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2014-05-16 Firefox and DRM

I just sent the following email to Andreas Gal, following a call by the Free Software Foundation, FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management. Gal is the Chief Technology Officer at Mozilla and wrote Reconciling Mozilla’s Mission and W3C EME. In my email I also mention Mitchell Baker’s blog post DRM and the Challenge of Serving Users. If you’re wondering what Iceweasel is: It’s a rebranded Firefox by the Debian Project.

I guess it’s fairly obvious where I stand. Free Culture! Maybe Cory Doctorow’s piece can serve as an introduction, Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart.

(I also fixed some typos in this copy.)

To: agal@mozilla.com
Subject: DRM
From: Alex Schroeder <alex@gnu.org>

Dear Mr. Gal

I recently learned of Mozilla’s decision to include DRM in their product. In the past, people have been switching from IE to Firefox. It was the obvious choice. These days people seem to be switching to Chrome. Apparently it is faster or whatever. I didn’t care very much, because I felt that Firefox was the obvious choice for users that valued their privacy and their freedom. None of my peers made the switch to Chrome because they wanted DRM. Those of us who stayed with Firefox, those of us who keep recommending Firefox to younger users, those of us who care about privacy and freedom, however—we might end up leaving. I’m not quite sure what I’ll choose instead. Perhaps it will simply be Iceweasel.

By choosing to cave in to the demands for DRM, Mozilla has become one of them instead of remaining one of us. It hurts! From what I’ve read online, Mozilla has tried to soften the blow, and I appreciate that. Nevertheless, DRM is a symbol of oppression instead of freedom. DRM is a symbol for disenfranchisement instead of empowerment. DRM is a symbol for big business streaming their content down to silent users instead of Remix Culture. Is this the future we want for ourselves? Even if a lot of people wanted this future, is this the future Mozilla wants? Instead, Mozilla could be the future it wanted to be. DRM takes away the rights we have as users and forces us to place our trust in companies that only think of our money. We must necessarily hope that in their mercy they will allow us to exercise our rights (Fair Use and similar regulations in other countries).

To illustrate this absurdity, I’d like to illustrate the situation here in Switzerland where I live. I have the explicit right to make copies of copyrighted works for myself and my close circle of friends and family. DRM prevents me from exercising this right. In order to exercise my right, I need to use software that removes DRM, and this is legal in Switzerland. Advertising for such software, however, is illegal. What were they thinking? I don’t know. All I know is that DRM is degrading. It tramples my rights and requires me to dabble with the Dark Side. That’s not the future I want to be!

All of the above doesn’t even touch the issues around Free Software and proprietary DRM blobs. Yuck!

I’m not sure if there’s a good way out of this situation. In Mitchell Baker’s blog post she said that each user “will be able to decide whether to activate the DRM implementation or to leave it off and not watch DRM-controlled content.” Perhaps a good first step would be simply distribute two versions of Firefox: Firefox and Firefox+DRM. The unfortunate symbol would still stand. The separation would have benefits, however: The separation would make sure that the separation remains a simple one on the source level. It would make life easier for people repackaging Firefox as totally free software. I’m thinking of Iceweasel, obviously. It would make it easier to ditch DRM later. It would assure us that the sandbox wasn’t even there if we didn’t want it. Less code to maintain, less code to review, less bugs to fix, for those of us that don’t care about DRM. It would also allow you to discover whether 30% of the traffic also corresponds to 30% of the users. Who knows whether that is true?

Anyway, I’m hoping to see Mozilla leave at least a foot and hopefully all of its feet in the free software camp. I’d love to see Mozilla take steps to make a change in course at a later date easy to implement. Pack the flexibility to change the stance on DRM into the source code, don’t just make it a setting.

Yours sincerely
Alex Schroeder

2014-01-14 My Favorite Swiss Copyright Exception

Almost every country has some exceptions to copyright law. You need those in order for a modern society to work. In the US, it is called Fair Use. In Switzerland, the exceptions are listed in the copyright act itself. My favorite of these is for personal use. In other words, you are allowed to make copies of protected works for personal use. You are not allowed to distribute copies to strangers on the Internet, but amongst friends and family, copying is OK. In fact, you pay a tax on all consumer goods on which copies can be stored in order to remunerate authors. Empty tapes (remember those?), blank CDs, iPods and other MP3 players, hard disks… all of these are more expensive because of this tax. In return, you are allowed to copy things from friends and family. This is great.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about a PDF for a game one of us might possibly have and he said he wouldn’t mind sharing with us since we were only going to play it once or twice. I was confused and explained that it was perfectly legal for him to share it with us. He laughed and said “but, you know, on moral grounds…” I was even more confused. Apparently the constant propaganda of the recording associations, of the movie associations, of the various collecting societies had already convinced him that he was doing something wrong even though it was perfectly legal and even though he had paid for the right to do it.

Anyway, yesterday the EFF started Copyright Week “talking about key principles that should guide copyright policy.” Sounds good to me!

Remember how the Swiss government said in 2011 that there was no need to change copyright. Most significantly: there was no need to criminalize downloads for personal use. This was around the time of SOPA and NDAA. Sad panda times. And they just won’t stop. In 2012 the government decided to create a commission to investigate the need for reform and in 2013 they delivered a report. On Twitter, sent me a link to a discussion of the AGUR12 results (the German “Abschlussbericht”). It has some recommendations which look mostly helpless (IP and DNS blocks, best effort to not overblock, make sure there’s legal recourse), the need to inform the public about its rights (my point when I started writing this post), a general inability to adapt to the future of e-books (failing to see how and why the future is being dominated by Google, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble, all of them US companies).

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2013-12-08 Old School RPG Planet Going Down

Recently John Payne talked about distributing RSS feeds in eBook form on Google+. Interesting idea, and the resulting discussion of copyright and feed aggregation soon touched upon the Old School RPG Planet. Ian Borchardt correctly said “Just because the authors post their work to the web doesn’t mean they forfeit their copyright. If you collect this work into another form, you are violating their copyright.” Andy Standfield replied “This has all already been covered by many courts and legal experts. This is all considered fair use.﻿”

I started to wonder. Many courts? I decided to google for some more information and found What’s the law around aggregating news online? A Harvard Law report on the risks and the best practices. This 2010 article said that all the parties settled before a finding was made. In the US, that would mean we don’t really know. The article also has a longer section about the Fair Use test and how to apply it. In addition to that, the situation would be different outside the US – possibly more restrictive here in Switzerland, for example.﻿

Drinking my coffee I thought about it some more and finally decided to take the Old School RPG Planet offline. I wasn’t really using it anymore and I really dislike the idea of further discussions with annoyed blog authors. I also didn’t feel like contacting a hundred bloggers, most of whom don’t have their email address on the front page of their blog. The site should now redirect to the Legacy D&D section of the RPG Bloggers Network. It supposedly does more or less the same thing, except that the authors have to register their own sites. Too bad the RPG Blog Alliance doesn’t have categories.

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Comments on 2013-12-08 Old School RPG Planet Going Down

Hey Alex,

Too bad that some idiots ruined the good thing you started. Thanks for all the hard work.

Tedankhamen 2013-12-08 16:12 UTC

Don’t worry, I don’t think that a particular person is to blame. I blame it on the copyright system we have and the companies and individuals pushing it, extending it, spreading their interpretation of it until we end up in the society we are living in.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-08 17:14 UTC

Alex, This is a real bummer. I used your OS RPG Planet exclusively to keep me informed of what was going on. Legacy doesn’t seem to contain the same coverage of blogs and it was always handy using the Planet to check out those old dormant blogs. Well, it was good while it lasted. Thanks for keeping me up to date on the OSR.

– derv 2013-12-08 18:16 UTC

Perhaps there are some alternatives available out there? This is what I had listed on the wiki. Wow, the list contained a lot of dead links and a spam link, too.

If anybody knows more, leave a note!

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-08 18:23 UTC

I just want to say, it’s a gradation, right?

I follow several law and copyright blogs, and this is why we need them, because a lot of these situations aren’t clear cut. It’s a complicated issue.

-C 2013-12-09 08:32 UTC

Yes, of course. In addition to the situation not being clear cut, the particular elements I considered are particular to just me. There was my own lack of use, first of all, which made me unwilling to fight the slightest non-technical problem. As far as I can see, there were two big non-technical problems: The bigger problem was the law itself. I already knew that I was unwilling to fight a legal battle. I was unwilling to serve as a precedent. Let somebody else drink this cup. With me not being a US resident, the situation is even trickier. No thanks.

The lesser problem was the possibility of people complaining. Many months ago I already got a terse email from Alexis, telling me to remove his blog. The possibility of having my name dragged down into the gutters, of people calling a project of mine seriously a dick move or saying that it wasn't fair or honest currently make me very unwilling to do anything at all for people playing role-playing games. And not everybody would have had Alexis’ calm. M. W. Schmeer didn't want a private conversation at the time, for example. Ugh. No thanks.

I think I’m just going to run my games, write my blog… « Il faut cultiver notre jardin. »

But: if anybody is interested in running their own site, I can help! The first step is installing Planet Venus which requires an installation of Python.

The config file is also easy. Here’s what I used. The example config file in the Planet Venus distribution also comes with a commented config file. When I first started, I used the “musings” theme; later I wrote my own.

[Planet]
name = Old School RPG Planet
message = Collecting Old School RPG blog feeds for the curious.
owner_name = Alex Schroeder
owner_email = kensanata@gmail.com
cache_directory = /home/alex/planet/rpg
log_level = INFO
output_theme = /home/alex/src/old-school-planet-theme
output_dir = /home/alex/campaignwiki.org/planet
items_per_page = 100
activity_threshold = 120
filters = excerpt.py
[excerpt.py]
omit = strong em b i u
width = 1000

If you are running Venus for yourself only, you might consider deleting the filters setting.

What follows is the list of blogs you want to subscribe to, with their names:

[http://nilisnotnull.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default]
name = ((nil) is (not(null)))
[http://www.msjx.org/feeds/posts/default]
name = . . lapsus calumni . .
[http://www.theskyfullofdust.co.uk/feed/]
name = ...and the sky full of dust.
...

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 08:57 UTC

Ok, I know I’m not the best person to reply, due to my own knee jerk reaction. But I have this to say.

Your work is appreciated by the silent many. Also, me personally.

I cannot tell you the impact your comment to me about how many blog posts of mine you had favorited had. I still recall it clearly.

My point is, is that the people who are a--holes, also have that kind of impact. If you recall, there were a few dudes who were ON FIRE about the fact I was talking about how to run traps. Not Loomis, the guy behind Grimtooth, not any of the other publishers who made traps that I talked about. But just some person on the internet.

His random negative comment sapped more of my enthusiasm for blogging then anything before or since. But I learned something from it.

The more successful you are, the more certain insecure, jealous, and often untalented people will hate you for it. So what it means when you get a comment like that is that you are really doing something that is meaningful. Not that greatness is applicable, but every great thing ever done was hated by thousands. The hate isn’t what they remember. People don’t talk about that one guy who was pissed off. When my traps get mentioned, its as an appreciated resource.

What I’m saying is that what I learned, was a reaction like that is a sign that you are doing well, not poorly. I mean, as long as you are remaining introspective as the tone of this post indicates you are.

Thanks for your reply and the time it took to link those arguments. That situation sucked. I’m telling you thank you, and water off a duck’s back.

-C 2013-12-09 09:47 UTC

Thanks, -C. Very much appreciated.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 09:54 UTC

Wow. OSRPG Planet was one of the first sites I checked every day. Sad to see it go. And, since I never said it: thanks for providing that service for so long, I really enjoyed it.

– Max 2013-12-09 12:37 UTC

Thanks. I just had another thought: It should be possible to filter the RPGBA feed for blogs I consider to be OSR and republish that. Then again, somebody is probably going to say they only intended the RPGBA to republish their feed. I’d have to ask Jeff. Perhaps he’d host something.

Update: I asked Jeff and he said, he’d prefer to get the bloggers’ permission or consent to do it. Which brings me back to square one. Too much hassle.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 12:58 UTC

I am incredibly sad to see this happen. OSRPlanet was one of my daily go-to sites for what was going on. It will be missed greatly. Thanks for all the hard work, Alex.

Sniderman 2013-12-10 14:03 UTC

Sorry to see it go - i get plenty of unauthorised feed sites leeching me your was only one i liked

chris 2013-12-10 15:45 UTC

Thank you.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-11 08:56 UTC

On The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms there is a blog post talking about the situation. I totally understand all the points about copyright, licensing and all that. The only point I want to pick up is the closing paragraph:

In other words, you’d have to ask me first. And really, why wouldn’t you ask someone first before publishing their work? What is everyone afraid of?

I think the short answer is that asking for permission just doesn’t scale. It’s OK to ask one person, but asking a hundred people is not how I want to spend my time. The long answer is in the pages of the Free Culture book. Just search for the word “permission” and learn about the differences of permission culture and free culture. Here’s a paragraph from page 192f:

The building of a permission culture, rather than a free culture, is the first important way in which the changes I have described will burden innovation. A permission culture means a lawyer’s culture—a culture in which the ability to create requires a call to your lawyer. Again, I am not antilawyer, at least when they’re kept in their proper place. I am certainly not antilaw. But our profession has lost the sense of its limits. And leaders in our profession have lost an appreciation of the high costs that our profession imposes upon others. The inefficiency of the law is an embarrassment to our tradition. And while I believe our profession should therefore do everything it can to make the law more efficient, it should at least do everything it can to limit the reach of the law where the law is not doing any good. The transaction costs buried within a permission culture are enough to bury a wide range of creativity. Someone needs to do a lot of justifying to justify that result.

I recommend the book. It’s a long read, but I liked it. It also made me unwilling to spend time asking people for permission to do anything. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

So that’s my answer to “What is everyone afraid of?” I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-18 08:59 UTC

November 25, 2013. Creative Commons released 4.0 versions of their licenses. Yeah! More info on their blog.

Cory Doctorow says the following on BoingBoing, which is where I learned about the new versions:

The new licenses represent a significant improvement over earlier versions. They work in over 60 jurisdictions out of the box, without having to choose different versions depending on which country you’re in; they’re more clearly worded; they eliminate confusion over jurisdiction-specific rights like the European database right and moral rights. They clarify how license users are meant to attribute the works they use; provide for anonymity in license use; and give license users a 30 day window to correct violations, making enforcement simpler. Amazingly, they’re also shorter than the previous licenses, and easier to read, to boot.

I must say, I was always a bit annoyed when I saw the local versions of Creative Commons licenses. What does it mean for me, when I live in Switzerland, host stuff in the US, and said stuff is based on the Canadian port of the license? The FAQ now says: “Unless you have a specific reason to use a ported license, we suggest you consider using one of the international licenses.” :ok:

I also often wondered about additional rights we have here in Europe. For example, I might allow you to make copies of my face, but I can still control the use of said copies here in Switzerland using my “personality” rights. The blog post announcing the 4.0 versions of the licenses now says: “Where the licensor has publicity, personality, or privacy rights that may affect your ability to use the material as the license intends, the licensor agrees to waive or not assert those rights.” :ok:

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Today I was asked via email whether the author of a One Page Dungeon released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license could revisit the adventure and release a different (longer?) version using a different license. Here’s what I replied, slightly edited.

You can release everything you ever wrote under as many licenses as you want. Thus, you can work on your previous One Page Dungeon Contest entry, with the same map or a different map, the same or a different text and release it under a proprietary license, a Creative Commons license, or whatever other license you like. The situation is different if you’re building on somebody else’s work: somebody else’s map, somebody else’s monsters, etc. This is true for any other of your One Page Dungeons. You wrote it, you get to change it and release it anyway you want. The only thing you cannot do is prevent other people from building on those old One Page Dungeons that you released under a CC license. But that covers only that particular map, that particular text and doesn’t affect anything else you care to publish.

You’re good to go!

Cheers
Alex

Feel free to send me any other licensing questions. I’m not a lawyer but I’ve been thinking about licensing issues for a long time.

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2013-03-31 Never Ending Story

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Comments on 2013-03-31 Never Ending Story

Lucky at least one of the biggest web browsers is open source!

– Anonymous 2013-04-02 07:13 UTC

2012-10-25 DRM

I liked the Boing Boing article about the recent DRM problem: A woman living in Norway had her Kindle wiped by Amazon and was not given an explanation. What I loved was this logo:

DRM PNG 1 900, a CC-BY-SA image by listentomyvoice

Nice set, by the way: Librarians Against DRM. :ok:

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2012-05-30 New Router

Note to self: Today I replaced my AirPort Express with a new one. The old one was simply unreachable and resetting it made no difference. I bought it back in 2005. It lasted for seven years. That’s pretty good.

I’m once again dreaming of an OpenWlan, specially in the light of recent decisions:

2012-04-26 OGL vs CC BY SA

Recently, Mark posted something interesting on Facebook:

Forget about a “big tent” when what you really need to unite the fractured D&D community is a solid foundation and a big house with lots of rooms, something the OGL is ideally suited to help accomplish. – Mark CMG on Facebook

I’m not happy with the Open Gaming License (OGL). What frustrates me the most are greedy publishers who declare everything important to be Product Identity.

I wanted to set up a wiki for fan generated content based on Necromancer Games’ book Bard’s Gate. To my surprise, I found the exact wording of the license precluded the reuse of anything important. That’s when I realized that the OGL can be cool, but it often isn’t. Unfortunately, the D&D 3.5 SRD came with the OGL and that’s why we are stuck with it.

No wonder the Bard’s Gate fan site promised in the book never materialized. The lock down certainly worked. The book has basically disappeared from our memory. I still have an archive of the wiki I started back then. Maybe I’ll get to use it in ninety years. Right.

Another example of how things are needlessly complicated by the OGL: The wiki Campaign:Monsters collects monsters for old school games. Making sure that the right OGL is linked is a major pain compared my fantasy alternative where the license says: “chapters bla bla and bla as well as all the magic items and feats are are in the public domain”.

When I wanted to import the Tome of Horrors with Swords & Wizardry stats into the Monsters wiki, I realized that I would basically have to rewrite all the monster descriptions because nothing but the name and the stat block were Open Content. Disappointing, again.

Unfortunately, the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC BY SA) alternative could be used to the same effect: requiring the listing of all the previous authors. The only thing that we would save is a page of legalese.

What I want is a viral license that “infects” the other parts of the works. No derivatives where all the new stuff is proprietary. I guess if you argued that importing monsters from a CC BY SA source into your book constitutes an adaptation and not a collection, then the CC BY SA does in fact “infect” your entire derived work.

This is a different trade-off. Perhaps no company would have jumped on the band-wagon back in the days of D&D 3.0. These days, however, as a consumer that is active online, that acts as an independent publisher like most of us do and wants to distribute derivative works in campaign wikis, blog posts, PDF documents, etc. – these days I find the CC BY SA license or the public domain to be much preferable to the OGL.

For a different perspective, check out Stuart Robertson’s Why I'm Not Using the OGL.

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Comments on 2012-04-26 OGL vs CC BY SA

I’ve always thought the OGL easy to work with, it has allowed me to create derivitive works done by others and still protect the things I’ve created myself, plus there is literally a lifetimes worth of material that the OGL created based on the 3.x rules.

I checked my Tome of Horrors and it states on page 449 that monster descriptions are open game content. (I’ve been hoping to use the Tome for my own material) About the only headache is listing each monster taken from the Tome in the OGL of the content created.

Crose87420 2012-04-26 12:43 UTC

It’s true that page 669 (“Legal Appendix”) of the Swords & Wizardry edition of the Tome of Horrors Complete says:

Designation of Open Game Content: […] including monster names, stats, and description

But below it also says:

Designation of Product Identity: […] proper names, personality, descriptions

When I mentioned this on the Necromancer Games forum, Matt Finch felt the designation of Product Identity took precedence over the designation of Open Game Content:

My opinion only, but I think it is the definition of Product Identity which trumps. The definition of Open Game Content includes: ““Open Game Content” means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity…”
I think the way it’s worded means that if you’ve got a specific designation of Product Identity, then whatever your definition of Open Game Content is, it’s still limited by the way that Product Identity was defined, rather than the other way around.

He’s referring to this part of the OGL:

Definitions: […] “Open Game Content” […] to the extent that such content does not embody the Product Identity […] “Product Identity” […] clearly identified as Product Identity by the owner of the Product Identity, and which specifically excludes the Open Game Content

As for the use of the OGL: I’m sure some uses are made much easier than they used to be in earlier days. My problem is exactly the use of derivative works: they mix the Open Content available to all and protect the things they created themselves (or do so at least partially). It makes it harder for me to distinguish what I can take as soon as I’m looking at works other than the main System Reference Document.

I’d like it better if those that benefit from the Open Content available were to give back as well.

I’d love to import the S&W ed. Tome of Horrors monsters into the wiki. I had practically everything ready to go before getting this reply. I was frustrated, and I still am.

AlexSchroeder 2012-04-26 22:05 UTC

2012-03-03 Boycott in der Schweiz

“Seid auch dabei!”
Ich habe im Februar noch ein paar Filme auf DVD gekauft (weil ich ja bei runDVDrun bin), aber für den März werde ich mich Anonymous anschliessen und nichts kaufen.

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Comments on 2012-03-03 Boycott in der Schweiz

Are you the same Alex Schroeder whose father is “Helmut”, now in Brazil?

Maurice Brown 2012-06-06 08:52 UTC

Yes indeed! Hi Maurice.

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-06 21:08 UTC