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February 24, 2010

Charlie Keeps On Sluggin’ [8:36 am]

Smaller damages sought in music case [pdf]

A Boston University graduate student who was ordered to pay four record labels a total of $675,000 in damages for illegally sharing 30 songs online caused no more than $21 in damages, said his lawyer, who implored a federal judge yesterday to slash the jury award or order a new trial.

[...] If Tenenbaum had bought the songs legally on iTunes, Nesson argued, the student would have paid 99 cents for each, and the record labels would have received 70 cents each from Apple. Thus, Nesson said, total damages should be no more than $21.

“The idea that somehow Congress has done this,’’ Nesson said of the federal law at issue in the hourlong hearing, “it’s almost like an insult to the Congress.’’

But lawyers for the record labels said the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Act was tailor-made for individuals like Tenenbaum, who unapologetically admitted at trial that he had illegally downloaded and shared hundreds of songs from 1999 to at least 2007 through peer-to-peer networks, including the 30 songs on which the jury awarded damages.

[...] District Court Judge Nancy Gertner took the matter under advisement but was openly sympathetic to Tenenbaum, a 26-year-old doctoral student in physics, who sat with his lawyers as his mother, Judie Tenenbaum, of Providence, watched from the gallery.

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Architecture Meets Legislation [8:31 am]

In a battle for control: Money flows in auto bill battle [pdf]

A measure that could make car repairs less expensive for consumers heads to a vote on Beacon Hill today amid a torrent of lobbying by some of the country’s most powerful corporations.

[...] Right to Repair has been proposed in Congress and to eight state legislatures since 2001, but has never been enacted.

In Massachusetts, the legislation was first proposed in 2006. Automakers’ fierce opposition is rooted in the concern that if they release manufacturing information about parts, the after-market parts industry will make and sell them more cheaply.

[...] “I’m just looking out for my interests,’’ said owner Ernie Boch Jr. He said the Right to Repair proposal is like “going to the government and demanding Coke give the formula for their product.’’

Barry Steinberg, owner of four Direct Tire & Auto Service shops in Massachusetts, said he supports the measure because his shops cannot fix some cars, forcing them to send customers to dealerships, where they face higher costs.

“Legislators know their constituents are going to spend more money to fix their cars if this thing doesn’t go through,’’ he said. “That’s why these lobbyists are so scared.’’

Mass Right To Repair Coalition WWW site

Slashdot story: “Right To Repair” Bill Advances In Massachusetts

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February 11, 2010

Educational Videos and Copyright [9:43 am]

This has been percolating along for a while: Hitting Pause on Class Videos

In the latest clash of copyright law and instructional technology, the University of California at Los Angeles has stopping allowing faculty members to post copyrighted videos on their course Web sites after coming under fire from an educational media trade group.

The policy, enacted earlier this month, has been planned since last fall, when the Association for Information and Media Equipment — a group that protects the copyrights of education media companies — charged the university with violating copyright laws by posting the videos to the password-protected course Web pages without the proper permissions.

So far, UCLA is the only institution the organization has accused of such infractions. However, Allen Dohra, its president, told Inside Higher Ed that it is prepared to take on other colleges if it becomes clear that similar practices are taking place elsewhere. “We have leads in terms of other universities, and we do plan to investigate further,” said Dohra.

While the university maintains it has violated no laws, it has agreed to temporarily halt the practice while it tries to reach a settlement with the association. “We don’t want to litigate an issue that could potentially be resolved outside of the legal system,” said a university spokesman.

[...] The implications of the challenge extend well beyond practical inconveniences on the UCLA campus, said Tracy Mitrano, an information scholar and director of IT policy at Cornell University. “It touches on this much larger issue of the dissonance between technology and law that has a deleterious effect on higher education’s missions,” Mitrano said.

[...] “There are very legitimate and important arguments on both sides,” said Mitrano, noting the importance of maintaining strong incentives for the creation of new original work. However, the situation at UCLA is the latest reminder that copyright law needs to be rewritten before it does any more damage, she said.

“Copyright has been and continues to be a significant impediment in academic research and instruction,” said Mitrano. “Content owners and higher-education administrators and faculty, together with the associations that represent them, must sit down and figure out appropriate licensing, clearance, and fair use provisions in order not to hamper American higher education, if not global education, in pursuit of its mission.”

And don’t miss the comments. My favorite:

Stop playing defense
Posted by Timothy Burke , History at Swarthmore College on January 26, 2010 at 12:00pm EST

Sitting back and waiting for a legal resolution of these issues (whether through settlement or litigation) is a repeated mistake on the part of academic institutions and their faculty.

There are two simple steps that should follow on the initiation of a legal action like this one.

First, academic institutions should stop using in any form the work of publisher(s) who are unwilling to allow that work to be used in a functional form within existing educational practice. Stop buying it, stop using it. This is especially crucial for publisher(s) whose only important marketplace is academic institutions. If they want to foul their own nest, let them. A seller who doesn’t accomodate the needs of a buyer should find themselves without customers.

Second, as Prof Ed suggests, many publishers who sell to academic institutions also profit from the donated, uncompensated or poorly paid labor of academic experts. In effect, academic institutions subsidize the research or intellectual work of their own faculties, who then often give that work away to publishers, who then resell it back to the institutions at a high cost. This is a crazy, backward kind of economy, and actively inhibits what most academics are looking for out of dissemination and publication, namely, the accumulation of reputation capital rather than direct financial benefit. Faculty have to be prepared to walk away from any publisher seeking their participation in preparing educational materials or publication of research who is going to inhibit the use of those materials by other academics or is going to be constantly seeking new rents from those materials through legal or other means. We owe it to each other and to our employers. If faculty won’t voluntarily insist on such preconditions, then administrations should be prepared to offer very strong incentives for preferring open-source, open-access models for participating in the creation of educational materials or disseminating research results–and possibly strong sanctions against doing otherwise.

See also Universities Threatened Over Streaming of Educational Videos

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February 3, 2010

Lessig on © and Culture [6:54 pm]

And Google….

For The Love Of Culture [pdf]

So notice, then, how different our access to books is from our access to documentary films. After a limited time, almost all published books (but not all: put aside picture books, poetry, and, for reasons that will become obvious, an increasing range of relatively modern work) can be republished and redistributed. No heir of a long-dead author will stop us from accessing her published work (or at least the heart of it–some would say that the cover, the foreword, the index might all have to go). But the vast majority of documentary films from the twentieth century will be forever buried in a lawyer’s thicket, inaccessible (legally) because of a set of permissions built into these films at their creation.

Things could have been different. Documentary films could have been created the way books were, with writers using clips the way historians use quotations (that is, with no permission at all). And likewise, books could have been created differently: with each quotation licensed by the original author, with the promise to use the quote only according to the terms of a license. All books could thus be today as documentary films are today–inaccessible. Or all documentary films today could be as almost all books are today–accessible.

But it is the accident of our cultural history, created by lawyers not thinking about, as Duke law professor Jamie Boyle puts it, the “cultural environmental consequences” of their contracts, that we can always legally read, even if we cannot legally watch. In this contrast between books and documentaries, there is a warning about our future. What are the rules that will govern culture for the next hundred years? Are we building an ecology of access that demands a lawyer at every turn of the page? Or have we learned something from the mess of the documentary-film past, and will we create instead an ecology of access that assures copyright owners the incentive they need, while also guaranteeing culture a future?

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February 1, 2010

EU and Google on Collision Course? [3:15 pm]

Europe Looms as Major Battleground for Google [pdf]

Google has a problem in China. Is it headed for a bigger one in Europe?

So far, no one has accused European governments of cyberattacks like those that Google says it has suffered in China. But on issues ranging from privacy to copyright protection to the dominance of Google’s Internet search engine, clashes with European lawmakers, regulators and consumer advocates are escalating.

The stakes are high — potentially higher for Google and its shareholders than anything that happens in China. For nowhere else in the world is Google as powerful and as potentially vulnerable as in Europe. [...]

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