OFFSystem gives lawyers and law-makers new headaches

The problem with geeks and law is that geeks are way better and faster in interpreting reality than lawyers are in interpreting laws. Here's a good example - the Owner-Free Filing system.

The OFFSystem is a distributed file system (essentially creating a huge disk drive where you can put whatever content you want, and everyone else using the same system can see that content, too) - but what is interesting is that it is really stabbing at the heart of copyright as defined.

You see, it does not store encrypted data. It stores numbers, and it uses the same numbers to store many different kinds of data. So the question is - whether the store in itself is copyrighted or not? Yes, the act of fetching a file from the store may be illegal in some jurisdictions, since that may end up in a copyrighted work for which you do not have legal permission to use, but the store itself contains only numbers, from which it is impossible to figure out what the content actually is. So, in a way, while no actual copying of copyrighted content ever takes place, you could still be infringing someone's copyright. Just another example why the word "copy" in copyright means nothing in the digital age.

The legal system has been wrestling with the concept of whether offering .torrent -files is illegal, since they don't contain any copyrighted content - but they might point to copyrighted content - and if Pirate Bay is illegal, why isn't Google? (Since really the easiest way to find stuff these days is to go and type "xxx-movie torrent" in Google.)

OFFSystem and its likes (like Tahoe) are going to cause way more interpretation problems that Bittorrent ever did. And, while the courts are chewing on that, there's four-five years of time to invent something completely new.

Copyright is badly broken, out of touch with reality, and needs to be fixed.

Picture the song as this, but much longer.


Now there are two other numbers that may be of interest, depending upon how you interpret them. Consider the following big numbers:


Then consider adding them together.

Are these numbers copyrighted? Can I store them on two separate computers? Would that break the law? What if they were never added together? Would their existence still break the law?

What if I give you two other numbers? Again, and again.

There are two consistent ways to answer the above questions. One leads to the conclusion that “All numbers are copyrighted.” The other leads to the conclusion that, “There exists encodings of copyrighted number that are NOT copyrighted.”

If the first conclusion is true, digital copyright is pointless. If the second is true digital copyright is meaningless.

(Via Slashdot)

(By the way - using the OFFSystem technology, you could make every song to be a copy of Never gonna give you up - all you would need to supply the mathematical difference between a song and the Rick Astley piece. So if you're a copyright lawyer, I suggest you grab your maths book or hire your friendly neighbourhood geek to explain all this.)

Edit: Also read this wonderful piece about the Colour of bits, and why the colour matters.


Each individual CD coming from the factory shrinkwrapped, gains its very unique collection of scratches, bends (to the sleeve), broken hinges, fingerprint stains, etc. Since there's no way to keep track of all the copyrighted CDs it doesn't matter whether you rip them to cheap blank CDRs, photocopy the sleeve and setup a stand for distributing them from an apartment next to the shop from which you bought the CD. You can even finance this work by selling advertising space in your window. Right?

A copyrighted musical piece (or movie) is not bits, it's not plastic, it's not a piece of paper listing it uuencoded or base64, it's not the original tracks in a digital audio workstation. It is the work itself.

What is this "Digital Copyright" that get's mentioned in the text you quoted anyway? I see no definition in this... "paper" (/me snorts)...

It's funny, but the exact piece you quoted got the biggest rolleyes from me, while I was reading the text :-).

Adding complexity to a digital distribution system does not make infridgement of copyright a lesser deed in any way, in fact it just makes things more dubious: I can easily see why BitTorrent is a very good thing which makes me a "I dunno"-person for why it should not be for example blocked by operators. It is impossible for me to see where the advantage of this monster is.

--JES, 01-Jul-2008

Did you read the "Color of bits" piece? It explains the whole thing pretty neatly.

The point of my article is that this is just a problem generator in the making. It is, obviously, wrong - because the colour of the bits matter, not the content. But you need to understand this deeply, or else you are doomed to run around in circles.

--JanneJalkanen, 01-Jul-2008

I read it now, though I'm too tired to read stuff like it and actually comprehend what I'm reading ;-).

Yes, it explains _a_ problem... butbutbut...

>So the question is - whether the store in itself is copyrighted or not?

Nope question is did someone knowingly distribute copyrighted material. Simple question with a deductible answer. The way I see it the article you link to ponders why the answer seems to be so difficult to deduce in the digital age and why machines cannot be harnessed to deduce for us.

As for the question above, I would really like to see someone explaining to a judge that they distribute files which just happen to combine into copyrighted material because "they hobby distributing random numbers". The probability of that going through any legal examination is about as high as the probability of matching random files getting generated in the first place... Statistically you're actually better off trying to explain you created the original file accidentally and didn't know it represents a copyrighted work. But that's irrelevant, really. Simple rule: your IP address contributes to making a copy available, you distribute, end of explanations.

The Google vs. Pirate Bay issue is different. Bay does not host the merchandise or distribute it. They just point out to people that stuff is available "from person X". Bay annoys people because some of them have gained the impression that it exists solely to point people to the right alleys (quite rightly so, IMHO...). Google has other purposes too. This middle man model has been used in other human interaction with questionable purposes for ages (for physical merchandise). In the physical world the "I ain't done nothing!" mantra seems to be less effective than in the digital. There's plenty of reasons for this.

>Copyright is badly broken, out of touch with reality, and needs to be fixed.

One point of view. Unfortunately we're in this mess because the opposite point of view also has supporters: Geeks are out of touch with reality and need to be taught even more lessons.

This circle is not something that will just unwind itself via academic pondering: There's little wrong with copyright or laws governing it. There's little wrong with the available technology. There's a lot wrong with frustrated industry representatives who are responsible to stockholders, irresponsibility and lack of respect towards work effort from consumers, degradation of the quality of content being produced ( relation to the total amount of produced content, perhaps...) and all the unjustified expectations from all parties involved. Expectations of full consumer attention when new forms of competing media have recently appeared (target groups for music, DVD and a PS2 game are very overlapping). Expectations of price reductions simply because it is now possible to "blackmail" with the "available for free" argument. And the human factor list could (and *sigh* does) go on and on...

This is a human problem and has been (/is being) fought the nasty way it is, I think, for a large part to enhance consumer awareness and to "correct" a surprisingly common morality issue among especially the Napster generation. I don't see how things could have turned out better with alternative approaches... The labels would have been in trouble no matter what they'd done. The labels also tried to fight for time. Whether they got any is questionable. But I don't think their consultants and analysts have not considered all the possible outcomes and scenarios of their actions.

Goodness... too much text, I'm holding your blog hostage, sorry :-). Sleeeeeep...

--JES, 01-Jul-2008

Whether the store contains copyrighted material or not is an interesting question, because it could be argued that the person distributing knowingly the URL to the instructions to build it back together is the one who is distributing unknowingly something derived from a copyrighted material.

So it might be that running a server is fine, but linking to any content in it is not. Or vice versa. Or perhaps both. Certainly not neither. I am just taking your question and boiling it down to something which needs to be resolved anyway - *who* is responsible. This is currently an unresolved question, and I doubt it can be resolved very easily. It is a deep question, which certainly involves the colour of bits.

If you seriously think there is nothing wrong with copyright or the laws governing it, I think you've been asleep lately.

The basic idea is fine, but it is based on a notion of copy which was true in the 1800s. Not any longer. Heck, even the content industry thinks copyright is broken, because they want to keep extending it all the time (and gain some godlike powers in the mean while, e.g. with ACTA), and try to "license" stuff instead of selling it, because then you enter the far more versatile field of agreement legislation. Fair use can be such a bitch.

(Did you know that until recently (2006), using a VCR to record a program in Australia was illegal? Of course, nobody cared, because it was so useful - but yeah, it was against the local copyright legislation. Oh yeah, iPods were also illegal. That didn't stop their sales, because they are so useful too.)

--JanneJalkanen, 02-Jul-2008

OK, I concur (a little ;-): Nothing wrong with copyright, _little_ wrong with legislation governing it. Law often involves interpretation, so things cannot be "too fixed" to either direction. In this case (was harm done, was profit?) fixing would be impossible.

As for having been asleep... you might consider me deep frozen as far as the internet goes... You were right, by the way: graduation would have been "slightly" easier without one kid sitting on each of my knees wondering what daddy's up to with the laptop ;-). I still use Google reader daily, but often the headlines often "roll by" without me reading them. Besides the only "possibly related" site I follow is ArsTechnica by now anyways...

--AnonymousCoward, 03-Jul-2008

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