May 13, 2003

2003 May 13 [8:35 am]

(entry last updated: 2003-05-13 19:51:57)

  • Matt Morse writes about rhetoric and the RIAA apologies in today’s weblog entry - reacting to some things listed below.

  • David Weinberger has a column in Wired this month: Copy Protection Is a Crime

    Yet we’re on the verge of instituting digital rights management. What do computers do best? Obey rules. What do they do worst? Allow latitude. Why? Because computers don’t know when to look the other way.

    We’re screwed. Not because we MP3 cowboys and cowgirls will not have to pay for content we’ve been “stealing.” No, we’re screwed because we’re undercutting the basis of our shared intellectual and creative lives. For us to talk, argue, try out ideas, tear down and build up thoughts, assimilate and appropriate concepts - heck, just to be together in public - we have to grant all sorts of leeway. That’s how ideas breed, how cultures get built. If any public space needs plenty of light, air, and room to play, it’s the marketplace of ideas.

    …But in the digital world - the global marketplace of ideas made real - we’re on the verge of handing amorphous, context-dependent decisions to hard-coded software incapable of applying the snicker test. This is a problem, and not one that more and better programming can fix. That would just add more rules. What we really need is to recognize that the world - online and off - is necessarily imperfect, and that it’s important it stay that way.

  • CNet has updated their RIAA apologizes article (see the end of this entry): RIAA apologizes for erroneous letters

    The fact that no one seems to be ready to make the RIAA suffer for these “errors” is worrisome - and worse, the ink they’re getting helps to establish the notion that apologies are all that’s necessary.

    Speakeasy, a national broadband provider, said on Tuesday that the RIAA had apologized for sending a cease-and-desist letter alleging illegal activity on an FTP site devoted to the Commodore Amiga computer. The RIAA’s form letter sent to Speakeasy last Thursday alleged the Amigascne.org site illegally “offers approximately 0 sound files for download. Many of these files contain recordings owned by our member companies, including songs by such artists as Creed.”

  • OK - Donna repeatedly urges us to consider the rhetoric of copyright when getting into discussions. In the interest of improving all our skills, I offer up this distressing screed [via Not-So-Private Ryan] from NRO Online written by someone from Smith College: James D. Miller’s Digital Communism. If we can’t knock this one down, we don’t have a chance with a real argument. Here’s his opening paragraph:

    By legalizing Internet file-trading tools, a California court handed a major victory to communism. The Internet allows the well-wired to take copyrighted material freely. Left unchecked, rampant copyright theft may soon destroy the for-profit production of movies, music and books and may usher in an age of digital communism.

    We can start with the conflation of property rights and copyright (shocking for a Stanford Law Review grad), but I would argue that this attack gets its potency from its lowest-common-denominator framing of the problem - know-nothingism as a rhetorical basis. Granted, we all know what to expect from NRO, but this is a particularly shameless argument.

  • More dead horse-beating of a particularly dangerous sort, threatening to “pierce the corporate veil” via vicarious infringement: Universal Sues Bertelsmann Over Ties to Napster [pdf]

    Universal Music Group, part of Vivendi Universal, joined EMI this month to sue Hummer Winblad, the venture capital firm that was one of Napster’s chief backers. Music publishers are also suing Bertelsmann for prolonging the life of Napster.

    Universal’s lawsuit cites an internal Bertelsmann memo that became public during Napster’s bankruptcy proceedings as evidence that the company deliberately planned to keep Napster’s illegal service running to aid a legitimate music subscription service Bertelsmann planned to have take its place.

    … But some intellectual property lawyers said the lawsuit was advancing a theory that stretches the traditional bounds of the law and that could have a chilling effect on investment in new technology companies.

    “What does this mean for other people who loan money to companies?” said Mark F. Radcliffe, a partner at the Gray, Cary, Ware & Freidenrich law firm in Palo Alto, Calif. “If you’re a bank and loan money to somebody who pollutes, are you responsible for cleaning up the pollution?”

    …”By the time the Napster system was shut down, Bertelsmann had materially contributed to, aided and facilitated millions upon millions of separate acts of infringement by millions of Napster users,” the lawsuit says.

    Of course, Amy Harmon’s example of loaning to polluters is a red herring, unless pollution is protected under copyright law. See Fred’s article above, this article from Upside and this Furdlog entry for more details.

  • Speaking of Verizon, Derek points out that a stay has been granted. Can’t find the order online, though. The motion for the stay, yes. (wrong motion)

  • More on the streaming of iTunes content via Spymac: Hackers: iTunes can be shared over Net. Like I said a couple of days ago, this looks like a webcasting game and it’ll be interesting to see what the reponses will be, both technically by Apple and legally by the RIAA/ASCAP/BMI/SESAC and/or the Federal Government.

  • Ed Felten continues the discussion of Steve Lohr’s article [pdf] in the NYTimes Week In Review.

  • A very distressing story from CNet: RIAA apologizes for threatening letter

    The Recording Industry Association of America apologized Monday to Penn State University for sending an incorrect legal notice of alleged Internet copyright violations.

    The notice and subsequent apology appears to mark the first time that a faulty notification has been made public. The incident also shows just how easily automated programs that search for copyrighted material can be fooled, as well as how disruptive such notices can be on college campuses.

    …A representative of Penn State said Monday afternoon that the university accepts “that this was an honest mistake by the recording industry.” Spokesman Tysen Kendig said Penn State “remains committed to working closely with the RIAA and other law enforcement entities” to take actions against the trading of copyrighted material. Penn State President Graham Spanier, who testified before Congress in February about online piracy, is the co-chairman of a working group that includes the entertainment industry.

    …The RIAA’s notice went to the university’s central computing office, which told the department to delete the material or “we will need to disable access to the machine hosting the infringing song.” The central office then notified the department. Soccio said: “The swiftness of the activity the university wanted to take just around finals time scared the living daylights out of me. I’m just glad the university took my word for it that we weren’t violating copyright law.”

    Now, Soccio said, he’s writing a letter to his members of Congress opposing the DMCA and will post it in the department for signatures. “I’m loath to think that our educational resources and years of valuable resources can be jeopardized just because some kid in a dorm room is downloading copyrighted material,” he said. “That’s not a price that society should have to pay.”

    Hmmm - I thought that there were supposed to be real teeth in these laws when false allegations are made; wasn’t that the argument that the judge made in the Verizon lawsuit? Instead, we get a lot of stumbling all over each other to get along - an abdication of responsibility by the university?

    Update: Slashdot discussion: RIAA Apologizes for Incorrect Infringement Notice - two particularly relevant comments: (1) RIAA == Penn State Board Member and (2) Perjury?

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