Roy Blount Shows Up

And, like he does when he shows up on NPR, I am tempted to turn off the radio. BUt, this time, it’s the New York Times op-ed pages that has given him a platform — and has lead to the unnecessary death of electrons across the Internet as people say, “?what?”: The Kindle Swindle? (pdf)

The Kindle 2 is a portable, wireless, paperback-size device onto which people can download a virtual library of digitalized titles. Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.

Serves readers, pays writers: so far, so good. But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.

Another misreading of a technological advance? Or the opening sally in another round of redefining that copyright covers? Sadly, as we all know, until a court says something we’re all just contributing to the heat death of the universe.

Later: And Amazon decides that litigation is not worth it in this economy: Amazon to allow disabling of Kindle 2 audio (pdf)

GMOs, Patents and IPR

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research (pdf)

The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.

Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.

“Facebook Owns You”

Well, “maybe” is the operative word, of course. The real answer to the question probably has little to do with the terms of use, and everything to do with the ways in which the technologies and the business models evolve: Facebook’s Users Ask Who Owns Their Information (pdf)

The pages, called terms of service, generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users’ data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.

This month, when Facebook updated its terms, it deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Further, it added new language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated.

Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, said in a blog post on Monday that the philosophy “that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant.” Despite the complaints, he did not indicate the language would be revised.

[…] Greg Lastowka, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Law who is writing a book on Internet law, said Facebook’s language was not unusual. “Most Web sites today offer terms of service that are designed to protect and further the interests of the company writing the terms, and most people simply agree to terms without reading them.”

Later: Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use (pdf)
This, of course, changes everything!

Speech, Privacy and the Internet

Time for a muzzle (pdf)

[S]ome legal scholars are beginning to argue that new technologies have changed the balance of power between the right to speak and the right to be left alone. At conferences, in law review articles, and, increasingly, in the courts, some lawyers are suggesting that the time has come to rethink some of the hallowed protections that the law gives speech in this country, especially if that speech is online. The proposals vary: Some focus on restricting material that can be posted online or how long it can stay there, others on whether we should be less willing to protect online anonymity. More ambitious schemes would have courts treat a persons reputation as a form of property – something to be protected, traded, and even sold like any other property – or create a legally enforceable duty of confidentiality between friends like that which exists between doctors and their patients.

At stake is the basic question of what we will allow people to say and do online, whether its on a message board, a Craigslist ad, or a YouTube video – and who gets to set the rules governing whats OK and whats not. […]

Related: Do We Need a New Internet? (pdf)

Fun and Games With Pacer

An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy (pdf)

Recently, however, a small group of dedicated open-government activists teamed up to push the court records system into the 21st century — by simply grabbing enormous chunks of the database and giving the documents away, to the great annoyance of the government.

“Pacer is just so awful,” said Carl Malamud, the leader of the effort and founder of a nonprofit group, “The system is 15 to 20 years out of date.”

Worse, Mr. Malamud said, Pacer takes information that he believes should be free — government-produced documents are not covered by copyright — and charges 8 cents a page. Most of the private services that make searching easier, like Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis, charge far more, while relative newcomers like, and, offer some records cheaply or even free. But even the seemingly cheap cost of Pacer adds up, when court records can run to thousands of pages. Fees get plowed back to the courts to finance technology, but the system runs a budget surplus of some $150 million, according to recent court reports.

To Mr. Malamud, putting the nation’s legal system behind a wall of cash and kludge separates the people from what he calls the “operating system for democracy.” So, using $600,000 in contributions in 2008, he bought a 50-year archive of papers from the federal appellate courts and placed them online. By this year, he was ready to take on the larger database of district courts.

Those courts, with the help of the Government Printing Office, had opened a free trial of Pacer at 17 libraries around the country. Mr. Malamud urged fellow activists to go to those libraries, download as many court documents as they could, and send them to him for republication on the Web, where Google could get to them.

Economic Stimulus & Internet Infrastructure

Broadband Program Oversight Questioned (pdf)

Congress has targeted more than $6 billion to wire rural America with Internet service as part of the nearly $790 billion stimulus plan. But the bill would place much of those funds in an Agriculture Department program that has been criticized for its past management of grants, raising concerns among some public interest groups.

Under a deal House and Senate leaders negotiated yesterday, about $1.5 billion would fall under the oversight of the USDAs Rural Utilities Service, a program launched in 2002 to connect farming towns to high-speed, or broadband Internet, according to a Senate Commerce Committee aide.

Some public advocacy groups are critical, citing a September 2005 report on an investigation by the USDAs inspector general that found that $236 million, or more than one-quarter, of the programs loans under review “was either not used as intended, not used at all, or did not provide the expected return of service.”


Political Punch: Obama Administration Maintains Bush Position on ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Lawsuit [via Glenn Greenwald]

The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.

The case involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition — including current Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, another plaintiff in jail in Egypt, one in jail in Morocco, and two now free. They sued a San Jose Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing the flight-planning company of aiding the CIA in flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured.

A year ago the case was thrown out on the basis of national security, but today the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal, brought by the ACLU.

A source inside of the Ninth U.S. District Court tells ABC News that a representative of the Justice Department stood up to say that its position hasn’t changed, that new administration stands behind arguments that previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The DOJ lawyer said the entire subject matter remains a state secret.

The ACLU press release: Justice Department Stands Behind Bush Secrecy In Extraordinary Rendition Case

Later: Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets (pdf) – getting close to “owning it.”

Hear the oral arguments for 08-15693. Also, see Holder try to stem the negative reaction with this: Attorney general orders review of state secret claims (pdf)

Here We Go

This should be fun: Calif. artist sues AP over image of Obama (pdf)

An artist who created a famous image of Barack Obama before he became president sued The Associated Press on Monday, asking a judge to find that his use of an AP picture in creating the poster did not violate copyright law.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said Los Angeles street artist Shepard Fairey did not violate the copyright of the April 2006 photograph because he dramatically changed the nature of the image.

The AP has said it is owed credit and compensation for the artist’s rendition of the picture, taken by Mannie Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.

See Found: The Photograph That Inspired Obama Nation. The case particulars are Fairey v. The Associated Press, 09-cv-01123. U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). See also Obama’s On-the-Wall Endorsement (pdf)


A little primer on the subject: Googles G1 phone makes it easy to track surfing habits (pdf)

The new Google phone, dubbed the G1, has been touted as a working mans smartphone — a cheap, Web-friendly wireless device that can make life easier for millions of consumers.

The G1, as it turns out, also stands to make life a whole lot easier for Google — by making it a snap to track your movements on the mobile Web and send you ads as it does on the desktop. The device, sold exclusively by T-Mobile, gives Google access to your e-mail, instant messages, contact lists, Web-search history and geographic location. By keeping tabs on your mobile life, Google (GOOG) can quickly figure out what sort of ads to send your way, and when.

“It’s like a walking surveillance device,” says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer watchdog group.