May 7, 2007

Attacking “First Sale” [3:52 pm]

New State Laws Target Used-CD Sellers - pdf [via Listening Post]

Independent merchants selling and buying used CDs across the United States say they are alarmed by stepped-up pawn-broker-related laws recently enacted in Florida and Utah and pending in Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

In Florida, the new legislation requires all stores buying second-hand merchandise for resale to apply for a permit and file security in the form of a $10,000 bond with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In addition, stores would be required to thumb-print customers selling used CDs, and acquire a copy of state-issued identity documents such as a driver’s license. Furthermore, stores could issue only store credit — not cash — in exchange for traded CDs, and would be required to hold discs for 30 days before reselling them.

At least one Florida town has enforced the law, resulting in the cited merchant pulling used CDs from its store.

The law in Utah and the legislation pending in Wisconsin and Rhode Island are also harsher than typical pawn-shop laws, according to John Mitchell, outside counsel for NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers).

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Ugh [3:42 pm]

And I thought ComCast played games: Verizon: Suing Us For Turning Over Customer Call Records Violates Our Free Speech Rights

Verizon is seeking to have a lawsuit filed against it for allegedly illegally helping the government eavesdrop on its customers and data mine their call records dismissed. The company argues that the suit infringes on the company’s First Amendment rights.

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Creativity and Self-Actualization? Or Just Co-opting and Manipulation? [1:37 pm]

Putting the I in Advertising - pdf

Companies have long involved consumers in their marketing efforts through contests to, say, write jingles or name the new Crayola colors. But now, in ways large and small, a culture of open-source software and Wikipedia and online interactivity is reconfiguring the business of selling.

The traditional advertising models are collapsing. Where once there were mass media, with the audience a passive receptacle, we are moving toward what branding expert Rob Frankel calls “the masses controlling the media.” An audience empowered by hundreds of cable channels and TiVo pays less and less mind to TV ads. And the marketers, well, some might suggest they are desperate.

“You can smell the fear,” Garfield says.

Which means that smart marketers will figure out how to get the people to do much of their work for them. [...]

[...] Should we be more or less suspicious of advertising that we have helped to spread or to create? Perhaps it’s no big deal, since one could argue that we shill for corporate America whenever we put on a T-shirt with a logo. And besides, there’s a kind of democratization at work when an audience is empowered to act as its own filter. Perhaps someone e-mails a friend a link, implicitly vouching for its value, or perhaps marketers “seed” their short film to a video-sharing site, where it is rated by thousands. In any case, it is the audience that determines what gets seen.

Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist affiliated with MIT, says participatory advertising represents a “revolution” in thinking. It means marketers are actually “inviting” consumers “into the production of meaning,” he says. “Just a few years ago people were still talking about trying to find and push the hot button inside the consumer.”

On the other hand, what of the time-honored divide between Madison Avenue and ordinary people? It’s an American tradition to decry advertising’s growing encroachment into our lives.

But we can’t blame the outsiders, the brainwashers, the clever admen, when we are all complicit, when we are all One of Them.

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Winning Hearts and Minds [12:25 pm]

And doing it almost as well in Russia as we seem to be doing around the globe. Of course, this is in support of the vital principle of intellectual property, so…. Principal guilty in software piracy casepdf (earlier post)

A court Monday found the principal of a village school guilty of using bootleg Microsoft software and ordered him to pay a fine of about $195 in a case that was cast by Russian media as a battle between a humble educator and an international corporation.

The trial of Alexander Ponosov, who was charged with violating intellectual property rights by using classroom computers with pirated versions of the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office software installed, has attracted wide attention.

Russian officials frequently allege that foreign governments, including the U.S., are meddling in Russia’s internal affairs, and Russian media reports have portrayed the case as that of a Western corporation bringing its power to bear on one man — in this case, a principal who also teaches history and earns $360 a month.

Microsoft, however, has said repeatedly it has nothing to do with the charges, which were brought by Russian prosecutors in the Ural Mountains region where Ponosov’s school is located.

Also - Court fines Russian teacher in Microsoft piracy case

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A Digital Transition That Humanizes (updated) [9:27 am]

In Domestic Abuse, Digital Photos Can Say More Than Victims

Now, as soon as a photo is uploaded, prosecutors can immediately assess the gravity of the wounds and decide how aggressively to pursue a case. The digitally transmitted pictures are now also available for a defendant’s first appearance in court, which experts say is a crucial time in domestic violence cases.

“One of the most serious decisions a judge can take is to set bail instead of sending the person home, where the battery continues,” said Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney.

In Queens, Scott E. Kessler, who heads the district attorney’s domestic violence bureau, has found that when the police take photographs, bail is set in nearly a third of the cases. But without a photo, he said, the figure falls to 14 percent, with the rest of the defendants being released on their own recognizance.

The reason, he says, is the extreme visceral reaction the photos elicit.

“When you’re in a front of a judge, you describe the injuries written in the complaint, the bruising, the swelling, the blood,” Mr. Kessler said. “But until a person sees another human being with those injuries, with the swelling, the blood, the bruising, it’s hard to get that point across.”

Later: And then there’s anthropomorphising a machine: what does this mean? Bots on The Groundpdf

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become an unprecedented field study in human relationships with intelligent machines. These conflicts are the first in history to see widespread deployment of thousands of battle bots. Flying bots range in size from Learjets to eagles. Some ground bots are like small tanks. Others are the size of two-pound dumbbells, designed to be thrown through a window to scope out the inside of a room. Bots search caves for bad guys, clear roads of improvised explosive devices, scoot under cars to look for bombs, spy on the enemy and, sometimes, kill humans.

Even more startling than these machines’ capabilities, however, are the effects they have on their friendly keepers who, for example, award their bots “battlefield promotions” and “purple hearts.” “Ours was called Sgt. Talon,” says Sgt. Michael Maxson of the 737th Ordnance Company (EOD). “We always wanted him as our main robot. Every time he was working, nothing bad ever happened. He always got the job done. He took a couple of detonations in front of his face and didn’t stop working. One time, he actually did break down in a mission, and we sent another robot in and it got blown to pieces. It’s like he shut down because he knew something bad would happen.” The troops promoted the robot to staff sergeant — a high honor, since that usually means a squad leader. They also awarded it three “purple hearts.”

Humans have long displayed an uncanny ability to make emotional connections with their manufactured helpmates. Car owners for generations have named their vehicles. In “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks risks his life to save a volleyball named Wilson, who has become his best friend and confidant. Now that our creations display elements of intelligence, however, the bonds humans forge with their machines are even more impressive. Especially when humans credit their bots with saving their lives.

[...] What the battle bots are teaching us is how easily we identify our own creations as animate.

[...] It’s not about how the machine works. It’s about how humans are wired.

Hmmm - or maybe it’s how clever we are at programming machines to take advantage of how humans are wired — or worse, that we’ve already embedded an expectation of this manipulation into our specification of user interfaces, and thus program to them without thinking….

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Pew’s Latest: US Tech Use Profiles [9:16 am]

A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

Elite Tech Users
(31% of American Adults)
Group Name % of adult population What you need to know about them
Omnivores 8% They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace and express themselves online and do a range of Web 2.0 activities such as blogging or managing their own Web pages.
Connectors 7% Between featured-packed cell phones and frequent online use, they connect to people and manage digital content using ICTs – all with high levels of satisfaction about how ICTs let them work with community groups and pursue hobbies.
Lackluster Veterans 8% They are frequent users of the internet and less avid about cell phones. They are not thrilled with ICT-enabled connectivity.
Productivity Enhancers 8% They have strongly positive views about how technology lets them keep up with others, do their jobs, and learn new things.
Tech Users
Mobile Centrics 10% They fully embrace the functionality of their cell phones. They use the internet, but not often, and like how ICTs connect them to others.
Connected But Hassled 10% They have invested in a lot of technology, but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden.
Few Tech
Inexperienced Experimenters 8% They occasionally take advantage of interactivity, but if they had more experience, they might do more with ICTs.
Light But Satisfied 15% They have some technology, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives. They are satisfied with what ICTs do for them.
Indifferents 11% Despite having either cell phones or online access, these users use ICTs only intermittently and find connectivity annoying.
Off the Network 15% Those with neither cell phones nor internet connectivity tend to be older adults who are content with old media.

See Survey defines split in technology use - pdf

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Lining Up [8:53 am]

Which side are you on? NBC Universal sides against YouTube in piracy suitpdf

NBC Universal is taking sides with fellow media conglomerate Viacom Inc. over a piracy lawsuit filed against Google Inc.’s online video sharing site YouTube, according to papers filed in court.

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Stanford’s Fair Use Project on NPR [8:16 am]

Stanford Center Advocates for Fair Use on Web

The Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society seeks to lay the groundwork for artists and academics to use copyrighted work without permission in certain situations.

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Just Wondering… [7:58 am]

Why The Boston Globe has not posted the other part of this past Sunday’s “The Word” column, which was about the AACS fight as an excuse to cite the word “steganography.” A bad example? Or fear of a takedown order? I’ll try to collect my copy tonight and scan it in, but it’s hard to figure out what the problem was — they had completely effaced the offending number from all the examples they posted.

Related: Ed Felten has an offer for you! You Can Own an Integer Too — Get Yours Here

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At Least The Post Is Willing To Pose The Question [7:53 am]

Fixing FISApdf (see earlier post on the FISA proposals)

Perhaps a more accommodating, updated FISA would encourage the administration to follow the law rather than circumvent it, but the administration’s testimony before the Senate intelligence committee last week on that subject was hardly reassuring. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) asked if the administration had “any plans to do any surveillance” outside of FISA. “None that we are formulating or thinking about currently,” replied the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. “But I’d just highlight, Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” With answers like this, how can lawmakers trying to fix this statute have any confidence the administration will live by the rules Congress lays out?

Later: As noted in NYT Slams Bush on FISA, WashPo Minces (and in my earlier post), the NYTimes is a bit more savage on this subject.

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A Tangled Web [7:48 am]

Journalists Intend to Sue Hewlett-Packard Over Surveillance

In an unusual step for the news media, three journalists whose private phone records were scrutinized by investigators working for Hewlett-Packard intend to sue the company for invasion of privacy.

The dispute stems from an investigation of Hewlett-Packard’s directors initiated under the company’s former chairwoman, Patricia C. Dunn. To try to uncover leaks from board members, private investigators examined the phone records of nine journalists who covered the company, as well as the records of some of their relatives.

While the dispute revolves around the issue of how the journalists’ careers may have been damaged by having their phone records examined, the threat to sue also raises the question whether it is proper for a news organization or its reporters to sue a company they cover. It is certainly not common.

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More on the Supreme Court’s Recent Patent Rulings [7:37 am]

As usual, there are many ways to spin the outcome: Patently obviouspdf

Last week, ruling in a dispute over the design of a gas pedal, the Supreme Court jolted the American patent system. The case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., dealt with the placement of an electronic sensor in an accelerator that could be adjusted according to a driver’s height — not in itself a matter of national concern. But the court used its decision to issue a broad rebuke of the way in which American patent cases are decided. In the process, some patent lawyers say, it may also have added a new level of uncertainty to an area of the law that is vital to the nation’s economy and our ability to protect and encourage innovation.

[...] To correct this, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for patent applicants to claim that they’ve actually invented something, while also making it easier for older patents to be challenged.

Suddenly, according to patent attorneys and legal scholars, much that seemed settled law may be up for grabs. [...]

[...] According to Dan Ravicher, patent attorney and founder of the Public Patent Foundation, such concerns are overblown. Difficulties with subjectivity, he points out, are hardly unique to obviousness, or to patent law. “There’s no objective test for ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” he points out. “The law is full of subjective elements.”

Potato, potahto

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A Look What Bikram Yoga’s Landgrab Says About Global Trade [7:31 am]

A Big Stretch

I GREW up watching my father stand on his head every morning. He was doing sirsasana, a yoga pose that accounts for his youthful looks well into his 60s. Now he might have to pay a royalty to an American patent holder if he teaches the secrets of his good health to others. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There’s big money in those pretzel twists and contortions — $3 billion a year in America alone.

It’s a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages. Should an Indian, in retaliation, patent the Heimlich maneuver, so that he can collect every time a waiter saves a customer from choking on a fishbone?

The Indian government is not laughing. It has set up a task force that is cataloging traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and hundreds of yoga poses, to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreign hucksters. The data will be translated from ancient Sanskrit and Tamil texts, stored digitally and available in five international languages, so that patent offices in other countries can see that yoga didn’t originate in a San Francisco commune.

[...] Still, Indians get upset every time they hear reports — often overblown — of Westerners’ stealing their age-old wisdom, through the mechanism of copyright law. They were outraged by a story last year of some Americans trying to copyright the sacred Hindu syllable “om” — which would be like trade-marking “amen.”

The fears may be exaggerated, but they are widespread and reflect India’s mixed experience with globalization. [...]

[...] If the copying of Western drugs is illegal, so should be the patenting of yoga. It is also intellectual piracy, stood on its head.

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Promotion? Or Creative Content? [7:27 am]

And how to tell the difference. Hollywood Loves the Tiny Screen. Advertisers Don’t. - and not just advertisers:

Where studios could get into trouble, though, is if mobile phone episodes like these are viewed less as promotional material and more as pure entertainment. Unionized actors, directors and writers have already balked at creating videos and other material for the Web, saying they should be paid for the extra work. (Unionized workers are not paid extra to create promotional materials.)

One way to get around the situation is by creating animated episodes or hiring look-alike actresses instead. That is what Fox did early on. But the issue is expected to be a sticking point in the planned talks with the unions. Some unions are already monitoring how much advertising revenue studios are making.

Not surprising, studios are bracing for tough negotiations.

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May 2007
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