Hey, At Least They’re Asking

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.

Opening Up Dead Sea Scroll Scholarship

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.”

A “White Space” Proponent Profiled

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.”

Messing With Developer Infrastructure Conventions

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. […]

Ben Stein on Connected Culture

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)

IP As An Instrument To CYA

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

The Lobbyists Are Already Salivating

‘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.

The State of Play in an “Architecture” Fight: Printer Cartridges

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.

Vinyl and the Mystique of Recorded Sound

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