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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Free E-Book on Copyright

Cory Doctorow, co-editor at boingboing.net, Fellow for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and contributor to Wired, Popular Science, the New York Times, etc., has published a book called Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future and it’s available for download on his website…for free! Cory is an advocate of the Creative Commons organization, using some of their licenses for his own books.

Here is an excerpt:

Back in 1985, the Senate was ready to clobber the music industry for exposing America’s impressionable youngsters to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Today, the Attorney General is proposing to give the RIAA legal tools to attack people who attempt infringement.

Through most of America’s history, the U.S. government has been at odds with the entertainment giants, treating them as purveyors of filth. But not anymore: today, the U.S. Trade Rep is using America’s political clout to force Russia to institute police inspections of its CD presses. (Savor the irony: post-Soviet Russia forgoes its hard-won freedom of the press to protect Disney and Universal!)

How did entertainment go from trenchcoat pervert to top trade priority? I blame the “Information Economy.”

No one really knows what “Information Economy” means, but by the early ’90s, we knew it was coming…

The bad dream of DRM

DRM still sucks: Yahoo Music going dark, taking keys with it, by Nate Anderson, ars technica (July 24, 2008).

The bad dream of DRM continues. Yahoo e-mailed its Yahoo! Music Store customers yesterday, telling them it will be closing for good—and the company will take its DRM license key servers offline on September 30, 2008.

…[T]he Yahoo news is just another depressing reminder of all the wasted time and energy put into these schemes designed to create roadblocks for legal users.

Open letter urging libraries to embargo DRM

It’s no secret that FGI is strongly outspoken against DRM and has been tracking its use in libraries for some time. So it heartens us that DefectiveByDesign.org, a project of the Free Software Foundation (!), is calling out libraries to help stop the spread of [w:Digital rights management] (DRM). DefectiveByDesign has pointed out that libraries can have a hugely positive affect on encouraging the use of [w:Free and open source software] (FLOSS) and discouraging the implementation of DRM. They just published an open letter urging libraries to embargo the use of DRM immediately, as well as a template for citizens to personalize letters to their local libraries urging them to stop using DRM technologies. What a great idea! I hope you’ll all go over and sign on to the letter and send one to your local library as well.

We call upon public libraries around the world to remove the unethical Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) technologies currently locking down many of their digital collections. DRM compromises public trust for the sake of providing limited access to popular works to some in the short-term. As concerned patrons, we request that libraries immediately establish policies against the use of DRM technologies.

DRM requires users to cede control of their computers to third-party corporations, so they can restrict when and how they may access “checked out” books or audio files. This is an inappropriate and unethical requirement for a public library to impose on its patrons. The notion of checking something out is based on physical scarcity — to be manufacturing scarcity where none exists is entirely contrary to a library’s mission.

Libraries that use DRM are submitting patrons to the onerous and unethical legal terms involved with purchasing, installing,
and using software such as Microsoft Windows and the Windows Media Player. In the case of Microsoft Windows, this entails agreeing to terms that allow Microsoft to delete software and data that the user legally owns and has created or installed on their own machines. For a library to require their patrons to agree to such End User License Agreements as a prerequisite for gaining access to its collection is an injustice.

These software requirements drive the sales of DRM technology vendors, such as Microsoft and OverDrive, providing an incentive for patrons to discontinue using software and materials that do not impose DRM. The common argument that DRM and proprietary software are necessary because publishers require them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the library is using its own market power to encourage their use, hurting the emergence of competing alternatives in the process.

Random House, the largest publisher of eBooks and audio books worldwide, recently announced its decision to drop DRM from the vast majority of its catalog. Random House made this decision after doing a study which found zero cases of DRM-free works being shared illegally. They found that it was ONLY the DRMed titles that were being shared.
The fear, uncertainty, and doubt used by the software industry to convince publishers and distributors to use DRM has blindsided the public and institutions of public trust. Little consideration has been given to the ethical and long-term implications of accepting and encouraging the use of DRM. Defending the public interest means thwarting DRM.

For these reasons, we ask that libraries immediately embargo the use of DRM on their collections and establish formal policies against it. There are undoubtedly many challenges facing libraries today that need to be considered, but few can be as timely or as important as the way the library defines itself and its role in our digital age.

New Best. Title. Ever.

We hadn’t added much to our Best. Titles. Ever. humor page lately. I’m happy to end that dry spell with a document that is both humorously titled and useful:

Hills Bros. coffee can chronology : field guide, published by U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management in 2006.

Why does the Bureau of Land Management care about what coffee cans looked like in the 1910s? For a very good reason. According to the document’s introduction, Hill’s Brothers Coffee cans are a great way to date digs dating back to the late 1800s because of the tendency of Hills Brothers to change their can designs every so often.

I’d love to copy and paste their explanation into this post, but I can’t. The BLM authors chose to lock their PDF into a form that cannot be copied from. You can make copies of the entire file and you can print pages from it, but you can’t copy and paste the text nor can you extract the pictures from it. Yet as a public domain government document, there is no legal reason to impose these kind of restrictions. This is part of the future we fear, one of crippled electronic documents that aren’t as reusable as they could be. Today BLM has decided we can’t copy and paste from a public domain document. Maybe another agency will decide tomorrow that we shouldn’t be able to print their document. That’s what faces us unless the federal government has a consistent policy that renounces Digital Rights Management (DRM).

**Addition by James: I’ve attached a PDF of the document from which I was able to copy and paste. Please download this copy and leave a comment if you’re *not* able to copy and paste.
**Addition by Daniel: Thanks for the demonstrating the power of a polite request. It’s nice to see responsive and helpful gov’t agencies.
**Further addition by James: While I believe in the power of a polite request, this one was Jim working his magic to subvert the copy-blocking. He saved the original pdf, printed/saved as pdf (macs let you convert to pdf from the print menu!), jiggered a few things and then the DRM was foiled. That’s the PDF doc that is attached to this discussion 🙂

Veterans’ Affairs institutes rights management software

The Veterans’ Affairs Administration has recently instituted Microsoft’s Rights Management Services (RMS) (AKA DRM) to “manage” security of internal documents, email, handheld traffic. This sounds to me like a REALLY bad idea on so many levels, especially for a government that plays loose with emails, has a problem with classification and transparency. This seems to me a nuclear solution to a manageable social problem (duh! don’t put home records of more than 26 millions veterans on a laptop PC that can be stolen!!), and one that will have far-reaching affect on open and transparent government.

“VA gets its rights: Department specifies how people can use — or not use — documents employees create.” By Joab Jackson. Government Computer News, 3/3/08.

Perhaps not surprisingly, VA has become one of the earliest adopters — and thus far, the largest — of rights management software with its use of Microsoft’s Rights Management Services (RMS).

VA expected that by press time all employees would be able to set restrictions on what can be done with the documents they create.

When Word, PowerPoint or Excel files, or Outlook e-mail messages are sent to others, the authors can set permissions on what the recipients can do with those documents.

The creator of the document can decide whether it can be printed, forwarded or edited by other people. It’s the employee’s or the agency’s call.

Moreover, the documents are encrypted, so anyone without the appropriate permissions cannot see the contents.

“This ability provides our agency and users the assurance that only the author of the content or someone that has been given full-control permission to the content can remove the persistent protection from the e-mails and documents,” De Sanno said.

“For instance, say I send you an e-mail and RMS that message,” De Sanno said. “I can actually say you cannot print this [document], or that you cannot forward this. Or, it can evaporate in 30 days.”

Among employees, contractors and other people, more than 250,000 individuals will shortly begin using this feature, the agency said.