OT: Congressional Subpoenas and Executive Privilege

According to today’s opinion from the US District Court of DC, Committee on the Judiciary of the United States House of Representatives v. Miers et al.:

This dispute pits the political branches of the federal government against one another in a case all agree presents issues of extraordinary constitutional significance. The heart of the controversy is whether senior presidential aides are absolutely immune from compelled congressional process. […]

It is important to note that the decision today is very limited. To be sure, most of this lengthy opinion addresses, and ultimately rejects, the Executive’s several reasons why the Court should not entertain the Committee’s lawsuit, but on the merits of the Committee’s present claims the Court only resolves, and again rejects, the claim by the Executive to absolute immunity from compelled congressional process for senior presidential aides. The specific claims of executive privilege that Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten may assert are not addressed — and the Court expresses no view on such claims. Nor should this decision discourage the process of negotiation and accommodation that most often leads to resolution of disputes between the political branches. Although standing ready to fulfill the essential judicial role to “say what the law is” on specific assertions of executive privilege that may be presented, the Court strongly encourages the political branches to resume their discourse and negotiations in an effort to resolve their differences constructively, while recognizing each branch’s essential role.

Tim Wu on Spectrum, Bandwidth and Industry Structure

Why Bandwidth Is the Oil of the Information Economy

AMERICANS today spend almost as much on bandwidth — the capacity to move information — as we do on energy. A family of four likely spends several hundred dollars a month on cellphones, cable television and Internet connections, which is about what we spend on gas and heating oil.

Just as the industrial revolution depended on oil and other energy sources, the information revolution is fueled by bandwidth. If we aren’t careful, we’re going to repeat the history of the oil industry by creating a bandwidth cartel.

[…] After physical wires, the other major way to move information is through the airwaves, a natural resource with enormous potential. But that potential is untapped because of a false scarcity created by bad government policy.

[…] Many “owners” of spectrum either hardly use the stuff or use it in highly inefficient ways. At any given moment, more than 90 percent of the nation’s airwaves are empty.

The solution is to relax the overregulation of the airwaves and allow use of the wasted spaces. Anyone, so long as he or she complies with a few basic rules to avoid interference, could try to build a better Wi-Fi and become a broadband billionaire. These wireless entrepreneurs could one day liberate us from wires, cables and rising prices.

And I Just Joined Facebook, Too!

Popular Scrabulous Game Vanishes From Facebook (pdf)

It’s game over for Scrabulous; the popular Scrabble knockoff game on Facebook is no longer available as of this morning.

Facebook users who logged on to play the word puzzle game this morning instead got a message that it has been “disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice.”

The game was one of the most popular applications on the social networking site, but Hasbro filed a lawsuit last week accusing Scrabulous makers of having infringed on copyrights with the Facebook game.

Later: Scrabulous Barred to North American Users


Say So Long to an Old Companion – Cassette Tapes

There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a “dear friend.” Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.

[…] Nowadays, listening to music on cassettes is a dying pastime. None of Billboard’s Top 10 albums last week were issued on cassette, though half were released on vinyl, which has been resurging. Last year, only 400,000 music tapes were sold, representing one-tenth of 1 percent of all physical and digital music sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. In 1997, the figure was 173 million, and that was when cassettes were already getting a drubbing by CDs. (The iPod wasn’t introduced until 2001.)

“I would not expect to see a revival of cassettes like we’ve seen in the LP market,” Mr. DuBravac said. While vinyl records have always been prized artifacts for their devotees, the plastic cassette tape has little sex appeal.

Textbook Publishers and the Digital Text

First It Was Song Downloads. Now It’s Organic Chemistry

Compared with music publishers, textbook publishers have been relatively protected from piracy by the considerable trouble entailed in digitizing a printed textbook. Converting the roughly 1,300 pages of “Organic Chemistry” into a digital file requires much more time than ripping a CD.

Time flies, however, if you’re having a good time plotting righteous revenge, and students seem angrier than ever before about the price of textbooks. More students are choosing used books over new; sales of a new edition plunge as soon as used copies are available, in the semester following introduction; and publishers raise prices and shorten intervals between revisions to try to recoup the loss of revenue — and the demand for used books goes up all the more.

Used book sales return nothing to publishers and authors. Digital publishing, however, offers textbook publishers a way to effectively destroy the secondary market for textbooks: they now can shift the entire business model away from selling objects toward renting access to a site with a time-defined subscription, a different thing entirely.

The transition has already begun, even while publishers continue to sell print editions. […]

Although the tone is a little negative, one does have to ask whether, with regularly updated online editions, the publishers have come up with a better product? And, again, are at least trying to better their product, rather than adopting the record industry’s attitude of product stagnation and consumer litigation?

The NYTimes Looks At Literacy, Digital And Otherwise

The lead photo is a hoot: Literacy Debate – Online, R U Really Reading?

Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among educational policy makers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.

Wishful Thinking from the LATimes

Pulling Prince from YouTube (pdf) (see this earlier post for background)

There should be some deterrent against copyright holders attacking fair uses online, deliberately or otherwise. At the very least, they should have to look at potentially infringing uses of their works and consider fair-use law before sending take-down notices. The courts may be the ultimate arbiter of individual fair-use claims, but copyright holders shouldn’t be free to ignore the guidance provided by federal statutes and previous court rulings. Besides, taking down baby videos won’t make Universal or Prince any richer in the long run. They’d be better off working with YouTube to capitalize on fans’ enthusiasm than scrubbing the site clean of his hits.

The Rental Model

EFF: Yahoo Music should compensate customers

Yahoo Music is telling customers that it wont allow users who bought songs from the service to transfer them to new devices or PCs after September 30.

The announcement on Thursday has stunned the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a watchdog group for Internet users. Surely, Yahoo should have learned something from the MSN debacle. Just a month ago, Microsoft reversed a decision to stop releasing authorization keys for the copy protections it placed on songs, and will issue keys for three more years.

“Some people think they can use music wrapped in digital rights management just like they do a CD,” Corynne McSherry, an attorney with EFF, told CNET News. “This should teach everyone that you cant.”

Can’t Win For Losing, I Guess

On the other hand, when Comcast is “paying attention,” it *is* a little spooky: Complaining Bloggers Have a Cable Company’s Ear

Comcast is not the only company trying to reach out to customers online. Using the social messaging service Twitter, Southwest Airlines answers customer questions about ticket prices and flight delays, Whole Foods Market posts details about discounts, and the chief executive of the online shoe store Zappos shares details of his life with 7,200 “followers.” Many other companies also monitor online discussion groups.

But Comcast is going an extra step by talking back, contacting customers who are discussing the company online.

Odds are they are complaining about Comcast. The company was ranked at the very bottom of the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, which tracks consumer opinions of more than 200 companies. Hundreds of customers have filed grievances on a site called ComcastMustDie.com.

[…] Brian D. Solis, who runs a public relations firm, FutureWorks, that specializes in social media, said companies like Comcast are “taking what used to be an inbound call center and turning it into an outbound form of customer relations” that can also help spot problems before they get out of hand.

Still, others agree with Mr. Dilbeck, the University of Washington student, that the online outreach is annoying. “Comcast Is Watching Us,” declared a blog called Contempt for the World in February, when Mr. Eliason started wading into the comment sections of blogs.

Two Entries from the LATimes’ Bit Player Blog

  • Consumer groups blast MPAA proposal (a dog bites man story)

    If you had the chance to watch a movie on cable or satellite TV before it came out on DVD, what sort of trade-offs would you be willing to make? Would you pay more to watch it than a DVD rental or even a movie ticket? Would you accept having to watch the movie in one sitting, with no breaks for phone calls or snacks? Would you lose interest if you couldn’t record the movie to watch again later?

    These are the sorts of questions the market typically answers, but that’s not how it necessarily works in the entertainment industry. This week, seven consumer advocacy groups urged the FCC not to let the studios conduct the experiment they proposed in early video-on-demand releases. The reason: the MPAA wants to deploy an anti-piracy technique that, in the advocacy groups’ opinion, would give the studios too much control over the technology used in homes.

  • More royalties for songwriters? – a look at the latest notice of proposed rulemaking from the LoC