Monday, July 30, 2012

Craigslist litigates against sites that provide more efficient access to its service; how is this copyright infringement?

Craigslist has, of course, attracted controversy over the past course of its “adult” business segment.  It’s also criticized for staying in the 1990s simple-HTML world.  If you go to the “” site directly, geolocation will usually prefix the name of the nearest large metro area to your connection.

Some programmers have tried creating mashups or layovers on top of Craigslist to make it easier to use.  For example, Eric DeMenthon developed an app that overlaid Craigslist apartment rental ads onto a map, and offered it “free”  (as a “public good”) on a site called “padmapper”.
Craigslist sued the programmer, claiming both trademark and copyright infringement, and piracy. 
All of this is covered in a New York Times bits blog entry by Nick Bolton, "Innovations snuffed out by Craigslist". 
Where is the legal violation?  First, sites like Padmapper (Bolton covers some others, too), don’t affect Craigslist’s servers.  And “information” on a site itself can’t be copyrighted; only the manner of presentation can be protected by copyright.  (A map is a different presentation than just a link list.) It’s hard to see how trademark enters into the picture at all, because this seems to have nothing to do with branding in the usual sense. (A site with a name similar to Craigslist could run into trademark issues.) Is there perhaps a “trade secrets” issue?  Some sort of customer confidentiality issue?  For example, an employee of a business normally can’t take business data (“facts”) with herself for personal use, and presumably neither may a customer.
The constructive solution would have been for Craigslist to enter into business arrangements with other programmers or companies interested in streamling the site’s look and performance.  Too bad that this didn’t happen.
A friend with a music background tweeted the story yesterday. The link is here
On Saturday, July 28, I posted a story about an important trademark dispute between the “Lost Dog CafĂ©” and “Lost Dog Coffee” on my Trademark Dilution blog (which see, navigate through Blogger Profile). 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Washington Post ombudsman comments on reporters resistance to pressure from sources; does this apply to bloggers?

Washington Post readers’ ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton has an opinion piece today, July 29, p. A15, “The tug of war over what’s ‘negotiable’”.  Online, the piece is titled “Insecure reporters need to stiffen their backbone”.  Maybe he meant the plural “backbones”.  He does mean bone, not a notochord. Reporters are nimble, not sessile like tunicates.  The link for his story is here
Apparently, the Texas Observer, which Pexton calls a “muckraking publication” caught a Post reporter allowing University of Texas officials to pre-clear stories written about them.  That behavior doesn’t comport with professional journalistic objectivity and integrity.  Social studies teachers should note the concept of “muckraking” now as they make their fall lesson plans.
The Texas Observer (in Austin) has a story by Daniel Mann concerning the incident, “Washington Post tightens ethics rules in response to Observer story”, regarding the earlier Observer story by Forrest Wilder, link here

It’s pretty obvious that the ethical considerations could apply to “muckraking” bloggers.  Already, the FTC requires bloggers to inform readers if they were paid directly or received gifts or review samples (like DVD’s) for what they write.  Already, I’ve received trivial requests from parties, such as to “Like” their entries on Facebook.  (“Likes” can convert to advertising income, sometimes, sad to say.)  I do inform readers when I have samples and I don’t let anyone influence what I write about them.  I try to keep the tone “kind and gentle” anyway. 

Only in two or three very unusual cases (over fifteen years) have I removed names of people from websites, where the circumstances were unusual enough and not likely to recur. 

And once in a while, I do discover an issue and draw attention to it, after it has been softpedaled or glossed over by major media.  This may have happened yesterday with a story that I wrote on my Trademark Dilution blog concerning the issue of restaurants wanting to monopolize their names across the country when they expand (possibly forcing other small businesses to change names, close, or become franchisees).  
Earlier this year I wrote a story about “intentional communities” after an unusual  (for me) experience with a personal visit; and this past week, I also wrote about a visit to a mountaintop removal mine.  I don’t let the parties affect what I say about them.
This issue, for bloggers, could expand even as photos of ordinary people become a more sensitive matter because of the rapid development of facial recognition technology.
Pexton’s article had another good vocabulary word for high school English teachers to note, “anodyne”.  Kids, there’s still a month of hot summer left.

Update: July 30.  CNN covered the issue today and said that candidates threaten to not give news organizations quotes unless they allow editing.  CNN says that most of Mitt Romney's quotes appear only on Fox, because other news organizations don't accept his demands.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My own experience from the distant past: communications with therapist are strictly private

There has been some scuttlebutt in the news recently as to whether psychiatrists  (university or private) should contact law enforcement when they suspect their patients will do something dangerous.  Of course, some of this came from the revelation that the Colorado suspect James Holmes had seen a therapist at the University of Colorado.

I won’t get into speculation about this specific story (a lot of facts, some under court protection, remain to come out), but I do remember being told by a private therapist in 1964 that the “doctor-patient privacy privilege” was absolute, no matter what fantasies the patient reveals.

That session of therapy had occurred on the backside of a period of inpatient therapy at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center during the latter part of 1962, after my “William and Mary expulsion”. I see that I discussed this episode here on Nov. 7, 2008.  The NIH inpatient therapy was not as protected, as it was used for “research” and could be shared with my parents, in family therapy and “family art therapy”, which my parents hated.  My own father wound up going to see a private therapist to find out how to deal with all this!
I will add a couple other things to the mix.  I think my difficulties would have been much less had the expulsion (discussed Nov. 28, 2006) not happened.  A roommate separation could and should have been arranged instead.   I have been impulsive in making decisions, however.  I started my first wage-paying job at age 20 at the National Bureau of Standards in a rheology lab in mid 1963, going to GWU at night. 
Nevertheless, in October, I dropped Organic Chemistry suddenly and changed majors to mathematics, after getting behind in lab after cutting my hand in an accident.  There were no second chances in those days.
Graduate school (at the University of Kansas) starting in 1966 did prove to be an academic challenge – the exams were “harder” as the solutions to exam problems were “harder to motivate” (as a contemporary friend put it). But I learned the ropes and got better at things, and finished my Masters in early 1968.  I remember that I stumbled in the Masters oral, and was asked to prove a bizarre theorem (one of Liouville’s) which has become controversial today with physicists. 

The Army would follow –  I grew up in an era of the draft and relative social duty – and of deferments.  I wound up duly sheltered from the risks of combat. 

But I do see my own “coming of age” as a precarious experience.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A note on errors from Blogger when editing posts: a practical workaround?

Recently, I’ve encountered some technical issues in making blog posts.  Sometimes, after adding a link, or adding a sentence at the end of a paragraph on a previous post, the Blogger software whitens the background to the end of the post, with unwanted sequences of XSW “span” couplets.  If I try to delete the “white background” in the HTML code, I sometimes get Btx errors and cannot continue to fix the post.  It seems corrupted and has to be redone.
I make most of my blog posts by typing and saving them in Microsoft Word 2011 in a Windows 7 Professional (converted from Windows Vista) environment.  The default font in my Word environment is Calibri, 11-point.  I do find that if I convert the entire post to Times New Roman (12 point), before pasting into the Blogger new posting window, I don’t encounter the problem.  Why?  Maybe just setting the font defines some value in memory (like moving “Spaces” to a field in COBOL). 

The resulting post looks a little more “spread out”, so the end result is a blog post with differing fonts, not “perfect world”, but it gets around the Btx errors, it seems.  

Update: July 29:

Maybe I spoke too soon. Today, I had a problem on another post even in Times New Roman when two paragraphs accidentally ran together when my finger slipped on the laptop touchpad. When I separated them, the second paragraph still got an unwanted white background from Blogger.  This time, I deleted and re-added the second paragraph, and the white background went away without going into HTML mode to hand edit, which can lead to the Btx errors (in my experience). 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Facebook's plans for facial recognition raise more "privacy questions"; also TOS and content

BBC has an important story on Facebook’s direction, particularly in facial recognition software, today (link).

One of the most important points is that a government could combine facial recognition with tags as a “honeypot” for itself, as it could walk through all images of a person that anyone had tagged.

Another is that faces of people at events, or particularly in discos or in politically important gatherings, might be recognized and become searchable whereas today, in practice, they probably aren’t.  Even with the capability to require permission for tagging, photography in public places could be a much more sensitive issue for people, seems to have become the case somewhat already since the latter part of 2011.

I guess it was a good idea to pass up on Facebook’s inflated IPO.  Earnings are said to be underwhelming on this “first midterm exam”.

John Sutter has an article for CNN, implying that while Facebook is strict on using one true identity, it is liberal on content itself, given its apparent permissiveness on fan pages for the Colorado “suspect”, story here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Government shows interest in prosecuting journalists (or bloggers) who publish leaked classified info; what about downstream liability?

In mid June, Washingtonian Magazine published a story indicating that the federal government (Obama administration) is becoming more diligent in tracking communications between reporters and government employees or contractors with classified information.  There are suggestions that journalists or reporters (maybe even “amateur” bloggers) who report classified information might be prosecuted or sued.

The “Capital Comment” story by Shane Harris appears June 14 here

Jamie Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times has a story July 11 about House Republicans pressuring the Justice Department, maybe with new enabling legislation, to prosecute reporters who intentionally publish classified information. The link is here

A disturbing question would be, what happens when other bloggers find the information and republish it.  Are there “Section 230” styled protections to protect service providers from possible legal liability?
Bloggers (as well as established reporters) might find themselves in possession of classified information deliberately passed to them without solicitation.  Then all the questions about journalistic shield come into play.

On the other hands, a different set of questions come into play when journalists learn of possible plans for criminal or even terrorist acts when they “connect the dots” among coincidental but relatable facts. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Internet Defense League" seeks supporters, sets up notification and networking applications

Electronic Frontier Foundation is inviting bloggers and webmasters to join the Internet Defense League.

There is code for a shield to post on "your" site or blog, and some javascript that will display notifications to visitors.

I just installed it at the top of my “” home page.  The shield works, the javascript does not right now generate any output.  I could try to install it as a free gadget on Blogger, but I have had some trouble with gadgets, particularly in Safari and with Kaspersky anti-virus.    The site also invites the webmaster to join CloudFare and use GitHub, with which I am not yet familiar.

The link for the code is here

Rainey Reitman has an article for Electronic Frontier Foundation, “A ‘Bat Signal’ for the Internet”, encouraging people to join a social circle of Internet defenders, using the side above and Reddit. It would be logical to use Facebook or Google+ for this purpose.  The EFF link is (website url) here.

The Reddit stream, “Fight for the Net” is here.

I’ll follow up on how the javascript module works.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A horrible event concerning my favorite media, in Colorado this morning

I heard about the incident at the Aurora, CO Batman midnight show this morning when I turned on ABC’s “Good Morning America” (yes, on an "idiot box").  Let me say, for the record, that last night I tweeted, whimsically, that it was 12.01 AM (EDT) and that I would not go to a screening party. It was time for bed.  The incident had not occurred and I had no idea that it would.

Yes, I do look forward to seeing Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” as soon as things settle down.  Nolan is one of my favorite directors, with “Inception”, “The Prestige”, and “Memento”.

Being a “media” person myself in retirement, I do worry about the “moral” implications.  Some of us live in a bit of a fantasy bubble, watching and reporting the actions of others – objectively to be sure – but not in full empathy with persons who face demands on them that we did not personally experience.  We live in an asymmetric world, where one aggrieved party, who sometimes feels exploited or that his “lifeforce” is undermined, can try to bring everyone else down. (Sometimes the party is a person, sometimes a radical group, religious or otherwise, sometimes a small country, like North Korea.)  I used to hear a lot of "pinko" rhetoric about “exploitation” from the radical left in the early 1970s, as I was coming of age myself as a young working adult.  I can remember clandestine meetings of the “People’s Party of New Jersey”, in a slummy, drafty Newark NJ rowhouse, where others complained that “salaried professionals” like me, supposedly the middle class, were part of the “problem”, not sharing the very personal land bodily sacrifices of the proletariat masses.  I was quite struck by this kind of Maoism, how preoccupied it was with some absolute kind of justice on a personal level, and by how such “justice” could never be implemented without an authoritarian system that by definition would become corrupt.  (That’s “The Revolution” of JJ Abrams, I fear.)  Freedom – even libertarianism – would eventually become the best antidote to corruption and exploitation, even if it allows individual people to “get out of things”. 

I recall another oddity in my life: back in 1976, my first "trick" (in NYC) ranted all evening about "the abuse of the media".  That still rings in my memories. 

As to the details of the event, some of it horrific, I have to leave the major media outlets to cover it today.

The first tweet that I saw this morning, by the way, was from Piers Morgan. The CNN interviewer wrote “Lunatics like this will always try and get guns. It should be 100,000 times harder than it is for them to do so.  That’s my point.”  And it sounds as though this psychopath mixed fiction and reality. The media now reports he wanted to "become" The Joker. 

The latest MSNBC story is here

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Oatmeal" fends off SLAPP suit with help from EFF; 4Chan picture gets fast food employee fired

Here’s a cute little story about supposed copyright infringement that swings both ways (pun intended).

Matthew Inman, creator of a humor and comics site called “The Oatmeal”, was served a letter by an attorney  (Charles Carreon) representing a site named “Funkyjunk), demanding $20000 for alleged defamation after Inman wrote a blog post saying that some of his comics had been copied and posted without permission.

Inman describes the letter (and rebuts it) in a more recent post here

Electronic Frontier Foundation has characterized the threatened litigation as an example of a “SLAPP” lawsuit, and now reports that the litigation was dropped, in this press release dated July 3, link

I’m not familiar with Funkyjunk, although, from appearances, it appears to deal with guitar music – distantly related to my own experience with piano (covered heavily on my “drama” blog).  I suppose I might encounter it gain in the normal course of things. Here is the link

Today EFF sent out an email asking members to support legislation in Congress to develop national standards to stop SLAPP lawsuits.

On the “online reputation” front, there is a story from Ohio that some Burger King employees were fired after a photo showing an employee with his feet in lettuce showed up on “4Chan”, with geolocation tags (despite anonymity), NBC News story here

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Without a stable public infrastructure, individualism, as we know it, is dead

Suppose one day, in fair weather and not during a brutal heat wave, all the power shuts out.  The first thing to do is make sure your car starts.  If it doesn’t and you didn’t leave the lights on, that’s big trouble. The same thing will have happened to your neighbors.

Or, imagine you are driving in a city’s trendy nightclub district, and suddenly all the lights go out, and your car dies.  And so does everyone else’s.  It’s “Pitch Black” (like the 2000 movie).

Of course, your cell phone won’t work.  In fact, if you have a laptop or iPad handy, it won’t boot up, either, even to work offline.

The grim reality would be that a major portion of the country has suffered an EMP attack from an electromagnetic pulse. A likely cause could be a high altitude nuclear weapon (with minimal actual blast), launched from an offshore missile by a terrorist, or possibly a rogue state (like North Korea or Iran).   Maybe this is the way an extraterrestrial alien invasion would start! In fact, conventional microwave-based military weapons than can do this exist and are in use by our Army in Afghanistan, and could disable whole cities or neighborhoods, should they fall into the wrong hands.  There’s a fictitious scene in the 2001 film “Oceans 11” where one is used in Las Vegas to enable a heist; and, no, the lights would not come back on as they do in the film.  (NBC's "The Revolution" this fall from J. J. Abrams gets it more or less right.)  The conservative newspaper “The Washington Times” has warned about these possibilities for a long time, and so has former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (Issues blog, Sunday July 15).

It’s also possible that a massive, very prolonged blackout could happen because of an unusually large “Class X” solar storm – a solar flare emitting a gigantic coronal mass ejection, such as what happened in 1859, before we had a power grid (the Carrington Event).  It’s unlikely that cars and consumer electronics themselves would be damaged (unless plugged in).  But – it’s at least possible.  And, it looks like we dodged a bullet late this Spring; the Earth had revolved out of the way of a major explosion just in time.

As Newt Gingrich pointed out recently, we cannot afford to “blow our infrastructure” just for short-term profit gains – something utility companies have been accused of since the widespread outages caused by the derecho.  We’re familiar with this sort of rhetoric already in the debate over nuclear power safety, and the horrors that happened in Japan in 2011.

There is a lot that can be done to “ground” properly major parts of the civilian power grid to protect it from EMP or solar storms.  But it looks like we haven’t even started doing it.  The Pentagon has indeed protected its own.

What about other modes of “The Purification”?  We could probably deflect most asteroids and comets, as long as we saw them in time.  (We could do better there.)  Remember the movies “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”?  We couldn’t do anything to stop the Yellowstone  (or Mono Lake) supervolcano from exploding, but that’s orders of magnitude less likely than a Carrington-style solar storm. A dangerous sword for the East Coast sits across the Atlantic in the Canary Islands in the Cumbre Vieja volcano which, if it erupted big-time, could cause an underwater landslide that could hurl a 300-foot tsunami to the US East Coast, with about eight hours’  notice for evacuation.  Maybe underwater engineering projects can be conceived to prevent this possibility.

When I was “coming of age” and a patient at the National Institutes of Health in 1962 for my fake “reparative therapy”, I learned about the October Cuban Missile Crisis when I went to GWU classes at night.  I knew about this, but it seemed as though the other patients and staff had no clue.  It struck me that a post-nuclear world, even if survivable, would make all of us into burdens.  It would not be worth living in.
And there is little doubt in my mind that the severity of recent extreme weather events (the tornadoes, derechoes, and wildfires) are related to human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.  We are starting to see exposure to uninsurable levels of risk from superstorms in areas that normally don’t see them.

That brings me to my own “Big Point”:  I do work “on my own”; I am “solo”, but my independence might be illusory, because it’s becoming increasingly apparent that my own capability to “succeed on my own” depends on an infrastructure which others “sacrifice” to maintain (I could not do a utility lineman’s job), and about which we are becoming increasingly (if understandably) careless.

I didn’t worry about this much in times past.  When I lived in a modern high rise in Minneapolis from 1997-2003 (The Churchill, downtown, on the Skyway), the power went out only once in six years.  I never gave severe storms a thought – and they are common in Minnesota in summer.  (Cable  and newer high speed Internet sometimes went out for a while simply because it needed to be maintained and was not as stable in those days.)  I did give terror a lot of thought after 9/11, simply because of what seemed to be the existential nature of the threat.

But, in other cities where I’ve lived – like Dallas and Minneapolis – power stability seemed not to be so much an issue.  The utilities’ systems are newer (I very nearly got IT employment with one in Dallas). Another reason was that most newer residential neighborhoods in heartland cities had few trees.  

On the other hand, when I lived in New York City, I endured a 24 hour blackout in 1977, and six weeks without telephone service that year after a NYTel facility fire.

I think when people buy property in the more distant suburbs or in rural areas, they expect more risk (than city people) and expect family and neighborhood “social capital” to tide people over in hard times.  They tend not to expect the absolute autonomy of single people in large cities or modern suburban centers.  There is not the expectation that you can leave “adaptive” concerns on the rest of the world and just stay in your own world. 

In fact, it strikes me, as I think back to my upbringing, that a lot of “moral training” was not simply about the narrow idea of personal responsibility as modern libertarians see it, it was about socialization and fitting in to the adaptive needs of a family and community.  Choice and responsibility weren’t seen as corollaries as they are today; they were seen as opposites (as with a curious script line in the latest “Spider-Man” movie).   A man protected women and children because that was his natural (or “God-assigned”) responsibility, not just because he made a choice to have children.

In my own life, “personal autonomy” became salvation.  I avoided many conventional relationships (most heterosexual courtship, after a brief period in the early 1970s) because I saw it as potentially humiliating.  My independence would, like a chess gambit, take on a moral double edge.  I could be wasteful in my use of resources as a singleton, but so could many families that escaped to the exurbs and endured long commutes.  I could avoid conventional (“soap opera”) jealousy and rivalry, but make other uncomfortable with the visible face of my fantasy world (an issue at William and Mary and NIH).   My writing, as I noted, could help “keep them honest” and counter corruption, but sometimes (as I noted yesterday) others would resent my visibility and confront me with questioning why I didn’t show more “compassion” for them and wasn’t more interested in being a personal role model for others anyway.

I do have a sense that “socialization” meant a positive expectation: that, despite my own “competitive” shortcomings (as a youngster), I would find satisfaction in a relationship with someone with needs visible in “my neighborhood”.  It was a demand for complementarity.  (Whether it needs to be heterosexual is another discussion.)  I certainly “walked away” and signed on to the idea of “being your own man” before expecting a “relationship” of any kind.  That’s also double edged:  self-definition outside of family can lead to more innovation (and jobs), but can make families and communities less cohesive and less able to sustain themselves or survive external calamities (or to survive the sacrifices that sometimes get demanded of people, as in war).  In more recent years, we’ve seen that socialization,  committed marriages and tight families are necessary not just for lineage, but for supporting the recent challenges of long lifetimes and (as Dr. Oz points out) enabling people to survive medical events in much better shape than before.  And now we see the idea that social structure is necessary to recover from public catastrophes that perhaps don’t have to happen.  I have always taken exception to such ideas (particularly the commitment that gets someone to “love you back” in case of hardship that could be caused by others). 

I do have a compound project to finish.  To be successful, and to get my screenplays and books into a successful commercial space, I need to travel (to get “data”) and then spend a lot of subsequent time at home holed up to “do the work”.  I cannot succeed if continually distracted by “adaptive” problems.  The infrastructure around me needs to stay up and work.  And, yes, I depend on other companies to provide reliable customer service.  I had to supply it myself when I was working in a conventional job before “retiring”, and now, I see the “customer service” issue from the other side – it’s essential for me (and anyone who works largely alone) to succeed.  I don’t have the economy of scale to survive destructive events.  And I don’t have the social support to survive any major medical challenges or to recover from destruction caused by others.  (I realize that I can, of course, cause my own undoing; that is true for anyone, always.)   Mishaps and failures that don’t have to happen can have real consequences, particularly in my age and circumstances. 

Infrastructure and global stability – these are all big time policy issues that go beyond usual libertarian thinking, and we must address them.  And some of them can indeed affect our own personal habits and even the execution of our own goals.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Publication" is a multi-faceted concept; self-publication generates new ethical and cultural questions

I thought I would review an important concept today – the way I view “publication”.

In the strictest sense of common libel law, “publication” usually means delivering a written or recorded communication (words,  images, voice) to at least one other competent person who can understand the message.  Related to libel, of course, is slander, simply a verbal message, usually spoken in person.  Both amount to “defamation”.  Both concepts can also relate also to “invasion of privacy” – communications about a person or party that cause some kind of difficulty, such as putting the person in a “false light”.

In practice, this narrow definition is important for users of social media, particularly as social media companies (most notably Facebook and Google+) both encourage users to develop “rings” of “friends”, with each ring (which an overlap and need not be concentric) allowed to see certain specific portions of content.
On Twitter, the same thing could be accomplished by disallowing and/or blocking followers. 

Really, the “rings of friends” concept  (could I call them "groups" or "fields") isn’t so different from what was common in the 1990s with listservers.  Another common practice was for organizations to offer their own VPN’s for users to communicate.  It’s really like thinking of web communication as being from “at work” and intended for specified, often commercial, audiences.

It’s possible to do some of this with older blogging platforms (Blogger and Wordpress) but such practice is relatively uncommon. 

In fact, with a flat conventional site, it is possible on Apache servers to block requests from known IP addresses (hackers or spammers).  It’s obscure, but there are some clues out there, for example by using “.htaccess”, as explained here, or with CFM here
I suspect that very few conventional webmasters would want to do this in practice.

Again, why is all of this important?  Because most online reputation experts recommend that anyone view what he or she posts as potentially public and for “everyone” (as Facebook used to call it) anyway, since it is so easy (and uncontrollable) for anyone to reproduce any digital communication (however restricted in the beginning) and redistribute it.  The “Dr. Phil” show has made this point time and time again.

Nevertheless, to someone who came into online publishing and blogging through the book “self-publishing” route, the concept of “open” (or “for everyone”) publication is critical.  When a book is published, an author has no moral or legal right to learn the identity of its readers (or purchasers).  On the other hand, in web publishing, particularly when ads are served, there is a counterculture of knowing what parties (at least by characteristics) are visiting your site. 

There is also another significant shift in how the “culture” of publishing is viewed.  Until the late 1990s at least, the “consciousness” of the publishing world was dominated by trade publishers.  Subsidy publishing has existed since the early 1970s (as with Exposition Press, for example, or Vantage), but it had always been very pricey.  Self-publishing through “desktop” technology came down in price in the 90s, although book manufacturers  (many of them in the South or in the Piedmont or Shenandoah Valley) varied wildly in cost then (as I found out).  “Print on demand” took off around 2000, with a variety of plans and royalty arrangements ranging from cooperative to true self-publishing.  Now in the book world authors often invest heavily in their own projects, just as writers and directors have always done in independent film. From a bottom line perspective, this makes sense for publication and distribution companies, but it can mean there is less oversight or editorial control over what “gets published” and that “getting published” doesn’t “mean” what it used to.  I can remember a telephone conversation about this with an editor from the “St. Croix Review” (Minnesota) in the mid 1990s.

It’s much easier today for anyone to reach an audience without going through the hoops set up by others.  This is true even in music (as with classical) as with books or periodicals (non-fiction and fiction both) and film. The “convenience” of this development is a major factor in the debate over downstream liability for service providers, as we saw with SOPA and PIPA last winter, have seen with state laws protecting minors more recently (and was possibly an issue with COPA), and we will surely see it again with more debates over Section 230, because it is so easy for users to abuse their “privileges” and engage in defamation or cyberbullying.  But really, the downstream liability issues could crop up for both “open” publication and for supposedly more restricted “friends lists”, which are in practice not very restrictive after all.

There is something new cropping up in our culture, however.  That is the notion that if you “draw attention to yourself”, as is so “easy” today online, “you” should be prepared to take care of or provide for others – almost as if you had your own children after all.  One of the allures of self-publishing as a “solo” or “singleton” is the opportunity to remain objective and stand aloof, viewing the practical world of others from a distance, or from “on high” (as with anyone purporting to have a “manifesto”).  In a real world, people (with real families, dependents and children, not always just by their own chosen actions) make real alliances and have to accept the goals of others as their own and be prepared to sell or even hucksterize them.  The “purpose” or “intent” of the writer – the substance of the world that the writer really wants to see develop – become a concern of other stakeholders.  Personally, it becomes hard for me to “join in” the specific causes of others because they are limiting or may well turn out to be wrong or at least misplaced in emphasis. (Group volunteerism never seems particularly efficient in helping large numbers of truly needly; it does build up reserve social capital.)

One issue that I’ve entertained before is “conflict of interest”.  I have said that people whose jobs involve making decisions about others (for example, managers with direct reports) should generally not publish in “everyone mode” about anything  third party without supervision.  The “ring of friends” concept in social media may be a theoretical work-around (and in that sense Zuckerberg’s thinking is novel), but in practice may not make much difference. It’s all too easy for a manager to create a hostile workplace environment or a teacher to create classroom controversy with supposedly “restricted audience” comments on Facebook – and there are a lot of cases on record.  Maybe the overriding concept in the view of the Facebook world is that it is no longer possible to lead double lives, as I did when I wrote my first book.  

A world where "self-publication" happens only with finite whitelists would have to deal with another reality: no one can really "know" that many people well.  In fact, sometimes whitelisting is defended from the idea that you should work with "real people" in a real world before "being listened to."  I have a couple of "real world friends", both young, with thousands of Facebook friends from accomplishments and particularly drawn from current and past campus life. (It helps to go to big schools like Yale or Virginia Tech, it seems.)  One can make a case for saying that friend's rings should be restricted in number, to maybe 100.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Copyright troll attorney in P2P cases censured; Security vendor advises parents on on copyright and kids' computer use

In a copyright troll case dealing with illegal downloading, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order to censure copyright attorney Evan Stone, who had improperly subpoenaed identities of parties who had downloaded films from Mick Haig Productions.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story by Matt Zimmerman here.

Nevertheless, computer users should be mindful that most ISP’s are now monitoring them for illegal downloading, according to an agreement with music and film copyright owners, starting July 1.  This monitoring would seem to apply mainly to P2P activity.

On a positive side, I have noticed a gradual increase in availability of films for “legal’ rent on YouTube, mostly in the $1.99 to $3.99 range, with a few newer independent films for $6.99. 

Lynette Owens has an article on Trend Micro (a security vendor), “What to tell your kids about online piracy”, here

There is also a brief primer of copyright for kids here.

Picture:  note the feline atop the truck (Tidewater VA). 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dr. Oz suggests he won't operate on people who "stand alone"

Dr. Mehmet Oz, who used to appear on Oprah a lot, and who appears in ABC’s “NY Med” tonight, is also a heart surgeon, made an astonishing statement this evening on “World News Tonight”.

He said that he will not operate on a patient who cannot name at least one other person who loves him or her.  As Jonathan Rauch once wrote, singletons are “accidents waiting to happen”.

I wondered, is this a call for “soap opera style” jealousy?

It is certainly true that, today, a lot can be done medically for people at advanced ages, when in past generations, their passing would have been accepted without a lot of emotion as an inevitable part of the “tree of life”.

I “celebrate” my 69th birthday today. I’ve gotten through life with only one major surgery, that resulting from a freak accident (at age 54).  I would be hard pressed to face Oz’s question, and would wonder, if faced by something major, if it was someone else’s turn.  It’s hard, in the grand scheme of things, to justify challenging life extensions surgeries at advanced age, particularly if one is “funtionable”.

My mother got a triple coronary bypass at age 85, in 1999.  I was shocked that the operation could even be done at that age.  She did well on it and lived to be 97, passing away in 2010, although there was a painful decline for about the last three years.  (The median survival at her age would have been less than 7 years.)  I remained in Minnesota, and (because of a complicated potential "conflict of interest" over my first DADT book) could not have moved back without sacrificing my job (although the market in 1999 was pretty good closer to “home”).  However, Oz’s comment suggests that had he been her surgeon, he might not have been willing to do it if I didn’t move back.

In a technologically more advanced society, many of us are “independent” and emotionally aloof, even from family, particularly if never married.  We’ve evolved a society where people have a great deal of autonomy, enabled by technology; but some of us resist crossing an invisible line in making and keeping emotional attachments, even if we can take care of ourselves as long as “nothing goes wrong.”  With all that is happening, I wonder if we can sustain this. 

It seems as if holding off to find "perfect people" who are "worthy" of intimate attention, is a modern luxury we can no longer afford.  

Monday, July 09, 2012

Congress mulls normalizing sales taxes on all Internet commerce

According to a story today in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, Congress is considering a bill making sales taxes for Internet purchases standard regardless of where the goods or services originate. I guess this would come under Congress's powers under the Commerce clause. 

Many states are passing laws requiring online suppliers to charge sales taxes and for residents, but generally these are constitutional only when the supplier has a physical presence in a particular state.

In some states with income taxes, taxpayers are supposed to declare online purchases, but almost none do.  I have not encountered this in Virginia when preparing my own taxes online with HRBlock.

When I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, I set up a formal proprietorship called “High Productivity Publishing” on Jan. 2, 1997, and did pay a visit to the sales tax office in Fairfax, VA.  But then I moved to Minneapolis in September and did not have to do the same thing in Minnesota. (The book was officially published on July 11, 1997, fifteen years ago).

Small businesses don't have the staff to implement complicated sales tax systems, but many (because the complexity of meeting privacy requirements) outsource all of their e-commerce to large service companies anyway.

See also an earlier story Nov. 10, 2011. 

The link for the news story is here

Friday, July 06, 2012

ISP's start monitoring agreement with media companies July 1; ordinary users could be watched now for copyright infringement

CNN has a story by Douglas Rushkoff about a new plan that goes into effect this month, called “the Center for Copyright Protection”, where ISP’s will monitor users for copyright infringement, mainly illegal downloads, proactively.

The technical details are in this article.

One problem could be secondary liability, where people allow neighbors to use their wireless connections, or don’t have (strong) passwords on their routers.

People are supposed to get successive warnings for violations.

A version of the “agreement” between ISP’s and the studios (at Public Intelligence) is here. 

Cnet has a story, saying the measures were to start July 1, and include progressive “mitigation measures” which can lead to account termination.  (This sounds like "progressive discipline" at work, leading to firing.) Conceivably, someone could be blocked from future Internet access, although that’s a bit unclear.  The CNET link is (website url) here

The mechanism is viewed as an alternative to SOPA. 

Google provided a link, headline for the CNN story today for account holders when signing in. 

CNET has a secondary link asking whether ordinary users have anything to fear.  It’s like an unclear chess position. 

While this has started, my own Comcast access has been down because of the DC area storm, and I have been getting by on wireless.   Service is supposed to be restored today. 

One concern could indeed be false accusations.  Would a user with a paying Netflix subscription or proof of legal consumption of media (even credit card purchases or regular movie or other media event tickets) be in better stead?  Are users with no P2P software completely OK? "Is it safe?"

Thursday, July 05, 2012

ACLU comments on government subpoena on Twitter log of an Occupy protestor

Aden Fine has an important blog post (July 2) on the ACLU web site about a case in New York where a judge denied a motion to “quash” a subpoena to Twitter about an “Occupy Wall Street” protestor. The court order would have revealed not just the contents of his tweets (already available worldwide, at least in te past), but also the IP addresses and physical location (maybe) of the person when writing the tweets.

The blog posting is here

The government maintains that it (sometimes) needs such information to research significant intelligence leaks and possibly intervene in terror threats.

It’s all curious. I thought protestors “had nothing to hide.” 

As I've noted, the capability of websites to garner information from server logs about web visits can give them a lot of intelligence on the intentions of visitors, and has a bearing on the "do not track" debate. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Boson for every universe; but what about a "free Will agent"?

So, the boson postulated by Peter Higgs seems to exist, and may well have been the cinder that sparked the Big Bang.

The boson is said to be the particle that enables all the familiar macro charged and neutral particles of modern physics to have rest mass (usually).

A  different boson would generate a different universe with different physical constants. 

Appropriately structured, fundamental forces and energy give rise to matter and the physical world. Then elementary matter builds the chemical world, which in turn, when conditions are permissive, builds a biological world. And a biological world can then generate consciousness, and beings with fre will. 

Although entropy would demand that living things eventually age and die (and therefore must reproduce), it’s not clear that consciousness, or an agent of free will, can ever disappear.  Maybe it can re-emerge in another universe.  The point of biological systems is to slow down entropy, eventually by developing accountable sentience and intelligence. 

Some of this sounds a bit like Rosicrucianism, with which I experimented in the 1970s.

It’s appropriate that the currently strongest character in the soap “Days of our Lives” is named “Will”.  It was Peter Parker who said, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  But how about humility and compassion? 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What should happen with content when a blogger passes away or is "out of reach"?

One topic starting to be noticed is the maintenance or removal of digital property after someone’s passing.  The issues for email, social media accounts, blogs, and ordinary sites are all a little different, depending on the expectation of privacy and the service provider’s TOS policies. Providers regard blogs and social media as less private.  In many cases, estates have trouble accessing accounts. 

An article in Lawvibe does recommends setting up a digital executor, and most elderlaw attorneys now routinely put digital rights provisions in wills.  Another issue to consider is copyright and possibly trademark protections for the content if it has business value.

Another possibility is that a blog or site owner is incapacitated, as in a hospital, or out of reach because of prolonged overseas travel  (someday, maybe space travel), or even sequestered, as with some jury service or obviously military service.  I have not found any provisions that owners are expected to notify service providers or set up alternate contact points (which would mean finding third parties who agree to do so).  

Possibly a main reason is the considerable protections against downstream liability afforded by Section 230 and by DMCA Safe Harbor.  If these protections were to be weakened by future legislation or court action, such requirements could surface, and service provider estate policies might well become much more specific.
Although few Internet users realize it, most TOS or AUP policies say that the user will hold the provider harmless and indemnity the provider against unusual loss.  The indemnification clauses are very rarely used in practice; the main examples have occurred with deliberate, provable generation of spam or malware.

My own will does have digital rights clause and appointment of digital executor.

There is a coordinate post on the IT Job Market blog July 2. 

The Lawvibe reference is here.

Another newer source is “Digital Passing”, here.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Companies may think they need to track to meet government security requirements; new bill HR 1981 requires keeping of customer logs

Electronic Frontier Foundation has another important discussion of the purpose of “do not track”.
On June 28, the Senate Commerce Committee took up the top (particularly the browser flag), with a number of industry experts.  Bob Liodice, of the National Association of Advertisers, was an important speaker, and surprised everyone by admitting (or claiming) that sites need to track for “cybersecurity”.  That’s a distance from the more common argument that tracking and targeting ads are an essential basis for the Internet’s business model of encouraging free and user-generated content.

Rainey Reitman and Lee Tien (who was my advisor on the COPA trial) authored the article, here
Liodice’s remarks may sound more understandable because the government is always toying with eroding the “downstream liability” exemptions of service providers (essential to the Internet “as we know it”) by deputizing them as copyright police, and as an adjunct to intelligence or deep law enforcement operations.
There’s another alarming new bill on the horizon, H.R. 1981, the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011”, introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX), govtrack reference here

One of the troubling proposals here is that service providers would have to maintain a log of “temporarily assigned network addresses”, which could be used to identify people, although unreliably, as in intelligence investigations (particularly with respect to Wikileaks).  The process of expanding from IPv4 to v6 complicates the issue. 

Generally, when people visit any website or view any information, they don’t expect the publisher or distributor to record their consumption.  (You don’t want an author to know you bought his book, sometimes, and that is your right.  You don’t always want to make public what movies you saw, unless you have a movie review blog like mine (or Roger Ebert’s)).   Yet, webmasters have access to website log files that identify IP addresses, specific web site objects retrieved, search arguments used, and sometimes exit behaviors (and time of visit).  This was interesting to me (for “forensic” investigation of “what must have happened”) after an incident in 2005 regarding one of my sites when I was a substitute teacher.

Under HR 1981, my ISP probably would have been required to keep this log (for at least one year).