O Sweet Mr Math

wherein is detailed Matt's experiences as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. Right now, that means lots of thinking about math.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

5:07 PM

Woo! Indeed, woohoo! Bloggers (and file sharers) everywhere are celebrating yesterday's court ruling that Streamcast and Grokster are not liable for copyright infringement. Streamcast and Grokster are both companies producing file sharing programs. The MPAA and RIAA had sued both, claiming that they contributed to copyright infringement by allowing users to copy music and movie files. Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that they were not liable, comparing the technology to the VCR.

Other news:

  • A BBC editorial argues in favor of DRM technology and "a reasonable approach to laws". The author cites Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel (the basis of the Linux operating system), as not opposing DRM in Linux. Torvalds has previously indicated that unlike many other developers of open source software, his involvement is not politically motivated. Regardless, his voice still carries a lot of weight. The author of the article appears to have an incomplete understanding of the issues of copying technology, at least as I read it. In particular, he states that, "If I take the newly published William Gibson novel into my local Staples and ask them to photocopy it, they will take one look at the copyright notice and refuse my request." Is that actually true? I'm tempted to test it. Regardless, there's a difference between a Staples employee making a judgement about copying and software preventing copying that he doesn't recognize. (from Furdlog)

  • Slashdot has a story that raises a host of copyright issues. The story contributor has written several books that he has released under GPL-style licenses. Anyone may reprint the book, provided that they identify the author and include the license, so it is clear to anyone who purchases the book that they may also reprint it. Someone on eBay has been selling CD-ROMs which violate the license by not identifying the author and not including the license. The author is asking about the merits of using the DMCA to force eBay to identify the CD-ROM manufacturer. I believe the question indicates a misunderstanding of the DMCA. Under the DMCA, the author may contact eBay and request information on the seller, and eBay is compelled to provide it. Without the DMCA, the author could file a lawsuit, and if the judge believes the suit has merit, the judge can issue a subpeona to get the information from eBay. (If this interpretation is not correct, please let me know.) This distinction has been lost in many of the comments on Slashdot. This is also the issue in the Verizon case. In this particular case, the author has stated that he isn't interested in suing, which I think makes the question moot, but which I also think is a mistake. At the very least, he should bring the issue to the Free Software Foundation so that they can respond to it.


Friday, April 25, 2003

4:34 PM

Today's news:

Recent posts in other blogs:

That wraps it up for now. More actual thoughts later.


Thursday, April 24, 2003

6:47 PM

Does anyone else feel like there's so much going on that you can barely keep track of it all, let alone understand it? I have a pile of links that I've been sitting on. I've intended to include commentary on many of them, but the way things are going, I'm beginning to doubt I'll ever get to it. So here are the links I've collected.

I may have more to say on some of these eventually, but given that the oldest articles in this collection have been sitting around for a month, I decided I better get the links out first and the commentary later.


2:00 PM

Lawrence Lessig and Derek Slater have responded to my post last week about compulsory licenses. They both have thought provoking things to say and I want to respond to both of them.

I raised the question of what compulsory licensing is good for. Lessig's answer is that "new technologies for distributing content have created the need for a compulsory license." He provides a link to a PDF of two chapters from his book The Future of Ideas which discuss compulsory licensing in more detail. This is dense reading, but definitely worth the time. It covers a wide range of issues (I suspect that the book as a whole may have already said everything I have to say, and with better references) including a history of compulsory licenses, which is just what I was looking for.

As described on pages 8–10 of Lessig's PDF, one hundred years ago, the music industry consisted of sheet music publishers. Sheet music was protected by copyright, and the publishers produced music without fear that other publishers would start selling the same music. Around 1902, that changed. The invention of the player piano led to a million piano rolls being sold. Many of these piano rolls were performances of copyrighted sheet music. The Supreme Court held that the piano rolls were not a copy of the sheet music, and therefore were not infringing on the copyright of the sheet music publishers. The sheet music publishers turned to Congress, which in 1909 revised the copyright law and introduced compulsory licenses. Anyone could make a recording of an existing song, provided that they paid two cents per published copy to the copyright holder of the song. At the time, this mostly controlled piano rolls, but the law has extended intact to the present and controls CDs. Under this law, a band cannot prevent another band from recording a cover of a song, provided that the new band pays the compulsory licensing fee for publishing the recording.

There are some obvious parallels between this and the music industry's response to MP3s, but there are also some important differences. The first difference is that the courts had favored the piano roll manufacturers prior to the intervention of Congress, while the courts have favored the music industry with MP3s. The second is that relatively few companies produced piano rolls, and potentially every individual can distribute MP3s. I will discuss these further when I get to Derek's post.

The many citations in the PDF indicate that compulsory licenses have been discussed in great depth in the past, and we are merely continuing the discussion (and, I suspect, repeating what has already been said before). The other real benefit of Lessig's post is the reminder that there are a variety of possible compulsory licensing schemes, each with their own merits. I realized that in my initial response to von Lohmann's article, I was mixing my thoughts about compulsory licensing in general with my thoughts about his specific proposed mechanism. Lessig reminded me that these are two different questions, and whether compulsory licensing is a good solution should be addressed separately from which licensing approach would be best.

On to Derek's post. He says

Matt's right from a policy perspective that it is impractical to only focus on encouraging music production without looking at how the record companies will be affected. The record companies will fight back if they're losing out. But, I'm not sure how far we can take this line of reasoning. Right now, the debate centers too much around protecting the record companies and not enough around protecting music production and distribution.

I agree with that as far as it goes, but I don't think it goes far enough. What I want is an ideal world which makes optimal use of new technologies to maximize music creation and distribution. But what I want more is a way to get as close as we can to that, starting from where we are today. As far as I know, the music industry isn't participating in this discussion of compulsory licensing. This is where the difference between piano rolls and MP3s shows itself. I'm doubtful that we can change the law without the music industry on our side. So far, proponents of weak copyright haven't demonstrated that they can prevent bad laws from being passed, let alone get good laws passed. I think any discussion of compulsory licensing has to be made with an eye toward what the music industry will accept, because while theories about how to resolve this conflict are good, what matters is the practice.




What does "rolls a hoover" mean, anyway?

"Roll a hoover" was coined by Christopher Locke, aka RageBoy (not worksafe). He enumerated some Hooverian Principles, but that might not be too helpful. My interpretation is that rolling a hoover means doing something that you know is stupid without any clear sense of what the outcome will be, just to see what will happen. In my case, I quit my job in an uncertain economy to try to start a business. I'm still not sure how that will work out.

Why is the HTML for this page not valid?

BlogSpot adds the advertisement that appears at the top of this page. That advertisement is not valid HTML and is outside of my control. I believe that aside from that ad, this page is valid HTML.