Phil Greenspun on the HBS “Hack”

Business schools redefine hacking to “stuff that a 7-year-old could do” [via Ernie]

  • The ApplyYourself code had a bug such that editing the URL in the “Address” or “Location” field of a Web browser window would result in an applicant being able to find out his admissions status several weeks before the official notification date. This would be equivalent to a 7-year-old being offered a URL of the form http://philip.greenspun.com/images/20030817-utah-air-to-air/ and editing it down to http://philip.greenspun.com/images/ to see what else of interest might be on the server.

  • Someone figured this out and posted the URL editing idea on the BusinessWeek discussion forum, where all B-school hopefuls hang out and a bunch of curious applicants tried it out.

  • Now all the curious applicants, having edited their URLs, are being denied admission to Harvard and, due to the fact that universities form cartels to fix tuition prices and other policies, presumably to the other B-schools as well.

If this was the “hack,” then these schools have no business asserting that anything “unethical” happened – heck, I do the same sort of URL-probing all the time. As Phil puts it:

The HBS/ApplyYourself situation falls into the “poking around with a browser” category where you get to see stuff but the Web publisher hasn’t been injured because they still have the stuff on their server (one of the strange characteristics of the digital age). As progressively dumber programmers build progressively more complex systems we will see more of this kind of attempt to paper over coding mistakes with lawyers, sanctions, policies, and laws. Hollywood and the RIAA are usually the most successful at getting the government to do their bidding. Thus I predict that one day Disney will have a Web site where you can buy access to any of their movies. Because all of their profits are being used to pay executive salaries this will have to be built at extremely low cost. Deficiencies in the softwrae will enable vast numbers of Americans to download Bambi for free, their ISPs will be forced to rat them out, and they will all get to see Martha’s Stewart’s cell in West Virginia first hand.

Information from a commenter suggests that there’s a little more to it than Phil suggests – still lame as a “hack,” but not quite as lame. (See this, too)

Later: The NYTimes’ Not Yet in Business School, and Already Flunking Ethics

“I might feel differently if I knew that the applicants were aware that they were breaking the rules,” Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science at Princeton University, wrote in his Web log. “But I’m not sure that an applicant, on being told that his letter was already on the Web and could be accessed by constructing a particular U.R.L., would necessarily conclude that accessing it was against the rules.”

OT: David Byrne on PowerPoint

David Byrne explores the artistic possibilities of PowerPoint in Berkeley lecture [pdf]

Byrne’s lecture, “I (heart) PowerPoint,” came about in recent years after he discovered not only the software but also how to create music-and-art pieces with it. Those pieces became a book, “Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information,” which came out in 2003 and included a DVD of his miniature films.

[…] “My name’s David Byrne, and I’m going to do an introduction to PowerPoint, ” he says a bit hesitantly, to more applause. It’s pretty much the last serious sentence Byrne will speak throughout the irony-heavy, hourlong demonstration, which is accompanied by simultaneous graphics on a huge screen behind him.

He delves into various components of the software, including bullet points, using PowerPoint graphics he has found online — some of them inadvertently hilarious.

[…] And there are other examples:

Why I Dumped You:

— You lied about where you were and what you did.

— You are a crack-smoking, child-abandoning mother of two.

— You claim to have proven P = NP.

A little academic humor.

[…] Byrne is most interesting when he goes off on flights of fancy that illustrate why he is called the Renaissance man of rock. “PowerPoint is a symptom of a long train of thought that started picking up steam during the Enlightenment,” he says. “The idea was that we could name everything and draw lines that connect them.”

Apple Gets To Subpoena

Apple wins round in lawsuit against fan sites

The judge said that Apple can go ahead and obtain records from Nfox, the e-mail service provider to Mac enthusiast site PowerPage. In the ruling, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled that Apple’s interests in protecting its trade secrets outweighed the public interest in the information.

[…] California’s trade secrets law protects against the publication of private information, Kleinberg said. Although longstanding law forbids courts from preventing the publication of information, publishers are still subject to the consequences of their actions afterward, he said.

[…] “Case law shows that subpoenaing a journalist must be a last resort,” said EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl. “Apple did not use this as a last resort, but did only a perfunctory investigation before going on to subpoena the journalists.”

SFGate: Apple Wins Trade Secrets Legal Dispute [pdf]

Charlie Cooper points out the problems that Apple may reap from this: Sour Apple

The real subtext is this: Apple is directed by a collection of control freaks who would have found themselves at home in the Nixon White House.

Apple’s been an infuriating company for me to cover the last two decades or so. I adore its technology but can’t stomach its overreaching sense of entitlement. Other tech companies deal with leaks all the time. Nobody’s happy when their discussions wind up as fodder for the rumor mill. But that’s part of the give-and-take that’s defined the technology business for decades.

So why turn this into a federal case–literally? Speaking with people who know the company, they say “everything starts with Steve.”

For good and for bad.

Later, from the NYTimes: Apple Can Demand Names of Bloggers, Judge Says; Hiawatha Bray’s column Teen reporter pays price for Apple coverage [pdf]; WaPo: Apple Wins Trade Secrets Legal Dispute [pdf]

Later: BusinessWeek commentary: Memo to Apple: Lay Off Your Fans [pdf]

BPI Gets Lawsuit Go-Ahead

British court forces ISPs to reveal music sharers

The British Phonographic Industry, the music trade group, said a High Court granted an order requiring six U.K. Internet providers to reveal information about 31 people.

“Today’s result is a blow for illegal uploaders who believe that the law simply does not apply to them,” said Geoff Taylor, the BPI’s general counsel.

The group said the order gives the ISPs 14 days to provide the information. Once it has the names, the BPI said it would contact the individuals and offer them the chance to settle charges against them.

Being John Doe … and Cecilia Gonzalez (updated)

What it is today to be a John Doe defendant in an RIAA suit: Meet John Doe [pdf] [via Slashdot]

Most settlements top $3,000, and according to [the EFF’s Annalee] Newitz, some can go as high as $7,000. The RIAA wouldn’t confirm these figures, but it didn’t dispute them either. [The RIAA’s jonathan] Lamy says that of all the John Doe cases so far, “none have come to trial.” And indeed, it is hard to imagine going to trial doing much good for a hypothetical Doe, since millions of users are illegally downloading and sharing music. Frequent downloader Cecilia Gonzalez [pdf] didn’t settle against the RIAA, and on January 7, she received only a summary judgment in a U.S. District Court. Throwing out Gonzalez’s claims that she was simply “sampling” songs to see if she wished to buy them and that she was an “innocent infringer” unaware that she was violating record company copyrights, the court ordered her to pay damages of $750 for each of 30 songs she was found to have downloaded illegally, for a total of $22,500. That’s more than the poverty line income for a family of five in 2004 ($22,030), but it is worth pointing out that damages of $750 per infringement is the minimum the RIAA could have received, and that the original complaint filed against Gonzalez claimed that she had nearly 2,500 downloaded songs. Damage payments could potentially be much higher. Finally, courts have found that the “cumulative effect” of downloaders makes individual downloaders liable for damages, even if their personal downloading has only a marginal impact, so even penny-ante downloaders are potentially at risk.

[…] And downloading? Well, I’m done with it now, except for legal amazon.com freebies, but even my close friends haven’t been scared off. One scoffed at my settlement, and said that if she were sued, she’d fight the RIAA in court. For her, downloading is “civil disobedience” in protest against the legal digital music systems that just don’t have all the music she wants. Of course it’s easy to strike a rebel pose like that . . . until you become just another John Doe.

Note that I can’t find any record of the summary judgement in the Northern District of Illinois, but reading Cecilia Gonzales’ story will raise all sorts of questions:

Gonzalez’s attorney, Geoff Baker, now sees the case as something bigger than a dispute over copyright law. A founding partner of the Oak Park firm Dowell Baker, which specializes in intellectual-property matters, he’s working pro bono because he doesn’t like the record companies’ tactics. “In our view, Cecilia should have the right — does have the right — under the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution to have a jury decide whether or not she is an innocent infringer and to have a jury decide whether or not she should have to pay any damages whatsoever,” he says. In issuing a summary judgment, “the judge took that right away from her.”

[…] More important to the defense is the claim that Gonzalez used the Kazaa program to download songs she already owned on CD onto her computer. She wanted to be able to listen to them in any order, but didn’t want to manually copy her whole CD collection onto her hard drive — she and her husband own about 250. She also used Kazaa to download a few songs she didn’t own, but only to “listen to them and determine if they were something she would be interested in purchasing.” Of the roughly 1,000 songs she downloaded, Baker says, the overwhelming majority duplicated tracks on discs she’d paid for.

In her deposition, Gonzalez testified that she and her husband spent about $30 per month on CDs, and that “her ability to download music off the Internet for free did not affect how many CDs she and her husband ended up buying.” But the RIAA wasn’t interested in splitting hairs or discussing intentions. Even if Gonzalez had copied only her own CDs onto her computer, the act of making those songs available on a file-sharing network — even accidentally and for just a few days — still would’ve been illegal.

During the discovery phase, the record companies’ attorney asked to see Gonzalez’s CD collection. “I said, ‘Great, go to her house, make a list,'” says Baker. “And that was in an effort to make sure they understood that they were barking up the wrong tree here. That they were looking to go penalize one of their good customers.” Investigators photographed and catalogued each of Gonzalez’s CDs; Baker claims that the record companies narrowed their suit to include just 30 songs after realizing they’d weaken their case by pursuing judgments on downloaded music Gonzalez already owned. “If they could have gone after her on summary judgment on the other 1,000 songs, don’t you think they would have?” he says. RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy puts a different spin on the decision: “We moved on a smaller number so that any recovery would be modest, and to be as fair and reasonable as possible.”

[…] The appeal Baker plans to set in motion this week with the Seventh Circuit Court will likely drag on for months or even years. “At this point we haven’t seen any notice of appeal,” says RIAA VP Pierre-Louis. “Right now, we have a summary judgment motion that we’re delighted with and I think we’ll just see what happens next.”

Later: TLA has the text of the summary judgement [pdf]; also, the January issue of Hiscock and Barclay‘s IP Monthly comments on the case (Stealth File Sharing Judgement) notes the following peculiar feature of this case:

One would think that such a ruling would grab the attention of would-be music pirates. Oddly, however, there seems to have been no news coverage of this ruling or press releases issued on the part of the record companies. If deterrence is the goal such silence seems to be quite counterproductive.

Marvel Claims Fall On Deaf Ears

Still looking for more details (Docket number CV 04-9253, CA district court, central division), but: Federal Judge Dismisses Claims and Strikes Allegations in Marvel Lawsuit Against NCsoft

A U.S. district court judge in Los Angeles dismissed several key claims by comic book publisher Marvel Enterprises, Inc in the company’s trademark and copyright infringement case against online computer game publisher NCsoft® Corporation and game developer Cryptic Studios™. Marvel sued NCsoft and Cryptic Studios in November of last year, claiming that the City of Heroes® online computer game allows players to imitate comic book characters owned by Marvel.

In a March 9 order, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner agreed with NCsoft that some of Marvel’s allegations and exhibits should be stricken as “false and sham” because certain allegedly infringing works depicted in Marvel’s pleadings were created not by users, but by Marvel itself.

EFF’s summary site: Marvel v. NCSoft; earlier postings

Later: Donna offers up some clarifications of the implications of this ruling: More on Marvel v. NCSoft; Alex has the opinion URL

Another Domino To Fall?

The Stanford Daily asks about the university’s look into music subscription services: Stanford music program won’t eliminate illegal downloading [pdf] [via Digital Music News]

The University recently established a committee to investigate the possibility of creating a legal music file-sharing service for students. While the idea is interesting and perhaps necessary — particularly since Stanford faces possible legal repercussions for student file sharing on its network — such a service is unlikely to significantly reduce illegal downloading.

The ultimate fault for this lies not with Stanford, but with the music industry. The restrictions that record companies place on legally downloaded files severely limit how songs can be used and shared, making them unattractive to students — and to music downloaders in general, which is one reason why Apple’s iTunes software and the new legal version of Napster have done little to quash illegal downloading in general.

[…] Unfortunately, none of the current possibilities for legal file sharing offer particularly compelling reasons to switch from popular programs like Kazaa and ourTunes. The music industry must find ways to adapt to changing technology — just as the film and television industries adapted to the advent of VCRs — rather than clamping down on consumers or on the universities that those students attend.

The Future of Consumer Electronics?

Eli Noam paints a picture of the networked entertainment home: A dim future for consumer electronics?

The traditional way to build consumer electronic devices was to make them largely self-contained, each with multiple elements such as its own memory, signal processing, antenna and software. But if all devices in the home are interconnected, why duplicate all these functionalities? Instead, it makes more sense to get specialised and powerful devices – memory banks, central antennas, high speed processors and sensors – and then to internet work [sic] them so that they can serve an entire slew of home devices.

As this process takes root, the electronic technology becomes largely invisible but pervasive, like electricity or water. What are left in plain view are mostly the display screens (these will be strong sellers, together with portable terminals). The specialised electronic boxes, meanwhile, are relegated to some electronic closet in the basement.

And why stop there? The electronic functionalities could move further away, to distant facilities of commercial consumer electronics service providers that will have powerful hardware and software, and the expertise to service them reliably. In such a scenario, consumer electronics are transformed from pieces of hardware to a service. A familiar example is voicemail, where the local phone company is replacing answering machines at home, lowering consumer electronics sales.

CA Common Law Copyright Action

Via Current Copyright Readings: Copyright case may conclude with public burning

A California tribe involved in an unusual copyright lawsuit will probably burn recordings an artist made of their sacred ceremonies, the tribe’s attorney said.

[…] [Lorenzo] Baca, Isleta Pueblo/Mescalero Apache, maintains that he only disseminated the information to honor the tribe’s culture and that he had the tacit approval at the time of tribal elder Brown Tadd. Tadd died in 1992 at the age of 92. Baca told the Native American Times that Tadd commissioned him to make the recordings and that he would have approved of what Baca did. He also said that the majority of the people that bought the tapes and CDs were Me-Wuk Indians interested in learning more about their history.

The tribe sued and attorney Bob Lyon of the high-powered legal firm of Holland & Knight used California’s common-law copyright law and a portion of a federal bootlegging law the bars people from recording musical events to achieve the settlement and gain an injunction.