Archive for February, 2007
surprise! more copyright stuff!

People have called my attention to a few more copyright & related matters lately:

* Darren Barefoot, who did the project “GetAFirstLife.com“, received a hilarious anti-cease-and-desist in its comments section, purportedly from Ginsu Yoon, VP of Linden Lab (Second Life’s company). Or as Peter Hirtle put it when passing it along, a “proceed and permitted” letter. More P&Ps, please! And fewer C&Ds.

* The recent movie “Dodgeball” hit the courts on a copyright infringement suit; the NYT wrote up the story, hitting some of the colorful details as the court tried to distinguish coincidence from copying, and substantial similarity from generic scenes a faire. (Would it kill the NYT to link to the freakin’ case for readers? I’ll dig it up and post it.)

* In addition to the RIAA’s stepped up “enforcement” at college campuses, the RIAA is also now attacking open wireless networks. (See Wired News blog.) A friend was asking me about this: What’s in it for the RIAA? Are they really trying to deter individuals? Well, to some extent, but principally they’re just trying to keep the issue in the limelight. It doesn’t matter if any individual enforcement action is effective, or if they get bad press; as far as they’re concerned, there’s no such thing as bad press on this issue. The more press on copyright “infringement”, the better. They want to create copyright anxiety (“copyright awareness”).

* And, last but not least, an uplifting story about Bent Skovmand — unfortunately it’s an obituary, so some might not get the “uplifting” part. But what’s uplifting is that this person spent his life seeing a problem and working to solve it. That is a success story. Every time I think of the waste of space and destruction of human energy represented by the current occupant of the White House, I’m going to try to dedicate an equal amount of time to the inspirational life of Bent Skovmand.

In case you’re wondering, the NYT obit is great, and Wikipedia’s entry is stubby but accurate. Basically Skovmand was an agricultural scientist who worked to preserve plant diversity and access. He was concerned about the monoculture techniques of modern industrial farming, even as he worked with farmers and governments around the world to help foster the Green Revolution. Ultimately he began to collect and archive seeds of all sorts of strains of food and agricultural crops, developing a project called the doomsday vault — a warehouse for agricultural crops in an island off of Norway, heavily safeguarded and secured against all manner of natural and human-made catastrophes. The vault will contain at least three million crop seeds.

In keeping with his general concern for openness and human access to genetic diversity, Skovmand critiqued the propertization of genetic information: copyrighting genes is “like copyrighting each and every word in ‘Hamlet’, and saying no one can use any word used in ‘Hamlet’ without paying the author.” According to the NYT, he gave away his own data on CDs, rather than trying to control it.

So — Bent Skovmand. May more of us have the opportunity to lead such fulfilling and satisfying and productive lives.

universities and copyright

Suddenly there’s a lot of press about the rights enforcement companies and their P2P notices — this Washington Post article and this AP story are just two of the recent press.

How timely — I just finished a report on exactly this issue. I spoke with representatives from 25 different educational institutions and online service providers to understand their processes and practices, and pressures.

What we found is that universities have indeed set up overly harsh policies in response to P2P notices. The policies were typically created in the last few years, under significant political pressure and media spotlight — pressure and spotlight engineered by the large entertainment companies. University officials are typically very concerned about academic expression interests, but may not have looked at these policies in relation to all their other policies.

We found a lot more of interest — including really problematic behavior on the part of the rights enforcement companies. The report (Intellectual Property and Free Speech in the Online World) is available online, for free, in PDF.

copyright in a baseball pitch (not)

In a NYT article on the alleged “gyroball” pitch, I saw this note:

Tezuka feels so strongly about the gyroball that he has tried to get it copyrighted. “I couldn’t get that,” he said through Masa Niwa, an interpreter.

In Japan, I presume? I wish I had more details on this.

US copyright lobby madness

The US copyright lobby (as represented by the “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, a confusingly named consortium of US copyright lobbying groups) has just done a report on the failures of the rest of the world to properly protect its members’ intellectual property. We care, because it submits this report (solicited? unsolicited?) to the US Trade Rep who basically adopts it wholesale in its annual report of what to do next. (The US Trade Rep is the strong-arm of US policy, basically “encouraging” other countries to adopt legislation and policies that favor US interests. Contact USTR lists some relevant numbers and address.)

Michael Geist (a Canadian Internet and copyright law scholar) wrote a terrific analysis of the report. He does a beautiful job of contextualizing it within the US’ climate of copyright extremism.

# For instance, the report criticizes the rest of the world for not adopting the US version of the much-criticized and highly problematic anticircumvention provisions of the 1998 DMCA.

# Second, the report criticizes countries that seek to adopt some of the consumer-friendly provisions that US law still contains (e.g., fair use in Israel; time shifting in New Zealand; compulsory licensing regimes around the world).

# Third, the report criticizes countries that attempt to promote educational, privacy, and cultural initiatives, such as copyright exceptions for students in South Korea, Brazil and Canada; privacy protections for Greece; etc. The report criticizes countries that have failed to adopt the life+70 years copyright extension — an extension which even the US Register of Copyrights, MaryBeth Peters, acknowledged was probably a mistake.

Of particular interest to me, the report criticizes Italy, Greece, and Mexico for not implementing the US version of the Section 512 takedown procedure. Greece includes some privacy provisions, and Italy and Mexico haven’t done it yet at all. Just as well, because the hastily-enacted and poorly-thought-out provisions have created a lot of problems here in the US. See Heins Beckles 2005, Urban / Quilter 2006, and Quilter/Heins 2007.

Go read Michael Geist’s article.

McDonald’s “coke spoon” C&D

One might think it would sometimes be in the best interests of a corporation to take the high road, but McDonald’s has chosen to go for the glory. McD’s slapped a cease and desist letter on an art gallery selling “Cokespoon #2″ — a gold-plated versions of a 1980s vintage McD’s coffee stirrer that was frequently used for white powder outside the context of coffee.

The C&D and response are posted by citizen-citizen.com in a really obnoxious flash format.

You can see the original and Cokespoon #2 on papermag 2/19.

Introducing the book

For the bibliophiles and geeks.

Credits posted on YouTube:
It’s from a show called Øystein & Meg (Øystein & I) produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting television channel (NRK) in 2001. The spoken language is Norwegian, the subs in Danish. It’s written by Knut Nærum and performed by Øystein Bache and Rune Gokstad.