Routing Around Censorship?

YouTube Being Blocked in China, Google Says (pdf)

Google said it did not know why the site had been blocked, but a report by the official Xinhua news agency of China on Tuesday said that supporters of the Dalai Lama had fabricated a video that appeared to show Chinese police officers brutally beating Tibetans after riots last year in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Xinhua did not identify the video, but based on the description it appears to match a video available on YouTube that was recently released by the Tibetan government in exile.

[…] “We don’t know the reason for the block,” a Google spokesman, Scott Rubin, said. “Our government relations people are trying to resolve it.”

Mr. Rubin said that the company first noticed traffic from China had decreased sharply late Monday. By early Tuesday, he said, it had dropped to nearly zero.

China routinely filters Internet content and blocks material that is critical of its policies. It also frequently blocks individual videos on YouTube. YouTube was not blocked Tuesday or Wednesday in Hong Kong, the largely autonomous region of China. Beijing has not interfered with Internet sites there.

“The instant speculation is that YouTube is being blocked because the Tibetan government in exile released a particular video,” said Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and editor of China Digital Times, a news Web site that chronicles political and economic changes in China.

Mr. Xiao said that the blocking of YouTube fit with what appeared to be an effort by China to step up its censorship of the Internet in recent months. […]

See also China: Censors Bar Mythical Creature (pdf) as a followup to this earlier post.

Pushing the Limit

(I’d have posted this sooner, but at least one of the subsidiary content sources on the NYTimes home page is hanging browsers, and I had to work though which functionality I could drop — and which I needed — to see the NYTinmes’ page today)

A criminal outbreak, or a problem with the law — pushing the limit like this means we’ll get closer to hearing a real decision, but it also means that there’s going to be a lot of pain in the interim: Rights Clash on YouTube, and Videos Vanish (pdf)

In early December, Juliet Weybret, a high school sophomore and aspiring rock star from Lodi, Calif., recorded a video of herself playing the piano and singing “Winter Wonderland,” and she posted it on YouTube.

Weeks later, she received an e-mail message from YouTube: her video was being removed “as a result of a third-party notification by the Warner Music Group,” which owns the copyright to the Christmas carol.

Hers is not an isolated case. Countless other amateurs have been ensnared in a dispute between Warner Music and YouTube, which is owned by Google. The conflict centers on how much Warner should be paid for the use of its copyrighted works — its music videos — but has grown to include other material produced by amateurs that may also run afoul of copyright law.

Warner Brothers Trying Something Out

Warner Bros. brings film vault into digital age (pdf)

Warner Bros. is reaching into its film vaults so it can sell old movies on made-to-order DVDs, in a move it hopes will goose sales of a vital product in a downturn.

Starting Monday, the studio will sell copies of 150 films from the silent era to the 1980s Brat Pack that have never been released on DVD. Internet downloads of the movies will cost $14.95, while DVDs sent in the mail are $19.95. Both can be ordered at

The initiative, which Warner claims is the first of its kind for a major studio, is an effort by the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary to combat what could be a fundamental decline in demand for DVD purchases — a falloff that can be blamed on market saturation as much as the recession.

[…] Warner’s decision to open up its vault “sounds like it’s a risk-free way for them to generate a little money on some very old content,” Adams said. By making the DVDs only when the movies are ordered by a customer, Warner doesn’t have to worry about filling up a warehouse with inventory that struggles to sell.

Hal Abelson Continues To Make Headway

First DSpace, now this — from MIT’s student paper, The Tech: MIT Will Publish All Faculty Articles Free In Online Repository (pdf)

Faculty voted unanimously this week to approve a resolution that allows MIT to freely and publicly distribute research articles they write. MIT plans to create a repository to make these articles available online.

The resolution, effective immediately after it was passed on Wednesday, makes MIT the first university to commit to making its faculty’s research papers publicly available. Though the School of Education at Stanford and several departments at Harvard have already adopted these policies, MIT is the first entire university to make this pledge.

The open-access rule will only apply to articles published since Wednesday. Researchers who wish to opt-out do so by sending a letter notifying the Office of the Provost.

Of course, there’s also this from today’s Boston Globe: Protect our access to medical research (pdf)

IF YOU THINK this is the era of e-government and transparency, it’s time to think again. Hard as it is to imagine, there’s a move afoot in Congress to take away the public’s free online access to tax-funded medical research findings.

[…] Under the current policy, which is similar to practices of other funders worldwide, researchers who accept NIH funds must deposit their resulting peer-reviewed scientific articles in the PubMed Central archive. There the articles are permanently preserved in digital form, made searchable, linked to related information, and offered free to all on the Web. It’s a fair deal: Researchers get financial support for their work; taxpayers get a resource that will further advance science and address the public’s need to know.

But a group of well-heeled scientific journal publishers is trying to turn back the clock. They’ve backed legislation to rescind this widely hailed NIH policy. Elsevier, publisher of The Lancet, for example, is part of the Association of American Publishers, which has joined with the so-called DC Principles Coalition to ramrod the bill in Congress.

The bill, I believe, is HR.801 (HR.6845 in the 110th Congress). From the Congressional Research Service’s Summary:

Fair Copyright in Research Works Act – Prohibits any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of specified exclusive rights of a copyright owner in an extrinsic work.

Prohibits any federal agency from: (1) imposing, as a condition of a funding agreement, the waiver of, or assent to, any such prohibition; or (2) asserting any rights in material developed under any funding agreement that restrain or limit the acquisition or exercise of copyright rights in an extrinsic work. […]

Nice name: “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” — of course, “fairness” is in the eye of the beholder.


Yesterday, I saved an article (pdf) for a potential teaching moment next fall about the fact that the sale of Colorado River water rights means that it’s illegal to collect rainwater for personal use in parts of the Colorado River watershed. Here’s a related article, on a topic more pertinent to this blog: Why Do Girl Scouts Ban Online Cookie Sales? (pdf) (thanks Junjay and Jesse!)

In late January, they posted a YouTube video, starring Freeborn in Girl Scout gear, touting her straightforward sales pitch. “Buy cookies! And they’re yummy!” Soon after, they set up an online order system that was limited to customers within their local area (so Freeborn could personally deliver them). While her online sales strategy took hold, she continued peddling cookies the traditional way—going door to door and working booths at the local grocery store. Within two weeks, more than 700 orders for Thin Mints, Caramel DeLites and Peanut Butter Patties reached the Freeborns solely through the online form.

Considering that the national Girl Scout Cookie Program bills itself as the largest program to teach entrepreneurship to young girls, this e-commerce strategy seems especially savvy. But some families in the community felt threatened by the Freeborn’s unconventional efforts, likely because various prizes (including camp vouchers, stuffed animals and apparel) are given out by local councils to girls who sell a certain amount of boxes. “If you have an individual girl that creates a Web presence, she can suck the opportunity from other girls,” says Matthew Markie, a parent who remains involved in Girl Scouts even though his three daughters are well into their 20s. Markie, and other disapproving parents, brought the Freeborn’s site to the attention of local Girl Scout officials who told the Freeborns to take down their YouTube video and reminded the family of the organization’s longstanding prohibition of online sales. According to the FAQ on the national organization’s Web site, “The safety of our girls is always our chief concern. Girl Scout Cookie activities are designed to be face-to-face learning experiences for the girls.”

See also Girl Scouts Battle With One of Their Own (pdf)

Design, Emergence and Multistability

Computer Experts Unite to Hunt Worm (pdf)

The inability of the world’s best computer security technologists to gain the upper hand against anonymous but determined cybercriminals is viewed by a growing number of those involved in the fight as evidence of a fundamental security weakness in the global network.

“I walked up to a three-star general on Wednesday and asked him if he could help me deal with a million-node botnet,” said Rick Wesson, a computer security researcher involved in combating Conficker. “I didn’t get an answer.”

[…] Researchers who have been painstakingly disassembling the Conficker code have not been able to determine where the author, or authors, is located, or whether the program is being maintained by one person or a group of hackers. The growing suspicion is that Conficker will ultimately be a computing-for-hire scheme. Researchers expect it will imitate the hottest fad in the computer industry, called cloud computing, in which companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems sell computing as a service over the Internet.

[…] Several people who have analyzed various versions of the program said Conficker’s authors were obviously monitoring the efforts to restrict the malicious program and had repeatedly demonstrated that their skills were at the leading edge of computer technology.

I’m not sure that the “fundamental security weakness” is in the network, and I’m equally unsure that network (re)design alone is going to resolve it, either. But an easy to identify villain (pdf) always makes for good copy.

Another Take on Open vs. Closed

I have to confess — I really wanted to like the new Sony eBook Reader. As a way to carry large volumes of content when on the road (a professional necessity in my case, between teaching materials, paper reading & editing, and other materials), it seemed so much less painful than stacks of dead tree slices or PDFs on a laptop. But the closed architecture (yes, yes — it will take in PDFs, but only in the most limited way possible, and particularly ineffectively for someone with eyes as old as mine) of their file format (not to mention their focus upon the Windows platform – read the fine print!), I had to take it back. Now, we get this odd partnership: Sony and Google Announcing E-Book Partnership (pdf)

Aiming to outdo and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

[…] Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.

If one could only reasonably expect that Sony will adopt this format for their reader. But, this is Sony — the champions of control over openness (a/k/a willing to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face — so I expect that what will happen instead will be that they will instead helpfully “translate” ePub files into the Sony format. (Note that, in order to get at the Google books, one must employ the Sony eBook Library Software. As the text on the page notes: “PRS-500 [the 1st generation product reader] is not currently compatible with the books from Google.” That could mean many things, of course.))

*sigh* You have to wonder what Akio Morita would suggest.

In Search of the Golden Price Point

Digital retailers cut prices to lure CD buyers (pdf)

As the music industry watches in horror while physical CD sales tumble and digital sales fail to bridge the gap, online MP3 retailers are trying to stem the bleeding with an age-old technique: slashing prices.

[…] Cheap just may be the answer. Former illegal file-sharer Jungmann was often dissatisfied with what he found in the peer-to-peer world of Napster and Kazaa. “It didn’t have the sound quality,” he says. Besides, he says, laughing, “It’s too much work to steal stuff.” And that should really be music to the industry’s ears.

Not only embracing the model, but also the rhetoric — what more could they ask for?

Connectivity, Trial Practices and Information

And I thought it was hard trying to make students understand that Wikipedia is not a reliable source: Mistrial by iPhone – Juries’ Web Research Upends Trials (pdf)

Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.

Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, wasting eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We were stunned,” said the defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he was on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head.”

It might be called a Google mistrial. The use of BlackBerrys and iPhones by jurors gathering and sending out information about cases is wreaking havoc on trials around the country, upending deliberations and infuriating judges.

Later: Letters to the editor (pdf)

“Family Guy” Success

“Family Guy” wins court battle over song (pdf)

Creators of the U.S. television show “Family Guy” did not infringe copyright when they transformed the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” for comical use in an episode, a U.S. judge ruled on Monday.

[…] U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the lyrics and tone of the song used in “Family Guy” were “strikingly different.”

The judge also said it was fair for it to be imitated for humorous effect since the music publisher had benefited from the songs association with other more “wholesome” shows like “Pinocchio.”

“It is precisely that beneficial association that opens the song up for ridicule by parodists seeking to take the wind out of such lofty, magical, or pure associations,” she said.