Archive for April, 2007

These times

Lots of copyright-related news today.

Jack Valenti passed away.

Saw this in a number of mailing list and blogs, but Boing Boing has the update: Publisher Wiley threatened a blogger with legal action for reproducing some material from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. The director of publications at the Society of Chemical Industry, responsible for the journal, has decided not to pursue the matter. Cory Doctorow points out that the blogger’s use was a fair use, and wouldn’t require the permission that the director was granting. The other interesting thing to note, though, is that that particular society is headquartered in England, which has different fair use laws (fair dealing)- although I’m not sure if Wiley is. I wonder if international interpretations have played a role in this situation.

Also udpated on Boing Boing, popular link-site/community Fark had a new copyright policy that basically claimed ownership of whatever materials users submitted. Drew Curtis, creator of Fark responded that the policy was not what they wanted- they want a right to republish- and they’re changing it.

Slashdot reports two nonsurprises today- first, that the RIAA has won in court against UW Madison. Representatives from Wisconsin wanted a judge to oversee the John Doe subpeona and wouldn’t just hand the records over. The judge has acted. Second, the RIAA is challenging the Anderson v. RIAA counterclaims, which also isn’t terribly surprising.

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Ohio University Blocking P2P Traffic

Ohio University is on a questionable path, in my opinion. It’s interesting that many universities use different rhetorics to explain the need for control of P2P resources. Although the overconsumption of bandwidth can very much be a problem with P2P applications- especially on a high-bandwidth university connection- there are other alternatives, like limits on bandwidth consumption or throttling network traffic. Those tactics come with their own difficulties, ethical and logistical, particularly in their initial implementations, but I think them better solutions than outright banning a technology. There are even other ways to encourage legitimate and responsible P2P use. Ohio University representatives say that bandwidth is the problem- they’re banning P2P “to ensure that every student, faculty member and researcher has access to the computer resources they need”– but then they immediately follow that justification with a notice about those technologies often being used to share copyrighted works followed by a paragraph about the RIAA’s tactics and concerns. The FAQ they link to mentions “respect for intellectual property” and notes that P2P is often used “in direct violation of copyright law.” They all but call students that use P2P applications unethical. They acknowledge that sometimes P2P can be used for legitimate purposes, but have decided to have students request exceptions when necessary, and they’ll judge whether or not the use is appropriate. That seems a bit backwards to me for an educational institution that values intellectual freedom for a variety of reasons. (Note, I am not saying that intellectual freedom = do what thou wilt.) I understand the temptation. I’ve had to deal with DMCA cease and desists received by students, and I know it takes time. But I think this action is a bit heavy handed. I would very much complain if UT did something like this- I and others use bittorrent to download legitimate materials fairly regularly. We also have many students that legitimately use P2P applications, some for class- applications such as Skype. Skype isn’t on their list, though, so I’m not sure if that will trigger their block. I’d be surprised if it didn’t, since it’s one of the more problematic bandwidth-wise, if users aren’t careful. I also wonder if it will stop students from updating games from their dorms, since P2P is now a fairly common way to receive updates.

Universities need to better educate students about these issues and about these technologies. University administrators often need to make the effort to learn about all of these subjects themselves. If they’re going to make an ethical argument, they need to clearly demonstrate the ethics involved. “Students pirate” is not something that simply needs to be accepted as a matter of common understanding. I don’t think administrators generally give students enough credit about their decision-making capabilities or rationales. At the very lease, I’ve found students more than willing to discuss the legal, ethical, and other issues involved with P2P and copyright. There’s a research topic…

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Internet Archive pages not evidence?

Saw on BNA Internet Law News… apparently a New York federal court has ruled that materials from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine are inadmissible without “authenticating testimony from someone familiar with how the pages were created” (quote from BNA). Really interesting! I wonder if IA will be able to supply additional metadata (if there is any) or other ways to authenticate that information. At the very least, the decision will certainly bring up questions about the site’s reliability and possible uses, even outside of the courtroom. Of course, those questions have existed, but here’s another reason to try to answer them. ^_^

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Wendy Seltzer’s disagreement with the NFL

I met Wendy Seltzer a few years ago while Holly and I were volunteering at the EFF-Austin booth at SXSW Interactive. It was a little hectic, and I didn’t know who she was, except that she was a very pleasant person involved with EFF. I later realized her identity- one of EFF’s attorneys and responsible for some really interesting sites, like Chilling Effects. Recently, I’ve been following her fair use issues with the NFL on YouTube. The following article talks a little bit about the circumstances, and then refers to comments from representatives of the NFL.

The comments it refers to are found here:

I found the comments from the NFL interesting for a number of reasons. First, they object because the clip Wendy Seltzer used contained more than the copyright notice. Seltzer explains that she included additional material to show the context of the notice. And although they objected to that, I find Seltzer to be the more credible person to determine how her use fulfills the educational goals. That’s actually a twinge I have about some evaluations of fair use and the first factor. How much influence does the content owner have in that evaluation in court? How much weight is the opinion of the educator given? I don’t know, but I think it will be worth looking at!

Second, the assertion that “fair use is a defense to infringement, not a right.” I’ve mentioned that a bit before. Although the assertion that fair use is an affirmative defense is a pretty common assertion from various people (often including attorneys, at least one Supreme Court case, some representatives, etc.), others assert that fair use is a right representing first amendment concerns in copyright law (including some attorneys, some representatives, some organizations, and so on). At any rate, the notion of an affirmative defense has rhetorical value for proponents of a more limited fair use, and the notion of fair use as a right serves the same purpose for proponents of a broader fair use. Changing the view tends to shift where the burden of proof lies. And some also believe that the two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive, that fair use can be a both right and a defense. Things to look for are where and when those terms are used. As it so happens, I interviewed Wendy Seltzer in 2004 and asked her that question.

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Google to finish UMich scanning in 5 years- what’s that mean?

I’ve started doing some actual research (and by that, I mean following a more formal methodology with the intent of writing something) about the University of Texas and the Google Project. I’ve been thinking about it and working a bit on it throughout the semester, with some helpful discussions with Georgia Harper and my committee as well as other students, librarians and library employees. One things I’ve noticed that news tends to make a big deal about certain facts about the speed at which Google digitizes materials, like in this article:

That’s amazing to Wilkin, who also leads the university’s own digitization project that began before the school partnered with Google. The in-house project scans about 5,000 volumes a year. At that pace, scanning the entire library would take 1,400 years.

And sure, that’s very interesting- but if the Michigan project is like the Texas project, it’s not quite as amazing. Or rather, it’s amazing on its face, but it’s not something that should really be compared to the library’s digitization efforts. The digitization going on by Google and the digitization university libraries are doing in this situation are two different (and exclusive) actions that serve different purposes. Comparing them isn’t entirely apt.

The broader question of what Google’s digitization means, I’ll be looking at later.


Suzumiya Haruhi dance in Akihabara!

A group people do the ending dance from one of my favorite anime shows, the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, on a street in Akihabara. The people apparently planned this event on the Japanese forum site, 2Channel. A couple of policemen show up and everyone scatters. Fun, though. ^_^

Comments process improved?

Got a comment on an old post from Bob Beattie at Michigan.

Although he used the problems I referred to in quotes (I’m not sure why), he states that the IBM workplace forms are working well on the Macs. I haven’t assisted anyone who’s used that version yet, but I’m sure Mac users will be happy about that. I’m still not thrilled with the government’s past support for Mac and Linux operating systems, but at least people should be able to get grant applications in properly.


SoundExchange is confused

For those who don’t know, SoundExchange is the group that sets the Internet radio royalty rates, and the organization recently came out with a decision that is likely to end a great deal of Internet radio. Several webcasters, including NPR, have appealed those rates. Their recent press release about the appeals shows that they don’t understand.

“Just because you don’t like the outcome of a fairly played game doesn’t mean you should ask the referee to order the game replayed,” said SoundExchange executive director John Simson.

“Yes, Internet radio is important to the music community, but that doesn’t mean that artists and record labels don’t deserve fair compensation for their works.”

Besides a really poor metaphor, the executive director seems to be under the misapprehension that webcasters don’t want artists to receive fair compensation. Noone is saying that. The disagreement is that the rates they set is more likely to kill off creativity and innovation rather than encourage it. SoundExchange thinks otherwise, and pretty much recommended what the RIAA suggested. That should cause them to seriously consider their decision and cause us to seriously consider their decision-making process.


Book Copyright Renewal Database

Stanford has just come out with a copyright renewal database for books published between 1923 and 1963. One of the problems that people struggle with is trying to determine if a given work is or is not under copyright, since materials published during that timeframe had to have copyright protection renewed (unlike today, when copyright is automatic for the entire term of copyright protection). The database is now available and builds on work undertaken by Project Gutenberg.