Pluralistic: 09 Sep 2020

Today's links

Podcasting chapter one of Attack Surface (permalink)

This week on my podcast: a long (3 hour!) excerpt from the new audiobook for Attack Surface, the third Little Brother book, read by Amber Benson:

I independently produced this one in part because I love doing it, but mostly because Audible – the monopolist of the format – won't carry my work as it's DRM-free, which means that publishers aren't interested in paying for the audio rights (Audible is 90% of the market)

So while the book is a major release for Tor Books and Head of Zeus, the audio is mine alone; I'm getting into all those indie audiobook stores like and, but I'm also preselling it through Kickstarter:

The KS launched on Tuesday morning and it's going GREAT, but there's a long way to go still. My hope for this is that I'll sell enough units that it will blow up the way traditional publishers think about working with authors and crowdfunding platforms.

So if you like this, I hope you'll consider backing it!

Here's the direct MP3 link (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive – they'll host your stuff too, free, forever!):

And here's my podcast feed:

Crad Kilodney documentary (permalink)

Growing up in Toronto, I was obsessed with Crad Kilodney, a self-published weird-fiction author who'd stand on street corners selling his chapbooks with a sign hung around his neck reading PUTRID SCUM or FAMOUS CANADIAN AUTHOR BUY MY BOOKS.

I used to stop and chat with Crad, who was out on Yonge Street every day, winter and summer, taking shit from drunks and yahoos, conversing with teens with literary ambitions, selling his books.

(And, it turned out, secretly recording his conversations and making highlight cassettes of the most absurd, abusive conversations he had).

He was a performatively grumpy, amazing, weird, fantastic guy, and say what you will, he suffered for his art.

He died in 2014, bitter – and prolific – to the end.

He died, as it happens, one week before he was scheduled to be interviewed for PUTRID SCUM, Anthony Stechyson's documentary about his life.

Deprived of his principle subject, Stechyson did not give up: instead, he made a posthumous doc, talking to writers and others who were moved and influenced by Crad, and now PUTRID SCUM is up on Kickstarter, raising $23k to finish it.

It's the kind of amazing thing that you get through crowdfunding: how else would you get a doc about a dead guy who made his bones standing on a street corner with a sign that says WORLD'S WORST POETRY?

$6 gets you streaming access, $40 gets a DVD, $60 gets the DVD and reissues of Crad's autobiographical novels EXCREMENT and PUTRID SCUM.

I was delighted to be interviewed for it (as was Margaret Atwood!), and I'm even happier to back it.

DRM versus human rights (permalink)

I hate DRM. A lot. And while I started off hating DRM because of the ways it restricted fair use, the more I worked on the issue, the more I realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

DRM is not really a technology – it's a law. The digital locks on your devices can generally be removed, because preventing the owner of a device from modifying it is really, really hard.

Which is why DRM was a longrunning joke – the subject of a million snarky warez crack-screens – until 1998, when the USA enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), whose Section 1201 makes it a felony to provide someone with DRM-removal tools.

Importantly, DMCA1201 doesn't prohibit infringing copyright – it prohibits removing DRM, even if you don't break copyright law. That means that if you have to remove DRM to do something legitimate, you risk prison.

Manufacturers quickly realized that anything with software in it – increasingly, that's everything – can be designed so that using it in ways that harms their shareholders requires bypassing DRM, and thus is a literal crime: Felony Contempt of Business-Model.

We've had 22 years' worth of US experience with this, and it's ugly. But despite that experience, other countries have followed the US's lead, adopting near-identical legislation, under severe pressure from US corporate lobbyists and the US Trade Rep.

The latest country to jump off a bridge because America did it first is Mexico, where, on Jul 1, the Congress adopted a copypaste of the DMCA (with the minimal safeguards stripped out) as part of Trump's USMCA deal (the successor to NAFTA).

But Mexico's legal system has an important circuit-breaker built in: an independent Human Rights Commission that can send legislation like this to the Supreme Court for constitutional review.

After an all-out campaign by Derechos Digitales, R3D, Creative Commons Mexico and EFF, we convinced the Commission to send this law to the Supreme Court, at the very last minute:

That triggered a round of Congressional hearings this week, where EFF lawyers Corynne McSherry and Kit Walsh are testifying:

In support of our Mexican partners, I've written a lengthy history of human rights abuses that came about as a result of DMCA 1201, incorporating 22 years' worth of bitter truth about how laws that indiscriminately ban breaking DRM hurt human rights:

Included in the document:

  • Free expression (blocking fair use, allowing app store gatekeepers to wield the censor's pen)

  • Self-determination (DRMs that allow sharing "within a family" get to decide what is – and is not – a "real family")

  • Rights of people with disability (you can't remove DRM to block seizure-inducing strobes in video, or use text-to-speech, etc)

  • Archiving (you can't remove DRM for long-term preservation)

  • Education (you can't remove DRM in order to study works, i.e. to remix a video in film class)

  • Right to Repair (many devices use DRM to block independent diagnostics and third-party replacement parts)

  • National resiliency (DRM means farmers can't access the soil data generated by tractors, nor block foreign companies from harvesting that data; you can't adapt equipment for local conditions)

  • Cybersecurity (researchers who discover defects in widely used devices risk prison for publishing their findings)

  • Competition (DRM lets dominant companies block interoperability)

This week, I launched my first-ever Kickstarter, and while it's exciting to watch the numbers tick up (if you've backed it, thank you!), the only reason I had to do this was because Amazon won't sell my audiobooks, because they don't have DRM.

Fighting DRM isn't just about fairness – it's the fight between oligarchy (companies get to control their critics, competitors and customers) and self-determination (you get to decide how your tech works):

Germany's amazing new competition proposal (permalink)

You hear lots about how tech monopolies arose due to supposedly inevitable factors like "network effects," but you don't hear much about banal, sleazy tactics that were banned until the neoliberal era, when Thatcher, Reagan, et al trashed competition law.

Tactics like buying up small companies to prevent them from becoming competitors, or large competitors merging, or creating vertical monopolies – whether that's rail companies running their own freight companies, or sech companies selling apps in their own app stores.

The good news is we have some pretty effective tools for fighting sleazy monopoly tactics: banning mergers, breaking up conglomerates, enforcing "structural separation" so platform companies can't compete with their customers.

And when it comes to tech, network effects are a double-edged sword: if your competitors can interoperate (plug into) your service, they can treat your walled garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet of new customers:

This week, Germany published a draft competition law that does away with the Reagan (or Kohl) doctrine that monopolies are tolerable, treating market concentration as an evil in and of itself. Here's a machine translation:

Notably, the law targets interoperability as an important source of competition. Here's Ian Brown's translation:

"The Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) may prohibit companies [with paramount cross-market importance] from… making the interoperability of products or services or the portability of data difficult and thus hindering competition."

That's a rule that strikes directly at the root of anticompetitive conduct, and also sets the stage for funding businesses and establishing tech co-ops that will hit Big Tech right where it hurts!

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 569 words (58897 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 14)

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