August 28, 2005

The IP Lawsuit Strategy - LATimes-style [6:01 pm]

The Web and the law [pdf]

As an educational tool, this type of lawsuit leaves something to be desired. Only a fraction of the people sharing songs and movies online illegally are sued, dulling the deterrent effect. At the same time, because so many claims have been filed (more than 13,000 by the movie and music industries since September 2003), they no longer attract much attention. Another problem is that studios and labels do not know the identity of a defendant when they start pressing a claim; the lawsuit eventually lands on the person whose Internet account was linked to pirated files. As a result, defendants have included such crowd-pleasers as a 12-year-old girl, several grandparents and at least one dead person.

The resulting publicity hasn’t garnered much sympathy for the labels or their cause. And critics of the lawsuits are right to argue that such actions aren’t a long-term solution to the rampant piracy that the Internet enables. (Their argument that content providers are abusing copyright law to prevent fair use is a harder case to make, but worth hearing.) Entertainment companies need to find more effective ways to boost respect for copyrights while embracing the new technology to satisfy demand.

[...] Clearly, these lawsuits inflict some collateral damage, not just on the industry but on notions of fair play and the law. When huge media conglomerates sue thousands of individual Internet users, they fuel the argument that copyright law is just a tool for the powerful, not a means to improve society by encouraging creativity and innovation. But like anyone else, the studios are entitled to defend their rights. You can lament how blunt the instrument is, but you can’t fault Hollywood for using it.

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August 27, 2005

Supreme Court Issues [10:28 pm]

An entertaining “What if?” discussion - with both Larry & Ed - with key discussion of the notions behind Ed’s blog’s name!!: Roberts v. the Future

As books, music and movies are increasingly distributed by large corporations in digital form, entertainment and publishing corporations are clamping down on the ability to access copyrighted material — sometimes by persuading Congress to extend copyright protections and sometimes by devising ingenious technological ways to block users from making copies of the product. Many digital activists fear that free expression won’t be able to thrive if people are deprived of the right to sample, remix and tinker in a world where every copyright infringement can be recorded, punished or technologically impeded.

The guru of digital activism is the Stanford law professor and cyberspace visionary Lawrence Lessig, whom I recently reached by telephone in Spain. “As life moves increasingly onto the Net and the capacity to control every aspect of our cultural capital increases almost to perfection, the question will be whether there is an affirmative right of access, to use and remix,” Lessig said. [...]

[...] Edward Felten, a professor of computer science at Princeton University, told me that he hopes in 20 years that Americans might be able to assert a newly recognized constitutional right — rooted in the First Amendment — to circumvent the obstacles posed by digital-rights-management technology. He calls it “the constitutional right to tinker.” [...]

[...] Chastened by the experience, Felten decided to articulate what, exactly, is threatened when researchers aren’t permitted to experiment without first consulting their lawyers; he hit upon the concept of tinkering. “The process of experimentation, not always with a direct goal, is captured by the term tinkering,” he said. Whether the Supreme Court ever recognizes tinkering as a constitutional right, the ability to tinker may be threatened not only in computer science but also in the life sciences as well. [...]

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Artistry In Recordings [12:42 pm]

A Master of Making Old Tunes New Again

Ward Marston shut down his turntable, pulled off the record and said, “I’ll be singing ‘Night and Day’ for the rest of the week.”

Mr. Marston’s compliment was for Cole Porter, who wrote the song, and for Fred Astaire, who recorded it in 1932. But not for the recording itself, one track on a remastered CD. “The sound is thin and the surface scratchy,” he said.

And Ward Marston should know. By almost any measure, he is considered one of the best in the small but worldwide group of music lovers and sound engineers dedicated to finding new life in old phonograph records.

Related, from Sunday Weekend Edition; Tahra Records, Reclaiming Musical History — “Rene Tremine and Myriam Scherchen are the founders of Tahra Records, a small label issuing well-received historical recordings of classical music. Independent producer Julian Crandall Hollick visits with the Paris-based couple.”

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You Can Lead A Horse To Water … [12:40 pm]

But, since it’s just an animal, unable to control its greed, it just might drag you down with it to a watery grave: Apple, Digital Music’s Angel, Earns Record Industry’s Scorn

Two and a half years after the music business lined up behind the chief executive of Apple, Steven P. Jobs, and hailed him and his iTunes music service for breathing life into music sales, the industry’s allegiance to Mr. Jobs has eroded sharply.

Mr. Jobs is now girding for a showdown with at least two of the four major record companies over the price of songs on the iTunes service.

If he loses, the one-price model that iTunes has adopted - 99 cents to download any song - could be replaced with a more complex structure that prices songs by popularity. A hot new single, for example, could sell for $1.49, while a golden oldie could go for substantially less than 99 cents.

Music executives who support Mr. Jobs say the higher prices could backfire, sending iTunes’ customers in search of songs on free, unauthorized file-swapping networks.

[...] Some analysts suggest that the willingness of the music companies to gamble on a new pricing structure reflects a short memory.

“As I recall, three years ago these guys were wandering around with their hands out looking for someone to save them,” said Mike McGuire, an analyst at Gartner G2. “It’d be rather silly to try to destabilize him because iTunes is one of the few bright spots in the industry right now. He’s got something that’s working.”

Slashdot discussion: iTunes Might Lose Labels

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August 26, 2005

Band Life [11:54 am]

Axl Rose Sued by Former Bandmates - Yahoo! News [pdf]

Two former members of the rock band Guns N’ Roses have sued frontman Axl Rose for allegedly naming himself sole administrator of the group’s copyrights.

The suit was filed Aug. 17 in federal court by Slash and Duff, otherwise known as Saul Hudson and Michael McKagan. It accuses Rose of profiting from their revenue shares to the tune of about $500,000 a year.

The suit claims Rose directed the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to send all publishing royalties to his publishing company, bypassing the band’s other partners.

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Looking for the Deep Pockets [11:19 am]

Adult-site publisher takes action against Google [via Slashdot]

Adult magazine publisher Perfect 10 is seeking a preliminary injunction against Google to stop the search giant from allegedly displaying copyright images of its models.

[...] Perfect 10 first became aware of Google serving up text links to other Web sites that allegedly carried copyright images of Perfect 10 models back in 2001, Zada said in an interview on Thursday. The company then sent notices to Google, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, asking the search giant to discontinue linking to the other sites.

Last year, Zada said, he learned Google was allegedly displaying photos of its copyright work on its Web site through its images feature that links to other Web sites. Perfect 10’s request for an injunction is part of a copyright infringement lawsuit that it filed in November against Google.

In case you missed the point, here’s a Slashdot comment that raises (albeit a little imperfectly) the nasty question that Google has been trying to work around for quite a while now:

Re:robots.txt (Score:4, Insightful)

by bedroll (806612) on Friday August 26, @09:20AM (#13406769)

(Last Journal: Wednesday August 24, @11:08PM)

Strangely enough, these people are suing google for the actions of others. They are suing google because google’s webcrawler doesn’t automatically block sites containing their copyrighted works. They’re basically saying it’s Google’s job to police the entire web to enforce their copyrights.

Replace Google with Napster and Perfect 10 with the RIAA. Is this really such an open and shut case in favor of Google?

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Another Blow To Logkeeping [10:42 am]

Studios mine P2P logs to sue swappers

Hollywood studios filed a new round of lawsuits against file swappers on Thursday, for the first time using peer-to-peer companies’ own data to track down individuals accused of trading movies online.

The Motion Picture Association of America said it filed 286 lawsuits against people around the United States based on information acquired from file-trading sites shut down earlier in the year. Most of those sites were hubs connecting people using the BitTorrent technology, a peer-to-peer application designed for speeding downloads of large files

Slashdot: New Round of P2P Lawsuits from Hollywood

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Convergence [9:39 am]

Wonder if anything from Red v. Blue will get in? Deal for Film Version of Microsoft Game

Microsoft has signed a deal with two film studios to make a movie based on its popular space-based video game series Halo, Universal Pictures said on Wednesday.

Universal and 20th Century Fox agreed to pay Microsoft $5 million plus a percentage of ticket sales. The total price being paid is capped at 10 percent of domestic box-office receipts.

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Audiobook Lending Library Technology [9:29 am]

And in illustration of the quandry facing those doing product development in digital media these days: Libraries Offering Audiobook Downloads [pdf]

A new way to borrow audiobooks from the library involves no CDs, no car trips, no fines and no risk of being shushed. Rather, public libraries from New York City to Alameda, Calif., are letting patrons download Tom Clancy techno-thrillers, Arabic tutorials and other titles to which they can listen on their computers or portable music players - all without leaving home.

[...] There’s still one big hitch, though: The leading library services offer Windows-friendly audiobook files that can’t be played on Apple Computer Inc.’s massively popular iPod player.

Vendors such as OverDrive Inc. and OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc.’s NetLibrary have licensing deals with publishers and provide digital books using Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media Audio format, which includes copyright protections designed to help audiobooks stand apart from the often lawless world of song swapping.

A patron with a valid library card visits a library Web site to borrow a title for, say, three weeks. When the audiobook is due, the patron must renew it or find it automatically “returned” in a virtual sense: The file still sits on the patron’s computer, but encryption makes it unplayable beyond the borrowing period.

“The patron doesn’t have to do anything after the lending period,” said Steve Potash, chief executive of OverDrive. “The file expires. It checks itself back into the collection. There’s no parts to lose. It’s never damaged. It can never be late.”

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OT: Kafka’s America [9:24 am]

Library Challenges FBI Request [pdf]

A member of the American Library Association has sued the Justice Department to challenge an FBI demand for records, but the USA Patriot Act prohibits the plaintiff from publicly disclosing its identity or other details of the dispute, according to court documents released yesterday.

The lawsuit comes as Congress prepares to enter final talks over renewal of the Patriot Act, a counterterrorism law that was overwhelmingly approved after Sept. 11, 2001. But parts of the law, including provisions that could have an impact on libraries, have since come under fire.

Justice Department and FBI officials have repeatedly declined to identify how many times Patriot Act-related powers have been used to seek or obtain information from libraries, but they have strongly urged Congress not to limit their ability to do so.

The suit, originally filed under seal in Connecticut on Aug. 9, focuses on the FBI’s use of a document called a “national security letter” (NSL), which allows investigators to demand records without the approval of a judge and to prohibit companies or institutions from disclosing the request. Restrictions on the FBI’s use of NSLs were loosened under the Patriot Act.

The identity of the institution, the records being sought and numerous other details are edited out of the public version of the complaint released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a party to the lawsuit.

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Evolving Business Models [8:50 am]

A reflection of Bronfman’s speech? Or just an accident of timing?: Music Releases Online, on DVDs Could Mark CDs’ Slow Death [pdf]

When Ohio-based rock band the Sun releases its first full-length album next month, it will be available on DVD, online and on vinyl record. But not on the medium that’s still the biggest seller in the music industry today: the compact disc.

“It’s a tip of the hat to the past and the tip of the hat to the future,” said Perry Watts-Russell, a senior vice president at Warner Bros. Records Inc., which signed the band.

[...] The digitization of music has created a shift in how tunes are shared and consumed. Because it’s faster to copy and transmit digital music, more people are copying and sharing tracks — prompting copyright concerns from the entertainment industry. On the other hand, the cheapness of Internet distribution allows many no-names to release music that otherwise might never be seen or heard outside a garage.

The Sun’s 14-song album, “Blame It on the Youth,” will be released Sept. 27 and will come with one disc option — a DVD of music videos that can be manipulated through a computer to download the songs onto an MP3 player or burn them onto a CD. Actually, there is a second disc, but it’s made of vinyl — a nod to a burgeoning subculture that is reviving the old long-play format.

Having a new generation of listeners who may be building libraries of songs by piggy-backing off their friends’ collections doesn’t bother Sam Brown, drummer and songwriter for the Sun, which had a $50,000 budget to produce the videos for the album. “As more people find out about our band, more people will turn out when we play,” he said. And for smaller acts like his, live performance is where the money is.

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August 25, 2005

Protecting Copyright: Mountweazel & Esquivalience [8:45 pm]

Not A Word [pdf]

Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”

If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”

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Grokster and Innovation [4:17 pm]

US filesharing case is already hampering innovation [pdf]

Just weeks after the US supreme court ruled against filesharing network Grokster, legal experts and industry insiders say the verdict is having a chilling effect on US technological innovation.

[...] “Money has shifted into places which will avoid any conflict with the copyright holders,” says Professor Larry Lessig, the top American advocate for copyright reform. “Why buy a [new innovation that gets you a] lawsuit when you can buy a new innovation that doesn’t get you a lawsuit?”

The threat of legal action can be as dangerous as legal action itself, says veteran investor Joi Ito. “All of these laws and possible future laws … increase the risk that someone will decide that the cool, new music distribution technology of the startup you invested in is illegal,” he says.

“I think Grokster, as well as the possibility that Congress will pass new laws, creates a chilling effect by increasing the risk to companies and investors.”

[...] [G]iven that the fundamental point of the internet is the moving of data from one place to another, the area of chilled innovation is greater than you might think. Does advertising a system that allows for large email attachments induce copyright infringement? Could the features of broadband connections, which make large files easier to deal with, make it an inducement to illegal filesharing? When a photo-sharing site or blogging tool proudly proclaims the ease of placing material online, does that make it an inducement to breach copyright?

It doesn’t really matter. The fact that the answers are fuzzy means that small innovators will run out of money for their lawyers long before the record labels do. Venture capitalists might not even take the risk of funding any such startups at all.

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From Pho: “The War Is Over?” [10:43 am]

“The War Is Over”

Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music, said yesterday in his Aspen Summit keynote that the war between the content industry and consumers is over. And consumers won.

Given this, he said that it’s high time that they content and tech industries “stop pointing guns at each other.” This was much of the theme of digital entertainment policy discussions in Aspen this week.

In his blunt, frequently starkly honest speech, Bronfman said that Warner is highly opposed to the government intervening in efforts to create compulsory license mechanisms, DRM standards, and interoperability. However, just as quickly, Bronfman admitted that when government regulations favor his business, he’s all for them (and these could including P2P filtering legislations, levies on blank CDs., etc) He also said that he wouldn’t be pushing for this and, instead will be focusing on creating new business models that takes advantage of the Internet - including Warner’s eLabel that was announced in Aspen.

Webcast here - draw your own conclusions. The Warner news release: Edgar Bronfman, Jr. Delivers Keynote Address at Progress and Freedom Foundation’s 2005 Aspen Summitentire speech includes this nugget:

We usually associate innovation with technology companies, but they aren’t the only ones who must innovate. To survive and prosper, content companies must do so, as well. And even our very concept of copyright must innovate.

In that regard, let me perhaps surprise some of you by saying that I’d like to salute Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, and here’s why: While Professor Lessig and I disagree on a host of issues–copyright term length and compulsory licensing to name just two–we do agree on a critical–maybe the most critical–point: That artists and copyright holders must have the right to determine how their works are exploited. And as Professor Lessig has written: “authors and creators deserve to receive the benefits of their creation.” With the formation of Creative Commons, Professor Lessig has opened up the copyright dialogue to in-depth examinations of how flexibility and innovation in this crucial area might benefit us all.

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ManiaTV in Newsweek [9:27 am]

Can an Upstart TV Web Site Challenge MTV? [pdf]

ManiaTV is a curious blend of TV, music program and coffee shop, all located on a single Web site and produced by 75 employees and interns in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse. In addition to on-demand short films, extreme-sports clips and music videos, cyber jockeys or “CJs” also host nonstop live programs in which they interact with their users, via message boards and Webcams. Every so often, an ad will show a TV being destroyed while items available in their online store spell out the site’s motto: “F—k Television.”

Founder Drew Massey, 35, isn’t shy about his plans for this new hybrid medium. “Our goal is domination,” says Massey, a young entrepreneur who founded the 1990s young men’s magazine P.O.V. With youth-entertainment goliaths like MTV expanding their online presence, he might not achieve total domination, but at the very least, Massey may be on his way to creating a successful alternative media outlet. With predicted revenue in the seven figures this year, Massey expects ManiaTV to be in the black by 2006.

The foot soldiers for this new revolution are the students and young professionals who spend more time online than in front of the television. For this demographic, “the Internet is not only their medium but their culture, their life,” says Massey who aims to turn the Web into their main source for entertainment, information and communication.

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Nanny Phones [9:23 am]

Motorola Plans Parent-Monitoring Phones [pdf]

Motorola Inc., the world’s third-largest mobile phone manufacturer, plans to make phones that would let parents monitor their children’s whereabouts and censor obscene content, Chairman and CEO Edward Zander said.

Phones are also coming with features to attract young consumers, like next month’s planned release of a phone with iTunes, Apple Computer Inc.’s popular media player, Zander told reporters late Tuesday.

“Mobile phones today are more like television when I was a kid,” Zander said after visiting his company’s software development center in Bangalore. But “there is a way to keep it secure.”

Wonder if Motorola has someone like Genevieve Bell involved in product development?

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WaPo on the IE-Only (c) Office Registration Tool [9:18 am]

Copyright Program To Require Explorer

“It’s a replay of the bad old days when you built a Web site according to the behavior of an individual browser,” said Daniel J. Weitzner, a policy official with the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets technology standards for the Web.

Timothy Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web and a director of the consortium, said standards are increasingly important as people use an evolving array of handheld devices to access the Internet.

He said Siebel Systems, which is not a member of the consortium, could easily develop a tool to ensure that other browsers would work with its system.

Stacey Schneider, Siebel Systems’ director of technology product marketing, said that other browsers might work with the registration system but that the company could not guarantee it.

Hmmm - but they can “guarantee” the system will work perfectly with IE? That’s quite a claim in itself and, frankly, just demonstrates that Siebel Systems is either (a) incompetent or (b) lying. Guarantees when it comes to programming? Based on someone else’s tool? Do they really have access to the IE source, in all its incarnations? And have run audits against their registration system? Bogus.

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Again, I Look Forward To The Hacks [8:53 am]

Further exploration of the power of machine affect: A Doll That Can Recognize Voices, Identify Objects and Show Emotion

Amazing Amanda, scheduled for release next month by Playmates Toys, is expected to cost $99, said Ms. Shackelford, the chief executive of J. Shackelford & Associates, a product and marketing company in Moorpark, Calif., that specializes in toys and children’s entertainment.

At that price, the same as Apple’s entry-level iPod Shuffle digital music player, the 18-inch-tall doll promises - right on the box it will be sold in - to “listen, speak and show emotion.” Some analysts and buyers who have seen Amanda say it represents an evolutionary leap from earlier talking dolls like Chatty Cathy of the 1960’s, a doll that cycled through a collection of recorded phrases when a child pulled a cord in its back.

Radio frequency tags in Amanda’s accessories - including toy food, potty and clothing - wirelessly inform the doll of what it is interacting with. For instance, if the doll asks for a spoon of peas and it is given its plastic cookie, it will gently admonish its caregiver, telling her that a cookie is not peas.

While $99 is a premium price for a doll, it is only about $10 more than the price of the popular American Girl dolls. And, Ms. Shackelford said, Amanda may prove that girls as well as boys can embrace technology in their toys.

[...] One prerelease model of Amazing Amanda, once it was activated (by flipping the toy’s only visible switch hidden high on its back and beneath its clothing), woke with a yawn, slowly opened its eyes and started asking questions in a cutesy, almost cartoonlike girl’s voice.

What the doll is actually doing, Ms. Shackelford said, is “voice printing” the primary user’s voice pattern. By asking a child to repeat “Amanda” several times, the doll quickly comes to recognize and store in its electronic memory that child’s voice, and only that child’s voice, as its “mommy.” Other voices are greeted with Amanda’s cautionary proclamation, “You don’t sound like Mommy.”

In all, Ms. Shackelford said, the doll is equipped for almost an hour of speech that includes various questions, programmed responses, requests, songs and games. And as Amanda speaks, the doll’s soft-plastic lips move and its face, using Disney-like animatronics, help to suggest expressions.

[...] “We don’t want to make kids scared of technology,” said Ms. Shackelford, who says she is in her mid-60’s and has no children of her own. “You have a baby doll that is supposed to make a little girl feel like the doll loves her. Girls tell dolls all the time that they love them.

“This doll,” Ms. Shackelford said, “acts like she loves you.”

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Yahoo Builds the Super Network [8:20 am]

Video search, personalization and suggestion-driven viewing: Yahoo Builds the Super Network

For its part, Yahoo! is working with SBC and Microsoft on an IPTV/fiber-to-the-curb initiative called Project Lightspeed that uses Yahoo! software to deliver video-on-demand, instant messaging, photo collections, and music. Meanwhile, chief executive Terry Semel, who spent 24 years as an executive at Warner Bros., has recruited a crew of network personnel in Santa Monica to crack open the contractual vaults containing 50 years of rights-encumbered TV and film archives. And Yahoo! has already become the Internet home of broadcast fare like Fat Actress and The Apprentice. “They’re clearly thinking of themselves as the fifth network,” says Jeremy Allaire, founder of Brightcove, a Net video distribution startup.

Watching whatever you want (or didn’t even know you wanted) wherever you are whenever you feel like it has been a fantasy since the early days of the Internet. Now it’s a reality that Horowitz refers to as a “high-class problem.” He and his charges at Yahoo! are trying to figure out how to solve that problem. When they do, it’s good-bye network TV, hello networked TV.

[...] Horowitz’s favorite project is incorporating people-powered metadata systems from two other Yahoo! properties: the recommendation technology from Yahoo! Music and the tagging features from Flickr, the photoblogging company Yahoo! acquired this spring. Google’s original stroke of genius was figuring out how to piggyback on human judgment by following the links people make between Web sites. Horowitz is borrowing functionality from two Yahoo! properties to develop something similar for video. The Yahoo! Music collaborative filtering engine uses a scoring system to match listeners with the recommendations of like-minded music fans. Members of Flickr attach tags, or social bookmarks, to photos they see on the site, imbuing the pictures with mental associations that might never make sense to a computer. By combining the tagging and recommendation function into video search, Horowitz is hoping for a Google-esque breakthrough.

Such network-generated filters will enable psychographic siblings to find one another and, ultimately, evolve into social programming networks.

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More from the CDT: Grokster [8:14 am]

An op-ed from David Sohn of CDT that offers insights into the CDT’s broadcast flag recommendations: The benefits of mutual distrust

The court threaded the needle by saying the song-swapping services could be liable if they actively encouraged their users to violate copyright laws–but not simply for making the technology. In effect, the court sent the message that the law should be used to punish bad behavior, not to single out technology.

[...] There’s a lesson there that reaches far beyond Grokster.

Mutual distrust is about the only thing the warring camps in the long-running battle over electronic copying have shared with each other up to now. Many in the entertainment industry have painted technologists and consumer electronics companies as copyright anarchists who have no qualms about their products being used for wide-scale theft. On the other side, hard-line technologists have accused record labels and movie studios of seeking the power to effectively “veto” any new invention that allows users to play music and movies in new, exciting ways.

[...] For legal services to really thrive, technologists who make the devices and the entertainment companies that own the content need to work together toward a simple but broad goal: making virtually any content available legally, as quickly as possible, in as many forms and formats as possible, while protecting it from widespread illegal redistribution.

That means, for example, cooperating to develop digital rights management, or DRM, technologies that are sufficiently flexible and consumer-friendly to achieve wide success in the marketplace.

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