brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell

26Aug/112

Don Henley on the PROTECT IP Act

Today I noticed an editorial by founding member of the Eagles, Don Henley asking for the passage of the PROTECT IP Act currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

The basic of idea of the PROTECT IP act is that the Attorney General or private intellectual property rights holders can ask the court to issue an injunction against foreign "rogue" sites whose primary purpose is to engage in intellectual property violations. When such an injunction is granted, search engines, Internet providers, credit card companies, and ad networks would be required to cut off all access to these sites.

There are perhaps some arguments to be made for such an approach, but Henley doesn't seem to find them. Instead, he seemingly wants to engage in dramatic hyperbole. He begins with a claim that foreign websites trafficking in "American arts and entertainment products" cost the U.S. 58 billion dollars annually and 373,000 lost jobs, with 16 billion dollars in lost earnings and 2.6 billion dollars in lost tax revenue. Wow! That does seem serious.

But where do these numbers come from? Apparently from this study this study by IPI.org. These numbers are apparently drawn from a study which examined data from 2005. But where did they get these numbers? By numbers which are for the most part reported by industry groups that represent rights holders, rather than by any actual statistics on piracy costs. For instance, the IPI study highlights numbers from the Business Software Alliance, a group which has been widely criticized for methodology which exaggerates the cost of infringement on copyrighted software.

But we could argue about what those numbers are all day. I'm not going to really try to argue them because I doubt any meaningful numbers exist. I certainly have none that I would propose.

What is really disturbing is that it can't possibly work. The PROTECT IP Act requires that DNS servers and search engines remove the information and routes that would allow American citizens to reach these foreign infringing websites. In other words, it requires them to censor websites. And in the words of John Gilmore,

The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.

If domestic name servers start to censor individual websites, all we will have done will be to create a market for offshore name servers and search engines which aren't censored. The Internet is supposed to allow every end point to talk to every other end point. That is what it is for.

This article lists eight different ways to circumvent the PROTECT IP Act. It's easy. Really easy. Provide incentive to anyone, and it will be even easier. It's not like every downloader needs to be smart. As Mike Godwin said, all you need is one smart cow, the rest will follow him out the open gate. It's not clear that the PROTECT IP Act will recover even a single dollar of lost revenue, or create one job.

Unless of course, you consider the government jobs it creates. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enforcement of the law will cost about $10 million annually, and will require the Justice Department to hire 48 people. It should be noted that this does not include the cost to tech companies for whom compliance with the Act is simply an expense.

But what really irks me about Henley is this paragraph:

Critics of this pending legislation need to be honest about the company they keep and why they essentially aid and abet these criminal endeavors. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties group, claims such a bill would "break the Internet," while Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt says it sets "a disastrous precedent" for freedom of speech. No one has the freedom to commit or abet crimes on the Internet. Stopping crime on the Internet is not, as EFF says, "censorship." There is no First Amendment right to infringe intellectual property rights.

It begins with an intended slur: if you object to the PROTECT IP Act, you are aiding criminals, as if there were no reason to object to it. You could object to it on the grounds that the MPAA and the RIAA have consistently misrepresented their losses. That they have continued to successfully lobby for increasingly expansive and draconian remedies against infringers. That legislation like the PROTECT IP Act do signficant damage to fundamental principles like "presumption of innocence", "burden of proof" and "freedom of speech". And from my view, that it cannot possibly work without creating greater damage than it prevents.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said it thusly:

"I would be very, very careful if I were a government about arbitrarily [implementing] simple solutions to complex problems," he said. "So, 'let's whack off the DNS'. Okay, that seems like an appealing solution but it sets a very bad precedent because now another country will say 'I don't like free speech so I'll whack off all those DNSs' – that country would be China.

"It doesn't seem right. I would be very, very careful about that stuff. If [the UK government] do it the wrong way it could have disastrous precedent setting in other areas."

In the United States, we are supposed to consider even bigger issues than money and jobs.

Don Henley: Internet theft is a job-killer, too - USATODAY.com.

24Sep/103

Teaching English, Ebooks, and the Public Domain

Forgive this slightly meandering diatribe, there are a few ideas that have been kicking around in my head, and today is the day I decided to try to give them form here on my blog. I've been thinking about three interwoven topics: the rather odd way we teach people "English" in high school, the oncoming electronic book revolution, and the public domain.

On the drive in to work, I was thinking what an odd subject "English" actually is. It is actually an amalgum of two separate disciplines which are only vaguely related. The first is mastery (or at least competence) in the basic mechanics of the English language: mastery of spelling, increasing your vocabulary, and constructing meaningful and precise sentences. The second is usually reading, analysis and criticism of some works which are viewed as "good" by some, well, teachers of the English language. For some reason, these works seem to be almost exclusively works of fiction or poetry, and are usually of considerable diversity. They also seem to have largely written by people who are now dead, people who lived not just before the birth of modern high school students, but often before the birth of their grandparents.

Leaving that for the moment, I recently was gifted an iPad by my lovely wife. I've discovered (somewhat to my amazement) that one of its primary uses for me has been as an ebook reader. I've been rather skeptical of the ebook reading experience, but without really making an effort, I've found that I have read five entire books on my iPad, and generally had a very positive experience. I've begun to actually buy books online. Yes, you don't actually have the physical artifact anymore, but Amazon will nicely keep track of the books you have bought, and you can redownload them to your device (or new devices) whenever you please, so in some sense they are better than the physical artifact. They are also in general signficantly cheaper: the $9.99 pricepoint is gaining some traction in the market.

I've also found the iPad to be a convenient repository for the myriad of technical PDF files that I used to have to print to read. Suddenly, bankers' boxes full of papers are obsolete: I'm just downloading them to my iPad and tossing them into the shredder. The paperless office might still be a myth, but the source of much of the clutter in my office is slowly evaporating. It's a minor revolution for me and my reading habits.

And now, the public domain. As long time readers of this blog can assert, I'm a big fan of Project Gutenberg and other efforts to make books and materials which are in the public domain widely available. But even I was forced to admit that I didn't read a lot of the freely available classics of literature that are available because reading on your computer just isn't that pleasant. But I find reading on the iPad to be pretty pleasant, so I'm finding that I don't have any excuse anymore. Many, many classics are available for free and I actually enjoy reading them using the iPad. The net result of this is that I'm reading more, and it is not like I didn't read a lot before.

Okay, back to teaching English.

One of the reasons that I suspect that high school English curricula contain so many "old books" is that these old books are now in the public domain, and are therefore cheaper to buy. But in electronic format, these books aren't just cheap, they are for all practical purposes free. I was scanning a few suggested reading lists for high school students such as this one. The page thoughtfully says that:

Students may find these titles at libraries and bookstores.

But somewhat tragically, the page doesn't even acknowledge that online editions could exist. I conservatively estimate that at least half and likely three quarters of these books are available in electronic formats for free. Imagine what we could do for the literacy of young people if we made sure that all these titles were available to them.

And of course we can go further. Using the Kindle reader on the iPad, you can highlight and annotate your book, but you can also share your highlighting and see parts which are commonly highlighted. Imagine an ecosphere where we could archive the commentary of these classic works, and make them similarly available to all readers.

In my analysis thusfar, I've been unfairly ignoring the cost of the reader. After all, my iPad wasn't cheap even by my standards, and putting one in the hands of high school students seems like a huge expense. To that, I would merely say that other good reader options are emerging at much more competitive price points, and it is likely to only get better over time. Currently the cheapest Kindle you can buy (and which I ordered this morning) is a mere $139, which still sounds like a lot when you compare it to a single paperback, but when you compare it to 20 cheap paperbacks, it's about even, and when you compare it to 200 paperbacks, it's pretty obviously a heck of a bargain. It's also a lot smaller and lighter than carrying even a single book, you can adjust font sizes so even my presbyopic eyes can read comfortably, and you can even do a bit of web browsing and check your twitter and facebook feeds.

I read arguments that we are becoming an increasingly illiterate society. Too much TV, too many video games, too much consumption, not enough reflection. But I see glimmers of hope. The computer networks which bury us in spam also allow us to communicate as never before. The devices which seduce with cheap thrills can also be used to educate and inform.

I don't think these devices are a panacea. Putting them in the hands of students is no guarantee of improved results, but I think they represent an interesting new opportunity. And even at age forty-six, I think they will reduce the cost of enhancing my mind by bringing some classic literature onto my virtual shelf, without cluttering my physical shelf.

Okay, that's off my chest. I'm off to download Jack London's The Sea Wolf.

10Sep/100

Guess What, You Don’t Own That Software You Bought | Threat Level | Wired.com

Sigh. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision on Friday that says that software makers can use use licenses (in particular, shrink-wrap and click-wrap licenses) to keep you from legally reselling the software that you bought.

In other words, they just gutted the first-sale doctrine.

Guess What, You Don’t Own That Software You Bought

The somewhat poorly thought-out aspect of this ruling is that there is absolutely nothing keeping people from preventing any copyrighted work from resale on the used market. If you merely ship your book in a wrapper which includes a license agreement, you could be charged with copyright infringement for selling that book.

The EFF had this write up on the principle.

15Dec/050

Make Your Own Copy-Protected CD with Passive Protection

While not as openly hostile as the kind of stuff that Sony was doing with their active-rootkitting stuff, it's actually not that hard to create a CD which many applications find unrippable: wander over to Ed Felton's Freedom to Tinker blog for instructions on how to Make Your Own Copy-Protected CD with Passive Protection.

Note: this really only works for Windows. You can rip these CDs using Macs or Linux just fine. Way to go Microsoft!

4Nov/050

Groklaw on Plotline Patents

Wow. It's hard to comprehend just how bad an idea plotlines patents actually are. I think I'll need a bit more coffee before I could even attempt to try. Still, there is little doubt that intellectual property law is heading toward a precipice.

Some particularly good quotes from Andrew Knight's justification for plotline patents:

There is little fear that artistic creation will be halted due to the enforcement of patent protection newly applied to artistic inventions. ... In fact, most artistic concepts today are very old--which is precisely the problem that must be remedied by patent protection for artistic inventions. Unless patents on artistic inventions are upheld and enforceable, the great artistic minds of the day will be compelled to continue composing predictable love songs for pop stars and slightly altered dialogues for carbon copied movie plots.

Really? Does that make any sense to anyone?

There is currently little motivation for artistic inventors to innovate new plots, themes, and methods of expression.

Boggle!

A patent system that sanctions and defends patents on artistic inventions, such as new and nonobvious plots, will spur an array of never-seen-before, never-experienced-before, intellectually inspiring forms of entertainment. A patent system that lethargically clings to an as-of-yet unarticulated rule that artistic inventions are not patentable subject matter because they are not closely enough related to a mechanical gear or an electronic integrated circuit will guarantee our nation the same repertoire of mind numbing movies and dime-a-dozen boy bands.

I can't help but think that this is merely the absurd argument which demonstrates the vacuousness of
software patents.

27Jun/051

Supreme Court Rules in Grokster

Well, I haven't had a chance to read the ruling yet, but it appears that the SCOTUS has unanimously gutted the Sony decision and made software companies potentially liable for infringing uses of their software, regardless of whatever significant non-infringing uses their might be.

I'll post again when I have something in the way of analysis.

Addendum: I'm probably overreacting by claiming it gutted the Sony decision. My initial skim of the decision has only served to confuse me on what practical importance (if any) today's decision had. It definitely seems to make companies which promote copyright infringement to be dangerous to fund, but I'm not sure it goes beyond that, and it is far from clear that even a company like Grokster would qualify.

Addendum2: The best discussion I've found so far was here, on the SCOTUSblog.

16Jun/050

Google SiteRank Patent

Slashdot mentioned that the Google SiteRank patent application was available, so here it is for your perusal.

15Jun/050

A deal made in Washington? Bargaining to Restore Freedom?

Congressman Rick Boucher is a rare animal indeed: a man looks at the bigger picture of intellectual property and tries to determine the appropriate balance intended by the founding fathers in creating patents and copyrights. I first became aware of the Congressman when he guest blogged on Lawrence Lessig's weblog, where he showed surprising sense. He has written a guest editorial for news.com, where he suggests that in exchange for enacting the FCC's Broadcast Flag rule, Congress should restore fair use rights which were destroyed by the DMCA.

Hmmph.

I can't help but think that this is a bargain with the devil. The DMCA should never have restricted the fair and unregulated uses of copyrighted material. It was a travesty: one that robbed the American people their rightful property. I'm not sure why Congressman Boucher thinks that we should pay for giving back a right which never should have been taken.

And make no mistake: the Broadcast Flag does nothing for consumers. In the page I linked above, Congressman Boucher claimed to fear a culture where everything was "pay per use". That is precisely the kind of world that the Broadcast Flag is designed to create. The Broadcast Flag is an annoyance to consumers. It means that transferring your time shifted video from your TiVo to your PDA will be a hassle. That transferring it to your Unix box will be a bigger hassle.

When Mr. Glickman says:

"So why should I care about a so-called broadcast flag regulation? The answer is simple. I want to make certain that the American people will continue to have the opportunity to see our movies and television shows on free television in the digital age."

First of all, just where is this "free television"? I live in the bottom of a valley, so over the air broadcasts are basically impossible. I pay $45 a month or so for my traditional analog cable from Comcast. I don't have free television, and as time goes on, fewer and fewer Americans do.

Next, there is currently no broadcast flag, and yet there seems to be no shortage of programming. One could, of course, make claims as to its quality, but one presumes that there could be only a single reason for not having better programming: the almighty dollar.

Really, what Mr. Glickman is saying that "if we made more money, we could create more programming, and the Broadcast Flag will enable us to make more money." Glickman expects us to sign off on this, and we will see this new programming as a result. It sort of reminds me of the ideas that were floated early in the early days of Cable TV. "Pay us, and you can have fewer commercials!" they said. Uh huh. We all know how that worked out.

Giving teeth to the FCC Broadcast Flag resolution in exchange for restored fair use is basically robbing Peter to pay Paul: it doesn't really make any sense.

I recognize you are one of the "good guys", Congressman Boucher, but I think you can come up with a better idea than this.

Although, perhaps no better compromise.

15Jun/050

BSA disgusted with critiques of their inflammatory piracy loss methodology

Ars Technica points us at both an article from The Economist which questioned the accuracy and methology of the BSA in determining of piracy to businesses, and the terse and unresponsive reply from Beth Scott of the BSA.

Reproduced here in full:


SIR —
Your article on software piracy was extreme, misleading and irresponsible ("BSA or just BS?", May 21st). The headline was particularly offensive. The implication that an industry would purposely inflate the rate of piracy and its impact to suit its political aims is ridiculous. The problem is real and needs no exaggeration.

Piracy probably is a problem for businesses. The question is: how much of a problem is it? In the BSA's world, every pirated copy of software is a lost sale. They, like the MPAA and the RIAA, don't realize that software, like movies and music, are incredibly elastic commodities. If faced with actually having to buy them for current market price, most people would simply do without rather than pay for them. In strictly economic sense, this severely limits the potential losses. It's like saying that if you doubled tolls on the Bay Bridge, you'd make twice as much money. What really would happen would be that less people would travel over the Bay Bridge. Effects on actual revenue are considerably harder to predict.

I don't support piracy, but the BSA is full of BS.

7Jun/050

Let’s all drink the Intellectual Property Koolaid…

The Times Online reports that Britain is considering doubling the length of copyrights on pop classics, in an attempt to march in step with American laws. Currently Britain's copyright protection lasts 50 years, while in the U.S. copyrights go for 90.

Their justification?

James Purnell, the new minister for creative industries, believes the change will allow record companies to generate extra revenue to look for new talent and nurture it. Purnell, who will outline his plans in a speech next week, said: "The music industry is a risky business and finding talent and artists is expensive. There is a view that long-term earners are needed so that the record companies can plough money back into unearthing new talent."

Frankly, I dispute this idea. It isn't expensive to unearth raw talent: it's expensive and time consuming to become talented. Finding talented people is actually pretty simple. What's expensive is the ridiculous process that the music industry goes through to market and promote their music.

You see, the problem isn't that a couple of pop classics will be protected. It's that all works will be. You are robbing the public of their property by keeping it from entering the public domain, with absolutely no reasonable recompense.

Let their dying business model die. Let new ones, based upon building on our shared cultural heritage begin.

7Jun/050

Hollywood foots bill for LAPD spy cams

Xeni Jardin filed a story for Wired on the installation of spy cams funded by the MPAA. These cameras monitor a couple of alleys and feed directly to the LAPD's Central Area station. Are these cameras there do detect assaults? Robberies? Drug trafficking?

Nope, illegal bootleg DVD sales.

Read the article. Does anyone think that the movie industry is losing substantial money to these poor quality bootlegs?

3Jun/051

Education on the meaning of the word “public domain”

Dan put me onto Turtle's 78 RPM Jukebox, a site which contains some very nice recordings of old 78 RPM records which are in the public domain. Some very cool stuff, but it contains the following puzzling disclaimer:

All original recordings are understood to be in the public domain.
All selections in this jukebox are the sole property of Turtle Services Limited.
Each contains a unique signature.
Enjoy each for your personal pleasure but do not use any for a commercial purpose!

If something is in the public domain, you can't put any restrictions on its use. From the Copyright FAQ:

Where is the public domain?

The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

You can't claim that a work is in the public domain and then turn around and pretend like you have copyright on it without creating a new derivative work out of it. The courts have pretty consistently upheld that mastering old material into new formats does not qualify because typically such transcriptions involve purely technical as opposed to artistic decisions.

Nolo has an excellent book on the subject that can help educate you on issues relating to this.

Addendum: To back up my claim, check out this page, section 496.03(b)(2) Noncopyrightable elements for a list of modifications which do not justify the claim of copyright.

28May/050

Why the broadcast flag should go forward | Perspectives | CNET News.com

Dan Glickman, CEO of the MPAA has an editorial running on news.com entitled: Why the broadcast flag should go forward. I urge you to go read it and think about it.

A federal appeals court ruled that when the FCC mandated that all manufacturers of digital video equipment must implement and support the use of a Broadcast Flag by July 1 of this year, they considerably overstepped their powers granted to them by Congress. The FCC took the rather shocking stance that there powers are implied, rather than enumerated by Congress, and that they were free to effect mandates without legislative oversight, permission, or the involvement of the public.

The court naturally held a dim view to this interpretation, and rightly struck down the Broadcast Flag requirement, stating that the FCC did not have statutory authority.

Of course the MPAA is in support of this legislation. Despite Glickman's claim that this is to "protect the magic of the movies", it is really quite simple: they want to limit the ability of the public to trade in what they view as their property. For decades, individuals have had the right to record programs and play them back at a later time, or to send these tapes to their friends who may have missed them. They have had the right to record them and amass large tape libraries of shows. The MPAA views this as potential lost revenue, and they want it to stop.

Glickman says:

Our companies want to continue to show their movies and television shows to viewers who don't or can't subscribe to cable or satellite systems. But without the broadcast flag, that option will look less and less appealing.

By "less appealling", he means "we will make less money". This strikes me as similar to the arguments presented before the Sony case. "The videotape recorder will end movies." "The entertainment industry will go bankrupt!"

The entertainment industry thought that the glass was half empty. In fact, it wasn't just half full, it was entirely full. This FUD surrounding the broadcast flag is just more of the same.

10May/05Off

Thought Thieves

Microsoft is sponsoring a short film competition in the UK entitled Thought Thieves on the subject of intellectual property theft.

Thought Thieves is about people stealing and profiting from your creation or innovation. Think about it: how would you feel if you saw your hard work being passed off as the property of someone else? What would you do?

There are two categories: 14-17 year olds, and 18+.

Submissions are limited to 45 seconds or less, presumably because intellectual property law is straightforward and uncontroversial.

I wonder if any of the entries will touch on any of the following topics:

  • The difference between copyright infringement and theft.
  • The founder's idea that the grant of copyright and patent monopolies exist to promote the useful arts and sciences, and that they be limited in duration.
  • That technological innovation has always lead to periods of extended discussion and compromise.
  • That the doctrine of fair use exists to protect individuals who use works in a limited way.

Somehow, I suspect the films will be considerably less subtle in their treatment of this topic.

6May/05Off

Victory in Broadcast Flag Case! FCC Has No Authority Says Court: Corante > The Importance of… >

In a two-fer that illustrates that all is right with the world, the A's managed to beat the Yankees 6-3 in the 10th by mashing on Mariano Rivera, and the DC Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down laws which enabled the FCC to mandate the Broadcast Flag. They found that the reasoning of the FCC (that they had broad powers in areas previously unregulated) was extraordinary and unconstitutional. The court found that any powers granted to the FCC had to be explicitly conferred by Congress.

Good one.

To reinforce the idea that the not everything is right with the world, it seems like national ID cards are going to happen because the Real ID Act legislation was attached to an appropriations bill for operations in Iraq. Sigh.