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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.

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Monthly Archives

January 27, 2010

Obama v Tenenbaum

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Remember when I warned that the RIAA was taking over Obama's DoJ? Anyone who had any doubts they'd continue pursuing their old agendas should be reassured now. They will, and they have.

This gang of Cartel cronies has filed papers opposing a motion by Joel Tenenbaum's lawyers to have set aside a huge monetary decision against him. Tenenbaum is facing a USD 675,000 judgment for sharing thirty songs.

The saddest part in this sad story is that Tenebaum's lawyers aren't even asking for the judgment to be dismissed; they just want the damages reduced to the statutory minimum of 750 per song. Which is, if you're a college student, still a whopping huge fine. As I noted earlier this week, big numbers make for scary stories, but are totally disconnected from the actual reality of what people are doing.

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

Banksy to Debut Film at Sundance

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Copyfight's favorite UK prankster, Banksy, is set to debut his "street art disaster movie" at Sundance. Supposedly it will show Banksy and other graffiti artists at work but it's not clear if his identity will be revealed.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

January 26, 2010

Copyright + Common Sense? Maybe So.

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In the past, I've made the comparison of copyright laws and speeding laws. If you go faster than the posted limit you're breaking the law. Likewise you may be breaking the law by copying or sharing copyrighted materials. Doing either can get you a chat with the cops and some hefty fines.

Yet, the fact remains that most people speed. Some people are really egregious dangerous hotheads. But the vast majority of speeders are not those people - they're just folk who are making an estimate of the safe speed they can achieve, what the prevailing traffic is doing, and driving accordingly. Speed limits be damned.

Likewise, there are some really egregious copyright violators - factories in China that pump out millions of unauthorized DVDs. But most people are casual copyright violators, because they're engaged in activities that seem safe and sensible, such as loaning books to each other. What's necessary is a copyright enforcement regime that recognizes not all copyright violations are the same, and doesn't try to pile on ridiculous fines for sharing a few songs in the absurd hope that this will induce social behavioral change.

Cory Doctorow's latest column for the Guardian (UK) starts to sketch what such a common-sense + copyright scheme might look like. As a first step, he proposes that we re-establish the difference between commercial and non-commercial copying. The former, done in order to make money, would be treated differently from the latter. There are, of course, large gray areas between the two obvious extremes, which Doctorow acknowledges.

He goes on to give several examples of things that, applying a common sense test, would seem to be OK even though they might be thought of as commercial (e.g. mailing a copy of an interesting technical article to your boss). I definitely could quibble with some of his examples and I imagine many readers could as well. This is both on and off the point. It's off the point in that the specific examples don't necessarily matter if you buy into the principles behind them. It's on the point, though, in that what may seem like "common sense" to one of us may not be a shared idea of common sense to all. And "common sense" evolves, often faster than the law can change to catch up.

What's needed, I think, is a way to go beyond the simple phrase of "common sense" and to talk about what that might mean and how it would change. At base, though, I think we all agree that overly rigid copyright regimes serve nobody's interest.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts

January 25, 2010

Good Hackers

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Good hackers who love books and evil librarians, really, but that's too long for a post subject.

In response to this morning's posting on the silliness inherent in trying to breed panic over people reading other peoples' (e)books, someone pointed me to this statistic from O'Reilly: their e-book sales for 2009 were up 104%. What makes that an interesting number is that they took all the DRM off their books about a year and a half ago.

Clearly somebody is doing something right here and maybe the book publishers should be paying more attention to this than to scary reports.

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

Evil Librarians

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Eric Hellman writes a blog called "Go to Hellman". As you might expect from the name it's not always the most reverent or deferential of posting sites. Earlier this month, Hellman had some really choice words for the publishing part of the Cartel.

You see, the publishers are starting to scare themselves again with the specter of "online book piracy," based on a study by Attributor, a company whose product I reviewed a couple years ago. As I noted, Attributor believes that its technology to track where copies go is superior to DRM technologies that attempt to prevent copies from going anywhere in the first place.

As reported in Publisher's Weekly, online copying is "pervasive" and may be "costing" publishers USD 3 billion. Those are some scary-sounding statistics, right? But what behaviors do they actually describe?

Well, as Hellman points out in excellently sarcastic tones, the behavior is that of reading a book you didn't buy. Shocking, I know! Someone buys a book and someone else reads it! Quick, call the cops and arrest those people who are, y'know, doing what libraries do.

Hellman's back-of-the-envelope calculation is that library lending could be "costing" publishers over 100 billion, per year, based on the roughly two billion books that are lent out by libraries in the US on an annual basis. Shockingly, these institutions also lend out CDs and DVDs, too. Goodness knows how much this terrible practice costs the Cartel!

The sarcasm is excellent and appreciated - bravo! To be serious for a moment, Hellman is good reading on library topics in general; for example, readers might enjoy his mini-economics post from earlier this month on "Why Libraries Exist."

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor

January 20, 2010

OK Go Admit They're In Slavery

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

In response to my piece on OK Go's latest video fail on YouTube, and petulant-sounding follow-up letter, commenter "mike" directed me to a long open letter posted by the band on their forums.

In the letter, OK Go admit that they don't control their videos on YouTube, EMI does. Even though the band makes its own vids, EMI is fronting them money for the production and taking ownership of the result. As a result of EMI's deal with YouTube, EMI doesn't get paid if you embed a YouTube vid, so EMI turns that off. Because we all know how important those fractions of a penny are to this quarter's bottom line...

To the band's credit, they seem to understand quite well the position that everyone is in, including themselves, the labels, and the fans. There aren't any magic solutions here - as Copyfight has been arguing for years, we need new and better business models that keep creative people fed and productive. If big record labels happen to die along the way we won't be shedding any tears. Nor, it seems, will OK Go, who provide the embed code on their blog page for the Vimeo version of their video, and these words of wisdom:

EMI won't let us let you embed our YouTube videos. It's a decision that bums us out. We've argued with them a lot about it, but we also understand why they're doing it. They’re aware that their rules make it harder for people to watch and share our videos, but, while our duty is to our music and our fans, theirs is to their shareholders, and they believe they’re doing the right thing.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

The Slush Pile and Self-Publishing

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

A Friday opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on the "death" of the slush pile is generating some amusing responses around the blogosphere.

(The "slush pile" is the name given to the unsolicited and unagented manuscripts that are submitted by authors directly to publishers, movie studios, etc. without the assistance of someone like a literary agent. Usually slush pile authors are unknowns hoping to break through.)

Boingboing pointed to a response by Seth Fischer on Rumpus in which he more or less admits that nobody's going to get published out of the slush pile - though he himself still sends in unsolicited manuscripts. Instead, he argues, authors should consider self-publishing. Considering that the Copyfight entry on CreateSpace, a self-publish-on-demand offering still continues to garner comments and feedback 2+ years after I posted it, I would say that this is a more viable option than people might initially assume.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

January 14, 2010

Mashups Go Mainstream - Cartel Notices

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

It's easy to say that mash-ups have been around forever. For at least the last 15 years popular club dance music has featured DJs who use various technologies such as turntables, mixers, and effects boxes to produce sounds using two or more original recordings. Like many "underground" pop phenomena, the mash-up has escaped its original scene and been incorporated into everything from television shows to console games. Lately, even such staid journalistic entities as the Wall Street Journal have taken notice of mash-ups.

Nirgaga mash-up image
With popularity comes vindication, and a sense that people finally get what you've been doing all along. Then again, you also get the attention of the Cartel.

Those three links go back to Bootie Blog, one of the past decade's biggest champions of the mash-up. Their dance parties have been hits in cities all over the world and they've joined the ranks of online music bloggers promoting the mash-up art form. Each year they produce a "Best of Bootie..." CD featuring their choices of the best mash-ups of the preceding year. (I don't always agree with their tastes, but that's beside the point.)

This year, their CD drew the attention of EMI Entertainment, which objected to the inclusion of "Nirgaga" a mash-up by DJ Lobsterdust of the recent pop hit "Poker Face" and Nirvana's classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (By the way, the track is still available lots of places on the Web; do your own searching.) According to EFF, DJ Lobsterdust was also served with a DMCA takedown notice for this track.

As Bootie rightly point out, the Nirvana track has been mashed all over the place so it's particularly odd to see EMI going after just this one track. Perhaps this is the start of yet another misguided attempt by the Cartel to control the evolution of music. Or maybe they just don't like seeing themselves talked about that way in the WSJ.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture

We Interrupt Your Copyright Wars for a Moment

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

I'm sure all of my readers have been reading plenty about the disaster in Haiti. If you're in a position to make some kind of donation to help out, please do so. Every relief expert I've heard talking in the past few days says there is a desperate need for simple cash, which can be used by organizations that already have infrastructure in place to get the most needed supplies to the people who are in the direst need in the shortest amount of time.

My personal choice for donations is MSF/Doctors without Borders. But there are a lot of good people doing their best work in this crisis and you can choose one that meets with your philosophies and practices I'm sure.

Along the way, please be careful of scammers. There are a lot of new Web sites and organizations springing up and sadly some of them are just plain old rip-off artists. If you are unsure of how your money will be used you can visit some third-party rating sites like Charity Navigator that will attempt to give you guidance on charitable organizations based on parsing their income/expense statements, tax-exempt status filings, and so on.

Some of the larger news organizations also have lists of charities for you to look over. For example, here is a list from MSN that includes several religious and non-denominational charities and picks out some Haiti-specific organizations they consider good to support.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culture

January 13, 2010

Marshal McLuhan Paging OK Go

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Marshal McLuhan is a famous media theorist; among his best-known aphorisms is the notion that "the medium is the message." How does that apply to pop hit band OK, Go? Well, it's like this...

Back in 2006, OK Go were just your average unknown 4-guy pop band. Then they released a video onto YouTube and it went viral. Suddenly their song was getting attention, airplay, and the band was made men.

McLuhan's essential message is that the medium influences how the message is received. So if you're the now-popular band OK Go you should just put your new video out on YouTube and presto it'll go viral. Right? Wrong. The problem is that the band's new video is locked up in a foolish copyright-grasping box.

As reported on fan blogs like station.newteevee, the video both can't be viewed in non-US countries (which is to say YouTube is blocking large ranges of IP addresses) and the Google subdivision has blocked all attempts to embed the video. Which is to say not only is the medium not part of the message now - since embedding is such a key part of the YouTube experience - the band is also sending large chunks of its potential fan base a "we don't want to show this to you" message, if they happen to be accessing things from the wrong IP address space.

But wait, there's more. In a move pretty much guaranteed to piss off anyone who's not a trufan, OK Go have put out a plaintive "why aren't we popular anymore" video. As NewTeeVee points out, it comes across as blaming the fans for not watching the video when in many cases they can't and even where they can, they can't embed it so it will be seen by other fans.

Dear OK Go: The medium really is the message. Putting locks and chains on the medium changes it, and therefore changes your message. Like it, fix it, or leave. - Marshal

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

January 12, 2010

The (Public Domain) Day That Wasn't

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

According to The Public Domain blog, January 1 is supposed to be Public Domain Day. I confess I'd never heard of it before. Nor did I know that Jan 1 of this year was originally going to be the day that famous works of American and European literature would have passed into the public domain. However, since copyright term extension happened, these works did not become part of the public domain. In fact, it appears that NO works passed into the public domain this year. This ought to be good news for copyright holders, who can continue to make money from their longer copyright terms

In fact, as Cory points out in boingboing today,

more than 98% of all works in copyright are "orphaned" -- still in copyright, but no one knows to whom they belong.

So nobody's making money on those 98%. But because the owners of the other 2% have good lawyers, good publicists, and pet Congresscritters, we get the equivalent of a massive book-burning - the Public Domain entry uses the analogy of Bradbury's famous novel Farenheit 451 in which the society systematically burns every copy of books. Legally speaking, that's close to what we've done.

It's true you can still find copies of many of these orphaned works, if you know where to look. People own them; libraries may have them. But don't try to make use of them, either as reprintable material or even as source and inspiration. Because they're orphans you can't even find someone to pay for those rights. They're under a lock to which no one has the key.

By making the copyright system "opt out" instead of "opt in" we've engineered a fundamental social change in the world and not really a change for the better.

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

January 11, 2010

Why Music Sounds Worse

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

At the end of last year, NPR did a series reviewing some interesting developments in the music field during the past decade; as part of that series they did a piece on "The Loudness Wars".

The story talks a little about MP3 compression, which I assume most Copyfight readers understand, and its impact on audio quality. But most of the piece is about how dynamic compression has been used to make everything more uniformly loud. Christopher Clark's infographic accompanying the story illustrates this point in terms of peak sound levels over three decades of hit songs.

And the NPR story asks the interesting question of whether one of the reasons we're buying less music today is because it all sounds so remarkably bland and the same. In the push to make everything noticeable have we created a sound field in which nothing is noticeable and thus nothing motivates us to go out and buy it so we can listen to it again?

I highly recommend clicking through to the YouTube video of the same title, which very clearly illustrates how the push to make everything as loud as possible ends up distorting and homogenizing the music. The video's narrator makes the salient point that in the end you are the one in control of the loudness knob so you can turn it up or down as you see fit, but if you use your loudness knob on something that has already been compressed you lose out on things like punch and even simple sound clarity.

It's interesting to me that at the bottom of it all we find the same conflict that runs through so much of the Copyright Wars - who is in control here? The record producers who want things to be as loud as possible, or the customers with their hands on the dial.

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

January 8, 2010

FMC Promotes Tool for FCC Comment-Filing

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Future of Music Coalition logo
FMC, the Future of Music Coalition, sent me a pointer to their latest tool, an online way for "musicians, composers and songwriters [to] file public comments" in the FCC proceedings on net neutrality.

The tool is just a simple form with text boxes that segregate comments into logical groups in response to standard question prompts such as "Give the FCC details about your life as a musician." It's not terribly sophisticated but may lower the barrier sufficiently to encourage people to write more in-depth and informative comments. Now if someone could just demonstrate that any form of public comment actually influenced FCC rulemaking...

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

January 7, 2010

January 4, 2010

How Are Textbooks Like Prescription Drugs?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

It's been a while since Copyfight paid much attention to the highly IP-restrictive market in college textbooks, particularly since I stopped teaching a few years ago. Efforts like Ed Felten's seem to have petered out. So I was very pleased to read Andrea James' piece in boingboing yesterday taking on the textbook cartels directly.

James goes through the similarities between textbook publishing and the (legal prescription) drug market in point-by-point detail, with citations and sources. Well worth reading both the summary points and following up the extensive URL links. James also replies to several of the reader comments in response to the posting.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies