August 27, 2008

Hey, At Least They’re Asking [7:53 pm]

Judges consider whether FBI violated free speech (pdf)

A panel of federal appeals court judges pushed a U.S. government lawyer on Wednesday to answer why FBI letters sent out to Internet service providers seeking information should remain secret.

A panel of three judges from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether a provision of the Patriot Act, which requires people who are formally contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for information to keep it a secret, is constitutional.

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Opening Up Dead Sea Scroll Scholarship [6:50 am]

Hey, at least we know there aren’t going to be any copyright claims! Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet

In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

[...] “The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

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August 26, 2008

Troll Attack? [5:58 pm]

It feels like one, but I need to do a little more research: Inventor sues Google, Verizon and others on voicemail (pdf)

Emboldened by settlements with Apple Inc and AT&T Inc, inventor Judah Klausner filed a new voicemail patent lawsuit on Tuesday against Google Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and others.

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August 25, 2008

A “White Space” Proponent Profiled [8:08 am]

Sharing Unused Airwaves (pdf)

An engineer, Mark A. McHenry litters his speech with dizzying terms like gigahertz and cognitive radio. But on one topic in the national news he is plain-spoken: the claim by the broadcast networks, the NBCs and CBSs of the world, that a new technology to provide Internet service over the air will interfere with TV viewing.

“They’re wrong,” says McHenry, the chief executive of Shared Spectrum, a Vienna technology company.

[...] “The prototype tests up to this point have consistently shown failure,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “That doesn’t give us a whole lot of comfort when there’s a potential of thousands or millions of these devices operating without any protection to ensure that our broadcasters are able to get clear picture to our viewers.”

McHenry disagrees. But he also chides the tech giants who are pushing for access to white spaces for not asking for a strong enough signal to make a real difference in rural areas and across long distances. Others find merit in that argument.

“The truth of the matter is, if this were a straight engineering consideration, you could do substantially higher than” what’s being asked for, said Ed Thomas, a former FCC official helping the alliance of tech companies. “This is a political situation as well as the question as to what is comfortable for the FCC.”

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Messing With Developer Infrastructure Conventions [7:49 am]

Problems on the horizon for the iPhone development community? Assuming, that is, they get to form one? IPhone software developers stifled under Apple’s gag order (pdf)

By creating games and other programs for the iPhone, software developers hoped to find millions of new customers. But they didn’t expect to feel muzzled.

The software development kit that Apple Inc. distributed to programmers bound them to not discuss the process of creating programs for the iPhone. Companies typically waive such legal restrictions once the product in question launches, but Apple didn’t. And it won’t say why.

As a result, iPhone developers — and businesses that cater to them — say they are prohibited from asking technical questions or sharing tips anywhere in public. On Apple’s official support website, moderators remind visitors that they are bound by the nondisclosure agreement and should mind what they say or ask.

Conference organizers are trying to figure out how to plan sessions for iPhone software developers when they’re not allowed to talk about iPhone software. Book publishers are sitting on how-to manuals, afraid that if they ship them Apple will sue.

And software developers are forced to make applications for the iPhone in an information vacuum, without the help of a developer community that is used to openly sharing tricks of the trade. [...]

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Ben Stein on Connected Culture [7:32 am]

Everybody’s Business - Connected, Yes, but Hermetically Sealed

[T]he airplane lands. Cellphones and P.D.A.’s snap into action. Long rows of lights light up on tiny little screens. These are people we absolutely have to talk to. Voice messages pour in, telling of children who got speeding tickets, of margin calls, of jobs offered and lost. The bonds of obligation, like handcuffs, are clapped back onto our wrists, and we shuffle off to the servitude of our jobs and our mundane tasks. A circuit is completed: the passengers who were human beings a few moments earlier become part of an immense, all-engulfing machine of communication and control. Human flesh and spirit become plastic and electronic machinery.

What if we didn’t have cellphones or P.D.A.’s? We would still have duties and families and bosses, but they would not be at our heels, yipping at us constantly, barking at us to do this or that or worry about this or that. We would have some moat of time and space around ourselves. Not now.

[...] Will we ever throw away the chains that go “ping” in our pocket? Or have we irrevocably become machines ourselves?

Related: Textwalkers: Do They Need A Heads-Up? (pdf)

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August 24, 2008

IP As An Instrument To CYA [4:09 pm]

IMHO, “turnaround” == “dog in a manger” clause — and a key conceptual problem that lies at the heart of a lot of the IPR conflagration we find ourselves in: Scene Stealer - The Murky Side of Movie Rights

HOW could this happen? The question springs to mind as 20th Century Fox claims it has the rights to the graphic novel on which Warner Brothers is basing “Watchmen,” its giant superhero movie.

Peer deeper into the murk of Hollywood’s business practices, though, and the question becomes: How could it not?

[...] The Fox-Warner tiff turns on matters potentially more nettlesome to the industry at large. Central to Fox’s complaint is the mysterious matter of what is called turnaround.

On its face, turnaround is a contractual mechanism that allows a studio to release its interest in a dormant film project, while recovering costs, plus interest, from any rival that eventually adopts the project. But turnaround is a stacked deck.

The turnaround clauses in a typical contract are also insurance for studio executives who do not want to be humiliated by a competitor who makes a hit out of their castoffs.

That trick turns on a term of art: “changed elements.” A producer of a movie acquired in turnaround who comes up with a new director, or star, or story line, or even a reduction in budget, must give the original studio another shot at making the movie because of changed elements, even if a new backer has entered the picture.

A possible rephrasing: “since I coulda, but didn’t, you owe me” — certainly sounds like something to “promote science and the useful arts,” right?

Later: Studio War Involving ‘Watchmen’ Heats Up

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August 22, 2008

The Lobbyists Are Already Salivating [10:01 am]

‘Cuz you *know* Disney will do everything it can to get the law changed to avoid even the possibility of losing this property — a very detailed look at the history of a copyright question raised by ambiguities in early Disney notices: Disney’s rights to young Mickey Mouse may be wrong (pdf)

As Mickey turns 80 this fall, the most beloved rodent in show business is widely regarded as a national treasure. But he is owned lock, stock and trademark ears by the corporate heirs of his genius creator, Walt Disney.

Brand experts reckon his value to today’s Walt Disney Co. empire at more than $3 billion. Acts of Congress have extended Mickey’s copyright so long that they provoked a Supreme Court challenge, making Mickey the ultimate symbol of intellectual property.

All signs pointed to a Hollywood ending with Disney and Mickey Mouse living happily ever after — at least until a grumpy former employee looked closely at fine print long forgotten in company archives.

Film credits from the 1920’s revealed imprecision in copyright claims that some experts say could invalidate Disney’s long-held copyright, though a Disney lawyer dismissed that idea as “frivolous.”

Although studio executives are not yet hurling themselves from the parapets of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, the unexpected discovery raises an intriguing question: Is it possible that Mickey Mouse now belongs to the world — and that his likeness is usable by anybody for anything?

[...] Copyright questions apply to an older incarnation, a rendition of Mickey still recognizable but slightly different. Original Mickey, the star of the first synchronized sound cartoon, “Steamboat Willie,” and other early classics, had longer arms, smaller ears and a more pointy nose.

The notion that any Mickey Mouse might be free of copyright restrictions is about as welcome in the Magic Kingdom as a hag with a poisoned apple. Yet elsewhere, especially in academia, the idea has attracted surprising support.

This is an appropriate place to cite the final posting from the Patry Copyright Blog. As he puts it:

This leads me to my final reason for closing the blog which is independent of the first reason: my fear that the blog was becoming too negative in tone. I regard myself as a centrist. I believe very much that in proper doses copyright is essential for certain classes of works, especially commercial movies, commercial sound recordings, and commercial books, the core copyright industries. I accept that the level of proper doses will vary from person to person and that my recommended dose may be lower (or higher) than others. But in my view, and that of my cherished brother Sir Hugh Laddie, we are well past the healthy dose stage and into the serious illness stage. Much like the U.S. economy, things are getting worse, not better. Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.

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The State of Play in an “Architecture” Fight: Printer Cartridges [8:59 am]

How your printer tricks you into buying ink and toner when you don’t need it.

There’s also a long-standing war between printer makers and third-party cartridge companies that sell cheap knockoff ink packs. In 2003, Lexmark claimed that a company that managed to reverse-engineer the software embedded in its printer cartridges was violating copyright law. Opponents of overbearing copyright protections were alarmed at Lexmark’s reach; copyright protections have traditionally covered intellectual property like music and movies, not physical property like printer cartridges. A federal appeals court dismissed Lexmark’s case, but manufacturers have recently been successful in using patent law to close down third-party cartridge companies.

I will recommend the following paper to those of you who can access it: “Materializing Morality: Design Ethics and Technological Mediation;” Peter-Paul Verbeek; Science, Technology and Human Values; v 31; 2006; pp. 361-380; doi: 10.1177/0162243905285847. The notion of technological mediation is particularly apt, as is its implications for design ethics.

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August 21, 2008

Vinyl and the Mystique of Recorded Sound [8:26 am]

Vinyl records make a return (pdf)

According to the Recording Industry Assn., shipments of vinyl soared 36.6% from 2006 to 2007. That amounts to 1.3 million units nationwide. While the numbers are minuscule compared to CD shipments of 511 million for 2007, the news is much-welcomed by a faltering music industry.

“This is a little bright star,” said Jane Ventom, vice president for Hollywood-based EMI Music Marketing. Next month, Capitol/EMI will launch “From the Capitol Vaults,” with the release of 13 titles on vinyl, including Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Steve Miller Band’s “Greatest Hits 1974-1978.”

Baby boomers, many of whom had long tucked away their turntables, began to feel nostalgic for their youth and the warm sound of vinyl. Concurrently, a younger generation, raised on CDs and tinny, compressed MP3 files, traded in their earbuds for a less isolated music experience.

Once again, I refer interested readers to The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

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The Wild West Getting Less Wild? [8:24 am]

Or something else? Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment (pdf)

Virtual worlds have often been called the digital equivalent of the Wild West, where animated alter egos can live in a fantasy frontier. But in some of these universes, a sheriff has come to town.

Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a “flame war,” or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment — permanent exile.

A virtual world for mobile devices, called Cellufun, has established a courthouse, where rule-breakers are indicted by their peers and tried by a jury of other community members. If found guilty of a charge, such as using profanity, users must carry out varying levels of sentences, from being mute for 20 minutes to being banished.

For the duration of punishment, a user’s avatar — a cartoon version of his or her real-life self — is pictured behind bars.

[...] Virtual worlds such as Second Life and Cellufun began with few rules and little oversight. Avatars can create their own societies and carry out realistic activities, such as buying land, building houses and forming social groups. But as the worlds’ populations grow, some have developed more sophisticated legal codes and justice systems to police members’ behavior. Many virtual worlds hope that creating an orderly environment will entice more users — and prevent the need for real-world legal intervention.

See the classic A Rape In Cyberspace

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WaPo Column on Deep Packet Inspection [8:15 am]

Rob Pegoraro - Internet Providers’ New Tool Raises Deep Privacy Concerns (pdf)

Taking these companies at their word, what’s there to worry about? We trade privacy for convenience all the time. We visit sites that keep far less detailed records of our comings and goings with “cookies” — the small placeholder text files they drop on our hard drives. Millions of people subject themselves to more intensive scrutiny when they use Google’s Gmail service, which scans the text of each message to place more relevant ads.

If deep packet inspection lives up to its promises, it might even yield a cash benefit. Internet providers using this technology could afford to offer customers a deal: Accept this scrutiny, and we’ll knock $10 a month off your bill.

But systems such as deep packet inspection unnerve a lot of Internet users for sound reasons.

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Comcast Tries A New Approach [8:12 am]

Comcast to slow Net service for some users (pdf)

The Federal Communications Commission found on Aug. 1 that Comcast had improperly blocked peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent that are used to share videos and other files.

In an order posted on its website yesterday, the FCC gave the Philadelphia-based company 30 days to provide details of its “unreasonable network management practices” and show how they would be changed by year-end.

[...] The new system will move away from a focus on specific applications that hog Web traffic, Bowling said. Comcast will determine “in nearly real time” whether congestion is caused by a heavy user, he said.

“If in fact a person is generating enough packets that they’re the ones creating that situation, we will manage that consumer for the overall good of all of our consumers,” Bowling said.

Also: FCC Orders Comcast to Stop Blocking Some Large Files (pdf)

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Just In Case You Thought There Were Restrictions On Surveillance [7:57 am]

Hey, we really *are* “Suspected Terrorists.” (even more links) I think I need a button: New Guidelines Would Give F.B.I. Broader Powers

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.

Will this be enough to get Obama to draw the line? *hah*

Later: A New York Times editorial — A New Rush to Spy

The F.B.I. has a long history of abusing its authority to spy on domestic groups, including civil rights and anti-war activists, and there is a real danger that the new rules would revive those dark days.

Clearly, the Bush administration cannot be trusted to get the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties right. It has repeatedly engaged in improper and illegal domestic spying — notably in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

The F.B.I. and the White House no doubt want to push the changes through before a new president is elected. There is no reason to rush to adopt rules that have such important civil liberties implications.

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Apple and Education — Again [7:43 am]

Welcome, Freshmen. Have an iPod.

Experts see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in education, though they say it is in its infancy as professors try to concoct useful applications. Providing powerful hand-held devices is sure to fuel debates over the role of technology in higher education.

“We think this is the way the future is going to work,” said Kyle Dickson, co-director of research and the mobile learning initiative at Abilene Christian University in Texas, which has bought more than 600 iPhones and 300 iPods for students entering this fall.

Although plenty of students take their laptops to class, they don’t take them everywhere and would prefer something lighter. Abilene Christian settled on the devices after surveying students and finding that they did not like hauling around laptops, but that most always carried a cellular phone, Dr. Dickson said.

It is not clear how many colleges plan to give out iPhones and iPods this fall; officials at Apple were coy about the subject and said they would not leak any institution’s plans.

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Open Science [7:30 am]

A provocative look at the movement: Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results (pdf)

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are ready to present results, when they are devising research questions, running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty subscription fees charged by most journals.

It is an attempt to bring the kind of revolutionary and disruptive change to the laboratory that the Internet has already wrought on the music and print media industries. The idea is that opening up science could speed discoveries, increase collaboration, and transform the field in unforeseen ways.

On the other side are people who see the benefits of the status quo. For centuries, scientific discoveries have occurred at a steady clip, without the help of wikis or Web tools. Journals publish papers that have been scrutinized by specialists, ensuring that bad research doesnt mislead other scientists or the public.

Scientists who plunge into openness also risk giving a competing lab a leg up. [...]

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August 20, 2008

I’m Shocked! The MBTA Tried To Use The Courts To Cover Up A Security Failure?! [7:36 am]

MBTA admits ticket not secure (pdf)

The MBTA acknowledged in court yesterday that its CharlieTicket system is vulnerable to fraud, validating a key finding of three MIT students who drew attention to the security problems as part of a class project.

The admission came during a hearing at which a federal judge lifted a 10-day order barring the students from talking about their findings and denied the MBTA’s request to keep them silent about the most sensitive parts of their research for five months.

[...] “I hope it gives people comfort that they can do security research . . . without fear that they’re going to be dragged into federal court and gagged,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing the students.

The MIT student paper, The Tech, has a sizeable repository of court documents. See also the EFF MBTA v Anderson page

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If It’s Good Enough for Doctors … [7:29 am]

We can hope it’ll be good enough for us: Data miners fight law that shields doctors (pdf)

Companies like IMS Health Inc., based in Norwalk, Conn., have built an industry around gathering prescription data and selling the information to pharmaceutical companies for millions of dollars each year. Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. Inc., and nearly every other drug maker uses the data to identify which doctors are prescribing their drugs and which are prescribing the competition. When freebie-wielding salespeople show up at their offices, most doctors don’t know they’re being targeted based on their own prescribing habits.

But the political tide may be turning against IMS Health and competitors like Verispan, a unit of Surveillance Data Inc. After years of steady growth, they are fighting against laws in three New England states to keep prescribing information out of their hands.

Judges in Maine and New Hampshire have handed the companies early victories, declaring laws aimed at stopping the commercial use of prescription data unconstitutional. But an impending decision by the federal appeals court in Boston could overturn those actions and open the door to more restrictions nationwide.

Related headache for those who want to lean into the punch: California Licenses 2 Companies to Offer Gene Services

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August 19, 2008

Slate’s Manjoo on Behavioral Targeting [4:36 pm]

Behavioral ad targeting, Web companies’ favorite new way to invade your privacy.

Though theyre all approaching it in different ways, a bunch of large Internet firms—including ISPs like Charter and AT&T and Web companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, and perhaps even Google—are crawling toward adopting “behavioral targeting” systems. Predictably, privacy advocates are pushing lawmakers to outlaw or significantly limit this sort of invasive advertising. Proponents of behavioral targeting defend the practice in much the same way Charter did—Web surfers will benefit from close monitoring of our habits because well soon be getting more “relevant” ads. Considering the large networks that Web companies now manage and the money they can make by selling ads tailored to your surfing habits, it seems obvious that behavioral targeting will soon rule the Internet ad market. As the targeted-ad boom approaches, we Web surfers need to prepare ourselves—and think of how we might be able to take advantage even as we have targets on our backs.

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August 18, 2008

Pandora and C(A)RB [3:35 pm]

Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its ‘Last Stand’ (pdf)

Pandora is one of the nation’s most popular Web radio services, with about 1 million listeners daily. Its Music Genome Project allows customers to create stations tailored to their own tastes. It is one of the 10 most popular applications for Apple’s iPhone and attracts 40,000 new customers a day.

Yet the burgeoning company may be on the verge of collapse, according to its founder, and so may be others like it.

[...] The transformation of words, songs and movies to digital media has provoked a number of high-stakes fights between the owners of copyrighted works and the companies that can now easily distribute those works via the Internet. The doomsday rhetoric these days around the fledgling medium of Web radio springs from just such tensions.

Last year, an obscure federal panel ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies.

Traditional radio, by contrast, pays no such fee. Satellite radio pays a fee but at a less onerous rate, at least by some measures.

As for Pandora, its royalty fees this year will amount to 70 percent of its projected revenue of $25 million, Westergren said, a level that could doom it and other Web radio outfits.

See also Music Biz *Still* Trying to Kill Web Radio (pdf)

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August 2008
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