Free as in beer…

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Remember when people would copy a tape or even CD (illegally) and give a copy to their friends? Well the way things seem to be headed, the transition of this seems to be for people to transfer AVI/MKV/MOV/WMV/MP3/add-your-format-here files to USB keys or upload/download via the internet.

They of course do this for free, free as in beer.

To explain what ‘free as in beer’ means, you have to consider that neither beer, nor the internet is free. Somebody has to pay for it, but a beer that is bought for you, is free to you… right? Right! With that in mind, the internet is a free market where free speech (Which is a different concept entirely) is also prevalent, as well as free beer. People rip, upload, download, trade, comment, rate and otherwise break the law for things that are free… But they’re not free, because somebody paid to produce that movie that was uploaded and subsequently downloaded for ‘free’ over the internet.

If you think about it, its the same as making a mix tape. The problem years ago with mix tapes and nowadays with downloading videos or MP3s from the internet (In a very similar effect, if not method) is that it is illegal. Somebody paid to produce that content, and by ripping it the law is broken because the appropriate loyalties are not paid to those due. This is where DRM (Digital Rights Management) come in to control the illegal copying and distribution of digital media. Unfortunately, the only effect this has is to slow things down by adding an extra hurdle, and make everybody’s life more difficult to do what people have done since media was first distributed to the masses. I image that even when books were first printed, there were people who would take the time to copy paragraphs or maybe even whole chapters from books which would be breaking whatever agreement, law or moral boundary was in place at the time to prevent this.

The problem I see with DRM, and also maybe why it is ALWAYS circumvented before long, is that it is an inherently human production.
It’s unreasonable for a DRM programmer to expect their copy-protection or media management ‘solution’ to be unbreakable, and I’d hope that they don’t expect that it wont be broken.

Take a look at the current holy grails of DRM protection, which of course are Blu-Ray copy protection, HDCP stream encoding, and the Playstation 3’s security system. All of these have recently been cracked which will allow people to run their own software and/or decrypt the data stored behind these ‘restrictions’. This is the work of various groups, most of which with the idealistic view that things should be free to everybody and that people should share everything. Obviously, this is not in-line with how contemporary consumer society works, but still it can be a noble cause when observed from the right angle.

There are of course seemingly obvious good and bad examples to this, like for example the developers behind XBMC (Software which forms the basis of Boxee, which I’m very fond of, so please fogive my bias). I encountered this software originally by aquiring non-official builds of XBMC to run on my (original) ‘chipped’ xbox, essentially extending the life and use of my games console. This even encouraged me to buy an xbox360, which I have even now recently bought the updated ‘slim’ incarnation. For technical reasons XBMC will not run on the xbox360 and the developers have stayed true to their x86 roots by producing XBMC for windows , mac and Linux as binaries, but still… The project started off in a less than official capacity.

So why are these groups labelled as criminals and sued to high heaven by the ‘evil’ corporations that own these circumvented solutions?

Because they break the law, sometimes to do the good work of some groups like the XBMC team, but other times to circumvent systems for no apparent reason other than to facilitate piracy. I won’t wade into if this is strictly right or wrong, as it’s just my opinion expressed here, but I do wish to highlight it.

If anything I wish people to be aware of the humble and somewhat shady background of an epic software project (Which has spawned other abitious projects including Boxee) but also that without this we would not have benefitted from great matured applications like this.

The other important thing is that this kind of development and developer maturity isn’t as easy to spot as people may like to think. For example the XBMC development team could have have gone down the route of producing software to promote piracy, rather than giving people a choice of quality software.

Personally, I’m glad they were not stopped, but in my opinion the same cannot be said for other software developments which have circumvented protected systems to give people a free alternative.

Long live XBMC and Boxee!

4 thoughts on “Free as in beer…

    aparadekto said:
    Oct 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Hey, I can’t view your site properly within Opera, I actually hope you look into fixing this.


    Asha Poxon said:
    Dec 4, 2010 at 4:28 am

    Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing


    Elroy Burdge said:
    Sep 1, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Great read. Thanks for the info!


    Oolong Tea said:
    Sep 2, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Thanks for the article. I thought it was awesome.


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