[MEDIA] Removing Copy Protection from Music Boosts Sales 10%


graph from study

Graph via bOING bOING

Torrent Freak summarizes a working paper from University of Toronto PhD candidate Laurina Zhang that shows that music sales from 4 major labels increased by 10% after they removed copy protection (also known as Digital Rights Management or DRM) from their music. Looking at 5,864 albums from 634 artists, Zhang discovered that the effect wasn’t uniform, however: albums with lower sales (under 25,000 copies) showed the biggest boost, with a 41% increase in sales after DRM was removed. Top-selling albums showed little difference in DRM and non-DRM versions. Why the difference? According to Zhang, “My results are consistent with theory that shows lowering search costs can facilitate the discovery of niche products,” or, in other words, allowing people to share music from lesser-known artists made it easier for others to discover (and then buy) new music.

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[BUSINESS] Bitcoin Demystified

Bitcoin logo

Mystified by Bitcoin? You’re not alone.

If you’ve been following the news at all, you’ve probably heard heard a lot about something called “bitcoin” lately. Typically it’s billed as a “virtual currency” or, less generously, as an “alternative payment system.” Stories about Bitcoin are usually accompanied by at least one of two other elements: 1)a breathless reference to how the “anonymous currency” is the new currency of drug dealers, arms traffickers, and other criminals; and/or 2)how a lucky few people who got in on the whole Bitcoin thing before it was cool are now discovering, thanks to the incredibly volatile Bitcoin market,  that they’re Bitcoin Millionaires. If a pseudoanonymous, open source, distributed, global, virtual currency could be considered hip, Bitcoin is the new “It” coin.

Unfortunately very little of the buzz around Bitcoin actually takes the time to explain what the heck it is. How is it created? How do you get it? Where can you spend it? Is it really “money?” How the heck does the whole thing work? All in all, Bitcoin is more than a little mysterious.

Luckily there are people like Alexandra Berke out there who are able to bridge the gap between the tech-know-it-alls and the rest of us by providing a remarkably clear explanation of the inner workings of Bitcoin. In the first part of her two-part series “Bitcoin Demystified: A Hacker’s Perspective,” Berke  lays out the basic vocabulary of Bitcoin, how Bitcoins are created, how you own them, how you spend them, and how the built-in features of the virtual currency virtually guarantee that it can’t be counterfeited. It’s a great primer for anyone who’s been confused about Bitcoin. Let’s just hope she writes part 2 soon!

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[LAW] Plastic parts seized by police in Manchester, UK are 3D printer parts, not gun parts

Image of Replicator 2 part

Hey! That’s no trigger!

If you were listening to the news on the radio this Friday morning, you may have heard some somewhat breathless reportage about the Greater Manchester Police Department’s raid on a house in order to seize a 3D printed gun. As reported by the GMPD,

Component parts for what could be the UK’s first ever 3D gun have been seized by Greater Manchester Police.

As part of Challenger, the largest ever multi-agency operation to target organised criminality in Manchester, officers from Greater Manchester Police executed a series of warrants in the Baguley area on Thursday 24 October 2013.

During the searches, officers found a 3D printer and what is suspected to be a 3D plastic magazine and trigger which could be fitted together to make a viable 3D gun.

It they are found to be viable components for a 3D gun, it would be the first ever seizure of this kind in the UK.

Wow. Scary stuff, huh? Not only did they grab parts that could have been assembled into a firearm, but they got the printer, too! It could’ve been a gun factory! After all, everyone knows that The Liberator, billed as the “first 3D printed gun,” actually does work (though you might be better off with an old skool “zipgun” if you don’t want to blow your hand off).

Only it wasn’t.

As reported by Ian Steadman in his blog on The New Statesman, it turns out that the “gun” pieces were really just 3D printed parts for a 3D printer. To be precise, they are most likely the drive block and filament holder for the Makerbot Replicator 2.

As of this writing the Manchester police have not yet come out and admitted their mistake, but when you compare the parts found by the police with the parts that make up the Liberator (see below), there doesn’t appear to be much of a match.

It’s pretty clear that today’s “raid” of 3D printer pieces is the latest in what’s bound to be a long series of “oh my gosh that new 3D printing technology is scary” reactions by governments and media who are now just beginning to grasp the implications of a technology that allows people to make stuff at home simply by downloading a file.

Things are going to get pretty interesting.

image of supposed trigger piece

Seized “trigger”

Supposed 3D printed gun magazine
Seized “magazine”

parts that make up the Liberator 3D printed gun
Actual Liberator 3D gun parts



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[LAW] Lavabit email service owner provides encryption key to court…on paper


Image by Mohamed Aben Ighe

Ladar Levinson, owner of encrypted email service Lavabit, recently complied with a court order to provide the encryption key that would allow Federal investigators access to his service…on paper.

In a somewhat hilarious series of motions, Levinson was ultimately compelled to reveal the encryption key that would allow access to the encrypted emails stored on his Lavabit email service, currently being investigated in order to prosecute NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the contractor who revealed the massive NSA surveillance program. But rather than provide the key in a digital format that would have allowed investigators to use it immediately, Levinson provided the 2048 bit key on paper (see Attachment A on page 144).

Needless to say, The Court was not pleased:

It is further ORDERED that, if the encryption keys necessary to implement the pen register and trap and trace device are not provided to the FBI in PEM or equivalent electronic  format by noon (CDT) on August 5. 2013. a fine of five thousand doBars ($5.000.00) shall be  imposed on Lavabit LLC and Mr. Levison;


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[LAW] How the Federal criminal justice system works, as explained through the bust of The Silk Road (the “Ebay of Crime”)

Silk Road logo

Logo of the Silk Road: the “Ebay of Crime”

If you’ve ever wondered how the Federal criminal justice system works, Ken White does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of the Byzantine system in his post “The Silk Road To Federal Prosecution: The Charges Against Ross Ulbricht” on Popehat. Going point by point, White explains everything from the length of time that the investigation has been underway to the charges faced by Silk Road boss “Dread Pirate” Ross Ulbricht to the potential penalties that he’s facing and what’s going to happen next now that he’s been busted. It’s one thing to watch this stuff on TV police procedurals (cough…Law…and…cough…Order…cough, cough), but it’s quite another thing to see all the details laid down in a super-clear blog post that really gets into the nitty gritty.

Oh, and bonus fact: the guy who was whacked by the Don of The Silk Road was from Maryland…and Maryland was the first state to indict.

silkroadtor seized graphic

What currently greets visitors to The Silk Road

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[MEDIA] Sharing is…stealing? According to new MPAA campaign, yes. It is.

Bad Share!

Stills from new MPAA/RIAA Anti-Piracy Curriculum

You may remember when the Software Publisher’s Association launched its seminal “Don’t Copy That Floppy” campaign in 1992 in an attempt to stop what they saw as rampant piracy of games such as Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. You may even have missed out when the Software and Information Industry Association re-launched the campaign in 2000 as “Don’t Copy that Floppy 2” featuring the triumphant return of MC Double Def DP. Too bad for you…it’s no wonder you’re probably reading this right now while 30 BitTorrent clients stream an unending…err…torrent of pirated materials into your hard drive.

Luckily, your tragedy doesn’t have to be repeated by today’s youth due to a new campaign created by your pals at the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America (MPAA and RIAA, respectively). Designed as “age appropriate” curricula (rather than released onto the Interwebs as YouTube videos that could be pirated and hilariously remixed), this new campaign is designed to teach kids in grades K-6 that file sharing is really, really bad.

They’ll learn exciting lessons such as how bad it feels when someone steals credit for your crafts (Kindergarten), that hastily-scribbled doodles contain value that their “friends” will be quick to steal and profit from (1st grade), that “sharing” means “theft” (2nd grade), that taking a picture of something is the same as stealing it (3rd grade), that singing a song you like at school is akin to piracy (4th grade), that recording a movie on your mobile phone in the theater will land you in the slammer (5th grade), and that ignoring copyright laws is destroying the lives of REAL TEENS everywhere…even if those real teens are being portrayed by actors (6th grade).

You can check out the videos of the new campaign here.. Cracked has a pretty funny article about it, too.


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[LAW] Supreme Court link rot


Supreme Court building

Supreme Court Building Photo courtesy of OZinOH

A new study by Harvard Law researchers Jonathan Zittrain and Kendra Albert found that since the U.S. Supreme Court started embedding links in its opinions in 1996, about half of the information they link to no longer exists or can’t be accessed with the link referenced in the original document. When the Wall Street Journal contacted the Court about the issue, they were told:

The Court prefers to cite printed materials rather than materials available only on the Internet, precisely because of their transient nature. Where citation to Internet materials is unavoidable, the Court captures the page and includes it in the case file within the Clerk’s Office.

Zittrain and Albert are currently working on a site that generates “permalinks” to online materials so that they can be referenced forever…or at least as long as is around.

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