The Walls Came Tumbling Down

These are heady days for the free culture movement; the atmosphere of expectancy reminds me a bit of the time before the Berlin Wall came down.

iTunes has abandoned DRM under market pressure, and the RIAA admits that DRM is effectively dead.  The entire iTunes library, some ten million tracks, is now DRM-free, and they’ve dropped all tracks which were unavailable without DRM.

The Pirate Bay conviction was followed by the Swedish Pirate Party getting seats in the European Parliament.  The Pirate Party controls the single largest block of support among Swedes in their twenties, and my guess is that pirate parties will gain comparable strength throughout the EU countries.

Steve Ballmer seems to be caving on cooperation with the open source community, offering Microsoft driver source code for the Linux kernel so the Penguin-heads can more effectively design Microsoft-compatible desktop accessories.  Quite a change from the days when Gates was ranting about “communism” and Microsoft was threatening Linux with infringement lawsuits.  The phrase “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” comes to mind.

Google’s free Chrome operating system, coupled with browser-based applications, offers to destroy the proprietary operating system where Linux couldn’t.  As my fellow C4SS commentator Tom Knapp puts it, the era of paying for operating systems is now officially over.

And Jeff Bezos, in the face of the backlash over Kindle’s remote deletion, aka theft, of books (by Orwell no less!) that customers had paid for, has apologized for the “stupid” and “thoughtless” move and promised that it will never happen again.

The latest gambit by the Copyright Nazis, Associated Press’s attempt to make web aggregators pay for “content” on pain of being sued (even when such “content” consists only of a hyperlinked headline) is almost certainly doomed to fail in a spectacular manner.  The specifics amount to a kind of DRM:

“The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational ‘wrapper’ that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.”

Yeah, THAT should work really well.

AP Chairman William Dean Singleton is defending the policy in decidedly belligerent and combative language.  First he warned “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories” (i.e., the theory that providing a snippet and a hyperlink is covered by the Fair Use doctrine), and then he announced that  he’s “done talking about it.”

But I suspect he’ll be adopting a much meeker tone before long.  A business model based on suing online news sources (not to mention search engines!) for linking to your stories makes New Coke look like a work of genius.  It’s about like a record company threatening to sue if you mention the name of an album when you recommend it to your friends (as an article at Dvorak Uncensored put it, AP is “ready to be the new RIAA”).  Some newspapers are already threatening to cancel their AP membership in response to the controversy.  My guess is that within a year, even the AP will admit that the strategy backfired catastrophically, and they’ll just about curl up in a fetal position at the thought of ever trying it again.

It’s like the proprietary culture people are TRYING to relegate themselves to the ash heap of history as quickly as possible.

What’s the next step–helicopters airlifting refugees from the roof of Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, or CNN crews filming a statue of Bill Gates being pulled down?

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