Guest Writer Simon Moores on the coming legislation banning you from taking photographs or modifying your computer.
The Great Panopticon
‘There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them. George Orwell’
Step forward a few years. Your home is crammed with even more software and hardware than it is today. Thermostats, smart locks and toothbrushes, CCTV, TV’s, tablets and more. Even your dog sports a wireless FitBit that monitors its daily exercise and share its heart rate with your Apple iPhone 10+ and constantly-updated record at the local vet.
Consider: You discover that your TV is quietly recording a picture of your living room and its conversations. There’s a quick-fix way of disabling it published on a hacker website. Except that if you do, you find you could be sued by the TV manufacturer for making an illegal modification to their equipment. The same might be true of your car’s engine-management system or in fact, anything that has software running under the lid.
Hidden in the plain sight among the domestic and international news turmoil of recent months, lie a couple of stories that warn us of an alarming collective future. A future where clever lawyers and large corporations fulfil the ambitions of the American banker, JP Morgan and make politicians even more irrelevant to our romantic notion of freedom than we think they are already.
The first story caused a large splash in a small pond of technology journalists and some of the more vocal open software advocates, like Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig. To quote Wired Magazine, “John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker has told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive ‘an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.’ Or in other words: “It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.”
The second and more recent story surrounds the European Union and copyright, a Byzantine muddle of conflicting national interests, I once explored in a publication for Conservative MEPs, with the aptly named title: “March of the Spiders’
Like the notion of ‘Fair Use,’ which I used to quote Wired Magazine, this new EU initiative surrounds the “Freedom of Panorama;” or a Cory Doctorow writes: ‘The right to take pictures in public spaces, even if you incidentally capture copyrighted works, from building facades to public sculptures to images on t-shirts and advertisements.’ On July 9th, the EU Parliament will vote on whether to abolish it.’
In the next five years or so, we will be moving swiftly towards the biggest industrial revolution since the invention of the steam engine – the Internet of Things (IOT). Trillions of devices will become smart and connected from factories to house plants and pets. As this arrives companies like TESLA, Boeing or even GM have left the 20th Century corporation behind them and become 21st century ‘Platforms’ for their copyright-protected software.
An example; General Motors has told the US Copyright Office that proponents of copyright reform mistakenly “conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle.” In other words, ownership is no longer what you think it is and if you have doubts and a spare hour, read the end user license agreement.
Like the forthcoming EU vote on Freedom of Panorama, the US Copyright office will also decide at a hearing, next month, whether GM and the big green tractor manufacturer John Deere, have a case under America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (DCMA)
The DMCA is a powerful 1998 copyright law that determines the narrow line that now divides software and hardware. It’s the same law that governs the intrusive warning message you see on your CD player when you try and play a movie. The penalties for breaching the DCMA are draconian and fall just short of a long stay in Guantanamo Bay; allowing the US authorities and corporations to reach-out under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and enforce the Act, with the cooperation of other countries, including the European Union.
So come July, the Americans will decide whether tinkering with or ‘Jail-breaking’ your tractor’s software to improve its performance is a serious offense, possibly carrying an equally serious prison tariff in an orange jumpsuit?
Add to this, the fact the computer security industry is hamstrung by the sanctions that prevent the disclosure of critical defects and security holes (the informatics systems in new cars for example) for fear of the corporate litigation ‘Until your eyes bleed,’ as a leading counsel for one of the world’s largest computer software companies once told me.
All of this is simply the small tip of a much larger iceberg and Europe’s politicians are walking into the future with their eyes firmly closed, as they acquiesce to the copyright demand of powerful companies and an even more powerful United States Government.
If you’re not alarmed by the direction copyright is taking as it collides with the Internet of Things, then perhaps you should be. ‘Fiddling under the bonnet’ of anything will simply cease to exist, unless perhaps you have an appetite for litigation, as your car or iPhone or perhaps even your pet, reports your actions and precise location, by GPS, to the manufacturer of the software, who may already have your address and registration details.
Perhaps an impersonal algorithm running in the Cloud, will then decide whether your behaviour is serious enough to merit a warning email to cease and desist or perhaps something more serious, forwarding a record of your offense to the company’s corporate lawyers in Texas?
In the spirit of Magna Carta, our politicians are supposed to be informed enough and active enough to protect us from legislation that is unnecessary, ill-conceived or patently ridiculous. Unfortunately, the evidence to date, is that where new technology and copyright is involved, they ran-up the white flag a long time ago, in part perhaps, because very few of them understood that copyright protection wasn’t going to stop with digital music and movies.
Instead, it simply created the precedent for a small number of large corporate interests to eliminate any concept of ‘Fair Use’ and exercise a despotic form of digital rights management control over this next industrial revolution, following the example of Thomas Edison, Randolph Hearst and Henry Ford a century before.
March of the Spiders http://zentelligence.blogspot.co.uk/March%20of%20the%20Spiders.pdf
Cory Doctorow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow
Wired Magazine Article http://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/
Lawrence Lessig – https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Lawrence_Lessig