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October 10, 2007

A Familiar Google Story [7:24 pm]

But with a YouTube video I’ve missed: Does Google know too much about us?

Whether or not you agree with Brandt or other privacy watchdogs, they outline the bargain we’ve entered into with Google. There’s a video on YouTube called “Web 2.0 … The Machine Is Us/ing Us” [final version] that illustrates (to a pleasing soundtrack) the idea that our links, searches, and clicking around teach the search engines our preferences, habits, and values. By Googling, we are supplying the company data with which to parse and analyze us. The resulting profile has a huge value for advertisers, especially as more of us ignore mass culture in favor of our online microclimates. The “price” that we pay for Google’s free services is to present ourselves as better targets for niche marketing.

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I Am Speechless (updated) [5:29 pm]

Bush Presses Congress on New Eavesdropping Law

President Bush prodded Congress on the issue of eavesdropping today, warning that he will not sign a new law unless it confers immunity on the telecommunications utilities that helped the National Security Agency eavesdrop without warrants.

Later: Well! A fight! House Panels Reject Appeal on Eavesdropping

Two Congressional panels today rejected President Bush’s request to renew without added restrictions his administration’s broad eavesdropping authority, and instead adopted a measure that gives federal judges greater oversight authority over foreign electronic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency.

The bill approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees was along straight party lines, just as they split to defeat the administration’s proposal. The legislation, sponsored by Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the chairmen of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, respectively, conspicuously did not contain two provisions demanded by the White House. One would have provided retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that had helped the N.SA. to conduct eavesdropping without warrants. A second would have made the surveillance program permanent — instead, the legislation expires in two years.

[...] “What’s good is they’ve put some more protections in place,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s a step in the right direction. What’s bad is it still contains provisions that let the administration get surveillance for up to a year without individual warrants.”

Ms. Fredrickson said that the legislative fight was still in its early stages and noted that senior Democrats had not committed to denying immunity to the phone companies, saying only said that they will not approve immunity until they get more details about the role played by the companies in warrantless surveillance in recent years.

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So, Generation Q Responds (see below) [8:03 am]

File-Sharing Students Fight Copyright Constraints

Twelve Brown students received these letters; Mr. McCune ended up paying $3,000 to settle the claim. But the experience made him interested in changing intellectual property regulations. Last spring he co-founded Brown’s chapter of Students for Free Culture, a national organization sprouting up on college campuses that advocates loosening the restrictions of copyright law so that information — from software to music to research to art — can be freely shared.

“The technology has outpaced the law,” said Mr. McCune, who is now a sophomore.

Established at Swarthmore College in 2004, the group has chapters at more than 35 universities across the country. “We will listen to free music, look at free art, watch free film and read free books,” reads its manifesto, posted on its Web site, freeculture.org. “We refuse to accept a future of digital feudalism.”

Members assert that the Internet has made it necessary to rethink copyright law, and they talk about the group’s goals with something like the reverence that earlier generations displayed in talking about social or racial equality.

“People wonder why college students aren’t rallying more around the Iraq war,” Mr. McCune said. “If there were a draft, we probably would be. Students are so quick to fight for this cause because we’re the ones bearing the burden.”

[...] Many chapters have held forums to discuss legal decisions and developments in copyright, frequently debating what it means to “steal” something as amorphous as a digital file.

But in recent months, the group has made a point of branching out beyond music copyrights. At its first national conference, held at Harvard in May and attended by more than 130 people, speakers gave presentations on topics like enhancing Internet access in impoverished countries, and loosening patent regulations for pharmaceutical drugs.

“File-sharing may have brought these issues to public consciousness, but it’s not our only inspiration,” said Elizabeth Stark, founder of Harvard’s Free Culture group.

[...] The movement has its roots in an incident at Swarthmore, when two sophomores posted online internal e-mail messages from Diebold Election Systems, which makes electronic voting machines. The company ordered the students to remove the documents, asserting that the messages were its own intellectual property, and threatening a lawsuit. Instead, the students won a lawsuit against Diebold for abusing copyright law.

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Friedman Scolds/Challenges “Generation Q” [7:52 am]

Generation Q

It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.

[...] America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

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LATimes Opinion Piece on Fashion Copyright Expansion [7:29 am]

Fashion’s piracy paradoxpdf

Some intellectual property scholars think that’s a terrible idea. “Growth and creativity in the fashion industry depend on copying,” said Christopher Sprigman, a law professor at the University of Virginia. “It’s the engine that drives the fashion cycle, and the bill would kill the engine.” He convincingly argued in a Virginia Law Review article he co-wrote that the lack of copyright protection is the key to fashion’s success as a $181-billion industry. He calls this “the piracy paradox.”

Fashion booms precisely because customers tire quickly of their clothes and continually buy new ones. Fashion can’t rely on technological improvements to make old products passe. Instead, it relies on copying, which spreads styles rapidly through all levels of society, from the haute couture client to shoppers at such low-priced retailers as H&M, Zara and Forever 21. As a result, what was trendy in April looks demode by August.

Consequently, designers are forced to continually reinvent [...]

[...] Interestingly, France’s protective laws have spurred few lawsuits. The French “don’t have an entrepreneurial class of plaintiff’s lawyers like we do,” Sprigman explains. But if the fashion copyright bill now before Congress becomes law, cases could clog the courts for years. And that could have a chilling effect on the whole industry. To be sure, fashion is now considered an art in sophisticated circles, the subject of scholarly study and lavish museum exhibits. Still, it seems absurd to copyright any dress that doesn’t have a novel printed on it.

Moreover, fashion copyrights would be difficult to enforce. How would courts decide if something as standard as a neckline or a hem is original? Designers continually recycle ideas and imitate one another. Sometimes they even filch from the copyists themselves.

On a Paris street many decades ago, Chanel’s press secretary saw someone selling Chanel knockoffs for 50 francs each. A crowd had gathered, and the vendor cried “Don’t push. There’s enough for everybody!”

According to Marcel Haedrich, who recounted the incident in his book, “Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets,” the press secretary bought one of the outfits in white linen with braided trim — a detail the original lacked — and gave it to her boss. Chanel took one look at the raffia-like plaiting and decided to use raffia in her next collection.

The paper is “The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design;” Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman; Virginia Law Review, Vol. 92, p. 1687, 2006.

Abstract:

The orthodox justification for intellectual property is utilitarian. Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation. This orthodox justification is logically straightforward and well reflected in the law. Yet a significant empirical anomaly exists: the global fashion industry, which produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection. Copying is rampant as the orthodox account would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant. Few commentators have considered the status of fashion design in IP law. Those who have almost uniformly criticize the current legal regime for failing to protect apparel designs. But the fashion industry itself is surprisingly quiescent about copying. Firms take steps to protect the value of trademarks, but appear to accept appropriation of designs as a fact of life. This diffidence about copying stands in striking contrast to the heated condemnation of piracy and associated legislative and litigation campaigns in other creative industries.

Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected - and economically successful? The fashion industry is a puzzle for the orthodox justification for IP rights. This paper explores this puzzle. We argue that the fashion industry counter-intuitively operates within a low-IP equilibrium in which copying does not deter innovation and may actually promote it. We call this the piracy paradox. This paper offers a model explaining how the fashion industry’s piracy paradox works, and how copying functions as an important element of and perhaps even a necessary predicate to the industry’s swift cycle of innovation. In so doing, we aim to shed light on the creative dynamics of the apparel industry. But we also hope to spark further exploration of a fundamental question of IP policy: to what degree are IP rights necessary to induce innovation? Are stable low-IP equilibria imaginable in other industries as well? Part I describes the fashion industry and its dynamics and illustrates the prevalence of copying in the industry. Part II advances an explanation for the piracy paradox that rests on two features: induced obsolescence and anchoring. Both phenomena reflect the status-conferring power of fashion, and both suggest that copying, rather than impeding innovation and investment, promotes them. Part II also considers, and rejects, alternative explanations of the endurance of the low-IP status quo. Part III considers extensions of our arguments to other fields. By examining copyright’s negative space - those creative endeavors that copyright does not address - we argue can we can better understand the relationship between copyright and innovation.

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Another Net Neutrality Argument [7:19 am]

The “Internet use == speech” argument made in the LATimes today: Free speech could lead to online disconnectpdf

If you’re displeased with the way a company treats you, you’re free to air your feelings in public, right? Not necessarily if you receive high-speed Internet access from AT&T Inc. or Verizon Communications Inc.

Buried deep within both companies’ voluminous service contracts is language that says your Net access can be terminated for any behavior that AT&T or Verizon believes might harm its “name or reputation,” or even the reputation of its business partners.

[...] But the provisions highlight yet again the danger to free expression when a relative handful of private companies serve as gatekeepers to information networks. Whether it’s a rock star ranting against President Bush or a disgruntled customer griping about shoddy service, how free is free speech in the digital era?

“Not being able to speak your mind about something is contrary to public policy,” said Frank Tuerkheimer, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin who focuses on Internet-related issues.

But it’s apparently not illegal. The 1st Amendment, Tuerkheimer pointed out, doesn’t apply to private entities.

You have to wade deep into AT&T’s 14,000-word service contract to find the one-line disclaimer in which the company reserves the right to slam the door on any Internet customer who might bruise the company’s feelings.

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Avatar Lock-in: A Problem? [7:03 am]

Although I’ve played around a bit with Second Life, this seems like a solution in search of a problem, but that probably just means that I’m old: Second Life, IBM in open borders for virtual worldspdf

IBM and Linden Labs, the operator of the Second Life virtual world, said on Tuesday they will work on ways to eventually let people use a single online persona in different online services.

Interoperability is emerging as a key goal of the nascent virtual world industry, which attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment on the hopes that video-game graphics and rich 3-D environments will supplant flat Web pages.

Currently, people who create a character, or avatar, in one virtual world cannot take that identity into another service.

Designing a detailed avatar can take well over an hour, so a closed system discourages customers from abandoning that investment. But it is also a barrier to growth since few people bother to start the process anew in multiple virtual worlds.

An open system would let people create one avatar that would keep the same basic appearance and customer data no matter where it was in cyberspace.

Personally, I think someone’s taking Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash a little too seriously, but as I said, I’m old.

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The Weak Dollar and Security [6:59 am]

And I predict that Mitt Romney’s going to see some fallout, somehow: Purchase of 3Com becomes showdown over free tradepdf

Bain Capital’s $2.2 billion agreement to buy networking equipment maker 3Com Corp. of Marlborough is shaping up to be a political showdown over free trade and national security due to the involvement of a major Chinese telecom company, Huawei Technologies.

Huawei, a company with close ties to the Chinese military, will get a 16.5 percent stake in 3Com if the deal goes through. But 3Com makes networking and data security products used by the US government, and critics say Huawei could provide the Chinese government with information that would make it easier to disrupt sensitive American computer and communications networks.

“This deal should not be approved,” said James Mulvenon, director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a think tank that does consulting work for the US intelligence community. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

A statement issued by Bain Capital said the firm has requested that the deal be reviewed by a special federal organization, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

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AP Defending Its Business Online [6:54 am]

The Associated Press challenges the copyright status of aggregation strategies: AP sues firm for displaying materialpdf

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in New York, seeks unspecified damages from Moreover Technologies Inc. and its parent company, VeriSign Inc. It also seeks an end to the practices.

AP says Moreover improperly displays AP’s headlines and portions of stories as part of its free, ad-supported services. Moreover also is reproducing full articles and photos through subscription services, the lawsuit alleges.

[...] Tom Curley, AP’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that the news organization spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to provide “original coverage of vital breaking news that cannot be obtained anywhere else.”

“When someone uses our content without our permission, they are free riding on our news gathering and our reporting of news from around the world,” he said.

VeriSign said it does not comment on pending lawsuits.

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Another Prickly City [6:50 am]

Prickly City scan, 2007 Oct 10

Looking at how much of our privacy problem stems from our own behaviors.

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