Saturday, July 23, 2005

AVOID Verizon Phone/DSL Service

Whatever you do, do NOT order phone service and/or DSL from Verizon--at least not in Philadelphia. Look for another phone company (see below). Verizon is atrocious.

Today, from 8-12, they were supposed to come fix my phone. It's been dead for over 2 weeks. This was the third repair appointment they've scheduled--and for the third straight time, they've no-showed. I wish this were a joke. I've spent 18 hours waiting at home for them and around 5 hours on the phone--burning up cell minutes, of course, because I DON'T HAVE A DIAL TONE AT MY HOUSE. I make $18/hour, so as far as I'm concerned they owe me $90 plus no charges for this month of (non) service.

They're not real good about keeping telephone appointments, either; yesterday, they were supposed to call me between 9 and 11 am. I called at 11:20, the supervisors' line was still busy, and they said a supervisor would definitely call me within the next two hours. I was busy at 1:20, but when I finally called back at about 4:00, I still waited on hold for a half hour before I could finally talk to a supervisor. This company is despicable (though the call center reps are polite), and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it. Here are my options:
Write or call their upper level management

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau

Order service from a different company--Cavtel does Philadelphia DSL and Philadelphia phone service.

Contact the press
This last option is tempting. My officemate's husband is a news producer at a major Philadelphia TV station, and I know at least one reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer who covers media issues.

The supervisor I spoke with yesterday has already given me 2 months' worth of credit, but at this rate, that will barely cover the time my service has been out. I have no idea how these people expect me to pay them another dollar.

I'm also a Verizon Wireless customer, and I'm already thinking about which cellular provider will get my business when that contract runs out next summer. (I have another motivation on this count: I just learned that VZ wireless busts unions and fires would-be unionizers.) I'm also going to contact my landlord and insist that they begin including information about other telephone companies for their new tenants.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Senate to Hold 2 Hearings on Grokster, Media Ratings

Next week, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold two hearings that only a true media policy wonk could endure--let alone look forward to.

The more visible of the two will come next Thursday; it considers the MGM v. Grokster decision. A lot of heavy hitters are saying that no legislation is necessary at the moment, but never underestimate the willingness of vested political actors to try to turn any upswing in media coverage into fresh, favorable legislation. (Not a lot of people are ecstatic about the decision, of course, so it's worth the effort.)

The more obscure hearing will consider S. 1372, the FAIR Ratings Act. I'm not sure why anybody has their panties up in a bunch over media ratings, and I don't know why somebody's sponsoring a bill to amp up oversight. (If it's in light of the racial politics of the Personal People Meter, the senators are seriously late to the party.) I'm sure the witnesses will be more than happy to tell us.

In the interest of full disclosure, I may only consider this newsworthy b/c I'm in the middle of congressional hearingland in my quest to write the perfect DMCA paper. Details forthcoming.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Excellent NYT Article on Framing

If you click here, you'll find a thought-provoking NYTimes Magazine article on the ascendence within progressive circles of the idea of framing. George Lakoff is leading the charge. The article is solid, not merely because it describes Lakoff's rise, but because it also asks whether his ascendence is just a passing fad and what, if anything, we've learned.

I saw him speak in St. Louis this May at the National Conference on Media Reform. It was one of the highlights of the conference--though, admittedly, it was definitely less fun than watching Al Franken crack jokes or FCC Commisioner Michael Copps wail on the harmonica.

I highly recommend Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant, a staff pick at Powells, though as the article rightly notes, it's not a cure-all for the Dems.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, every type of progressive (even policy wonks) must remember that framing is key to all policy debates, and the media policy debate is no different. Second, it serves as a bit of foreshadowing. I'm taking a class this fall with Klaus Krippendorff called "Social Constructions of Reality," and I think I'd like to do something around framing the media policy debate. We'll see what comes of it...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

DRM Advocate Hacks DRM

As explained here on Slashdot, Michael Gartenberg has helped disprove his own defense of Digital Rights Management (DRM).

One year ago (in response to Cory Doctorow), Gartenberg argued that DRM "can be good for business and acceptable to consumers." Last month, however, Gartenberg got sick of waiting for Microsoft to help him with his inability to use legally purchased, DRM-protected media products:

While I'm still waiting for MSFT support to help me get back into the content I purchased for MS Reader (so far two emails and a rather fun 45 minute session with MS Tech support by phone, which is totally clueless about Reader. I was sent to Office support, Windows Activation and even though I kept telling them that there's no product activation code for Windows, my words fell on deaf ears). I finally took matters into my own hands. With a little help from a lovely free program, I was able to take all my MSFT .lit files and convert them to unprotected .PDF files for Tablet viewing and Word files that converted easily to eReader format. Took about a minute for each book.
Of course, while Gartenberg may possibly be within his legal rights to do so (he may not be, too, depending upon whether the DRM in question is an access control or a use control technology), he knows full well that it's illegal for him to help others find the software to do the exact same thing:

UPDATE - As has been pointed out, the link itself might have been a violation so it's been taken down.
Gartenberg elides the fact that his ability to do so depends upon the willingness of generous coders who expose themselves to legal liability by developing and posting such helper programs in the first place. See 17 USC, Section 1201 for details.

Friday, July 15, 2005

F(orget) Verizon--and the Brand X Decision

So I'd really like to write a much longer blog post about the Supreme Court's Brand X decision, but I can't. That's too bad; the decision benefits odious cable monopolies like Comcast in their bid to squeeze out local broadband competition. Even worse, if Brand X gets implemented in the new telecomm bill (which should appear some time late this year or early next), then monopoly utility companies like Verizon will also be able to say, "My lines. Too bad for yoooou, competition!"

Why can't I write a longer blog post, you ask? My Verizon DSL service has been down at my house all week--my voice line for even longer. It must be some regional problem, because wait times with their support line are over 30 minutes.

Ironic, no?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Santorum: Unapologetic Hate Monger

I'm not usually one to use my blog for garden-variety partisan politicking, but this is too much fun to resist.

PA Senator Rick Santorum is still stubbornly refusing to apologize for his 2002 comments he made in Catholic Online in light of the clergy abuse scandal:
[W]hile it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
In fact, he's repeating his allegations that Boston's liberalism helped create an environment that led to Catholic priests' sexual abuse of children. Thankfully, this shameful liberal-bashing and utter ignorance is getting coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which had a story on how this is still pestering Santorum. At least one victim's group is outraged. At this rate, I'll be writing letters to Senator Bob Casey by early 2007.

Anyway, if you're still reading, here's a link from the Blue Mass Group discussing Santorum's motivations. Also, here is a riotous post on Fanatical Apathy, featuring an ironic guest blog entry by Santorum himself. Scroll down to the comments, and a PA teacher breaks down crime stats by state: Mass. does a LOT better than infamous red states. Also, here's a list of divorce rates by state, courtesy of Divorce Magazine. Of ten states with the lowest divorce rates, 8 went blue last year, and the 13 states with the highest rates ALL went red. (Credit for this link goes to JoinTheNoise in a comment on Bitch, Ph.D.)

By the way, in searching for this story, I found two interesting links: the blog Dump Santorum and the site Buy Blue, which helps you to know the political leanings of the companies you patronize. Scored according to their blueness, Apple gets a 99%, while MS gets a 43%. Why am I not surprised?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Less-than-Supreme Grokster Decision

I've been out of town in a serious way--a week in CO and 2 in CA--since my last post. It should be unsurprising, therefore, that I come back just in time to post an outdated commentary on the Grokster decision.

Much has already been said here. First and foremost, consider this Wall Street Journal Grokster roundtable. It features a useful array of insightful comments; the only person whose value to the discussion is, IMHO, questionable is Christopher S. Ruhland, former Senior Counsel at Disney. (The only truly objectionable comment is his quip that entertainment industries don't oppose innovation because they're gung-ho about digital cinema. This is a shorter version of the entertainment industry's collective lying about their history of litigating against technological innovation. Mostly, though, Ruhland just says very little.) The roundtable also features Ernest Miller who, as I've already mentioned, is the bomb.

While I'm giving props to Ernest, check out his post on Corante, "Kicking the Sony Can Down the Road". My favorite line is: "'Active inducement' is a pretty good test, and one that I'm not opposed to for secondary liability. However, the Court seems to have set a fairly low and confusing bar for finding the 'active' part of the inducement." He rightly expresses the concern that this will hit small start-ups far harder than Intel and Apple. Nonetheless, Miller argues that time is on our side--that the case has effectively been postponed and that new innovations will have been developed and standardized by the time the court actually revisits the Sony standard.

I also like Ed Felten's discussion of the impact of Grokster on technology design. Felten raises a very valid and all-too-likely worst-case scenario. "Legitimate technologists will still worry that a well-funded plaintiff can cook up a stew of product design second-guessing, business model second-guessing, and occasional failures of copyright compliance by low-level employees, into an active inducement case."

With true word economy, William Patry provides a damning critique. Most interestingly, he notes that Ginsburg's and Breyer's readings of the case, as expressed in their concurring opinions, each attracted only two additional justices. The remaining three stuck with the relatively weak official ruling. This, Patry argues, will undermine the "unanimous" Souter opinion and further muddy the already-unpredictable legal waters.

Patry is also the first blogger I've found who raises the concern that EFF and others noted in light of the proposed Induce Act: why not the iPod? Patry mentions the VCR instead, but the argument is the same: early advertisements advocate multiple uses, some legal and some not. "Recall Sony advertised that people could use it to copy their favorite movies, and we're talking here about librarying, not just time-shifting." In Apple's case, it's the "Rip-Mix-Burn" campaign which drew an indictment by Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Eisner claimed that the message induces customers to commit copyright infringement.

The court puts the next iPod in a precarious position. It says, on pp. 21-23 of the slip opinion, that Grokster and StreamCast made three main mistakes. First, they advertised to known copyright infringers--in this case, former Napster users. Second, they did not implement potential piracy-reducing technologies. (See footnote 12 for a bit of good news: this alone does not equal liability.) Third, they profited from infringement. The court makes it fairly clear that the first standard is the most important, but all three are rather frightening. Does "Rip-Mix-Burn" meet the first test? Does the decision to design iPods to play MP3 files meet the second? Does Apple's sale of iPods that carry more music than could reasonably be purchased meet the third test?

In short, why is Morpheus illegal and the iPod legal? I could come up with a number of legal doctrines that would make this delineation, but the unanimous court doesn't really try. Downright frightening.

I have tremendous concern for diminished innovation by small companies. I think Apple's lawyers are ready for this one. The RIAA won't sue over the iPod because it's already used by millions, but Apple, HP, and even Microsoft (oh, the irony) should be concerned that their next great digital media toy will be in danger. Yet they'll probably win--after a few million in legal bills. I'm worried about the lone inventor who has just barely patented her invention or the head of a small startup who doesn't have the money to defend his company's design choices.

This decision is nothing that either side can get too excited about; it's too vague for that. Each side's lawyers, however, should be very happy; the Supremes just gave them even more solid job security for the foreseeable future.