Red Hat Picks Up Dropped Java 6

Red Hat put out a press release yesterday that didn’t instantly make sense to me. After a chat with their GM of Middleware, I realised actually they had all done us a favour picking up care of OpenJDK 6 that Oracle had dropped. More on InfoWorld.

A Broken Promise

Microsoft was fined for being a scofflaw and for failing to self-regulate as it had promised, not (just) for a “technical oversight”. I explain more on InfoWorld today.

Saying “Copy” Was A Screw-Up

Transamerica ReflectionWhy is a song that I play digitally or a book I read electronically subject to extensive controls that are not considered appropriate to records or books? It’s because they are subject to licenses that can’t be applied by the seller to the physical works. Why can those licences be imposed on digital works? Because the use of digital works is considered subject to copyright, whereas the use of physical works is not. Why is that? Because the act of instantiating the work for use has been described as “copying”, allowing the rules surrounding copyright to be used as a threat to back up arbitrary license terms controlling use.

When I buy a physical work, the act of selling it “exhausts” all the control over normal enjoyment of it that arises out of copyright and the entity who created it no longer has a say on how I enjoy it – they can’t demand I accept a license as a condition of use.  But with a digital work, because each act of instantiation-for-use is called “copying” rather than some other name analogous with the physical world like “wrapping” or “inserting”, we’ve created a hook for the idea that a new act controlled by copyright law has taken place after the first sale of the work.

The control of the work is thus never considered exhausted and the copyright administrators are able to absolutely and indefinitely control use, including uses that save backups, uses that involve networks, uses that involve passing the work to a friend temporarily or to anyone permanently, uses that enrich society without endangering the author. All uses you’d naturally expect from something you had bought.

Controlling Culture

This control over those enjoying and using cultural works was neither precedented nor anticipated by legislators, so the basic law involved includes no attempts to balance the needs of society and of creators of works where digital works are concerned. Instead, the only limit on the controls imposed on users is the imagination of the businesses administering copyrights. The focus of that imagination is naturally the maximisation of income and control, even to the extent of creating scarcity artificially where it does not otherwise arise, so that the maximum number of control points exist for monetisation.

But even worse, the penalties the law provides for breaching those fanciful licenses are also unbalanced. They’re intended to punish people who unlawfully mass-manufacture, not those whose cultural enjoyment breaches some unreasonable-but-legal license. As a result they unjustly — but legally — apply overwhelmingly disproportionate punishments to ordinary citizens.

The licenses so devised are complex beyond the understanding of the untrained, they include arbitrary terms and restrictions, they are frequently and arbitrarily changed. All of these dimensions happen without any need to balance the needs of culture or citizens, since neither is a stakeholder for the copyright administrator. There’s no backlash because there’s little expectation of enforcement; all the same, automated enforcement is becoming increasingly common.  When a market is controlled by unrestrained licensing rather than by statute that’s a clear DNA marker for malaise.

So where did we go wrong? We mistakenly allowed the technical term for moving bits between buffers to be assumed to be equivalent to the term used by authors and other makers for creating a new original work for sale. They simply aren’t the same act, and the laws that have accidentally bled from mass production into cultural enjoyment are simply not fit for that purpose – how could they be?  When we said “copy”, we screwed up and it’s that error that really needs fixing.

[A revised version of this was posted to ComputerWorldUK on March 7, 2013]

Not Risk But Trust

In her warm and enjoyable TED Talk, Amanda Palmer ends with an exceptionally important comment.  She says (at 13:08):

I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is how do we make people pay for music. What if we started asking, how do we let people pay for music?

As Neil Gaiman says, her talk is about much more than just music. Palmer says earlier (at 11:29):

For most of human history, musicians, artists they’ve been part of the community,  connectors, and openers not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance; but the internet and the content we are freely able to share on it are taking us back. Its about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.

When Palmer speaks of Celebrity, she’s describing an artists view of the industrial-style society —  a society of mass centralised production and physical delivery. That industrial society had a natural scarcity that allowed monetisation by control of the pinch-points of production, delivery and payment. The sheer volume focussed through narrow pinch-points created opportunities for massive wealth. But Palmer is speaking a heresy here; she speaks not of unbounded wealth, but of sufficiency. Something has changed.

While plenty of opportunists are trying to grasp the effects of the Internet as if they were just another artefact of an industrial society, a few — like Palmer — are conducting brave experiments to determine new models that embrace both the human connection that arises from a mesh of peers and the scale that the Internet draws together. Palmer says (at 12:01):

So a lot of people are confused by no hard sticker price; they see it as an unpredictable risk. But the things I have done – the Kickstarter, the street, the doorbell – I don’t see them as risk. I see them as trust.

You can see why the winners of the 20th century industrial society hate this. Corporations can’t trust and models that embody trust are largely unavailable to them. If Trust is the key, it’s the brave experiments that are the future.  The successes among them are not the few making industrial volumes of money but the ones who are able to sustain a life that’s rich and enough.

Those experiments succeed to the extent they embody a reliance on humanity — reputation, influence, trust. The Internet, along with the collapse of control-point-based capitalism, are propelling us to a place where we need a new approach trading control for influence. Social business, whuffie, reputation economy, singularity; call it whatever you want, but it’s just about real enough to see its outline now.

Artificial Scarcity

When there’s no legitimate way to make money, dinosaur publishers resort to digital vandalism to create scarcity artificially. Technical measures that prevent reading digital books or listening to digital music are as ridiculous as this chair:

Certification And Innovation

While there is probably a place for “granular” certifications, especially if their origin is the external accreditation of real-world recognition inside a community-of-practice, abstract profession-wide certifications such as one finds in professions like accounting or civil engineering seem to me to have only a negative role in software engineering. ICT is just too big, too varied, too fast moving for there to be a single wise way.

To assume you can mandate a single approach to all software engineering is to assume a world of sealed, proprietary black boxes that simply need experts to configure and deploy them, as with other regulated professions. In my InfoWorld column this week I explain why I think this is wrong.

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