Episode 101 - DRM Explorer!
Published September 2, 2014
SPECIAL GUEST: Bill Horst-Kotter (of the Radical Geek podcast). We're joined on this episode by Bill of radicalgeek.me to talk about open-source software, Wikimedia, podcasting, and one of our favorite topics, copyright and Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). Where is the line drawn between artists, copyrights, corporations, and the buying public. Learn more about Bill's documentary project about DRM too. Recorded 8/3/2014.
You can download the episode here.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
The Radical Geek website
Video: Episode 3-1: Life Liberty And Free Software Part 1, Radical Geek episode containing interview with Sue Gardener (Exec. Director, Wikimedia Foundation)
Show Notes: Episode 3-1: Life Liberty And Free Software Part 1, Radical Geek episode containing interview with Sue Gardener (Exec. Director, Wikimedia Foundation)
Mike Johnston: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz episode 101. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in under 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday. I'm Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: I'm Matt Bolton.
MJ: On tonight's episode we're joined by Bill Horst-Kotter of the Radical Geek podcast at RadicalGeek.me. M-E. Bill, thanks for joining us.
Bill Horst-Kotter: I'm glad to be here.
MJ: I guess to start, why don't you tell us a little bit about Radical Geek.
BH: It originally started as a Cafe Press t-shirt shop actually long before podcasting came out. I like geeky t-shirts and that. My logos actually came from there and that's what I kept. I had some interesting t-shirts. I never sold anything really but one of them said like... One of them was related to a job I had at the time which says in big block letters, "I'm sane." and then in sprawling letters, chicken scratched sprawling mad man thing, "It's the people who run this place who are crazy."
BH: Then there's certain things like just some dorky stuff like you do. I'm no artist so it's mostly font and clip arts and stuff like that. One of them is, "Byte my bad sectors." That's one thing I had. Stuff like that but that never went anywhere but I kept the name and I kept the logo and all of that. Then when podcasting came out I was kicking around the idea and I wanted to do video. When I got a Droid X phone I thought, "Hey, I got something I can record video with. Okay, I got something to record video. Not good video because it's a shaky platform mounted on but I got something." I always thought, "What was the Radical Geek about?" It's just anybody who is a geek who uses that geeky passion of theirs to basically fuel creativity of fuel a passion of theirs. That's basically what the show is about. I wanted to talk about the two sides of geekdom. I float in the technical world and I also float in the fan world. I wanted to just talk about both of those area.
MJ: Some of the topics you've had in your season three definitely are right up our alley. We talk a lot about copyright and some of the consumer rights and digital rights management stuff. I was really interested to see your interview with Sue Gardner, the director of Wikipedia.
BH: Oh, yeah. That was a great interview. I like that. She was really great, really hospitable. We both had fun with the interview and it was just really good.
MJ: How did you hook up with her?
BH: I went to an event in Boston back in March. I'd heard about this for awhile, called LibrePlanet at MIT. It was this open source event the Free Software Foundation ran. I wanted to do a show. I generally go to these conferences and conventions a lot of times for the subject matter and look for people and ask them if they want to do an interview. Just simply ask sometimes. Sometime I would do stuff ahead of time, some leg work, and just try to get people. One person was there, which was Richard Stallman. I was going to ask him but then I decided not to because he gave me these three ultimatums. The only thing is it has to be GNU- Linux, not just Linux unless you're referring to the part that Linus made. You can't say open source, it has to be free software. Those two were pretty good because those were just semantics so I didn't mind too much. It was the third one he came up with which was you had to make it as open source software as you could on the site that promoted it open source that didn't do anything like that. You also had to put out a bit torrent so people could download it. I was like, "Okay, he's telling me how to run things." I just politely said no thank you. I thought to myself there's other people I can interview here and I don't really need to include him with all the limited space I've got for my time which is 20 minutes.
MB: I watched your interview today with Sue Gardner and it was very fascinating. She gave a great interview. It was great.
BH: Well, like I said, it's very cool. We talked about what she did before Wikimedia which was with CBC News and what the differences were when she was working in an established television network news to something on the internet.
MB: Yes, that part of the interview I thought was very fascinating. It's got to be weird and she talked about it quite a bit. It's definitely something that everybody should check out, the interview. Yeah, I found it fascinating going from a structured job like that to basically where you're just kind of on your own.
MJ: Like a startup.
MB: Yeah. Doing your own thing and being able to do whatever you want and not have anybody over your shoulder telling you what to do.
BH: I don't think it was so much of that. I think that it was so new they were all trying to get something established, trying to solidify what turned into Wikipedia.
MB: At least from listening, and I imagine for anybody, when you go from something structured it's nice to be your own boss but sometimes it is nice to have a boss because a boss will at least point you in the right direction, or at least he'll point you in a direction he wants you to go in whereas when you're on your own you're more or less flying blind but that can be a good thing or a bad thing.
BH: Some people do very well in those environments and some people don't. It all depends on what you're comfortable with.
MJ: I was interested in the little bit she shared about that culture shift about when they got some information that was submitted as this libelous, how Wikimedia handled it. I thought that was very interesting.
BH: I liked that too. They said they were more important with trying to keep themselves with what they're doing instead of just saying... Instead of dealing with I wouldn't say rumor mongering but like I said just strong conjecture or speculation on their part.
MJ: Yes. I'd also like to talk, Bill, a little bit about the project you submitted to National Geographic, the Exhibition Granted. How did you get started in that area?
BH: Actually, I've always been kicking around an idea for a while to create a documentary about DRM for a while. I met some people who actually made a movie, not a documentary, more of a genre film at a science fiction convention a couple of years or maybe a year ago. They said that and I'm kicking around the idea and thinking in the back of my mind what's a documentary I can tell people about? DRM. There isn't a lot of information out there so I thought that would be a perfect field for it. What happened was I belong to a member of a local hacker space here in Rochester, New York, which is where I'm from. They emailed something to us. One of the officers there received this email and he passed it on to the rest of us saying about the project. I was kicking around the idea, "Wait a minute. This could get the money that I need to make this project." One Friday at the Space I got my camera out where I keep my camera and all my equipment and just hammered something out quickly.
MJ: I'm assuming with your general interest that you've published on the site that DRM is something that you've been following for a while or is this something new for you?
BH: It's not something new. I've been following this for a while. Actually, I've been doing piracy since the 90s. I've been actually copying stuff and downloading stuff from either shareware and stuff like that and software that wasn't really looked at back in the 90s to use to FTP all the way down to Bit Torrent and stuff like that. What it is I just thought that what I find is there's not a lot of information out there for just the average person. There's people in the industry that have this know about this stuff but that's not getting out. I just think that people should have an understanding of what is DRM. Like I said, I've nothing wrong with an artist trying to make money professionally trying to perform. I know friends who are performers and I buy their CDs. I buy the stuff for people that I like and whether it's digital download and CDs and that. I believe that. Also, I find that DRM almost blurs the line as do you own this. It's like I have a tape of a musician. There's songs I like there. I'm going to make copies of this for a mix tape and I should be able to do it. I've got a CD, I want to make a mix CD of some of the songs on here. I should be able to do that or a playlist on an MP3 player or something like that.
MJ: Yeah, we've definitely found that. We talked a little bit about DRM this year and throughout the time we've been podcasting but specifically back in February we did an episode on digital management rights management or restrictions management specifically. The thing that I think both Matt and I find in using the media that we buy that has DRM on it, it gets in the way of the things you'd like to do.
MB: My biggest thing with it is the companies are basically treating the people who are buying the software or the music or whatever, they're treating those people who are their actual customers like criminals. It doesn't slow down a pirate, somebody who is going to pirate software or crack the DRM. They're not inconvenienced really by it at all. Yeah, maybe it takes them a day or so to crack that. The only people who are really inconvenienced with DRM are the people who have actually gone out and spent their hard earned money to buy the thing. If you look at a game, there was the Microsoft game a couple of years ago called Spore.
BH: I thought that was EA?
MB: Was it EA? I'm sorry.
BH: I think it was EA.
MB: It was, Spore and they basically treated you like a criminal so it ended up becoming the most pirated game. At the time it was the most pirated game of all time. People weren't pirating the game because they didn't want to pay for it. They were pirating it because somebody had cracked it and you didn't have to put up with all of the stupid DRM just to play the game.
BH: The other thing is, let's say you play a DVD on your computer. I'm a Linux user so you have to wait for a codex to come out for a lot of stuff that somebody will put out from some country that has looser laws or something like that, like out of Hungry or something like that. I want to be able to play this movie on my DVD player or I want to play it on the DVD drive on my laptop but it may not work. I may need to have a special codex I don't have. Or it's an old system and I have an old media player that it has to play on but it can't support the disc for some strange reason because it doesn't support the new codex, things like that also is another issue.
MJ: Yeah, a lot of the time to me it seems like it's about control and Hollywood wanting to maintain... Especially when you get into things internationally. In the U.S. we tend to be a little bit spoiled just because we get the entertainment stuff that most of the world seems to want but I've run in to every now and then where there's something foreign actually that I want that comes out, particularly British TV shows. It comes out over there first and the DRM on the BBCs TV player is trying to restrict it to just the U.K. That's a huge hassle. I'm fortunately technical enough to work around those but when I think of the people that I might work with or old friends and things like that, they get lost in this stuff. It really to me damages the way that they are allowed to interact with the larger culture.
BH: Yeah. I've always thought it was control. I think 50 Cent actually had this quote about it saying, "Downloading doesn't hurt us. It doesn't really hurt us. We have to use it as part of our business model or part of the way we get our music out there whether it's through ringtones or something else." But he said that copying something and sharing it with other people doesn't really hurt them. To an artist if you say, "Yeah, I let my friend listen." I don't know how many artists would say, "Oh yeah, I listened to it because my friend had it. I decided to come and see you guys perform live." I think every artist would love to hear that.
MB: With computer software and stuff, I've downloaded games before off of a Bittorrent or whatever and really enjoyed the game so much that I went out and bought it because I wanted to support the studio and I wanted to support them making more games. I used it more as a trial version almost.
BH: Yeah, kind of like the old shareware days.
MB: Exactly, but I don't mind. Obviously I want video game companies and movie studios and stuff to keep making movies so I'm definitely... I don't think we should just have everything free but I also don't want to go out and spend my hard earned money and be treated like a criminal when I do get the stuff.
BH: Yeah, I understand completely with a lot of this stuff. I had a friend there saying I bought this DVD and I want to rip it onto my computer and it won't let her because it was DRM. This was a couple of years ago. She asked me how to do it and I'm going, "I don't know that one. I don't know that one. I'm not that good."
MJ: So, do you have a template in mind for your documentary?
BH: I do have an outline right now.
MJ: Okay. We did some reviews this year. The ones that stick out in my mind, Matt jump in if I'm forgetting one, were Downloaded and Rewind This, both that are out on the internet. Downloaded being about Napster and file sharing and Rewind This! about the history of VHS and the VCR. We liked both of those documentaries.
BH: I've got to check those out. Actually the two documentaries I do like actually do not have to do with technology at all. One of them is Michael Moore's first movie, Roger and Me, which compared to what he has now you can see a real passion of what he's doing, the subject he has in that movie. The other one is Supersize Me. I thought that was a very interesting me. I saw that when I was much heavier. It didn't provoke me to actually lose weight or anything like that at the time but like I said it was a very interesting eye opening on what fast food does and all that. I thought what I'm going to do with mine is I was just going to talk about... I was going to start from the early days, before everything got digital, back in analog where you made mix tapes and copying software and all that stuff on floppy disks and things like that and then go how that changed. From that point I was going to talk to the different parties involved in it and ask why they do this and hopefully what I want to do is talk to some of the people that actually make the technology, the actual engineers and programmers and who came up with the idea of saying, "I want to do this for this reason." These people work for these company have to say... They're like us. They're doing a job. They're doing programming because that's what they love to do or that's what they're good at and they have to make something that may prevent somebody from possibly enjoying that product, that media. That's the way I would like to do it. I don't know if that will happen but I'd like to try it and then just go from there. Then recap and things. What I want people to get away from the movie is to say, "Okay, what are they actually doing to start an open dialog about what's going on and people being aware that this is what's going on right now, this is what's happening. What are we willing to agree upon from both sides?" Like I said, I want artists to get paid for what they do. Nobody has any doubt about that. For the consumer, I want them to be able to say, "Wait a minute. If they're going to prevent me from enjoying something that's perfectly legal to do then where do we draw the line." That's where I really want to come up - where do we draw the line?
MJ: It sounds like a really interesting project.
BH: Hopefully. This is a big project for me. It's not like going to a convention asking people questions on the fly, like set up my camera and we go. It is kind of like that but it's a little bit more planning on this one than just a short little piece for the internet that I put on the internet that I'm interested in.
MB: Yeah, based on hearing your description and stuff I definitely think you should check out Downloaded for sure. It sounds like if you watch that it would probably give you quite a few ideas of things. It's definitely along those same lines. It makes some great points and things so it's definitely a documentary that's worth checking out.
BH: I will definitely check out Downloaded.
MJ: Bill, do you have any plans for, say National Geographic... Is this a contest?
BH: This is a contest.
MJ: Okay. Say this doesn't go through. Do you still plan to put together your documentary in some way, like maybe crowd-funded or something like that?
BH: I've thought about crowdfunding. The thing is with certain things like Kickstarter is I have friends who have done Kickstarter campaigns; some successful and some not. The thing I find out is they always talk about what they give to the people that submit or fund a certain dollar value and what they provide. I'm kicking around things that I can actually...that are possible. I don't want to give them something like, "If you put in this you get blank and I can't come up with that." That's the one thing I want to do. I know a friend who did one who is a musician and supported at a certain level he would actually make a thumb drive to look like... What is it? He would take an old Atari 2600 cartridge and convert it to a thumb drive with all of his music on it. He gave that out to a couple of people.
MB: That's cool.
BH: It was really neat. The sticker was his logo and all that stuff that looks like an old Atari 2600 cartridge.
MJ: Bill, it sounds like a real interesting project. I hope you'll keep us posted how it goes and certainly good luck with it.
BH: I will.
MJ: Thanks for joining us tonight.
MB: Thanks a lot.
BH: You're welcome. I hope you two have nicer weather than what I'm having. It's not too bad; it's just overcast right here in upstate New York. I hope you guys enjoy your night.
MB: You too.
BH: Thank you.
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.
Image Credit: By Laiqua (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.