Nov 01, 2001

News: States granted right to fight spam
Spam & E-Mail
'On Monday, the high court declined to hear a constitutional challenge to a tough Washington state anti-spam law, one of the nation's first measures that sets standards for junk e-mailers and levies stiff fines for violators. Enacted in 1998, the law bans "deceptive" e-mail and has drawn immediate attention as a test case for the role of states in regulating the Internet. The court's refusal to review the case does not offer a legal ruling on the merits of the law. But with little hope for federal anti-spam legislation any time soon, the decision means beleaguered consumers can fight junk e-mail at the state level, anti-spam advocates say.'


Nov 01, 2001

Victory for DVD Code Cracking
Free Speech
'A California State Appeals Court ruled on Thursday that computer code used to "descramble" DVDs is "pure speech," and citing the First Amendment, the court reversed a trial court's order to block the code from appearing on the Web.'

Another entry in the continuing "Code is Speech" saga.


Nov 01, 2001

The Age: Video stores, Warner at war
Country Watch- Australia, DVD & DeCSS, Free Speech
'Warner simultaneously releases DVDs to the retail and rental market. They are color coded - silver for retail at a wholesale price of $24, and blue for rental, wholesaling at $55. When Warner threatened to sue video shops caught renting the retail-designated DVD, the association - representing 55 per cent of Australian video shops - took the offensive.'

'It argues that under the Copyright Act, Warner cannot restrict the rental of DVD movies. Warner, however, contends that a DVD is a computer program or software, and therefore it has the right to prohibit or restrict its rental, giving rise to a highly complex set of legal arguments without precedent in Australian or United States law.'

Every once in a while, I imagine it might be interesting to become an IP lawyer. But stories like this remind me why I couldn't be one. One of the standard lawyer tactics is to argue whatever's convenient at the time, regardless of long-term consequences, even for the company itself sometimes. (There have been lawsuits that have been dropped by the prosecution because winning would hurt the companies other interests too much.)

I would like to propose an interesting spin on this story, though: Should Warner Brothers win, then the following syllogism will hold:

  1. All movies are expressions that in America would be protected under the First Amendment.
  2. All movies are software (since all movies can be put on DVD).
  3. There exists at least one movie.
  4. Therefore, there exists software that in America would be protected under the First Amendment.

Once a single piece of software is over that line, it's going to be very, very hard to draw a line that includes movies, yet excludes other things.

This story hails from Australia, not the USA, but it would still probably have some interesting ramifications, even in Australia.

Note that in particular, DeCSS, a DVD decryption program, is trying to claim software-as-expression as a defense in the USA. Warner, a member of the RIAA, has gone on record now, at least in Australia, as claiming that DVD movies are an instance of a thing that is both software and an expression protectable under the First Amendment. I just couldn't be a lawyer without noticing this kind of "shoot yourself in the foot", unintegrated approach to legal issues.

(In computer science, we call this a "greedy" algorithm, which is a technical term. These algorithms are well-known for being cheap and convenient, but almost never optimal. Often that's good enough; I'd say this is an instance where it is not.)


Oct 31, 2001

Europe Goes After the Cookie
Privacy from Companies
'The "cookie," a simplistic identification tag that most Internet users unknowingly carry when surfing the Web, runs the risk of being outlawed under a proposed privacy directive from the European Commission.'

"Ban the Tool" fallacy again. There are other ways to violate privacy. Clearly they don't understand what cookies are.


Oct 31, 2001

AlterNet -- TECHSPLOITATION: I'm a Terrorist Now
Hacking & Cracking, Internet-Weblog Culture, Polical Speech
'Now that the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act has passed, I am officially a terrorist. Yes, it's true. Going by the various and sundry definitions of terrorist in this bill, you might be a terrorist too. If you have broken into and "damaged" any Internet-connected computer within the last eight years, you are now deemed a terrorist. That means if you have ever been the sort of hacktivist who protests political Web sites by defacing them or replacing their home page with one full of dissenting information, your crime will be deemed terrorism and punished accordingly.'

I don't endorse the call for action at the end of this article. But I'm not ready to "un"endorse it, either.


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