August 28, 2004

WIPO Broadcast Treaty [3:20 pm]

Broadcast Treaty Battle Rages On

An international treaty to give broadcasters the right to control who may record, transmit, or distribute their signals is reaching a crucial stage of negotiation by the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.

The current draft (PDF) incorporates many proposals, but the main ones most countries agree on give broadcasters 50 years’ worth of legal control over the recording, retransmission, and reproduction of their broadcast signals. These rights are separate from those of the owners of the actual content being broadcast.

[...] The idea that broadcasters should have rights enabling them to combat signal piracy is relatively uncontentious. Opponents such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Union for the Public Domain are concerned, however, that broadcast rights might lock up materials that should be freely available to the public.

Cory Doctorow, the London-based European Affairs Coordinator for the EFF, highlights two additional sources of worry. First, the US, represented in Geneva by the Patent Office, is demanding that the treaty include webcasting. If that proposal should pass, broadcast rights could apply to anything downloaded from any Web site, making it impossible to be sure whether even open-source software wasn’t covered.

Second, Doctorow said, one proposal in the draft treaty requires that receivers, defined as any device that can decrypt broadcasts, must incorporate technology to protect those broadcasts. As currently drafted, he believes that would include general-purpose computers.

See Ernest’s criticisms in Explain to Me Again Why We Need the Broadcast Flag Treaty

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Posner on the 9/11 Report [3:11 pm]

The 9/11 Report: A Dissent

The narrative points to something different, banal and deeply disturbing: that it is almost impossible to take effective action to prevent something that hasn’t occurred previously. Once the 9/11 attacks did occur, measures were taken that have reduced the likelihood of a recurrence. But before the attacks, it was psychologically and politically impossible to take those measures. The government knew that Al Qaeda had attacked United States facilities and would do so again. But the idea that it would do so by infiltrating operatives into this country to learn to fly commercial aircraft and then crash such aircraft into buildings was so grotesque that anyone who had proposed that we take costly measures to prevent such an event would have been considered a candidate for commitment. [...]

So the report ends on a flat note. But one can sympathize with the commission’s problem. To conclude after a protracted, expensive and much ballyhooed investigation that there is really rather little that can be done to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks beyond what is being done already, at least if the focus is on the sort of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past rather than on the newer threats of bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, would be a real downer — even a tad un-American. Americans are not fatalists. When a person dies at the age of 95, his family is apt to ascribe his death to a medical failure. When the nation experiences a surprise attack, our instinctive reaction is not that we were surprised by a clever adversary but that we had the wrong strategies or structure and let’s change them and then we’ll be safe. Actually, the strategies and structure weren’t so bad; they’ve been improved; further improvements are likely to have only a marginal effect; and greater dangers may be gathering of which we are unaware and haven’t a clue as to how to prevent.

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