March 15, 2004

Poindexter’s TIA Keeps on Rollin’ [10:26 pm]

Privacy Safeguards Deep-Sixed

Two computer projects designed to preserve the privacy of Americans were quietly killed while Congress was restricting Pentagon data-gathering research in a widely publicized effort to protect citizens from futuristic anti-terrorism tools.

As a result, the government is quietly pressing ahead with research into high-powered computer data-mining technology without the two most advanced privacy protections developed to police those terror-fighting tools.

[...] Poindexter’s new software tools, far more powerful than existing commercial products, would have allowed government agents to quickly scan the private commercial transactions and personal health records of millions of Americans and foreigners for telltale signs of terrorist activity.

Partly to appease critics, Poindexter also was developing two privacy tools that would have concealed names on records during the scans. Only if agents discovered concrete evidence of terrorist activities would they have been permitted to learn the identities of the people whose records aroused suspicion.

One privacy project worked with Poindexter’s Genisys program, which scanned government and commercial records for terrorist planning. The other was part of his Bio-ALIRT program, which scanned private health records for evidence of biological attacks.

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News.Com Followup On the MPAA/CA Atty Gen’l Link [9:51 pm]

(See P2P, A ‘Dangerous Product’)

P2P faces new legal scrutiny from states

Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar did not directly confirm or deny the authorship of the document, which was apparently leaked to file-swapping companies last week. Lockyer and other state attorneys general are gathering in Washington, D.C., this week for their spring meeting.

But Dresslar acknowledged that his boss is investigating peer-to-peer networks. “The attorney general has several concerns related to peer-to-peer file sharing, including exposure of kids to pornography, identity theft, viruses and copyright infringement. He’s asked for ideas and suggestions on how to address those concerns and is working with his colleagues in other states to address the concerns.”

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said it had discussed the matter with Lockyer’s office and agreed with the views of the letter. MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor said, “They did approach us, and we provided some background.”

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Wippitt Update [10:35 am]

From The Register: Wippit adds 10,000 BMG tracks to catalogue

British-based commercial P2P music company Wippit will begin selling Bertelsmann Music Group’s back catalogue through its upcoming pay-per-download digital music service.

[...] Building up those big name connections will be essential if Wippit’s to compete with the likes of Apple and Napster, both due to launch in Europe this year. Apple is believed to be preparing a pan-European roll-out, while Napster is focusing on the UK.

To date, the only pan-European legal online music service will support from all the major labels is OD2 which late last year added a download offering to its subscription service. Wippit is some way away from that - while it has a licence to sell EMI tracks throughout Europe, BMG has only granted the company UK and Ireland distribution rights.

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Off-Topic: Slate on Nike’s Ad Campaign [10:21 am]

I’ve enjoyed this ad; it just captures a great idea about athleticism. This Slate review is a really good discussion of it, as well as the techniques that went into it: Trading Places: In Nike’s alternate sporting universe, Serena spikes, Marion vaults, and Agassi plays short

According to published accounts, the athletes in the ad actually performed many of the feats you see—they spent hours working with trainers to get things perfect. So that’s really Serena Williams spiking that volleyball, and that’s really Agassi bare-handing a bounding grounder.

Update: Press release from Lance Armstrong’s www site; CNN Money article

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David Berlind Speculates on SCO [10:11 am]

With the weird sealed agreements between AT&T and BSDi (and another with Sun), he raises the peculiar possibility that there never was anything that could be owned when it came to Unix: Could Sun hold a key to SCO’s future?.

So far, the potential of the sealed settlement to confirm or deny the enforceability of the original IPR, perhaps short-circuiting the entire case, is nothing new amongst the cases’ most fervent observers. What hasn’t been discussed is whether another “sealed” document that could be equally damaging to SCO’s case might exist. For example, a document that, on the basis of other contributions made to AT&T’s Unix System V, gives the contributor(s) rights to the Unix IPR that are equivalent to or perhaps even more expansive than the hall pass that UC Berkeley acquired in its settlement with Novell. If such rights were awarded to yet another contributor besides UC Berkeley, then those rights could end up shattering SCO’s claims.

I’m almost certain that such a contributor exists–Sun Microsystems. Although the company won’t officially confirm or deny my theory, I came across some old notes in which Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s executive vice president for software, discussed the “extremely expansive” rights to Unix that the company acquired 10 years earlier, in 1994.

[...] By now you might be asking, “What are the implications relative to SCO’s legal claims?” Schwartz’s usage of the term “expansive” to describe the rights to Unix that Sun acquired in 1994 is a fairly strong hint that its rights go beyond that of a typical licensing agreement. If I were on Sun’s executive team in 1993, and I saw how, on the basis of the contributions to Unix made by UC Berkeley, the code was about to become permanently unencumbered by USL’s IPR, I would be asking the following question: If UC Berkeley’s contribution to Unix essentially stripped USL of its enforceable rights, couldn’t the same be said of Sun’s contribution to SVR4? In light of that, knowing that Novell’s possession of USL (and its IPR) offered no assurances as to where the IPR might one day end up, now would be a good time for Sun to permanently secure some rights to Unix that, as a contributor, were equally if not more expansive than the ones UC Berkeley was getting. After all, who knows what hands the IPR might eventually end up in and what sort of aggressively litigious posture they might take?

I look forward to seeing what GrokLaw makes of this.

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Epstein on IP [9:53 am]

From the FT new economy policy forum, Prof. Richard Epstein: Richard A. Epstein: Can IP survive its critics?

[...] The right response to the current challenges to IP rights is to admit that they necessarily curtail ordinary liberty and necessarily limit public access to some commons. But that concession does not make the case against IP rights any more than it makes the case against tangible forms of property. What it does is to shift the debate to the justification: the human happiness that IP rights are able to generate. The simple argument is that today our intellectual commons does not look like a barren and untended field. It is populated by inventions and writings, many of which only saw the light of day under the stimulus supplied by a regime of strong IP rights. We have to keep those innovations coming.

Making this claim does not entail that we treat IP rights as infinite in duration (although that makes sense for trade names and trade marks) or absolute in scope. But most emphatically, it requires that we recognise that any careful inquiry into the balance between private and common property does not always come out in favour of the latter here, any more than with tangible property, where both sorts of regimes exist side by side. At this point, incrementalism in debates over IP makes eminent sense, for the heterogeneity of IP rights should make everyone cautious about extravagant claims in either direction. The only positions that we can reject with complete confidence are the corner solutions that treat all IP rights as though they were as unassailable as one’s private castle or as free and open as the air. The improvement of IP will not come from grand pronouncements, but from a close attention to the incentive effects, the foreclosure effects and the administrative costs of various legal regimes. At first glance, the untidy compromises in the current IP law may look inelegant. Yet, just for that reason, they are closer to the social optimum than any polar position we might embrace.

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NYTimes Articles [9:41 am]

(I can’t get to their RSS feed this AM, so I want to put these all together so I can update the links to the long-term ones when it comes back — sorry for the reversion to old-style FurdLog postings

Update: UserLand changed the URLs of their NYTimes feeds. Back in business.)

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Webcasting Rules Summary [8:42 am]

For those of you who weren’t prepared to slog through the CFR listed in this posting last week, here’s a summary from Wired News: Webcasters to Report and Pay

Although the record-keeping requirements (PDF) will be onerous for many small-scale webcasters, the rules are more or less what music-streaming sites were expecting, said Brian Zisk, technologies director for the Future of Music Coalition.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” he said, noting that the Recording Industry Association of America had been pushing for requirements that would force webcasters to name every performer on a track.

Instead, starting April 12, the Copyright Office wants digital audio services to record six items of information for each track they play: the station name, track title, artist, album, type of transmission and the number of performances played. As in the broadcast industry, Internet radio stations will be required to record playlists for two weeks every three months, a system known as sampling.

“It’s much more stringent than, say, the college broadcasters were hoping for,” Zisk said. “But for someone with an Internet radio station with a big automated database, it’s not that big a deal.”

[...] “Now that the last piece has been put in place, we’ll be looking carefully at who’s complying and who’s not complying and what actions we need to take to make sure that people follow the law,” he [John Simpson of SoundExchange] said, adding that SoundExchange will probably start by writing letters to webcasters who aren’t complying with royalty-payment rules. Lawsuits may follow.

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BitTorrent & RSS - Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together [8:30 am]

Ernest Miller’s been writing about this for a couple of days; now it’s been picked up at Wired News: Speed Meets Feed in Download Tool

Andrew Grumet, a freelance Web consultant, posted instructions for his demo system on his weblog. Grumet’s demo consists of one small piece of software: an upgrade for the Radio RSS reader that enables it to use BitTorrent to automatically download enormous files — in the case of Grumet’s demo, a set of public-domain music recordings listed on the LegalTorrents website.

“The idea is that the files you subscribe to download overnight, so you get on your computer in the morning, and they’re already there,” said Grumet, whose background includes a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, plus a stint at now-defunct Web development firm ArsDigita.

“I could wake up in the morning and find the latest recordings from my favorite band loaded into my portable MP3 player, and just pick it up and go.”

[...] Grumet claimed that by connecting RSS to BitTorrent, he solved the problem using two programs with which many Net enthusiasts are already familiar. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing system that optimizes bandwidth usage to enable its users to take full advantage of broadband connections, downloading a DVD’s worth of data in hours rather than days.

Update: Slasdot discussion: RSS And BitTorrent, Together At Last

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P2P, A ‘Dangerous Product’ [8:23 am]

Who’s Teaming Up Against P2P?

A draft letter purportedly circulated by Bill Lockyer to fellow state attorneys general characterizes P2P software as a “dangerous product” and describes the failure of technology makers to warn consumers of those dangers as a deceptive trade practice.

The draft document, dated February 26, was obtained by Wired News on March 12. Distribution of a revised version to other attorneys general is said to coincide with the spring meeting in Washington, DC, March 15 to 17 of the National Association of Attorneys General, of which Lockyer is President. The attorney general’s office plans to release a final version publicly within the coming month, after obtaining additional signatories.

[...] However, the metadata associated with the Microsoft Word document indicates it was either drafted or reviewed by a senior vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America. According to this metadata (automatically generated by the Word application), the document’s author or editor is “stevensonv.” (The metadata of a document is viewable through the File menu under Properties.)

Sources tell Wired News that the draft letter’s authorship is attributed to Vans Stevenson, the MPAA’s senior vice president for state legislative affairs. MPAA representatives have issued similar criticisms of P2P technology in the past. Mr. Stevenson could not be reached by press time for comment.

The document proposes an unprecedented legal theory with regard to peer-to-peer file-sharing services. If P2P software can be used to violate law, the argument goes, its makers should be obligated to incorporate a warning on the product or face liability for deceptive trade practices.

[...] “It’s one thing for the MPAA to come up with a theory like that,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation senior intellectual property attorney Fred Von Lohmann, “But it would be quite another for a state attorney general to adopt it. The principle has no limit — you can use Internet Explorer to violate the law or unintentionally access pornography, so does he want to suggest that Microsoft is also breaking the law? Why stop at the Internet — should Ford be held liable for failing to warn drivers that exceeding the speed limit will expose them to citations?”

Slashdot discussion: MPAA Puts Words in Mouth of CA Attorney General

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