Friday, August 26, 2005

Thoughts on Singapore's Anti-piracy policy

I've been struggling to connect to the Blogger post page for the last few hours and only just managed to; my net connection's been crawling lately. So anyway, I originally intended to post about two seperate issues, but seeing as I'm not sure I'll get the chance to make another post, I've decided to post about reactions to Singapore's anti-CD-ripping policy first.

The other thing I wanted to blog about is regarding Intel's new VIIV line of processors (pronounced Vive), but you can check out the news directly at AnandTech, who have a journalist reporting directly from the current IDF. I might post again about this later or perhaps tomorrow, bandwidth permitting.

So, I was reading a couple of posts on both mrbrown and Union Post regarding the recent case of three people being charged for illegal file-sharing back home in sunny Singapore, and their reactions to Singapore's "anti-CD-ripping" law. While I have no problems with mrbrown, who seems like quite an intelligent writer and wrote in a very open manner, soliciting better-informed responses, the Union Post article rubbed me the wrong way. It seems to me that writers who've been around since 1999 (as they claim) would do a little more research before posting outright criticisms of a policy they don't seem to know much about.

Truth be told, I'm actually quite surprised this issue is only hitting Singapore now, since it's been popping up in most "developed" nations for a few years now. Granted, Singapore's had problems with piracy for a long time now, with the authorities largely turning a blind eye to it till pressured by the corporations to uphold the law, and I suppose that probably goes some way to explaining the average Singaporean's relative ignorance about such issues.

As I understand it, reactions have been harsh against the "anti-CD-ripping" policy, which was recently brought to public attention, that basically states that it is illegal to rip (or record digitally) any music from a copyrighted CD, even if said CD has been paid for.

Now this may strike many as strange; if I've already paid for the music on the CD, why shouldn't I be allowed to do with it as I please? Why shouldn't I be allowed to "transfer" that music (which I've paid for, by the way) to my PC/laptop/iPod/MP3 player/whatever?

The simplest of answers is this: when you pay for the CD, you're paying for the right to listen to the music that has been recorded onto that CD, but only if you're listening to it using that CD. The media plays a huge part in the equation. The reasons behind this are obvious: if you're allowed to rip the CD to a digital form, there's nothing preventing you from copying, transferring, burning or otherwise making more copies of that music and passing it to others who haven't paid for the right to listen to it. It's like buying a DVD, then recording it to VCR; people do it, but that doesn't change the fact that it's illegal.

Granted, many countries have a "fair use" policy which allows you to rip music from a CD and have a certain number of copies of it for use on your mp3 player, backup, what-have-you. But the problem with such a policy lies in proving that someone has actually made more than the allowed number of copies. With p2p programmes, you could upload a file to 100 different computers and still only have that one file on your computer. So what's the easiest and most efficient solution? Don't allow for any copies to be made.

Well then, doesn't that mean that my iPod (etc.) is just a very expensive paperweight? Of course not. You can still rip audio CDs that aren't copy-protected (like certain independent bands and the majority of garage bands). In fact, that's (supposedly) the main purpose of the CD-ripping and recording software bundled with most music players.

Then of course there are the online stores like iTunes, which allow you to buy music in digital format. The key difference between buying a track off iTunes and ripping it off a CD, though (besides the fact you have to pay for it), lies in Digital Rights Management (DRM).

DRM technology is basically additional encoding within a music (or any other) file that allows for very specific use of that file. Maybe it doesn't allow you to make other copies of the file. Maybe (especially if it's a sample) it only allows you to keep a file for a certain period of time before deleting itself. Or perhaps it only allows you to use the file on the machine you downloaded it to. One way or another, DRM sets very specific parameters within which you can use a particular file, and this is yet another way the recording industry prevents the blatant copying and transfering of their copyrighted material.

That actually brings home the reason why the RIAs of the various countries despise the mp3 format so much; up till now, the standard still doesn't support DRM. That's why when you buy songs online, you rarely see them coming in mp3 format.

But wait, it doesn't make sense to have to pay for music I already legally own! Well, not if you put it that way. But let's say you own a game on the Xbox, say Brothers in Arms. After playing it for a while, you find you would much rather play it on the PC (because FPS should be played with a mouse, after all). If you now want to play BiA on the PC, and assuming you could find an Xbox emulator for the PC (don't bother looking; I made that up), would it be legal to rip the Xbox game and install on the PC for play? Of course not. Even though it's essentially the same game you're playing. Why? Because they're not the same media/format.

Furthermore, no one's saying you have to pay twice for the same music. What is required is better decision making. If you want to listen to the music on your iPod, buy it digitally. If you want to listen to it on your stereo, buy the CD. In fact, most (above average) stereos allow for line-in nowadays, and iPod allows you to transmit music over radio waves (with the add-on), so it shouldn't even be that huge an issue. And in my personal experience, only a few tracks on any CD (the ones you hear on the radio) are ever any good, anyway. But of course, that could just be me.

At the end of the day, the police aren't going to start arresting everyone who walks out their front door with an iPod in hand. Just like how they aren't going to arrest 5 high school students sitting in the corner of Dhoby Ghaut MRT talking at the top of their voices and drawing weird stares from passers-by for "illegal gathering" and "disrupting the peace". Those laws are in place for the very same reason this one is: in case they need to invoke such authority. Does that mean they're pointless or ineffective? Not as long as people know they exist and are aware that they may possibly be held liable for these actions. And after this hoo-hah, it can fairly safely be said that a lot more people know that such a policy exists, eh?


Scott said...

Whoops, I forgot to give props to my dear housemate for bringing this to my attention. So, thanks Janz! Sorry I pangseh you thrice this week for gym, and may you have many more snowburns for the rest of your life! :P

Janz said...

well well, ya most for gym....bleah! next week then...

okie, herez my rebuttal on ur rebuttal.. :p

firstly, rem how ya told me abt the rights of owning an xbox, and it shldnt be illegal to mod it? maybe i misinterpreted ya pt, but correct me if i did. ya raised the pt tat since ya've paid and now own the player, it makes perfect sense as to wad u plan to do with modifying it so u can play other kindda games (read: pirated), as well as for other more legal functions..

well, to me, the same logic applies to the case of ripping cds. once ya purchase a cd, i believe ya own the rights to it, and can change the format if ya wish to, BUT only for ya own entertainment's sake. to me, both cases (modifying xbox & ripping cds) r encouraging the act of piracy, so why do u think it shld not be make illegal to mod an xbox, but illegal to rip cds? :p

like, if ya wanna rip neri per caso's cd into mp3 format to listen on ur comp/mp3 player for convenience sake, well, y not? since the end user is still you, and the end user is still entitled to his/her rights to listening to those songs..

of cos, this should work only as far as ripping it for yourself, and not to share on P2P network or even sell in online. that wld be crossing the line.

yes, while i do agree that the price one pays for a cd accounts only for the cd format, but personally, i dun see anything wrong with changing the formats as long as me, the consumer, at the end of the day, still enjoys the songs, be it in whichever kidda format.

so what i find quite ridiculous abt the policy is that, i have to pay a certain price to listen to a cd-format song on my cd player, and another sum of money (no doubt it's a snall sum, but still $ okie!) to be spent on a mp3-format song on my mp3player.

ok, maybe ya dun agree with my argument or maybe i dun make sense here, but oh well....the policy regarding ripping of cds is still quite tentative in Sg at the moment if im not wrong, let's just see what is govt is gonna do abt it..

Scott said...

Modifying a console and ripping a music CD are (to me, at least) two very different issues. When you mod an Xbox, you are making modifications to a piece of equipment you own, arguably "improving" it if you'll allow.

When you rip a music CD to a digital format, it simply isn't the same. A more apt analogy would be to open up the Xbox, study its contents, then build a copy of it that allows it to play Xbox games. And that is definitely illegal.

Also, there are many more reasons to modify an Xbox besides playing pirated games. A simple search on the internet will show that some people modify their Xbox to run it as a media centre (like a Media Centre PC), others install Linux on it, thus transforming it into a $300 PC, still more do even more weird and wonderful things with it. An Xbox, for all intents and purposes, is just another computer, and while I agree that making either hardware or software changes to it should void the warranty, I don't feel it should be illegal to take a computer and improve its functionality.

Sure, you may not personally see anything wrong with the practice as long as the consumer still gets to enjoy the music he/she has legally purchased in whatever format, but the recording companies disagree, and unfortunately they're the ones who own the music at the end of the day. Let's not forget that when you purchase music, you're paying neither full copyright nor licensing fees like radio stations do, but rather for the right to listen to that CD you've bought.

I've also heard a lot of (not that logical) arguments that most of the profits from sales don't go back to the artists anyway, but just line the pockets of studio executives. That's equivalent to saying Rupert Murdoch shouldn't get profits from NewsCorp because he isn't the one writing the articles and operating the printing machines, when it's thanks to his investment and management NewsCorp and its subsidiaries are anywhere near succesful today.

Okay, I hope that was coherent; I just woke up. ;)

Scott said...

While chatting with Dave, I came up with a CD analogy for Xbox modding. Modifying an Xbox is like taking a CD and scratching it; you're making "modifications" to the original product you purchased.

Wait, then again, that doesn't improve the product, so I guess it's not 100% the same. Unless it's a Justin Timberlake Cd...

SnowDemonDave said...

of cos, this should work only as far as ripping it for yourself, and not to share on P2P network or even sell in online. that wld be crossing the line.

As if record companies are expected to think that we, the consumers, are "nice" people and we won't do "bad" things like sharing our music through some random P2P application.

They're running a business, and they have to protect their investment.

Janz said...

bleah...enuff of the issue.....

:p :p :p :p

Scott said...

Dave says "there's a cop out(!)side our house".

Seriously, what happened to intellectual discussion and civilised debate?! ;)

Janz said...

i'll debate with ya more abt it back home...back to work now..*sianz*

Hikoto said...

I don't think that your analogy on the PC/Xbox game is quite right. It's quite different.

Playing a game on a XBox and PC is 2 different experiences altogether. For one the controls are different, the size of the monitor compared to the television. The GPU of the computer compared to that of an Xbox's. And many more random factors that attribute to a very much different experience. Thus is why we must pay yet again for a game if we want it on another platform. (Then again, you could argue PS2 and Xbox...*sigh* I just rebuked myself.)

Putting that aside, listening to a song on a MP3 playyer or a discman is very much the same experience. You plug in the earphones, and you don't really expect the song to sound different do you?

Anonymous said...

Very much disagree on your views that it is okay to modify your X-box but not rip music off a CD you own. Both are modifications in their own ways.

You say ripping CDs is illegal because nothing can stop you from spreading the ripped stuff. So in the end who loses out? The recording companies.

So what if you mod your Xbox and thus can start playing pirated games? Who loses out? Yup, the big guys again.

Just like recording companies would not want you to rip music off CDs, I'm sure the makers of X-box would also not want you to modify their stuff.

To insist that one is right and one is wrong, seems rather hypothetical to me.

Scott said...

My point was that the sole purpose of ripping a music CD is to create another copy of a music file, while modifying an Xbox can be for many other things than the playing of pirated games.

By the way, I think the word you're looking for is "hypocritical". ;)