Why let someone else choose what you’re allowed to read?

In 2009, Amazon.com took away copies of purchased electronic books sold through Amazon’s “Kindle” book service. Amazon.com’s embarrassment at being caught was widely disseminated in the mainstream press and Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, wrote apologetically about the incident.

In December 2010, Selena Kitt, erotic fiction author, told us Amazon did it again:

On December 9, 2010, I was contacted by CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print on Demand service) who publishes my print books. They informed me that my title, Back to the Garden, had been removed for violating their “content guidelines.” When I consulted their guidelines I found them so vague as to be useless””were they saying my content was illegal? Public domain? Stolen? Offensive? (All of these were on the list). When I inquired as to the specifics of the violation, they were not forthcoming, and sent a form letter response stating that Amazon “may, in its sole discretion, at any time, refuse to list or distribute any content that it deems inappropriate.”

On Sunday, December 12, the print title that had been removed had now disappeared from the Kindle store, as well as two of my other titles, Naughty Bits and Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed. I have over fifty titles selling on Amazon, all of them in erotic fiction categories. The only thing these three singled-out titles had in common, besides being written by me””they were all erotic incest fantasy fiction.

Selena Kitt

(I didn’t link Kitt’s book titles to Barnes & Noble as Kitt did because Barnes & Noble sells another proprietary-driven eBook reader called the “Nook”. Since the Nook runs proprietary software, it too can be controlled by someone other than the owner. Therefore switching from Amazon’s proprietary device to Barnes & Noble’s proprietary device is merely jumping between masters. What’s called for is switching to freedom, even if that means doing without an eBook reader.)

Kitt says other erotic fiction authors experienced the same thing she did. But Amazon hadn’t just taken the eBooks from their virtual shelves; that would be merely unfortunate for the authors looking to sell copies of their texts. Amazon had removed the copies already sold to Kindle customers…again!

When some of my readers began checking their Kindle archives for books of mine they’d purchased on Amazon, they found them missing from their archives. When one reader called to get a refund for the book she no longer had access to, she was chastised by the Amazon customer service representative about the “severity” of the book she’d chosen to purchase.

So, how much is it worth to you to have the freedom to read what you want, retain full control of whatever reading device you own where only you decide what is on that device, and retain what you get even if your reading choices no longer comport with a businesses idea of appropriateness? You wouldn’t let someone take books off of your bookshelf, why let publishers or vendors remove eBooks from your reading device?

This is not really about Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Swindle and Nook reading devices; sure, this unquestionably justifies not doing business with proprietary software vendors including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. DRM stories are primarily about your freedom. Every DRM story is really about why you should value your freedoms to read, copy, build upon, and retain works.

Google book settlement rejected for good reasons


Straight from Judge Chin’s opinion, “In 2004, Google announced that it had entered into agreements with several major research libraries to digitally copy books and other writings in their collections. Since then, Google has scanned more than 12 million books. It has delivered digital copies to the participating libraries, created an electronic database of books, and made text available for online searching.”. Google’s project affects so many people outside the also has policy for copyright holders to contact them and opt-out of the digitization, indexing, and republishing process should they object to their work being republished. Enter the usual benefits from widespread sharing and easy access to digital information, but wait—isn’t this just well-funded widespread commercial copyright infringement?

Why should this project deserve professional participation from libraries but not well-organized grassroots networks sharing copyrighted digital works without license? Or why didn’t the old Napster system get librarian’s help when they effectively helped people share digital copies of copyrighted sound recordings without license?

Usually when someone goes to the trouble to distribute a huge collection of copyrighted work without license they’re called on the carpet for it and stopped, typically with a settlement that pays off some allegedly representative organization. In this case a lot of people found fault with the idea that Google would be given (apparently exclusive) permission to digitize and reproduce (in part or whole) lots of books. They filed letters describing their views to Judge Chin. But in this case I don’t see anyone calling for criminal punishments for well-organized corporate, commercial, copyright infringement. Where’s the call to talk to US Congresspeople about increasing penalties for corpoate copyright abuse? Apparently it’s okay to be a corporate copyright infringer but not a grassroots copyright infringer.

Various takes

Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive wrote about this highlighting the advantage of decentralized dissemination of the works.

We are in favor of building a digital library system that has many winners, but the Google book settlement seems like a bridge too far. We are sorry that it had to go this way, but the monopolistic aspects of the settlement do seem problematic.

That copyright holders are being spoken for strikes me as a greater problem with the proposed settlement; as the judge said, “Absent class members who fail to opt out will be deemed to have released their rights even as to future infringing conduct.” due to the opt-in nature of this settlement. The judge rightly saw this as ridiculous because “A copyright owner’s right to exclude others from using his property is fundamental and beyond dispute.” and “it is incongruous with the purpose of the copyright laws to place the onus on copyright owners to come forward to protect their rights when Google copied their works without first seeking their permission.”.

I appreciate the interest of building a digital library but I’m not sorry the settlement was rejected because it was preposterous. Until copyright law is changed to allow non-commercial verbatim copying and distribution in any medium for all published works (which I think copyright law should allow), I don’t see why librarians would (as many libraries are) handing over books still in copyright to be scanned and made a part of Google’s collection. The US can have whatever copyright policy its citizens wish to have, so go about changing the law and making it allow what you really want to do. Librarians must know they don’t have license to reproduce another’s work regardless of the benefit to the public; this can’t possibly be news to them; is this not contributory copyright infringement? These concerns seem far more important to me than the monopoly for Google this settlement attempted to create because I imagine the monopoly wouldn’t last for long had it been granted—how hard could it be to argue that some other party should get to infringe copyrights like Google has been doing?

The EFF acknowledges that its argument against the settlement on the basis of loss of privacy was not, in the judge’s view, a reason to reject the settlement, but EFF still headlined its blog entry “Google Books Decision: “The Privacy Concerns are Real”” quoting a passage from the opinion. The privacy concerns struck me as a red herring; if other parties can leverage the same permission Google got (as I believe they’d eventually be able to do) there would be someone who would reproduce the works in a way that privacy is preserved (download a file from a place that doesn’t track you or get a copy from a friend and read it anywhere you want anytime). I too want to read privately but I don’t see this as being a particularly salient issue for this agreement. Any popular database has the same privacy issues EFF talks about Google’s book database having, but we don’t discourage people from building interesting databases. The more useful and easily-accessed a database is, the more people’s queries will reveal their intent in using the database. Is there something about this database unique to Google? Plenty of other organizations track accesses across time, users, and searched-for content.

Glenn Greenwald’s scathing critique of “Progressives” mostly right-on

In light of US President Barack Obama’s recent appointment of what Glenn Greenwald calls “JP Morgan’s Midwest Chairman, a Boeing director, and a long-time corporatist — Bill Daley” Greenwald posted another mostly spot-on article in which he criticizes so-called “Progressives” who blindly support the Democrats regardless of what that party does:

Progressives who do this will tell you that this unconditional Party support is necessary and justifiable because no matter how bad Democrats are, the GOP is worse. That’s a different debate. The point here is that — whether justified or not — telling politicians that you will do everything possible to work for their re-election no matter how much they scorn you, ignore your political priorities, and trample on your political values is a guaranteed ticket to irrelevance and impotence. Any self-interested, rational politician — meaning one motivated by a desire to maintain power rather than by ideology or principle — will ignore those who behave this way every time and instead care only about those whose support is conditional. And they’re well-advised to do exactly that.

Generally, another slam-dunk for Greenwald who has a habit of great writing. I think the major theme of Greenwald’s post comes from Frederick Douglass’ famous quote

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Frederick Douglass

Progressives who go along with the Democrats to get along will get whatever horrors that party dishes out. Douglass was correct then and he’s correct now.

I don’t agree with some of Greenwald’s minor points made along the way:

  • MoveOn.org and Rachel Maddow are either not progressives or the word “progressive” has become just another way to say “blind Democrat party supporter”. I’ve never found Maddow’s show to be that compelling (I’ve mentioned some of my disagreement with her perspective on this blog). MoveOn.org never fails to rally behind Democrats at election time, much like the Nation magazine with their periodic anti-Nader editorials published around election time. I’ll be surprised if Maddow doesn’t fall into line supporting the Democrats closer to election time.
  • I don’t think the debate over who is worse is as separate a debate as Greenwald says: I don’t think either party is worse overall; I think both Democrat and Republican parties are roughly equally horrible and I believe they support mostly the same big-ticket issues: endless war/world dominance or empire, reduction in civil liberties, running up the cost of government, ecological disaster. Any issue where large sums of money or power are at stake generally find bi-partisan support in the US Congress. Unconditional Party support is never justified as it’s a sure road to being ignored.

While it’s perfectly rational for any candidate to ignore anyone who asks nothing for their support (“support” meaning: vote, campaign contribution, or staffing time on their campaign) the Left has long behaved as if they’re ignorant of the message they send when they behave in this way. I don’t see how the Left or Progressives can expect to maintain their number of supporters when they boast blind Democratic Party support.

I no longer think highly of the Left or Progressives because too many of the Progressives I come across (in person, reading their work, or having worked with them on political stuff in the past) blindly support Democrats and believe in voting Democrat because “[Republicans] are worse” and, just as Greenwald said, are horribly offended when their elected leader doesn’t heed their views. For me, Progressives who do this merely support corporatism, the single thing that undergirds all the horrible stuff the US is involved in.

As a result I have stopped caring about who becomes US President or which of the two US corporate-run major parties leads Congress. I know the same policies will be furthered no matter who wins. Greenwald’s articles point out how one party is no better than the other; you can skim Greenwald’s blog posts and find posts on major issues where Obama’s Democrats kept G.W. Bush’s policies intact or made them worse.

Justice will not happen when killers run the state

DN!’s headlines today included

Amnesty: Prosecute Bush for Torture

And the human rights group Amnesty International is calling on the Obama administration to prosecute former president George W. Bush following his admission to authorizing the waterboarding torture technique. Writing in his new memoir Decision Points, Bush says he first granted the CIA permission to waterboard self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In a statement, Amnesty International said, “Under international law, anyone involved in torture must be brought to justice, and that does not exclude [Bush]. If his admission is substantiated, the U.S. has the obligation to prosecute him.”

Democracy Now!, 2010-10-11

But you’re dealing with President look-forward-and-not-into-the-past Obama. We knew this in April 2009 when he and the Republicans agreed that investigations leading to prosecutions would be somehow unsavory and unwise:

Obama said in April that CIA interrogators who had used waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — on suspected militants will not face prosecution and he released Bush-era memos specifying that the practice did not constitute torture.

Republicans criticized Obama’s release of the memos, saying it left the door open for the prosecution of former Bush officials who authorized severe CIA interrogations.


Obama has been true to his word; former president George W. Bush thinks prosecution is so unlikely he can admit to authorizing drowning people in print and on his book promotional tour. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is coming out with a book as well in which his publisher said he’ll cover “previously undisclosed details and insights about the Bush administration, 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”; perhaps more admission of torture is coming soon there too. Meanwhile, the CIA destroys taped evidence of two foreign prisoners’ interrogation and Obama’s Justice Department announces that there will be no charges:

Justice Dept.: No Charges in CIA Destruction of Interrogation Tapes

The Justice Department has announced no one will be charged for the destruction of videos showing the interrogation of two foreign prisoners. The tapes were destroyed amidst worries they would do political damage if ever publicly revealed. According to the Washington Post, charges still could be filed related to obstruction of justice or misleading investigators during the probe. The prosecutor heading the case, John Durham, is conducting a separate investigation into whether CIA interrogators and contractors should be charged for the Bush-era torture and abuse of foreign prisoners.

Democracy Now!, 2010-11-10

Apparently war is not an issue to discuss

US President Barack Obama’s program-length (27 minute) appearance on The Daily Show just aired. There was no mention of the preeminent moral and financial issue of our time: occupation and war. The US is killing civilians, occupying foreign lands, engaging in torture beyond what is being owned up to (thanks to WikiLeaks for publishing war records and confirming what so many knew for years!), and civil liberties are diminishing before our eyes at a cost of trillions of dollars. These occupations are using up money which could have helped millions of poor unemployed Americans facing an ongoing mortgage fraud crisis (which the government refuses to stop). The mid-term elections are coming up and apparently the corporate media is showing itself to be useless. Indeed, war should be an election issue.

Will Americans care that most of their chocolate is made by children?

Document thumbnailsDocument thumbnails[O]n Halloween much of the chocolate Americans will hand out to trick-or-treaters will be tainted by the labor of enslaved childrenAndrew Korfhage

Apparently capitalism and big business vertically integrate oppression. Korfhage writes that Congress shelved legislation that would have ostensibly kept slave child labor out of US chocolate companies but when the chocolate companies announced a voluntary plan to deal with the problem themselves, Congress backed down. As a result most Americans won’t find it easy to distinguish which chocolate was produced with slave child labor. The self-regulation plan was a ploy to keep on using child slave labor without Congressional oversight. US chocolate companies kept legislation at bay in 2005 and again in 2008 by renewing their call for self-regulation and Congress keeps buying it.

When businesses use slave child labor they have already demonstrated that they are incapable of self-regulation. I’m guessing Congress knows this but has fallen into the time-honored trap of soliciting campaign donations from the businesses they’re supposed to regulate. Any business which promises to clean things up from within should be ignored; clearly we need more punitive anti-child/slave-labor legislation. It’s unlikely that anything but disincorporation, prison time for business leaders, and heavy fines will stop businesses from being slavers.

Can you have an economic system designed to push for the lowest possible price without treating people as marketable objects? Capitalism has never demonstrated that this is possible.

With the majority of modern slaves in agriculture and mining around the world ”“ and forced labor prevalent in cotton, chocolate, steel, rubber, tin, tungsten, coltan, sugar, and seafood ”“ it is impossible to get dressed, drive to work, talk on the phone, or eat a meal without touching products tainted by forced labor. Even reputable companies can profit from abuse when they do not protect their supply chain ”“ whether at the level of raw materials, parts, or final products ”“ from modern slavery.US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010

Relevant links

Update 2011-01-02:
I highly recommend seeing “The Dark Side of Chocolate” and continuing to only buy chocolate from the organizations the researchers, journalists, and investigators working against child slave labor have pointed to (see the aforementioned PDF for more on this).

Escalating the arms race through fraudulent foreclosure and intrusion?

The headline and story tells the tale succinctly enough:

JPMorgan Chase Agent Breaks into Home of Borrower

A Florida woman has revealed an agent hired by her bank broke into her home after she fell behind on her mortgage payments. Nancy Jacobini of Orange County was inside her home when she heard the intruder. Thinking she was being burglarized, Jacobini called 911.

Dispatcher: “Do you hear somebody trying to open the front door?”
Nancy Jacobini: “Yes, yes.”
Dispatcher: “Ma’am?”
Nancy Jacobini: “My alarm is going off.”
Dispatcher: “OK.”
Nancy Jacobini: “He’s in. He’s in the house.”
Dispatcher: “He’s in the house?”
Nancy Jacobini: “Yes.”

The intruder turned out to be an employee hired by Jacobini’s bank, JPMorgan Chase, to change her locks. But Jacobini was only three months behind on her payments and wasn’t in foreclosure. Chase has apologized for the incident. Jacobini has hired an attorney to pursue legal action against the bank.

With the plague of fraudulent bank actions against homeowners (breaking in with intent to lock the homeowner out, fraudulent foreclosures) these days, one wonders how attractive it would be for politicians to campaign for letting homeowners kill intruders on their property.

Apparently both corporate parties agree to do little to help homeowners from being kept out of their homes without due process (Republicans raise no objection to Democrats saying the US doesn’t need a national moratorium on foreclosures). It would be far more wise to not give homeowners reason to reach for their weapons.

Update (2010-10-25): More on this from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!.

Putting corporate “news” in perspective

Recently I had time to watch the Wednesday, March 12, 2003 Charlie Rose interview with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! (transcript, video). Despite Rose asking if she’d return to his show, Rose has not had her back. After watching this interview I think it’s readily apparent why: Rose’s arguments just don’t work out.

In that 2003 interview Goodman talked about how, during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, corporate news presented the American public with a “parade of retired generals” and a “military hardware show”.

In the years after this interview studies have found exactly what she was talking about:

  • May 2009: Amy Goodman interviewed David Barstow about his Pulitzer-prize winning corporate news exposé. As Goodman put it in February 2010, Barstow is “the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who exposed how dozens of retired generals working as radio and television analysts had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to military contractors that benefited from policies they defended.” (emphasis mine) Barstow, despite winning such a widely lauded prize, didn’t get interviewed much about his story.
  • February 2010: Goodman interviewed Sebastian Jones about his Nation cover story called “The Media-Lobbying Complex” summarizing it as “A four-month investigation into the covert corporate influence on cable news found that since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials have repeatedly appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure that they are paid by corporate interests.

Continue reading

One Nation Working Together to promote a party that isn’t worthy

On Saturday, October 2, 2010 some unions and other Democratic Party sympathizers organized the “One Nation Working Together” rally at the Washington Memorial which appears to have been, from both attendees Danny Schechter and Amy Goodman’s descriptions, far less critical of the Democratic Party than is called for.

They discussed their experiences on Democracy Now! (video, audio, high quality audio, transcript). Schechter also wrote a blog post about what he didn’t hear at One Nation Working Together. Here’s an excerpt from both the show and the blog post (emphasis mine).

I didn’t hear any one mention the eleven MILLION workers who shut down Spain for a day in a protest against cutbacks in the name of austerity, or the three MILLION who angrily marched in France to defend their pensions. American workers do not have the consciousness or political culture of their European counterparts.

Danny Schechter, Marching on Washington: One Nation Listening Together

All in all, the One Nation Working Together rally seems to have been almost a complete waste of time. I get the impression the Democrats care mainly about silencing dissent at home: the recent health care legislation is an attempt to silence those pursuing single-payer universal health care (caving into the HMOs through compulsory business is the best we can do!), blowing the horn about the “Last full U.S. combat brigade leaves Iraq” is about silencing the anti-war crowd (never mind the tens of thousands of US troops and countless mercenaries we’re leaving there to kill Iraqis, these troops are moving out!). One Nation Working Together is about keeping the Left in line: this rally featured little talk that would convince people to either not vote at all (out of disgust with their choices) or vote against the Democrats by voting for a truly progressive candidate in their district. We’ve recently seen both corporate parties run Congress and the presidency. Both of those parties bring war (primarily), environmental destruction, a reduction in civil liberties (PATRIOT act, domestic spying whether illegally via telecoms or through compulsory back doors), and bailouts to benefit their backers (mostly major corporations) all at the cost of an increasingly impoverished citizenry. Perhaps this is why the rally was so sparsely attended.

GNU Telephony has their aim set the right way

The GNU Telephony project is a software project for using computers as telephones. By now this isn’t new but it is important as few other telephony projects are based in code we are all free to share and modify.

This project is also important because its politics are in the right place. Recently the US government announced intention to compel American software developers to introduce a means for investigators to get access to all communications—known as “back doors”. This pursuit specifically includes allowing the government to break encryption and allow peer-to-peer services to be intercepted by the government. Such a request defies the entire purpose of speaking freely in a manner which is technologically difficult for others to spy on. David Alexander Sugar, head of GNU Telephony, had this to say in response

Good morning my relations. Today is not such a great day. In the United States the Obama administration is actively seeking a new law to legally mandate the forced introduction of insecure back doors and support for mass surveillance into all communication systems. Specifically targeted are Internet VoIP and messaging systems.

Speaking on behalf of the GNU Telephony project, we do intend to openly defy such a law should it actually come to pass, so I want to be very clear on this statement. It is not simply that we will choose to publicly defy the imposition of such an illegitimate law, but that we will explicitly continue to publicly develop and distribute free software (that is software that offers the freedom to use, inspect, and modify) enabling secure peer-to-peer communication privacy through encryption that is made available directly to anyone worldwide. Clearly such software is especially needed in those places, such as in the United States, where basic human freedoms and dignity seem most threatened.

You’ll no doubt want to read the rest of Sugar’s post. It is well worth your time. Our privacy isn’t just convenient, privacy is critical to the proper functioning of a civilized society.