Propping Up the Universal Service Fund

Senators back new broadband taxes

At a Tuesday hearing convened by the Senate Commerce Committee, several senators from largely rural states called for expansion of the Universal Service Fund (USF), a multibillion-dollar pool of money that’s currently used to subsidize telecommunications services in rural and other high-cost areas, schools and libraries.

Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who counts himself among the fund’s staunch supporters, said Tuesday that “without Universal Service, just having a dial tone would average about $200 per month” for many residents in his home state.

Competing Rhetoric

Going to use this article in class today as an discussion element on the topic of policy formulation — particularly as related to the use of rhetorical forms to make arguments for legitimacy: Groups mobilize against fees for bulk e-mailings [pdf]

While everyone hates the unsolicited messages that clog inboxes, the plan has spawned a backlash from an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative political groups that rely on bulk e-mails to communicate with members and raise money.

”This represents a threat to an open Internet,” said Adam Green, civic communications director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, a liberal lobbying group.

His conservative counterpart, William Greene, president of RightMarch.com, agreed. ”It’s actually going to restrict or have a negative impact on the free-speech activities of so many people across the country,” he said.

[…] AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the plan is a sensible way to provide more dependable e-mail deliveries. ”It’s not much different from going to the post office and choosing from the wide variety of options as to how you want the mail delivered,” he said. Standard Internet e-mail would be supplemented by a fee-based ”express mail” service that avoids spam filters, which tie up a significant number of legitimate messages.

Bulk e-mailers who want the premium service would be charged between a quarter-cent and one cent for each certified message sent. The revenue from the program would be split between the recipient’s Internet provider — either Yahoo or AOL — and Goodmail Systems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., which developed a certified e-mail service.

A Couple of Privacy Stories

  • You’ve Got a Bogus Account With AOL! [pdf]

    America Online never stops telling us about how vigorously it strives to protect its members from spam, viruses, spyware, identity theft and all sorts of other fraudulent behavior on the Internet.

    What it doesn’t talk about is this: What chance do we have when AOL itself is a participant in, or at least a beneficiary of, the fraud?

    That’s the question implicit in the story I’m about to relate.

  • Harvard, tech firms push data privacy [pdf]

    Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society is joining with a consortium of technology companies, including IBM Corp. and Novell Inc., today to unveil an ”open security” project aimed at creating software to give people more control over their online identities.

    […] For individuals, such a system promises a ”single sign-on” enabling the sharing with third parties of personal information, ranging from bank and credit card accounts to medical records and phone numbers, said John H. Clippinger, senior fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School.

    Clippinger said the system will enable people to share tiers of their digital data with different parties, giving broader access to doctors, for example, than to cable companies.

    ”The web wasn’t designed with a security layer in it, so we’re addressing that missing piece,” Clippinger said. ”This is a whole new system called ‘open security’ where the control point is the individual.”

A Look At Blu-Ray V DVDHD

In Sony’s Stumble, the Ghost of Betamax

The possible delay and the Blu-ray group’s loss of its once-commanding lead are not encouraging developments for Sony in its attempt to revive its electronics group after a series of bungles. PlayStation 3 is crucial to Sony’s future, and not only because the latest version of its gaming consoles could generate billions in revenue; the new machines will include disc drives that will turn them into Blu-ray DVD players as well.

[…] A DECADE ago, a prospective death match between competing first-generation DVD players was averted when Sony and Philips agreed to back down and join the Toshiba/Warner Brothers side, in exchange for a share of royalties that all DVD player producers pay to the format’s creator. Now, no truce seems near, as neither side wants to settle for a small piece of what could be a big electronics success.

So consumers and retailers may be in for a reprise of the confusing VHS-Betamax showdown of the early 1980’s, with Toshiba replacing Matsushita as Sony’s adversary. But Sony hopes to have a happier resolution this time. Sony lost the battle two decades ago when its highly regarded Betamax technology was defeated by VHS, a more widely accepted alternative.

Once again, the differences between the two technologies are not huge. And a growing chorus of critics, including some studio chiefs eager to sell new products as quickly as possible, call the Blu-ray format unnecessarily elaborate and expensive.

Slashdot’s In Sony’s Stumble, the Ghost of Betamax

Perfect 10 Fallout for Google Book Search?

Ruling May Undercut Google in Fight Over Its Book Scans [pdf] [via Slashdot]

Representatives of publishers and authors who have filed lawsuits against Google over its Book Search program said they believed that the decision raised questions about a case that Google had cited in its defense of the Book Search program.

Some intellectual property lawyers agree. “I think the judge’s decision completely sets up the case the authors have against Google,” said Karen S. Frank, a partner at Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, a San Francisco law firm, who is not involved in the lawsuit.

Technological Access and Creation Culture

His MySpace odyssey [

Lehre first had the idea for the 11-minute short about two months ago, when he was looking to increase exposure for the films he cranks out almost weekly. Now — who knows — he could be in the early wave of unknowns trying to find a new way to break into Hollywood by winning public approval from the ground up and, as a result, gaining attention from top-tier gatekeepers.

It isn’t just major media that’s cruising the Web for content and talent. As the offerings expand for teens and twentysomethings through emerging platforms — online, on air, via broadband and with video on demand — new media outlets are looking for content. And they’re finding it among their own Generation Y viewers who are so technologically literate they’re almost like a new species — a new creative species, so familiar with computers and cameras that making videos and uploading them to the Web is about as complicated as walking and chewing gum.

A New Front Opens

MPAA sues newsgroup, P2P search sites

The Motion Picture Association of America said Thursday that it sued a new round of popular Web sites associated with movie piracy, including several that serve as search engines but do not distribute files themselves.

The lawsuits mark an expansion of the copyright holders’ legal strategy in the file-swapping world, targeting sites that help make downloading easier, but aren’t actually delivering the files or the swapping technology themselves.

It’s also the first time the group has sued organizations that direct their members to the Usenet newsgroup system, an MPAA spokeswoman said. The movie group makes little distinction between a peer-to-peer network and the search engines that point to pirated works, saying that all facilitate the distribution of copyright works.

CDT Releases Report on Digital Surveillance

Digital Technology Makes Surveillance Easier; Stronger Laws Needed, Report Finds

The report details how two popular and increasingly ubiquitous technologies — Web-based email and location awareness — inadvertently give the government unprecedented access to Americans’ personal data.

Web-based email is a convenient, inexpensive way to stay in touch with friends and colleagues and to access one’s mail, photos and documents from anywhere in the world. Several webmail services now offer their users gigabytes of storage, touting the fact that users never need delete anything.

As “Digital Search and Seizure” illustrates, all of this information sits on the computers of service providers. The legal distinction between Web-based and traditional email accounts is essentially meaningless for most Internet users, but under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) — drafted in 1986, before webmail existed — messages and documents stored with webmail providers are entitled to weaker protections than those stored on users’ computers. While the government needs a judicial warrant to search a person’s computer, it may be able to access that person’s webmail account with only a subpoena, issued without judicial review; without any specific suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of the user; and often without notice to the person whose data is being disclosed.

“Digital Search and Seizure” also outlines how mobile phones serve as tracking beacons. “While a cell phone is turned on, whether or not it is making a call, it is regularly seeking out the nearest antenna and sending to it its identification numbers,” the report points out. Unfortunately the legal standards regulating the government’s ability to use that constant stream of new data haven’t kept pace with the technological reality. Since no existing law lays out explicit standards for government location tracking, the government’s use of location technology is governed by a patchwork of laws and court precedents, the report finds.

Finally, the report discusses the emergence of “government spyware” — keystroke-logging technology that can record everything a subject does on his or her computer. Here too the technology has far out paced the legal protections, giving the government a uniquely intrusive surveillance tool, with inadequate legal controls.

The report concludes that in all these areas and others (such as RFID and search services), the laws must be updated to reflect the technological realities of a new century.

The report: Digital Search & Seizure: Updating Privacy Protections to Keep Pace with Technology

Fair Use In Google Image Search Ruling

Google’s Image Search Set Back [pdf]

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz in Los Angeles ruled that Google was likely to lose at least part of a copyright infringement case filed by a publisher of adult magazines and websites. Perfect 10 Inc. alleged that Google users could find for free its pictures of nude women, for which it normally charges. The search engine links to such images posted improperly on other websites.

Matz said he planned to grant Perfect 10 a preliminary injunction and asked the two companies to negotiate an agreement by March 8. That could include requiring Google to block Perfect 10 images from its searches.

If upheld, the judge’s preliminary ruling could throw a kink into the way Mountain View, Calif.-based Google collects and displays photographs in the image portion of its search engine. Lawyers not involved with the case said it would have little effect on Google’s overall business, which generated $6.1 billion in revenue last year.

[…] Nonetheless, the case demonstrates how technological change is outpacing the law.

[…] Google appeared poised to win a key part of the lawsuit, which argued that the company was liable for the infringement of every website it linked to that contained copyrighted images. Matz said Google differed from file-sharing networks that encourage copyright infringement and called it unlikely that Perfect 10 would win its broader claim. He said he would deny its request for a preliminary injunction over that claim.

Had Matz ruled differently on that point, “a huge part of the World Wide Web would be suddenly vulnerable to legal attack,” said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The opinionPerfect 10 v Google

BusWeek Columnist Sees An MP3.Com-Redux Strategy

Of course, the courts might have something to say about it (see UMG v. MP3.com): Another Take on Amazon Music: High-Stakes Chess?

But one source in digital music suggests a way that Amazon might actually provide something different than Apple while making the digital music business more profitable: What if Amazon believes that the fair use doctrine allows it to load music that people already own–CDs they bought from Amazon, that is–onto a music player for free? People can do that themselves now, right? Load a very cheap or free music player–even if it’s not an iPod–with essentially free music could be a compelling, no-hassle proposition for a whole lot of music lovers.

I suspect the labels would contend it wouldn’t be legal for Amazon to do it, but it’s not crystal-clear to me that such a practice would indeed be illegal. But even if Amazon didn’t actually try to assert this right without the labels’ blessing, could it use that potential as a club to get price concessions on digital songs from the labels? Lower prices might help Amazon’s digital music business actually make money.

If Amazon has waved this club in front of the labels–a big if, of course, since Amazon isn’t even talking about its nusic plans, let alone its negotiations–it may explain why the labels leaked Amazon’s plans so early. It doesn’t seem accidental that the labels put Amazon in a spot by mentioning a time frame for the music store–this summer–while noting that negotiations aren’t done yet. Checkmate, Amazon?

Yeah, it’s all sheer speculation [….]