Friday, September 29, 2006

Siva Vaidhyanathan on Journalists, Google, and the Future of Copyright

"As the most pervasive regulation of speech and culture, the copyright system will help determine the richness and strength of democracy in the twenty-first century," Siva Vaidhyanathan wrote in today's Columbia Journalism Review. In "Copyright Jungle," Vaidhyanathan examines the borderline legal/illegal copyright issues in the present day and how copyright law is currently being reshaped before our eyes -- and most reporters are missing the point and risking the access and freedom that they (and most everybody) have grown so dependent on in the digital age.

In recent years, large multinational media companies have captured the global copyright system and twisted it toward their own short-term interests. The people who are supposed to benefit most from a system that makes ideas available — readers, students, and citizens — have been excluded. No one in Congress wants to hear from college students or librarians.

What begins as a critique of Kevin Kelly's "Scan This Book!" feature in a May '06 NYTimes Magazine (which mentions Google's Library project at least 50 times), continues as a timely updated supplement for those of us thumbing through The Anarchist in the Library for the first time.

Google’s project, if it survives court challenges, would probably have modest effects on writing, reading, and publishing. For one thing, Kelly’s predictions depend on a part of the system he slights in his article: the copyright system.

Tim O'Reilly, who once argued that fewer than 4% of all books ever published continue to be commercially exploited, supported Google's Book Search initiative posting research after Kelly's article indicating the "long tail" effect of online indexing of as many books as possible (or in Google's proposal, all of the titles in five major U.S. libraries). [link is to UC Berkeley research paper PDF, Google's documentation on the library project is here].

But with corporations and media conglomerates hankering to lock up digital rights and ignore/shun the concept andn value of CC-style copyrights, the mainstream is missing the point by focusing on Google's ambition to slightly alter or circumvent U.S. copyright law in an effort to add only a little to society -- and "snippets" at that, writes Vaidhyanathan:

Google is exploiting the instability of the copyright system in a digital age. The company’s struggle with publishers over its legal ability to pursue its project is the most interesting and perhaps most transformative conflict in the copyright wars. But there are many other battles — and many other significant stories — out in the copyright jungle. Yet reporters seem lost.

The essay as a whole serves as a great heads-up to journalists and Free Culture-ite copyright activists alike, alluding to distortions in the media and confusion regarding ethics and legality (Da Vinci Code case), technology and it's effect on consumer culture (p2p scare pieces) and one-dimensional dichotomies (hackers v. movie studios). (In fact the piece concludes with a "primer" for journalists).

It's only natural for journalists to report stories with characters andn consequences regular people can relate to, but:

Reporters often fail to see the big picture in copyright stories: that what is at stake is the long-term health of our culture. If the copyright system fails, huge industries could crumble. If it gets too strong, it could strangle future creativity and research.

The modern journalist depends on Google's system of copying (or caching) practically every pixel of information on the Web -- be it for research, fact-checking or even publishing. Understanding media/copyright law in the digital age is crucial, but to report on the controversies of the day as if the sky were falling could only precipitate further restrictions on fair use and information sharing.


HP's Troubling Tracking Technologies Raise Alarm

The fallout of Hewlett-Packard's latest scandal -- in which hi-level execs used illegal pretexting to eavesdrop and track the flow of information leaks (both fabricated and legitimate) among employees, middlemen, and reporters -- is creating a wave of trepidation among corporate execs, employees and right-to-know/rights-to-access libertarians alike.

In Tuesday's San Jose Mercury Tribune, Dean Takahashi examines this in the article "A high-tech bug could spy on you"

HP Chief Executive Mark Hurd confirmed Friday that HP's investigators used pretexting: They obtained personal cell phone records by pretending to be the cell phone owners. But technology can be used to track individuals, get their passwords, eavesdrop on their wireless networks, or track leaked documents back to certain printers or Word documents.

Ironically, HP is a consponsor of the Privacy Innovation Award. (I can't help but add that this twist is eerily reminiscent of corruptorate American society and, say, the resignation today of Florida Congressman Mark Foley, for sending flirtatious e-mails to teenaged boys asking for their photos. Foley happened to CHAIR the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, which recently introduced legislation to protect children from exploitation by adults over the Internet)!!!

Seth Schoen and Kurt Opsahl, both of EFF, are quoted in the Mercury article as saying HP used a "Web bug," which contains tracing technology that is unleashed via a phishing e-mail attack.

The HP investigation is ongoing and ridiculous, but rich with evidence of the Dark Side of technology as an ID-falsifying/manipulating and surveillance tool.

Before Congress on Thursday, ex-Chairman Patricia Dunn refused to take the blame, while the other dozen or so board members, including CEO Mark "The Buck Stops With Me" Hurd, pleaded the 5th. In the latest developments, both Cingular and Verizon filed suit against HP alleging that HP's spies used pretexting to illegally obtain information from the wireless providers' (unnamed) customers' accounts.

As Patrick Thibodeau asks aloud, while referencing EPIC's Marc Rotenberg, will this lead to stricter privacy laws?

A House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is now trying to figure out exactly "Who Has Access to Your Private Records," right now.

British Library, Council take on Creative Commons and DRM

Adam sez, "Counterpoint is a think tank, sponsored by the partially government-funded British Council. Today (29th Sept) they're publishing a Creative Commons-licensed ebook by Rosemary Bechler (Contributing Editor to openDemocracy) bringing together thoughts on new approaches to copyright and cultural commons. It's aimed at policy-makers without a background in copyright issues, so starts from the basics, introducing RMS, CC etc. but quickly brings lots of threads together in a fascinating way. A great read for smart politicians or journalists."
The first generation of Creative Commons is not the Utopian world of Romantic authentic exchange that Carlyle thought money had destroyed. But it draws on the same insight. It turns out that what makes for success is not whether money is exchanged or whether laws are challenged. What makes cultural commons thinking the basis of a gathering social movement worldwide, is the perception that it is the mutually enabling relationship that matters most. These licences make it easier to share. Those whose innovating energy have begun to transform the centre from the edge – who we might think of as the new authors – are people who have understood this. And they are also its beneficiaries.

Whether you look at a mature movement such as the open source software movement, or emergent groups, such as the free culture movement or the scientists’ movement for open publication, these people are intent on creating a domain of open cultural sharing, somewhere where all can be creative together. An Open Business40 project, too, has a quality that is hard to pin down, from the perspective either of law or of economics. It recognises that the same transaction could at one and the same time be a commodity, a gift and a public service – as long as the common culture, the enabling relationship, is intact.

At the same time, the British Library has published "Intellectual Property, a Balance: The British Library Manifesto" that is also very good, constituting a comprehensive set of reforms to British copyright law that would keep the BL in a position to go on being the guardian of UK culture.

I like this one quite a lot, but am skeptical of the clause on Digital Rights Management, which says that DRM should be allowed, provided that it doesn't undermine "fair dealing" (the UK equivalent of fair use). The problem is that DRM inevitably undermines fair dealing, since fair dealing includes exemptions for scholarship, criticism, parody, etc. There's no DRM software invented yet that can tell the difference between a pirate and a parodist -- indeed, sometimes it takes the Supreme Court or the Law Lords to state defintiively whether a work is a parody or just a ripoff. Can a DRM simulate the Supreme Court and figure out, a priori, whether they'd rule that this use was fair?

Libraries should be allowed to make copies of sound and film recordings to ensure they can be preserved for posterity in the future.

Currently the law does not permit copying of sound and film items for preservation. Without the right to make copies, the UK is losing a large part of its recorded culture.

■ The British Library Sound Archive is one of the largest archives of music in the world with over a million discs, 185,000 tapes and holdings of every other medium upon which sound can be recorded. ■ As the Library is not able to make copies of items, many original audio and film formats we hold are becoming increasingly more fragile and require the urgent creation of a preservation surrogates or face irretrievable decay.

We recommend that copying for preservation purposes is extended to all copyrightable works as is the case in many other countries.

Link to Counterpoint report,Link to British Library report

(Thanks, Adam and others!)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

European consumer ombudsmen face-off with iTunes

In Europe, consumer ombudsmen watch out for consumer rights and actually take action on their behalfs against abusive corporate practices. In June, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish ombudsmen wrote to Apple regarding several of its iTunes policies, namely the fact that iTunes songs are exclusively compatible with the iPod and that the EULA allows "iTunes the right to change terms of purchase without notice, even after a sale." Turns out that the Norwegian ombudsman has now resolved that second issue with Apple so that, in Norway at least, the "terms of purchase cannot be changed for purchases that have already been made, only for future ones."

This is HUGE -- and hugely different from the EULAs regularly crammed down our necks in this country. If a person physically signs a contract with a corporation (or anybody) in the USA, the corporation can't cross out or add bits later without the person's express, written permission. Why is it that we allow technology companies to slip such clauses into their click-wrap EULAs and then go ahead and do it to us? Well, EULAs are long and boring, and few people actually read them. (I'm guilty of this, too. Not pointing any fingers here.) Plus, the majority of us blithely assume that a corporation's lawyers must vet their contracts and wouldn't allow questionably legal clauses in them because they don't want to get sued. This assumption is false and very harmful to us as consumers and citizens. Corporations will gladly allow questionably legal clauses in their contracts if they perceive little chance of anyone's suing them or if the amount for which they'd likely be sued pales in comparison to the amount of money they could make in the meantime. Apple is raking it in, so their usurous practices have been good for their bottom line and their shareholders, up till now.

The entire European market is smaller than the U.S. market, so maybe this change in their Norwegian contracts has such a small effect on Apple's revenues that they just don't care. But if we in the U.S. took up the torch and stood up for ourselves, we might actually stumble upon a victory worth celebrating. Class-action lawsuit, anyone? Should the DOJ step in? Or are we as a people saying that we just don't care if the things we purchase never actually belong to us? Are we comfortable with the fact that powerful companies can change the contracts they make with individuals at will without notifying them, but if individuals try the same shenanigans they could end up in jail? I'm not, but I don't use iTunes and I don't own an iPod, so I haven't been harmed by this directly. But Apple's not the only company that does this, and as such clauses become more prevalent, everyone in this country will be affected by them at some point.

Microsoft blocking development of security products compatible with Vista

Symantec, the market leader in antivirus software (the company garnered 53+% of the market in 2005), is bent at Microsoft. Apparently, Microsoft won't provide development kits on its upcoming Vista operating system to security-software vendors. If Microsoft continues not playing with others, users will get the short end of the stick on Vista ship day because the only compatible security software available for those new machines will be Microsoft's own OneCare -- a shortcut for the installation of which will appear on the desktop when the computer boots up. (Microsoft and the EU are still wrangling over Microsoft's attempts to drive competitors from the market with monopolistic practices such as these.) Microsoft has promised that Vista will be the most secure operating system to date, but secure according to whom? If they won't share their info and allow users security options, why should anyone trust this statement? Without companies like Symantec, McAfee and many others competing to provide better products, it's the customers who ultimately lose -- in the short run (who knows what crap will end up on our machines from Microsoft's bedfellows and unforeseen threats alike?) and the long run (if other companies currently working on the security issue are put out of business, who will we turn to when Microsoft decides it doesn't care about what's important to us little guys?).

Symantec's current complaints haven't seen a day in court. Instead the company hopes that the broadcasting of these concerns will move the public to act in their own -- and Symantec's -- best interest to coerce Microsoft into sharing. Email Microsoft and tell them what you think of this kind of corporate misbehavior.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pew Survey: Transparency / Privacy in the Future of the Internet

Among the more interesting studies released Sunday in the second installment of the Pew Internet & American Life Project's Future of the Internet (PDF) survey, are respondents reactions to the following hypothetical:

Prediction: As sensing, storage and communication technologies get cheaper and better, individuals' public and private lives will become increasingly 'transparent' globally. Everything will be more visible to everyone, with good and bad results. Looking at the big picture – at all of the lives affected on the planet in every way possible – this will make the world a better place by the year 2020. The benefits will outweigh the costs.

The mean response of 742 individuals is of uncertainty (46% agreed vs. 49% disagree). But it's the substance of the varied & impassioned responses that set the course for what many believe is one of the most important issues of modern time and the near future.

Here is a link to credited answers. And here's a collection of anonymous one-liners.

Prof. Doctorow, fwiw, commented: "Transparency and privacy aren't antithetical. We're perfectly capable of formulating widely honored social contracts that prohibit pointing telescopes through your neighbours' windows. We can likewise have social contracts about sniffing your neighbours' network traffic."

The answers range from amusing to asinine, but overall the essence is that transparency -- while essential to and inevitable in an open society -- is a double-edged sword.

In a rather oddly phrased question, a majority of respondents agree (to my dismay) with Thomas Friedman's mostly-BS "The World is Flat" argument, aggreeing with utopian naivete, that, by 2020, "the free flow of information will completely blur current national boundaries as they are replaced by city-states, corporation-based cultural groupings, and/or other organizations tied together by global networks."

Perhaps it's only appropriate -- in a very Sci-Fi-esque study, that there would be no more New York and China and Japan.

Other notable conclusions from the abstract:

* A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a "flattening" world.
* Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and "smart agents" proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey.
* Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems.
* Tech "refuseniks" will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change.
* People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy.

The IEEE prefers their recently released "Bursting Tech Bubbles Before They Balloon" survey, authored by Marina Gorbis and the Institute for the Future's David Pescovitz.

For historical reference, see PBS' 1998 survey: Nerds 2.0.1 -- a who's-who of nerdtrepreneurs and their late 20th century musings on the future of the Internet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Trademark a Day Makes Apple's Competition Go Away

Russell Shaw takes his obsession with Apple's "iPod" trademark addiction to ZDNet in this expose of Apple's latest USPTO encounters and recent C&D letters to the likes of Podcast Ready for daring to use the "P" word in his article: "EXCLUSIVE: Apple Trademark Office docs point to REAL reasons for" Podcast" controversy"

we have Apple, maker of the iPod, trying to get right with the Trademark office about achieving formal Trademark and related mark protections for iPod AND its sought-after IPODCAST applications.

Not only would this restrict ANY individual or company from using the term "podcast" or "podcasting," it would also put a lock on, for example "iPod socks," not to mention T-shirts declaring "iPods suck."

Dave Winer proposes a start-up idea for a "real podcast player" that would put Apple's DRM to shame.

AOL/Netscape's Jason Calcanis is rightfully dismayed: "Anyway, Apple didn't come up with the concept of Podcasting but they have benefited from it immensely."

Former MSFT evangelizer Robert Scoble wonders if team Apfel will up and sue his new employer,

Todd Baur at the Apple Blog asks if Apple is going to sue the framers of the Constitution for proposing the First Amendment: "When the iPod was introduced, no one would have associated pod with an MP3 player. Now that the little guy has become the king, there is no argument that the term is almost synonymous with music players."

Politics and Silences in Chris Anderson’s World View

Thanks to BoingBoing, I came across Nick Gillsepie’s - editor-in-chief of Reason - fascinating interview with Chris Anderson. Anderson is the author of THE LONG TAIL (#16 on NYX Bestseller list) and editor of Wired. In it, we see limits of the libertarian, technocratic strain of thinking.

reason: Who’d you vote for in 2004?

Anderson: Oh, God, do we really need to talk about that? I hate politics.

reason: It’s always interesting.

Anderson: I didn’t vote.

reason: OK. What about 2000? Wired has been conducting something of a love affair with Al Gore of late; he was your May 2006 cover boy. You must have voted for Gore, a bete noire of most libertarians, in 2000, right?

Anderson: But I’m not proud of this. I wish the system would put forward politicians that I could vote for.

reason: Why are you uninterested in politics?

Anderson: I’m not. I’m interested. I’m de-focused [my emphasis].

reason: In what sense? You don’t see anybody up there who would represent your worldview?

Anderson: I think the process by which people are nominated by the two parties is so compromising that they end up taking positions that I can’t support. I think in fact they don’t believe it.

reason: So what is it that you like about Al Gore?

Anderson: I have a personal admiration for the man [my emphasis].

When I was in Washington, covering science in those early days [the late ’80s], I was an intern. Al Gore was the chairman of, I think, the Senate Science and Technology Subcommittee, and I was at those early hearings when he was talking about what was then called high-performance com-puting. He was having the people from the NCSA [National Center for Supercomputing Applications] at the University of Illinois come in to talk about this thing, and he’d have these guys showing these incredible technologies. They were generating unbelievable graphics and setting up work stations, and they were connected—and none of the other committee members bothered to show up. No one was there in the crowd. He’d come down and just sit there at the witness table and geek out over these things.

He had Larry Smarr, [the NCSA’s director and “the godfather of the Internet,”] talk. Remember, this was a time when a kid named Marc Andreessen was back in Larry’s labs dreaming up something that would later become Net-scape. So Al really was instrumental in recognizing the potential of the Internet and helping it along. He didn’t invent it, but he had a really important role in advancing it.

Most importantly, actually, those models, those computational models that they were doing, were climate models that were trying to quantify the extent of global warming and climate change at the time. So I guess I’ve seen Al Gore as smart and technical and passionate, funny, and I’ve seen him at his best.

reason: Sen. Gore also brought K. Eric Drexler, the nanotechnology visionary, to D.C. to talk to the Senate.

Anderson: Absolutely.

reason: Is there a contradiction between Gore’s interests in something like, say, the Internet, which is decentralized and founded upon distributed intelligence, and his support for things like the Communications Decency Act, a Clinton administration law that would have extended federal regulation over much speech on the Internet? Or the Kyoto Protocol? Kyoto is very much an old-style, command-and-control regulatory policy.

Anderson: One thing about Kyoto, although I’m not in favor of all its aspects, is that it would have at least set up a market-based system for trading carbon emissions. That’s something I can get behind [my emphasis].

You know, Gore’s a complicated character. His interest in superhighways is very much inspired by his father’s interest in the national highway system, which was both a distributive network and a command-and-control infrastructure. I think he understands that there’s a place for government-created infrastructure if it enables individuals to do their own thing, which is very much what the highway system does.

Do I agree with him 100 percent on everything? No. I think his recognition of climate change as a problem turned out to be prescient and right.

reason: What about other political figures? Republicans, Democrats, it doesn’t really matter to you?

Anderson: I guess I like individuals[my emphasis]. I like Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York. I like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in many ways…..

Towards the end of the interview, the tone and subject matter becomes more personal as Anderson is asked about being a father:

reason: You're the parent of four children, aged four to nine. How has that affected your politics, your journalism, your worldview?

Anderson: I'll tell you what being a parent has done for me, and this may not be the answer you were expecting or even want. I think it’s made me a better boss—and I had a lot of room for improvement. I think what I now understand is as a parent, you understand very clearly what your kids need. Your kids need clarity. They need consistency. They need sup-port. They need encouragement. [my emphasis]. I’m the classic geek and I don’t have a strong empathy gene. I've actually been able to people through my children in a sense. Of course, all people need clarity, support, firm rules, consistency, etc. So I think that in many ways because the kids are such a kind of a raw version of people and because you have such a clear duty and obligation to get it right and you think about it all the time, that just thinking about how to be a better parent has helped me think about being a better guide to everybody.

Wow. Forget love. Forget cultivating your kid’s creativity, their sense of wonder, their empathy with others.

Cancel those things. KIDS NEED CLARITY. And consistency and support and oh yeah, some encouragement.

Anderson and Gillsepie’s exchange prioritizes the consumer view of society above all else. So don’t forget parents, KIDS NEED CLARITY. Above all else. What could be a more impoverished view of politics and the public space. Politics descends into consumer preferences.

How will children be raised in such a mediated, consumerist global world? Are we committed to raising the next generation of children to become such uncritical consumers? Or, do we hope to cultivate other human strengths such as curiosity about the world, empathy for others, humility in the face of such vast technological power?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rental rotary phone costs $14,000 over 40 years

An 82-year-old woman with a rental phone ended up paying over $14,000 for the rotary set over 40 years. She began renting the phone at a time when AT&T would not sell you a phone -- and they wouldn't let you buy a phone from someone else and plug it in to your wall.

These days, DRM hardware and media seems to all come on terms like this: a license, a rental, anything except a plain, old-fashioned sale where you end up owning property.

The DRM people tell us that rentals are great for the poor and disenfranchised, since these rental "offers" can be made for less than a real purchase would cost. But I think this is more representative of the trajectory of rentware models: you pay, and pay, and pay, and pay.

It's not a coincidence that rich people who have a choice almost never choose to rent. They own their homes, their cars, and their TVs. Rich people don't sign "agreements" that let repo men come over and take away their stuff. Even if you know you'll never miss a payment, we all know that owning enriches you, renting enriches someone else.

The number of customers leasing phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, said John Skalko, spokesman for Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent Technologies, a spinoff of AT&T that manages the residential leasing service.

"We will continue to lease sets as long as there is a demand for them," Skalko said.

Benefits of leasing include free replacements and the option of switching to newer models, he said.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Windows DRM gets worse

The Inquirer's Charlie Demerjian shreds the new Windows Media Player 11 DRM, which is far more restrictive than previous versions. This is the anti-copying built into Microsoft's smart-phones, media centers and PCs:

One of the problems with WiMP11 is licensing and backing it up. If you buy media with DRM infections, you can't move the files from PC to PC, or at least you can't and have them play on the new box. If you want the grand privilege of moving that content, you need to get the approval of the content mafia, sign your life away, and use the tools they give you. If you want to do it in other ways, you are either a lawbreaker or following the advice of J Allard. Wait, same thing...

Yes, WiMP11 will no longer allow you the privilege of backing up your licenses, they are tied to a single device, and if you lose it, you are really SOL. Remember that feeling I mentioned earlier? This is nothing less than a civil rights coup, and most people are dumb enough to let it happen...

But it gets worse. If you rip your own CDs, WiMP11 will take your rights away too. If the 'Copy protect music' option is turned on, well, I can't top their 1984 wording. "If the file is a song you ripped from a CD with the Copy protect music option turned on, you might be able to restore your usage rights by playing the file. You will be prompted to connect to a Microsoft Web page that explains how to restore your rights a limited number of times." This says to me it will keep track of your ripping externally, and remove your rights whether or not you ask it to. Can you think of a reason you would need to connect to MS for permission to play the songs you ripped from you own CDs? How long do you think it will be before a service pack, masquerading as a 'critical security patch' takes away the optional part of the 'copy protection'? Now do you understand why they have been testing the waters on WiMP phoning home? Think their firewall will stop it even if you ask?


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Naughty Itunes Update

It's good to know that not only the low and middle-tier Itune users are feeling some frustration with their latest "updates." The high end is also feeling the same pain. Here's an update from Roku, a high-cost network music player company,

"With the release of iTunes 7.0 today, Apple has changed some of the underlying technology that allows the SoundBridge to communicate directly with iTunes. We hope to have an iTunes 7.0- compatible release of the SoundBridge software soon; however, at this time all SoundBridges are incompatible with the music sharing feature of iTunes 7.0. We recommend that SoundBridge owners wait for a SoundBridge update before upgrade to iTunes 7.0. Users wishing to upgrade to iTunes 7.0 (or who have already upgraded) can install the free Firefly media server to share their libraries with the SoundBridge. Firefly is available at"

At least Apple doesn't discriminate as they tighten the noose.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reverse Engineering iPod Games

Apple does not seem to have an iPod SDK available to the public, and from their response to Ben Sinclair's request (link), they are not planning to release such an SDK soon. Some developers have decided to reverse engineer iPod games they have downloaded through iTunes as an alternative, using this wiki to share knowledge. They emphasize that their goal is not to crack Apple's DRM, but at this point it is not clear to me (and probably to them) whether what these people are doing is unlawful according to the DMCA. We can only hope that Apple will not try to take any action against them and/or will release an SDK.

False Paradox of Choice

A growing awareness of "Set-Top Cop" issues combined with the myriad ways these restrictions multiply in more and more technology/media product releases, the more Barry Schwartz's Paradox of Choice appears in need of revision.

Schwartz has engaged in a running debate with Chris Anderson of THE LONG TAIL fame. Schwartz claims that Anderson's embrace of The Long Tail overlooks the toll on consumer's overwhelmed by the infinite content found on the Long Tail. Schwartz, like Anderson, ignore how digital rights management restrictions make their whole debate secondary to more fundamental issues of how technological restrictions undermines choice by limiting the range of creative expression and innovation.

We've entered into something called "the false paradox of choice". We get an exciting brand new Microsoft music player that restricts us in one way, then we figure out how Apple's new product constrains us another way only to be offered brand-new HD DVD players more expensive, more restrictive and ultimately more irrelevant than anything we don't have now.

The technology/media industries wonder why college students go outside the established networks. Could it be that they aren't bad people, but just a little frustrated at losing more and more control over their own set top boxes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

new iTunes DRM cracked 1 day after release

It took one day from the point that Apple updated iTunes (and its proprietary DRM) to version 7 for the diligent folks at the Hymn project to find a way to crack it. What does that say for the security of digital files when such a world-class and seemingly important DRM system can be broken that quickly and easily? Not a whole lot of good. link

Researching DRM litigation can be scary

Looking into the story from a few days back about eDonkey's $30m settlement and subsequent shutdown, I was directed (by the link at the bottom of the page) to eDonkey's website, at which time my IP address was apparently logged, in apparent suspicion of my not-yet-realized breach of international copyright law. I can only assume that other innocent Yahoo! news readers and university scholars are now on the RIAA watchlist of suspected pirates and IP traffickers, as no crime has to be committed in order to receive this stern warning. Give it a try, it's a nice way to feel a little paranoia on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

BSkyB customers are hostages of MS DRM software

BSkyB, the largest British private digital pay TV operator, had to shut down its movie service to paying customers last Wednesday as Microsoft Media DRM software has been cracked again by a program called FairUse4WM. Once again this proves that DRM software is worse than a harmless nuisance to honest paying customers.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Universal Threatens to Sue YouTube, MySpace

No surprise here. As if NBC/Vivendi/Universal is not already getting enough free pub and promotion from the UGC-oriented social networking and video sharing Web sites alone, now they're getting double the love after threatening to sue YouTube and MySpace over copyright violations.

Universal Media Group Exec Doug Morris: "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars."

Making the issue sound even more ridiculous, Morris proceeds to say Universal is just adapting from experience, saying: MTV "built a multibillion-dollar company on our (music) ... for virtually nothing. We learned a hard lesson."

This is a blatant misunderstanding of the law, as the infringers would be arguably those who download the music/video, not the sites that unknowingly host it (and would be quick to remove it, at least in the case of YouTube, if an argument was filed).

Does Morris blame FM radio for coming along and broadcasting cuts from records other than or in addition to the singles he pays them to play? I do wonder.


Video: How to Hack a Diebold Voting System

USC Annenberg Associate Dean and Lear Center Director Marty Kaplan writes in Huffington Post:
Princeton computer scientists have figured out how to hack into a Diebold AccuVote [sic] TouchScreen voting machine. The subversion of democracy takes a coupla minutes, a screwdriver or paperclip, plus a floppy with the malware they've written.

video here

paper here

flickr photo by verifiedvoter, hacking a diebold


Amazon Unbox's terrible terms-of-service

Amazon's new video-on-demand store may sound like a good idea, but once you take a look at the "agreement" you enter into by giving them your money, that changes. The Amazon terms-of-service are among the worst I've ever seen, a document through which you surrender your rights to privacy, integrity of your personal data, and control over your computer, in exchange for a chance to pay near-retail cost to watch Police Academy n-1. As Ben Franklin might have said: They that can give up general purpose computers for the sake of a little eye candy deserve neither computers nor eye candy.

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. A lot. I won't ever be buying one of these movies. Amazon has a great and well-deserved reputation for amazing customer service. The rare occasions where I've gotten a lemon or ordered the wrong product from Amazon, I've been treated like royalty, with Amazon making every possible accommodation to help me out. Their Look Inside feature and the used goods marketplaces are a tremendous boon to me.

The difference between Amazon and Amazon Unbox is like night and day. When you sign onto Unbox, you sign away all the amazing customer rights that Amazon itself is so careful to protect. Amazon Unbox takes away your privacy and every conceivable consumer right you have, and then tells you that the goods you buy from them don't belong to you, and they can take them away from you at any time, or change the deal you get from them without any appeal by you.

Amazon Unbox's user agreement isn't just galling for its evilness -- it's also commercially suicidal. No sane person will agree to this. Amazon Unbox user agreement is only a couple femtometers more dignified than being traded to another inmate for a couple packs of cigarettes.

Section 3: "The Software may operate on your Authorized Device continuously for a variety of reasons, including the management of your Digital Content."
What this means is that there's no way to switch off the Amazon Unbox software. Once you install it, it does what other programs that remote-control your PC against you do: stays resident and refuses to budge. It might phone home, it might check and re-check your licenses. Who knows? This is a cop that you're installing on your machine, and you're the perp. Its job is to watch everything you do and keep you in line.
Section 3a: "The Software automatically checks for upgrades, but the Software will not automatically upgrade without your consent, except as provided herein. If you do not consent to an upgrade that we make subject to your consent, the Digital Content may no longer be viewed on your Authorized Device. You must keep the Software on your Authorized Device current in order to continue to use the Service. We may automatically upgrade the Software when we believe such upgrade is appropriate to comply with law, enforce this Agreement, or protect the rights, safety or property of Amazon, our content providers, users, or others."
The software you're agreeing to install today isn't the software you're going to have to run. Tomorrow, the day after, next week, and ten years from now, we plan to be forcing you into ever-tighter nooses. You don't have to install the updates, but if you don't, kiss the movies we sold you goodbye. We're going to update the software any time Hollywood tells us to, in order to protect their "safety." You might be used to disabling the DRM on your DVD player (Amazon even sells region-free players that come pre-hacked!), but forget about doing the same thing for your Amazon Unbox property: if someone figures out how to add a feature to your Unbox player, we will promptly confiscate that feature.

I once attended a DRM negotiation where an MPAA vice-president said, "Watching a show that's being received in one room while you're sitting in another room has value, and if it has value, we should be able to charge money for it." Siva Vaidhyanathan calls this the "if value, then right" theory -- if something has value, someone must have a right to sell it. So while you might be accustomed to extracting unexpected value from your old media -- ripping a CD to play it on your iPod, copying a cartoon and sticking it on your fridge, taking your books with you when you move overseas -- forget about it from now on.

Every conceivable source of value for DRM digital movies is now potentially for sale. I've heard proposals for "discounted" movies that you can't fast-forward ("discounted" in the sense that products you buy with a store loyalty card are "discounted" -- they raise the price unless you use the card). Prepare for the future where every button on your remote has a price-tag on it.

Section 3b: Amazon respects your privacy, and the Software will not access computer files or other information on your computer that are not used by or otherwise related to the Service. Among other things, the Software will provide Amazon with information related to the Digital Content on your Authorized Device and your use of it and information regarding your Authorized Device and its interaction with the Service. This information will enable Amazon to manage rights associated with the Digital Content, allow Amazon to help you use the Service more effectively and otherwise help Amazon to enhance and improve the Service. For example, the Software may provide Amazon with information about the Digital Content from the Service on your Authorized Device, whether it has been deleted and whether it has been viewed. The Software may also provide Amazon with information about your Authorized Device's operating system, software, amount of available disk space and Internet connectivity, such as whether your computer or other device is available online. This information will, among other things, help us deliver Digital Content to you more efficiently and effectively. The Software may also provide Amazon with information about the transfer of Digital Content to portable devices to help us ensure compliance with our rules concerning portable devices.
Amazon says it respects your privacy, but this clause tells the real story. Click "I agree" and you've just signed away permission for Amazon to wiretap all of your viewing habits, and to search your entire hard drive continuously and report back on all the software you've installed. The entertainment industry can produce a blacklist of legal software that it just doesn't care for -- say, software that lets you take screenshots, or screen-movies -- and refuse to allow your movies to run if you've installed it. In other words, this clause lets Hollywood specify how you must configure your PC.
Section 3c. Removal of Software. If you uninstall or otherwise remove the Software, your ability to view all Digital Content you have downloaded to the Authorized Device will immediately and automatically terminate and we reserve the right to delete all Digital Content from that Authorized Device without notice to you.
Surprise! If you delete our software, we delete your movies! Imagine if selling your old DVD player gave Jack Valenti permission to come over to your house and take away all your DVDs, too.
Section 4: The Service allows you to (i) pay a fee to view Digital Content for a limited specified period of time ("Rental Digital Content"), and (ii) pay a fee to view Digital Content a repeated number of times ("Purchased Digital Content"). As used herein, (i) "Residence" shall mean a private, residential dwelling unit or a private individual office unit, but excluding hotel rooms, motel rooms, hospital patient rooms, restaurants, bars, prisons, barracks, drilling rigs and all other structures, institutions or places of transient or work-related residence as well as places, areas, structures, rooms or offices which are common areas or open to the public or to occupiers of separate Residences or for which an admission fee is charged; (ii) "Permitted Non-Residential Use" shall mean the private viewing by one or more persons on a video monitor (desktop, television monitor, laptop, hand-held device or otherwise) in a Non-Residential Venue; provided, however, that any such viewing for which an access fee or other admission charge is imposed (other than any fee related only to access such Non-Residential Venue for other general purposes) or any such viewing that is on a monitor provided by such Non-Residential Venue (or by a third party under any agreement or arrangement with such Non-Residential Venue) for display of programming in a common area shall not constitute a "Permitted Non-Residential Use"; and (iii) "Non-Residential Venue" shall mean any place, area, structure or room other than a Residence.
Remember when you used to watch DVDs in the break-room at work, or in the common room at school? Remember when you used to bring movies for your kid to watch in hospital after she had her tonsils out? Forget about it. These movies can only be watched where and when we say. This might be "Purchased digital content," but don't ever mistake it for your property. Like feudal times: lords get to own property, and everything we serfs have belongs to the lord.
Section 4a. Rental Digital Content. Upon your payment of the rental fee, Amazon grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to view, use and privately display in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use, the Rental Digital Content purchased by you, by way of one (1) non-portable Authorized Device (e.g., a laptop or desktop computer) connected to the Service over the Internet as specified on the detail pages of the Rental Digital Content or other help or informational pages of the Service at the time of your payment. Unless otherwise designated on a detail page for Rental Digital Content, the license for Rental Digital Content is limited in its term and duration to thirty (30) days from your payment of the rental fee or twenty-four (24) hours from the time you start viewing the Rental Digital Content, whichever is sooner. The Software may automatically delete Rental Digital Content that is beyond its limited license term from your Authorized Device, and you consent to such automatic deletion. You may not copy or move Rental Digital Content from their originally stored location(s) on your Authorized Device. There can only be 1 (one) account for the Service on an Authorized Device.
So this is just like renting a movie from Blockbuster, except that while you can give your Blockbuster movies to your boyfriend to watch after you're done with them, these movies are only for you. Oh, and they cost more. Oh, and you have to pay for the bandwidth to transfer them to your home. Oh, and you have to wait for them to download. Oh, and you have to let them invade your privacy.
Section 4b. Purchased Digital Content. Upon your payment of the license fee, Amazon grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to retain a permanent copy of Purchased Digital Content and to view, use, and privately display the Purchased Digital Content in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use as specified on the detail pages of the Purchased Digital Content or other help or informational pages of the Service at the time of your payment. You may exercise these rights on up to 2 (two) non-portable Authorized Devices (e.g. laptop or desktop computers) and two (2) portable Authorized Devices as specifically designated by Amazon from time to time. There can only be 1 (one) account for the Service on an Authorized Device. You may make a back-up copy of Purchased Digital Content on removable media (e.g. recordable DVD) or on an external hard drive in the same format as the original downloaded file to play on your permitted Authorized Devices. Any back-up copy of the Purchased Digital Content on a DVD will not be playable on a traditional DVD player, but only on a permitted Authorized Device.
You can purchase our "digital content," but that doesn't mean you own it. You can't sell it, give it to your kid's school, or donate it to a homeless shelter. Also, you can only play it on two portable players, and only the models we approve. And if you buy an approved portable player, we can later nullify your investment by canceling that device's permission to play your movies.
Section 4c. Downloading and Risk of Loss. It is your responsibility to download Digital Content promptly after purchase. If you are unable to complete a download after having reviewed our online help resources, please contact Amazon customer service. You bear all risk of loss for completing the download of Digital Content after purchase, once we have made such content available to you (in Your Media Library or otherwise), and for any loss of Digital Content you have downloaded, including any loss due to a file corruption or a computer or hard drive crash. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available in your Media Library for download to a second of your Authorized Devices (or re-download to the first Authorized Device you designate for the content), but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons and Amazon will not be liable to you if content becomes unavailable for further download.
Movies from Amazon don't come with the same rights as DVDs from Amazon -- DVDs can be sold, given away, and watched on any player. You don't have to give up your privacy or control over your property to watch a DVD.

If Amazon sells you a DVD but it never arrives in the mail, Amazon gives you a full refund. But if you buy an Unbox movie and your download fails, Amazon has no obligation to get you that flick. Naturally, replacing your Unbox movies costs nothing, while shipping you a replacement DVD costs quite a lot.

Section 5: From time to time, Amazon will automatically deliver promotional video content (e.g., movie trailers, celebrity interviews, reviews, etc.) to your Authorized Device. Amazon may automatically delete such promotional video content from your Authorized Device without notice to you.
We will put commercials on your computer without your permission. But you can't keep the good ones.
Section 6: Except for the rights explicitly granted to you in this Agreement, all right, title and interest in the Service and Digital Content are reserved and retained by Amazon and its licensors, and Amazon and its licensors do not transfer any right, title or interest in the Digital Content to you. You do not acquire any ownership rights in the Digital Content as a result of downloading Digital Content.
We call it "purchased content," but you don't own it.
Section 7: The Services are available only to customers located in the United States. If you are outside of the United States, you may not use the Services and you may not transfer Digital Content outside the United States. As used herein, "United States" refers to the 48 contiguous United States, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii.
If you move, or if you travel, we'll take your movies away.
Section 8: 8. All rentals and sales of Digital Content are final when you click the "Buy Now" button.
It's a "Sale" but you haven't bought it -- you've only licensed it.
Section 9a: a. If you violate any of the terms or conditions of this Agreement or otherwise abuse the Service, your license to Rental Digital Content and Purchased Digital Content will immediately terminate and Amazon may, in its discretion, immediately revoke your access to the Service without notice to you and without refund of any fees. In such event, you must delete all copies of Digital Content that you have downloaded, and Amazon shall have the right to automatically delete all Digital Content on your Authorized Device without notice to you.
If we think you've done something naughty, we can take away all the movies you've bought, without appeal. Better not do anything we think is naughty. What do we consider naughty? We're not telling.
Section c. If Amazon changes any part of the Service or modifies license terms applicable to Rental Digital Content or Purchased Digital Content, which it may do in its sole discretion, you acknowledge that you may not be able to access, view, or use Digital Content in the same manner as prior to such changes, and you agree that Amazon shall have no liability to you in such case.
We can change the terms of this deal at any time. Today you can play it on two portable players -- maybe it'll be zero tomorrow. Today you can only watch these movies in the US, tomorrow, maybe only west of the Mississippi.
Section d: Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the service at any time without notice to you, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such rights.
Even if you're not doing something naughty, we can take away the movies we "sold" you.Link(Thanks, Xeni!)

Entertainment industry: wiretap the net, crypto is for pedos

Computer scientist/activist Ian Brown spoke at an event on copyright in London last night, where anti-Internet enforcers from the entertainment industry spoke on DRM. The entertainment industry types proposed that ISPs should be forced by law to monitor all customers' communications for copyright infringement, charging for anything that might be a copyrighted work. When Ian asked about encrypted communications, they dismissed him, saying "only paedophiles use that technology and we would all be better off if it was banned."
The current favourite seems to be that ISPs should be forced to monitor all exchanges of data and charge customers when a copyright work is spotted. When I asked how the spread of encryption could possibly be compatible with this scheme, they airily replied that only paedophiles use that technology and we would all be better off if it was banned. They obviously don't know that the US government already tried extremely hard to do this over about 25 years, and failed.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Anti-RIAA lawyers answer Slashdot's questions

Two attorneys who represent American citizens who are being sued by the record industry have conducted a public interview with the Slashdot community -- the questions and answers are fascinating and lively, as is the discussion that follows:

9) Evidence?

(Score:5, Insightful)

by eldavojohn

I hear a lot that the RIAA has the weakest evidence ever in these cases. Such as screen shots of dynamic IP addresses - - taken from Kazaa. How the hell do judges across this country uphold these cases with such lack of concrete evidence? I mean, give me five minutes in photoshop and I'll make you a "screenshot" of Kazaa with's IP address listed over and over on it. Can't an expert witness cause this evidence to be thrown out quickly?


I've tried, eldavojohn, I've tried. Look at our court papers in Motown v. Does 1-149. The judge didn't want to hear a word I was saying. You are absolutely correct that the entire underpinning of each case is a joke. An astute judge would laugh them out of court, as the Netherlands and Canadian courts have done.


US State Dept to Europe: Apple's DRM is off-limits

A spokesman for the US Department of Justice has counseled European governments to stop investigating the anti-competitive, anti-consumer aspects of Apple's iTunes DRM. Apple imposes their DRM even when musicians ask not to have it applied to their music, and they have used legal threats to stop competitors from making players that can play Apple's music. Apple's DRM has been updated several times to remove the rights that iTunes Music Store customers bought when they bought their music -- all of this seems to make iTunes DRM a valid subject for investigation by competition and fair trading bureaus. Right now, Sweden, Norway, France, Britain and other European nations are investigating the fairness of Apple's technology.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Thomas Barnett, assistant attorney general at the DOJ’s antitrust division, warned that forcing companies to reveal their intellectual property stifles innovation. He used Apple as an example, in a nod to growing discontent in Europe regarding the way that music purchased from iTunes is tied to the iPod.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

EU considers peeling -- maybe coring -- Apple's iTunes

Not only do European governments take the privacy of their citizens and their personal data (Schneier, p. 3) seriously across board (the U.S. does in a few sensitive industries), they're actually the keepers of the gate protecting competition among technology firms. Now, you'd think the free-market-loving, wheeling-and-dealing capitalists in this country would want to do all they could to keep our economy marching along and our markets teeming with new technology entrants and their products, but no. Our Justice Department antitrust chief, Thomas Barnett, warned the EU countries that "impos[ing] restrictions on iTunes...could discourage innovation and hurt consumers." What are these frightening restrictions, you might ask? One example: "requir[ing] Apple to permit iTunes music to play on devices other than its iPod." Apple, Barnett argued "should be applauded for creating a legal, profitable and easy-to-use system for downloading music and other entertainment via the Internet."

Yes, sure, applaud Apple's big business model for helping other big businesses protect their big business models. Yay, them. But since when is a lack of competition the thing that encourages innovation? Our whole economic system depends on the little guys sketching out the better mousetrap on the back of a cocktail napkin, making aftermarket parts for good mousetraps that consumers like to buy and thinking of products that will replace the mousetrap once all the mice are dead. Telling people the rodent problem's been solved so go work on something else while Ben runs up your pantleg is just plain un-American.

As anyone who's ever worked at a company that uses computer technology at all knows, legacy systems can become impossibly expensive to extricate yourself from. I'm not just talking money. The time it takes to move data between two incompatible systems can be nearly impossible if the first system's been in place for any length of time. (You sit there, practically salivating, thinking about how much more hassle-free your life would be if you could just use the new tools, but you can't because you'd have to spend the rest of your life transferring the data it took you years to accumulate, byte by byte.) Telling entrepreneurs, computer engineers, hackers and designers that thinking about making iTunes better -- or making products that can make iTunes talk to better products or using iTunes in a way not sanctioned by Apple -- is verboten is the most stifling of stifling statements. And now our top antitrust watchdog is spreading our protectionist tripe around the world. Where is my generic extra-strength migraine eraser?

The EU levied in excess of $600 million in fines against Microsoft and forced the company to provide different versions of Windows. South Korea followed suit with smaller fines. If the U.S. won't protect the public's interest in newer, better, faster, cooler or just plain different products, I guess we'll have to look to the rest of the world to lead the way.

New Wikipedia Tool: Search by Domain

This is another great way to search for info/entries and broken links on wikipedia pages that may be of interest. The key is to use the wildcard to get all prefixes from a given domain, i.e. *

via this post at MicroPersuasion:
Wikipedia has quietly rolled out a special page that lets you unearth all of the pages that link to a particilar Web site or page. It even covers discussion and other miscellaneous pages that are embedded deep inside the site.

USC Intellectual Property Clinic

A joint project between the Annenberg School, the USC School of Law and the Information Services Division, apparently this body gives law students the opportunity to enact real-world change in the field of Intellectual Property litigation through projects such as helping "starving artists" register copyrights and open source licenses. It seems new, it doesn't look like they've done too much yet, but establishing contact with this group could be beneficial for the class in terms of both research gathering and contact building, not to mention the opportunity to get the law school's perspective on IP and DRM issues.
link to IP Clinic site.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Religious Right embraces innovation and competition on the Net

As the Senate argued about the hypocritical "network neutrality" proposals before it recently, some members of the Religious Right spoke out in favor of killing those proposals to preserve -- gasp! -- freedom. And not just their own. Instead of demanding that their folks on Capitol Hill clamp down on the Net and jettison objectionable websites "to save the children," as one might imagine they would, these socially conservative groups -- Abstinence Clearinghouse; Center for Moral Clarity; Faith 2 Action; and Tradition, Family Property among them -- stated that filtering and monitoring tools enhance their use of the Internet as a teaching medium with their children. The Net also serves their needs as a grassroots organizing tool like none other: "Any legislative action that could prevent or impede our use of the Internet would certainly be damaging to our efforts," the groups said. They went on to tout the positive effects of competition. Providers will continue to offer better service with more potent filters and higher speeds if the Internet remains basically unregulated. Look at that! Homeschoolers working to protect personal freedoms in a way that benefits everybody. Amen to that.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Omissions in CDT's DRM report

The Center for Democracy in Technology has released a report on DRM and consumer rights, intended to serve as a guideline for governments who are looking to balance consumer interests with legal protection for DRM, which is technology used to limit how we can use the media we buy on the devices we own.

This is a good goal, but the paper falls far of the mark, by omitting any mention of DRM 'renewability" (the ability of a DRM vendor to take away rights you got when you bought your media or device), open source (which is antithetical to DRM), and Creative Commons (which can't be used in connection with DRM.

I've written an open letter to the CDT staffers listed as contacts on the paper, going into detail on these subjects:

All new DRMs are being designed to be "renewable." The Sony PSP
was repeatedly patched to force users to stop running their own
software on their devices. BluRay and HD-DVD are both built
around a "renewability" system that can shut down devices. The
Broadcast Flag ruling provided for renewability to disable
consumers' property on the grounds that if someone, somewhere
figured out how to use a DVD burner to circumvent the flag, all
innocent users of that burner should be punished to get at the
guilty. This week, Microsoft issued its fastest-ever OS patch to
remove a DRM crack that users applied in order to make lawful
uses of the content they owned.

What kind of disclosure is sufficient here? What constitutes
transparency? "This device will do the follow five things and
restrict your from the following eight things. However, at any
time in the future, without your consent, a secret commercial
body with closed membership and meetings may shut down any of
this device's features, with no appeal."


Friday, September 08, 2006

Giving Away Info to Sidestep Phone Tree Hassles

Yahoo! Tech blogger Chris Null introduces a new Web-based service that navigates those ultra-annoying phone tree labyrinths at the other end of customer service lines for you. It's called Bringo! and this dog can fetch, but not without a catch. The stipulation to using the service is that you must provide your phone number.

Apparently Bringo is still a beta -- but it's more than a bit disturbing that it has been launched publicly -- not to mention raved about by the venerable Null -- with a TOS does little more than state: "The lawyers have the privacy policy for their final review."

Supposedly one of the founders is based in Poland and who's to think another founder is in Romania or elsewhere. Either way, it would be nice if the site wasn't so casual about their privacy guarantees -- they not only collect your name and number, but can access a whole lot more once they enter the phone tree of your credit card company or financial advisor.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Amazon vs. Apple

Amazon launched the AmazonUnbox video download service and player today, a couple of days before iTunes' video player. It's only compatible with Windows XP machines, and the downloads only play in Amazon's proprietary player (available free), so Disney's opted out. Many other providers have opted in, however, and the offerings are pretty broad. Users can either rent or "buy", but usage is severely restricted even if the download is purchased -- it can only be copied to two PCs and one handheld device. Users can copy downloads to a DVD for backup, but they won't play in a regular DVD player. Apple can't be happy at being trumped, but we'll see if Amazon's market penetration is a match for Apple's.

The Facebook Lesson

22-year-old Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg delivered the lesson of the year to college (and some high school) campuses nationwide on Tuesday when he unveiled a revamped version of his superpopular, 2-year-old social networking Web site The addition of a time-stamped "mini-feed" on each member's page detailing their Facebook mentions and activities has sparked an uproar (that's the WSJ's word) as Generation C is slapped with a reality check: there are no secrets on the Internet.

The Washingon Post bumped the issue to page A01, declaring:
Such a strong reaction in defense of privacy is rare among the teenage and twenty-something generation, which grew up in the era of public disclosure in the form of blogs, videosharing and reality television.
But no longer can Paris Hilton sneak away from a DUI arrest without TMZ on her tail and never again will a Swift Boat hoax turn the tide on an election. Everything is out on the table, and practically everyone is watching. Future presidents are already leaving their paper trail on sites like Facebook. I must congratulate Zuckerberg for providing the 9 million mostly college students who use Facebook the opportunity to look in the mirror and see firsthand just what happens when post content, photos and personal information is posted haphazardly on the Internet. Who knows his true intentions -- there is clearly no privacy violated in making it easier for users to read and create the content they signed up for. Tech marketing guru Ed Kohler agrees. So does VC Fred Wilson.

In March, Zuckerberg turned down a $750 million buyout offer and told BusinessWeek he thought Facebook was worth at least $2 billion. 85% of all college students use Facebook, according to TechCrunch, which has prompted university officials to state: "we've got alot of catching up to do" as far as keeping tabs on their students. It just got a bit easier -- and to be honest, anyone on Facebook could have already been kept track of using RSS.

I spoke to several undergrads today in an Investigative Reporting class and most were shaken by the turn of events. Very few if any in the 14-person class had used MySpace, flickr, or even But they all use Facebook. The student editors of the Daily Trojan penned a column this week echoing the Facebook wake-up-call: "[B]eyond this lies a simple issue of privacy: How much of your most personal information do you want accessible to anyone who goes, or went, to USC?"

More than anything else, the Facebook lesson helps to define how important issues of privacy and of checks and balances on information sharing are as we move forward in the digital age.

A Day Without Facebook protest blog
Facebook User Groups: Students for Changing the Post Mini-Feed World, The Coalition to Stop Facebook, Stalker Edition
USAToday blog asks: "Has Facebook turned into Big Brother?"
IvyLeak: "WSJ Sends Embedded Journalists to Cover Impending Facebook Coup"

Pirates at the MPAA

Ampersand points to a Bitch Magazine interview with Kirby Dick, director of the This Film is Not Yet Rated, now playing at a theatre near you.

The film lambasts the MPAA for its well-known rating system, first implemented in 1968 by Jack Valenti. But, in the Bitch interview, Dick reveals that the MPAA -- anti-piracy champion it purports to be -- can be pretty casual about distributing illegal copies in-house. Kirby Dick:

Before I submitted the film, I called up the administration of the ratings board, and I said, “Can you assure me that there will be no copies made of this?” And they assured me, in writing, in e-mail, and on the phone, that not only would no copies be made, but that only the raters would see it. Well, I subsequently learned that an MPAA attorney had seen it. I learned that [MPAA president] Dan Glickman had seen it…

I got a call from an MPAA attorney who said “Look, Kirby, I have to tell you, we have made a copy of your film. But you don’t have to worry, because it’s safe in my vault.” [Laughs.] I can tell you that wasn’t reassuring. In a way I wasn’t surprised, but on the other hand, there’s such hypocrisy there. The MPAA has launched this huge antipiracy campaign, and on their website they define even one act of unauthorized duplication of material as piracy. And that’s exactly what they did.

I'm looking forward to checking this one out. Class field trip, anyone?

Watch the trailer.

Liz Losh highly recommends it here.
Other blogs commenting on This Film is Not Yet Rated here.

source: "Please Call and Report This Copyright Thief!"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

USC's GeoDec Project: At the Crux of 3D Visualization and Privacy Concerns

The Geospatial Decision Making visualization/simulation project is one of many research focii at the University of Southern California's Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC). GeoDec conflates various data on a 3D desktop application which extends upon Google Earth-like technology to provide advanced temporal data integration.

The inherent value of innovations like GeoDec as journalistic tools are rivaled by the intense privacy issues they present as online, desktop and handheld applications on the cutting-edge of 3D visualization and real-time multimedia data.

GeoDec as a technology and concept is mind-baffling, difficult to describe in English, and worthy of poignant headaches in my aim to comprehend it. I admire the work of the numerous faculty, staff and countless hours/years several Ph.D. students have invested in the project and their willingness to teach me about it. (list of people involved here).

One example of GeoDec in action is real-time tracking of USC's tram system on a 3D virtual map of the campus. Where is the most convenient tram to my location right now? This is infinitely useful data -- not only as applied to transportation, but as applied to, let's say, mashing up video and sensory data of a live wildfire with real-time weather conditions, etc, to predict its path.

But when it comes to real-time -- and video -- privacy alarms abound. No matter how much grant and research money is infused into such innovation, it's impossible to look past the intrusion issues. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. I'm not gonna look it up nor do I really wants to know how many cameras would capture me while strolling the streets of Los Angeles, London, or New York. Granted, much of the video is eventually scrapped and even more is never seen by a human eye.

But with the GeoDec interface, it is possible to call up specific geographic areas or points and view a time lapse video stream for a given time period. A 360 degree shot of Disney Hall, archived and animated -- you can get that from Google Earth. But a 360 shot of the Coliseum after the USC-Nebraska game with live video -- this is where GeoDec gets, lets just say, provocative.

I'm interested in thoughts and feedback, as well as suggestions for deeper research -- both for the GeoDec team, and for my dissection of exactly what the project means to the future of journalism.

Web site:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Open Source Blogging in Israel

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported earlier today on a new initative related to open source blogging in Israel.
Shachar Shemesh, an open source activist and blogger, wrote a plug-in for Wordpress which enables Israeli bloggers to migrate from the popular blog authoring site , which is a proprietary blogging site owned by the Israeli company Nana to the open source based authoring tool Wordpress. His piece of software is downloadable from the Hebrew website and opens new possibilities for Israeli bloggers, allowing them to migrate their successful blogs to an independent non-proprietary environment. According to what we heard in class today from Jason Schulz, this would have probably been unlawful in the U.S, but since the discussion about an Israeli DMCA is still in its infancy, we will have to see if Nana will sue and on what basis.

Hebrew link:

Report from Broadcast Treaty meeting at USPTO

As mentioned in today's class, an inter-industry group opposed to the Broadcast Treaty attended a USPTO round-table on the US participation in the Treaty. Public Knowledge's Gigi Sohn has a great report on the session:

[NAB Senior Associate General Counsel Ben Ivins] then accused those of us who think that the US delegation should not be making US laws overseas of essentially being xenophobes who are pushing the US view of broadcasting and copyright on the rest of the world. Funny, I thought the US delegation usually pushing the US view of the world in trade and WIPO negotiations.


America to US gov't - Kill the Broadcast Treaty!

An incredibly diverse coalition of high-powered public interest groups, industry associations, and corporations have signed an open letter to the US Patent and Trademark Office rejecting the "Broadcast Treaty," a US-led UN initiative that could do untold harm to artists, tech and telecoms companies, scholars, and people with disabilities.

Under the Broadcast Treaty, fair use, Creative Commons and the public domain would be trumped by the "broadcast right," which would be owned by the broadcaster of works. If you got a copy of a work over the air or over the Web that copyright would let you use (because it was in the public domain, because it was factual, or even because the creator had granted you permission), you'd still need to seek permission from the "caster," who would get a 50-year monopoly over the re-use of copies of the works it transmitted.

The proposal to extend this to the Web could put YouTube, Google Video, and innovative podcaster services out of business, by banning or restricting the way that these companies re-use each others' materials. And if you're a podcaster accustomed to lifting other podcasters' material and pasting it into your podcasts, you'll need permission from the company that hosts the podcasts, not just permission from the creator.

The Webcasting provision has been underwritten by Yahoo and Microsoft, whose advocates at the UN work tirelessly to keep the US on-track in pushing the rest of the world to taking it on board. The rest of the world doesn't want Webcasting, but it keeps sneaking back into the treaty, over howls of protests from artists and major governments.

Now some of Yahoo and Microsoft's competitors have woken up to the fact that they're about to get their lunches eaten for them and have signed onto a letter asking the USPTO to quit handing their doom to a couple of companies.

The letter's signatories are wonderful, ranging from AT&T and Verizon to Yale, to Dell and Intel, and library associations from the medical librarians to the law librarians and more. Also on the list are TiVo, EFF, Panasonic, H-P, the US musicians' managers, and many others.

Home and personal networking. Under the current draft of the treaty, the broad scope of the proposed rights, combined with proposed additional rights regarding technological protection measures (TPMs) in connection with these rights, raises questions about whether “casters” would gain the ability to control signals in the home or personal network environment. Such control is without precedent and would interfere with the rollout of broadband and home and personal networking services and limit the development of innovative devices that provide home and personal networking functionality. Accordingly, the treaty should include a provision excluding coverage of fixations, transmissions or retransmissions across a home or personal network. Further, we should note that many of our group believe that TPM provisions are inappropriate in connection with this treaty and should be excluded from the treaty entirely.


Mysterious Flash video DRM

A company claims to have developed an anti-copying system for Flash video, but doesn't offer any details on how it proposes to accomplish this unlikely task:

The ACP - Anti Caching Protection from Onlinelib allows webcasters to protected their Content with a DRM - Digital Rights Management System. Basic System is the VCS - Video Communication Server from Onlinelib.


(Thanks, Jens!)

New Zealand wants a Minstry of DRM

The New Zealand government has concluded a consultation on DRM, trusted computing and government and written a set of principles that they hope governments around the world will follow. The principles describe a theoretical DRM that governments could use without threatening their own security, ongoing access to information, archiving and public privacy.

They suggest that DRM vendors should be forced to disclose all the workings of their DRMs, limit the way that their DRMs communicate with the rest of the world, work even when the Internet is down or the vendor's gone out of business, and so on.

They also call for the creation of a Ministry of DRM that keeps keys and master documents for everything the government puts under DRM, and suggests that this ministry should police all DRM use within government.

One thing that's notable by its absence is any discussion of DRM and open source. While New Zealand's official policy is to encourage the use of open source in government, the consultation (which was fed by MIcrosoft, HP and IBM) makes no mention of the disastrous impact of DRM on open source.

DRM relies on its owners not knowing how it works and not being able to change how it works. If I give you a song that can only be played on five computers, it defeats the point if you can change that to 50,000 computers. But the point of open source is that it is better for society, individuals, and competition if anyone who cares to can discover how her tools work, improve those tools, and publish her improvements.

By deciding that it will accept DRM over its threshold -- instead of using traditional proven security and open standards -- the New Zealand government is setting up a situation where New Zealanders and NZ businesses will have to license software from foreign software companies before they can do business with government.

If you're an NZ programmer and want to make software to help your neighbors work with the documents that your government publishes, getting into the DRM will require you to close your source, license secrets from foreign DRM vendors, and submit to a "compliance" system that makes sure your work meets the business-priorities of foreign companies.


(Thanks, Steve!)

Is it legal to look at the Web in Canada?

Michael Geist examines two warring proposals for ensuring that Canadian schools' use of the Internet is lawful and concludes that both of them cause more harm than they prevent. On the one hand, Access Canada proposes to collect fees from schools for just looking at the web, a license shakedown that would treat all educational use as a copyright infringement unless you'd paid them for permission to turn on your web-browser.

A seemingly better proposal comes from CMEC, which represents Canada's education ministries: they say that Canadian copyright should be rewritten to carve out a new exception for schools' educational use of the Web.

But Geist shows that this latter proposal comes with lots of potential for harm. If schools need an exception to copyright to look at the Web, what does that say about uses of the Web in businesses, homes, libraries, home tutoring outfits, and elsewhere? Surely reading and studying published documents should be lawful for everyone, not just schools.

Another risk is that the US entertainment companies' reps in Canada will use this "generous loosening" of copyright law as the basis for a Canadian version of the DMCA, the US law that has sent researchers to jail and let the entertainment companies invent new private copyright laws that you can't violate without being sued.

Geist has been tracking this Canadian DMCA proposal with his 30 days of DRM series, an exhaustive look at the Canadian DMCA proposal and the harm it will bring down if the Tories pass it as they have promised to do.


(Thanks, Michael!)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Movie studios vs. bloggers

On KCRW's "The Business" today (the podcast will be up soon), panelists talked about the online tug of war going on between movie studios' marketing departments and bloggers. Movie studios had started noticing that, with all the online chatter about movies for months before they came out, lots of people who might otherwise have gone to see their films were just sick of hearing about them already and stayed home on release weekend. To combat this trend, New Line clamped down on information leaks about "Snakes on a Plane," hoping to create the bulk of the buzz during the month directly preceding the film's release. They also didn't screen it for critics, except for the premiere the night before it hit theaters. (Those who saw it then gave it overwhelmingly positive reviews, according to Tom Tapp of Hollywood Wiretap.) This, of course, didn't prevent bloggers excited by the premise from writing about the film. After a precisely timed, traditional periodicals/billboards/TV ads campaign, the first weekend numbers for "Snakes on a Plane" were disappointing. Turns out the only people who went to see the film were those bloggers and their buddies. (They'll all watch it on cable and buy the DVD, too.) Now movie studios are trying to devise better ways of controlling and utilizing bloggers and their influence on the entertainment journalists who use bloggers' tips to fill their own columns. Not only do studios want/need to control what happens to their products once they're released on an unsuspecting public, but they want to use their muscle and deep pockets to control what we say and when we say it about them, too. They already do this with the press when they embargo information till a certain date (and try to limit that information to outlets that will be favorable to them). Is it possible that, one day in a near and ominous future, bloggers will be blamed for a film's failure? Will studios try to find a way to hold individuals financially accountable? That's one way this could go: a very scary way. But in light of studios' virulent attacks on filesharing, it doesn't seem improbable to me.