What’s wrong with “streaming” DRM?

Judging from comments here, at Techdirt, and at BoingBoing, there seems to be much confusion about why I don’t want DRM on Sita Sings the Blues. The simplest explanation is this: I am making my film available to all under an open license. Allowing a party to take the benefit of that license, but then limit the rights of downstream users is inconsistent and frustrates the original purpose of the open license — to promote and facilitate access and use of the work.

Some people seem to think DRM is irrelevant on “streaming content.” I was one of them, which is why I was initially so indecisive about the Netflix streaming offer. DRM encourages people to think of certain liberties as being impossible, rather than merely taken away. Already many people think that “streaming” means “cannot be saved on my computer,” instead of “optimized for real-time flow”.  People make this false equation entirely because of user-side DRM.

So along with its other problems, DRM is a kind of anti-literacy device for the digital age.  The more hobbled people’s phones and computers and music players get, the harder it is to remember what it was like when those devices served their users rather than the monopolists. The more deeply embedded DRM becomes, the more its restrictions will come to feel like “just the way things are”, rather than an impediment that could conceivably be removed or worked around.

I respectfully submit a typical comment:

Its not a download or purchase , its “Free Streaming” . From my Roku box to my tv why should you or I care if it has drm.

This is a perfect example of the kind of illiteracy mentioned above. “…we’re talking about a stream, which by definition is not saved on your computer”.  This commenter and others have bought the industry’s definition of “stream”, even though there’s nothing inherent in streaming that prevents saving. I can’t blame them; until last week, I didn’t think about what “streaming” meant either.

Here’s another typical comment:

You’re obviously making a symbolic stand here. That’s fine. But please at least be honest about that instead of claiming that Netflix streaming is “breaking” my home electronics. My computer and my Xbox work just fine and my rights have not been violated in any tangible or meaningful way.

If data is sent to your computer, and yet your computer won’t let you save that data, than an important function of your computer has been interfered with.  Who does your computer work for, anyway, you or them? It’s not just a hypothetical breakage, either.  For example, if you wanted to divide the same incoming stream to two different computers in your house, similarly to how a “Y” pipe would do with water, Netflix DRM will prevent that.  Normally, your computer could do that just fine, but not when it’s broken.

If the quibble is with the word “broken,” we can use the less-inflammatory word “disabled,” although people are eager to forget that “disabling” a computer means “breaking it in increments.”

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

My rejection of DRM is not a condemnation of Netflix (I like Netflix!) nor of those who use this very convenient service. I made this difficult decision as the author of Sita Sings the Blues. The only reason Netflix has DRM on its streams is because of pressure from the “content industry.” Well guess what – I am the content industry too, and I say no to DRM.

Nina_IFC_640_contentinustry

Thanks to Karl Fogel for contributing to this article.

Share

Turning down Netflix

Sita Sing the Blues has a few Endorsed DVD distributors. In addition to QuestionCopyright.org and myself, there’s FilmKaravan, a distribution collective that handles “downstream” deals with VistaIndia and IndiePix. Their distributions are on amazon.com (I get a much smaller percentage from those than from my DVDs, but they reach a much wider market) and Netflix.

In addition to physical DVD rentals, Netflix offers subscribers instant electronic delivery: streaming movies over the Internet to Mac, PC, Wii, PS3 and Xbox players. Many subscribers conveniently find new titles through this service. It’s just the sort of distribution channel that benefits a small film like Sita. They also pay producers, and don’t demand exclusivity. It’s a good deal all around, except for one problem: DRM.

DRM, or Digital Restrictions Management, is technology “to control use of digital media by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by end users.” At best DRM reduces the functionality of computers; at worst it invades privacy and adds surveillance and malware. DRM End User License Agreements (EULAs) force users to surrender rights well beyond what copyright restricts.

In the last few years DRM has grown increasingly pervasive, with little-to-no press coverage. Consumers passively accept it, as proven by Apple’s new “everything-DRM” device, the iPad.

Creators, too, are accepting DRM as a fact of media distribution; offered no alternatives, they lose their ability to even imagine alternatives. DRM, like rights monopolies, is said to be made for creators. But like copyright, DRM is designed to benefit Big Media conglomerates, not artists.

If this type of invasion of privacy were coming from any other source, it would not be tolerated. That it is the media and technology companies leading the way, does not make it benign. (link)

A few weeks ago a content aggregator called Victory Multimedia contacted FilmKaravan:

Netflix has shown interest in carrying your title “Sita Sings the Blues” for Electronic Delivery.  For a 12 month license period they are offering $4,620.00.  You would received $2310.00 no later than 60 days after the Netflix title release date and the balance of $2310.00 will be paid 6 months after the initial payment.

First I asked (Filmkaravan to ask the aggregator to ask Netflix) if Netflix could make a DRM exception for Sita. Unfortunately no such option currently exists in Netflix’s electronic delivery system. Possibly no other filmmakers have even asked for such an option. iTunes used to offer only DRM music, but eventually enough people – including savvy “content providers”? –  demanded DRM-free channels that they now offer DRM-free music for sale along with Defective options (all iTunes movies carry DRM). Filmmakers lag far beyond musicians in understanding the Internet, so it may be a while before Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and other online distributors allow our “content” in their channels without adding malware and spyware to our films.

I still wanted Sita to be in Netflix’s on-demand system. I want as many people to see Sita as possible; surely many viewers now rely on such a convenient delivery system to explore new films. Anyone who became a fan of Sita this way might still find the film’s web site, and learn how to download a free copy for themselves. Although Sita’s site states:

You are not free to copy-restrict (“copyright”) or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works.

I could still grant special permission to Netflix to add DRM to Sita. I asked if I could add a card to the front of the movie stating simply:

Download and share this film from:

sitasingstheblues.com

The aggregator responded this was not possible, due to a Netflix “no bumpers” policy.

Looking back, I was conflicted because it was hard for me to see the DRM on Netflix’s streaming service as problematic. It’s not as though Netflix is telling anyone they’re “buying” the movies they stream; they’re just “renting” them. “Rental” already implies restrictions and limited use terms. They’re just trying to make the Internet work like the physical world, imposing artificial scarcities to resemble the natural scarcities of physical DVD rentals. We can accept natural scarcities; why not accept artificial ones?

I was so conflicted, I asked my “Facebook friends” for advice. Responses were pretty split. Only a few knew what DRM was, but understood I could be compromising my principles by endorsing its use. Was that compromise significant? Was it time to “rise above my principles”?

Facebook, being a walled garden whose “business model is spying,” is problematic itself; obviously I use it anyway, although I don’t expect it to be around in a few years unless it opens up. Two of my moral guidestars don’t use it out of principle, and I emailed them for advice. Richard Stallman wrote,

I faced the same sort of question today: whether to approve release of my biuography with DRM for the iBad. I said no, because the fight against DRM is my cause, and the iBad is the most extreme attack against computer users’ freedom today.

It is self-defeating to try to promote a cause by supporting a direct attack against it.  Lesser forms of participation in things that you hope to eliminate can be overlooked, but Netflix is something we must specifically fight.  The example you would set by giving in would undermine everything….

We launched an action against Netflix.  We tell people, “Don’t be customers of Netflix.”

So I learned Netflix DRM was “real” DRM, rental or not. DefectiveByDesign.org asks people who rent physical DVDs from Netflix, to protest their DRM-laden electronic delivery service.

It was John Gilmore’s email that hit me where I live:

Don’t post your film via a DRM service.

Insist that Netflix is free to release it without DRM, but they cannot release it with DRM.

Creators keep knuckling under to these media middlemen who push DRM onto end users for their own lock-in reasons.  Like Apple. Like CDbaby.

It will take pushback from creators to change this.  Be the change that you want to see….

I’ve been the “change I want to see” in regards to copyright monopolies. People told me I’d lose everything by copylefting Sita, including all hope of professional distribution. But in fact, some professional distributors became willing to distribute Sita without claiming monopolies over it, and we’re all fine.

I’d still love Sita to be offered through Netflix’s online channels; if they ever offer DRM-free video-on-demand, I hope they remember Sita Sings the Blues.

For now, people will just have to obtain Sita by visiting the vast big Internet outside of Netflix. Most of the Internet still isn’t enclosed by Netflix, or Amazon, or iTunes. Most of the Internet is still Free; I’m doing what little I can to keep it that way. I’m sad to lose the potential viewers who may have found Sita through Netflix’s electronic delivery. But maybe some of those Netflix subscribers will discover the rest of the Internet because of my tiny act of resisting DRM.

Share

Mimi & Eunice

Many years ago, I thought “Mimi & Eunice” would be a great name for a comic strip. Recently I’ve been needing to do some drawing just to keep my head from exploding, so this week I figured, why not Mimi & Eunice?

As far as I can tell, Mimi & Eunice are two middle-aged children/baby psychos/heterosexual lesbians. That’s all I can surmise so far. Mimi&Eunice_01I didn’t put my name on these comics, but I did tag them with the URL mimiandeunice.com. (Unfortunately that site is a mess right now. Webmaster Ian installed the comicpress theme in wordpress, but it’s squishing the strips horizontally unless I make them really tiny. Also, even though it lets me bulk upload media, it doesn’t let me bulk post.

Mimi&Eunice_02So I’m just posting a bunch of them here, for now. If anyone out there makes great comics web sites and wants to make one Mimi & Eunice, please get in touch!)

Mimi&Eunice_03Other than getting mimiandeunice.com functional and pretty, I need to decide which license to release them under, or whether to use a license at all. So far copyleft, as embodied in the Creative Commons Share Alike license,  has served my work very well. But maybe I should go for Public Domain instead?Mimi&Eunice_04

If I use a license, it’ll be one of the 3 Free licenses Creative Commons offers:

CC-BY-SA (copyleft)

CC-BY (attribution)

CC-0 (Public Domain)

Mimi&Eunice_06

The advantage of copyleft is it ensures the work stays Free. Any derivatives must be released under the same terms, so no one can lock it up. It prevents abusive exploitation; no one can monopolize it. The drawback is that keeps it from being used in some projects that use more restrictive licenses. As nasty as restrictive licenses are, they’re still very common, and many worthy projects use them. You can still use a copyleft work within a larger copyrighted work as “Fair Use,” but few are willing to take that risk.

Mimi&Eunice_07

CC-BY (attribution) is compatible with both copyleft and copyright projects, which could conceivably allow the works to spread further. But it still relies on the threat of legal force to ensure attribution. As I wrote recently, attribution has limits that the law might not recognize. Also, I’m intrigued by avoiding legal enforcement as much as possible, and relying on social mores and  community ethics to ensure attribution. In fact I already do this with Sita Sings the Blues, but if I want to sue someone for plagiarism or improper attribution, I can. Is that threat really necessary?

Mimi&Eunice_08

Sometimes I think CC-0 (Public Domain) is the most spiritually advanced license. No legal claim to attribution. No legal claim to anything. To put a work in the Public Domain is to totally let it go. That is a turn-on.

Mimi&Eunice_09

Unfortunately many useful Public Domain works are snatched right out of the Public Domain via copyrighted “derivative works”. Take the comic above. If you changed the background color on panel 3 from reddish-gray to lime green, you could say you’ve made a new work and copyright the result. I don’t mind modifications like changing colors, in fact I encourage them; but I abhor monopolies, and the thought of someone then locking up the work in this way is troubling. Certainly the source would remain in the Public Domain. But if someone else modified the source in a similar way, being likewise inspired to change the color of panel 3 to lime green, they could be sued by the jackass that copyrighted his lime-green-panel-3’ed version.

Mimi&Eunice_10

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is in the Public Domain, and technically you can still build on it. But if your “derivative work” too closely resembles Disney’s, they will sue your ass. The laws don’t recognize parallel evolution, nor do the tiny shriveled minds of the corporate executives who wrote them. Thus, although the exact text of Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland is PD, it’s no longer “free” to build on thanks to corporate monopolies on derivative works.

Mimi&Eunice_11

Much as I want to let go entirely, I fear that could be socially irresponsible. Which also why using no license at all is not really an option. In our world, everything is copyrighted, whether it displays the © symbol or not, whether it’s registered or not, whether it’s attributed or not.  Everything is “owned” by someone. Therefore unless something is very clearly marked as Free, it is assumed to be Owned. No license at all would make it impossible for would-be re-users to determine whether the work is legally safe to use.

Mimi&Eunice_12

A friend pointed out that the State gets into everything. Just because I don’t invoke repressive copy restrictions directly, doesn’t mean they don’t affect my work indirectly. Copyright affects everything, whether it’s copyrighted or not. Art is born free, but is everywhere in chains.

Mimi&Eunice_14

Another friend pointed out that my desire to “let go” is still desire. Choosing  CC-o/Public Domain to experience the thrill of “selflessness” may actually be more selfish than choosing strong copyleft.

Mimi&Eunice_15

I want my art to stay free. How to achieve that under our current copyright regime, is quite a dilemma.

Continue reading “Mimi & Eunice”

Share

I <3 Middlemen

Yes I do! Most indie filmmakers I talk to complain about distributors and “middlemen,” but they’re missing the real problem. Middlemen – publishers, distributors, resellers – can do excellent work. The problem is not middlemen; it’s monopolies.

So many middlemen insist on monopolies, we’ve forgotten we don’t need to grant them. They say that without a monopoly (aka “exclusive rights”) they have no incentive to promote and distribute. Actually a monopoly gives a middleman no incentive, because no one is competing with them. Take away the monopoly, and the middleman has to compete with other potential middlemen (including the artist). Then they have an incentive to work. Rather than monopoly, they succeed on the basis of expertise (theatrical distributors already know how to track, ship, and manage prints), innovation (finding better ways to meet customers’ existing desires and identifying new ones), and quality.

I’m very happy with the middlemen I work with. FilmKaravan, who distributes Sita Sings the Blues on DVD, promoted and placed DVDs in outlets and markets I was too lazy to reach. (They out-competed me, which is great!) GKids, who distributes the film theatrically East of the Mississippi, manages the prints professionally, finds great new venues for it, and promotes it cleverly without overspending. These middlemen do their jobs very well, and I’m grateful for the services and value they add to the film. They have my non-exclusive Endorsement.

I’m only unhappy with one middleman, an overseas distributor who uses their monopoly to block access to the film rather than facilitate it. For example, a professional conference held by their country’s national television company, and attended by important players in the film industry there, sought a one-time conference screening of Sita, but the distributor refused to lend the local print.  Lending it would have helped the film tremendously, but the distributor was focused on immediate money instead of on the long-term good of the film.  Because I had foolishly granted this distributor an “exclusive endorsement” in their territory, there was no one else in a position to lend a print. (What distributor would take up a film knowing that the filmmakers’ imprimatur had already been granted to a competitor?)

My endorsement wasn’t a mistake.  I want that distributor to make money, and lots of it.  But endorsing exclusively was a mistake: although not as bad as copyright, it’s still a kind of monopoly, and monopolies invite abuse.  That is their nature.  I now know that to get good work from a middleman, I can’t grant them a monopoly.  They need to feel that if they let an opportunity slip by, another middleman may jump at it.  Business competition improves business performance; some say it’s an essential incentive.

Middlemen will only have monopolies if artists keep granting them. They’re not going to give them up on their own. It falls on us artists to simply refuse to grant these monopolies in the first place. A copyleft license sends a clear, simple, and non-negotiable message to middlemen that they need to innovate and compete to profit from the work. Only we artists can supply the incentives they need to do their jobs well; and we can only do that by refusing monopolies.

A middleman without a monopoly is a great help to art and artists. Rather than abusing monopolies, they provide valuable services. The better they are at providing services, the more successful they become. Competition keeps middlemen on their toes, and eliminates the lazy and incompetent. Monopoly does the opposite.

In sum, the problem isn’t middlemen, it’s monopolies. Yay for middlemen! I <3 U.

Share

“Intellectual Property” is Slavery

Brain01

“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government

“Most thinkers…hold that you own your own life, and it follows that you must own the products of that life, and that those products can be traded in free exchange with others,” claims Wikipedia’s latest entry on property. “Every man has a property in his own person,” says John Locke. Ayn Rand (who I generally can’t stand, but who I’m happy to quote as a passionate defender of the sanctity of property) wrote, “Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.”

You also have a property in your own MIND. That which lives in your mind, is your property. And everyone deserves Rand’s “right to translate one’s rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results” – in other words to freely think, express, and own the contents of their own mind. That is what “intellectual property” should (but doesn’t) mean: everyone’s right to their own mind.

Instead, legally defined “Intellectual Property” means exactly the opposite: it transfers ownership of the contents of your mind to others. It alienates the ideas in your mind, from you. Is there a song running through your mind right now? It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Warner-Chappell. You are forbidden to express it; “performance” requires permission. “To think, to work” – interpret – “and keep the results” – record and sell copies of –  the song in your mind, are illegal.

Thus Intellectual Property gives alien, private owners title to our minds. We may think culture (songs, text, images) only in secret; any expressions of cultural thought belong not to the thinker, but to the IP owner. Your thoughts are “derivative works”; someone else has title to them. You may have “Porgy and Bess” in your mind, but interpreting or singing it out loud is forbidden. That part of your mind belongs to Gershwin’s heirs and their lackeys.

Wikipedia’s entry on Chattel Slavery states: “The living human body is, in most modern societies, considered something which cannot be the property of anyone but the person whose body it is.” The living human mind should be the same. Legally defined “Intellectual Property” is, quite simply, someone else’s ownership of your mind. If they own the right to express what lives in your mind, the right “to think, to work and keep the results,” then they own your mind; they own you. What can we call that, except slavery?

Share