Profile of Ira Rothken

TorrentSpy lawyer battling ‘copyright extremism’

Ira Rothken is technology’s answer to the radical lawyer, Silicon Valley’s version of Johnnie Cochran or William Kunstler.

Tech start-ups sued by media conglomerates for copyright infringement typically call on Rothken, a medical researcher turned lawyer. He’s made a name for himself by bucking entertainment empires and by backing long-shot copyright cases, such as those involving RecordTV, ReplayTV and His efforts have won him praise from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the advocacy group that has become synonymous with user rights on the Web.

“Ira has a strong intuition for the little guy,” said Fred von Lohmann, an EFF senior staff attorney. “He enjoys these uphill fights. I often refer people to him.”


Techdirt says it best about this bit: Labels eye online social networks as retailers (pdf)

Do the record labels really not realize how much they’ve pissed off their best customers for the last decade? It would appear so, because they’re now hoping that the kids they’ve alienated for all these years will become shills for them on MySpace and other social networks, pushing all their friends to buy music as well. That might have worked years ago, but these days it seems like plenty of kids have been so turned off by buying music from record labels that treat them like criminals first, that it seems like an uphill road to convince them to not just start buying music, but shilling for the record labels as well.

I Got Back In Town Just In Time For The Fun, I See

Will it be the half-loaf (pdf) that’s been offered, or will we see an all-out test? FCC to Rule on Wireless Auctionpdf

The Federal Communications Commission will set the rules tomorrow governing the auction of $15 billion of public airwaves, a decision with stakes so high that the major U.S. cellular carriers and Google have spent millions of dollars on a lobbying campaign in an attempt to influence the outcome. The decision could dramatically alter the nation’s cellphone industry.

[…] Google, in its first serious foray into the Washington regulatory scene and, potentially, the wireless industry, has offered to spend at least $4.6 billion for the airwaves it would use to build the network it envisions if the FCC’s rules work in its favor. The move reflects Google’s growing ambitions to reach consumers in new ways while exerting its influence on policy it sees as critical to its future. But the company’s efforts to recast the wireless landscape have met fierce opposition from AT&T and Verizon, which worry Google’s open network would undermine their businesses.

News release, Copps statement, Adelstein statement, McDowell statement. From Copps’ statement:

My deepening concern this afternoon is that this auction might not end up being the stimulus to a third pipe, the right to attach devices, to run applications and to encourage the innovation and entrepreneurship that we all hope for because of some add-on provisions. The item now imposes reserve prices on each of the individual spectrum blocks, something without precedent in previous auctions and something, it seems to me, rather at odds with letting the market pick the auction block winners. The procedure in this Order carries chilling risk to the success of the auction. If some of these blocks do not fetch the bid prices stipulated, perhaps because of gaming of the worst sort, they will be re-auctioned with weaker build-out requirements. If the 22 MHz block, where we hope for Carterfone open access principles, fails to elicit a $4.6 billion bid, it will be re-auctioned without Carterfone open access. In the end, all of this micro-managing virtually hands industry the pen to write the auction rules and to constrict all the opportunities this spectrum held forth. The end result could be: same old, same old. What a pity that would be!

In closing, we came farther on some things than many thought likely a few months, or even a few weeks, ago. There is much to approve in this Order. I will concur in two parts because wholesale open access is not stipulated and also because of the concerns I have discussed regarding how the micro-managed reserve pricing scheme could subvert the higher goals of the auction.

The NYTimes has the APWire story: F.C.C. Approves Airwave Sale Rules (pdf). And in news from the future (dateline August 1, 2007), we have Google Wins Partial Victory in F.C.C. Ruling (which has become this: F.C.C. Hands Google a Partial Victory)

Refining the Distribution Model

Or is it locking customers into a closed network? Music From Independent Labels to Be Sold via Cellphones

EMusic, the nation’s second-largest online music seller after Apple’s iTunes, plans to announce a deal with AT&T today that will allow people to buy songs from independent labels through their cellphones, without the need to go through a personal computer.

[…] Tracks will cost more than they do over the Internet — $7.49 for five songs, as opposed to $9.99 for 30 at the online site — because of the expense of sending them over a mobile network to a user’s phone. For that price, however, users can also get another copy of the song, which they can download from the Internet as an MP3.


A Troll Gets A Smackdown

And a judge explores a way to get around nonsense “business method patents:” Judge Permits eBay’s ‘Buy It Now’ Feature

Judge Jerome B. Friedman of Federal District Court denied a motion by the Virginia company, MercExchange, for a permanent injunction to stop eBay from using the feature. The Supreme Court ruled last year that, although eBay infringed upon MercExchange’s patent for the service, it was up to the lower court to decide whether eBay had to stop using it.

In his ruling, Judge Friedman said the company was not irreparably harmed because it continued to make money from its patents, either by licensing them outright or by threatening litigation against those it believed infringed upon them.

“MercExchange has utilized its patents as a sword to extract money rather than as a shield to protect its right to exclude or its market share, reputation, good will, or name recognition, as MercExchange appears to possess none of these,” he wrote.

EFF’s earlier tracking of this case

Participatory Cartography

With Tools on Web, Amateurs Reshape Mapmaking

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.

In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

They are also turning the Web into a medium where maps will play a more central role in how information is organized and found.

Just Relax and Take It

FBI Seeks To Pay Telecoms For Datapdf

The FBI wants to pay the major telecommunications companies to retain their customers’ Internet and phone call information for at least two years for the agency’s use in counterterrorism investigations and is asking Congress for $5 million a year to defray the cost, according to FBI officials and budget documents.

The FBI would not have direct access to the records. It would need to present a subpoena or an administrative warrant, known as a national security letter, to obtain the information that the companies would keep in a database, officials said.

What could possibly go wrong?

UK Rejects A Bono-Like Copyright Term Extension

UK rejects music copyright extensionpdf

The British government rejected a plea to extend copyright laws for sound recordings to beyond 50 years on Tuesday, prompting the music industry to accuse it of not supporting musicians and artists.

[…] Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, which represents the British recorded music industry, said the government had failed its test to show support for British music.

“We will continue to put forward the strong case for fair copyright in Europe,” he said. “It is profoundly disappointing that we are forced to do so without the backing of the British government.”

Search, Privacy and the FTC

Search Engines Tighten Privacypdf

Online search companies Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are tightening their privacy policies in the face of mounting public, congressional and regulatory agency concern about the vast amounts of personal data they gather and store.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced it would make all data on search queries anonymous after 18 months. This week, Yahoo is to outline plans to make a user’s search history anonymous within 13 months. On Friday, said users could ask the firm not to retain their Web searches.

Google, which faces the most scrutiny, announced in March that it would begin to make search-query data anonymous after 18 to 24 months. Last week, the company said it would shorten the lifespan of cookies, which are small files attached to a user’s browser. A further refinement of its privacy policy is expected soon.

The moves come as the Federal Trade Commission signaled that it might take action to modify or block Google’s $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, a major online advertising company. […]

Blogging the Hunt for the Higgs Boson

A look at the evolution of the way that science gets done: The Race is on for the God Particle

The excitement has been ratcheted up by the speed and ubiquity of information on the Internet.

“It is exciting even if you think the chances of it being true are only 0 or 10 percent,” said Tommaso Dorigo, from the University of Padua in Italy, who helped spread the D Zero rumor in June on his blog, A Quantum Diaries Survivor ( “It’s something you were looking for and would be very happy to find.”

Joe Lykken, a Fermilab theorist who said he first learned of the rumored bump the old-fashioned way, over lunch in the laboratory cafeteria, said: “Pre-blog, this sort of rumor would have circulated among perhaps a few dozen physicists. Now with blogs even string theorists who can’t spell Higgs became immediately aware of inside information about D Zero data.”

[…] On May 28, an anonymous physicist wrote to the comments section of Dr. Dorigo’s blog, asking if it was true that D Zero was seeing an excess of so-called b-quarks spitting from the Tevatron. This excess, or bump, was supposedly at the level of 4-sigma or 5-sigma and thus, if it withstood scrutiny, it would have to be taken seriously as a sign that the Higgs boson was there with a mass of about 180 billion electron volts.

Dr. Dorigo is in the C.D.F. collaboration and thus had no inside knowledge, but repeated that he had also heard the rumor. The rumor was picked up by the publications Slate and Wired.

In response, Gordon Watts, a physicist from the University of Washington and longtime member of the D Zero team, scolded Dr. Dorigo for speculating on rumors.

“Dude! If you get called by the press to comment on this rumor — you will be making secondhand comments on rumors!” Dr. Watts wrote on his blog, Life as a Physicist.

Dr. Watts pointed out that until a result had passed several levels of rigorous reviews within the team, including redoing analyses with different computer programs, there was no result, and nothing to say in public. “I don’t think D Zero has ever had an analysis that was given this much external scrutiny before its official release,” Dr. Watts wrote in an e-mail message, adding that the blogs had already quieted down.

Nice to see that WordPress gets a few points, too!