Muddled Argument

I’m not sure *what* Scott Turow thinks he’s accomplishing in this op-ed, other than trying to muddy the arguments around the proper role of copyright in an era of increasingly inexpensive districution: Would the Bard Have Survived the Web? [pdf]

The rise of the Internet has led to a view among many users and Web companies that copyright is a relic, suited only to the needs of out-of-step corporate behemoths. Just consider the dedicated “file-sharers” — actually, traffickers in stolen music movies and, increasingly, books — who transmit and receive copyrighted material without the slightest guilt.

They are abetted by a handful of law professors and other experts who have made careers of fashioning counterintuitive arguments holding that copyright impedes creativity and progress. Their theory is that if we severely weaken copyright protections, innovation will truly flourish. It’s a seductive thought, but it ignores centuries of scientific and technological progress based on the principle that a creative person should have some assurance of being rewarded for his innovative work.

Certainly there’s a place for free creative work online, but that cannot be the end of it. […]

Of course, he carefully disavows his own legal training in the author byline, but you have to wonder what his strategy would be — not to mention the strategy of the New York Times in accepting this unclear opinion piece.

Unbelievable

Attention Turns to the Dangers of Distracted Pedestrians [pdf]

Pedestrian fatalities increased slightly for the first time in four years in the first six months of 2010, according to a report released last week by the Governors Highway Safety Association, an organization based in Washington that represents state highway safety agencies.

Among the states, Arizona and Florida had the largest increases in pedestrian fatalities, followed by North Carolina, Oregon and Oklahoma. Nationally, pedestrian traffic fatalities had dropped to 4,091 in 2009 from 4,892 in 2005, the report stated.

“One of the reasons we think the trend may be turning negatively is because of distracted pedestrians,” said Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the safety group.

The New York bill was proposed by State Senator Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who has grown alarmed by the amount of distraction he sees on the streets in his neighborhood and across New York City. Since September, Mr. Kruger wrote in the bill, three pedestrians have been killed and one was critically injured while crossing streets and listening to music through headphones.

“We’re taught from knee-high to look in both directions, wait, listen and then cross,” he said. “You can perform none of those functions if you are engaged in some kind of wired activity.”

Russia and “Safe Harbors”

Russia faces rare Internet copyright challenge – [pdf]

Russia’s loose copyright protection laws were put to the test Thursday when prosecutors filed charges against a social network user who put 18 of his favourite pop groups songs online.

The 26-year-old V Kontakte In Contact website user faces a six-year prison sentence if convicted of violating the unnamed Russian groups “copyright and related rights.”

A Little Look Inside

Won’t You Be My Wireless Neighbor? [pdf]

A few months ago, the Belkin_G-Plus_MIMO network changed its name and gained a padlock icon in my computer’s list of available connections. Then — crickets. The era of unintentional, unasked-for or simply unacknowledged Internet sharing, it seemed, had come to an end.

Suddenly disconnected, I realized how lucky I’d been all those years, having that tremendous body of information and awesome communication technology at my fingertips, all basically free. It may have been unfair, but I don’t believe I was stealing: the owners’ leaving their networks password-free was essentially a gift, an ethereal gesture of kindness. Sometimes I’d imagine my anonymous benefactors, those people behind Netgear 1 or belkin54g, thinking, “Well, I have Internet to spare.”

RIP, David Noble

A 1979/80 TPP Proseminar picture; Dave Noble is far left

I learned today that Dave Noble (far left in the image above), a real intellectual light of my graduate school experience at MIT’s Technology and Policy Program, died December 27, 2010.

NOBLE, David Franklin – Passed away suddenly in Toronto on December 27, 2010, David F. Noble was an internationally acclaimed scholar and courageous activist, most recently on the faculty of York University. Born in New York City, he had held positions at MIT, the Smithsonian Institution and Drexel University, as well as many visiting professorships. Dave prized truth, justice and integrity and he often found himself in conflict with powers-that-be. His numerous books challenged core ideas and major institutions of technology, science, corporate capitalism and higher education. As a relentless activist against injustice, he took the risks that no one else would take. Despite his public persona, Dave was an intensely sweet, loving and compassionate person, a proud father of three talented daughters, and a passionately loving husband who celebrated life. He treasured his summers in the Vermont woods with his family, his many devoted friends, colleagues and allies, and the transcendent pleasure of music and nature. Dave is survived by his wife Sarah Dopp of Toronto; daughters Clare O’Connor of Toronto, Helen O’Connor of Toulon, France and Alice O’Connor of Vancouver, BC; sister Jane Pafford of Arcadia, Florida; brothers Doug Noble of Rochester, New York and Henry Noble of Seattle, Washington. A public memorial service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Published in the Toronto Star on December 30, 2010

Some of my TPP students have heard me speak of what an outstanding experience it was to take classes from David. The obituary gets it exactly right — David was at least as much an activist as a scholar, and it was a privilege to learn from him.

[As an aside, I am intrigued by (a) the fact that the Toronto Star’s obituary archive is handled by Legacy.com; (b) the fact that Legacy.com runs a virtual “condolence book” as a business proposition (you get to pay to keep it live); and (c) the fact that, as soon as I posted a note, I was invited to add a link to my Facebook wall.

The world continues to evolve and change at a ridiculous rate, mediated by technology in ways that David was particularly interested in exploring and interpreting in his unique fashion.]

Tackling The “Second Enclosure Movement”

Brussels Wants 7-Year Limit on Works Digitized by Google [pdf]

Companies like Google that digitize artworks and books from public bodies should allow other companies and institutions to commercialize those materials after seven years, three experts advising the European Commission said Monday.

The experts, including Maurice C. Lévy, the chairman and chief executive of Publicis, a communications and advertising company based in Paris, also encouraged the emergence of additional innovative companies besides Google to help digitize Europe’s cultural heritage.

“We believe there is a lot of opportunity for new players to come and confront Google,” Mr. Lévy said. Google had been “essential in the process” of digitizing cultural materials like books, films, photographs and paintings, but it was not “very good for competition to have one player on the ground,” he said.

“It’s For Your Benefit”

How could anyone possibly object to Disney working ever-harder to maximize your enjoyment? Disney Command Center Aims to Keep Lines Moving [pdf]

To handle over 30 million annual visitors — many of them during this busiest time of year for the megaresort — Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more. A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.

And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.

[…] Disney, which is periodically criticized for overreaching in the name of cultural dominance (and profits), does not see any of this monitoring as the slightest bit invasive. Rather, the company regards it as just another part of its efforts to pull every possible lever in the name of a better guest experience.


Later: See also Computers That See You and Keep Watch Over You [pdf], part of the NYTime’s “Smarter Than You Think” series.

What Hath US News and World Report Wrought?

Surprisingly, the use of application screening rate in the US News and World Report ranking of colleges is not implicated in this Boston Globe article: Student’s résumé was full of errors, unlikely claims [pdf]

In hindsight, there were other red flags that raise questions as to how closely Harvard’s staff scrutinized Wheeler’s application, and whether the failure to catch simple errors and too-good-to-be-true claims played a greater role in Wheeler’s admission than his own ingenuity.

“Not to take responsibility from what he did, but Harvard has to own up to what it did by letting him in,’’ said Steven Sussman, Wheeler’s attorney. “There were substantial irregularities with the Wheeler application that should have raised red flags that were ignored.’’

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal declined to comment on Wheeler’s application but said the university has taken steps to improve its process for screening applicants.

From their ranking description — How U.S. News Calculates the College Rankings:

Student selectivity (15 percent). A school’s academic atmosphere is determined in part by the abilities and ambitions of the student body. We factor in the admissions test scores for all enrollees who took the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the Composite ACT score (50 percent of the selectivity score); the proportion of enrolled freshmen at National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes or in the top quarter at Regional Universities and Regional Colleges (40 percent); and the acceptance rate, or the ratio of students admitted to applicants (10 percent) [emphasis added]. The data are for the fall 2009 entering class. While the ranking calculation takes account of the SAT and ACT admissions test scores of all entering students, the table displays the score range for whichever test most enrolled students took

Cute

Made me think of one of the questions from the recurring Saturday Night Live “What If?” skit — “What If … Superman grew up in Nazi Germany?” Law and the Multiverse Blog Mixes Lawyers and Superheroes [pdf]

Is Superman’s heat vision a weapon? If so, would the Second Amendment protect his right to melt pistols and cook hamburgers with it?

You might not have thought to ask these questions. You might have, in other words, a life. But a new blog and the interest it is generating shows that there are people who look at an epic battle between superheroes and supervillains and really, really want to know who should be found liable for the broken buildings and shattered streets.

Those people now have a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, supervillains, and the law. Kicked off on Nov. 30, it addresses questions like: “What if someone is convicted for murder, and then the victim comes back to life?” And whether mutants are a legally recognizable class entitled to constitutional protection from discrimination.

(“What If … Eleanor Roosevelt Could Fly?” was the best question, though.)

When Is Copyright Infringement Not Copyright Infringement?

When it’s marketing and promotion, of course. Music Blogs Caught Up in Labels’ Online Piracy Fight [pdf]

“At first I thought it was hackers,” Mr. Hofman said. But within hours a notice went up on the site saying that its domain name had been seized by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the Department of Homeland Security; it was one of dozens of sites shut down, accused of copyright infringement and selling counterfeit goods.

But Mr. Hofman, a brawny Long Islander in his early 30s who formerly worked for a major record label, does not think of himself as a pirate.

OnSmash.com and the handful of other music blogs shut down by the government post brand-new songs and videos without licenses, but much of that material is often leaked to them by managers, music labels and even the artists themselves.

As a result, these sites have a complex symbiosis with the music business. While the Recording Industry Association of America wants to shut them down, the rank and file of the record labels — particularly in hip-hop circles — uses them as marketing tools and publicity outlets.

Nice to see that DHS is doing it’s best to keep America safe from terrists!