Donna Wentworth
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Ernest Miller
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Elizabeth Rader
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Jason Schultz
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Wendy Seltzer
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Aaron Swartz
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Alan Wexelblat
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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

What Does "Copyfight" Mean?

Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

a Typical Joe
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Monthly Archives

June 28, 2006

Tim B-L on Net Neutrality

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Tim Berners-Lee has an extensive blog entry (with Real video) about the importance of Net neutrality. One of the things I like about his blog entry is that it contains a simple formulation of what's wrong with Net bias. EFF and others have been making esoteric arguments about what might happen, or what-if favoritism scenarios in the world of Net bias. What Tim B-L says, that bears repeating until the Congresscritters get it.

Net Neutrality means that if I pay for a certain level of service and you pay for a certain level of service, then we get to communicate with each other at that level.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

June 22, 2006

June 21, 2006

Is "Blogswarming" a New Journalism?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The heart of this story appears to be one very stupid (and accused-of-corruption) Republican state governorship trying to block access to a blog critical of the establishment. The catalyst for this idiocy was apparently a front-page story in the New York Times that both criticized the governor of Kentucky and mentioned the blog,

Prior to an hour ago I'd never heard of this blog, nor of the troubles of the KY state administration. But the blogsphere takes care of its own, and the censorship got mention in Daily Kos and Boing Boing, among other places. BlueGrassReport's author, Mark Nickolas, is probably well on his way to becoming a minor blog celebrity.

So what does this have to do with Copyfight? My eye was caught by Nickolas' use of a word I'd never seen before: blog-swarm. In Copyfight, we've debated around ideas of whether bloggers are journalists, whether they ought to be entitled to protections traditionally afforded to other kinds of journalists, and how the actions of bloggers are what make them journalists, not any particular label.

So when I saw "blog-swarm" images filled my mind of the old days when reporters would rush to cover a story, then rush to the nearest phone booth to call the story in. On the one hand, there's cachet in the blog world for having a story originally, or being the first to note something of import - the 'scoop'. On the other, there's a notion that a story deemed important enough to be carried in several major blogs is something that people ought to pay attention to. I think that's interesting and important and even if it's not particularly dignified to be part of a "swarm" it's kind of cool to try and throw my weight behind an effort to move one boulder of injustice and possibly, in doing so, to establish that yes, bloggers have that kind of weight to throw.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Speech

June 20, 2006

Disabling Digital Cameras

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Georgia Tech is touting some new research for its film industry sponsors on ways to disable digital cameras in small spaces, such as movie theaters. I'm reasonably confident that by the time this makes it into commercial production the camera technology will have gotten smarter and pirates will be able to hide their cameras from simple scanners.

However, more troubling is this as evidence that the Cartel hasn't swayed from its "we are the law" mentality. Remember, these are the guys who tried to get their Congressional sock puppets to pass a law allowing them to break into and cripple your computer if they thought you were sharing music without permission.

Also problematic are some of the other proposed uses, such as stopping people taking pictures of their own kids in spaces like malls. When, exactly, did we cede THAT right to the Cartel?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Tech

Wendy debates MPAA's Fritz Attaway on DRM

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Posted by Wendy Seltzer

The Wall Street Journal Online invited me to debate DRM with the MPAA's Fritz Attaway: - 'DRM' Protects Downloads, But Does It Stifle Innovation?. He says it enables "consumer choice"; I say it disables user innovation and technology development.

Mr. Attaway begins: ...
The answer to the question, "Is digital rights management being implemented in a positive way?" is a resounding yes. Positive, but not perfect. Let me explain.

Digital rights management is the key to consumer choice. The better the DRM, the more choices consumers will have in what they view, when they view it and how much they pay for it. The only valid criticism of DRM is that some of the DRM technology currently in use is not sophisticated enough. But it is getting better. Users of next-generation DVD technology will have more choices than they do today because the DRM technology will be more sophisticated.


Ms. Seltzer responds: ...
You raise the example of DVD as a success story, but DVD players have hardly changed in the last decade. True they've gotten cheaper, but I still can't buy one (lawfully) that lets me take clips to create my own movie reviews or "Daily Show"-style send-ups of my favorite films. I still can't play movies on my GNU/Linux computer. When Kaleidescape tried to build a DVD jukebox to allow people to burn movies to an enclosed hard drive rather than shuffle jewel cases and discs, the company earned high reviews -- and a pricey lawsuit.

I'm working on a paper [hence the blog silence] in the same vein, examining the impact of DRM+DMCA on open source software development and technology innovation. The question isn't only whether DRM can accommodate fair use, as many scholars are now asking and answering equivocally, but whether it permits independent technology development. Many of the current DRM systems and proposed technology mandates could not be implemented in open-source software or open hardware; the DRM restrictions are incompatible with user-modification. I argue that's too high a price to pay to enable a few more pay-per-use business models.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

June 15, 2006

Joyce vs Joyceans

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

There's a brouhaha going on over the works of James Joyce, and the attempts by the author's grandson (and sole surviving heir) to control the use and publication of the author's novels, letters, and other output.

D. T. Max has a piece in the mid-June New Yorker chronicaling some of the antics of Joyce’s grandson, Stephen Joyce as we approach the 102nd Bloomsday. Max describes the current state of the relationship between Stephen Joyce and the community of scholars as "dysfunctional" and notes that the heir has acted to suppress publications he doesn't like, and may well have destroyed correspondence of interest to scholars.

These and other actions have led the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project to file a lawsuit against Stephen Joyce, as noted in Lessig's blog. That entry links to the PDF of the complaint itself, and commenters there have linked to some of their own writings on the various legal contests that have occurred in the past few years.

Thanks to copyfighter Branko Collin for pointing me in the direction of these stories.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

The Web Never Forgets

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I got a call earlier this week from a CEO of a startup company that finds itself being harrassed by patent trolls. In particular, they're ready to go to market with a product but are hesitant to do so because of threats of patent infringement lawsuits. So they're looking for prior art as a potential counterweight - essentially to say "if you use that patent against us we'll get it invalidated." In this case, they came across some Web pages I threw up after a workshop I organized nearly 10 years ago. Such pages themselves aren't definitive prior art, but they record the names of people working in the area back then, and one can hope that such people had more formal publications that would make good prior art.

I tried to help out as best I could, mostly by giving likely places to search for such publications and the names of some people I know who were publishing in the target domain. I asked him to call back and keep me apprised of how things turned out.

On the one hand, this is sad because if patents actually required proper citations and searches of prior art before issuing we'd have a lot fewer crap patents to drag down innovative startups. On the other hand... wow, someone actually read that stuff I took the time to make back then. Maybe I helped a bit. Cool.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

June 9, 2006

Fair License or Fair-Use Threat?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Depends on whom you ask, of course. SIRA, a House effort to reform copyright licensing, is drawing the ire of a lot of folk, ranging from the EFF and consumer-advocacy groups to commercial vendors such as BellSouth. On the other side, entities such as the RIAA and music publishers want changes to an old approach that requires separate licensing for song recordings. Their goal is a "blanket license" that they claim is required to speed up copyright approvals for large amounts of music at once.

That seems like a laudable goal - nobody is claiming that the US system of managing copyrights is simple. The problem is in what each side wants to consider a "performance" and what is a "recording." And which category do transient copies (such as caches) fall into? The bill's opponents claim that the current language will put digital recordings into BOTH categories, forcing double license payments.

Although the bill has been okayed by a House panel there's still a long road ahead and I expect to see more on this topic before Congress recesses this session.

And of course there's the pernicious notion that people would be required to pay (usually by increased prices at retail) for time-shifted viewings, PVR recordings, and other personal-use copying that is currently allowed under fair use exemptions.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

June 1, 2006

More Governmental Malfunctions

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

If the FCC is laughable, the Attorney General is downright scary. I used to call Ashcroft "Gruppenfuhrer" but Gonzales is starting to make his predecessors look like pikers.

Invoking the terrorist bogeyman, our latest Gruppenfuhrer has apparently secretly informed ISPs and maybe search engines that they are required (by what law, one wonders) to retain all records of user activity for two years. Initially, this push for universal net surveillance was draped in the cloak of "protecting the children." That's always a convenient hook on which to hang intrusions because, hey, who's going to stand up and say they're in favor of more rights for child molesters? But that's just a ruse, a shell game. This kind of regulation has nothing to do with kiddie porn. It has to do with this government's insatiable hunger for spying on its own people.

Apparently, even China doesn't retain this much information on its citizens but this is the YEW-ESS-AYE and we have to do everything bigger here than anywhere else. So when we screw up it can be a screwup of truly monumental proportions.

Now excuse me, there's someone knocking on my door - I'll just go see who it is...

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

Wardrobe Malfunction or Governmental Malfunction?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

It has been a while since the FCC has crossed my radar. Howard Stern has gone off to digital satellite radio and is apparently making a bucket of money for himself and Sirius, his employers there. However, I did notice that the FCC has upheld its own fine against CBS for the nipple flash. I've also been reading how indecency complaints for the first half of 2006 have exceeded the entire number of complaints registered for all of 2005. Don't you people have anything better to do? I mean, really.

What brought this to my attention was the unattributed note in this week's Harper's Weekly Review, which I feel compelled to quote in its entirety in the hope that some clever reader can find the source and so that all the people whining to the FCC about bad words can now whine about this blog, too

An analysis of FCC decisions found that the following terms or phrases are neither indecent nor profane: "a lot of crap," "ass is huge," "ass," "bitch," "damn," "dick," "dickhead," "fire his ass," "for Christ's sake," "hell," "kick-ass," "kiss my ass," "my ass," "pissed off," "poop," "sex with a dog," "singers that suck," "sit their asses down," "sucked," "up yours," "wiping his ass," and "you suck."

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Speech