An Intellectual Poverty Law

Upon my research on 18th and early 19th century England, I stumbled upon a process that was taking place from the 16th to the 19th century in rural England.

It’s enclosure.

Basically, the medieval system is, that a village has, in addition to the fields of the individual farmers, a large commons, where all the inhabitants of that village can gather wood, graze livestock and so on.

This commons was now more and more split up amongst the villagers, with wealthier people buying land of the less wealthy ones, making subsistence-farming more and more impossible, and finally leading to widespread poverty in the 19th century.

And this is exactly the same process that’s happening since about 250 years with our intellectual commons.

Copyright, which was initially just that, a “right to make copies” and sell them, and which lasted 14 years from the publication of a work, became extended to “70 years after the death of the author” and incorporated more and more provisions for the copyright-holder.

Other laws wrapped under “intellectual property” are also working in the same spirit, none more so than patents, which provides not a monopoly on “being allowed to do something” (as copyright does) but a right of “prohibiting others to do something”. Which is of course much more far-reaching.

Trademarks also play a part in this, disallowing references to trademarks not only on ground of competition (as initially meant), but with any spurious explanation the trademark-holder can come up with to quash criticism, satire, art, history and everything else related to that trademark.

The theory, and thus the title, is of course, that these intellectual property laws are the equivalent of enclosures, and will lead to very much the same outcome in another dimension: poverty of intellectual capital and depredation of culture.

And with rows and hedges (read “technical measures”) to keep the now-inclosed commons in private hands, this will only get worse as the century wears on.

Competing against illegal copies

I was somewhat baffled about the success of Apples iTunes-Store.

As I detailed in an earlier article Schwarzkopien und Marktwirtschaft in german, illegal providers of copies of works are effectively a competition to legitimate providers. In principle, they offer the same product for less money. Market says, in that case, people will acquire the cheaper product. However, there are some factors which can change the outcome in different ways.

The works itself

  • Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). This will somewhat alleviate the availability of people illegally giving out copies; on the other hand, it effectively punishes people buying from the legitimate vendor. It decreases the value of the legally obtained product.
  • Metadata. This increases the value of products, especially if every product of this type supports the same metadata, ordered the same way. If I can offer 100’000 works, all tagged the same way, I have a distinctive advantage over people offering illegal copies, because those copies will not adhere to any common standard where metadata is concerned, as a result of the very fragmented nature of that “market”.
  • Quality. This is another thing that increases the value of the product, and also something that can work in favor of the legitimate vendor, because here too, he can offer products of consistent quality all over the whole portfolio. Of course, if your quality is lower than the average quality of illegally offered works, you’re going to loose.
  • Usability. This is on one hand related to DRM (which decreases usability by placing restrictions on what one can do; but also trough the demands of the DRM-system itself, i.e. the 50% increase in processing power needed by the Content Scrambling System of the DVD), but on the other hand also determined by other factors, like interoperability (can I access the work from different devices and operating systems), availability of software that can manage and/or process the work, bandwidth needed to transfer the work and processing power needed (which can be unrelated to DRM. For instance, compression needs processing power too). It’s a bit difficult to tell who can achieve an edge here, but generally, widely used and patent-unencumbered standards will have an edge here, because they attract programmers and manufacturers to produce software and devices designed to work with the content.

Distribution

These all apply to the works itself. But there are other factors which seem to make a crucial difference to shift the advantage towards the legitimate provider, and we can see that most prominently in the case of iTunes.

  • Availability. How easy is it to get the desired works? And here, legitimate providers can really ramp up, in ways people offering illegally the same products can’t compete.
  • Other competition. Actually, all works are in competition to each other. There are more works on this planet than anyone will ever be able to listen to, to read or to watch ever in his lifetime. This doesn’t affect people who illegally provide works; but it very much afflicts legitimate providers, insofar one can sell somebody only a limited amount of works. Since the body of works is so much bigger than anyone can consume, and there are even a great many works available legally for free, so apart from advertising and trend-setting, it can only mean one thing: Price.
  • Price. On the outset, it looks like you can’t compete with a price-tag of “zero”. However, as it turns out, combined with easy ways to access and pay for the works, there is a price that is “low enough”. There are of course challenges for a legitimate provider to achieve this price, because historical precedents (i.e. “a book on paper was always this expensive”) and grown structures (like the byzantine ways of music- and movie-distributions) tend to get in the way. Right now, people illegally offering copies have the edge, but by abolishing of price fixing and radically re-structuring collecting agencies this could be fixed.

Law

And with “collecting agencies” and “byzantine distribution channels” we arrived at another very different factor influencing the competition between legitimate and illegitimate providers of works: The law

This is actually a bit hard to dissect, since it not only covers the relation between the creator and the final recipient of a work, but it also rules the relation between intermediaries and sometimes even institutes them.

  • Acceptance. Right now, the law is not working in favor of the legitimate provider of works, although it was written by them, and designed to grant them rents. Which is precisely one of the problems, because nobody respects the law anymore, after all, it’s just right-holders giving themselves more and more rights to allow them to collects rents.
  • Complications. The structure of how works should be distributed and the return-paths of payments have been cemented in by laws, sometimes instituting collection agencies who should work on behalf of rights-holders, and making it generally very difficult for someone who wants to re-sell works.
  • Unknown rights. A further problem induced by law, is that for a large body of works, the right-holders are unknown (orphaned works), impossible to get (because they were split amongst heirs) or very difficult to get (because of byzantine machinations of right-holder cartels sanctioned by law, e.g. right-holders representatives differing regionally, making it impossible to (re-)sell a work in an international market).
  • Outlawing tools. This is a bit nonsensical. A solution looking for a problem. The idea is to outlaw tools which can be used to break DRM systems. However, apart from decreasing acceptance of the law, it also produces problems regarding accessibility, and reliance on it might lead to very grave problems in the future, for instance with archival. Right now, it does not help legitimate vendors and is mainly used to quench competition in fields unrelated to illegal copying.

Final notes

Finally, a lot hinges on the law.

Ideally, you want to have rights to a lot of works, in order to make them easily available in high quality with consistent meta-data and no DRM for a low price. This will allow you to compete successfully against copies offered illegally, which are more or less tedious to get, of wildly varying quality, have inconsistent meta-data, but no DRM and a price-tag of zero.

To get that body of works, the law isn’t helping you right now, it’s hindering you in various ways. Also, the sheer land-grab by previous generations of right-holders has left the general public with disdain and with no respect for copyright.

There will always be people illegally offering works, but the point is that this phenomenon should be relegated to a small percentage of the market. Because it should be easier for you to legally publish works, and easier for the public to acquire such works, leaving only people who really can’t afford even to pay very low prices to need to revert to illegally offered copies.

References

I’ve written a lot about these issues. So if you think there is too little evidence presented, or would like to have addressed some issues a bit more in-depth, here’s the other things I’ve written:

Lies, Damned Lies and Propaganda

Propaganda trumps scientific evidence everytime.

Face it, there is nothing like propaganda, backed by some hearsay evidence and a few vivid examples. And science cannot offer anything to counter that.

It used to be “Statistics” in that title-phrase, but that’s not true anymore, if it ever was. You don’t need statistics to make people believe global warming isn’t happening. You don’t need statistics to convince a nation that some other nation has “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. You don’t need statistics to convince an entire world that monopolies are good for it. Nobody except scientists bother with statistics if they want to convince you of something.

Statistics aren’t appealing to your gut-feeling, examples are. No matter how scarce and how much the result of some other unknown influence they are, examples is what relates to the public, and also what causes fear and anxiety. It doesn’t matter if a few hundred-thousand people get killed in some faraway land. But if something happens to a person you know, no matter how faintly you know the person, or maybe you only read of it, this is obviously evidence for whatever malfaisance or problem-du-jour exists, and is a big problem. A freak accident gets a “security problem” with something, a robbery a “crime problem”, somebody killing himself a “suicide wave” and so on. It does not matter if said accident is the only in the world that ever happened with that specific device, your crime-rate is the lowest on the planet, and the suicide-rate the second lowest. You may now be convinced that this specific thing is a huge problem which must be addressed immediately. Of course, you probably don’t get the idea that there might be a problem yourself, so that’s why we’ve got propaganda.

Or to put the other way: People doing propaganda will use exactly that mechanism, that we tend to believe in examples and not in statistics, to convince you their lies are the truth.

Alright, some of the examples initially used are pretty far off, you you might think that you’re not afflicted with believing such lies. I’ll give you some examples (ha! See?) of things you might believe in, that have no scientific evidence whatsoever:

  • In the middle ages, people thought the world was flat — That’s actually a fairy tale from the 1830ies. Since at least Aristotle nobody believed in a flat earth. Certainly not people in the middle ages who revered Aristotle as the greatest philosopher of all.
  • Copyright is necessary for the compensation of the efforts of creators of works and to ensure that they will produce more. — You should have told that Shakespeare and Beethoven
  • Patents are necessary for innovation — There is absolutely no scientific study which can prove that patents are in any way beneficial to innovation. There are however studies proving monopolies are always inhibiting innovation.
  • Patents are at least necessary recouping costs of research and development — Well, Ciba, Sandoz, Novartis and so on didn’t need them until 1954. And they where already huge multinationals then.
  • Harsh weapon laws reduce crime — No, they don’t. There’s no correlation between the availability of weapons and violence. In some places there is, but this is most probably a coincidence, resulting from some other reason.
  • Knife-bans will reduce violent crime — Scissors get lumped into the same category as knifes in criminal statistics. Now guess what’s actually used most often?
  • Data retention helps to reduce crime — No, it actually produces crime. Not the same ones it tries to address, but things like fraud, extortion, theft of services, privacy breaches, stalking etc.

And this goes on and on. For all of above mentioned things we hold for self-evident, there is either no scientific data backing them up, or even data refuting them. But most of those are actually the result of propaganda, the result of someone trying to get its agenda accepted. Even the flat earth is the result of (in that case anti-clerical) propaganda.

Of course, asking “cui bono” (who benefits) will often yield interesting questions about such a belief in the first place, but often might be misleading as well. Usually it boils down to “who benefits more”. More often, trying to get hard scientific data — statistics or better the raw data of the statistics — supporting your belief will immediately tell you if what you think is true really is. Because typically, you won’t find any.

The search for a flat earth in medieval sources turns up nothing — but pictures of round earths. My request for data and methodology regarding so-called “software-piracy” (a propagandist term, of course, we’re actually talking of “copyright infringement”) from the Business Software Alliance turned up only some vague statements about “estimations regarding past sales and sold hardware”, but not a shred of hard data. My quest for evidence of innovation-fostering of the patent-system turned up loads of citations of people iterating a mantra, and one paper; the paper coming to the conclusion that “there is no evidence”.

My impression is, that scientists, and scientific methods, and data, gets completely overwhelmed by propaganda. A spectacle orchestrated by propagandists to further their agenda, and also by unwittingly victims of that propaganda. It’s actually hard to believe that somebody does not have an agenda, but somehow, some scientists gave me the impression that they don’t really have an agenda — and furthermore, that they do not understand why somebody could consider the results of their work not desirable. And it’s clear, if you don’t understand why you’ve got enemies, and what they are using, you’re going to loose.

I don’t have any solution to this, apart from educations, but it’s terribly hard to get people to get themselves informed when everyone is surrounded by propaganda and propaganda-induced misconceptions daily spewed by mass-media and repeated by websites every day. And, most of the above propaganda is actively backed by powerful interests in economy and politics.

I didn’t include any links to research in this post, but you’re welcome to do your research on these topics yourself. Otherwise, you’ll also find some posts on this blog which sum up some of the topics mentioned and link to further articles and research.

The “Moby Dick Support Device”

BitOBear wrote on Groklaw

As a side thought, a device doesn’t lose its nature when applied to a particular purpose. If I buy a bookshelf and put nothing on it, or only put a single copy of Moby Dick, or I burden it down exclusively with copies of Moby Dick, it doesn’t become a “moby dick support device”, it remains a bookshelf.

I have heard tell that the argument is that when I run a spreadsheet program on a computer it becomes a spreadsheeting machine, so the patent people argue that it _becomes_ a “particular machine”.

This “moby dick support device”-reasoning is exactly what European Patent Office is doing in regards of the European Patent Convention (EPC) Article 52 which excludes computer programs “as such” from patentability.

Since it’s not possible to patent software “as such”, they let their clients redefine general purpose computers as “special devices running said patented software” and accept that.

Indeed, there is a case in the US In re Alappat, in which exactly this ridiculous proposition was accepted by the court. The same bogus is repeated In re Prater: “But once a program has been introduced, the general-purpose digital computer becomes a special-purpose digital computer [...] which, along with the process by which it operates, may be patented subject

To go a step further, not only does a general-purpose computer not become “a special purpose computer”, but it also does nothing but mathematics. Which are, again according to patent law (and this time even the US one which allows software patents), not patentable. See 1+1 (pat. pending) which explains not only why computer programs are nothing but math, but also how to possibly prove this to a court.

Ways out of Darkness – Abolishing Patents

I not only wrote a lot on copyrights, but also on patents:

In contrast to copyrights, in which interests of all involved parties have to be carefully balanced, with patents the case is very clear cut: Nearly everyone, including companies holding a lot of patents, are victims of the system. The only people profiting are lawyers and patent-trolls. The only exception among the patent-holders are some of the pharmacy- and biochemistry companies: They’re perpetrators, and the victims are everyone else.

the only logical course of action

You can’t sustain a system which funnels 20% of all production costs into the legal system.

The state and its bodies are prohibited from 
enacting laws allowing temporary or perpetual
monopolies on ideas, inventions and innovations. 

Pharmacy

Pharmacy is a somewhat special case, since there the costs associated from patent licenses are actually higher than the legal costs. Also, development costs are very high, mostly due to required tests mandated by the gouvernments. On the other hand, pharmacy companies are among the worst offenders of abusing their monopolies; thus a “special patent law” only for pharmacy and biochemistry would not be warranted.

However, since patents somehow alleviate for costs mandated by gouvernment, it seems prudent that the costs for tests are in turn taken over or subsidied by gouvernment. At least in the initial phase.

Ways out of Darkness – Re-Attenuating Copyright

I am a pretty verbose critic of todays copyright, and I highlighted several Issues in past blog-posts:

The general strife of enlarging the protection of copyrights because of rent-seeking behaviour in the past 200 years, pretty much since its inception, both in length, and in breadth, has shown some dire consequences to the “promotion of the art and sciences”.

This post will try to show how these problems could be fixed, and a balance between rights of artists and public may be achieved.

No rights for the dead

Thomas Babington Macauley already warned 1841 in front of the House of Commons from doing that, and the consequences in diminished respect of the copyright and in problems with inheritances and orphaned works are dire. So

Copyright may at most last to the death of the creator
of the work. If the work is made by several artists, at 
most to the death of the last one of those. 

For works whose author is unknown, this needs to be considerably less, I’d propose 14 years after publication if one does not decide to accept my next proposal:

Making the Long Tail public

Most works generate 95% of its revenue in the first few years. There exist several estimates, ranging from 7 to 14 years. There are only very few works which are lucrative beyond that, leading to the situation that the very long copyright-terms are only useful for a handful of works, while keeping the vast body of works unavailable. So:

Copyright shall expire 14 years after publication, 
or with the death of the creator. 

There’s room for discussion with this for best-selling works, maybe one could give another 14 years upon request and public note of the artist. Or maybe one could rise the duration to 20 years altogether, but I think that should be the maximum. Anonymously published works will be granted the same duration of copyright.

Protect the Public Domain

There is rampant copyright-infriction nowadays by publishers, which republish public domain works and illegaly assert that they own a copyright on it. So

For works in the Public Domain, everyone has the right to 
initiate legal action against illegal assertions of copyright. 

This is in line with the practice of the artist able to take legal action against infringers against his own rights.

Protect the future and people with disabilities

The practice of putting on Digital Restriction Management (DRM) schemes has spread from software to works of art, sometimes it is even applied to works in the public domain. Even if DRM-schemes are mathematically proven to be ineffective, there is still a lot of effort needed to break or circumvent them; and they do not automatically disappear when a work becomes public domain. With the latest WIPO-treaty, it has even become mandatory to outlaw circumvention of it, hampering science, outlawing cryptanalysis, and finally enacting barriers to people with disablities. Thus:

Works employing Digital Restriction Management 
will not be granted copyright at all. 

This isn’t even an issue with online-games, which very well may decide to employ DRM instead of copyright.

Save computing heritage

Computer porgrams are especially protected by copyright, for instance the fair-use clause usually does not apply, meaning every copy without a license is a violation of copyright. Furthermore, a lot of computer programs are distributed in binary form, only runnable on one computer-type or operating system; which is of course not suited for archival purposes. Thus

computer programs only enjoy copyright
if the source-code is publicly available

This would not mean you could legally change it or republish it, but it would be available when copyright expires. But it would make debugging and finding security holes in the meantime much easier, thus increasing software-quality.

Transition Periods

There need to be some transition periods, in order to allow publishers to adjust to these laws. Most noteably, publishers need some years to fix erroneous and frivolous assumptions of copyrights on public domain works, to remove DRM from publications and to publish source-code for their software. The dead need no transition periods, but it might be prudent to allow for an initial transition period in the same length as the coming copyright period if one decides to shorten the copyright ahead of the death of the artist.

Goals

Apart from freeing a large corpus of works into the public domain and thus not only protecting our heritage, but also allowing free incorporation of old works into new ones, one of the goals of this is to actually strengthen copyright. It only lasts a few years, thus people will show more respect towards it. What’s more, since there won’t be so many works in copyright, this will free up legal resources, thus making it easier to take legal action against infringers.

Remedies against infringement

There are absolutely no new remedies needed if copyright does not get reduced to last only a few years; actually, they are astronomically already. But if copyright only lasts 14 years, one might very well decide that copyright violation is much more serious than as viewed today, where people have lost respect towards it due to the landgrab of copyright holders. I however still consider this a matter for civil law.

Copyright-violations are a vast field, from re-mailing a picture of a cute cat to your whole office or to putting a map on your homepage, to wholesale distribution of block-buster movies on DVD. Since most people don’t even know that they’re violating a copyright when e-mailing said picture, the law must be extremely clear cut on what is allowed and what is not.

A clear cut law which everyone understands will help a lot to quash unintentional copyright infringements.

A few notes on Software

Copyleft-licenses like the GNU Public License or various Creative Common Licenses grant the public more rights than copyright before copyright expires. This isn’t actually a problem. Typically, Software gets changed constantly so if copyright would expire for works older than 14 years now, Linux 1.2 would become Public Domain (you can still download that, but you will be disappointed: Personal Computers at this time featured a Pentium clocked at 133Mhz maximum), as would Windows 95.

A (Patent-)Law to promote the welfare of Lawyers

I already wrote about it, on how Patents kill Innovation. If you’re looking for more background on some of the assertions in this text, they’re explained there.

Right now the german Bundesgerichtshof decided that it would be a good idea to allow software Patents, even if the European Patent Treaty says in Article 52 “The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions … mathematical methods … programs for computers”. How did the BGH get the idea to rule on such a case in the first place, and not dismiss the whole affair as illegal and contempt of justice?

Either this is, according to Henlons Razor, an act of incredible stupidity, or there were some serious interests in the background lobbying. And in fact, those interests very much exist, and they’re very much part of the judical system itself.

As it happens, apart from Pharmacy, nobody will make money from Patents he applies for. Yes, this sounds like a very bold statement, but keep in mind that this applies to all of the patents of a field taken together; there might be financially successful patents among them, but this is eaten up by all the other patents which just cost money. No where does this money go to? Legal costs of course. So in all fields of enterprise except pharmacy, patents only fill the coffers of Lawyers, Attorneys, Judges and the Patent Office. It has been estimated that those costs make up to 20% of the final product price, making the patent system in the end just a tax-system which funels a tax of 20% to the legal system.

Obviously, those on the receiving end have a strong inventive to keep it this way, and won’t allow anyone to interfere with their rent. And most probably this is what happend with the BGH. As people in the legal system they are bound to know a lot of people also in the legal system, and those Lawyers and Attorneys will have biased views which they probably have communicated to the BGH. By now, the BGH is probably firmly convinced that patents are necessary for innovations to happen (or any suchlike hogwash).

Are you curious about that “Pharmacy exemption”? Well, the patent system works there (with its main effect) as intended, with some severe side effects. Patents are granted, the patents licensed to third parties, and the license-fees not only cover the legal costs but are high enough to make a decent profit. Not anticipated was that the big players in that field lobbied succesively “patents on prducts” and “patents on genome-sequences” into the law, plus that they wreck havoc on smaller players and on the general public, most noteably on the public in third world countries.

So even if patents on pharmacy work as expected when viewed from within the system, the idea of patents as such is inherently flawed in regard of innovation, development, economy and ecology. And if you’re a proponent of free markets, patents as “government granted monopolies” are an abomination anyway. Patents are an inherently mercantilistic idea (especially due to the fact that a patent does not allow you to produce any product, but allows you to forbid your competion to produce it), along the lines of such illuminaires as tariffs, subsidies and protective duties.

Zu doof für Ligaturen

Die Geschichte ist nicht neu, aber seit Jahrzehnten herrscht in Deutschland ein riesiges misverständnis über eine Ligatur. Auslöser dass ich nun darüber schreiben muss sind folgende Zeilen aus dem Buch “Generation Doof”:

Durch Mund-zu-Mund-Propaganda haben sich zwei weitere großartige Missverständnisse festgesetzt: ß wird grundsätzlich zu ss, und Kommata kann ich so setzen, wie ich lustig bin. Damit gelingt es auch dem Letzten, seinen Satz so zu verhunzen, dass man, Jahre, braucht, um zu, entschlüsseln, was, gemeint ist.

Es geht um dieses “Beta”, allenthalben auch als “scharfes-s” oder “sz” bekannt, was es natürlich alles nicht ist. Es ist nämlich überhaupt kein Zeichen, sondern im Rahmen des Schriftsatzes allenfalls eine Glyphe, es ist nämlich eine Ligatur für “ss”.

Da wir es nun früher mit zwei verschiedenen “s” zu tun hatten, nämlich dem langen, das welches aussieht wie ein “f” (na fast: “ſ”) und innerhalb des Wortes benutzt wurde, und dem kurzen, welches tatsächlich wie ein “s” aussieht und am Wortanfang oder -ende steht, ergibt sich durch den Zusammenzug von “ſs” eben dieses beta-ähnliche Konstrukt ß.

Selbstverständlich ist es komplett unlogisch und inkonsequent sämtliche Ligaturen zu ignorieren aber diese eine behalten zu wollen, und das ganze auch noch in irgendwelchen Gremien durchzuwürgen so dass es tatsächlich in verschiedene Zeichensätze aufgenommen wurde, oder gar auf Tastaturen auftaucht. Wo bitte ist etwa das st? Und alle anderen Ligaturen: Æ, æ, Œ, œ, IJ, ij, ᵫ, ff, fi, fl, ffi, ffl, ſt? Weshalb sollen die nicht mehr geschrieben werden, aber ein “ss” muss als Ligatur geschrieben werden? Und vorallem, wo ist das “ſ”?

Übrigens läuft nicht der gesamte deutsche Sprachraum diesem Blödsinn nach. In der Schweiz wird diese Ligatur tatsächlich offiziellerweise niemals verwendet, ausser man würde in einem Text auch alle anderen Ligaturen verwenden. Das hat natürlich in der deutschsprachigen Wikipedia auch zu einem halben Krieg geführt, als man herausgefunden hat dass da Schweizer nicht in Baskerville oder Caslon schreiben und ergo auch keine Ligaturen verwenden…

Ich persönlich liebe ja Ligaturen (und Baskerville und Caslon) aber entweder man schreibt konsequent mit Ligaturen, oder man lässt es sein. Aber die Generation Doof hat offensichtlich immer noch nicht mitgekriegt dass ß eine Ligatur ist und wird dessen unzeitgemässe Verwendung vermutlich bis aufs Blut verteidigen. Vorher werden sämtliche Kommaregeln abgeschafft.

Conspiracy Theories

The thing about Conspiracy Theories is, that there are so many of them. You can choose whichever suits you best, one that confirms to your beliefs, and finally, one that puts those in charge of a whole super-conspiracy you really thought were in charge all along. Sadly, there’s the trouble: They all end up explaining something complicated in a very easy way, draw the world in black and white, and there’s Them, the conspirators, and Us, the victims.

It works like this: Take any event that happened, the more media covering it got the better, blatantly ignore some facts, and fill in the gaps with fabrication.

So, for instance, we’ll take the event of two planes crashing into two skyscrapers 15 minutes apart, with the skyscrapers subsequently crashing into themselves, plus some other buildings nearby also crashing into themselves.

  • The first thing we’ll do is to define that this was a “Terrorist Attack”, which is a pretty sound assumption given the low chance of this kind of something like this happening as an accident.
  • Next we’ll need to define who the terrorists were. Quickly produce a list of people which might have been on these flights and correlate them with a list of known terrorist suspects. If you’ve got hits, go with them.
  • Now you’ll need a mastermind, because its inconceivable that these terrorists did it all by themselves. Find one hiding in some goats shed in a third world country, preferably one who will at least gloat over your misery on television.
  • And, the mastermind has of course to have an organisation. Take a name from an earlier but irrelevant guerilla group. If questions turn up, why this organisation wasn’t known, state: “its existence was still a closely held secret.”

Yes, you noticed where this is going. The point is, the official story of what happened on 9/11 satisfies every criterion of the pejoratively used term “Conspiracy Theory”. It’s simple. It clearly identifies a villain drawing strings in the background. It has a mysterious secret organization in it.

Or what about this definition “Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm”? Yep, sounds about right. Now we know of those insidious terrorists.

This of course, is only a preliminary judgement in order to decide whether this theory qualifies to be called a “Conspiracy Theory”, and does not make any assertions about the veracity of its claims. It might be the truth, but this official version still qualifies to be called a “Conspiracy Theory”, unless those claims can be backed up by hard verifiable facts and no falsifiable claims appear.

So to go further we have to investigate the claim separately. Some common standards to assess this are:

  • Occam’s Razor: Is this the simplest possible explanation, or is it a more complicated and thus less useful explanation of the evidence?
  • Logic: Do the proofs offered follow the rules of logic or do they use fallacies of logic?
  • Methodology: Are the proofs offered using sound methodology? Are there clear standards to determine what evidence would prove or disprove the theory?
  • Whistleblowers: how many people – and what kind – have to be loyal conspirators?
  • Falsifiability: Are there some parts “unfalsifiable” or could it be proven that they’re wrong?

A bit less common known is Henlon’s razor, which states that everything attributable to malice is probably the result of incompetence.

Indeed, some of the above claims do fail some of those tests miserably. Occam’s Razor would be in favour of a) planes crashing into buildings b) buildings crashed because of demolitions, not because of the plane-impact c) planes ignored by air-guards because somebody told the guards to look away d) planes piloted by said terrorists e) terrorists entered USA with consent of the customs f) mastermind not responsible for the attack (but very sympathetic towards it) g) secret organisation invented by the media. Other criterion of course contradict this (as do some of Occam’s Razor; but that’s because they offer the simplest explanations of every separate claim). The Whistleblower-criterion says b) it’s too difficult to wire the building, people would have noticed c) it’s not very likely the air-guard was ordered to look away and e) neither is the customs. Henlon’s razor of course refutes c) and e) outright: The air-guard and the customs were of course incompetent nincompoops. Also a) the planes hitting the towers by accident and b) the buildings crashed because they were built unstable f) there were no terrorists and Bin Laden had nothing to do with it and g) Al’Qaida is a invention of the media by chance.

The hardest evidence against the truthfulness of this Conspiracy Theory come from Methodology, and they concern b), f) and g). b) There is no coherent official explanation of how the plane crash could have brought down the buildings, and even less explanation why they crashed into themselves. And still less explanation for WTC7. f) the official 9/11 report explicitly says “we did NOT follow the money trail”, and only offers circumstantial evidence on how Osama Bin Laden should be linked to the attack. g) There is no evidence given for an organisation by the name of Al’Qaida before 2001.

Surely, some of the claims of the “official theory” of what happened on 9/11 really correspond to reality. But as a whole, the “official theory” qualifies just as much as “Conspiracy Theory” as some other theories on 9/11.

Security as Service

I’ve been sceptical about offerings of Security as Service. It’s sounds an awful lot like “Outsourcing Security”, and security is a process which involves every aspect of business or life.

However, I’m working now in a company which does just that, selling Security as Service. And I think it can work. As opposed to any other company which sells you a product, or some other services, if you’re selling security, you’ve got an interest in your customers security not being breached. Because you will loose that customer.

If you’re a Bank, you sell banking services. As long as the cost of one of your clients accounts being misused is not really your cost, the security of your clients is a total non-issue. The same goes for vendors of security-appliances. The client bought it, and already paid it, so if somebody hacks it, it’s not really your problem, unless you get bad publicity out of it.

And we’ve seen with the whole “full-disclosure”-debate, that bad publicity is a very weak instrument, and some companies can take hideous amounts of it before they improve security. Microsoft is the classical example; it took them aeons to do something about security, and the security of its products is still very weak.

On the other hand, if you get paid by subscription, you have a very real interest in keeping the customer. That means you have an interest of providing the services you are being paid for. If it’s not security the client pays for, this also means that security is probably not your concern (as seen with banks and credit card companies).

Of course, security embedded in you company will be much more capable and resilient. You can design every process with security in mind. You can choose specific products with a good security track-record. You can have system administrators with a very intimate knowledge of your network and IT-landscape, who can provide for a very fine-grained incident-response and emergency management.

But most smaller companies can’t have that. Because they don’t have the expertise, the money to hire specialists, and most of all, an IT-landscape that is not modeled by security-considerations but by habit. And habit is of course the biggest foe of security. It could be his friend too, but old habits die hard, and most people today grew up in a world where not everything was networked, and where systems of a company which gave a damn about networks and security were, and still are, prevalent. So the people in these companies don’t have the slightest clue about security, e-mail their passwords around, get their negotiations eavesdropped on mobile phones, infect their computers with viruses and get their e-banking accounts phished.

And this is where Security as Service can help. It can’t make you into a company where everything is secure. But it can mitigate some of the effects the security-unconscious acts of your employees cause. It can filter out malicious emails before someone can click on it, or some stupid mail client executes the malware-payload on its own. It can encrypt the emails at least between hosts. It can keep the botnets at bay that try to penetrate your servers. And it can provide incident-response if something goes wrong.

And finally, Security as Service is the fundamental better idea than Security as Product. Because Security is a Process, it never ends; and because with any product you bought, the sale is done, and the supplier is only interested in selling you another product, but not in making the already sold product better. Furthermore, if you lack the expertise, will you even be able to manage the product correctly?

There are those who can, with in-house security expertise, where it would be stupid to outsource it. But for the rest of us, there’s at least a certain measure of security available with Security as Service.