Monday, January 30, 2012

A follow-up with Congressman Moran on SOPA

Here is a followup email that I sent this morning to my representative, James P. Moran (D), 8th District, Virginia."

"I had written to you briefly about SOPA on Nov. 14, but I wanted to reiterate the need to proceed with great care, as bills like SOPA, PIPA and supports for the ACTA agreement inevitably come up again.  I do see on Twitter that you opposed the original SOPA bill and said that it needed substantial revisions.

"The biggest concern is the way downstream liability could be imposed (at more than one point in legal process) on ISP’s, publishing services like YouTube or Blogger, or even on individual sites (like my doaskdotell) based on how the law is ultimately interpreted in court.  A business world that is open to user-generated content is not consistent with the imposition of downstream liability in any area, so proposals that could weaken DMCA Safe Harbor or Section 230 (the latter with respect to libel) should be examined with great care at best.  Basic philosophical questions about the “privilege of being listened to” by a global audience come up.   At the same time, most piracy seems to occur from operations set up specifically to upload and then encourage downloading of directly pirated materials, not from user-generated content which is put at risk of “friendly fire” in a SOPA environment.

"It strikes me that the government already (as with Customs operations under ICE) already has considerable authority to (with proper due process) shut down website set up for piracy, and ought to be able (through diplomacy and Interpol) to work with other countries (especially Australia, the Netherlands, and especially Iceland) known to house many of the “rogue” operations, without increasing downstream liability exposure to service providers and ordinary small web businesses. 

"I would love to hear from you on this matter."

Another note:  Albert Noll on Fierce Telecomm  has a brief piece comparing search engines to pawn shops and saying that some downstream liability is necessary, here.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday tidbits: More on accidental photo tagging, "competing with free", and the significance of "EpicWin"

I have some odds and ends today, to start your Sunday afternoon, your "day of rest".

First, I’ve written in the past that I never tag other people’s photos.  I have noticed, however, that on a few occasions Google (and perhaps other search engines) have indexed images from my blogs as such, to appear when a person’s name or a place is entered.  Generally, they are higher definition (1 meg or more) images with good lighting and technical focus (not hard today with inexpensive digital cameras, maybe questionable on some cell phones).  I do, when permissible, photograph at live performance events.  For films, this isn’t usually allowed (for copyright reasons, except in post-film panel discussions), but I often add images that I took myself of the area in which the film’s story takes place. Sometimes I add and attribute images from Wikipedia (most can be used legally this way).  There is at least a remote chance that an image might not actually match the individual or place searched for, although I haven’t actually encountered this error yet.

Second, it occurs to me that I’ve never quoted Hollywood’s mantra, “You can’t compete with free”, a battle cry (of self-prostration) screaming for the downstream-liability strengthening of SOPA or Protect-IP.  Sure, but there is double entendre.  True, a film or music company can’t compete with free copies of their work that come close to the original in technical quality, after illegal uploading and inviting illegal downloading  (paid for by parasitic “sponsors”).  But I fear something else.  Both Hollywood and the news business may fear they can’t compete with very small ununionized or low-cost companies or individuals (without employees) who can leverage their productivity with technology to an incredible level.  Mark Cuban once admitted that to me in a reply to an email posted on his blog.

Third, there is an article in the February 2012 Popular Science by NYC journalist Matthew Shaer, “The Game of Life” (p. 54 in print), link  that poses the question “Will keeping score of absolutely everything make you a better person?”, and then describes a week-long life experiment  with an app called "Epic Win" (iTunes "legal" sales link is here ) where everything you do gives you points.  It’s like getting a grade on a week-long laboratory exam in organic chemistry (remember that course, with the preps?)  What’s interesting or ironic is that the writer, who looks very strong and virile in the mag photos (like late 20s -- [and, yes, I actually paid for a printed magazine copy in a 7-11-- I do that sometimes]), talks about his visit to North Carolina to visit his fiancĂ© – when getting married and raising a family is about everything else in life besides “getting a grade” (even to prepare for "Judgment Day") .  I was just pondering that last night when I wrote my posting about my previous stabs at writing a publishable novel – which is hard “ For the First Time” (The Script – here) .  You can live in your own world, with a lot of fantasy, and your own definitions of “measure” – and make it sound compelling. The individual contest really can make “family” sound like an afterthought. But that’s not what most people really experience.

I also have to say, the author of the article sounds really wired in to modern gadgets.  I came from an earlier generation. I never needed everything online or monitored by technology. 

There is an "EpicWin" site, that I don’t know if it’s the same thing. “Everything counts”.  I’ve heard bosses say that at work. Teachers and professors say it to students.  Milah and Korben have a YouTube video based on it as follows:

One other thing I want to reiterate about Popular Science.  Right before 9/11 (in early September 2001) it ran a curious story about the possibly existential threat that could be posed by small EMP devices.  The article has disappeared from the Web.  Maybe Shaer will want to track this down and write another story on it.

Update: March 2, 2012

On the NBC Today show, visitors were discussing the practice of deliberately tagging a photo with someone at an event when the person is not in the photo and was not at the event. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I get ready to edit my fiction and get it out the door

In the next few days, I’ll be a lot more specific about how I am going to polish and present some of my project material, but I thought that tonight I would comment on all the fiction manuscripts I have attempted.  Fiction is harder than autobiographical memoir (where your life, with all its ironies, is the plot) or policy essays.   

My first “attempt” was a pseudo-autobiographical sci-fi extension called “The Proles”.  I start with my life in graduate school and take it through the moral morass of the Vietnam era draft, during which I come into relations with members of a cabal that call themselves “The Proles” who want civilization to start over.  One of them sends me on a treasure hunt, which places me into a time machine, to emerge just before nuclear war (sort of a Cuban Missile Crisis II) erupts.  In the second half, I learn “real life” with a female companion, Tovina, as we roam a wasteland, before we are finally evacuated from the planet ourselves.  I worked on this manuscript by hand while in the Army and then typed it by hand and actually “submitted” it in 1972.

Depending on my counting scheme, I have about a baker’s dozen other attempts that I have mounted over the years.  Most of them follow some variation of this plot: “I”, while working in the conventional I.T. world for the time, meet a young male “role model” with extraordinary talent and charisma. He disappears or goes away to some kind of ashram.  I lose the job, and go to the ashram (sometimes with his invitation, sometimes with my own gumshoeing),  and have a critical encounter with the “hero”. In the mean time, the outside world falls under attack (from whom varies with the circumstances and time) and the world turns over.  The hero gets married, and I have to learn “real life” and adjust to a world that is starting over (usually in a sustainable, communal environment), sometimes with a female partner.

In a 1981 novel, I first get involved with the “civilian reservist” program that was sometimes reported in the newspapers in the 1980s.  I then tried breaking the 1981 book up into seven “stories” that could conceivably be published separately, and one of these (“Expedition”) dealt with strip-mining. That actually was submitted in the early 80s and was nearly accepted.  I used some of the text in the opening of Chapter 3 of the 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell”.

In 1988, I submitted (to Scott Meredith) a “version” called “Tribunal and Rapture”.  The name of the hero character, Craig Nickerstahn, had come to me in a dream.  The relationship with “Craig” is developed in more detail and there are more stages than in some of the other manuscripts.  It is brought to quite a graphic climax, just as the outside world closes in.

In the 1980s versions, it’s imagined that communists could mount asymmetric attacks and cause society to implode, in a manner that would be eventually be feared from Al Qaeda.  Some of the details resemble the fears that would be promulgated after 9/11 (radiation dispersion devices).  These grim possibilities had been well known in the 1980s, even if rarely discussed in public.
In the late 1990s and continuing after 9/11, I imagined more expanded scenarios told from the viewpoints of characters other than myself.  I did develop one document (“Rain on the Snow”) where, again, I travel to west Texas to attend a “defense reservist” academy and this time the “Craig” character turns out to be a “man who fell to Earth”.  In a bizarre sequence, I am involved with his apparent death and sent to prison, but escape at the novel’s climax when the “angels” routine.

Then there is another novel told from the viewpoint of a retired FBI agent who gets interested in “remote viewing” and learns (from an estranged wife who is a military surgeon) of a bizarre epidemic which would cull out much of the population while allowing some people to become immortal.  “I” appear as a character through the agent’s son, who had gotten in trouble with the law through some early Internet-era hacking. This leads back to the “Craig” character (born as the son of a woman that th “me” character had sold a condo to) and the “angelic” virus.  

There is a 2004 document that stitches these together, and tries to impose a “beginning-middle-end” structure on the viewpoint of each of about five major characters.

In more recent years, I’ve focused on a much shorter novel based on this scenario called “Brothers”, told from the viewpoint of an ex-military –intelligence officer, now a history teacher with a family in Texas, is recruited back into clandestine service, and a gay college student (in ROTC) who seems to have the “angelic” prognosis. The knowledge of the “Change” that hovers over the world is dispersed into military and intelligence bureaucracy, but the “tag team” of these two characters connects the dots as their relationship grows.  All the other characters (including me, “Bill”) come back into the narrative, from their viewpoint.

There is something notable about the narratives based on my own experiences.  I don’t share the “husband and father” motive of other men, partly because I was so non-competitive as a youngster when it came to gender norms, that I invented another way to see things.  I came to see the world in terms of freedom of self-expression, which could include both works or output in the usual sense, but also the indirect social “accomplishments” of “upward affiliation”.  External disasters, whatever they are, threaten freedom of mobility and of expression – they can destroy personal autonomy.  We should have learned that back in the 1970s with the Arab oil embargo, and many other threats (of various kinds, including pandemics with the “social distance” concept).  These external  influences, which many people think they can do nothing about, do tend to be less of a psychological threat to people socialized through close, emotional compelling family ties, for people (even George Clooney’s dopplneganger) who see their own expressive futures fungible for the good of their kids and descendants. 

In terms of this personal worldview, external “threats” posed by cabals with whom some like me has proxy contact become interesting plot material.  There’s something about all this that views family and kids as an optional choice, not the essence (or “tree”) of life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wikipedia, articles about living people, and self-publishing; more on existing laws on piracy

I’ve talked about this in the distant past, but one issue of concern to me is notability.  I do not have an entry in Wikipedia, and a number of people that I know personally in some areas such as music, activism, writing, arts do not, and others have very brief, skethcy, or incomplete pages.

This is a good place to note Wikipedia’s standards for articles about living persons, link

Note that it is acceptable to use self-published works by the subject of an article as sources for biographical material on the subject, but not to use (in most cases) self-published works by others as cited source material about the subject.  The standards also emphasize verifiability, and explain the difference between this concept and “truth”.   Self-published works include blogs and Twitter or other social media pages. 

I’ve noticed that since social media came onto the scene and became politically and commercially influential, there has developed a belief that an individual ought to have only one life online (as well as off-line) and ought to prove that he can “sell” to other people with quantifiable or demonstrable results.  This is somewhat a change of culture from the Web 1.0 world of a dozen years ago when passive self-publishing could really become very effective without demanding much in the way of accountability.

This is definitely an issue that I must work on in the coming months for my own “reputation.”

In another area, I’ve read (more to say soon in a book review of "Digital Assassination" by Torrenzano and Davis) that, outside the United States (especially Virginia and California), the main places where large servers hosting interlocked domains trafficking pirated materials tend to be located are in Australia, the Netherlands, and Iceland.   Some major server farms are located in buildings that do not appear to be "commercial" and they are nearly always of "low profile" as to identifiability from the street. The point is that, even without changing existing laws (SOPA, PIPA, etc), the United States should be able to work with other countries to seize operations shown, through proper due process, to be set up merely to traffic pirated media or goods.  Anyone setting up a legitimate business or publication on the web ought to do a little due diligence and make sure that the hosting company is legitimate and has a good reputation.

I notice that the my letter on SOPA to my own Congressman, presented here Nov. 14, is rather superficial, and I'm going to write another one soon, given the course of the debate in the last two months. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does "cross selling" come from a "simpler" and singular privacy policy?

There has been a lot of controversy over Google’s plan for a “single privacy policy”, to be implemented March 1, stated here. It appears that there is a strong preference that customers always use the names they are actually known by.

PC World has a detailed discussion of the increased effort to coordinate the same information against all applications, which Google says will enable it to serve customer needs more specifically. Facebook has been saying the same thing in principle with Timeline (which becomes mandatory in a few days).  It’s clear that the business model of all of these companies requires considerable specificity in connecting users to potential sellers.  That is somewhat part of the price of “free content” and, more important, low “barrier to entry”.   The PC link is here

It’s not immediately obvious whether browser controls or other “do not track” mechanisms could interfere with these efforts by Internet companies to do such heavy cross-selling;  but probably not, because the information application-sharing affects so many other activities besides surfing.  I used to hear the buzzword "cross selling" a lot when I spent twelve years in IT in the life insurance industry. 

The Boston Herald has an article about the Big G going for the “Dark Side” (Raakhee Mirchandani), here.    So do many other major papers.  But it seems, so must every company taken seriously by Wall Street, to maintain stellar earnings now expected.   Let’s see the pressures Facebook faces if it goes public.

I've noticed, when I travel, that I get ads from most servers (including news sites) related to the geographical location I dialed in from (all companies know where my Verizon MiFi is, like when I'm in Dallas) and to the political issues that I write about a lot.  Everyone is tailoring my "experience" with marketeers.  That's probably not a problem for me because my life is relatively "simple", and security is straightforward. That's not the case for everyone, especially politicians and executives and people with big families.  

SOPA now sounds like a glass of ice water, not yet thrown to wash away the drain flies. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Texas business professor slams piracy, supports SOPA-like measures in WSJ; discussion of "barriers to entry" and gatekeepers would follow

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed on p A19 (yes, I paid for a hardcopy paper today, cheers) by Professor Stan Liebowitz, a University of Texas professor of business, “Internet to Artists: Drop Dead” (aka “Ford to City: Drop Dead”, 1975), link here (paywall). 

He argues that more convenient marketing innovations (like the iTunes legal per-song downloads for 99 cents) don’t really reduce piracy losses, and that the DMCA Safe Harbor interferes with preventing piracy because the takedown process is slow and can easily be outrun by pirates.

Liebowitz has papers on the Social Science Research Network, such as one here (purchase) that supports the idea that MP3 downloads (apparently when legal) suppress sales (link).  Typically in the classical record business, I know that MP3 files with accompanying PDF program notes are often cheaper than CD’s, but many consumers prefer them because they can back them up in the Cloud, and don’t take up physical space in a home.  Musicians tell me that generally they like to sell by mp3. 

Liebowitz doesn't see the piracy problem as particularly correlated to foreign hosting. 

The other area where there was negative news suddenly yesterday was again in the area of third-party online reputation tarnishment and in stalking, as on ABC Nightline last night (link with video here).

You can’t make the world “safe” (even for “Marathon Man” visiting the sadistic dentist) without creating “barriers to entry”, or at least maintain those naturally in place from the past.   Where to look for examples?  Professional sports is a world where obviously “barriers to entry” are very high, but where “winner takes all”.  We can’t all become Stephen Strasburg or C.C. Sabathia.  But we can all (more or less) become publishers on the web, at least for now (even if bloggers don't get hundred-million-dollar contracts).  That could change, although fortunately Congress is backpedalling for now on SOPA and PIPA (the courts could still reverse the momentum back toward established media in Viacom).  Of course, only the “best” bloggers, videomakers or other self-publishers will make money or at least be noticed.   Not exactly, though. “Merit” is no predictor of what goes viral on the web.  Barriers to entry “for safety” exist everywhere, such as getting on an airplane.  Logically, something is worthwhile only if there is a finite supply of it.  Logically, “getting published”, which used to be a lot harder when controlled by legacy gatekeepers, still is only meaningful when there is an upper bound on the amount of media put out there for everyone to see.  You could see this "reasoning" extending to access to knowledge (Wikipedia) at all, as if knowledge ought to correlate to earned (or inherited) social hierarchal or familial position.  Somehow this reminds me of Liousville’s Theorem (in Complex Analysis), which I had to prove on my Master’s Orals at KU in 1968.

The “safety net” is what would burden everyone with his own agenda to accept the supervision of others on the Web, if draconian measures to crack down on abuses on the Web were really enacted. On the other hand, ordinary users are not really the cause of significant piracy.  It is specifically operations of mass uploading and downloading of whole works and encouraging some elements of the public to consume them (rather than purchase from legitimate sources) that does. 

Liebowitz sidesteps the idea that pirated or illegal materials advertise materials, that consumers will eventually purchase legally what they can afford to pay.  For “The Artist” (at least a new artists), business models and legal risks cut both ways.  New artists need to self-publish to escape the gatekeepers, but then they need to get consumers to pay – and many consumers simply cannot afford to.  They have survival concerns and families to feed. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Righthaven domain name taken over by new service provider,

A big concern in the SOPA/PIPA “debate” is the idea that service providers could not afford to host “free” user-generated content if they had to take liability for what their “customers” do.  But suddenly there is a service provider with a “spine” which says it will defend its users if the law takes a long turn. Hosted in Switzerland, it may be choosing its members carefully, however.  (I like the metaphor: its clients aren't interested in PhD's in invertebrate zoology, no matter how smart some cephalopods are.  And a spine isn't just a notochord.) 

Ironically, the group has taken over the “Righthaven” domain name, and here is its FAQ page explaining its intentions, link.  Admittedly, the writing style here is a bit indirect.

We will surely hear more about this. "Righthaven Victims" tweeted this story today.

Supreme Court limits warrantless intrusion onto personal property by GPS and probably wireless; more attorneys say SOPA is unnecessary to stop piracy

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement can’t attach a GPS device to your car without a warrant.  The ACLU is urging citizens to support a Gelocation and Privacy Suveillance Act, in this (website url) posting

It makes you wonder about all of the Nixon era wiretaps.

The case was U.S. v. Jones.  The slip opinion has been posted here.  There will continue to be legal controversy over monitoring electronic and wireless communications when no insertion of a device is necessary (such as trolling emails or tweets). 

I had a conversation today with an attorney, who said that in practice SOPA should be entirely unnecessary to control sites doing illegal uploads for piracy.  The government typically gets warrants for court approval to seize assets of sites using large server farms. The Alexandria federal district court has jurisdiction over a huge server farm used by many companies on the East Coast.  Typically, many foreign operations will use these farms. Yes, the federal government could get more cooperation overseas to seize similar operations (as ICE does here).  That way, it wouldn’t be necessary to enlist other providers and even web users to be responsible for policing for privacy.  He agreed that an element in Hollywood would like to eliminate amateurism from the Web. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Don't forget Viacom-YouTube case is still under appeal; newspapers weigh in on the philosophical gap among legacy, Internet business and legal models

Today, the big Sunday papers offered some philosophical tomes on the recent “food fight” between legacy media and new Internet over how to control piracy. In the New York Times, Business Day, p. 4 (Jan. 22, 2012), Amy Chozick offers “A Clash of Media Worlds (and Generations)”, here

She quotes Silicon Valley attorney Michael H. Rubin as saying, “Incumbent industries choose legislation and litigation over innovation.”  She also reminds us of a dangerous detail, that Viacom is appealing a federal judge’s ruling against imposing downstream liability against YouTube because of commonly held interpretations of DMCA Safe Harbor, in a manner that parallels the provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act Section 230 (which is normally used in a libel context rather than copyright).  PBS has an article by Rob Arcamona, July 2, 2010 (shortly after the ruling) explaining downstream liability limitation in detail here. It would make for a good Frontline program.   I don’t know when an appeals court would rule on Viacom, but I suppose it could come in early 2012, perhaps by spring.  If Viacom were to win, we would be debating, probably in front of the Supreme Court, the ethical and legal ramifications of downstream liability (for user generated content containing infractions) while Congress might be recycling PIPA or SOPA.

In the Outlook section, p B1, of today’s Washington Post, Rebecca MacKinnon writes a piece, “Why doesn’t Washington understand the Internet?”   The online tagline is “Can Congress and the Web get along?”, link here.  Only recently has Silicon Valley started to accept the idea that it has to learn to lobby and litigate as well as “make law by coding” (Lawrence Lessig’s concept, although that’s practically what Mark Zuckerberg did with his whole adult life!)  A classical musician friend of mine has coined a word for this process, “timocracy”, which will probably stick in the English language.  (Who needs political parties anymore, anyway?)  MacKinnon notes that “To stay safe in real life, we give up some liberty; Online, we’re not ready to sacrifice freedoms”.  Indeed, the possible perils range way beyond piracy, to include identity theft, terrorism (steganography), and cyberbullying.  MacKennon gives comparative histories of the Communications Decency Act and then the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), both of which presented existential threats to freedom of users of the Web that anticipate those of PIPA and SOPA; both failed to survive court challenge.  (Note the rhyme.)  She also notes, in the behavior of Congress to date, “it has somehow become acceptable to pass laws that presume Internet users are guilty until proven innocent.”  Rebecca has a new book, due Jan. 31, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” , Basic Books (link).

Ezra Klein has a simpler piece in today’s Post, a Q&A with Senator Ron Wyden, “A push to protect Internet from a tangled web of piracy bills”, link here. It mentions explicitly the “turn Websites into Webcops” provision.

Remember, the problems of “downstream liability” fall into two phases.  One part is that a “foreign site” could be taken down because of the undetected infringements of a minority of users.  That could be mitigated by limiting the definition of “foreign” much more rigorously, perhaps.  The other successor part is that, once a site is blacklisted, it could be illegal for any search engine to link to it. (Some say that “search engines” aren’t even entitled to prior notification in the bills.)  One problem is that the definition of potential search engine is broad, but it could be limited to those sites whose user searches can actually reach the entire web, rather than go through a compendium (like Wikipedia or even my  Congress has practically admitted that playing with the DNS system (while it would ironically eliminate any potential liability for hyperlinks) could cause another 2008-style crisis for the DNS system (resulting in emergency summer meetings at Microsoft, remember). 

Of course, in part, this all sounds like a desire of the legacy media gatekeepers to keep their monopolies (or oligopoly),of the big to exercise their “divine right” powers to make small fry “pay their dues” before being allowed to speak on a global stage and compete for customer attention.  On one level, it reminds us of historical struggles over anti-trust.  On another, it reminds us of a “hidden in plain sight” notion among social conservatives, that people should have personal responsibility for other people (translate as “be able to compete in the protection racket game”) before expecting to have a public voice.  (Add “family values” to all of this. It isn’t hard to see where it leads.  I’ve called all this “the privilege of being listened to”.  Having to police others and play "Brother's Keeper"  would seem to be part of the territory.)  For those who see the world this way, eliminating user-generated content seems like a small sacrifice to protect big media from pirates (and from low cost competition).  Yet, user-generated content really isn't responsible for significant loss to Hollywood. It's wholesale illegal uploading and downloading of whole media objects that does, but Congress and the media companies seem to be uninterested in drawing any lines.  
History, after all, could have gone differently since the early 1990s.  Be thankful for Safe Harbor and Section 230, both of which can be gutted. We could easily have wound up with a world of no unsupervised UGC online at all.  And today we wouldn’t be talking about it. Take nothing for granted. 

 For dessert, here's another "Occupy Congress" video of mine from last Tuesday.

Friday, January 20, 2012

MegaUpload shutdown by "fibbies" may help show that SOPA, PIPA are not "needed" so much

Federal authorities have shut down a site called MegaUpload, which the government says was set up primarily to facilitate piracy and money laundering, in a recent indictment.  The shutdown occurred by seizing physical assets, including servers in Washington DC and Asburn, VA.  The CNN story is here

The Justice Department and universal music sites were attacked with denial of service, in a widely reported story. 

The US government (and probably ICE or Customs) apparently had jurisdiction to take action, without the need to impose a secondary liability for policing links or payments, as is feared with the proposed Protect-IP and SOPA legislation. It's important that the government was able to act in concert with countries overseas without SOPA. 

The Senate has reportedly put off a planned Jan 24 vote on PIPA/Protect-IP.  Over 35 Senators have spoken out against it (it takes 41 to defeat it).

MegaUpload is still marked “green” by McAfee, and attempt to go to it simply hangs (I expected a Customs intercept).

The Justice Department site was working normally Friday morning. But it does not yet mention the action against MegaUpload. 

Nate Anderson has a perspective on Ars Technica as to why the US acted so drastically against MegaUpload, here.

This morning, a CNN commentator offered the speculation that the feds really could bring such action against YouTube if the fibbies (John Grisham’s term) really wanted to.  That’s scary.

There are other YouTube videos that claim that some in Hollywood actually used MegaUpload. This is indeed an ironic development the day after the SOPA Blackout.

LATER TODAY, I picked up a printed copy of American Prospect, Jan.-Feb. 2012, and found a detailed article by Rob Fischer on p. 26 on the ICE enforcement efforts and some more discussion of SOPA and PIPA. The article gave details about the prosecution of Ninja Video and later sports streaming site operator Brian McCarthy in Houston.  The long title of the article is "A Ninja in our Sites: An aggressive federal enforcement effort targets online piracy--and exposes the clash between copyright protection and free speech", link here.  Ironically, I discovered this in a Barnes and Noble regular bookstore, paid in a conventional manner (held up by cash register software problems), on the way to a conventional AMC movie.   I still like conventional hardcopy print to look at sometimes.

Ninja had streamed a lot of stuff -- movies, foreign news feeds, TV episodes -- free, and some of the content would have been hard for visitors to find even when they wanted to pay for it, as I would. (One legal problem, as pointed out by the article, is that Ninja actually uploaded the stuff, so DMCA Safe Harbor couldn't apply. Illegal stream-site operators have gone for years before the fibbies come knocking at the door, but when they come, it's brutal.  They bust in.)  Media content owners are enraged when streaming site operators earn advertising revenue on their content even while giving it away, which is one reason why SOPA purported to go after secondary users -- advertisers and payment processors.

Update: Feb. 4

The Washington Times published an op-ed by Jack Maes (McLean, VA) in which it is maintained that many people had legally uploaded their own content to MegaUpload (including doctoral dissertations) and lost it.  The link is here. One could say that ordinary users should beware that they link up with reputable services.  But MegaUpload claims it had tried to enforce TOS against infringement.  Rolling Stone has a story by Steve Knopper on Feb 3 here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Could ordinary bloggers get into trouble under SOPA over mere links? Not likely, but "just maybe". Welcome to Chilling Effects. Will controversy get "frozen out"?

As Reddit is back on line and the “Blackout Day” comes to a close, I wanted to look at some of Reddit’s claims (link on yesterday’s post).

Reddit’s main concern seems to be the part of SOPA that requires sites to scrub links to any legally blacklisted foreign site. It acknowledges (in the “No Duty to Monitor” provision) that compliance requirement doesn’t start until notification, but that search engines actually could be required to avoid listing any foreign sites that it could reasonably suspect of future infringement. 

There is some controversy over what constitutes a search engine.  Any dynamic site that accepts user input could apparently qualify, including Wikipedia (according to Jimmy Wales’s own statements) and “live blogs” as well as Reddit itself.  The definition is much broader than just the conventional concept illustrated by Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.  In theory, my “” might fall under this definition, because it has a Pico Search box accepting user search arguments of varying formats, and purports (in somewhat the same spirit as Wikipedia) to be a structured knowledge base about “political debate”.

In theory, this all could mean almost any substantial knowledge site or blog (or interrelated group of blogs like mine) could be required to somehow access as list of prohibited sites before offering a link.

Do I believe this would really happen?  No, but the very possibility creates a chilling effect for Internet investors (including people who might work with ME in the future.  Remember, also, there is a clause about "technical feasibility", and this whole discussion about hyper-links is in the "after the offense" part, not the part that gets a site labeled as "dedicated to infringement" based on a possible minority original violations. (Remember, on that, Lamar Smith had said that sites like Facebook and YouTube couldn't possibly be considered infringing, but he gives no real legal reasoning that matches the language of the bill as it follows.) 

I’m impressed that Reddit (and Wikipedia) believe that the big money lobbyists from legacy media are trying to get Congress to draft the “little guys” who want to be in the media to play their game as foot soldiers protecting them from foreign competition.  (Wikipedia, in fact, has a rather explicit statement on its blackout page to that effect.)  Since US law cannot go after “foreign” sites as readily (the way ICE or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement may in the US, seizing physical assets so that it is impossible for a suspect criminal enterprise to keep its web presence up), it’s trying to prohibit ordinary Americans (individuals and small companies) from doing business with them, as if this were the moral equivalent of war. Again, as Patry said, it seems to be expanding its role of gatekeeper and ability to demand sacrifice and tribute.
“Piracy”, it seems, becomes the excuse to go after all foreign competition, in a strategy that seems to put ordinary Americans against the low wage workers of other countries, especially Russia and China. That’s how a far-Left interpretation of SOPA could go.  Ironically, it reinforces Donald Trump’s claim, “The Chinese are not our friends.”

The logical way to go after real piracy threats from overseas (and they are real) would be for the State Department to do its job – to work with overseas governments and step up enforcement against the “actual criminals” rather than impose partially prospective downstream liability on Americans who may do business with them. It sounds like the thinking behind “Know your customer” or “Know your shipper” – again, a quasi-war concept.  All the sudden, the individual with a blog is the moral equivalent of a company with a lot to gain – but is that what the blogger signed up for?

Scientific American printed a brief missive (by Larry Greenemeier) “SOAP Opera: White House shuts down anti-piracy bill”, rather dismissive, with a quip about “free content” which some found offensive today, link.      Look at the comments.  The first comment warns “Commercial websites that would lose real money anytime they are falsely accused of hosting copyrighted information will freeze out any users with marginally contentious or controversial contentCommercial websites that would lose real money anytime they are falsely accused of hosting copyrighted information will freeze out any users with marginally contentious or controversial contentCommercial sites that lose money any time they are falsely accused of hosting copyrighted information will freeze out any users with marginally contentious or controversial content”.  But later another commenter warns “I can’t believe the liberties that some people think they alone are falsely entitled to.”  Does he mean the media companies or ordinary people?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Under SOPA, service providers would be liable for "circumvention methods" provided by end users

On the eve of the Wikipedia-Reddit (and others) Wednesday SOPA strike, Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a new piece by Trevor Timm, on why the Obama administration’s opposition to SOPA and PIPA (or Protect-IP) fall short of the real problems.  (Note: these blackouts generally apply only to English-language versions and there are "workarounds".) 

Timm mentions a new wrinkle in the “School Detention Problem”.  He says that major service providers (Blogger, Wordpress, YouTube, Vimeo, all kinds of other services) would be responsible specifically for “circumvention information” posted by any users, as well (in the “detention sense”) actual infringement by some users.  I had not heard that problem mentioned before.

The link for the EFF article (Jan. 16, tweeted today) is here

EFF also notes a blog entry on Bricoleur which gives another good example (“Overbroad censorship and users”) of how the rogue downstream liability problem could work,  here

We have a real problem in our policy making in deciding when people should be held responsible for the actions of others when they are not able to know precisely what these actions are.  You could call this the “Public Policy Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”.   (Or even invoked the New Testament and call it the "Brother's Keeper Problem".  Or something like "Know Your Customer".) Ultimately, the “innocent” can suffer, but some people see such microfocus on personal expressive rights as unsustainable or excessive hyper-individualism.  Ultimately, so much of this is about the “establishment” believing it needs some “gatekeeping” authority of what just who can belong to the “media club” at all.  

Here is Reddit's explanation of SOPA and Protect-IP/PIPA.  Note that it may not be directly accessible for part of Wednesday Jan .18 (or maybe they'll make an exception just for this file), link

Mark Zuckerberg posted Facebook's position on SOPA here today (Wednesday).  Yes, the head-shot is cute!

Large newspapers and AP work with new company called "News Right" to license news stories and track plagiarism; trolling won't happen, they say

Several newspapers (including the New York Times and Washington Post) and the Associated Press have been collaborating to create a system called “NewsRight” to license news stories and track possible infringing use of their news stories.   It's ironic, for me at least, to learn of the story the day before the big "SOPA Strike". 

Mashable has a story from Jan 5 by Zoe Fox, “A Game Changer for Online Journalism” but is not very specific, link here.

Bloomberg has a story Jan. 5 emphasizing the concerns over sites that automatically scrape whole stories and surround them with ads, link here   The implication is that newspapers are not so concerned with mere linking, by bloggers who then add their own commentary or perspective.  Some stories, especially on television station sites, say on AP stories that they may not be “rewritten”, but generally paraphrase, unless very close, is not considered copyright infringement. 

The Online Publishers Association has a story here.

“Paid Content” (story) says that the News Right system will serve over 800 newspaper sites soon. It won't lead to trolling or mass litigation, the new company says. 

The issue of “Fair Use” in reproducing entire stories has become controversial, as we know from the Righthaven “mess” and copyright trolls. 

Back in 2000, the issue of hyperlinks was more or less resolved, because courts said that hyperlinks alone were like bibliographic footnotes in a term paper.  Companies already have the easy ability to control whether they want their videos to be embeddable.   

NewsRight has a website under development here

The AP has also said it will not track users who have “do not track” options turned on in browsers. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Updating the proposals from my 1997 "Do Ask Do Tell" book; my own plans; Wikipedia plans blackout to protest SOPA/PIPA; activists plan a "SOPAStrike"

In the coming weeks, I’ll be making specific commitments (to myself, but in public) to submit my film and music content to others for eventual professional production, through the establishment “legacy system”.
But I wanted to bootstrap this effort by reviewing what I said in my first 1997 book “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”, and account for what has “changed” since then, in fifteen years.

The focus in that book was on defining and protecting the rights of the individual, especially when he/she is “different”.   I thought moral debates could be cast in very simple terms of "absolute responsibility for the self" and then sometimes re-expanded when necessary.  Much of the book dealt with the rights and exposures of “gay people” (I’ll contract or skip out here on the “distinction” between status and chosen actions), but some of it involves many other areas of self-satisfaction or transcendence.  There’s a natural tension between the individual’s own purposes and the needs of people in the community around him, to which he may owe something.  I took the position that the role of government in these areas should be very limited, or in some cases localized.  Most of the specific proposals in the book, including the constitutional amendment proposals toward the end (in the last chapter) limited the ability of most levels of government to regulate the individual, even in some situations such as being in the military.

The limitations of government were particularly concerned with areas where people try to use the legal system to scapegoat those who are “different” for problems that call for more personal responsibility from everyone.  This involved other areas (outside of sexual orientation) where people claim “influence”.   Scapegoating goes hand in hand with organizational corruption. At the same time, people may reasonably question the motives of those who are different, of what makes them tick, of what they would accomplish with full freedom.

Several trends have changed since the mid 1990s, when I wrote most of the book.  The most important change may be that life is a lot more public now.  “Privacy” (or the protection of “private choices”) is not an adequate metaphor for human rights.  The world of social media has made double lives difficult (or a sign of lack of “integrity”) and also made personal motivations more apparent and more influential. Therefore, the emphasis on “equality” has replaced it.  Yet, in some natural physical or biological sense, absolute “equality” cannot exist.  People have always needed to relate to one another with a sense of complementarity, and accept some need for interdependence.  Libertarianism has tried to reduce “complementarity” to the “vector basis” of the free market, but there are natural limits as to how far this process can go and still allow people the social cohesion they need to face big problems together.

Indeed, the appearance of the “big problems” is another important trend. The most obvious of these are climate change and demographics – an aging population.  Others could include terrorism or a variety of other possible calamities, like pandemics. People could need to relate to one another “locally” and give up the idea of “global citizenship” and reach as a copout and evasion from unwanted relationships with less than ideal people that happen to be available and in need.  “Surplus” cannot be taken for granted; “adaptive needs” could storm back and determine a lot about the personal opportunities available, even to those who are different.  "Sustainability" could provide a major challenge to global individualism, although "sustainability" alone isn't the only end; the Neanderthals sustained themselves for over 100000 years, but we don't want to follow their example. 

I grew up in the immediate post-War period (mostly the 50s), when “morality” seemed to focus on the idea that, beyond just making personal choices that you could pay for, you were obliged to share common risks and obligations and support the common goals of your community and family.  (In some contexts, cowardice could become the greatest evil.)  I was an only child and didn’t see as much of this as others; the idea, for example, that adults able to step in and help raise other peoples’ children, such as siblings’ after unpredictable tragedies.  These obligations were related to gender (most obviously with the male-only military draft, and the whole unfairness of the deferments, all ending in 1973), and tied to familial and political “power structures” which became somewhat discredited in the 1960s with Vietnam, Stonewall, and eventually Watergate.  From the 70s through the 90s, morality focused more on answering for one’s own personal choices (the libertarian model), such as taking responsibility for the children you had because of your “chosen” sexual behavior, and, later, taking responsibility for exposure to STD’s.  Even so, it was clear that anomalies existed.  People “choosing” to have kids (and hopefully marry first, still) take on risks and enormous expenses that an society dedicated to individualism may make too costly, making the sustainability of that society questionable.  Since 9/11, roughly, and given all the crises of the last decade, as well as publicity about both the hardships of people and the ability of medical technology to treat many things, the pendulum about “personal responsibility” has swung back a bit, with more sense that some things ought to be shared by everyone.

I expressed concerns about this in the 1997 book. I was concerned that government “subsidized” certain behavior, which meant eventually that non-participants help pay for it.  This idea occurs everywhere, from parenthood to using public transportation.  But a broader view is (a principle that typically forms a kernel in social conservatism) that when people take care of one another personally, mostly in the family unit but also in the community with service, government has less reason to intrude and in general there is more liberty.  In the book, I took the position that it is appropriate for government to reward (as by taxing less) persons who provide total economic support of others, usually dependent children, but also the elderly and disabled, the latter two categories having become much more important in recent years.
The concern is not just a utilitarian one about paying for personal care, childrearing and eldercare.  It also has to do with the attitude of the individual toward others, about his expectations for his relationships with others, which can become unrealistic in a world that overly supports hyperindividualism.  This gets into areas where people have, at various times in my life, been concerned about my own use of fantasy, photographic watchfulness, and general aloofness – much more visible in an era of Internet self-broadcast and obvious need, which tends to make distance or indifference look like aggression.

As to some of the more specific points I made, some of which have become outmoded over the years, there are at least three areas of real problems.

First, of course, the recommendations in my long (Chapter 4) on the military gay ban and “don’t ask don’t tell” policy would now be obsolete because the policy was repealed, with a long process that started in 2010 in Congress and ended with “certification” in the fall of 2011.  From a practical viewpoint, a major concern is maintaining a political climate (with the 2012 general election) that does not lead to reimposing the ban (with some of the GOP candidates).   In fact, my original involvement with the issue in 1993 had been motivated by what seemed like a parallel between the concerns over “privacy” in military barracks and similar concerns in the dormitories at William and Mary as I had experienced them in 1961, when I would be expelled.  As I’ve noted, the concerns over “privacy” have waned in our culture since 1993, and a world of Facebook makes DADT totally unworkable.  But the military buzzword “unit cohesion” has applicability in the general society, with a broader concern over social and familial cohesion. Most of my recommendations in 1997 centered around President Bill Clinton’s “don’t pursue” clause, and were predicated on a now outmoded notion of privacy and even personal secrecy.

Second, I had actually proposed a constitutional amendment that sounds a bit too much like DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), which may well fail in court eventually.  But at the time, I wanted a legal climate where states thought they could experiment with allowing various forms of civil unions and then marriage – which were just beginning to cook as an issue in the mid 1990s (with Hawaii and Vermont).  Reducing the federal impact might encourage more states to liberalize same-sex benefits laws as much as possible locally. But in the past eight years or so, the concept of absolute political equality has become more critical (Washington Blade former editor Chris Crain’s “Piddle,Twiddle and Resolve”), as some states approve full gay marriage and Congress sometimes considers banning it by amendment.    Why is “equality” so important to those who aren’t married and who say they don’t even “need” marriage, and just want “freedom”?  (That used to be the mantra.)  Because eventually sacrifices are demanded of everyone to help deal with common problems, that are increasing. My own story with eldercare in the past decade provides plenty of material.   With parenting, we have a curious tension now between claims of a tremendous need for adoptive parents (to the point that every adult should take notice), and the supposed importance of the “mother-father” family as an absolute ideal and birthright.  Do they want me or not? Again, my experience as a substitute teacher provides a trove of stories.  What is becoming apparent is that belief in the “family values model” (that every competent adult should be expected to strive to raise a family through a conventional marriage – and follow the Vatican “openness to new life” principle) is critical to some people in being able to keep their own marriages together (or even to form them in the first place).

I could characterize my perception of the importance of communal motivation and sustainability as something like a "climate change" that is occurring now, compared to the series of cultural squabbles fifteen years ago that were more like "weather events".  In the 90s, I generally had the perception that "having a family" and participating in familial and communal closeness was a personal choice that went with personal responsibility, although there were "deviations".  Today, it's clear (again) that responsibility for other people doesn't wait for a chosen act of procreation to come down on one's shoulders. If you don't chose it, it will be chosen for you.

Indeed, for me, one of the most threatening prospects can be to thrown into dependency on others by circumstances beyond my control.  But "freedom from interdependence" was never a fundamental right; it just looked that way for a couple decades.  

Third (returning to my 1997 proposals), I had suggested that some forms of restriction on minors-inappropriate Internet publication would be appropriate as long as it was allowed behind adult-verifications screens.  At the time I wrote the proposal, the Communications Decency Act was still before the Supreme Court (I even went to the oral arguments in March 1997).  At the time, I thought a verification provision would save things.  As we now know from the COPA litigation, this wasn’t feasible – although I think a content-labeling scheme could be developed.  

What has become apparent is that the ability of “average users” to post content on the Web without third-party screening and particularly (in most cases) without eventual third-party downstream liability, does expose the “public” to indirect risks – varying from piracy to cyberbullying – that may be hard to manage legally because of the way the Internet works.  I’ve been covering the debate over SOPA recently (and there’s another detailed story on the Business front page of the New York Times today, by Jenna Wortham and Somini Sengupta, link).    Wikipedia (as of this writing) plans a 24-hour blackout on Wednesday January 18, 2012, information here (the "Kids do your homework early!" tweet from Jimmy Wales here -- I hope civics and government teachers will take this up in high schools this week).  It seems that one could make the case that one should not be able to self-promote globally until one has taken responsibility for others and can “compete” and fit-in socially to provide for others. At least, that would be a potential argument from “social conservatives”.  But perhaps its self-serving, a way to keep old power structures intact. 

I also understand from YouTube that Reddit also plans a blackout. In fact, later information is that a number of sites will participate, for at least 12 hours Wednesday. Here is the story on Webpronews.  There is a site called "Sopastrike" that instructs individual webmasters how to participate, link here.  I do not intend to disable any of my own sites during this period.  As of late Monday night, there is no information from any of my own service providers that they will participate.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Obama administration opposes parts of SOPA, Protect-IP related to DNS; non-committal about other provisions that affect "amateurs"

Edward Wyatt has an important story in the Sunday Jan. 15, 2012 New York Times, “White House says it opposes parts of 2 antipiracy bills”, online link (paywall) here

The Obama administration is reported to be most concerned about any tricks played with the DNS system, causing registrars to unlink domain names from IP addresses, partly for security reasons.  It appears less concerned about the provisions concerning search engines, advertisers or paying entities.

The New York Times story has some language (perhaps imprecise) that is a bit alarming. It mentions “a measure that would force Internet service providers to block access to Web sites that offer or link to copyrighted material.”  Merely hyperlinking to infringing material from a blog or conventional web article would not trigger the law, as I understand it.  Then later it mentions provisions that prevent “American search engines like Google and Yahoo! from directing users to sites that allow for the distribution of stolen materials.” Again, in theory, it sounds as though a search engine could be prohibited from displaying a site, even an amateur one, that has inadvertently allowed subusers to post infringing materials.  This is what I have called the “Detention Problem”, following the model of punishing a whole class for the sins of one person.
It isn’t clear that would really happen to larger services (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.) but the language seems to allow it and it is indeed difficult to narrow the legal language with confidence.  This may be a case of trying to prove a negative (or, as mathematicians say, prove that something doesn’t exist, by contraposition), and presents a problem with all legislation of this nature.

In the worst case scenario (because “there exists a case where ….”), a service allowing me to publish (like Blogger) would have to review every posting I made to make sure it couldn’t infringe. Obviously, a service provider could no longer allow “amateurs” to self-publish on the Web in such a legal environment.  I would have to prove I could compete in the older “winner takes all” world.

Ironically, I’ve been planning recently to submit a novel and screenplay(s) to conventional agenting sources.  But I’ve been expecting to use my online presence (using the Web as it is now) as part of the strategy.

It's important to note that the government has some ability now to shut down sites selling counterfeit goods, under ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at the Department of Homeland Security (for example, the DHS press release from Nov. 2010 here).  I've actually known people who worked at Customs in I.T.    

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Conservative writers weigh in on whether IP is really "property" as libertarians understand it

Today, before boarding the Metro, I picked up a hard copy of the January 2012 “The American Conservative” and found an interesting perspective by Sheldon Richman on p 32, “Ideas”, called “Patent Nonsense: Intellectual property enforces a monopoly over the mind”.  The link will be available shortly from the “Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom” here.

Richman goes back to the simple argument that property rights (as libertarians understand them) make sense only for property that is naturally scarce and perhaps finite.  That reasoning sounds most applicable to real property.  (A lot on Mars has infinite cost because right now there is zero supply and zero access.)
For intellectual property, rights holders intentionally and artificially make the product “scare”. Richman makes the same arguments as Google counsel Patry in his recent book.

The most glaring problems from the viewpoint of bloggers concern republication (Fair Use).  But actually copyright can involve any copying, even for personal use, until there is a Fair Use exception. Therefore, Kinkos employees won’t Xerox photos or music for you.  Media companies sue P2P downloaders (although that practice has been changing recently) because they claim they have a right to be paid for the “copies” of music or movies, and to a reasonable extent they do. 

Today, in fact, I got around to seeing how I was going to listen to my old vinyl classical records (before the 1980s  -- even a few old 78s) with my receiver and home stereo, and only now came to realize I probably need an iPod (after all) and a digital USB turntable-tonearm (like an Ion).  The media companies don’t try to stop me from copying old phonograph records onto an iPod because they know they don’t have a reasonable hope of more sales.  But back in the 1960s they didn’t try to stop me and a friend from making backup reel-to-reel (later cassette) copies of records to prevent record wear (even from feathertracking arms and elliptical styli).  We bought so many original records anyway that they made out on us. Now, young composers say they don’t have room for CD collections, and do all their purchases on MP3’s, preferably for the MacIntosh (and iPod).  Collections become digital directories (MP3’s and PDF notes, backed up in the cloud – which the record companies want another cut of).

We all know from the DMCA that the media industry controls copying, even for home use, of DVD’s. BluRay’s typically come with an option to make a digital copy to iPod by a particular deadline date.  Sometimes they come with other  rewards, like free tickets to other “online events” (as with Josh Groban). 
Today, when I put on a Netflix rental DVD of Universal/Relativity’s hit “Bridesmaids”, I was greeted with a message that to see all the other extras, the customer has to purchase a DVD or BluRay. (At the end, the movie rental DVD brings up the extras, and then gives me that rude warning, whereupon the iMac DVD player crashes after "not permitted".)  I notice also that “Bridesmaids” is not available for instant play.  But Hollywood has provided a good job of providing whole extra documentary films with BluRay versions of bigger films (Columbia Pictures offers a 90-minute extra documentary on the actors who played in “The Social Network”, as if Jesse Eisenberg (and Arnie Hammer and Justin Timberlake ought to be compared to Mark Zuckerberg (and Sean Parker and the “Winklevi”) in biography as well as on “SNL”).  WB offers a long short on “lucid dreaming” narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and some animated shorts and 30 minute concert orchestral suite (by Hans Zimmer) with “Inception”.  The for-purchase, single-user BluRay’s do offer content not even available in theaters. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is SOPA really a front for oligopoly by legacy media companies

So, about 10 days before Congress returns, where are we with SOPA?

I still have the general impression that very little of this is really about saving jobs, even though I am aware of all the reported problems (such as the supposedly illegal pre-releases of some pirated DVD’s before independent films come out). 

Perhaps it does come down to wondering if there is a way to draw a clear boundary between a "Pirate Bay" and a publishing or streaming service with partial overseas operations that has some customers who sometimes do illegal things. And what's illegal sometimes is a matter of controversy. 

More of it seems to be about the legacy media’s desire to regain its own old monopoly (actually oligopoly). 
The established companies would still love to see the barriers to entry raised, the practical legal risks to smaller players great enough (even if the risks are answered “on paper”) so that less media is released and there is less pressure to accommodate consumers who may otherwise buy only in microamounts.  It seems to be about power and control. 

In our system, you don’t have a right to cut out competitor innovation that makes it cheaper for someone else to produce your product.  You do have a right to be compensated for your own work. 

Part of the concept of control is that in a normal property rights system, the property owner can define the uses others can make of his property.  As William Patry argued in his recent book, in modern societies, that right is mediated somewhat by the common good.  As libertarians argue, sometimes the “common good” is just a canard for the interests of a competing political power.   True.

Copyright is tricky, because, in part, it does take away the owner of the “intellectual property” to define what is fair and “incidental” use in the work of others.   So “Fair Use” by definition reduces some “control”.  All creativity ultimately involves some copying.  All the great composers knew that.


Update: Jan. 21

Bill Maher actually supported SOPA, in this YouTube video, although he admitted to not having read the bill, and seemed oblivious to the "downstream liability" concerns with regard to user-generated content. Maher says that his own film "Religulous" (2008) was pirated heavily.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Congressional candidates in both parties catch heat on SOPA/Protect-IP

The media is reporting that Congressional and Senate candidates in both parties are feeling the heat over opposition to SOPA and the slightly weaker Protect-IP.   Opposition is bi-partisan now and involving legislators who had been neutral or silent before.  Generally, conservatives may be opposing it more than liberals.

CNET, in a story by Declan McCullagh, reports on pressure against Wisconsin Republican Senator Rand Paul, who no likely would get an earful on it from his libertarian leaning dad Ron Paul, a candidate in the GOP primaries.   The story, about a “Reddit-based” attack on Paul, is (website url) here

The Democratic candidates are also awakening. In Virginia, candidate Karen Kwiatkowski (D), running against Bob Goodblatte, warns that SOPA will be a burden on small media business and will result in fewer blogs and services.  (Techdirt link)

In Tennessee, Independent Jack Arnold, running against Marsha Blackburn (R), writes this about SOPA (link) .   Arnold calls SOPA “typical lobbyist-written legislation”.

Note that TechDirt, on the same page above, reports that Righthaven has filed an emergency motion to keep its assets.

Apparently SOPA is creating controversy, maybe divisions, at the Las Vegas electronics show ("CES 2012"), according to a Jan. 12 Washington Post story by Cecilia Kang, here

Monday, January 09, 2012

Should government prevent publication of dangerous information when unclassified? What if bloggers have the info?

On Sunday, January 8, the New York Times ran a stinging editorial, “An Engineered Doomsday,” link here.   This refers to the engineering of an arbovirus / zoonosis H5N1 virus (easily transmissible from animals to humans and then to subsequent humans), when most H5N1 viruses today are not easy to transmit to subsequent people.  (I covered this before on the Issues blog Dec. 20, 2011.)

One can wonder why these experiments weren’t done under US or NATO military security under highest levels of classification, then the concerns over publication would be moot. But apparently they weren’t, and the government wants to throttle publication ex post facto.  Out of unusual concerns about the possibility of leaks, the liberal New York Times agrees.

Normally, a virus of this kind would be kept locked up under strictest security at Fort Detrick, in Frederick MD; but in fact that facility is far from perfect on security, as we know from the “Bruce Ivins” mess.
There is a legitimate need to keep some small minority of government materials away from the public.  High level security clearances are appropriately a major employment issue. Even so, overclassification has become a serious problem, diluting the credibility of the government’s need to keep some materials secret for legitimate national security reasons.

In any case, the NY Times boldly argues, regarding the proposal for some journals to publish the findings on the artificial H5N1 in redacted form, “we doubt that anything at all should be published, but it is clear that something will be.”

A much broader problem is that “amateurs” do publish material on the Internet that sometimes others can use for harmful purposes.  My mother used to call this “giving people ideas”, although I think most of the time the people know the ideas anyway.

It is possible for bloggers like myself to come across materials that probably should have been classified and that would be dangerous in the wrong hands.  This possibility complicates the arguments about whether bloggers should enjoy the same privilege of withholding sources as establishment reporters.

On at least three occasions, I have received unsolicited information by email that was credible and obviously sensitive.  On all three occasions, I have called law enforcement and refrained from publication.   One situation resulted in a 20-minute phone conversation with an FBI office in Philadelphia, back in 2005.   I simply regard this as part of the “See something, say something” advice from law enforcement, regarding materials that could point to possible terror attacks.

I was not so deferential with the YouTube video of Bradley Manning's Wikileaks tape of the Iraq friendly fire incident, which I did link to on my "disaster movies" blog April 7, 2010.