Pluralistic: 05 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Daniel Pinkwater wrote a new novel! Yippee for "ADVENTURES OF A DWERGISH GIRL!"
  2. Warner Chappel discoved a new form of copyright fuckery so dense it blew a wormhole into another dimension: From the people who fraudulently claimed to own "Happy Birthday" for decades.
  3. RIP, Jim Tyre: The free internet just lost one of its most dedicated defenders.
  4. Decentralizing the web is a human problem: The web needs stewards, not owners.
  5. Right to Repair is the right to resilience: Independent repair is how we keep things going during emergencies.
  6. Keyless car fobs can be defeated with a cheap RFID cloner: Car manufacturers wontfix a showstopper bug. Again.
  7. Bookstores, libraries, human thriving and mental health: Books are great, even if the science behind their greatness is thin.
  8. Copyright experts' panel on fair use removed from Youtube: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?
  9. Radicalized is out in paperback: Just hit every one of Canada's national bestseller lists, too!
  10. African Whatsapp modders are outcompeting Facebook: Adversarial Interoperability is how you beat digital colonialism.
  11. This day in history: 2015, 2019
  12. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

I'm coming to Kelowna, BC today! I'll be at the library from 6-8PM with my book Radicalized for the CBC's Canada Reads. It's free, but you need to RSVP (and most of the seats are gone, so act quick).

Daniel Pinkwater wrote a new novel! (permalink)

Well, this is amazing news. Daniel Pinkwater has a new middle grades novel coming out in September: ADVENTURES OF A DWERGISH GIRL!

Molly O’Malley is a clever, adventurous girl. She is also a Dwerg. Dwergs are strange folks who live very quietly in the Catskill mountains, have lots of gold, and are kind of like dwarves (but also not!).

Molly isn’t interested in cooking and weaving, as she is expected to be. So, she sets off to see the world for herself. Which means a new job, a trip to New York City, prowling gangsters, an adorable king, a city witch, and many historical ghosts. More importantly, it means excellent pizza, new friends, and very quick thinking.

Now someone is pursuing the Dwergs for their gold. Can Molly O’Malley save the day?

IOW: this is a book with every single thing I love about Pinkwater novels. Reading Daniel Pinkwater – as a kid and as an adult – was hugely important to my development as a writer and a human being. Meeting another Pinkwater fan is always a sign that you are among good people.

Warner Chappel discoved a new form of copyright fuckery so dense it blew a wormhole into another dimension (permalink)

I've seen some next-level copyfraud fuckery in my day, believe me, but Adam Neely's tale of Warner Chappell's copyfraud reaches a new height of absurdity.

This is sleazy even by Warner Chappell standards, and they're the crooks who fraudulently claimed ownership over Happy Birthday for decades.

Buckle up for this one, as it is an onion of bizarre, bad-faith corporate behavior, with each layer peeling back to reveal another, even weirder and more terrible one. It starts with a garbage lawsuit against Katy Perry for including a piece of background music in her song Dark Horse that was similar to another very generic lick in an obscure Christian rap song called "A Joyful Noise."

No one claimed that Katy Perry lifted the brief snatch of music from Joyful Noise. Rather, the case turned on the precedent set when Martin Gaye's heirs sued Robin Thicke over "Blurred Lines," arguing that the song had a similar vibe to Gaye's. Gaye's heirs should not have won that suit. But they did. And it opened the floodgates to nuisance suits targeting the likes of Perry and her publisher, Warner-Chappell. They lost the suit and got hit for $2.8m.

This isn't even the fuckery part, by the way.

Enter Adam Neely, who created a massively successful viral video defending Warner Chappell and Katy Perry, arguing that the suit was garbage. The video was so successful he went on national media to discuss the case and was even asked to sign onto an amicus brief.

Let the fuckery begin:

Warner Chappell has claimed copyright over Neely's video, claiming that a few seconds of music that he used was the "melody" of Katy Perry's song.

Further fuckery:

In the case, Warner Chappell argued that this specific musical phrase was not the melody, and was rather some incidental background sound.

Fuckery extreme:

The Warner Chappell claim was not automated. A human manually claimed this phrase of music as Warner-Chappell's, despite:

a) Them having disclaimed ownership of it in a lawsuit,

b) Losing that suit and being told by a court that it wasn't theirs.

Fuckery to the max!

But the musical phrase they claimed ownership over was from "A Joyful Noise," the song they lost two point eight million dollars over, having claimed that their song was not confusingly similar to it.

The two musical phrases – the one from "Dark Horse" and the one from "Joyful Noise" – were so similar that Warner-Chappell's own copyright enforcers mistakenly claimed copyright over the wrong one!

2020 folks. Don't forget to tip your servers, they work hard.

RIP, Jim Tyre (permalink)

My old EFF comrade Jim Tyre just died.

Jim was a tireless civil liberties litigator, a titan of First Amendment law whose entree to tech law was defending people who criticized censorware companies who wildly overblocked what schoolkids could see. He was also incredibly garrulous, funny, a born raconteur whose encylopedic memory served him well both as a storyteller and a litigator.

Jim worked on the 2600 DMCA case, he defended Ed Felten when he was threatened by the RIAA, he fought ICANN, and he was key to our longrunning suit against NSA over mass surveillance.

Jim always worked offsite. He lived in LA and had eye problems that rendered him nearly completely blind. But he kept a stash of cash at the EFF offices so he could contribute to every whip-round for a baby gift or a wedding present.

He was a true mensch.

Decentralizing the web is a human problem (permalink)

My old EFF colleague Mai Sutton just published a smashing primer on competition, interoperability, and stewardship and the world of tech:

After delivering a good backgrounder on the history of the wars between shared protocols and proprietary technologies, Mai delves into the thicket of laws that have cropped up to prevent technologists from adding interoperability to existing technologies.

This has led to a new online enclosure, with "Google" becoming synonymous with "search" and "Facebook" synonymous with "social media." These businesses once competed, but today, they preside alone, over protected territory.

But some of that is changing. Between legislative proposals, new standardization efforts, the Decentralized Web movement and its protocols, and a reinvigorated threat of antitrust enforcement, there's some hope that the web will reopen and redecentralize.

Ultimately, Mai writes, this has more to do with how we view the web than how we use it. If we think of the online world as a shared space for humanity then the technologists who keep it running are stewards, not owners.

(Image: Dietrich Ayala ( and Open Clip Art (

Right to Repair is the right to resilience (permalink)

Writing in Wired, Kyle Wiens makes the crucial link between the Right To Repair and resilience, especially during moments of disruption to global supply chains.

It's no coincidence that farms and farmers have been leaders in Right to Repair: when you're isolated and you're not allowed to fix your stuff, it means that you can neither nip down to the shops for a replacement, nor easily have an authorized repair tech come to your place.

Covid can put everyone – even entire nations – into the position of that isolated farmer. As Long Beach port is denuded of shipping containers, as air- and rail-links are broken between parts of the country, the stream of parts, replacement units and technicians stops.

A key principle of resilience is to put resources at the edge, replacing hub-and-spoke models with point-to-point, peer-to-peer ones that infuse the system with redundancy. Neoliberalism hates redundancy and equates it with wastefulness.

But redundancy is the key to graceful failure-modes. Limiting repairs to authorized service centers works well (reliable, and certainly great for shareholders), but it fails very, very badly. Right to Repair is how our hospitals, schools, infrastructure maintenance, first responder and other vital services will keep the lights on if things go horribly wrong. Resiliency may be bad for shareholder value, but it's vital to human survival.

Keyless car fobs can be defeated with a cheap RFID cloner (permalink)

Toyota, Hyundai and Kia keyless ignition fobs can be cloned by attackers who get within a few inches of your pocket (say, at a conference), thanks to implementation errors that the auto-makers made with their Texas Instruments DST80 security systems.

All you need is a Proxmark RFID scanner, which retails for about $300. That's more than the range-extenders used to steal cars from out front of targets' homes, but unlike those attackers, fob-cloners can start and stop the car as often as they like.

The researchers who did this work come from KU Leuven and the University of Birmingham. Their paper is great:

The attack on its own does not let you start the cars. All it does is disable the immobilizer that stopped people from hot-wiring the ignition system with a screwdriver.

"You're downgrading the security to what it was in the '80s." -Flavio Garcia, University of Birmingham.

The implementation mistakes by the car companies are embarrassingly basic. Kia and Hyundai's implementation only has 24 bits of randomness ("a couple milliseconds with a laptop"). Toyota uses a serial number as a seed, then transmits that serial number in the clear. The companies, naturally, are saying it's no biggie. Toyota claims the attack requires "a highly specialized device that is not commonly available on the market." This just isn't true. I found it with literally one search.

None of the vendors have offered to fix the problem for drivers who bring their cars to garages.

It's depressing, but at least now you know whether you can trust your car's security.

"It's better to be in a place where we know what kind of security we're getting from our security devices. Otherwise, only the criminals know." -Flavio Garcia.

Bookstores, libraries, human thriving and mental health (permalink)

I love Lydia Smith's hymn to the mental health benefits of books, libraries and reading (even if I think the science is less than convincing)

Reading fiction definitely stretches your empathy. For a novel to work, you have to be invested in the lives of people who don't even exist. The death of the yogurt you digested with breakfast this morning is technically more tragic than the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The yogurt was really alive and now it's really dead. Romeo and Juliet neither lived nor died. Fiction reading is varsity-level empathy!

I agree that the traditional fiction arc – adversity met and overcome – can lighten a dark day. I turn to Kim Stanley Robinson's "Pacific Edge" whenever I'm blue for that reason. I even played a small role in getting adapted for DRM-free audio.

(Pacific Edge was just reissued as a "Tor Essential" in an omnibus with the other two "Californias" novels, sporting a fabulous intro by Francis Spufford. Run, don't walk!)

It's also utterly true that books are a path to resilience and self-reliance, filled as they can be with how-tos, analysis and technical knowledge. As the Whole Earth Catalogues used to have it, "Access to tools and ideas."

(It must be said that the net is infinitely better at this than print books, provided you can get online. The use of a time-transported town library to jumpstart post-industrial civilization during the 30 Years War in Eric Flint's 1632 is delightful)

Libraries, of course, are the last place in our civilization where you are welcomed because you are a human being, not because you are an ambulatory wallet. Librarians, resist the urge to call people "customers." They're "patrons." That's far more dignified (and accurate).

And working in a bookstore is certainly therapeutic, for certain values of therapy. It can be a grind, but OMG is it ever great connecting people with books that you love and watching them fall in love, too. Generally I'm in accord with the essay. I just don't think the studies cited are of very high quality and/or recency.

It's OK to say, "I love bookstores and libraries because they're fabulous" without having to provide evidence for that fabulousness.

Copyright experts' panel on fair use removed from Youtube (permalink)

NYU law school's Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy held a symposium on copyright and the net with a panel on "when one song infringes the copyright of another and to prove if the accused song is 'substantially similar' enough to be illegal."

The video of the panel was taken down from Youtube after multiple copyright complaints from rightsholders who claimed that the brief clips, chosen by America's leading copyright experts as being fair use, were infringing.

These clips weren't just fair use; they'd been chosen by top legal scholars to illustrate what fair use was.

The rightsholder reps who issued the takedown claims for these videos did so manually – that is, these complaints were not automatically generated.

In the grand tradition of copyfraud fuckery, when the law professors appealed, the rights enforcement dimbulbs (trained on xeroxed procedures in three-ring binders) reasserted their claims, putting the law school at risk of losing its Youtube account.

The law profs knew they had the law on their side, but they weren't ready to appeal, because if they lost their appeal, they'd get a Youtube "copystrike," which could also cost them their accounts. And since there were multiple claims, they weren't sure if they'd get multiple strikes by appealing. Youtube's docs don't make this clear, and going through Youtube channels yielded nothing but radio silence.

Now, these are eminent law professors at a top university, so they were able to make some insider calls to Youtube, who lifted the complaints altogether and reinstated the video. But no one ever clarified the multiple-claims/multiple copystrike procedure.

Moral: When it comes to Youtube, it doesn't matter if you're a nationally recognized copyright expert. You can't argue with anonymous, hamfisted rights-enforcer assholes to assert your speech rights. The only way to guarantee those rights is to know someone on the inside.

Radicalized is out in paperback (permalink)

My book Radicalized, a collection of four science fiction novellas, just came out in paperback!

It's quite a week for the book! It's a finalist for Canada Reads, one of Canada's national book prizes, and the paperback immediately hit all of Canada's national bestseller lists!

I'm especially delighted to make the indie stores' bestseller list:

It's headlining the Toronto Star's list:

And there's one more national bestseller list that it's hit, but I can't name it until later this week, when it's published. But yeah, it's a hell of a week!

African Whatsapp modders are outcompeting Facebook (permalink)

Whatsapp is more popular than Facebook in Africa – but unauthorized, souped-up, third-party mods of Whatsapp are more popular still.

African software developers have modified the Whatsapp app to make it suitable to local users. The mods are transmitted from person to person, and sideloaded onto mobile devices.

The king of mods is GB Whatsapp, which allows for multiple accounts on a single device, ups file-transmissions from 16MB to 50MB, and includes privacy features like masking when you're online. GB Whatapp alone has more African users than the Facebook app.

All these mods communicate with users of the stock Whatapp system and with each other. They're tremendous examples of #AdversarialInteroperability, where hackers give users better, situation-appropriate tools without asking an incumbent's permission.

They really cleanly illustrate how Adversarial Interop defeats network effects by using it against incumbents. The fact that Whatsapp is the most popular app in Africa is an ADVANTAGE for Whatapp modders: they get to treat every Whatsapp user as a potential customer. These mods also show how Adversarial Interop is key to technological self-determination. Rather than meekly submitting to digital colonialism, modders ignore the choices and preferences of a massive US firm and its shareholders and deliver local solutions for local people.

Facebook's response is predictable. Mods violate our terms of service. Modders are crooks. Users caught using mods face bans.

Modders just tell their users to sign up with secondary phone numbers to avoid bans.

Colonial American industry enjoyed a huge advantage over UK rivals because it disregarded UK patents and copyrights, allowing American firms to leapfrog the former colonial masters. Now that it is a net exporter of tech, it expects foreign countries to respect its rules.

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Justice Department issues "scorching" report on Ferguson's Police Department

#5yrsago Matt Haughey retires from Metafilter

#1yrago The NSA has reportedly stopped data-mining Americans' phone and SMS records

#1yrago Jibo the social robot announces that its VC overlords have remote-killswitched it, makes pathetic farewell address and dances a final step

#1yrago BATHDOOM: A Doom level based on a terrible bathroom remodel

#1yrago The People's Republic of Walmart: how late-stage capitalism gives way to early-stage fully automated luxury communism

#1yrago History is made: petition opposing the EU's #Article13 internet censorship plan draws more signatures than any petition in EU history

#1yrago London councils plan to slash benefit payments with an "anti-fraud" system known to have a 20% failure rate

#1yrago America is not "polarized": it's a land where a small minority tyrannize the supermajority

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Carl Sondrol (, Naked Capitalism (, JWZ (, Danny O'Brien (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I've been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world's prehistory.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: Disasters Don’t Have to End in Dystopias:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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