July 20, 2009

A Notable Obit In Today’s Paper [3:08 pm]

William C. Conner, 89, Judge Known for First Amendment Rulings, Dies (pdf)

Judge Conner’s expertise in intellectual property issues was the principal reason he was given responsibility in the mid-1970s for overseeing a 1941 consent order governing the activities of Ascap, which represents songwriters and music publishers in royalty and other matters. Under the order, the federal government and Ascap — an acronym for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers — agreed to put Ascap’s dealings under the supervision of the federal court in Manhattan to settle an antitrust suit.

Judge Conner in 2004 approved a new deal for Ascap’s licensing of songs to radio stations. The pact is estimated to have increased payments to composers and publishers by $1.7 billion since 2001.

In 2007, Judge Conner vetoed an Ascap request to classify digital downloads as performances; the designation would have given songwriters an extra royalty. Last year, he turned down Ascap’s request to get 3 percent of revenues from songs streamed over AOL, Yahoo and RealNetworks. Instead, he decreed 2.5 percent.

[...] The Marx Brothers case in 1981 involved the Broadway show “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.” Heirs of the Marx Brothers’ contended that the show had illegally appropriated the names and likenesses of Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx. Judge Conner said that publicity rights held by the brothers, all of whom had died, trumped the producers’ First Amendment claims. The ruling was reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Later: A related op-ed on the role of the courts in intellectual discource — The Day Obscenity Became Art

Looking over the Roth decision, Rembar spotted a loophole. The opinion, written by Justice William J. Brennan, noted that the First Amendment’s purpose was “to assure unfettered interchange of ideas” and that “all ideas having even the slightest redeeming social importance — unorthodox ideas, controversial ideas, even ideas hateful to the prevailing climate of opinion — have the full protection of the guarantees.” But, Brennan went on, “implicit in the history of the First Amendment is the rejection of obscenity as utterly without redeeming social importance.”

Rembar mulled over a question that Brennan apparently hadn’t considered: What if a book met the standards of obscenity yet also presented ideas of “redeeming social importance”? By Brennan’s logic, wouldn’t it qualify for the First Amendment’s protection after all?

On a sheet of paper, Rembar drew two slightly overlapping circles. He labeled one circle “Material appealing to prurient interests.” He labeled the other “Material utterly without social importance.” By Brennan’s reasoning, only material that fell inside both circles — that was both prurient and worthless — should be denied the privileges of free speech.

This was the argument that Rembar made before Judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. [...]

Where would we be without the “new math” education?

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“Z” on Life in “The Cloud” [7:51 am]

Articulating the real gaps in law and policy that stand in the way — and one latent threat: Op-Ed Contributor - Lost in the Cloud (pdf)

[...] Chrome moves us further away from running code and storing our information on our own PCs toward doing everything online — also known as in “the cloud” — using whatever device is at hand.

Many people consider this development to be as sensible and inevitable as the move from answering machines to voicemail. With your stuff in the cloud, it’s not a catastrophe to lose your laptop, any more than losing your glasses would permanently destroy your vision. In addition, as more and more of our information is gathered from and shared with others — through Facebook, MySpace or Twitter — having it all online can make a lot of sense.

The cloud, however, comes with real dangers.

[...] [T]he most difficult challenge — both to grasp and to solve — of the cloud is its effect on our freedom to innovate. The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy. Microsoft might want you to run Word and Internet Explorer, but those had better be good products or you’ll switch with a few mouse clicks to OpenOffice orFirefox.

Promoting competition is only the tip of the iceberg — there are also the thousands of applications so novel that they don’t yet compete with anything. These tend to be produced by tinkerers and hackers. Instant messaging, peer-to-peer file sharing and the Web itself all exist thanks to people out in left field, often writing for fun rather than money, who are able to tempt the rest of us to try out what they’ve done.

This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software. [...]

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Coming To Grips With Reality? [7:37 am]

Music Industry Lures ‘Casual’ Pirates to Legal Sites (pdf)

Record company executives say there are three kinds of music fans. There are those who buy music, and those who get a kick out of never paying for it. And then there are those whom Rob Wells at Universal Music Group calls “dinner party pirates”: the vast majority of listeners, those who copy music illegally because it is more convenient than buying it.

If those low-level copyright cheats could be converted to using legal music services, the digital music business would get much-needed help. Yet even industry executives acknowledge that until recently, they were not giving those listeners many ways to do what they wanted: to sample new music and to play it back anytime, at little or no cost.

Related, stemming, in part, from the announced closing of the local rock institution, WBCN: Young listeners tune out radio in search for new music (pdf)

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