Digital locks invading libraries

Canada’s House of Commons resumes next week with continued hearings on the new copyright bill, C-32.

Some elements of it make me smile, others make me frown. I won’t go into the stupidity of protecting digital locks as some add-on to existing copyright protection. I’ll just keep that in this one paragraph with a hasty analogy: if somebody is trespassing, should the owner of the property claim extra damage because the trespasser also went around an electric fence? Ergo, should everyone put up an electric fence to be fully compensated in the event of a break-in?
(Not that ignoring copyright is anything like breaking into somebody else’s property, of course)

With that out of the way, there is one part of the bill that bothers me more than the others, and that one surrounds our libraries:

A library, archive or museum, or a
person acting under the authority of one, may,
under subsection (5), provide a copy in digital
form to a person who has requested it through
another library, archive or museum if the pro-
viding library, archive or museum or person
takes measures to prevent the person who has
requested it from
   (a) making any reproduction of the digital
   copy, including any paper copies, other than
   printing one copy of it;
   (b) communicating the digital copy to any
   other person; and
   (c) using the digital copy for more than five
   business days from the day on which the per-
   son first uses it.

This is digital content. The only reasonable way to create self-destructing digital content is an honour system. Perhaps a note that says “please tell us when you’re done.” Somehow, I doubt that will go very far so the other way is DRM. The really nasty kind of DRM. We can expect standards and accessibility to be immediate casualties, or it just won’t work. By nature, it needs to be as inconvenient as possible to prevent any kind of unforeseen use of the raw content.

That is a problem because these are our public libraries. These are institutions that need to be free and accessible to everyone.

Modern computer technology has an amazing capacity to bridge physical barriers. Given sufficient equipment, unrestricted text content can be accessed by just about anyone on their own terms. It can be translated, freely, with language software like Apertium. It can be read aloud with Festival. It can be thrown at all sorts of displays, searched and manipulated at will.

If Canadian copyright law mandates proprietary software that suppresses digital content, anchoring it to the limitations of printed content, it will remain secondary; a feeble subset of what printed stuff can do.
But digital content is different. If our culture can embrace that, amazing things will happen.

Another reason why free software works (if there aren’t enough already)

I was really pleased with how my little forum post worked out, so I’m dumping it here as well!

Here is the catch that makes the free software platform so awesome: No one entity owns the whole of an end product like Ubuntu or ever will. (Same with all the individual projects it mirrors). There are contributions from everywhere, including groups that conventional businesses would label competitors. Heck, the sudo program is sponsored by DARPA and the USAF. It gets used by governments around the world.
Suffice it to say, this is completely against the status quo. It takes some getting used to, but it all makes sense in the end.

The ecosystem is largely made up of small businesses and individuals delivering support, advice and code for little chunks of the Linux audience. Indeed, support also equates to releasing a super-stable distro like Red Hat. That really comes down to what one’s priorities are.

Products are often released under the GPL or LGPL license, or a license following the same general philosophies (like MPL, Creative Commons or BSD), all in the same spirit of cooperation. Sometimes because a license demands it, sometimes by mere convention or good manners, but most often because it Actually Makes Sense.

It all adds up into a fine purée.

One key thing is that the free software world is building an environment in which to operate comfortably, and the necessary “making a living” part can grow on top. This is different from the Microsoft and Apple way. They have thick, obtrusive roots within their platforms through which they suck money no matter what people think of their stuff. As long as outside developers are reliant on their platform to operate, Microsoft has no trouble.

Free software provides the only level playing field. It is healthy for competition, since everyone is the competition; there is no gatekeeper to divide the official way from the unofficial. It is infinitely flexible. The platform is a neutral, self-regulating entity that everyone needs to care for to survive.

But why care? It’s all soulless corporations who want to earn a profit, so what’s the problem?
What happened with computer software development was amazing, and we are starting to see it again with content on the web. Computers unlocked an amazing ability for even tiny groups of people to produce fantastic, rich content and then to share it internationally without breaking a sweat. Thick corporations don’t have a chance to grow as they did with heavy manufacturing.

Free software is about cooperating because it makes life easier for the individual people behind it. The bottom line is that free software is not about soulless corporations. Being free and open means that people can be people instead of hiding behind walls of neutrality and secrecy. The fact is people tend to care about people. (Especially those influenced by our society’s ideals – and especially geeks, it seems).

It is a lot like how our environment is a neutral thing that we are all influenced by and we need to pay attention to it because what it does affects us all, whether bank accounts profit from it or not.

Ubuntu Linux 6.06, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, fixed most security flaws in first year: Microsoft

A recent security analysis by Microsoft’s Jeffrey Jones shows that Ubuntu 6.06, in its first year, solved 92.6% of known security issues, leaving 7.4% unresolved.

The same analysis compares this to Windows Vista, showing that 45.5% of its known security issues have been left unresolved after one year, with only 54.5% patched thus far. This closely resembles the pattern from Windows XP, which resolved 54.6% of known security issues in its first year.

Windows Vista’s known and unresolved security issues also outnumber those of Ubuntu 6.06 in total: Vista has 30 unfixed after its first year, while Ubuntu had 18 still waiting to be fixed. Indeed, if we consider only the red bars in the chart, Microsoft’s analysis makes it clear that Ubuntu 6.06 is the best maintained and most secure operating system in this group, followed by Windows Vista and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

It is a testament to the power of open source that Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux have the highest rates for discovery of new issues, and that these issues are so quickly resolved with continual small updates. No doubt this efficiency can be attributed to the transparency of their development community, allowing anybody to find issues from the source rather than reverse engineering binaries.