Boston Globe Scraping The Bottom of the Barrel

At least, that’s my interpretation of their decision to give up some column-inches on the op-ed page today to Richard Cravatts, in whose Orwellian apologia today he offers to interpret the Constitution and the Patriot Act for members of the American Library Association too dumb to understand that, as our President has already concluded, if you have to ask for a warrant, then the terrorists have already won: When librarians protect terrorists [pdf]

NEWTON, WHICH this year was named as the country’s safest town, can now add a second designation to its Chamber of Commerce brochures: It can boast of being a town that is not only safe for its residents but which also protects the privacy rights of would-be terrorists who wish to use its library. After a credible terror threat to Brandeis University was traced to a public computer at the Newton Free Library on Jan. 18, the FBI and local police rushed to secure the computer, with the possibility of identifying the nature of the threat and the person behind it.

What law enforcement had not anticipated, however, was that their pressing search would be abruptly sidetracked when Kathy Glick-Weil, the library’s director, informed them that no one was searching anything without a warrant.

Glick-Weil, like many of her counterparts who are members of the American Library Association (ALA), was well-prepared to stymie the investigative efforts of government officials. In fact, since the passing of the Patriot Act and its Section 215, which governs searching in libraries and bookstores, librarians have been apoplectic at the notion that government officials, in their view, now have authority to kick through library doors and randomly monitor the reading and Internet surfing habits of their patrons.

The ALA’s sentiments, and Glick-Weil’s decision to become a ”human shield” for 10 precious hours while the FBI waited to secure a warrant and seize the computer, would be very noble — save for one important point: They are based on a misunderstanding of both Section 215 of the Patriot Act as well as the protections provided in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

I look forward to the day that Mr. Cravatts agrees to allow a warrantless search of his office, or his home, or his car. Until then, thank goodness for the diligence of the ALA, and kudos to Kathy Glick-Weil!!!

Later: The Letters to the Editor [pdf] are great! My favorite:

WHILE I couldn’t agree less with Richard Cravatts’s take on the enforcement of the laws concerning privacy, I will agree with his contention that librarians know the Dewey Decimal System. That a librarian’s professional training concentrates on mastering the use of the system is quite off the mark, however, and as enlightened a concept in the 21st century as starting a fire with a stone and a spark. In any event, should he himself ever need to be catalogued, I’ve got a spot for him on the shelf at 621.945. That would be the 620s for Engineering, 621.9 for Tools and Fabricating Equipment, and, specifically, 621.945 for Boring Tools.

The Marginal Value of A Piece of Spam

Opening bid: 0.25¢ — and another way of testing net neutrality: Postage Is Due for Companies Sending E-Mail

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world’s largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

[…] In a broader sense, the move to create what is essentially a preferred class of e-mail is a major change in the economics of the Internet. Until now, senders and recipients of e-mail — and, for that matter, Web pages and other information — each covered their own costs of using the network, with no money changing hands. That model is different from, say, the telephone system, in which the company whose customer places a call pays a fee to the company whose customer receives it.

The prospect of a multitiered Internet has received a lot of attention recently after executives of several large telecommunications companies, including BellSouth and AT&T, suggested that they should be paid not only by the subscribers to their Internet services but also by companies that send large files to those subscribers, including music and video clips. Those files would then be given priority over other data, a change from the Internet’s basic architecture which treats all data in the same way.

This Tuesday the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to consider legislation for what has been called Net neutrality — effectively banning Internet access companies from giving preferred status to certain providers of content. The concern is that companies that do not pay could find it hard to reach customers or attract new ones, threatening the openness of the Internet.

Networks, Surveillance and Access

Increasingly, Internet’s Data Trail Leads to Court

Who is sending threatening e-mail to a teenager? Who is saying disparaging things about a company on an Internet message board? Who is communicating online with a suspected drug dealer?

These questions, and many more like them, are asked every day of the companies that provide Internet service and run Web sites. And even though these companies promise to protect the privacy of their users, they routinely hand over the most intimate information in response to legal demands from criminal investigators and lawyers fighting civil cases.

[…] In short, just as technology is prompting Internet companies to collect more information and keep it longer than before, prosecutors and civil lawyers are more readily using that information.

A Look at YouTube

A New Trove of Music Video in the Web’s Wild World [pdf]

I am not a collector of music, or of video. I have had friends play me the best clips from their music video collections, in full, collectorish, this-will-freak-you-out mode, and enjoyed it. Still, I don’t really love music on video, per se. It reduces a performance so brutally.

But a missing link of performance history as potent as that George Clinton thing? Even if on bad video? It’s hard not to keep looking. Over the last few weeks, I have been looking at YouTube until my head hurts.

[…] Assenting to YouTube’s terms of use, a potential uploader must aver that he has the necessary licenses and permissions for each clip he uploads, including the consent of every person in the clip. The assurance of the uploader is all that’s asked for, at least until a copyright holder with a potential copyright issue approaches the company. (YouTube has a staff of only 20, and the only censorship they have exercised thus far is of “inappropriate” material, meaning pornography.)

If the copyright holder of a video that has been bootlegged complains about an illegal upload on YouTube, said Chad Hurley, the company’s chief executive, it will immediately shut down the link, thereby canceling anyone’s ability to see it then and thereafter — because nobody has downloaded it. […]

[…] The lack of information with these music clips is a logistical problem. There are also, obviously, legal and ethical problems with many of the clips on YouTube. David Peck of Reelin’ In the Years Productions, which calls itself the largest library of music footage in the world, owns rights to some of the clips that have been uploaded to YouTube without proper rights clearance. Among these are clips of Howlin’ Wolf performing at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1964, which have been commercially released on DVD.

Mr. Peck was aware of YouTube and said he had two reactions to the situation. “One is ‘You jerks, you have no right,’ ” he said. “We pay the Howlin’ Wolf estate when we sell that DVD. The other is, ‘What can I do?’ I’m not a big company. I have fought many big companies before who have used my footage and I’ve won every single time. I protect the rights. But there are so many bootleggers out there. I am not condoning this. But if it takes me $5,000 in legal fees, I’ve blown my next couple of royalty checks.”

Informed that YouTube was a company with employees, not just a fly-by-night Web site, Mr. Peck changed his tone. “That’s a different story,” he said. “That’s very disturbing.”

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America maintained the organization’s blanket position: that uploading or distributing copyrighted material, without permission from the copyright holder, is illegal.

Whitney Broussard, an entertainment lawyer specializing in music, says YouTube seems to be protected by a safe harbor in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which says that in such cases with streaming media, if the copyright holder protests and asks YouTube to shut down the link, and if the company promptly complies, then it is legally clear. (Ms. Supan of YouTube said the same thing.)

[…] It’s stupefying to know what’s out there. Perhaps its shady proliferation will hasten official, high-quality versions, videos that do not provoke headaches and could properly expand everybody’s understanding of history’s greatest performing artists.

“I don’t think there would be a market for all this stuff on YouTube,” Mr. Peck said, “if everyone — artists, labels, publishers and rights holders — could get together and find reasonable ways to release it.”

Hacking for Fun and Profit

Researcher: WMF Exploit Sold Underground for $4,000

The first sign of an exploit was traced back to the middle of December 2005, a full two weeks before anti-virus vendors started noticing mysterious WMF files rigged with malicious executable code, says Alexander Gostev, a senior virus analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

“One very important aspect of this case is that the vulnerability was first identified by members of the computer underground,” Gostev said.

“Around the middle of December, this exploit could be bought from a number of specialized sites. [Two or three] hacker groups from Russia were selling this exploit for $4,000,” he added, confirming a widely held suspicion that a lucrative market exists for code that can exploit unpatched Windows vulnerabilities.

A Tidbit From Slate’s Fashion Week FAQ

What is a “chilling effect?” Versus “nonsense?” See this (purposely?) confusing FAQ response: Fashion Week FAQ – Your nagging questions answered

9) If I see an outfit during fashion week that I like, is it OK for me to copy it? Is it copyright infringement if I buy my own fabric and sew it myself?

Good luck. Can you draft a pattern? Can you sew? Make a buttonhole? Clothes are difficult to make—especially the styles you see on the runway. Even if you were a killer seamstress, you’d likely have a hard time matching the fabrics many designers use: They are often expensive and hard to come by in a fabric store. But there’s no harm in copying the silhouette of a designer; fashion thrives on the imitation of ideas. Should you really manage to copy a designer’s work, however, be warned: G. Thompson Hutton, a Manhattan attorney specializing in the fashion business, says, “In the U.S., you might be an infringer if the design had a design patent. But many designers fail to protect their designs and therefore their designs end up in other collections.” And though designers rarely trademark their work, it would be hard to determine if the one you’ve decided to copy has done so.

“Trademark their work”? So what! (And feel free to look it up, too — USPTO) And a design patent? What couture house can justify paying to apply for such a thing for each design?

What A Question!

Is Verizon a Network Hog? [pdf]

Last November, Vinton G. Cerf wrote a letter of warning to Congress. The legendary computer scientist, now a vice-president at Google (GOOG), argued that major telecom companies could take actions to jeopardize the future of the Internet. The phone companies’ networks that carry Net traffic around the U.S. are much like the highway system. Cerf wrote that they may begin setting up the equivalent of tollbooths and express lanes, potentially discriminating against the traffic of other companies. Such moves, Cerf warned, “would do great damage to the Internet as we know it.

Now, Cerf and his Net compatriots have new ammunition to back up their fears. Documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show that Verizon Communications (VZ) is setting aside a wide lane on its fiber-optic network for delivering its own television service. According to Marvin Sirbu, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who examined the documents, more than 80% of Verizon’s current capacity is earmarked for carrying its service, while all other traffic jostles in the remainder.

[…] At issue is what the Internet of the future will offer. Critics of the phone industry say the Net has flourished because innovators anywhere could reach consumers just as easily as deep-pocketed corporations. But if Verizon and AT&T (T) set up tolls and express lanes, upstarts may not be able to afford the fees. “If you deliver video the way Verizon does now, that makes it very hard for others to compete,” says Carnegie Mellon’s Sirbu.

The Net companies are trying to persuade Congress to pass a law ensuring that broadband providers, such as the Bells, don’t discriminate against rivals when they charge tolls or prioritize traffic, an idea called “network neutrality.”

Related: Voice over Microsoft Protocol? [>a href=””>pdf]

A Vision of the Internet as TV

Reality TV King, AOL Create Web Game Show [pdf]

Further proof that the world of Internet entertainment is fast becoming as competitive as television came Monday, when reality TV impresario Mark Burnett and America Online announced an interactive Web program that — to some in Hollywood — sounded very familiar.

Burnett and AOL said they were jointly developing a treasure-hunt game show called “Gold Rush.” Slated to debut online this year, the show would award $1.6 million in gold to Web surfers who can decipher the given clues and find the booty stashed in 13 locations across the country.

Meanwhile at Yahoo Inc., the Internet giant’s Santa Monica-based media group has spent months developing its own scavenger hunt game: “Treasure Hunt.” This project has an even bigger-name producer tentatively attached: Steven Spielberg.

[…] After years as the king of televised reality programming, Burnett said he was intrigued by the possibilities — and profits — that could come from expanding the definition of “prime time.”

“Years ago it was a sin to make a personal phone call at the office,” Burnett said. “Now people are online all day long at the workplace. More people are hooked up electronically to receive images on that little box from 9 to 5 than will ever tune in to TV at night.”

Music Genomes and Pandora

That song sounds familiar [pdf]

Pandora is more than just a fad; its unusual methodology, which marries traditional musical authority with the wisdom of a group of experts, raises philosophical questions about the shape of Net culture.

Customizable Internet radio such as Yahoo’s has been around for years, but Pandora is a twist on the concept: Instead of relying solely on computer software to spit out playlists, Pandora draws on its Music Genome Project, a 6-year-old effort by a group of musicians to identify the hundreds of traits and qualities that form the building blocks of music — and then to map out each individual song within this framework, or genome. Genre disappears, and every song is at once relatable, however closely or distantly, to every other.

“This raises the bar significantly,” says Ted Cohen, senior vice president of digital development for EMI Music. “For the moment, it’s the coolest thing out there. The whole idea seems to be to give people just enough interaction so that the listening experience gets better — and it works. When I plugged in the Raspberries and Todd Rundgren, it came back with Dwight Twilley. That’s it! If Eric Carmen and Todd Rundgren had a child, it would be Dwight Twilley.”

[…] Technical complexity aside, Higgs doesn’t care much for computers and says he has tried Pandora only once or twice. But like most of his colleagues, many of whom are struggling musicians, he feels strongly that Pandora will help obscure performers find an audience. After all, a user listening to Pandora is just as likely to hear an unknown garage band as the Rolling Stones.

And any musician, whether signed to a label or not, is welcome to send in a CD to be auditioned for inclusion in the database.

Many do. […]

James McQuivey, an assistant professor of communications at Boston University, enjoys Pandora but notes that it “runs counter to the democratizing trend of the Internet.” Instead of using “collaborative filtering” software pioneered by and Apple’s iTunes (“customers who bought this album also bought these albums”), Pandora “puts the power of the recommendation in the hands of an expert system,” McQuivey says. “Pandora will succeed only if its centralized system proves superior to the wisdom of the crowd.”