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Monday, April 12, 2004
03:31 pm EDT @Creator MightyE UT2004 2 New Onslaught Maps (updated)
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The UT2004 team has released 2 new Onslaught type maps which are somehow locked down to only run on Windows XP. If you'd like to play these, but you don't run XP, you can do so by downloading them from here.

Personally, I encourage you to obtain the maps from the second link rather than the first. I think it's pretty questionable practice to artificially lock maps down to a specific OS, and it's very unlike Epic who's done a good job of writing their Unreal engine as a cross platform engine that runs on PC, Mac, and Linux. While downloading from one link vs the other will not have any actual impact in any social-statement sort of way, to me it's a principal. Even though I run XP at home, I feel the minor need to rebel at the idea of this. Authoring content with artificial restrictions is just absurd, and angers me on levels I can't quite describe.

It's the same with music you download from places like iTunes. While I respect the need for an organization like Apple to put the restriction in place in order to appease the recording company obtuseheads (at least Apple et al. are getting music out there in single track downloadable formats), I have this tremendous disrespect for the heads of organizations like the RIAA which insist on this in the first place. It limits my fair use with music, and it's further illegal (under the DMCA) for me to enjoy my fair use by circumventing its copy restrictions. One law says I'm allowed to copy my music for my personal use, and another says I'm not. I have an MP3 CD player in my car, I burn MP3's on to CD's and I can listen to them there. Many hours of music on one CD vs the 1 hour on a traditional audio CD.

There's a clear consumer benefit to being able to do this, and a few years ago, it would certainly have been legal. Now I can't legally do this unless I purchase the music on audio CD format, and purchase with it additional tracks from the album that I'm not specifically interested in. Most albums have 1-2 songs I like, why should I *have* to buy the other songs as well in order to enjoy my fair use rights? It's like the government OK'd the music industry to limit fair use unless you pay a premium, or purchase other items which you're not interested.

"Hi Sir, here's the keys to your new car."
"Great."
"Oh, but you can't drive it on the highway."
"But that's how I get to work? I've always driven my cars this way!"
"Seems some people are speeding on highways, so now new cars won't drive on them."
"That's absurd!"
"Well you could always buy a car with out this restriction, but to get it, you need to buy the entire trailer load of cars, including 7 cars that have bad paint jobs, low gas mileage and an annoying fishy odor. Don't worry though, the car you want is just as good as the restricted car."

Is the above analogy too far out from what's going on with CD sales? Personally, I don't think so. The only aspect of it that's really inflated from what's currently going on in the music scene is that cars cost a lot more money.

So I declare I'm fundamentally against this concept, but if you asked me if I buy music from iTunes, I'd have to answer "Yes." It's cheaper than buying whole albums. If I really want to listen to it in my car or on some other MP3 device (eg, WinAmp), I can burn it to an audio CD, and rip an MP3 from that. I think this action is technically illegal since I've circumvented the copy protection scheme on Apple's protected music files, and the DMCA tells us that's not allowed.

However, this ability to capture the final output is what's known as the "Analog Hole," which is the fundamental flaw in all copy protection techniques. Alternatively, I can plug the audio-out cable in to an audio-in jack and record the music this way. The human senses are fundamentally tuned for analog input. We'll never successfully interpret digital input with any level of ease or enjoyability. That means that at some point the 'protected' files need to be converted in to this analog form, and once there, there'll always be a means of capturing it.

The ultimate goal of proponents of digital protection is to watermark protected audio and video. There'll be two types of watermark, one that defines what we can do with the data, and another that defines who owns the data. Each time you purchase the newest Metallica track, it'll have a serial number encoded in to the audio stream which will survive the analog hole. Although you'll be able to abuse access to the file, it'll be trackable back to you. Of course that's not to say you weren't the victim of theft, and some other individual made off with your audio stream, so whether this is in practice punishable (benefit of the doubt, -- innocent until proven guilty means that if you can raise reasonable doubt as to your activity, you're not guilty) is a totally different question.

Believe it or not, I'm actually not against this type of watermark so long as the quality of the file isn't seriously injured. It's not reasonable to think that people will be unable to crack this watermarking and forcibly remove or scramble it. The RIAA et al. made this illegal though, so they can at least prosecute on this alone. This type of watermark requires people to be responsible with their files. You'll see the same level of friend-to-friend sharing that existed in the 80's with the advent of the casette recorder, but it'll be nothing compared against the flood of illegal trading going on online now. Tangent: Face it, downloading music you didn't buy is illegal, and rightly so, regardless of whether record companies are big tyrranical corporations that shaft the artist, and regardless of any other reasons you can set forth. You don't own it, you can't just download it. End tangent.

It's the second kind of watermark I'm against. This type of watermark is being introduced for TV first, and it's called (in the case of TV) the broadcast flag. This flag (watermark) defines what your rights are with a bit of data. And contrary to the name, it'll apply to all digital TV, not just broadcast TV. The station that broadcast it can define that you are or are not allowed to record a copy of the show. Congress decided Americans are allowed to do this for the purposes of time shifting. That is, I can record the Young and the Restless (US daytime TV show which I do not watch) and watch it in the evening. Once the broadcast flag is implemented, it will be up to the TV station whether or not I can do this. Chances are very low that we'll be able to continue to enjoy this freedom. In order for this to work though, all devices need to recognize and obey these restrictions.

So let's say in 10 years, all legal hardware to watch TV or listen to audio or engage in whatever other medium was invented between now and then support this rights watermarking. This opens a market for illegal peripherals which circumvent the copy protection. If I were an evil mastermind in a foreign country looking to become wildly wealthy at the expense of American corporations (tempting as it is, my wife doesn't want to move), I'd specialize in sending people unrestricted electronics in plain packaging. Each device would come equipped with full digital protection policies, and would require a secret code to be entered by the user (unique per device) in order to turn off its digital protection. This way if devices are intercepted in transit to the user's home, they'll pass any RIAA tests (RIAA would now run the government, much like today). This is basically how Top Cubans ships Cuban cigars to the states -- unmarked, unbanded, and the bands come separately, arriving a few weeks later (so using the bands you can verify the original cigar's authenticity).

All of this will serve to turn the average law abiding American citizen in to a criminal in order to enjoy the rights that some laws will still say they may enjoy. This is basically what happened during the Prohibition. The Prohibition didn't significantly alter the amount of drinking that happened in the U.S. but did significantly alter the law-abiding-status of many citizens.

Back on the subject of the Onslaught maps, I'll again quote Tycho from Penny Arcade because I respect his perspicacity (def):
I appreciate that someone took the time to get those files out in a format anyone could download, but they shouldn't have needed to. It's apparently not enough for Microsoft to hold unchecked dominion over personal computing, oh no - they also want to determine what kind of fork you use. If there are genuine reasons to upgrade, then please - I'd like to know about them. But actively breaking compatibility doesn't craft a compelling case. In fact, it makes people believe all the things that get said about you.
Tycho at Penny Arcade

MightyE
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