Heartbreak over Mozilla’s DRM Decision from a Dedicated Firefox User

I saw news last night that, as the headline suggests, broke my heart.

For months, I’ve been following the story that the Mozilla project was set to add closed source Digital Rights Management technology to its free/open browser Firefox, and today they’ve made the announcement, which I’ve covered in depth for The Guardian. Mozilla made the decision out of fear that the organization would haemorrhage users and become irrelevant if it couldn’t support Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video, and other services that only work in browsers that treat their users as untrustable adversaries.

Like Cory, I have been following the push to install the Encrypted Media Extension as part of the standards that underpin the web. I had not realized Mozilla was seriously considering siding with the W3c. The W3c is the standards body that oversees the constellation of documents that describe the common intersection of what is possible with the web. Their push to adopt EME and, worse, resistance to any calls to reconsider are I think grave mistakes.

The news of Mozilla’s decision to add DRM to Firefox has rapidly spread online. I was a bit surprised at how quickly folks responded to my own expression of frustration on Twitter. Far and away one of the best pieces I’ve seen comes from British journalist, Glyn Moody. He, I think rightly, frames this as far more than a simple choice about technology. This is a question about the very fate of Mozilla begged by the dissonance between their role prior role as the strongest advocate for an open web and this latest development.

I won’t quote a snippet from Moody’s piece but rather encourage you to read the entire thing. It is a compelling and accessible explanation of the situation, why this decision matters, and how we may go forward from here. Ultimately he is optimistic, that the community of technology creators who believe that the freedom to understand, alter and share code and content is paramount will do as they always have done and route around this latest obstacle.

I am sure he is right. We saw it happen with OpenOffice and MySQL though admittedly under rather different circumstances.

I am still incredibly disappointed and upset. I have been a champion of Mozilla’s since before Firefox existed. I used Phoenix, Firebird and continue to use Firefox from the moment that name stuck until now. There exists no doubt in my mind that the shift from a Microsoft dominated Web to the current ecosystem is due entirely to Mozilla’s tireless commitment to open source and open standards. That ecosystem, due to those efforts, includes more openness than just that encapsulated in Firefox’s source code. More astonishing, I don’t think Mozilla ever need to be popular, dominant or relevant to a mainstream audience to be an effective change agent.

I never once considered abandoning my support as I have seen others do. New gimmicks or even claims to best Firefox in terms of speed, size or true functionality have never outweighed for me Mozilla’s dedication to principle. In recent years especially, none of those choices would have come about but for Mozilla. None of them included the same deep commitment to principles I cherish.

Until now.

The decision of Mozilla to include digital rights management, regardless of the technical details, feels like a betrayal of those principles. Worse, it poisons the space for the same reasons Mozilla’s dedication to openness made it an effective change agent. Firefox is an existence proof. Others may not weave openness as deeply into their efforts but they see it is valuable and worth addressing to significant degree.

And now it will go for this counter example. If the staunchest defender of the open web concedes to the pressures to hobble the web with DRM, then why shouldn’t every other last creator of web technologies? Had Mozilla chosen differently, it may not have stopped EME and the inclusion of DRM in other web browsers, but it would have undoubtedly created more space for openness, well beyond its own direct efforts.

Now the question we need to ask, to paraphrase Glyn Moody, is whither the open web?


If  you want to know what you can do, read the Free Software Foundation’s criticism of the decision which includes several good calls to action at the end.

Following CISPA for 2013-04-16

Petition Asks White House to De-criminalize DDoS Attacks As Social Protest

I thought from the headline this might be a more wide ranging consideration of free speech and legal theory. According to Adam Popescu at ReadWrite it is actually about a very specific petition to the White House catalyzed by Anonymous to de-criminalize DDoS attacks. I am not sure I agree with this in practice as appealing as it is in spirit. I keeping coming back to what several activists who have been imprisoned point out, that there is no digital entity correspondingly at risk of imprisonment and personifying the issues being protested as such.

Adam does include some quotes from folks in the world of hacktivism, including Asher Wolf who rates the petitions chances at nil and Dan Kaminsky:

Security expert Dan Kaminsky says that while he wouldn’t sign the petition, he thinks the attempt is far from silly or naive. Kaminsky indicated that while the petition may be misguided, the idea of creating legitimate forms of online protest in the heavily guarded online world are needed.

“People are going to figure out how protest works in a system that has gotten very good at suppressing protest,” Kaminsky said. “I see where they’re coming from… I understand the desire.”

I think that is about right, if not this form than another will be found that works, legally as well as practically, and much more likely sooner rather than later.

DDoS Attacks As Social Protest, ReadWrite

Reducing Technical Reasons for Mobile Data Throttling

While the technology in this Technology Review piece is interesting and something I hope will make it onto cell towers, I am less convinced it will do anything to diminish the urge of mobile carriers to employ throttling.

Major carriers, arguing that their networks are clogged with smart-phone and tablet traffic, are increasingly implementing data throttling, the practice of targeting heavy users by slowing down data-transfer speeds. Now a gadget invented at Bell Labs—a programmable, pint-sized transmitter that requires no new traditional cell towers—could rapidly add capacity and thus help avoid data bottlenecks.

The article is full of a ton of technical reasons why these new components, called light radio cubes, are attractive–lower power consumption, increased capacity without expensive new rights-of-way. There is even good evidence for their adoption in some markets already.

The fact that the technology is related to another bit of kit that hasn’t seen as widespread adoption as initially promised, femtocells, has me skeptical they will change the current throttling practices of mobile carriers, at least here in the states. What it may do is more clearly reveal the lie that such throttling is about congestion and capacity rather than plain old rent seeking.

If light radio cubes enable abundant, cheap wireless in the bands and with the technologies (GSM, HSPDA, LTE, etc.) already in use, there is one less excuse for carrier who are simply not investing in keeping their capacity up with clear customer demand.

Tiny Transmitters Could Help Avert Data Throttling, Technology Review

More on Dan Bull’s “Bye Bye BPI”

enigmax at TorrentFreak posted some background informing why Dan Bull undertook his latest crowd sourced video. In a nutshell, the UK high court has ruled against The Pirate Bay in a recent case brought by several labels, an outcome that will hurt the majority of smaller, independent artists that use the platform for promotion and distribution.

A block of The Pirate Bay will not discriminate – all content will be blocked, infringing or not, and artists relying on the site to reach their fans will be unjustly penalized.

Just hours ago and after working throughout the night, UK artist Dan Bull finished his latest track which was inspired by the recent TPB ruling.

TorrentFreak got a quote from Bull that resonates with the message of the song as well as speaking to the unintended harms to innovation in the tech sector.

“The BPI claim to represent the interests of musicians like myself and the people in my video, but the fact is that only the very elite few at the top of the music business will see a benefit. The rest of us are having our internet censored and are being ushered into an age of guilt until innocence is proven,” Dan told TorrentFreak.

“The tech sector is being damaged in order to prop up a comparatively tiny and irrelevant industry which the vast majority of musicians have absolutely no need for.”

Pirate Bay Block Inspires Crowdsourced Song – Bye Bye BPI, TorrentFreak

Bye Bye BPI, Latest Protest Song from Dan Bull

Dan Bull, British hacktivist rapper, has another protest video out. This one is addressed to Jeff Taylor, of the British Phonographic Industry, the trade association representing the record labels in that country. Bull makes a point that seems to be increasingly common, that the traditional intermediaries in the music industry are simply becoming more and more irrelevant. Wathc for yourself.

This is the second recent video that Dan has crowd sourced by putting a post on his Facebook account asking for volunteers. I missed the first one but you may recognize the bald, bespectacled podcaster around the 1:25 minute mark.

It is astonishing how fast he assembles these videos, from that first call to distributing the lines he wants each person to capture right on through to the finished product. In the case of the subjects this pair of videos cover the volunteer participation really drives the message home that much more, especially considering he got far more offers judging by the number of comments on the original post than he could possible use unless he did something like a single letter per person. The quotes he includes from Stephen Fry, Thom Yorke and Joss Stone, among others, don’t hurt either.

I am still waiting for a best of Dan Bull’s protest song album. Might have to be a double album at this rate.

The Copyfight for the Week Ending 2/12/2012

Open3DP Now Less Open

Entirely through no fault of their own, the astonishingly innovative academics at the Open3DP project have run into obstacles living up to the “open” in their name.

Since approximately, October 17, 2011, we’ve been a little bit more guarded about what is going on in our lab and perhaps a little less helpful or open to some of you. We’re sorry. Our University has decided, with no faculty involvement to change our consulting/engagement forms.

The change means that University of Washington is now claiming total ownership of intellectual property developed by facutly and students. Previously the project had been sharing its knowledge much more freely across an amazing breadth of efforts. These are the folks that figured out how to print 3D objects in wood and generally have been working with a variety of materials broader than most included concrete, glass and tea.

To benefit from their considerable experience now requires a consulting contract that may cost as much as $80K to $110K at a minimum. Several of the faculty are working to change the new policy. They are circulating a form letter in response to inquiries highlighting the situation and redirecting interested parties to other resources in the 3DP community.

I had the great pleasure of talking with one of the faculty working on Open3DP last Summer. The irony for me is that the conversation I had then informed me of the patent situation around powder bed 3DP technologies of which previously I had been largely ignorant. In a nutshell there are still considerable barriers in the form of intellectual property licensing keeping out all but the well financed commercial ventures or the most brazen academics and homebrew enthusiasts.

Sorry we’re not so Open lately, Open3DP (via BoingBoing)

History of Copyright as Researched by a Web Comic Artist

If you are familiar with Wondermark then David Malki’s keen eye for interesting oddbits of history will come as no surprise. His interest in copyright is not surprising either as much of the artwork he uses comes from the public domain.

Both of these interests have clearly come together in a new post on his blog. It is the first of a promised series of historical research posts delving into the antecedents of modern debates around intellectual property. Malki provides further proof of what I’ve found to be true in my own historical research, than none of the arguments being leveled are really new. The forces–in the market, in policy and stemming from behavioral norms–have all existed pretty much since the birth of copyright.
Whether you are a copyright nerd, like me, or want to understand the broader context of SOPA/PIPA, Malki’s writings here are well worth a read. If you subscribe to Wondermark, you should see the promised next in the series too.

The Copyfight for the Week Ending 2/5/2012