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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MPAA Pirates a Movie

The irony of this is so delicious that it makes my mouth water: The Los Angeles Times reports that the MPAA is accused of pirating a movie (pretty much by their own definition).
The MPAA admitted Monday that it had duplicated "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" without the filmmaker's permission after director Kirby Dick submitted his movie in November for an MPAA rating....

Scheduled to debut at the Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday night, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" examines what Dick believes are the MPAA's stricter standards for rating explicit depictions of sex than for gruesome violence. Dick also explores whether independent films are rated more harshly than studio films, whether scenes of gay sex are restricted more than scenes of straight sex, and why the 10 members of the MPAA's ratings board operate without any public accountability....

The standard the MPAA is using for itself appears to be at odds with what the organization sets out for others: "Manufacturing, selling, distributing or making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright owners is illegal," the MPAA's website says. "Movie pirates are thieves, plain and simple…. ALL forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences."
This sounds fairly likely to be a carefully-planned publicity stunt on the part of the filmmaker. I wish all publicity stunts were this funny.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Take action: demand network neutrality

A federal policy of network neutrality would prevent broadband service providers from determining which webpages and applications are delivered at top speed and which are stuck in the slow lane--or blocked completely.

Follow this link to a FreePress Action Alert. Also, call or write your congresspersons.

Additionally, I have written a policy paper in Ed Baker's class on this exact issue. It's still a rough draft, but if you're interested, email me.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Another story on Google v. DoJ, and nonmarket online actors

In my original post on Google v. DoJ, I'd intended to include a link to this NYT story as well as the two CNet pieces. Unfortunately, my standby source for such links--the NYT Link Generator--failed to produce a usable permalink. (Props to Nelson Pavlosky for telling me about this site, which is generally awesome.)

Here's the cool part of the story: at a quarter past noon, I emailed to note that the link didn't work--merely on the assumption that this would, maybe, help them improve their link generator.

Going above and beyond the call of duty, Aaron Swartz, who runs the site, emailed me with a live link back to the generator that, once clicked, produced a working permalink to the Times story. He did so by 9:30 tonight, a turnaround time that puts most email-based technical support services to shame. Mondo props to Swartz for the high-quality "customer" service, except that I've never paid a dime.

Why would someone create and service a valuable online tool for no compensation? (No ads on the site, either.) The NYT Link Generator is probably a better example than ShoutingLoudly, but why do I create online journalism for free when I could be mixing records or watching TV?

This question of nonmarket actors is a featured topic in Yochai Benkler's forthcoming book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Benkler's book, expected April 3 from Yale U Press, is getting stupendous reviews.

I have nothing to say on the subject that's not cliche, but even in the early draft of the intro that I managed to snag (I somehow suspect Benkler will forgive me for this), he sure does.

Illegally singing "Happy Birthday"

The Free Culture club at Franklin & Marshall college arranged a massive act of civil disobedience yesterday in honor of Ben Franklin's birth. Over a thousand people sang "Happy Birthday," which is still under copyright, without paying a dime.

That's right: singing "Happy Birthday" in public, without paying, is illegal. And some people think we don't need copyright reform?

Here's what the group had to say:
I’m glad to report that all went through without a hitch. The group made “I Sang to Ben” buttons that were handed out to protestors/singers and flyers explaining the Founders’ views on the proper role of copyright and patent law were distributed throughout the day.
Read about it and see pix here; sorry I can't link to a story-specific anchor. If it's no longer the top post, look for the Jan 19 story, "Singing a Success."

Happy Birthday indeed.

Google stiffarms DoJ data fishing

Props to Google for refusing to roll over and comply with a creepy Department of Justice subpoena demanding a sample of their search logs and a sample of their index of web pages.

In contrast, add MSN, Yahoo, and AOL to the ranks of the expeditiously obedient.

DoJ is seeking to defend the patently unconstitutional Child Online Protection Act. Search engines are convenient sources of massive amounts of data about online use patterns, so they went for the big targets. Read about it at CNet.

Should you, the average internet user, be worried? Here's CNet's answer:
Q: I used those search engines in June and July. Should I be worried about my privacy?
It depends. If you typed in search terms that you consider to be private or confidential, you should be concerned. Such terms might include personal information about you, such as your name or street address.

But what's important to note is that the Justice Department has not been asking for any information that would link those search terms to your identity. It hasn't requested Internet Protocol addresses.

So if you typed in search terms indicating that you, say, have a healthy interest in marijuana cultivation, the data turned over won't implicate you.
I'm strongly inclined to believe Google's associate general counsel, Nicole Wong. Google "is not a party to this lawsuit and (the government's) demand for information overreaches." Amen.

One more time: let's hear it for Alberto Gonzales' deep and abiding respect for the Constitution. (On a side note, that American Progress site is Google's first hit about AG the AG. This is a more valuable example of Googlebombing, made famous by the search for miserable failure.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Domestic spying: illegal AND ineffective

FBI to NSA: why are you dropping all this useless data in our laps?
"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."
Another juicy detail is that FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III contacted top admin officials to ask whether the whole program was even legal. He was {shock}deferred to Justice Department legal opinions{/shock}, which I'm sure were filled with {sincerity}the highest quality of legal reasoning{/sincerity}.

Story from the Times.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Law to End All Flame Wars

President Bush has signed into law legislation that makes it illegal to anonymously "annoy" people on the Internet. Yes, it is as vague as it sounds. If writing a satirical blog post under a pseudonym is considered "annoying," you could potentially go to prison for up to two years. We have our own Sen. Arlen Specter to thank in large part for this one.

DRM Hornswoggles Spielberg and British Film Academy

Here's a short piece at BoingBoing about how Spielberg's Munich probably won't be considered for the British Film Academy awards because the DVD sent out for review won't play on the award voters' DVD players.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Thank God for Elliot Spitzer

As I noted before, Steve Jobs' stubborn refusal to play ball put a cramp in major music labels' shortsighted attempts to jack up online pricing. Now, Elliot Spitzer (who's running for Governor of New York this year) appears to have called the labels on their anticompetitive behavior.

See the story on CNet. This has happened before. In 2000, 28 states went after the labels for working together to prop up CD prices.