Archive for December, 2006
a natural history of copying

David Conniff on “Happy Days” in Times Select (sigh) writes about the human tendency to imitate and synchronize:

Mirroring the people around us is also a way we communicate affiliation and affinity. Two people in a friendly conversation often match each other’s body language down to the crossing of their ankles or the waggling of their feet. When it happens unconsciously, it feels good for both partners, as a way of saying, “I’m with you.” Studies suggest that we like a conversational partner more if the other person has subtly mimicked us. Mirroring gestures and movements also seems to help people work better together. They find a shared rhythm and gradually coalesce into a team, so the parts of a project get handed on seamlessly, as if by magic. One person starts a sentence and the other person finishes it. One comes up with a new product idea, and the other nudges it in a new direction.

Monkey see, monkey do. My friend and colleague Howard Besser often talks about how humans learn by copying: children, apprentices, writers, lawyers.

No wonder copyright law is in such a spasm.

wireless isn’t the problem; authentication is

In a recent article bemoaning the difficulties faced by business travelers of getting Internet access in their hotel rooms, not once did the writer ever describe the real problem. The problem isn’t access to the network; in almost all instances, the problem is authentication to the network, because the network employs some proprietary network authentication protocol. If they just gave it away for free then I’d bet 90% or more of their problems would go away. (As would a lot of the costs tied up in these weird service / helpdesk plans, too.) They could even do some network authentication using WEP passwords, although, really, what’s the point.

press subpoenas in Watada case

In an interesting twist on press subpoenas, Army prosecutors have subpoenaed journalists to get them to vouch for published quotes — not source information or unpublished information. [SFgate 12/18.] The prosecutors hope to use the quotes to prosecute First Lt. Ehren Watada, who denounced the war on Iraq as illegal and refused to deploy.

Sarah Olson, an Oakland journalist who wrote about Watada, said she had no legal grounds to refuse but she noted that “If conscientious objectors know that they can be prosecuted for speaking to the press and that the press will participate in their prosecution, it stands to reason that they would think twice before being public about their positions.”

The subpoena requires not just an attestation but participation in a January 2007 hearing and the court-martial of Lt. Watada, under penalty of contempt of the military tribunal. Olson and the other journalists subpoenaed can be put in jail for refusing to comply.

One of the statements that Lt. Watada is being charged for is:

As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked. I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. How can we wear something with such a time-honored tradition, knowing we waged war based on a misrepresentation and lies?’

You can look at each little skid on a slippery slope individually and note that it’s not that big a deal.

WSJ editorial page embarrassment

The WSJ editorial page is not something I ordinarily frequent, but they recently wrote an editorial on the DMCA. Aside from a reflexive and simplistic “intellectual property is good so don’t bother me with nuance or details” attitude, this paragraph struck me:

Google claims “a legal safe harbor” from copyright infringement under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows Internet firms to provide a thumbnail of copyrighted material. The firm also asserts a right to reproduce and distribute intellectual property without permission as long as it promptly stops the trespass if the copyright owner objects. That’s like saying you have the legal right to hop over your neighbors’ fence and swim in their pool — unless they complain.

WSJ 2006/12/1 (it’s the editorial page so the person who actually penned this embarrassment doesn’t have to sign his or her name)

I realize that editorial pages don’t require fact-checking, but getting the law this wrong is embarrassing. Readers of this blog probably are very familiar with the DMCA, but a couple of quick pointers:

  1. The DMCA doesn’t “allow[] Internet firms to provide a thumbnail of copyrighted material.” I believe the hopelessly inept WSJ editor was probably thinking about the Kelly v. Arriba 9th Cir. decision, supported recently by the 2d Cir. decision in Dorling-Kindersley. Both of those interpreted fair use (17 USC 107) to include offering thumbnails for a different purpose.
  2. “… without permission as long as it promptly stops the trespass if the copyright owner objects.” Presumably here they’re talking about the DMCA notice-and-takedown provisions, 17 USC 512. Of course, these provisions don’t apply to original infringement — reproduction and distribution — but to the responsibility of ISPs and other intermediaries when their networks are used for reproduction and distribution. That is, at best, secondary infringement (contributing to or vicariously responsible for someone else’s infringement), and it’s really not at all clear that ISPs would be liable for it even in the absence of the safe harbor provisions. Which aren’t “claimed” by Google et al but ”given” to them by Congress.

Since they can’t be bothered to do even the barest minimum of fact checking, and don’t understand what they’re talking about, it’s hard to actually take them seriously. Are they this bad all the time?

Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge probably very wisely didn’t bother correcting their extremely shoddy fact-checking but responded to the overall tenor of their arguments; the WSJ published their letter – and because the WSJ puts their content behind passwords, the full-text of the letter is available at PK’s blog by Alex Curtis.

florida protected from stoner librarians

Or at least those who stuck around for the drug tests. After Gainesville, Florida, implemented drug testing for its library volunteers, the number of volunteers, most of whom were senior citizens, dropped from 55 to 2.

Bill Maher gave this story the fisking it deserves, and radref at Radical Reference pointed me to it to begin with. Then I realized that, no, I had seen it before on sivacracy, but that portion of the tape got wiped.

I really had thought, somehow, that this country had turned the corner on ever-increasing numbers of ridiculous, pointless, and oppressive drug tests, but perhaps not.