Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to Make the Mobile Web Not Suck

Back when the Internet was primarily controlled by AOL, it sucked. (Yes, I know AOL didn't "own" the Internet, they were simply the biggest ISP). There was limited consumer choice and the playing field was tilted towards AOL's services.

Nowadays, AOL is barely still in business and the Internet is much more powerful than it used to be. It is an open playing field, which is why Net Neutrality is so important to keep that level playing field open.

The exact same thing is happening with the Internet on mobile devices (mainly cell phones), with the mobile carriers becoming the new AOL. An article over at Read/Write Web takes a look at the current situation.

The mobile carriers claim that they have invested billions in their networks and shouldn't be forced to "open them up", but their assertions entirely miss the mark.

They conveniently ignore the fact that both consumers and Internet companies are paying for bandwidth, which makes Ed Whitacre's comments about Internet companies using "his pipes for free" downright silly.

The carriers' claims that they need to recoup their investment in their networks is simply a diversion from the fact that they want to exert their dominance over the mobile web to extract extortion payments for Internet companies that wish to provide service to their customers on-the-go. They want to "double-dip" and charge for the same bandwidth twice, by forcing both the consumer and the Internet company to pay for the same bandwidth whilst the Internet company is already paying for bandwidth on their end.

The prices for mobile bandwidth are already so absurd that claiming they need more money to recoup their investments is downright silly. Perhaps if they can't make back their money by charging $30 for a measly 4MB of bandwidth per month (some of my emails are bigger than that!) they shouldn't be in the mobile Internet business?

Skype has filed a complaint with the FCC. Some excerpts from the linked article:

"Carriers are using their considerable influence over handset design and usage to maintain control over and limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing," Skype told the FCC.

In its filing, Skype said carriers go to great lengths to keep cellphone users boxed in. "In an effort to prefer their own affiliated services and exclude rivals, carriers have disabled or crippled consumer-friendly features of mobile devices." Carriers deny Skype's charges.

Skype says these practices violate longstanding FCC rules that allow consumers to use any device to connect to the U.S. phone network. The only caveat: The device can't cause damage to the phone system.

...

"As soon as you launch [Skype], you immediately violate the terms of your (cellphone) service contract," says Chris Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs.
Verizon responded with a straw-man argument about the conflicting wireless standards (CDMA and GSM) that prevent the implementation of Skype's proposal. While that may prevent providing unlocked cell phones for multiple carriers, Verizon doesn't explain how these conflicting standards (which are also a pain for customers) prevent the implementation of fair consumer access to the mobile web. Working for a telecom myself, I know of absolutely no way the wireless standard a cellular network uses affects wireless network neutrality.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yahoo Aids Torture and then Condemns It

Yahoo has now decided to valiantly take on 2 roles, both an enabler of torture through their voluntary participation with the Chinese government in conducting a surveillance operation, and also being a vocal critic of the Chinese government's practices. Now I may be no expert in aiding the imprisonment and torture of Chinese dissidents, but to me these 2 roles seem somewhat contradictory.

Of course, once you realize that this condemnation of Chinese policies that Yahoo happily takes part in due to their selfish business interests (that take precedent over basic humanity) is merely PR speak to shift blame from one culpable party to another, it doesn't seem all that contradictory.

I wish Terry Semel and his crew would step off it at Yahoo. This press release is obvious BS to anyone with half a brain.

My Thoughts on Edwards@Google

I recently posted a video about Senator John Edwards speaking at Google. I'm just finally getting around to watching the video, and I'll admit that John Edwards is the candidate who's views are most closely aligned with mine.

He agrees with me that America should become more involved in the situation in Sudan. He agrees that the Internet needs to be protected so that it can continue to be used to level the political playing field and open up the government (the same thing is true in Canada as well).

You can tell he is left-wing but not a radical. Considering the damage Bush has done, perhaps it is time for a liberal?

Watching Eyes Search Being...Weird

The custom search engine I've integrated into this blog is acting up. It is pulling most of the content from my sidebars instead of the articles, which makes it practically useless. I'll try seeing if there is any way I can fix it, but for now, you may just want to avoid using it.

Stats Are Not Creative and Should Not Be Copyrightable or Protectable

It all started last year, when CDMsports.com sued Major League Baseball because MLB had threatened CDMsports.com for violating players' right-of-publicity by exploiting stats that belong to MLB. They argued that a players stats received more publicity than their faces, so their stats were protectable.

Of course, this position sports (pardon the pun) lots of First Amendment issues. CDMsports.com argued that newspapers regularly republished this information, and MLB (whom, like CDMsports.com, runs a fantasy-sports-league) was merely targeting a competitor.

CDMsports.com won the lawsuit, with Judge Mary Ann Medler ruling that the First Amendment trumps right-of-publicity laws. Predictably, MLB appealed the ruling, arguing that reprinting stats is the same as taking someone's picture and putting it on posters and coffee mugs.

There is a major problem with that argument. Everyone who would want to participate in a Fantasy Sports League already knows the names of the players, as Judge Morris Arnold points out. CDM has built their business not on using players as publicity, but on providing a valuable service based on public information.

FTC Begins Investigation Into Online Consolidation

The FTC has begun an investigation not only just into Google now, but into online consolidation as a whole. This is an excellent development, because it means that this is not merely the FTC deciding to regulate a single company, but taking a look at the industry as a whole.

 While the FTC investigation into Google is more extensive than the investigations into Microsoft and Yahoo, primarily due to privacy issues as well as antitrust ones, it is good to see that someone is seeing whether all this consolidation that is occurring is actually a good thing for the consumer.

Microsoft sure did get more than it bargained for when it complained about the Google deal to the government though!

Lawyer Hates Free Speech and Doesn't Know the Law

One of the great things about the Internet is the rise of the "prosumer", as pointed out in this video.

Information about products and services flows freely online. In the space of 10 minutes, you can post your thoughts on a product and it can be read by 10 thousand people. I think of this as word of mouth on steroids.

There has been a big backlash against this new form of information sharing. The latest is a lawsuit filed against a lawyer-ratings service. Essentially, some (most?) lawyers don't want to follow the path the rest of the world's industries have been taking (mostly by force of course), one of consumer empowerment.

The suit claims that Avvo's methods of ranking lawyers are deceptive, however, the suit is still an attack on Avvo's right of free speech. Avvo is not publishing false statements, and it explicitly states how it ranks lawyers. There has been no allegation of Avvo manually altering rankings to slander or defame lawyers.

Essentially, these lawyers want to shut down a data aggregation service because ignorant consumers work better in conjunction with their business model.

2 Monopolies Duke It Out

I generally root for the little guy in antitrust complaints (assuming their claims are valid of course), but I also enjoy watching two massive monopolies or near-monopolies duke it out over antitrust issues.

Google is now complaining because Microsoft is bundling Windows Search with their Windows product. Of course, Google fails to mention that Microsoft has been shipping a poorer, but still present version of Windows Search for years.

Antitrust law is intended to protect competition, not individual competitors! Microsoft is not bundling disparate products together here like they did with Internet Explorer and Windows in the late 90's. Windows has always had desktop search, they've merely improved it. Unlike web browsers, searching for files has always been an integral function of a desktop operating system and placing false limitations on the improvement of that function merely because Google decided to enter a market based almost entirely on the weakness of a core Windows function is absurd. This is about as stupid as Anti-virus vendors getting mad because Microsoft is adding anti-virus functionality to Windows (something that is definitely much needed, not anti-competitive). Apple's Mac OS X has for over 2 years now included similar search functionality. And last but not least, Microsoft announced that search would be part of Vista before Google ever announced or released Google Desktop.

I run a Mac primarily, so this complaint seems exceptionally odd considering that the Mac version of Google Desktop not only runs side-by-side with Apple's Spotlight desktop search technology, but also utilizes it and adds value to it. Why can the Windows version of Google Desktop not do the same? Many people would still find value in the product if it added Gmail and Google Docs support over normal searching for instance, which is what it does on the Mac.

While I often root for the victims of monopoly abuse, I don't think this is the case here. It looks to me more like sour grapes and a diversion over the much more serious antitrust concern over Google's purchase of Doubleclick.

While that complaint is also being pursued by 2 massive corporations, both of which have colorful antitrust histories, the complaint seems much more valid to me than Google's concerns with Windows Desktop Search.

Unlike Desktop Search, ad networks are products that are paid for and serve a purpose. Google Desktop Search was merely produced to exploit a weakness in Windows XP, one that was fixed (not added) in Windows Vista. Google also has a massive footprint in the online advertising market, one that it expanded greatly when it acquired Doubleclick.

Personally, I think the government should continue keeping a close eye on Microsoft and begin to do so on Google. Both companies are big enough and powerful enough that they both warrant antitrust monitoring. Google trying to paint Microsoft with an antitrust brush, and vice versa, is laughable at best.

Hilarious Yet Insightful Article on Sicko and Movie Piracy

Link here

I note with some amusement that the reporters who are supposed to be bringing us the latest news are often desperately behind the times. I find it surprising that the old media still has so much trouble figuring out why there is a steady trickle of people switching from old media to new collaborative media.

Neat Futuristic Video on the New Media

Some of the predictions are pretty out there, but otherwise a very cool and well-done video.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Judge Forces Disclosure of National Security Letter Data

The FBI can currently compel production of information on American civilians through the use of a "National Security Letter". This allows the FBI to skip the judicial side of things such as a subpoena and go straight to the source with few protections.

Worse yet, recipients of a National Security Letter are placed under an immediate gag order. They are to absolutely not speak to anyone about the NSL, or even mention it exists. This means that a company that provides you services would be prohibited from telling you that your information is being produced. Further, due to the Patriot Act, NSL's can be issued for people who aren't even suspected of a crime!

The Justice Department originally noted in a report that there had been abuse of NSL's by the FBI. The Electronic Frontier Foundation then filed a Freedom of Information request for data to be turned over, which was ignored. The EFF then filed the lawsuit which led to this ruling.

The thought of multiple government agencies all spying on American citizens with no judicial oversight and seemingly unending immunity scares me. It'll be interesting to see what the full extent of these abuses was (and is) when the letters are made available.

Amended Complaint By Victims of Torture Against Yahoo!

I read the recent complaint in the litigation by Chinese victims of torture at the hands of the PRC government, and I think it provides a perfect example of the danger that vast amounts of mined data can cause when collected by companies like Google and Yahoo!

It's also particularly dangerous that China is using its control over its economy, and access thereto, to force foreign corporations to a level of conformity with their laws. By foreign corporations, I don't mean Yahoo! China, but Microsoft. Microsoft recently censored a blog hosted on the US version of MSN Spaces, on servers not inside of China, but instead the United States.

The complaint takes Yahoo!, Yahoo! China Holdings, and Alibaba (Yahoo's strategic business partner in China) to task over its voluntary level of complicity with the Chinese government and assets 12 causes of action against Yahoo:

  1. Torture
  2. Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment
  3. Arbitrary Arrest and Prolonged Detention
  4. Forced Labor
  5. Battery
  6. Assault
  7. False Imprisonment
  8. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
  9. Negligence
  10. Violation of the California Business & Professional Code
  11. Violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The complaint begins by detailing Yahoo's signing of the voluntary agreement with the government, and points out that numerous human rights groups at the time expressed concern over Yahoo's actions, saying it could eventually lead to precisely what happened in 2005 that this case is a result of.

They accuse Yahoo! of being complicit in their arrest, torture and other human rights abuses, and being directly responsible.

The first plaintiff, Wang Xiaoning, was arrested after Yahoo! notified authorities that he was "anonymously" sending out pro-democracy emails. His computers were then seized,and a month later he was "beaten and kicked". The prison guards encouraged other prisoners to use "psychological tactics" so that he would confess and receive "punishment for his writings". He was often not permitted to go outside, and he was kept inside so long he developed respiratory problems.

The court tried him on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2 additional years of political rights deprivation.

The Chinese court specifically mentioned Yahoo! as being "instrumental" in the arrest of Wang Xianong.

Wang was threatened that if he appealed the ruling, his privileges would be revoked. Wang appealed anyways, and lost on this appeal and on another appeal filed through his wife later.

"Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison... is a secretive, high-security forced labor prison where serious and "special control" prisoners are held... He is held in a cell with nine other inmates and subjected to malnourishment. ... deny Wang any access to recreation or even sunlight for weeks and even months at a time.... refused to allow Wang to see his mother before her death.... his wife allowed to see him at most for only one half hour per month.

The second plaintiff, Yu Ling, the wife of the first plaintiff, has experienced "continued police surveillance" and people coming to visit her are required to register their names, which caused her friends and family to no longer contact her.

Shi Tao is the third plaintiff, and he wrote numerous political commentaries calling for democratic reform". He leaked a government document detailing severe restrictions on media rights and government crackdowns for the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre through the use of a Yahoo! email account.

Yahoo! provided Chinese officials information linking Shi Tao to these so-called "crimes". He was kidnapped in the middle of the street, placed into a van with a hood over his head, and transported thousands of miles away.

Survivors of the prison he was held at describe being chained for weeks at a time, sometimes to a door plank. They were not allowed family visitors.

His attorney then had his credentials yanked by the Chinese Government, and subsequently was placed under house arrest. A lawyer was put in place for Shi Tao that entered a guilty plea on his behalf without permission.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a prison where inmates regularly work 16 hour days. Prisoners are often denied sleep and forced to work late into the night under bright lights... lights bright enough to sometimes cause blindness. Workshops are run by violent inmates whom intimidate the remaining prisoners.

After reading through this complaint, it makes me sick to think that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq allegedly in part to "promote freedom in Iraq", while US corporations are participating in atrocities committed over-seas.

Unfortunately, there is a chance that Yahoo! may be able to wiggle out of this due to some legal loop hole. Let's just hope that doesn't happen. Western corporations need to be held accountable for their actions overseas, of which Yahoo's are but 10 fish in an entire sea.

Good Ars Article on "War Czar" Crap

Link here.

Are Canadians Evil Pirates or Not, Make Up Your Mind

Michael Geist is reporting on his blog that the MPAA, in a confidential memo, named Canada as its fastest growing market, with far stronger growth than the United States. Canada increased the market by 23%, versus the US' 10%.

And this comes after all the brouhaha over camcording legislation because Canada was a "haven for pirates". There are 2 explanations for this:

  1. Hollywood's claims about movie piracy in Canada were greatly exaggerated
  2. The rampant piracy in Canada increases sales

While I do believe that in many cases piracy does help increase sales, I'm going to have to put my money on 1 for this one.

Patenting a Button

Once again, an example of a patent not advancing the arts and sciences, as they are supposed to.

eBay implemented a feature on their site, one I have used many times, called "Buy it Now". This, if enabled by a seller, allows you to do just what it says, skip the auction and buy it right away.

MercExchange filed a patent infringement lawsuit against eBay, and won that suit, although they failed to get an injunction against eBay.

I fail to see how something as simple as Buy it Now could be patented. That is patenting an idea, something that should not be happening under the law or common sense.

One....Two....No, a Hundred Special Interest Groups!

(Yes, my title is a hyperbole)

I've just read about yet another "Special Interest Group" set up by the RIAA and MPAA (and also backed by the Pharmaceutical Industry, amongst others) that want a new position in the executive branch of law, called an "Intellectual Property Czar"!

Do we really want all 3 branches of government mucking about with intellectual property? The Judicial system already is tasked with enforcing copyright laws, and the Legislative branch of government controls copyright law. Do we, as a people, really need the White House enforcing copyrights belonging to corporations. Isn't there more important things for the White House to be worried about......like that little war going on in Iraq and all.

I disagree with the broad expansion happening with copyright over the last 10 years at the hands of Congress (luckily, Canada has resisted following suit thus far, but with Canada passing into law the anti-camcording legislation, this may not last for long). I disagree that something that should be handled in civil courts more and more often lately is being handled in criminal courts. However, this takes it to a new extreme. This would be the President acting, through a secretary in his cabinet, on behalf of a few massive corporations instead of the people he or she represents.

Techdirt points out the downright inaccurate statements already being made by members of the group, such as:

"Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned. If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year. But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year."

Techdirt notes that even the content industry's own studies don't even claim the number is this high.

Let's hope this doesn't happen. I can't see good things coming of it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bancroft's Considering Selling to Murdoch

I was happy when I first heard that the Bancroft's had rejected News Corp's takeover bid. That happiness went away when I heard that the Bancroft's have now reconsidered, and are meeting with News Corp executives, including Murdoch.

The Bancroft's did however propose that they get to elect a "Journalistic Integrity Enforcement Board". It would be a board that Murdoch would have no power over, so it is doubtful this will be accepted by Murdoch (who is no fan of journalistic integrity).

It would be nice if the Bancroft's stuck to their guns and slowed down the growth of the FOX Expire. However, as always, the almighty dollar will win them over to News Corp's position.

Is Google Hostile to Privacy?

A good story about a recent allegation made against the search giant. I have commented on Google's policies before.

Google was recently rated as the worst offender of privacy on the Internet, with a "hostile to privacy" rating, as opposed to "severe threat to privacy". Before I continue, I must say that "severe threat to" and "hostile to" don't seem that much different to me.

Do I think that Google currently infringes on privacy? Yes. Their data collection and retention periods for their search services is too long I think. (As I've said before, if you are willing to sign up for Google's other services like Gmail, Google kind of has to collect your data). However, I don't think Google is doing this to intentionally violate our privacy. They are using it as an asset.

Which is perhaps worse. Google is going to continue amassing this data, unbeknownst to those who use its search engine. And third-parties are going to continually try to get access to that data, which is what is really scary.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Avoid Torrentspy

A Judge has ordered Torrentspy.com, one of the Internet's major Torrent Search sites, to begin monitoring and collecting data on its users and which torrents they are downloading. There are many other torrent sites on the Internet, and until something changes, I recommend people avoid Torrentspy.com.

John Edwards Speaks at Google

Haven't watched it yet myself, just found out that this video even existed. Perhaps I'll comment on it after watching it:

No Matter How Wronged You Feel, Act Civil, Or Else...

One of the Defendants in the many file sharing lawsuits filed by the RIAA has now settled with the music industry front-group after abusing the legal system and being sanctioned as a result.

Personally, I think the defendant in this case deserved for this to happen. While the RIAA was pursuing their claims, which in this case involved much stronger evidence than in most of their cases, the defendant filed a motion for sanctions, claiming they were being harassed. The Judge did issue sanctions, but against the defendant.

Luckily for everyone, this case settled, because you wouldn't want case-law over something as important as this litigation being influenced by a sanctioned lawyer who files motions in bad faith.

Also, no matter how right you feel, it is not a good idea to abuse the judicial system by filing frivolous motions. It wastes judicial time, taxpayers' dollars and gains you nothing in the end other than Judges overseeing your case that have no respect for you, so why do it?

Joost Considering Set-Top Box

Joost executives have hinted at releasing a set-top box for their service, dropping hints such as "we can port our software to anything".

This would finally present a formidable competitor to Cable Television once Joost has more quality content (and there is already plenty). As said in an earlier blog post, Joost's lack of a fixed amount of content in a certain timeframe will lower the barrier to entry when it comes to broadcasting to a wide audience. Other technologies such as podcasting will also form competition (but in my opinion this will be to a lesser extent, despite having a leg-up now over Joost due to a much earlier head-start).

In a world where information vital to democracy is primarily controlled by a few media conglomerates that often have ties to political figures, a new video broadcast technology that lowers the barriers is extremely important. With Joost, it would potentially be much cheaper to run for the White House due to not needing as much funding for air time, which would result in more and perhaps better qualified candidates opening up.

Also comes the news that Apple is adding Youtube support to their AppleTV iTunes companion, which not only lowers, but completely blows away the barrier to getting a message out if the AppleTV becomes popular (or until Youtube comes up with more similar partnerships, which is likely).

It would allow small groups without the funding of corporations to get a message out quickly and easily. Lobbying, which I personally have doubts about, would become less effective as messages spread quickly through an interactive TV replacement.

The distribution of information is vital to a democracy, and never before has a tool as powerful as the Internet been available. Let's hope companies like Google and Joost continue to harness that power and wrestle control away from the media conglomerates.

How Exactly is Google Book Search A Bad Thing?

I don't understand what the huge fuss over Google Book Search is really all about. I began thinking about this when a book company exec pulled a stupid prank.

Google Book Search is simply not going to harm publishers, and I think it's ludicrous that the publishers wasted their time filing a lawsuit over this. Unless a publisher gives Google explicit permission, Google will not show more than a line or two of the book. This is obviously free promotion, because people are going to discover the book and possibly purchase it since Google Book Search does not allow them to read it online!

So why exactly was Google sued again? Could it be because they have deep pockets and the Book Companies have decided to try their hand at extortion.

Perhaps I'm a pessimist, but that's what comes to my mind right away.

I'm not going to bother commenting on the linked prank, because it was a stupid thing for the exec to do. Unlike showing 2 lines out of a 1 inch thick book, stealing physical property that may contain proprietary data is a crime.

Wouldn't it be ironic if he had been charged with theft? Of course, I doubt Google would push for that because unlike many other people, including the book publishers, Google's execs have common sense.

Yet Another Blatant Abuse of the Patent System

Once again, the patent system is being blatantly abused. A company is now patenting security patches (which could hardly be called inventive or innovative, because if most of a software company's innovation occurs in security patches, they have a serious problem).

They want researchers to go to them, disclose the vulnerability and the patch, and then they'll patent it and extort money from security vendors.

Once again, the purpose of patents is to encourage innovation and invention. If this is permitted and fast-tracked as Intellectual Weapons, the aptly named company, hopes, then vendors may start to avoid shipping security patches to avoid paying royalties.

So now vendors may have to pay to maintain their own products. The patent system is in desperate need of an overhaul in the United States.

Qualcomm Gets What's Coming To It; Appeals to Bush

Qualcomm, an extremely strong supporter of the Patent System, has now got what's coming to it. A company that supports patents can no longer sell its products in the United States.

While I hate when patents blatantly interfere with the free market, such as in the instant case, it couldn't be more ironic that such a strong supporter of the patent system is the victim.

Qualcomm has now appealed to President Bush to veto the decision, and allow Qualcomm to continue selling its products in the United States. Hopefully Bush vetoes it, but not before Qualcomm loses some money over this dispute and changes its mind about patents.

Second Life Unable to Compel Arbitration

Second Life, the highly popular "virtual world", was recently rebuked by a Judge who refused to enforce an arbitration clause in the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement), saying that that the clause is unconscionable, and therefore unenforceable.

I think that many more terms in Licensing Agreements need to be shot down due to the fact that consumers have no bargaining power with the companies whatsoever. The terms in many licensing agreements restrict peoples' ability to criticize or write about the product without permission, which has absolutely nothing to do with copyright whatsoever.

I'm glad to see that courts are restricting the ability of companies to push unfair licensing terms onto ordinary consumers.

Entering an Agreement But Not Being Able to Read It?

An interesting story is over on Techdirt about Gateway asserting a customer is bound by an agreement he wasn't able to read, even if he had desperately wanted to.

Gateway is attempted to force a customer who couldn't get his broken PC (which wouldn't display anything on the monitor) to work into arbitration because the agreement between them (EULA) contained an arbitration clause. There's only one problem with that theory.

The monitor was broken! Like I said, the customer, wasn't even able to see the agreement! Thankfully, the court sided with the customer and ruled that the customer had compelling evidence proving he had never read the agreement.

This is just another case of a company attempting to stretch EULA's much farther than they legally should be "stretchable".

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Russia Becomes a Patent Troll

This just in! Patent trolling is no longer just restricted to leech companies who don't feel the need to contribute to the economy or society in any meaningful way. Now countries can play a part in this lucrative yet highly unethical market as well.

Russia is now demanding licensing fees for the manufacture and sale of AK-47 firearms.

Never mind the fact that the AK-47 has been around for over 60 years, whereas patent protection in most industrialized nations, including Russia if I'm not mistaken, is limited to 20 years. Also, let's just ignore the fact that it was the Soviet Union, not Russia, that invented this weapon, which would make Russia's claims against former SU member states ridiculous, and probably invalid.

Looks like extorting money when your cash situation is imploding isn't only limited to companies like the SCO Group and Silicon Graphics Inc anymore.

Side-note: I don't support the proliferation of weapons. I'm merely looking at this from an "Intellectual Property" point of view.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Google Being Investigated Over Privacy Concerns

Update: Blogger is being an absolute piece of junk....pieces of this story have gone missing, so parts of it may look rushed. It's because they are.

I've got numerous stories saved in my Google Reader account (oh the irony) regarding pending investigations in the EU regarding Google and privacy concerns. Stories here, here, here and here.

Essentially, the concerns boil down to the EU being concerned about Google retaining search data targeted to specific IP addresses (or users if you use a Google account) for 2 years (the former policy was to retain targeted information indefinitely).

Google's responses to these concerns are unavailing in my opinion.

Their first reason for retaining data is that it improves Google products, and 2 examples are given (monitoring whether the best result that is clicked on most is number 1 in the search results and also monitoring spelling errors to improve Google's spellchecking feature). Neither of these examples require storing IP addresses for any length of time. For both examples, Google could easily use anonymous data to improve their search engine.

The second reason given is that IP addresses are needed to improve security. However (and correct me if I'm wrong) I see no reason that 6 months worth of targeted data would not suffice. If someone is exploiting flaws in Google's services, engaging in click fraud or other forms of attacks, 6 months of data would more than suffice to detect abuse. Working for a technology company myself, most abuse in my experience is detected using current or very recent data, not data that has languished on a server for 2 years.

The third reason is that Google wants to ensure compliance with future laws that have not yet been implemented, and for which compliance is not yet necessary. This excuse is ridiculous and falls flat on its face. Google is under no obligation whatsoever to comply with laws that might be passed in the future. If those laws are passed, it would be perfectly suitable (and necessary) for Google to comply with those laws when they are passed. I personally don't go out of my way to comply with laws that have yet to be passed, and I see no reason for Google to be doing so.

I personally use Google's non-search services such as Blogger (obviously), Gmail and Google Calendar. I went out of my way to make an account and was forced to read through a privacy policy before making use of these services. With this in mind, I think it is perfectly acceptable for Google to hoard my data (they kind of have to in order to provide e-mail services).

However, Google Search does not require you to read a privacy policy. There is little to no indication whatsoever that Google is retaining any data. I, using Google's other services, consented to have my data stored on Google's servers. Regular Google search users did not provide this consent, and I think it is unethical for Google to be hoarding this data for as long as they do.

Also, instead of making up flimsy excuses that don't withstand the powerful forces of common sense, Google should come right out and admit that this data is being retained in order to more accurately target ads to individual users to increase Google's bottom line.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Holy Crap!

Holy crap!

I thought I had seen stupid lawsuits before, but I was mistaken.

Michael Geist, whose blog I often link to, is apparently being sued for defamation on downright ridiculous grounds.

He is being sued for 2 reasons.

The first, a third-party comment that was left on his blog that he removed!

The second reason? You're not going to believe this....

He wrote about and linked to a website that linked to another website that allegedly posted defamatory statements about the Plaintiff, Wayne Crookes.

His last name is quite fitting. Let's hope sanctions are forthcoming for Mr. Crookes.

Once Again, Texas Tips the Table Towards IP Holders

A Texas Judge has dismissed counterclaims against the RIAA for Declaratory Judgment of Non infringement and Copyright Misuse, thus opening the floodgates in Texas for rampant abuse of the Judicial System by the RIAA.

The whole point of the Declaratory Judgment Act is to allow people accused of infringing on copyrights (or patents) to claim against the accuser in order to clear their name and, if they succeed, to recover attorney's fees for being wrongly accused, along with other potential damages.

The RIAA is well known for quickly dropping cases against defendants if they come to the conclusion that they don't have enough evidence to pursue their copyright infringement claims, leaving the former defendant with a mountain of legal bills. In response, defendants have been routinely bringing non-infringement counterclaims against the RIAA, which forces the RIAA to completely exonerate a Defendant if they wish to discontinue their legal action. Numerous judges in other districts of the United States have routinely refused to dismiss these counterclaims because doing so would undermine the fundamental purpose of the Declaratory Judgment Act. Texas, to my knowledge, is the only district that has now done so.

Now, the defendants in this case will have no recourse against flagrant abuse of the legal system by the RIAA. I hope this is appealed and the counterclaims are upheld.

Jack Thompson On Another Warpath

Oh great, here we go again. Jack Thompson has just set his legal sights on Microsoft this time over the pending Halo 3. The linked article contains the letter Thompson sent to Microsoft. From the article:

As you also know, Lee Boyd Malvo trained on Microsoft’s Halo to further enable him to become the remarkably efficient “DC Beltway Sniper.” That was reported by NBC News at the time and was noted in Malvo’s criminal trial.
This is downright ridiculous. Anyone, and I mean anyone, whom has ever both fired an actual gun and played a video game such as Halo knows that the experieces are wholly and completely different. To say otherwise simply shows your ignorance. I can snipe nazis with dead accuracy on Medal of Honor, but the few times I have tried to fire an actual gun, I'd be lucky to hit the broadside of a barn. To say that video games provide sufficient training on live firearms is ludiicrous.
Here’s the deal, Mr. Gates: Either Microsoft undertakes dramatic, real steps, through its marketing, wholesale, and retail operations to assure that Halo 3 is not sold, via the Internet and in stores, directly to anyone under 17, or I shall proceed to make sure that Microsoft is held to that standard by appropriate legal means. I have done that before successfully as to Best Buy, and I shall do so again as to Microsoft and all retailers of Halo 3.
Thompson really is the most ignorant "lawyer" I have ever had the pleasure of not meeting (thank god) in my life. He has no touch with reality whatsoever.
  1. To my knowledge, there has yet to be an online age verification system that actually works well enough to ensure Microsoft complies with Thompson's demands.
  2. Microsoft has no control over independant third-party retailers' practises in ensuring that M rated games are not sold to minors. If Wal-Mart, for instance, fails to adequately prevent the game from being purchased by minors, this is Wal-Mart's fault, not Microsoft's.
Jack Thompson really needs to find a hobby and quit bothering other people.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How the Internet Helps Breed Participation in Democracy

There's a neat new site called Change.org. (Overview from Techcrunch).

As I understand it from looking at the site myself, and from the Techcrunch article, it is essentially a social networking site with some unique features.

It is meant to be used to participate in groups, or "Changes", around political or similar causes. Much like Myspace and Facebook, users can post all sorts of material, such as pictures and video.

It goes even further than that though, in that it is now a platform for "citizen lobbying". While I personally have reservations about lobbying, I do see how it would be important for everyday people to take part in it instead of leaving corporations as the sole major lobbyists.

Lobbying has resulted in large corporations playing a larger role in our democracy than normal people, which is absurd. Democracy is supposed to be "for the people", not for the corporations. Change.org aims to change that (pardon the pun).

The site is now allowing members of "Changes" to pool money together to support a lobbying effort. This enables large groups of people to make large political donations and counteract the massive lobbying efforts of corporations. People who contribute money to "changes" will be able to vote on which charity or politician is best able to accomplish their goals, and then the money will be contributed to the top candidate(s), with a small 1% being retained by Change.org to sustain the website.

Members of a "Change" can also directly participate in lobbying on behalf of the change.

It is sites like this, as well as websites not necessarily dedicated to political commentary and participation (such as Youtube, Facebook and Myspace) that demonstrate how the Internet is wrenching control back from the rich and placing it in the hands of the people, where it belongs.

Women@Google: Hillary Clinton

I recently posted about an interview conducted at Google with Presidential Candidate John McCain. I was not aware of this, but apparently before speaking with John McCain, Google invited Hillary Clinton to speak at Google, a video of which is also available online. You may watch it below.



Also, a second interview done by Youtube with John McCain is available as well.



Enjoy!

Senate Judiciary Committee to Gonzales: Speak Up

The Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding that US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "quit stonewalling" and release information on the NSA spying scandal. Some highlights from the letter:

He then described how you, then Counsel to the President, and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card arrived at the hospital bedside of an extremely ill Attorney General Ashcroft and attempted to persuade him to certify the program. When you failed, because Mr. Ashcroft refused, Mr. Corney testified that the program was nonetheless certified over the objections of the Department of Justice. That apparently prompted a number of high-ranking Justice officials to consider resigning en masse.

This incident obviously raises very serious questions about your personal behavior and commitment to the rule of law. Mr. Corney's testimony also demonstrates vividly how essential it is that this Committee understands the legal underpinnings of the surveillance
program that was the subject of that incident, and how the legal justification evolved over time. The stonewalling by you and the Administration must end. The Committee on the Judiciary is charged with overseeing and legislating on constitutional protections, civil and criminal justice, civil liberties, and the Judiciary, all subjects that this matter impacts. We intend to do our job.
This letter contains some damning charges and accusations against Gonzales about his compliance with the law and his questionable conduct.

The letter then goes on to detail how the White House and Justice Department has rebuffed 8 requests for documents, referring to their answers as "misleading".

This part of the letter in particular jumped out at me:
This Administration has asserted that it established its program of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA because it deemed FISA's requirements to be incompatible with the needs of the intelligence community in fighting terrorism. You testified in January that the warrantless wiretapping program had been terminated and that henceforth surveillance would be conducted pursuant to authorization from the FISA Court. To consider any changes to FISA, it is critical that this Committee understand how the Department and the FISA Court have interpreted FISA and the perceived flaws that led the Administration to operate a warrantless surveillance program outside of FISA's provisions for over five years.

(emphasis added by myself)
So it appears to me here that the Administration itself, at least according to the Judiciary Committee's summary of the Executive's responses to requests for information, has admitted that the program was not authorized under any existing laws.

Most rational citizens would know that if you deem a law to be insufficient, you don't proceed to exceed the scope of the law and worry about getting around to actually fixing the law later. I'm predicting that many people in the White House and Justice Department will be in some hot water sooner or later, either under the current administration or the next one. Any punishment will be well-deserved and long overdue.

In further NSA Scandal related news, the House Intel Committee has announced plans to investigate the program. More coverage on this from Ars.

Geez, Canada Gets Blamed for Everything

Hmm, here's a new one. Apparently Canada is now a pedophile haven. I don't think this allegation even deserves commenting. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "Blame Canada". So, for your enjoyment, watch the video!


Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush Sticks Head in Sand, Defends Gonzales

President Bush is once again sticking his head into the sand, ignoring the facts and blindly supporting his lapdog erm... whoops, I mean Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, saying he has done nothing wrong despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Ignoring questionable hospital visits, the NSA spying debacle, the questionable firing of 8 federal prosecutors, amongst other things, Bush likens the push by democrats to hold a no-confidence vote to kick Gonzales out of office as "pure political theater". (Update: Me being a Canadian is shining through. Apparently this would be a simply symbolic vote. In Canada, a no-confidence vote is used to kick the PM out of office).

Bush is either incredibly stubborn or simply dumb as a door-knob, because to me this is the Democrats trying to uphold the constitution and the law.

I'm not sure why I'm even posting this though, it's not like Bush has any shred of credibility remaining at this point. He lies so often I doubt he even realizes he is doing it anymore.

Senators Demand Information on NSA Spying Scandal

Finally, someone is taking some serious action regarding the NSA spying scandal. As the EFF article points out, the major media outlets are finally beginning to see the corrupt Bush administration for what it really is, which is a good thing for everyone on this planet.

The Importance of Net Neutrality

Many people often hear the term "Net Neutrality", but most either don't know what it means or only have a vague concept of what it means.

Essentially, Network Neutrality means that everyone competes on an even playing field on the Internet, and that broadband providers cannot degrade your connection to certain services on the Internet, such as Google or Myspace. This post is going to focus on the video side of things, which encompasses sites like Youtube and Google Video, and also interactive services like Joost.

Media, both mass-media and independent, is undergoing one of the most significant revolutions ever right now. The technology that currently powers broadcast television is quite limited, in that there are a set number of channels and only 24 hours per-day on each channel. This obviously creates a situation where competition to get your programming onto these limited number of channels, each with a limited amount of time, has driven the price of producing and distributing video content through the roof.

The Internet is changing that. Youtube and Joost are both shining examples of the new media landscape.

Youtube, as everyone knows, is a user-driven video site. Anyone can post any video they please (provided it isn't pornographic or depict severe violence of course...or violate copyright) and it is almost instantly viewable by anyone in the world with access to the Internet.

Joost is slightly different than Youtube. It is almost like a cross between Youtube and traditional broadcast television. While it maintains a lot of the features of traditional broadcast (only partners can use it to distribute content, it has channels, shows are generally of normal and consistent length unlike with Youtube, etc), it sheds almost all of its limitations:

  1. It has a potentially infinite number of channels.
  2. All video on Joost is provided in an "on-demand" format, without the extra hassle and inconvenience of recording your shows.
  3. It is both free for end-users and uses P2P technology (in a legal way) to take the load off of content providers.
As a result of the above features, the barrier of entry to distribute your video content through a professional medium has been lowered significantly.

This is shown by the fact that National Geographic currently has 5 channels of its own on Joost for its content, an entire channel exists strictly for Indy-content, several channels exist for documentaries (most of which were not produced by the major names in the media landscape) and numerous other examples.

Finally, with services like Joost and Youtube, amongst others, everyone can now participate in the mainstream media in a way that was not possible a few short years ago.

Which brings us back to Network Neutrality. Many broadband providers provide television services that compete indirectly with services like Youtube, and directly with Joost. Since the broadband providers are both the "gatekeeper" to the Internet as well as television providers, they may wish to degrade their customers' access to these essential online video services.

This may not seem like such a threat (and it certainly wouldn't be up here in Canada where I have no less than 5 broadband providers to choose from where I currently live), but in many areas down in the United States, consumers have a single broadband provider to choose from.

Without Network Neutrality, if these providers cut off access to these essential services, or degrade them to an essentially unwatchable level, despite the fact that consumers are paying for broadband, the consumers lose all access to these new and innovative technologies. Should for-profit entities really have the power and ability to impede the democratization of mass media? I certainly don't think so.

Which is why you should support Network Neutrality today.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Gonzales Goes Off the Deep End

Update: Scratch what I said about software pirates going to jail for life, I and "Against Monopoly" were mistaken on this point, as a commentor on the linked article pointed out.

Whew, that was quite a while away from my Blog, considering I was making 6 posts a day not too long ago.

Well, it's official: US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is officially insane.

He now wants to make "attempted copyright infringement" a crime with jail time. This is stupid, onerous and unenforceable to such a degree that I would be laughing if this kind of stupid legislation wasn't such a threat.

He is calling for life imprisonment for using pirated software (in comparison, rape boasts a 7 year jail sentence, which seems fair because those poor multi-billion dollar software companies are more helpless than a woman being forced into sexual acts...), more wiretaps to aid piracy investigations and even for Homeland Security to get involved!

Could someone please explain to me why a government agency tasked mainly with preventing the United States from terrorist attacks should give 2 flying shits about copyright? Since when is a teenager sitting on his computer burning a copy of a DVD a threat to national security?

How exactly is "attempted copyright infringement" going to be defined? You either infringe a copyright or you don't. Unlike attempted murder, attempting to infringe a copyright has never been illegal. It only becomes illegal once you actually infringe the copyright. There's a good reason to punish people for attempting to murder someone, I can't think of one for copyright.

Also, how exactly would this even be enforced? Unless you are spying on people, which would involve the government breaking the law (although Bush wouldn't know the law if it bit him right in the ass), there is absolutely no way for anyone to be able to tell that you attempted to infringe a copyright.

Thank god this moron isn't likely to last much longer as Attorney General due to a whole range of other scandals he's been involved in. His hypocrisy sickens me. He blatantly tramples over citizens' rights by participating in the NSA wiretapping scandal, violating the constitution in the process, but sees the need to protect the recording industry from us evil pirates. How can he even look at himself in the mirror?

It's ironic that copyright, a law that was originally intended to help smaller creators protect their works against misappropriation by big printing houses is now being used to bludgeon individuals over the head by multi-billion dollar corporations. Perhaps businesses shouldn't draft their entire businesses on a law that is over a hundred years old and incredibly outdated....

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ugh...Work

I'm working for a prominent Canadian Telecommunications Company now (due to the whole wanting to remain anonymous thing, I won't mention which one).

I'm in training, and have been coming home completely exhausted each day (mentally, not physically). That's why my blog has been slightly dormant lately.

Anyways, I've been bookmarking a lot of stuff I want to comment on, so I'm going to start doing that in the next few days since I'm off work now.

I also plan to clean up my tags. Half of my tags have only a post or two under them, so I should probably just get rid of some of them.

Anyways, that's all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PBS on NSA Scandal

Just thought I would inform everyone (all 3 of you if I'm lucky :-P) that PBS Frontline is doing a story covering the NSA Spying Scandal. Could be good to watch! Too bad I don't have cable at the moment :-S

New House Bill Reaffirms FISA

A new bill in the House of Commons reaffirms FISA as the "exclusive means of electronic surveillance". Looks like Congress has no intention of granting Bush his proposed immunity for telecoms implicit in the NSA spying scandal. Good on them!

US Army Bans Youtube...Immediately Becomes Hypocrite

The US Army has banned the use of Youtube (along with many other sites such as MySpace), yet at almost the exact same time, announced that it has created its own channel on Youtube. They clearly don't want people to know how bad the Iraq war is really going, and are censoring it in the name of "security".

The Department of Defense has a growing concern regarding our unclassified DoD Internet, known as the NIPRNET. The Commander of DoD's Joint Task Force, Global Network Operations has noted a significant increase in the use of DoD network resources tied up by individuals visiting certain recreational Internet sites.

The sites blocked include Myspace, Youtube, MTV, Blackplanet , photobucket, live365, hi5.com, pandora.com, 1.fm, and other sites.
You'd think that the army would try to utilize Youtube, MySpace and other content and social networking sites to help the troops over there endure their extended stays. Youtube can be used for family videos, and MySpace and Flickr can be used for communication between a soldier and his/her family.

However, what is most ironic is that the US military has now launched its own Youtube channel!
Its 25 brief clips include footage of US soldiers firing at unseen snipers in Baghdad, handing out footballs to Iraqi children and rescuing an Iraqi family injured by an explosive device.
Of course you won't see them showing Small Business owners that have had their shops blown up, kids with missing limbs from US bombing of Baghdad, or anything that would portray the Iraq war in a bad light. Lord knows, now that Soldiers' abilities to present their views of the war is restricted, the Army, to avoid being biased, will cover the war objectively.

Oh, and pigs are going to fly as well.

Video on Internet Porn Stats

I came across this interesting video on porn stats. Not sure why I'm posted it, but it was very well presented.

Enjoy!


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Starting a new Job

Ugh, I have a bunch of "fun" stuff going on right now, including starting a new job. I'm thinking I should give the Blog a rest for a few days.

I also haven't come across much interesting lately. If I do though in the next few days, I'll post a link on my Blog and maybe comment briefly on it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Links for May 11, 2007

Motion Picture Academy Sues OscarWatch For Promoting The Oscars

Back in February, we were absolutely stunned at the Motion Picture Academy's rationale for taking down all online clips of the 2007 Oscars. The Academy actually claimed that pulling all the content offline would "whet people's appetite for next year's show." Yes, removing all that free advertising is supposed to make people more interested in watching next year's show.
Europe Says No Backsies On Patent Infringement Awards If Patent Is Later Rejected
It appears that there's a similar problem over in Europe, where the Court of Appeal has decided that even if a patent is later rejected by the European Patent Office fees paid for earlier infringement on that patent will remain in place. The ruling makes it clear that the court understood the two sides, but somehow decided that "certainty" was more important than "fairness" and "not having to pay for doing something that was perfectly legal."
My comment on this one: This decision makes absolutely no sense. It essentially rewards people who file and litigate over frivolous patents by allowing them to retain ill-gotten gains. I hope that this decision can be appealed even further.

If Resources Aren't Scarce, Why Do You Need A Market?
It's interesting to see folks who believe in free market economics struggle around the issue of intellectual property rights. You have those who recognize that economics still works without scarcity, and then you have those who insist the market breaks down when things are free and abundant.
Big Victory: House Affirms Limits on Warrantless Spying
Last night, the House passed legislation aimed at preventing illegal government spying. Attached as an amendment [PDF] to the intelligence budget authorization bill, the legislation reaffirms that the NSA's domestic surveillance program must comply with Congress' laws.

Fix DRM By Changing its Name?

If this blog goes dormant after this post, it's because I laughed so hard I passed out, hit my head on something during the fall and am laying in the hospital or worse, dead.

Of course I'm joking (I'm lazy and blog from my couch, not standing up), but not by much when I read an article on Ars which notes that HBO's CTO Bob Zitter thinks that DRM's biggest problem is the name (and not the fact that it strips away consumer rights of course).

His proposal? To change the name to Digital Consumer Enablement! The reason? It "would more accurately communicate the concept that DRM helps consumers enjoy content in ways previously not possible."

Talk about living in a separate reality. Consumers don't like DRM not because of its name, but because it places artificial restrictions on what they can do with the content they legally acquire, while doing absolutely nothing to prevent piracy.

Take music for instance. The vast majority of music is still sold in an unprotected format in the form of CDs, yet the RIAA sees the need to slap restrictive DRM on legal digital music downloads. Please explain to me the logic in that? People that want to place music onto P2P networks are simply going to rip the music from the unprotected CDs, while consumers that, for example, want to play their old iTunes purchases on their new Creative Zen they got for their birthday are unable to. This is proven by the fact that the vast majority of music that is sold with DRM restrictions online is still available in unprotected formats through P2P networks, most of which has likely been ripped from CDs. Removing DRM would increase digital sales, have no effect on the availability of pirated music and decrease customer dissatisfaction. The same can be said for movies, which, while sold in protected format on DVDs, are protected by CSS, something my Grandma could crack with relative ease using easily found software tools.

Now repeat after me Mr. Zitter, DRM doesn't enable anything for consumers. Media companies' overblown fears regarding piracy, which is going to happen with or without DRM, is disabling consumer options, and DRM merely re-enables some of those options while stripping consumers' other rights in the process.

Mr. Zitter mentions watching TV Shows on your iPod as something that DRM enables. If he would kindly pull his head out of the sand, he would realize that those very same TV shows are still available on most bittorrent tracker sites. Again, removing DRM would not affect the availability of pirated TV shows one iota, but would open up consumer options by, for instance, enabling iTunes TV show downloads to be played on iRivers, PSPs and other currently unsupported platforms.

I like Ars final statement in their article:

"no name change will be able to disguise the true intent of DRM: limiting our ability to consume content at the time, place, and on the device of our choosing. Change the name if you like, but the rotten smell won't go anywhere."

No. Apple et al Were Not Sued and Slashdot Sucks

Update: More from Ars.

Another day, another screwed up headline on Slashdot.

No lawsuit was filed. This was merely a publicity stunt by Media Rights Technologies (who doesn't deserve a link), and the only action taken were cease and desist letters that were sent but are simply not going to be enforced.

Shame on Forbes and their supposed "journalism" for being unable to tell the difference between a serious legal threat and a publicity stunt, and shame on the Slashdot editors for being too lazy to read the linked articles before accepting submissions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Stupid C|Net Article

Update: Fake Steve Jobs is calling "Why I Love Patents and Copyrights" extremely smart and Mr. Kanellos a "friggin genius". As always, the Fake Steve is good for a nice laugh.

Normally I try to be civil, but the title is seriously warranted in this case. Michael Kanellos has written an article for C|Net titled "Why I Love Patents and Copyrights". Frankly, the article is so poorly researched, ridiculous and biased that Kanellos should be embarrassed for having written it and C|Net should consider pulling it to save face. If I'm mistaken and it is meant to be satirical, C|Net should make it more obvious.

OK, with that in mind, I'll begin dissecting this article piece by piece.

I think patents, trademarks and copyrights are simply fantastic and a primary, necessary driver of the world economy. Without them, the rapid pace of technological innovation around the world would slow to a crawl.
First of all, software was not patentable until the 1980's in the United States. However, the industry wasn't at a stand-still until the 80's. For instance, consider that Unix began in 1969, and its open source offshoot BSD began in 1977. As for copyrights, the fact that entire operating systems are available under permissive licenses such as the BSD license, which essentially waive almost all of the exclusive rights under copyright law except for the right of attribution, disprove this quite easily. In-fact, proprietary Unix vendor USL (later Novell) found BSD so useful that they misappropriated source code from BSD while stripping attribution from the code, breaching the sole requirement of the license.

As for them being a driver of the world economy, tell that to the impoverished nations who can't receive certain medications for their dying people due to patent restrictions.
And frankly, without them, most open-source projects would rapidly wither away: without an intellectual property behemoth like Microsoft to fight, what would be the point?
Up until this point I respected the author's position, despite disagreeing with it. After reading this, I have to conclude the author is either trying to be funny (and doing a really bad job at it) or else is merely trolling for page hits. First of all, as I said before, BSD, an open source project, began in 1977. During that time, Microsoft was a small developer of developer tools and was relatively unheard of. At that point, Microsoft wasn't an operating system developer and owned next to no intellectual property. I could continue providing further examples but I don't want to embarrass Mr. Kanellos too much.
Think of Larry Page toiling away on the early PageRank patents.
The patents were drawn up later. Larry Page didn't start PageRank (the foundation of Google) with a plan of getting rich. Had Mr. Kanellos done his homework, he would know that Larry Page and Sergey Brin began PageRank as a thesis project with no plans to make money from it. In-fact, it wasn't until a couple of years later that they decided to commercialize it.
Nearly every so-called troll turned out to have a somewhat persuasive story. Intellectual Ventures, a patent firm started by former Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, was staffed with fairly renowned scientists who didn't fit the profile of people trying to make a quick buck in court.
First of all, while it is true that Intellectual Ventures is a patent firm, I'm not aware of it having filed any lawsuits against any company (leave a comment if I'm mistaken). Second of all, the fact that they don't seem to fit the profile of people trying to make a quick buck doesn't change the fact that they extort people and companies into investing in them in exchange for a covenant not to sue.

The next three examples Mr. Kanellos provides involve unnamed people and unnamed patents, so as much as I would love to refute them, I sort of can't (on the flip-side, these unnamed people and patents don't exactly bolster Mr. Kanellos' argument).
The difficulty in coming up with federal patent reform and the uncertainty surrounding how some recent Supreme Court decisions will play out show that striking a balance isn't easy.
The recent supreme court ruling you speak of, KSR vs. Teleflex, wasn't about "striking a balance", but was instead the Supreme Court ruling that the Federal Circuit was permitting abuse of the patent system by upholding obvious patents, sort of like the blatantly broad and obvious ones Verizon used to attempt to shut Vonage out of the market. Technological progress indeed...
But when you steal movies, you're also whittling down the royalty checks for some old lady who had to make out with William Shatner in a bit role on Star Trek.
Copyright infringement and theft are two entirely different things my friend. Not to say infringement isn't wrong, but theft is when you deprive someone of a physical object.

Anyways, my point in writing this article isn't to argue the flip-side, that patents and copyrights should be abolished, because I don't think they should. However, Mr. Kanellos distorts the issue. Most peoples' issues with copyrights and patents are not the fundamental ideas of them, but the onerous laws that are now in-place. For instance, I agree that copyright is necessary to provide an incentive for creating something, but please explain to me why copyrights should last until 70 years after the person receiving said incentive dies? The reason is greedy corporations want to continue turning a profit while locking up our culture for over a hundred years. Another example is the DMCA, which essentially stripped away all of the public's rights under copyright law and fair use.

Anyways, I still feel like crap today and this post is getting too long. Maybe I'll update it tomorrow or post another....

Links for May 10, 2007

MPAA Math: 40% Plus 70% Equals?

Ah, the MPAA and its ability to simply make up numbers continues. Last week, we noted that the MPAA was claiming that New York City was where 40% of camcorded movies came from, following earlier claims that 50% came from Canada. However, now that NYC has passed a law with tougher crimes for camcording (note this last passed just last week), apparently, the MPAA can now shift its numerical focus to Canada.
Uri Geller Not Just Taking Down Critical Videos, But Suing As Well
A follow up to yesterday's story about the EFF suing Uri Geller for abusing the DMCA to takedown a video critical of Geller by claiming it contained 3 seconds of footage that Geller owns the copyright to (out of a total run time of about 15 minutes). Turns out that the Geller's company had actually gone beyond simply sending a DMCA takedown notice to actually suing the person it believes made the critical film in the first place.
Senate Bill Aims to Save Music Webcasters
A Senate companion to the "Internet Radio Equality Act" has now been introduced and could help save music webcasting.
Vonage: we've got a workaround for Verizon patents
In the course of reporting its quarterly earnings today, Vonage let it be known that it was "weeks" away from deploying a workaround for two of the Verizon patents it was found to have infringed upon.
OECD The Latest To Show Lobbyists Exaggerate Losses Due To Piracy/Counterfeiting
Earlier this week we noted that the latest GAO report found that industry estimates of the impact of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy were greatly exaggerated, and now the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has come out with a similar report.

Astroturfing

There was a great piece on astroturfing on Ars a couple of days ago. Since Ars does such a great job explaining the problem, this post is instead going to focus on what I think should be done about it.

Phony consumer-advocacy/astroturf groups should be forced, when testifying in-front of Congress or any other governmental group, to specifically state any and all ties between them and any companies involved in the testimony. Failure to do so should result in stiff fines against both the company and the astroturfing group presenting the testimony, which would provide incentives for both the group and the company sponsoring the group to be forthcoming about their relationship.

I view undisclosed astroturfing as a threat to democracy, as companies are sponsoring groups to allegedly speak on behalf of the people in-front of government officials while not actually representing the interests of the people they are "representing", despite any image to the contrary. It enables companies to unfairly tilt the democratic process in their favour, to the detriment of citizens and consumers.

As Ars points out, the media has done a pathetic and dismal job at uncovering astroturf groups. The media is supposed to serve the people....perhaps it's time they start doing so.

Note: To clarify, I am not referring to groups like SavetheInternet that openly list their sponsors.

US IP Law Forced Down Everybody's Throats

From "Exporting I.P." by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:

Our recent free-trade agreement with South Korea is a good example. Most of the deal is concerned with lowering tariffs, opening markets to competition, and the like, but an important chunk has nothing to do with free trade at all. Instead, it requires South Korea to rewrite its rules on intellectual property, or I.P.—the rules that deal with patents, copyright, and so on. South Korea will now have to adopt the U.S. and E.U. definition of copyright—extending it to seventy years after the death of the author. South Korea will also have to change its rules on patents, and may have to change its national-health-care policy of reimbursing patients only for certain drugs. All these changes will give current patent and copyright holders stronger protection for longer.
In other words, the US is extorting its "trading partners" into tilting the playing field towards massive American technology, pharmaceutical and media companies. Without these onerous provisions, the US surely would not enter into the trade agreement with South Korea, which is why I call it extortion.

Let's be clear, these provisions do absolutely nothing to help the economies of America's "trading partners", as they extend the government sanctioned monopolies these major corporations enjoy inside the US abroad, harming or completely shutting down potential competitors in these other markets in the process. Furthermore, they harm the citizens of these other countries by, for example, restricting access to life saving medication that happens to be patented by an American corporation and raising the costs on local goods due to the need for patent licenses from American corporations, amongst other harmful effects. This is the reason why the US attaches these provisions to agreements that contain other clauses that help the economies of both America and its trading partners. If they were contained in stand-alone agreements, no country would be dumb enough to sign them.

It is unfortunate that US citizens have to suffer under America's broken patent system which long ago ceased to promote innovation and instead is now merely a vehicle for greed. What is most unfortunate, however, is that America's economic strength and domination of the collective global economy enables it to force the rest of the world to suffer as well. As James Surowiecki so aptly puts it in his piece:
Why does the U.S. insist on these rules? Quite simply, American drug, software, and media companies are furious about the pirating of their products, and are eager to extend the monopolies that their patents and copyrights confer. These companies are the main advocates for such rules, and the big winners. The losers are often the citizens in developing countries, who find themselves subject to a Draconian I.P. regime that reduces access to new technologies.
I probably sound like I'm all for the abolishment of "Intellectual Property" in its entirety, but that is not the case. What I am for is the establishment of a sane balance between the needs of inventors and the needs of citizens in developed and developing countries alike, and these trade agreements the US pushes on everyone doesn't come close to this balance.

More on Congress' Threats to Universities

As we all know, Congress has recently sent threatening letters to Colleges and Universities across the United States regarding their efforts to curb file sharing. I recently read another article on the issue.

From the article:

"Universities have a moral and legal obligation to ensure students do not use campus computers for illegal downloading," he continued. "These schools do not give away their intellectual property for free, and they should not expect musicians to do so."
Who said that the schools feel that musicians should give away their "intellectual property" for free? The issue is not what the schools thoughts on copyright is, but whether or not it is the schools' responsibility to proactively monitor their networks, at the cost of the taxpayers and students, on behalf of a multi-billion dollar industry without any financial contribution from them whatsoever. There is currently no law in the United States that I'm aware of that requires ISPs or Universities to monitor their networks to prevent infringement of copyrights by their users.

In-fact, hosting providers who not only provide the bandwidth but actually host infringing material on their servers for users to download are exempt from liability under the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, which places the onus on the copyright holders to monitor for infringement and request removal of infringing content. Why should Universities be the exception to this rule?

These Congressmen are essentially telling the Universities to go above and beyond what the law says they have to do, or else Congress will simply change the law to require them to do so. I notice that Congressman Smith (who is quoted above) doesn't actually point to any laws when he says that schools have a "legal obligation to ensure students do not use campus computers for illegal downloading".

However, what I find particularly outrageous is that Congress is specifically targeting copyright infringement on school networks on behalf of the multi-billion dollar recording industry. Where is the letters from Congress regarding child pornography, bullying and other much more dangerous (except to RIAA members) illegal activity on their networks?

One of the survey questions contained in the letter readers as follows:
"Beginning with the 2002-03 academic year and for each school year thereafter, please identify the number of student violations of your institution's acceptable use policies that involved illegal downloading, uploading, or file trafficking of copyrighted material. Please also note the number of works whose copyrights were infringed."
If the people that authored this survey actually understood the tech and how incredibly difficult it is to monitor network usage (which is why companies sell multi-million dollar solutions to do just that), they would have worded it as "known violations". Furthermore, considering many artists use P2P for promotional reasons and the fact that not all file sharing, even of music, infringes copyright (there is plenty of work available on P2P networks that is licensed under Creative Commons licenses, for instance), it is grossly unfair to expect the University to shoulder the job of determining this when the DMCA doesn't even expect this of hosting providers who may inadvertently host infringing materials themselves. Furthermore, since off-the-shelf products that enable Universities to monitor their networks range in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, why isn't Congress or the RIAA pledging financial support to enable the Universities to do what Congress wants them to do?

I'll post on this further as I hear more.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Random Links

I'm falling behind really bad here on the stories I want to blog about (hence the ugliness of my last post on Verizon)! I've got hundreds of stories to sift through in my Google Reader account, and I also have other things I need to get done today, so I'm just going to link to some stories that I find interesting and let others do the talking.

New Bill to give bloggers same shield law protection as journalists

The House of Representatives has amended the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 to include provisions to protect bloggers from being required to divulge their sources under certain situations in the same way as journalists.

Mooninites, meet the Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act

The Senate has introduced a bill intended to include harsher penalties for being involved in terrorist-like hoaxes. The problem, however, is that it seems to lack a point.

Warner Brothers Pulls Canadian Previews

A number of readers let us know that Reuters and others are reporting that Warner Brothers is canceling movie previews in Canadian theaters, starting with Oceans Thirteen.

Microsoft disputes attorney fees in Iowa, Wisconsin cases

Microsoft disputes attorney charges in Iowa and Wisconsin settlements, requests additional information on billing after suspicions of double-billing arise.

Can't Use The Name Of The Library Of Congress When Doing What It Should Be Doing

arper pointed out that Washington Watch could be a better way to follow and understand new legislative proposals than the Library of Congress' own THOMAS system. Apparently, the Library of Congress took offense at this and demanded that Harper stop using its name.

Old Media Declares War on New Media, Doesn’t Want You to Enjoy Tech on Your Terms

Shock: several “old media” companies—the likes of Time Warner, Viacom and News Corp.—now view “new media” companies like Google as direct threats to their livelihoods. In essence, “old media” wants you to stop having fun using the Internet

EFF to psychic: There will be a DMCA abuse suit in the near future

Psychic Uri Geller wasn't happy with criticism of his "powers" popping up on YouTube, so he filed a takedown notice. The problem was that he doesn't own the video, and the EFF has now filed a lawsuit against him for DMCA abuse.

Expect Privacy; Violate Free Speech Rights of Telcos?

Here's a new one: Verizon is now claiming that consumers have no reason to complain about Verizon's complicity in the NSA wiretapping scandal because Verizon has a first amendment right to provide customer information to the Bush Administration!

Excuse me for being skeptical, but there are plenty of laws and case-law Verizon is required to follow that trump their purported right to divulge customer information under the guise of free speech:

  1. one has a right of privacy for contents of telephone conversations, telegraph messages, or electronic data by wire. 18 USC § 2510 et seq
  2. one has a right of privacy for contents of radio messages. 47 USC §605
  3. Content of e-mail in public systems are confidential. 18 USC § 2702(a)
  4. the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment: Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis,J., dissenting).
  5. Finally, in 1967, the Court overturned its ruling in Olmstead and held that recording by police of conversation in public telephone booth was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, because the speaker had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the booth. Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 350 (1967).
Cited from "Privacy Law in the USA", Copyright 1997 Ronald B. Standler

That was from a single Google search. If I actually spent an hour or so doing more research I'm sure I could dig up some more information.

This follows the government intervening last week asking for the suit to be tossed because it could reveal state secrets. Here's a hint to the government, you already tried doing this same thing in the AT&T case, and it didn't fly.

I must admit though that this "Free Speech" angle was quite creative on the part of Verizon!

Update: On my first reading, I missed that Verizon is claiming that the Electronic Communications Protection Act is unconstitutional. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to comment on this too much, and leave it up to people who know what they are talking about.

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