15th > April > 2001 Archive

Richard Stallman takes issue with The Reg

LetterLetter Dear Editors, Your special correspondent should have known better to report I said that free software would have prevented BSE, the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and Britain's rail troubles. It's not merely untrue; it isn't even a plausible fabrication. I would hardly have received the reported favorable audience response with statements like that. One wonders what else this anonymous correspondent will next have me say: that free software would have prevented the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, and the Wars of the Roses? What I actually said is that BSE, the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and the rail difficulties reflect government's practice of toadying to corporate pressure--a practice whose effects are also visible in copyright policy. Sincerely, Richard Stallman Principal developer of the operating system often inaccurately called "Linux" (http://www.gnu.org/gnu/linux-and-gnu.html)
Richard Stallman, 15 Apr 2001

The uni MP3 raid: Reports from the front lines

Exclusive:Exclusive: We've had a number of sources in Taiwan, especially students, tell us a rather different version of events regarding the MP3 copyright raid on National Chengkung University (NCKU) students. First off, we're told that the search was illegal, even under Taiwan's rather sketchy laws regulating such action. The 'evidence' on which the Tainan District Prosecutor acted was nothing more than an unsigned, anonymous letter which could have been written by anyone. (Our money's on someone from copyright watchdog group the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry [IFPI], which is believed to be behind the action.) The implausible text of this black letter ran something like: "My brother is a student in this university and wastes all his time on the Internet, so please help him..." Clearly a piece of fabricated evidence regardless of whether an IFPI flack, or the prosecutor himself, wrote it. "Would you impeach your brother for his decadent lifestyle and make him live with a criminal record" merely to treat his Internet addiction, a source asks rhetorically. Another informs us that the prosecutor neglected to obtain a search warrant on his sketchy little shred of evidence (probably because no judge in his right mind would issue one on the basis of an unsigned letter), but "merely showed up [at a campus dormitory] with a few plainclothesmen, picked rooms at random, and proceeded to ask the following question: 'Do you have MP3s on the HD?'" "If 'yes,' then the whole box was whisked away as criminal evidence. Computers belonging to students not present were accessed and checked without their permission (lucky for those who happened to use passwords), and searched for MP3 files. Word spread quickly and students on the upper floors began deleting files, hiding cases or removing HDDs." "During the raid and in the few days immediately following, a spectacle could be seen on the NCKU campus: Students going to class with HDDs stashed in their backpacks in fear of being caught in another raid." "Girls who didn't know how to remove their HDDs were advised by male classmates to just ship the whole box to a 'safe' place. Scooters carrying three or four computers could be seen in the surrounding streets, ferrying the 'hot potatoes' out of the dorms. Many students now...have their cases open and HDDs unscrewed for a fast getaway." Piracy? Every one of our sources was at pains to emphasize that the prosecutor ostentatiously neglected to discriminate between the mere possession of MP3 files on the one hand, and their illegal copying and distribution on the other. As it happened, the mere existence of the files was taken as sufficient grounds to impound a computer without any supporting evidence of wrongdoing. According to one source, the students were neither questioned about nor given any opportunity to explain how they obtained the damning files. If that's true, then this is a prosecutorial fishing expedition, akin to having one's household possessions confiscated because the prosecutor got an anonymous letter claiming that there's a thief somewhere in one's neighborhood. No society with any semblance of modern government would tolerate such outrageous behavior by the authorities in the case of, say, stolen pianos; but the copyright industry wants us to believe that its intellectual property is in a category by itself. Indeed, so rare and precious are the fruits of its labor that it, unique among the world's enterprises, deserves to have the rules of decent civil behavior suspended. Ironically, the Tainan District Prosecutor and his band of cops could hardly have helped stumbling over carts and tables laden to the point of collapse with pirated CDs as they marched onto the NCKU campus to wage war against 'illegal' MP3s. But he would have turned a blind eye to them because the production of pirated music and software in Taiwan (as in most of East Asia) is controlled by wealthy and quite thuggish organized crime gangs which the authorities and the police are terrified to confront. Well, those who aren't in their pay, that is. ® Initial coverage University raided in MP3 copyright action
Thomas C Greene, 15 Apr 2001