April 22, 2005

Ideology - A Blessing, and A Curse [4:23 pm]

Deconstructing stupidity [via Slashdot] — here’s the key point, one that I keep reiterating lately around here, too:

Fundamentally, though, the views I have criticised here are not merely stupidity. They constitute an ideology, a worldview, like flat earth-ism. But the world is not flat and the stupidity pact is not what we want to sign.

Let me be clear. IP is a good thing. [...] Not all proposals to extend rights are silly, but if we do not start looking rigorously at evidence, we will never know which.

That’s what makes this such an interesting time in IP. The power of ideology (which I would define as a simplified explanation of how the world works) is that it generally does work — that’s why it becomes accepted. Developing a good model gives one advantages — the ability to anticipate outcomes and act with confidence upon that expected outcome. However, that success also leads the user to confuse the model of reality with reality itself and, eventually, the ideology disappears — “Why is more copyright protection better? That’s just how things work, stupid.”

As long as the model works, that confusion is not a problem. But when the model starts to fail (as it inevitably must), the dogmatic ideologue is in serious trouble — the explanations for how the world works sudden no longer work, and the easiest response (and most typical) is to argue away (or ignore) the inconsistencies and press on.

That’s where we are now. The inconsistencies cited in Boyle’s article and elsewhere are all around us, but the ideologues just keep repeating their mantra “more control/property/market discipline is better.” The ideology is now visible, at least to those who do not accept it, and the inconsistencies keep piling up — and the non-dogmatists have started to develop a better, more refined model for reality, one that allows them to be more successful, and have started to move on.

The danger lies in spasms of the ideologues whose explanations no longer help, but who still have the power to construct structures that enforce their world-view. Setting up those structures won’t save their ideology; rather, it just guarantees that we’ll all fail together, while those who elect to move on to the next ideology will become increasingly successful.

And that’s what the fight is about. Flat-earthers are harmless — until they start forcing you to write the specifications for your GPS system in accordance with their views. Then, you’re screwed. Because you might manage to come up with something that (sort of) works, but eventually someone smart is going to say “I can do this a lot better if I reject the assumption the earth is flat,” and he’s going to clean your clock.

See Donna’s thoughts: Help Break the IP Stupidity Pact

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More on the MIT RIAA Suits [12:50 pm]

From the April 22 copy of The Tech (pdf) - “RIAA Sues 22 Dorm Residents For Sharing Copyrighted Songs”

This time, the record companies sued 405 users of the “i2hub” program at 18 colleges. The industry says it is suing the most flagrant “uploaders” — people who make many copyrighted songs available. “We chose targets based on the egregiousness of the infringement,” wrote Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, in an online chat with college newspaper reporters last week. “The users sued today had an average of 2,300 MP3 files,” he wrote.

[...] The record companies do not yet know whom they are suing. They have asked the federal district court in Boston for permission to send subpoenas to MIT to identify the owners of 22 computers that the industry first identified, by IP address, in early April. The court is likely to grant permission in the next few weeks.

After MIT receives the subpoenas, the students identified will have 14 days to contest the release of their names. If a student does not challenge the subpoena in court, then MIT will send their names to the record companies, who will amend their lawsuit to name the students as defendants.

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India Grabs The Competitive Edge [11:13 am]

From yesterday at Slashdot: Software Patents Stopped in India

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Canadian ISP Elects To Be Judge/Jury [11:07 am]

Videotron ready to name music swappers [pdf]

Producing the identities of Internet users alleged of wrongdoing happens so regularly, says a lawyer for Videotron, that he’s bewildered as to why other ISPs are fighting a motion from the music industry to hand over the names of people who share large volumes of songs on-line.

“We do it on a regular basis. It’s not very complicated,” said Serge Sasseville, following the conclusion of weighty Federal Court of Appeal hearings about file-swapping, which could lead to the start of lawsuits against so-called music pirates.

Via Slashdot - Canadian ISP to Name Music Swappers

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It’s Friday! [8:37 am]

A randomly followed tradition of MIT’s “Drop Day” (the last day to drop classes) is to drop a piano from the roof of Baker House — provided the remnants of the last drop have been put back together in time. An image from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s The Day in Pictures sequence:

Later: A more evocative image from The Tech: The Tech's image

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Cellphone Squabbles - Architecture and Control [8:09 am]

Report: Major Carriers To Snub Moto’s iTunes Phone

At least two major U.S. wireless carriers — Verizon Wireless and Sprint — will snub the forthcoming iTunes cell phone being developed by Motorola and Apple, BusinessWeek reported Thursday.

The reason is that wireless carriers are planning to launch their own music services in which users would download music over-the-air, which would increase usage — and profits from — the carriers’ wireless data services, BusinessWeek said. The carriers would make money both from the transmission of the songs to users and from sales of the songs themselves.

By contrast, the iTunes phone would enable users to acquire songs on their desktop computers and transfer them to the phones.

The BusinessWeek article: iPod Killers [pdf]

The two sides also have very different perspectives on how digital music stores should work. Verizon, Sprint, and Cingular are expected to charge about $2 for wireless downloads when they introduce their services, or twice the 99 cents per song on iTunes. They figure they can charge a premium for the convenience of getting songs anytime, even though customers most likely won’t be able to listen to those songs anywhere but on their phones, at least initially. One knowledgeable source close to Apple says the operators are simply being unrealistic if they expect customers to pay $2 or $3 for a song, especially with restrictions. “If you can get something for a buck, why would you buy it for $3?” says the source. “Do they think people are that dumb?”

What will come out of all this is not just a battle of sharp words and elbows but also a new round of innovation in digital music. Apple and other MP3 player makers could add wireless technology to their devices or help develop a crop of music phones. As hundreds of millions of mobile devices around the world go musical, there will be an explosion in the possibilities for marketing, distributing, and listening to music. On Apr. 12, Capitol Records Inc. said it would release a hugely anticipated new single by the rock band Coldplay as a ringtone to Cingular wireless customers first, rather than on the radio. Virgin Mobile USA says it’s exploring ways to couple wireless music downloads with news clips, lyrics, or even videos from the artist. “A lot of people are paying attention to this new frontier and what its potential can be,” says Virgin Mobile CEO Daniel H. Schulman.

Later: See this ThinkSecret article — will iTunes Mobile make for an Apple end run here? iTunes Mobile 1.0 slated for June, iTunes 4.8 Mac/Win expected soon

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A Look At Video Deployment By Telecoms [8:08 am]

Networking the Telecom Industry

The Internet’s impact on video, in short, is just getting started. This is not to say that all traditional cable and broadcast networks will fail to make the transition. But they will either adapt to an IP-based model - otherwise known as IPTV - or die a slow death. The same is likely for telecom carriers, cable providers, and equipment makers.

The fundamental mistake comes when folks combine “video” and “network” but fail to build in the open IP part. Some very large players — including many cable companies and some incumbent telcos, most notably Verizon — are building video networks based on overlay models that aren’t based on IP. In particular, I find it fascinating that for its FTTP rollout, Verizon has favored an RF video overlay network rather than pure, packet-based IP.

Hints have been dropped that the RF model, or the “copy cable” model, may also have reverberations on the regulation front. [...]

The key to next-generation video will not come in manipulating the existing broadcast models, it will come in developing new, lightly regulated, packet-based video networks - and merging them with the Internet. In the Internet world in general, the regulatory burden is far less onerous. The FCC, so far, appears to be having a lighter touch on IP-based networks; let’s hope it takes the same approach with IP video.

[...] The possibilities with Internet-based video+ are endless, and in some respects, already available. You can now get around the entire broadcast industry to watch most Major League Baseball games over the Internet, via MLB.com. As another example, there is access to new independent and foreign content on the Internet. At our lunch table at our Telecom Investment Conference, a gentleman from Holland was watching a Dutch news program on his tablet PC, over a WLAN connection. Everybody at the table was awed by this. It’s the future.

Sadly, such visions are short in coming from most of the incumbent telecom providers - or even MSOs. [...]

[...] I think there’s a whole new video game to win, and it requires new thinking. The winners will likely make a lot of money, but they won’t do it by copying the cable system.

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Nobody Wants To Replay Beta/VHS Wars [7:57 am]

Sony, Toshiba Seek Unified DVD Format

Sony and Toshiba said Thursday they are in negotiations about how to resolve their competing next-generation optical disk formats, aiming to give consumers a unified video technology.

But both sides played down a report in the business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun Thursday that said the Japanese electronics makers were on the verge of agreeing on a compromise “hybrid” next-generation DVD format as soon as this month.

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The Register on Comparable Crimes, Comparable Times [7:48 am]

Congress confuses file sharing with manslaughter — granted, the headline is an overstatement, but still…..

Since involuntary manslaughter brings, on average, anywhere from 0 to 36 months’ incarceration, one might well question the morality of going harder on those who trade files than on those who negligently cut short the lives of fellow citizens. But the 109th Congress is about nothing if not morality, and it understands well the essential sacredness of the nation’s ruling cartels.

Previously, criminal laws protecting copyright had been designed to target major, organized bootleggers doing serious damage, not individuals swapping files. The new legislation is designed to broaden the law to where almost anyone can now be treated as a hardcore criminal.

See also CNet News’ Prison terms on tap for ‘prerelease’ pirates

Later: Ed Felten and others point out that, whatever the act does do, it doesn’t promote censorship.

Much later: President Bush signed HR 109-033: Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 today (2005 Apr 27): Bush Signs Camcorder-Piracy Bill Into Law [pdf]

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Alienation In Action - updated [7:45 am]

Tridgell drops Bitkeeper bombshell — and the open source community gets an object reminder in why they do what they do. Wonder what Richard Stallman has to say about this fight? (Slashdot’s Tridge Releases BitKeeper-Compatible Tool; Slashdot links to Stallman’s thoughts in RMS Weighs in on BitKeeper Debacle)

A week ago last Monday, Torvalds’ licensor and close friend Larry McVoy, yanked Linus’ license to use Bitkeeper, throwing kernel developers for six.

At the core of the dispute was the issue of ownership of information. Kernel developers insisted that the ‘metadata’ generated by their code submissions belonged to the community. But Bitkeeper supremo Larry McVoy insisted that any such metadata belonged to him.

Now Tridgell has released code for an open source project that allows developers to peek at the source code trapped in McVoy’s systems.

Related: Nikon encrypts D2X white balance metadata (Slashdot’s DMCA Prevents Photoshop Support of Nikon Camera) via BoingBoingUpdate — Slashdot’s Nikon Responds to Encryption Claims

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OT: A Bit of Clarity from the WashPost [7:36 am]

Sorry - I hate to drift too far off topic, but a column from today’s Washington Post has too much to offer without giving it note: Adoration’s Price

If half of what the prosecution witnesses say about Michael Jackson is true, he deserves to go to jail. But so do some of those witnesses. Once the whole lot is behind bars, the rest of us ought to work on taming the monster of celebrity before it devours us all.

[...] But they’re all telling basically the same story, and airtight conspiracies are rare outside spy novels and high school cliques. What they’re saying about Jackson is sordid. What they’re saying about themselves is depressing.

Of course, the missing bit is what the obsessive attention to this trial says about the rest of us.

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OT: A Test of “Values” Politics? (updated) [7:17 am]

Microsoft Comes Under Fire for Reversal on Gay Rights Bill

The Microsoft Corporation, at the forefront of corporate gay rights for decades, is coming under fire from gay rights groups, politicians and its own employees for withdrawing its support for a state bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Many of the critics accused the company of bowing to pressure from a prominent evangelical church in Redmond, Wash., located a few blocks from Microsoft’s sprawling headquarters.

See also Salon’s War Room entry: Another reason to switch?

Later: CNet News’ Ballmer explains reversal on gay rights bill

“We are thinking hard about what is the right balance to strike–when should a public company take a position on a broader social issue, and when should it not?” he wrote. “What message does the company taking a position send to its employees who have strongly held beliefs on the opposite side of the issue?”

Even later: WaPo’s Microsoft Draws Fire for Shift on Gay Rights Bill and NYTimes’ Microsoft Weighs Reversal on Gay Rights, Gates Says

The followup: Revelations: Minister and Microsoft Executive Offer Wildly Different Versions of Meeting [pdf]

Later: A Megachurch’s Leader Says Microsoft Is No Match

Later: 2005 May 06 - Microsoft reverses course again - Microsoft reverses position on gay rights

Later: BusinessWeek’s post mortem - How Microsoft Changed Its Mind [pdf]

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From the Funny Pages [7:11 am]

Today’s Jump Start:

2005-04-22 Jump Start cartoon

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Head’s Up From Lawrence Solum [6:50 am]

From SSRN (and via an email from Prof Solum) The Future of Copyright — a review of Larry Lessig’s Free Culture:


Sometimes technological change is so profound that it rocks the foundations of an entire body of law. Peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing systems - Napster, Gnutella, KaZaA, Grokster, and Freenet - are mere symptoms of a set of technological innovations that have set in motion an ongoing process of fundamental changes in the nature of copyright law. The video tape recorder begat the Sony “substantial noninfringing use” defense. The digital cassette recorder begat the Audio Home Recording Act. The internet begat the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Napster begat Napster. We see the law morph right in front of our eyes, but its ultimate form is still obscure. As a consequence, the future of copyright is up for grabs. We live in a magical, exhilarating, and frightening time: Many alternative copyfutures shimmer on the horizon, sometimes coming into sharper focus and sometimes fading away.

[...] No copywarrior is more prominent and influential than Larry Lessig. Lessig was the brilliant architect of Eric Eldred’s failed challenge to the CTEA’s retroactive twenty-year extension of copyright terms - effectively a twenty-year moratorium on new works entering the public domain. In Free Culture, Lessig has remade himself as a “norm entrepreneur” - a public figure with the towering ambition of reshaping “copynorms” - the fundamental set of social norms that shape perceptions of the morality of filesharing and the legitimacy of legislation that shrinks the public domain. This essay examines the ideas in Free Culture in the context of current controversies over the future of copyright.

[...] Free Culture largely accomplishes the task that it set for itself, but that is not the end of the story. There is a distinction between effective rhetoric and responsible rhetoric. One can persuade with good arguments and with bad arguments. Does Free Culture achieve its rhetorical effects using stories and arguments that illuminate the future of copyright? Or did Lessig go over the top and take the cheap shots? As much as I admire Lessig and his book, the answer to these questions must be, “A little bit of both.” Free Culture tells stories that are deeply illuminating, but it also avails itself of stories that seem calculated to drive home ad hominem attacks. The struggle over the future of copyright can be painted as the good guys versus the bad guys, but that way of framing the issues does little to enlighten and much to obscure the real and very tough questions that need to be answered.

Yet the rhetoric of Free Culture does not exist in a vacuum. This Review is obviously not the place for a careful examination of the rhetoric employed on both sides of the copyfight, but I can offer my own opinion. And it is my opinion that there have been plenty of rhetorical excesses on all sides of the copyright debates. In this context, Free Culture is actually a model of restraint. Lessig manages to present an account that, while opinionated, is nuanced, fair, and balanced given the overheated rhetoric that, in my judgment, is typical.

Read Free Culture. If you are an intellectual property scholar or lawyer, you may be frustrated by the gaps and leaps in Lessig’s arguments, but you will be enlightened and entertained. If you are not an intellectual property specialist, then you are in for a wild ride. Lessig has written an intelligent, entertaining, and moving book. Oh, and by the way, you can download it for free.

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