June 28, 2005

P2P Distribution and Promotion [2:19 pm]

Rejected TV Pilot Thrives on P2P [via Slashdot]

A sacked TV pilot about a large number of people who stay in touch through an underground data network has popped up on … well, an underground data network.

The WB television network passed on the pilot for Global Frequency, a sci-fi adventure series based on the graphic novel by English scribe Warren Ellis.

But that didn’t stop someone from leaking the pilot on the internet. The file eventually found its way into the BitTorrent network.

Over the last couple of weeks, enough people have downloaded and viewed the pilot online to give producers hope that TV executives might take a second look at the show.

[...] [WB spokesman Craig] Hoffman added that the pilot’s unauthorized distribution is “unacceptable and illegal … no matter what the underlying motives” and said the company hasn’t ruled out taking legal action “when it comes to stopping the illegal distribution of our copyright material.”

[...] Morpheus CEO Michael Weiss called the leak “just another positive example” of P2P.

“There have already been countless success stories on how musicians — either aspiring or established — have turned to P2P to build or reinvigorate their careers,” he said. “It is not surprising that the same effect is now beginning to happen in film and TV.”

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Siva on Grokster at Salon [11:33 am]

Supreme Court’s unsound decision

The peer-to-peer phenomenon is often miscast as the proliferation of a radical set of technological tools meant to steal music. But the fact is, the Internet is fundamentally peer-to-peer. All that Grokster, Kazaa, or LimeWire do is let you efficiently search for keywords of content that sits on other people’s hard disks. If you have a problem with peer-to-peer you have a problem with the Internet. And short of shutting it down or radically reengineering it, there is nothing that Hollywood or Washington can do to stifle the file-sharing capabilities of those who use the Internet. Regardless of Monday’s decision, the software, music and movies will keep on flowing.

But the grand innovations in American technology may not. If the lower courts read the court’s ruling broadly, watch out: This could severely restrict other, more important innovations for decades to come. Even without broad readings, the courts could soon be filled with frivolous copyright suits against technology companies — handing big entertainment companies like MGM a potent economic weapon to wield against smaller innovators and upstarts that are developing new devices and models of distribution. Souter struggled to construct a decision that would not impede the inventor in her garage who is tinkering away at the next great thing. The problem is, she will definitely have to hire a lawyer now.

[...] What about Google? Consider this: Google, like Grokster, is primarily a search engine. Its business model relies on advertisements. And the more we use Google, the more money it makes. Like Grokster, Google resolves communication queries. It generates a link from an information provider to an information seeker. And almost all of what it delivers is copyrighted.

The fact that no major copyright industry player has brought Google to court so far is merely a function of the fact that most copyright holders want Google to index and offer links to their materials. There is no explicit contract. You have to opt out of the Google world.

But there is one major difference between Grokster and Google. Grokster does no copying itself. It merely induces and enables.

If anyone infringes, it’s Google: The company caches millions of Web pages without permission (again, giving copyright holders the option of protesting).

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CDT Set Up Public Access To Congressional Policy Briefings [7:53 am]

Hard-to-Get Policy Briefings For Congress Are Now Online — The CDT is asking for a collaborative effort — ask your Congressperson for copies of Congressional Research Services reports in PDF form, and then upload it to their file sharing site set up to distribute these otherwise difficult to access reports.

A Washington research group has created a Web site where the public can read, submit and download the difficult-to-find public policy briefs members of Congress use to get up to speed on issues.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has created an online database of Congressional Research Service reports that anyone with an Internet connection can now tap free of charge.

[...] The CDT, a technology policy organization, complained that the reports are paid for with taxpayer money and ought to be readily available for free to anyone who wants one.

“Taxpayers pay $100 million a year for this resource, yet they don’t have ready access to it,” said CDT spokesman David McGuire. “We don’t think they should have to pay twice to get their hands on it.”

McGuire predicted the Web site, http://www.opencrs.com , will find an audience among academics, reporters, bloggers, librarians, college students and anyone else looking to bone up on an issue.

[...] “Take Action!” the Web site says. “Call your members of Congress and request a PDF copy of the following CRS report. Once you receive it, submit it to Open CRS.” The group estimated it has collected almost half of the reports the agency has produced in the past five years.

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Brand X Roundup [7:37 am]

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Grokster Roundup [7:31 am]

Well, I still haven’t read the opinion, but here’s a set of articles that purport to explain it all to you. While it appears that the innovation issues raised to get mention, most writers seem to be falling back on the tired “theft” argument, rather than asking whether the construction of copyright is as misguided as their misguided and perjorative conflation of copyright infringement with thievery.

And, of course, since this is formally only a remand, there’s still the question of what it will take to make the apparently necessary showing of intent to promote infringement to actually win a suit. Mind-reading is not that easy to accomplish, even if the Supreme Court says you are now allowed to. But the chilling effects of the assertion that now one must consider such things when devising new technology in the face of increasingly calcified legal constructs is the real worry here.

  • CNet has a roundup of articles:

  • Boston Globe: Suits OK’d against makers of file-sharing software [pdf] and Some doubt ruling will stop downloading [pdf]. Worse, this nasty editorial: High court harmony [pdf]

  • NYTimes: Justices Reinstate Suits on Internet File Sharing — this article at least points out that it’s still up to the courts to make a ruling, as well as putting a lot of faith in the notion that “inducement” is something that distinguishes legal and illegal technology deployment

    On the other hand, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, the Consumer Electronics Association and other elements of the computer and technology industries warned the court that too broad a rule of contributory copyright infringement would stifle innovation if there was a possibility that consumers might put a product to an infringing use.

    It was clear from the opinion, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inv. v. Grokster Ltd., No. 04-480, that the justices had taken note of that argument and tried to draw a line that would protect both copyright holders and innovators. The court identified the line as “inducement” - deliberately urging consumers to make illicit use of the product or showing them how it could be done.

    “Mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability,” Justice Souter said. He added: “Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct, and thus does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise.”

  • Another NYTimes view: No Pot of Gold in Court Ruling for the Studios

  • Washington Post: File-Sharing Firms Can Be Held Liable [pdf]

  • Wired news’ Grokster Loss Sucks for Tech

  • Slate’s A Supreme Court Conversation - Part 6

    The most interesting part about Grokster is that it purports to leave Sony untouched, while adding this new cautionary against operating a crooked business. In other words, the court is saying that it’s all about the marketing. By this logic, if Xerox in the 1970s had said,”Don’t buy that textbook—photocopy it!” the photocopier, just like that, would have become contraband.

    If a rule that’s based on marketing seems odd, that’s because it is. Can we really know, by looking at a company’s ads, whether they’re up to no good? The aftermath of Grokster will be a long debate over what exactly it means to “promote” violations of copyright. [...]

    What the court is doing boils down to asking judges to be on the watch for monkey business. In the eyes of the justices, companies like KaZaA and Grokster were clearly up to no good, but iTunes—now there’s a respectable operation. What the court is trying to do, however awkwardly, is prevent copyright from killing new technologies while at the same time preventing scofflaws from getting away with the technological equivalent of murder. The result is almost like a rule of etiquette—yes, you can sell something that will destroy the recording industry, as long as you don’t flaunt it. That’s a lesson that’s already been learned by Steve Jobs’ iTunes, the leading legitimate music download service. The court, in short, has cursed KaZaA, blessed iTunes, and told us that TiVo is OK, too. And while today’s decision nominally declares victory for the recording industry, I doubt there will be much celebration going on in industry headquarters tonight.

A reader points me to further roundups (thanks, Luis!) — while pointing out that it’s worth reading the opinion for yourself [something I have not yet managed :( although links are here]

A Wall Street Journal roundtable

Later: a glowing Washington Post editorial: No License to Steal [pdf]

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