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February 25, 2009

Roy Blount Shows Up [9:31 pm]

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)

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February 20, 2009

GMOs, Patents and IPR [2:17 pm]

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.

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February 18, 2009

Lovely [8:07 pm]

Motorcycle Club Sues for Cyberpiracy, Trademark Infringement, and More

The non-profit Hells Angels Motorcycle Corp. filed a cyberpiracy and trademark infringement lawsuit against Fawn Meyers, claiming that the California woman registered various domain names that are protected marks of the HAMC.

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February 17, 2009

“Facebook Owns You” [3:28 pm]

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)
<sarcasm>
This, of course, changes everything!
</sarcasm>

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February 16, 2009

Speech, Privacy and the Internet [8:59 am]

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)

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February 13, 2009

Fun and Games With Pacer [9:05 am]

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, Public.Resource.org. “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 AltLaw.org, Fastcase.com and Justia.com, 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.

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February 12, 2009

Economic Stimulus & Internet Infrastructure [2:21 pm]

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.”

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February 9, 2009

*Sigh* [6:30 pm]

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)

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Here We Go [4:09 pm]

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)

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“Connected” [8:38 am]

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.

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February 7, 2009

Not “Cricket,” Maybe, But Illegal? [9:56 pm]

Judge Grounds Glider in World of Warcraft Suit (pdf)

Of the more than 11 million people who play World of Warcraft, most do so legitimately; they actually play the game themselves. The whole point of a massively multiplayer online game like WOW or EverQuest is that players can take pride that their virtual accomplishments and wealth reflect real human effort, determination, ingenuity and skill. Even though I haven’t played WOW regularly in more than a year, I’ve still racked up thousands of hours in that world since 2004. To have the few unscrupulous players use a “bot” program like Glider makes a mockery of that effort and contributes to ruining the entertainment experience for me and everyone else.

But should creating and selling a program like Glider be illegal?

That is the question that has been winding its way through a federal court in Arizona since 2006, when Blizzard Entertainment, WOW’s creator, first locked legal horns with Glider’s author, a programmer named Michael Donnelly, and Mr. Donnelly’s company, MDY Industries.

[...] Let me be blunt: I, like the vast majority of gamers, feel strongly that bot programs like Glider are abhorrent and people who use them should be banned from the games they bot in. I agree wholeheartedly with Judge Campbell’s assertion that “the public interest may favor full and honest competition, but MDY ultimately is an exploiter, not a competitor.”

But I also recognize a powerful argument on the other side, which contends that it is dangerous and improper to allow a software company to dictate what other programs may be used in conjunction with its products. Glider does not hack into Blizzard’s systems or alter World of Warcraft’s programming code. And it does not actually copy the game’s programming or visual assets. It “merely” interacts with the game, like a player, only with inhuman stamina and precision.

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February 6, 2009

Ah, Regulatory Efficiency! [3:39 pm]

The best of both worlds! Some TV stations to end analog signal on Feb. 17 (pdf)

When Congress postponed the mandatory transition to digital TV until June, it also gave stations the option to stick to the originally scheduled date of Feb. 17.

That means the shutdown of analog signals, which broadcasters had hoped would happen at nearly the same time nationwide, could now unfold in a confusing patchwork of different schedules.

Lawmakers wanted to address concerns that many households that receive TV signals through an antenna are not prepared for the switch. They were also mindful that a government fund has run out of money to subsidize digital converter boxes for older TVs.

Dozens of stations around the country now say they are going to take advantage of the option to drop analog broadcasts this month.

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February 5, 2009

Broadband, Know-How and Free Time (Because of the Downturn) [3:08 pm]

Leading to the movie industry’s “Napster moment?” That’s the contention of this article: Digital Pirates Winning Battle With Studios (pdf)

[M]any industry experts say the practice is becoming much more prevalent. “Streaming has gotten efficient and cheap enough and it gives users more control than downloads do. This is where piracy is headed,” said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Consumers are under the impression that everything they want to watch should be easily streamable.”

[...] The Motion Picture Association of America says that illegal downloads and streams are now responsible for about 40 percent of the revenue the industry loses annually as a result of piracy.

“It is becoming, among some demographics, a very mainstream behavior,” said Eric Garland, the chief executive of BigChampagne.

Note that, somehow, BigChampagne continues to find a business model.

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I Love the Title [3:00 pm]

And copyright fights seem to make for good copy these days: One Man’s Blanche DuBois Is a University’s Infringement (pdf)

The University of the South, which owns the intellectual property rights for Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” has threatened legal action to stop performances of the one-man show “Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire,” [emphasis added] which is scheduled to run through March 15 at SoHo Playhouse.

The play, which won the Audience Choice Award at last year’s New York International Fringe Festival, is written and performed by Mark Sam Rosenthal, who is featured as a modern-day Blanche weathering Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Superdome and a subsequent job placement as a cashier at Popeye’s — not to mention a series of unflattering blond wigs.

Lawyers for the university, in Sewanee, Tenn., initially tried to quash the production in September, arguing in a letter to Mr. Rosenthal that his play and performances were “infringements on the university’s valuable intellectual property rights.”

The letter came as a shock to Mr. Rosenthal, he recalled in an interview on Wednesday.

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February 2, 2009

Reaping What They’ve Sown [9:17 am]

Hard to believe that the record companies are going to get much sympathy, despite the tone of this article: Despite Accord With Apple, Music Labels Still Fret (pdf)

The announcement on Jan. 6 seemed to signal a rapprochement between the music industry and its biggest distributor: record companies gave up their demand for copyright protection (called digital rights management) and Apple allowed flexible pricing, so the labels could charge more for new or popular tracks.

But according to one music industry executive involved in the negotiations, Apple’s primary goal was securing distribution of music over its iPhone, as mobile phones are expected to become an increasingly important outlet for music.

[...] Apple, according to a music industry official involved in the negotiations, offered to negotiate variable pricing about a year ago. Most songs cost 99 cents, of which the label receives about 70 cents and Apple receives the remainder, although the breakdown varies slightly among the labels.

Apple indicated it was willing to make the switch to variable pricing provided that the music companies — which negotiate individually with Apple to avoid colluding — would agree to license songs for wireless downloads on the iPhone, as well as drop copyright protections using digital rights management, or D.R.M., software.

All the labels agreed except Sony Music. Its chairman, Mr. Schmidt-Holtz, wanted the pricing to go into effect right after the announcement, while Mr. Jobs wanted a longer time horizon. According to a person briefed on the telephone call, Mr. Schmidt-Holtz and Mr. Jobs had a heated exchange by phone on Christmas Eve. Eventually, Sony gave in and agreed to a longer waiting period.

Even if Mr. Jobs does not get personally involved in future negotiations, music executives still fear dealing with Apple. One chit the company holds is the power of the iTunes home page, where it promotes music. They also say that the entire Apple staff, including Eddie Cue, the vice president in charge of iTunes who handles the relationships with the record labels, do their best to follow Mr. Jobs’s style in their own negotiating.

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Coping With Multistability [9:10 am]

Or not: Local Police Want Right to Jam Wireless Signals (pdf)

It is an increasingly common technology, with federal agencies expanding its use as state and local agencies are pushing for permission to do the same. Police and others say it could stop terrorists from coordinating during an attack, prevent suspects from erasing evidence on wireless devices, simplify arrests and keep inmates from using contraband phones.

But jamming remains strictly illegal for state and local agencies. Federal officials barely acknowledge that they use it inside the United States, and the few federal agencies that can jam signals usually must seek a legal waiver first.

The quest to expand the technology has invigorated a debate about how widely jamming should be allowed and whether its value as a common crime-fighting strategy outweighs its downsides, including restricting the constant access to the airwaves that Americans have come to expect.

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