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.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

2:53 PM

The RIAA announced its plans to sue file sharers with an ad in The New York Times. Tech Law Advisor has put up the text of the ad. I don't really want to get bogged down in the details of the ad, but I do want to call attention to some the RIAA's claims and respond to them. The ad states

Here are the facts: stealing music over the Internet is no different than shoplifting CDs out of a record store. It's wrong, and it's against the law. It's also a very public activity - meaning the offenders can easily be identified.

We'd much rather spend our time making music than dealing with legal issues. . . .

I've said it before, I'll say it again: copying music on the Internet is different than shoplifting. Shoplifting is larceny and copying music is copyright infringement. Not that I'm saying that copyright infringement is no big deal, but they don't help their case by claiming that it's the same thing.

As for it being public, years of research have gone into issues of anonymous communication on the Internet. Going after end users may work for a little while, but it's only a matter of time until truly anonymous services are developed. The most this campaign can achieve is delaying the inevitable.

Finally, I really don't believe that the RIAA would rather spend their time making music. The RIAA spends its time selling music, not making it. Yes, they have an interest in not letting people get music for free, but that's not so they can make new music, it's just so they can charge for the music. They are more than happy to charge the audience for the same music over and over if they can get away with it, which is why so many of the legal music download services are so terrible. They aren't designed to disseminate music, they're designed to charge for it. Maybe when the RIAA realizes that their customers want to acquire and listen to music and are willing to pay to do it, they'll focus more of their energy on helping their customers rather than hurting them.


1:20 PM

One of the features of the digital age is that anyone can copy nearly anything, anywhere, anytime. One of the major functions of copyright law is to restrict what kinds of copying are permissable. When copying required operating a printing press, enforcing laws against copying was manageable. Today in Japan, the ubiquity of phonecams makes nearly everyone into "digital shoplifters".

I would hazard a guess that few people have not killed a little time occasionally by reading magazines at the magazine rack without buying the magazine. It's probably morally wrong, but that doesn't stop people from doing it. Cell phones with built-in cameras lead to the next step, which is taking photos of pages from the magazine without paying for them.

Japanese bookstores are trying to fight the widespread practice with an information campaign, but the odds of success are limited. The BBC News article reports that "Japan's bookshop owners have already said their staff cannot tell the difference between customers taking pictures and those simply chatting on their phones."

I can't let it go unsaid that taking photos is copyright infringement, not shoplifting, but I'm perfectly willing to accept that photographs of magazines violate copyright and probably harm the publishers and the store owners. Then again, I'm not sure what the correct response is. A general ban on phonecams seems excessive, but anything less is likely to be ineffective. Copying has become so easy that restrictions on copying are nearly unenforceable. I think changing the law to reflect the current state of technology would be less painful than trying to restrain new technologies and enforce current laws, but I realize plenty of people disagree with me. (from Boing Boing)


Wednesday, July 02, 2003

2:53 PM

As you've probably noticed, I'm experimenting with a change in post style, resulting in lots of short posts rather than big posts which aggregate everything together. It's slowing me down, but I think it gives each item the attention it deserves. I'm not set on anything yet, so if you have preferences on how you'd like to read my blog, speak up.


2:45 PM

The EFF is mounting a defense of file sharing in response to the RIAA's plans to start suing users of file sharing for copyright infringement. They list actions they are taking on behalf of file sharing, musicians who are making money off of online music distribution, and payment mechanisms that could work on the Net. And, of course, they are asking for money. Next time you plan to buy a CD, consider whether you would rather give that money to an industry which wants to sue you or to an organization which wants to protect your rights. (from Boing Boing)


2:34 PM

Jonathan Zittrain has written "The Copyright Cage", an article at Legal Affairs which basically lays out exactly why I care about copyright. Copyright laws are crazy. They are Byzantine, they are unworkable, and by pretending that they work while repeatedly increasing their scope in defense of the the right of creators to make money, they are harming new creation. This has got to stop. Thankfully there are people like Zittrain who are will to stand up and say that.


1:45 PM

Some people may still doubt that Internet blocking is a bad idea. The Shifted Librarian has a proposal for you. In a nutshell, she's offering to filter your Internet access for you. If she filters something inappropriately, she'll remove the filter, just like the Supreme Court says libraries can do. She suspects you won't enjoy it. "So to reiterate, unless you're willing to turn over your internet access to me, don't try to force someone else's filter on me or anyone else. I triple-dog-dare any of the Supreme Court Justices to take me up on this offer, and then we'll see how they rule."


1:19 PM

TeleRead has a post about LockerGnome, which publishes ebooks without any DRM. Chris Pirillo, who runs LockerGnome, basically says that copies are free marketing and it's not worth the effort to go after the copiers, especially since the copiers are his customers. TeleRead concludes, "a lesson for major book publishers—and music and movie tycoons, too?" I think this is the way these things usually work. Independent companies try new ways of doing things and the major companies either figure out that the independent companies are right and imitate them or they get surpassed and the independent companies become the major companies. The real goal for the rest of us is to minimize the damage along the way.


Tuesday, July 01, 2003

5:28 PM

Derek Slater lays into moral rights. "I'm tired of the moral rights camp, but I'm also tired of arguing with them about their theories." Occasional frustration is justified, but I doubt it will win any arguments. I still feel like the way to go is to convince people that they have more to lose than they have to gain from overly powerful copyright laws, and right now copyright laws are way too powerful.

I have sympathy for the moral rights position. At the very least, I hope that if you're reading anything I've written on this blog, you know that I'm the author. But I'm not sure how far my moral rights should be translated into legal rights. I repeat and respond to the arguments of others when I'm blogging, and copyright could take that ability to express myself away from me. I'd much rather feel free to write what I want to write, which probably includes overly long quotes and unattributed statements that probably belong to someone else, than make sure that I get credit for everything I ever write whenever anyone else uses it.

There's a balance. If I found a website titled "Bob Rolls a Hoover" which repeated many of my posts verbatim, I'd be upset. But there are many websites which write about the same issues that I do, and I think that's a good thing. I'd even take it as a good sign if I encountered another website declaring that "I'm a fan of Beethoven's Third and weak copyright" as long as the rest of the website was created by the author and not mere copying.

Moral rights aren't a crackpot idea. But they do interact with other principles and rights in our society, and granting moral rights the force of law at the expense of other rights is inconsistent with our society's values and harmful to our culture.


4:48 PM

The RIAA's announcement that they will begin suing individual users of file sharing services for copyright infringement has not affected use of file sharing services. Of course, the RIAA hasn't actually started filing lawsuits yet. I would expect to see a more drastic reaction at that point. Developers of file sharing software have already begun modifying their software to obscure the identity of the users so the RIAA will be unable to pursue its lawsuits.


4:32 PM

Slate has an article about Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass, a Harry Potter knockoff. Slate uses the various derivative versions of Harry Potter to raise questions about the validity of extending copyright to derivative works. Slashdot is discussing the article.

Local versions of Harry Potter (such as Harry Potter in Calcutta) and derivative works like the Tanya Grotter series have been popping up all over Asia. International copyright law restricts derivative works to the copyright holder, so the only person in the world with the legal power to write Harry Potter books is J.K. Rowling. The economic justification for this is that if Rowling was not given exclusive rights, she would be unable to profit from her books and would be less likely to write them in the first place.

The Slate author challenges that, saying "One of the main justifications for a unified and strong global copyright system is that it is supposed to facilitate international trade. . . . But as trade economists will tell you, trade often works when countries imitate and improve the inventions of others." Allowing derivative works benefits everyone except for the original author, and derivative works are a function of the success of the original, meaning the author has already earned the success he or she deserves.

The Slate piece goes on to challenge moral rights arguments, stating "what makes authors angry is precisely what they are least likely to write, and therefore often what copyright needs to permit." There's an assumption here that versions which challenge the original are a good thing, which most authors would likely disagree with but which may benefit society as a whole.

There are some unresolved questions raised by the Slate article, including how different something has to be to be a derivative work instead of a copy, but its challenge of copyright restrictions on derivative works is definitely worth thinking about.


3:41 PM

Slashdot is asking for a replacement term for "intellectual property". The author of the post suggests "intellectual controls", which doesn't really grab me. I certainly respect that "intellectual property" is loaded with false significance, which is one reason why I try to avoid using it in my writing, but I'm not optimistic about finding a replacement term. Among other things, I resist any attempt to link copyright, trademark, and patent laws. The differences between them are as important as their similarities and any term encompassing them all will diminish their differences. The discussion doesn't really provide any better terms but it does include some good thoughts on the meaning and validity of "intellectual property".


3:08 PM

Miriam Rainsford, an author and musician, has written a petition opposing the RIAA's plans to start suing individual file sharers for copyright infringement. The petition states, in part, that "As musicians we recognise and defend the right of artists to be compensated for their work. However, these prosecutions are not helping musicians, or helping the industry create a better system of internet distribution." The petition has attracted the signatures of a variety of independent musicians, including Negativland and others.




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.