July 25, 2005
EFF15: The View From a Windowless Office

[For the 15th anniversary of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we're asking people to post the "click moments" that brought you to the digital liberties fight. Join us!]

My digital liberties "click moment" is less a moment than a place -- a windowless basement office, to be precise. The office was home to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard Law School, when I was a student. I had found the recently established Berkman Center through their advertisement for a webmaster and sysadmin. I thought that running a webserver under my desk qualified me for the post, and, in a sign of the times, they did too.

The Berkman Center was founded on a commitment to openness: open code, open law, open access, open education, open governance. Berkman founders and faculty -- Charlie Nesson, Jonathan Zittrain, Lawrence Lessig, and Terry Fisher -- understood that the magic of the Internet was not what it was now, but what its users could build upon it. They infused the Center's research with that build-it spirit, and quickly made me more than just a webmaster/sysadmin, but a full participant in the construction. If the tools we needed didn't exist, we'd create them, test them in real-time, and deploy -- whether it was classroom discussion software (now h2o), online teaching, or open-source law.

That windowless office gave me an expansive view of an Internet to which almost anyone could connect, create, and combine. Not everything succeeded, but lots did, often in ways a central planner couldn't have anticipated. Classroom assignments became conversations, among the class and the outside world; webcasts opened conferences to distant participants; new copyright licenses helped artists invite remixing of their works. We didn't just ask what technologists and lawyers could learn from one another, we built a forum to discuss how our respective codes are made. Through the Net, we could share our experiments.

Yet even then, and especially once I'd graduated from law school, I could see that not everyone saw the virtues of the open Internet in the same way. Open code threatens proprietary platforms; open access threatens business models built on exclusivity; open content challenges those who thrive on enclosure. Under these forces, the malleable code of the Internet could easily be changed to resist openness and to thwart tinkering and building-upon.

I left law school determined that others should have the creative tools to experience the open Net as I had from the Berkman Center's basement office. EFF was just the place, out in the forefront persuading courts, regulators, legislators, lawyers, and technologists to leave room for user innovation. I've had the privilege at EFF to work to ward off restrictive technology mandates; help the public resist the chilling effects of unfounded legal threats (and understand meritorious legal claims); fought off copyright as censorship; and argued for online anonymity.

As I move back to New York to start as a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School, I hope I can imbue students with a similar sense of adventure, on a Net that's still open to it.

Posted by Wendy at 02:23 PM
July 19, 2005
Join EFF's Blogathon for Freedom

For the past 15 years, EFF has been fighting to preserve the constitutional right to freedom of expression on the Internet. Founded to protect publisher Steve Jackson Games when its servers were seized, EFF has grown as new technologies -- such as weblogs -- give citizens their own First Amendment machines.

To celebrate its 15th anniversary this month, EFF is putting these distributed Gutenbergs front and center, holding a weeklong EFF15 Blog-a-thon where you're invited to blog about your personal experiences fighting for freedom online a project that will celebrate new publishing tools, attract new EFF members, and mark the 15th all at once.

From EFF's Announcement: We want to hear about your "click moment" the very first step you to took to stand up for your digital rights -- whether it was blogging about an issue you care about, participating in a demonstration, writing your representatives, or getting involved with EFF. As a thank you, we've enlisted an independent panel of judges to choose from among your posts for "Most Inspirational," "Most Humorous," and "Best Overall." At the end of the Blog-a-thon, we'll announce the names of the three bloggers with the best posts on our website and in our weekly newsletter, EFFector. We'll also publish the three best posts on our site and send the authors a blogging "kit" as an extra thank you: an EFF bloggers' rights T-shirt, special EFF-branded blogger pajama pants, a pound of coffee, and a pair of fuzzy slippers.

Tell us why you became a copyfighter! Visit EFF's blogathon for more info about participating in and following the posts.

Posted by Wendy at 11:42 AM
July 18, 2005
NYT: People Throwing Out PCs

The New York Times reports this weekend: Corrupted PC's Find New Home in the Dumpster that many people are tossing their old computers rather than trying to repair them, a situation the NYT attributes to spyware. The users it quotes were ditching four-year-old machines.

Moreover, 68 percent said they had had computer trouble in the last year consistent with the problems caused by spyware or adware, though 60 percent of those were unsure of the problems' origins. Twenty percent of those who tried to fix the problem said it had not been solved; among those who spent money seeking a remedy, the average outlay was $129.

I'd guess the cause is a lot less sinister: the Wintel compulsion. Microsoft makes the operating systems and office apps used on most home PCs, and each takes a beefier machine than the last to run smoothly. ("Wintel" refers to the handy way that bloatier Windows software encourages users to upgrade to faster Intel processors, which come in machines loaded with yet more Windows software.) Users who were perfectly happy with their new computers four years ago will no longer find them acceptable to run today's recently-downloaded (non-spyware) software, simply as a consequence of that software's development to use every gate of every cubic micron of silicon available to it.

Computers bought new four years ago will appear to crawl when compared to the newer, faster machines home consumers use in the workplace; a speedy Internet connection exacerbates the annoyance of waiting for the machine to process fancy web layouts. I know, I was just visiting my parents and trying to bring an excessed laptop up-to-date. Four years ago, Dell was touting a 700 MHz laptop that started with 64 MB of RAM. Today, its low-end home notebooks have twice the CPU speed and four times the memory. Spyware or no, the older machine just can't compete. (Microsoft recommends a minimum of 128 MB RAM to run Windows XP Home edition.)

Not that I think this pressure for faster computers is a bad thing. To the contrary, I think it's terrific that thousands of end-users wind up with machines that are far more powerful than strictly necessary to browse the web and process text. Together, these users benefit from the lower prices a mass market brings, while acquiring machines that can do more than typewrite. Some use this "bonus" capacity to process digital photographs, remix digital music, edit digital movies, or write and run their own software. That creativity in turn enriches even those of us who don't do any more than process words and upgrade computers every four years.

P.S. Those older machines will run GNU/Linux quite handily. So wipe the drives of bloatware, and try out a Free OS.

Posted by Wendy at 06:07 PM
SF: Bloggers' Rights BayFF

Bloggers have rights too, and knowing them can help you use them to full advantage. Join an all-star panel at EFF'sBayFF on Bloggers' Rights - July 19th 2005 to hear more about the legal climate and how to weather it.

To kick-off EFF's forthcoming 15th Anniversary celebrations, we'll be holding a special BayFF exploring the legal issues surrounding blogging. The roundtable discussion will feature Kurt Opsahl, Violet Blue, danah boyd, Dan Gillmor, Mary Hodder, and Jackson West.

7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 19, 2005

111 Minna Gallery http://www.111minnagallery.com/
111 Minna Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: (415) 974-1719

Hope to see you there!

Posted by Wendy at 04:59 PM
July 12, 2005
The Myopia of Classical Labels

As the BBC prepares to announce the tremendous success of its free Beethoven downloads, the Independent reports that classical labels are less than rhapsodic:

This week the BBC will announce there have been more than a million downloads of the symphonies during the month-long scheme. But the initiative has infuriated the bosses of leading classical record companies who argue the offer undermines the value of music and that any further offers would be unfair competition.

The BBC made all nine of the Beethoven symphonies available for free download, with commentary, as part of their Beethoven Experience.

You'd think that arts leaders struggling to expand their market to younger generations would welcome evidence that downloaders want to give classical a try. Any classical afficionado knows that one performance of Beethoven's Ninth isn't a direct substitute for another, just as baseball fans don't stop watching just because they've now seen the Red Sox win the Series. Instead, hearing and appreciating an intial performance is the first step toward wanting to hear the other greats, in concert or on CD. Those pop fans who realize Gianandrea Noseda's Pastorale fits on their iPods may well be moved to try more.

But instead of welcoming this new audience with offerings of their own, the labels complain that downloads are "devaluing the perceived value of music." They make the same error intellectual property maximalists do -- thinking that "exclusion" equals "value." If few people want to pay for your product, it doesn't have much market value, no matter how much you want to charge. The RIAA's 2003 Consumer Profile indicates just 3% of U.S. music purchases were classical, while BPI reports that in the U.K., classical CD sales totaled under 14 million for that year. Against that small market, a million downloads in two weeks is huge. Labels should focus not on the hypothetical hordes who might buy high-priced CDs, but on the real likelihood that free downloads introduce a wider audience of potential purchasers of a wide range of classical music.

I for one, hope the BBC extends this experiment. Listening to the BBC Symphony's Beethoven 1 now.

Posted by Wendy at 09:10 AM
July 05, 2005
NYT on STEALTHy Cease and Desists

The New York Times reports on Leo Stoller's attempts to possess the word "Stealth": He Says He Owns the Word 'Stealth' (Actually, He Claims 'Chutzpah,' Too). The Times notes that for all Mr. Stoller's courtroom appearances, he has not won a single reported case. That hasn't stopped him from sending dozens of cease-and-desist letters, like these two from the Chilling Effects collection: Stealth v. Stealth Signal and Stealth Attack. Bullying, and even federal trademark registration, only give a trademark holder the right to police against consumer confusion -- not to take a common word out of the English language.

Mark Lemley clarifies the situation:

It's based on a misunderstanding of how trademark law works. Trademark law doesn't give you exclusive rights in words, only the right to prevent consumer confusion. He's not in a position to claim that his mark is unique or famous. It's a common English word that's already been used in many contexts as a trademark by others.

Posted by Wendy at 10:39 AM