August 25, 2009

Picking A Meaningless Fight [8:24 am]

It’s nice to ask, but it’s hard to imagine that OMB is going to generate anything that really sticks. After all, it’s not the Government that’s the big player in this, and there will almost certainly be nothing that will prevent the Government from buying the same information from private firms that do exactly the same collecting and are not “encumbered” by OMB guidelines: Editorial - The Government and the Web (pdf)

The Office of Management and Budget is developing the new rules. Officials say they recognize that people must be told that their use of Web sites is being tracked — and be given a chance to opt out. More is needed. The government should commit to displaying such notices prominently on all Web pages — and to making it easy for users to choose not to be tracked.

It must promise that tracking data will be used only for the purpose it was collected for: if someone orders a pamphlet on living with cancer, it should not end up in a general database. Information should be purged regularly and as quickly as possible. These rules must apply to third parties that operate on government sites.

The Obama administration is working to better harness the power of the Internet to deliver government services. That is good. But it needs to be mindful that people should be able to get help and be assured that their privacy is being vigilantly protected.

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Missing the Point [8:14 am]

No, the issue is not whether “the risks justified the results;” the issue is what sort of a people are we prepared to be? If honoring human dignity is not a universal principle of governance, does that mean that, as a matter of course, we will embrace expediency instead? And, what does it mean for our current leadership that it has had to be forced by an NGO to take even this little action to begin to address the cancerous legacy of this ugly construction of governance that the preceding Administration (or Administrations) have elected to pursue: C.I.A. Abuse Cases Detailed in Report on Detainees (pdf)

The report found that the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots and said some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment.

But the inspector general’s review raised broad questions about the legality, political acceptability and effectiveness of the harshest of the C.I.A.’s methods, including some not authorized by the Justice Department and others that were approved, like the near-drowning technique of waterboarding.

“This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report said, and whether the frequency and volume of water poured over the prisoner’s mouth and nose exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization.

The ACLU’s announcement, with links to all documents so far obtained: ACLU Obtains Detailed Official Record Of CIA Torture Program

Related (unfortunately): U.S. Says Rendition to Continue, but With More Oversight (pdf)

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Another Tenenbaum Fallout Piece [7:43 am]

Can’t stop the (free) music (pdf)

Tanklefsky, like many who grew up in the free-music era, where digital tracks are swapped, or now streamed on their computers, as casually as their parents once traded baseball cards, is skeptical that attitudes - and habits - will change as a result of a single high-profile court case. The fine, he says, was “ludicrous,’’ and only made an unlikely martyr out of Tenenbaum.

“It basically showed me I don’t want to download and share’’ music from sites like the ones Tenenbaum frequented, Tanklefsky says. “But if a friend has 10,000 songs on his iPod, you can move them all onto your iPod in about an hour, anyway.’’

Until the music industry figures out a way to compel listeners, especially the younger ones, to stop freeloading and pay for their tunes (a dilemma the newspaper industry can relate to), the free-music era seems here to stay. “The onus is really on the record companies to figure out a new business model,’’ Tanklefsky says.

Stories like the following one, of course, don’t exactly give the recording industry a lot of high ground to claim: Rapper behind ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ gets Warner Music to pay for Ph.D (pdf)

“Everybody was cheating with the contracts, stealing and telling lies,” she said. “And to find out that I was just a commodity was heartbreaking.”

But Shante, then 19, remembered a clause in her Warner Music recording contract: The company would fund her education for life.

She eventually cashed in, earning a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell to the tune of $217,000 - all covered by the label. But getting Warner Music to cough up the dough was a battle.

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Serving the Lizzie Borden Aficionados [7:40 am]

Oh, and getting the US Government to help increase profits through state-mandated exclusivity: Fall River museum wins marketing rights to Lizzie Borden’s name (pdf)

Webster, a 34-year-old who became fascinated with the accused ax-murderer as a preteen and today has a cat named after her, was not stocking up on any old souvenirs. These were exclusively trademarked tchotchkes, patented merchandise of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, which in a marketing coup has just landed the rights to the Lizzie Borden name and her black-humored brand.

The B&B, a popular downtown tourist attraction that draws up to 150 visitors a day, pursued the merchandising license from the US Patent and Trademark Office after a legal dispute last year with a Salem shop called The True Story of Lizzie Borden, which in a settlement agreed to change its name to the 40 Whacks Museum.

Owners said they hope it will dissuade competitors looking to capitalize on the unabated interest in the case, which enthralls historians, ghost-hunters, law students, and fans of the macabre.

“We wanted to protect our franchise,’’ said Lee-ann Wilber, who has co-owned the museum since 2004. “We want to keep the name and Lizzie Borden merchandise local, so people know they are buying something that comes from Fall River.’’

Trademarking a name out of history — I can understand the gall of applying for it, but I cannot believe that the USPTO actually gave it to someone. “Freedom of Expression” was a good trick, but this is truly indicative of just how far gone we are when it comes to converting things into property.

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SCO Just Won’t Go Away [7:31 am]

Unix ruling overturned (pdf)

A three-judge panel of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a judge erred in August 2007 by granting the copyright to Novell. The panel ordered a trial to determine ownership.

The opinion: SCO v. Novell - 08-4217 (local copy) - an arcane dive into copyright, contracts and adjudication. The bottom line: summary judgment was not appropriate and there should be a full trial on some of the questions that have been raised:

Because we conclude summary judgment is inappropriate on the question of which party owns the UNIX and UnixWare copyrights, we must likewise reverse the district court’s determination that “Novell is entitled to summary judgment [on SCO's claim] seeking an order directing Novell to specifically perform its alleged obligations under the APA by executing all documents needed to transfer ownership of the UNIX and UnixWare copyrights to SCO.” Dist. Ct. Op. 62. We take no position on which party ultimately owns the UNIX copyrights or which copyrights were “required” for Santa Cruz to exercise its rights under the agreement. Such matters are for the finder of fact on remand.

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