September 28, 2006

Who Owns Magic?

Filed under: DMCA — Wendy @ 6:10 pm

The NYT runs a story on “Dueling Magicians”, describing Ricky Jay’s claims that Eric Walton has borrowed a few too many tricks. Walton’s reply: “This material has been out there…. The best magicians can do is take existing routines and sort of put our own spin on them.”

Interestingly, the subject of copyright never comes up — and that’s probably appropriate. While a magician’s patter while performing may be protectable expression, the tricks themselves are likely unprotectable ideas, methods, and processes. Of course that still leaves “selection and arrangement,” and it’s possible one act could mimic another so closely that it appropriated those expressive elements.

If it didn’t violate copyright, Walton’s act does seem to have tweaked some magicians’ ethical sense. Says Teller, of Penn and Teller:

“If an act hasn’t been prominently performed for a long time, and someone takes the trouble to bring it back from absolute death and put it into his act with fine touches, and which at least hasn’t been seen by a current generation,” he said, “the gentlemanly thing to do is say, ‘That’s his for now.’ ”

That said, he added, “magicians are not unique in their absence of creativity.”

I do hope he wasn’t referring to lawyers with that last jab.

Speaking at USC’s Technology and Public Diplomacy

Filed under: markets — Wendy @ 5:58 pm

On October 3, I’ll be heading out to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy to take part in their Technology and Public Diplomacy Speaker Series with a a talk on copyright as a regulation of technology and creative expression. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, come hear what Chilling Effects and MythTV have in common.

I’ve learned that’s also been declared a Day Against DRM. I’ll see how many DRM’d products I have to avoid on my way there.

September 22, 2006

OneWebDay today

Filed under: markets — Wendy @ 8:59 am

OneWebDay, an “Earth Day for the Internet,” kicks off today. Celebrate by enjoying the creativity the Internet enables. Post a blog entry or a video; update a Wikipedia entry; remix a music track; learn something new. Tag entries with “onewebday” to let others find them.

In New York, there’s also an offline celebration, New York - Wiki

In New York, we’ll be having a lunchtime, outdoor event featuring Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame, talking about how the Internet is changing people’s lives every day.

Where: The Battery, near Castle Clinton

When: Friday, Sept. 22, noon to 2pm

Visit the onewebday wiki for information about other in-person events.

September 16, 2006

ICANN Selection Committee Meets; GNSO Review Out

Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 7:43 pm

ICANN’s selection committee is meeting in Frankfurt Amsterdam this weekend to choose new Board members, GNSO Council representatives, and interim ALAC members. It’s not really correct to call the group a “nominating committee” as ICANN does, since no membership ever gets to vote to accept or reject their “nominees.” That said, the secretive process has produced some good selections in the past, along with some not-so-good.

In other news from the void, ICANN has finally released the London School of Economics GNSO Review: report and annexes. Unfortunately, it’s only in PDFs that pdftohtml can’t successfully convert to text (strange font or something else?) — so commenting on the report will be more difficult than it should be. [update: poor mechanical OCR here]

I haven’t gotten past the opening “Recommendations,” but there, I’m encouraged by the report’s criticism of ICANN Constituencies — the artificial interest groups of ICANN participation, in which “intellectual property interests” is of equivalent voice to “non-commercial users.” It also makes useful suggestions toward better information dissemination and fixed term-limits for GNSO Councilors. (The GNSO, for those not fluent in ICANNese, is the Generic Names Supporting Organization, the body that’s supposed to make policy (by “bottom-up consensus”) for top-level domain names.)

September 15, 2006

Stop the Data-Grab! Digital Rights Ireland Sues Over Data Retention

Filed under: open — Wendy @ 4:48 pm

Digital Rights Ireland reports
that it has launched a legal challenge to data retention laws. They charge that data retention laws — requiring collection and retention of calling records and Internet communications-related information — violate data privacy laws and the Declaration of Human Rights.

From the DRI blog:

These mass surveillance laws are a direct, deliberate attack on our right to have a private life, without undue interference by the government. That right is underpinned in the laws of European countries and is also explicitly stated in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Article specifies that public authorities may only interfere with this right in narrowly defined circumstances.

McGarr Solicitors have posted documents filed in the case.

Here in the United States, we don’t have data retention laws … yet. Attorney General Gonzales has been trying to scare ISPs into keeping data, and Congress into laws mandating that they do so. Like the European, he seems to forget that anonymous speech and private association are human rights. Exercise those First Amendment freedoms while you have them — and use Tor when you don’t.

September 14, 2006

Classical Music Wants to Be Shared: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Podcasts

Filed under: art — Wendy @ 11:54 pm

Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has just launched a terrific classical music series: The Concert Podcast: freely downloadable DRM-free music licensed for sharing under a Creative Commons Music Sharing License.

I started with a Schubert Concert, including a piece I’d had the pleasure of hearing earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum: Musicians from Marlboro playing “The Shepherd on the Rock.” While nothing can match hearing chamber music live, a string quartet doesn’t fit into my pocket next to the Treo. These podcasts, well chosen and well recorded, help fill the spaces between live concerts. Perhaps they’ll even attract new audiences to the live performances.

Congratulations to the Berkman Center’s clinical program for helping to get this series online. Here’s the podcast feed.

September 8, 2006

Facebook: Privacy defaults, tweaks, and user experience

Filed under: commons, open — Wendy @ 12:57 pm

facebook privacy optionsEarlier this week, facebook.com (the MySpace of college students) launched what it called “two cool features,” feeds to track friends’ online activities:

News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you’ll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups.

To management’s apparent surprise, not all users thought these feeds were so cool. Protests were launched, using the feeds to spread their outrage, and users threatened boycotts.

Even though all the information available in “feeds” was information users were already making available to the same set of “friends,” feeds felt different. Their tracking of changes from minute to minute, and instantaneous, aggregregate notification must have driven home to users just how much information Facebook had. Now, Facebook has added privacy settings to the feeds, and much of the furor seems already to be dissipating.

It’s hard to tell whether this is a victory for “privacy” or not, but we can learn a few lessons from the sequence of events:

  • How we present privacy questions matters. People care about privacy when they see information used/misused in a context that is relevant to them. They didn’t mind Facebook’s collection of information until they saw it presented in detail that they found intrusive. This is why all the streetcorner questioners who can get passwords for candy bars don’t “prove” that privacy is dead — it’s more that they passersby don’t think ahead to how that password might be misused. When they see feeds, even of information that was previously public but less easily accessible, some of those same people panic.

    This means that when we’re trying to give people privacy options in software, it might not be enough just to set a default and let them root around in configuration menus, or even to offer a checkbox. Instead, we should try to offer scenarios to taking people through the consequences of what checking the box means.

  • Context and granularity matter. When thinking about our information, we don’t just have two settings, “public” and “private.” Those who spill their lives into Facebook profiles still have expectations of privacy. We might be comfortable sharing information with some people, in some doses, expecting the typical human attention span to shield us from too much probing, but object when that same information is catalogued and read back. This is part of the horror of a wiretap or a secret police file, even if it discloses only innocent activities.

  • Technology matters. Unfortunately, computers are very good at storing detailed information trails for out-of-context playback. Moore’s Law and similar growth in storage capacities make it easier to design publicity technologies than to think through their social and legal implications. Facebook still collects this information, and others could scrape its pages to recreate “feeds.” Do we want to be putting all that information into their hands?

    Privacy is multifaceted. As a society, we’ll need to make social, legal, and technical choices to preserve the privacy that lets us have relationships and communities.

  • September 2, 2006

    How long will BombOrNot last?

    Filed under: events — Wendy @ 11:15 pm

    BombOrNotI’m sure I’m not the only person to see Bomb Or Not? Training For Government Agents! and wonder how long it will be before they get a cease-and-desist threat.

    My guess, it won’t be HotOrNot, who can recognize a good parody when they see one, but the Department of Homeland Security, which tends to see humor as a security risk.

    DHS has already raised trademark claims against the Federation of American Scientists for ReallyReady.org, a critique-by-improvement of DHS’s anemic Ready.gov. They could even crib from this href="http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?NoticeID=578">White House complaint about use of the Presidential Seal.

    We need a bit of Franklin D. Roosevelt here: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Or as Bruce Schneier puts it, “The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized.”

    ICANN: When Contract Means Expand

    Filed under: phone — Wendy @ 11:13 pm

    ICANN has posted proposed registry agreements for the .org, .biz, and .info registries — contracts that would allow registry operators to raise prices arbitrarily or introduce tiered pricing, as well as giving incumbents a nearly-perpetual right of renewal. Strangely, given ICANN’s mission “to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems,” the new agreements elevate the registries’ interests above the stability interests of domain name registrants. Under the proposed contracts, registrants would face considerable uncertainty about the future costs of domain name renewal.

    I submitted comments, included after the jump.

    (more…)

    Blog Holiday Over

    Filed under: copyright — Wendy @ 11:10 pm

    Summer’s over, and so’s the blog holiday. (Not much of a holiday, really; I’ve been writing about abuses of the DMCA safe harbor and the “fictional friction” of technical protection measures.)

    This fall, I’m teaching Internet Law, continuing my visit at Brooklyn Law School.

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