Donna Wentworth
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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

October 26, 2011

October 20, 2011

David Post on DMCA and the Arab Spring

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

David Post has been heavily involved in Viacom v. YouTube for many months. Recently he posted to Volokh Conspiracy an item he wrote as an op-ed that never got published, as arguments in the case began yesterday

In this piece he draws a line between the DMCA and the Arab Spring, as we in the west have come to call the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere that have toppled dictators and probably changed the face of politics in the region for generations to come. The argument is pretty simple: without the Safe Harbor provisions of the Act, open public social services such as Twitter and YouTube would not have flourished. You can even argue that more closed systems such as Facebook that still depend on user contributions for the majority of their content would not have succeeded. And without these services, Post contends, the protests would never have coalesced.

It's fun to argue counterfactuals over beer and pretzels with your friends and you can probably argue that these revolutions would have happened sooner or later even without the networking effects of social media sites. However, this misses the larger point that I think Post wants to make, which is that the narrow concerns of the Cartel in seeking to overturn Safe Harbor need to be weighed against the enormous social goods and still unknown potentials that the provisions have allowed to develop.

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

October 19, 2011

Silly People, Books Are For Selling!

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

It really does seem like 2011 is the Year of The E-Book Kerfuffle. The latest contestants for the Idiot Response To New Media Award are Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. These two fine establishment chains (both retail giants) have decided to stop selling hundreds of titles published by DC Comics. Why? Because Amazon got the digital rights to these graphic novels and comics in an exclusive arrangement for its new Kindle Fire tablet device.

Apparently the retailers decided that if they couldn't sell the digital version then they weren't going to sell the paper versions either, so nyah-nyah phblblblbttt. Meanwhile, over in that corner DC is saying you can't have your comics on the iPad or even the old Kindles either so nyah-nyah... well, you get the idea.

Seriously, this resembles not an intelligent foray into 21st-century business model development around digital media but rather a sand-throwing, hair-pulling, name-calling playground tussle among five-year-olds. It's multiple sides cutting off their noses to spite their faces, and along the way hose their fans, customers, and readers. And if you thought music fans were fanatically dedicated, you have not met comic fans. The best possible outcome of this that I can see is more of those fans going back to their local comic shops for the physical versions of the books and series they love.

As I noted a few weeks ago, deals that lock e-book content to a specific reader are going to screw people over. What may seem like a nice enticement to get new people to buy a particular device is going to piss off the hundreds of thousands of other people who already have an e-book device and no plans (nor money) to buy another one.

What's surprising to me is that it doesn't take more than about 30 seconds of thought to realize that we've been here before, and we're in this situation now. Movies, for example, come out now on both standard DVD and Blu-Ray. Eventually, Blu-Ray players will dominate the market to the point where DVD versions of movies are no longer made. In computer gaming you used to get new games out on CD and DVD; now the vast majority of gaming PCs have a DVD reader or a net connection so nobody makes games on CDs anymore. See also books on tape, audio LPs, and on and on. It's possible that in the next few years or so one e-book capable device or one e-book format will come to be sufficiently common that producing only that one is an appropriate business model. But not now.

If companies weren't busy being blinded by the "ooh new shiny" of the sudden surge in e-book numbers they might take a moment to learn from history. Resquiat in pacem, Santayana.

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

October 17, 2011

How To Get Out of BitTorrent Lawsuits

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

According to TorrentFreak, just be a politician, work for the army, or maybe the police.

What seems to have happened is that the ham-fisted attempts by the adult film industry to mass-sue their customers for downloading porn torrents has revealed some interesting things about who does and who does not get sued. The process is a familiar one - the entity owning the rights to the material sues a bunch of IP addresses that have been spotted downloading it. Various legal machinations are then engaged to associate IP addresses with names, and the names thus associated become the new targets.

Except when they don't. If an IP address seems to be associated with "public figures" or servicepeople overseas those names are quietly dropped. Sometimes IP addresses come back associated with cops or dead people and they don't show up, either.

Of course, nothing in the law requires that a copyright holder sue everyone equally. The exclusion of certain groups from these mass lawsuits is a separate matter from the inherent silliness of the whole process. But it sure would be interesting to know which politicians and other public figures are being given a free pass on their porn torrents...

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

October 13, 2011

October 7, 2011

Day's Way Continues

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Another quick update on a story: back in early August I noted that Felicia Day was making something of a trailblazing path through Web video production and how that allowed her to retain creative control. In a new interview with Kotaku she talks about her next Web series, a production done in the EA/Bioware Dragon Age universe.

As before, she's building on her own personal model - she's a fan of the game and the stories of the world in which the Dragon Age games are set. The new series was done with EA's backing and the short teaser that's up so far looks like it has good production values.

I've not yet seen any discussion of how the business arrangements for this are laid out. Obviously Bioware's logo and properties are featured heavily, and I imagine Day and the other actors probably got paid at least union rates. But it would be interesting to know whether the series is intended to make money, what effect it has on sales of Dragon Age games and DLCs, and whether profit-sharing is part of the plan.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Interesting People

October 4, 2011

Are Mathematical Communities Unique?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Contrary to my off-hand assertion about the replicability of community models from mathematical sharing groups a couple of items came to my attention today that argue the opposite case: that these communities are not like others.

The blog entry on m-phi is initially concerned with discussing how a possibly revolutionary proof in fundamental mathematical theory was published, subject to scrutiny, and rapid consensus formed that an error had been made. The consensus and supporting arguments were sufficient to convince the original author of the theory to retract his assertion. This is no small thing, particularly since he had a book in the works to explain his discovery. The blog then goes on to reference Jody Azzouni's book chapter "How and Why Mathematics is Unique as a Social Practice".

As related in m-phi, the book's central contention is that mathematics as a discipline - and therefore the mathematicians who practice it - are "very peculiar" in that they tend toward consensus not as a result of social pressures or academic rigidity, but rather as a result of how mathematics works as a discipline. Some have even argued that this is evidence for the notion of Platonism in mathematics.

From a Copyfight perspective, this poses a strong challenge: how do we generalize this kind of behavior? I think it's reasonable to expect that people who read and contribute to this blog believe in the open sharing of ideas and information. We believe that such openness accelerates progress, solves problems more rapidly, and leads to the development of generally better solutions than structures where solutions are developed in isolation. So where else can we look for examples to support this hypothesis?

(once again hat-tip to Steve Landsburg and his "The Big Questions" blog.)

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

October 3, 2011

We're Not Following You, We Just Patented A Method For It

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Slashdot is reporting that Facebook has filed a patent application (titled "Communicating Information in a Social Network System about Activities from Another Domain") that describes methods for tracking Facebook users while they're on other sites.

I've not yet read the patent app (it's long). It's a priority claim incorporating a provisional application filed in February of last year. The new application cites no prior art at all, which strikes me as slightly odd; perhaps that's in the provisional app.

The gist of the application appears to cover the techniques that are behind the Facebook "widgets" - content on Web pages that can access your Facebook-created cookies even after you've logged out of Facebook itself. Thus your movements across the Web are reported back to Facebook and you get ad-served (also described in the patent application) based on the knowledge of who you are that Facebook has accumulated.

Also of interest (and noted in other blogs) is that the patent never says (nor is it assigned to) Facebook. Usually a patent application is filed with the inventors names on it, and then some form of assignment statement. Particularly in the high-tech industry it's standard practice for employees to sign agreements at the start of their employment that any intellectual property they come up with during business hours or that relates to the business of their employer is to be assigned to their employer. No idea why such a statement would be absent from this application.

It's probably worth noting for the record that Facebook has made claims to the effect that it does not track logged-out users, claims that are widely seen as... what's the word I want here... bullshit. See for example, Dave Winer's column titled "Facebook is Scaring Me".

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