It’s not “just” entertainment that’s locked up by long, inflexible copyrights. Lots of people downplay copyright battles as mere sideshows: who needs access to pop songs or hit movies? But the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington last week reminded us the King estate claims copyright locks up his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, too.
Again, fair use just isn’t enough. You can always quote a few lines without asking permission, but that’s likely to be the same few lines that have become cliched with repetition. Quote the whole speech to make a more substantial point, and you face thousand-dollar license fee claims from the estate. Quote them to make a point critical of King, and you may be denied a license entirely. This kind of control over parts of our history hardly “promotes progress,” and it would be folly to claim that it was the incentives of copyright protection that motivated Dr. King to speak. (Incidentally, there have been several fights over whether the speech is copyrighted at all, having been published (spoken) without a registration at a time when registration was required.)
The flip side to Prof. Lessig’s famous observation that “code is law” is that law can be made code as well.
Thomas Roessler brings us up to date on the JAP anonymizing proxy, which was forced by court order to compromise its users’ anonymity to track visits to a particular IP address, but has now been restored to anonymizing.
Prior to the court-ordered hack, the proxy offered mixmaster functions, passing each request through encrypted channels to intermediaries so it could not be traced back to its point of origin. While the order was in effect, it added tracking tags to specfic requests. What’s more, the criminal court had ordered the proxy operators not to disclose the investigation. Because the proxy is an open source project, however, other programmers discovered evidence that the system could be tapped and brought it up for public discussion.
Encoded law can be harder to detect than law enforced through traditional means. Depending whether you’re of a mind to call it “investigation” or “surveillance,” you may find that a good or a bad thing, but it challenges ideals of Due Process. If the public doesn’t know the law, they can’t challenge its application to them or others. They may be chilled by a fear of surveillance without knowing when or to whom it is applied. Yet this case demonstrates at least one antidote, in the form of open code. Access to source code lets people determine what coded rules are being applied (or lets them hear from others who have read the code), and thus helps to restore transparency.
Via Seth comes this Nigerian SCO scam, in which Darl McBride seeks your assistance, in confidence, in extracting ONE BILLION U.S. DOLLARS from the users of Linux softwares (sic). A worthy follow-on to the come-on from George Walker Bush.
Let’s get the story straight here: Fox News sued Penguin Books and Al Franken (complaint, PDF), claiming that Franken’s use of “Fair and Balanced” in the subtitle of his book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” infringes and dilutes Fox’s registered trademark in the phrase. Yes, I suppose this is an arbitrary or fanciful mark (if not downright misdescriptive), since Fox’s coverage is anything but “fair and balanced.”
Fox’s complaint resorts to name-calling: Franken is an “increasingly unfunny” “C-level commentator”; the book “tarnishes the mark by associating the mark with Franken’s sophomoric approach to political commentary.”
In true web fashion, bloggers
took the case up in spades, adding “fair and balanced” subtitles to hundreds of sites around the ‘Net. Meanwhile, Lisa Rein archives the fair and balanced Daily Show, Jon Stewart’s take on the fact-is-stranger-than-fake-news. (For more background, see Washington Post story.)
In the latest entry in RIAA v. The People, a Massachusetts District Court ruled that the recording industry couldn’t steamroller the country with subpoenas issued out of Washington, D.C. Instead, the court agreed with MIT and Boston College that the subpoenas must be issued from a court with jurisdiction. The Internet may change lots of things, but it doesn’t change “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” You still need to come to Boston/Cambridge for an MIT education — or to try to “educate” MIT students.
Much of our culture comes from the fuzzy edges of copyright, not its exclusive domain of all-rights-reserved. Two new initiatives let you help show how creativity thrives without exclusivity, and how it can be hindered by exclusive rights.
Creative Commons moving images contest: Create (and license under a Creative Commons license) a short film explaining the Creative Commons mission. The best entry wins a Mac G2.
Public Knowledge calls for public domain stories: If you’ve drawn from the public domain, or struggled with licensing permissions for your own creative work, share your stories. Help us explain the costs of copyright in human terms.
I was at DefCon 11 this past weekend recuperating from the bar exam and talking about Chilling Effects and RIAA v. The People. Where else could you hear about anonymous remailers, Internet worms, and criminal copyright infringement in one weekend? Slides from my presentation, The Internet’s Private Cops are online.