SintelSintel movie poster is out!


Sintel is the latest Blender Foundation movie. Previous movies were Elephant’s Dream and Big Buck Bunny. Every couple of years the Blender Foundation puts out a movie made with Blender, a free software renderer and sequencer program. The Blender Foundation improves Blender as they go and we all get a better Blender program after their efforts (it should be noted that theirs are not the only Blender improvements).

The Blender Foundation raises money for these movies (which function as both entertainment and technical demo for Blender) in part by asking people to buy a copy of the movie on home video well ahead of time. They accept donations all the time, you can still buy a copy of the 4-DVD Sintel set.

The Blender Foundation movies are unlike other independent movies in that these movies are licensed to share (even commercially), and distributed with all the parts that went into making the movie so you can make derivative works. I know of no major Hollywood studio that encourages you to work with the movie in this way, which is partly why I find it so hard to spend time or money on Hollywood movies; free culture movies set the bar so high Hollywood simply doesn’t compete.

You should demand better for your freedom’s sake and demand more for your money by helping free culture artists do their work.


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Sintel is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

FSF taking the high road again: GNU Go on the Apple “App Store”

Apple is currently distributing an electronic version of the centuries-old board game “Go” called GNU Go. GNU Go’s copyright holder is the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and part of the GNU operating system. GNU Go is licensed to everyone under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Apple imposes numerous restrictions on program use and distribution on all programs distributed via the Apple App Store. These restrictions are incompatible with the GPL; if one cannot simultaneously comply with all of the GPL’s terms and other relevant terms one cannot distribute their program based on GPL-covered code at all (paraphrasing section 7 of GPL version 2 and section 12 of GPL version 3). This makes Apple a copyright infringer. The developers who ported GNU Go to work with the iPhone are infringing the GPL as well, but Apple is the higher profile distributor here and Apple has a commercial interest in attracting more users to the iPhone.

The FSF isn’t starting the discussion with their legal guns drawn like so many copyright holders represented by the Business Software Alliance, Motion Picture Association, and Recording Industry Association of America do. The FSF takes the high road by initially seeking compliance with their license rather than initially suing. In fact, the only unusual note in this situation is that the FSF informed people about this infringement publicly so soon (typically they privately inform the parties involved about the relevant license terms).

The FSF has a history of taking the high road with copyright infringers. This is another example of how the FSF shows us how to behave by demonstrating the right behavior.

But doesn’t the FSF stand to benefit by taking an infringer to court and making an example of them? No. Take it from Eben Moglen, long-time GPL enforcer and president of the Software Freedom Law Center in his essays on enforcing the GPL:

If I had used the courts to enforce the GPL years ago, Microsoft’s whispering would now be falling on deaf ears. Just this month I have been working on a couple of moderately sticky situations. “Look,” I say, “at how many people all over the world are pressuring me to enforce the GPL in court, just to prove I can. I really need to make an example of someone. Would you like to volunteer?”

Someday someone will. But that someone’s customers are going to go elsewhere, talented technologists who don’t want their own reputations associated with such an enterprise will quit, and bad publicity will smother them. And that’s all before we even walk into court. The first person who tries it will certainly wish he hadn’t. Our way of doing law has been as unusual as our way of doing software, but that’s just the point. Free software matters because it turns out that the different way is the right way after all.Eben Moglen

“Sintel” coming soon

The Blender Foundation, primary hackers of Blender, a free software non-linear video editor and 3D renderer, have been working on a new short movie called “Sintel”.

Visit their blog for more details (including licensing) or download other versions of the trailer:

This trailer is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

Eben Moglen’s talk on Freedom in “The Cloud”

Prof. Eben Moglen, head of the Software Freedom Law Center, gives another must-not-miss talk on software freedom with hosted services (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other third-party services run on behalf of their users), colloquially known as “the cloud” (a purposefully vague reference to hosting services somewhere else, a virtual place that contains your data). What are the social and civic consequences of letting these services watch as you place your information (email, calendaring, private chats, etc.) into these services? How do we in the free software movement rise to the challenge of services users don’t control?

This recording comes to us courtesy of the Internet Society New York chapter The recordings are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.


Download Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Download Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally


Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

When Moglen talks about what your server should do, he talks about the kinds of services you should be free to host yourself. I’m reminded of how useful it might be to control your file sharing yourself without placing your faith in those who are untrustworthy by default.

Update 2010-02-10: The Software Freedom Law Center posted highlights from Eben Moglen’s talk.

Sita Sings the Blues vs. Ink: How licensing treats us differently

Sita Sings the Blues” is an independently produced movie that is widely legally copied on the Internet. Writer/director/producer Nina Paley released “Sita” under a license that allows sharing (and far more, actually, but the details of how much more are beside the point of this article). Sita is also for sale on her store and anyone may download the movie from countless sources online (including locally—DVD ISO). The Internet Archive lists over 153,000 downloads from their site alone.

You can also download the soundtrack online and share it with anyone you choose (not all the tracks are sharable, but that’s not Nina Paley’s fault, the copyright holder for some music is not willing to share).

“Ink” is an independently produced movie that is widely illicitly copied on the Internet. Ink stands out because unlike chiefs of more famous movie studios, Ink’s writer/director Jamin Winans and producer Kiowa K. Winans wrote to TorrentFreak to thank them for promoting the movie and to say that the illicit sharing has made the movie far more popular, including increasing sales of home video copies.

But how do these movie makers treat you, the audience?
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Apple DRM-free?

Cory Doctorow is an award-winning author of many books. He simultaneously distributes his work online at no charge and commercially through traditional book vendors. He also knows what DRM means for the reader/listener. Now he’s up for two Hugo awards, perhaps the most prestigious science fiction award.

What does this have to do with Apple and DRM freedom? Read this excerpt from the introduction to one of his recent books, Little Brother: (emphasis mine)

My agent, Russell Galen (and his sub-agent Danny Baror) did an amazing job of pre-selling rights to Little Brother in many languages and formats. Here’s the list as of today (May 4, 2008). I’ll be updating it as more editions are sold, so feel free to grab another copy of this file ( if there’s an edition you’re hoping to see, or see for links to buy all the currently shipping editions.

A condition of my deal with Random House is that they’re not allowed to release this on services that use “DRM” (Digital Rights Management) systems intended to control use and copying. That means that you won’t find this book on Audible or iTunes, because Audible refuses to sell books without DRM (even if the author and publisher don’t want DRM), and iTunes only carries Audible audiobooks. However, you can buy the MP3 file direct from RandomHouse or many other fine etailers, or through this link.

Keep that in mind next time Apple tries to snow you into believing they care about your rights of first-sale, your right to read your books or listen to your audio whenever you want, or any of your rights as they intersect with digital restrictions management.

I bought an unlimited download account with Magnatune in part because they never had a DRM problem to overcome.

Critically important viewing: The World According to Monsanto

Marie-Monique Robin’s “The World According to Monsanto” is one of the most important recent documentaries because it exposes one of the most well-organized and dangerous corporations and because of Robin’s clearly conveyed research.

This documentary aired in France on 11 March 2008 but I doubt it will show up in the US. Monsanto advertises widely so they have the ear of a lot of media corporations which control the vast majority of what shows up on American television and movie theaters.

Viewers of another favorite documentary, “The Corporation”, will recognize a few of the faces and names in “The World According to Monsanto”.

“The World According to Monsanto” impresses upon you (and expertly defends) that this is a fight for control of the world’s population through controlling its food. As Vandana Shiva says, Monsanto’s effort is more powerful than bombs. Farmers around the world see a future where they can’t afford the patent licensing bill because they can’t avoid the GMO seed. The public (whether unknowingly or with no other viable option) eats the GMO food that raises one’s risk of a host of health problems including cancer.

Monsanto refused Robin an interview but their framing of the issue is heard clearly throughout the film. Robin uses Monsanto’s website to explain what things are, illustrates her points with citations from Monsanto’s internal documents (liberated by court order), and does the investigative reporting legwork to clearly explain to us how world domination through patent law and genomic manipulation is not at all far-fetched. The stakes are enormously high. I highly recommend seeing this documentary.

Wall Street Journal on the value of ethical business

The Wall Street Journal conducted a test in which three groups of consumers were shown coffee and in a separate test they were shown t-shirts. In each test the group was told the products were “ethically produced”, a second group was told the products were made under unethical conditions, and a third group (the control group) was told nothing about the products.

The Wall Street Journal concluded that “consumers were willing to pay a slight premium for the ethically made goods. But they went much further in the other direction: They would buy unethically made products only at a steep discount.”. In the test involving coffee beans: the consumers given unethical information about the production of coffee beans were described as demanding to pay $2.42 below the control group, while the consumers given ethical information $1.40 over the control group’s price. WSJ also suggested a go-slow approach to maximize income for the effort noting that “companies don’t necessarily need to go all-out with social responsibility to win over consumers. If a company invests in even a small degree of ethical production, buyers will reward it just as much as a company that goes much further in its efforts.”.

So decades of trying to separate business from ethics are paying off for modern businesses; perhaps not as much as their owners would like, but still the climate is such that a token show of ethical behavior pays off as much as genuine pursuit of ethical behavior in earnest.

The frame for the debate with these tests and their results is clear: fitting ethics into the market is right and proper so long as there’s no room to critique the heartless market for its lack of ethics. No amount of death, dismemberment, starvation, birth defect, wage slavery, or suffering in any form can possibly compete with the pursuit of money and power. Doing right by other people is not valued for its own sake. This is the system people have created, maintained, and defended as a reasonable way to do business with one another. It’s okay to behave this way at work no matter who is adversely affected. Remember this extract of Mark Achbar’s commentary track from the excellent movie “The Corporation” (website) (Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Speex) where he talks about how people can compartmentalize their wickedness?

For businesses, ethical responsibility is merely a market tactic—an ad campaign which will go away when ethical behavior becomes an unsaleable commodity (or perhaps not producing enough sales to justify the effort). The market must remain dominant, not asking the most important question one can ask: How should we treat other people? Hence even for the corporate “hero” of the “The Corporation”, Ray Anderson, there are strongly enforced limits on what he can say on the record without betraying his role as a corporate CEO. Anderson worked within those limits, perhaps struggling to do so.

Update (2011-08-13): Ray Anderson died August 8, 2011. Ralph Nader gave him high praise in an article celebrating Anderson’s effort to decrease Interface carpet’s ecological impact and Anderson’s work in sharing what he learned. Wikipedia has a summary of his endeavors.

Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister: Pam Hrick was robbed

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation recently released “Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister“, a competition show where five candidates competed to become the crowd favorite. The show is licensed to share. There’s been some buzz about it online (1, 2) and for good reason: their take on DRM is right-headed

While plenty of TV networks have experimented with offering shows online for free, it is CBC’s use of DRM-free BitTorrent downloads that is the most interesting. Guinevere Orvis, one of the interactive producers on the show, told me that the motivation for this choice was their desire for the “show to be as accessible as possible, to as many Canadians as possible, in the format that they want it in.” As for DRM, she said: “I think DRM is dead, even if a lot of broadcasters don’t realize it.” She added that “if it’s bad for the consumers, it’s bad for the company.”

and this alone puts them considerably ahead of American broadcasters who are still not clear on how they can retain control over every copy of every show, restrict copies electronically, and track viewers so as to more effectively sell them stuff. For American media distributors, DRM is still taken seriously. It’s this kind of thinking that creates a huge competitive edge for those who treat their viewers better. The CBC is way ahead of the US’ PBS in terms of licensing, DRM-freeness, and modern decentralized distribution of their shows.

But the most interesting part of this show has to do with the level of debate, a debate you won’t hear on American TV.
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Mainstream media favors price at expense of freedom, fairness

The New York Times’ review of Dell machines featuring the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution is a recent illustration of the problems one faces confusing price and freedom, then deciding that freedom (the more important of the two) isn’t worth talking about.

But why would anyone want to use Linux, an open-source operating system, to run a PC? “For a lot of people,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, “Linux is a political idea — an idea of freedom. They don’t want to be tied to Microsoft or Apple. They want choice. To them it’s a greater cause.”

That’s not the most compelling reason for consumers. There is the price: Linux is free, or nearly so.

The same could be said of a copy of Microsoft Windows or MacOS X that comes with a computer (the cost of either when purchased with hardware is quite low). An illicit copy of the software costs no money at all, and Microsoft and Apple will probably do nothing to you if you get a copy from someone illicitly. Both companies agree with the implied message of this article that popularity is king, so why stifle people who are helping others become dependent on their favorite proprietor? The only way you can respond to this is if you learn to value software freedom for its own sake.

When all you see is price, you throw away something more valuable. Proprietors know this and are eager to get you into their thrall. Talk about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

To explain to people what freedom means (and how “choice” is a profound misreading of freedom–after all, Microsoft and Apple give you “choice” all by themselves, pick your master!) you have to be willing to say the things the Times apparently isn’t willing to say. You have to be willing to mention that bringing users into the free software community without teaching them about freedom isn’t helping the cause of freedom as much as teaching them about freedom because these new users have no reason to reject proprietary software. If all one values is price, then there is no reason to reject low-priced proprietary alternatives. When a proprietary alternative functions in a better way than the free program, users need a reason to actively choose their freedom. The free software movement provides that reason—social solidarity and helping oneself, one’s neighbors, and one’s community—and the open source movement doesn’t.

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