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I sent a letter to the prime minister, and the ministers of industry, heritage, and the chair of the Industry Commmittee about the upcoming copyright reform legislation, which by the way has now been delayed. The text follows.

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

My name is David Puglielli, and I am a PhD student attending Queen’s
University in Kingston, Ontario. I am writing to express my view regarding
upcoming copyright reform legislation. I am deeply concerned that this
legislation is being driven by the interests of large copyright holders at
the expense of consumers, educators and researchers.

I am especially worried that the legislation may reproduce the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is a poor strategy to follow. We have
had nearly a decade of experience to examine the effect that the DMCA has
had on consumers, educators, researchers and innovation. There is no point
to introducing legislation that will only cause the same problems here, and
I urge your government to learn from the mistakes made by US lawmakers in
crafting the Canadian legislation.

The DMCA has had numerous undesirable consequences. There are dozens of
cases in which the DMCA has been used to:

1) stifle competition, in which companies lock down their intellectual
property and then take legal action against competitors that need to reverse
engineer those products to build competing products, as has happened in the
after market for inkjet printers;
2) prevent researchers from carrying out their activities; in particular,
security researchers, which makes it more difficult to discover security
problems in protected systems before malicious hackers do;
3) prevent American citizens from making legitimate uses of media under
American fair use laws (unfortunately the Canadian fair dealing exception is
more narrowly defined than the American fair use clause); and
4) stifle freedom of speech, such as when organizations use the DMCA to
silence online critics.

The list of reasons not to follow the U.S. lead on copyright reform is far
too long to list here, but a summary of the unintended consequences of the
DMCA may be found at
http://www.eff.org/wp/unintended-consequences-seven-years-under-dmca. If you
have not read this yet, I invite you to do so to familiarize yourself with
the problems brought on by the DMCA in the U.S.

How will this legislation affect me specifically?

My concern is that I am a Linux user. Linux, as you may know, is an open
source operating system that that can be used in place of Microsoft Windows
on a PC. I use it because it integrates with my work environment better than
Windows and because it is far more stable and secure. In order to access any
type of protected media on my computer, I need to circumvent the
copy-protection schemes used to encrypt them, since licenced software is
rarely available for Linux. I occasionally watch my (legally purchased) DVDs
on my computer, but these DVDs contain CSS encryption. Under the DMCA, it is
a crime in the U.S. to use open source decryption tools to watch DVDs under
Linux. Should I be made a criminal for watching a DVD under Linux? Similarly
I must use circumvention if I wish to view high-definition (HD-DVD, Blu-Ray)
discs under Linux.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences directly applicable to
me. New iPod firmware updates include a hash check that ties one iPod to one
copy of iTunes. I need to use my iPod with Linux – there exist numerous
tools that integrate the iPod seamlessly with Linux, but they must now
circumvent the hash check to do so. Under current American law, his may
violate the DMCA. Thus, the next time I sync my iPod with my Linux music
player, I risk violating Canadian law, assuming the Canadian version is
similar to the American one. Why should this be the case? The hash check is
an artificial protection measure that abuses the DMCA to lock out
competitors, but does absolutely nothing to stop piracy. Should I be
considered a criminal simply for using my iPod with Linux? You will note
that the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision is used by companies to lock in
customers and lock out competitors, which is a completely unintended
side-effect of the DMCA.

I read earlier this week that the upcoming legislation has been strongly
influenced by lobbying pressure brought to bear by copyright holders. I am
not happy about the prospect that this legislation may have been written
without protections for consumer rights and without protections against the
excesses I outline above. I am a stakeholder in this debate just as are
copyright holders, and I do not appreciate it if my interests are shunted
aside in order to placate lobby groups. However, every indication is that
this is what is currently happening.

I would ask that this legislation *not be fast-tracked* so that committee
may have adequate time to study it. Consumers are not well organized like
large copyright holders, I believe that the best opportunity we have to
address our concerns about the legislation will come in committee. It would
be an insult to the millions of Canadians consumers directly affected by
this legislation who do not have a lobbying organization at their disposal
to fast-track it.

I wish to emphasize: We have a unique opportunity to take a novel and
effective approach with our copyright reform because we’ve seen the problems
caused by the approach taken by other countries, especially the United
States. Do not follow their example.

I will close by noting that I hope that your government will pay at least as
much attention to the interests of consumers, educators and researchers as
it does to large copyright holders. I am confident that if the concerns of
all stakeholders are appropriately addressed, our copyright reform will
serve as a successful model for the digital age, instead of a failed model
that deserves to be abandoned.

Sincerely,
David Puglielli

—————-
Now playing: Steven Wright – This Woman I Met
via FoxyTunes

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A couple of updates about my new laptop:

  • I managed to get wireless internet working with WPA encryption on my home network (after going through some congif file hacking following this link), but still had to find a way to get it to switch between my home and school network seamlessly – and I found it at this blog post.
  • Turns out Vista comes with a built-in partitioning utility, so I wasted most of a day when I experimented with reinstalling Vista to install Ubuntu (not that I really care, I think dual-booting works better with my method). See here.

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I’m typing this post on my new laptop. Yee-haw! On Ubuntu! And the wireless internet is working!

Actually it was quite an adventure to get both Vista and Ubuntu working cleanly and playing nice with each other on my new G1. This is going to be long and boring post, but it might serve as a blueprint for anyone wanting to install Linux onto on of these behemoths. The laptop ships with Windows Vista and a hard drive prepartitioned into OS and data partitions (plus a recovery partition), but the data partition was too small for my purposes with Ubuntu, so I decided to resize the partitions. That’s when the fun started. See, the recovery DVD that came with the laptop gives you the option of either a) installing Vista to the first artition, b) installing it to the entire hard drive, or c) installing it to the first partition on the hard rive and create a second one as well. Which meant I had to install Ubuntu on the second partition (no problem) and resize to the size wanted (slight problem). The installer for Ubuntu provides gparted, which ostensibly is able to resize whole partitions but in practice ended up borking the Vista partition (and, somehow, the recovery partition, which I didn’t actually touch). I know this because when I restarted and booted into Vista with grub, the Windows loading screen came on and then nothing happened. So either resizing the partitions lost data, or Vista gets confused when the partiton table is altered and pouts. Stupid Windows.

Well, at this point I need to find out if Vista really needs the partitions the laptop came with or if the recovery DVD only installs to whatever the first partition is, no matter the size … because if it’s the latter, then i can resize in parted first and then install Vista, but if it’s the former then I’ll have to resize partitions after installing Vista using something like PartitionMagic. So I started by deallocating the entire partition table in parted, and then tried reinstalling Vista. The recovery DVD goes in, I decide to install on the first partition only (which remember should be the entire HD), and it proceeds to install…along with all the Asus bloatware (grrr!)…then I restart…then I wait…then I restart again, then I wait again, then I restart again, then I wait a really long time, then it shuts down, now at the state in which it shipped. I turn it on, it wants me to configure regional options…and it restarts again. Stupid Windows. Now i’m finally able to check the hard drive usage…and it installed to entire hard drive. Good. (In retrospect, I should not have had to do all this, but someone has to do it to find out what happens so other people don’t have to..right?) This means I can install Ubuntu while prepartitioning the drive as I like and then install Windows.

At this point I had lunch. Leftover balti. Very tasty.

Then I proceeded to install Ubuntu again, this time partitoning the drive exactly as I wanted, with the first third for Vista (as fat32 for the moment) and the remainder for Linux. (No recovery partition.) Restarting brings up the grub menu. Good. Now, to reinstall Windows. Recovery DVD goes in, I choose to install to the first partiton, image unpacks, bloatware (grrr) follows. Restart…into Ubuntu. At least Vista doesn’t appear to hijack the HD like previous versions of Windows. But I do need to edit the grub configuration file with an entry for Vista. After restarting, it boots into Vista’s endless install process when I select that entry in grub. Good. After 378 more restarts (each time being sure to go into grub and boot vista instead of Ubuntu), Vista is finally installed (using ntfs). Good.

Bottom line: I now have both Ubuntu and Vista dual-booting and working cleanly on my sexy new laptop. And for the past four days, I’ve only used Ubuntu.

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Yesterday evening, I finally purchased a laptop online, and, contrary to what I had implied in a previous post, it is not a MacBook. It’s an Asus G1, which is a nifty 15-inch preconfigured Linux-ready (at least that’s what the Ubuntu forums claim) laptop with the best specs I have seen for the price. It’s quite an attractive one to boot, as well – no ugly Dell for me! Yay!

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A couple of weeks ago Microsoft and Novell signed a patent cross-licencing deal that would indemnify Novell customers against patent lawsuits. Ars Technica speculates that the deal is really just about provinding virtualization support for their customers who also use Linux for some purposes and that it’s not clear that it’s quite detrimental to Linux or to open-source software in general – but let’s pretend, for the time being, that MS has got something nasty up its sleeve. I’ve read a little about this on news sites and poked around the Slashdot forum; here’s what I’ve gleaned and what I think this is about.

Earlier this week Steve Ballmer said that Linux infringed on MS’ intellectual property. How, he did not say, leading me to think that this is mainly chest-thumpin, just some good ol’ FUD. MS filing suit against Linux users or distributors would be heavy-handed and attract the attention of both IBM and government regulators (not to mention invite intense scrutiny of Microsoft’s own patent portfolio and past IP infringements on their part). So what would Ballmer do in this situation? Perhaps, find a way to undermine Linux while taking precautions to make it look like they’re going out of their way to help customers who also want to use Linux. It does not give Linux the credibility that MS would not want when coupled with statements of the type that Ballmer just made, in that although MS is essentially acknowledging Linux as a viable competitor, it implies that a licence is needed because of possible IP issues. In other words, it’s fine to use Linux provided that it happens under a licence they approve of. This is one way to compromise the perception of Linux as an alternative to Windows in the minds of many IT managers and CTOs.

Viewed in this light, MS may simply acknowledge that Linux is not going away and will now try to kep it on the server – and so doing, keep their dominance on the desktop and in corporate environments. So the new strategy may be to control how customers perceive they can use Linux.

Let’s take this one step further. If you were giant software company frightened to death (pretending, remember) of a competing product that was not backed by a single company, given away for free, and is in many ways better than your product, what strategy would you pursue to try to siphon market share away from this competing product? You can’t just steamroll over it like you used to with many other competitors in the 80s and 90s. You can’t start infringement suits willy-nilly because you’d get hit right back. You could try to compete on the open market, but, realistically, this is difficult to make work against a competitor that has more programmers than you to call upon, many willing to work on a voluntary basis, and against a competitor that can respond to such challenges on the turn of a dime (which, after all, is one of the major benefits of OSS). A much more attractive option is to get a foothold in the development process such that you can directly (not just through FUD) control what it does and how it can be used. By signing with a major Linux provider, you gain influence regarding what type of functionality goes into subsequent development on GNU/Linux systems. If Linux developers do not take kindly to the deal, the result is fragmentation of the Linux space – that is, forking the project. A fragmented Linux is, of course, less able to compete because developers will be drawn to one or the other Linux kernel stream. If MS were to sign deals with other providers – which seems unlikely, given the backlash to this deal – it would further exacerbate the fragmentation problem.

So the Microsoft strategy may be to divide and conquer. They may even try to include proprietary components in the licenced Novell version of Linux (don’t know how, but maybe their lawyers will figure something out). If the kernel is forked, and no other Linux distributor accedes to MS’ overtures to licence ‘their’ IP in Linux, Novell will likely wither without the resources of the open source community at large to draw upon. If Novell remains successful, however, it will pressure other vendors to sign licencing deals with MS, which will further fragment the market and could lead to more forking. This accomplishes two things for MS: first, it will prevent Linux from growing market share on the desktop, because most commonly used desktops distros are nonprofit and are unlikely to obtain licencing deals from MS, which protects MS’ monopoly there; second, it weakens the ability of the community at large to compete, which will allow MS to slowly pick off Linux vendors. This is a long term project for MS; there’s no way for them to defeat quickly, so they will now pursue a strategy of slowly squeezing Linux vendors and gradually weakening the entire project.

Divide and conquer. This is Microsoft’s strategy for dealing with Linux.

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