Things are very hectic right now so there will be a short break. I shall probably post again towards the end of the coming week orthe beginning of the next.
In this blog post I shall be looking into the problems that the music industry is currently experiencing and explain why I think that with their current attitude towards the issues that the situation is only going to get worse (for them and for the consumer).
Firstly we must deal with the concept of physical property. I'm not going to fully define what the term means but I will make a few observations that we need to understand before I go on.
1) When you take something away from someone they no longer possess it themselves. If I steal your bike you no longer have it.
2) If I alter something of yours then when you come to use it is changed. If I hit your bike with a hammer then when you come to use it tomorrow it is damaged.
3) It takes a considerable amount of labour to make an identical copy of something of yours and depending on the object may not even be possible.
It is very important to realise that none of these observations apply to intellectual property. In fact so fundamental are these three points to our understanding of property that the term intellectual property is verging on a misnomer. It is also key to realise that it is the advent of the Internet that has made these differences so crucial.
When I sell you a piece of physical property then part of the price takes into account my storage costs, my distribution costs, my manufacturing costs and my loss of the piece of property. With mp3s these three costs are becoming less and less relevant as the infrastructure of the Internet grows and grows. Essentially the only costs left are advertising (which are more of an investment really) and production. As production is a capital expenditure this should mean that the price of music falls to essentially zero.
There are caveats here. We can expect the more music an individual buys the cheaper the cost per song to become. We can rely on the government to cream off a large proportion of the value of music as tax (particularly as music is a luxury and when luxuries become too cheap the economy slows down). Never the less we should still expect the cost per song to become negligible as the Internet allows us to download more tracks quicker.
Essentially there are two reasons this hasn't happened yet. Firstly the music companies don't have the right business model to make money from a large number of very cheap sales (changing the model would be a big pain for them). Secondly the music companies enjoy monopoly rights over the music that is sold. This prevents the sale of music approaching its true market value (the value it would fetch at auction) and prevents start up companies from providing music to consumers in the way that makes most economic sense.
Many consumers, despite not being experts in economics, get the idea that they are being sold short. This is very much the case. As such consumers don't respect copyright law and any law is hard to enforce without the support of the people.
So let us look at the measures available to the music companies and see where these will fail:
A) They can try to use cryptography to prevent a piece of music being copied.
Whatever technique that is tried will be thwarted by the following trick. You plug the line out from you computer directly back into the line in and record the song again. Its that simple! This hasn't yet become necessary because various other mechanisms are still possible and are quicker. But the best (for the companies) digital rights management can do is force you to take this step.
B) They can embed watermarks into your tracks so they can tell if it was you who started sharing the music on peer to peer networks.
This technique will fall foul of data privacy laws currently but it is theoretically possible to watermark them in a way that only the police could decode (requires strong cryptography). This will slow but not stop the leakage of music from the CDs to the peer to peer networks. In the end you only need one person to steal a CD and copy it for it to be accessible to everyone. Right now though the technology isn't there to perform proper watermarks.
My prediction for what will happen is as follows: The music companies will try every method under the sun to lock their songs so that they can't be copied. The hackers will cut through each new layer of protection until the consumers get tired of the difficulties involved. The music companies will start using watermarks. The hackers will find ways of removing the watermarks. The music industry will find watermarks that cannot be removed and the peer to peer networks will reorganise to compensate for this. The music companies will still be in the same position that they are now.
Only then do I think will the politicians intervene and introduce a form of public stock market for music (and maybe other intellectual property). At this point I expect people to begin to install music meters (similar to water, gas and electricity meters) to bill them for their music usage. Such meters would need strong privacy provisions but this is acheivable using modern cryptography. Note that such billing would certainly not be a simple per song matter but more likely would be very much cheaper (per song played) for those listening to a lot of music. Watermarks and digital locks would cease to be necessary and I imagine they will disappear. Slowly consumers will realise how much fairer the new system is and it will become possible once again to enforce the new reformed copyright laws. Enforcement would be a matter of checking up on those without meters and ensuring meters are not tampered with (somewhat like utilities and somewhat like TV licences).
NB: The last paragraph here has been modified in response to comments. There will be further posts on this topic.
In this blog post I shall try to show why we should all be concerned about electronic data privacy.
Personal details have been available to companies for decades. These companies tend to abuse the data in terms of unsolicited advertising. Sometimes individuals within a company (or those gaining access to company offices) may leak information on prominent clients, blackmail individuals or take advantage of information for criminal purposes. Companies also perform analyses of the data for marketing purposes but this rarely counts as abuse.
So the questions are "What has changed?" and "Why does it matter?". Firstly the cost of copying data records has dramatically reduced, the barriers that existed to data copying have largely fallen due to the advent of the Internet, larger and more comprehensive databases have been created and means of analysing the data have developed. Whereas in the past copying 15 records was roughly 15 times the effort of copying 1 record now millions of records can be copied in a few seconds. In the past an individual who copied records must have been in the physical locality of those records. This is no longer necessary (indeed sometimes the records have no well defined locality at all). Modern databases contain records of detailed search histories (Google see privacy), shopping patterns (Nectar card take note of what is said of Sainsbury) and movement records (Oyster card An example of a very useful freedom of information request). Techniques for the analysis of data have dramatically improved allowing information to be deduced from vast data sets.
I shall give scenarios to illustrate what the risks are here:
1) An employee with access to the Nectar database (within their company) obtains copies of records of purchases correlated with the name and address of the purchaser. A program could be run to extract from this database details of individuals probably away from their house (purchase of 'holiday' goods followed by some non purchasing weeks). This could be used to target burglaries. More concerningly a profile could be built up of an ethic, religious or political group's purchasing patterns. Indicators would be cultural food stuffs, religious foods (such as halal meet, kosher and vegetarian foods) and newspaper/magazines bought. Once a profile is built up members of these groups can be identified. This information could be sold to political groups or abused by anti-X gangs. Furthermore knowledge of a large number of people's political leanings could be used to intimidate people of certain sympathies into not voting. This isn't entirely new. Targeting voters for intimidation or effecting their likelihood of voting in other ways has been going on for a while. What is new is the accuracy with which you could identify voting intentions.
2) A criminal gang gain access to the database of travel information that Oyster card maintain and copy the information for their private use. This could be achieved by a careful hacking attack or by direct bribery. Either way it is not unreasonable to expect this to cost less than £1,000,000. The information is filtered by a program looking for wealthy and important individuals (determined by frequency and destination of travel). It could be further filtered to look for holiday trips still in progress, individuals seeing prostitutes, individuals conducting affairs or specific individuals (given some knowledge of their location on two or three occasions within 8 weeks). This information could be used to target houses for burglary, blackmail or intimidation. Non of these risks are new. It has been possible to get such information using private investigators for a long time. The difference is the scale and the cost. To have someone followed for 8 weeks will set you back in excess of £20,000. The cost of obtaining that information (per individual) from the Oyster card system is considerably lower (less than £100, probably less than £1). This makes mass blackmailing and intimidation into realistic prospects.
3) With google's records of search details, storage and indexing of emails a picture can be built up of the individuals associated with a particular IP address. This picture could contain information about the political views, social views, economic views, purchasing patterns, friendship groups, sexuality, physical location, interests and personal behaviour (including use of prostitutes, infidelity etc.). Most importantly this information can be viewed as a network of individuals allowing missing information to be filled in by guesswork from closely related individuals. Any individual with access to this information can perform any of the nasty actions possible with the Oyster and Nectar databases. Furthermore other possibilities emerge including directing one group of individuals to false or misleading information, denying a section of the population search results at all, targeting an important individual by attacking an amorphous group of their contacts, friends and dear ones (much in the same way that the animal rights terrorists used to).
In summary there are very real and serious threats from the misuse of electronic data including political manipulation of various types. This post wouldn't be complete without a few words on how these issues might be dealt with.
Data should be cryptographically controlled in a way that can provably prevent:
A) Large numbers of records being accessed in a short period of time.
B) Data analysis of the databases that are not approved by some oversight body.
These are obtainable goals. It is not enough to lock the database as a whole. Individual records need to be separately locked to make the hacking cost into a cost per record.
In discussions concerning the supernatural and/or science I have often heard the refrain "But what about Love? I can't show you evidence that she loves me but I know she does." Sometimes people use this as an argument for the existence of a god "God is like Love. You know God exists like you know your girlfriend loves you!". I shall assume romantic Love is meant here.
In this blog post I will address this attitude to Love. Firstly the contention that one can know that someone else loves you without evidence of any kind.
There are many simple things that you might expect if someone loves you:
* They remember important information about you. When you have a job interview they ask you about it afterwards.
* They touch you gently when it is appropriate and linger slightly longer than necessary in such moments.
* They smile when they have emotional contact with you (e.g. a letter from you or a glance).
* They become agitated if something goes badly for you.
* They try to see you as often as possible.
* They do things just for the purpose of helping you.
* They tell you that they Love you without breaking eye contact.
There are also things you do not expect if someone loves you:
* They hurt you physically.
* They don't return your calls.
* They sound bored whenever they talk to you.
* They buy you something generic for your birthday or ignore your birthday altogether.
* They tell you they do not Love you.
In addition there are many subtle clues that you may only notice unconsciously:
* Their body language indicates interest.
* Their pupils dilate and contract rhythmically upon seeing you.
* Their friends treat you with particular attention and possibly respect (depends on the friends of course!).
* They start to take up habits or peculiarities of yours.
The lists are not meant to be exhaustive and each item on it is only a valid piece of evidence if its in the right context. Furthermore some elements are more important than others (some very much so). Never the less if you imagine a situation in which a friend claims their boyfriend loves them without any of this evidence (and with all the negative indications) would you accept her claim that he loved her? Or would you carefully and politely challenge it and suggest that she might be better off leaving him?
There are of course many pieces of evidence that are difficult to pin down precisely. An example would be body language. What exactly constitutes the body language for Love? Here our own intuition may be much more accurate than any scientific test that has yet been devised. But are we making use of evidence filtered through our evolved and culturally expanded instincts to come to those intuitions? How would one know that thats not the case? There are also many instances when the evidence is confusing or misleading but again this is really a matter of establishing the right context and understanding the emotion better (e.g. they may express their love by teasing you and be slightly too enthusiastic).
To conclude: Its sentimental to regard that Love is something for which there can be no evidence and which is ineffable. However, it is much more romantic to realise that the love of a close one is shown to you by their every day actions, their priorities and by the way they treat you. And it is much more poetic to see that their love for you can and is being described to you every day by the way they act around you.
So I ask the reader:
How does this emotional argument fall on your ears?
How do you see this post in light of the post immediately preceding it (God, the supernatural, qualia and the emotional brain)?
There will be a short break from blogging. I expect to be posting regularly again in under a week. In the mean time here are a few questions for the reader:
1) Does history as a whole show a positive moral trend? If you think of the question on the time scale of billions of years does your answer change?
2) If intelligence cannot be measured on a linear scale what might a better measure be?
3) When it is actually the case that explaining something diminishes its beauty?
4) What future technology now within our grasp is likely to have the biggest impact on societies?
5) Without the crutch of age to guide us how would we decide when children have sufficient understanding of the world and a great enough sense of responsibility to be given the right to make decisions for themselves?