Mason Wheeler’s Techdirt Profile


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  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 4:12pm

    Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

    No, the smart ones go into business.

    "A criminal is a person with predatory instincts without sufficient capital to form a corporation."
    -- Howard Scott

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    But the use of them to actually hack people is.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    "Dictate how you live your life"? Oh please. Let's lay off the melodrama a little, shall we? "Dictating how you live your life" is a positive mandate, which is far more oppressive and broader in scope than a negative mandate--dictating one specific way in which you will not live your life.

    And again, one of the most fundamental principles of civilization is that you do not have absolute liberty to do whatever you want, especially when your actions interact with the lives of others. The thing is, when it comes to addictive, mind-altering substances, just about everything you do ends up falling under that umbrella!

    For example, we ban driving under the influence because it has a higher-than-usual likelihood of screwing up someone else's life, but for some reason parenting under the influence--which comes with a certainty of screwing up someone else's life--is not held to the same standard. What kind of sense does that make? It makes far less sense to me than the concept of "government governing, safeguarding the well-being of its citizens from a long-term perspective." To me, that makes perfect sense.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 2:05pm

    (untitled comment)

    Totally OT, but I have to wonder what a "Player Guitar" is supposed to be anyway. The brain works by association, and the first thing I think of when I hear that is a player piano, but I'm having difficulty even imagining what it would take to create an equivalent automatic guitar-playing machine...

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 1:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    What's the mandate of the US government? According to the most fundamental American philosophical document on the subject, it is to "secure" (protect/defend/uphold) the "inalienable rights" of the people, and chief among those rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    Well, you aren't alive if you drink yourself to death. You aren't free if you're an addict; the phrase "slave to the bottle" exists for a very good reason. And you aren't happy if you're living in misery--not to mention the misery and destruction that it inflicts on the lives of those around you, particularly your family.

    So yes, I did say that a government doing exactly what it was explicitly supposed to do, governing and taking the long view for the good of the people, even when some people would prefer to take a short-sighted, destructive course of action, is a fundamentally good idea. What's bad about that?

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    It's not a perfect analogy. That's what happened with Prohibition, and like I said, that was the worst possible way to do it, but there's a good reason for that that doesn't apply to software: alcohol is a highly addictive substance--so addictive, in fact, that withdrawal can cause severe or even life-threatening medical problems--and it was imposed upon a populace in which a large percentage were already drinkers. Anyone could have seen that there's no way that can possibly go well.

    There is no equivalent problem with banning DRM.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    First off, limiting the rights of people to do absolutely whatever they want--particularly at the points where they interact with other people in ways that can be harmful--is one of the most fundamental principles of civilized society. It's the concept that we believe in something higher than the law of the jungle.

    All the issues with DRM could be solved just fine by getting rid of anti-circumvention provisions.

    Not the issue of DRM itself.

    what are the issues that you think would remain after anti-circumvention rules are gone, that would require limiting people's rights to write software how they choose?

    What are the issues that you think would remain if people had the legal right to self-defense against vigilantes, that would require limiting people's rights to act as vigilantes if they choose to?

    Well, other than the fact that we would have vigilantes all over dispensing "justice" as they see fit, and an arms race between them and the ordinary citizens they'd be victimizing left and right as a matter of course, not all that much, really. But isn't that plenty bad enough in and of itself?

    Here's one more question, just out of curiosity: would free trial versions of software that disable after a given number of days also be illegal?

    Most likely, and everyone hates those anyway. It would provide an opportunity for innovation, to develop a better model for demo software. :)

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 11:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    This is probably going to drive you up the wall but... do you realize you're talking about something that's caused more senseless, completely unnecessary death and misery than every war in human history put together?

    Just as a bad solution can discredit a good explanation of a problem in the eyes of the masses due to guilt by association, so can a bad implementation of a good idea. One of the classic examples is Prohibition. Heck, I'm an engineer and I literally don't think I could design a worse way to implement it than the way the USA did if I tried! It was still fundamentally a good idea, though.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 11:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    But how do you outlaw DRM in the first place without also outlawing my example?

    That's a pretty good point. Not being a lawyer, I'm not sure exactly how to word the law to get it right on that point. But I do believe it could be done.

    It doesn't even have to be so outlandish. What if I create a privacy/security control program of some kind, say one for parents to install when they want to limit young children's access to certain functions or programs? Sounds to me like that would also be an illegal virus under your definition.

    As I've said before, and been completely consistent about the whole time, ultimate control of a computer's functionality should rest in the hands of its owner... which in this case would almost certainly be the parent even if they do colloquially refer to it as the kid's computer.

    Putting such software on a system you don't own (or without being authorized to do so by the owner) would indeed be illegal under my definition.

    That's fine I guess, but it's also ridiculous. The law is not going to use a right that people have as the definition of something they cannot attempt to do.

    Why not? It already does, in a manner that's completely relevant to this discussion: you are legally prohibited from taking the enforcement of the law into your own hands. That's known as vigilantism, and it's highly illegal for any number of reasons, especially when the alleged victim and the vigilante are one and the same.

    ...except when the crime is copyright infringement. Then we throw literally millennia of precedent and common sense right out the window. My position is as simple as saying "no, we should not do that; copyright infringement needs to be decided in a court of law, with due process and the presumption of innocence just like anything else." Is there really anything at all ridiculous about that?

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 11:11am

    (untitled comment)

    This is saddening, but not surprising considering the current Supreme Court. These are the same people who brought us Citizens United. They love ruling in favor of big-money incumbents and screwing over the little guy. (And no, before anyone starts freaking out in response to that, Google isn't a "little guy" here, but the Android ecosystem that Oracle is trying to gain leverage over is, and that's the real victim of a bad ruling like this.)

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 11:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    There's a very important distinction with the SETI program. It's not "agreed to by the user"; it's invited by the user. (It's kinda like the difference between you having a guest over who eats food out of your fridge, and a burglar sneaking in and eating food out of your fridge.) If I downloaded the SETI software, I'm still in control: I can turn it off or even uninstall it, whenever I want to. I've simply chosen to donate unused computing resources to a worthy cause.

    No one buys software for the DRM, and no one truly assents to installing it; it's forced upon them by what can be at best considered a leonine contract, though I would prefer to use the words "under duress" to describe the process: you've paid good money for something that you know full well is not going to be refunded (because you might be a pirate!) and the only way you're going to get to use it involves a parasite that you're not even supposed to know about, that doesn't look anything like "informed consent" to me. (And you're not supposed to know about it. Remember, "If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed").

    The fact that those users are then legally prevented from using their own devices and other software to circumvent that DRM is a huge problem that we need to fix — but the fact that the company was permitted to create and openly sell the DRM is, as far as I can see, impossible to prevent.

    Maybe that would look as ridiculous to you as it does to me if I applied an analogy to the biological world:

    "The fact that those people are legally prevented from using their own money and medicine to cure poisoning is a huge problem that we need to fix — but the fact that the company was permitted to create and openly distribute poison is, as far as I can see, impossible to prevent."

    Can you imagine what a ridiculously dystopian world we would have to be living in for the above to be something anyone would actually say? But when it happens in computing, far too many people accept it as "just the way it it."

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    No, I do not believe that giving the government more authority to declare what sort of software is legal or illegal is a good idea.

    I don't see it as "giving the government more authority." They've already declared that malware is illegal--the judges already are in the position of ruling on that matter--and AFAICT we both agree that this is correct. I simply believe that the footnote that says "except for DRM, because highly influential companies like using it" needs to be expunged.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 10:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    You are just mad that we won't join you on your absolutist bandwagon of criminalizing all DRM as though it's a virus.

    I'm frustrated, because here you appear to implicitly agree that it's a good idea to criminalize viruses, and also to draw a distinction between malware and DRM, one that's apparently so obvious that you feel no need to explain it. But as I explained above, DRM is functionally identical to a hacking tool.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If it looks like a malware and quacks like a malware, the burden of proof is on the person claiming that it should not be legally recognized as malware to back up their position.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 10:38am

    (untitled comment)

    Remember that parody of an anti-hate speech rant we wrote about a few months ago (which some still insist was not a parody but the actual beliefs of some people)?

    They call that Poe's Law: it's impossible to distinguish a parody of something extreme from the real thing with any certainty.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 10:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    That's a uselessly absolutist view, Mason.

    Some absolutes do exist, even in a highly relative world. What's "useless" about telling it like it is?

    It's not realistic. It's not going to happen.

    Just like defeating SOPA was never going to happen?

    And it doesn't even sound that great. As you know, here at Techdirt we are big fans of technological/innovative solutions before legal/policy/regulatory ones

    So do you believe that it's a bad idea to legally prohibit the development and distribution of malware, (for active, non-research purposes, obviously,) or do you believe that DRM, whose only functional purpose is to take control of a computer's functionality away from the computer's owner and have it instead serve the whims of a remote developer (and there's really no better definition of "hacking" than that!) somehow "does not count" as malware? I really don't see any wiggle room on either position; some things really are absolute.

    and we feel that the technological futility of DRM will do it in long before Congress or a court is prepared to say that the standard behaviour of all major software companies for 20 years has been criminal.

    Having been around and actively observing the Big Tobacco suit during the 90s, I feel that you're absolutely wrong in this feeling. All too often, the "industry standard" behavior of an entire industry does constitute a de facto infringement upon the natural rights of the people, and continues to do so for decades until the government finally wakes up and says "enough is enough." And all too often it's the only thing that ever does manage to stop them.

    Whether or not we want that to be true is a matter of ideology. Whether or not it is true is a matter of fact, and it frequently is true. I believe this is one such case.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 9:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:Re:

    I didn't characterize your stance as pro-DRM; I said you don't see it as [inherently] bad in the same way as Different AC and I understand it.

    Would it be incorrect for me to characterize your stance as "DRM is a tool that is frequently used in bad ways"?

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 8:32am

    Re: Re:Re:

    You think DRM is bad?

    No, unfortunately TD doesn't think DRM is bad. More than once on here I've explained how it has no legitimate purpose, how we need to call a spade a spade, stop giving DRM a legally protected status, and instead criminalize it exactly like any other hacking tool, because that's what it is.

    The response from Techdirt staff was to strongly contradict my position, repeatedly.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 7:41am


    If you want a backdoor free future where people are in control of the devices they own- read Richard Stallman, support the FSF, and the libreboot project.

    Do you know what the biggest impediment is to the adoption of the FSF's ideals? Richard Stallman and the FSF. And I say this as a frequent contributor to and developer of open-source projects.

    Yeah, they're right about a lot of important points, and on some of them Stallman's practically been the lone voice crying in the wilderness long before the rest of the world caught on. But it's often much easier to correctly identify a problem than to have a good solution for it. (Just ask an oncologist!)

    The problem is, a lot of people don't really understand this distinction, and when you come up with a bad solution, it discredits your correct identification of the problem by association. (Karl Marx comes to mind.) That's where we are with the FSF. By pushing "solutions" like the GPL, which if you're honest is more of a political statement than a license, they turn a lot of people off, alienating powerful potential-allies.

    It's been said that a heretic is someone who believes almost all the same things as you, and they must be destroyed without mercy. The FSF would have a lot more success if they would stop treating "Open Source" like a bunch of heretics, for starters.

  • Jun 29th, 2015 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: enough is enough

    You appear to be under the impression that in this day and age, journalism and exposure can do a thing to dissuade these companies. As a counterargument, I offer... oh, I dunno... maybe every single thing that we found out the oil industry has done since the invention of the Internet?

  • Jun 26th, 2015 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    It is more of a quality issue. Most of what regulation does is raise the minimum requirements for a market.

    Thank you!

    I don't understand why so many people don't understand this very simple point. Libertarians love to complain about how regulations make things more expensive to produce, as if all the money was just vanishing into a black hole somewhere. As if they're completely ignorant of basic economics, and how producing a higher quality product (which regulations enforce, by setting a minimum bar) is generally more expensive. (And if they're not completely ignorant, then they do know this, and are deliberately looking for ways to get away with producing a poor-quality product. Either way, it's a harmful ideology.)

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