September 30, 2007

Upgrades Hollow the iPhone’s Core

Filed under: innovation, open, phone — wseltzer @ 8:50 am

Apple’s recent update, which “bricked” unlocked iPhones and reverted the rest to block third party applications, caused Gizmodo’s reviewer to revise early enthusiasm for the gadget:

It’s about 3 months after the iPhone launch, and happy with the improvements, I was planning to change our “Wait” verdict to a full-on and rabid “Buy”. That wasn’t because of Apple, but because of the cool apps being offered by independent developers. All that came to an end yesterday after the new Apple firmware 1.1.1 neutered the handset. Sure, unlocked iPhones were broken. But more importantly, Apple wiped away the powerful programs that helped push the iPhone to greatness. With this, I’m going to have to move our recommendation from “Wait” to “Don’t hold your breath.” I’m done with this handset until third-party apps come back.

For a brief while, it seemed Apple got it. Lowering the iPhone’s price enlarged the virtual network of users and potential hackers who might get one, and acquiescence toward third-party applications let those flourish, both expanding the device’s utility beyond what was built in by Apple. Then, just as the gadget’s ecosystem was getting interesting, Apple razed the ground for some new silos.

Some Gizmodo commenters ridicule the protest, arguing that few iPhone owners are hackers, but they overlook the range of hack or customization desires. After all, people regularly install new programs on their Mac computers; they buy an estimated $1 billion in iPod accessories annually. When people spend up to a third of the price of their iPods to customize the devices’ appearance or connectivity options, it’s because those increase the value of the devices. It’s not a leap to expect they also want to add some internal customization to their phones.

But Apple’s Mr. Hyde side took precedence once again, as it bowed to the whims of its carrier partners: As the NYT reports, “Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, has said the company wanted to maintain control over the iPhone’s functions to protect carrier networks and to make sure the phone was not damaged.”

All of which suggests that no matter how large a gadget’s virtual network is, it’s vulnerable if a closure-prone sponsor with closed-source core is its chief node.

September 27, 2007

Copyright and the University: 2 talks

Filed under: law, markets, privacy — wseltzer @ 12:57 pm

I’ll be discussing copyright at Cornell University today, at 3:00 and 7:30 p.m., talking about the university’s role in promoting balanced cultural and technology policy. Join the webcast if you like. If you add questions or comments to the blog, I’ll even try to address them.

September 26, 2007

Which is more open: the Nokia N95 or the iPhone?

Filed under: musings, open, phone — wseltzer @ 6:16 pm

Right in the middle of my New York Times today (yes, I still read it, and on paper) are two full-page color ads for Nokia’s N95, with the taglines “Comes with unlimited potential. We believe the smartest devices should keep getting smarter. That’s why we’ve left the Nokia Nseries open to enhancement, experimentation, and evolution. Open to anything.” url (warning, flash-heavy)

I love it. Just the stance toward user innovation I’d like to see more companies adopt. They’ve borrowed a few pages right out of von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation, mashed up with Benkler’s Wealth of Networks and Zittrain’s Generativity.

This contrasts, of course, with the advertised nature of the iPhone, locked to Apple’s apps and carrier. But we’ve also seen that within weeks of the iPhone’s launch, hackers have opened it, unlocked it, and built scores of apps.

So I wonder, how does the level of independent development on the N95, and Symbian, which powers it, compare with that on the iPhone? The N95 retails for $749 in the U.S., limiting the community likely to embrace it. Apple’s price drop brought the iPhone to $400; would it have engendered the same creativity if left at $600? Does Apple’s “cool” factor do more to bring in the hackers than Nokia’s; are touch gestures more of a draw than built-in GPS?

Or am I just seeing one side of the U.S.- Europe cellphone divide, and do Symbian developers prevail abroad where they’ve had more access to unlocked phones and fewer lock-subsidies to compete with?

Has Common Sense Flown the Coop: No copyright claims to book prices

Filed under: ICANN, law, open, privacy — wseltzer @ 4:19 am

The Crimson has been reporting on the Harvard Coop’s silly claims of “intellectual property” against those who come to the bookstore to compare prices. It’s escalated all the way to calling the cops, who wisely refused to throw students out of the store.

A terrific clinical student at the Berkman Center helped us to write an op-ed on the limits of copyright, which the Crimson ran today:

We’re not sure what “intellectual property” right the Coop has in mind, but it’s none that we recognize. Nor is it one that promotes the progress of science and useful arts, as copyright is intended to do. While intellectual property may have become the fashionable threat of late, even in the wake of the Recording Industry Association of America’s mass litigation campaign the catch-phrase—and the law—has its limits.

Since the Coop’s managers don’t seem to have read the law books on their shelves, we’d like to offer them a little Copyright 101.

Copyright law protects original works of authorship—the texts and images in those books on the shelves—but not facts or ideas. So while copyright law might prohibit students from dropping by with scanners, it doesn’t stop them from noting what books are on the shelf and how much they cost. does students a real service by helping them to compare prices efficiently. Harvard should support them in their information-sharing efforts, rather than endorsing the Coop’s attempts to cut off access to uncopyrightable facts.

September 7, 2007

Lawyer-Impersonator Pleads Guilty over False C&Ds

Filed under: law, open — wseltzer @ 2:22 pm

As if there weren’t enough problems with lawyers sending out improper cease-and-desists, Wired News reports that a Nevada man has pleaded guilty to impersonating a lawyer to extort domain registrants to turn over their domain names.

A Nevada man pleaded guilty Thursday to his plotting to steal domain names from their legitimate owners by impersonating a California intellectual property lawyer and send threatening letters to domain name owners in hopes of convincing them to turn over the domains to him.

Las Vegas resident David Scali registered the email address in 2006 and then, pretending to be a real Califonia lawyer (whose intials are K.Y.C.), threatened domain name owners with $100,000 trademark infringement suits, unless they transferred the domains within 48 hours.

I wonder if his C&Ds were any further afield than some we see from real lawyers.

September 6, 2007

DMCA Truth Is Stranger than Science Fiction

Filed under: Chilling Effects, law, open, privacy — wseltzer @ 2:14 pm

Author Denise McCune posts a great account of the workings and failings of the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown procedures.

As Cory Doctorow has also reported on BoingBoing, the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent an error-filled takedown complaint to text-sharing site Scribd, causing removal of many non-infringing postings including reading lists suggesting great science fiction, and Cory’s own novels, which he’s CC-licensed for free redistribution.

The DMCA safe-harbor is most charitably described as an intricate dance for all parties involved: the copyright claimant, the ISP, and the poster. When the dancers are synchronized, its notice, takedown, and counternotice steps give each party a prescribed sequence by which to notify the others of claims and invite their responses. That’s why the DMCA requires the claimant to identify the copyrighted works, specify alleged infringements with “information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material,” and state good faith belief that the uses are unauthorized. When a copyright claimant misses one of those key elements, he starts stepping on toes.

The service provider isn’t obliged to respond to deficient notices, but if a notice contains all the right formal elements — even if it’s factually wrong about copyright ownership or copying — the service provider must choose between taking down the material or losing its DMCA safe-harbor and facing potential lawsuits. Posters who believe their material is non-infringing or fairly posted can counter-notify and even file their own lawsuits for misuse of copyright claims, under sec. 512(f).

I share McCune’s hope that the brouhaha will help the SFWA to help authors express all their copyright interests, including that of free sharing:

I hope the SFWA’s lawyers are sitting down with Andrew Burt and explaining how the DMCA actually works, so that actual, legitimate violations of copyright (on Scribd and on other sites) can get dealt with swiftly and promptly and the people who have asked SFWA to be their copyright representative can get infringing uses of their material removed. I’m also glad to see that the SFWA ePiracy Committee has suspended operations until they can investigate further — and, hopefully, come up with an effective process and procedure that benefits both fair and/or transformative use while also protecting the rights of copyright holders to have control over where and how their material is posted — whether that control is a more traditional “nobody gets to use this, period” or a Creative Commons-style authorization of transformative work.

September 5, 2007

Victory for the Public Domain in Golan v. Ashcroft

Filed under: commons, copyright, music — wseltzer @ 4:44 pm

Via Larry Lessig comes great news in Golan v. Ashcroft: the 10th Circuit held that “plaintiffs have shown sufficient free expression interests in works removed from the public domain to require First Amendment scrutiny of &sec; 514 [of the Copyright Act, which granted new copyrights to some foreign works in the public domain here in the United States].” It ruled for plaintiff composers, performers, and publishers of public domain works and sent the case back to district court.

The 10th Cir. broadened the one ray of light in Eldred, the suggestion that First Amendment review is warranted where Congress has “altered the traditional contours of copyright protection.” Re-copyrighting of works from the public domain works just such an alteration, the Golan court held. Traditionally, “works in the public domain stay there.”

Those building on public domain works should be entitled to assume the works will stay public.

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