Why Not FLAC?

FLAC is the Free Lossless Audio Codec and does what it says on the tin. It is better quality than MP3 and smaller than Wav so it is a good halfway house for the discerning listener. WordPress do not allow FLAC files to be hosted. But for what reason?

One could argue it is because FLAC files are too big, much larger than mp3 or ogg files. But then why allow WAV files which are even larger?

FLAC cuts away all the data which is unnecessary in conveying the sound completely, unlike mp3 and ogg which cut some of that sound away. WAV files include this unnecessary data and so the file size is even larger than FLAC. Given this, file size cannot be the issue.

Maybe there is some restrictive licensing agreement or patent stopping the use of FLAC? Not so and it is in the name. The FREE Losless Audio Codec is a standard belonging to everyone and no one and can be freely used. Also, mp3 files were not free to use and yet were allowed by wordpress. Given this, licensing cannot be the issue.

Perhaps it is an issue with the end user? Again, as FLAC is free, there should not be an issue with playing FLAC back on users’ machines. Even if it were, WAV is far more unwieldy and difficult for users to work with, not least because WAV files cannot be tagged with properties. Given this, user-friendliness cannot be the issue.

I wouldn’t like to think it was an active attempt to discourage the uptake and use of FLAC. Perhaps I am being cynical? If so, can anyone think of a good reason why FLAC shouldn’t be allowed? I asked WordPress and was assured it would be added to “suggested improvements” but I don’t imagine anything will come of it.

However, since I started writing this, mp3 has become free! This is great news as you can now listen to my songs directly from my website (yay!, right?) and they will take up less space if you choose to download them. In terms of quality, I challenge even the most hardened audiophile to consistently tell FLAC from 320kbps mp3 in a double-blind trial.

Incidentally, I have just published music from the musical “A Man & His Piano” in 320kbps over on the downloads page.  Savour that high quality mp3 goodness!

HugeDomains Stole My Domain Name

HugeDomains Stole My Domain Name

But they’ll never take my freedom!

[This post originally appeared on dennisjohn.net]

My website is was dennisjohn.net.  I picked this as my domain name because .com was already taken.  At the time, I imagined dennisjohn.com was owned by another Dennis John, doing whatever it is that other Dennis Johns do, but decided to check yesterday.  It is not owned by another Dennis John.

A visit to http://dennisjohn.com redirects to a website called hugedomains.com who are selling the domain name dennisjohn.com at the bargain price of $2,395! [Since the time of writing, this has risen to $8595.]  To put this in perspective, dennisjohn.net cost about $10 when I purchased it.  So why the price?

Hugedomains.com buy/own hundreds of thousands of domain names (mainly .com as these are more ‘valuable’) and sell them at massively inflated prices.  And the price of dennisjohn.com is low on their standards; strapvelcro.com costs $38,000 while micrometeorite.com will set you back a cool $50,000.  Bear in mind that these are just the prices for the domain names – you will still have to build, host and maintain your own website.

So while this corporate cybersquatting is clearly big business (HugeDomains are also selling glossary.com for a mere $7,500,000), these business practices are not illegal.

Cybersquatting is purchasing a domain name that could be passed off as an existing entity (usually a company) with the intent of selling it to said entity for a high mark-up or using it for malicious purposes; like if I bought goggle.com and attempted to get you to enter your gmail password or sell the name to Google.  This is illegal in the US under bad faith concepts and in the UK under ‘passing off’ laws.  Where companies like hugedomains get around this is to call the practice ‘domain name speculation‘.  This is where a company acquires many (read, thousands and thousands) of non-trademarked domain names with the intent of selling them at a higher value to anyone who will buy them.  Basically, cybersquatting is legal if you do it en masse and don’t infringe on any existing trademark.

The greedy bastard behind this exploitative operation is Andrew Reberry, the owner of TurnCommerce which, in turn (geddit?!), owns HugeDomains as well as NameBright and DropCatch.  Mr. Reberry purchases over 35,000 domains a month ranking him second in the world for this practice, just behind a shady private registrant (possibly a collective) and just ahead of an illegal Chinese Whois.  Despite this profiteering, Andrew ‘not Dennis John’ Reberry has the tenacity to claim that his company are building ‘a better internet’.  How is pricing normal people and businesses out of the online market for personal gain making for ‘a better internet’?

So, while corporate cybersquatting should be illegal as it is unethical and is causing inflation of domain name prices, it remains legal (because, money).  It is also worth noting that Andrew Reberry and co. are not the only ones in on this and as we begin running out of .com domain names, we may be looking at paying a fortune to get them back.

Thankfully, many new domain name extensions have been released, such as .biz and .beer (dennisjohn.beer?)  This will perhaps cause .com to plummet in value and level the playing field.  Probably not in the near future as .com is pretty ingrained into public conscious but maybe one day.

And finally, dennis-john.com (note the hyphen) is being legitimately used by another Dennis John.  He draws quality pictures, you should check his stuff out.

The Future of Journalism

Commissioner Oettinger of the European Commission asks how we stop platforms like Google from “eroding copyright” if copyright is something we consider necessary.  With regards to newspaper publishers, he argues that we do not need the paper so much as the content and that there must be some way to support journalists and newspapers in the digital age.

For me, this raises two questions.

1)  Do we still need newspapers and journalists?
2)  If so, should search engines subsidize them?

Copyright Back At You

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the spirit of the bad tempered clavier, it is my pleasure to present to you The Copyright Album.

The album consists of 24 tracks, each track consists of one chord. As each song is my intellectual property, any artist wishing to use any of the chords contained within (such as the beautiful ballad ‘B Minor’ or the uplifting anthem ‘G Major’) must have my express permission to do so.  As all 24 Major and Minor chords are on the album, any song published from the 1st of January 2016 onwards that uses any of the chords (read- songs) from my album without my permission is a direct infringement of my intellectual property.

The album is available for free download from this link.


The Other Downside of Music Streaming

Most of the criticism aimed at music streaming services is based around the idea that streaming services do not do enough to “compensate” artists for their music being streamed.

Whether you believe this to be the case or not (hint- record labels keep all the money), the the discussion of artists being screwed by streaming platforms misses a greater problem- the “consumer” being screwed.

For the “consumer”, (industry-speak… some might prefer the term “citizen”) the cost is higher than it has ever been before and the currency is control of your information.

Streaming services track what you listen to and store this data about you. If they know what you listen to regularly, they know what you consider to be legitimate and can use this to manipulate you. They can aggregate this data with other data they have on you to profile you and sell your information on.

On top of this, services such as Spotify collect far more data than just what you listen to. This tracking is particularly bad if your Spotify is linked to your Facebook account.

And this is not just the case in music technology but in many forms of modern technology. Ever wondered why companies like Facebook are worth so much money even though they don’t sell you anything?

Free Music

Music is the weapon of the future” – Fela Kuti

My music has always been available for free… until now!

Initially, I was glad that my music was available to anyone for free. It was only when I begun learning the principles of free software from Richard Stallman that I questioned the meaning of this.

To be clear, I am talking about free as in liberty rather than free as in gratis (“Free” as in “Free Speech” not as in “Free Beer”).

Despite the facts it cost no money to download, it still was not free.

For a start, it couldn’t be freely downloaded. My music was being distributed through MEGA, which required many mobile listeners to install the MEGA app to access my music. This meant that users had to install a 3rd party app to download. The app requires permissions and is proprietary software. Therefore, the freedom of my listener is compromised through use of this app. Downloading from the desktop version of MEGA also requires your browser to run non-free software.

But how else am I supposed to distribute tunes? Many sites which would have allowed this, such as megaupload and rapidshare, have been shut down by the copyright monopoly (one fast, one slow). It should be pretty clear by now that the closure of ‘pirate’ sites has next to no effect on piracy.

My songs are now hosted on my site rather than on a 3rd party site.

My music was also available on youtube but, in a move that could only be comparable to Taylor Swift removing her music from Spotify, (and much to the dismay of all seven of my youtube subscribers,) I have removed all of my music from youtube. I will never again post my music on any streaming platform as they currently exist.

Music and video streaming sites track what you listen to and what you watch. This data is used to profile you and is sold to advertisers. This is called surveillance.

This is the least free music can be and yet it is the most popular method of listening in the modern era. This is perhaps a matter of personal preference- it would seem that people are generally willing to trade liberty for convenience.

When you download my music, you are then free to listen to it or not. You could listen to a song once or twenty times and only you would know this. This experience should be something private and something personal to you. But on modern streaming services this is not the case. Your listening habits are fed back to the service in real time. You might be listening to a song on a website or streaming service but you are not the only one who knows this. This data (and, perhaps more importantly, meta-data) is stored.

The last form of freedom which my music did not have was the encoding of the music itself. I have been distributing music in mp3 format. To play an mp3 file requires codecs licensed to Fraunhofer and Technicolor. Therefore, my music is now encoded in FLAC which is both free and better quality. (I will still distribute my newest tracks in mp3 format, you’ll just have to figure that one out).

I have ceased any power of copyright/ neighbouring rights I would have had over my music to the best of my ability (I do not believe it is completely possible to do this as the legal system currently stands). This means you have the right to make copies of my music and dish them out to other people. You can use any part of my music for anything. You can sample it, remix it or wear it on your head. You could record one of my songs, sell copies of the version you recorded and I wouldn’t be due any money from your sales. I don’t care.

Now my music is free…

…and also costs money. The Dennis John Album Vol 0 is available on Sellfy for £0.99.

Control of Information in the UK

Knowledge is power.

In my lifetime, I have been eligible to vote in two referendums, both of which were designed to make our society more democratic. The first was the 2011 Alternative Vote (AV) Referendum which would have made our voting system fairer. The second was the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum which would have freed Scotland from a government that less than 15% of the people of Scotland voted for in the 2015 general election. They were both rejected by vote as a result of government and corporate control of the collection and dissemination of information through the media in ways which shape public behaviour.

Despite initial YouGov polls showing that people were in favour of AV in principle (44% Yes to 34% No), it was rejected it in the actual referendum (68% No to 32% Yes). This is quite a remarkable turnaround in public opinion. The “No” campaign, with the help of the Electoral Commission and backed by the Conservative government succeeded in making AV seem confusing and thus secured a no vote.

To outsiders, the Scottish Independence referendum result may seem confusing. “It remains a mystery why Scottish voters didn’t put their homegrown politicians in charge of the entire country and economy” shrugs The Register. To the Scottish people, this is somewhat less confusing. It has been statistically proven that the BBC was biased towards a “No” vote in their news coverage of the referendum. As well as this, you could be forgiven for thinking ISIS were about to invade the country with the BBC broadcasting about the rise of the Islamic State almost constantly under a “breaking news” banner on channel one every day. With all three major UK parties and most news outlets against independence and the BBC and others warning that tough times would be ahead regarding security and the economy should the referendum succeed, Scotland rejected independence.

After the referendum, the Scottish people realized they’d been lied to and this was reflected in the 2015 general election which the Scottish National Party won by a landslide- but only in Scotland. The Conservative party were re-elected with a majority in the UK-wide election.

And Conservative they have been. Despite the European Court of Justice striking down data retention laws (read: mass surveillance) in April 2014, the UK government rushed the DRIP bill through parliament: “emergency” legislation forcing UK ISPs to retain records of customer phone activity and internet use. In an open letter, many UK legal academics expressed their concerns about the amount of power the bill gives investigatory bodies, deeming it “a serious expansion of the British surveillance state”. The bill means that even non-UK companies, such as Google and Facebook, must comply to requests for user information.

The bill was passed without a vote and made law one week after it was unveiled to the public. Many smart people expressed their disappointment at how much democracy had been shat on.

Not content with being able to see the communications of almost every living person with an internet connection, the government must have been worried that the same was possible in reverse: It was unveiled that Downing Street automatically deleted their own emails after 3-months. Downing Street insiders have commented that this has lead to disorganisation as there is no email trail from which to form a coherent narrative.

Now government wailing and gnashing of teeth has turned to being unable to monitor communications sent using applications which keep messages secret. Some messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, encrypt messages when they’re sent and decrypt them when they are received. This means the company cannot comply with DRIP as they don’t have any record of communication themselves. Megaupload took a similar approach after being shut down, re-launching as MEGA and using end-to-end encryption so that MEGA themselves do not know what the files on their system are. So now the government is putting forward proposals to ban such apps.

The government is effectively trying to ban private communication. They haven’t even made a secret about it. The small problem they have right now is that these measures contravene Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights; from Wikipedia, “Article 8 provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence“.

Fortunately, the Conservative party pledged to have a referendum on European Union membership in their manifesto. I wonder what the result will be?

This article was originally published on dennisjohn.net