Digital Copyright

We’ve got a big problem in America. Well, we’ve got a number of big problems. But one of the biggest, baddest problems is that monstrous leviathan known as copyright law.

Glossing over the issues with traditional copyright law, I want to focus on digital copyright. It has been apparent for some time that there is something dreadfully wrong with the way the US handles copyright management on the Internet. An explosion of annoying DRM, horrific lawsuits, and illegal prosecution has illuminated the fact that our current system for managing content rights is broken.

Currently the DMCA governs much of US digital copyright law. It is based on two tenets: one, content providers are not accountable for user-uploaded content as long as, two, there is a means for quickly taking down content at the request of the owner of any copyrighted material in that offending content.

However, many large content producers have taken to spamming such takedown requests, to the point of absurdity; for example, HBO at one point requested that Youtube take down a video with HBO content – that HBO itself had posted. We also hear the stories about kids being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars because they pirated a few dozen songs. And in at least one case, monolithic content producers like the MPAA and RIAA have gotten the US government to grossly violate a swath of other laws in order to enforce the DMCA. I speak of the Kim Dotcom raid. Invalid permits, illegal seizure of evidence, failing to unfreeze funds for legal defense, harassment while in custody, illegal withholding of evidence from the defense – the list goes on. It shows that the crusade against copyright infringement has become a farce, and the DMCA is no longer effective.

Ironically, it’s not even clear that taking this hard-line approach is the right way to go about deterring copyright infringement in the first place. Over the last few years, Netflix has grown to comprise around 35% of all Internet traffic during peak hours; it has become the de facto way to easily watch movies and TV online. And while Netflix has grown, file-sharing sites have dropped from 30% to 8% of all traffic. This means that legitimate content consumption has effectively replaced online piracy for movies and TV shows.

Why did this happen? Simple: it became easy to watch movies and TV online without pirating. Pirating doesn’t occur because people don’t want to pay for content. It occurs because they physically can’t pay for content. If they could shell out cash for their favorite movies on demand over the Internet, they would; but until streaming sites like Netflix, there was simply no mechanism for doing so. In trying to protect their content, the MPAA actually encouraged online piracy.

We see the same thing occur with music and video games. In many cases, reduced DRM leads to increased sales. There are two explanations. One, if content is easy to pirate, then people do so quickly after release. Because more people are, say, playing the latest video game, word of mouth spreads faster, so more people end up buying the game legitimately. Second, it could be that when a content creator releases something without heavy DRM, the public collectively takes it as a show of good faith, and would rather purchase the content to show support rather than pirate it and take advantage of the creator.

In any case, we can expect to see a change in digital copyright in the near future. For everyone’s sake (that is, both content creators and consumers), I hope we take the path of less DRM and easier legitimate access to content, rather than the path of heavy-handed piracy suppression and draconian DRM.

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Traditional Values

As you may have heard, Dan Cathy, president of Chic-Fil-A, came out and denounced same-sex marriage, citing support for the “biblical definition of a family”. As you can imagine, this turned into a huge media firestorm, which consequently got the fast food chain banned from Chicago. Then Santorum and Huckabee decided to get behind the company’s statement and declared a “Chic-Fil-A day”.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
-Dan Cathy

I believe the first thing to do when investigating this delicate situation is to look further into what exactly was said by Cathy. Most news sources are citing this interview. In it, Cathy states that the company is firmly based around Christian values. Just to clarify, I am totally on board with that. It’s pretty incredible that a huge company, especially a fast food chain, would have the balls to do that in this modern age of anti-Christian rage. Some examples of this support include being closed on Sunday and training employees in Christian values and excellent customer service.

While citing the Bible as providing a Christian definition of marriage is fine (it is quite clear on the subject that marriage is only between a man and a woman), I don’t think it should be used to dictate the law. And I really don’t think it is proper to cite the Bible as a reason against homosexuality. Not only is the good book’s stance questionable when it comes to gays, but it also has some other “values” that the company seems to disregard. Take for example, Leviticus 19:19.

“Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
-New International Version

Wat. Guess you’re going to Hell for wearing those polyester-cotton blends. In fact, it seems that Chic-Fil-A employee uniform shirts are 55/45 cotton/poly.

“…a deep blue, ¾-sleeve, 55/45 cotton/poly woven shirt with stain-protection and wrinkle-resistant treatments, and flat-front, 60/40 cotton/poly pants with soil-release properties.”
Nicole Rollender

And that chicken Chic-Fil-A is serving? Bet that was bred to be the meatiest chicken possible.

“We are proud to have many long-standing relationships with our chicken suppliers, who highly value their association with the family farms where the chickens grow. Often these farms are diversified – they raise a variety of crops and livestock. Our suppliers follow strict animal welfare and nutrient management practices.”
Chic-Fil-A’s website

But wait! Many, including myself, would argue that when Jesus makes the New Covenant, the Mosaic Law no longer applies to Christians. Ok, so that nullifies any argument made with the Old Testament. And by the way, those arguments tend to cite the destruction of Sodom and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination”
-Leviticus 18:22
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.”
-Leviticus 20:13

Ok, so where in the New Testament is homosexuality denounced? In fact, the subject is only mentioned in 3 passages: 1 Romans:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:8–11.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
-1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NRSV

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
-1 Timothy 1:8–11, NRSV

Two of these passages, specifically those in 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy, only mention homosexuals in passing, if at all. The offending terms are placed in the middle of a generic laundry list of undesirable people. This is the equivalent of using the term “gang banger” to refer to any sort of any delinquent. Moreover, the translation of the Greek to “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” is questionable. Here I cite from William O’ Walker.

“The Greek word translated as ‘male prostitutes’ is the adjective malakoi (plural of malakos). This adjective means ‘soft,’ as in a ‘soft’ bed or a ‘soft’ pillow. When applied to people, it can mean ‘lazy,’ ‘self-indulgent,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘lacking in self-control,’ and the like. When applied to males, it generally refers to what are commonly regarded as feminine-like ‘weaknesses:’ such men might be regarded as ‘soft,’ ‘flabby,’ ‘weak,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘unmanly,’ or ‘effeminate.’ But to call a male ‘effeminate’ might or might not carry implications of homosexuality.”
The Fourth R

He goes on to explain how the terms “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” could be interpreted in many different ways.

People have assumed that malakoi does refer to homosexuality in 1 Corinthians primarily because the next term in the list is arsenokoitai (defined below)—the assumption being, of course, that the two words are somehow linked in meaning because they appear side by side in the list. This, however, is by no means necessarily the case. “The greedy” and “drunkards” are also juxtaposed in the list, and it would be difficult to see any link between them.

But even if malakoi and arsenokoitai are somehow linked in meaning, it is not at all clear just how arsenokoitai should be translated. It comes from two Greek words: arsen, which means “male” (as opposed to “female”), and koite which literally means “bed” but by extension can be a euphemism for sexual intercourse (like “going to bed” with someone). This would appear to suggest that arsenokoitai refers to males who “go to bed” with other males. But Dale B. Martin has pointed out that the meaning of a compound word cannot necessarily be determined by breaking it apart, looking at the meaning of each of its parts, and then simply combining these meanings to determine the meaning of the compound word. As an example, Martin cites the English word, “understand,” which has nothing to do with either “standing” or “being under.”

Numerous other examples could be cited, but I want to mention one that is closer to the topic under consideration. The word I have in mind is the vulgar term, “mother-fucker.” We know what this word means literally. But when people use it, they typically are not referring to someone who has sexual intercourse with his mother (or even with someone else’s mother). In fact, the word normally does not refer to sexual activity at all. The point is, however, that its original sexual meaning is often not apparent in its actual usage. And the same thing may very well be true of the Greek word arsenokoitai. It is a rare word. According to Martin, though, when the word does appear independently, it is typically found in conjunction not with sins of sexual immorality but rather with sins related to economic injustice or exploitation. … We often use sexual language to talk about things that have nothing to do with sex. For example, someone might say, “I really fucked up!” without having sex in mind at all. Or think about how we sometimes use the word “screw.” If I say, “I really got screwed on that business deal,” I’m not talking about sex, but I am talking about exploitation. … The bottom line is that we simply do not know what the word meant or how it was used in the first century.

In a way similar to how slave traders quoted parts of the Bible that, out of context or interpreted in certain ways, seemed to legitimatize their actions, those opposed to homosexuality or homosexual marriage could easily use these passages to support their advocation of the “traditional” family.

Leaving those passages aside for now, let’s examine what Paul says about homosexuality in his letter to the Roman church. In short, homosexuality is not mentioned as a sin, per se, but as punishment by God for idol worship. I’m not sure what the Bible has to say about Masochism, but if it does forbid the enjoyment of punishment, then why are anti-gay groups only targeting gays? They should also go after the greedy (recording industry), gossips and slanderers (news corporations), and God-haters (anti-Christian groups). Also those who disobey their parents.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

-1 Romans 1:21-32, NIV

As for the argument that homosexuality is somehow a “sin against nature” or otherwise unnatural, I find it interesting that such an argument would be made in the first place. First of all I’m not even sure what that is supposed to mean; would a proponent of that argue that anything specifically human is a sin against nature? In that case, homosexuality wouldn’t even fall under that category, since animals also show homosexual behavior. On the other hand, technology, speech, and writing actually ARE sins against nature.

But why hold up animals as a standard for behavior? Animals eat their children sometimes, but we don’t do that. At least not usually. Well, think about it this way: animalistic behaviors in humans can be divided into three categories; necessary, unnecessary, and harmful. Necessary behaviors are things like breathing, eating, pooping, etc. Unnecessary are things like playing. Both of these categories are legal. Harmful activities, like killing, raping, cannibalism, and infanticide are, with the last one being an exception, illegal. Since innocent homosexual behavior is neither harmful nor necessary, I see no reason to think it any more unnatural than playful behavior.

Of course, I digress. When Dan Cathy said that his company adheres to Christian values and he supports the “biblical” definition of a family, he wasn’t denouncing homosexuality (although I’m sure he has some beef with it). After really thinking about the controversy, I don’t actually see any conflict of interest.

All Cathy is saying is that he and his company stand behind one definition of a term. The government might stand behind a different definition. Activists may support another. The point is that if I announce “I believe that marriage can only happen between two people of the Caucasian race, regardless of gender” (which I don’t), that doesn’t mean that I can legally discriminate against married couples that fit a different definition. In fact, what I think doesn’t matter to anyone, until I make actions based on those opinions.

Obviously, whether or not the government thinks gay marriage should be legal is a MUCH bigger deal. And while we’re on the subject, I might as well give my two cents.

The only reason marriage exists in the legal system at all is because of tradition; but while its there, it might as well serve its purpose. When you think about it, the only possible reason the government should care about whether two people are symbolically bound together in an arbitrary ceremony is that children are born afterwards. The difference in taxes and other legal differences as a result of marriage are merely helpers to this function; marriage is not for the taxes, the taxes are for marriage. The government needs to ensure that children are being raised in an environment that will not turn them into criminals.

Based off of this definition of why legal marriage exists, one could make the argument that gay marriage should not be legally recognized because two people of the same sex cannot produce children. But by the same logic, a marriage in which one or more of the partners is sterile should also not be recognized legally. But of course both straight and gay married couples have the option of adoption. Following this line of reasoning to its conclusion, allowing gay marriage but disallowing gay adoption is paradoxical and a waste of government resources. The two rights should, by necessity, come bundled together.

Thus, the only remaining line of defense for those opposed to gay marriage and/or adoption would be that children raised by a gay couple are somehow deficient when compared to those raised “traditionally”. In response, I quote Judith Stacey, a professor at USC and holder of the Streisand Professorship in Contemporary Gender Studies. From the sound of the article the quote comes from, homosexual parenting is actually beneficial in many ways.

“We found that despite the ‘no differences’ mantra, many studies do report evidence of some intriguing differences, and even of some potential advantages of lesbian parenthood. A difference is not necessarily a deficit.”
Judith Stacey

The World in 15 Years

It’s been a while since I’ve just written something for fun without justifying myself, so I decided to make a post where I just make shit up. Basically, I’ve been thinking about something I heard a while back, which went along the lines of: science fiction is about personalizing issues in the present day and bringing abstract problems to a level in which the characters deal with it directly. While I disagree with the statement to some extent, I also agree with it the more I think about it. Fallen Angels makes climate change a very tangible force that the characters have to deal with, for instance. Power Nap (a webcomic) expands the sense that corporations take advantage of their employees for productivity beyond reasonable limits, and personalizes it for the protagonist.

So, I momentarily abandoned my plans for writing a space opera. Most of all, I just wasn’t ready for a writing project of that magnitude. But more importantly, it didn’t MEAN anything to me. I wanted to write a story that took some problem or idea that affected me and make it very real and tangible. With the latest set of vicious storms in my area knocking out power for days, even disabling emergency services and perhaps water utilities for a time, I began thinking about how reliant our global society is on electronics and the electricity to power them. This coupled with the thoughts that had been stewing about in my head ever since I casually skimmed a National Geographic article. The article was not that interesting, but the subject matter was one that hadn’t really occurred to me before: a freak solar flare, like one that happened in 1859, could essentially fry the entire power grid and all of our electronics. This, to me, proposes a much more interesting and up-to-date apocalyptic scenario than the standard nuclear armageddon.

That got me thinking about the near future, and so I’ve compiled a list of some things I think will be likely to occur in the next 15 years. I tried to not be too optimistic. Yes, I know that some of it is inconsistent, and some of it is much more detailed than other parts.

Geopolitics
Asia
-China becoming more democratic, but increases censorship nonetheless
-Huge number of economically successful high-tech countries in East and Southeast Asia
-Pacific Rim emerges as haven for free data sharing, as well as Eastern Europe

Africa
-Poor countries still poor
-Communication technologies become even more widespread
-Corrupt governments overthrown in continuous cycles of bloody revolution
-Raw material supply becomes unreliable
-Poor corrupt countries may fall into anarchy

America
-Rest of world becoming more socialist in terms of government handling of resources
-USA increasingly resistant to government regulation of resources and thus begins to lag in large societal changes and technological adoption
-More and more unrest as the US government fails to agilely address new problems
-Increased attempts by media-industry-controlled government factions to eradicate un-supervised data sharing on Internet
-USA oversteps some boundaries trying to persecute free data sharing companies in Asia, world becomes weary of US intellectual property pushes

Europe
-Everything goes to shit in Greece with communist election, pulls out of EU
-Spain pulls out of EU because of financial collapse
-Germany pulls out of EU in anticipation of EU and Euro collapse
-Euro goes to hell
-European economy collapses, lots of companies migrate their finances to US or Asia in anticipation
-Several brief civil wars break out in countries hit hard, tourism in Europe goes to shit, causes more economic decay

Technology
Space
-DARPA project kicks off space recycling
-Retired space stations are cannibalized
-Expanded commercial industry, competition with SpaceX
-Asteroid mining just starting, expected influx of resources (Earth mining becomes ridiculously expensive as resources are depleted)
-Plans for mars still just plans (commercial and governmental)
-Commercial space station with sponsors (Red Bull module?)

Computers
-More advances in mobile technology
-Competition in information glasses (see Google Glass)
-Increased presence of laplets (netbook / tablet hybrid, see Microsoft Surface)
-Increases in high-speed Internet availability
-Cloud gaming (processing on external machines, screen streamed)
-Some cities are implementing ubiquitous wifi
-Self-driving cars prevalent
-Resource sharing via private companies becomes more accepted

Medicine
-Cures for blindness, etc
-Advances in prosthetics, mind-controlled apparatus
-More use of robotics, especially in operations
-Cancer research still unable to cure cancer
-Pushback against genetic engineering to solve rampant problems (e.g. anti-sepsis bacteria, clotting-inducers, artificial immune boosters, disease-vector re-engineering)
-Technological advances in molecular synthesis jeopardizes pharmaceutical industry

Transportation
-Niche markets of supersonic flights and new efficient airships are filled
-Ocean drilling for oil becomes extremely common, Gulf spill stigma overcome
-Oil synthesization expanding as a market, more viable as oil is used up and Middle Eastern oil is unavailable
-Price of flights start to increase, flying starts to become less popular

Environment
-Increased reliance on new breed of safe fission power
-Global warming still “on the rise”, even though it has been partially linked to various natural processes
-Carbon emissions significantly reduced in Europe and America, increased in Asia
-Attempts to limit number of chemical rockets used, rejection
-Anti-desertification movement gains momentum, Saharan reduction initiated
-Still huge pushes towards recycling


I might update this post with some short descriptions of why I make some of these predictions, but until then you should leave a comment agreeing or disagreeing. Also follow me on Twitter @mattlevonian if you like my blog.

Why Richard Stallman is Wrong

I listened to an interview with Richard Stallman, and I truly believe he is wrong regarding the ethics of proprietary software and especially the fundamental beliefs behind computer and Internet usage.

Fundamentally, he assumes incorrect things. He says that people should be able to use computers for free. That doesn’t mean that having people pay to improve the experience is evil. I can decide to gnaw through a tree on my property for free, but I can obviously pay to have it cut down. Similarly, a user should be able to do anything they want for free, but should also be able to pay to either improve the experience, do it faster, or change the feel. The point at which you start getting involved with morality is when the development of proprietary software begins to interfere with the development of open-source software. However, I think that if proprietary software was somehow banned, the rate of development of open-source software would not increase by very much.

Stallman is fine with software developed for a single client, where the developer is paid for the development of free software, rather than the software itself. However, that is fundamentally the same as distributing proprietary software. The cost of the proprietary software represents the effort that went into making it, as well as upkeep for the company including other worker salaries and continued research and development. I do agree that such costs can get out of hand and that a ridiculous amount of money can end up going to those higher up on the corporate ladder. However, that is a necessary evil to keep high quality proprietary software pumping out at a rate faster that free software can be developed.

Although he demands that the functionality of ebooks mirror that of books, he doesn’t seem to make the same connection regarding proprietary software and its real world parallel: non-free services. Although you should be able to live in a house and use public transportation for minimal costs, you almost always buy furniture and hire services to make your life more comfortable. Similarly, proprietary software allows users to improve the aspects of their experience that they want to.

As I said before, Stallman discusses ebooks, and how you should be able to do the same with an ebook as you can with a regular book. However, as a completely different medium, you can’t just demand something like that. Suppose I demand that JPEGs be viewable in the same resolution as the paintings at a museum, for free. That doesn’t even make sense. Being a completely different medium, we need to approach ebooks in a completely different fashion. It would be nice to be able to easily share ebooks or sell them used. However, for an ebook to exist in an economic and material singularity similar to that of a paper book, proprietary software is absolutely necessary. Using Stallman’s logic, I can say that if you want a book to be freely available, write it yourself!

In some ways, open source philosophy (or at least Stallman’s) is like Communism. Everybody pools their resources and in return everybody gets the same, free software. However, as we see with many actual implementations of Communism, somebody who contributes resources may not need all the products. If I spend time coding, I want a video editor, not a database manipulator. The obvious solution is to have both developed and then have those who want the video editor to give their share of resources to that developer, and those who wanted the database software to the other.

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