Asking Microsoft to resign from the RIAA over youtube-dl takedown demand
byon October 26, 2020
We learned on Friday that GitHub removed youtube-dl's primary collaboration forum and code repository from their site, which had been hosted at https://github.com/ytdl-org/youtube-dl. The action was in response to a DMCA Section 512 notice that the RIAA sent demanding removal of youtube-dl, which was released and distributed via GitHub under a liberal FOSS license. In the notice, the RIAA cites DMCA Section 1201 (the removing digital restrictions section) as justification for youtube-dl's removal.
We believe that youtube-dl has substantial non-infringing uses. There are many, but to name a few, youtube-dl has the following important features:
- enable users to watch YouTube videos without installing any non-free software
- watch YouTube at different speeds (including speeds YouTube does not offer) — an important feature for accessibility!
- view YouTube videos at their highest quality on low-bandwidth connections
- ability to download (and then, with other software, modify and reuse) freely licensed videos, such as those licensed under CC-BY
- various aids for journalists, including fact-checking, video analysis, and bandwidth saving
We realize Microsoft, a paying member of the RIAA, has left themselves stuck between their industry association's abuses of the law and the needs of FOSS projects for which they provide infrastructure. While under current law (which we object to), complying with the takedown notice is admittedly the fastest way to limit Microsoft's liability, we view Microsoft's membership in the RIAA as a much bigger liability to our community, now that Microsoft controls GitHub. We call on Microsoft to resign from the RIAA and remove their conflict of interest in this matter. This is an important opportunity for Microsoft to stand up for the values of software freedom.
If you work at Microsoft (including for its GitHub subsidiary), we call on you to petition your employer to resign immediately from the RIAA. We suggest that you raise these concerns directly with your manager or other management, or (even better) by starting an internal email petition with other employees.
To build a strong community of FOSS developers, we need confidence that our software hosting platforms will fight for our rights. While we'd prefer that Microsoft would simply refuse to kowtow to institutions like the RIAA and reject their DMCA requests, we believe in the alternative Microsoft can take the easy first step of resigning from RIAA in protest. We similarly call on all RIAA members who value FOSS to also resign.
Conservancy Requests Three DMCA Exemptions to Let People Control Their Devices
byon September 16, 2020
Every three years, the US Copyright Office conducts a rulemaking process to consider exemptions to the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These are the provisions of the law that make it a criminal offense to circumvent digital rights management technology (DRM). These provisions give technology companies far too much control over the technology people use, prohibiting all kinds of modification and tinkering in the name of “copyright protection.” We would love to see the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA repealed in their entirety.
Until that happens, the rulemaking process gives us an opportunity to request exemptions that are strategically important for software freedom and essential for us to be able to control our own devices. This year we requested three new exemptions:
- To allow people to investigate whether software on a device violates free and open source software (FOSS) licenses, and to exercise rights that would ordinarily be granted by those licenses were it not for the technological restrictions
- To allow people to conduct good-faith testing, investigation, and correction of privacy issues—for example, think Internet of Things devices that phone home with more information than they disclose
- To allow people to install alternative firmware on routers and other network hardware they buy, to add or remove functionality as they see fit
All of these exemptions recognize the growing prevalence of small, dedicated devices in many people’s lives. We’re always horrified to learn when gadgets that should be innocuous like doorbells, thermostats, and baby monitors are spying on us, whether by design or careless programming. It should not be a crime for people to investigate these issues and take steps to defend themselves with devices they’ve bought and own—especially when the device is running FOSS that promises the user those very rights. Our requests call on the US Copyright Office to codify that common sense into law.
We also requested renewal of the exemption that allows people to install alternative software on smart TVs that we previously won in 2015.
These requests kick off the beginning of the process, where all new exemptions are requested. We can expect the Copyright Office to announce what exemptions are granted around this time next year. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the process.
In free software, you're still not alone: the evolution of our weekly chats
byon July 29, 2020
We began our weekly chats in mid-March to give people a dedicated place and time each week to talk with fellow free software enthusiasts during the pandemic. During that first month, mostly we talked about what events were being cancelled and how frustrating it was that so many entities immediately embraced non-free tools for connecting remotely. We were also starting to contend with the financial effects of a global pandemic and some in our community wondered about job security and shared some information on who was doing layoffs and who might be hiring -- for remote work, of course.
Once the Copyleft Conf videos were posted in April, we hoped to sort of fill in the gap left by in-person events and so we hosted some chats based on some of those talk recordings. The talks we covered sparked some lively discussions about copyleft adoption and the effects of license choices for users. We discussed these presentations:
- Tony Sebro's keynote about community and copyleft
- "Copyleft of Things" with Peter Hoddie
- "Ethics and FOSS" with Coraline Ada Ehmke and her collaborator Don Goodman-Wilson
- "Copyleft in a Business Context" with Josh Simmons, Markus Glaser and Bjorn Scheissle
Then at the end of May, Black Lives Matter protests began happening every single day in the US as well as in many other places around the world. We thought long and hard about how we might support this long overdue moment of reckoning with systemic racism and violence. We felt we had a responsibility to look at how we might combat racism within our own community. We started with a fairly general discussion and worked towards more action-oriented topics as we went along. In the end, we hosted four discussions around racism and free software, including:
- "How to Dismantle Systemic Racism in Free Software" -- This was an open discussion where people shared resources and talked about strategies for dismantling racism in free software projects and communities that have worked and some that haven't.
- "How Racism is a Free Software Issue" -- Led by Molly de Blanc, in which "So you want to talk about race" by Ijeoma Oluo was heartily recommended.
- "Allyship in FOSS and Beyond" -- Led by Ben Cotton in which participants shared a number of reading suggestions, many of which had already been compiled by the Chicago Public Library.
- Finally, we watched Byron Woodfork's excellent talk from Strange Loop in 2017, "The Truth About Mentoring Minorities" and shared suggestions for participating in existing mentorship programs or starting programs within your workplace.
After the first Thursday in July, we hosted a "no topic" chat and noticed that the folks who showed up to that chat really appreciated the opportunity for no-topic chats. Most of the US is still limiting the size of public indoor gatherings, so we still don't know when we'll be able to do in-person FOSS events again. The virtual hallway track where we talk about installing free software on different devices, how to best advocate for software freedom, who might be hiring free software contributors and what's a good free software tool for some particular task, serves a very real function in the global, remote free software community. So, we've decided that we're going to be doing a topic on the first Thursday of the month and invite folks to share whatever's on their minds on the other Thursdays.
Tomorrow's chat (July 30th) will be "no topic" and then on August 6th we'll have a topic again. Next week we're inviting people to talk about online resources for learners of all ages that either use or teach free software or otherwise support you -- or your child's -- development as free software user or contributor. The next chat with a topic will take place on September 3rd. Feel free to write to us with a topic suggestion and we encourage you to follow us on social media where we'll be announcing the topics and reminding folks about each week's chat, either on Mastodon or Twitter.
All our public chats take place in #conservancy on freenode.net on Thursday afternoons at 2pm Eastern/6pm UTC. The #conservancy channel is accessible via your IRC client. If you don't already use an IRC client, you can come in through your browser. Just visit this page https://webchat.freenode.net/#conservancy and choose a nick (or nickname) and you'll be "in channel." In free software, you're still not alone.
Conservancy Staff at Virtual GUADEC
byon July 17, 2020
This year's GUADEC — the GNOME community's annual conference — will be virtual. Two Conservancy staffers are participating and the conference will be run using the free (as in freedom) Big Blue Button platform. We're especially looking forward to being part of an event that doesn't encourage attendees to engage with proprietary software.
Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler is co-presenting with Molly de Blanc on "Introducing Principles of Digital Autonomy", they'll be sharing an activist's perspective on how we interact with technology on a daily basis and how the technology using public could re-imagine that relationship in a way that better respects user autonomy and privacy. The talk will stream on July 22nd, at 18:45 UTC.
Our Director of Community Operations, Deb Nicholson will present two topics at GUADEC this year. On July 23rd, at 17:15 UTC, she will share her communication strategies in "Let's Have Great Meetings!" Then on Saturday, she will present "Building Ethical Software Under Capitalism" on July 25th at 18:45, a look at alternative tactics for creating software that doesn't exploit its users.
This year's event is free (as in cost) to attend and conveniently located online. Registration is open now -- see you next week!