October 20, 2005

Profiling the 419ers [8:25 am]

‘I Will Eat Your Dollars’ [pdf]

As patient as fishermen, the young men toil day and night, trawling for replies to the e-mails they shoot to strangers half a world away.

Most recipients hit delete, delete, delete, delete without ever opening the messages that urge them to claim the untold riches of a long-lost deceased second cousin, and the messages that offer millions of dollars to help smuggle loot stolen by a corrupt Nigerian official into a U.S. account.

But the few who actually reply make this a tempting and lucrative business for the boys of Festac, a neighborhood of Lagos at the center of the cyber-scam universe. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.

[...] To them, the scams, called 419 after the Nigerian statute against fraud, are a game.

Their anthem, “I Go Chop Your Dollars,” hugely popular in Lagos, hit the airwaves a few months ago as a CD penned by an artist called Osofia:

“419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.

White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy

White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.

419 is just a game, we are the masters, you are the losers.”

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Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case [8:17 am]

Sony BMG Sued in Bribery Case

TSR Records, an independent music label, filed suit yesterday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment, accusing it of unfairly dominating radio play lists through the use of bribes to programmers and other illicit tactics.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, comes three months after Sony BMG agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations by the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, that it had used improper radio promotion practices, including payola, or undisclosed payments to broadcasters.

TSR, of Tarzana, Calif., said independent labels were “systematically excluded” from radio play lists as a result of record company tactics. It contended that Sony BMG violated federal and California antitrust laws and improperly interfered with its business prospects. The case seeks unspecified monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

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Everybody Into The Pool! 2 [8:07 am]

Publishers battle Google book index [pdf]

Five major publishing firms filed suit against Internet search giant Google Inc. yesterday to stop the company from creating a digital index of millions of copyrighted books. The lawsuit, coming weeks after a group of book authors also sued Google, sets up a legal showdown over the limits of intellectual property law in the age of global computer networks.

The publishers — the McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Simon & Schuster Inc., and John Wiley & Sons Inc. — are trying to halt the Google Print Library Project, which Google unveiled in December 2004. The project aims to make digital copies of millions of books stored in the libraries of major universities, including Harvard. Google will then use its search technology to create an index of all of the text in each book, and make this index available on the Internet at no charge. The result would be the world’s largest and most powerful index of books. A user could instantly search millions of volumes for information on a particular topic, and receive a list of relevant books. The index would also display small portions of the text, to help a researcher decide if he or she has found the right book.

Google’s plan outraged the Association of American Publishers, the trade group representing the nation’s leading producers of books. The association’s president, former Colorado Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, said that the Google Print Library Project is a blatant violation of copyright law.

I look forward to the economists’ discussion of transactions costs and their mitigation as a rationale for property rights in the face of this (contrary) example. See also Tim Wu’s Leggo My Ego: GooglePrint and the other culture war

Imagine how terrible maps would be if you had to negotiate with every landowner in the United States to publish the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Maps might still exist, but they’d be expensive and incomplete. Property owners might think they’d individually benefit, but collectively they would lose out—a classic collective action problem. There just wouldn’t really be maps in the sense we think of today.

The critical point is this: Just as maps do not compete with or replace property, neither do book searches replace books. [...]

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October 19, 2005

What’s Up With Jon Johansen [6:52 pm]

DVD Jon Lands Dream Job Stateside

Jon Lech Johansen, the 21-year-old Norwegian media hacker nicknamed DVD Jon, is moving to San Diego to work for maverick tech entrepreneur Michael Robertson in what can only be described as the most portentous team-up since Butch met Sundance.

“I have no idea what I’ll be doing, but I know it will be reverse engineering, and I’m sure it will be interesting,” Johansen told Wired News during a Friday stopover in San Francisco.

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Forbes: Eben Moglen Is After the FCC [6:51 pm]

Does Open-Source Software Make The FCC Irrelevant? [pdf]

Columbia Law School Professor Eben Moglen wants to destroy the Federal Communications Commission. Not as some kind of terrorist act, but because technology is rapidly making it irrelevant.

[...] The spread of open source is a threat to established broadcasters, not to mention cellular telephone companies and other holders of FCC licenses. By using open-source software and low-powered “mesh networks” that can sniff out open frequencies and transmit over them, Moglen says, “we can produce bandwidth in a very collaborative way,” including transmitting video and telephone conversations that would normally ride on commercial networks. The Linksys WRT54G wireless router is for hackers what a Model A Ford was for hotrodders in an earlier era–a highly adaptable platform for experimentation.

“We remove the proprietary software and install open source,” says Sascha Meinrath, co-founder of a group that is providing Urbana, Ill. with free wireless Internet access. By “flashing” communications chips with new instructions downloaded off the Internet, Meinrath says, hackers can add sophisticated features to wireless routers such as the ability to adjust frequency and signal power.

That allows more users to occupy the same crowded slice of radio spectrum. But the same code can just as easily allow users to transmit on frequencies the FCC has licensed to somebody else.

Related?: Divine intervention axes school station

Maynard High School’s radio frequency, 91.7 FM, is being seized by a network of Christian broadcasting stations that the Federal Communications Commission has ruled is a better use of the public airwaves.

“People are furious,” said faculty adviser Joe Magno.

Maynard High’s WAVM, which has been broadcasting from the school for 35 years, found itself in this David vs. Goliath battle when it applied to increase its transmitter signal from 10 to 250 watts.

According to Magno, that “opens the floodgates for any other station to challenge the station’s license and take its frequency.”

Using a point scale that considers such factors as audience size, the FCC ruled the Christian broadcasting network the better applicant. WAVM is given 30 days to appeal, and has done so.

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October 18, 2005

Salon on US Broadband Policy [8:39 am]

Free American broadband!

Next time you sit down to pay your cable-modem or DSL bill, consider this: Most Japanese consumers can get an Internet connection that’s 16 times faster than the typical American DSL line for a mere $22 per month.

Across the globe, it’s the same story. [...]

How did this happen? Why has the U.S. fallen so far behind the rest of its economic peers? The answer is simple. These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.

[...] Like so many other challenges faced by the Bush administration, the response to the growing digital divide has been to redefine success and prematurely declare victory.

[...] Martin’s failure to confront the broadband problem becomes painfully obvious when you consider how his commission measures broadband availability and adoption. Instead of counting the number of subscribers in a particular area, the FCC considers an entire ZIP code as “covered” if at least one person living in that area has a broadband connection. This allows the FCC to make misleading boasts about how broadband coverage reaches 99 percent of the country.

[...] [T]he answer doesn’t lie solely in government either. What is needed is a truly competitive market, with many providers engaging in innovation that ultimately benefits all consumers. Government can play a role in making the market more competitive — both by deploying Community Internet projects and by requiring the cable and telephone companies to provide open access to their networks.

American innovation offers a solution to our broadband problem. It’s time for Congress, the FCC and the White House to stop protecting the corporate dinosaurs and start exploring alternatives that will foster a genuine free market in high-speed Internet services.

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MickeyD and Nintendo WiFi [8:23 am]

McDonald’s and Nintendo in Wi-Fi Deal

Nintendo of America is expected to announce today that it will offer free wireless Internet access for its Nintendo DS portable game system at McDonald’s restaurants. Customers will be able to play select DS games with other players around the world.

McDonald’s offers wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, access to laptop users for a fee in 6,000 restaurants nationwide, but the free Nintendo arrangement will permit the DS machines to play without a laptop.

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Documentaries and IP [8:17 am]

Another look at chilling effects: The Hidden Cost of Documentaries

Michael Vaccaro, a fourth grader, had just left P.S. 112 in Brooklyn and was headed home with his mother. Two filmmakers were in front of him, their camera capturing his every movement on video, when his mother’s cellphone rang.

“It was such an indicator of today’s culture,” said Amy Sewell, a producer of “Mad Hot Ballroom,” the documentary that follows New York City children as they learn ballroom dancing and prepare for a citywide contest. “Michael’s mom had just asked him how school was, her cellphone rings, she answers it, and the look on his face says, ‘I don’t get to tell my mom about my day.’ ”

In addition, the ringtone was “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” and the neighborhood was Bensonhurst. “How perfect was that?” Ms. Sewell said.

Perfect, but a problem. Had the ringtone been a common telephone ring, the scene could have dropped into the final edit without a hitch, the moment providing a quick bit of emotional texture to the film. But EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to “Gonna Fly Now,” was asking the first-time producer for $10,000 to use those six seconds.

Ms. Sewell considered relying on fair use, the aspect of copyright law that allows the unlicensed use of material when the public benefit significantly outweighs the costs or losses to the copyright owner. But her lawyer advised against it. “I’m a real Norma Rae-type personality,” Ms. Sewell said, “but the lawyer said, ‘Honestly, for your first film, you don’t have enough money to fight the music industry.’ ” After four months of negotiating - “I begged and begged,” Ms. Sewell said - she ended up paying EMI $2,500. [...]

[...] “It’s not clear that anyone could even make ‘Eyes on the Prize’ today because of rights clearances,” Mr. Jaszi said. “What’s really important here is that documentary commitment to telling the truth is being compromised by the need to accommodate perceived intellectual and copyright constraints.”

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A Little IP Fight Brewing [8:15 am]

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Hollywood Franchise

The book’s author, however, was not pleased about the prospect. Reached in Miami, Donald J. Sobol, the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, said he knew nothing of plans to bring his books to the big screen and wanted nothing to do with Mr. Deutsch.

[...] Mr. Sobol filed a lawsuit against Mr. Deutsch, among others, in 1983, contesting the rights agreement and demanding $20 million. The case was settled out of court and is covered by a confidentiality agreement, Mr. Deutsch said. Mr. Sobol declined to elaborate except to say that Mr. Deutsch now does have the movie rights but that they would eventually revert back to him.

“The rights are going to expire, and I will then take over,” Mr. Sobol said. “If someone starts to produce movies in a year, and I take back the rights, they’re going to be stuck.”

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Life in the Modern World [8:04 am]

From Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine: Meet the Life Hackers

Lots of people complain that office multitasking drives them nuts. But Mark is a scientist of “human-computer interactions” who studies how high-tech devices affect our behavior, so she was able to do more than complain: she set out to measure precisely how nuts we’ve all become. Beginning in 2004, she persuaded two West Coast high-tech firms to let her study their cubicle dwellers as they surfed the chaos of modern office life. One of her grad students, Victor Gonzalez, sat looking over the shoulder of various employees all day long, for a total of more than 1,000 hours. He noted how many times the employees were interrupted and how long each employee was able to work on any individual task.

When Mark crunched the data, a picture of 21st-century office work emerged that was, she says, “far worse than I could ever have imagined.” Each employee spent only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted and whisked off to do something else. What’s more, each 11-minute project was itself fragmented into even shorter three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail messages, reading a Web page or working on a spreadsheet. And each time a worker was distracted from a task, it would take, on average, 25 minutes to return to that task. To perform an office job today, it seems, your attention must skip like a stone across water all day long, touching down only periodically.

Yet while interruptions are annoying, Mark’s study also revealed their flip side: they are often crucial to office work.

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Chilling Effects Exercise [7:36 am]

Barney: I sue you, you sue me

Barney’s lawyers at the New York firm of Gibney, Anthony and Flaherty sent stiff warning letters last week to Web sites displaying less-than-flattering images of the plump saurian.

“Your Web site depicts a plush Barney toy in a violent manner or position,” Matthew Carlin wrote Tuesday on behalf of Lyons Partnership, which owns the Barney trademark. “We are writing to request that you remove this violent content toward Barney on your Web site.”

[...] The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco civil liberties group providing legal representation to Frankel, dismisses the legal threats as nonsense. “I think that Barney is unfortunately looking like he’s becoming a recidivist in phony copyright claims,” said Cindy Cohn, EFF’s legal director.

Remember “Bert is Evil” and its fallout. (another mirror+)

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WiFi Deployment Business Models [7:23 am]

High-speed Internet among the onions [pdf]

While cities around the country are battling over plans to offer free or cheap Internet access, this lonely terrain is served by what is billed as the world’s largest hotspot, a wireless cloud that stretches over 700 square miles of landscape so dry and desolate it could have been lifted from a cowboy tune.

Similar wireless projects have been stymied in major metropolitan areas by telephone and cable TV companies, which have poured money into legislative bills aimed at discouraging such competition. In Philadelphia, for instance, plans to blanket the entire city with WiFi fueled a battle in the Pennsylania Legislature with Verizon Communications Inc., leading to a law that limits the ability of every other municipality in the state to do the same.

But here among the thistles, large providers such as local phone company Qwest Communications International Inc. see little profit potential. So wireless entrepreneur Fred Ziari drew no resistance for his proposed wireless network, enabling him to quickly build the $5 million cloud at his own expense.

While his service is free to the general public, Ziari is recovering the investment through contracts with more than 30 city and county agencies, as well as big farms such as Hale’s, whose onion empire supplies over two-thirds of the red onions used by the Subway sandwich chain. Morrow County, for instance, pays $180,000 a year for Ziari’s service.

Each client, he said, pays not only for yearly access to the cloud, but also for specialized applications, such as a program that allows local officials to check parking meters remotely.

“Internet service is only a small part of it. The same wireless system is used for surveillance, for intelligent traffic system, for intelligent transportation, for telemedicine and for distance education,” said Ziari, who immigrated to the United States from the tiny Iranian town of Shahi on the Caspian Sea.

It’s revolutionizing the way business is conducted in this former frontier town.

The Wired News APWire feed of this article from 2 days ago: Wi-Fi Cloud Covers Rural Oregon

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Nice Title [7:17 am]

What else would you call selling a defective product at full price? Ripped off? [pdf]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Howl” is one of my favorite CDs released this year, yet I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I’d like to.

That’s because, like millions of others these days, I usually listen to music on an iPod — in the car, at work, or walking to the grocery store — and “Howl” is one of those exasperating CDs you can’t download to the wildly popular digital music player.

In an attempt to strong-arm Apple, makers of the iPod, and get the company to acquiesce to various demands, Sony BMG and EMI Music are releasing copy-protected CDs whose contents can’t be easily ripped, or copied, to a computer, then transferred to an iPod. (Oh, it can be done, but it’s a protracted process that may vex those who aren’t blessed with the patience of Job. More on that later.)

[...] Yet specifically designing CDs to snub iPod owners alienates music lovers, some of whom have voiced their displeasure on various bands’ websites.

In fact, many of the bands involved haven’t endorsed the content-protection policy. On his band’s official website, Switchfoot bassist Tim Foreman posted his discontent with fans’ inability to put the band’s latest album, “Nothing Is Sound” on their iPods. “It is heartbreaking,” he wrote, “to see our blood, sweat and tears over the past two years blurred by the confusion and frustration surrounding this new technology.”

[...] Still, the BMG support site derides Apple’s unwillingness to “cooperate with our protection vendors to make ripping to iTunes, and to the iPod a simple experience.” And there’s a link on that site to Apple’s feedback forum where customers can badger the company into compliance.

So far, Sony BMG maintains it has received a minimal number of customer comments about content-protected CDs. “Of 15 million protected discs released so far, just three-tenths of 1 percent of consumers have contacted us with some kind of query,” said the Sony spokesman, who asked not to be named. “And every single person who has contacted us about iPod compatibility has gotten the work-around” to bypass the content protections, he added.

On the other hand, see Apple steps up iPod ‘tax’ push

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October 17, 2005

Apple and Video Content [6:00 pm]

Based on what I’ve been reading as I catch up, no one should be surprised by this: Apple faces hard time wooing Hollywood to new iPod [pdf]

In the week since Jobs unveiled the handheld iPod, which plays video clips on a 2.5-inch diagonal screen, media and technology executives have been trying to figure out whether people will watch shows on a small screen, what types of programs will work and whether money can be made at the $1.99 price Apple set.

[...] Veteran financial analyst Tom Wolzien said “a lot of confusion” remains in the marketplace and further noted that how much actors, directors, writers and other artists might receive also must also be addressed.

Late last week, unions representing various talent groups issued a rare joint statement saying they would work to “ensure our members are properly compensated” for downloads.

Related: Cool, a Video iPod. Want to Watch ‘Lost’?

Later: Another examination - Video iPod opens gates on ad model [pdf]

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October 12, 2005

Hurl City! [12:46 pm]

I’m on vacation this week, but this article made my gorge rise: Antitrust Suit Turns Into a Partnership for Microsoft

Their common ground, the two companies say, is a strategy of digital media in which Microsoft wants its software used on all kinds of devices, and RealNetworks wants its subscription services distributed widely. “To have a digitally interconnected world, you need to collaborate with a lot of other companies, and this is a step toward that world,” Mr. Glaser said in an interview.

Over the years, Microsoft has often been portrayed by its rivals and critics as a greedy giant, trying to bundle all kinds of products into Windows and stifling consumer choice. Yesterday, Mr. Gates and Mr. Glaser cast themselves as champions of choice in contrast with Apple, whose iPod players, iTunes software and iStore music store are tightly integrated.

“We’re not one closed monolithic system, where you have to use their device, their software and their service,” Mr. Glaser said.

The Microsoft-RealNetworks collaboration, Mr. Gates said, was the “open alternative” in the digital media market.

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October 7, 2005

How To Get A Headache [7:18 pm]

Follow this “argument” [also note the effort to convert "digital rights management (DRM)" into "tehnological protection mechanism (TPM)"] Here’s a surefire way to stifle innovation

Now that the Grokster decision has been handed down and innovation still appears to be among us, it’s important to continue the fight for new ideas. That effort should include preserving, through intellectual-property protection, the innovation of online business models that empower consumers by offering for sale or rental goods with differing uses at varying price points.

Ultimately, if consumers are going to be able to fully benefit from the flexibility and ease of access afforded by the Internet, they must not have their choices curtailed by misguided federal legislation.

A well-meaning U.S. Congressman, Rick Boucher of Virginia, is the author of the legislation in question. He first tried to make circumvention of copy-protection mechanisms legal back in 1998, when Congress was debating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. His effort to amend the bill failed.

Since then, he has been continuing his crusade through standalone bills; his version in this Congress is HR-1201. Boucher claims that digital rights management (DRM) on DVDs, CDs and other mediums can stifle fair use. The U.S. Copyright Office largely has disagreed in DMCA review proceedings, but Boucher nonetheless persists.

[...] But if HR-1201 becomes law, every consumer could legally hack any TPM by claiming fair use, and as fair use isn’t codified, there would be as many definitions of it as there are consumers. Consumers would be legally sanctioned to break their contracts with the content provider.

No sane business operator enters a contract in which one party has the right to disregard its terms at will, but that’s what HR-1201 permits. That hated TPM would disappear from the market, as there’s no reason to employ a lock if everyone has a legal right to the key. But as TPM leaves, so do the digital offerings that come with it.

Sadly. of course, consumers can be coerced into entering into an illegal contract, though, but that’s more than this author is prepared to acknowledge in a “free” market.

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Anonymous Blogging Protected For Now [8:31 am]

Delaware Supreme Court Declines to Unmask a Blogger

The Delaware Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that if an elected official claims he has been defamed by an anonymous blogger, he cannot use a lawsuit to unmask the writer unless he has substantial evidence to prove his claim.

That standard, the court said, “will more appropriately protect against the chilling effect on anonymous First Amendment Internet speech that can arise when plaintiffs bring trivial defamation lawsuits primarily to harass or unmask their critics.”

See also the EFF’s Further Thoughts on the Delaware Ruling Protecting Anonymous Bloggers

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Some Slashdot Titles [8:13 am]

Because I’m running behind on a bunch of things today:

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Level 3 & Cogent Spat [8:04 am]

Dispute threatens to snarl Internet [pdf]

On Wednesday, the Internet service provider Level 3 Communications Inc. of Broomfield, Colo., broke its connections with a major competitor, Cogent Communications Group Inc. of Washington, D.C., effectively throwing up roadblocks for some e-mail communication and access to websites. Level 3, which provides Internet services to major companies like Cox Communications and America Online, essentially stopped allowing its customers to connect with those of Cogent, which has 9,500 customers around the world. Cogent provides Internet services to a number of local universities, including Harvard, Boston College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Although the scale of the disruption is unclear, the incident may offer more fodder for those who believe the Internet should be regulated by an international agency, such as the United Nations. Scientists in the United States invented the Internet, and the computers that oversee the network are still controlled by the US Department of Commerce, which favors a hands-off approach. But governments worldwide have launched a campaign to put the Internet under international control. American officials have resisted the idea, saying that UN oversight would introduce undue government interference and the threat of data censorship by authoritarian states like China.

CNet’s Blackout shows Net’s fragility

In theory, this kind of blackout is precisely the kind of problem the Internet was designed to withstand. The complicated, interlocking nature of networks means that data traffic is supposed to be able to find an alternate route to its destination, even if a critical link is broken.

In practice, obscure contract disputes between the big network companies can make all these redundancies moot.

At issue is a type of network connection called “peering.” Most of the biggest network companies, such as AT&T, Sprint and MCI, as well as companies including Cogent and Level 3, strike “peering agreements” in which they agree to establish direct connections between their networks.

[...] These collegial peering relationships among big companies allow traffic to flow efficiently across the Net without most customers knowing anything about the under-the-hood relationships. But when these relationships go sour, the feuding parties’ lack of flexibility can result in blackouts like the one that occurred this week.

In this case, Level 3 says that it believes it is substantially larger than its rival, and told Cogent as long as 90 days ago that it was planning to sever the direct connection between the two networks. The connection could be re-established if Cogent were to pay Level 3 access fees for use of its network, the company says.

For its part, Cogent contends that it is similar in size to Level 3, and that it makes no sense to pay for the kind of peering relationship that it maintains with many other companies. Cogent is offering any Level 3 user who can’t get to Cogent sites free Internet service for a year, in an attempt to attract its rival’s customers.

Also ZDNet’s Network feud leads to Net blackout

Related: EU, UN to Wrestle Internet Control From US

Related? The New Lords of the Ring Tone

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October 6, 2005

Siva’s Open Source as Culture … Online [11:15 am]

Open Source as Culture - Culture as Open Source

Abstract

The Open Source model of peer production, sharing, revision, and peer review has distilled and labeled the most successful human creative habits into a techno-political movement. This distillation has had costs and benefits. It has been difficult to court mainstream acceptance for such a tangle of seemingly technical ideas when its chief advocates have been hackers and academics. On the other hand, the brilliant success of overtly labeled Open Source experiments, coupled with the horror stories of attempts to protect the proprietary model of cultural production have served to popularize the ideas championed by the movement. In recent years, we have seen the Open Source model overtly mimicked within domains of culture quite distinct from computer software. Rather than being revolutionary, this movement is quite conservatively recapturing and revalorizing the basic human communicative and cultural processes that have generated many good things.

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