October 14, 2003

Government Information Awareness Site [7:05 pm]

The GIA site at MIT gets some coverage in New Scientist - Citizens strike back in intelligence war

With the recent demise of the Bush administration’s controversial Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA) programme to monitor everyone in the US, citizens now have a chance to get their own back. A website to be launched later in 2003 will allow people to post information about the activities of government organisations, officials and the judiciary.

The two MIT researchers behind the project face one serious problem: how to protect themselves against legal action should any of the postings prove false. The answer, they say, is to borrow a technique from the underground music-swapping community.

Instead of storing the data in one place, they plan to distribute it around the internet in a similar way to the notorious Napster software that got music file-sharing under way. Just like TIA, the new website, called Government Information Awareness (GIA), is designed to collect snippets of information to build a database that can later be searched to reveal patterns of suspicious behaviour.

The Slashdot discussion, GIA to use P2P to Avoid Litigaton, is so far largely directed toward asking how to avoid turning such a project into a breeding ground for the worst of the conspiracy theorists. The Slashdot moderation system, unsurprisingly, is suggested.

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Mellon Grant to Reinvent Wheel? [6:58 pm]

From the PSU Daily Collegian: New grant could enable PSU file-sharing program

The grant, awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will allow the university to develop a technology called LionShare, a file-sharing system that requires students to log in each time.

The program is being designed as a way for students, faculty and staff to exchange personal and academic materials on a sanctioned, secure peer-to-peer network. Another advantage is that large files, which would be impossible to send via e-mail or another method, can be shared.

[...] LionShare will be a similar technology to those illegal peer-to-peer networks; however, it would be impossible for students to use it anonymously.

The system is authenticated, meaning students would log in every time they used it.

Only authorized faculty, staff and students could access files, and each transaction is logged, creating a permanent record of shared files.

[...] The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of British Columbia are also involved in the project, and ultimately, the program will enable Penn State staff members to work with colleagues from other institutions using shared resources.

The Slashdot discussion, Universities Developing Internal, Controlled P2P System, asks the obvious question, which is how is this novel, exactly? However, if we layer onto this the fact that PSU and MIT are among those universities that have been considering setting up special relationships with the RIAA to allow for music file sharing for a fee, the rationale for this approach becomes a little less murky.

Of course, there’s still the same question that the iTunes, etc. of the world face — how to make it attractive enough to sacrifice the opportunities and features of the other distribution systems.

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Another Wrongly Filed RIAA Lawsuit? [12:13 pm]

Donna points out that the EFF has a new client: Oops, They Did it Again. She also points to an LA Times article: Group Contends Record Labels Have Wrong Guy [pdf]

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation on Monday asked lawyers for three record labels to drop their suit against 35-year-old Web site designer Ross Plank, asserting that he is the second target of 261 high-profile suits who is the victim of mistaken identity.

[...] Plank said his first warning came when his Internet access provider, Comcast Corp., notified him that it had been subpoenaed about his alleged song sharing. Because Plank doesn’t use any of the file-swapping networks, he figured it was a mass mailing and threw the notice away.

Weeks later, a reporter called and told him he’d been sued. Plank thought then that someone else could have been using his home-office computer to post songs.

Both Plank and his fiancee use the machine in their business, and Plank has a wireless network that allows his roommate and even neighbors in his condominium complex to get online.

[...] Plank said he found out his computer had been using a different Internet address at least since May, before the date cited in the subpoena.

Plank and the foundation said it’s unclear whether the record companies had an incorrect IP address or whether Comcast turned over the wrong name.

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Here’s an Image [11:23 am]

From Forbes, a highly perjorative look at the Free Software Foundation: Linux’s Hit Men [pdf]. Note that what really seems to steam the Forbes writer is that the FSF doesn’t seem to care about money — what kind of nuts are these people, anyway?

For months, in secret, the Free Software Foundation, a Boston-based group that controls the licensing process for Linux and other “free” programs, has been making threats to Cisco Systems (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people ) and Broadcom (nasdaq: BRCM - news - people ) over a networking router that runs the Linux operating system.

The router is made by Linksys, a company Cisco acquired in June. It lets you hook computers together on a wireless Wi-Fi network, employing a high-speed standard called 802.11g. Aimed at home users, the $129 device has been a smash hit, selling 400,000 units in the first quarter of this year alone.

But now there’s a problem. The Linux software in the router is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which the Free Software Foundation created in 1991.

Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software’s source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any “derivative works” you’ve created–even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.

Not great news if you’re Cisco, which paid $500 million for Linksys. In Cisco’s case, it’s even trickier, because the disputed code resides on chips that Linksys buys from Broadcom. So now Cisco is caught between the Free Software Foundation and one of its big suppliers.

[...] In some ways, these Free Software Foundation “enforcement actions” can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money–say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn’t want royalties–it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

Or maybe, as some suggest, the foundation wants GPL-covered code to creep into commercial products so it can use GPL to force open those products. Kuhn says that’s nuts–”pure propaganda rhetoric.” But he concedes that his foundation hates the way companies like Oracle (nasdaq: ORCL - news - people ) and Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) generate billions of dollars by selling software licenses. “We’d like people to stop selling proprietary software. It’s bad for the world,” Kuhn says.

[...] Such a pity, comrade.

Hmmm - Oracle and Microsoft "generate" software revenue? What do they have, printing presses?

Slashdot discussion: The FSF, Linux’s Hit Men

In addition to the general complaints about the sheer audacity of the propaganda in this article, there’s this great comment:

Re:Great quote: (Score:4, Insightful)

by fermion (181285) on Tuesday October 14, @10:11AM (#7208360)

(Last Journal: Saturday October 04, @11:52PM)

I find this real interesting because I would think Forbes would be pro IP. For instance, do they support the RIAA? I guess they do not. Music for all practical intents and purposes is free. If someone buys music, it is out of a respect for laws and various contracts that says we buy goods and services. We have always been able to get music for free, it is just easier now. The fact that music sales have remained as high as they have, in spite of music being freely available, in spite of the RIAA attacking customers and potential customers, in spite of the economy being in such a slump that many people have no money.

And does Forbes believe in EULA that says you must have a license for each machine or each processor? I guess not. After all, the consequences to businesses for violating these agreements are extreme. A company with several PCs and lacking a single license for the MS software could be a great deal of trouble. And the gestapo tactics of the BSA audits and spy software certainly cannot be good a corporation.

Many of these adults remind me so much of adolescents who want to pick and choose the rules. The GPL is disclosed up front and a person chooses to use the GPL code or not. If they choose to used it and violate the license, there are consequences, just like any other violation. It is childish to say after the fact that the rules are unfair. The rules were agreed to when the software was used. And unlike some other software or music licenses, there is no element of constraint or duress, and the GPL has no element of unreasonable restrictions of rights.

The fact is that corporations want others to pay for their worthless products, but refuse the same in return. We have seen this with the RIAA and expensive industry reports. I have seen this with guys make 100K a year but only go to movies when they are free. And we see this know with companies that steal code but complain when others do the same.

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Some News from The Register [11:14 am]

A couple of tales

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Poor Jack Valenti [7:20 am]

Another good idea about movie piracy upsets a constituency — only this time, it’s his constituency! Lobbyist Said to Plan Talks

The motion picture lobbyist Jack Valenti, who incited a firestorm in Hollywood with an edict banning DVD’s or videotapes from being sent to Academy Award voters in an effort to combat piracy, plans to talk with the heads of several big studios this week to discuss whether the ban should be revised, according to three executives apprised of the meeting.

Mr. Valenti, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, will hold a conference call with representatives of Warner Brothers Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, among others. Although it is unlikely the ban on DVD’s and videotapes will be reversed completely, it is the first time since the controversy erupted that studio chiefs have jointly discussed its effect on the awards season.

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Software/Business Method Patents [7:17 am]

Two stories this morning:

  • CNet News: Microsoft sued over music downloads

    E-Data, a Long Island-based company that’s focused largely on licensing its patents, contends that Microsoft, Internet service provider Tiscali and digital music company OD2 are collectively trespassing on its rights with their new music download services, recently released in several European countries. E-Data is asking that the services, variously called MSN Music Club and Tiscali Music Club, be shut down until a patent licensing deal is worked out.

  • Also at CNet News: Amazon wins patent for ordering forms - I’m afraid that even my crude efforts in HTML/PHP forms might infringe on some piece of this!

    In its latest patent, the online retailing giant outlined a method for expanding portions of the ordering form, then collapsing that portion of the form and removing the data fields. The content for that particular section of the form would then be displayed again.

    The patent, filed in September 1997 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, also described a method for editing content on the order form and redisplaying the information in the section after the changes have been made, according to a copy of the patent.

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Will Apple’s iTunes Success Translate to x86? [7:11 am]

Wired News suggests it’s too late: Will It Fly? Apple Tunes on PCs. Of course, it’s based on analysis by Rob Enderle, notorious Microsoft apologist.

Yet now, some analysts say that while iTunes for Windows may be just the thing for fans, it may be coming too late for the broader market. There are already similar services for Windows users, such as MusicMatch, already entrenched and another called BuyMusic. File-swapping service Napster has resurrected itself as a pay service, now under a parent company, Roxio.

“They’re going to have a serious problem with the Windows community,” said Rob Enderle, principal of market research firm the Enderle Group. “If they could have gone there first, they could have carved out a beachhead.”

Plus, a little economic data

[Lehman Brothers analyst Dan] Niles estimates that Apple keeps about 30 cents from each 99-cent song sold, before credit card transaction costs, which he said are high as a percentage of revenue, up to 4 percent.

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Archival Issues Not Just For Movies [7:08 am]

Wired News recounts the difficulties under current copyright law facing those who want to preserve software classics: Fighting to Preserve Old Programs. Brewster Kahl and the Internet Archive.

That’s why Kahle and his nonprofit Internet Archive have petitioned the U.S. Copyright Office about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which governs the circumvention of anti-piracy measures. Kahle’s organization is seeking exemptions from DMCA provisions that prohibit the archiving of software titles. If the Copyright Office says no, Kahle fears millions of programs eventually will be lost forever.

“Though a cave painting in pigment on rock may survive millions of years without any action on the part of archivists, the same is not true of digital works,” wrote Kahle and several others in their DMCA exemption request (PDF) to the Copyright Office. “In this way, the digital record is endangered by any passage of time without its active maintenance. Mere neglect of the proper transfer and translation of these works over time destroys them for all of history.”

Derek points out that there’s nothing in the law that says you can’t circumvent copy protection, just that you can’t traffic in that circumvention. Ernest Miller points out in a comment that courts, however, have interpreted “access control” circumvention as illegal under the DMCA, so there is some exemption required for the Internet Archive to accomplish its goals.

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