October 30, 2005
Sounding the alarm for interoperability

This is a picture of interoperability. It was on the nightstand when I checked into a hotel recently: a clock-radio with a headphone plug and a button on top labeled "MP3." Simple, but clever. Travelers can plug into their own music players or computers and hear music through the radio's speakers; they can set the clock to wake to tunes from their iPods.

Open standards mean they can do this without telling the hotel in advance all the brands of music devices they might be bringing. Standardization and uncontrolled outputs let any music player interoperate with any pair of headphones -- including a clock-radio plug shaped like a pair of headphones -- with only an adapter to make them fit.

This is one face of what technology mandates like the broadcast flag will kill.

While I can bring my music collection to any pair of headphones or speakers, a broadcast flag would prevent me from doing the same with my collection of recorded television. Why shouldn't the hotel's HDTV have a similar universally interoperable plug on the front? Because instead of one open standard, there will be multiple proprietary and non-interoperable standards for HDTV under a broadcast flag. It won't stop the pirates, but it's bound to frustrate lawful users.

Welcome to the Hotel FCC, home to the latest in HDTV. Of course you'd like to watch your recorded programs.

Did your digital video recorder produce WMV files? I'm sorry, our only TV capable of displaying that is in room 1201, which is already occupied.

TiVo-to-go? Sorry again, the gentleman last staying in room 512 reported that TV broken but we haven't been able to get a certified technician in to repair it.

Yes, you're welcome to down-rez your videos, room 230, but I'm afraid guests have reported that the pixellation just doesn't meet their quality expectations. We do have some old movies on pay-per-view...

Support open standards and interoperability. Tell your congressional representatives not to bring back the broadcast flag.

Posted by Wendy at 01:21 PM
October 27, 2005
Copyright and the Evolution Wars

Proving the (uncopyrighted) adage that everything turns into a copyright issue if you look at it long enough, the NYT reports that 2 Science Groups Say Kansas Can't Use Their Evolution Papers -- and they're using copyright to stop it.

Two leading science organizations have denied the Kansas board of education permission to use their copyrighted materials in the state's proposed new science standards because of the standards' critical approach to evolution.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association said the much-disputed new standards "will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world."

Apparently, the Kansas standards document quoted extensively from NAS and NSTA reports in the process of singling out evolution as a controversial theory. The organizations denied permission, but (and I haven't seen the Kansas report myself) unless the use was so extensive as to misappropriate the organizations' reports, it could still have been a fair use. (To be fair, the fault lies as much with the Kansas board of education for thinking it needed permission, if its uses were fair.)

Even though my politics are more flying spaghetti monster than "intelligent design," I don't think this is a proper use for copyright. Copyright is not about endorsement or agreement, and it's not a right to stop criticism, even ill-considered criticism. Quotation can be fair use even in a context the original author abhors -- that's precisely when we need fair use most, we on all sides of a political debate.

The organizations are free to broadcast their loud disapproval of the uses to which their publications are being put, and free to sue for misrepresentation if false statements or positions are put into their mouths, but asserting copyright rights seems a heavy-handed way to win a battle of ideas.

Posted by Wendy at 06:52 PM
October 23, 2005
Good Night and Good Luck: See It Now

If you care about politics or media, you owe yourself a viewing of Good Night, And Good Luck, the new film on Edward R. Murrow and his fight to expose Joseph McCarthy. The film, shot in black and white with McCarthy playing himself via old news footage, powerfully captures the horror of McCarthy's witch hunt. Equally important, it reminds us of journalism's power -- and its obligation -- to educate and lead.

Unfortunately, that is a reminder we urgently need. The closing speech of Murrow's McCarthy broadcast, quoted verbatim in the film, is timeless:

[T]he line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Good night, and good luck.

Participate's "Report It Now" works to translate those ideals into action by modern citizen journalists. Xeni Jardin collects more good resources at BoingBoing, including the entire Murrow address that bookends the film.

Posted by Wendy at 10:05 AM
October 22, 2005
MythTV for the Masses

If you've been wanting to try MythTV but have been put off by the thought of installing Linux from scratch, the latest KnoppMyth release, R5A22 "Crouching Tiger, High Def Dragon" takes away one major hurdle. Pop in the CD and this Knoppix-based distribution installs the whole system from the kernel up. Now, it included native HD support -- and we don't yet have broadcast flag to stop us from getting the hardware!I've been running MythTV off a KnoppMyth-based box for almost a year now. Thanks to Cecil and Dale for a great job making this "TiVo on steroids" easy to install.

Posted by Wendy at 01:42 PM
October 20, 2005
Which one of these is more dangerous?

It's clearly time for someone to update this 1981 cartoon from Paul Conrad:
On which item have the courts ruled that manufacturers and retailers be responsible for having supplied the equipment?

The NYT reports:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - The House of Representatives delivered the gun lobby a cherished victory today, overwhelmingly approving a bill to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits by crime victims.

only weeks after this from CNet News

Twenty members of Congress are calling for the reinstatement of the "broadcast flag," a controversial form of copy prevention technology for digital TV broadcasts. In a letter Thursday, the politicians called for rapid approval of a federal law adopting the broadcast flag, which would outlaw over-the-air digital TV receivers and computer tuner cards that don't follow strict anticopying standards.

All only months after the Grokster court ruled makers of filesharing software could be sued for "inducing" copyright infringement.

Posted by Wendy at 02:24 PM
October 13, 2005
Why wait for the video iPod?

I've got the TreoPod. Plays Xvid, DivX, OGG, MP3, and more with the free/open TCPMP and the shows transcode from my MythTV for free. Another gratuitous picture.

Posted by Wendy at 12:13 PM
October 10, 2005
Cahill Decision Is Good for Bloggers

The Delaware Supreme Court last week gave strong protection to online anonymity in Cahill v. Doe. The court protected "Proud Citizen's" anonymity against a City Councilman's attempt to identify the poster in a defamation suit. The decision, the first of its type from a state supreme court, required the plaintiff to meet a summary judgment standard before obtaining anonymous speakers' identities, not just provide the perfunctory complaint of notice pleading.

The court further decided, as a matter of law, that Cahill's complaint failed the summary judgment standard. Its analysis, based in part on the context of the posting, is one that may annoy some bloggers:

[C]ertain factual and contextual issues relevant to chat rooms and blogs are particularly important in analyzing the defamation claim itself... chat rooms and blogs are generally not as reliable as the Wall Street Journal Online. Blogs and chat rooms tend to be vehicles for the expression of opinions; by their nature, they are not a source of facts or data upon which a reasonable person would rely.

Based on the context of "Proud Citizen"s post, in a chatroom filled with invective and personal opinion, the court found that "a reasonable person would not interpret Doe's statements as stating facts about Cahill. The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning."

I anticipate some bloggers will object to this characterization: Blogs can be just as important for the dissemination of facts as newspaper sites; newspapers can be wrong. This is of course true. The Cahill decision is not denigrating blogs and chatrooms -- they are entitled to First Amendment protections as strong as those of a newspaper -- but rather recognizing the discernment ability of their readers.

The standard empowers a wide range of bloggers' speech. Because readers can use context to help them differentiate opinions from statements of fact, bloggers are freer to publish their choice of opinionated gossip or citizen journalism. And thanks to courts like Cahill and Dendrite, they can do so using pseudonyms or their real names.

Posted by Wendy at 01:23 PM