How Digital Technology exposed the Audiophile Fraud

Audiophile hardware… pardon, equipment, is expensive. Full stop.

It is a “given” that to enjoy “true” music you must allocate a budget that equals the purchase of a supercar otherwise, as Califano (an Italian singer) used to sing, tutto il resto è noia (everything else is spleen.) But is it actually so?

Currently I’m listening some Antonio Vivaldi’s concerts played by Yo Yo Ma, in CD – quality (44/16) FLAC format through a couple of bookshelf B&W loudspeakers connected to my old (sorry again, “vintage”) amplifier that receive the analogue signal from a thunderbolt DAC made by  Zoom Japan. Not factoring the computer, the whole setup costs well below a thousand Euros and the quality is very good.

Of course an audiophile would strongly disagree with this statement. He would surely start talking about the superiority of the brand X’s amplifier or the absolute need of a thousand Euros-per-meter loudspeaker cable to have the music flows more “liquid” and so on. And he will rebuff with a pity look in his eyes whoever says something different: ignorant can’t actually understand the “truth”, so let them listen at their Iphone’s earbuds.

To some extent this audiophile is right: expensive rigs can produce awesome results. But a simple logic shows that this statement is wrong and doesn’t match the reality of the digital music industry.

First, it is false that an 100.000 Euros music set up sounds 100 times better than a 1.000,00 Euros one. The more you get close to physical limitation of whatever equipment, the price of each improving step raises more and more and the quality result is more and more less than proportional.

Second, the majority of the music labels still sells their music in CD quality, i.e. the 1980, Red Book standard (16 bit, 44Khz) and even those CD advertised as “24bit recorded” are actually downsampled to the usual standard. With vinyl there was some sense in purchasing costly turntables to minimize the impact of the moving parts on the quality of the electrical signal to be sent the amplifier. Digital files free us from this need. Sure, there are different quality level in digital-to-analogue conversions (DAC) hardware. But a lot of what is sold right now is just “whistles-and-bells”. Spending money for a DAC able to handle 24bit/192Khz or DSD128 streams is useless because, right now, none of the big music labels are releasing high resolution versions of their catalogue, limiting to a very little niche of contents. So where is the point in spending huge monies to buy something that is of no use?

Third (or, maybe, Second, continued), high resolution files make sense only if the music to be played contains a very high dynamic range (from the lows of drums and percussion to the highs of violins and triangle), high personality musical instruments and great players. “Dirty” music like blues (think of John Lee Hooker) or rock (Jimi Hendrix jumps in) is not enhanced by  “better” mastering, as there is no improvement in overmastering a Lady Gaga tune. Furthermore, a lot of the music available on the market is a “bookshelf product”, i.e. something that has been designed to be sold in a very short timeframe, just to be replaced by the next new “version”. Can you actually tell the (musical) difference in the “artistic” production of what is currently sold as “music”? It is not a coincidence that, more and more, “artists” are known more for their eccentricity or fashion look than for their “cultural” production. This is not a rant about how better was the good ol’time music, but a precise cost-benefit analysis: no need to invest in better recorded music, if what has to be sold doesn’t worth it and – more important – if the customer base is not willingly to pay the premium price.

Conclusion: a logic approach to the sound quality that involves a look at the marketing digital strategy of the music industry and the account of the Far East sound-handling devices’ quality shows that it doesn’t make sense to waste money into “audiophile level” equipment.

What we do need is just better music.

 

Copyright Piracy Incitation

I was looking for an HI-Res album to buy and I found it on HIRESAUDIO.COM. When I tried to buy the tunes, here is what I got:piracyincitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The short story is: if I want to pay for a legitimate copy I have to wait don’t know how much time.

Why on Earth, apart being a law-abiding lawyer (no pun intended), should I restrain myself from looking for some torrent? (BTW, should I do it, who might blame me, since I already paid for “SIAE TAX” on my terabytes of storage?)

Copyright stakeholders are still living in the last century, don’t they?

 

Apple vs FBI: A Disturbing Option (for Apple)

Although PGP is widely spread and used since 25 years, after the first, early complaints nobody heard a single hiss from the FBI and its siblings about the  IOS-like “problems”. Maybe this is because of the open source license attached to PGP that allows whoever has enough brain, power and money to find ways to crack it. In the past, for instance, the FBI has been able to crack a Truecrypt password belonging to a suspect.

To balance people rights with the needs of the investigation, Apple might just go open source or, at least, disclose to the law enforcement community the IOS source code, thus allowing the “good guys” to develop long-term tools for forensic purposes.

Of course, to Apple, this is an absolutely nonviable option, nevertheless the point stays: should a government be entitled to access each and every source code of critical software?

To put it short, the Apple vs FBI quarrel involves the role of proprietary copyright and has about nothing to do with the “we protect our customer rights” claim.

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate and The Danger of Closed Source Intellectual Property

The not uncommon practice in the ICT/Mobile business of “doctoring”products to look good on benchmarks has find its way into the automotive (and God knows into how many others) business.

Volkswagen, though, isn’t the only to blame because, true, they cheated, but no public supervising authority  ever glimpsed at the software ran by its vehicles, only focusing on “hardware” tests. And – I guess – even if the controllers would have thought of examining the software, they would have been prevented to do so by “the need of protecting Intellectual Property” that – as the “National Security Excuse” – is a buzzphrase to stop any further investigation on controversial matters.

Volkswagen’s Dieselgate shows once more that (a certain way to think of) Intellectual Property – as well of Privacy – has neatly changed its role from being a tool to protect legitimate interests into a shield for wrongdoings.

Were the Volkswagen software released under an open source licensing model, the fear of being exposed would have forced the company to play by the book and would have allowed a true and thorough check by the competent authorities, avoiding a major damage for the industry, investors, employees and citizens.

 

Apple Patent on File Sharing to Infringe EU Copyright Law?

After having obtained a patent on a system to control the sales of “used” digital goods, according to ZDNet.com Apple

has been awarded a patent that would allow users to share music, video, and pictures directly with each other – without having to worry about piracy.

This patent is based on the idea that a user should be allowed to download an encrypted song from a legitimate owner and purchase a less costly license by Apple thus “squaring the circle” of the file-sharing legalization.

This patent, nevertheless, could hardly be enforceable within the EU.

The royalties of copying a digital copyrighted work are covered by the levy imposed on the blank media and storage (including those that aren’t destined to contain copyrighted stuff.) This means that once the user has purchased a USB dongle, a DVD or whatever the support, he has already paid for the right to use the digital content.

By imposing a further, though less costly, license, Apple is saving bandwidth and IT infrastructure costs turning these costs on the ISP’s shoulders and getting paid two times for the very same thing.

True, one can say that as soon as the user agrees with the license there wouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless it is a fact that this patent clashes with the “first sale” doctrine that leaves to the user the right of re-sell, (legally) copy and (legally) lend a copyrighted work.

 

Apple’s New Security Policy: Just a PR Stunt?

Apple announced not to be able anymore to hack into IOS8-based devices because of its “privacy-by-design” development strategy. Thank to this choice, according to Tim Cook, quoted by The Washington Post,

it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.

Since the fantasy of both lawyers and judges knows no limit, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear, in the next future, about some claim for “contributory criminal activity” filed against Apple based on the deliberate choice of giving “unbreakable weapons” to terrorist, paedophiles and copyright infringers.

When this scenario will become real, it will be interesting to see whether Apple remains stuck into his “libertarian” position risking a trial for contempt of the court, or negotiates over its users with the powers-that-be.

Then, and only then, we will be able to check if this “privacy commitment” was a genuine attitude or just the next marketing trick.

Coca-Cola And The True Meaning Of Copyright

The new Coca-Cola marketing campaign in Italy puts on its bottles quotes from popular Italian songs. Of course this has been previously negotiated with the copyrights holders but not with the single artists that sold their song to the music label.

Technically speaking, Coca-Cola did nothing wrong and its activity is perfectly legal. But one of the featured singers, Caparezza, didn’t like his songs to be exploited the Coca-Cola way.

Under Italian Copyright Law, Caparezza and – broadly speaking – an artist have no actual protection in such case since once the tune has been sold to a music label, the musician only retains the “moral right” (mainly the right to be credited as the author, and the right to oppose any mutilation of his work.)

So the question is: whose interests copyright is supposed to take care of?

The Italian Copyright Levy To Legalize Digital Piracy?

The Italian Minister of culture, Franceschini (Democratic Party) issued the decree – effective by July 17, 2014 – that makes the copyright levy skyrocket up to 30 Euros per multimedia storage device. This levy (technically called “fair reward”) is supposed to compensate in advance the authors for the copy made by a user of a copyrighted content. Even those contents – so long, entertainment industry – shared through the Internet. But the authors who don’t belong to SIAE (the Italian Royalty Collecting Agency) will never get paid for the (ab)use of their works.

So, how is it possible that online sharing isn’t illegal? Here is the catch: nothing in the Italian Copyright Law says that the copy must come from an ORIGINAL or legally owned content. The consequence is that if I download or share something through the Internet I’m not infringing somebody else’s copyright because of the preemptive payment made through the levy.

More than legally correct, this conclusion comes from common sense: the “fair” compensation exists way before the Internet and was designed in the VCR-era to allow copyrighters to get some money from the privately made TV broadcast recording. Of course somebody who recorded a movie didn’t have a “right” over this content that allowed him to put it on a video-cassette and this is where the levy jumps in. The equation is simple: pay your fee in advance and get the right to keep your favourite show at home.

As odd as it may sounds, this equation works for the Internet too but the entertainment industry refuses to even talk about the issue, claiming that the levy is designed for legally-owned content only. While – again – there isn’t such provision clearly stated in the law, this statement is counterintuitive since is a fact that as soon as a content is stored on a levy-burdened media, the author compensation’s has already been paid.

Instead of complaining, the entertainment industry should be happy of this unjust levy because it gets money from a huge quantity of Terabytes used for backups, business continuity and private storage that don’t contain copyrighted works and that – nevertheless – are still burdened by the “fair” compensation.

The only that have the right to complain are all the unknown authors whose works (music, words, pictures) are routinely abused (not only) on the Internet and that will never get their share of “fair” reward. Yes, because all the monies we pay fall into the SIAE  that shares the cuts among its members.

Is this “fair” reward actually so?

 

The Italian Data Protection Authority to start a code reviewing investigation

Better late then ever: a press release from the Italian Data Protection Authority  advertises the data-protection oriented review of a certain number of apps.

This initiative should be a major concern for the (yet unaware) software industry, whose intellectual and industrial property might be endangered by a deep peep into its well protected secrets. Neither are clear the criteria that will lead to the app selection, nor whether or not the DPA will asks the developers for source code access.

Unless this IDPA investigation is just an empty PR stunt, it should be carried on by accessing the source code or reverse-engineering the executables: but doing so without signing NDAs and/or provide guarantees of non exploitation is an approach that the industry will likely reject.

Furthermore, if the software check will target only a certain kind of companies, leaving the other players of the same market safe from the scrutiny, this might be held as an unfair alteration of the market dynamics. And things might be much worse if the targeted companies are the smallest one, instead of the big fishes in the pond.

Mind, the lack of data-protection compliant programming isn’t a new or unforeseen issue – as the history of software can witness – but the IDPA never actually cared that much. For instance, it didn’t move a finger when back in 2002 ALCEI (a civil-rights Italian NGO) asked in vain the IDPA to check the claims of the existence of hidden features of a certain series of Telindus routers that posed significant threats to the users’ data protection.

 

 

Apple’s idea’s patenting pitch finding its way

Apple’s (wrong) idea of giving ideas a “patentable” status keeps finding its way into the media’s mind. Whether this is a direct consequence or a side effect of a spin doctor’s devised strategy, doesn’t change the fact the the more and more journalists fell into this trap.

The latest example is a Vanity Fair column that accounts for the Samsung vs Apple patent trial. At a certain point the columnist writes:

Bit by bit, the new model for a Samsung smartphone began to look—and function—just like the iPhone. Icons on the home screen had similarly rounded corners, size, and false depth created by a reflective shine across the image. The icon for the phone function went from being a drawing of a keypad to a virtually identical reproduction of the iPhone’s image of a handset. The bezel with the rounded corners, the glass spreading out across the entire face of the phone, the home button at the bottom—all of it almost the same.

While, from a patent infringement’s perspective, the similarities of the physical appearance between the devices have some merit, the fact that both phones shared similar or even the same functionality has none. You can’t protect a software functionality as such, because only the relevant source code can: this is clear for legal scholars, not so for the outsider of the legal community.

But this lack of knowledge helps planting into the people’s mind the seed of the “give-idea-a-patent tree”. Once grown into politician’s mind (notoriously not so versed in the legal subtleties), this tree will likely offspring a poisoned fruit in the form of some new (case) law that will finally give Apple what it aggressively looks for: power over thought.