catalog special that he’d bought in 1934). Windows computers are often replaced before they are three years old, and there are a lot of Windows computers out there (and I pity the poor bastards that own them).

Another thing you’d have to do is get rid off all the Digital Audio Workstations. That means that you’d put independent recording engineers like me out of business.

But you are still saying but… There’s got to be a way.

Sorry. There isn’t. If you had Doc Brown’s Delorean, you could go back in time, and kill Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Andy Grove, etc., etc., etc. The only problem is that you’d need fifty Deloreans to haul back the amount of ammunition that you would need to kill everyone who was involved historically. And even then it wouldn’t work, because someone else would have come up with the idea. So you’d have to do it again, and again, and again…

Everyone who is screaming that copyright is broken, is right. It is. Everyone who is screaming for the government to do something about the problem, has a problem. The government can’t do anything about copyright. The only things that might work, would totally destroy the economy. Are you sure you want to destroy the economy, and therefore the country? If you do, you still won’t sell anything, because everyone will be broke!

Copyright law was designed to protect Printers from other Printers. It still has a place, but it’s place now is to protect artists from Printers – or recording labels. The real problem that the Record Labels now face is that the artists don’t need them anymore. This is why the Record Labels, who claim they work for the artists, are fighting in the United States to keep artists from reclaiming their copyrights. Because the artists don’t need them. Now the artists can do it all themselves, and are doing it all themselves. As Amanda Palmer put it, ‘I earned $19,000.00 in two weeks on the internet. During the same time I earned nothing from CD sales.’ That’s why Amanda doesn’t have a label any more. That’s why four writers are releasing an Ebook for $2.99 through Amazon. The can make as much money per copy at $2.99 as they would have if they’d have gone print, and the bookstores were selling it for $40.00!

And of course the Labels don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t understand the technology. The problem is, that like the buggy whip manufacturers they just aren’t needed any more.

What is happening, is similar to what happened when that wonderful mobile bedroom, the automobile, became widespread. Freed from Miss Grundie’s watchful eye by the automobile, sexual mores changed. Dramatically. Odds are that almost everyone here has had sex in a car at one point or another. Some of you were no doubt conceived in the back seat of an old jalopy. Some of your children were probably conceived in a car. The automobile made finding privacy to have sex easy, just like the computer has made copying things easy.


Wayne Borean

Sunday October 17, 2010

Note: This version has been linkified, and had links added. The only other change was the correction about the French Hadopi law being opposed by the NSA, not the CIA.


5 thoughts on “Response to Janis Nixon re the Hamilton Spectator interview

  1. Wayne,

    I would like to apologize to you for being unduly harsh with my comments to you on Facebook regarding copyright issues.

    take care,


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