On pornography, known when it is seen

Utah’s governor has signed a porn filtering law saying that ISPs must block a list of pornographic sites on request. Looking briefly at the law, it states that the attorney general will determine what sites show content that is harmful to minors. The AG will then have those sites entered in a database. ISPs must then block or provide software that blocks these harmful sites on request. The bill makes content providers who traffic in content that might be harmful to minors criminally liable when minors gain access to that content if the content is not access restricted. “Access restricted” requires the rating of content plus the use of a credit card, “adult access code,” or “digital certificate verifying age.” (There was some language about “taking reasonable steps to ascertain” age, but that was struck out in favor of requiring the content provider to “determine” age.)
It also states that those who create or host content in Utah must rate their content.

There’s also some parts of the bill that I’m not clear on, expanding the (I assume current) Utah illegality of distributing pornographic material or inducing others to receive pornographic material.

-First, of course, there’s the ever nebulous “harmful to minors” standard. Noone agrees on what it is, and it varies by the minor. I guess it’s up to the attorney general. One size fits all.
-Blocking/filtering technologies (listed as software, DNS, IP blocking) always block more sites then they should. Previous laws similar to this one have resulted in the blocking of many non-“harmful” sites, and have therefore been found unconstitutional. I don’t see this law as terribly different. Sites beyond the database will be blocked.
-Certain provisions of the law appear to affect the world, not just Utah. Good luck with that.
-The ISP service is pretty much an unfunded mandate. The ISPs can recover costs up to the cost of the software or service they provide, and if they do so they have to raise every subscriber’s cost. There’s no mention of costs involved with implementing the system, keeping it up to date, working with the AG’s office, etc.
-Of course, there are ISPs that don’t charge and so can’t recover these costs. For one example, libraries.
-“Determine” age on the Internet? Please. None of their age verification techniques are infallible enough to limit the liability of the content providers.
-The CPs have to rate their own materials, and woe betide them if any authority disagrees with their assessments after the fact. They then face felony charges.
-The definision of CP is so vague that it could affect many types of Internet tools, including search engines. So now search engines must rate the content they link to or risk criminal charges.

BBC Article on DRM

You know, I’ve really never liked the term “DRM” (Digital Rights Management). Whose rights are being protected? Who’s managing these rights? The customer is not the answer to either of these questions.

At any rate, there’s a pretty good article on the BBC talking about the pros and cons of Trusted Computing and DRM.

INF 312, on the accuracy of the Copyright date

I’ve got some copyright related observations that really don’t affect us, but that I find interesting. In one of the modules I listed several characteristics of information in cyberspace (relatively) unique to cyberspace. These characterstics included the ease of creating, sharing, and changing information. As P2P demonstrates, there are obvious effects of copyright in cyberspace due to these characteristics. Here’s another effect of these characteristics: because our information changes so often, when we say © 2005 on our web site, well, a lot of that material could be © 2004, © 2003 or even earlier. Those original words were copyrighted when they were first expressed. However, there might not be a copy of those original words in a form that people can find, and it would be difficult if not impossible to separate the original expression from the derivative expression. With copyright terms being as long as they are, and digital media having a shelf life as short as it is, that probably isn’t a problem. Yet. In the far future, if we can figure out a way to preserve digital information in such a way that it exists as long as copyright exists- which right now is flat out not going to happen in 99.9% of digital materials- it will be difficult to prove when these ideas were first expressed in copyrightable form.

Indecency on the Internet

An op-ed by a former Texas judge on Congress on regulating indecency in cyberspace is a great read, and it highlights some of the problems encountered when local tries to control global.

Hatch head of IP Committee in Senate

Senator Orrin Hatch to head IP Committee in Senate

I find that bit of news disturbing. Senator Hatch is a very strong IP proponent, in my opinion to the detriment of the public and the authors themselves (in favor of the entertainment companies). He has also proposed truly terrible laws- parts of the Induce Act and the truly awful suggestion that the music industry should be able to destroy consumer PCs (and if they were mistaken in their targets, oh well.)

Marvel v. NCSoft

Very interesting relase from NCSoft about the Marvel/ NCSoft suit… It appears the judge has thrown several of Marvel’s claims. I’m interested in where this case is going. There are trademark and copyright infringement claims here, and I really want to see how the decision handles the overlap.

INF 312, on the Copyright of

There are several technology related policy and legal issues involved in an online course.
We’ll start with copyright. Here are a few of these subjects.
1. The copyright of the course contents generated by people working on the course
2. The copyright of the external materials used in the course
3. The copyright of the student work published online and student work contributed to the course

We’ll start with the copyright of INF 312.
It hasn’t really come been a problem, but there are certainly questions involved. Here’s a big one: how do we continue to use materials generated for the course when people come and go?

I’m going to create an “about” page summarizing a history of the INF 312 page, with everyone’s help, over the summer. To make a long story short, INF 312 is a (mainly) online course, Information in Cyberspace. It’s the product of several instructors, student assistants, and staff at the University of Texas at Austin. These instructors change from year to year and the contents of the course (the web pages) can change from day to day. We’re pretty successful with this updating, IMHO. We value staying current. With our topics, we can guarantee that our students will know if we’re not.

Our system of writing and updating works for several reasons, and these are the same reasons that copyright hasn’t been a problem. I don’t think any of us have huge egos, for one. We’re relatively easy going and we get along well. We admit we don’t know everything, we look for and accept criticism, and we let others update our work. We also recognize that this endeavor is a team effort in all areas. We value the sharing of information. All of us contribute to the development of these modules. While one person might be the “primary” writer, everyone participates in the module creation, reviews it, gives feedback, and can add to it. Module development is a constant cycle of writing-feedback-update-publish-feedback. And the modules wouldn’t happen at all without the things on the backend- the site design, the page design, etc.
All of these things may contain copyrightable elements.

Here are some of the issues.

1. Who owns the course contents?
Well, we own the educational materials that we write, as individuals. Luckily for us, that’s UT policy: faculty and students own the educational material that they generate, even in the course of their work. Now, there are also staff members in the form of undergraduate and graduate assistants who also contribute to the course. I’m less clear on the status of materials, educational and non-educational, that staff generates.

Of course, to further complicate matters, at least two instructors contribute to the course in some manner as both staff and faculty, and some instructors have contributed materials to the course as student assistants and later faculty.

This means that we have to pay attention to the copyrightable expression that we generate and in what capacity it is generated. We really haven’t bothered with that in the past. Ideally, it would be something we wouldn’t need to worry about too much. Is there a solution?

2. Who’s “We?”
Well, copyright is automatically assigned to the author of a work with certain exceptions (work for hire, etc.). On our pages we’ve taken to say © INF 312 [Year]. Of course, we don’t have a precise definition of what that means and I’m not entirely certain about the legal status of posting the mark in that manner without the explicit transfer of copyright. Did we explicitly intend to be joint owners when the works were created? Probably, but that means that we have copyright. Is “we” the individual instructors or an institution? Can “INF 312” be a copyright owner? Can we define “INF 312” in such a way that the term has meaning through time, and if so do we need to explicitly do so?

In some cases (the final modules) an individual claims copyright and can do what they want with it (use Creative Commons licenses, etc.). In the copyright final module, some of the content is jointly owned by me and different people I interview- I explicitly received permission to share the materials under a Creative Commons license so that we could use it now and in the future.

And the date is not entirely accurate in some cases, which I’ll address in a later post.

3. What’s the problem?
Here’s the thing- the materials we use in the course from semester to semester, from day to day, change. That means that someone has to go in there and change them. That sounds an awful lot like of a derivative work when people who weren’t the original authors make and publish these changes. ^_^ Now, we can argue that it is implied that by contributing to the course a person is accepting these terms, but there are still situations when “something” can come up. For example, last year some of the instructors were contacted by Harper-Collins. Publishing something in the physical world is a situation that probably wasn’t considered when the authors wrote the original materials (and some of those authors were no longer affiliated with the course and were not contacted).

If the course contents are jointly owned, would that mean that the derivative works in question are owned by the original joint owners, whomever or whatever they may be?

If we’re assigning copyright to INF 312, doesn’t that fix the problem? It might, but again- we probably need the explicit assignment of copyright, and some of the people who wrote the original work are no longer affiliated with the course. Luckily for us, they haven’t minded and aren’t likely to due to reasons discussed above.

4. What can we do?
Well, we probably all should sign a paper stating that the modular content that we develop, unless specifically indicated otherwise, has copyright assigned to INF 312, and define the course in a way that allows the School of Information to use the work in whatever manner they see fit. That way, if the course number or name changes “we” (the people still affiliated with the course) can keep on developing the course. We wouldn’t need to keep careful track of the materials generated that are owned by individuals (rather than the institution). We should also assign copying in the final modules in such a way that the original author gets credit but others can continue using the material in the future. Actually, we should probably keep track of EVERYONE who contributes to the course- not just for copyright reasons, but to let them be recognized and to show how many people affect what goes on.

Admissions hacking?

Quick break from work…

I’ve found incredibly little information about the way someone told others how to “hack” into Apply Yourself, Inc. service to determine if they were accepted to Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and other colleges. I’ve seen lots of news referring to “hacking,” “data thief,” “security breach,” “cracking” and other terminology that didn’t provide much technical information. It makes me wonder if this event was as much of a non-hack as the Choicepoint “hack” or if this event was similar to other cases in which people just added text to a url, particularly since apparently students could only access their own information (leading me to believe they were authenticated in some way before following those elusive instructions).

It appears that Harvard is automatically rejecting anyone’s record who was accessed based on that fact- they hold the applicants responsible for the use of their accounts.

While the access was likely improper, I am curious about terms of service and the use of the H word…

Update: Yup. Looking at the originating BusinessWeek forums, it looks like all the applicants did was type in a url. The forums are crawling with posts and article reprints (copyright violation? ^_-). Here’s an excerpt:

No security safeguards were bypassed _ the applicants simply took an open route to their pages that hadn’t been publicized, said the man, who is in his 20s and is from the Midwest.

User Friendly

I received permission to use some User Friendly strips in the course… I’m going to have to go back and dig through them to make sure there aren’t any other ones I want to use out there. Oh, darn.

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression is a book by Kembrew McCleod.
It’s awesome.
It’s available for purchase in physibook format and you can download the free, Creative Commons licensed pdf from that website.
To give you an idea of what the book is about- well, he trademarked the title. Think about it.