Mickey Shall Be Free!

The end of the year brings with it festive cheer, and a look forward into the new year to come. For those with an interest in intellectual property and the public domain it brings another treat, because every January 1st a fresh crop of works enter the public domain.

We’ll take a look at the wider crop around the day, but this year the big story is that Mickey Mouse, whose first outing was in 1928’s Steamboat Willie, is to get his turn to be released from copyright. [Jennifer Jenkins] from Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, is using Mickey’s impending release to take a look at the law surrounding such a well-protected work.

Mickey has perhaps the greatest symbolism of all intellectual property when it comes to copyright terms, having been the reason for the Disney Corporation’s successive successful attempts to have copyright terms extended. Now even their reach is about to come to an end, but beware if you’re about to use him in your work, for the Mickey entering the public domain is an early outing, without gloves or the colours and eyes of his later incarnations. Added to that, Disney have a range of trademarks surrounding him. The piece makes for an interesting read as it navigates this maze, and makes some worthwhile points about copyright and the public domain.

Last year, we welcomed Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the public domain. Meanwhile if you’re reading this in 2023, we believe our use of a header image featuring the 1928 Mickey to be covered by the doctrine of fair use.

Falsified Photos: Fooling Adobe’s Cryptographically-Signed Metadata

Last week, we wrote about the Leica M11-P, the world’s first camera with Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) credentials baked into every shot. Essentially, each file is signed with Leica’s encryption key such that any changes to the image, whether edits to the photo itself or the metadata, are tracked. The goal is to not only prove ownership, but that photos are real — not tampered with or AI-generated. At least, that’s the main selling point.

Although the CAI has been around since 2019, it’s adoption is far from widespread. Only a handful of programs support it, although this list includes Photoshop, and its unlikely anybody outside the professional photography space was aware of it until recently. This isn’t too surprising, as it really isn’t relevant to the casual shooter — when I take a shot to upload to Instagram, I’m rarely thinking about whether or not I’ll need cryptographic proof that the photo wasn’t edited — usually adding #nofilter to the description is enough. Where the CAI is supposed to shine, however, is in the world of photojournalism. The idea is that a photographer can capture an image that is signed at the time of creation and maintains a tamper-proof log of any edits made. When the final image is sold to a news publisher or viewed by a reader online, they are able to view that data.

At this point, there are two thoughts you might have (or, at least, there are two thoughts I had upon learning about the CAI)

  1. Do I care that a photo is cryptographically signed?
  2. This sounds easy to break.

Well, after some messing around with the CAI tools, I have some answers for you.

  1. No, you don’t.
  2. Yes, it is.

Continue reading “Falsified Photos: Fooling Adobe’s Cryptographically-Signed Metadata”

Will A.I. Steal All The Code And Take All The Jobs?

New technology often brings with it a bit of controversy. When considering stem cell therapies, self-driving cars, genetically modified organisms, or nuclear power plants, fears and concerns come to mind as much as, if not more than, excitement and hope for a brighter tomorrow. New technologies force us to evolve perspectives and establish new policies in hopes that we can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly no exception. The stakes, including our very position as Earth’s apex intellect, seem exceedingly weighty. Mathematician Irving Good’s oft-quoted wisdom that the “first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need make” describes a sword that cuts both ways. It is not entirely unreasonable to fear that the last invention we need to make might just be the last invention that we get to make.

Artificial Intelligence and Learning

Artificial intelligence is currently the hottest topic in technology. AI systems are being tasked to write prose, make art, chat, and generate code. Setting aside the horrifying notion of an AI programming or reprogramming itself, what does it mean for an AI to generate code? It should be obvious that an AI is not just a normal program whose code was written to spit out any and all other programs. Such a program would need to have all programs inside itself. Instead, an AI learns from being trained. How it is trained is raising some interesting questions.

Humans learn by reading, studying, and practicing. We learn by training our minds with collected input from the world around us. Similarly, AI and machine learning (ML) models learn through training. They must be provided with examples from which to learn. The examples that we provide to an AI are referred to as the data corpus of the training process. The robot Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit”, like any curious-minded student, needs input, more input, and more input.

Continue reading “Will A.I. Steal All The Code And Take All The Jobs?”

What’s New, From 1927

Here we are at the start of the new year, which for the Internet Archive means a note about what has just entered the public domain. 1927’s finest previously copyrighted materials are now up for grabs in the public domain, which means there’s a treasure trove of films, books, and music to freely copy and remix.

Their article highlights a few notable pieces of 1927’s popular culture , of which we suggest you should definitely take note of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis if you have any interest in sci-fi, but for Hackaday readers there’s not much else in the article itself relating to technology. Delving into the archive for 1927 is still a fascinating pastime though, because beyond the interest of seeing what’s now free it led onto what was the state of technology in the 1920s. And here we find ourselves as much navigating the English language as we do the library itself, because so much of what we do uses vocabulary from the decades since. Continue reading “What’s New, From 1927”

Showing an Ortur lasercutter control module in front of a screen. There's a serial terminal open on the screen, showing the "Ortur Laser Master 3" banner, and then a Grbl prompt.

Watch Out For Lasercutter Manufacturers Violating GPL

For companies that build equipment like CNC machines or lasercutters, it’s tempting to use open-source software in a lot of areas. After all, it’s stable, featureful, and has typically passed the test of time. But using open-source software is not always without attendant responsibilities. The GPL license requires that all third-party changes shipped to users are themselves open-sourced, with possibility for legal repercussions. But for that, someone has to step up and hold them accountable.

Here, the manufacturer under fire is Ortur. They ship laser engravers that quite obviously use the Grbl firmware, or a modified version thereof, so [Norbert] asked them for the source code. They replied that it was a “business secret”. He even wrote them a second time, and they refused. Step three, then, is making a video about it.

Unfortunately [Norbert] doesn’t have the resources to start international legal enforcement, so instead he suggests we should start talking openly about the manufacturers involved. This makes sense, since such publicity makes it way easier for a lawsuit eventually happen, and we’ve seen real consequences come to Samsung, Creality and Skype, among others.

Many of us have fought with laser cutters burdened by proprietary firmware, and while throwing the original board out is tempting, you do need to invest quite a bit more energy and money working around something that shouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the manufacturers could do the right, and legal, thing in the first place. We should let them know that we require that of them.

Continue reading “Watch Out For Lasercutter Manufacturers Violating GPL”

Copyright, What You Need To Know

Last week brought the story of a group of crypto enthusiasts who paid well over the going rate for a rare sci-fi book, then proposed encoding scans of all its pages in a blockchain before making and selling NFTs of them. To guarantee their rarity the book was then to be burned. Aside from the questionable imagery surrounding book burning in general, one of the sources of mirth in the story was their mistaken idea that in buying a copy of a rare book they had also acquired its copyright rather than simply paying too much for a book.

It’s an excuse for a good laugh, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about copyright as it affects our community. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not here to give legal advice. Instead this is based on the working knowledge gathered over decades working in the content publishing industries. Continue reading “Copyright, What You Need To Know”

Hackaday Links Column Banner

Hackaday Links: December 19, 2021

Key fobs as a service? Have we really gotten to that point? It would seem so, at least for Toyota, which is now requiring a subscription to use the company’s Remote Connect function. To be fair to Toyota, the Remote Connect system seems to do a bit more than the average key fob, with things like remote start and smartphone or smartwatch integration. It doesn’t appear that using the key fob for more mundane uses, like opening the doors, will be nerfed by this change. But if you want to warm up your car on a cold winter’s morn while you’re still in your jammies, then be prepared to cough up $8 a month or $80 a year on select 2018 and above models. Whether Toyota and other manufacturers get away with this nickel-and-dime stuff is up to the buyers, of course; if enough people opt out, maybe they’ll think of some other way to pad their bottom line. But since we’ve already seen heated seats as a service (last item), we suspect this is the shape of things to come, and that it will spread well beyond the car industry.

Speaking of cars, if you thought the chip shortage was over just because car dealer lots are filling back up, think again. Steve over at Big Mess o’ Wires reports that he’s having trouble sourcing chips for his vintage computer accessories. He includes a screenshot from Digi-Key showing zero stock on ATmega1284s. He also reports that the Lattice FPGA he uses for his Yellowstone universal disc controller is now unobtainium, where it had previously been easily sourced for about $5. He also has a pointed warning about some suppliers making it look like they have stock, only to send a “whoopsie” email after charging your credit card, or worse, telling you the price has increased over 400%. We suppose this was inevitable; there’s only so much fab capacity in the world, so eventually the fabs will switch over to producing whatever they can get paid the most for. And since car manufacturers have a lot more clout with suppliers than just about anyone else, it’s only natural for the shortages to shift down-market like this.

Do we finally have a “go” on James Webb? Maybe. The launch of the space telescope was originally scheduled for December 18 — well, OK, originally it was supposed to be in space in 2007, but let’s not go there — but a problem with a clamp caused unexpected vibrations in the $10 billion space observatory, resulting in inspections that pushed the launch back to the 22nd. That lasted for about a week, until the fueled and packaged spacecraft stopped sending data to launch controllers. The problem ended up being entirely relatable — a bad data cable — but resulted in the loss of two more days. JWST is now set to launch on Christmas Eve at 7:20 AM Eastern Standard Time, pending a readiness review on Tuesday morning. Fingers crossed that the long-awaited observatory has a safe 30-day trip to Lagrange point L2.

And finally, breathless tech journalists couldn’t wait to report this week that the world’s first warp bubble had been created. The paper was published by Dr. Harold “Sonny” White et al from the Limitless Space Institute, and claims to have discovered a “micro/nano-scale structure” that “predicts negative energy density distribution that closely matches requirements for the Alcubierre metric.” That last bit, the one about the Alcubierre metric, refers to the Alcubierre drive, which proposed a way to warp space-time and drive a ship at arbitrarily high speeds. But did this team actually create a warp bubble? It doesn’t seem so, at least according to one article we read. There’s also the problem of Dr. White’s previous claims of breaking the laws of physics with a reactionless EM drive. Scientific quibbling aside, there’s a sure-fire way of telling that no warp bubble was created — if there had been one, this would have happened.